Space Photos of the Week: Where Stars Go to Live and Die

As Carl Sagan once said, “We are made of star stuff.” And so is everything in the universe. When a star explodes, it leaves behind traces that can tell you about its elemental makeup, and Cassiopeia A is a great example of those supernova remnants. The Chandra X-ray observatory snapped this photo of Cassiopeia A in X-ray light. Each color represents a different element found in the star: silicon (red), sulfur (yellow), calcium (green), and iron (purple).

Welcome new planet! This week scientists announced they had found an eighth planet in the system around Kepler 90, a star similar to ours that’s located 2,545 light years from Earth. The planet was found by parsing through NASA’s Kepler database with artificial intelligence. Seen here is an artist’s representation of the solar system, featuring its new member, Kepler-90i—which is also the third rock from its sun.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took this photo of meandering blue fault lines on Mars. These visible rifts show how material has shifted over time in the region known as Meridiani Planum. Scientists think some of this movement happened in soft, newer areas, while other shifts happened in hardened, older regolith, making for a cleaner break.

Hidden in this sparkling, peaceful image are some unexpectedly massive explosions. Scientists detected a gamma ray burst coming from this galaxy, ESO 580-49—at just 185 million light-years from Earth, it’s the second-closest ever spotted. These massive explosions are so large they send gamma rays speeding through the universe, some eventually making their way into our own solar system.

Turn off all the lights in your town and you’d be surprised to see what arches over your head. This photo shows off our twinkling Milky Way galaxy over the Paranal Observatory in Chile. In the foreground is the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, an instrument so powerful it can spot objects four billion times fainter than what what we can see with the unaided eye.

Speaking of the Very Large Telescope, it captured this stunning photo of a stellar nursery called Sharpless 29. A stellar nursery is an area in space with dust that contracts and expands, creating stars in the process. At the center of the photo is a nebula and a very active star that’s expelling high-energy radiation out into space, carving out a reddish region in the center.

In this wider view of space, we can see the stellar nursery, Sharpless 29, in the center of the frame. The large dusty mass to the right is the Lagoon Nebula, and to the upper right, the Trifid Nebula. All of these features are homes to star formation.

Always wanted to take a dive through Jupiter’s clouds but worried about the whole dying thing? Fear not! NASA has you covered. Using data from the Juno spacecraft, scientists created a video dipping into the great red spot. The Juno team recently revealed that the storm descends a whopping 200 miles into Jupiter’s atmosphere and is actually warmer at the bottom than it is at the top. Scientists are still unsure how long the storm has been active, and they’re unsure what’s fueling it too. With Juno orbiting the planet conducting research, we might soon find out.

Phishing for Bitcoin

It had to happen sooner or later: The two biggest tech stories of 2017—foreign cyber attacks and bitcoin—have come together perfectly in a single story. Namely, it looks like the infamous North Korean hacking outfit, The Lazarus Group, is running a spear-phishing campaign aimed at executives of cryptocurrency companies.

You may remember this gang from previous outrages such as the WannaCry ransomware outbreak, the hacking of Sony, and the $81 million cyber-heist from the Bangladesh Central Bank. Their latest scam, identified by Secureworks, involves sending emails about a Chief Financial Officer position that contain an infected Microsoft Word document.

As ZDNet reports, clicking on the document triggers a piece of malware that allows the attacker access to the victim’s computer. It’s unclear if any of the targeted executives have fallen for the phish or if the scheme has yielded the Lazarus Group any bitcoins. Let’s hope not—in part because crypto-currency companies know the risk of cyber-threats better than most, and should not be hiring people who click on random Word documents.

More broadly, the idea of North Korea phishing for bitcoin is intriguing because the phenomenon is at once so new and so old. It’s new because countries until very recently didn’t even take bitcoin seriously—and now, as the price of a bitcoin tops $18,000, rogue nations are telling their militaries to go forth and steal it.

At the same time, though, North Korea’s phishing antics can also be seen as a twist on the centuries-old military tactic known as privateering. Once upon a time, this tactic took the form of kings and queens granting letters of marque that allowed privateers to roam the oceans and plunder booty from enemy merchant ships. Today, North Korea is allowing its hackers to operate as digital privateers in search of crypto plunder like bitcoin.

This modern version of privateering is not as exciting as grand naval battles with cannons and cutlasses, but no doubt it’s just as lucrative. Have a good weekend.

Jeff John Roberts


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Bailing on Blockchain: In theory, it sounds great to create a coalition and build a distributed ledger tool for everyone. The reality is more messy: more than 15 members of the Hyperledger Project recently bailed and/or cut off their funds to the much-hyped blockchain project. This follows a similar break-up at R3, the blockchain-for-banks consortium.

Cutting off Kaspersky: The popular anti-virus product is tangled up with a good part of the US government’s IT systems—a big problem since the software maker is strongly suspected of ties to the Kremlin. The White House has hurried up efforts to cashier Kaspersky with an order banning its use anywhere in the government.

Creepy Keyboards: Key-logging software, which lets a third party record what you type, is a popular tool among spies and hackers—it’s not something you want pre-installed on your new computer. Yet that’s what HP did with hundreds of lap-top models. A security researcher discovered that anyone with administrative privileges could activate it. HP is working on a fix.

Easy there, Anderson: The normally bland Twitter account of CNN host Anderson Cooper spat out a string of abuse at Donald Trump in a tweet this week. The network portrayed it as a hack, pointing out that Anderson was in a different city from where the tweet was sent—the latest is that Anderson’s aide left a phone with the Twitter account unattended at the gym.

Feds Nail Mirai Miscreants: Remember that nasty botnet composed of hijacked IoT devices that took down servers across the east cost last year? Well, it turns out Brian Krebs was right: a Rutgers student running a Minecraft scam was responsible for the botnet havoc. The student and two others pled guilty and say they’re sorry.

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“If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you,” Palihapitiya advised his audience. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, [but] misinformation, mistruth.”

 Facebook’s former head of user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, recently offered a contrite and frightening account of what the company has built. David Meyer has a nice summary of his remarks.


The best holiday movie ever? It’s decided. Wonderful holiday classics include It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, but some (including me) believe the best of the bunch is a little action film called Die Hard. Objectors have claimed Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie but now a prominent head of state has settled the question. Thanks, Justin Trudeau, and Ho ho ho!