James Webb captures dramatic image of newborn star | Digital Trends

James Webb captures dramatic image of newborn star | Digital Trends

A new image of a Herbig-Haro object captured by the James Webb Space Telescope shows the dramatic outflows from a young star. These luminous flares are created when stellar winds shoot off in opposite directions from newborn stars, as the jets of gas slam into nearby dust and gas at tremendous speed. These objects can be huge, up to several light-years across, and they glow brightly in the infrared wavelengths in which James Webb operates.

This image shows Herbig-Haro object HH 797, which is located close to the IC 348 star cluster, and is also nearby to another Herbig-Haro object that Webb captured recently: HH 211.

The NASA/European Space Agency/Canadian Space Agency’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals intricate details of Herbig Haro object 797 (HH 797). Herbig-Haro objects are luminous regions surrounding newborn stars (known as protostars), and are formed when stellar winds or jets of gas spewing from these newborn stars form shock waves colliding with nearby gas and dust at high speeds. ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, T. Ray (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies)

The image was taken using Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument, which is particularly suited to investigating young stars, Webb scientists explain in a statement, : “Infrared imaging is a powerful way to study newborn stars and their outflows, because the youngest stars are invariably still embedded within the gas and dust from which they are formed. The infrared emission of the star’s outflows penetrates the obscuring gas and dust, making Herbig-Haro objects ideal for observation with Webb’s sensitive infrared instruments.

“Molecules excited by the turbulent conditions, including molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide, emit infrared light that Webb can collect to visualize the structure of the outflows. NIRCam is particularly good at observing the hot (thousands of degree Celsius) molecules that are excited as a result of shocks.”

This particular Herbig-Haro object is unusual in that scientists originally believed that it was created from a single young star, as most such objects are. But these detailed observations reveal that there are actually two sets of outflows, coming from a pair of stars at the center.

In addition to the bright ripples of the Herbig-Haro object in the lower half of the image, there are also thought to be more new stars being born in the upper half of the image. The bright smudge in shades of yellow and green is believed to host two young protostars.

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Unique star system with six planets in geometric formation | Digital Trends

Unique star system with six planets in geometric formation | Digital Trends

Astronomers have discovered a rare star system in which six planets orbit around one star in an elaborate geometrical pattern due to a phenomenon called orbital resonance. Using both NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS), the researchers have built up a picture of the beautiful, but complex HD110067 system, located 100 light-years away.

The six planets of the system orbit in a pattern whereby one planet completes three orbits while another does two, and one completes six orbits while another does one, and another does four orbits while another does three, and so one. The six planets form what is called a “resonant chain” where each is in resonance with the planets next to it.

A rare family of six exoplanets has been unlocked with the help of the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS mission.  ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

It is this chain of resonances that makes the system so unusual. “Amongst the over 5,000 exoplanets discovered orbiting other stars than our sun, resonances are not rare, nor are systems with several planets. What is extremely rare though, is to find systems where the resonances span such a long chain of six planets,” explained one of the researchers, Hugh Osborn of the University of Bern, in a statement.

An astronomical waltz reveals a sextuplet of planets

The planets in this system are all of a type called sub-Neptunes, which are planets smaller than Neptune that are unlike any of the planets in our solar system, but are thought to be some of the most common exoplanets. Planets are thought to often form in resonance, due to the gravitational forces involved, however, this delicate balance is easily thrown out by perturbations such as a passing star or an impact from a large asteroid or comet.

Orbital geometry of HD110067: Tracing a link between two neighbour planets at regular time intervals along their orbits, creates a pattern unique to each couple. The six planets of the HD110067 system together create a mesmerising geometric pattern due to their resonance-chain.
Tracing a link between two neighbor planets at regular time intervals along their orbits, creates a pattern unique to each couple. The six planets of the HD110067 system together create a mesmerizing geometric pattern due to their resonance-chain. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, Thibaut Roger/NCCR PlanetS

Researchers are keen to investigate systems like HD110067 because it can show what a system might look like if it does not experience any of these dramatic events.

“We think only about 1% of all systems stay in resonance,” said researcher Rafael Luque of the University of Chicago. “It shows us the pristine configuration of a planetary system that has survived untouched.”

The research is presented in the journal Nature.

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James Webb detects methane in the atmosphere of an exoplanet | Digital Trends

James Webb detects methane in the atmosphere of an exoplanet | Digital Trends

One of the amazing abilities of the James Webb Space Telescope is not just detecting the presence of far-off planets, but also being able to peer into their atmospheres to see what they are composed of. With previous telescopes, this was extremely difficult to do because they lacked the powerful instruments needed for this kind of analysis, but scientists using Webb recently announced they had made a rare detection of methane in an exoplanet atmosphere.

