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UAE will launch its first moon rover in 2024 - Space.com
The United Arab Emirates has joined the roll-call of nations looking to visit the moon , with a lunar rover named Rashid scheduled to launch in 2024. The announcement comes while the nation's first mission beyond Earth orbit, a Mars spacecraft called Hope , is still trekking out to the Red Planet. That mission is a science-minded endeavor meant to study how Mars' climate and atmosphere work from orbit. The new lunar mission is of a different flavor, focused more on developing technologies and evaluating concerns before crewed and longer-duration exploration missions leave Earth and land on other worlds. "There are many scientific objectives behind this mission that will help us to better understand the moon," Adnan AlRais of the UAE's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) told Space.com, "but also in the long run to support our ultimate goal, sending humans to Mars and building settlements on Mars." Related: The United Arab Emirates' Hope Mars mission in photos AlRais heads up the agency's Mars 2117 program, which was established in 2017 to target landing humans on Mars within a century. As part of the program, the UAE is developing a "Mars Science City" in the desert and taking part in practice Red Planet missions at analog facilities, among other activities. Meanwhile, the nation's astronaut program is selecting two new spaceflyers to double its ranks. The UAE currently has two astronauts, one of whom spent a week on the International Space Station in 2019, and recently sent them to NASA's Johnson Space Center for additional training. And that's all going on while the UAE prepares for the Hope spacecraft's orbital arrival at Mars in February. For a space program less than two decades old, the newly announced lunar mission marks a foray beyond the existing focus areas of Earth-observation satellites, human spaceflight and Mars exploration. The decision to target a lunar rover stems from the international recognition of the moon as a stepping stone to Mars, a nearby world to test technologies before committing to the monthslong voyage to the Red Planet. "It makes sense to go to the moon," Hamad Al Marzooqi, project manager for the new lunar mission, told Space.com. "The moon is nearer to Earth than Mars and it will allow us to do high-frequency missions," although he declined to elaborate on what sort of future missions the agency is considering. The team's current focus, he said, is on this initial lunar rover, dubbed Rashid after the late Sheik Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the current sheik's father and one of the founders of the UAE, according to the Associated Press . The UAE has not yet selected the rocket that will launch the rover in 2024. The team also still needs to select a landing site from among five finalists, Al Marzooqi said. Those candidate sites, all located in the equatorial region of the near side of the moon, are locations that have never been visited by landed spacecraft, he added. An artist's depiction of the UAE's planned moon rover seen on the lunar surface. (Image credit: MBRSC) "We plan to go and explore new areas that have not been explored during previous missions and that will allow us to do interesting science," Al Marzooqi said. The four-wheeled rover's task list is a bit of a smorgasbord, determined more by the landing site and the instruments the team believes it can manage than by an overarching scientific narrative. Rashid will carry a high-resolution camera, a thermal imager and a microscopic imager to tell scientists about the dusty lunar regolith (moon dirt) and the probe's surroundings. It will also carry a Langmuir probe, an instrument that will study a particularly strange phenomenon on the moon. The solar wind, a constant stream of charged particles flowing off the sun, continually bombards the dayside lunar surface, since the moon has no atmosphere to stop these particles. The result is a slight positive charge to the dayside surface — and in turn, a negatively charged photoelectron sheath about 3 feet (1 meter) tall above it. The phenomenon may contribute to the stickiness of lunar dust that so frustrated Apollo-era exploration, a potential concern already on the minds of those looking to return to the moon. Al Marzooqi said no Langmuir probe has ever reached the lunar surface and he hopes Rashid's will address this ongoing mystery. The rover will also test experimental spacesuit materials to evaluate how they withstand the harsh lunar environment. And although Rashid's primary mission will last just one lunar day (about 14 Earth days), the rover will carry experimental software that will monitor instruments' temperatures and regulate their power, with the goal of waking them up again once the frigid lunar night ends, Al Marzooqi said. Related: Hazzaa AlMansoori: The 1st Emirati astronaut's space mission in photos To date, three nations have successfully soft-landed on the moon: the then-Soviet Union, the U.S. and China . Two countries attempted to join that list last year but failed: Both Israel's Beresheet lander and the Vikram lander of India's Chandrayaan-2 mission experienced glitches during the landing process and didn't slow down enough to survive the impact. Al Marzooqi said those missions were on the Rashid team's mind looking ahead to a 2024 landing attempt. "I was disappointed to see those failed missions," he said. "When you see failed missions before your mission, you need to understand the risk better in order to make sure that we don't follow the same path." But that risk is also the price of admission, the UAE knows. "There is no space mission with 100% success rate," Al Marzooqi said. Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
Cygnus freighter delivers space toilet and more to astronauts on space station - Space.com
The S.S. Kalpana Chawla arrived at the orbiting lab early this morning (Oct. 5).
