Category: News Posts

Watch NASA Grand Finale Of Cassini’s Death Dive To Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft is just hours away from spectacularly burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere, bringing an end to the adventurous space mission.

The end is nearly here, and in the morning hours of Friday, Nasa’s Cassini Mission will enter its final fly-by of the ringed planet.

You can watch the entire event thanks to the live stream below, as part of Nasa’s educational programming on YouTube.

There is one caveat however. Because the space probe is an incredible 800 million miles away, it would take more then 80 minutes for the live feed to travel back to Earth.

Nasa has circumvented this problem by creating a simulated animation that will track Cassini on its plunge tomorrow.

Cassini will continue to communicate with Earth until it loses connection with home, giving scientists one last chance to explore Saturn before its fiery demise.

The probe is expected to send back its last communiques and pictures of the planet just before 9am BST (4am EDT), before the radio waves go silent. All contact will then be lost around 12.55pm BST (7.55am EDT).

Because the whole operation is costing the space agency over £2.4 billion ($3.6 billion), Nasa is determined to utilise it to its full potential.

Cassini was shot into space in 1997 with the ambitions to send it on a long-winded but unprecedented mission to study Saturn.

The nuclear-powered space probe however did not reach the gas giant until 2004, and it has now run out of fuel.

Nasa has since conducted several fly-by’s of the planet, with a particular interest in its rings and the icy moon Titan.

Now Titan is coming through for us once again, providing a way for Cassini to get into these completely unexplored regions so close to the planet.

Nasa are expecting this  once-in-a-lifetime mission to be a “thrilling ride”.

The last time we got this close to the rings was during arrival at Saturn in 2004, and we saw only their backlit side,” said Ms Spilker.

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NASA’s Cassini: Best Photos Of Saturn And Its Moons

A spectacular space exploration mission will end with a dramatic death.

The Cassini spacecraft will self-destruct by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, ultimately burning up and disintegrating.

The planned mid-September dive will be the final farewell for a nearly three-decade-long collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian space agency.

It’s been good while it lasted, Saturn.

The Cassini spacecraft launched aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on October 15, 1997, and spent seven years en route to its target, Saturn.

It entered orbit around the ringed planet in 2004 for what was intended to be a four-year mission but was twice extended for a total run of 13 years, or nearly 20 if you count the journey there.

Cassini completed the first in-depth reconnaissance of Saturn, its moons and its rings. When the mission dropped the Huygens probe on Titan, it was the first to land on the moon of a planet other than Earth.

There it discovered rain, rivers, lakes and seas. Cassini also found the first evidence of extraterrestrial hydrothermal activity on the moon Enceladus, where it also observed erupting geysers.

Its detailed observations of Saturn’s rings could help scientists understand how the planets in our solar system formed.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Mexico Earthquake Triggers Mysterious Bright Lights To Flash Across The Country

Strange, unexplained flashes have been seen amid a massive earthquake in Mexico.

The flashes – which resemble lightning – lit up the sky after the tremor hit Mexico City and elsewhere.

The earthquake was the strongest to hit the country in 100 years, triggered a tsunami warning, and has already led to more than 30 deaths.

And the intense shakes also led to strange blue and green flashes lighting up the night sky as people fled into the streets to avoid the danger.

Nobody is entirely clear why the bright lights actually happen, though they have been reported for years.

Some argue that they are connected to the energy being released from the ground, while others say they are the result of secondary effects like explosions from power stations or electricity cables.

The mystery of the flashes has even led people to think of them as supernatural.

In the past, people often interpreted in religious terms, and in modern times they thought of UFOs, although there is a completely rational physical explanation that we are working on,” Friedemann Freud, who co-authored a study about the lights, told National Geographic.

Professor Freud’s study claimed that the lights came about because the electrical properties of rocks on the ground.

The energy from the tremors release electrical charges from the rocks, which can then show bright blue and green lights across the sky in the wake of a tremor.

But other geological experts say that the lights aren’t actually anything to do with the ground at all.

