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Friday, May 30, 2008

 

Carnival of Space #56 is here.

Carnival of Space #56 is now up at the Lifeboat Foundation blog. This week is almost exclusively devoted to the Phoenix lander on Mars. So grab your inflatable ring and paddle over.

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Comet Boattini Speeds Up

Comet C/2007 W1 Boattini as seen from the southern hemisphere facing west at astronomical twilight, and hour and a half after sunset (click image to enlarge).

Boattini is now magnitude 5.2, and its brightening has slowed. It is now bright enough to easily see under dark country skies, and is an easy target in 10x50 binoculars, looking like a small faint ball of cotton wool. No visible tail yet. It is visible in my 7x25 monocular as well (it used to be a binocular until the kids got to it).

Comet Boattini picks up pace over the next week, as it races towards the horizon. It passes through some interesting territory in Canis major, a good binocular hunting ground. It passes close to some bright stars, making it easy to spot. a printable PDF map suitable for use with binoculars from 29 May to 8 June is here. If you missed the comment from Astrosteve on Tony's Boattini picture, see Astrosteve's Boattini picture here.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

 

A Nice Boattini Image

Tony Travaglia of Otagao, New Zealand sent in this very nice image of Boattini.

It is made from three superimposed images. Exposures were 30 sec, 65 and 75 secs, using a Canon 300D attached to an 11 inch Celestron CPC, 800ISO.

Lets hope the New Zealand weather let's up so he can get more views of the comet.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

 

And on the New Inventors

Neighbour and friend Peter Bowen and his mate Simon Pisoni have just won this weeks New Inventor Award for their laser-based cabling tool. Congratulations Peter and Simon, why not drop in to their website?

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Congratualtions Comet Al!

6 STEREO comets have been confirmed by the MPEC. Comet Al's name is on 4 of them. Congratulations!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

 

Phoenix Falls to Mars

Image Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Okay, so I know that Stuart, Tom, The Bad Astronomer, Emily, Uncle Tom Colby and All have posted this image, but it is too cool not to repost.

This image is of the Phoenix Lander descending under its parachute, as snapped by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This is the first image ever of a spacecraft landing on another world. How cool is THAT.

See the Press Release, the NASA web site and the JPL website for more.

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Jogging

Just went jogging with sons. Soccer and cross-country practice. Will crawl off and die now.

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More Comet Boattini

Comet Boattini in the STERO H2 imager on 19 May.

Comet Boattini is now really obvious in binoculars. In my 10x50's it is a really obvious (if faint) fuzzy disk. I find it hard to establish magnitude for such an extended object, but I found it easier to see than M4 in Scorpio at the same height above the horizon, and bigger in diameter.

I will have to have a go with my 7x25 binoculars to see how it looks in them.

Comet Boattini is very easy to find at the moment, being close to several brightish stars. A spotters map is here (there is also a link to a map that shows the comet at your local time from most major cities in Australia), a printable PDF map suitable for use with binoculars in conjunction with the spotters map from 21-29 May is here. Some nice Boattini pictures taken from Africa are here.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

 

Phoenix Updated

Image Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Phoenix's descent was the first successful soft landing on Mars for 32 years. The lander has landed in really flat in a northern Arctic region called Vastitas Borealis. The solar panels have successfully deployed, and a flood of images have come back of, well, a fairly flat plain. More images can be found at the Phoenix Gallery. Most of the images are black and white but there are also some colour images.

When all instrument checks are completed the lander will extend its robotic arm and dig through the protective top soil layer to the water ice expected to be below. Both soil and water ice will be returned to the lander platform for analysis. Hopefully this information will provide insights into the following questions: can the Martian Arctic subsurface support life, what is the history of water at the landing site, and finally, how is the Martian climate affected by polar dynamics?

We will all be watching the Phoenix lander intently over the next 90 days.

More information at the NASA Phoenix site and the JPL Phoenix site. Emily at the Planetary Society weblog has some good reportage of the landing and press conference, Tom has some good commentary as does the Bad Astronomer, while DaveP is all atwitter.

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Phoenix has Landed

Image Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The Phoenix lander has successfully touched down on Mars.

The lander carries a CD which includes the names of my children.

