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.
NASA Declares The Mars InSight Digger Dead After Two Years! – Mashable India
NASA announced on Thursday that a “mole” on Mars has ended its mission after landing on the Red Planet nearly two years ago.
The mole — also called a digger, drill, and probe — was built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and deployed by NASA’s InSight lander. Its purpose was to drill 16 feet into Martian soil to take its temperature and…well, it never managed to do that.
The digger had drilled down merely 14 inches before getting stuck in the first month of its mission. Months later in Oct. 2019, NASA engineers made a plan to put the digger back on track by using a robotic scoop to help refill the 14 inches and support the digger in its next attempt at burrowing down 16 feet. The team at NASA was confident that the probe was finally ready to go, but they were wrong.
NASA’s next idea, in Feb. 2020, was to direct the InSight lander to push on the probe with its robotic arm.
That didn’t work, either. After attempting to use the scoop on InSight’s robotic arm once again on Jan. 9, 2021, the probe made 500 additional hammer strokes with no progress. At that point, the team declared the probe dead.
“We’ve given it everything we’ve got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible,” said DLR’s Tilman Spohn in NASA’s announcement.
There is good news, however. Spohn said that the work on this probe will benefit future missions, as they’ve learned a lot about the surface of Mars.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA’s Washington headquarters, said he was proud of the mission’s team — and that their work was purposeful. “This is why we take risks at NASA — we have to push the limits of technology to learn what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
“In that sense, we’ve been successful: We’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions to Mars and elsewhere,” Zurbuchen continued, “and we thank our German partners from DLR for providing this instrument and for their collaboration.”
Study highlights human activity in Tanzania 2 million years ago – SlashGear
A new study was recently published by principal investigators from Canada and Tanzania working with partners in Africa, North America, and Europe. The entire team is working together to describe a large assemblage of stone tools, fossil bones, and chemical proxies obtained from dental and plant materials. Researchers on the study also examined tiny microscopic bits of silica left by plants, ancient pollen, and airborne charcoal resulting from natural fires retrieved from an ancient riverbed and Lake outcrops on the Serengeti plains.
Scientists say that the data gathered presents the earliest evidence for human activity in the Olduvai Gorge, dating back to about 2 million years ago. Researchers say their study is an important step in filling the gap between fossils and environmental context, and cultural items left by extinct humans. The data used in the study was obtained during a survey of an unexplored western portion of the ancient basin in a locality called Ewass Oldupa.
Stone tools were uncovered at the site belonging to a culture identified by archaeologists as Oldowan. The discovery shows that ancient humans were using tools millions of years ago. Concentrations of both stone tools and animal fossils showed that humans and fauna were gathering around water sources. The study found that early humans carried rocks with them that they used as tools that were obtained from distant sources across the basin at a distance of 12 kilometers east.
These ancient humans also have the flexibility to survive in changing environments. Research showed that humans continued to come to Ewass Oldupa to use local resources for over 200,000 years despite significant and rapid changes to the landscape. Artifacts discovered at the site are dated to the Early Pleistocene era about 2 million years ago. Researchers note that it’s not clear which species made the tools, and no hominid fossils were discovered in the study. However, younger sediments from a site 350 meters away did have Homo habilis fossils.
NASA Test of Mega Moon Rocket Engines Cut Short Unexpectedly – Gadgets 360
NASA’s deep space exploration rocket built by Boeing briefly ignited all four engines of its behemoth core stage for the first time on Saturday, cutting short a crucial test to advance a years-delayed US government programme to return humans to the moon in the next few years.
Mounted in a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the Space Launch System’s (SLS) 212-foot tall core stage roared to life at 4:27pm local time (3:57am IST) for just over a minute — well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket’s first launch in November this year.
“Today was a good day,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a press conference after the test, adding “we got lots of data that we’re going to be able to sort through” to determine if a do-over is needed and whether a November 2021 debut launch date is still possible.
The engine test, the last leg of NASA’s nearly year-long “Green Run” test campaign, was a vital step for the space agency and its top SLS contractor Boeing before a debut unmanned launch later this year under NASA’s Artemis programme, the Trump administration’s push to return US astronauts to the moon by 2024.
It was unclear whether Boeing and NASA would have to repeat the test, a prospect that could push the debut launch into 2022. NASA’s SLS program manager John Honeycutt, cautioning the data review from the test is ongoing, told reporters the turnaround time for another hot fire test could be roughly one month.
To simulate internal conditions of a real liftoff, the rocket’s four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines ignited for roughly one minute and 15 seconds, generating 1.6 million pounds of thrust and consuming 700,000 gallons of propellants on NASA’s largest test stand, a massive facility towering 35 stories tall.
The expendable super heavy-lift SLS is three years behind schedule and nearly $3 billion (roughly Rs. 22,000 crores) over budget. Critics have long argued for NASA to retire the rocket’s shuttle-era core technologies, which have launch costs of $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,300 crores) or more per mission, in favor of newer commercial alternatives that promise lower costs.
By comparison, it costs as little as $90 million to fly the massive but less powerful Falcon Heavy rocket designed and manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and some $350 million (roughly Rs. 2,600 crores) per launch for United Launch Alliance’s legacy Delta IV Heavy.
While newer, more reusable rockets from both companies – SpaceX’s Starship and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan – promise heavier lift capacity than the Falcon Heavy or Delta IV Heavy potentially at lower cost, SLS backers argue it would take two or more launches on those rockets to launch what the SLS could carry in a single mission.
Reuters reported in October that President-elect Joe Biden’s space advisers aim to delay Trump’s 2024 goal, casting fresh doubts on the long-term fate of SLS just as SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin scramble to bring rival new heavy-lift capacity to market.
NASA and Boeing engineers have stayed on a ten-month schedule for the Green Run “despite having significant adversity this year,” Boeing’s SLS manager John Shannon told reporters this week, citing five tropical storms and a hurricane that hit Stennis, as well as a three-month closure after some engineers tested positive for the coronavirus in March.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
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