Instead, the flashes are small explosions coming from generators and other power systems that then can be seen across the night sky, they claim.

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Infection During Pregnancy May Alter Expression Of Autism Genes

A severe infection during pregnancy disrupts the expression of autism genes in the child, a study in rats suggests.

The findings may help to explain why maternal infections boost autism risk by as much as 37 percent.

Infections set off an immune reaction involving molecules that can enter the womb.

The new work shows that infection in a pregnant rat dampens or boosts the expression of a number of genes linked to autism.

Many of these genes control the growth and formation of the junctions between neurons, called synapses. And some are on a list of genes that harbor rare, harmful mutations in some individuals with autism.

It’s amazing what the correspondences are” between findings in rats and those in children with autism, says Eric Courchesne, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, who was the senior collaborator on the study.

Even though there may be different causes behind autism, these different causes seem to converge to common attributes.”

Environmental factors such as maternal infection sometimes exacerbate the effect of genetic risk factors for autism.

For example, a 2015 study revealed that children who have a large DNA deletion or duplication linked to autism and whose mothers had infections during pregnancy have more severe autism features than children with only one of these risk factors.

The new work shows how the prenatal environment may affect autism genes to alter brain development, says Melissa Bauman, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California.

Courchesne and his colleagues used gene expression data from a 2012 study.

In that study, researchers injected pregnant rats with a chemical called lipopolysaccharide, which mimics a bacterial infection and elicits a strong immune response.

Rat pups exposed to an immune response in the womb are known to show autism-like features, such as social deficits.

In the 2012 study, researchers injected the rats on day 15 of pregnancy, equivalent to the end of the first trimester in people.

Four hours after the treatment, they collected the fetal brain tissue to determine which genes were expressed and at what levels.

In the new work, Courchesne team reanalzyed this dataset to confirm previous results and found that the pups express 4,033 genes at unusually high levels.

These genes seem to play a role early brain development, guiding processes such as cell division.

The pups also show diminished expression 4,959 genes that help guide the formation of neurons and synapses.

The study represents a step forward in understanding how maternal infection might boost autism risk, says Alan Brown, professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study.

The findings indeed overlap with several genes and mechanistic pathways that have been suggested in autism,” says Brown.

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8 Outrageous Facts About Octopuses

There’s absolutely no telling how many moms and dads have reached a point during this holiday season when they’ve thought, “I can’t do everything at once. I’m not an octopus, y’know!”

Well, having eight arms might sound like fun, but there’s more to being an octopus than spitting out ink and attending Detroit Red Wings games.

Here are 8 facts about these fascinating aquatic creatures that you may not have known. Enjoy!

1. All varieties of octopus are venomous.

Fortunately, only a few species have enough venom to injure or kill a human being. One of these is the blue ringed octopus, which is responsible for at least two confirmed deaths.

Octopi inject their venom using a tough beak-like mouth that sticks out of the side of their head. It’s similar to a bird’s beak and is made of the same tough material as a lobster’s shell.

2. A female octopus, known as a hen, may lay 100 thousand eggs..

…over its one-to-two-week fertile period.

The transparent eggs are protected by the mother in the octopus’ lair for several weeks. In most species, the eggs hatch, and the larval octopi swim for the surface where they may remain for a month or more.

The vast majority of them die during this period.

Weather and turbulent water get many of them, while others are swallowed up along with plankton by larger sea creatures.

3. An octopus’ “ink” serves three important purposes.

Most – but not all – octopus species come equipped with an “ink sac” that spews out a stream of dark liquid into the water when the creature is threatened.

When frightened, an octopus often “swallows” water with its body and ejects it forcefully. This not only propels the animal away from the danger, but also forces out a trail of “ink.”

This ink, which may be red, brown, or black, is made of melanin, the same dark pigment that colors human skin and hair.

The ink’s effects are three-fold: First, the initial “jet” of ink visually distracts, confuses, and perhaps even frightens the predator.

Secondly, it may interfere with the predator’s sense of smell or sight. And third, once dispersed, the ink clouds the water to help give the octopus time to escape.

