back to article Astroboffins stunned by biggest brown dwarf ever seen – just a hop and a skip away (750 ly)

Astronomers claim to have identified the largest and purest brown dwarf ever seen, measuring in at a record-breaking 90 times the mass of Jupiter. And it's hovering fairly nearby in the Milky Way. Brown dwarves are failed stars that did not grow large enough to start the hydrogen fusing process like main-sequence stars such as …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's quite a small object

    I am assuming that a bigger population of "failed stars" like this one won't go anywhere near to explaining dark matter? Can anyone comment?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's quite a small object

      Dark matter is the luminiferous aether of our age. It was invented to prop up existing theories, as observations do not otherwise fit those theories, when the correct path is to modify the theory to account for observations.

      And no, inventing an invisible particle that can't be measured isn't modifying the theory. It's making shit up to avoid overturning the paradigm.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: It's quite a small object

        "Dark matter is the luminiferous aether of our age."

        Or even Phlogiston.

        1. LionelB Silver badge

          Re: It's quite a small object

          Well, the ether and phlogiston were, in their day, about the most plausible theories going for explaining the physical evidence as it stood. Sure, they turned out to be wrong, but establishing how a theory is wrong can be an excellent way of homing in on a better theory. To take an example, the Michelson-Morley experiment - which finally did for the ether - forced physicists (like Maxwell and Einstein) to develop new theories to account for the perplexing new evidence.

          Getting stuff wrong in science is both commonplace and highly underrated. Better bad theory than no theory at all.

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: "It was invented to prop up existing theories"

        Sorry, but you are misinterpreting the facts.

        Nobody is talking about dark matter as a means to sweep an issue under the rug. Quite the contrary, scientists have agreed that our existing view of the Universe is lacking and we need to find out what is missing. Dark matter is one theoretical possibility that scientists are, in the purest tradition of the Scientific Method, trying to find proof of to determine whether or not it is a proper answer.

        This period of research may take a while, so buckle up and settle down, we're not there yet.

        1. P. Lee

          Re: "It was invented to prop up existing theories"

          >Nobody is talking about dark matter as a means to sweep an issue under the rug.

          In the purest form, you are correct. The problem is that the phrase "dark matter" is used (particularly in the media) as if it is a real thing and it disguises the fact that the physics just doesn't work.

          You just have to keep believing, even if the theory doesn't fit the evidence.

        2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: "It was invented to prop up existing theories"

          Nobody is talking about dark matter as a means to sweep an issue under the rug.

          Quite so. This is why Dark Matter search are ongoing (though coming up empty, maybe time for another approach)

          Related: Presentations from La Thuile: The 52nd Rencontres de Moriond session devoted to ELECTROWEAK INTERACTIONS AND UNIFIED THEORIES held in La Thuile from Saturday March 18th to Saturday March 25th, 2017.

      3. Captain DaFt

        Re: It's quite a small object

        "Dark matter is the luminiferous aether of our age. It was invented to prop up existing theories"

        Occam's razor.

        There's an effect that acts like an unseen mass affecting galaxy's rotation. It could be an undiscovered interaction between mass and space, or matter/energy/space, or it could be an unforeseen consequence of known laws, or it actually could be an undetected mass.

        Simplest explanation is undetected mass, so most research tends in the direction of figuring out what it is.

        Next simplest is unforeseen consequence of known laws, so if the undetected mass research finds nothing, that's what gets looked at next.

        If that doesn't pan out, then we're left with undiscovered interaction(s), which will take a paradigm shift to uncover.

        So we're testing for the easiest and most likely answer first, then the next likeliest, until we're all just standing around scratching our heads saying "WTF?" until someone has a "Eureka! moment", then we all say, "Duh, how obvious! How did we miss that!?"

        That's the way it's worked with science since the beginning

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's quite a small object

          Nah, occam's razor would work thus:

          Our theory predicts that a galaxy should have a rotation profile X.

          The galaxy does not.

          Therefore the theory is incorrect and needs to be re-examined.

