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Arnus Vallis, Mars

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - January 22, 2018

A Piece of Mars: This is a section of Arnus Vallis (scene is 1.25×1 km, 0.78×0.62 mi). It’s a >300 km long valley that was carved out, not by water, but by lava, long ago. Since then the wind has taken over. The left wall of the valley seems to have layers etched into high relief by wind scour; the floor is covered by ripples (TARs, really). But what I love most about this valley is that along the right (east) side, a long dune extends for much of the valley’s length (it’s why you don’t see layers on the eastern wall). You’re looking at a small section of what could be the longest dune on Mars. You can read more about the geology of this valley in this paper. (HiRISE PSP_007187_1920, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Varying wind directions

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - January 18, 2018

A Piece of Mars: This 0.5×0.4 km (0.31×0.25 mi) scene shows two dunes near the north pole. The shape of the dunes indicates two main winds: one blowing left to right (which makes slip faces on the right side, one of which still has some bright white ice on it), and a secondary wind blowing from the lower right to upper left (elongating the upper “corners” of these dunes). The two lee sides are marked by yellow patches, where bright dust falls out of the atmosphere, accumulating in areas of relative calm. But if you look at the boulders (the largest of which is ~4m across, about the size of a subcompact car), you’ll see that a third wind blowing from the upper right to lower left has left some bright streaks in the wake of the boulders. This third wind isn’t persistent enough to shape the dunes, so it probably is somewhat unusual, or perhaps simply short-lived. A question: are the bright streaks in the lee of the boulders formed by deposited dust, or by dark sand removed to reveal a bright surface under the sand? (HiRISE ESP_053196_2535, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Dunes with comet tails

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - January 08, 2018

A Piece of Mars: The north polar dunes in this 575×325 m (0.36×0.2 mi) scene are made of dark sand covered by bright winter frost (which will soon sublimate away, as this image was taken in late spring). To the right of the dunes extend pale yellow bumpy hills, making the dunes look like they have little “comet tails”. What’s going on here? These dunes are migrating towards the left, so the tails are what they leave behind. The dunes are located very far north, where the ground is always frozen. Ice freezes the lowest parts of the dunes, so that as the upper sections can be pushed downwind, the lower sections remain locked in place behind. This can happen on Earth too, but here it’s usually the water table stabilizing the lower portions of the dunes (and many of the thick continental sandstones, like the Navajo sandstone, were built this way millions of years ago). (HiRISE ESP_052773_2650, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Fuzzy dunes

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - January 02, 2018

A Piece of Mars: The dunes (or maybe they’re ripples) in this valley appear to be fuzzy (the view is 625×775 m, 0.39×0.48 mi). They’re not really fuzzy, but it’s not actually clear what’s going on. They seem to have smaller ripples superposed on them, and maybe bright dust has settled into the troughs between ripple peaks, so that they take on a striped, feathered look. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen on Earth. (HiRISE ESP_052776_1785, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Buried by ejecta

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - December 26, 2017

A Piece of Mars: To see this one well you’ll have to click on the image. At the lower right, a 240 m (787 ft) diameter crater formed when a bolide hit the surface, throwing out ejecta on the surrounding terrain. Zooming in, you can see that the ejecta has a distinctive rough surface. Farther from the crater there are smooth patches where ejecta didn’t fall. What I like about this is the many small bedforms (ripples), some of which are covered by ejecta and some of which aren’t. Closer to the crater, you don’t see so many of these bedforms because the ejecta is thick enough to have buried them. The crater itself is fairly “young” for a geologic feature on Mars, but enough time has passed to allow small bedforms to accumulate inside it (ripples like these don’t form overnight). (HiRISE ESP_052794_1545, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

The mysterious bright streaks

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - December 18, 2017

A Piece of Mars: Some things just go unexplained (so far, anyway). Here’s a mysterious bright streak (scene is 1.2×1.8 km, 0.75×1.12 mi) concentrated between two sets of ripple-like bedforms. It looks sort of like a river, but it’s on flat terrain and it’s not water. It’s part of a larger set of bright streaks that you can see throughout the top of this broader CTX image (the bright streak shown in detail here is visible as a distinct white stripe on the floor of a crater). My guess is that at some point, probably at least several million years ago, a bunch of fine bright silt was blown towards the north-northwest, settling in a few places. I’m guessing it’s silt (finer-grained than sand) because it didn’t form dunes, and it’s not as fine as the clay-sized dust that blows into dust storms because this stuff wasn’t completely blown away (dust is easily mobilized by saltating sand). (HiRISE ESP_052786_1740, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona).