Scientists studied the planet WASP-80 b using Webb’s NIRCam instrument, which is best known as a camera but also has a slitless spectroscopy mode which allows it to split incoming light into different wavelengths. By looking at which wavelengths are missing because they have been absorbed by the target, researchers can tell what an object — in this case, a planetary atmosphere — is composed of.

An artist’s rendering of the warm exoplanet WASP-80 b whose color may appear bluish to human eyes due to the lack of high-altitude clouds and the presence of atmospheric methane identified by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, similar to the planets Uranus and Neptune in our own solar system. NASA

Even with Webb’s sensitive instruments, it’s still difficult to detect an exoplanet though. That’s because planets are so much smaller and dimmer than stars, which makes them almost impossible to view directly. Instead, researchers often detect them by observing the stars around which they orbit, using techniques like the transit method which measures the dip in a star’s brightness that occurs when a planet moves in front of it.

“Using the transit method, we observed the system when the planet moved in front of its star from our perspective, causing the starlight we see to dim a bit,” one of the study’s authors, Luis Welbanks of Arizona State University, explained in a statement. “It’s kind of like when someone passes in front of a lamp and the light dims. During this time, a thin ring of the planet’s atmosphere around the planet’s day/night boundary is lit up by the star, and at certain colors of light where the molecules in the planet’s atmosphere absorb light, the atmosphere looks thicker and blocks more starlight, causing a deeper dimming compared (with) other wavelengths where the atmosphere appears transparent. This method helps scientists like us understand what the planet’s atmosphere is made of by seeing which colors of light are being blocked.”

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When the authors used this method on WASP-80b, they found evidence of both water and methane in the planet’s atmosphere. Planets in our solar system like Jupiter and Saturn have methane in their atmospheres too, but this planet is much warmer, with a temperature of over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Finding methane in a planet of this type, called a warm Jupiter, is exciting because it can help scientists learn about planetary atmospheres and also because despite it being commonly found in planetary atmospheres in our solar system, it is rarely detected in exoplanet atmospheres.

It could also be relevant for the hunt for life beyond our planet. “Not only is methane an important gas in tracing atmospheric composition and chemistry in giant planets, it is also hypothesized to be, in combination with oxygen, a possible signature of biology,” Wellbanks said. “One of the key goals of the Habitable Worlds Observatory, the next NASA flagship mission after JWST and Roman, is to look for gases like oxygen and methane in Earth-like planets around sun-like stars.”

The research is published in the journal Nature.

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Stunning James Webb image shows the heart of our Milky Way | Digital Trends

Stunning James Webb image shows the heart of our Milky Way | Digital Trends

A new image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the heart of our galaxy, in a region close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A*. The image shows a star-forming region where filaments of dust and gas are clumping together to give birth to new baby stars.

The image was captured using Webb’s NIRCam instrument, a camera that looks in the near-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum with shorter wavelengths shown in blue and cyan and longer wavelengths shown in yellow and red.

The full view of the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument reveals a 50 light-years-wide portion of the Milky Way’s dense center. An estimated 500,000 stars shine in this image of the Sagittarius C (Sgr C) region, along with some as-yet-unidentified features. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, S. Crowe (UVA)

This region is called Sagittarius C, and is located around 300 light-years away from the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*. For reference, Earth is located much further away from the galactic center, at a distance of around 26,000 light years from Sagittarius A*.

There are thought to be as many as 500,000 stars in the Sagittarius C region, including many young protostars, some of which will go on to become main-sequence stars like our sun. As stars form, they give off powerful stellar winds which blow away nearby material and prevent more stars from forming very close to them.

These outflows are illuminated in the infrared wavelength, and the cyan-colored patches in the image are created by ionized gas. The young stars give off a great deal of energy, which ionizes the hydrogen gas around them and makes them glow in the infrared.

However, there are actually even more stars in this area than can be seen in the image. The pockets of darkness scattered throughout the image aren’t blank but are dense clouds that are dark in the infrared, including a large dense area in the heart of the region.

There are still some surprises to be found in the image too, with some features that scientists need to study in more depth. “Researchers say they have only begun to dig into the wealth of unprecedented high-resolution data that Webb has provided on this region, and many features bear detailed study,” Webb scientists write. “This includes the rose-colored clouds on the right side of the image, which have never been seen in such detail.”

