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Mysterious blue fireball streaks above Western Australia, puzzling astronomers – Space.com

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A streak of blue light that flashed across the sky on Monday surprised western Australia’s night owls and befuddled the astronomy community. 

The blue fireball was seen at 1 a.m. local time on June 15, according to ABC News Pilbara. “It was really a spectacular observation,” Glen Nagle, the education and outreach manager at the CSIRO-NASA tracking station in Canberra, told the news agency. Sightings were reported across the remote Pilbara region as well as in the country’s Northern Territory and in South Australia, Nagle said. 

Many observers caught the phenomenon on video. The fireball streaks steadily across the sky. At first, it appears orange or yellow, with a short tail streaming behind it. After a few seconds, the bulk of the fireball lights up blue. 

Related: 7 things most often mistaken for UFOs

Scientists aren’t quite sure what object was burning up in the atmosphere to create the brilliant light show, according to ABC News. Some amateur astronomers speculated that the object could be human-made debris, perhaps from a recent rocket launch. But that seems unlikely, Renae Sayers, a research ambassador at Curtin University’s Space Science and Technology Centre, told the news agency. 

When space junk reenters the atmosphere, “what we tend to see is sort of like crackles and sparks,” Sayers said. “This is due to the fact that there is stuff burning up — so you’ve got solar panels going all over the place, you’ve got hunks of metal moving around.” 

The fireball over Pilbara, on the other hand, glided smoothly through the sky. That makes it more likely to be a natural space object. The blue color, according to Nagle, indicates a high iron content. Many meteorites — space rocks that survive their fiery trip through Earth’s atmosphere — are high in iron. Some may be the cores of ancient asteroids, according to the Natural History Museum in the U.K.

Sayers said that the fireball looked similar to another spectacular meteor sighted in Australia in 2017. That 2017 fireball whooshed across the sky, but instead of hitting the ground or burning up in the atmosphere, it bounced back into space. The June 15 fireball may have been another grazing encounter, she told ABC News. 

Meteors bright enough to be classified as fireballs are rare, but encounters with space rocks are common. According to NASA, about 48.5 tons (44,000 kilograms) of meteor material falls on Earth every day. Most space rocks disintegrate entirely or are the size of a pebble by the time they make it through Earth’s atmosphere. Occasionally, one makes a truly spectacular entrance: In February 2013, a meteor that would become known as the Chelyabinsk meteor entered the atmosphere over Russia and exploded in the biggest space blast since the 1908 Tunguska explosion. The explosion blew out windows in buildings in six different cities. 

Originally published on Live Science.

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Surviving core of ill-fated Jupiter-like planet spotted near distant star – CANOE

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WASHINGTON — A rocky planet 39 times as massive as Earth has been spotted orbiting a distant star at breakneck speed, with astronomers concluding it may be the surviving core of a planet once perhaps larger than Jupiter that was stripped of its gaseous atmosphere.

Researchers said on Wednesday it is the largest rocky planet ever discovered and would be the first planetary core ever found, offering a unique opportunity to better understand the interiors of gas giants like Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

The planet, called TOI-849b, orbits a star a bit smaller and cooler than the sun, located 730 light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).

Gas giants are composed of a solid core surrounded by a vast atmosphere mostly of hydrogen and helium.

“This planet could have been a gas giant like Jupiter, which then lost its outer envelope through some violent evolution. This could be because it collided with another planet towards the end of its formation, or later ventured too close to its host star and was stripped of its atmosphere,” said astronomer David Armstrong of the University of Warwick in England, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.

“An alternative is that the planet got stuck while forming, building up a core but failing to collect the gas we would normally expect.”

Its diameter of 27,000 miles (43,500 km) is a bit less than Neptune, the smallest of our solar system’s four gas planets, but much larger than Earth’s 7,900 miles (12,700 km). It orbits extremely near its star – much closer than our solar system’s innermost planet Mercury is to the sun – and travels 10 times more quickly than Earth, completing an orbit every 18 hours.

“TOI-849b itself is much more massive than we expect even gas giant planetary cores to be,” Armstrong said, “and this might imply a new planet formation or evolution pathway which we don’t yet understand.”