Dunes in a row

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - December 11, 2017

A Piece of Mars: Look at the alignment of the ~100 m dunes in this 713×750 m (0.44×0.47 mi) scene. How do dunes form in such straight lines? And why don’t they always do that? It’s likely that these dunes were once long ridges stretching from the lower right to upper left. The shape of the slip faces suggests they’re formed from two winds that blow from similar directions, both of which push sand toward the upper left. To stay stable, this sort of dune needs a constant influx of sand from upwind (from the lower right), but if that flow of incoming sand lessened, then a long dune would be forced to break up into a series of smaller dunes. That may be what’s happened here. Check out the whole image, and you’ll see other long ridges that haven’t yet broke up into smaller dunes. (HiRISE ESP_052798_2565, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Ripples of rock

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - December 04, 2017

A Piece of Mars: To the upper right of this 0.85×0.6 km (0.53×0.37 mi) scene is a flat-lying plain strewn with large ripples. To the lower left is a rugged hill with gray rock laced with white veins (this might be part of an impact megabreccia identified nearby in Holden crater). Notice that some of the ripples on the rugged hill are also veined – this is evidence that they are actually eroded into the bedrock, rather than fine-grained deposits like their counterparts on the plain. It’s not yet clear how these “Periodic Bedrock Ridges” form, and they may be unique to Mars. (HiRISE ESP_052789_1520, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

The corpse of a dune

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - November 27, 2017

A Piece of Mars: The rippled darker patch in this 600×600 m (0.37×0.37 mi) scene is the former site of a sand dune. This is one of a few “dune corpses” found just upwind of a dune field in Holden crater. The dunes are migrating to the south and east – you can see that the arc of this former dune opens to the south, the way a barchan slip face would. This dune is what’s left behind after most of its sand has migrated downwind. (HiRISE ESP_052367_1540, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Intriguing pair of satellites caught with the eVscope

Cosmic Diary Marchis - November 23, 2017

If you often look at the evening dark sky in a clear area far away from the city, you have probably seen a speck of light which moves with respect to the star, that’s probably a distant satellite that shines because it reflects the light of the sun at high altitude. According to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program office, there are an  about 21,000 large debris (>10 cm) and satellites orbiting around Earth right now, so much more than you can see with your naked eye.

The eVscope is designed to pinpoint and image Deep Sky Objects (nebulae, galaxies), but we have already shown its potential to observe dwarf planet like Pluto, as well as asteroid like Florence. Because the telescope can image targets as faint as those astronomical bodies, we thought that it will also be able to image small satellites and debris as well passing serendipitously in the field of view. This is what happened a few days ago.

Animation made of 8 frames recorded with the eVscope showing the detection of two satellites

Our team observed from Pourrieres, 50 km from Marseille on November 15 2017. The goal was to test the eVscope on faint winter-sky objects, which including the iconic Horsehead Nebula. At 22:48 UT, the observer pointed toward the target and saw briefly during the acquisition in the eyepiece a small moving target crossing the field of view.

The SETI Institute team inspected the individual raw frames and tried to identify the target. We quickly realized that this bright target (V~10) was not an asteroid but probably an artificial satellite.

Analysis of one of the frame of the EVscope using Aladin software.

More interestingly when we looked at the data more carefully, we saw a second satellite, 8-10 times fainter, which was moving together with the bright one at 9.8 arcmin and 5’o clock. The motion for both satellites with respect to the star is 1 min per min, so that’s probably a geostationary pair of satellites, even though we noticed that they are both inclined by ~4 deg with respect to the equator.

