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What Is A Neutron Star?

Neutron stars are created when giant stars die in supernovae and their cores collapse, with the protons and electrons essentially melting into each other to form neutrons. Neutron stars are city-size stellar objects with a mass about 1.4 times that of the sun. Born from the explosive death of another, larger stars, these tiny objects pack quite a punch.

When stars three times as massive as the sun explodes in a violent supernova, their outer layers can blow off in an often-spectacular display, leaving behind a small, dense core that continues to collapse. Gravity presses the material in on itself so tightly that protons and electrons combine to make neutrons, yielding the name "neutron star." This is how it is named neutron star.

Ordinary stars maintain their spherical shape because they have the gravity of their gigantic mass tries to pull their gas toward a central point, but it is balanced by the energy from nuclear fusion in their cores, which exerts an outward pressure. At the end of their lives, when stars are burned through their available fuel, their internal fusion reactions cease. The stars' outer layers rapidly collapse inward, bouncing off the thick core and then blasting out again as a violent supernova.

After the star went supernova the dense core continues to collapse, generating pressures so high that protons and electrons are squeezed together into neutrons, as well as lightweight particles called neutrinos that escape into the distant universe. The end result is a star whose mass is 90% neutrons, which can't be squeezed any tighter, and therefore the neutron star can't break down any further.

Neutron stars pack their mass inside a 20-kilometre (12.4 miles) diameter. They are so dense that a single teaspoon would weigh a billion tons — assuming you somehow managed to snag a sample without being captured by the body's strong gravitational pull. On average, gravity on a neutron star is 2 billion times stronger than gravity on Earth. In fact, it's strong enough to significantly bend radiation from the star in a process known as gravitational lensing, allowing astronomers to see some of the backsides of the star.

The power from the supernova that birthed it gives the star an extremely quick rotation, causing it to spin several times in a second. Neutron stars can spin as fast as 43,000 times per minute, gradually slowing over time.

The properties of neutron stars are utterly out of this world — a single teaspoon of neutron-star material would weigh a billion tons. If you were to somehow stand on their surface without dying, you'd experience a force of gravity 2 billion times stronger than what you feel on Earth.

An ordinary neutron star's magnetic field might be trillions of times stronger than Earth's. But some neutron stars have even more extreme magnetic fields, a thousand or more times the average neutron star. This creates an object known as a magnetar.  

Starquakes on the surface of a magnetar — the equivalent of crustal movements on Earth that generate earthquakes — can release tremendous amounts of energy. In one-tenth of a second, a magnetar might produce more energy than the sun has emitted in the last 100,000 years.

Astronomers first theorized about the existence of these bizarre stellar entities in the 1930s, shortly after the neutron was discovered. But it wasn't until 1967 that scientists had good evidence for neutron stars in reality. A graduate student named Jocelyn Bell at the University of Cambridge in England noticed strange pulses in her radio telescope, arriving so regularly that at first, she thought they might be a signal from an alien civilization, according to the American Physical Society. The patterns turned out not to be E.T. but rather radiation emitted by rapidly spinning neutron stars.

If a neutron star is part of a binary system that survived the deadly blast from its supernova (or if it captured a passing companion), things can get even more interesting. If the second star is less massive than the sun, it pulls mass from its companion into a Roche lobe, a balloon-like cloud of material that orbits the neutron star. Companion stars up to 10 times the sun's mass create similar mass transfers that are more unstable and don't last as long.

Stars more than 10 times as massive as the sun transfer material in the form of a stellar wind. The material flows along the magnetic poles of the neutron star, creating X-ray pulsations as it is heated.

By 2010, approximately 1,800 pulsars had been identified through radio detection, with another 70 found by gamma-rays. Some pulsars even have planets orbiting them — and some may turn into planets.

Types of neutron stars
Radio pulsars
Recycled pulsars
Millisecond pulsars
Soft gamma-ray repeater
Anomalous X-ray pulsar
Low-mass X-ray binaries (LMXB)
Intermediate-mass X-ray binaries (IMXB)
High-mass X-ray binaries (HMXB)
Accretion powered pulsar

Some neutron stars have jets of materials streaming out of them at nearly the speed of light. As these beams pan past Earth, they flash like the bulb of a lighthouse. Scientists called them pulsars after their pulsing appearance. Normal pulsars spin between 0.1 and 60 times per second, while millisecond pulsars can result in as much as 700 times per second.

When X-ray pulsars capture the material flowing from more massive companions, that material interacts with the magnetic field to produce high-powered beams that can be seen in the radio, optical, X-ray or gamma-ray spectrum. Because their main power source comes from the material from their companion, they are often called "accretion-powered pulsars." "Spin-powered pulsars" are driven by the star’s rotation, as high-energy electrons interact with the pulsar's magnetic field above their poles. Young neutron stars before they cool can also produce pulses of X-rays when some parts are hotter than others.