4. An octopus’ suckers are arranged in two rows down each arm

Some species have more suckers than others. And while some species grow a standard number of suckers on each arm by the time they become adults, the number of suckers on the arms of other species may vary.

In some cases, female octopi have more suckers than the men, but only because of what “makes the male the male.”

5. One arm of a male octopus is, well, special.

The third right arm, to be exact. At the tip of this “hectocotylus” arm is the ligula, which serves as its reproductive organ. In some species, the arm is visibly different since it has fewer suckers than the other seven arms.

When a male fertilizes a female’s eggs, she doesn’t necessarily lay them right away. She may hold them for days or weeks before she feels ready to do so.

6. An octopus sees the same thing upside down as right-side up.

The large and complex eyes of an octopus help it to perform the two functions most necessary for survival: finding food and avoiding trouble.

While most of the rest of the creature’s body is quite flexible in the water, the eyes are more solid. As a result, some species of octopus can squeeze through tight spaces only slightly larger than their eyes.

Oddly, an octopus’ eyes have horizontal pupils (in direct contrast to felines, whose eyes have vertical pupils).

What’s even more unusual is that the octopus’ eyes remain at the same orientation regardless of the creature’s position.

So if it turns on its side or even upside down, the gaze of the eyes remain fixed in relation to the horizon.

7. Octopi don’t like the spotlight.

Octopi like to keep hidden away. They’ll usually find a cave or a formation in the rocks that allows them to remain secluded, but smaller octopi may hide inside a clamshell.

They can actually crawl inside and use their suckers to pull the shell closed. Once the creatures get larger, however, they find clamshells are more interesting because they tend to include a tasty clam.

A hungry octopus may perform any of a number of steps to open a clamshell.

It may drill into the shell using its beak, it may use digestive juices to soften up the shell to break inside, or it may use its suckers and arms to pull the shell apart.

8. An octopus may also eat its own.

A hungry adult octopus isn’t shy about consuming young octopi. After all, the smaller creatures can’t put up much of a fight.

What’s more, a study published in the March 2008 edition of Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology describes a female octopus that attacked, suffocated, and spent two days eating a male who’d just mated with her 13 times over a 3.5-hour period.

And you thought your significant other was needy…

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This Newly Discovered Ant Has A Metal Spike On Its Head And Was Probably A Vampire

Scientists have discovered a new type of ‘hell ant’ – a species with terrifying spiky mouthparts reinforced with metal and used for drinking the blood of its enemies.

Thankfully, these insects have been extinct for a while, but a 98-million-year-old amber specimen has now revealed stunning detail of the prehistoric species, including a curious metal component in its jaws.

The newly described Linguamyrmex vladi belongs to a group known as ‘hell ants’ or haidomyrmecines, an extinct bunch that lived in the Cretaceous period and characterised by strange, vertically moving mouthparts.

Hell ants aren’t actually the ancestors of the tiny critters we see today, and instead belong to a stem-group which went extinct before the common ancestor of all modern ants appeared on the scene to start its lineage.

And given how scary some of those hell ant features sound, we’re almost grateful that the worst we have to deal with these days are “just” bullet ants and fire ants.

Instead of plain old downward-facing mandibles, L. vladi sported giant blade-like scythes that pointed upward – a feature you won’t find in any ant living today.

For comparison, here are the mandibles of a typical modern ant:

It appears that these spiky jaws were surrounded by trigger hairs which are similar to those used by trap-jaw ants today – the same ones that help an ant’s jaws to snap shut at a horrifying speed.

This ant also had a reinforced horn-like appendage or ‘paddle’ on top of its jaws, and it’s possible it used that to clamp down on its prey once it thrusted the upward-facing mandibles into the prey’s body.

The researchers, led by Phillip Barden from New Jersey Institute of Technology, also discovered a tube-like channel between the mandibles, and think the ants probably sucked on their food rather than chewed it.

Since the weird jaws wouldn’t really accommodate for chewing action.

The mandibles and paddle of Linguamyrmex may have functioned to puncture soft-bodied prey and feed on the haemolymph,” the team writes in the study.

