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Mercury passing in front of sun on Monday – TheSpec.com

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In a rare celestial event, Mercury passes in front of the sun on Monday.

The stellar show, which only happens about 13 times a century, starts at 7:35 a.m. EST when the tiny planet begins the transit across the sun, according to NASA.

Mercury will be close to the centre of the giant star at approximately 11:20 a.m.


The entire 5.5-hour event will be visible, weather permitting, in the eastern United States and Canada, and all Central and South America.

It’s not safe to look directly at the sun, as it can damage your eyes. Only view the transit with proper safety equipment such as binoculars and telescopes fitted with special filters.

But you will be able to safely view the innermost planet’s heavenly trek thanks to NASA. The space agency will live-stream the event starting at 10:30 a.m. Monday on the NASA Facebook page at Facebook.com/NASA.

There also will be an informal roundtable during which scientists will answer questions via Facebook and Twitter using hashtag #AskNASA. The event also will be broadcast on NASA TV at NASA.gov/multimedia/nasatv.

Monday will be prime time for scientific study. When one of the planets passes in front of the sun, it causes a slight dip in the sun’s brightness as it blocks a tiny portion of the sun’s light, according to NASA. That allows scientists to search for exoplanets, which are planets orbiting distant stars.

Only Mercury and Venus transit the sun. While transits of Mercury happen more often, transits of Venus are rare. That last happened in 2012. The next one will be in 2117, NASA said.

The last time Mercury passed in front of the sun was in 2016. Its next transit will happen in the United States in 2049, according to NASA.

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A Star Ejected from the Milky Way's 'Heart of Darkness' Has Reached a Mind-Blowing Speed – Space.com

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As humankind’s ancestors were learning to walk upright, a star was launched out of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy at a staggering 3.7 million mph (6 million km/h). 

Five million years after this dramatic ejection, a group of researchers, led by Sergey Koposov of Carnegie Mellon University’s McWilliams Center for Cosmology, has spotted the star, known as S5-HVS1, in the Crane-shaped constellation Grus. The star was spotted traveling relatively close to Earth (29,000 light-years away) at unprecedented, searing speeds — about 10 times faster than most stars in our galaxy. 

“The velocity of the discovered star is so high that it will inevitably leave the galaxy and never return,” Douglas Boubert, a researcher at the University of Oxford and a co-author on the study, said in a statement

Related: Top 10 Star Mysteries of All Time

An artist’s impression of te star S5-HVS1 being ejected by the Milky Way galaxy’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.

(Image credit: James Josephides (Swinburne Astronomy Productions))

“This is super exciting, as we have long suspected that black holes can eject stars with very high velocities. However, we never had an unambiguous association of such a fast star with the galactic center,” Koposov said in the statement. 

The star was discovered with observations from the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT), a 12.8-foot (3.9-meter) telescope, and the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite. The discovery was made as part of the Southern Stellar Stream Spectroscopic Survey (S5), a collaboration of astronomers from Chile, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. 

Now that the star has been spotted, researchers could track the star back to Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It also serves as an incredible example of the Hills Mechanism, proposed by astronomer Jack Hills 30 years ago, in which stars are ejected from the centers of galaxies at high speeds after an interaction between a binary-star system and the black hole at the center of the galaxy.

The location and direction of the star S5-HVS1 in the night sky. The star is rocketing away from the center of our galaxy.

(Image credit: Sergey Koposov)

“This is the first clear demonstration of the Hills Mechanism in action,” Ting Li, a fellow  at the Carnegie Observatories and Princeton University who led the S5 collaboration, said in the statement. “Seeing this star is really amazing as we know it must have formed in the galactic center, a place very different to our local environment. It is a visitor from a strange land.”

“While the main science goal of S5 is to probe the stellar streams — disrupting dwarf galaxies and globular clusters — we dedicated spare resources of the instrument to searching for interesting targets in the Milky Way, and voila, we found something amazing for ‘free.’ With our future observations, hopefully we will find even more!” Kyler Kuehn, deputy director of technology at the Lowell Observatory who is part of the S5 executive committee, added in the statement.