No images yet (images now, see update below), but the lander is sending back telemetry and has landed somewhere flat "like a table" someone just yelled in amongst all the cheering. The Lander is also facing east-west as planned. The solar arrays need to be deployed now. If successful (highly likely since re-entry is the hard part, and they have landed on a flat surface [see update]), Phoenix will begin it's search for water.


http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

UPDATE: The solar panels have successfully deployed, and the first images of the Martian North Pole have come back relayed through Mars Oddessy. It's pretty featureless (well, that was the point, they wanted to land somewhere safe and flat). More images can be found at the Phoenix Gallery. So far there are lots of shots of the lander and the surrounding terrain. These are black and white images mostly to confirm the lander is okay and everything is working. The NASA Phoenix Blog has a timeline, and the Phoenix home page also has steadily updated information.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

 

A Walk in the Woods (Lobethal)

It was a perfect Autumn day, so Chez Reynella and friends decided to go for a bushwalk. We went to a little reserve up near Lobethal, the Onkaparinka St. John's Bushland Reserve.

Although small, it has a variety ecological settings, wandering past lakes and some historic old mine sites. There wasn't much animal life to be seen, although the bush resounded with bird song, but there were lots of interesting planst though.

Stately gums with near white bark, grass trees, these lichen covered she-oaks, a host of pink flowers and some startlingly coloured fungi all enlivened the walk.

Sadly, the boys ignored most of it, when they weren't discussing "Lord of the Rings" strategy games, they were doing mock sword fights. Still at least they were out in the fresh air.

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It's a Goal! (25-05-08)

Middle One got to play and entire game this time, even though the team lost 1:0, they all played well (well mostly, Middle One has a bit of an attention problem, and the helicopter impersonations did detract from his role as forward). Eldest One's team fought a nailbiting duel with their opponents, there was much swapping of leads, but we finished with a 3:3 draw.

I also did a fair bit of running with these matches (linesman for MiddleOnes match, and as coach I did a 20 minute training session where I lead the players in the exercises, and then I pace relentlessly up and down the sidelines watching the play), there were three tired boys after the match. Still we ended up going for a long walk on the beach, then taking the German Poet to the airport. So we finished off the day with Fast Food and a DVD. I think we earned it.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

 

Comet C/2007 W1 Boattini update 24 May

The horizon as seen from the southern hemisphere looking west at around 10 pm (click to enlarge).

Comet Boattini is brightening faster than expected and is now very easily seen in binoculars before Moon rise. It is seen as a substantial, but dim, fuzzy disk. After a bit of hunting around my non-astronomer guests found it last night (and went AWWW). People with good eyesight can (just) pick it up under dark rural or outer suburban skies.

A spotters map is here (there is also a link to a map that sows the comet at your local time from most major cities in Australia), a printable PDF map suitable for use with binoculars in conjunction with the spotters map from 21-29 May is here.

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Mars glows in the heart of the Beehive

Mars was brilliant in the heart of the Beehive last night. Some friends were over and I showed it to them in binoculars. They were suitably impressed. MiddleOne had a go too. He found it hard to hold the binoculars, but eventually saw the Beehive.

My attempt to photograph the event was not so successful. I left it too late (too busy enjoying it with friends), and Mars was too low and the background sky brightness was too high to get the fainter stars ... but I got Mars.

Tonight I'll try again earlier, juts after astronomical twilight when everthing is higher in the sky.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

 

Carnival of Space #55 is here.

Carnival of Space #55 is up at Catholic Sensibility. There is a real estate theme this week, so grab your coat and head on over.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

 

Things You See Without a Camera IV

The cloud had just broken, I'd just finished looking at Mars near the Beehive (nice) and was industriously scanning the sky for comet Boattini. I looked away from the binoculars for a moment, to see the ISS flare just as I looked up. Priceless (I did find Boattini eventually).

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It's a Goal

Last Saturday was, um, not the best for soccer. Luckily the rain stopped, but the wind was howling, making running and kicking a struggle (only to find the ball blown the opposite direction to what you kicked it in).