Mysteriously, we could not identify yet the satellites despite a search in the NORAD database and other tools available on the web. That’s probably something that we will do in the future and I will post regular updates here. If you have an idea, please let us know!

The followup and the characterization of space satellites and debris in orbit around Earth is another possible use of the eVscope. We had mentioned this several times in the past and nature gave us the bit of luck that we needed to show it.

Clear Skies

Franck M.



1,500th telescope on our Kickstarter. Thank you!

Cosmic Diary Marchis - November 21, 2017

We have just passed the pledge of our 1,500th telescope on our Kickstarter campaign. With such an amazing number of eVscopes soon to be in operation around the planet, our Campaign Mode and Citizen Science applications will be extraordinary exciting and revolutionary! Your support has brought us to this truly amazing moment, and all we can say is thank you.

After so many questions about planets and requests for additional photos, we felt the need to conduct new observations—and despite bad weather in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, we managed to do it! As you check out these pictures, please keep in mind that what you see through the eVscope’s eyepiece is far more beautiful and mind blowing. The image quality and observing experience there are definitely superior to what you see in these photos.

The eVscope provides truly amazing astronomical views when pointed at nebulae and galaxies. As you can imagine, the Unistellar team has seen lots of targets over the past three months, but we were delighted to see new ones with our eVscope because they are so beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Spiral Galaxy NGC891, for example, is an unforgettable sight in the eyepiece of an eVscope. It’s similar to our Milky Way, but because we see it edge-on, the structures made by the dust and gas are particularly striking.

Picture of the galaxy NGC891 taken with the eVscope from Pourrieres, France. (magnification x100)

Of course, we also observed one of the most iconic objects in the night sky, the Orion Nebula (M42). This object is a stellar nursery and contains a very young open cluster known as the Trapezium. Its coloration is caused by the excitation of gas that surrounds these young stars.

Picture of the Orion Nebula observed with the eVscope from Pourrière, South of France (magnification x 50).

Many of you asked about planets. Keep in mind that they are smaller and brighter than deep-sky objects. We designed the eVscope to view deep-sky objects that are faint and extended, and that’s why our device is not optimal for viewing planets. But as you can see in the following picture, Saturn and its rings are clearly visible in an eVscope, despite their current low elevation in the sky.

Saturn observed from Nairobi, Kenya with a numerical zoom x150 on October 29 2017. Image taken at 20 degrees elevation (poor atmospheric conditions)

We will continue to post pictures of targets on our blog and in our newsletter and our social media. Join us there!

Clear Skies

Is it windblown or not (#2)?

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - November 20, 2017

A Piece of Mars: This 0.93×1.25 km (0.57×0.78 mi) scene shows what I’m starting to think are windblown features. I posted something similar to this once before, from a location not that far from here. In this one region of Mars there are parallel lines cut into the tops of hills. A geologist would first presume they were exposed, tilted layers. But the regularity of their spacing (especially when you zoom in) is a bit unusual, and suggests some sort of self-organization (like windblown ripples). And then the questions begin: why just in this spot on Mars? what’s unusual about the rocks (or the wind) here? I still have no good answers. (HiRISE ESP_052386_1565 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)


Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - November 15, 2017

A Piece of Mars: There’s a fabric of erosion in this 1×1 km (0.62×0.62 mi) scene, with the main wind blowing from lower right to upper left (and if you look carefully you’ll see there’s a second, subtler fabric a bit clockwise from that one). The result is a landscape strewn with streamlined rock called yardangs. The darkest areas are shadows from rock faces scoured by the wind so deeply that they’ve been undermined until there’s overhang. Normally this would lead to collapse features, like rock piles, but you don’t see those here. That’s an indication that the rock here is easily eroded and fine-grained, so that as it’s eroded, it’s simply carried off by the wind. (HiRISE ESP_052384_1800, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Unistellar Signs Up More Than 1,200 Early-adopters for its Revolutionary eVscope Confirming the Public Interest for Citizen Science Astronomy

Cosmic Diary Marchis - November 09, 2017

Unistellar Signs Up More Than 1,200 Early-adopters for its Revolutionary eVscope Confirming the Public Interest for Citizen Science Astronomy

San Francisco & Marseille, November 9, 2017. Unistellar, a startup that’s committed to restore the joy of night-sky viewing to people all over the globe, is off to a strong start thanks to the massive success of its recent Kickstarter campaign.