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Webb investigates super puffy exoplanet where it rains sand | Digital Trends

Webb investigates super puffy exoplanet where it rains sand | Digital Trends

Exoplanets come in many forms, from dense, rocky planets like Earth and Mars to gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. But some planets discovered outside our solar system are even less dense than gas giants and are a type known informally as super-puff or cotton candy planets. One of the least dense exoplanets known, WASP-107b, was recently investigated using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the planet’s weather seems to be as strange as its puffiness.

The planet is more atmosphere than core, with a fluffy atmosphere in which Webb spotted water vapor and sulfur dioxide. Strangest of all, Webb also saw silicate sand clouds, suggesting that it would rain sand between the upper and lower layers of the atmosphere. The planet is almost as big as Jupiter but has a tiny mass similar to that of Neptune.

Artistic concept of the exoplanet WASP-107b and its parent star. Even though the rather cool host star emits a relatively small fraction of high-energy photons, they can reach deep into the planet’s fluffy atmosphere. Illustration: LUCA School of Arts, Belgium/ Klaas Verpoest; Science: Achrène Dyrek (CEA and Université Paris Cité, France), Michiel Min (SRON, the Netherlands), Leen Decin (KU Leuven, Belgium) / European MIRI EXO GTO team / ESA / NAS

“JWST is revolutionizing exoplanet characterization, providing unprecedented insights at remarkable speed,“ says lead author of the study, Leen Decin of KU Leuven, in a statement. “The discovery of clouds of sand, water, and sulfur dioxide on this fluffy exoplanet by JWST’s MIRI instrument is a pivotal milestone. It reshapes our understanding of planetary formation and evolution, shedding new light on our own solar system.”

Understanding the planet’s formation and evolution is important because it seems impossible that it could have formed in its current location. It is thought to have formed further out in the star system and migrated inward over time. That could allow for its extremely low density. Its close orbit to its star means it has a very high temperature, with its outer atmosphere reaching 500 degrees Celsius. But those temperatures are not normally hot enough to form clouds of silicate, which would be expected to form in lower layers where the temperatures are higher.

The researchers theorize that the sand rain is evaporating in the lower, hotter layers and the silicate vapor moves upwards in the atmosphere before recondensing to form clouds and falling as rain, similar to the water cycle on Earth.

“The value of JWST cannot be overstated: wherever we look with this telescope, we always see something new and unexpected,” said fellow researcher Paul Mollière from the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy. “This latest result is no exception.”

The research will be published in the journal Nature.

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hubble-earth-sized-exoplanet | Digital Trends

hubble-earth-sized-exoplanet | Digital Trends

Although astronomers have now discovered more than 5,000 exoplanets, or planets outside of the solar system, the large majority of these planets are considerably larger than Earth. That’s partly because it’s easier to spot larger planets from tremendous distances across space. So it’s exciting when an Earth-sized planet is discovered — and the Hubble Space Telescope has recently confirmed that a nearby planet, which is diminutive by exoplanet standards, is 1.07 times the size of Earth.

The planet LTT 1445Ac was first discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in 2022, but it was hard to determine its exact size due to the plane of its orbit around its star as seen from Earth. “There was a chance that this system has an unlucky geometry and if that’s the case, we wouldn’t measure the right size. But with Hubble’s capabilities we nailed its diameter,” said lead researcher Emily Pass of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in a statement.

This is an artist’s concept of the nearby exoplanet, LTT 1445Ac, which is the size of Earth. The planet orbits a red dwarf star. The star is in a triple system, with two closely orbiting red dwarfs seen at upper right. The black dot in front of the foreground star is planet LTT 1445Ab, transiting the face of the star. Exoplanet LTT 1445Ac has a surface temperature of roughly 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The view is from 22 light-years away, looking back toward our Sun, which is the bright dot at lower right. Some of the background stars are part of the constellation Boötes. NASA, ESA, L. Hustak (STScI)

The new observations show that the planet is 1.07 times the diameter of Earth, so it is a rocky planet like Earth with similar surface gravity. However, it’s not a habitable place as its surface temperature is a scorching 260 degrees Celsius. It is part of a triple star system located just 22 light-years away, making it one of the nearest exoplanets that transit across a star.

“Transiting planets are exciting since we can characterize their atmospheres with spectroscopy, not only with Hubble but also with the James Webb Space Telescope,” Pass said. “Our measurement is important because it tells us that this is likely a very nearby terrestrial planet. We are looking forward to follow-on observations that will allow us to better understand the diversity of planets around other stars.”

One of the most important abilities of the James Webb Space Telescope is its capacity for studying the atmospheres of exoplanets, which is the next step in understanding these planets and looking for Earth-like planets. But this research shows that the venerable Hubble telescope, now more than 30 years old, continues to be important for exoplanet research as well.