But both Eldest One's and Middle One's teamswon, a significant boost to their confidence. Eldest One especially, as his team had a very hard time last year, being promoted up an age grade early in the season last year. It took them a while to find their feet. But this year they have started with all cylinders firing, a good way to start the season.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

 

Things you see when you don't have a camera (but do have a mobile phone)

The recent rain has has some good effects (apart for watering the parched soil and making farmers and gardeners happy). This beautiful view of the Sun rising behind dramatic clouds accompanied me to work recently.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

 

Saturn Mars and the Beehive from STEREO

While we are waiting for Mars to transit the Beehive cluster, there is another transit of the Beehive we can watch. From the point of view of the STEREO H2 camera, Saturn Mars passed in from of the Beehive last week. The image to the left shows Saturn Mars in the Beehive, and the animation below shows Saturn Mars transiting the Beehive.

UPDATE: Comet Al points out that this is Mars, not Saturn. Man, I really have to double check object locations in the STEREO field. Especially after I embarrassingly misidentified Boattini as McNaught on the Comet-ml list (sigh).

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Monday, May 19, 2008

 

Mars in the Beehive (21-24May)

Mars has been fleeing Gemini since it's nice lineup with Castor and Pollux, heading for the constellation of Cancer. It's path takes Mars close to a lovely cluster, the Beehive cluster.

Between May 21 and May 24 Mars is within binocular distance of the lovely Beehive cluster. On May 23, Mars is in the heart of the Beehive cluster. To see this properly you need to have dark skies, but even suburban folks can enjoy this sight with binoculars.

Mars is the very obvious modestly bright reddish object above the north-western horizon. The image shows Mars above the north-west horizon at around 9:00 pm.

The beehive is a faint dusting of stars all crowded together closer by. You will need to observe before 9:00 pm for the best views, as Mars and the cluster set at around 10:00pm.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

 

Comet C/2007 W1 Boattini in STEREO

Despite brightening significantly, Comet Boattini is hidden to me at the moment. It's nice to have rain after a decade of drought, but this is a bit ridiculous. Also, the brightening Moon will make it very difficult to see.

However, Boattini is currently in the field of view of the STEREO Secchi H2a camera. It won't be there for long, but it looks pretty good as it speeds along.

Comet Boattini is brightening more rapidly than predicted, if it keeps this up it will be visible to the unaided eye relatively easily in late May - early June (provided you have dark skies of course, and all you will see is a fuzzy dot). Currently, the waxing Moon makes Boattini hard to see, but after May 21, with the Moon rising later, it will be time to start viewing this comet again. It may get as bright as magnitude 3.5 - 4 by mid June, although it will be fairly low to the horizon when the sky is dark. See here for a spotters chart, a printable PDF map suitable for use with binoculars in conjunction with the spotters map form 21-29 May is here.


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Friday, May 16, 2008

 

Carnival of Space #54 is here.

Carnival of Space #54 is now orbiting Altair VI. This is another Jampacked issue with heaps of spacey goodness. Speaking of jam, there are a lot of food based, yummy educational posts, as well as how to deflect asteroids, galactic empires and lots lots more. I don't usually single out posts (the whole point is to go over the the carnival after all), but as Middle One and Smallest one are Lego Mars fans, I must direct you to Lego Mars at the Martian Chronicles for a superbly interesting and educational post. SO fire those thrusters and head on over to Altai VI.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

 

Yet another World Wide Telescope Review

Yes, I've downloaded and tried out Microsofts World Wide Telescope too. Like Stuart and DaveP, it was fairly painless to install, unlike their experience, my downloads and set-up were s-l-o-w. Painfully so. If you are in Australia on a bog-standard ADSL line, with an ordinary computer (and just using Windows 2000, not Vista), be prepared to wait a bit.

And wait.

Once it's installed and you start it up (and wait while it starts up, sheesh), it's not too bad. Basically, it's Google Sky with some extra bells and whistles. Navigation is drag and scroll just like Google Sky. Like Google Sky it's Northern Hemisphere Centric, so you initially see the sky from a Northern Hemisphere perspective. Unlike Google Sky you can observe the sky from your location.
And boy, is that screwed. World Wide Telescope shows Taurus rising in the east at my location and time (see image to the left, the blob above the eastern horizon is Pleiades), when it should be well below the western horizon. Nice one Microsoft.

