Friday, November 22, 2019

🚀 November 22, 2019: Tatooine's Everywhere? Past and Future of James Webb, How Big Can a Planet Be? And more...


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Astronomers Finally Find the Neutron Star Leftover from Supernova 1987A

In my 48 years on this planet, I've been around for some of the big space and astronomy events. I was too young to remember the Apollo landings, but I remember Viking, the launch of the Space Shuttle. I was there to watch comet Shoemaker/Levy 9 crash into Jupiter, and I remember when the closest, brightest supernova exploded in the Large Magellanic cloud in 1987.

And over the following 30+ years, I've kept my eye on the ongoing research for SN 1987A. I love to see the pictures of the expanding wreckage from the explosion and the new discoveries that astronomers are making about every stage of the death of massive stars.

But one mystery has always been the neutron star that should be spinning rapidly in the wreckage. The only thing that would have survived. And this week, astronomers from Cardiff University announced that they've finally found it.


Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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The History And Future Of The James Webb Space Telescope

On March 30, 2021, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will blast off from the European Space Agency's European spaceport in Kourou, French Giana on board an Ariane 5 rocket. It'll fly to the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point, a relatively stable spot in space that keeps the glare from the Sun, Earth, and Moon all in a tiny spot in the sky. Then, it'll unfurl its tennis court-sized sunshade, fold out its gigantic 6.5-meter mirror, and peer out into the distant cosmos.

Over the course of the next 10 years, this infrared observatory will help astronomers learn about the earliest moments of the Universe, directly observe the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars, and peer at newly forming stars and planets. And if you listened to the words I just said with equal parts terror and skepticism, I don't blame you. James Webb's path to space has been long and tortuous. And the risks that the mission still faces are very real. Hopefully, the science will be worth it. Hopefully, nothing else goes wrong from now until deployment. So today, I want to do a deep dive into James Webb. To talk about the history of the mission, why it exists, how the development went, and where it stands today.

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Tatooines everywhere? Many of the Exoplanets Already Discovered are in Multi-Star Systems

Astronomers know of over 4,000 confirmed exoplanets now, with more being discovered all the time. A recent study used Gaia data to see how many of these planets are actually located in multi-star systems and found that a surprising number are. So far, astronomers have confirmed that 200 planets orbit in a system with multiple stars. The Universe continues to surprise us. Can you imagine what it must look like standing on the surface of those worlds?


New Horizon's Flyby Target 2014 MU69 Gets its Official Name: Arrokoth

In early 2018, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft performed its second major flyby in the Kuiper Belt, streaking past 2014 MU69. That designation never really rolled off the tongue, but now the International Astronomical Union has given this world a name: Arrokoth. It sounds cool, and it actually means "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. Here's hoping New Horizons gets the chance to make even more flybys.


Two of Neptune's Moons Dance Around Each Other as they Orbit

Two of Neptune's moons, Thalassa and Naiad take a bizarre orbit around the planet, interacting with each other gravitationally so they never collide. Both moons measure about 60 km across, and they orbit closer to Neptune than any others. Although their orbit should bring them within 1,850 km of each other, they never get that close. Instead, Naiad's orbit is tilted, and it always travels faster than Thalassa, so that when they pass, they never get closer than 3,540 km. They've been dancing like this for eons.


Stingray Glider to Explore the Cloudtops of Venus

Although the surface of Venus is horrible for landers and rovers, the atmosphere is much more reasonable but almost as mysterious. Engineers have proposed unique stingray-shaped gliders that would flap their "wings" to remain aloft in Venus' atmosphere. From this vantage point, the aircraft could give scientists new information about the thick clouds which obscure our view to the surface.


How Large Can A Planet Be?

Jupiter is formed from the same material as the Sun. And if you added many more Jupiters together, you'd get a brown dwarf, and eventually a red dwarf star. How big can a planet get before it stops being a planet and starts being a star? You might be surprised to know that planets more massive than Jupiter will actually be a little smaller because of their intense gravity. So read this article to find out how large planets can actually get.