The campaign gave supporters the opportunity to order an eVscope, a revolutionary, electronics-based telescope that offers unprecedented views of distant objects in the night sky. The device also allows users to make significant contributions to science by joining observing efforts led by prominent astronomers.

“After three years of prototype development, building, and testing, we were proud to bring our compact, intelligent, and powerful telescope to market,” said Arnaud Malvache, President and CTO of Unistellar, located in Marseille. “Our team also demonstrated the prototype at several star parties in Europe and the USA, and these efforts paid off beyond our wildest expectations, with a landslide of backers.”

The campaign went live at 7 a.m. Pacific time on Oct. 25, when the company began taking orders for eVscopes at early-bird prices. In just a few minutes, the first 150 telescopes were gone—which put Unistellar at its fundraising goal, making this one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever, and likely the biggest success for an amateur astronomy project on Kickstarter.

Backers continue to pour in. At last check, Unistellar had raised over $1.6 million with more than 1,200 eVscopes pledged.

Each eVscope includes light-accumulating Enhanced Vision Technology that gives the device the light-gathering power of telescopes ten times larger in diameter. For most viewers, this means unprecedented access to colorful nebulae, galaxies millions of light years away, and faraway planets—objects that are far too faint to view through backyard conventional telescopes. And thanks to built-in sensors, GPS, and an internal map of millions of stars, the eVscope can pinpoint and identify any object in the sky, making astronomy easy as well as informative.

The campaign’s success also marks a huge victory for citizen science. Thanks to Unistellar’s partnership with the SETI Institute, eVscope users can join astronomical viewing campaigns led by scientists. These campaigns are expected to produce unprecedented amounts of data generated by a global array of eVscopes. This information will be stored in a database at the SETI Institute, where it will be available to scientists all over the world.

“Our successful crowdfunding campaign confirms the desire of amateur astronomers and space fans to enjoy the night sky while they contribute to scientific investigations and generate new astronomical data. This is step one toward the creation of an active network of citizen-science astronomers who will monitor the sky 24/7 from almost everywhere on our planet,” said Franck Marchis, Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar and Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute.

The Unistellar team organized several demos in summer 2017 to showcase the eVscope’s capabilities. Starting in July, the Eastbay Astronomical Society (Oakland, CA) got the chance to incorporate the eVscope prototype and the developer team’s expertise into its public outreach events at the Chabot Space & Science Center. The innovative eVscope was seamlessly integrated into EAS activities, together with more traditional and much larger-aperture telescopes.

“The vivid color views in the eVscope were immediate crowd magnets and the Unistellar team had people lining up to enjoy the clusters and nebulae shown in the electronic eyepiece of this new device,” said Gert Gottschalk, board member of the EAS and amateur astronomer. “The Unistellar team and its telescope immediately became integral to outreach activity at EAS.”

“We’re overwhelmed by the success of our campaign and grateful for the many emails, including comments and ideas from our supporters,” added Laurent Marfisi, CEO of Unistellar. “These early adopters will help us make an even-better product, a uniquely powerful, easy-to-use device that gives them back the sense of awe and wonder that the night sky has engendered in humans since our species first appeared on this planet.”
The Kickstarter campaign runs until November 23 at midnight PT.


Link to the Kickstarter campaign.


Comparison between an observation with a classical telescope and with the eVscope


Our Kickstarter video

Leo Tramiel, amateur astronomer & co-inventor of the Commodore PET, witnessed one of our demos.

Demo at Marseille Observatory.