At least the WWT's search function finds the Pleaides, Google' s still takes you to the Southern Pleiades. The various Hubble, infrared sky survey etc. overlays are nice, and more easily accessible than the same things in Google. The finder scope (you pull it up by right clicking) is cute, but not really that informative compared to the irritating dotty things in Google sky (one large irritating things versus lots of small irritating dotty things, meh!).

It's also got the potential to drive a telescope via and ANSCOM driver. But if you have to have the computer linked to the internet for the DSS images to work, then that is pretty limited.

Planets suck in both WWT and Google Sky. At least WWT doesn't have the weird time system that by default displays planets in the past. When you zoom in on Jupiter in WWT, the moons are in the right position for your time zone (which sort of makes up for the general planetary suckiness).

Otherwise, the program freezes at irregular intervals, the planetary tour doesn't work for me (I get the text but not the images).

So, not bad. Sluggish and requiring a grunty computer like most things Microsoft. Fun to play with, but won't be replacing SkyMap or Stellarium any time soon. (see the cool things DaveP found here and here, one of then is near the bottom left in my top image)

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The Moon Covers Mars.

Daniel Fischer points out, in the comments to the post "A Picture of the Mars Moon Lineup" that Mars was occulted by the Moon on the 10th as well. This occurred in the daytime, but could be observed telescopically. The pictures of this event are pretty amazing, see Daniels images of the event, and here and here. The sites are in German, but all you need to know is Mond is Moon, links and rechts are left and right respectively, and other than that the pictures speak for themselves (Ich kann eine bischen Deutsch sprecken).

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

 

Amazing Solar Prominences

Hurry over the SpaceWeather for some amazing shots of a massive solar prominence.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

 

A Picture of the Mars Moon Lineup

On Saturday (10 May) the waxing Moon lined up with Mars, Castor and Pollux in Gemini. It was rather pretty. Click on the image to enlarge it (makes the stars easier to see). Mars is above the Moon, Castor and Pollux below.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

 

Comet Boattini Update

Comet Boattini C/2007 W1 is now fairly easy to pick up in binoculars. In fact, it has brightened significantly since the 8th, when I was having difficultly seeing it. It also helps to be familiar with the stars in the area, as I now am after staring at this patch for so long, so you can be sure that the moving fuzzy patch is the comet.

Also, when coming out to observe the comet, you really need several minutes for your eyes to dark adapt in order to pick up the fuzzy patch that is the comet.

Comet Boattini is now significantly brighter than it was predicted to be, and should be fairly easily observable by the unaided eye soon. It will still only be a faint fuzzy dot at its brightest, but it will be an interesting faint fuzzy dot. It has already been reported to be visible to the unaided eye, but that was under dark sky conditions. People in suburban areas will need to wait longer. Sadly, the waxing Moon will interfere with the comet in a short while.

A spotters map is here, a printable PDF map suitable for use with binoculars in conjunction with the spotters map is here.

A new image of Boattini from Michael Mattiazzo is here, and a nice stereo image of Boattini is here.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

 

Building an Orrey

Soccer season has started again. Once more I am coaching the under 13's with Eldest One. Middle One, the sports hater, has also started soccer.

Having two children playing in differnt age leagues makes transporting the kids a little ... interesting. Luckily Eldest Ones match was cancelled this week , the opposing team forfeited (giving his team a win, a bit of ego bost for the start of this season) , otherwise I would have had to get from Woodville to Westlakes in 15 minutes for Middle One to play.

And play he did, very well in fact. I was very proud of my young man as he mixed it in and executed some very nice team play.

Any trio to soccer also invloves a trip to the library (Eldest One h picked up "Lord of the Rings" to read), and a trip to the library passes by the newsagent, where there was a "Build it yourself" Orrery on the stands. I looked at Middle One, he looked at me. We bought it.

Okay, so it's one of these "by a bit a week" series, but we built the full "Harry Potter" chess set (and play with it), so an Orrery, no problem. Middle One and I can hardly wait for next weeks issue.

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Update on Cosmic Chocolate

You may remember my article on Cosmic Chocolate, and how I was puzzled that the planets in the chocolate set were not in orbital order. Well, Cynthia Ma, who passed the story on to me in the first place has been doing some sleuthing.

Apparently the boss of the hotel where the chocolate shop
is located likes astronomy, and the hotel is located right next to the Osaka science museum which houses one of the biggest planetariums in Japan (and the first planetarium in Japan).

