Category Archives: Points of Information

Astronomers use Hubble to detect ozone on Earth

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists have shown that it will be possible to detect ozone in the atmospheres of exoplanets, using larger telescopes while observing transits of those exoplanets across the face of their star.

What the scientists did was aim Hubble at the Moon during a lunar eclipse. Moreover, they timed the observations so that the sunlight hitting the Moon and reflecting back to Earth (and Hubble) had also traveled through the Earth’s atmosphere on its way to the Moon.

They then looked at the spectrum of that light, and were able to glean from it the spectral signal of ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere. When giant ground-based telescopes under construction now come on line in the coming decades they will have the ability to do this with transiting exoplanets.

The measurements detected the strong spectral fingerprint of ozone, a key prerequisite for the presence – and possible evolution – of life as we know it in an exo-Earth. Although some ozone signatures had been detected in previous ground-based observations during lunar eclipses, Hubble’s study represents the strongest detection of the molecule to date because it can look at the ultraviolet light, which is absorbed by our atmosphere and does not reach the ground. On Earth, photosynthesis over billions of years is responsible for our planet’s high oxygen levels and thick ozone layer. Only 600 million years ago Earth’s atmosphere had built up enough ozone to shield life from the Sun’s lethal ultraviolet radiation. That made it safe for the first land-based life to migrate out of our oceans.

“Finding ozone in the spectrum of an exo-Earth would be significant because it is a photochemical byproduct of molecular oxygen, which is a byproduct of life,” explained Allison Youngblood of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Colorado, USA, lead researcher of Hubble’s observations.

Ozone does not guarantee the presence of life on an exoplanet, but combined with other detections, such as oxygen and methane, would raise the odds significantly.

Filled and distorted craters on Mars

A very distorted and filled crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated and cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on May 25, 2020. The entire image was dubbed “Cluster of Filled Craters”, but I decided to highlight the crater of the cluster that was most strangely distorted of them all. The material that fills all the craters in the full image is almost certainly buried ice and is dubbed concentric crater fill by scientists.

This crater is located in the northern lowland plains the mid-latitudes between 30 and 60 degrees, where planetary scientists have found ample evidence of many such filled craters and glaciers.

Not only does the crater’s interior seemed filled with glacial material, its distorted rim suggests that it has been reshaped by glacial activity that might have covered it entirely over the eons as the mid-latitude glaciers of Mars waxed and waned with the extreme shifts that happen regularly to Mars’ rotational tilt. Moreover, there is strong evidence that in these lowland northern plains an underground ice table exists close to the surface, allowing for more distortion over time.

The overview map below provides some location context.
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Lightning and mushballs on Jupiter

Artist's illustration of Jupiter lightning
Click for full illustration.

Using data from Juno, scientists now theorize that Jupiter produces what they dub “shallow lightning” as well as ammonia-water hailstones dubbed “mushballs.”

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is only an artist’s illustration of the lightning. Sadly Juno’s camera doesn’t have the resolution to capture such flashes.

An unexpected form of electrical discharge, shallow lightning originates from clouds containing an ammonia-water solution, whereas lightning on Earth originates from water clouds.

Other new findings suggest the violent thunderstorms for which the gas giant is known may form slushy ammonia-rich hailstones Juno’s science team calls “mushballs”; they theorize that mushballs essentially kidnap ammonia and water in the upper atmosphere and carry them into the depths of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

As with the InSight results below, there is much uncertainty with these results, especially the hypothesis of mushballs. These features fit their present data from Juno, but we must remember that the data is still somewhat superficial.

Scientists make first rough estimate of Mars’ internal structure

Artist's cutaway showing theorized Martian interior
Artist’s cutaway of theorized Martian interior

Using data from InSight’s seismometer, scientists have made their first approximation of the internal structure of Mars.

The first boundary Deng and Levander measured is the divide between Mars’ crust and mantle almost 22 miles (35 kilometers) beneath the lander.

The second is a transition zone within the mantle where magnesium iron silicates undergo a geochemical change. Above the zone, the elements form a mineral called olivine, and beneath it, heat and pressure compress them into a new mineral called wadsleyite. Known as the olivine-wadsleyite transition, this zone was found 690-727 miles (1,110-1,170 kilometers) beneath InSight. “The temperature at the olivine-wadsleyite transition is an important key to building thermal models of Mars,” Deng said. “From the depth of the transition, we can easily calculate the pressure, and with that, we can derive the temperature.”