The astronauts aboard the International Space Station just got nearly 4 tons of new supplies, including a $23 million titanium space toilet. The gear arrived today (Oct. 5) aboard the private robotic Cygnus freighter , which reached the orbiting lab at 5:32 a.m. EDT (0932 GMT). NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who commands the station's current Expedition 63, grappled the Cygnus with the station's huge robotic arm at that time. The cargo craft was officially bolted into place at 8:01 a.m. EDT (1201 GMT), while the two spacecraft were flying 261 miles (420 kilometers) above the South Pacific Ocean, NASA officials said. By coincidence, the docking occurred at the start of World Space Week 2020, which runs from Oct. 4 to Oct. 10 to celebrate the impact space exploration and technology have on daily life. Related:See amazing launch photos of Antares and Cygnus NG-13! Welcome to the @Space_Station, Kalpana Chawla!Today we received #Cygnus #NG14 spacecraft named after Kalpana Chawla, the first astronaut of Indian origin launched into space but died in the Shuttle Columbia disaster. Like last time, @Astro_SEAL and me captured the spacecraft pic.twitter.com/jMttWfj4TSOctober 5, 2020 Cassidy and his two Expedition 63 crewmates, cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin, can now begin unloading the Cygnus, which launched Friday night (Oct. 2) from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia with 7,624 lbs. (3,458 kilograms) of cargo on board. The supplies include food, hardware, a variety of scientific experiments and the Universal Waste Management System , a pricey new space toilet that will be tested for potential future use in orbit and on the moon. The Cygnus was built by Virginia-based company Northrop Grumman, which holds a NASA contract to fly robotic resupply missions to the space station. SpaceX has a similar deal, which it fulfills using the cargo version of its Dragon capsule. (SpaceX also holds a NASA commercial crew deal and is preparing to launch four astronauts to the station on Oct. 31 ). This Cygnus, named the S.S. Kalpana Chawla after one of the seven astronauts who died in the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster, the 13th to reach the International Space Station and the 14th to take flight overall. The S.S. Kalpana Chawla will remain docked to the station until mid-December. It will then fly freely around Earth for about two weeks, allowing researchers to conduct an onboard fire-safety experiment called Saffire-V. The freighter will then make a suicide dive into Earth's atmosphere, disposing of several tons of astronaut trash in the process. Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
Melting ice sheets will add over 15 inches to global sea level rise by 2100 - Space.com
Greenland and Antarctica are melting.
