A young, bright star has been acting a little erratic lately.
The star, Betelgeuse, is suddenly dimming. It may be a sign, astronomers say, that the star is about to explode. Another possibility is the red supergiant may just be going through a phase.
Ed Guinan, an astronomy professor at Villanova University, was the lead author on a December 8 paper entitled “The Fainting of the Nearby Supergiant Betelgeuse.”
He told CNN that Betelgeuse (pronounced: BAY-tel juice) been declining in brightness sharply since October, and was now about 2.5 times fainter than usual. Once the ninth brightest star in the sky, Betelgeuse has fallen now to about the 23rd brightest.
Guinan and his colleagues have been closely observing the star for decades, with “continuous coverage since 1980,” he said.
In the last half-century, the star has never dimmed so aggressively, and that could mean we’re on the verge of something extraordinary.
“What causes the supernova is deep inside the star,” Guinan said. And because the star is so huge, it’s impossible to tell what’s going on so far down.
It could be a prelude to a supernova
Betelgeuse is the star at the shoulder of Orion, the iconic constellation in the shape of a hunter wielding a bow in the night sky. Its name is derived from the Arabic for “hand of Orion.”
The star, which is about 700 light years away from Earth, is a relatively close neighbor within our galaxy.
“What’s special about this is how close it is,” Guinan said.
Guinan said it’s the most likely nearby supernova candidate. It’s about nine million years old, and stars as large as Betelgeuse don’t usually have lifespans past 10 million years. Though its time is nigh, it probably won’t explode in your lifetime.
“It’ll probably happen in the next 200,000 or 300,000 years,” Guinan said.
It’s a variable star, which means it regularly dims and brightens, in cycles that can last about 420 days. Betelgeuse has been in a normal dimming period over the past few months, but it’s just dramatically accelerated compared to past years.
The dimming process should end by mid-January, according to mathematical models. But Betelgeuse often follows its own rules, he says.
“I personally think it’s going to bounce back, but it’s fun to watch stars change,” Guinan said. However, he adds, “If it continues dimming, then all bets are off.”
If it exploded, it would be be bright enough to see during the day
That might mean we’re on the verge of a brilliant light show, because if a star this close exploded, it would make an impact.
Stars rapidly fuse various elements in their cores. And if Betelgeuse burns down to an iron core, which won’t fuse, that core could collapse rapidly, leading to a supernova.
The red supergiant would glow a vibrant blue for three of four months, and would take about a year to fade out.
“It would be a really bright star visible in the daytime,” Guinan said.
There wouldn’t be any direct danger to life on earth, but ultraviolet radiation from the celestial blast could scorch ozone in our atmosphere.
Betelgeuse has been acting strangely for years
Betelgeuse’s curious behavior has stuck out in other ways over the decades.
In 2009, the late astronomer and Nobel Laureate Charles Townes told CNN he had observed Betelgeuse shrinking 15% since the mid 1990s.
Back then, Townes and his colleagues were puzzled because as stars usually get brighter as they shrink. Betelgeuse, however, was dimming.
The star has been acting differently in the past few months, and it’s anyone guess what all the unusual readings may mean.
“It might then be a very small bright star, or it might even be a black hole. An explosion would be very surprising,” Townes said at the time.
2.8-pound meteorite from space crashes roof of Canadian woman’s home, falls on bed – The Tribune India
Tribune Web Desk
Chandigarh, October 16
Ruth Hamilton (66) had a disturbed awakening on October 3 when a large meteorite plunged from space, through her roof and landed in her bed.
Ruth, resident of Golden, British Columbia, woke up to the sound of a crash and her dog barking on October 3 around 11.35 pm.
Speaking with Canadian Press, she said: “I’ve never been so scared in my life, adding that, “I wasn’t sure what to do so I called 911 and, when I was speaking with the operator, I flipped over my pillow and saw that a rock had slipped between two pillows.”
She told CTV News: “I didn’t feel it.”
“It never touched me. I had debris on my face from the drywall, but not a single scratch.”
