According To Some Research, Earth’s Nearest Dwarf Planet Ceres Is Still Evolving And May Have Its Own Water Cycle

It may be the largest object in the asteroid belt that sits beyond Mars, but the dwarf planet Ceres has been surprising scientists ever since it was discovered.

The latest findings suggests that water – one of the key ingredients for life – is present across the entire surface of the rocky planetoid.

What’s more, the distribution of these icy patches suggests the dwarf is still evolving suggesting it may have its own water cycle beneath the surface.

Ceres is of particular interest to scientists because it is the closest dwarf planet to Earth and may play host to the building blocks needed for alien life.

NASA’s Dawn probe has been mapping the object since 2015 and, in a new study, experts used images captured by the craft to study chemicals on Ceres’ surface.

Specifically it looked at carbonates, compounds that have previously been detected by Dawn, which are thought to be strong indicators of liquid water.

Researchers at Italy’s Institute of Astrophysics and Space Planetology in Rome used the probe’s visible-infrared mapping spectrometer to anaylse the planet.

They found that sodium carbonates, salts of carbonic acid, can be found across the entire observed surface of Ceres. The camera reads the chemical spectrum of compounds found far below the planet’s exterior to identify them.

Some carbonate patches, which are as long as a kilometre-wide (0.6 miles), featured sodium carbonate in its hydrated form.

This could only occur around liquid water, suggesting the dwarf planet has a subsurface ocean.

The distribution of these icy patches across Ceres suggests the dwarf planet is still evolving and may have its own subsurface water cycle, researchers found. To measure these icy patches, scientists looked at how carbonates (green and purple) were distributed across Ceres.

The Italian team, led by Dr Filippo Carrozzo, wrote in their paper: “Hydrated sodium carbonates could form early in a global ocean in equilibrium with the altered rocky phase and be incorporated in Ceres’ crust upon freezing of that ocean.

The chemicals could have formed as recently as a few million years ago, the researchers said.

Because they haven’t yet dehydrated, scientists suggest the planet must still be spewing water from its surface and hence is still evolving.

Patches of hydrated sodium carbonate were found by the team around craters with domes or mounds.

Some craters showed unique characteristics, such as floor fractures, that the authors say indicate areas where water had been ejected.

Patches of hydrated sodium carbonate (green and red) were found around craters with domes or mounds by the team. Some craters showed unique characteristics, such as floor fractures, that the authors say indicate areas where water had been ejected.

The researchers also focused on patches of ice covering the walls of Ceres’s Jugling impact crater.

The crater, found on Ceres’s southern hemisphere, is shadowy, dark and unlike other northern hemisphere craters where water ice has previously been found.

To better understand Juling’s water ice features, the Italian team analysed light spectrum data previously obtained by the Dawn mission.

Specifically, they compared how the amount of ice on the crater’s walls has changed over time as the sun shone on different regions.

Their results showed a clear increase of the area covered by the crater’s ice-rich wall as time progressed.

According to the authors, the trend between ice abundance and solar flux suggests that seasonal cycles of water are responsible for the observed increase.

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Why Sun’s Atmosphere Is So Freaking Hot?

This false-color temperature map shows solar active region AR10923, observed close to center of the sun’s disk. Blue regions indicate plasma near 10 million degrees Kelvin.

Small, sudden bursts of heat and energy, called nanoflares, are responsible for the million-degree temperature of the sun’s tenuous atmosphere, a new study reveals.

The mystery of why temperatures in the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, soar to several million degrees Kelvin (K) much hotter than temperatures nearer the sun’s surface has puzzled scientists for decades.

Why is the sun’s corona so darned hot?” said study member James Klimchuk of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

To answer this question, Klimchuk and colleagues constructed a theoretical model of the nanoflares, which are components of the loops of hot gas that arch high above the solar surface to make up the corona.

Coronal loops are the fundamental building blocks of the corona,” Klilmchuk said. “Their shape is defined by the magnetic field, which guides the hot flowing gases called plasma.