          Adding an invisible, undetectable mass adds more steps to the process in order to preserve the existing paradigm, which occam's razor very specifically rules out.

          Rather than trying to prop up the existing theory with a new layer of epicycles, a new hypothesis should be developed based on observations. Those observations tell us that our understanding of gravity is incomplete.

          There are already significant holes in the dark matter/dark energy hypothesis and new ones are appearing every day, yet it is put about as fact by the scientific community, rather than as a theoretical model. This is just another symptom of the divorce of astrophysics from the scientific method.

          1. Denarius Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Re: It's quite a small object

            Already a theory with no unknown influences that correctly explains observations of anomalous rotation velocities of galaxies. Wakipedia calls it fringe. Carmeli uses relativity and Hubble expansion to show how expansion of space creates the observed rotation anomalies. No new anything, just application of theories that pass experimental testing. One wonders if it is a case of first to publish taking mind share, rather than quality of ideas. As someone in physics said a century ago, "Science advances one funeral at a time". Just wish I could follow the maths to be sure Carmeli was right. See https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/the-theory-of-cosmological-relativity-by-dr-moshe-carmeli.541783/

            Meanwhile, a pint to the boffins who built the tech and used it to get data from such a dim distant object.

            1. mad physicist Fiona

              Re: It's quite a small object

              Already a theory with no unknown influences that correctly explains observations of anomalous rotation velocities of galaxies.

              If you are claiming to apply Occam's razor inventing a completely new fifth dimension and new underlying theories just to fit the data is a pretty big hurdle to jump. Nor does it fit in with experimental facts - one that comes to mind right away is that gravitational waves don't exist in Carmeli's model. Arguable at the time since they had never been detected. Now... not so much. So you would have to add additional contrivances to an already contrived theory to get it to fit the facts.

              Next to that simply suggesting there is some mass out there that we haven't accounted for seem much more straightforward.

              There is no conspiracy to ignore new ideas - they get evaluated with the evidence available at the time. As new data emerges they are re-evaluated - some suddenly appear a lot more likely, others such as this one lose what credibility they had.

              1. Denarius Silver badge

                Re: It's quite a small object

                Para two is the point. If dark anything was just mass, well and good. So far it seems to be very special mass. Invisible, not normal matter, gravitationally affected a bit, capable of forming structures but not capable of making its own "black holes". Very special mass. More "novel" than Carmelli with treating the expansion of space time as another dimension. So it fails the Razor even more so. As for recent detection of gravitational waves, there have been how many definite detections ? One ? Not a significant sample size, in which case an event is being observed, but is it just a gravitational wave or a indication of something else ? No hypotheses on it myself. I just like bigger sample sizes.

                As for your conspiracy assertion, this is getting beyond irritating. Dominant ideologies/frameworks/theories are not conspiracies and this was not implied. Such assertions IMHO, simply reflect either intolerance of other views or laziness in thought.

                Meanwhile, back at the original discussion, it would not be surprising to find much more cold standard matter as well as extremely dim brown dwarfs as the telescopes get better. However is it correct that no amount of conventional matter could make up missing mass required for observed rotational velocities ?

          2. Clive Galway

            Re: It's quite a small object

            "Rather than trying to prop up the existing theory with a new layer of epicycles, a new hypothesis should be developed based on observations. Those observations tell us that our understanding of gravity is incomplete."

            And what do we do while that new hypothesis is being worked upon? Delete the theory of gravity from the textbooks?

            No, you triage it as best you can with a big fat warning "We don't really know what this fudge factor is, we're working on it"

      4. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: It's quite a small object

        And no, inventing an invisible particle that can't be measured isn't modifying the theory. It's making shit up to avoid overturning the paradigm.

        I wonder what you would have said of the Higgs field 50 years ago.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's quite a small object

          The higgs field is a logical extension of field theory. Properties of matter are all field effects transferred by particles; mass being one if these fields seems consistent. The field has been hypothesised and the hypothesis is being tested.

