ESO: Massive star vanishes from view

The latest report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

A Cosmic Mystery:
ESO Telescope Captures the Disappearance of a Massive Star

This illustration shows what the luminous blue variable star in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy could have looked like before its mysterious disappearance. Credits: ESO

Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have discovered the absence of an unstable massive star in a dwarf galaxy. Scientists think this could indicate that the star became less bright and partially obscured by dust. An alternative explanation is that the star collapsed into a black hole without producing a supernova.

“If true,” says team leader and PhD student Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, “this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner.”

Between 2001 and 2011, various teams of astronomers studied the mysterious massive star, located in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy, and their observations indicated it was in a late stage of its evolution. Allan and his collaborators in Ireland, Chile and the US wanted to find out more about how very massive stars end their lives, and the object in the Kinman Dwarf seemed like the perfect target. But when they pointed ESO’s VLT to the distant galaxy in 2019, they could no longer find the telltale signatures of the star.

Instead, we were surprised to find out that the star had disappeared!” says Allan, who led a study of the star published today in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Located some 75 million light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius, the Kinman Dwarf galaxy is too far away for astronomers to see its individual stars, but they can detect the signatures of some of them. From 2001 to 2011, the light from the galaxy consistently showed evidence that it hosted a ‘luminous blue variable’ star some 2.5 million times brighter than the Sun. Stars of this type are unstable, showing occasional dramatic shifts in their spectra and brightness. Even with those shifts, luminous blue variables leave specific traces scientists can identify, but they were absent from the data the team collected in 2019, leaving them to wonder what had happened to the star.

“It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion,” says Allan.

Image of the Kinman Dwarf galaxy, also known as PHL 293B, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 in 2011, before the disappearance of the massive star. Located some 75 million light-years away, the galaxy is too far away for astronomers to clearly resolve its individual stars, but in observations done between 2001 and 2011, they detected the signatures of the massive star. These signatures were not present in more recent data. Credits: ESO

The group first turned the ESPRESSO instrument toward the star in August 2019, using the VLT’s four 8-metre telescopes simultaneously. But they were unable to find the signs that previously pointed to the presence of the luminous star. A few months later, the group tried the X-shooter instrument, also on ESO’s VLT, and again found no traces of the star.

“We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night,” says team-member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College Dublin. “Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-metre telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO.” Ireland became an ESO member state in September 2018.

The team then turned to older data collected using X-shooter and the UVES instrument on ESO’s VLT, located in the Chilean Atacama Desert, and telescopes elsewhere.

“The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009,” says Andrea Mehner, a staff astronomer at ESO in Chile who participated in the study. “The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO’s newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view.”

The old data indicated that the star in the Kinman Dwarf could have been undergoing a strong outburst period that likely ended sometime after 2011. Luminous blue variable stars such as this one are prone to experiencing giant outbursts over the course of their life, causing the stars’ rate of mass loss to spike and their luminosity to increase dramatically.

Based on their observations and models, the astronomers have suggested two explanations for the star’s disappearance and lack of a supernova, related to this possible outburst. The outburst may have resulted in the luminous blue variable being transformed into a less luminous star, which could also be partly hidden by dust. Alternatively, the team says the star may have collapsed into a black hole, without producing a supernova explosion. This would be a rare event: our current understanding of how massive stars die points to most of them ending their lives in a supernova.

Future studies are needed to confirm what fate befell this star. Planned to begin operations in 2025, ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) will be capable of resolving stars in distant galaxies such as the Kinman Dwarf, helping to solve cosmic mysteries such as this one.

Links

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The Space Show this week – June.29.2020

The guests and topics of discussion on The Space Show this week:

1. Monday, June 29, 2020; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT: No special programming.

2. Tuesday, June 301, 2020; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT): We welcome back Rod Pyle with Dr. Anthony Paustian for the NSS Day In Space and a look at ISDC 2021.

3. Wednesday, July 1, 2020: Hotel Mars TBA pre-recorded. See upcoming show menu on the home page for program details.

4. Thursday, July 2, 2020; 7-8:30 pm PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT, 10-11:30 pm EDT): No special programming.

5. Friday, Julye 3, 2020; 9:30-11 am PDT (11:30 am-1 pm CDT, 12:30-2 pm EDT): No show due to the July 4th holiday weekend.

6. Sunday, July 5, 2020; 12-1:30 pm PDT (3-4:30 pm EDT, 2-3:30 pm CDT): No show due to the July 4th holiday weekend.

Some recent shows:

** June.28.2020 – David Livingston hosted an open lines program in which were discussed many different topics with multiple callers.

** Fri. June26.2020Jim Lewis first gave “an update on the business and economy of the Space Coast of Florida”. He then talked about his
“new Amazon Prime sci fy TV series” and about “film-making, science fiction and lots of related topics”.

** Hotel Mars- Weds. 06-24-20John Batchelor and Dr. David Livingston talked with Dr. Linda Spilker of NASA JPL about the latest findings regarding Titan, a moon of Saturn.

