A high-school dropout is making hundreds of thousands of dollars trading cryptocurrency derivatives

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charts trader screen

A 29-year-old high school drop out from the United Kingdom is hauling in hundreds of thousands of dollars trading risky cryptocurrency derivatives.

Jay Smith believes a cryptocurrency crash is inevitable, but right now he’s the No. 1 trader of digital coins on online brokerage eToro, amassing thousands of followers who are copying his trades, according to Bloomberg’s Edward Robinson.

Smith, who lives in a London suburb, makes speculative bets on the prices of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and Ethereum and the rash of others that have bubbled up in recent years. 

eToro lets users copy the trades of top performers like Smith, who has a 295% return in the past 12 months, paying him a 2% fee on the roughly $11.5 million in money his 9,143 copiers hold in assets on the brokerage, according to the Bloomberg report.

That works out to $230,000 in annual earnings, not including the profits he’s making on his own bets.  

Read the full story on Bloomberg. 

This post has been updated from its original version. 

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NOW WATCH: TECH ANALYST: There’s one business driving Apple’s growth, and it’s not the iPhone

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A New Gravitational Wave Detector Makes Its First Discovery

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Image: The Virgo Collaboration

Arguably the most exciting recent development in astronomy was 2016's announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves, waves that literally ripple the shape of space itself, created by violent events like black holes colliding. But every gravitational wave discovery had always been done with only two detectors, meaning that scientists only knew what caused the waves—but couldn’t really figure out where in the sky they came from.

As you may have read, another gravitational wave detector called Virgo joined the two operational LIGO experiments to better measure the waves. Today, scientists from both collaborations are announcing the first gravitational wave event to include both LIGO and Virgo observations at a press conference (watch it live here) in Turin, Italy. It’s not a confirmation of the “new kind of gravitational wave” rumors you might have seen, but it’s definitely an important milestone in gravitational wave astronomy.

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“We were so happy, I have to tell you. We celebrated,” Louisiana State University physicist (and former LIGO Scientific Collaboration spokesperson) Gabriela González told Gizmodo. “Virgo joined this run on August first… but we didn’t think we’d see anything over that period of time.” Then, on August 14th, the waves came in.

Virgo’s addition is a big deal, mainly so scientists can point their telescopes to the source of the gravitational waves as soon as they hit. “The main advantage of knowing the direction is that you can take a telescope in that direction and see if anything else is coming from the source,” said Imre Bartos, assistant professor at the University of Florda. Some potential gravitational wave-producing sources like colliding neutron stars might come with a light wave counterpart observable by telescopes.

The newest gravitational waves came from two black holes, one 31 times the mass of the sun and the other 25 times the mass of the sun, colliding to form a black hole 53 times the mass of the sun according to a LIGO press release. That means an amount of mass three times that of our sun turned into energy powering the waves.

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Gravitational wave detectors are enormous, several-kilometer-long L-shaped tubes with laser light split, sent down either end, then joined up in a detector. When gravitational waves pass by, the laser beams move in and out of phase with each other just a tiny amount, creating a waveform that can be analyzed to understand the properties of the black holes and the waves.

Originally, there were only two detectors sensitive to the kinds of gravitational waves hitting the Earth, a Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Washington State and one in Louisiana. Having only two detectors meant there was lots of uncertainty in where a wave came from—the source could have come from pretty much anywhere inside a banana shape that made up about 1/40th of the area covered by the night sky, Imre Bartos, assistant professor at the University of Florida told Gizmodo. Think about trying to listen to a sound with your eyes closed—you can kind of guess but not exactly pinpoint where the sound came from. Adding the new observatory in Italy, Virgo, was like adding a third ear or opening an eye. Virgo decreased the size of the uncertainty by ten times over LIGO data alone, according to the press release.

Virgo isn’t as sensitive as LIGO, Bartos points out, “but it was sufficient to contribute to potential detections.”

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The LIGO and Virgo scientists made their announcement in front of the G7 Science Ministers to show off the international effort.

“We want to show how important international collaboration is,” González told Gizmodo. She said the discovery shows “how much more we can do if we have a network of detectors.”

