Friday, July 17, 2020

🚀 July 17, 2020: Comet NEOWISE, Starship Test?, Upscaled Apollo Footage, And More...


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Amazing Images of Comet F3 NEOWISE From Around the World

Just. Wow. If you're like us, your space-feed has been inundated with some pretty spectacular images of Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE as of late. F3 NEOWISE broke from the pack of good binocular comets for 2020 early this month, to become one of the best northern hemisphere comets in a generation.


Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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A Massive Star Just Disappeared. No Supernova, Just Straight to Black Hole

When the largest stars die, it's usually pretty obvious. Supernovae are visible from billions of light-years away. But recently astronomers watched a massive star just disappear. No explosion, nothing, it just… vanished?

Of course, it could have been dust. It's always dust. But one intriguing possibility is that the star just imploded directly into a black hole, without the supernova detonation. And if that's the case, is this happening more often, we just didn't notice it?

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NASA and HeroX are Looking to Light Up the Moon!

The Moon is a tricky place to explore. The month-long lunar day means that the surface of the Moon is in shadow for 2 weeks and then in sunlight for 2 weeks. This makes it difficult to get a reliable source of energy since solar panels will only work for half the month. What about the other half? NASA has a new competition called "Watts on the Moon Challenge", that asks people to come up with clever ideas to supply a long-term lunar base with power during the lunar night.


This Giant Iceberg Has Been Sailing the Southern Seas for Three Years Now

If you're sailing in the ocean near Antarctica, watch out for the giant iceberg A68. The trillion tonne iceberg split away from the Larsen Ice Shelf back in 2017, and satellites have been tracking its movements ever since. They've even watched as two smaller chunks split away from the iceberg and floated away on their own. Although it's been going for three years, A68 will eventually break up and melt away into the ocean, contributing to the overall sea-level rise.


Watch the Incredible Plume of Dust from Africa Cross the Entire Atlantic Ocean

You've probably heard that there's a huge plume of Saharan dust that's showing up in the Caribbean and North America. Now you can see the structure of this incredible dust storm from space. Normally dust storms generated in Africa only make it partway across the Atlantic Ocean before they sink into the sea, but this year's dust storm is so big it's been nicknamed "Godzilla".


Parker Solar Probe Gives a Unique Perspective on Comet NEOWISE

I hope you've had a chance to see Comet NEOWISE with your own eyes already, either shortly after sunset or just before sunrise. But NASA's Parker Solar Probe is perfectly positioned to give us a view of the comet too. This picture of NEOWISE was taken by the spacecraft on July 5th, shortly after the comet's closest approach to the Sun. We'll have more amazing photos of the comet in this newsletter.


Will We See a Starship Test This Week?

All the signs are starting to point towards the possibility that SpaceX is ready to try a hop test with their much larger Starship prototype, possibly doing a short hop very soon now. SpaceX recently requested a series of road closings, from July 13th through the 15th, but nothing happened, and then they closed the roads again today on July 17th, 2020. It's believed that the next big test will be a 150-meter hop by prototype SN-5. Here's hoping it doesn't explode.


Astronomers Have Mapped Out an Enormous Structure in the Universe Called the South Pole Wall

Astronomers have been steadily mapping out our place in the Universe, most recently learning that the Milky Way is embedded in a vast structure called the Laniakea supercluster. But now they've gone even bigger, discovering an immense feature behind Laniakea called the South Pole wall. This structure covers 200 degrees of the sky and it's most concentrated in the direction of the Earth's south pole about 500 million light-years away.


Stars Like Our Sun Become Lithium Factories as They Die

So many of our modern electronics depend on lithium batteries. But where did all this lithium come from? According to a new study, it looks like the main sequence stars like our own Sun become lithium factories when they die. Most stars use up the lithium inside them, but a fraction of stars are lithium-rich, and producing a thousand times more lithium than other giant stars. This means that these stars develop some fusion process that creates lithium once they hit the red giant phase.


1 in 10 Red Giants are Covered in Spots, and They Rotate Surprisingly Quickly

When stars like our Sun reach the end of their lives, they bloat up into red giant stars. With a much larger size, their rotation rate slows down, and in theory, this should mean less magnetic activity and fewer sunspots. But according to new research, about 8% of red giants rotate much more rapidly, and they're covered in sunspots. Some of these stars might be rotating more rapidly because of interaction with a binary companion.


NASA Chooses 10 Projects that Will Help it Live Off the Land... on the Moon

In order for humans to maintain a long-term base on the surface of the Moon, we're going to need to "live off the land", harvesting our resources from the lunar regolith. NASA recently announced that they've selected 10 companies to provide technologies for In-Situ Resource Utilization or ISRU. For example, there are technologies that could extract water out of the lunar regolith, or concentrate solar energy to extract oxygen out of lunar rocks.