The third boundary he and Levander measured is the border between Mars’ mantle and its iron-rich core, which they found about 945-994 miles (1,520-1,600 kilometers) beneath the lander. Better understanding this boundary “can provide information about the planet’s development from both a chemical and thermal point of view,” Deng said.

Because they only have one seismometer on the planet, this approximation has a great deal of uncertainty. Only when we have multiple such seismic instruments, scattered across the entire Martian globe, will scientists be able to hone their models more accurate of the planet’s interior.

Government routinely warned against mask use — before it was political

Link here. The article gives numerous examples of state health departments noting the uselessness of masks as well as their potential harmful aspects. For example,

…the California Department of Health, which now obsesses about the use of masks, warned about the inherent harm in wearing masks, especially outdoors:

“Mask use may give the wearer a false sense of security, which might encourage too much physical activity and time spent outdoors. Also, wearing a mask may actually be harmful to some people with heart or lung disease because it can make the lungs work harder to breathe.”

How come nobody is raising any concern about universal masking given the obvious observation that covering one’s face makes the lungs work harder? [emphasis mine]

For anyone who does any research at all into this subject, and is willing to be even slightly honest about it, the data is pretty clear: Masks are likely to provide you no protection from COVID-19, while carrying health risks that are real.

What makes me depressed about all this is that I know I am wasting my breath. My readers might read this, but they mostly agree with me. For the general American populace, no one is interested in hearing anything negative about masks. They want them required by law, as shown by this poll, because it makes them feel safe.

And in our shallow society — plunging headlong into a dark age — feelings must always trump reality. Always. And don’t you dare say otherwise.

Never in my entire life have I ever lived in a culture that demanded such things of others. The country that once existed here was a country that respected the rights of others to live freely as they wished.

No more. Now people see it their right to demand that others agree with them, and follow orders, or else. And the criteria is always what makes them feel good, not what makes sense.

Fifth Starship prototype flies!

Starship #5 in flight
Shortly after take-off.

Right after landing
Right after landing.

Shortly after landing
After the smoke has cleared.

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s fifth Starship prototype today successfully completed a 150 meter hop at its Boca Chica facility in Texas, landing vertically.

I have embedded a video of the flight below the fold.

The screen capture to the right shows it in flight. It is canted slightly because its one Raptor engine was not centered at its base but offset.

The next image shows the prototype standing vertical on the ground to the left of Starhopper, which flew one year ago. All told the flight lasted only about a minute.

The final image shows a close-up of the prototype after the smoke has cleared. Why it is canted on the ground is not clear. Its legs are not visible (they apparently are relatively small), so it is hard to say whether one buckled or not.

The launch platform might have sustained damage but they have another ready to go. It is even conceivable that they could fly this prototype again, though they already have prototype #8 waiting in the wings.

Regardless, expect SpaceX to keep its fast development pace going. I would not be surprised if they attempt another test flight in less than two weeks.

Screen captures courtesy of the LabPadre live stream.
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The dry barren plains of Tyrrhena Terra

Tyrrhena Terra badlands
Click for full image.

In a sense today’s cool image is a replay of one I posted in March, showing the dry barren terrain in the vast rough cratered highlands of Tyrrhena Terra, located along the equator of Mars between the giant basins of Isidis and Hellas.

Today’s image on the right, cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on March 26, 2020, and shows well the barrenness of this region. The surface appears quite solid, like bedrock, rather than the squishy soft surface of the northern lowland plains. Moreover, there is a lot of dust trapped in the low areas between the ridges, forming ripples that new data suggest move slowly across the surface. If you click on the full image, you will see that this terrain is far from local, and goes on in this manner for quite a distance in all directions.

This is a dry and forbidding place, about the size of the American southwest, from Texas to California.

The overview map below provides some context of Tyrrhena Terra’s location on Mars.
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Virgin Galactic again delays first commercial flight

Capitalism in space: Virgin Galactic, which has been repeatedly delaying its first commercial flight for more than a decade, has done so again, stating that it will not occur until 2021.

The company, in its fiscal second quarter financial results released Aug. 3, said it expected to perform two more test flights of SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico, both of which will be powered flights. The vehicle has made two glide flights since moving to the spaceport early this year.