          Dark matter isn't a logical extension of the standard model. It's an ad hoc creation designed to fill the gap between theory and observation. The correct response the missing mass problem would be to develop a new hypothesis that fits the observable universe, rather than assuming that there is invisible, unmeasurable mass so that the existing hypothesis can be maintained.

          1. Tom Paine

            Re: It's quite a small object

            The correct response the missing mass problem would be to develop a new hypothesis that fits the observable universe, rather than assuming that there is invisible, unmeasurable mass so that the existing hypothesis can be maintained.

            And no doubt a lot of doctoral students are wracking their brains to do just that; but in the meantime, the Standard Model plus the bolt-on of dark matter describes everything observable from CERN scales up to the CMB. It doesn't have to be true as long as it works, and providing we don't stop bothering to look for a deeper description.

            No?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's quite a small object

          "I wonder what you would have said of the Higgs field 50 years ago."

          Not just the Higgs. What about the everyday fact of beta decay (everyday as in plenty of naturally occurring isotopes that do it.) The electrons and the nuclei don't shoot apart in a straight line or with cancelling momentum. Mysterious missing energy, not detectable for years (though the speculative antineutrino was invented to explain it.)

          Then the neutrino and antineutrino turn up and are among the commonest particles in the universe but are rather hard to detect.

          Dark matter and dark energy are simply postulated by analogy to an example of "dark missing energy" which has already occurred. Not very fanciful at all.

      5. Filippo Silver badge

        Re: It's quite a small object

        You're not just missing the point. You're missing the point's entire existence. Nobody is inventing new particles, or anything else; dark matter is not a particle. Or maybe it is, we don't know, and that's the actual point. Conceptually, "dark matter" is a question, not an answer. It's short for "the galaxies are slower than the theory predicts, but we haven't figured out how to change the theory to fit that yet... all we know is that the problem behaves a bit like oddly-shaped mass, except we can't see any."

        The idea of dark matter as an *answer* comes from sci-fi, junk science, and the occasional anti-science troll who thinks that by misrepresting the scientific method hard enough, maybe he can justify his existance.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: It's quite a small object

      Could it explain dark matter - depends to the population size which could be significant. The data so far points towards this being formed very early in our universe's history and possibly remote from the initial burst of star formation.

      Dark matter is how we make the measurements that we can make, agree with what we can see ... we don't know that dark matter exists, but we do know our numbers don't work without it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's quite a small object (Far away - or not?)

      "Astronomers claim to have identified the largest and purest brown dwarf – measuring in at a record-breaking 90 times the mass of Jupiter – hovering around the edges of the Milky Way."

      ...and...

      "Sitting in the constellation of Pisces 750 light years away..."

      I suspect a little brain-fade or a typo.

      Our Milky Way galaxy is reckoned to be between 100-180 thousand light years (kly) in diameter and our Solar system is somewhere between 25-28 kly from its center so if this brown dwarf is really at the edges of the Milky Way and we use the lower estimate of 100 kly for the Milky Way's diameter then it'll be about 75 kly away, not just 750 ly.

      On the other hand, I'm not sure that the SDSS would be able to resolve such a small and cool object at 75 kly; the 750 ly distance seems more plausible, but in that case it won't be 'hovering' at the edges of the Milky Way.

      1. Nrobins

        Re: It's quite a small object (Far away - or not?)

        The Milky Way is a flat disk in our region. The car could be that distance from us and still be at the time of the Galaxy if it is above or below the disk.

        1. Roj Blake Silver badge

          Re: It's quite a small object (Far away - or not?)

          As Father Ted would say, this brown dwarf is small but close. Those are far away...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's quite a small object (Far away - or not?)

          Good point (if I've interpreted your post correctly).

          Pisces is a bit spread out and extends between about -31 to -57 degrees from the Milky Way's galactic plane, the galactic disk is about 1000 ly thick in the vicinity of the Solar System and the Solar System itself is reckoned to be more or less in the middle of the disk's thickness...

