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Catch Up, Public Sector

dvanced ideas, but we recognize that takes a long time. So, many of us are involved in, if you will, reeducating through continuing education programs, people who are already 20 years out of school and want to learn about some of these approaches that can help them in their professional development, help the nation deal with the transportation issues that it is concerned with. 

The federal government has a special role. It is a facilitator; it is in some sense a cheerleader saying here’s where we need to be going. It needs to set the tone in terms of issues like safety and advanced technology. It needs to do research that can allow different kinds of technologies to roll out and it has to do that in a way that is consistent with the research being done in the private sector as well as the public sector at the state level. 

Question: How much should stakeholders be considered? 

Joseph Sussman: There are a variety of people with interests in the transportation systems. Obviously we have travelers; we have people who want their freight shipped from one point on the network to another. We have people who are interested in using public transportation. We have people that live adjacent to major transportation facilities like Logan International Airport here in Boston, the Boston metropolitan area. So, a variety of folks are interested in the transportation enterprise, but the way in which they measure its performance may well be very, very different. And we need to take that into account when we make transportation decision. 

Let’s suppose we are talking about adding physical capacity to Logan International Airport. We want to add runway capacity, let us say. For somebody living out in the suburbs of Boston, like me for example. We’re all for it. We think adding to the capacity of Logan is terrific, so we don’t get delayed when we are leaving for Chicago, we don’t get delayed when we are flying in from Los Angeles, the system will operate more effectively, more smoothly if we have additional capacity on those runways. But everybody isn’t necessarily feeling that way. If you live adjacent to the Logan property and you’ve got planes flying over your house all day long. Your view of additional capacity at Logan is not a very positive one. They feel people living in that environment and the Mayor of the City of Boston is included in that class, feel that maybe somebody else should take some of the environmental pain of having an airport. Everybody understands the need for the airport, but the question of whether it’s being spread out among the stakeholder community maybe less clear. 

So if we are able to develop a mathematical model to say, here’s what will happen at Logan if we add a runway. Here will be the improved throughput of Logan as an airport. Here are the effects on other airports around the region and around the country of Logan being a better node and the airlines are of course very interested in that. How often have you sat in an airport and your flight is delayed and you look out and the sun is shining beautifully, but you’re waiting for an airplane to come in from Chicago where it’s snowing.  And so, the notion of the transportation network comes into play. 

Recorded on January 25, 2010

When it comes to adopting transportation issues, the federal government has a special role as a cheerleader.

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A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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