This Week in Research: The Oldest Supernova; Obama’s Management Issues

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The fun thing about astrophysicists is that they don’t only look 4 billion years into the future to see how our galaxy will get smashed up; they also like to look backward — 9 billion years ago, in this case — to see how it was formed in the first place.

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, a team of Hopkins researchers led by Steven Rodney (and his co-investigator, our fave Adam Riess), found an incredibly distant stellar explosion. That supernova, which they nicknamed SN Primo, is the last remnant of a white dwarf star that exploded 9 billion years ago. Now consider this:  the cosmos itself is only 13.7 billion years old. By spectroscopic observations of SN Primo, the researchers hope to measure the expansion rate of the universe and to better understand dark energy, that mysterious force that’s making the universe accelerate in its expansion.

Here’s how it works, according to the Johns Hopkins Magazine:  “A spectrum splits the light from a supernova into its constituent colors. By analyzing those colors, astronomers can confirm its distance by measuring how much the supernova’s light has been stretched, or red-shifted, into near-infrared wavelengths due to the expansion of the universe.” For more images of the farthest exploded star sighted to date, look here.

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It’s easy to think of President Obama in lofty, abstract terms — but how is the guy as a manager? That’s something that interests Towson University professor Martha Joynt Kumar.

According to Kumar, the president was smart about picking his White House staff, prioritizing those decisions so the incoming folks could chat with their Bush administration counterparts. (In contrast, President Clinton waited until the week before his inauguration to hire some staff members.) Where Obama did a less-good job, according to Kumar, was in his cabinet appointments.  The problem there was that the process didn’t have clear rules or a central planner. Furthermore, “One problem he ran up against was a campaign promise on ethics that proved difficult to implement,” Kumar told the National Journal. Take, for example, Obama’s ban on hiring former lobbyists… which meant that a lot of ex-lobbyists who were then working at non-profits found themselves technically unemployable at the White House. Hear more about Kumar’s take on Obama’s management style here.



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