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Space Science

Kepler Spacecraft Finds System With Multiple Planets Transiting the Star 136

Posted by timothy
from the they've-probably-found-us-too dept.
rhaas writes "NASA's Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star. They found two planets almost the size of Saturn, and possibly a third, small, very hot planet with a radius about 1.5 times that of Earth."
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Kepler Spacecraft Finds System With Multiple Planets Transiting the Star

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  • by Kethinov (636034) on Friday August 27, 2010 @02:36AM (#33389594) Homepage Journal

    The exoplanets search is the most exciting thing in space exploration since the moon landings IMHO for one important reason: one day, a project like Kepler will find an Earth sized planet orbiting within a foreign star's habitable zone. It's the stated goal of the project, yes, but when it actually happens, things will be different.

    Imagine what the day will be like when we find something like that. We'll know it's there, we'll know it's the right size and at the right distance from its star, but we'll know little else. We'll know that life very probably *could* exist there, but without getting much, much closer to it, we'd never know for sure.

    And we're not talking about the extremely remote possibilities of microbial life on Mars, or some kind of funky aquatic life on Europa's hypothetical subsurface ocean, we're talking about plants and animals. Maybe even intelligent animals like us.

    What could possibly be a better motivator for our society to start pushing the limits of propulsion technology again? If we had something *tangibly* interesting to explore in a relatively nearby star system, like the ones Kepler is exploring, we might just get that extra kick in our pants we need to start innovating again.

    WWII motivated us to enter a brand new energy age with the development of atomic power and the perfection (I'll use that term loosely ;)) of rocketry. Would discovering a planet in another star system with a high degree of habitability give us the motivation we need to efficiently produce and harness antimatter or some other next-generation power source?

    Yeah, I'm being all misty eyed here. Relativity is a pesky little fucker, among other issues. But I can't shake the feeling that we're an amazing species of innovators when properly motivated. And I just don't think exploring other star systems has captured our collective attention the way landing on the moon did.

    I desperately want to see us that motivated again some day. And I think finding a reasonably high enough probability of habitability on a planet orbiting a foreign star would give us back what we let slip away from us in the 1970s.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Yeah, I'm being all misty eyed here.

      Its not exactly like this is the first time we've discovered other solar systems with planets. And this discovery speaks nothing about habitability.

      Its too soon to book your flight.

      • Ignore this guy. I will happily sell you a first-class seat on my spaceship for $100,000. Cash or money-order only, please.
    • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday August 27, 2010 @03:04AM (#33389696) Homepage Journal
      Hehe, your post kind of rubbed in a sentiment I got at work earlier today when I first read this story on Spaceflightnow. Something finally clicked, while I was sitting there at my cubicle, that we are literally probing other solar systems for planets. Did you play Mass Effect? I am sure someone here did. What about Star Wars Rebellion? Does anyone remember how most of the systems in those games are mostly unexplored. The entries in the galactic database, or whatever, were a few short paragraphs describing what conditions were probably like on the planet, but no explorers had ever returned to find out. I remember when I played those games I would click through the text unthinkingly so I could go blow some shit up. But when I was sitting at my cubicle reading this story today, it hit me:

      Kepler is literally writing those first few galactic database entries for us. Some years from now, be it years, decades, or centuries, when our ancestors are poking around other solar systems, they are going to be pulling up a few scant words describing the likely surface composition and climate data of some of these planets. They will pull up the mass estimates and other numbers associated with each body before dropping onto the surface of the planet to update/verify the database. They will literally be using the information gathered by Kepler and its successors to give them some insight about what they are going to step into.

