Friday, October 22News That Matters

Tag: Stars and Galaxies

The Webb Telescope’s Latest Stumbling Block: Its Name

The Webb Telescope’s Latest Stumbling Block: Its Name

Technology
Sean O’Keefe, the NASA administrator who named the telescope in 2002, said in an email that Webb was “a champion of education, technology, science, aeronautics and human exploration.”“Arguably, were it not for James Webb’s determination to fulfill the most audacious vision of his time, our capacity to explore today would be starkly different,” Mr. O’Keefe said. “He introduced complex systems management — a discipline to harness the exceptional technical capability of NASA at that time.” Mr. O’Keefe added that he was unaware of any evidence that Webb was responsible for the Lavender Scare.In May, NASA promised a full investigation by its acting chief historian, Brian Odom. On Sept. 27, the agency issued a statement from the current NASA administrator, Bill Nelson, saying, “We have found no ...

Astronomers Found a Planet That Survived Its Star’s Death

Technology
When our sun enters its death throes in about five billion years, it will incinerate our planet and then dramatically collapse into a dead ember known as a white dwarf. But the fate of more distant planets, such as Jupiter or Saturn, is less clear.On Wednesday in the journal Nature, astronomers reported observing a tantalizing preview of our solar system’s afterlife: a Jupiter-size planet orbiting a white dwarf some 6,500 light years from here.Known as MOA-2010-BLG-477Lb, the planet occupies a comparable orbit to Jupiter. The discovery not only offers a glimpse into our cosmic future, it raises the possibility that any life on “survivor” worlds may endure the deaths of their stars.“While there is quite a lot of evidence of rocky planetary debris orbiting around white dwarfs, we have very f...
Sometimes Life Imitates Art. William Shatner Is Headed To Space With Blue Origin.

Sometimes Life Imitates Art. William Shatner Is Headed To Space With Blue Origin.

Technology
Mr. Branson and Mr. Bezos have made the billionaire space race more literal and personal, and often speak in dreamier language. Mr. Branson launched first, in July, and Mr. Bezos followed days later. Speaking “to all the kids down there” from the edge of space, Mr. Branson said, “if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.”Mr. Bezos, after landing, said simply, “Best day ever!”In front of assembled press, he made an attempt to convey a sense of collectivity, or at least humility. “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this,” he said. He was clearly moved, and his performance was earnest, but it also resulted in a backlash that, from perhaps any other perspective in the world, would have been easy to anticipate. “Amazon workers do...
This May Be the First Planet Found Orbiting 3 Stars at Once

This May Be the First Planet Found Orbiting 3 Stars at Once

Technology
“‘Star Wars’ missed a trick,” said Rebecca Nealon from the University of Warwick in England, a co-author on the paper.Scientists have been on the lookout for a planet orbiting three stars, and found potential evidence in another system, GG Tau A, located about 450 light years from Earth. But the researchers say the gap in GW Ori’s gas and dust ring makes it a more convincing example.“It may be the first evidence of a circumtriple planet carving a gap in real time,” said Jeremy Smallwood from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, lead author of the new paper.William Welsh, an astronomer at San Diego State University, said the researchers “make a good case. If this turns out to be a planet, it would be fascinating.”Alison Young from the University of Leicester in England who has argued that G...
Where Dark Skies Draw Star-Gazers, Wildfire Smoke Spoils the View

Where Dark Skies Draw Star-Gazers, Wildfire Smoke Spoils the View

Technology
On Friday, a cold front is likely to push some of the smoke out of the Rockies, providing a window of clear viewing. But with major fires still burning on the West Coast, forecasters say the clarity may not last long.For many visitors to the West’s dark-sky parks, the promise of diamond-glittered skies are a key attraction. On Thursday night, as Mr. Bohley, the ranger, prepared for the evening astronomy talk, a man from Philadelphia stopped by to say that he had timed his vacation especially to be in a dark-sky park at the peak of the Perseid shower, and asked the ranger if it was OK to stay out all night on the dunes, watching.“Oh, yeah, we should see plenty tonight,” Mr. Bohley replied. “It looks like we’re finally catching a break.”A stiff East wind swept down over the mountains just af...
Rediscovering the Joys of Travel on the Big Island of Hawaii