The first of those powered flights, scheduled for the fall, will have two pilots on board. It will also carry payloads for NASA’s Flight Opportunities program that arranges flights of experiments on suborbital vehicles, said George Whitesides, chief space officer and former chief executive of Virgin Galactic, in a company earnings call.

If that flight goes as expected, Virgin Galactic will then perform a second flight, this time with four mission specialists on board along with the two pilots. Those mission specialists “will evaluate the performance of our full customer cabin and associated hardware,” he said. The company unveiled the design of the cabin July 28, although Whitesides said they were still completing the installation of the cabin on the company’s current SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity.

“Presuming things go as expected on this fully-crewed flight, we would then plan to fly Sir Richard Branson on the third powered flight from New Mexico,” he said. That flight would take place in the first quarter of 2021 and mark the beginning of commercial service, although Whitesides said it will also be a test flight of sorts. “Sir Richard is in a unique position to provide the ultimate cabin and spaceflight experience evaluation, as a visionary of the Virgin customer experience.”

The company also announced that it intends to sell stock shares to raise more capital. Right now the stock is selling for about $20.

I am no expert on the stock market, but to my mind this company’s chances of making big profits from suborbital flights is slim to none. They might make some money, but hardly enough ever to repay their investors. Virgin Galactic’s window for making big money in suborbital tourism closed forever with the success of SpaceX’s manned Dragon flight to ISS. The space tourism market is shifting to orbital space, something Virgin Galactic cannot provide. Worse, the cost for getting to orbit continues to drop, while this company can’t reduce its prices much.

Virgin Galactic provides a weak product in the present market, one that can only become weaker when compared to its competitors.

Starship hop today?

UPDATE: They are close to trying again. If you refresh your screen, you will now have two iterations of the live stream. This will allow you to have two cameras visible at the same time, You can show the main “nerdie” camera on one, with their commentary, and show the wider “sapphire” camera on the second. You pick cameras by clicking on the camera icon in the menu bar at the bottom of the screen.

UPDATE: First attempt apparently aborted. No word yet if they will attempt again today.

UPDATE: Scrubbed on August 3rd, attempting again on August 4th.

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Starship team has scheduled the first 500 foot hop of the fifth Starship prototype today, after canceling yesterday’s attempt.

The window for Starship SN5’s 150m hop debut now stretches from 8am to 8pm CDT (13:00-01:00 UTC) on Monday, August 3rd. It’s currently unknown if SpaceX will offer its own live coverage of the test flight but several unofficial streams will likely be available from NASASpaceflight.com, LabPadre, SPadre, and more. Stay tuned for updates!

I have embedded LabPadre’s live stream below the fold, if you wish to run it in the background. They will have commentary when they note a “pad clear” signal.
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Study: Mars’ meandering canyons formed under ice

A new study comparing Mars’ meandering canyons with those found in the Arctic regions on Earth suggests that the Martian valleys were formed by water melting under large ice sheets, not flowing water on the surface.

A large number of the valley networks scarring the surface of Mars were carved by water melting beneath glacial ice, not by free-flowing rivers as previously thought, according to new research published in Nature Geoscience. The findings effectively throw cold water on the dominant “warm and wet ancient Mars” hypothesis, which postulates that rivers, rainfall and oceans once existed on the red planet.

To reach this conclusion, lead author and postdoctoral research scholar Anna Grau Galofre of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration developed and used new techniques to examine thousands of Martian valleys. She and her co-authors also compared the Martian valleys to the subglacial channels in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and uncovered striking similarities. The western edge of the Devon ice cap on the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

I have noted previously on Behind the Black my sense that the planetary science community was beginning to shift away from the hypothesis of flowing liquid surface water on Mars as an explanation for the planet’s riverlike and oceanlike features to some form or ice/glacial activity. For a half century the scientists have tried and failed to come up with some scenario that could allow water to flow on the surface in Mars’ cold climate and thin atmosphere.

Ice or glacial activity rather than flowing liquid water might solve this problem, and today’s paper is a push in this direction.

Private Japanese lunar lander redesigned, flight delayed one year

Capitalism in space: The privately financed Japanese lunar landing company Ispace has redesigned its lander and delayed the first flight by one year, to 2022.