As material within a pulsar accelerates within the magnetosphere of a pulsar, the neutron star produces gamma-ray emission. The transfer of energy in these gamma-ray pulsars slows the spin of the star.

The supernova that gives rise to a neutron star imparts a great deal of energy to the compact object, causing it to rotate on its axis between 0.1 and 60 times per second, and up to 700 times per second. The formidable magnetic fields of these entities produce high-powered columns of radiation, which can sweep past the Earth-like lighthouse beams, creating what's known as a pulsar.

The flickering of pulsars is so predictable that researchers are considering using them for spaceflight navigation.

"Some of these millisecond pulsars are extremely regular, clock-like regular," Keith Gendreau of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, told members of the press in 2018.

"We use these pulsars the same way we use the atomic clocks in a GPS navigation system," Gendreau said.


The average neutron star boasts a powerful magnetic field. Earth's magnetic field is around 1 gauss, and the sun's magnetic field is around a few hundred gauss, according to astrophysicist Paul Sutter. But a neutron star has a trillion-gauss magnetic field.

Magnetars have magnetic fields a thousand times stronger than the average neutron star. The resulting drag causes the star to take longer to rotate. 

"That puts magnetars in the No. 1 spot, reigning champions in the universal 'strongest magnetic field' competition," Sutter said. "The numbers are there, but it's hard to wrap our brains around them."

These fields wreak havoc on their local environments, with atoms stretching into pencil-thin rods near magnetars. The dense stars can also drive bursts of high-intensity radiation.

Get too close to one (say, within 1,000 kilometres, or about 600 miles), and the magnetic fields are strong enough to upset not just your bioelectricity (rendering your nerve impulses hilariously useless) but your very molecular structure. In a magnetar's field, you just kind of dissolve."

Collision Of Neutron Star

Like normal stars, two neutron stars can orbit one another. If they are close enough, they can even spiral inwards to their doom in an intense phenomenon known as a "kilonova."

The collision of two neutron stars made waves heard 'round the world in 2017 when researchers detected gravitational waves and light coming from the same cosmic smashup. The research also provided the first solid evidence that neutron-star collisions are the source of much of the universe's gold, platinum and other heavy elements.

"The origin of the really heaviest chemical elements in the universe has baffled the scientific community for quite a long time," Hans-Thomas Janka, a senior scientist at MPA, said in a statement. "Now, we have the first observational proof for neutron star mergers as sources; in fact, they could well be the main source of the r-process elements," which are elements heavier than iron, like gold and platinum.

The powerful collision released enormous amounts of light and created gravitational waves that rippled through the universe. But what happened to the two objects after their smashup remains a mystery.

"We don't actually know what happened to the objects at the end," David Shoemaker, a senior research scientist at MIT and a spokesman for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, said at a 2017 news conference. "We don't know whether it's a black hole, a neutron star or something else." The observations are thought to be the first of many to come.

"We expect that more neutron-star mergers will soon be observed and that the observational data from these events will reveal more about the internal structure of matter," study lead author Andreas Bauswein, from the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany, said in a statement.

Can Neutron Star Become Blackhole?

When a star dies, it spent all of its energy and then collapses. Their difference lies in their parent star. When a dying star has a mass which is 1.4 to 3 times that of the sun, it will form a neutron star. Stars with a mass greater than 3 times the sun's mass, a black hole is formed. The maximum mass of a neutron star is 3 solar masses. If it gets more massive than that, then it will collapse into a quark star, and then into a black hole.

Some Interesting  Fact
1. In just the first few seconds after a star begins its transformation into a neutron star, the energy leaving in neutrinos is equal to the total amount of light emitted by all of the stars in the observable universe.

2. It’s been speculated that if there were life on neutron stars, it would be two-dimensional.

3. The fastest known spinning neutron star rotates about 700 times each second.

4. The wrong kind of neutron star could wreak havoc on Earth.

5. Despite the extremes of neutron stars, researchers still have ways to study them.

Researchers have considered using the stable, clock-like pulses of neutron stars to aid in spacecraft navigation, much like GPS beams help guide people on Earth. An experiment on the International Space Station called Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) was able to use the signal from pulsars to calculate the ISS’s location to within 10 miles (16 km). 

But a great deal remains to be understood about neutron stars. For instance, in 2019, astronomers spotted the most massive neutron star ever seen — with about 2.14 times the mass of our sun packed into a sphere most likely around 12.4 miles (20 km) across. At this size, the object is just at the limit where it should have collapsed into a black hole, so researchers are examining it closely to better understand the odd physics potentially at work holding it up. 

