Caught in the act: A black hole rips apart an unfortunate star

Robie de Guzman   •   September 27, 2019   •   582

Scientists have captured a view of a colossal black hole violently ripping apart a doomed star, illustrating an extraordinary and chaotic cosmic event from beginning to end for the first time using NASA’s planet-hunting telescope.

The U.S. space agency’s orbiting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, better known as TESS, revealed the detailed timeline of a star 375 million light-years away warping and spiraling into the unrelenting gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole, researchers said on Thursday.

The star, roughly the same size as our sun, was eventually sucked into oblivion in a rare cosmic occurrence that astronomers call a tidal disruption event, they added.

Astronomers used an international network of telescopes to detect the phenomenon before turning to TESS, whose permanent viewing zones designed to hunt distant planets caught the beginning of the violent event, proving effective its unique method of surveilling the cosmos.

Such phenomena happen when a star ventures too close to a supermassive black hole, objects that reside at the center of most large galaxies including our Milky Way.

The black hole’s tremendous gravitational forces tear the star to shreds, with some of its material tossed into space and the rest plunging into the black hole, forming a disk of hot, bright gas as it is swallowed.

Observing the oscillation of light as the black hole gobbles the star and spews stellar material in an outward spiral could help astronomers understand the black hole’s behavior, a scientific mystery since physicist Albert Einstein’s work more than a century ago examined gravity’s influence on light in motion. (Reuters)

NASA’s new Mars rover launches from Florida to seek signs of past life

UNTV News   •   July 31, 2020

NASA’s next-generation Mars rover Perseverance blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Thursday (July 30) atop an Atlas 5 rocket on a $2.4 billion mission to search for traces of potential past life on Earth’s planetary neighbor.

The next-generation robotic rover – a car-sized six-wheeled scientific vehicle – also is scheduled to deploy a mini helicopter on Mars and test out equipment for future human missions to the fourth planet from the sun. It is expected to reach Mars next February.

It soared into the sky under clear, sunny and warm conditions carried by an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance. The launch took place after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California where its mission engineers were located was rattled by an earthquake.

This marked NASA’s ninth journey to the Martian surface.

Perseverance is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could bear evidence of potential past microbial life on Mars.

Scientists have long debated whether Mars – once a much more hospitable place than it is today – ever harbored life. Water is considered a key ingredient for life, and the Mars billions of years ago had lots of it on the surface before the planet became a harsh and desolate outpost.

One of the most complex maneuvers in Perseverance’s journey will be what mission engineers call the “seven minutes of terror,” when the robot endures extreme heat and speeds during its descent through the Martian atmosphere, deploying a set of supersonic parachutes before igniting mini rocket engines to gently touch down on the planet’s surface.

Aboard Perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter named Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars for the first time.

This was scheduled as the third launch from Earth to Mars during a busy month of July, following probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and China. The state from which the rover was launched, Florida, is currently one of the hot spots in the United States for the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters)

(Production: Kia Johnson)

NASA poised to launch new rover to seek evidence of past Martian life

UNTV News   •   July 30, 2020

NASA is set to launch an ambitious mission to Mars on Thursday (July 30) with the liftoff of its next-generation Perseverance rover, a six-wheeled robot tasked with deploying a mini helicopter, testing out equipment for future human missions and searching for traces of past Martian life.

The $2.4 billion mission, slated for liftoff at 7:50 a.m. ET (1150 GMT) from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, is planned as the U.S. space agency’s ninth trek to the Martian surface. The United Arab Emirates and China separately this month launched probes to Mars in displays of technological prowess and ambition.

Launching atop an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance, the car-sized Perseverance rover is expected to reach Mars next February. It is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists believe could hold traces of potential past microbial Martian life.

“This is the first time in history where we’re going to go to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told a news briefing on Wednesday (July 29).

The rover will attempt for the first time to bring Martian rock samples back to Earth, collecting materials in cigar-sized capsules and leaving them scattered on the surface for retrieval by a future “fetch” rover. That conceptual rover is expected to launch the samples back into space to link up with other spacecraft for an eventual Earth homecoming around 2031.

Also aboard Perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter dubbed Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars for the first time.

“Imagine a day when we land a robot on Mars and that robot can send maybe a dozen helicopters in different directions to make different discoveries,” Bridenstine said.

Since NASA’s first Mars rover Sojourner landed in 1997, the agency has sent two others – Spirit and Opportunity – that have revealed the geology of vast Martian plains and found evidence of past water formations, among other discoveries. NASA has successfully sent three landers – Pathfinder, Phoenix, InSight – as well.

The United States has plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s under its Artemis program, which envisions using a return to the moon as a testing platform for human missions before making the bigger leap to Mars. (Reuters)

(Production: Rollo Ross)

First images taken by the Solar Orbiter are released by ESA

UNTV News   •   July 17, 2020

The European Space Agency and NASA released on Thursday (July 16) the first images of their joint Sun-observing mission, the Solar Orbiter.

The pictures, taken at an approximate distance of 77 million kilometres away from the Sun, revealed omnipresent miniature solar flares, dubbed ‘campfires’, near the surface of the Sun.

They are the first images taken of the star’s surface from a closer distance, and it remains unclear whether the so-called ‘campfires’ are tiny versions of big flares or whether they are driven by different mechanisms.

The Solar Orbiter was launched in February 2020.

It carries six remote-sensing instruments, or telescopes, to picture the Sun and its surroundings, and four instruments aimed at monitoring the environment around the spacecraft.

By comparing the data from both sets of instruments, scientists hope to get insights into the generation of solar wind, that is, the stream of charged particles coming from the Sun that influences the entire Solar System.

“This is not as close as we will eventually get. Our closest approach will be just over a quarter of the distance between the Sun and Earth and we will reach that in about two years’ time,” promised Daniel Mueller, the ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project scientist. (Reuters)

(Production: Elena Gyldenkerne)

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