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Here’s what Sergey Brin’s resume looked like 2 years before he cofounded Google (GOOG, GOOGL)

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Sergey Brin

These days, Sergey Brin is one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in tech. 

But back in 1996, Brin was a lot like any other Ph.D. candidate — on paper, at least. 

Brin’s resume, which was last updated more than 20 years ago, is still available online. At the time Brin made it, he was working toward completing his Ph.D. at Stanford University.

Brin is now worth $43.6 billion and serves as president of Google parent company Alphabet, but in the early days, he was more focused on making an algorithm for personalized movie recommendations, or finding a way to automatically detect cases of copyright infringements.

Here’s Brin’s resume:

Sergey Brin resume

Sergey Brin resume

Brin was no slacker — he had five internships in three years and had already been published twice — but is somewhat lacking in the style department. Plus, there’s a grammatical error in the "Movie Ratings" section:

Sergey Brin resume error

But perhaps more interesting than the resume itself is Brin’s objective, which he hid in the document’s HTML coding. You can see it for yourself by right-clicking on the webpage itself and selecting "View Page Source."

Sergey Brin resume objective

Brin more than delivered on the objective. He got married to his former wife, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, on a sandbar in the Bahamas; collectively purchased eight private jets with Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt and cofounder Larry Page; employs a yacht captain and personal shopper; and is currently working on a secret quest to build a giant airship. 

Lisa Eadicicco contributed to an earlier version of this post. 

SEE ALSO: 15 quotes that reveal the genius and ambition of Google’s Larry Page

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Amid Growing Risks And Diminishing Returns From Algos, Former Blackrock Elite Take On Mindless Robots

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As ZeroHedge readers are keenly aware, 2008 kicked off the largest financial engineering experiment in history – namely, the beginning of 12.3 Trillion in QE and the lowest interest rates in 5,000 years. The plan, hatched by Bush-era Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, created a ‘Fed Put’ underneath the markets first made popular by Alan Greenspan – an implicit guarantee that no matter how bad things got, the Fed would actively combat financial disaster.

As a result, markets experienced an unprecedented rally of nearly 400 percent since the March, 2009 lows – corresponding with a renaissance in computerized trading thanks to lightning fast Silicon Valley innovations.

Rise of the machines

As markets worked their way out of the giant financial crater created by the credit crisis, erratic surges in volatility and historically low interest rates created the perfect conditions for asset managers of all sizes to employ sophisticated trading algorithms to try and beat the market while dispensing with costly human employees. Between Wall St. firms and the various technologies adopted by exchanges around the world, countless billions have been spent on raw processing power, low-latency long-distance trading networks, and an army of programmers.

In March, Blackrock’s Larry Fink boldly stated that the era of the “star stock picker” is coming to an end amidst a firm-wide shift by the world’s largest money manager towards automated strategies.

JP Morgan estimates that up to 90 percent of all daily volume across all exchanges is computer driven, or systematic trading – with just over half of the volume attributed to risky High Frequency Trading (HFT) algorithms. This massive shift from active-investing (humans) to passive-investing (algos) effectively means that Trillions of dollars are sloshing around the exchanges, traded almost exclusively by automated systems.

Perhaps most troubling about the shift to algos is the fact that Wall St’s mindless robots have never had to participate in a rate hike cycle, the unwinding of central bank balance sheets, or a secular bear market. Couple that with that fact that many systematic trading schemes use massive amounts of leverage, and it’s clear that we are entering into uncharted territory as market conditions change.

Choking on bytes

When the Fed began printing money in December of 2008, the erratic volatility which accompanied the QE experiment ushered in a period of underperformance by active money managers who couldn’t compete with hyper short-term, passive trading algorithms.

Unfortunately for algos – which hit their stride during ‘easy money’ market conditions, the future may not be so bright. In addition to creating volatility, sparking flash crashes (they need liquidity like an engine needs oil), and frontrunning orders, automated trading systems have been suffering from diminished returns amid an investment landscape now comprised almost entirely of robots.