Since a preliminary design review in 2018, ispace has reduced the size of Hakuto-R. Previously 3.5 meters high and 4.4 meters wide with its landing legs deployed, the lander is now 2.3 meters high and 2.6 meters wide. The spacecraft’s mass has decreased from 1,400 to 1,050 kilograms, primarily by reducing the amount of propellant on board.

A smaller lander is less expensive to develop, said Ryo Ujiie, manager of the lander system engineering group at ispace, during a call with reporters July 30. It also reduces the size and complexity of the landing legs. The spacecraft will use a different trajectory to go to the moon, employing a low-energy transfer orbit that requires less propellant but takes roughly twice as long as previously planned. “We had to pick a more propellant-efficient orbit” given the reduction in propellant, said Chit Hong Yam, manager of the mission design and operations group. “We’re confident that, with enough checking, we should be able to execute this orbit.”

While the overall lander is smaller, it still maintains a payload capacity of 30 kilograms. Once on the surface, likely at one of several mid-latitude sites on the moon under consideration by ispace, it will operate for 12 days.

That first flight will launch on a Falcon 9. The company raised $95 million in private capital in 2017, and still plans a second lander launch in 2023.

Endeavour safely splashes down

Splashdown of Endeavour

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Endeavour Dragon capsule has successfully splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, returning two humans back to Earth safely after completing the first two month long manned commercial space mission.

If you go to the live stream to watch recovery operations, note that the boats and ships and persons involved are all property and employees of SpaceX. This is entirely an operation of the private company. The government is not involved, other than NASA’s justified monitoring as SpaceX’s customer.

One cool tidbit for the future. Endeavour is scheduled to fly again, in the spring of 2021. On that flight will be Megan McArthur, the wife of astronaut Bob Behnken, and she will likely sit in the same place he did on his flight.

Russians sign deal to fly two tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Now that their Soyuz capsule is no longer required to fly NASA astronauts to ISS, the Russians have spare seats, and have now signed a deal with Space Adventures to fly two tourists to ISS in late 2021.

They will announce the tourist’s names later this year.

Space Adventures also has a deal with SpaceX to fly two tourists on a Dragon capsule on a week-plus long orbital mission (not docking with ISS). SpaceX also has a deal with the space station company Axiom to fly tourists to ISS. Next year could thus see two or three tourist flights to space.

Isn’t competition wonderful?

Live stream of Dragon undocking and splashdown

SpaceX is providing full coverage of the undocking of Dragon from ISS through splashdown tomorrow. I have embedded this below the fold if my readers wish to watch.

The undocking window opens at 7:34 pm (Eastern), with spashdown set for 2:41 pm (Eastern) tomorrow.

If the video is not of the live stream for the splashdown, refresh your browser.
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Electrical disconnect caused Rocket Lab’s July 4th launch failure

Capitalism in space: According to Rocket Lab’s investigation into the July 4th launch failure, an electric connection detached and cut off power to the upper stage, causing it to cease firing prematurely.

Once the electrical system disconnected in flight, it cut power from the rocket’s battery to the electric turbopumps on the Electron’s second stage Rutherford engine. That caused the engine to switch off prematurely around five-and-a-half minutes after the rocket took off from Rocket Lab’s launch base in New Zealand.

The early engine shutdown prevented the rocket from reaching the velocity necessary to enter a stable orbit around Earth, according to Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, a small satellite launch company headquartered in Long Beach, California.

But telemetry continued streaming from the launch vehicle back to Rocket Lab’s control center in Auckland, New Zealand, allowing engineers to analyze data and determine the cause of the failure. The kerosene-fueled second stage engine shut down in a controlled manner, and the rocket coasted to an altitude of around 121 miles (195 kilometers) before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up.

Now that the company understands what caused the detachment, it will institute testing to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The fix however will not require any redesign of the rocket, and so they are targeting late August for their next launch, followed in September with the first launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. They also still expect to complete one launch per month through the end of the year.

New model predicting solar flares is 56% accurate

The uncertainty of science: Using observations from the space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), solar scientists have developed a new model for predicting the biggest solar flares, and have found it to able to predict a big flare about 56% of the time.