Enhanced vision experience


Previous press releases

SETI Institute partnership press release:


It’s Official! The eVscope from Unistellar Gets Kickstarted


About Unistellar:
Unistellar is reinventing popular astronomy through the development of the Enhanced Vision Telescope™: a smart combination of optics, electronics, and proprietary image-processing technology that aims to make astronomy interactive. Unistellar is completely dedicated to its popular ambition, but its technology has already garnered attention for other applications from established institutions for like the ONERA (the French aerospace agency) and companies focused on Imaging. http://unistellaroptics.com/http://unistellaroptics.com/

Media contact :
Laurent Marfisi
Email: laurent.marfisi@unistellaroptics.com
+33 6 77 98 01 20

Franck Marchis
Chief Scientific Officer
Email : franck.marchis@unistellaroptics.com
Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute
Email : fmarchis@seti.org
+1 510 599 0604

Island in the stream

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - November 08, 2017

A Piece of Mars: In the floor of what might have been an old fluvial channel there are a bunch of really neat dunes (or maybe ripples, they’re TARs and we don’t know yet what they are). One spire pokes up here, ~200 m (656 ft) across and ~90 m (295 ft) tall. The TARs reveal the wind direction here, as wind flowed from top to bottom around the spire, converging on the lee side. (HiRISE ESP_026557_1525, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

A few more pictures of astronomical targets seen with the eVscope

Cosmic Diary Marchis - November 08, 2017

We got a lot of requests for additional pictures of astronomical targets taken with the eVscope. Here some of them taken recently. One nebula, one galaxy, one planet in our solar system and our moon…. Enjoy!

The Omega Nebula (catalogued as Messier 17 or M17) is an H II region in the constellation Sagittarius. Magnification x50


Cigar Galaxy (or M82) is a starburst galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major . Magnification x100.

Saturn observed from Nairobi, Kenya with a numerical zoom x150 on October 29 2017. Image taken at 20 degrees elevation (poor atmospheric conditions). Exposure time 20 ms. Magnification x150


The moon rising from Aubagne, France near Marseille on November 7 at 20:30 CET with an elevation of 8 degrees C, hence its red color (exposure time 2 ms). Magnification x50







Black and tan

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - November 06, 2017

A Piece of Mars: Dunes in the top row in this 0.73×0.47 km (0.46×0.29 mi) scene are dark but those in the lower row are brighter. Why? They’re all probably made out of the same kind of sand, which is dark. And they all probably got covered by fine-grained airfall dust, which is bright. At some point after that, a wind blew, probably from top to bottom of the view, and moved enough sand to kick off the fine bright dust. But the relief from those top dunes took energy from the wind, so that by the time it reached the lower row, it wasn’t strong enough to move sand anymore. So until the next windstorm, we see two different colors of dunes. (HiRISE ESP_052399_1885, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Seeing the long-period Comet C/2017 O1 with the new eVscope

Cosmic Diary Marchis - November 03, 2017

You’ve probably heard of C/2017 O1, a long-period comet that’s now paying what may well be its first-ever visit to the inner solar system. Earlier this month we decided to check it out using our eVscope prototype.

Comet C/2017 O1 observed in the eyepiece of the eVscope

The All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN) system discovered Comet O1 ASAS-SN (now officially named C/2017 O1) on July 19, 2017, when it was in the constellation Cetus and had only a faint 15.3 magnitude. Even at that dim magnitude, however, an eVscope pointed at this area of the sky could have detected it. A few days later, however, as it came closer to the sun and its activity increased, the comet shot up one hundred fold in brightness to magnitude 10.

Our prototype eVscope spotted the object from Aubagne, France on October 16 as the comet was moving from the Perseus to the Camelopardalis constellations. Using our Automatic Field Detection to identify the FOV, we found the target in just five minutes!

Comet C/2017 O1 detected by the AFD in the eyepiece

Based on data from the JPL Horizons Ephemeris system, we expected the comet’s integrated magnitude to be about 12.1, although several observers reported a magnitude of 9-10.

Quick Astrophotography picture of the comet 2017O1 made by combining images (~8 min) acquired with the eVscope prototype at Aubagne, France.