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Astronauts complete 2nd spacewalk to replace batteries outside orbiting space station – CBC.ca

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Astronauts completed their second spacewalk in under a week on Wednesday to replace old batteries outside the International Space Station.

Cmdr. Chris Cassidy and Bob Behnken quickly tackled the big, boxy batteries. For every two outdated batteries coming out, a new and improved one goes in to supply power to the orbiting station on the night side of Earth.

Within a couple hours, the astronauts had installed another new battery, the third one in this latest series of spacewalks. NASA plans to send the pair out twice more in July to complete the battery swap-outs that began in 2017. The new lithium-ion batteries should last the rest of the space station’s life, according to officials.

With their main chore completed, Cassidy and Behnken jumped ahead to loosen the bolts on the batch of old batteries coming out next time and remove other equipment. Some of the bolts required extra muscle, and another stubborn mechanism just wouldn’t come off.

“Boy, it put up a good fight,” Cassidy radioed. “These batteries — they like their home.”

The astronauts had enough time to route power and ethernet cables outside the 420-kilometre-high outpost before the six-hour spacewalk drew to a close.

“Good thing there’s an Earth down there” to tell up from down, Cassidy said.

NASA wants the battery work completed before Behnken returns to Earth in August aboard a SpaceX capsule. He’s one of two test pilots who launched on SpaceX’s first astronaut flight in May.

Cassidy and Behnken now have eight spacewalks — totalling nearly 50 hours — apiece.

The Italian-made Columbus lab module of the International Space Station. Virginia-based Space Adventures Inc. is seeking a paying customer to fly to the space station and do a spacewalk with an experienced Russian cosmonaut. (NASA)

Paying tourist to get chance to do spacewalk

A space tourist might get a chance to join the prestigious spacewalking ranks — for the right price.

Virginia-based Space Adventures Inc. is seeking a paying customer to not only fly to the space station, but do a spacewalk with an experienced Russian cosmonaut. Before launching from Kazakhstan, the space tourist would need to undergo extra training in Star City, Russia.

Space Adventures is not divulging the cost of the two-week mission. The flight would take up two tourists in 2023, one of whom would step outside. The Russian rocket company Energia has teamed up with Space Adventures for the expedition.

Plenty of specialized training would be needed before someone ventures out on a spacewalk, Behnken told The Associated Press earlier this week.

NASA considers spacewalks one of the riskiest parts of any mission, and astronauts spend hours practising underwater — the closest simulation to spacewalking on Earth.

“I think it could be really challenging for a tourist to go on a spacewalk,” Behnken said.

Any tourist would want multiple practice sessions in order to be “prepared for the space environment.”

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Launch of NASA Mars rover delayed again, two weeks left to fly – CTV News

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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. —
NASA has delayed the launch of its newest Mars rover yet again — to the end of July at the earliest — this time for a rocket issue.

If the Perseverance rover isn’t on its way by mid-August, it will have to wait until 2022 when Earth and Mars are back in proper alignment, costing NASA close to $500 million for the delay alone.

Managers are now targeting no earlier than July 30 for a liftoff from Cape Canaveral, eating up half of the monthlong launch window. The good news is that NASA is trying to eke out more time in this summer’s launch opportunity, now lasting until at least Aug. 15. The chance to fly to Mars comes up only every 26 months.

It is NASA’s most ambitious Mars mission yet, totalling around $3 billion. Besides seeking signs of past microscopic Martian life, Perseverance will gather rocks and soil for eventual return to Earth.

Rocket maker United Launch Alliance needs extra time to deal with a liquid oxygen sensor line that showed questionable readings during a recent practice countdown, officials said Tuesday. Previous technical concerns — including crane trouble at the pad — bumped the launch from the original July 17 to the 20th and then 22nd.

Perseverance will still attempt a touchdown next February in an ancient river delta at Mars, regardless of when it launches.

The United Arab Emirates and China, meanwhile, still are pressing ahead with launches this month or next of Mars spacecraft. Russia and the European Space Agency had to bow out, delaying their Mars rover until 2022 because of delayed spacecraft testing and travel limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content

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