Rediscovering the Joys of Travel on the Big Island of Hawaii

Travel
It’s a sun-spackled morning at Hapuna Beach, like most mornings on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. A turtle the size of our coffee table back home in California surfaces halfway through my swim. It proceeds to stay close by, like an old friend. I laugh, elated — but then a complicated upwelling of emotion follows.Over the past year and a half, I’d almost convinced myself that I was OK with missing cherished faces and places, that I’d fully committed to being a hermit for humanity. Here, at the beginning of a weeklong visit for a pandemic-delayed wedding in early July, I was returning to travel in a different world, in which many people have lost loved ones, jobs and so much else. Even the familiar things felt strange. Airports. Crowds. My extended, energetic clan of in-laws; ...
What Animals See in the Stars, and What They Stand to Lose

What Animals See in the Stars, and What They Stand to Lose

Technology
Nick, a harbor seal, entered the annals of astronomical history when Guido Dehnhardt, a marine biologist now at the University of Rostock, was studying how marine mammals orient themselves. If seals could discern stars, Dr. Dehnhardt and his colleague Björn Mauck hypothesized, that might help explain how the animals are able to complete long swims across otherwise featureless seas.To test a seal’s astronomical skills, Dr. Mauck devised what must be two of scientific history’s most wide-eyed, wonder-infused experiments.First the team constructed their seal-o-scope — a tube with no lens, through which Nick was given a tour of the night sky. He consistently pressed his paddle when bright points like Venus, Sirius and Polaris came into view; he could not see as many faint stars as humans can, ...
Astronomers See Moons Forming in Disk Around Distant Exoplanet

Astronomers See Moons Forming in Disk Around Distant Exoplanet

Technology
Our solar system is home to a magnificent menagerie of moons, from icy ones filled with turbulent oceans to volcanic ones decorated with pits of raging hellfire. To date, astronomers have discovered 4,438 worlds orbiting other stars, and there is no doubt that diverse moons dance around most of these exoplanets. But stargazers have yet to conclusively find any — these exomoons have proven too small and too far-flung to be spotted.Now, after years of observations of a pair of Jupiter-like exoplanets nearly 400 light-years from Earth, astronomers have found the next best thing: a disk of debris orbiting one of these worlds, a ring of rock and gas gradually coalescing under its own gravity. In other words, astronomers have caught a circumplanetary foundry in the act of making moons.This is th...
A Black Hole Feasted on a Neutron Star. 10 Days Later, It Happened Again.

A Black Hole Feasted on a Neutron Star. 10 Days Later, It Happened Again.

Technology
In January last year, astronomers definitively observed, for the first time, a black hole swallowing a dead star, like a raven devouring roadkill.Then 10 days later, they saw the same act of scavenging happen again in a different, distant sector of the cosmos.Those triumphs, reported in a paper published on Tuesday in Astrophysical Journal Letters, are the latest in the still nascent field of gravitational astronomy, which is detecting the literal stretching and scrunching of space-time caused by some of the most cataclysmic events in the universe.“It’s the first time that we’ve actually been able to detect a neutron star and a black hole colliding with each other anywhere in the universe,” said Patrick Brady, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who serves as th...
Betelgeuse Merely Burped, Astronomers Conclude

Betelgeuse Merely Burped, Astronomers Conclude

Technology
Betelgeuse, to put it most politely, burped.In the autumn of 2019 the star, a red supergiant at the shoulder of the constellation Orion the Hunter, began to dim drastically to less than half its usual brightness, and some astronomers worried — or perhaps were hoping — that it would explode in a supernova.Astronomers now say that dust was the culprit in the Great Dimming and that Betelgeuse itself was responsible for that dust. A giant blob of gas erupted from the star, the story goes, and then cooled off and condensed into solid particles that temporarily veiled their origin.“We have directly witnessed the formation of so-called stardust,” Miguel Montargès, an astrophysicist at the Paris Observatory, said in a statement issued by the European Southern Observatory. He and Emily Cannon of Ca...