NASA just released the closest pictures ever taken of the Sun — not to be confused with the highest resolution ones — courtesy of the Solar Orbiter, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The close-ups are breathtaking to look at, and also reveal something entirely unexpected as well: small flares they’re calling “campfires,” all over the star’s surface.
“The campfires we are talking about here are the little nephews of solar flares, at least a million, perhaps a billion times smaller,” said principal investigator David Berghmans, an astrophysicist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, in a a NASA statement. “When looking at the new high resolution EUI images, they are literally everywhere we look.”
Despite the majority of staff at ground control at the European Space Operations Center in Germany having to work from home during the ongoing pandemic, the team was able to obtain the images from the Solar Orbiter as it made its closest pass on June 15.
The Orbiter came within just 48 million miles of the Sun. Its closest pass within the next year or so will get it within just 26.1 million miles. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe came even closer in June, getting to within just 11.6 million miles from the surface.
A closer flyby also means better images. “Because the camera itself doesn’t doesn’t have any zoom capability, that zooming happens by getting closer to the Sun,” Daniel Müller, ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist, told The Verge.
“These unprecedented pictures of the Sun are the closest we have ever obtained,” Holly Gilbert, NASA project scientist for the mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the NASA statement. “These amazing images will help scientists piece together the Sun’s atmospheric layers, which is important for understanding how it drives space weather near the Earth and throughout the solar system.”
Scientists are still unsure as to the exact nature of these “little” flare-ups — each of them are about the size of a country.
But we might soon know more thanks to the Solar Orbiter’s other scientific instruments. The Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment, or SPICE instrument, can measure the exact temperature of each nanoflare.
“So we’re eagerly awaiting our next data set,” Frédéric Auchère, principal investigator for SPICE operations at the Institute for Space Astrophysics in Orsay, France, said in NASA’s statement. “The hope is to detect nanoflares for sure and to quantify their role in coronal heating.”
Müller suggested to The Verge that the campfires “in total they could add up enough energy to heat the corona.” In other words, all these tiny flares could add up to enough energy to heat up the Sun’s entire atmosphere.
The Solar Orbiter is outfitted with an entire suite of scientific gear. Counting the cameras and the SPICE instrument, the small spacecraft features ten different instruments, all collecting invaluable data about our star.
Scientists weren’t expecting to find anything groundbreaking from the Orbiter’s first ever images — yet thanks to the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager, astronomers were astonished to discover what they called “campfires” all over the Sun’s surface.
“We didn’t really expect such great results right from the start,” Müller, ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist, said in an ESA statement. “We can also see how our ten scientific instruments complement each other, providing a holistic picture of the Sun and the surrounding environment.”
As part of a different experiment, scientists are excited to soon get a much closer and detailed look at structures of solar wind, massive streams of charged particles released from the Sun’s corona that make their way through the solar system.
Thanks to yet another instrument, the researchers are also getting an unprecedented look at the Sun’s magnetic field, particularly at each of its poles.
READ MORE: The closest images of the Sun ever taken reveal tiny solar flares dotting the star’s surface [The Verge]
More on the Solar Orbiter: A Space Probe Just Took the Closest Pictures of the Sun Ever
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Earth is 2000 light years closer to supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy than we thought – CTV News
A new map of the Milky Way by Japanese space experts has put Earth 2,000 light years closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
This map has suggested that the center of the Milky Way, and the black hole which sits there, is located 25,800 light-years from Earth. This is closer than the official value of 27,700 light-years adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1985, the National Observatory of Japan said.
What’s more, according to the map, our solar system is traveling at 227 kilometers per second as it orbits around the galactic center — this is faster than the official value of 220 kilometers per second, the release added.
These updated values are a result of more than 15 years of observations by the Japanese radio astronomy project VERA, according to an announcement released Thursday from the National Observatory of Japan. VERA is short for VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry and refers to the mission’s array of telescopes, which use Very Long Baseline Interferometry to explore the three-dimensional structure of the Milky Way.
Because the Earth is located inside the Milky Way, it’s difficult to step back and see what the galaxy looks like. To get around this, the project used astrometry, the accurate measurement of the position and motion of objects, to understand the overall structure of the Milky Way and Earth’s place in it.
The black hole is known as Sagittarius A* or Sgr A* and is 4.2 million times more massive than our sun. The supermassive hole and its enormous gravitational field governs the orbits of stars at the center of the Milky Way. Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez earned the 2020 Nobel prize for physics for its discovery. There are several types of black holes, and scientists believe the supermassive ones may be connected to the formation of galaxies, as they often exist at the center of the massive star systems — but it’s still not clear exactly how, or which form first.