Helpfully, the specimen was found in its ambery grave next to a large larva of a beetle, which would have been perfect soft-bodied prey for a liquid-sucking predator.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Is It Safe To Take Expired Medicine?

There are a few factors that determine whether or not it’s okay to take medication past its expiration date.

The type of drug, how much time has passed beyond the date and how the medicine has been stored all matter, says David Nierenberg, chief of the section of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

If you are using something that was a few months or a year after the expiration date, and it had been stored well, for most drugs I don’t think you have a problem,” Nierenberg said. “But the companies won’t guarantee it.

This is especially true for over-the-counter medications like aspirin, he explained. Pharmaceutical companies test a drug’s efficacy and safety for a set period of time.

Usually two to three years and only if it has been stored properly.

Proper storage means the medication has not been exposed to extremely hot or cold temperatures, direct sunlight or heat and moisture.

There’s some scientific research that indicates medication may work for a long time following its date.

A 2000 study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration found that 90 percent of unused medications stockpiled by the U.S. Military remained completely potent several years past expiration.

The findings suggest that drug makers tend to be conservative with expiration dates and raised questions about testing for extended shelf-life, according to the study’s authors.

When it doesn’t work?

That’s all good news for people who need something in a pinch or want to save some money. However, Nierenberg says there are some medications that should always be a hard no once their expiration date has come up.

Liquid medicine, in particular, should be avoided. This is because the contents of the bottle are sterile until the seal is broken. But once a liquid medication is opened, it becomes very susceptible to bacterial contamination.

That’s especially true of things like liquid eye drops,” Nierenberg said. “That’s why they say never touch the tip of this bottle to your eyelid.

You should also take expiration dates and storage directions on prescription medications seriously.

For example, nitroglycerin tablets ― usually prescribed to people who experience angina or coronary heart disease ― are extremely susceptible to going bad if they’re kept in extreme heat.

It’s advisable to not keep tablets like these in a hot car, even in your glove compartment. There’s a good chance the drug could deteriorate in the heat and thus make it ineffective.

You should also think about antibiotics the same way, Nierenberg said.

If you have a serious infection and find leftover antibiotics in your medicine cabinet, there is no way to confirm the medication is still as powerful and so it’s probably not worth the risk.

You don’t want to take an antibiotic that’s lost [any percent] of it’s potency because maybe your infection isn’t going to get better,” Nierenberg said.

The more serious the condition, the more sure you want to be that the company that made it has tested it and guarantees it. And the less likely you want to gamble with that.

When in doubt, throw it out.

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How Humans And Robots Will Complement Each Other

Across the world, robots have replaced workers in factories, taken on the role of customer service agents in call centers, and, in the near future, will be driving our cars.

But while factory workers, customer service specialists, and taxi drivers may have a lot to worry about in the new age of automation and AI, there’s reason for hope: Robots often need humans to work with them.

TechRepublic talked to experts in robotics, AI, and finance to learn more about how humans and robots will complement each other in future jobs.

It’s clear that robots are still not good at everything—the common joke among roboticists is that if you want to stop a robot takeover, all you have to do is close a door.

So Joe Jones, founder of Harvest Automation (and original Roomba inventor), told TechRepublic that human-robot collaboration “makes designing the robot easier.”

The model for industrial robots has been that they are big and dangerous and must be kept behind a fence, away from people,” said Jones.

“This means the robot must be entirely autonomous. But, people and robots have different strengths—if the robot must do the whole job itself, it may have to perform functions that robots aren’t especially good at.

One primary place for robots, warehouses, is “rather challenging,” said Jones. For example, one problem is picking non-rigid objects through a hole cut in a cardboard box.

One good solution to this problem might be to let people identify and manipulate, and have the robot drive around the warehouse carrying totes and consolidating the items picked for each order,” said Jones.

We implemented this example when Harvest became interested in warehouse robots, and it seems to have a lot of merit.

Steve Palomino, director of financial transformation at Redwood Software, which provides enterprise robotic process automation, sees the potential for a lot of new jobs in finance.