          ...so using the mean average of -44 degrees for the angle to Pisces and a distance of 750 ly (for the distance between Earth and this BD)...

          ...then the distance of the BD above the galactic plane (in ly) will be 750 * SIN(44) = 520.9, which does put it more or less on the surface of the Milky Way's disk.

          As to whether a point on a surface can be regarded as an 'edge' is another discussion but I guess it's a close enough definition for tabloid headlines.

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        @LeeE

        You're making an assumption about which edge they're talking about. Galaxies aren't two-dimensional, and IIRC, 750 ly is about right for getting to the 'top' edge.

      3. Mpeler
        Pint

        Re: It's quite a small object (Far away - or not?)

        "Sitting in the constellation of Pisces 750 light years away..."

        Yes, I thought there was something fishy about that...

        (Coat, check, towel, check, now for that Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster...)

    4. Philip Stott

      Re: It's quite a small object

      God did it and ran away :-p

      1. sojournerman

        Re: It's quite a small object

        Nothing created everything then ran away ?? Whose explanation is more plausible

        Some all-powerful being created everything for a reason or everything came from nothing goes to nothing and everything in between means nothing your choice

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's quite a small object

          "Some all-powerful being created everything for a reason"

          And what was the reason for the creation of the all-powerful being? Infinite regress starts now.

          In theology departments (as distinct from "Bible studies") the disproof of Creationism from theological considerations is a first year exercise, before you even start on the scientific stuff.

          1. Denarius Silver badge

            Re: It's quite a small object

            @Voyna. It also the cause of psych analysis as to why theologians are more inclined to believe anything but the Bible. It also explains why absolutist belief systems that do not compromise are gaining adherents while evolving western belief systems are now indistinguishable for slightly old socialist waffle.

        2. Toni the terrible Bronze badge
          Devil

          Re: It's quite a small object

          "Nothing comes from nothing - Speak Again"

          or it is all nothing except when it isnt - a minor wibble in nothing

    5. Cuddles

      Re: It's quite a small object

      "I am assuming that a bigger population of "failed stars" like this one won't go anywhere near to explaining dark matter?"

      No. Ignoring all the silly conspiracy theories that idiots start spouting every time someone mentions dark matter, the simple fact is that brown dwarfs were one of the first things considered as a candidate for dark matter, so they were one of the first things we looked for an eliminated as a possibility. Brown dwarfs would be one component of MACHOS (Massive Compact Halo Objects) - essentially big objects like stars and planets made of normal matter, but in forms that are difficult to see, such as brown dwarfs and old white dwarfs which don't undergo fusion and therefore don't give off much light. But even though they're difficult to observe directly, they still interact with light and their presence can be detected indirectly, such as through their effects on the cosmic microwave background and gravitational lensing. And when we looked for those expected effects, we found that MACHOS can only make up a tiny proportion of the missing mass, which is why recent theories look for more exotic non-baryonic matter instead.

      This discovery could be interesting in terms of the balance of baryonic matter - maybe there are more big brown dwarfs and a bit less matter in gas clouds than we thought, or something like that - but its basically irrelevant as far as dark matter is concerned, since we've already eliminated this sort of object as a major factor through other observations.

  2. Chris Miller

    a ball of gas made up of more than 99.9 per cent hydrogen

    I assume you mean 99.9 per cent hydrogen and helium (i.e very low 'metalliciity'). If this object were really consists of pure hydrogen, that would be quite remarkable.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Shark? what shark?

      Stunning even ;-)

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "I assume you mean more than 99.9% hydrogen and helium "

      The paper doesn't mention helium.

      1. TitterYeNot

        "'I assume you mean more than 99.9% hydrogen and helium'

        The paper doesn't mention helium."

        The paper talks about the extremely low metallicity of the brown dwarf, which in astronomical terms means it contains very little mass that isn't either Hydrogen or Helium (astronomical metals are any non-primordial elements produced during nuclear fusion within stars i.e. Carbon, Oxygen, Iron etc.)