In August, the Fed’s Janet Yellen warnedof the “larger presence of algorithmic traders in markets,” voicing concerns over liquidity during stressful conditions. In short, the industry-wide ‘rise of the machines’ has ushered in new types of systemic risk while diluting the performance of once-dominant strategies.

“…algorithmic traders and institutional investors are a larger presence in various markets than previously, and the willingness of these institutions to support liquidity in stressful conditions is uncertain.” Janet Yellen

And as the Financial Times reported last year, algos have huge blind spots when it comes to market disruptions, noting that while “any large market moves in one direction for a period of time the trend following computer will be able to profit,” algos are entirely unable to respond to irrational events they weren’t programmed to deal with.

Their conclusion was logical:

Until computer traders can develop genuine artificial intelligence they will remain unable to gain an edge over the best human investors in spotting a catastrophic disruptive threat to an industry, or a revolutionary emerging technology.

Raw processing power may have its uses in financial markets, but until scientists develop a truly intelligent investing system, rather than a trend follower, the truly skilled human fund manager has no reason to fear.

Enter Blackrock’s Elite Alumni


Like John Connor leading the resistance against a mindless army of terminators, three former Blackrock money managers, Chris Coolidge, Edward Dowd, Rich Mowrer and industry marketing veteran James McCaffrey have teamed up to outmaneuver Fink’s SkyNet and the rest of the Wall St. robots. Their firm, OceanSquare Asset ManagementLLC (www.oceansquare.com) was formed to take advantage of what they believe to be the coming shift back to active, fundamental investing in both fixed income and equity after a decade of synthetic, Fed-sponsored growth.

Based out of Wayne, PA, these guys are no joke – having managed tens of Billions for Blackrock with 54 years of combined experience, the team has navigated multiple market cycles – something Wall St. algorithms have never done.

The investment world is in the crosshairs between man and machine. From algorithms to computer-driven portfolio management, the automation against our clients is underway and it’s our responsibility to deliver to them the active solutions they deserve.” –Chris Coolidge, President & CIO of Fixed Income

In short, the days of easy money are over. With markets at all time highs, thanks in large part to algorithmic ping-pong, the principals of OceanSquare are gearing up for the return to fundamentals-driven, high-conviction stock and bond selection – which means humans analyzing companies run by other humans, who are making long-term business decisions to adapt to economic conditions and purchasing decisions of – you guessed it, humans.

OceanSquare is also unique in that the fixed income and equity PMs will collaborate on their products and will all jointly run a Global Multi Asset Absolute Return product that will be a concentrated ‘best ideas’ portfolio with a benchmark-agnostic approach.

Edward Dowd, OceanSquare’s CIO of Equities and former manager of BlackRock’s $14 billion Capital Appreciation fund, feels confident going head to head against the robot army:

OceanSquare intends to outwit the computers through portfolio concentration and long holding periods,” Dowd said, adding “While the computers have the edge in short term trading, it is OceanSquare’s belief that fundamentals eventually align with price over a time horizon greater than a year. Larger global asset managers will be challenged to effectively offer concentrated portfolios due to their size and focus on short term performance measurements. Additionally, it would require them to shrink as well, which is never fun for investment staff or their investors.”

With the army of Wall St. terminators already suffering from fatigue, OceanSquare Asset Management and its team of star stock pickers may be the John Connor that active clients need to guide them into the future.

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We detected ripples in space and time again, confirming a new era in astrophysics has begun

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On August 14, the after-effects of an extreme cosmic blast rippled through you, me, and everyone we know.

But you didn’t feel it. 

The only instruments on Earth that knew the fabric of space and time was stretching around and through us were located in Washington, Louisiana, and Italy. On Wednesday, we learned what they saw, and, in fact, heard.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the U.S. and the Virgo Observatory in Italy detected the ripples in space and time created by two huge black holes — at 31 and 25 times the mass of the sun — crashing into each other at a distance of 1.8 billion light-years away.

This is the fourth time humans have observed those ripples — called gravitational waves — and the first time three detectors on two continents have been used to catch sight of them. 

Having Virgo up and running is a real boon in the hunt for gravitational waves, since it helps validate results from the U.S.-based network. 