Scientists Construct a Global Map of Titan's Geology

Titan is another world in the Solar System that's obscured by thick clouds, but fortunately, NASA's Cassini spacecraft had the right instruments to peer through those clouds and map out features on the surface. Planetary scientists have released a global map of Titan's geology, showing just how diverse this bizarre world is, with its ice mountains and seas filled with liquid methane.


If Astronauts Hibernated on Long Journeys, They'd Need Smaller Spacecraft

When humans are sent to space, they need to bring along everything to stay alive: air, water, food and more. The European Space Agency is investigating if it could be possible to reduce the amount that astronauts consume by putting them into a state of hibernation with drugs and cooling. Their study considered a 180-day cruise to Mars with hibernating astronauts, and they found that the mission would be possible with a much smaller habitation module and less consumption of supplies.


The Impact Site of China's Longjiang-2 Spacecraft has Been Found on the Moon

When China launched its Chang'e-4 mission to the far side of the Moon, it was carried there with its Queqiao spacecraft. After releasing the lander, the spacecraft continued orbiting the Moon acting as a relay satellite. Finally, after over a year in orbit, the spacecraft crashed into the surface of the Moon. Now an amateur astronomer has located the impact site in images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.


Water Vapor Was Just Found on Europa, More Evidence There's Liquid Water Beneath All that Ice

The case is building for the presence of liquid water beneath the icy surface of Europa. Observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Galileo spacecraft have hinted that this water escapes into space through cracks and geysers that reach the surface. And this week planetary scientists announced additional evidence in the form of water vapor. 


ESA Astronaut Luca Parmitano Controls a Rover From Space

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano is currently orbiting the Earth onboard the International Space Station. And this week he took the controls of a teleoperated prototype rover down here on Earth and controlled it from space. Future astronauts in orbit around the Moon might use this process to directly control lunar rovers with less latency and better response than trying to manage them from Earth.


Conjunction Alert: Jupiter Meets Venus at Dusk

This week people are suddenly going to notice those two bright stars in the sky that they never saw before. Of course, they're not stars, they're Jupiter and Venus doing one of their regular conjunctions. They make their closest approach on Sunday, November 24th, and will be joined by the Moon on November 28th. So make sure you get outside and enjoy this spectacle while it lasts.


Scientists Search for Ancient Fossils in Australia, Practicing the Techniques They'll Use on Mars

Discovering past evidence of life on Mars is going to be tricky, but this is one of the tasks NASA's Mars 2020 rover is hoping to accomplish. A team of geologists recently went to the Pilbara Region in Australia, to look at formations created by ancient microbial life, mapping out the telltale signs of life that they'll be looking for when the rover arrives on Mars.


How Do We Colonize Ceres?

We've considered what it'll take to try to live on other planets in the Solar System, but what about the dwarf planets like Ceres? In this article, Matt Williams looks at the raw resources Ceres colonists will have to work with, and what their challenges are going to be. It'll be difficult, but Ceres is well-positioned between Mars and Jupiter and could serve as a gateway to the rest of the outer Solar System.


Spain has all the building permits it needs to build the $1.4 billion 30-meter telescope in the Canary Islands

While protests have halted construction of the 30-meter telescope in Hawaii, the director of a Spanish research center said this week that they've got all the permits to build the $1.4 billion telescope in the Canary Islands instead. Although Hawaii would be the ideal location, the conditions in the Canary Islands are still excellent, and the giant telescope will be able to do a lot of science in this location instead.


Starship Mk 1 Blows its Top During Testing

It's been a couple of months since Elon Musk unveiled the Starship Mk 1 prototype, which would help test out the next steps in their progress of creating a fully reusable two-stage rocket. During a cryogenic loading test this week, the prototype suffered an explosion and its top bulkhead flew high up into the air, causing catastrophic damage to the spacecraft. It's a write-off, but SpaceX learned valuable lessons about the limits of their design. Fortunately, the Mk 2 is getting constructed in Florida and will be able to learn from those lessons.

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday


Jupiter and the Great Red Spot by @daniel.astrophoto

I'm always really impressed by how well Jupiter and the other planets of the Solar System can be resolved by amateur astronomers using modern telescopes and techniques. This isn't a photo from the Hubble Space Telescope, it's the result of stacking 1,000 images from video taken through an 8" telescope by @daniel.astrophoto. Incredible work!

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