Melting from ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica (like the Getz Ice Shelf seen here) will contribute over 15 inches to global sea level rise by 2100, scientists have found in a new study. (Image credit: Jeremy Harbeck/NASA) If humans continue emitting greenhouse gases at the current pace, global sea levels could rise more than 15 inches (38 centimeters) by 2100, scientists found in a new study. Greenhouse gases emitted by human activity, such as carbon dioxide, contribute significantly to climate change and warming temperatures on planet Earth, studies continue to show. As things heat up, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melt. A new study by an international team of more than 60 ice, ocean and atmospheric scientists estimates just how much these melting ice sheets will contribute to global sea levels. "One of the biggest uncertainties when it comes to how much sea level will rise in the future is how much the ice sheets will contribute," project leader and ice scientist Sophie Nowicki, now at the University at Buffalo and formerly at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement. "And how much the ice sheets contribute is really dependent on what the climate will do." Related: The reality of climate change: 10 myths busted The results of this study show that, if human greenhouse gas emissions continue at the pace they're currently at, Greenland and Antarctica's melting ice sheets will contribute over 15 inches (28 centimeters) to global sea levels. This new study is part of the Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project (ISMIP6), which is led by NASA Goddard. The ISMIP6 team investigated how sea levels will rise between 2015 and 2100, exploring how sea levels will change in a variety of carbon-emission scenarios They found that, with high emissions (like we see now) extending throughout this time period, Greenland's melting ice sheet will contribute about 3.5 in (9 cm) to global sea level rise. With lower emissions, they estimate that number to be about 1.3 in (3 cm). Ice sheet loss in Antarctica is a little more difficult to predict, because, while ice shelves will continue to erode on the western side of the continent, East Antarctica could actually gain mass as temperatures rise because of increasing snowfall. Because of this, the team found a larger range of possible ice sheet loss here. The team determined that ice-sheet loss in Antarctica could boost sea levels up to 12 in (30 cm), with West Antarctica causing up to 7.1 in (18 cm) of sea level rise by 2100 with the highest predicted emissions. However, to be clear: These increases in global sea levels are just predictions for the years 2015 to 2100, so they don't account for the significant ice sheet loss that has already taken place between the pre-industrial era and modern day. "The Amundsen Sea region in West Antarctica and Wilkes Land in East Antarctica are the two regions most sensitive to warming ocean temperatures and changing currents, and will continue to lose large amounts of ice," Helene Seroussi, an ice scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who led the Antarctic ice sheet modeling in the ISMIP6 project, said in the same statement. "With these new results, we can focus our efforts in the correct direction and know what needs to be worked on to continue improving the projections," Seroussi said. These results are in line with estimates made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose 2019 Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere showed that melting ice sheets would contribute to about one-third of the total global sea level rise. According to the 2019 IPCC report, melting ice sheets in Greenland will contribute 3.1 to 10.6 inches (8 to 27 cm) to global sea level rise between the years 2000 and 2100. For Antarctica, the report estimates that melting ice sheets will add 1.2 to 11 inches (3 to 28 cm). The results from this new work will help to inform the next IPCC report, the sixth overall, which is set to be released in 2022, according to the same statement. "The strength of ISMIP6 was to bring together most of the ice sheet modeling groups around the world, and then connect with other communities of ocean and atmospheric modelers as well, to better understand what could happen to the ice sheets," Heiko Goelzer, a scientist from Utrecht University in the Netherlands who is now at NORCE Norwegian Research Centre in Norway, said in the same statement. "It took over six years of workshops and teleconferences with scientists from around the world working on ice sheet, atmosphere, and ocean modeling to build a community that was able to ultimately improve our sea level rise projections," added Nowicki, who led the Greenland ice sheet ISMIP6 project. "The reason it worked is because the polar community is small, and we're all very keen on getting this problem of future sea level right. We need to know these numbers." This work was published Sept. 17 in a special issue of the journal The Cryosphere. Email Chelsea Gohd at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
International Space Station at 20: Commercialization increases as end of life looms - Space.com
The orbiting lab's golden years should be busy.