“…Virgo is allowing us to localize the origin of our gravitational waves to a much higher accuracy than could be possible with only two detectors,” said Laura Cadonati, deputy spokesperson for LIGO, via email.

“A smaller search area enables follow-up observations with telescopes and satellites for cosmic events that produce gravitational waves and emissions of light, such as the collision of neutron stars,” Cadonati said.

If all three detectors see a signal, it bolsters the idea that the signal is real because LIGO and Virgo use somewhat different technology, Cadonati said.

Think of our universe as a sheet on a bed. If you put objects onto that bed, they will warp and dimple the sheet in different ways, depending on how massive they are. 

If two of those objects — like the huge black holes that created this signal — were to spin around each other, that sheet would move, sending ripples outward. 

LIGO and Virgo detected those faint ripples in the fabric of our universe.

If you convert the signal from the gravitational waves into sound, it actually resembles a chirp, going from a lower frequency to a high frequency right at the end. This of course, led some delightful scientists to “chirp” for LIGO on video ahead of the first announcement in 2016.

While this detection may not be quite as exciting as the first time gravitational waves were announced in February 2016, it’s a great example of how iterative science is. 

With every gravitational wave observation, we get ever so slightly closer to figuring out exactly how black holes work and what we can learn about all the weird objects in our universe. 

“This is just the beginning of observations with the network enabled by Virgo and LIGO working together,” said David Shoemaker, the spokesman for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, in a statement. 

Shoemaker said to expect a ramp-up in the rate of detections of gravitational waves beginning with the next observing run in the fall of 2018. “We can expect such detections weekly or even more often,” he said.

When the first detection was announced, scientists ushered in a new era of astrophysics. Today’s announcement is further evidence that the field is shifting. 

The new discovery will be detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters, but you can read it now online.

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Where to Go Instead of Times Square When Visiting NYC

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Photo by chensiyuan

When I recently advised that New York City visitors skip Times Square, I was met with righteous anger by people who don’t live in New York. To be clear: You’re allowed to visit Times Square! But you’re not allowed to go there, then tell everyone that New York is smelly, crowded, too expensive, and full of jerks. That’s like going to Disney World and deciding everyone in Florida is named Mickey Mouse.

Ironically, while Times Square is made for tourists, almost everything in it has a superior counterpart somewhere else in New York. And I don’t mean superior for New York snobs, I mean better for you, the visitor. Some are cheaper, some are more special, most are both. And some are still a secret to many New Yorkers. Below, some of the most popular Times Square tourist traps, and my favorite alternatives to each:

Museums

American Museum of Natural History (Photo by InSapphoWeTrust)

If you had your heart set on the Times Square Madame Tussauds, I’ll admit that there will definitely be some celebrity statues in this one that aren’t in the chain’s 24 other locations. But for a little less money ($29 less if you skip the “suggested donation”) you could see actual one-of-a-kind art and artifacts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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The Met is so large that you could spend an entire day taking in the art without coming even close to seeing the whole collection. Highlights include the Egyptian temple, European paintings, and the Arms and Armor room, and there are always multiple stunning temporary exhibits.

Other popular world-class options include the American Museum of Natural History, which features a T-rex skeleton and a life-size blue whale statue, and the Museum of Modern Art (just a few blocks from Times Square). Take a guided tour of the historical apartments and workshops of the Tenement Museum, or see the gymnasium-sized model of New York City at the Queens Museum.

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If you really want to gawk at some wax figures, try the creepy collection of faces and body parts at the House of Wax, a plush cocktail bar in Brooklyn’s new City Point, upstairs from the indoor street-food smorgasbord Dekalb Market Hall.

Shopping

Housing Works Bookstore Café (Photo by Marginalmonkeys)

Times Square has decent shopping, but it’s outclassed by the equally crowded promenade of stores along Broadway down near Houston Street (pronounced “How-stun”) in SoHo. And those stores are surrounded by much more relaxed, welcoming neighborhoods in every direction.