      Does that register with anyone else? We are literally starting to compile a database on planets in other solar systems, so that one day explorers will have something, no matter how small, to refer to when stepping into the unknown. We are writing our own version of Mass Efffect's Codex. When that dawned on me today I almost crapped my pants. Sure folks, we joke about instant communication and flying robot overlords being signs that we literally are living in the future, but holy mother of crap, we have a spacecraft, on orbit, sending data down to us right now that is compiling data on systems that we hope to one day explore. That just makes my heart flutter to think about. Our infantile species, that leaped into orbit only half a century ago, can start to seriously consider studying, and maybe one day exploring, extra-system planets. Say what you will about how stupid and hopeless humans are, but I'll be damned if something like the Kepler mission doesn't make me gasp at how amazing a species we can be....
      • by Ihlosi (895663)
        Sure folks, we joke about instant communication and flying robot overlords being signs that we literally are living in the future, but holy mother of crap, we have a spacecraft, on orbit, sending data down to us right now that is compiling data on systems that we hope to one day explore.

        Right now, I'd be happy enough if that compiled list would be used to find targets to point an even BIGGER freakin' telescope at. One that could give us data on those planets atmospheric composition, etc.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Some years from now, be it years, decades, or centuries, when our ancestors are poking around other solar systems

        ^when choosing to say "when" (vs, "if"), I suspect it's better to also say "...centuries, or millenia"
        Because, generally, do you see humans being used to gather more detailed data about planets, et al. in our own system? (a backyard, really) Hell, we even observe the Earth remotely / from space quite a bit.

        • Go a bit further (Score:3, Informative)

          by aepervius (535155)
          Change millenia for million of year. With current tech nearest solar system is 120.000 years away (250 K round trip). That is 4 something light year away. Since such system are likely much further away than 4.7 LY , then count a million years or more round trip. And before somebody serves me on "propulsion system will be better" you have no basis for this. The way the energy generation, and human space transportation are in forseeable future, it ain't even sure we will visit the NEAREST star system, maybe a
          • by sznupi (719324)

            Yeah, I'm still trying not to push depressive realism too much ;) - especially when journeys in the range of dozens or hundreds of thousands of years can be pretty much dismissed - apart from a basic problem of preventing any container from leaking everything stored inside, there's also the issue of finding motivation for such monumental project & allowing resource drain on the system. And why I suspect elsewhere how perhaps embryo colonization could be workable; or probably simply an organic spread tow

          • by JWW (79176)

            The first thing we'll have to get over in our quest to explore other solar systems will be that there will be no such thing as a "round trip."

          • And before somebody serves me on "propulsion system will be better" you have no basis for this.

            You're wrong. The great trend of technology is that they will be better. *YOU* have no basis for saying they won't be since, by far, technology continues to make every means of transport more advanced.

            Be a cynic all you want. No one really cares. But to say that something of this nature has no basis in reality is not a logical conclusion from what you can reach out and experience for yourself today.
          • by ultranova (717540)

            With current tech nearest solar system is 120.000 years away (250 K round trip).

            With current tech the nearest solar system is about half a century [wikipedia.org] away. Well, actually that's 40 years old tech, but you get the idea.

            Yes, folks, we could build and send a starship to Alpha Centauri right now if we wanted to, and have it arrive within our lifetimes. We just don't want to, but would rather spend our resources to bomb the living shit out of some miserable desert state and pay bonuses to failed bankers. O how the

      • by InfiniteZero (587028) on Friday August 27, 2010 @04:59AM (#33390096)

        when our ancestors are poking around other solar systems

        I think you are confusing space travel with time travel.

      • by Suhas (232056)

        Some years from now, be it years, decades, or centuries, when our ancestors are poking around other solar systems, they are going to be pulling up a few scant words describing the likely surface composition and climate data of some of these planets.

        Our ancestors will be poking around? Oh, you meant to say that time-travel would have been invented by then...my bad. Carry on.

      • by shikaisi (1816846)

        Kepler is literally writing those first few galactic database entries for us. Some years from now, be it years, decades, or centuries, when our ancestors are poking around other solar systems, they are going to be pulling up a few scant words describing the likely surface composition and climate data of some of these planets. They will pull up the mass estimates and other numbers associated with each body before dropping onto the surface of the planet to update/verify the database. They will literally be using the information gathered by Kepler and its successors to give them some insight about what they are going to step into.

        ... and then they will click by unthinkingly so they can go and blow some shit up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Very, very very well said.
      • The entries in the galactic database, or whatever, were a few short paragraphs describing what conditions were probably like on the planet, but no explorers had ever returned to find out. I remember when I played those games I would click through the text unthinkingly so I could go blow some shit up.