The International Space Station (ISS) hits 20 years of continuous human habitation this fall, and NASA aims to make the most of the years the orbiting lab has left. The astronaut complex is in great shape, agency officials have stressed, and it just received a set of battery upgrades to keep going for a while. Within months, operational commercial crews will expand the station's capacity for research as more astronauts per spacecraft pour into the facility. The Trump administration and NASA are also ramping up efforts to fly private astronauts and add private modules to the ISS. While activity hums along on station, the end of the station program is still officially pegged at 2024. But NASA and other international partners are discussing an extension to at least 2028. Related: The International Space Station inside and out (infographic) "The ISS is an amazing tool, and of course where we are right now, we're going to use it for the maximum extent possible for as many years as we have left with it," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said today (Aug. 27) during a presentation at the ISS Research & Development conference, which was broadcast online. "We don't know when it [the station program] will end," he added. "We know it can't last forever." Ambitious agendas Such discussions about the future of the ISS come as NASA plans an ambitious agenda in space in the coming years. NASA will celebrate the 20th anniversary of a continuous human presence on the space station on Nov. 2, marking two decades since Expedition 1 began on a much-smaller version of the ISS for a multi-month stay. (Assembly of the orbiting lab began in 1998, but it would be another two years before the ISS started hosting crews continuously.) For the future, NASA is working to land astronauts on the moon again in 2024, with the help of commercial spacecraft funded through the Commercial Lunar Services Program. The agency also plans, outside the "critical path" of moon landings, to build a small space station near the moon called Gateway. Gateway has already attracted some international partners, such as Canada's commitment to provide a Canadarm3 robotic arm. All of these projects, however, are dependent upon ongoing Congressional funding. NASA doesn't yet have its budget finalized for fiscal year 2021 as it is still being approved by the House and the Senate, and challenges loom due to the uncertain economic environment from the coronavirus pandemic, along with the outcome of the presidential election this November. The ISS R&D conference did not focus on these uncertainties, instead discussing how NASA can make the most of the opportunities available on the orbital lab while the agency's funders and partners discuss the station's future. Kathy Lueders, the newly appointed leader of NASA's human spaceflight efforts, said the station has supported over 3,000 investigations from 108 countries since its foundation, a scientific record she deemed "amazing." Lueders paid tribute to the station's legacy of running long missions for astronauts, which typically range between six months and a year each. The ISS is the first facility capable of supporting multi-month crew expeditions since the Soviet/Russian Mir space station, which was deorbited in 2001. Such long-term flights investigate astronaut health metrics such as muscle strength, bone density and gene expression alterations in space and will prepare NASA and its partners for human missions to the moon and Mars, agency officials have said. "We are still figuring out the way, and we'll be unlocking the secrets of long-duration spaceflight," Lueders said. "This [ISS] is a critical place for us to continue to figure out how to fly people in space for a long time." What happens to U.S. research in space in the post-ISS era, whenever that comes, remains to be determined, although NASA officials emphasized in the conference that the agency will not be in charge of whatever orbiting facility takes its place. Commercializing research was also a focus of several discussions. That said, Marybeth Edeen, the manager of the ISS research integration office, urged NASA and its partners to continue with fundamental research "in the interim." Fundamental research is distinct from commercial research, as the fundamental work is performed without immediate expectation of a financial return. "At this point, there is a lot of work going on to commercialize low Earth orbit and create commercial activities and services, but those commercial capabilities need to be tempered to continue the research we started in the last decade," Edeen said. She noted that future research should also consider "NASA's needs for exploration" and the needs of government partners such as the U.S. National Science Foundation that study medical applications of space research. "We're trying to facilitate commercial capabilities when available, but also to continue the research," Edeen added. Crew time has traditionally been the brake on research, Edeen said. Space station crews have been smaller since the seven-astronaut space shuttle retired in 2011, meaning that routine station maintenance such as cleaning and minor repairs take a greater share of crew time. She said she is hoping that larger commercial crews will address the situation in the near