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Concept: Dark matter


The Atacama Desert is the most extreme non-polar biome on Earth, the core region of which is considered to represent the dry limit for life and to be an analogue for Martian soils. This study focused on actinobacteria because they are keystone species in terrestrial ecosystems and are acknowledged as an unrivalled source of bioactive compounds. Metagenomic analyses of hyper-arid and extreme hyper-arid soils in this desert revealed a remarkable degree of actinobacterial ‘dark matter’, evidenced by a detected increase of 34% in families against those that are validly published. Rank-abundance analyses indicated that these soils were high-diversity habitats and that the great majority of designated ‘rare’ genera (up to 60% of all phylotypes) were always rare. These studies have enabled a core actinobacterial microbiome common to both habitats to be defined. The great majority of detected taxa have not been recovered by culture dependent methods, neither, with very few exceptions, has their functional ecology been explored. A microbial seed bank of this magnitude has significance not just for Atacama soil ecosystem resilience but represents an enormous untapped resource for biotechnology discovery programmes in an era where resistance to existing antibiotics is rapidly becoming a major threat to global health.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecosystem, Chile, Dark matter, Atacama Desert, Desert, Rain shadow, Biosphere


Studies of galaxy surveys in the context of the cold dark matter paradigm have shown that the mass of the dark matter halo and the total stellar mass are coupled through a function that varies smoothly with mass. Their average ratio Mhalo/Mstarshas a minimum of about 30 for galaxies with stellar masses near that of the Milky Way (approximately 5 × 1010solar masses) and increases both towards lower masses and towards higher masses. The scatter in this relation is not well known; it is generally thought to be less than a factor of two for massive galaxies but much larger for dwarf galaxies. Here we report the radial velocities of ten luminous globular-cluster-like objects in the ultra-diffuse galaxy NGC1052-DF2, which has a stellar mass of approximately 2 × 108solar masses. We infer that its velocity dispersion is less than 10.5 kilometres per second with 90 per cent confidence, and we determine from this that its total mass within a radius of 7.6 kiloparsecs is less than 3.4 × 108solar masses. This implies that the ratio Mhalo/Mstarsis of order unity (and consistent with zero), a factor of at least 400 lower than expected. NGC1052-DF2 demonstrates that dark matter is not always coupled with baryonic matter on galactic scales.

Concepts: Galaxy, Mass, Star, Dark matter, Milky Way, Andromeda Galaxy, Baryon, Parsec


The cosmic radio-frequency spectrum is expected to show a strong absorption signal corresponding to the 21-centimetre-wavelength transition of atomic hydrogen around redshift 20, which arises from Lyman-α radiation from some of the earliest stars. By observing this 21-centimetre signal-either its sky-averaged spectrum or maps of its fluctuations, obtained using radio interferometers-we can obtain information about cosmic dawn, the era when the first astrophysical sources of light were formed. The recent detection of the global 21-centimetre spectrum reveals a stronger absorption than the maximum predicted by existing models, at a confidence level of 3.8 standard deviations. Here we report that this absorption can be explained by the combination of radiation from the first stars and excess cooling of the cosmic gas induced by its interaction with dark matter. Our analysis indicates that the spatial fluctuations of the 21-centimetre signal at cosmic dawn could be an order of magnitude larger than previously expected and that the dark-matter particle is no heavier than several proton masses, well below the commonly predicted mass of weakly interacting massive particles. Our analysis also confirms that dark matter is highly non-relativistic and at least moderately cold, and primordial velocities predicted by models of warm dark matter are potentially detectable. These results indicate that 21-centimetre cosmology can be used as a dark-matter probe.

