Why Betelgeuse Dimmed

Credit: NASA, ESA, and E. Wheatley (STScI)

Betelgeuse, the big reddish star that is the second brightest point in the constellation Orion (after Rigel), has been puzzling astronomers for years. Starting in October 2019, Belegeuse began to dim considerably, eventually reaching 1/3rd of its normal brightness a few months later. And then, just as mysteriously, it began to brighten again and (as of February 2022) has remained in a normal brightness range. The most likely reason appeared to be a circumstellar dust cloud rather than any changes in the star’s intrinsic brightness.

Using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and several other observatories, astronomers have concluded that a Surface Mass Ejection (SME) was the culprit. This event occurred in 2019 when Betelgeuse released a substantial mass of material that cooled to form a circumsolar dust ring, obscuring the star. In contrast to what regularly happens with our Sun during a Coronal Mass Ejections (CME), Betelgeuse ejected roughly 400 billion times as much mass as a typical CME. This is the first time something of this nature has been seen in a normal star’s behavior.

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Thanks to Gaia we Know Exactly how and When the Sun Will die

How different types of stars live and die. Credit: ESA

Our Sun is doomed. Billions of years from now, the Sun will deplete its hydrogen fuel and swell to a red giant before becoming a white dwarf. It’s a well-known story, and one astronomers have understood for decades. Now, thanks to the latest data from Gaia, we know the Sun’s future in much greater detail.

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Starlink Satellites Are Still Bright

An artist's conception of the Starlink constellation encircling the Earth. Credit: SpaceX

The new generation of Starlink satellites remain above the accepted brightness threshold.

It’s one of the stranger sights of the modern Space Age. Recently, we found ourselves under the relatively dark skies of southern Spain. Sure enough, within a few minutes, we caught sight of a chain of flashing ‘stars’ winking in and out of view in quick succession.

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Impacts From Interstellar Objects Should Leave Very Distinct Craters

In a recent study submitted to Earth and Planetary Astrophysics, a team of researchers from Yale University investigated how to identify impact craters that may have been created by Interstellar Objects (ISOs). This study is intriguing as the examination of ISOs has gained notable interest throughout the scientific community since the discoveries and subsequent research of ‘Oumuamua and Comet 2I/Borisov in 2017 and 2019, respectively. In their paper, the Yale researchers discussed how the volume of impact melt within fixed-diameter craters could be a possible pathway for recognizing ISO craters, as higher velocity impacts produce greater volumes of impact melt.

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Here’s a Sneak Preview of What It’ll Look Like When the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies Collide

galaxies collide
This image from the Gemini North telescope in Hawai‘i reveals a pair of interacting spiral galaxies — NGC 4568 (bottom) and NGC 4567 (top) — as they begin to clash and merge. The galaxies will eventually form a single elliptical galaxy in around 500 million years.

When big spiral galaxies collide, they don’t end up as one really big spiral. Instead, they create a humongous elliptical galaxy. That’s the fate awaiting the Andromeda Galaxy and our Milky Way. They’ll tangle in a galactic dance starting in a few billion years. Want to know what it’s going to look like when the action starts? The Gemini North telescope in Hawai’i just released a stunning image of two galaxies like ours tangling it up. These are NGC 4568 and NGC 4567 and their interaction provides a sneak peek at our galactic neighborhood in the distant future.

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The Youngest Exoplanet Ever Seen?

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

According to the most widely-accepted theory by astronomers, planetary systems begin as massive clouds of gas and dust (aka. a nebula) that experience gravitational collapse at the center to form new stars. The remaining matter in the system forms a “circumplanetary disk” around the star, which gradually accretes to form young planets. Studying disks in the earliest stages of planetary formation could help answer some hard questions about how the Solar System formed over 4.5 billion years ago.

Studying these disks requires observatories capable of capturing light in the far-infrared part of the spectrum – precisely what the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) was built for. While studying a young star (AS 209) located about 395 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus, a team of scientists observed a circumplanetary disk that appeared to have a Jupiter-mass planet embedded in it. This could constitute the youngest exoplanet ever detected, and its continued study could provide a treasure-trove of data for astronomers.

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Even a Cyclical Universe Needed to Come From Somewhere

Could our Universe be part of a wider Multiverse? And could these other Universes support life? Credit: Jaime Salcido/EAGLE Collaboration

In the beginning…

The first words of the book of Genesis make a declarative statement. God created Heaven and Earth, and thus begins the cosmic story. While not all creation myths have an act of beginning, most do. Humans are storytellers, and we like stories with a beginning. This origin need is deep within us and is even part of our scientific worldview. As is so often said in science, effects have causes. This cause and effect process is a powerful tool for understanding the world around us, but it’s not without its problems, particularly with the origin of the universe.

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SpaceX Super Heavy Fires Just one of its Engines. Imagine What it’ll be Like When it Fires all 33

Credit: SpaceX

Engineers and technicians at the SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, are working on getting the fully-stacked Starship and Super Heavy prototypes ready for their orbital launch test. The most recent step consisted of a static fire test with the BN7 Super Heavy prototype, where the booster was placed on the orbital launch pad and fired one of its thirty-three Raptor 2 engines. News of the test was shared via SpaceX’s official Twitter account and showed the BN7 blasting the launch pad, leading many to wonder what the orbital launch test will look like!

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Hazegrayart Shows how Rocket Lab's Reusable Neutron Rocket Could Work

Credit: Rocket Lab

There’s little doubt that we live in a new Space Age, defined by increasing access, greater competition, and the commercial space industry. The titans of this industry are well known and have even become household names. There are old warhorses like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and United Launch Alliance and fast-rising stars like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Virgin Galactic, and others. But New Zealand and California-based company Rocket Lab has also made a name for itself in recent years, moving from low-cost expendable rocket launches to reusable rockets.

In particular, their new Neutron Rocket design has been turning some heads since it first debuted in late 2021. The most recent design of this rocket features some very interesting features, which include a new engine, a new shell, and a “Hungry-Hippo” reusable fairing built from advanced carbon composites. Beginning in 2024, Rocket Lab hopes to conduct regular launches with Neutron to service the growing “satellite megaconstellation” market. Thanks to an animator who goes by the handle Hazegrayart, we now have a video of what this might look like.

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Perseverance has Found a ‘Cat Hair’ in its Drill Chuck. What is it?

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its SHERLOC WATSON camera, located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm. This image was acquired on Aug. 4, 2022 (Sol 517). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

After each use of one of the tools at the end of the Perseverance rover’s arm, the mission’s engineering team always takes images of the tool to make sure everything is still in working order.

Last week the rover’s drill was used to take a core sample from a rock – the 12th such sample that has now been stored and sealed for possible future retrieval in a proposed sample return mission. The team then took images of the drill and sample collection system components. In those images, two small pieces of debris were visible: a small object on the coring bit (which is stored in the bit carousel) and a small hair-like object on the drill chuck.

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