Astronomers have noticed that the nearest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri, is emitting brilliant, long-duration optical flare followed by forceful radio bursts.
These observations are a major development in the progression towards applying radio signals from far away stars to generate space weather reports.
Proxima Centauri is a M.5.5 star 4.244 light years off and also the smallest one in the Alpha Centaury system. It is found within the Centaurus southern constellation.
With a radius 14% smaller than that of the sun, a mass 12% that of the sun, Proxima Centauri has a temperature of 2,777 degrees Celsius, or 5,031 degrees Fahrenheit which translates to 3,050 K.
The rotation of this star is slow at only 83 days and it has an activity cycle of 7 years which is relatively long. The habitable zone on the low-mass star is at a distance of between 0.05 to 0.1 AU.
“Astronomers have recently found there are two Earth-like rocky planets around Proxima Centauri, one within the habitable zone where any water could be in liquid form,” explained Dr. Andrew Zic, the lead author and astronomer at the University of Sidney’s School of Physics as well as the CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.
“But given Proxima Centauri is a cool, small red-dwarf star, it means this habitable zone is very close to the star; much closer in than Mercury is to our Sun.”
“What our research shows is that this makes the planets very vulnerable to dangerous ionizing radiation that could effectively sterilize the planets.”
The astronomers were working with CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite from NASA, and the Zadko Telescope to monitor the low-mass star Proxima Centauri at radio wavelengths and optical wavelengths.
The astronomers discovered an optical flare that was long-duration as well as bright which was accompanied by strong and clear radio bursts.
These discoveries are the first occurrence of a stellar radio burst at the same time as a flare which indicates that the two events might have a causal relationship.
“Our own Sun regularly emits hot clouds of ionized particles during what we call coronal mass ejections,” Dr. Zic said.
“But given the Sun is much hotter than Proxima Centauri and other red-dwarf stars, our habitable zone is far from the Sun’s surface, meaning the Earth is a relatively long way from these events.”
“Further, the Earth has a very powerful planetary magnetic field that shields us from these intense blasts of solar plasma.”
“M-dwarf radio bursts might happen for different reasons than on the Sun, where they are usually associated with coronal mass ejections.”
“But it’s highly likely that there are similar events associated with the stellar flares and radio bursts we have seen in this study.”
“Our research helps understand the dramatic effects of space weather on solar systems beyond our own,” explained Dr, Bruce Gendre, the co-author and astronomer at the University of Western Australia and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav).
“Understanding space weather is critical for understanding how our own planet biosphere evolved — but also for what the future is.”
“This is an exciting result from ASKAP,” co-author Professor Tara Murphy explained. Murphy serves as Deputy Head in charge of the School of Physics at the University of Sydney as well as an OzGrav astronomer.
“The incredible data quality allowed us to view the stellar flare from Proxima Centauri over its full evolution in amazing detail.”
“Most importantly, we can see polarized light, which is a signature of these events. It’s a bit like looking at the star with sunglasses on.”
The findings of their study were published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Chinese Startup Launches Robotic Space Debris Clean Up
A mining company based in China has created a prototype of a robot that may help to remove space debris.
The startup launched the 30kg robot known as NEO-01 will be launched into the low Earth orbit where it will be deployed to catch space debris and grill it.
The company used Long March, a Chinese government rocket to launch the robot. Xinhua reported that the robot will be deployed to monitor smaller bodies in deep space and to try out a new method of removing space debris using a large net to capture it and then burning it with an electric propulsion structure.
Besides the 3,000 defunct satellites that are still orbiting the earth, there are also bits of space debris in the millions.
This debris is hazardous because it is capable of causing damage if it impacts the earth at a high velocity. The space junk comprises nuts, paint flecks, frozen satellite coolant, bolts, as well as rocket parts, and astronaut tools.
Space agencies, private companies, and lawmakers have been debating on what to do with the menace of space debris that has built up over the years. These discussions have given rise to several suggestions, including using active space cleanup operations carried out by satellites fitted with claws, magnets, or nets, as well as charging orbital use levies.
The startup that developed the NEO-01 robot is called Origin Space and is based in Shenzen, China. Origin Space styles itself as the first company in China that is dedicated to the exploration and exploitation of space resources.
There is hope that NEO-01 will be the first of many technological developments in the area of asteroid mining.
