When Peter Predehl, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, first laid eyes on the new map of the universe’s hottest objects, he immediately recognized the aftermath of a galactic catastrophe. A bright yellow cloud billowed tens of thousands of light-years upward from the Milky Way’s flat disk, with a fainter twin reflected below.
The structure was so obvious that it barely seemed necessary to describe it in writing. But “Nature wouldn’t accept [us] simply sending a picture and saying, ‘OK, we can see this,’” Predehl said. “Therefore, we did some analysis.”
The results, which Nature published on December 9, have moved a decades-old idea from the fringe into the mainstream.
In the 1950s, astronomers first spotted a radio wave-emitting arc hanging above — or to the “north” of — the galactic plane. In the decades since, the “North Polar Spur” has become something of a celestial Rorschach test. Some see the scattered innards of an ex-star that’s relatively close by. Others see evidence of a grander explosion.
The controversy hinges on every astronomer’s major headache: Peering out into space, researchers have no depth perception. “We see a 2D map of a 3D universe,” said Kaustav Das, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology.
For decades, most astronomers believed that the North Polar Spur was part of the local galactic neighborhood. Some studies concluded that it connects to nearby gas clouds. Others looked at its distortion of background stars and inferred that it’s a supernova remnant — a dusty cloud marking the gravestone of a dead star.
Yet Yoshiaki Sofue, an astronomer at the University of Tokyo, has always thought the spur looked funky for a stellar debris cloud. Instead, he imagined the arc to be one stretch of a huge unseen structure — a pair of bubbles straddling the galaxy’s heart. He published simulations in 1977 that produced digital clouds lining up with the spur, and ever since then he has told anyone who would listen that the spur actually hovers tens of thousands of light-years above the disk. He described it as an expanding shock wave from a galactic calamity dating back millions of years.
But if Sofue was right, there should also be a twin structure to the south of the galactic plane. Astronomers saw no trace of this counterpart, and most remained unconvinced.
Then in 2010, the Fermi space telescope caught the faint gamma-ray glow of two humungous lobes, each extending roughly 20,000 light-years from the galaxy’s center. They were too small to trace the North Polar Spur, but they otherwise looked just like the galactic-scale clouds of hot gas Sofue predicted. Astronomers began to wonder: If the galaxy had at least one pair of bubbles, perhaps the spur was part of a second set?
“The situation dramatically changed after the discovery of the Fermi bubbles,” said Jun Kataoka, an astronomer at Waseda University in Japan who has collaborated with Sofue.
The new images have further cemented the change of opinion. They came from eROSITA, an orbiting X-ray telescope that launched in 2019 to track dark energy’s effect on galaxy clusters. The eROSITA team released a preliminary map in June, the fruit of the telescope’s first six months of observations.
The map traces X-ray bubbles that stand an estimated 45,000 light-years tall, engulfing the gamma-ray Fermi bubbles. Their X-rays shine from gas that measures 3 million to 4 million degrees Kelvin as it expands outward at 300 to 400 kilometers per second. And not only does the northern bubble align perfectly with the spur, its mirror image is obvious as well, just as Sofue predicted. “I was particularly happy to see the southern bubble clearly exhibited, so similar to my simulation,” he said.
Still, a full interpretation of all North Polar Spur observations remains complex; a nearby supernova remnant could have parked itself right in front of the X-ray bubbles by chance, for instance, giving both interpretations elements of truth. In September, Das and collaborators used state-of-the-art observations of distant stars to show that something dusty is hanging out about 450 light-years away — a stone’s throw, by galactic standards.
But the meaning of eROSITA’s mushroom clouds is clear: Something went bang in the center of the Milky Way around 15 million to 20 million years ago, around the same time hyenas and weasels were emerging on Earth.
“I think now [the debate] is done, more or less,” said Predehl, who spent 25 years developing eROSITA.
What exploded? Based on the energy required to make the clouds so big and so hot, there are two plausible sources.
One possibility is that a wave of tens of thousands of stars popped into being and promptly blew up, behavior familiar from so-called starburst galaxies. But the bubbles appear rather pure, lacking the heavy atomic shrapnel that a cohort of exploding stars should have peppered them with. “The metal abundance is very small, so I don’t believe that the starburst activity happened,” Kataoka said.