        Of course, the cynic in me sees the future human just clicking through that galactic database crap so they can go blow some shit up...

      • by mrops (927562)

        when our ancestors are...

        I know you were all excited and mentally living in the Star Wars Rebellion, but really, I don't think our ancestors are coming back to life anytime soon.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        Each individual use was correct, but c'mon, 5 instances of "literally" in one post? Wow.
        • What's wrong with that? I like the word 'literally.' It has a nice syllabic structure to it, the triple l's allow it to roll off the tongue well. Its inherent meaning helps to solidify the fact that your statement is grounded in reality, as opposed to being some abstract, theoretical construct of the mind. Literal and all of its variants are very powerful words that, when used in the appropriate context, can really hammer an idea home. Its one of my favorite words.
          • by Thing 1 (178996)
            Literally, I literally understand literally what you're literally talking about. Litteraly! (Now I'm just talking trash.)
    • by Ihlosi (895663) on Friday August 27, 2010 @03:05AM (#33389698)
      What could possibly be a better motivator for our society to start pushing the limits of propulsion technology again?

      I think our best bet at getting more information about these planets is pushing the limits of telescope technology again. As in having linked telescopes at opposite ends of the solar system and similar projects. That way, we won't have to make those pesky trips over tens or even hundreds of light years.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        To be fair, we're pushing it all the time - in recent times sort of more than ever (though yes, more resources being directed at such pursuits instead of at, well, waste would be nice). And I don't think aiming outright at system-wide interferometer would get us far; there are many very juicy and much smaller (viable within foreseeable means) projects to be made.

        • by Ihlosi (895663)
          And I don't think aiming outright at system-wide interferometer would get us far; there are many very juicy and much smaller (viable within foreseeable means) projects to be made.

          A big radiotelescope and maybe a couple of optical/IR/UV ones on the far side of the moon would be a good start.

    • by uofitorn (804157)
      Sounds like someone just read Coyote! (http://www.amazon.com/Coyote-Allen-Steele/dp/0441011160/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1282892695&sr=1-1) Or if not, then needs to! I did not care for the book but my brother loves it.

      Imagine what the day will be like when we find something like that. We'll know it's there, we'll know it's the right size and at the right distance from its star, but we'll know little else. We'll know that life very probably *could* exist there, but without getting much
      • by sznupi (719324)

        If your description of the premise is accurate, it seems like a not very rational thing to do... (within constraints of this discussion of course, when remembering about the realities of our Universe) A technology to build interstellar ark is available and not put to use towards better remote sensing methods / sending relatively cheap & small probes, which could get at the destination in a fraction of the time when using the same propulsion tech?

        • While I agree that sending a probe is a good idea... This is a common theme in science fiction: Send a colony ship to a star system known to contain a potentially habitable planet, without knowing if the colony will be viable or survive. They might get there and find a virtual Eden. They might find a wholly uninhabitable planet offering little chance for survival (oops, did we send them to a planet whos surface is partially molten and atmosphere is toxic... oh well, we'll try somewhere else.)

          Makes for

    • by gmuslera (3436) on Friday August 27, 2010 @03:21AM (#33389760) Homepage Journal
      The problem is if the rules of the universe dont enable us to get there in any practical way. That feeling and motivation could turn into something very negative, and against us (heck, could be a great poster from Despair Inc, a nice blue planet picture with something like "Humanity never will get even close to it")
      • by Kethinov (636034) on Friday August 27, 2010 @03:32AM (#33389802) Homepage Journal

        The problem is if the rules of the universe dont enable us to get there in any practical way.

        People used to say that about the moon. "Escape velocity is impossible to reach!" they'd say. Escape velocity wasn't impossible. It was a puzzle to be solved. I prefer to look at Relativity and faster than light travel the same way. Maybe one day we'll solve those puzzles. I still have hope. I guess I'm an optimist.

        • by Ihlosi (895663)
          People used to say that about the moon. "Escape velocity is impossible to reach!" they'd say. Escape velocity wasn't impossible. It was a puzzle to be solved.