Interestingly, recent observations of this comet show that it is still active and its brightness has not changed. It’s possible the object was caught in an outburst. If that’s the case, professional and amateur astronomers should continue to monitor this icy body to better understand what’s going on. This is the kind of scientific research that we’ll be able to do far more conveniently and precisely by combining observations from a global array of eVscopes.

As mentioned, this is probably the first visit this long-period comet has ever made to the inner solar system. As more all-sky surveys become available (Pan-STARRS, ASASSN, Black-Gems, to name just three), we can be sure that we’ll detect more comets like this in the future. And that means more targets to study and enjoy with your eVscope!

Mars’ corduory

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - October 30, 2017

A Piece of Mars: The wind on Mars likes to make textiles (unfortunately the term geotextiles is already taken for other purposes). This 1×0.6 km (0.62×0.37 mi) scene shows two different sets of ripples. The larger set has straight to wavy crests, and they’re ~18 m (~59 ft) apart, which is pretty big for ripples (really they’re TARs). Inbetween those (click on the picture so you can see them) are small ~2 m (~6.5 ft) ripples that make Mars look like it’s made of kahki corduroy (which is a thing but it’s not on trend, so Mars could stand to catch up a little). What does this all add up to? There are at least two different sets of wind directions, and each probably formed on its own timescale. If we learn how to decipher these, then we could better understand weather patterns on Mars, because ripples like these are pretty common there. (HiRISE ESP_051244_1315, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

It’s Official! The eVscope from Unistellar Gets Kickstarted

Cosmic Diary Marchis - October 28, 2017

Marseille, France & San Francisco, CA – October 25, 2017 –

Imagine being able to see galaxies, nebulae, and asteroids and discovering the sky from your own backyard while participating in scientific investigations. Unistellar has launched a Kickstarter campaign for its eVscope, a powerful telescope that will give the sky back to all of us.

The Unistellar eVscope was first presented at the CES in 2017 and recently won the Innovation Award in the Tech For a Better World product category for the CES 2018.

During the summer 2017, the Unistellar team has shown the telescope capabilities to thousands of people in Europe and in the United States.  It has since received astonishing reviews and comments.

The Unistellar team has worked for 2 years to perfect their idea, building and testing several prototypes to finally create a compact, intelligent and powerful telescope that can be carried everywhere and which is easy to use.

Using its Enhanced Vision Technology, the eVscope accumulates light, and can reach the light gathering power of telescopes ten times larger in diameter, so you can finally see colorful nebulae, galaxies millions of light years away, and faraway planets, objects that are too faint to be clearly seen through conventional telescopes even large.

Thanks to its sensors, GPS and its internal map of millions of stars, the eVscope can pinpoint and identify any object in the sky, making astronomy easy and informative.

Finally, in partnership with the SETI Institute, the user can contribute to live observation campaigns of astronomical events of special interest to scientists, who, themselves proved to be eager to gain access to an unprecedented amount of data from thousands of eVscopes. Users will thus have the chance to see live transient events like Supernovae and Near Earth Asteroids through their eVscope, all the while actively contributing to cutting edge science.

The eVscopes are available now for pre-order on Kickstarter for the early bird price of $1299.
During the Kickstarter campaign (Oct 25 to Nov 23) the eVscope prototype will be showcased at several upcoming star parties and events in the USA and Europe.

Comets, extra-galactic supernovae, fast near-Earth asteroids, and much more —they are out there every night, just above you in the sky, and they’re inviting you to have a look. Take them up on that invitation and your life will never be the same.

Join us and transform Astronomy forever!

About Unistellar
Unistellar is reinventing popular astronomy through the development of the Enhanced Vision Telescope™: a smart combination of optics, electronics, and proprietary image-processing technology that aims to make astronomy interactive. Unistellar is completely dedicated to its popular ambition, but its technology has already garnered attention from established institutions like ONERA (the French aerospace agency) and Drone Imaging.

For more information about the eVscope, visit: http://unistellaroptics.com or email contact@unistellaroptics.com


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