Time-Lapse Video Reveals 10 Years of the Sun's Life Crushed into One Stellar Hour

Don't have time to sit through an entire 11-year solar cycle? No problem, NASA has compressed the most recent cycle down into a single hour-long timelapse video. It'll take you all the way through solar maximum to minimum, using images captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Watch carefully, and you'll see enormous prominences flare up on the Sun and even a transit of Mercury.


How Would We Do Surgery in Space?

The longer that humans spend in space, the more likely it becomes that we'll eventually need to do surgery on someone. But doing surgery in microgravity is going to be tricky. The human body goes through a bunch of changes while it's in space, with blood concentrating in the head, and less blood available in the rest of the cardiovascular system. This extensive article talks about the different strategies that have been developed to deal with this situation.


AI Upscales Apollo Lunar Footage to 60 FPS

The original lunar landings were limited by the 24 fps film cameras that the astronauts carried to the Moon with them. But a filmmaker has used artificial intelligence to upscale the videos to 60 frames a second, and the results are jaw-dropping. It really feels like you're driving around on the surface of the Moon, or part of the crew making a lunar landing. Seriously, stop what you're doing and watch these videos.


15 Different Ideas for Rovers That Could Explore Venus

NASA just announced the results of a recent competition to design a rover that would withstand the punishing terrain down on the surface of Venus. 15 ideas won awards. Some use clockwork mechanical systems to travel around Venus without requiring cooling. Others suggest using special electronic systems that have a high heat tolerance or cooling system. If you want to see some out of the box ideas, check out this story.


More Details On NASA's VERITAS Mission, Which Could Go to Venus

Venus is the most Earthlike place in the Solar System, in terms of size, mass, and distance from the Sun. Sure, it's a hell world with temperatures and pressures that defy comprehension, but aren't you even a little curious what's going on down beneath its thick clouds? Sure you are, and you're not the only one. NASA is considering sending a new mission to Venus called VERITAS, which could scan the atmosphere of the planet and help us better understand the process that made it so terrible.


Instead of Going Straight to Mars, Astronauts Should Make a Slingshot Past Venus First

The traditional method of flying to Mars is to wait for a close approach between our planets, which happens every 26 months or so. But a new paper suggests there's another path you can take, making a flyby past Venus first to do some additional science. The astronauts could teleoperate rovers down on the surface of Venus for a few hours as they fly past. It would make for a longer trip, but potentially provide twice the science, allowing astronauts to test out techniques for surviving longer in space.


White dwarfs are a big source of carbon in the Universe

Carl Sagan always said that we're made of starstuff. But where did that stuff come from? Thanks to new research, it appears that we now know that the important carbon stuff in our bodies, came from dying sunlike stars, as they become white dwarfs. Astronomers studied white dwarfs in an open cluster of stars and found that larger stars are producing more carbon than originally expected. Most of this gets locked to the star, but some is released in the star's final stages, to escape into the Universe.


Perseverance Has Been Put Inside its Atlas V Rocket

Curiosity is about to get a new friend on Mars: Perseverance! NASA gave us an update last week, showing that the next Mars rover has been stowed away inside its Atlas V rocket fairing. If all goes well, the rocket will blast off sometime between July 30th and August 15th, taking several months to make the journey to the Red Planet. This time next year, though, we should have another car-sized, nuclear-powered rover on the surface of Mars, searching for past evidence of life.


A Stellar Stream of Stars, Stolen from Another Galaxy

Astronomers have found a long stream of stars, winding around the Milky Way, which didn't come from our galaxy. Instead, it looks like the Milky Way stole them from another galaxy or globular star cluster that got too close, billions of years ago. The stream of stars was discovered using the Gaia space observatory, which has been charting the location and movements of billions of stars in the Milky Way. They were able to find several hundred stars all moving in roughly the same direction in our local environment.


Do the TRAPPIST-1 Planets Have Atmospheres?

One of the most exciting exoplanet discoveries has got to be the TRAPPIST-1 system, which has 7 known rocky planets, several of which are in the star's habitable zone. In a recent study, astronomers have tried to determine if any of these planets have atmospheres, which could help determine if they're actually habitable. The results are encouraging, finding compelling evidence that the planets have atmospheres similar to the early Earth.


Supernovae shockwaves aren't spherical

When a massive star dies, it can explode as a supernova, creating a huge shell of debris that moves outward through space. Astronomers have discovered that these explosions aren't perfectly spherical, and they think they know why... magnetic fields. The team simulated a supernova explosion in the laboratory, dialing in magnetic fields until they were able to match the kinds of supernovae we see in nature.

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