          Actually, it was mostly a matter of building a BIGGER freakin' rocket.

        • by sznupi (719324)

          It was realised (by few) for quite some time how it seems possible - at the least, the physics didn't appear to work against our efforts too much. No such comfort with interstellar distances yet, and we can't assume it will come. [tufts.edu]

          BTW, how's that inspiring part with manned lunar missions works so far?

        • by thue (121682)

          Stupid people said that. Intelligent people knew it wasn't so, and did it.

          Reaching other star systems in a reasonable amount of time is actually impossible, given current and foreseeable tech.

          • by Kethinov (636034)

            Stupid people said that. Intelligent people knew it wasn't so, and did it.

            Reaching other star systems in a reasonable amount of time is actually impossible, given current and foreseeable tech.

            So people in the 1800s were stupid for thinking that reaching escape velocity was impossible given their current and foreseeable technology at the time? How is that any different than you saying reaching other star systems in a timely fashion is impossible given current and foreseeable technology?

            Is there going to be s

            • by mangu (126918) on Friday August 27, 2010 @08:12AM (#33390882)

              So people in the 1800s were stupid for thinking that reaching escape velocity was impossible given their current and foreseeable technology at the time? How is that any different than you saying reaching other star systems in a timely fashion is impossible given current and foreseeable technology?

              The only limits in the 1800s were technological. Given enough development in stronger and lighter materials, escape velocity became possible.

              The light of speed limit is an ultimate physical limit of the universe. The first hint of this limitation was found in 1887 [wikipedia.org] and has been confirmed many times in many different ways. Simply put, given all the experimental data we have, if faster than light travel were possible time would be bidirectional; causality would be violated.

              This does not mean FTL is absolutely impossible, maybe we will one day find a flaw in our current understanding of physics that will let us travel faster than light. However, the resultant implications would be so huge that travelling to distant stars would perhaps be one of the least interesting things to do with our new physics.

              • You know, not even half a year ago i read many comments from people claiming that traveling downwind faster than the wind was impossible using just the wind. Even from a lot of people with physics or engineering knowledge.

                The idea that we have good understanding of the laws of the universe is laughable, even though many people believe it. Same mistake every generation has made.

                There are many possible ways to break causality, ranging from additional dimensions to bending space time. Getting from A to B
          • by Urkki (668283)

            Stupid people said that. Intelligent people knew it wasn't so, and did it.

            Reaching other star systems in a reasonable amount of time is actually impossible, given current and foreseeable tech.

            This, of course, depends on definition of "reasonable". And that depends on motivation and physical form (mind in machine or extreme genetic modification) and state (hibernation) of the travellers.

            Fusion reactor for energy, and inevitable destruction of solar system in the horizion for motivation (for example calculated head-on collision with currently undiscovered nearby brown dwarf in a few centuries). I'm confident that under this kind of threat and timescale, humanity would get into other stars.

            And if i

        • It's also possible our "conventional" science and industrial means will extend to the point at which can build ships large enough and with enough fuel to make the journey's the hard way: sublight travel. Either putting people in suspended animation, having people that live for 100's of years, creating a self sustaining colony on the ship while it travels, etc. Heck, even with our current tech we could do this, it would just require a tremendous fraction of the earth's resources, mainly because its so hard
        • by ultranova (717540)

          Escape velocity wasn't impossible. It was a puzzle to be solved. I prefer to look at Relativity and faster than light travel the same way.

          Faster than light travel would also be time travel, which would lead to causal loops, which is likely be logically impossible. This is very different from mere engineering problems of reaching escape velocity.

          However, there is a solution: simply make yourself immortal. Upload your mind to a machine, or fortify your human body to take the decades of travel between stars e

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The problem is if the rules of the universe dont enable us to get there in any practical way.

        Nonsense. The rules of the universe say we can get there in practically no time at all for the people actually doing the traveling; and that's just old fashioned 100 year old special relativity. Add in what may very well be quantum and/or GR shortcuts (tunneling drives or Alcubierre drives or whatever) and "the rules of the universe" practically give us the ability to go wherever we want.