A police officer arrived on the scene, but suspected the object that landed in Hamilton’s bed was from a nearby construction site.
“He called the [construction site] and they said they hadn’t done a blast but that they had seen an explosion in the sky and, right then and there, we realised it was a meteorite,” she told the Canadian Press.
It turns out that the 2.8-pound space rock, about the size of a small cabbage, was part of a meteor shower identified by Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary, and his colleagues.
The group said the trajectory of the meteorite that hit Hamilton’s house would have made it visible throughout southeastern British Columbia and central and southern Alberta.
NASA to launch first space probe to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids
NASA is set on Saturday to launch a first-of-its kind mission, dubbed Lucy, to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, two large clusters of space rocks that scientists believe are remnants of primordial material that formed the solar system’s outer planets.
The space probe, packed inside a special cargo capsule, is due for liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT), carried aloft by an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance (UAL), a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.
If all goes according to plan, Lucy will be hurled into space on a 12-year expedition to study a record number of asteroids. It will be the first to explore the Trojans, thousands of rocky objects orbiting the sun in two swarms – one ahead of the path of giant gas planet Jupiter and one behind it.
The largest known Trojan asteroids, named for the warriors of Greek mythology, are believed to measure as much as 225 kilometers (140 miles) in diameter.
Scientists hope Lucy’s close-up fly-by of seven Trojans will yield new clues to how the solar system’s planets came to be formed some 4.5 billion years ago and what shaped their present configuration.
Believed to be rich in carbon compounds, the asteroids may even provide new insights into the origin of organic materials and life on Earth, NASA said.
“The Trojan asteroids are leftovers from the early days of our solar system, effectively the fossils of planet formation,” principal mission investigator Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, was quoted by NASA as saying.
No other single science mission has been designed to visit as many different objects independently orbiting the sun in the history of space exploration, NASA said.
As well as the Trojans, Lucy will do a fly-by of an asteroid in the solar system’s main asteroid belt, called DonaldJohanson in honor of the lead discoverer of the fossilized human ancestor known as Lucy, from which the NASA mission takes its name. The Lucy fossil, unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974, was in turn named for the Beatles hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Lucy the asteroid probe will make spaceflight history in another way. Following a route that circles back to Earth three times for gravitational assists, it will be the first spacecraft ever to return to Earth’s vicinity from the outer solar system, according to NASA.
The probe will use rocket thrusters to maneuver in space and two rounded solar arrays, each the width of a school bus, to recharge batteries that will power the instruments contained in the much smaller central body of the spacecraft.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
Darwin family microscope to be sold at auction
A microscope Charles Darwin gave his son Leonard and which has remained in the family for nearly 200 years is headed for auction in December, and is expected to fetch up to $480,000.
The instrument was designed by Charles Gould for the firm Cary around 1825 and is one of six surviving microscopes associated with the British naturalist, according to auction house Christie’s.
The date of its manufacture coincides with the time when Darwin was studying zoophytes, organisms such as coral and sea anemone.
“It is just incredibly spine tingling to look through this and see the microscopic world that Darwin would have seen in the 1820s and 30s,” James Hyslop, Head of Department, Scientific Instruments, Globes & Natural History, at Christie’s, told Reuters.
“Later in his life in 1858, there’s a wonderful letter that he writes to his eldest son saying young Lenny was dissecting at his microscope and he said ‘Oh Papa, I should be so glad of this for my whole life’. It’s wonderful to have that family connexion of Charles Darwin just before he becomes internationally famous.”
Darwin published his groundbreaking work “On the Origin of Species” in 1859.
The microscope will be offered at Christie’s Valuable Books & Manuscripts auction on Dec. 15, and has a price estimate of 250,000 – 350,000 pounds ($343,050 – $480,270).
“Charles Darwin is one of the biggest names in the Science, and collectors for Darwiniana (relating to Darwin) are truly international in breadth,” Hyslop said.
($1 = 0.7288 pounds)
(Reporting by Marissa Davison; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Mike Collett-White)
2.8-pound meteorite from space crashes roof of Canadian woman’s home, falls on bed – The Tribune India
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