“[Of] all the technological advances, we haven’t had a disruption in accounting,” said Palomino.

How humans and robots work together is that robots can take over mundane tasks, like account balances,” said Palomino.

Right now, I have to look at your checking account, and compare it to your QuickBooks account and your Excel spreadsheet, and make sure they’re equal.

For a machine, it’s a much easier task. “If you take a large corporation, of between 2000-8000 accounts, you have hordes of humans spending hours in Excel looking back and forth trying to find variance,” he said.

This will free humans to do important things that they went to college for—complex accounting.

Another reason that robots and workers can work together? Toby Walsh, professor of AI at The University of New South Wales said that robots can help humans “play to our strengths.

These are just a few of the ways that humans and robots may work together in the future—it is not comprehensive. Know of more ways that this is happening, or will happen? Let us know in the comment section.

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How This Farm Brings Rare Breeds of Chickens and Turkeys Back to Pasture

Frank Reese’s turkeys can fly.

In the wild, that’s nothing special, but on a turkey farm, it’s a rare sight to see. Reese’s birds also run, jump, dig holes, roll in the dirt, eat bugs and roost just like turkeys have in America for more than 200 years.

His Standard Bronze, Narragansett, Black, White Holland and Bourbon Red turkeys and Plymouth Barred Rock, New Hampshire, Cornish, Silver Laced Wyandotte and Jersey Giant chickens are standard-bred, otherwise known as heritage breed, birds.

A fourth-generation Kansas farmer, Reese’s grandparents settled in Salina, Kansas, right after the Civil War, and he can trace his family’s turkeys’ bloodlines back to 1917.

He’s raised turkeys and chickens on range his whole life, the better part of 60 years, first on the family farm in Salina and, later, on his own land in Lindsborg, Kansas, at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.

I just enjoyed chickens and turkeys, even as a little kid,” he says. “At a young age, instead of being sent to the milk house or the cow barn, I was sent to the chicken house.

“Back then, there wasn’t anything other than what they call heritage today – and I hate that word. They’ve been called standard bred since 1873.

By the time Reese was in high school, he was showing birds through the Four-H Club and at the Kansas State Fair.

That’s where I began to learn a lot about poultry and how to raise poultry for market, and I was very successful at it,” he says. “When I went to a show, I went to win.

“But back then we didn’t just raise birds to be pretty or to win shows, they also had to be marketable – [to] be able to produce eggs, to produce meat.

Early in his career, Reese met legendary turkey farmer Norman Kardash, known to folks in the industry as the Turkey Man, who quickly became his hero and mentor.

Kardash could trace his turkeys’ genetic lines back to the 19th century and was particularly known for his award-winning Narragansetts. When Kardash passed away in 2003, he left his birds and breeding legacy to Reese.

Reese has a slight country drawl and speaks in a measured and quiet way.

You’d never guess the modest Kansas farmer and his birds have made multiple appearances on The Martha Stewart Show, teaching Americans about standard-bred poultry and how to properly cook it at home, or have been the focus of farm dinners hosted by chefs Alice Waters in Berkeley, California, and Mario Batali in New York City.

Several years ago, Reese’s farm was profiled in writer Jonathan Safran Foer’s nonfiction book about industrial farming and animal welfare, Eating Animals, and in the past three years, filmmakers adapting the book have visited Good Shepherd more than a dozen times.

People have been very good to me,” Reese says of the attention.

When he describes his turkeys and chickens, it’s with the pride and protectiveness of a father, but also the respect of a farmer who appreciates not just their beauty and personalities, but also the bounty they bestow.

Reese cares deeply about his animals, and part of caring about something involves fear and concern.


All domesticated turkeys are descendents of the Standard Bronze, or “the king,” as Reese describes them, which are native to North and Central America.

Feathers on the backs of Bronze toms (male turkeys) and hens (female turkeys) include three bands: white, black and iridescent bronze.

Their feathers glisten a brilliant shock of penny copper from their shoulders down their backs. Hens have distinctive lacing, or a white pattern on each feather, covering their breasts.