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Or try the boutique shops sprinkled throughout the area, just a few blocks east of Broadway. The clothing can be breathtakingly expensive, but it’s fun window shopping, and there’s affordable jewelry at the sidewalk stands. Unlike Times Square, SoHo has two great bookstores: McNally Jackson for new books, the charitable Housing Works Bookstore Café for used.

Fancy Candy Stores 

Dylan’s Candy Bar (Photo by m01229)

The giant M&M’s store at Times Square is pretty one-note. The flagship Dylan’s Candy Bar on the Upper East Side has a much richer variety of novelty candies and chocolates including Bertie Botts from Harry Potter, pizza-flavored chocolate bars, and yes, M&M’s.

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Dylan’s also has stores at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and JFK airport. Or try the more working-class Economy Candy on the Lower East Side.

Broadway Theater

Upright Citizens Brigade (Photo by mofesta)

If you’ve got the money for a Broadway seat, by all means go for it. Broadway shows are good! But if you’re on a budget, or you want a more intimate experience, consider off-Broadway (the term applies to theater size, not location) at Playwrights Horizons, Lincoln Center, or Signature Theatre. The actors and playwrights often have Broadway, TV, and film credits to their name.

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Want something funny? Skip the tourist-trap “free comedy” that the guys in Times Square are begging you to come to, and try standup at the Comedy Cellar, or improv at the UCB Theatre’s Chelsea and East Village locations where tomorrow’s sitcom actors prove that improv can actually be good.

And for something more experimental, catch the weekly New York Neo-Futurists show The Infinite Wrench, formerly known as Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.

Street Artists, Costumed Characters, and the Plaza

Mermaid Parade (Photo by Richie S)

As street performers go, the topless ladies and costumed Elmos of Times Square aren’t half as impressive as the live bands, dancers, and other artists in Washington Square Park. If you come in June, you’ll see far more scintillating costumes at Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade.

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All the art stands along Broadway, with their quick-draw caricatures, generic airbrush paintings of the skyline, and photos of John Lennon in an “I ❤️ NY” shirt are readily available in Central Park (a much more pleasant environment) or down at Union Square (which also has a farmer’s market four days a week).

Italian Restaurants

Eataly (Photo by blese)

I have three friends who eat at the Times Square Olive Garden, and they’re all hipsters. Don’t be a hipster. Save the Olive Garden for home, where it’s cheaper.

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Instead, go pretty much anywhere in Little Italy. If you don’t check Yelp (or Foursquare, which works better in New York than elsewhere), you might end up somewhere with mediocre food, but a great old-timey atmosphere.

For high-quality Italian (though it’s not in Little Italy), go to Eataly, Mario Batali’s market-style grocery store/restaurant/bar/food museum in the Flatiron District. It’s crowded, but for a good reason. Or eat at the local high-end chain Parm, which is comfort-food delicious and generously portioned, especially for its medium price range.

While there are many good restaurants in the larger Times Square area, they don’t outclass the options in the Lower East Side or the East Village. Just find any local magazine’s list of best restaurants, like the annual winners of New York’s “Best of New York.”

Souvenir Shops

Fishs Eddy (Photo by Shinya Suzuki)

If you want to bring home something that says “I carried this home on a flight from LaGuardia,” skip the Times Square shops and get a city-themed trinket at Fishs Eddy, New York’s best dish-and-housewares shop. Something light and unbreakable, like a tea towel.

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If you head to Brooklyn (you could spend a whole vacation just walking through Park Slope, Gowanus, and Cobble Hill) stop by the Gowanus Souvenir Shop for memorabilia of New York’s smelly Superfund-site canal.

Giant Ads

Houston St. mural (Photo by Dan DeLuca)

Those giant blinking LED billboards in the Square are beautiful! Or I think they are, from the two seconds I’ve ever stood still to look at them before someone shoved me. But they look just as good in pictures.

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I’m more impressed by the street art all around the city, as listed in Architectural Digest, Resource Magazine, Time Out New York, and Business Insider. Check out what the Houston Bowery Wall looks like this month.