Kusano and his team looked at the seven active regions from the last solar cycle that produced the strongest flares on the Earth-facing side of the Sun (they also focused on flares from part of the Sun that is closest to Earth, where magnetic field observations are best). SDO’s observations of the active regions helped them locate the right magnetic boundaries, and calculate instabilities in the hot spots. In the end, their model predicted seven out of nine total flares, with three false positives. The two that the model didn’t account for, Kusano explained, were exceptions to the rest: Unlike the others, the active region they exploded from were much larger, and didn’t produce a coronal mass ejection along with the flare. [emphasis mine]

What they did was apply their model to active regions on the Sun during the last solar maximum to see if it would accurately predict the events we know did happen. The model predicted that big flares would spout from ten of twelve active regions on the Sun during the last solar cycle. In reality, only seven of those twelve active regions produced flares.

The press release minimizes the three false positives, making believe they don’t count in the total. That’s hogwash. The model got it wrong, and so these false positives must be counted just like the two false negatives.

A prediction rate of 56% is barely above random, so this model needs a lot of work. Nonetheless, it is a major step forward, because it is not based on simple statistics — counting the number of big sunspots and the number of big flares and then calculating the percentage that flare — which is how most solar science models are structured, and thus are really meaningless. Instead, this model is based an actual analysis of the behavior of the Sun’s magnetic field in big active regions when solar flares erupt. They are trying to pinpoint the precise conditions that cause the big flares, and appear to be narrowing the conditions successfully.

Jupiter’s south pole

The storms at the south pole of Jupiter
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated and reduced to post here, was taken by Juno during its 28th close orbital fly-by of Jupiter, and then processed by citizen scientist Hemant Dara.

While not the first Juno image of the poles of Jupiter, this photo illustrates very well the evolution of the gas giant’s deep atmosphere as you move from the equator to the pole. From the equator to the high mid-latitudes the planet’s rotation, producing a day only 10 hours long, organizes that atmosphere into jet streams that form the bands that astronomers have spied from Earth since the first telescopes.

At the pole the influence of that rotation seems to wane, or at least influence the atmosphere differently, so that the storms seem to form randomly and incoherently.

The image also shows that there appear to be several types of storms at the south pole. Some appear as tight spirals, similar to hurricanes. Others appear chaotic, with no consistent shape, almost like clouds on Earth.

The processes that would explain all this are not yet understood, in the slightest, and won’t be until we get orbiters at Jupiter able to watch the atmosphere continuously, as we do here on Earth. Then it will be possible to assemble movies of the formation and dissipation of these storms, and begin (only begin) to decipher what causes them.

Starship fifth prototype set for first 500 foot hop

Capitalism in space: SpaceX fifth Starship prototype has passed all of its static fire tests and is now ready for its first flight, a 500 foot vertical hop.

That hop should occur within days.

I have embedded a nice video that summarizes well all of the work being done right now at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas, including the construction of large assembly buildings for both Starship and Super Heavy.
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Yutu-2 completes 20th lunar day on Moon

The new colonial movement: The Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2 has completed its 20th lunar day on the farside of the Moon, and has now been put in sleep mode for the long lunar night.

Yutu 2 continued on its planned journey to the northwest of the lander, according to the China Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP). The rover covered 90 feet (27.64 meters) during the lunar day to make a total of 1,610 feet (490.9 m) of roving since setting down on the far side of the moon in January 2019.

The article at the link includes some images, including visual data from the ground-piercing radar that suggests at least four layers in the lunar subsurface.

Manned Dragon return on August 2nd threatened by weather

Capitalism in space: The splashdown of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon capsule Endeavour on August 2nd is now threatened by weather.

Isaias officially became a named tropical storm on Wednesday night, when its wind speeds exceeded 39 mph. The storm could affect several landing areas just as Endeavour is supposed to reenter Earth’s atmosphere, deploy its parachutes, and splash into the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

Three of the seven landing zones that SpaceX and NASA prescribed for the test mission, called Demo-2, lie within the “cone of probability” for the storm’s path. Those splashdown sites are located off the coasts of Cape Canaveral, Daytona, and Jacksonville, according to NASA. A July 30 map shows NASA and SpaceX’s landing zones for the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission amid the estimated path and conditions of Tropical Storm Isaias. The outer-edge green shows a 5-10% chance of sustained tropical storm-force winds. Google Earth; NOAA; NASA; Business Insider

Depending on how large the storm grows and how nasty weather conditions become, mission managers may scrub the undocking and landing attempt. Steep waves, rain, lightning, low clouds, poor visibility (for helicopters to fly the astronauts from a SpaceX recovery boat back to land), or even winds stronger than about 10 mph can trigger a “no-go” decision.