When you imagine a turkey, you’re probably picturing the Bronze.

From there, varieties like Narragansett, with its silver coloring, black and white frosted wings and golden tail, and Bourbon Red, with its chestnut wings and white tail, were selected and bred for their intricate and beautiful colorings.

Although beautiful, the varying color patterns have no effect on the meat – and Reese says if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, it’s “a bunch of hooey.”

Instead, he says texture and flavor are determined by how the farmer bred the animal, what he fed the animal and how he treated the animal.

My Bronze turkeys look like they look, taste like they taste and have those nice big round breasts because I’ve selected for that [in breeding], not because they’re Bronzes.

Preserving and protecting heritage breeds is only half of Reese’s work.

He’s also passionate about maintaining traditional farming practices – what was once the only way of doing things in the poultry industry but has, in the past 50 years, slowly faded away.

Reese describes three essentials to raising standard-bred turkeys: birds are naturally mating, which means farmers don’t have to – and don’t choose to – artificially inseminate hens for reproduction.

Birds are allowed a natural rate of growth for healthy skeletal and muscle development; and there is longevity, which means that birds not killed for meat will live long lives on the farm and be used for breeding.

These tenets also form the mission of the American Poultry Association (APA), which is the only organization that can issue certifications for standard-bred turkeys.

Reese has been a member since the 1950s and was the first poultry farmer to be certified by the APA.

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Will Meet Its Fiery End In Saturn’s Atmosphere On Friday

After 13 years of zooming around Saturn and its many moons, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has less than four days left at the planetary system before the probe is lost forever. Early Friday morning, Cassini will dive into Saturn’s atmosphere, eventually melting and breaking apart.

The death plunge will put an end to the spacecraft’s mission, one that has taught us more about Saturn and its moons than we ever thought possible.

This final step has long been planned by the Cassini mission team, and it’s meant to protect the Saturn system.

Two of the planet’s moons — Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean, and Titan, with lakes of methane — may have the right conditions to harbor life.

By destroying Cassini, NASA ensures the spacecraft will never accidentally wander near the moons and contaminate them with microbes that may have hitched a ride from Earth.

In April, NASA maneuvered Cassini into its final stage, known as the “Grand Finale” — a path that takes the vehicle between Saturn and its famous rings, and closer to the planet than ever before.

During these week-long orbits, the probe has been gathering some of its most crucial data yet. But the planet’s gravity will eventually get the best of Cassini after the 22nd Grand Finale orbit, pulling the spacecraft into the planet at 6:31AM ET on Friday.

The navigators have no more maneuvers to do,” Scott Edgington, the deputy project scientist for Cassini, tells The Verge. We’re guaranteed to go into Saturn, no matter what happens.

Once Cassini enters Saturn’s atmosphere, it will only be five or six minutes before the probe is taken apart. During the plunge, its instruments will be getting up-close measurements that will be sent back to Earth in real time.

All that data will probably keep researchers busy for awhile. “Some of these analyses will take years for scientists to figure out,” says Edgington. “I would expect to still hear a lot more from in the coming years.

Cassini’s destruction has been in the making for nearly a decade now. The spacecraft was launched in 1997, and it was the first probe intended to orbit and thoroughly study the Saturn system.

After arriving at the planet in 2004, Cassini dropped a probe that landed on Titan, and began mapping out Saturn’s rings and moons, among many other science tasks.

After four years, Cassini’s primary mission ended. But the spacecraft was still fully operational, and the mission team wanted to come up with ways to extend Cassini’s time at Saturn while preserving Enceladus and Titan.

It couldn’t last forever: the spacecraft only has a limited amount of fuel, and eventually the team would lose the ability to maneuver Cassini in space.

So the team came up with a number of different options: one idea was to eject Cassini from the Saturn system.

So far, those orbits have been fruitful. The mission team has learned that the gap between Saturn and its rings is relatively free of large particles, something they didn’t expect.

Plus, the researchers have gotten more in-depth measurements of the structure of Saturn’s magnetic field.

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