** Tues. June.23.2020Dr. Jim Logan talked about “space policy, vision, lunar, China and more”.

** See also:
* The Space Show Archives
* The Space Show Newsletter
* The Space Show Shop

The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.

The Space Show - David Livingston
The Space Show – David Livingston

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Space policy roundup – June.29.2020

A sampling of links to recent space policy, politics, and government (US and international) related space news and resource items that I found of interest (find previous space policy roundups here):

International space

Webcasts:

** Episode 19 – What’s Hot! 2nd Quarter 2020 – Space Thoughts – Michael Listner, space lawyer, publishes The Précis space law and policy journal.

** Webinar Replay | Mars Exploration: Blueprint for the Red Planet – SpaceNews.com

Author and award-winning space journalist Leonard David and SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust talk with the director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program and the project scientist for the soon-to-launch Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission about the status of the mission, next steps in robotic exploration, and how it leads to sending humans to Mars.

    • Jim Watzin, Director – Mars Exploration Program, NASA HQ
    • Ken Farley, Project Scientist, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover,  Jet Propulsion Laboratory
    • Richard (Rick) Davis, Jr.,  Assistant Director for Science and Exploration, NASA HQ

** MSBN S01E20 – Marek Ziebart and Why OneWeb Is A Bad Global Navigation System Investment for the UKCold Star Technologies

Dr. Marek Ziebart, Professor of Space Geodesy at University College London, is on the Make Space Boring show to share his views about why the proposed UK government investment in failing satellite constellation provider OneWeb is a bad idea. He dissects why investing to turn this constellation into a global navigation system is fraught with problems and could become a money pit.

** Space Café WebTalk Recap: Jessy Kate Schingler on Lunar Policy – SpaceWatch.Global

In this week’s Space Cafe Web Talk, Jessy Kate Schingler, Director of Policy and Governance for the Open Lunar Foundation, and a founding convener of the Moon Dialogs shared some food for thoughts on lunar policy and future governance models.

Jessy Kate Schingler talked about the rise of lunar policy, where the Moon, its topography, and cislunar space intersects with nascent private and state activity over the next 5-10 years. She focussed in particular on participation:

** The Space Show – June.28.2020 – David Livingston hosted an open lines program in which were discussed many different topics with multiple callers.

** The Space Show – Fri. June26.2020Jim Lewis first gave “an update on the business and economy of the Space Coast of Florida”. He then talked about his
“new Amazon Prime sci fy TV series” and about “film-making, science fiction and lots of related topics”.

** The Space Show – Tues. June.23.2020Dr. Jim Logan talked about “space policy, vision, lunar, China and more”.

** Chris Stott – Spectrum Filing Surprises In Satellite Manufacturing – Cold Star Project S02E45

Chairman & CEO of the ManSat group of companies Chris Stott is on the Cold Star Project, and our main topic is satellite spectrum. Where does the authorization for satellite communication frequencies come from, and how is it distributed? With host Jason Kanigan, Chris discusses: – the definition of “satellite spectrum” – how ManSat got the authority to distribute satellite spectrum, and from whom? Who is the target market, and what does the process of working with ManSat look like?

– what SpaceIsle.com is and how it is different from the ManSat corporate site
– experiences he has had as a member of the ISU Board of Directors
– projects he has worked on and produced as a “Multi Award winning Documentary Film Maker and Executive Producer”, per his LI profile
– what the Space & Satellite Professionals International organization is and what his involvement is
– how Chris helped develop Geeks Without Frontiers.

ManSat website: http://www.mansat.com/
SpaceIsle website:
https://www.spaceisle.com/
SSPI website:
https://www.sspi.org/
International Institute of Space Commerce website:
https://iisc.im/
Geeks Without Frontiers website:
http://geekswf.org/

** June 23, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

** June 26, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

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Videos: “Space to Ground” ISS report – June.27.2020

Here is the latest episode in NASA’s Space to Ground weekly report on activities related to the International Space Station:

** NASA animations highlight the activities carried out during the two spacewalks this week by astronauts Chris Cassidy and Robert Behnken :

** The Most Dangerous EVA in US History NASA Video

Chris Hansen, NASA EVA Office Manager, presents lessons learned from the EVA 23 incident that occurred on July 16, 2013 onboard the International Space Station. 44 minutes into the ISS EVA, Astronaut Luca Parmitano’s helmet began filling up with water. As the water level continued to rise it propagated around to the front of his face, which could have resulted in a fatal accident. What followed became the most dangerous EVA incident in US history. The mishap investigation identified many lessons learned that will be presented and can be used to make any hazardous operation safer.

** Expedition 63 InFlight with Late Late Show and NPR Morning Edition – June 24, 2020 – NASA Video

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 63 Flight Engineers Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken discussed their historic mission on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to the orbital laboratory during a pair of in-flight interviews June 24 with CBS’ “Late Late Show with James Corden” and NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Hurley and Behnken arrived on the complex May 31 after launching in Dragon Endeavour atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida – the first launch of American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil to the station since the retirement of the space shuttle in July 2011.