term. Related: The Expedition 63 mission to the International Space Station (photos) Research boom? Key metrics overall for research should increase in the next five years, however. Alex MacDonald, NASA's chief economist and ISS National Lab Program executive, said the agency is expecting more money from other government agencies, more money from the private sector for early-stage research, more students engaging with ISS science and more applications in space that can be used on Earth. Ken Shields, chief operating officer of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the U.S. National Laboratory on the station, added that a new external user advisory committee will help tweak the laboratory's needs for users in the coming years. At least one NASA official warned that there's at least one other potential danger to the ISS in addition to funding and political uncertainties — mechanical failure. "ISS could have an unrecoverable major contingency at any time," said Phil McAlister, NASA's commercial spaceflight program director. McAlister didn't say what would constitute a dramatic failure, but common dangers in human spaceflight include fire, depressurization and failure of major systems. ISS does have an ace in its pocket, as crews and robots alike can perform repairs when systems fail. Astronauts (working with ground teams) have overcome large problems on the station before, such as repairing critical ammonia coolant leaks from time to time, and securing the station's power by fixing a ripped solar panel that initially refused to deploy properly in 2007. NASA cannot say how long the ISS will last because that is up to the stakeholder partnership, McAlister said. (NASA is one of 15 partners in the ISS program.) But he noted the agency is looking ahead to having other commercial facilities available in space after the ISS. "At some point, we will incrementally phase down ISS operations," he said. At the same time, NASA will work with commercial partners to have new commercial-run facilities ready to take the station's place, he said. "It will not be a turn-the-light-switch kind of situation," McAlister said. Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcomand on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
NASA's Mars rover Perseverance is fine and out of 'safe mode' - Space.com
The life-hunting rover bounced back fast.
You can breathe easy now: All is officially well with NASA's newly launched Mars rover Perseverance . Perseverance went into a protective "safe mode" shortly after its liftoff yesterday (July 30) because part of the spacecraft got a bit colder than expected when it zoomed through Earth's shadow. NASA officials stressed at the time that this development was not particularly concerning and that Perseverance, the centerpiece of the agency's $2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission , would likely bounce back quickly. That optimism was borne out: The rover has exited safe mode and resumed normal operations, mission team members announced today (July 31). Live Updates: NASA's Mars rover Perseverance mission in real time "With safe mode exit, the team is getting down to the business of interplanetary cruise," Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in an update today . "Next stop, Jezero Crater." Perseverance will land inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero on Feb. 18, 2021. The crater harbored a lake and a river delta billions of years ago, and the car-sized rover will search the area for signs of ancient life and characterize its geology in detail. Perseverance will also collect and cache several dozen samples on Mars, which a joint NASA/European Space Agency campaign will return to Earth , possibly as early as 2031. Related:The Mars Perseverance rover mission in photos Mars 2020 will also conduct several technology demonstrations. For example, one of Perseverance's instruments will generate oxygen from Mars' carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere. The mission also features a small helicopter called Ingenuity , which will attempt to make the first-ever rotorcraft flights in the skies of another world. Mars 2020 is one of three missions currently winging their way toward the Red Planet. The United Arab Emirates' Hope orbiter and China's Tianwen-1 orbiter-lander-rover mission launched on July 19 and July 23, respectively. All of these craft are scheduled to arrive at Mars in February 2021. Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
Behold! Saturn has no summertime blues in this amazing Hubble telescope photo - Space.com
