Astronomers discover a massive neutron star that almost shouldn't exist - CNET - Canadanewsmedia
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Astronomers discover a massive neutron star that almost shouldn't exist – CNET

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An illustration of the pulsar and a nearby white dwarf star, which scientists used to help measure the pulsar’s mass.


NRAO/AUI/NSF

Scientists say they’ve found a spinning neutron star, or pulsar, that is so densely compacted, it might be right on the limit of what’s possible. It could exist precariously at the tipping point where any more pressure would cause it to collapse completely and form a new black hole. 

A team of astronomers using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia found that the rapidly rotating pulsar, called J0740+6620, is the most massive neutron star ever measured. 

A neutron star is a very weird cosmic object that’s basically the highly compressed remnant of a massive star after it has gone through a supernova explosion.

“Neutron stars have this tipping point where their interior densities get so extreme that the force of gravity overwhelms even the ability of neutrons to resist further collapse,” said Scott Ransom, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and co-author of a paper publishing Monday in Nature Astronomy. “Each ‘most massive’ neutron star we find brings us closer to identifying that tipping point and helping us to understand the physics of matter at these mind-boggling densities.”  

To begin to imagine the density, picture our sun, which has 333,000 times as much mass as the Earth. Got it? Ok, now imagine the sun has a twin and this pair of twins has a little sister named Proxima Centauri, which is the nearest star beyond the sun; she’s a red dwarf star with a mass that’s roughly one-sixth that of the sun. 

Now imagine you could take all three of these stars and run them through the biggest compactor in the universe, smashing them down to create an exotic object that’s the size of a sphere only 19 miles across (30 km).

Put even more simply, it’s like taking those three massive stars and compressing them down to be roughly the size of the city of Denver. 

“Neutron stars are as mysterious as they are fascinating,” said Thankful Cromartie, a graduate student at the University of Virginia and fellow at NRAO. “These city-sized objects are essentially ginormous atomic nuclei. They are so massive that their interiors take on weird properties. Finding the maximum mass that physics and nature will allow can teach us a great deal about this otherwise inaccessible realm in astrophysics.”  

The measurement of this neutron star actually came as part of NRAO’s search for gravitational waves.

“At Green Bank, we’re trying to detect gravitational waves from pulsars,” explained West Virginia University professor Maura McLaughlin. “In order to do that, we need to observe lots of millisecond pulsars, which are rapidly rotating neutron stars. This (discovery) is not a gravitational wave detection paper but one of many important results which have arisen from our observations.”

Neutron stars and pulsars are the most dense “normal” objects that we know of. The only thing more dense is a black hole, which is certainly not normal. As such, this specific pulsar discovery is as close as we’ve ever come to defining the line between the normal and the most puzzling, mysterious and exotic objects in existence. 

Originally published 10:38 a.m. PT


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Billionaire Bezos unveils plans to land humans on Moon, with a little help from some old friends – The Register

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Blue Origin and industry vets eye a slice of NASA’s lunar lander largesse

Richest person in the world, Jeff Bezos, yesterday pitched NASA a team mostly made up of the usual suspects to build a lunar lander for the agency’s ambitious 2024 boots-on-Moon goal.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Washington, Bezos announced the “national team”, of which his Blue Origin would be the prime contractor (naturally). The members consist of Lockheed Martin for the Ascent Stage, Northrop Grumman for the Transfer Element and Draper providing the guidance and navigation systems.

“We could not ask for better partners,” intoned the billionaire, which is fair enough. After all, elements of all the companies in the team-up worked on the Apollo program back in the day (although those engineers will have long been put out to pasture.)

The Transfer Element will guide the stack from lunar orbit to close to the Moon, from whence the Descent Element will conduct a powered descent. Lockheed Martin’s ascent module will then send the freshly minted Moonwalkers back into space.

Blue Origin will also be building the descent element of the lander, which uses the company’s BE-7 engine. The powerplant, Bezos said, is fuelled by liquid hydrogen and oxygen and as well being “highly throttleable” and developing 10,000 pounds of thrust.

The BE-7, of course, has yet to actually leave the test stand. Bezos told the audience that to date, the company had managed 13 minutes of test time, including a three-minute continuous firing.

That same engine, Bezos added, would be used by Northrop Grumman in the transfer element of the lunar lander stack.

Bezos unveiled the Blue Moon lander back in May and the announcement of the National Team is an indicator that it will take more than one company to meet the 2024 goal. It will also reassure those within NASA nervous about flinging cash at a company that has yet to even make Earth orbit, let alone do anything in deep space.

And NASA has lots of experience in giving money to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman after all.

Grumman, of course, built the original Apollo Lunar Module back in NASA’s glory days while Draper provided the guidance systems for the Moon missions.

These days, Northrop Grumman provides NASA with ISS cargo services and is working on both the boosters for the eternally-delayed Space Launch System and the habitat for the agency’s Lunar Gateway.

Draper has continued to work on precision guidance, although there is a delightful hole to tumble down in researching the Apollo guidance units, particularly efforts to fire up the old things once more. Naturally, the hand-woven circuitry of the Apollo era won’t feature this time around.

NASA is due to select two contractor teams in late 2020 to actually build the lander, having asked for proposals (and deleted certain reusability requirements in the rush to 2024). ®

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Bezos's Blue Origin partners with Lockheed, others on moon lander – Financial Post

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WASHINGTON — U.S. billionaire Jeff Bezos said on Tuesday his space company Blue Origin has signed agreements with Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp and research and development organization Draper for development of its lunar lander designed to help NASA put humans on the moon by 2024.

Blue Origin’s so-called Blue Moon lunar lander, unveiled by Bezos in May, is in development and sits at the center of the space company’s ambition to ferry humans into deep space and land key contracts from the U.S. space agency for space exploration.

“I’m excited to announce that we put together a national team to go back to the moon,” Bezos, founder and CEO of online retail giant Amazon, said at the International Astronautical Congress.

The four companies, with Blue Origin as the lead contractor, plan to submit a proposal for the lander to NASA under its Artemis lunar program, an accelerated mission to the moon kickstarted in March by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Bezos called the partnerships a “national team” whose history in space exploration fits the Blue Moon’s mission. Lockheed is separately developing the moon-bound astronaut capsule named Orion. Northrop helped NASA build the Apollo lunar landers in the 1960s. Draper, a not-for-profit research and development organization, built NASA’s navigation computers for Apollo lunar landers. (Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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A giant full beaver moon set to dazzle Metro Vancouver skies – Vancouver Courier

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While it is getting darker earlier in Metro Vancouver, this month’s full beaver moon promises to illuminate the night sky.

The November full moon is thought to have derived its funny name because it occurred during the optimal time to trap the furry creatures. In fact, both colonial Americans as well as the Algonquin tribes referred to it as such.

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“Why this name? Back then, this was the month to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs,” reports Farmer’s Almanac.

While it is commonly known as the beaver moon, it was also called the Full Frost Moon by other North American Tribes.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the moon will be fullest during the day on Tuesday, Nov. 12. However, Vancouver stargazers will still be able to see the nearly-full moon in all her celestial glory the night before (Nov. 11) as well as later that night (Nov. 12).

What’s more, this full moon casts long, hauntingly beautiful shadows in the Northern Hemisphere. They are similar to those cast by the midday summer sun, as the moon is extremely high in the sky during this time.

Stargazers should opt to travel as far away from city lights as possible in order to avoid light pollution that will obscure the clarity of heavenly bodies. While this works best the in more remote places, anywhere that has a higher elevation will also provide more ideal viewing conditions.

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