MORE PRECISE APPROACH
In August, VERA published its first catalog, containing data for 99 celestial objects. Based on this catalog and recent observations by other groups, astronomers constructed a position and velocity map. From this map, the scientists were able to calculate the center of the galaxy, the point that everything revolves around.
VERA combines data from four radio telescopes across Japan. The observatory said that, when combined, the telescopes were able to achieve a resolution that in theory would allow the astronomers to spot a United States penny placed on the surface of the Moon.
To be clear, the changes don’t mean Earth is plunging toward the black hole, the observatory said. Rather, the map more accurately identifies where the solar system has been all along.
Russia hails launch of China’s lunar probe – TASS
MOSCOW, November 24. /TASS/. Moscow welcomes China’s achievements in space exploration and regards this field as very promising for bilateral cooperation, Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said about China’s launch of the moon sample return mission, which will for the first time in the history of China’s space exploration bring samples of lunar soil and rock to the Earth.
“Naturally, we welcome the achievements of our allies – our Chinese colleagues – in the field of space exploration,” the Kremlin official said. “Cooperation in space exploration is one of the areas that has the broadest potential for bilateral interaction.”
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Tuesday launched a moon sample return mission Chang’e, which will bring lunar soil and rock samples to the Earth.
It is expected that the project will become a landmark event in China’s lunar program as it will put the correctness of Beijing’s lunar exploration strategy to test. Also, it will provide valuable information that will give a boost to Chinese space technologies.
Peskov said nothing about Russia’s plans for sending a mission to Mars. “The program was discussed, but as far as the details of and outlook for its implementation are concerned, Roscosmos will provide the necessary explanations,” he said.
Study finds Neanderthals may have used their hands differently from humans – CTV News
If you were to greet a Neanderthal with a handshake, it might feel a little awkward.
The digits of the Stone Age people, who went extinct about 40,000 years ago, were much chunkier than ours. What’s more, a Neanderthal’s thumb would have stuck out from his hand at a much wider angle.
“If you were to shake a Neanderthal hand you would notice this difference,” said Ameline Bardo, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation in the United Kingdom.
“There would be confusion over where to place the thumb, and for a thumb fight I think you would win in terms of speed and movement!” she said via email.
The Neanderthals did use their hands differently from us, a new study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports has suggested. Our archaic relatives, lead study author Bardo said, would have been more at ease with “squeeze grips” — the grip we use when we hold tools with handles like a hammer.
To find out how Neanderthals used their hands, Bardo and her colleagues had what they said was a unique approach.
Other studies have quantified how shapes in thumb bones vary in Neanderthals and modern humans, as well as other fossil human relatives. Most research to date, however, has only looked at the bones in isolation — until now.
ANALYSIS OF JOINT MOVEMENT
The researchers used 3D mapping to analyze the joints between the bones responsible for movement of the thumb — referred to as “the trapeziometacarpal complex” — of the remains of five Neanderthal individuals. The scientists then compared the results to measurements taken from the remains of five early modern humans and 50 recent modern adults.
“Our study is novel in looking at how the variation in the shapes and orientations of the different bones and joints relate to each altogether,” she said.
“Movement and loading of the thumb is only possible by these bones, as well as the ligaments and muscles, working together so they need to be studied together,” she said.
While their meatier hands perhaps suggest a lack of dexterity, Neanderthals were definitely able to use a precision grip — like we would hold a pencil, Bardo said.
“The joint at the base of the thumb of the Neanderthal fossils is flatter with a smaller contact surface between the bones, which is better suited to an extended thumb positioned alongside the side of the hand,” she explained. “This thumb posture suggests the regular use of power ‘squeeze’ grips.”
By contrast, human thumbs have joint surfaces that are generally larger and more curved, “which is an advantage when gripping objects between the pads of the finger and thumb, a precision grip,” she said.
Neanderthals made specialized tools, painted caves, threaded seashells to wear as jewelry and made yarn — but they may have found precision grips “more challenging” than we do, Bardo said.
The powerful squeeze grip would have helped Neanderthals grasp spears while hunting and use stone scrapers or knives to work wood or animals skins. It might have been harder for Homo neanderthalensis, though, to use strong precision grips such as using flakes of stone between the pads of the finger and thumb to cut meat, Bardo said.
However, she noted that there is a big variation among modern humans when it comes to dexterity — and that could also have existed among Neanderthals.
Neanderthals walked the Earth for a period of about 350,000 years before they disappeared, living in what’s now Europe and parts of Asia. It’s thought they overlapped with modern humans geographically for a period of more than 30,000 years after humans migrated out of Africa.
“Their hand anatomy and the archaeological record makes abundantly clear that Neanderthals were very intelligent, sophisticated tool users and used many of the same tools that contemporary modern humans did,” Bardo said.
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