These loops are made up of bundles of smaller, individual magnetic tubes or strands that can have temperatures reaching several million degrees Kelvin (K), even though the sun’s surface is only 5,700 degrees K (9,800 Fahrenheit).

Nanoflares are small, sudden bursts of energy that happen within these thin magnetic tubes in the corona.

Unlike the bigger solar flares, which can be viewed through satellites and ground-based telescopes and can disrupt electronics and communications networks on Earth, nanoflares are so small that they cannot be resolved individually, so until now, no direct evidence of nanoflares was seen.

Only see the combined effect of many of them occurring at about the same time is visible.

Klimchuk’s model tries to pin down exactly what happens when these nanoflares erupt.

he ultra-hot plasma cools very quickly, however, which explains why it is so faint and has been so difficult to detect until now.

The energy lost from the cooling conducts down to the comparatively cooler solar surface.

The gas there at the surface is heated to about 1 million degrees K and expands upward to become the 1 million degree component of the corona that has been observed for many years.

Klimchuk presented the findings on August 6 at the International Astronomical Union General Assembly meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Titan Could Have “Crystals” On Its Surface That Can Support Alien Life

Scientists say there may be crystals on Titan that could provide food for some forms of alien life, according to a study published in the journal ACS Earth and Space Chemistry.

Known as “co-crystals”, they are thought to be the result of ammonia and acetylene creating a salt-like compound, caused by Titan’s methane rain and ethane flooding.

Co-crystals are basically salts that are made of two or more molecular compounds. This allows for some unique properties, such as a different melting point to the original compounds.

However, there is some disagreement over what exactly one is.

The importance of these co-crystals is that they could provide food on Titan’s surface for microbial life.

Some composed of benzene and ethane have been proposed before, but this new type of co-crystal forms more quickly and should be able to survive Titan’s weather.

These co-crystals, or ‘organic minerals’, are an exciting new class of compounds for Titan’s surface,” Morgan Cable from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the study’s lead author said.

The crystals would be extremely small, just a few microns in size – which is smaller than the width of human hair.

They may grow larger under the right conditions, with Cable noting they could look like fresh snow. What’s more, they could be food for certain types of microbes.

Titan has been a bit of a hot topic lately, with NASA currently considering sending a quadcopter to the surface, flying over the ground to study dozens of sites – including the moon’s lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons.

It would launch in 2025 and arrive in 2034.

A recent study also found that Titan’s oceans may be suitable for a submarine at some point in future.

Replicating the temperature and pressure of Titan in the lab, they found that despite the tough conditions, we could feasibly explore these regions.

Titan is the only place other than Earth with known bodies of liquid on its surface. Coupled with its thick atmosphere, it looks like quite an enticing environment for life in one form or another.

Whether it’s truly habitable we might not know for a while, but perhaps these crystals on the surface could help play a part.

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Here’s How To Send Your Name Hurtling Into The Sun This Year

If you’ve ever wanted to send a part of you hurtling into the Sun, this is your lucky day. NASA is offering you the chance to send your name rocketing towards our favorite ball of gas aboard the Parker Solar Probe.

The $1.5-billion mission will be the first-ever probe to “touch” the Sun, traveling directly into its atmosphere later this year.

The mission will go seven times closer to the Sun than any other man-made object, in order to study its atmosphere.

It’ll go hurtling towards the center of our solar system at speeds of 700,000 kilometers per hour. “That’s fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, in one second,” NASA wrote.

Your name, if you fancy it, will be included on a memory card within the probe’s payload, traveling at speeds previously unknown to any of your nametags.

The mission will study how energy and heat move through the solar corona. By studying the Sun – the only star available for us to study up close – scientists also hope to learn more about stars throughout the Universe.

The probe will seek to discover what accelerates solar wind and solar energetic particles, which NASA says it has sought answers to for over 60 years.