Accretion Of A Giant Planet Onto A White Dwarf Star

The Neptune-sized planet, which orbits an Earth-sized star, is being slowly evaporated by the white dwarf, causing the planet to lose some 260 million tons of material every day.

For the first time, astronomers have discovered evidence for a giant planet orbiting a tiny, dead white dwarf star. And, surprisingly, the Neptune-sized planet is more than four times the diameter of the Earth-sized star it orbits.

"This star has a planet that we can't see directly. But because the star is so hot, it is evaporating the planet, and we detect the atmosphere it is losing. In fact, the searing star is sending a stream of vaporized material away from the planet at a rate of some 260 million tons per day." Boris Gänsicke from the University of Warwick said in a press release.

The new discovery serves as the first evidence of a gargantuan planet surviving a star's transition to a white dwarf. It suggests that evaporating planets around dead stars may be somewhat common throughout the universe. And because our Sun, like most stars, will also eventually evolve into a white dwarf, the finding could even shed light on the fate of our solar system.

The white dwarf in question, dubbed WDJ0914+1914, sits about 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Cancer. Although the white dwarf is no longer undergoing nuclear fusion like a normal star, its lingering heat means it's still a blistering 49,500 degrees Fahrenheit (25,000 Celsius). That’s some five times hotter than the Sun.

Researchers initially flagged the smouldering stellar core for follow-up after sifting through about 7,000 white dwarfs identified by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. When the team analyzed the unique spectra of WDJ0914+1914, they detected the chemical fingerprints of hydrogen, which is somewhat unusual. But they also picked out signs of oxygen and sulfur — elements they had never seen in a white dwarf before.

In order to get a better grasp of what was happening in the strange system, the team of researchers used the X-shooter instrument on the ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile to carry out follow-up observations. Based on the more detailed look, the researchers learned that the unusual elements they thought were embedded in the white dwarf were actually coming from a disk of gas churning around the dead star.

"At first, we thought that this was a binary star with an accretion disk formed from mass flowing between the two stars. However, our observations show that it is a single white dwarf with a disk around it roughly 10 times the size of our Sun, made solely of hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur. Such a system has never been seen before, and it was immediately clear to me that this was a unique star." said Gänsicke.

After realizing just how unusual the white dwarf really was, the team shifted their focus to figuring out what the heck could create such a system.

"It took a few weeks of very hard thinking to figure out that the only way to make such a disk is the evaporation of a giant planet," said Matthias Schreiber, an astronomer at the University of Valparaiso in Chile, who was vital to determining the past and future evolution of the bizarre system. Their detailed analysis of the disk's composition matched what astronomers would expect if the guts of an ice giant like Uranus and Neptune were vaporized into space.

Based on Schreiber's calculations, the white dwarf's extreme temperature means it's bombarding the nearby giant planet — which is located 0.07 astronomical unit (AU) from the star, where 1 AU is the Earth-Sun distance — with high-energy photons. This is causing the planet to lose its mass at a rate of more than 3,000 tons per second.

But according to the paper, published Wednesday in Nature, "As the white dwarf continues to cool, the mass-loss rate will gradually decrease, and become undetectable in about 350 million years. And by then, the paper adds, the giant planet only will have lost "an insignificant fraction of its total mass," or about 0.04 Neptune masses.

Because the giant planet is located so close to the white dwarf, the researchers say it should have been destroyed during the stars' red giant phase. That is unless it migrated inward after the star transitioned to a white dwarf. 

"This discovery is major progress because over the past two decades we had growing evidence that planetary systems survive into the white dwarf stage," said Gänsicke. "We've seen a lot of asteroids, comets, and other small planetary objects hitting white dwarfs, and explaining these events requires larger, planet-mass bodies farther out. Having evidence for an actual planet that itself was scattered in is an important step."

The ultimate fate of our solar system. In 5 billion years, when the Sun burns through the last of the hydrogen in its core, it will move on to fusing concentric shells of hydrogen around its now-inert core. This unstable process will cause the Sun to balloon into a red giant, meaning it will swallow Mercury, Venus, and likely Earth.

But as the Sun expands, its gravitational grasp on its outer envelope of material gets more and more tenuous. Eventually, it will shed its outer layers into space. And once it does that, an alien astronomer would see a beautiful planetary nebula surrounding the Sun's burnt-out, incredibly hot core — known as a white dwarf.

In a companion paper also published Wednesday in Astrophysical Journal Letters, Schreiber and Gänsicke explore this scenario, detailing how the future white-dwarf Sun should, like WDJ0914+1914, evaporate our solar system's giant planets.

What If We had Two Suns in The Solar System?

For a long time, this was a purely theoretical question. Over the past decade or so, however, astronomers have found more than a dozen confirmed instances of “circumbinary planets”—that is, planets that orbit around a close double star.