Concepts: Physics, Matter, Particle physics, General relativity, Atom, Mass, Universe, Dark matter


Quasars are associated with and powered by the accretion of material onto massive black holes; the detection of highly luminous quasars with redshifts greater than z = 6 suggests that black holes of up to ten billion solar masses already existed 13 billion years ago. Two possible present-day ‘dormant’ descendants of this population of ‘active’ black holes have been found in the galaxies NGC 3842 and NGC 4889 at the centres of the Leo and Coma galaxy clusters, which together form the central region of the Great Wall-the largest local structure of galaxies. The most luminous quasars, however, are not confined to such high-density regions of the early Universe; yet dormant black holes of this high mass have not yet been found outside of modern-day rich clusters. Here we report observations of the stellar velocity distribution in the galaxy NGC 1600-a relatively isolated elliptical galaxy near the centre of a galaxy group at a distance of 64 megaparsecs from Earth. We use orbit superposition models to determine that the black hole at the centre of NGC 1600 has a mass of 17 billion solar masses. The spatial distribution of stars near the centre of NGC 1600 is rather diffuse. We find that the region of depleted stellar density in the cores of massive elliptical galaxies extends over the same radius as the gravitational sphere of influence of the central black holes, and interpret this as the dynamical imprint of the black holes.

Concepts: Galaxy, Redshift, General relativity, Gravitation, Universe, Supermassive black hole, Dark matter, Milky Way


Massive galaxy clusters have been found that date to times as early as three billion years after the Big Bang, containing stars that formed at even earlier epochs1-3. The high-redshift progenitors of these galaxy clusters-termed ‘protoclusters’-can be identified in cosmological simulations that have the highest overdensities (greater-than-average densities) of dark matter4-6. Protoclusters are expected to contain extremely massive galaxies that can be observed as luminous starbursts 7 . However, recent detections of possible protoclusters hosting such starbursts8-11 do not support the kind of rapid cluster-core formation expected from simulations 12 : the structures observed contain only a handful of starbursting galaxies spread throughout a broad region, with poor evidence for eventual collapse into a protocluster. Here we report observations of carbon monoxide and ionized carbon emission from the source SPT2349-56. We find that this source consists of at least 14 gas-rich galaxies, all lying at redshifts of 4.31. We demonstrate that each of these galaxies is forming stars between 50 and 1,000 times more quickly than our own Milky Way, and that all are located within a projected region that is only around 130 kiloparsecs in diameter. This galaxy surface density is more than ten times the average blank-field value (integrated over all redshifts), and more than 1,000 times the average field volume density. The velocity dispersion (approximately 410 kilometres per second) of these galaxies and the enormous gas and star-formation densities suggest that this system represents the core of a cluster of galaxies that was already at an advanced stage of formation when the Universe was only 1.4 billion years old. A comparison with other known protoclusters at high redshifts shows that SPT2349-56 could be building one of the most massive structures in the Universe today.

Concepts: Galaxy, Big Bang, Redshift, Universe, Dark matter, Milky Way, Supercluster, Parsec


Several new genomics technologies have become available that offer long-read sequencing or long-range mapping with higher throughput and higher resolution analysis than ever before. These long-range technologies are rapidly advancing the field with improved reference genomes, more comprehensive variant identification and more complete views of transcriptomes and epigenomes. However, they also require new bioinformatics approaches to take full advantage of their unique characteristics while overcoming their complex errors and modalities. Here, we discuss several of the most important applications of the new technologies, focusing on both the currently available bioinformatics tools and opportunities for future research.

Concepts: Bioinformatics, Genome, Genomics, Matter, First-order logic, Logic, Dark matter


Of several dozen galaxies observed spectroscopically that are candidates for having a redshift (z) in excess of seven, only five have had their redshifts confirmed via Lyman α emission, at z = 7.008, 7.045, 7.109, 7.213 and 7.215 (refs 1-4). The small fraction of confirmed galaxies may indicate that the neutral fraction in the intergalactic medium rises quickly at z > 6.5, given that Lyman α is resonantly scattered by neutral gas. The small samples and limited depth of previous observations, however, makes these conclusions tentative. Here we report a deep near-infrared spectroscopic survey of 43 photometrically-selected galaxies with z > 6.5. We detect a near-infrared emission line from only a single galaxy, confirming that some process is making Lyman α difficult to detect. The detected emission line at a wavelength of 1.0343 micrometres is likely to be Lyman α emission, placing this galaxy at a redshift z = 7.51, an epoch 700 million years after the Big Bang. This galaxy’s colours are consistent with significant metal content, implying that galaxies become enriched rapidly. We calculate a surprisingly high star-formation rate of about 330 solar masses per year, which is more than a factor of 100 greater than that seen in the Milky Way. Such a galaxy is unexpected in a survey of our size, suggesting that the early Universe may harbour a larger number of intense sites of star formation than expected.