The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of Saturn during its northern hemisphere summer on July 4, 2020. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), and the OPAL Team) Can't get enough of summer? Saturn's northern hemisphere is also in the throes of the season, and the Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning new photo of the ringed planet to celebrate. The photo is part of a long-running program called Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy, through which each year, Hubble turns to monitor the weather on Saturn, Jupiter and other distant worlds. Since the last image, taken in 2019, the atmosphere of Saturn's northern hemisphere has become slightly redder while its southern hemisphere has become slightly bluer. "It's amazing that even over a few years, we're seeing seasonal changes on Saturn," lead investigator Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement Thursday (July 24). Related: Saturn's glorious rings up close in photos Hubble captured the new image on July 4, when Saturn was about 839 million miles (1.35 billion kilometers) from Earth. The redder northern hemisphere likely stems from sunnier conditions accompanying the local summer , according to the statement. Increased sunlight could either heat the northern hemisphere a bit and interfere with local atmospheric composition or create haze. Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images of all time! Hubble also spotted two of Saturn's moons in the new image: on the right is Mimas , which sports one massive crater covering much of its surface, and to the bottom is icy Enceladus, one of scientists' most intriguing targets to understand whether life exists elsewhere in our solar system. Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
Dramatic SpaceX video shows what happens when a rocket's nose cone pops off - Space.com
Payload fairing separation, when a rocket's shell-like nose cone pops free, is an event that accompanies most rocket launches these days, but we've never seen one quite like this. A stunning new video from SpaceX captures the moment of separation from the point of view of the fairing itself, showing the two halves of a Falcon 9 rocket's fairing pull away from the booster's upper stage during a recent launch of 60 Starlink internet satellites. In the 9-second clip, which SpaceX released on YouTube, we see the fairings separate from the Falcon 9 upper stage to reveal a towering stack of Starlink satellites. A quick glimpse of the Earth's atmosphere, backlit with ethereal blue light, can be seen just before it ends. SpaceX launched the Starlink mission June 3 from Space Launch Complex 40 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Related: SpaceX's Starlink satellite megaconstellation launches in photos A camera on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket fairing shows the moment of separation in this video still from the launch of 60 Starlink satellites (visible in a stack at center) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on June 3, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX) SpaceX's Falcon 9 payload fairings are 43 feet (13 meters) tall and just over 17 feet (5 m) wide. When assembled, they form a shell around satellite payloads to protect them during the first few minutes of a launch. The fairing halves separate about 3 minutes after liftoff. (SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, which carry cargo and crew to space, aren't covered by a fairing.) SpaceX has added steering thrusters and parachutes to some fairing halves in order to reuse the fairings on multiple flights. To catch them in the ocean, SpaceX has added giant nets to two retrieval ships, called Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief, to recover the fairings at sea. According to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, Falcon 9 rocket fairings alone cost $6 million, so reusing them on multiple flights can help lower launch costs. The company has reflown three fairing halves to date. The next SpaceX launch will lift off Saturday (June 13) and will carry another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. SpaceX has launched 482 Starlink satellites over eight missions as the company works to build a 12,000-satellite megaconstellation to provide high-speed internet service around the world. Email Tariq Malik at [email protected] or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
Where do baby magnetars come from? Mysterious 'fast radio bursts' may provide clues. - Space.com
Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist at SUNY Stony Brook and the Flatiron Institute, host of Ask a Spaceman and Space Radio, and author of "Your Place in the Universe." Sutter contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights. Magnetars highly magnetized, rapidly rotating super-dense stars are among the most enigmatic creatures to inhabit the cosmos and their origins are shrouded in mystery. Do they come from supernova explosions of dying stars? Are they born when stellar corpses collide? Or do they magnetize when material spirals in to a dormant pulsar, a rapidly spinning dense neutron star that produces bright jets? New research suggests an entirely different route: a stellar corpse called a white dwarf crashes into a neutron star, producing an extremely powerful explosion and leaving behind a magnetar. Related: Mysterious 'fast radio bursts' from deep space repeat themselves every 16 days The mystery of FRBs Over the past few decades, astronomers have spotted incredibly bright, brief and strange bursts of radio energy, known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs. To date, a little over 100 FRBs have been detected across the sky. Whatever they are, they are almost certainly coming from outside our Milky Way galaxy otherwise scientists would have seen them concentrated along the band of our galaxy, instead of all over the sky. With a few notable exceptions, FRBs don't repeat. They are one and done, representing