An Asteroid Will Occult Betelgeuse on December 12th

Image of Betelgeuse and graphic showing its location
Image of Betelgeuse (Credit NASA/ESA)

I cannot for the life of me remember when it was or what it was but a fair few years ago I remember positioning a telescope to observe an asteroid as it silently and perhaps slightly eerily drifted between us and the Moon. I say eerily as this asteroid had the ability to cause widespread damage had it hit but of course we knew it posed no threat.  I remember at the time thinking it was mind blowing that even today, we still use mathematics with roots (pardon the pun) centuries old to calculate the position of objects in our Solar System. We get to see evidence of this again on 12th December when something rare happens!

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Need to Map an Iceberg in a Hundredth of a Second? Ask a Computer

Image of an iceberg on the Arctic Ocean
An Iceberg in the Arctic Ocean

Satellites really are quite a wonder.  They can help forecast the weather, track climate change and help you navigate around the world. There are even satellites that can not only track icebergs but can map the Antarctic in the merest blink of an eye. In fact, faster than that since a typical blink takes about 0.2 seconds but the Sentinel-1 satellites can map icebergs in just 0.01 seconds, that’s 20 times for every blink of an eye!

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When Stars Consume Their Partners, We Could Detect a Blast of Neutrinos

Three thousand light-years away, the Cat's Eye Nebula, a dying star throws off shells of glowing gas. This image from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the nebula to be one of the most complex planetary nebulae known.The features seen in the Cat's Eye are so complex that astronomers suspect the central object may actually be a binary star system.
The Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC6543) is thought to be caused by a binary star system. Credit - NASA/HST

You might be familiar with the bizarre ritual of the female praying mantis which, I’m told, bites off the head and eats other body parts of the poor male they just mated with. It seems consuming partners is not unheard of.  It’s even seen in the lives of stars where binary stars orbit one another closely and one star ultimately consumes the other. If the victim is a neutron star a burst of neutrinos can be generated and a new study reveals they might just be detectable on Earth. 

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Starship Could Be Ready to Launch on Friday

SpaceX Starship's Superheavy Booster, serial no. B7, being tested on the orbital launch pad at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas in February 2023.
SpaceX Starship's Superheavy Booster at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas (Credit : Mobilus In Mobili)

Space exploration should never be run of the mill nor something that finds itself on the back pages of the newspaper.  Captain James T. Kirk was right that space really is the final frontier and making it more accessible is one of the driving forces behind SpaceX.  Their mission to seek out new life and new civilisations, wait that’s wrong – that’s Starfleet.  The SpaceX mission ‘to revolutionise space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets is at the forefront of the development of the enormous Starship which may make another launch attempt as soon as this Friday 17th November. 

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Mystery Solved. How We Get Ultra-Compact Dwarf Galaxies

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the dwarf galaxy M60-UDC1. Lying about 50 million light-years away, M60-UCD1 is a tiny galaxy with a diameter of 300 light-years — just 1/500th of the diameter of the Milky Way! Despite its size it is pretty crowded, containing some 140 million stars. The dwarf galaxy may actually be the stripped remnant of a larger galaxy that was torn apart during a close encounter with its neighbour, a massive galaxy called Messier 60. Circumstantial evidence for this comes from the recent discovery of a monster black hole, which is not visible in this image, at the centre of the dwarf. The black hole makes up 15 percent of the mass of the entire galaxy, making it much too big to have formed inside a dwarf galaxy.
Ultra Compact Dwarf Galaxy M60-UCD1 (Credit NASA/ESA and A.Seth)

I have been fascinated by galaxies for most of my adult life. I find it amazing that, just as we can ascertain the lifecycle of a tree by closely studying the trees in a forest, it is possible to study a sample of galaxies and understand galactic evolution.  A team of astronomers using the Gemini North Telescope have recently solved a long standing galactic mystery, namely how we get ultra-compact dwarf galaxies (UCDs to use their catchy acronym).