Now with thermal engineering advances, NASA is finally able to send a probe that can withstand the immense heat.

At its closest approach, the probe will face temperatures of 1,370°C (2,500°F), but the probe’s solar shields will astonishingly keep the payload at around room temperature.

So your name will stay cool, don’t worry. Unless it’s something like “Nigel”, which has never been cool in the first place.

The initiative of sending your name along for the ride, dubbed “Hot Ticket“, was launched this week by Star Trek actor and musical legend William Shatner.

The first-ever spacecraft to the Sun, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, will launch this year on a course to orbit through the heat of our star’s corona, where temperatures are greater than 1 million degrees,” Shatner said in a video launching the project.

The spacecraft will also carry my name to the Sun, and your name, and the names of everyone who wants to join this voyage of extreme exploration.

In order to get your name aboard the probe, it really is as simple as applying. Just go to NASA’s Parker Solar Probe website and enter your details before April 27, 2018.

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Google Discovers New Planet Which Proves Solar System Is Not Unique

The Kepler-90 star system has eight planets, like our own

Google has previously discovered lost tribes, missing ships and even a forgotten forest. But now it has also found two entire planets.

The technology giant used one its algorithms to sift through thousands of signals sent back to Earth by Nasa’s Kepler space telescope.

One of the new planets was found hiding in the Kepler-90 star system, which is around 2,200 light years away from Earth.

The discovery is important because it takes the number of planets in the star system up to eight, the same as our own Solar System. It is the first time that any system has been found to have as many planets ours.

Andrew Vanderburg, astronomer and Nasa Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Texas, Austin, said: “The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system.

You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer.

“There is a lot of unexplored real estate in Kepler-90 system and it would almost be surprising if there were not more planets in the system.”

The planet Kepler-90i, is a small rocky planet, which orbits so close to its star that the surface temperature is a ‘scorchingly hot’ 800F (426C). It orbits its own sun once every 14 days.

The Google team applied a neural network to scan weak signals discovered by the Kepler exoplanet-hunting telescope which had been missed by humans.

Kepler has already discovered more than 2,500 exoplanets and 1,000 more which are suspected.

The telescope spent four years scanning 150,000 stars looking for dips in their brightness which might suggest an orbiting planet was passing in front.

Although the observation mission ended in 2013, the spacecraft recorded so much data during its four year mission that scientists expect will be crunching the data for many years to come.

The new planet Kepler-90i is about 30 per cent larger than Earth and very hot.

Christopher Shallue, senior software engineer at Google AI in Mountain View, California, who made the discovery, said the algorithm was so simple that it only took two hours to train to spot exoplanets.

Test of the neural network correctly identified true planets and false positives 96 percent of the time. They have promised to release all of the code so that amateurs can train computers to hunt for their own exoplanets.

Machine learning will become increasingly important for keeping pace with all this data and will help us make more discoveries than ever before,” said Mr Shallue.

This is really exciting discovery and a successful proof of concept in using neural networks to find planets even in challenging situations where signals are very weak.

We plan to search all 150,000 stars, we hope using our technique we will be able to find lots of planets including planets like Earth.”

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Pictures Show A Mysterious Planet Get More Surreal Over Time

Since entering orbit on July 4 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been revealing a world coated in curling clouds that loop and spiral around one another, creating filigreed bands speckled with roiling oval storms.

Some of these storms dapple the planet’s previously unseen poles, and they all join the best known of the Jovian tempests, a splotch called the Great Red Spot that stretches more than an Earth across.

The new images “look like Van Gogh paintings,” says Juno’s principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute.

I kind of expected some of this, because a long time ago, Voyager took pictures, and other spacecraft that have gone near Jupiter have taken some images, but they’re usually global ones and boy, when you get close, and you see these swirls, they look like art.

These stunning clouds are produced by Jupiter’s incredibly complex atmospheric dynamics—things like winds and turbulence—combined with certain chemistries that produce their vibrant colours.

