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Policy Makers, Keep on Reading

Card: Are you worried about the national debt?

Stiglitz:    Exactly… well, that was the other aspect of… of the relationship between the war and our economy.  Households, our country, and our government, for the past 5 years have been based on debt.  The government has been borrowing, our national debt has soared from 5.7 trillion dollars to over 9 trillion dollars and with the take over of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the CBO, the congressional… Independent Congressional Budget Office which assesses the appropriate accounting framework saying 15 trillion dollars, we in a… we borrowed every cent to finance this war.  First war in history that’s been financed in the… in American History that’s been financed this way.  Normally, we go to war, you cut back on expenditures, you raise taxes, you share the cost between the current generation and the future generations.  When we went to war 2003, we already have a very large deficit related to the tax cut of 2001 but then the Bush administration had a second round of tax cuts and so this war has been totally financed on the credit card.  Now, that’s the federal debt.  There is also the country as a whole was borrowing because the country wasn’t saving.  When the government borrowed, it couldn’t turn to Americans, it had to turn abroad.  So [when you’re alone], we borrowed more than 800 billion dollars from countries around the world.  So here, we have the riches country in the world, not being able to live within its means.  And then finally, there’s the piece called the household debt and this goes back to what… I was saying before why was it that in this economic down turn… in this case, when all oil prices went up, we didn’t have the down turn that was seen in the 1970s, for instance.  Well, if you go back to the 1970s, there was one part of the world that did not have an economic down turn and that was Latin America and how did they do it?  It did it by borrowing.  So, I think that you can say that the Bush administration studied Latin America but they only studied the first part of the chapter, ‘cause what happened to Latin America was they borrowed and they borrowed and they borrowed and then 19… came 1980, they couldn’t pay those debts and you have the Latin American debt crisis a decade which you call the lost decade of stagnation.  The Bush administration tried to follow that example so the American households borrowed and borrowed and borrowed.  The [Fed] encouraged it by keeping interest rates low and encouraged it by having lax regulations.  And so, what happened in the United States is that while we were spending so much money abroad importing oil, we were consuming so much that we kept the economy going.  Our household savings rate went down to 0 but it was clear that we were leaving off borrowed money, borrowed time, it was not sustainable.  It was just… you know, there had to be a day of reckoning.  I think the Bush administration hoped that that day of reckoning would happen after November 2008 but like many things, things didn’t work out quite the way they had hoped and in August 2007, began the process of the unraveling of this consumption bubble.

Joseph Stiglitz on The Problem of Too Much Borrowing.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
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Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
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Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
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NASA releases first sounds ever captured on Mars

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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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