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SETI Researchers Just Got a $200 Million Gift to Search for Life

SETI Institute Logo
The SETI Institute

Among the many outstanding questions in science, ‘Are We Alone’ must be the one that captivates scientists and public alike.  I have very fond memories watching the SETI screensaver on my laptop churn through data while and wondering if the big peaks in the fascinating looking graphs meant something had been found! That was a good few years back now but the search for ET continues.  One such organisation spearheading the hunt is the SETI Institute and they have just announced a whacking great alien busting $200 million gift. 

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Astronomers are Hoping to Detect Gravitational Waves Coming from Supernova 1987A

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows Supernova 1987A within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy to our Milky Way.
Hubble Space Telescope image of SN1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud (Credit : NASA)

A supernova explosion is a cataclysmic explosion that marks the violent end of a massive star’s life. During the event, the star releases immense amounts of energy, often outshining the combined light from all the stars in the host galaxy for a very brief period of time. The explosion produces heavy elements and spreads them out among the stars to contribute to the formation of new stars and planets. The closest supernova in recent years occurred in the Large Magellanic Cloud in 1987 (SN1987A) and now, a team of astronomers have searched through mountains of data to see if they can detect gravitational waves from the remnant. 

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Oops. Astronauts Lost a Tool Bag During a Spacewalk!

NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli (top) and Loral O’Hara (bottom) team up during their first spacewalk for maintenance on the outside of the space station. Credit: NASA TV
NASA Astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli (top) and Loral O'Hara (bottom)

I know for a fact it’s one of the most annoying things that can happen.  I’ve done it lots; whether that be out at night with telescope or a bit of DIY but for sure it has to rate as one of the most frustrating things to happen. I am talking of dropping something you are using. Ranking high is dropping tools while you are actually using them..  Dropping a tool is one thing but imagine dropping an entire bag of tools, while in orbit!!!! Oops!

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Searching for the Supernova Neutrino Background to the Universe

Hubble Space Telescope image of supernova 1994D in galaxy NGC 4526.
Hubble Space Telescope image of supernova 1994D in galaxy NGC 4526.

It’s a sobering statement that stars like the Sun, more accurately ALL stars will die eventually, yes even the Sun! Don’t panic though, we still have a good few billion years to go so you will get to the end of this article. The more massive stars die as the dramatic supernovae explosions and when they do, they send a burst of neutrinos across the Universe.  Astronomers now think it’s likely there is a background of neutrinos across the cosmos and that one day we will be able to map the historical distribution of supernova explosions, may be even by 2035.

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Can There Be Double Gravitational Lenses?

The narrow galaxy elegantly curving around its spherical companion in this image is a fantastic example of a truly strange and very rare phenomenon. This image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, depicts GAL-CLUS-022058s, located in the southern hemisphere constellation of Fornax (The Furnace). GAL-CLUS-022058s is the largest and one of the most complete Einstein rings ever discovered in our Universe. The object has been nicknamed by the Principal Investigator and his team who are studying this Einstein ring as the "Molten Ring", which alludes to its appearance and host constellation. First theorised to exist by Einstein in his general theory of relativity, this object’s unusual shape can be explained by a process called gravitational lensing, which causes light shining from far away to be bent and pulled by the gravity of an object between its source and the observer. In this case, the light from the background galaxy has been distorted into the curve we see by the gravity of the galaxy cluster sitting in front of it. The near exact alignment of the background galaxy with the central elliptical galaxy of the cluster, seen in the middle of this image, has warped and magnified the image of the background galaxy around itself into an almost perfect ring. The gravity from other galaxies in the cluster is soon to cause additional distortions. Objects like these are the ideal laboratory in which to research galaxies too faint and distant to otherwise see.
Gravitational Lens GAL-CLUS-022058s taken with NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

If you, like me, have used telescopes to gaze out at the wonders of the Universe, then you too may have been a little captivated by the topic of gravitational lensing.  Think about it: how cool is it that the very universe we are trying to explore is actually providing us with telescopes to probe the darkest corners of space and time? 

The alignment of large clusters of galaxies is the usual culprit whose gravity bends distant light to give us nature’s own telescopes, but now part-time theoretical physicist Viktor T Toth poses the question, “Can there be multiple gravitational lenses lined up and can they provide a ‘communication bridge’ to allow civilisations to communicate?”

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