But the precise reason why Jupiter alone is so fantastically painted isn’t clear.

You don’t see that on Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune for some reason,” Bolton says. “Maybe what you’re seeing is the fact that Jupiter is so big that it has triggered some other special dynamics that are star-like, to some extent.”

Streams of clouds spin off a rotating, oval-shaped cloud system in the Jovian southern hemisphere. Citizen scientist Roman Tkachenko reconstructed the colour and cropped the image, which was taken on February 2 from just 9,000 miles above the storm.

Juno is doing more than simply ogling this magnificent planetscape.

Designed to tease out the intricacies of Jupiter’s innards, the spacecraft carries eight instruments that monitor the planet’s gravity, auroras, atmosphere, magnetosphere, cloud depths, and electric fields.

Together, they should help scientists learn more about the planet’s origins and what, exactly, lies beneath those clouds—straight down to the planet’s heart, which could be made from heavy elements or rock wrapped in a fluid form of metallic hydrogen.

So far, though, seeing the planet’s poles for the first time has been one of the highlights of the mission.

This close-up view of Jupiter, taken from a mere 5,400 miles away, captures the turbulent region just west of the Great Red Spot. Citizen scientist Sergey Dushkin processed and cropped the image to draw viewers’ eyes to the dynamic clouds.

These regions are strikingly different from equatorial Jupiter, with a blue tinge, numerous cyclones, and a lack of distinct cloudy bands.

On March 27, Juno swung low over Jupiter during its fourth science orbit, coming within 2,700 miles of those magnificent cloud tops. Images from that orbit will be released soon.

And over its next set of orbits, Juno will continue focusing on Jupiter’s deep atmosphere and interior structure, gathering data that scientists will eventually combine into a global view of this mysterious world.

Until then, we can bask in the beauty of the biggest planet in the solar system.

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Saturn’s Moon Wears The Weirdest Mountain Range In The Solar System

photo by Cassini Imaging Team/SSI/NASA/JPL/ESA

SallOf all the moons in the solar system, Iapetus has to be among the weirdest. Named after a spear-wielding Titan, the strange Saturnian satellite is less than half the size of Earth’s moon.

But it’s a cluster of enigmas: Squished at its poles, the moon is walnut-shaped, has a face as black as coal and a bright white backside, and wears a big, spiky mountain range as a belt.

Even its orbit is weird: Iapetus is roughly three times farther from Saturn than its closest neighbor, Titan.

And the path it takes around the planet is tilted, meaning it swings up and down as it orbits, rather than staying in the plane of Saturn’s rings like the rest of the “normal” satellites.

In other words, it’s kind of like the rebel of the Saturnian system, a moon who’d prefer to hang out behind the dumpster and cut class rather than play ball with the other kids.

Among the strangest of Iapetus’ unsolved mysteries is its super-chic, spiky mountain range.

Running straight as an arrow along three-quarters of the moon’s equator, the thing is huge: Roughly 20 kilometers tall and up to 200 kilometers wide.

There’s nothing else like it in the solar system.

Scientists first spotted the ridge in 2004, and since then, they’ve been trying to figure out how such a thing formed.

Early theories suggested geologic activity within the moon itself – maybe something akin to Earth’s plate tectonics or volcanism had forced the ridge to rise up along the equator.

But that didn’t make a lot of sense. The moon’s crust wasn’t spongy when the ridge formed, the evidence for active geology tepid.

Then, scientists thought maybe the ridge had formed as a result of the moon’s rotation period abruptly slowing down. Some early simulations suggest a day on the moon used to last for a mere 16 hours.

Now, though, a day on Iapetus lasts 79 Earth-days – the same amount of time it takes the little guy to shuffle once around Saturn.

photo by Cassini Imaging Team/SSI/NASA/JPL/ESA

Maybe, teams said, a giant impact had knocked Iapetus into its current rotation state, and the resulting braking action caused the crust to buckle.