TV Studios

Criminal Intent shoot in Manhattan (Photo by Terry Bain)

I won’t pretend you can replace a visit to the Late Show set or Rockefeller Center. But if you just want to get near some show business, check On Location Vacations to see what TV shows and movies are shooting where today. Or even visit the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, which is located on an active studio lots, and chock full of movie memorabilia as well as kid-friendly, interactive exhibitions.

Skyscrapers

View from the Empire State Building (Photo by chensiyuan)

You know what’s cooler than staring up at tall buildings, or quoting movies from 2010? Staring down from tall buildings. New York looks amazing from above, and it’s worth the trip up to the top of the Empire State Building or World Trade Center. See? You can be touristy! Just be touristy at the good stuff.

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And hey, if you go to the World Trade Center, stop by the Irish Hunger Memorial. The city disappears for a second and you’ll feel like you walked through a portal into a windswept moor. Then you’ll walk up and see the Jersey skyline emerge. The experience is moving.

You’ll never see everything in New York. No one does, even if we live here. So make the most of your time here, and see the good stuff.

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‘I stopped reading halfway through:’ Twitter users are furious about the new longer tweets (TWTR)

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Jack Dorsey

Twitter announced on Tuesday it was testing one of the biggest changes to the service in its 11-year history.

Tweets had previously been limited to 140 characters. Many considered that Twitter’s defining characteristic.

But now it’s testing tweets that can be twice as long. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the change in a tweet made up of exactly 280 letters, numbers, and symbols. 

But the real question is what Twitter’s notoriously snarky userbase made up of tech nerds, politics journalists, sports fans, and Russian bots thinks. So far, it seems like they hate it.

Here are some tweets: 

Some people are wondering how famous Twitter user President Donald Trump will take the news. 

VC Bill Gurley, who backed Twitter before it was a public company, likes the move, though.

So does The New York Times’ Silicon Valley columnist:

Ultimately, the key audience for this change will be normal people who aren’t addicted to Twitter. Some like it!

 

SEE ALSO: Twitter is doubling the length of tweets to 280 characters

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NOW WATCH: Here are all the major changes coming to your iPhone September 19

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Marine biologist captures ‘blue hole’ in the Great Barrier Reef

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Australia’s Great Barrier Reef already offers plenty of wonder, but dang, this blue hole is pretty cool.

It was apparently found by marine biologist Johnny Gaskell, who said he spotted the blue hole on Google Maps. He went to check it out with a team, despite it being far offshore, “further than our normal Reef trips.”

“What we found inside was hard to believe, considering five months ago a Category 4 cyclone went straight over the top of it,” Gaskell said in a statement via email. 

Anyway, they managed to capture the inside of the hidden lagoon, and it looks it was like a fun adventure:

Gaskell said he and his team believe they’re the first to dive this blue hole, which they won’t reveal the location of publicly, preferring to keep it a secret. The lagoon walls act as a source of protection to the coral.

“At around 15 to 20 metres (16 to 21 yards) deep, there were huge Birdsnest Corals (Seriatopora) and super elongated Staghorn Corals (Acropora), both of which were among the biggest and most delicate colonies I’ve ever seen,” Gaskell said.

“It’s not as deep as the famous Great Blue Hole in Belize but it is a really unique spot.”

Since the discovery, Gaskell has located two other blue holes, roughly 200 kilometres (124 mi) offshore, and is working out logistics to travel there. There are also blue holes in the Cockatoo and Molar Reefs.

It’s certainly a bright bit of news from the reef, which is still under serious threat from coral bleaching.

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How Ancient Star Maps Gave Rise to Modern Astronomy

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Image: British Library, Public Domain

Scientists have incredibly advanced tools to look at the stars today, but in the era before light pollution, star-gazing was much easier and simpler for the average person—just step outside at night. Pretty early on, and in a variety of cultures, people realized that they could chart the stars and their movements for navigation. The Greek constellations, which were tied to their myths, illustrate how this information moved through time. But humanity’s early star maps are much more than ancient artifacts—they became part of our history and culture, and continue to inform modern science to a surprising degree.