A particularly interesting case is the planet Kepler-1647b, which circles two roughly sunlike stars. This planet also resides in the “habitable zone,” the region around the two stars where the planet could have the right temperature for liquid water.

What if Earth had two suns instead of one? Let’s consider a simple scenario. Suppose we replaced the sun with two closely matched stars, each half as bright as the Sun. In that case, the amount of energy reaching the Earth would still be the same, and life would still be possible here. Such equal-mass binaries are not uncommon, so this scenario seems perfectly plausible.

The mass of each of our new suns would be about 85% of the mass of our current sun. That may seem surprising, but the luminosity of a star is extremely sensitive to mass. Roughly speaking, luminosity goes as the 4th power of mass, so doubling the mass of a star increases its brightness by a factor of 16. A 15% mass reduction is enough to cut a star’s brightness in half.

The combined mass of Sun 1 and Sun 2 would be 1.7 times the mass of our current sun. Since their total gravity would be stronger, the length of a year would be a bit less: about 280 days instead of 365 days. Not that radical of a change, really.

So far so good. But would the Earth be stable in its new configuration, orbiting around two stars instead of one? The case of Kepler-1647b and other circumbinary stars gives a strong YES answer here. As long as the distance to the planet is at least about 4 times as great as the separation between the two stars, the planet just happily orbits around the stars’ centre of mass. If Sun 1 and Sun 2 are less than 15 million kilometres apart, then all of the planets in the solar system (even Mercury) could potentially be stable.

Just to be safe, let’s put the stars closer together, about 5 million kilometres apart. That’s not so different than the two stars of Kepler-1647, which are about 7 million miles apart. Our Sun 1 and Sun 2 would orbit each other once every 10 days or so. They would also each rotate with a 10-day period, which would make them a little more active than our current sun, but not outrageously so. The Kepler-1647 stars are reasonably peaceful.

The two suns would probably appear to orbit each other roughly edge-on as seen from Earth, which would lead to a strange new phenomenon: an eclipse of the sun by another sun! Because of the 10-day orbit, Sun 1 and Sun 2 would pass in front of each other every 5 days. The eclipses would last about 6 hours, and at peak would reduce the amount of energy reaching the Earth by about 30%–40%, depending on the exact geometry.

Eclipse days would be chilly, but the periods of reduced sunshine would be brief enough to average out smoothly into Earth’s overall climate. The double suns wouldn’t even look all that strange in the sky. At maximum separation, Sun 1 and Sun 2 would be only 2 degrees apart in the sky, just enough to give shadows a double edge. For about a half-day on either side of an eclipse, they'd seem to merge, though if they slipped behind a cloud you'd see an odd, oval shape from the overlapping disks. Sunsets would be pretty, a little different each night.

All the evidence so far, then, is that a planet like Tatooine in Star Wars really could exist, and Earth would do just fine if it were orbiting a double star instead of our one lonely sun. There’s really just one huge unsettled question: Could such a planet form in the first place?

Kepler-1647b is a giant gas planet, nearly twice the mass of Jupiter. Even the smallest known circumbinary planet, called Kepler-453b, is a heavyweight, bigger than Neptune.

It may be that the environment around a double star is too chaotic to create small, rocky planets like Earth. Then again, it’s also possible that other Earths with two suns are common, and our telescopes simply are not sensitive enough to find them. At least, not yet.

Fortunately, better instruments are coming soon. In the coming decade, the PLATO space telescope and huge new ground-based observatories like the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Extremely Large Telescope will tell us a lot more about all kinds of planets around other stars—including possible Earthlike planets with double suns lighting up their skies.

Black Holes Are Strange Sure But White Holes Are Mind-Blowing

White holes are black ones in reverse, spewing out matter– and they could give us our first glimpse of the quantum source of space-time.

In the textbooks, Gravitation and Cosmology, Nobel prizewinning physicist Steven Weinberg wrote that the existence of black holes “very hypothetical”, there is no [black hole] in the gravitational field of any known object of the universe”. He was dead wrong. Radio astronomers had already been detecting signals from matter falling into black holes for decades without realising. Today we have lots of evidence that the sky is teeming with them.

The story may now be repeating itself with white holes, which are essentially black holes in reverse. In another renowned textbook, the world-leading relativity theorist Bob Wald wrote that “there is no reason to believe that any region of the universe corresponds to” a white hole – and this is still the dominant opinion today. But several research groups around the world have recently begun to investigate the possibility that quantum mechanics could open a channel for these white holes to form. The sky might be teeming with white holes, too.

The reason to suspect white holes exist is that they could solve an open mystery: what goes on at the centre of a black hole. We see great amounts of matter spiralling around black holes and then falling in. All this falling matter crosses the surface of the hole, the “horizon” or point of no return, plummets towards the centre, and then? Nobody knows.