The alternative culprit is the supermassive black hole that sits at the galaxy’s heart. The 4-million-solar-mass leviathan is relatively quiet today. But if a large cloud of gas once strayed too close, the black hole could have switched on like a spotlight. While feasting on the hapless passerby, the black hole would have gobbled down half the cloud while energy from the other half sprayed out above and below the disk, inflating the X-ray bubbles and perhaps the Fermi bubbles too (although the two pairs could also represent separate episodes of activity, Predehl noted).
Astronomers have long observed other galaxies that shoot out jets above and below their disks, and they’ve wondered what makes the central supermassive black holes in those galaxies churn so much more violently than ours does. The Fermi bubbles, and now the eROSITA bubbles, suggest that the main difference may simply be the passage of time.
Research: Altseason is Upon Us, But Not For XRP or EOS
In its latest ‘State of the Network’ bulletin, industry data provider Coin Metrics has delved into altcoins and their impressive performance so far this year.
It acknowledged that many of the hot altcoins that surged during the 2017 crypto boom are now ‘dead and gone’, and have been replaced by a new breed of DeFi assets. It added that with new capital flowing into Bitcoin and Ethereum, some of that money may start flowing into altcoins.
In this week’s State of the Network @natemaddrey looks at recent altcoin performance. Is a new altseason incoming?
Read the full issue here:https://t.co/pO4mmIPhby
— CoinMetrics.io (@coinmetrics) January 19, 2021
The report acknowledged that institutional investment has largely been behind the current rally and institutions are very wary of altcoins.
“Altcoin investing is largely considered a retail phenomenon. Similar to penny stocks, it’s often driven by individual investors looking for outsized gains.”
XRP and EOS Missing The Party
Looking at returns since the beginning of December 2020, Bitcoin and Ethereum have outperformed most other Layer 1 blockchains, it noted. However several high-cap crypto assets have also performed well hitting their own all-time highs.
There are two notable exceptions to this trend; Ripple’s XRP and Block.one’s EOS.
The glaring red charts for these to former darlings of crypto show that XRP has lost 54.6% since December 1, and EOS has dumped 7.5% over the same period.
Ripple’s problems started when it finally lost the battle with the SEC and the selloff began. Since its late November high of almost $0.70, XRP has dumped almost 60% to today’s sub $0.29 prices. There have been reports of Ripple executives selling their stashes, while Grayscale dissolved its XRP Trust as confidence in the company dwindles.
Block.one’s problems have not been as bad, but they have had them. Company CTO Dan Larimer announced his resignation earlier this month and there has been very little on the development or product front for the project.
Over the past year, EOS has lost 23% on a chart that has been flat for months. Since its February 2020 high of $5.40 it has dumped 50%, and since its giddy all-time high in April 2018 of over $22, EOS has been smashed 87%.
Top Altcoins so Far in 2021
Those that are enjoying the altseason sun include Polkadot, Binance Coin, Chainlink, and of course Ethereum, though it shouldn’t really be termed an altcoin any longer.
Coin Metrics highlighted Cardano, Decred, and Dogecoin as three that have made three figure gains since December one, outperforming Bitcoin itself.
Biden’s US Treasury Secretary Nominee Raises Concerns Over Crypto Terrorism Financing
Janet Yellen is keeping true to form as a crypto critic and has linked cryptocurrencies to terrorist financing and money laundering. Meanwhile, another report has emerged showing that virtual currencies only account for an insignificant proportion of global financial crimes.
Yellen Espouses Well-Worn Crypto FUD
Speaking during her virtual confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate, Janet Yellen — President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for the Treasury Department — identified cryptos as a concern in terms of terrorist financing and money laundering.
Doubling down on her anti-crypto rhetoric, Yellen remarked:
“I think many [cryptocurrencies] are used, at least in transactions sense, mainly for illicit financing and I think we really need to examine ways in which we can curtail their use and make sure that money laundering doesn’t occur through those channels.”
