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Astronomers ponder ‘cosmic mystery’ over powerful radio wave bursts

Powerful bursts of radio waves emanating from a distant dwarf galaxy that were detected using a massive telescope in China are moving scientists closer to solving what one called a “cosmic mystery” that has lingered for years.

Since being discovered in 2007, astronomers have struggled to understand what causes phenomena called fast radio bursts involving pulses of radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation originating from places inside our Milky Way and other galaxies. Radio waves have the longest wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum.

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Astronomers suspect that these bursts may be unleashed by certain extreme objects. These might include: a neutron star, the compact collapsed core of a massive star that exploded as a supernova at the end of its life cycle; a magnetar, a type of neutron star with an ultra-strong magnetic field; and a black hole messily eating a neighboring star.

Researchers on Wednesday said they have detected a fast radio burst, or FRB, originating from a dwarf galaxy located nearly 3 billion light-years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year – 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km). This galaxy’s collective star mass is roughly one-2,500th that of our Milky Way.

The FRB was first spotted in 2019 using the FAST telescope in China’s Guizhou province, the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, which possesses a signal-receiving area equal to 30 football fields. It was studied further using the VLA telescope in New Mexico.

“We still call fast radio bursts a cosmic mystery and rightfully so,” said astrophysicist Di Li of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, the FAST chief scientist and co-author of the research published in the journal Nature.

“Fast radio bursts are intense, brief flashes of radio light that are powerful enough to be seen from across the universe,” added Caltech astronomer and study co-author Casey Law. “The burst blinks on and off in about a millisecond, far faster than the blink of an eye. Some sources of FRBs have been found to emit multiple bursts in what look like storms of activity, but others have only been seen to burst once.”

The newly described FRB is a repeating one that also features a persistent but weaker radio emission between bursts. In other words, it always remains “on.” Most of the roughly 500 known FRBs do not repeat. The new one closely resembles another discovered in 2016 that was the first FRB whose location was pinpointed.

Li noted that numerous hypotheses have been offered to try to explain these bursts.

“The abundance of models reflects our lack of understanding of FRBs. Our work favors active repeaters being born out of an extreme explosive event such as a supernova. These active repeaters are also young, as they have to be seen not long after the birthing event,” Li said.

The astronomers suspect that the newly described FRB is a “newborn,” still enveloped by dense material blown into space by a supernova explosion that left behind a neutron star. They said repeating bursts may be a trait of younger FRBs, perhaps dissipating over time.

Discoveries like the newly described FRB may help scientists determine the cause of these radio bursts. Scientists previously were able to craft an explanation for the cause of another enigmatic phenomenon – hugely energetic explosions called gamma-ray bursts – as originating from the death of massive stars, merging neutron stars and magnetars.

“FRBs have rapidly risen to become a wonderful example of an astrophysical puzzle, just as gamma-ray bursts were a few decades ago,” Law said. “We know more and more about the phenomenon, where the sources live, how often they burst, etc.

However, we are still chasing for that golden measurement that will give us a definitive answer to what causes them.”

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Lindsay Lohan celebrates birthday as married woman to Dubai resident Bader Shammas

Actress Lindsay Lohan is celebrating her 36th birthday on Saturday as a married woman.

The “Freaky Friday” star said she was the “luckiest woman in the world” in an Instagram post Friday that pictured her with financier Bader Shammas, who had been her fiance.

“I am stunned that you are my husband,” Lohan said in the post, adding that “every woman should feel like this everyday.”

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The couple had announced their engagement last November. People magazine and Entertainment Tonight confirmed there had been a wedding, but no details were offered.

While still single a few years ago, Lohan told Entertainment Tonight that she was looking for “a smart businessman” and someone who doesn’t like the spotlight. Shammas’ Instagram account is private.

The “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” actress and sometimes singer has worked through some sobriety issues in recent years, and has recently filmed a romantic comedy that is due to be released on Netflix later this year.

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Dutch university gets cyber ransom money back with interest

A Dutch university that fell victim to a massive ransomware attack has partly received back its stolen money, which in the meantime more than doubled in value, a news report said on Saturday.

The southern Maastricht University in 2019 was hit by a large cyberattack in which criminals used ransomware, a type of malicious software that locks valuable data and can only be accessed once the victim pays a ransom amount.

“The criminals had encrypted hundreds of Windows servers and backup systems, preventing 25,000 students and employees from accessing scientific data, library and mail,” the daily De Volkskrant said.

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The hackers demanded 200,000 euros ($208,000) in bitcoins.

“After a week the university decide to accede to the criminal gang’s demand,” the paper said.

“This was partly because personal data was in danger of being lost and students were unable to take an exam or work on their theses,” it said.

Dutch police traced part of the ransom paid to an account belonging to a money launderer in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in 2020 seized this man’s account, which contained a number of different crypto currencies including part of the ransom money paid by Maastricht.

“When, now after more than two years, it was finally possible to get that money to the Netherlands, the value had increased from 40,000 euros to half-a-million euros,” the paper said.

Maastricht University will now get the 500,000 euros ($521,000) back.

“This money will not go to a general fund, but into a fund to help financially strapped students,” Maastricht University ICT director Michiel Borgers said.

The investigation into the hackers responsible for the attack on the university is still ongoing, De Volkskrant added.

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Singer R. Kelly sues Brooklyn jail for putting him on suicide watch

R. Kelly on Friday sued the Brooklyn jail that has housed him since his racketeering and sex crimes conviction, saying it wrongly put him on suicide watch after he received a 30-year prison sentence despite knowing he was not suicidal.

In a complaint filed in Brooklyn federal court, the 55-year-old multiplatinum R&B singer said officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center ordered the watch after his June 29 sentencing “solely for punitive purposes” and because he was a “high-profile” inmate.

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Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean quoted a prosecutor as saying the jail’s legal counsel had told her that “per the psychology department, is on a psych alert for various reasons, such as age, crime, publicity and sentencing.” No timetable was provided.

Bonjean wasn’t satisfied with the explanation. “Simply put, MDC Brooklyn is run like a gulag,” she wrote.

Kelly said the “harsh conditions” he faced led to “severe mental distress,” and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment that violated the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, though the docket suggests Kelly is seeking $100 million.

The jail did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly was convicted last September on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which bars transporting people across state lines for prostitution.

Prosecutors said Kelly exploited his stardom and wealth over two decades to lure women and underage girls into his orbit for sex, with the help of his entourage.

Kelly said he was also put on suicide watch after his conviction.

Ghislaine Maxwell, another inmate at the Brooklyn jail, was placed on suicide watch on June 24, four days before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiding financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls.

Maxwell’s lawyer said the British socialite had been given a “suicide smock” and deprived of clothing, toothpaste and soap though she too was not suicidal.

Friday’s filings did not say what specific conditions Kelly faced.

Kelly still faces an August trial in Chicago federal court on child pornography and obstruction charges, and various state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

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