** Why The Docking Adapters On The Space Station Are Shaped Oddly

There are many docking systems on the International Space Station, reflecting the fact that it’s the product of multiple space programs which combined their space station plans into the ISS. The history of the program has lead to some design choices which seem to be strange, until you look at them in the context of the whole program history. In particular, I often get asked about the pressurized mating adapters at the front of the space station and how the tunnel includes a bend rather than simply going straight through, and of course it’s all because of historical choices. Some further reading on the docking and berthing hardware used on the ISS https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/ca…

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Asteroid Day: June 30, 2020

The annual Asteroid Day returns again this Tuesday, June 30th: Asteroid Day LIVE 2020

Asteroid Day is held on 30 June each year to mark the date of Earth’s largest asteroid impact in recorded history, the Siberia Tunguska event. Asteroid Day was co-founded by astrophysicist and famed musician Dr Brian May of the rock group QUEEN, Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart, filmmaker Grig Richters, and B612 Foundation President Danica Remy, to educate the public about the importance of asteroids in our history and the role they play in the solar system. In 2016, with the leadership of the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), the United Nations declared Asteroid Day to be a global day of education to raise awareness and promote knowledge in the general public about asteroids. Major events in past years have taken place in London, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Tanzania, Milan and Rimini, Italy; Garching, Germany; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; in addition to thousands of events worldwide.

Asteroid Day’s major partners include: Association of Space Explorers, B612 Foundation, Broadcasting Center Europe, EC GROUP, European Space Agency, Luxembourg Space Agency, OHB SE, and SES. Asteroid Day, Asteroid Day LIVE, Asteroid Day TV and SpaceConnectsUs are all programmes of Asteroid Foundation, a Luxembourg based non-profit.

The day’s Programme of presentations, interviews, and panel discussions will be hosted by Luxembourg and webcast at AsteroidDay on Twitch.TV.

This year, the event is a fully digital celebration of asteroid science and exploration. Panel discussions and one-on-one interviews with astronauts and world experts will be broadcast on 30 June 2020.

Each year Asteroid Day presents the public with a snap-shot of cutting-edge asteroid research from the largest telescopes on Earth to some of the most ambitious space missions. Topics of discussion this year include the acceleration in the rate of our asteroid discoveries and why it is set to accelerate even faster, the imminent arrival of samples from asteroid Ryugu and Bennu, the exciting preparations for the joint US-Europe mission to binary asteroid Didymos, and much more. 

Asteroids are the leftover remnants of the birth of the planets in the Solar System, and many are the shattered fragments of these diminutive proto-planets that never made it to maturity. “Asteroid exploration missions tell us about the birth of our own planet and reveal how asteroids can serve astronauts as stepping stones to Mars,” says Tom Jones, PhD, veteran astronaut and planetary scientist, and Asteroid Day Expert Panel member.

Each asteroid is an individual with its own story to tell. And that’s what Asteroid Day is all about: bringing those stories to the widest audience possible. “Space and science have been an endless source of inspiration for SES! This is one of the reasons why we and our partners continue to do extraordinary things in space to deliver amazing experiences everywhere on earth,” says Ruy Pinto, Chief Technology Officer at SES. “Through satellite broadcasting, we are able to reach millions of TV households and this enables us to unite people around science, space, and technology topics.”

“The valuable expertise of SES and BCE play a central role in making Asteroid Day an international success and enabling us to have a global conversation about space, space resources, and asteroids in these COVID-19 times.” says Mark Serres, the CEO of the Luxembourg Space Agency.

The panel discussions include:

A highlight of this year’s events will be the official premier of the documentary Apollo 9 & Beyond (at Vimeo.com), which profiles Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart,  who has been a leader in efforts to deal with the threat of asteroid impacts on Earth:

In this profoundly beautiful and moving film, Apollo 9 Astronaut Rusty Schweickart discusses the Apollo 9 mission, his life-altering spacewalk, and our cosmic birth. Rusty describes testing the Lunar Module, the first true spaceship that would four month later land men on the moon, his historic spacewalk, the first EVA of the Apollo era, and the incredible beauty of the Earth from space.

Beyond the Apollo 9 mission itself, Rusty goes much deeper to explore the philosophical and evolutionary implications of humanity’s first steps into the cosmos, describing the powerful effects of his “five minutes” alone on the Lunar Module porch as he observed the Earth below and pondered the big questions of existence – questions he would come to answer back on Earth.

More at  Apollo 9 and Beyond Film – Rusty Schweickart – Asteroid Day.

Here is an infographic illustrating the rate of impacts on earth versus the size of the asteroids: Asteroid danger explained – ESA

Chart showing impact rate vs asteroid size. (Click for full size.) Credits: ESA

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