But most of these theories also predict other strange geologic features (which aren’t observed), or hinge upon the crust being a certain thickness.

As the moonlet broke up, Dombard said, its pieces formed an ephemeral ring around Iapetus’ equator. The ring eventually rained down upon the satellite and deposited the giant ridge.

In 2011, another team suggested something similar, this time with a giant impact forming both a ring and a moonlet.

The ring would go on to form the mountain range, while the moonlet would smash into Iapetus and create one of its many large impact basins.

Recent evidence, gleaned from the shape of the mountain ridge itself (steep and triangular), suggests that pieces falling from on high could make total sense.

It’s kind of the same shape you get when you take a handful of sand and slowly sprinkle it into a pile. Why the ridge only runs along three-quarters of the equator isn’t explained by this scenario, though.

In short, we still don’t know how Iapetus grew its monstrous mountains. But the idea of a moon with a moon, or a moon with a ring, is strangely compelling. Too bad Iapetus had to go and tear its little friend to bits.

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NASA To ‘Revolutionize’ Weather Forecasting With Launch Of Billion Dollar Satellite

A billion-dollar satellite that is promised to revolutionise weather forecasting and in turn help save lives has been successfully launched by NASA.

The new GOES-R satellite will provide higher resolution images and more frequent updates of weather patterns, improving forecasts and weather warnings and in turn help save lives by giving people more time to evacuate ahead of a hurricane or storm.

Thousands of people travelled to Cape Canaveral in Florida for the launch, including TV meteorologists and space programme workers.

NBC meteorologist Al Roker said: “What’s so exciting is that we’re going to be getting more data, more often, much more detailed, higher resolution.”

“In terms of tracking tornadoes, he said that “if we can give people another 10, 15, 20 minutes, we’re talking about lives being saved.

The launch of the GOES-R represents a major step forward in terms of our ability to provide more timely and accurate information that is critical for life-saving weather forecasts and warnings,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate.

It has been built as part of an $11bn (£8.9bn) programme and will help to monitor hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires and lightning storms in America.

The satellite itself, which has been launched by Nasa for the National Oceanic and Atmostpheric Administration (NOAA), has been valued at £1bn.

Sandra Cauffman, deputy director of Earth Sciences at Nasa, called the new satellite a “quantum leap” that will “truly revolutionise forecasting”.

In addition to providing vastly improved forecasting, the satellite’s information will also help pilots avoid bad weather and rocket scientists to know when to call off a launch.

It will also be part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system, which can detect distress signals from emergency beacons.

The billion-dollar satellite will reach its designated 22,300-mile-high equatorial orbit in two weeks’ time and, after a series of checks, will become operational within a year.

It is the first to be launched since 2010 and will outstrip its predecessors, sending full images of the western hemisphere every 15 minutes, instead of the current 30-minute time frame, and will send images of the continental United States every five minutes, with images of specific regions updated every five seconds.

Its lightening mapper will hone in on storms that represent the greatest threats, Nasa said in a statement, while the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager will send scientists images of the Earth’s weather, oceans and environment.

The lightening information is kind of like going from a black and white television to a high-definition television system,” said Todd McNamara, a meteorologist with the US Air Force 45th Weather Squadron at the base.

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NASA’s Exoplanet-Hunter TESS Gets Prepped For Launch

Final preparations are underway here at Kennedy Space Center to get NASA’s next planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), ready for its planned April 16 launch.

The satellite, built by Orbital ATK, arrived here on Feb, 12 after a 17-hour drive down from Orbital’s facility in Dulles, Virginia, and was ushered inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) to be readied for launch.

However, before it hitches a ride to space atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, NASA invited members of the media to get a close-up look at TESS inside a specialized clean room.

The PHSF is one of the last stops a spacecraft makes before launch. Inside this unique facility, engineers conduct final tests and load hazardous fuels, such as hydrazine that will help propel the spacecraft.

