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Convincing Countries to Give in a Recession

Question: Should rich countries help poor countries and, if so, how?

Mary Robinson:  I do very much believe that they should, it’s an important component and we mustn’t let that slip.  There’s a certain amount of feeling that there's a financial crisis, can we really afford?  We have to.  Because we have a very connected world and what’s happening in other parts of the world will ultimately affect us unless you have social stability.  So it is in the outcome document of this summit that there must be a recommitment to the 0.7% of GDP, which is actually not a great amount, given the potential of being able to have a safer and more balanced world.

We also know now that the way in which we’re living our lives, based on carbon, in the rich parts of the world, is undermining development of the poorest parts and there’s a commitment that was made in Copenhagen for an additional $30 billion a year over the next three years to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries.  I want to see that money, as yet, I don’t see any new money being committed by countries.  And even though there’s a financial crisis, we can actually find the ability and then we need governments of the poor countries to have a real sense of their responsibility to govern on behalf of their people.

Question:
How can you convince people and governments to give during economic hard times?

 
Mary Robinson:  I certainly very much understand the stress and the worry and the day-to-day concerns of people who have terrible mortgage problems, who are behind on their payments, who know that they have problems of school fees or university fees for the young people, etc. And it’s the same in the modern Ireland, we’re going through a very tough time in many countries in Europe and elsewhere.  But we have to see the connections in our world.  I mean, look at a country that has become what we call now a failed state, pretty well, Somalia.  You have pirates out on the open seas from Somalia.  You have a danger of terrorists being able to group where there is no law and order and finds ways of attacking elsewhere in the world.  We are much more interconnected than we have ever been.  It’s in our total interests to help to create middle classes in the developing countries. Then they will buy American goods, they will want to trade to the profit of everyone.  And so I think it’s hard when you’re really wondering how you’re going to meet the commitments for next month and real worries about food, as that woman has said.

But in fact, I think any kind of sense of political leadership now has to move in the direction of understanding the interconnections between our world and we will not have peace and security if we do not have fairer balances.  Because we’re not staying at the same population level, we’re going to go up from just under 7 billion people today to over 9 billion by 2050.  That’s the largest increase in population we’ll ever have seen, and many of them are in very poor countries.

So for stability for our own generation, but particularly for our children and grandchildren, we have to have this sense of an interconnected world.

Question:
How do we ensure that aid is actually being used to improve conditions in poor countries?


Mary Robinson:  I still firmly believe we need to keep the commitments to development aid, but I also agree with an increasing number of African leaders and others who say, “We want to bring ourselves out of poverty.  We want fairer trade rules.  We want some subsidies removed that disadvantage us and when we’re trying to compete on cotton or sugar, etc.”  And I think that we need to have more emphasis on access to energy for the poorest.  One of the things that has helped poor countries greatly is the mobile phone.  That was the private sector creating a market in the poor countries and the mobile phone, you it attracts markets, it transfers money, it does help surveillance, you can do education on it, it’s wonderful.  But there are 1.6 billion people who have no access to electricity in our 21st century.  That’s not acceptable.

If you give energy to the poorest, they will be able to be more productive and there is that sense that age shouldn’t be sort of, kind of, "We’ll look after your needs and not make the poor productive."  Many of us think that we have to have much more emphasis on decent work as part of the whole approach.  Including by the private sector, the companies that are operating, like Coca-Cola or other companies in developing countries, must more and more look at their whole value chain.  How do we create more jobs?  It’s jobs that take people out of poverty.

Recorded September 21, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

Fostering a middle class in developing countries is in everyone’s interest. Failed states like Somalia promote terrorism and instability, affecting every part of our interconnected world.

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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

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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