Early results hint newfound interstellar comet is 'very red' - Astronomy Magazine - Canadanewsmedia
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Early results hint newfound interstellar comet is 'very red' – Astronomy Magazine

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Although it came from another star, astronomers say the latest interstellar interloper shares some striking similarities with comets from our own solar system.

Astronomers are in a frenzy to learn more about the newest visitor to our solar system, comet C/2019 Q4. While it hasn’t yet been officially confirmed, they’re largely convinced the object originated outside our solar system.

“I will say there is no debate at this point,” said Quanzhi Ye, astronomer at the University of Maryland. “The orbit is clearly interstellar.”

Last week, on September 11, the Minor Planet Center, a division of the International Astronomical Union charged with cataloging the orbits of minor planets, asteroids and comets, issued a circular announcing the discovery and initial observations of the comet. In the days since, astronomers worldwide have turned their telescopes to gather as much information as possible about the interstellar visitor, which is only the second known, after the discovery of the asteroid ‘Oumuamua in 2017.

An unusual discovery

C/2019 Q4, initially named Gb00234, was first seen by amateur Ukrainian astronomer Gennady Borisov on August 30. Borisov was looking close to the Sun, an area most surveys don’t cover due to its poor visibility. And because of that proximity to the Sun in the sky, the object remains hard to see, but astronomers have already clearly resolved its tail, identifying it as a comet.

Early calculations confirm a hyperbolic orbit, meaning the object is not bound to the solar system. Those same observations suggest the hyperbolic excess velocity — a measure of how fast the comet is travelling — is between 30 to 40 kilometers an hour, which is a strong sign of its interstellar nature.

“All the observations are taken close to the Sun and in those cases the uncertainties [in the orbit calculations] can be a little large, so we’re waiting for the object to be a little farther away from the Sun in the sky to confirm [the orbit],” said Davide Farnocchia, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who has been involved in analyzing some of the initial images of the comet. “It will probably take days or weeks before we’re fully confident.”

Once observations definitively confirm the hyperbolic orbit and interstellar origin, the Minor Planet Center is expected to publish an announcement. The comet is the 48th to be discovered and reported by the Minor Planet Center this year, but if confirmed, it would be the first interstellar comet ever discovered. The comet will likely be renamed with the prefix 2I/ according to standard nomenclature. Some astronomers have proposed the comet be named 2I/Borisov after its discoverer. The official name for the first interstellar object, 1I/ʻOumuamua or 1I/2017 U17, comes from the Hawaiian word meaning scout and was chosen to depict the object as a messenger sent to us from afar.

Interstellar information blitz

In the meantime, astronomers are rushing to put together proposals to use major telescopes to observe the comet in greater detail in the weeks to come, hoping to measure things like its composition, size and rotation. From preliminary observations astronomers suspect the nucleus of the comet is somewhere between one mile to 16 kilometers in diameter, and it looks like other known comets.

“From the very early results, it’s similar to comets in our solar system,” said Mike Kelley, astronomer at the University of Maryland who is already analyzing initial data. “It has a similar color, a very red color, which is already an interesting result.”

The comet is slightly brighter than the average comet, but it is not visible to the naked eye. However, at around 18th magnitude, the comet is visible when imaged with a camera attached to mid-sized telescope, and given it’s much brighter than its interstellar predecessor, it will likely become a target of interest for amateurs as well as professional astronomers.

“With the [telescopes] that advanced amateurs tend to have, if they know where to look, you will be able to you will be able to image it with the right camera,” Ye said.

Since the comet is still inbound, it will provide astronomers and amateurs plenty of time to observe it further. ‘Oumuamua was seen on it’s way out of the solar system and within a few weeks was already to faint to be seen by even the Hubble Space Telescope. The new comet will reach closest approach to the Sun around December 7 and likely remain visible for an entire year.

The new discovery will undoubtedly spark a gold rush of research on interstellar objects. Already astronomers are submitting papers about the new comet to journals and online preprint sites.

“Hopefully, observing this one and the previous interstellar object ‘Oumuamua, and more to come, will help us understand not only how our comets and asteroids compare to other solar systems’ comets and asteroids, but also about this journey that they do to the galaxy,” Kelley said.

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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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