White holes are completely theoretical mathematical concepts. In fact, if you do black hole mathematics for a living, I'm told, ignoring the mass of the singularity makes your life so much easier.

They are not things that actually proven to exist. It's not like astronomers detected an unusual outburst of radiation and then developed hypothetical white hole models to explain them.

if white holes did exist, they would behave like reverse black holes – just like the math predicts. Instead of pulling material inward, a white hole would blast material out into space like some kind of white chocolate fountain.

White Holes only theoretically exist as long as there isn't a single speck of matter within the event horizon. As soon as a single atom of hydrogen drifted into the region, the whole thing would collapse. Even if white holes were created back at the beginning of the universe, they would have collapsed long ago, since our universe is already filled with stray matter.

In theory, a black hole singularity would compress down until the smallest possible size predicted by physics. Then it would rebound as a white hole. But because of the severe time dilation effect around a black hole, this event would take billions of years for even the lowest mass ones to finally get around to popping.

If there were microscopic black holes created after the Big Bang, they might get around to decaying and exploding as white holes any day now. Except, according to Stephen Hawking, they would have already evaporated.

Another interesting idea put forth by physicists is that a white hole might explain the Big Bang since this is another situation where a tremendous amount of matter and energy spontaneously appeared.

White Hole exists or not is still a mystery but it's a very fascinating topic. The more we study and understand our universe, the more our brain gets blown away.

This Star Just Won't Stop Exploding!

This star has been going nova every year, for millions of years. A nova star is like a vampire that siphons gas from its binary partner. As it does so, the gas is compressed and heated, and eventually, it explodes. The remnant gas shell from that explosion expands outward and is lit up by the stars at the centre of it all. Most of these novae explode about once every 10 years.

But now astrophysicists have discovered one remnant so large that the star that created it must have been erupting yearly for millions of years. The team of astrophysicist published their findings in a letter in the journal Nature.

The star in question is in the Andromeda galaxy, and it’s called M31N 2008-12a. When it erupts as a nova, it brightens by a million times and the ejected material travels outward at thousands of miles per second. The team behind the study thinks that M32N 2008-12a goes nova every year, and the result is what they’re calling a “super remnant” that measures almost 400 light-years across.

The team of astrophysicists, which includes members from San Diego State University and from the Liverpool John Moores University in England, used observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes. They studied the chemical composition of the expanding remnant to confirm its association with the star at the centre, M31N 2008-12a.

The interesting thing about this distant nova is its possible connection to something larger in the Universe, something that astronomers inherently rely on to understand the Universe: Type 1a Supernovae.

Most people are familiar with supernovae overall. A star several times more massive than our Sun eventually burns enough of the hydrogen in its core that the outward pressure from its own fusion can’t sustain itself against the inward force of its own gravity. The whole star collapses in on itself and then explodes outward in one of nature’s most powerful and most luminous phenomenon.

But that’s just one type of supernova. There are other types, including the Type 1a. A type 1a supernovae start with two normal stars in a binary pair. As the pair ages together, one-star inevitably becomes more massive than the other. The large one will start to siphon off-gas from the other, expanding and engulfing the smaller star in its envelope.

Eventually, the two stars spiral together in their common envelope of gas, and as time goes on, the common envelope of gas is ejected away from the binary pair. Then things get interesting again.

The core of the larger star collapses and becomes a white dwarf. The other star is ageing, too, and eventually, it can’t hold onto its outer layers of gas. The white dwarf begins to siphon off the gas, and once it gains enough mass, it breaches what’s known as its Chandrasekhar limit, which is the maximum mass limit for a white dwarf star.

Once that limit is breached, a couple different things can happen. A bunch of the white dwarf’s mass can undergo rapid nuclear fusion, brightness increases to about 5 billion times that of our Sun, and an expanding shock wave is ejected at several thousand km per second, leaving behind only a pretty-much dead zombie star.

It can go another way, too. The explosion can completely destroy the star, leaving behind only the expanding shell. Those are pretty rare events, and the last one of those in our galaxy was in the 1600s.

Or, we get a nova. In a nova, the white dwarf erupts every so often, shedding any mass in excess of its Chandrasekhar limit. This is what appears to be the case with M31N 2008-12a, but what’s unusual is that it’s happening every year, instead of every 10 years or so. So what’s that all about?

The exact nature of these events is not understood. We have theories that explain them, but we don’t know all the detail. Our current theory says that as these novae flare up frequently, creating a massive remnant like this one, they harbour a white dwarf that is getting closer and closer to its Chandrasekhar limit, and will eventually exceed it. The astronomers think that M31N 2008-12a is on its way to becoming a supernova.