“Hubble remains a key player in our characterization of exoplanets,” said Laura Kreidberg of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, who was not involved in this research. “There are precious few terrestrial planets that are close enough for us to learn about their atmospheres — at just 22 light years away, LTT 1445Ac is right next door in galactic terms, so it’s one of the best planets in the sky to follow up and learn about its atmospheric properties.”

The research is published in The Astronomical Journal.

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Astronomers discover how tiny dwarf galaxies form fossils | Digital Trends

Astronomers discover how tiny dwarf galaxies form fossils | Digital Trends

Galaxies come in many different shapes and sizes, including those considerably smaller than our Milky Way. These smaller galaxies, called dwarf galaxies, can have as few as 1,000 stars, compared to the several hundred billion in our galaxy. And when these dwarf galaxies age and begin to erode away, they can transform into an even smaller and more dense shape, called an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy.

The Gemini North telescope has recently been studying more than 100 of these eroding dwarf galaxies, seeing how they lose their outer stars and gas to become ultra-compact dwarf galaxies or UCDs.

This illustration shows a dwarf galaxy in the throes of transitioning to an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy as it’s stripped of its outer layers of stars and gas by a nearby larger galaxy. Ultra-compact dwarf galaxies are among the densest stellar groupings in the Universe. Being more compact than other galaxies with similar mass, but larger than star clusters — the objects they most closely resemble — these mystifying objects have defied classification. The missing piece to this puzzle has been a lack of sufficient transitional, or intermediate objects to study. A new galaxy survey, however, fills in these missing pieces to show that many of these enigmatic objects are likely formed from the destruction of dwarf galaxies. NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/M. Zamani

“Our results provide the most complete picture of the origin of this mysterious class of galaxy that was discovered nearly 25 years ago,” said one of the researchers, NOIRLab astronomer Eric Peng in a statement. “Here we show that 106 small galaxies in the Virgo cluster have sizes between normal dwarf galaxies and UCDs, revealing a continuum that fills the ‘size gap’ between star clusters and galaxies.”

While astronomers did predict that dwarf galaxies could become UCDs, they hadn’t observed many cases of one transforming into the other. So this study looked for these “missing links” to see how this transition occurred. They found that these in-between galaxies were most often located near larger galaxies, which stripped away stars and gas from the small dwarf galaxies to leave a UCD behind.

“Once we analyzed the Gemini observations and eliminated all the background contamination, we could see that these transition galaxies existed almost exclusively near the largest galaxies. We immediately knew that environmental transformation had to be important,” explained lead author Kaixiang Wang of Peking University.

These objects were spotted using data from sky surveys, which was followed up using observations from Gemini North. That allowed the researchers to pick out the small dwarf galaxies from the many background galaxies visible in the sky.

“It’s exciting that we can finally see this transformation in action,” said Peng. “It tells us that many of these UCDs are visible fossil remnants of ancient dwarf galaxies in galaxy clusters, and our results suggest that there are likely many more low-mass remnants to be found.”

The research is published in the journal Nature.

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James Webb observes merging stars creating heavy elements | Digital Trends

James Webb observes merging stars creating heavy elements | Digital Trends

In its earliest stages, the universe was composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. All of the other, heavier elements that make up the universe around us today were created over time, and it is thought that they were created primarily within stars. Stars create heavy elements within them in the process of fusion, and when these stars reach the ends of their lives they may explode in supernovas, spreading these elements in the environment around them.

That’s how heavier elements like those up to iron are created. But for the heaviest elements, the process is thought to be different. These are created not within stellar cores, but in extreme environments such as the merging of stars, when massive forces create exceedingly dense environments that forge new elements.

Now, the James Webb Space Telescope has detected some of these heavy elements being created in a star merger for the first time. Researchers used the telescope to observe the effects of a kilonova, a huge outpouring of energy that occurs when two neutron stars merge. The event created a particularly bright gamma-ray burst which allowed the researchers to zero in and identify the location of the merger.

A team of scientists has used the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope to observe an exceptionally bright gamma-ray burst, GRB 230307A, and its associated kilonova. Kilonovas—an explosion produced by a neutron star merging with either a black hole or with another neutron star—are extremely rare, making it difficult to observe these events. The highly sensitive infrared capabilities of Webb helped scientists identify the home address of the two neutron stars that created the kilonova. This image from Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument highlights GRB 230307A’s kilonova and its former home galaxy among their local environment of other galaxies and foreground stars. The neutron stars were kicked out of their home galaxy and traveled a distance of about 120,000 light-years, approximately the diameter of the Milky Way galaxy, before finally merging several hundred million years later. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, A. Levan (IMAPP, Warw), A. Pagan (STScI)

Webb observed the element tellurium being ejected by the kilonova, which was likely created in the merger. Although scientists have long theorized that this is how heavy elements could be created, this is the first time such direct evidence has been observed as kilonovas are rare and brief events. The particular brightness of the gamma-ray burst GRB 230307A was key to helping to locate this event.