an ridiculous amount of energy spilled into the cosmos in less than a second. To make matters even more mysterious, the FRBs for which astronomers have managed to pinpoint an origin (not an easy task, because the phenomenon is so brief) are not associated with any one particular kind of galaxy or another. The diversity of sources suggests that different kinds of processes in the universe all of them violent lead to the formation of fast radio bursts. Whatever the processes are, they require tremendous amounts of energy and occur quite rapidly. Mergers between stars are an interesting candidate. When one star crashes into another, there's obviously a lot of energy flying around. And while stars can take eons to get close enough to merge, the act itself is a brief moment of intense fury. But regular stars merging simply isn't enough to power a full-fledged FRB. To get the required energies, you have to merge more exotic objects, like neutron stars and white dwarfs. Only then will you have the masses and densities required to really get a party going. Making a magnetar One merger scenario to potentially generate an FRB is the merger of a white dwarf with a neutron star. Both neutron stars and white dwarfs are exotic types of dead remnants of once-normal stars. A white dwarf is the planet-size leftover core of a star like our sun, a lump of carbon and oxygen slowly cooling off as the cosmic ages progress. A neutron star is like a white dwarf but moreso: it's the leftover core of a much more massive star, composed almost entirely of neutrons compressed into a ball no bigger than a city. Since stars are often born in pairs, it's not crazy to think that after enough time, both stars in a system could die, leaving behind their particular kind of dead cores and that slowly, slowly, slowly, those dead lumps could circle closer together, finally reaching a critical point at which their gravitational interaction overwhelms everything, sending the stellar corpses spiraling in toward each other (and their doom). Right at the cusp of their final collision, one of two scenarios could play out. In one case, the white dwarf can puff up, letting the outer tendrils of its atmosphere escape and funnel down to the neutron star. In the other, the extreme gravity of the neutron star completely shreds the white dwarf and its tattered stellar corpse rains down onto its heavier, denser sibling. In either case, a tremendous amount of mass transfers to the white dwarf and onto the neutron star, and that's when the fun really begins, according to new research. Powering up the monster The scientists behind the new research want to know whether a merger between a white dwarf and a neutron star could be just right to trigger the escalation of an extreme magnetic field. At first, the infalling material (whether stripped from the white dwarf or made of the torn-up white dwarf itself) spirals onto the neutron star. As it falls, it accelerates the rotation of the neutron star, like a grown-up pushing on the merry-go-round at the playground, to the delight and horror of the kids on it. Soon, the neutron star is spinning faster than the blades of your kitchen blender. This spiralling takes the surrounding magnetic field and spins it up on itself, coiling like a snake ready to strike. But the flow of matter onto the neutron star isn't smooth at all; it's incredibly turbulent and chaotic. Tiny little kinks and warps in the magnetic field stretch, twist and grow, causing the magnetic field to feed back on itself in a dynamo mechanism, tapping into the powerful energies unleashed in the collision of the white dwarf and the neutron star to power up a magnetic field stronger than anything else in the universe. At last, the magnetar is born. (At least, according to this theory.) Like a newborn baby, the magnetar comes into the world screaming and crying. It's unstable; because of all the chaotic forces from the merger, it hasn't settled into a regular rhythm of rotation yet. And because that rotation is so fast, any little glitch or hitch will release a powerful blast of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation, the scientists suggest. And radio waves like those massive outbursts of FRBs are electromagnetic radiation. The new research suggests that at least some of the FRBs we observe in the sky are the cries of newly born magnetars, created from the cosmic crash of neutron stars with white dwarfs. If the premise is correct, it's nearly poetic: the collision of two exotic stellar remnants, creating yet another strange inhabitant of the cosmos, giving rise to one of the most extreme bursts of energy known to astronomers, a burst of radiation so intense that it can be witnessed from across the universe. It's perhaps the most difficult childbirth in the cosmos. The research is described in a paper published April 8 in the Astrophysical Journal. You can listen to the Ask A Spaceman podcast on iTunes, and on the Web at http://www.askaspaceman.com. Ask your own question on Twitter using #AskASpaceman, or by following Paul @PaulMattSutter and facebook.com/PaulMattSutter. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
Weird alien planet may be core of stripped-down gas giant - Space.com
The bizarre newfound world resides in the mostly barren 'hot Neptunian desert.'