The reason all of this matters is that these type 1a supernovae have another name in astronomy: standard candles. Standard candles are very useful objects. They give off a predictable, uniform light. Astronomers measure the light from standard candles in distant galaxies to find out how far away those galaxies are, and to measure the rate of expansion of the Universe.

This study has isolated one such standard candle, in effect before it becomes one. Observing it might help us understand where these standard candles come from, how they form, and how plentiful they might be.

The team is hoping to find more of these massive remnants, to see if they can find more white dwarfs undergoing repeated eruptions like this one, and to confirm that they lead to standard-candle supernovae. They want to know if this one is a rarity, or if there is an unseen population of stars like M31N 2008-12a.

As the authors say in their study, “The discovery of additional super-remnants around other accreting white dwarfs will point to systems undergoing regular eruptions over long periods of time.” How long of a period of time? According to the authors, the white dwarf in this binary system will exceed its Chandrasekhar limit in about 40,000 years. At that time, any astronomers still alive will be able to watch what happens. 

They will either witness the destruction of the star in a massive explosion, or a core-collapse to a neutron star. Either way, the chemical composition of the underlying white dwarf will finally be revealed, and we’ll learn something about recurring novae and standard candles.

Cryonics | Can We Cheat Death?

In pursuit of life everlasting, some turn to God. Others turn to science. Medicine is aimed at improving and extending healthy lives but it can't stop the ultimate frontier DEATH. But with evolving technology, we might have a way around it in future. Until then what to do? Here comes in rescue Cryonics.

Cryonics is the practice of preserving human bodies in extremely cold temperatures with the hope of reviving them sometime in the future. The idea is that, if some­one has "died" from a disease that is incurable today, he or she can be "frozen" and then revived in the future when a cure has been discovered. A person preserved this way is said to be in cryonic suspension.

To understand the technology behind cryonics, think about the news stories you've heard of people who have fallen into an icy lake and have been submerged for up to an hour in the frigid water before being rescued. The ones who survived did so because the icy water put their body into a sort of suspended animation, slowing down their metabolism and brain function to the point where they needed almost no oxygen.

If you've ever hoped to be cryogenically frozen, you might come across a legal hurdle: while human cryonics is legal in several countries, you have to be dead before going into the cryonics tank. Otherwise, freezing someone alive is tantamount to killing. People who undergo this procedure must first be pronounced legally dead -- that is, their heart must have stopped beating.

But if they're dead, how can they ever be revived? According to scientists who perform cryonics, "legally dead" is not the same as "totally dead." Total death, they say, is the point at which all brain function ceases. Legal death occurs when the heart has stopped beating, but some cellular brain function remains. Cryonics preserves the little cell function that remains so that, theoretically, the person can be resuscitated in the future.

Until the day comes that humanity masters the art of resurrection, so scientists can reanimate them and cure their ailments or upload their consciousness into the cloud, whichever comes first. Who simply hope to be cryopreserved go throw cryonic suspension process after pronounced legally dead. 

The first body to be frozen with the hope of future revival was James Bedford's, a few hours after his cancer-caused death in 1967. His body was frozen by Robert Nelson, a former TV repairman with no scientific background before the body was turned over to Bedford's relatives. Bedford's corpse is the only one frozen before 1974 still preserved today. In 1976, Ettinger founded the Cryonics Institute; his corpse was cryopreserved in 2011. Nelson was sued in 1981 for allowing nine bodies to thaw and decompose in the 1970s; in his defence, he claimed that the Cryonics Society of California had run out of money.

As of now, four facilities exist in the world to retain cryopreserved bodies: three in the U.S. and one in Russia.

Russian cryonics company KrioRus plans to buy a bunker in Switzerland and convert it to a cryopreservation lab. People with one foot in the grave could fly in from around the world and be placed in a cryopreservation tank.

KrioRus is the first Eurasian company to preserve people and pets, hosting 50 human bodies or heads and 20 animals in tanks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. They have so far only worked with people who have been declared legally dead. Freezing your body is $36,000 and ahead will set you back $12,000.

There's no guarantee that the pursuit of pre-mortem freezing will go anywhere, let alone conquer mortality. Perhaps the field of cryonics is just trading one eternal, icy embrace for another.

What Happens To Our Brain As We Get Older?

Brain ageing is inevitable to some extent, but not uniform; it affects everyone, or every brain, differently. Slowing down brain ageing or stopping it altogether would be the ultimate elixir to achieve eternal youth. Are there steps, we can take to reduce the rate of decline?

At around 3 Kg in weight, the human brain is a staggering feat of engineering with around 100 billion neurons interconnected via trillions of synapses. Throughout our lifetime our brain changes more than any other part of our body. From the moment the brain begins to develop in the third week of gestation to old age, its complex structures and functions are changing, networks and pathways connecting and severing.

