First Glimpses of Interstellar Comet Suggest It's Not So Different - Space.com - Canadanewsmedia
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First Glimpses of Interstellar Comet Suggest It's Not So Different – Space.com

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Astronomers are rushing to study what appears to be the first known interstellar comet — and in some of the very earliest observations, it looks oddly familiar.

The object, currently dubbed Comet C/2019 Q4, was first spotted on Aug. 30. Follow-up observations of its path suggest that the comet is skimming through our neighborhood on a one-way journey, not trapped in the looping orbit typical of objects born in our own solar system. That would make it only the second confirmed interstellar object, after ‘Oumuamua, which was spotted in 2017.

But scientists couldn’t get a good read on what ‘Oumuamua was made of. With this object, however, they can get such readings, by measuring the light signature of the gunk surrounding the comet. Some of the first of those spectra for C/2019 Q4 are in, and they look pretty similar to the spectra of a class of objects in our solar system. This suggests that those objects and the interstellar visitor consist of more or less the same stuff.

Related: Interstellar Comet: Here’s Why It’s Got Scientists So Pumped Up

“Comets in other planetary systems can be similar to those of the solar system,” Javier Licandro, an astronomer at the Institute for Astrophysics of the Canaries, said in a statement. “They may have formed by processes similar to those which led to the formation of the Oort Cloud comets in the solar system.”

The Oort Cloud is the spherical shell of icy bodies encasing our solar system at huge distances from the sun. We see comets when they get kicked out of the Oort Cloud and travel closer to the heart of our solar system. They grow their trademark fuzzy tails when the sun’s radiation vaporizes the more volatile ingredients of the comet. 

Observations of Comet C/2019 Q4 compared with average data for a class of solar system objects. 

(Image credit: IAC)

Scientists have spotted comets ricocheting across other solar systems before, but the objects are tricky to study across such vast distances. While ‘Oumuamua was definitely interstellar, it didn’t carry the telltale cometary blur. The newly spotted object does, and that’s what Licandro and colleagues at the Institute for Astrophysics of the Canaries were able to study.

The team used a telescope in the Canary Islands to image the comet on Sept. 12 and applied an installed instrument to gather three spectra as well. Initial analyses of those spectra suggest that they align somewhat with those of a specific group of solar system objects. That could mean that the solar system where the object came from follows a recipe fairly similar to that of our own solar system and its comets.

And scientists have plenty of time to gather the many observations they’ll need to better understand what the comet is made of and where it came from. Unlike when ‘Oumuamua was discovered, astronomers believe they still have a full year during which they can observe the comet from Earth.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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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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