A distant world about 40 times more massive than Earth may be the remnant core of a giant planet, or a giant planet in the making whose growth stalled, a new study reports. These findings may help shed light on what the mysterious cores of giant planets look like, researchers said. Scientists investigated the exoplanet TOI-849b, which NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) first detected in 2018 and whose existence the La Silla Observatory in Chile later helped confirm. This alien world orbits the sunlike star TOI-849 about 730 light-years from Earth. Related: The strangest alien planets (gallery) With a mass about 40 times that of Earth, TOI-849b is nearly half as massive as Saturn . At the same time, data from the Paranal Observatory in Chile and the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope helped reveal that the exoplanet has a diameter about 3.45 times that of Earth, comparable to Neptune's. Altogether, this information suggests the exoplanet has a density similar to Earth's, making it the densest Neptune-size planet discovered to date. TOI-849b circles its star in a fast, tight orbit just 18.4 hours long. This brings it scorchingly close to its star at a distance of just 1.5% of an astronomical unit (AU), the average distance between Earth and the sun (which is about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers). The newfound exoplanet therefore lies in the middle of the so-called "hot Neptunian desert ," an apparent (and mysterious) dearth of Neptune-size worlds that orbit very close to their stars. "There are not a lot of planets in this in-between place, so to see a planet this size this close to a star is pretty cool," Sean Raymond, an astrophysicist at the Observatory of Bordeaux in France, who did not take part in this research, told Space.com. Previous models suggested that nascent planets more than 10 to 20 times Earth's mass should have strong enough gravitational fields to gobble up huge amounts of material from the protoplanetary disks of gas and dust that surround their newborn stars. Such worlds should therefore swell to become gas giants similar to Jupiter or Saturn. As such, one might think that TOI-849b is the remnant of a gas giant that lost most of its weight somehow, perhaps due to the heat it experiences orbiting so close to its star. However, as much as the light from TOI-849b's star would sear the exoplanet , the scientists noted such heating alone might still not strip a gas giant's atmosphere down to nearly the planet's core. They estimated the star is about 6.7 billion years old. Given that amount of time, as well as TOI-849b's distance from its star, they calculated a Jupiter-like gas giant would have lost only a few percent of its mass due to stellar radiation to date. As such, the researchers suggest that TOI-849b may be the remnant core of a gas giant that lost mass through a different mechanism. Perhaps it collided with other giant planets, for example, or the gravity of its star peeled off much of its gas envelope. Alternatively, if TOI-849b were slung to its current position due to gravitational clashes with other planets, the energy the exoplanet would have experienced as its star's gravity pulled TOI-849b into its current circular orbit would have greatly heated that world, potentially leading to significant mass loss. Another possible explanation for TOI-849b's current state has to do with arrested development. Perhaps TOI-849b formed late, when much of its system's protoplanetary disk was gone, the researchers said. Alternatively, perhaps as TOI-849b developed in orbit around its star, it carved off all the material available to it for its growth within the protoplanetary disk. All in all, TOI-849b may give scientists a glimpse at what the core of a gas giant looks like. Future research may directly observe that core's composition by analyzing evaporated material in the exoplanet's remaining atmosphere. Further work may also investigate whether this exoplanet actually was a gas giant whose atmosphere was stripped away by the light from its star. "They claim that it's unlikely, but these calculations are hard to do," Raymond said. The new study, which was led by David Armstrong of the University of Warwick in England, has been accepted by the journal Nature. You can read a preprint of the paper for free at arXiv.org. Follow Charles Q. Choi on Twitter @cqchoi. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook . Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]