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This image combines a background picture taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (blue/green) with a new very deep ALMA view of this field (orange, marked with circles).

Week in Geek - Hubble redux edition

09/25/16 12:55AM

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) just took the Hubble Ultra Deep Field to the next level.

ALMA is an array of 66 radio dish antennas located at an altitude of over 16.000 feet in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. Much like the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, these dishes all work in concert to create a telescope used to observe radio emission at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths. Astronomers use radio telescopes to probe phenomena such as star formation by observing gas and dust clouds that are too distant and/or too faint to be see by infrared or optical telescopes.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is an image released by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004 of a patch of sky roughly as big as 1/10th of the full moon. The filed was found to contain 10,000 galaxies of all shapes, sizes, and ages and is the deepest view of the universe to date. Now ALMA has begun to to peer at the same area of the sky to uncover what else might be there that Hubble was unable to see.

The recent results are from only 50 hours of ALMA observing the HUDF. ALMA is slated to observe an additional 150 hours in the near future. They show that total mass of stars in a galaxy is highly correlated with its rate of star formation. Additionally, astronomers were able to identify regions where star-formation was likely to happen next based on the concentration of molecular gas, regions Hubble could never "see". The video below highlights these areas (in orange) superimposed on the HUDF (in blue).

"This is a breakthrough result. For the first time we are properly connecting the visible and ultraviolet light view of the distant Universe from Hubble and far-infrared/millimeter views of the Universe from ALMA." - Jim Dunlop, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Here's some more geek from the week:

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Civil Rights Museum rejects Trump photo-op

Civil Rights Museum rejects Trump photo-op

09/23/16 09:54PM

Rachel Maddow reports on an unplanned detour by the Donald Trump campaign from a planned photo-op stop of The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina after the museum observed that Donald Trump's values are contrary to those of the museum. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 9.23.16

09/23/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Charlotte: "Unsettling footage obtained by NBC News shows the moments leading up to the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina."

* Also in North Carolina: "Charlotte police on Friday announced the arrest of a suspect in the killing of a demonstrator shot during protests this week over a police-involved shooting."

* Tulsa: "The life and career of the white Oklahoma police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man last week is now under a microscope. Tulsa police Officer Betty Shelby, a five-year veteran of the force, has been charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting 40-year-old Terence Crutcher on a highway."

* Big news out of Ohio: "In the latest court victory for voting rights, a federal appeals panel on Friday ruled against Ohio's controversial procedure for removing inactive voters from the rolls. The decision could give a modest boost to Hillary Clinton in a crucial swing state."

* A rare veto: "President Barack Obama on Friday vetoed controversial legislation aimed at helping the families of the victims of the September 11th attacks sue Saudi Arabia -- a move that sets up an emotionally-charged, election year showdown between an outgoing commander-in-chief and members of his party who supported the bill."

* New Jersey: "Key members of the New Jersey Assembly have begun researching whether or not to bring articles of impeachment against Gov. Chris Christie, NBC 4 New York has learned."

* Sometimes, little, off-the-beaten-path stories can be incredibly important: "A judge appointed by President Obama has been added to the group that will decide the fate of his landmark climate change regulation. The addition of Judge Nina Pillard tips the scales further toward Democratic appointees for the case, which comes before the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit next week."
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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks with Donald Trump during a Tea Party Patriots rally against the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 9, 2015. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg/Getty)

Abandoning all principles Ted Cruz backs Donald Trump

09/23/16 04:42PM

It was one of the most striking and memorable moments of the Republican National Convention. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the runner-up in the race for the party's presidential nomination, was under pressure to endorse Donald Trump, but the Texas senator just couldn't bring himself to do it.

Facing a chorus of relentless boos from Trump loyalists on the convention floor, Cruz instead told Republicans, "Vote your conscience."

That was two months ago. This afternoon, Cruz changed his mind, publishing a 700-word piece on Facebook announcing his support for his party's nominee.
"After many months of careful consideration, of prayer and searching my own conscience, I have decided that on Election Day, I will vote for the Republican nominee, Donald Trump. I've made this decision for two reasons. First, last year, I promised to support the Republican nominee. And I intend to keep my word.

"Second, even though I have had areas of significant disagreement with our nominee, by any measure Hillary Clinton is wholly unacceptable...."
The Texas senator's piece went on to highlight a variety of key priorities that he considers pivotal -- the Supreme Court, health care policy, energy policy, refugees, immigration, and Internet governance -- as part of his case for supporting Trump.

Of course, what he didn't mention is that those identical issues were equally important to Cruz two months ago, when he refused to endorse the GOP nominee.

In other words, if today's announcement makes it seem as if Cruz is a craven opportunist, far more interested in partisan gamesmanship than deeply held principles, it's probably because he's making it difficult to draw any other conclusion.
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Podiums stand empty prior to the start of a South Carolina Republican presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Jan. 16, 2012 (

The debates leading up to the debates

09/23/16 01:02PM

The first presidential debate featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is scheduled for Monday night, which means assorted partisans are hard at work, furiously trying to shape public perceptions ahead of the big showdown.

There are three broad angles to this that are worth keeping in mind between now and showtime.

1. Donald Trump is terrified of real-time fact-checking.

Republicans are still angry with CNN's Candy Crowley fact-checking Mitt Romney during a debate four years ago, and Donald Trump spent some time this week lobbying NBC News' Lester Holt, among other moderators, to let the candidates argue among themselves.

"You're debating somebody, and if she makes a mistake, or if I make a mistake, we'll take each other on," Trump said during one of his several Fox News appearances this week. He added that he and Clinton should simply "argue it out."

It's bound to be tricky. If a moderator, such as Crowley, provides the public with information that contradicts a candidate, he or she is the target of intense criticism. Note, however, that NBC News' Matt Lauer also faced equally intense rebukes recently for hosting an event in which he let some brazen Donald Trump lies go without pushback.

Trump clearly prefers the latter, creating a "he said, she said" dynamic in which viewers aren't sure who to believe. Whether Holt and other moderators stick to that model remains to be seen.

2. The expectations game is getting ridiculous.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about the campaigns going to borderline silly lengths to set expectations ahead of the debate -- "Our candidate is going to do terribly, and our rival will be amazing" -- and the problem has only intensified. The New York Times reported today:
Mr. Trump is largely shunning traditional debate preparations, but has been watching video of Mrs. Clinton's best and worst debate moments, looking for her vulnerabilities. [...]

Mr. Trump ... is approaching the debate like a Big Man on Campus who thinks his last-minute term paper will be dazzling simply because he wrote it. He has paid only cursory attention to briefing materials. He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers. He prefers spitballing ideas with his team rather than honing them into crisp, two-minute answers.
The Associated Press has a similar report today. Take both with many grains of salt.
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