At the moment they are go for undocking on August 1st and splashdown the next day, but that could change depending on how the weather changes.

Russia’s Proton rocket launches two communication satellites

Russia today successfully launched two communications satellites into orbit using its Proton rocket.

This was the first Proton launch in 2020, after Roscosmos discovered in April problems with three rockets that required them to be sent back to their manufacturer.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

18 China
11 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA
3 Japan

The U.S. still leads China 19-18 in the national rankings.

House rejects Artemis; Senate funds Artemis

The Senate gives, the House taketh away: Even as the Democratically-controlled House continues to refuse the Trump administration’s request for $2.6 billion to fund its 2024 manned lunar landing, the Republican-controlled Senate has provided $1.6 billion of those funds in the next COVID-19 stimulus package.

This illustrates why such stimulus packages are utterly corrupt. Much of the money allocated has little to do with helping the country recover from the Wuhan panic, but is instead earmarked for the favorite agencies of the politicians. The Republicans are also trying to use this package to sneak across funding for Artemis without the House Democrats noticing, or being able to object.

It remains to be seen whether that strategy will work. Either way, we continue on the road to bankruptcy and financial collapse, as the federal government is trillions in debt, and simply doesn’t have the money for any of this.

Astronomers find freshly fallen meteorites based on tracking their fall

Australian astronomers have found two meteorites on the ground after spotting them in the sky before they fell, with one found only

The first had been spotted in the sky only a few weeks earlier, while the second had been spotted back in November 2019. They had had to postpone the search for the second until the restrictions for the Wuhan flu were lifted.

The discovery of the first was amusing:

Astronomer Dr Hadrien Devillepoix and planetary geologist Dr Anthony Lagain originally went on a reconnaissance mission to assess the latest fall site near Madura, taking drone imagery of the area. Dr Devillepoix said that as they were walking back to their car along the old telegraph track near Madura Cave, they spotted what appeared to be a real meteorite on the ground just in front of them.

“I thought Anthony was playing a prank on me, that he planted one of the fake meteorites we were using for the drone training session. But after a closer inspection, it was evident that the fist-sized, 1.1 kilogram rock we just found was indeed the meteorite we were after,” Dr Devillepoix said. Dr Devillepoix explained that although the rock was very close to the predicted fall position, the team was not expecting to find it that quickly in this bushy terrain.

Based on its track as it fell, the astronomers think it might be from the Aten family of asteroids, which orbit the Sun between Venus and Earth. Such asteroids are hard to find because of the glare of the Sun, and are thus not as well studied. This makes this find even more significant.

Finds like this, which are beginning to happen more and more, are important because, first, the meteorite doesn’t spend much time in the Earth environment, and second, they can precisely identify where the asteroid came from. Both facts allow scientists a much better understanding of the asteroids themselves.

Neutron star left over from Supernova 1987A?

The uncertainty of science: Two different teams of astronomers are now suggesting that, based on evidence recently obtained by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a neutron star is what is left over from the star that caused Supernova 1987A, the only naked eye supernova in the past four hundred years.

Recently, observations from the ALMA radio telescope provided the first indication of the missing neutron star after the explosion. Extremely high-resolution images revealed a hot “blob” in the dusty core of SN 1987A, which is brighter than its surroundings and matches the suspected location of the neutron star.

..The theoretical study by Page and his team, published today in The Astrophysical Journal, strongly supports the suggestion made by the ALMA team that a neutron star is powering the dust blob. “In spite of the supreme complexity of a supernova explosion and the extreme conditions reigning in the interior of a neutron star, the detection of a warm blob of dust is a confirmation of several predictions,” Page explained.

These predictions were the location and the temperature of the neutron star. According to supernova computer models, the explosion has “kicked away” the neutron star from its birthplace with a speed of hundreds of kilometers per second (tens of times faster than the fastest rocket). The blob is exactly at the place where astronomers think the neutron star would be today. And the temperature of the neutron star, which was predicted to be around 5 million degrees Celsius, provides enough energy to explain the brightness of the blob.

They haven’t actually gotten any direct evidence of this stellar remnant, so some healthy skepticism is required. At the same time, the data favors this solution, which means the star did not collapse into a black hole when it exploded.

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