Dunhuang Star Chart, scroll image courtesy British Library

The first complete star map that still exists today was made in 650 A.D. in Dunhuang, western China, a city on the Silk Road. There, a star atlas was meticulously drawn onto a piece of paper, then filed away with other documents in a temple alcove. The space was sealed off at some point, and wasn’t re-discovered until 1907, when a Taoist monk, the self-appointed guardian of the temple, accidentally crashed through a wall to find the hidden cache, which contained sculptures, piles of documents, and the now-famous star map.

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“[The map] was most likely made by someone highly educated like a scholar or a court astronomer,” cosmologist Dr. Khee-Gan Lee, a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, tells Gizmodo. “This was definitely not amateur work, but was professional for the time.”

Lee is an expert on ancient star maps who has given several presentations on them at U.C. Berkeley over the past few months. The history of star maps matters to him personally, because even today, maps of the cosmos help guide his research.

“Mapping out what we can observe…is one way of inferring some of the fundamental parameters of the universe,” Lee said. A good example of how this works is the recent Dark Energy Survey, which used information about the shapes and distribution of galaxies to “infer the density of gravitational matter in the Universe—one of the fundamental parameters of the Universe,” Lee said. That Survey’s results were also a test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

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Following the Dunhuang map, there wasn’t another more complete star map for hundreds of years (at least, none that have been discovered yet). All civilizations were limited by technology—they could record what was observed by the naked eye, like the brightest stars and planets. For almost a thousand years, that limitation halted a further understanding of the cosmos. To get more detailed information, humans needed a better eye.

When the first telescopes were developed in The Netherlands in the early 1600s, amateurs and experts alike were excited to try them, even though they only had weak magnifications of 3X or 4X. From Galileo’s early models, to Newton’s, to the 1500-foot-long model designed by Johannes Hevelius, astronomers of the 16th and 17th centuries were limited by the quality of the glass needed to make more powerful telescopes. Not much more could be learned about the stars until higher magnifications were achieved.

Sir William Herschel and Caroline Herschel. Colour lithograph by A. Diethe, ca. 1896. William polishing a telescope element, probably a mirror and Caroline Herschel adds lubricant./Wikipedia via the Wellcome Trust

In late 1770s, German/Czech/Jewish musician William Herschel turned to designing telescopes. After some failures, he developed a powerful enough ‘scope to make brand-new observations, and immediately began a systematic search and recording of the night sky above Bath, England. In 1781, he was able to discern that Uranus wasn’t another star, but a planet. Following that discovery, he was appointed Court Astronomer by the British king, George III, and paid to study the stars full time. His sister Caroline Herschel, who started her career in astronomy by recording her brother’s observations, soon moved on to making her own when she got her own telescope. Her observations on comets became widely published, and she was also employed by the Crown, the first woman in British history to be recognized in this way.

“On the construction of the heavens.” The shape of our Galaxy as deduced from star counts by William Herschel in 1785; drawn by Caroline Herschel. Read at the Royal Society, February 3, 1785. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Putting their observations together, William and Caroline Herschel published On the Construction of the Heavens in 1785, which painted a basic picture of The Milky Way. “The Herschels were the first people to systematically chart the heavens. “From my perspective as a modern cosmologist, it’s the earliest echo of what I do—charting out and analyzing the positions of objects in the sky, then inferring the properties of the universe through the process,” said Lee.

“That the Milky Way is a most extensive stratum of stars of various sizes admits no longer of the least doubt, and that our Sun is actually one of the heavenly bodies belonging to it is evident. I have now viewed and gauged this shining zone in almost every direction, and find it composed of stars whose number, by the account of these gauges, constantly increases and decreases in proportion to its apparent brightness to the naked eye.” -Herschel

In the 1800s, humanity’s understanding of the universe exploded thanks to several key advances, which improved star mapping by revealing the distances between and relative movement of stars (not just their fixed location at a given time of observation). Going from knowing where a star is to knowing how it behaves over time is the cosmological difference between a two-dimensional representation of the Universe and a three-dimensional one.

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The first advance came in 1838, when the Astronomical Distance Scale was established, using the breakthrough parallax method developed by Friedrich Bessel—this meant that distances between stars and other objects could be measured much more accurately.