During the first few years of life, a child's brain forms more than 1 million new neural connections every second. The size of the brain increases fourfold in the preschool period and by age 6 reaches around 90% of adult volume.

The frontal lobes - the area of the brain responsible for executive functions, such as planning, working memory and impulse control - are among the last areas of the brain to mature, and they may not be fully developed until 35 years of age.

As we age, all our body systems gradually decline - including the brain. "Slips of the mind" are associated with getting older. People often experienced those same slight memory lapses in their 20s and yet did not give it a second thought.

Older individuals often become anxious about memory slips due to the link between impaired memory and Alzheimer's disease. However, Alzheimer's and other dementias are not a part of the normal ageing process.

Common memory changes that are associated with normal ageing include 1. Difficulty learning something new: Committing new information to memory can take longer. 2. Multitasking: Slowed processing can make processing and planning parallel tasks more difficult. 3. Recalling names and numbers: Strategic memory that helps the memory of names and numbers begins to decline at age 20. 4.  Remembering appointments: Without cues to recall the information, appointments can be put safely in storage and then not accessed unless the memory is jogged.

While some studies show that one-third of older people struggle with declarative memory (memories of facts or events that have been stored and can be retrieved), other studies indicate that one-fifth of 70-year-olds perform cognitive tests just as well as their 20-year-old counterparts.

Scientists are currently piecing together sections of the giant puzzle of brain research to determine how the brain subtly alters over time to cause these changes. General changes that are thought to occur during brain ageing include: 

1. Brain mass: Shrinkage in the frontal lobe and hippocampus - areas involved in higher cognitive function and encoding new memories - starting around the age of 60 or 70 years.

2.Cortical density: Thinning of the outer-ridged surface of the brain due to declining synaptic connections. Fewer connections may contribute to slower cognitive processing.

3.White matter: White matter consists of myelinated nerve fibres that are bundled into tracts and carry nerve signals between brains cells. Myelin is thought to shrink with age, and as a result, slow processing and reduce cognitive function.

4.Neurotransmitter systems: Researchers suggest that the brain generates less chemical messengers with ageing, and it is this decrease in dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine activity that may play a role in declining cognition and memory and increased depression.

Several brain studies are ongoing to solve the brain-ageing conundrum, and discoveries are being frequently made. Recently, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York revealed in a mouse study that stem cells in the brain's hypothalamus likely control how fast ageing occurs in the body.

"Our research shows that the number of hypothalamic neural stem cells naturally declines over the life of the animal, and this decline accelerates ageing," says Dr. Dongsheng Cai, Ph.D., professor of molecular pharmacology at Einstein. "But we also found that the effects of this loss are not irreversible. By replenishing these stem cells or the molecules they produce, it's possible to slow and even reverse various aspects of ageing throughout the body."

Injecting hypothalamic stem cells into the brains of normal old mice and middle-aged mice, whose stem cells had been destroyed, slowed or reversed measures of ageing. The researchers say this is a first step toward slowing the ageing process and potentially treat age-related diseases.

While many questions remain regarding the ageing brain, research is making progress in illuminating what happens to our cognitive functions and memory throughout our lifetime, and it is emphasizing ways we can preserve our mental abilities to improve our quality of life as we advance into older adulthood.

Insulin Should Be Cheap. Here’s Why It's Not

When inventor Frederick Banting discovered insulin in 1923, he refused to put his name on the patent. He felt it was unethical for a doctor to profit from a discovery that would save lives. Banting’s co-inventors, James Collip and Charles Best, sold the insulin patent to the University of Toronto for a mere $1. They wanted everyone who needed their medication to be able to afford it.

Today, Banting and his colleagues would be spinning in their graves: Their drug, which many people with diabetes rely on, has become the poster child for pharmaceutical price gouging.

The cost of the four most popular types of insulin has tripled over the past decade, and the out-of-pocket prescription costs patients now face have doubled. By 2016, the average price per month rose to $450 — and costs continue to rise, so much so that as many as one in four people with diabetes are now skimping on or skipping lifesaving doses.

The ‘big three’ insulin producers – Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi – dominate more than 90% of the world insulin market by value. Often only one of these companies supplies insulin in a country, which means they more or less hold a monopoly there and can set prices as they wish. In some countries like  India and China, there are domestic insulin companies that help drive down the price. 

When it comes to the question of generic insulin, we are faced with another complicated issue. Insulin is a therapeutic biological product (or 'biologic'), rather than a chemically synthesized molecule. This means it cannot be made as generic in the same way as other drugs. Creating what is called a biosimilar is a lot more complicated and expensive than just duplicating a chemical molecule.

