A New Study Says That Betelgeuse Won’t Be Exploding Any Time Soon

I have stood under Orion The Hunter on clear evenings willing its star Betelgeuse to explode. “C’mon, blow up!” In late 2019, Betelgeuse experienced an unprecedented dimming event dropping 1.6 magnitude to 1/3 its max brightness. Astronomers wondered – was this dimming precursor to supernova? How cosmically wonderful it would be to witness the moment Betelgeuse explodes. The star ripping apart in a blaze of light scattering the seeds of planets, moons, and possibly life throughout the Universe. Creative cataclysm.

Only about ten supernova have been seen with the naked eye in all recorded history. Now we can revisit ancient astronomical records with telescopes to discover supernova remnants like the brilliant SN 1006 (witnessed in 1006AD) whose explosion created one of the brightest objects ever seen in the sky. Unfortunately, latest research suggests we all might be waiting another 100,000 years for Betelgeuse to pop. However, studying this recent dimming event gleaned new information about Betelgeuse which may help us better understand stars in a pre-supernova state.

This comparison image shows Betelgeuse, before and after its unprecedented dimming
ESO / M. Montargès et al.
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How Would Rain be Different on an Alien World?

On Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, it rains on a regular basis. As with Earth, these rains are the result of liquid evaporating on the surface, condensing in the skies, and falling back to the surface as precipitation. On Earth, this is known as the hydrological (or water) cycle, which is an indispensable part of our climate. In Titan’s case, the same steps are all there, but it is methane that is being exchanged and not water.

In recent years, scientists have found evidence of similar patterns involving exoplanets, with everything from molten metal to lava rain! This raises the question of just how exotic the rains may be on alien worlds. Recently, a team of researchers from Havard University conducted a study where they researched how rain would differ in a diverse array of extrasolar planetary environments.

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China’s Super-Heavy Lift Rocket Will Carry 100 Tons to the Moon

China’s proposed next-generation rocket reached the final stage of feasibility studies this month. The planned launch vehicle, known as the Long March-9, will be capable of sending 100 tons to the Moon, and could see its first launch as early as 2030.

Announced in 2018, the Long March-9 will play a key role in China’s long-term space ambitions. If all goes as planned, its first payload is likely to be a Martian sample return mission, and it would support China’s Lunar ambitions as well. Another proposed use for the super-heavy lift vehicle is to build an experimental space-based solar power station, although plans for that project are still very tentative.

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Mining Water and Metal From the Moon at the Same Time

In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) is becoming a more and more popular topic as space exploration begins to focus on landing on the surface of other bodies in the solar system.  ISRU focuses on making things that are needed to support the exploration mission out of materials that are easily accessible at the site being explored.  Similar to how European explorers in the New World could build canoes out of the wood they found there.  

Recently NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) has started looking more closely at a variety of ISRU projects as part of their Phase I Fellows program.  One of the projects selected, led by Amelia Grieg at the University of Texas, El Paso, is a mining technique that would allow explorers to dig up water, metal, and other useful materials, all at the same time.

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NASA Invests in a Plan to Build Landing Pads and Other Structures on the Moon out of Regolith

Materials are a crucial yet underappreciated component of any space exploration program.  Without novel materials and ways to make them, things that are commonplace today, such as a Falcon 9 rocket or the Mars rovers, would never have been possible.  As humanity expands into the solar system, it will need to make more use of the materials found there – a process commonly called in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).  Now, the advanced concepts team at NASA has taken a step towards supporting that process by supporting a proposal from Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee, a chemist at Texas A&M.  The proposal suggests using lunar regolith to build a stable landing pad for future moon missions.

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The Mars Helicopter Could Charge up the Atmosphere Around Itself as it Flies

Plasma globes are a common enough sight in retails stores across the rich world.  If you’ve ever seen one and gotten a chance to touch it, you’ve seen how the plasma will arc toward your touch creating a sense that you’re able to harness electricity like Thor.

That effect does not only take place on Earth – anywhere there is a charge build-up that causes a high enough electrical potential between two points to create an electrical glow or corona. Now a team at NASA think that a large charge build-up might occur when Ingenuity, Perseverance’s helicopter companion, takes to the sky.

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SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Flies High AND Sticks the Landing!

They say, “third time’s the charm.” This was largely the case today as SpaceX made their third attempt at a high altitude flight test at their launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Like the previous two attempts, this flight saw a Starship prototype (SN10) with three Raptor engines fly to an altitude of 10 km (6.2 mi), conduct a “belly-flop” descent maneuver, and then return to the launch facility.

As with the previous high-altitude tests, the SN10 successfully launched, reached its apogee, and validated the control fins and aerodynamic surfaces. But unlike the previous tests, the SN10 was able to slow down enough and keep itself upright so it could make a soft landing. While the prototype exploded a few minutes after landing (apparently from a methane leak) the flight was a complete success!

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New Perspective of Jezero Crater Shows the Path Perseverance Could use to Navigate

On February 18th, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover set down on the surface of Mars. During the next two years of its primary mission, the rover will search the Jezero crater (where it landed) for evidence of past life on Mars. This will consist of collecting soil and rock samples from the preserved delta feature that formed billions of years ago from sediments deposited by flowing water.

The question is, where should it look for this possible evidence? A possible route the rover will take during its primary mission is shown in a series of recent images provided by NASA and the US Geological Survey (USGS). As illustrated in the image below, this path would take it from the cliffs that form the edge of the delta, up and across its surface towards possible “shoreline” deposits, and up to the rim of the crater.

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