According to Yellen, if confirmed, her leadership of the Treasury Department will focus on dealing with crypto-related terrorism financing, adding:
“The technologies to accomplish this change over time and we need to make sure that our methods for dealing with these matters, with tech terrorist financing, change along with changing technology, cryptocurrencies are a particular concern.”
As previously reported by CryptoPotato, Yellen is a known crypto critic. Back in 2018, she described Bitcoin as “anything but useful.” She has also countered claims of BTC being a store of value.
Cryptocurrency Crime Grossly Overstated
Yellen’s remarks are a common refrain among members of the mainstream financial establishment. However, the entire record of crypto forensic investigations do not support the claim that virtual currencies are the preferred channel for criminals and terrorists.
As part of the highlights of its upcoming 2020 crypto crime report, blockchain intelligence firm revealed that criminal transactions in the cryptocurrency space fell to 0.34% in 2020. This figure represents an even smaller percentage than the 2.1% recorded in 2019.
Reacting to Yellen’s statements, several crypto stakeholders were quick to dismiss her claims with verifiable data. Morgan Creek digital co-founder Anthony Pompliano tweeted:
“Janet Yellen stated today that cryptocurrencies are concerning because of terrorist financing and money laundering. She forgot to mention that the US dollar is the choice currency of criminals around the world. The large banks launder more money than [the] entire Bitcoin market cap.”
Indeed, in its report from 2020, SWIFT revealed that crypto-related money laundering was only a drop in the ocean compared to the volume of dirty money funneled via banks. Back in May 2020, Chainalysis also issued a report debunking claims that terrorist group ISIS held $300 million in Bitcoin.
Featured image courtesy of CNBC.
3 reasons Bitcoin abruptly dropped by 7.4% overnight
The price of Bitcoin (BTC) dropped sharply from $37,800 to $35,000 overnight, liquidating $572 million worth of cryptocurrency futures positions.
There are three major reasons why the price of Bitcoin declined steeply in the past 12 hours. The reasons are an overheated derivatives market, growing doubt in the market, and the lack of upside volatility.
Derivatives market was overheated before the correction
Before the pullback occurred, the Bitcoin derivatives market was extremely overheated. The futures funding rate was hovering at around 0.1%, which is 10 times higher than the average 0.01%.
The futures funding rate is a mechanism that achieves balance in the futures market by incentivizing long or short contract holders based on market sentiment.
If there are more long contracts or buyers in the market, then the funding rate turns positive. If it becomes positive, then buyers have to compensate short-sellers with a portion of their contracts every eight hours, and vice versa.
Almost all major cryptocurrencies saw their funding rates spike to around 0.1% to 0.3%, which meant the market was extremely overleveraged.
When the market is this overcrowded, the likelihood of a long squeeze increases, which could cause many futures contracts to get liquidated in a short period.
Growing market uncertainty
According to researchers at Santiment, there is “trader doubt” in the market on whether BTC would hit $40,00 again. They wrote:
“Thinking face There is an increasing amount of trader doubt that #Bitcoin will revisit $40,000. But according to address activity and trade volume, the long-term trend still looks plenty healthy. Keep a close eye on whether $BTC’s usage rate stays propped up.”
The fundamentals of the Bitcoin blockchain network, such as address activity and trade volume, remain strong. However, the market sentiment has dwindled in the past week as BTC continues to struggle to break out of the $38,000 resistance area.
Lack of upside volatility
Bitcoin has been seeing weak reactions from buyers throughout the past several days, compared to the initial rally to $42,000 in early January.
During the early phase of the rally, whenever Bitcoin dipped to key support levels, like $35,000, there was often a big reaction from buyers.
However, since mid-January, there have been weaker reactions from buyers at key support levels. This indicates that the expectations of a rally toward the $40,000 to $42,000 resistance area have subsided, at least in the near term.
The selling pressure on Bitcoin mostly came from Asia in the first two weeks of January. But, as shown in the overnight correction on Jan. 19, Bitcoin has started to see weakness in the U.S. market as well.
The combination of limited upside volatility and the lack of upside momentum is seemingly causing traders to become cautious in the near term. This likely means that BTC sees a prolonged consolidation phase until February.
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