This discovery was published in a study on Nov. 4 in the journal the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Most distant world ever explored gets new name: Arrokoth – Castlegar News

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The most distant world ever explored 4 billion miles away finally has an official name: Arrokoth.

That means “sky” in the language of the Native American Powhatan people, NASA said Tuesday.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past the snowman-shaped Arrokoth on New Year’s Day, 3 1/2 years after exploring Pluto. At the time, this small icy world 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometres) beyond Pluto was nicknamed Ultima Thule given its vast distance from us.

“The name ‘Arrokoth’ reflects the inspiration of looking to the skies,” lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute said in a statement, “and wondering about the stars and worlds beyond our own.”

The name was picked because of the Powhatan’s ties to the Chesapeake Bay region.

New Horizons is operated from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. The Hubble Space Telescope — which discovered Arrokoth in 2014 — has its science operations in Baltimore.

The New Horizons team got consent for the name from Powhatan Tribal elders and representatives, according to NASA. The International Astronomical Union and its Minor Planet Center approved the choice.

Arrokoth is among countless objects in the so-called Kuiper Belt, or vast Twilight Zone beyond the orbit of Neptune. New Horizons will observe some of these objects from afar as it makes its way deeper into space.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

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Curiosity Finds Mysterious Oxygen Fluctuations on Mars – Gizmodo

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Gale crater, as imaged by the Curiosity rover.
Photo: NASA

NASA’s Curiosity rover sniffed out an unexpected seasonal variation to the oxygen on Mars, according to new research.

Curiosity has long been returning some appropriately curious results. After locating methane on the planet, studies from its spot in Gale crater found regular changes to the methane unexplainable by the environmental factors that scientists are already aware of. Now varying oxygen has joined methane in the Martian mysteries bucket.

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Oxygen has shown “significant seasonal and interannual variability, suggesting an unknown atmospheric or surface process at work,” the authors write in the paper published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Mars, like Earth, is tilted on its axis of rotation. That means its northern and southern hemispheres experience seasons like Earth does, summer when the hemisphere points toward the Sun and winter when it points away from the Sun. Scientists have been using Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument to monitor the abundance of various molecules in the planet’s atmosphere and how they change with its seasons. Today, they released the result of five Earth years’ (three Mars years’) worth of data taking.

The results for some elements weren’t especially surprising: levels and changes to the amount of argon gas were broadly similar to measurements taken by the now-defunct Opportunity rover. Nor did Curiosity measure much nitrogen flowing—on Earth, life interacts with the atmosphere and the soil through a complex nitrogen cycle. If such a cycle exists on Mars, it doesn’t have an impact on the planet’s atmospheric gas, the authors write.

But then… there’s the oxygen. “The SAM measurements of [oxygen] in Gale crater do not show the annual stability or seasonal patterns that would be predicted based on the known sources and sinks in the atmosphere,” the authors wrote. There was a whole lot more oxygen than expected during the Martian northern hemisphere’s late spring to summer (Curiosity’s late fall to winter), and a lot less oxygen than expected during the northern hemisphere’s winter (Curiosity’s summer).

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Scientists tried to devise an explanation for this. Maybe the instrument was broken (it wasn’t), or maybe the oxygen was from carbon dioxide or water breaking up in the atmosphere. But that would mean there’s much more water than the planet already has in its atmosphere, or carbon dioxide breaks up too slowly to produce the oxygen signatures, according to a NASA release.

“The fact that the oxygen behavior isn’t perfectly repeatable every season makes us think that it’s not an issue that has to do with atmospheric dynamics. It has to be some chemical source and sink that we can’t yet account for,” the study’s first author Melissa Trainer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the release.

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Perhaps the fluctuating oxygen has something to do with the fluctuating methane. Who knows! Trainer hopes other scientists will help figure out the mystery.

Here at Gizmodo, well, we’re not saying aliens, but… well…

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