Gaia is ESA’s mission to create the most accurate and complete multi-dimensional map of the Milky Way. Recently, it released a new treasure trove of data on the Milky Way- that describes strange ‘starquakes,’ stellar DNA, asymmetric motions, and other fascinating insights.
Gaia’s data release 3 includes new and updated details for about two billion stars in our galaxy. Chemical compositions, stellar temperatures, colors, masses, ages, and the speed at which stars travel towards or away from us are all included in the catalog (radial velocity). The freshly released spectroscopic data provided a lot of this information. It also has particular subsets of stars, like those that change brightness over time.
Gaia’s ability to identify starquakes is one of the most striking findings from the new data. A starquake is vaguely similar to an earthquake that changes the shapes of stars. These starquakes reveal more about the star’s internal workings.
In thousands of stars, Gaia discovered intense nonradial starquakes. It also unveiled unusual vibrations in stars that had never been observed before. According to current theory, these stars should not have any quakes; however, Gaia detected them on their surface.
The DNA of stars
The composition of the stars can potentially tell about their birthplace and their journey afterward, hence the history of the Milky Way. With today’s data release, Gaia is revealing the largest chemical map of the galaxy coupled to 3D motions, from our solar neighborhood to smaller galaxies surrounding ours.
Some stars consist of heavier metals. After death, these stars release these metals into the gas and dust between the stars, called the interstellar medium, out of which new stars form. Active star formation and death generate an environment enriched with metals. Hence, a star’s chemical composition is similar to its DNA, giving us crucial information about its origin.
Gaia also revealed stars with primordial material. Metals are more abundant in stars closer to the galaxy’s center and plane than in stars farther away. Based on their chemical composition, Gaia could identify stars that originated in galaxies other than our own.
Alejandra Recio-Blanco of the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in France, a member of the Gaia collaboration, said, “Our galaxy is a beautiful melting pot of stars. This diversity is extremely important because it tells us the story of our galaxy’s formation. It reveals the migration processes within our galaxy and accretion from external galaxies. It also shows that our Sun and we all belong to an ever-changing system, formed thanks to the assembly of stars and gas of different origins.”
Binary stars, asteroids, quasars, and more
A new binary star catalog details the mass and history of over 800,000 binary systems, while a new asteroid study of 156 thousand rocky bodies reveals more about our Solar System’s origins. Gaia also discovers about 10 million variable stars, enigmatic macro-molecules between stars, and quasars and galaxies beyond our cosmic neighborhood.
Timo Prusti, Project Scientist for Gaia at ESA, said, “Unlike other missions that target specific objects, Gaia is a survey mission. This means that Gaia is bound to make discoveries that other more dedicated missions would miss while surveying the entire sky with billions of stars multiple times. This is one of its strengths, and we can’t wait for the astronomy community to dive into our new data to discover more about our galaxy and its surroundings than we could’ve imagined.”
Gaia’s data release 3 was presented during a virtual media briefing at https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/ESA_Web_TV
An asteroid will whip by Earth tomorrow in one of closest approaches ever recorded
An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest such encounters ever recorded.
NASA insists it will be a near miss with no chance of the asteroid hitting Earth.
The U.S. space agency said Wednesday that this newly discovered asteroid will zoom 3,600 kilometres above the southern tip of South America. That’s 10 times closer than the bevy of communication satellites circling overhead.
The closest approach will occur at 7:27 p.m. ET.
Even if the space rock came a lot closer, scientists said most of it would burn up in the atmosphere, with some of the bigger pieces possibly falling as meteorites.
NASA’s impact hazard assessment system, called Scout, quickly ruled out a strike, said its developer, Davide Farnocchia, an engineer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
“But despite the very few observations, it was nonetheless able to predict that the asteroid would make an extraordinarily close approach with Earth,” Farnocchia said in a statement.
“In fact, this is one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”
Asteroid spotted by amateur astronomer in Crimea
Discovered Saturday, the asteroid known as 2023 BU is believed to be 3.5 to 8.5 metres across.
It was first spotted by Gennady Borisov, the same amateur astronomer in Crimea who discovered an interstellar comet in 2019.
Within a few days, dozens of observations were made by astronomers around the world, allowing them to refine the asteroid’s orbit.
The asteroid’s path will be drastically altered by Earth’s gravity once it zips by. Instead of circling the sun every 359 days, it will move into an oval orbit lasting 425 days, according to NASA.
Nuclear-powered spaceships? U.S. plans for 2027
The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2027 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency’s chief said on Tuesday.
NASA will partner with the U.S. military’s research and development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it to space “as soon as 2027,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The U.S. space agency has studied for decades the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion, which introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to a hydrogen propellant in order to provide a thrust believed to be far more efficient than traditional chemical-based rocket engines.
NASA officials view nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial for sending humans beyond the moon and deeper into space. A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say.
That would substantially reduce the time astronauts would be exposed to deep-space radiation and would also require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.
“If we have swifter trips for humans, they are safer trips,” NASA deputy administrator and former astronaut Pam Melroy said Tuesday.
The planned 2027 demonstration, part of an existing DARPA research program that NASA is now joining, could also inform the ambitions of the U.S. Space Force, which has envisioned deploying nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft capable of moving other satellites orbiting near the moon, DARPA and NASA officials said.
DARPA in 2021 awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin to study designs of nuclear reactors and spacecraft. By around March, the agency will pick a company to build the nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration, the program’s manager Tabitha Dodson said in an interview.
The joint NASA-DARPA effort’s budget is US$110 million for fiscal year 2023 and is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more through 2027.
Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio
The green comet ZTF returns to the solar system 50,000 years later… and it will be visible from Earth
For astronomy enthusiasts, February 1 is marked in red on their calendars. The reason: it is not every day that there is a chance to see a green comet.
In fact, it is the first time in 50,000 years that C/2022 ZTF will return to the solar system. And it will be early next month when it will reach its closest position to Earth.
Specifically, the green comet ZTF will pass 42 million light years from our planet. Experts are not 100 percent sure whether it will be visible from the surface without the use of any instrument. However, if we have specific astronomy binoculars or telescopes, we will be able to see it without any problem.
As usually happens in these cases, the best places to observe the comet, this one or any other, are places with little artificial light. That is to say, we should move away from urban centres and it is preferable to do so in the hours before dawn.
Why is comet ZTF green?
Comet ZTF has a brightness and a colour that, although not unique, is clearly distinctive. Its hue is due to the fact that it is composed, among other materials, of diatomic carbon.
When it comes into contact with sunlight, the decomposition of this element causes the gas to acquire this spectacular colour.
Comet ZTF was discovered in March 2022
Frank Masci and Bryce Bolin of the Palomar Observatory in California were responsible for spotting the striking comet ZTF in the sky. It is so named because its discovery is part of the Zwicky Transient Facility surveillance programme, which uses the powerful Schmidt telescope at the facility.
Initially, the scientists responsible for the discovery thought it was an asteroid, but they quickly realised that this was not the case. Despite the striking colour of this comet, experts advise keeping expectations low. In any case, it is an event that has aroused great interest in the community.
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