        Granted, we don't have th

      • by delt0r (999393)
        Well perfect fusion engines can get you say 1-10%c. That's doable for space probes. Antimatter is also theoretically possible. The efficiency bound for antiproton production is at least 1%, then 50%c and higher becomes something we can talk about. Then there are beamed energy proposals.

        We really don't need new *physics* to reach the stars.
    • by jamesh (87723)

      What could possibly be a better motivator for our society to start pushing the limits of propulsion technology again?

      The better motivator would be if it looked like the Russians/Arabs/Koreans/anyone-not-USA was going to get there first. If NASA wants to enter the space race again they need to start siphoning some money off to the competitors to kickstart their space race.

    • I guess we'll just have to pick a fight with the people who live there.

      Worlds War III (sic) should be motivation enough to invent the equivalent of nuclear power for propulsion.

    • Knowing humanity, we'd be more likely motivated to launch a first strike at that planet then anything else
    • by mangu (126918)

      Imagine what the day will be like when we find something like that. We'll know it's there, we'll know it's the right size and at the right distance from its star, but we'll know little else.

      We know very little about exoplanets right now because they are detected by indirect means. When we find an earth-like planet in the habitable zone that will be a strong incentive to build a telescope capable of observing it directly.

      The moment we start direct optical observations of a planet we will be able to analyze t

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Seeing in what style the moon landings were performed / how they ended, I don't think striving for similar approach of "exciting" & "capturing our collective attention the way landing on the moon did" would be a good thing...

      Especially since we shouldn't expect any new physics (which would be required; "hope for" - sure, why not...but not "expect"). Without it (a strong possibility), any means of travel won't be very palatable to hopes of popular imagination of most of humanity. Moonshot had it easy, by

    • by DarthVain (724186)

      I think the major hurtle for humankind is our inability to think/plan long term. Our puny lives are only 70-80 rotations of our planetary orbit. Our organizational systems do not seem to be able to handle 5-10 years let alone 40 or 50 years. 100 to 300 years?

      As you say relativity is a bitch, which is likely why we haven't been contacted already. It is either impossible, or so difficult and life on average so short lived that the distances and time involved make it at the very least impractical. I also do th

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 0111 1110 (518466)

      http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/technology/warp/scales.html [nasa.gov] Just an obligatory reference to the warp drive when: scales page to remind everyone just how far away even Alpha Centauri is. It turns out that the basic problem is one of fuel to accelerate us to a large enough fraction of c. The most practical choice seems to be an exceedingly large spacecraft built on Moonbase Alpha and ferried to the appropriate Lagrange Point Station manufacturing facility for further assembly. The only practical tech we hav

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        Interesting ship idea, filled almost entirely with hydrogen bombs -- initially! As the journey proceeds, we'll be able to convert storage to more and more living space, which could hold the new people being born during the journey. I like it. Also useful is the ground-based-laser-propelled spacecraft, although the farther it gets from us the less power it will receive... But it does mean the ship doesn't need to carry as much "fuel".
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Quirkz (1206400)
      Right on! I'm maybe a bit less optimistic than you about the prospects of actual pace of technological developments that come from this, but I think it would provide a tremendous psychological shift if we could point to a specific dot and be able to say, "Yeah, right there. That's another habitable planet. There could be life there. *WE* could go there." Even if it's centuries or more likely millennia away, it'd be a great imaginative boost. If nothing else it could provide a lot of specific details for fic
    • Relativity is a pesky little fucker, among other issues.

      But even with Relativity, it is possible to visit (at least near by stars) in a human lifetime...with enough money, of course...but money is all that is stopping it.

      For example...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Daedalus [wikipedia.org]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Longshot [wikipedia.org]

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday August 27, 2010 @02:38AM (#33389600) Homepage Journal

    Imagine how Pluto feels. You rotten, cruel bastards. Go on, rub it in why don't you?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's becoming more obvious that planetary systems are the norm, rather than the exception. As our ability to detect smaller companions increases, we'll nostalgically look back on the time when we were amazed that we detected planets at all (like the reports of "canali" on the surface of Mars).