Anyway, what Cynthia reckons is that you are supposed to envisage the solar system with the sun in the middle. She says:
It would be too obvious (tacky) to line the planets up in a straight line (also highly unusual in real life), so they alternate the planets, one on each side of the sun, in orbital order.
Next time Cynthia is in Osaka she says , she will look the Hotel up and feast on the Solar Sytem.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

 

Mars, the Moon and the Twins

Mars, the waxing Moon and the bright Twins of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, will form a line on the evening of Saturday, May 10.

This attractive display of bright stars, Mars and the Moon can be readily seen to the west from around an hour after sunset to 9:00 pm local time.

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Carnival of Space #52 is here.

Carnival of Space 52 is now live at the Space Cynic. The S[ace Cynic has a wonderful selection of posts on display, dust devils on Mars, Earth and Moon from Space, the history of Neptune's discovery, space telescopes and Google Earth and much, much more. Why not dash over for a browse?

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

 

Comet 2007/W1 Boattini brightens

Comet Boattini is brightening at a rate faster than predicted. It is definitely observable in binoculars now. I picked it up in suburban Largs North under less than ideal conditions with averted vision and 10x50 binoculars. Orbital elements are here, a nice shot from the southern hemisphere is here. I'll have to work on a binocular spotters chart for you all.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

 

Cosmic Chocolate

Want something special for an Astromother, or just plain Mum, on Mothers day?

Correspondent and fellow SciencNatterer Cynthia Ma has sent me this link to a company that sells chocolate planets and solar systems.

Okay, so it's all in Japanese, but you get the idea. For some reason, the presentation box illustrated to the left has the planets in the right order, but the presentation box here is completely out of order (you do get the Sun with this collection, but why does it go Uranus Jupiter Earth Mercury sun Venus Mars Saturn Neptune?) . Tycho Brahe and Galileo must be turning in their respective graves.

The flavours are interesting too. I can understand Venus being Passion fruit, but Neptune being Banana Caramel? Surely Mint, or some cool flavour to go with this cold world. And surely Mercury could have been Chilli (chilli chocolate is great!) rather than Mango. I had to translate with Bable Fish, so the translations of the descriptions were a bit ... ahem.. idiosyncratic, but here is the description of Mercury.
The instant which was inserted in the mango mouth, natural sweet taste of the mango and kana sourness of the ほ spread.
Yeah, that says Mercury to me. A snip at 350 Yen. As I wrote above, they would be good as a special Mothers Day astronomical gift. The inner Nerd in you could arrange them in the right order and appropriate distances around the house (Mum has to start eating at the inner planets and work out, with appropriate spacing, this could involve quite an aerobic workout).

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Mercury and the Moon, 7 May 2008

This Wednesday evening, May 7, Mercury is close to the crescent Moon, and a handspan above the eastern horizon half an hour after sunset.

This lineup could be quite attractive, but will be difficult to see without a clear, level horizon.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

 

Comet 2007/W1 Boattini

Comet 2007 W1 Boattini is a recently discovered comet that will become visible to the unaided eye in June (It will only reach magnitude 5, so it won't be another McMaught). During May the comet becomes visible in binoculars, but there are reports already from the northern hemisphere that it is visible in binoculars. I tried laast night, and thought I saw it (although the sky conditions were quite poor), in my Christmas 10x50 binoculars. I will have to look again tonight to confirm it.

The comet is high in the sky and should be very easily visible. A printable spotters map is here. Another set of maps is at Heavens Above. There is a nice image of Boattini from Francois Kugel here.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

 

The Anniversary Edition of Carnival of Space is Now Up.

The Anniversary Edition of Carnival of Space is now up at Henry Cate's blog. A year ago Henry launched the Carnival of Space, and then later passed the torch to Frazer Cain. And it's been a fantastic year. This great edition caps off one year and launches another. The bumper anniversary edition of the carnival has a Space TV related theme. So tune in the the carnival and have a blast watching.

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Southern Skywatch May 2008 Edition now up

The May edition of Southern Skywatch is now up. This month Mars glides through the Beehive cluster, Jupiter is high enough for telescopic observation, the eta Aquariid meteor shower is visible and we get a chance to peek at comet 2007/W1 Boattini.

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