Concepts: Galaxy, Big Bang, Redshift, Universe, Dark matter, Milky Way, Quasar, Hubble's law


About 300 experiments have tried to determine the value of the Newtonian gravitational constant, G, so far, but large discrepancies in the results have made it impossible to know its value precisely. The weakness of the gravitational interaction and the impossibility of shielding the effects of gravity make it very difficult to measure G while keeping systematic effects under control. Most previous experiments performed were based on the torsion pendulum or torsion balance scheme as in the experiment by Cavendish in 1798, and in all cases macroscopic masses were used. Here we report the precise determination of G using laser-cooled atoms and quantum interferometry. We obtain the value G = 6.67191(99) × 10(-11) m(3) kg(-1) s(-2) with a relative uncertainty of 150 parts per million (the combined standard uncertainty is given in parentheses). Our value differs by 1.5 combined standard deviations from the current recommended value of the Committee on Data for Science and Technology. A conceptually different experiment such as ours helps to identify the systematic errors that have proved elusive in previous experiments, thus improving the confidence in the value of G. There is no definitive relationship between G and the other fundamental constants, and there is no theoretical prediction for its value, against which to test experimental results. Improving the precision with which we know G has not only a pure metrological interest, but is also important because of the key role that G has in theories of gravitation, cosmology, particle physics and astrophysics and in geophysical models.

Concepts: General relativity, Measurement, Gravitation, Physical cosmology, Dark matter, Gravitational constant, Standard gravity, Newton's law of universal gravitation


We present results from the 2D anisotropic baryon acoustic oscillation (BAO) signal present in the final data set from the WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey. We analyse the WiggleZ data in two ways: first using the full shape of the 2D correlation function and secondly focusing only on the position of the BAO peak in the reconstructed data set. When fitting for the full shape of the 2D correlation function we use a multipole expansion to compare with theory. When we use the reconstructed data we marginalize over the shape and just measure the position of the BAO peak, analysing the data in wedges separating the signal along the line of sight from that parallel to the line of sight. We verify our method with mock data and find the results to be free of bias or systematic offsets. We also redo the pre-reconstruction angle-averaged (1D) WiggleZ BAO analysis with an improved covariance and present an updated result. The final results are presented in the form of Ω c  h(2), H(z), and DA (z) for three redshift bins with effective redshifts z = 0.44, 0.60, and 0.73. Within these bins and methodologies, we recover constraints between 5 and 22 per cent error. Our cosmological constraints are consistent with flat ΛCDM cosmology and agree with results from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey.

Concepts: Big Bang, Redshift, General relativity, Universe, Physical cosmology, Dark matter, Hubble's law, Cosmology


Approximately 10% of active galactic nuclei exhibit relativistic jets, which are powered by accretion of matter onto super massive black holes. While the measured width profiles of such jets on large scales agree with theories of magnetic collimation, predicted structure on accretion disk scales at the jet launch point has not been detected. We report radio interferometry observations at 1.3 mm wavelength of the elliptical galaxy M87 that spatially resolve the base of the jet in this source. The derived size of 5.5 ± 0.4 Schwarzschild radii is significantly smaller than the innermost edge of a retrograde accretion disk, suggesting that the M87 jet is powered by an accretion disk in a prograde orbit around a spinning black hole.

Concepts: Galaxy, Black hole, Accretion disc, Active galactic nucleus, Supermassive black hole, Schwarzschild radius, Dark matter, Milky Way