    At that point, we'll realize that our situation- and our solar system- is not some snowflake like miracle, but rather a portion of a larger pattern. I think that will be good for us (or some portion of us that does not

    • Re:Perspective (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AmonTheMetalhead (1277044) on Friday August 27, 2010 @03:59AM (#33389912)
      I never doubted that actually, i found it amazing people actually thought that of all those stars out there were without planets, it didn't make sense to me to assume such a stance
      • by delt0r (999393)
        It has always been assumed that they had planets, or that its at least common on stars with the right composition and no close binary partner. But since we had only one set of observations, ie here. A lot of protoplantary disk dynamics was blind guess work. Now its just guess work.

        We have already learnt some interesting things. The number of large Jupiter size planets that are in close orbits is much higher than expected. So migration after formation seems to be more important that first suspected (Uranu
    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      I believe also that planets are very common throughout the galaxy but the dry and strict scientist in me keeps reminding that these planets are only detected on the closest stars (I think in the 500 ly radius ?). So maybe a local condition for creating planets exceptionally happened in the neighborhood. I don't believe it, but that is still a possibility.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sznupi (719324)

        Actually, the most distant discovered is 20k light years away, and near the center of Mily Way to boot (so not really a case of local conditions; actually, the conditions might be better there, with higher metallicity); with a possible detection also in the Andromeda Galaxy and even in YGKOW G1, 3.7 billion light years away.

        • by Yvanhoe (564877)
          mod parent up !
          Oh, okay, nevermind then, turns out I was right to believe it was the case :-)
      • by mangu (126918)

        maybe a local condition for creating planets exceptionally happened in the neighborhood. I don't believe it, but that is still a possibility.

        Given that we can see stars very similar to those near us even in other galaxies, I don't think it's likely that the conditions in our neighborhood are so special. The planets are formed in the same process that formed the star, a star similar to ours should also have planets.

  • Why is this planetary system more confirmed than e.g. HD 10180 ?
  • Pardon me for asking, but considering our very own planet orbits the sun every 12 months, 23 months on Mars, and something like 130 or 140 for Jupiter, aren't we only starting to scratch the surface in terms of which ones we've seen and which ones just haven't happened to have passed between us and the star since we started looking. On top of that, would an orbit perpendicular to ours be detectible with this technique - as in, if a star had planets but in an orbit that never took them between us and their s
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ihlosi (895663)
      Pardon me for asking, but considering our very own planet orbits the sun every 12 months, 23 months on Mars, and something like 130 or 140 for Jupiter, aren't we only starting to scratch the surface in terms of which ones we've seen and which ones just haven't happened to have passed between us and the star since we started looking.

      Yes. The longer you look, the more longer-period planets you will find.

      On top of that, would an orbit perpendicular to ours be detectible with this technique

      Not with th

  • Kepler Spacecraft Finds System With Multiple Planets Transiting the Star

    Is there a special "Star" that I don't know about?

  • The Slashdot summary, talking about the objects passing in front of their stars, got me to wondering:

    * Is there any probability that there are stars out there whose planets orbit in a plane which is perpendicular to our line of view (that is, the planets would never cross in front of their star, from our point of view, because we are sort of looking at the their orbits top-down? It would seem that this is likely, seeing as their are stars which, from our point of view, are at every degree of latitude and lo

    • Is there any sort of 'bias' which tends to cause stars in our galaxy to form their planetary orbits within a few degrees parallel to a common plane?

      No. The orientations are random. Consequently most are probably non-transiting.

      Can our current extra-solar planet searching activities detect planets which are in such perpendicular planes to our line of view?

      No.

      • by Ihlosi (895663)
        No. The orientations are random. Consequently most are probably non-transiting.

        However, if the orientations are random, then the transiting planets we detect give us a good random sample of all planets and allows us to make a very educated guess about the abundance of planets in the galaxy.

        No.

        Yes. There's a way to detect planets that orbit perpendicular to our line of view (astrometrics - measuring the "wobble" this causes in the parent start), and one that detects planets that are almost, but not q

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