Then, in the 1850s and 1860s, the development of astronomical spectroscopy (analyzing starlight by wavelength) allowed astronomers to access even more information. Lee calls it the “key to astrophysics,” since now observers could learn about the spin, magnetic fields, composition, and relative motion of stars. Together, the distance scale and spectroscopy gave scientists the ability to make a star map with much greater detail and three-dimensional perspective: “We were no longer confined to plotting two-dimensional positions on the ‘celestial sphere,’” says Lee.

1880: First photograph of the Nebula in Orion, by Professor Henry Draper. Image: Public Domain, Wikipedia

In the late 1800s, astrophotography advanced the field yet again. No longer were humans reliant on what could be observed with the eye and a telescope: astrophotography can reveal nebulae, galaxies, and dimmer stars using a longer exposure time for the film in a camera. Direct recordings were now possible: “…where before we had to manually write down the positions of objects and sketch their appearance by hand,” said Lee.

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In 1920, the National Academy of Sciences sponsored a “Great Debate” about whether the sun was at the outskirts of the Milky Way or toward the center (and how spiral nebulae related to our galaxy). Harlow Shapley, a Princeton astronomer, argued that the Milky Way was the extent of the universe, and the sun was in the outer arms of it; Heber Curtis, the director of the Allegheny Observatory, disagreed, presenting evidence that there were many galaxies, and the sun was at the center of the Milky Way. “It was such a huge question at the heart of where we are in the universe, and nature of the universe itself,” Lee said. Though it seems odd to us that people were arguing about whether the sun was at the center of our galaxy or not less than a hundred years ago, Lee explained, “It was an honest debate in terms of what they knew and there were good reasons for either camp to argue for what they did—at that point it was such a universal question.”

One of Andrew Ainslie Common’s 1883 photographs of the same nebula, the first to show that a long exposure could record stars and nebulae invisible to the human eye. Image: Public Domain/Wikipedia

Just a few years later, in 1923, American Cosmologist Edwin Hubble calculated the location of the Andromeda galaxy using astrophotography. “Hubble could not have discovered the Cepheid variable ‘standard candle’ stars in the Andromeda galaxy if he wasn’t able to photograph it and record the exact position and brightness of the stars in that galaxy at different times,” says Lee. This measurement allowed him to prove that Andromeda was outside our galaxy and settled the question—there were more galaxies than our own (probably trillions, we know now) as Curtis has argued. But Shapely was correct about the placement of the sun in the outer arms of the Milky Way. The photographic plates from Hubble’s astrophotography make a whole new kind of map—one made from photographs representing a three-dimensional universe.

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Shortly after that, advances in photography and electronics set humanity up to double our knowledge of the known universe—and expand ideas of the universe itself. “Electronic detectors are a critical part of what’s been possible in modern times, providing the quantum leap to get to where we are now” Lee said. In the 1940s and 1950s, scientists sat inside giant telescopes taking photographic plates each night of star movements—it took years to gather a data set. Electronic detectors are much, much faster.

Lee cites the “CfA stickman” map as a good example of the new type of star map (or now, galaxy map) that came out of the mid-late 20th century data from electronic detectors. Published in 1986, by Valerie de Lapparent, Margaret Gellerit, and John Huschra, it was the first real evidence for the cosmic web. (It got the “stickman” moniker from the anthropomorphic cluster of stars at its center.) It includes thousands of galaxies and was the precursor to other important maps like the Great Wall, from 1989.

Now, cosmologists like Lee can collect and analyze data sets that scientists 75 years ago could only dream about. Still, Lee sees his work as connected to the people in this history—he says his work is built on their foundations, even though he’s looking at places that are 10 billion light years away, in the Cosmos field targeted by the Hubble telescope. “I’m old-fashioned in that I actually do make maps and stare at them,” Lee said. “I see what I’m doing is giving this extremely distant and remote, early part of the Universe a sense of place by mapping it.”

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A geologist in her first career, Starre is now freelance science writer—but she still picks up rocks wherever she goes.

from Gizmodo http://bit.ly/2huZtbR
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