Company founder Su Meng told Chinese state media that Origin Space wants to eventually launch dozens of spacecraft, including space telescopes with the view of achieving the premier commercial asteroid mining service by 2045.
Since Planetary Resources launched in the US in 2019 as the first company dedicated to asteroid mining, a dozen more similar companies have come up.
Planet Resources was bought out by ConsenSys, a blockchain company after encountering financial difficulties.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty does not allow any nation to claim possession of celestial bodies or outer space, but it does leave room for the extraction of space resources for commercial use.
US President Barack Obama signed into law a provision for American companies to own resources mined from celestial bodies.
NASA announced that it was carrying out mining on the moon last year. The organization would endeavor to buy rock and dirt mined from the moon’s rocky surface, known as lunar regolith which private companies extract.
NASA wants this to go towards establishing norms of doing business in space that may be compared to such business in the oceans of the earth.
Such international standards for doing business would allow astronauts to make money by creating rocket fuel using ice or building landing pads using moon rock.
SpaceX Starship prototype Lands Successfully then Explodes
SpaceX’s much anticipated Mars landing is closer than ever, after a prototype passed a high-altitude test by landing successfully on earth and exploding eight minutes later. The prototype went into the skies and landed with precision before the explosion.
Starship model SN10 was much close to the goal of a successful and safe vertical landing than versions SN8 and SN9 that came before it.
December 2020 saw SN8 perform its first high-altitude test flight which culminated in it demonstrating re-entry maneuvers before exploding during landing.
Last month, the SN9 completed a 10km flight before it landed in an explosion when one Raptor engine did not ignite.
SN10’s automated fire-suppression system came into play upon landing. The system involves a stream of water trained on the flames burning at the base. The Starship still exploded, after it had launched into the air and back into the ground. SN10 is a full prototype of the final design of the Starship.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk did not immediately comment on what went wrong, but he did tweet about the incident. “Starship 10 landed in one piece! RIP SN10, honorable discharge.”
“SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” he added.
The Starship rocket will be a reusable launch vehicle that Musk hopes will make it affordable for humans to travel in space regularly. It will be 120cm tall and has a heavy booster.
The first round Starship flight will hopefully take place at the end of 2021. Musk hopes that he will take Yusaku Maezawa a Japanese billionaire on a trip around the moon aboard the starship by 2023.
In June 2020, Nasa astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken flew on the SpaceX to the International Space Station. It was the first time for the SpaceX rocket to take human beings to space. Elon Musk hopes that it will be only the first of many such trips.
eROSITA X-Ray Telescope makes Largest Supernova Remnant discovery yet
Scientists working with the eROSITA X-ray telescope have stumbled upon the most massive supernova remnant discovered yet using X rays.
Working from aboard the SRG (Spektrum-Roentgen-Gamma), the scientists want to put together X-ray technology, radio, and other wavelengths to detect supernova remnants.
“Our aim is to combine expertise across multiple wavelengths, from radio to X-ray, to search for hundreds of supernova remnants (SNRs),” explained co-author Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker.
Walker is an astronomer with the Curtin University and works with the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).
Adds Walker: “The eROSITA telescope is 25 times more sensitive than its predecessor ROSAT so we expected to discover new SNRs in coming years, but were pleasantly surprised to have one appear straight away.”
The just discovered SNR is one of the largest to be found using X-Ray and has won the label G249.5+24.5. Only using radio waves have scientists succeeded in spotting larger supernova remnants.
Hoinga is a whopping 90 times larger than the moon. “Adding to our excitement, Hoinga is the largest SNR ever discovered via X-rays, in terms of apparent size: about 90 times larger than the full Moon,” Dr. Hurley-Walker said.
“An enduring mystery surrounding SNRs was the shortfall between the expected number of them in our Galaxy and the number actually identified through past surveys.”
“We expect there to be about 1,200 SNRs in our Galaxy, however only about 300 have been found so far,” Walker added.
“By sifting through archival radio data we discovered Hoinga had been sitting there waiting to be discovered in surveys up to ten years old, but because it was high above the plane of the Milky Way, it was missed.”
“SNRs are not typically expected to be found at high Galactic latitudes so these areas are not usually the focus of surveys, meaning there may be even more of these overlooked remnants out there waiting to be discovered.”
“The radio observations made it possible for us to work out that it is a middle-aged remnant relatively close to Earth, calculations that would have been far less accurate with the X-ray data alone.”
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