There is a little market incentive to produce biosimilars because it costs nearly as much as making a new drug and companies must go through all the approval stages and trials that a new drug is required to go through. Not to mention, current biosimilar insulins on the market – primarily produced by the ‘big three’ – have only reduced the price by about 10-15%.

A ‘Pay for delay’ agreement is a patent dispute settlement in which a generic (in the case of insulin, a biosimilar) manufacturer acknowledges the original patent of a pharmaceutical company and agrees to refrain from marketing its product for a specific period of time. In return, the company receives a payment from the patent-holder. This means it is actually legal for one insulin producer to pay another one not to enter the market.

A few years ago the company Merck announced plans to sell a biosimilar version of Sanofi’s Lantus. Sanofi sued, and eventually, Merck announced that it was no longer pursuing its biosimilar, presumably due to payments from Sanofi to stay away. If Pay for delay schemes don’t work, the ‘big three’ can still sue other players, prolonging processes and pushing players out of the market because of legal fees and time-wasting. All of these are win-wins for companies and lose-lose for patients.

Physicians in many countries are allowed to collect fees from pharmaceutical companies for talks, advice and more. Supposedly, these are to compensate physicians for their expertise and time. However, they can create loyalty to a company and may influence prescribing habits – a belief shared by some pharmaceutical salespeople. In countries like India, physicians are allowed to sell and profit off insulin directly through patients, or through pharmacies they themselves own, cutting out middlemen and the retail pharmacies. Thus, they lose the incentive to find the lowest price insulin for their patients. Insulin companies also focus on ‘insulin-starts’, or the insulin the physician diagnosing patients begins with. As patients are reluctant to change, a number of marketing and financial incentives are employed to influence this decision.

Patients are speaking out about these issues all around the world. In the USA where prices have skyrocketed especially, T1International Chapters are being formed where patient advocates are educating and pushing for policy change.

An Afterglow Of GRB That Featured The Highest Energy Photons

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are the most powerful explosions in the cosmos. These explosive events last a fraction of a second to several minutes and emit the same amount of gamma rays as all the stars in the universe combined. Such extreme amounts of energy can only be released during catastrophic events like the death of a very massive star or the merging of two compact stars, and are accompanied by an afterglow of light over a broad range of energies that fades with time.

It has been decades since the discovery of the first gamma-ray burst, yet some of their fundamental traits remain unclear. An international team of researchers, including two astrophysicists from the George Washington University, Chryssa Kouveliotou and Alexander van der Horst, now has taken the next step in understanding the physical processes at work during these events with a recent discovery published today in the journal Nature.

The researchers observed a gamma-ray burst with an afterglow that featured the highest energy photons -- a trillion times more energetic than visible light -- ever detected in a burst.

"This very high energy emission had been previously predicted in theoretical studies but never before directly observed," Dr. van der Horst, an assistant professor of physics at GW, said.

"After over 45 years of observing GRBs, we just confirmed the existence of yet another unknown component in their afterglows, which increases the gamma-ray burst overall energy budget dramatically," Dr. Kouveliotou, a professor of physics at GW, added.

On Jan. 14, 2019, researchers detected a burst labelled GRB 190114C. The discovery triggered an extensive campaign of observations across the electromagnetic spectrum using more than 20 observatories and instruments around the world. This collaborative effort allowed an international team to gather an unprecedented level of information about GRB 190114C, capturing the evolution of the gamma-ray burst afterglow emission across 17 orders of magnitude in energy.

As part of the joint efforts, Dr. van der Horst and Dr. Kouveliotou were part of a subteam responsible for tracking the emission of radio waves in the afterglow of GRB 190114C. The team used the new MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa to record the emission, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to very high energy gamma rays.

"MeerKAT is a new radio observatory with very good sensitivity," Dr. van der Horst said. "It is a great facility to observe this kind of event. Our team is carrying out a multi-year program to observe many more gamma-ray bursts and other cosmic explosions in the coming years."

GRB 190114C is unique in that researchers were able to observe photons with teraelectronvolt (TeV) energies for the first time in its afterglow emission. Using the MAGIC Collaboration telescopes in La Palma, Spain, researchers noticed this emission of TeV photons was 100 times more intense than the brightest known steady source at TeV energies, the Crab Nebula. As expected though, this very high energy emission quickly faded in about half an hour after the event onset, while the afterglow emission in other parts of the spectrum persisted for much longer.

The researchers noted that the shape of the observed spectrum of afterglow light was indicative of an emission process called inverse Compton emission. This event supports the possibility that inverse Compton emission is commonly produced in gamma-ray bursts.

"MAGIC, the TeV photon detector in La Palma, Spain, opened up a new window for research on gamma-ray bursts," Dr. Kouveliotou said. "We are looking forward to understanding their physics and true energy release in gamma-ray bursts with more detections in the future."

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