        Most of the Helium nuclei in the universe are thought to have been created during the early phase of the Big Bang, so the star will likely contain around 24% Helium. Its mass is too low to support the usual fusion lifecycle of bigger stars, so the amount of Helium produced by fusion is very small, and thus the percentage will be lower than the 27% or so in our own sun for example. The unsteady nuclear fusion at its core also accounts for the relative lack of metallic fusion products.

  4. Bloodbeastterror

    "Gigayears"...?

    Is this an attempt to make it sound more scientific? What's wrong with the normal "billions" (apart from its recent corruption by American influence to make it a thousandth of its proper meaningful value of a million nillions)?

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: "Gigayears"...?

      We need a word that means a thousand million. The word milliard never caught on, so we have billion.

      1. Bloodbeastterror

        Re: "Gigayears"...?

        Well, maybe a bit off-topic now, but we don't in fact *need* a word for a thousand million. We have the phrase "a thousand million" which is pretty clear.

        And since we already have the now-generally-accepted (but wrong) "billion", we certainly have no need of "gigayear".

        1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: "Gigayears"...?

          the now-generally-accepted (but wrong) "billion"

          Nobody has seriously used "billion" to mean anything other than 10^9 in technical work for decades now.

          If you're going down the path of claiming that commonly used meanings of words are wrong, you're better off giving up on the English language entirely...

        2. eldakka

          Re: "Gigayears"...?

          It's the SI unit system prefix for 10^9.

          You've never heard of Gigabyte, or Gigawatt?

          It is perfectly correct to say:

          "A billion years", "A billion bytes", "A billion watts", "A billion parsecs"

          And it is also perfectly correct to say

          "A Gigayear", "A Gigabyte", "A Gigawatt", "A Gigaparsec."

          10^6 Million Mega-

          10^9 Billion Giga-

          10^12 Trillion Tera-

          10^15 Quadrillion Peta-

          10^18 Quintillion Exa-

          10^21 Sextillion Zeta-

          10^24 Septillion Yotta-

          1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken
            Pint

            Re: "Gigayears"...?

            You are, of course, absolutely correct.

            Now, come drink a dekalitre with me!

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Gigayears"...?

            "... 10^24 Septillion Yotta- ..."

            Yotta? Very large that is.

      2. Danny 4

        Re: "Gigayears"...?

        According to my dictionary gillion is a British term for thousand million. [giga- and million.] Though I've never seen it used anywhere. Time to re-introduce it?

        (source: Chambers English Dictionary, 1990.)

        1. GrapeBunch

          Re: "Gigayears"...?

          Inquiring minds want to know whether it's pronounced like Gillionham in Kent, or like Gillionham in Dorset.

  5. Not also known as SC
    Meh

    Am I a Bad Person?

    Why does this quote "Having found one though often suggests a much larger hitherto undiscovered population – I'd be very surprised if there aren't many more similar objects out there waiting to be found" instantly make me think that the organisation is using this discovery to try to obtain more funding?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Am I a Bad Person?

      the organisation is using this discovery to try to obtain more funding?

      The eternal fear of the crabby mind: someone is trying to obtain funding (don't look at possibly 10 trillions dumped into various various wars the last 15 years)

    2. LionelB Silver badge

      Re: Am I a Bad Person?

      the organisation is using this discovery to try to obtain more funding?

      Well, duh, of course they are. You need funding to do science.

      (And they are almost certainly right - not many unique objects in the universe, because the universe is rather big and full of stuff.)

  6. Paul

    if this region of space is really rich in H2, then it would be a good place to send a space probe which is driven by a fusion ramjet, and powered by a fusion reactor.

    1. SkippyBing

      Or we could just warp drive there. I mean if we're using technology we haven't got yet why limit ourselves.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      If your interstellar probe can get that far then you already have a technology which doesn't need the fuel there...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or you're incredibly patient.

        1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

          Or an incredible patient.

          Nurse. NURSE!