Therefore, anyone who enters must follow a strict protocol, including wearing a special suit known as a bunny suit.

Before entering the clean room, a group of eager journalists were regaled with mission specifics by the TESS team, which included the mission’s principal investigator, George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

The TESS mission, which is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will spend at least two years studying more than 200,000 of the closest and brightest stars in our solar neighborhood.

TESS will scan the sky, looking for tiny dips in starlight. These dips in brightness — known as transits — could indicate that one or more planets is orbiting the star.

Ricker said that the team expects to discover several thousand planets during the spacecraft’s mission.

The Kepler Space Telescope, NASA’s planet-hunting powerhouse, has identified more than 2,000 confirmed exoplanets using the same “transit” technique as TESS.

However, TESS has a much larger field of view — nearly 20 times larger than Kepler — potentially allowing it to surpass Kepler in the number of exoplanet discoveries.

Thanks to Kepler, we now know that planets around other stars are very common. Kepler spent its primary mission staring at a narrow patch of sky to answer that very question.

Unfortunately, all of Kepler’s discoveries are too far away for follow-up study.

Scheduled to launch next year, Webb will scan the targets identified by TESS to look for water vapor, methane and other atmospheric gases. And, with a little luck, Webb might even spot signatures indicative of life beyond Earth.

TESS will launch into a high, elliptical orbit around Earth that is in a 2:1 resonance with the moon — it will orbit twice for every one time the moon goes all the way around.

This type of orbit has multiple benefits: it is very stable, meaning it won’t be affected by space debris, radiation, while allowing the spacecraft to easily communicate with the ground.

However, this type of orbit limits the number of launch opportunities, as it must be synchronized with the moon’s orbit around the Earth. After launch, it will take the spacecraft two months to reach its destination.

During our visit, engineers were prepping the spacecraft for final testing before launch. That testing included final checkouts of the solar arrays and is expected to be completed February 21.

Next, TESS will be mated to the launch vehicle.

Originally slated to launch on March 20, TESS is currently scheduled to lift off on April 16, following a one-month delay requested by the launch provider, SpaceX. However, TESS must launch by June per congressional mandate.

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World’s Biggest Plane, Stratolaunch, Marks Another Key Milestone

Rockets have been the way to get satellites into orbit since the dawn of the space age. But Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen hopes to shake that up with help from the world’s biggest airplane.

Stratolaunch” is a 500,000-pound beast with twin fuselages and a wingspan of 385 feet. Allen’s Seattle-based company is developing it as a platform for lifting rockets into the stratosphere before launching them into space.

It’s seen as a cheaper, more reliable route to low-Earth orbit (LEO) — the sweet spot for many kinds of satellites.

The plane is still in development and has yet to fly, but last December it taxied out onto the runway at the Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, California. In another test last Sunday, it hit a new top taxi speed of 46 miles per hour.

If all goes according to plan, the plane will take its first test flight next year. As to when Stratolaunch might begin commercial operations, no date has been given.

Air-launching rockets into space isn’t a new idea. The Pegasus XL rocket built by aerospace contractor Orbital ATK launches from a modified Lockheed TriStar jetliner.

NASA and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group have similar projects under development, as does the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

But none of these other platforms is quite on the scale of Stratolaunch. Powered by six huge Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, the aircraft is intended to carry up to 550,000 pounds to an altitude of 35,000 feet.

It has room between its fuselages to suspend rockets from the central portion of the wing. The company has partnered with Orbital ATK to launch its Pegasus XL rocket and aims eventually to carry three on each mission.

Stratolaunch was designed by Mojave, California-based Scaled Composites, which specializes in concept aircraft.

The company won the Ansari X Prize to launch the first private, reusable, manned spacecraft in 2004 with its SpaceShipOne, which was also launched from a plane.

Despite the ambitious nature of the project, space entrepreneur Gary Hudson thinks it has a good chance of success — in part because of Allen’s deep pockets.

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