“Webb provides a phenomenal boost and may find even heavier elements,” said Ben Gompertz, a co-author of the study at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. “As we get more frequent observations, the models will improve and the spectrum may evolve more in time. Webb has certainly opened the door to do a lot more, and its abilities will be completely transformative for our understanding of the Universe.”

The research is published in the journal Nature.

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This peculiar galaxy has two supermassive black holes | Digital Trends

This peculiar galaxy has two supermassive black holes | Digital Trends

As hard as it is to picture, with billions or even trillions of galaxies in the universe, entire galaxies can collide with each other. When that happens, one galaxy can be destroyed or the two can merge into one. But even in the case of galaxy mergers, the effects of the collision are often visible for billions of years afterward.

That’s shown in a recent image taken by the Gemini South observatory, which shows the chaotic result of a merger between two spiral galaxies 1 billion years ago.

Gemini South, one half of the International Gemini Observatory operated by NSF’s NOIRLab, captures the billion-year-old aftermath of a double spiral galaxy collision. At the heart of this chaotic interaction, entwined and caught in the midst of the chaos, is a pair of supermassive black holes — the closest such pair ever recorded from Earth. International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA; Image processing: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), J. Miller (International Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Rodriguez (International Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani (NSF’s NOIRLab)

The resulting galaxy, called NGC 7727 and located 90 million light-years away, shows the cloudy blobs of dust and gas that now swirl around the galactic core. The stretching arms of the spiral galaxies have been pulled apart by the gravitational forces of the merger, leaving behind an unstructured shape which leads this to be classified as a “peculiar galaxy.” Despite its messy appearance, parts of the newly formed galaxy are ideal locations for the formation of stars as pockets of dust and gas and pulled around and pushed together.

At the heart of almost every galaxy is an enormous supermassive black hole, but this galaxy is a little different. It has not one but two supermassive black holes, one from each of the original galaxies. One of these is 154 million times the mass of the sun, and the other just 6.3 million times the mass of the sun, and the two are located 1,600 light-years apart in their own galactic nuclei.

This galaxy won’t remain in this unusual state forever though. Eventually, the huge gravitational forces of the two supermassive black holes will pull them closer and closer together, and scientists estimate that the two will merge in around 250 million years’ time. This monumental event will send out ripples in spacetime called gravitational waves and will create an even larger supermassive black hole.

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Watch NASA video showing Saturday’s ring-of-fire eclipse | Digital Trends

Watch NASA video showing Saturday’s ring-of-fire eclipse | Digital Trends

Huge crowds gathered across parts of the Americas on Saturday to witness the stunning phenomenon of an annular solar eclipse.

An “annular” eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth at a distance where, when viewed from Earth, it doesn’t completely obscure the sun. The result is a large, bright ring in the sky, commonly called the “ring of fire.”

The maximum obscuration of the sun could be witnessed in parts of nine U.S. states, namely Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas — provided there were cloudless skies, of course. Those close to the zone of maximum obscuration could also enjoy a partial eclipse.

For anyone unable to travel to a location where they could see the full eclipse, NASA showed a live stream that included the gorgeous “ring of fire” effect as the moon passed between Earth and the sun.

You can see the eclipse reach its peak in the video below:

We're getting our first views of the "ring of fire"!

Here's a look at the annular solar eclipse from Albuquerque, N.M., as the Moon nearly (but not completely) covers up the Sun. pic.twitter.com/SCW8r77FG4

— NASA (@NASA) October 14, 2023

Places inside the viewing zone included notable locations such as Monument Valley in Arizona, Bryce Canyon in Utah, and Mesa Verde in Colorado, but those who were keen to escape the crowds will have sought out quieter spots along the viewing zone.

Saturday’s eclipse was also visible in parts of Central and South America.

Folks viewing the spectacular celestial event wore special eclipse glasses or used a handheld solar viewer to protect their eyes from the sun’s harsh glare.

The next eclipse — a total one where the moon completely obscures the sun for a brief moment — takes place on April 8 next year. This will also be viewable across parts of the U.S. However, the next annular solar eclipse won’t be viewable from the U.S. until 2039.

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