          He's out of bed again.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pure Brown Dwarf found at Edge of Galaxy

    Must have been thrown there.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Pure Brown Dwarf found at Edge of Galaxy

      "Always carry a few passports if you travel a lot."

      I'm still trying to get my head around "pure brown". From my experience of art classes in junior school, brown is the result of mixing any number of random paint colours. Any three or more colours always seems to result in some version n of brown or another. Pure is the last word I'd use to describe that mess :0)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pure Brown Dwarf found at Edge of Galaxy

      "Must have been thrown there."

      Or crapped by a tidy-minded cosmic star goat.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At 90X Jupiter's mass, and fairly pure hydrogen, how did this not ignite into a star?

    And no, even at that size, I don't think near-starts like these to account for "dark matter". You'd need A LOT of objects like this to account fore the 80%-90% of gravitational influence/mass that is supposed to be locked up in dark matter.

    1. Stoneshop

      Re: At 90X Jupiter's mass, and fairly pure hydrogen, how did this not ignite into a star?

      Fouled sparkplugs.

    2. Denarius Silver badge

      Re: At 90X Jupiter's mass, and fairly pure hydrogen, how did this not ignite into a star?

      @MH, indeed, hence MACHOs vs WIMPs, discussion, now known as Dark Energy/Matter

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: At 90X Jupiter's mass, and fairly pure hydrogen, how did this not ignite into a star?

        Brown dwarves are MACHOs, and we have been pretty sure there aren't enough of them to account for the discrepancy for many years.

        WIMPs remain plausible, and IIRC the Standard Model even predicts a few possibilities for them. Detection remains a problem as (by definition), they don't interact with the electromagnetic force.

        Then there are various possibilities that have yet to make testable hypotheses but might.

        And then hundreds of discredited or simply crackpot ones like MOND and others that might fit in some circumstances but do not work for smaller scales - like within a solar system.

    3. GrapeBunch

      Re: At 90X Jupiter's mass, and fairly pure hydrogen, how did this not ignite into a star?

      There are 100 visible stars in the galaxy. And another 100 invisible ones. If instead there were 900 invisible ones, could that solve the gravitational equation? Even a milky Oort cloud of dun objects? B(G)ee-leon, of course.

    4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: At 90X Jupiter's mass, and fairly pure hydrogen, how did this not ignite into a star?

      90 times Jupiter Mass is 90 * 0.0009546M_Sun,

      which is 0.086 M_Sun. This may be enough, you need 0.05 or above, apparently. However, the absence of Carbon makes this a "first generation star" which needs abnormally high temperature to start rather inefficient fusion processes. Time for stackoverflow?

  9. Sanctimonious Prick
    Happy

    "I'd be very surprised if there aren't many more similar objects out there waiting to be found."

    He's kidding, right? This is just a one off!

    /tic

    :)

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      ...and finding it was a million to one chance too....

  10. DanceMan

    99.9 per cent hydrogen

    and 90 times the mass of Jupiter.

    Careful with that match Eugene.

    1. jerryboam
      Thumb Up

      Re: 99.9 per cent hydrogen

      Be careful of those mutant camels ... yah I used to be a fan of that game too

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch

        Re: 99.9 per cent hydrogen

        ditto, but Minter was just channelling Floyd.

  11. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "Not big enough to be a proper star; not small enough to be a planet"

    Well, it takes all sorts to make a galaxy, right?

  12. Peter X
    Happy

    Party!

    It was previously classified as an M-type star, but the paper has boosted it to an L‑type star, after discovering it had lower metallicity levels and a dimmer surface than expected.

    Just imagine the parties the beings of SDSS J010448.46+153501.8 are having right now (or in 750 years when they get the news)!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brown Dwarf

    Name of a failed Sci Fi show, the title didn't poll well with the test audiences.

  14. TrumpSlurp the Troll
    Flame

    Enquiring minds

    Would like to know just how much mass and roughly what constituents would be required to light the blue(Brown?) touch paper.

  15. Sleep deprived

    "Failed star"

    Where are those million monoliths when you need them?

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