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Hubble Sees a Brand New Triple Star System

In a world that seems to be switching focus from the Hubble Space Telescope to the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble still reminds us it’s there. Another amazing image has been released that shows the triple star system HP Tau, HP Tau G2, and HP Tau G3.  The stars in this wonderful system are young, HP Tau for example is so young that it hasn’t started to fuse hydrogen yet and is only 10 million years old!

Hubble was launched in 1990 and since then, has revolutionised our understanding of the Universe. It orbits Earth at an altitude of  around 547 kilometres and from that position has provided us stunning views of objects across the cosmos. It is about the size of a classic British double decker bus and at its core, a 2.4m mirror. The mirror collects incoming light from distant objects before directing it to one of a number of instruments that record and analyse it. 

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope flies with Earth in the background after a 2002 servicing mission. Credit: NASA.

The image recently released shows a wonderful example of a reflection nebula 550 light years away in Taurus. These particular types of nebula are made up of interstellar dust that reflect light from nearby stars, unlike emission nebula which glow in their own right. They have a characteristic blue hue to them due to the reflective properties of the dust. Looking at the image you can easily imagine a hollowed out cavity in the nebula that has been carved by the young stars. 

The triple stars at the heart of the system, HP Tau, HP Tau G2 and HP Tau G3 are young hot stars. HP Tau is a type of variable star known as a T Tau star. They are a type of star that are less than 10 million years old and named after the first start of its type to be discovered in Taurus. Identification is usually achieved by studies of their optical variability and strong lines in their spectra from the chromosphere. Given their young age, they are generally found still being surrounded by the cloud of gas and dust they have formed out of.

The amount of light emitted by HP Tau varies with time however this particular type of star tends to have regular and sometimes random fluctuations. The jury is still out on the random variations but it may be the young nature of the stars leads to slightly chaotic processes as the stars begin to settle down. Perhaps material from an accretion disk still in the process of collapsing may dump material onto the star causing it to flare.

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The Venerable Hubble Space Telescope Keeps Delivering

The world was much different in 1990 when NASA astronauts removed the Hubble Space Telescope from Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay and placed it into orbit. The Cold War was ending, there were only 5.3 billion humans, and the World Wide Web had just come online.

Now, the old Soviet Union is gone, replaced by a smaller but no less militaristic Russia. The human population has ballooned to 8.1 billion. The internet is a fixture in daily life. We also have a new, more powerful space telescope, the JWST.

But the Hubble keeps delivering, as this latest image shows.

The lenticular galaxy NGC 4753 is about 60 million light-years away. Lenticular galaxies are midway between elliptical and spiral galaxies. They have large-scale disks but only poorly defined spiral arms. NGC 4753 sees very little star formation because like other lenticulars, it’s used up most of its gas. The fact that they contain mostly older stars makes them similar to elliptical galaxies.

Among lenticulars, NGC 4753 is known for the dust lanes surrounding its nucleus. Astronomers think that spirals evolve into lenticulars in dense environments because they interact with other galaxies and with the intergalactic medium. However, NGC 4753 is in a low-density environment. Its environment and complex structure make it a target for astronomers to test their theories of galaxy formation and evolution.

This is a model of NGC 4753, as seen from various viewing orientations. From left to right and top to bottom, the angle of the line of sight to the galaxy's equatorial plane ranges from 10° to 90° in steps of 10°. Although galaxies similar to NGC 4753 may not be rare, only certain viewing orientations allow for easy identification of a highly twisted disk. This infographic is a recreation of Figure 7 from a 1992 research paper.
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Who is the 'Doctor Who' villain Maestro? And what's their relationship with the Toymaker?

The new villain Maestro is out to destroy music in 'Doctor Who' episode 'The Devil's Chord' —and they're part of a new Pantheon of godly antagonists.

Boeing's 1st Starliner astronaut launch delayed again, to May 25

The first crewed mission of Boeing's new Starliner spacecraft has been pushed back by an additional four days, to May 25.

India's ambitious 2nd Mars mission to include a rover, helicopter, sky crane and a supersonic parachute

India's second mission to Mars will include a rover, helicopter, sky crane and a supersonic parachute, according to media reports.

Live coverage: SpaceX to launch Falcon 9 booster on a record-breaking 21st flight

A SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage creates a so-called ‘jellyfish’ effect as it streaks across the sky over the Atlantic Ocean and a cruise ship out on the horizon. The Starlink 6-59 mission launched on May 17, 2024. Image: Michael Cain/Spaceflight Now

SpaceX reached a new reusability milestone with its Falcon 9 rocket with a Starlink launch from Florida on Friday night. The first stage booster, tail number B1062, launched for a record 21st time, the first in SpaceX’s rocket fleet to do so.

The launch of Starlink 6-59 mission added 23 more satellites to the growing low Earth orbit internet constellation and was the company’s 36th dedicated Starlink launch of the year.

Since making its debut in November 2020, B1062 launched two GPS satellites, eight astronauts over two missions (Inspiration4 and Ax-1) along with 13 Starlink flights. To date, it sent 553 payloads to orbit, including the two Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Prior to its May 17 flight, it most recently launched about a month ago on the Starlink 6-49 mission. Like last time, about 8.5 minutes after liftoff, B1062 landed on the SpaceX droneship, ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas.’ This was the 70th booster landing using ASOG and the 309th Falcon 9 booster landing to date.

According to the most recent statistics published by expert orbital tracker and astronomer Jonathan McDowell, as of the morning of May 17, there were 6,017 total Starlink satellites on orbit and 5,941 in operation.



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Massive sunspot that brought widespread auroras to Earth now targets Mars

After quite the aurora experience across Earth this past weekend, beastly sunspot AR3664 could give Mars quite the same solar spectacular.

Here we go again — new sunspot regions emerge, strong solar flare recorded

With the decrease of potential impacts from AR 3664, forecasters are monitoring new sunspot regions developing on the eastern half of the sun.

The BepiColombo Mission To Mercury is Losing Power

BepiColombo is a joint ESA/JAXA mission to Mercury. It was launched in 2018 on a complex trajectory to the Solar System’s innermost planet. The ESA reports that the spacecraft’s thrusters have lost some power.

BepiColombo’s mission is to complete a comprehensive investigation of Mercury’s magnetosphere, magnetic field, and internal and external structure. But travelling around in the inner Solar System is complicated, and the BepiColombo spacecraft will use more energy getting to Mercury than it takes to get to Pluto. The spacecraft will perform nine planetary flybys before reaching its destination at the end of 2025. BepiColombo has already performed one gravity assist at Earth, two at Venus, and five at Mercury. It’ll perform one more at Mercury in January 2025.

The Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) is the part of the spacecraft that delivers a pair of orbiters to Mercury. On April 26th, as the spacecraft was about to execute its next maneuver, the MTM didn’t deliver enough electrical power to its thrusters. A team working on it restored the thrust back to 90% on May 7th. But the MTM still isn’t deliver enough electricity to get back to 100% thrust.

Despite the power problems, the spacecraft is on track to complete its final Mercury flyby. A team is working to maintain the current power level and to understand how the diminished thrust will affect future maneuvers. They’re also working on restoring full power to the thrusters. To facilitate this, the mission’s flight control team at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, has arranged additional ground station passes.

BepiColombo employs a solar-electric propulsion system. Two 15-meter-long solar cells gather energy and deliver it to four ion thrusters that use xenon propellant. The thrusters are mounted on gimbals, making them aimable.


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Astronauts Could Deploy Extra Arms to Stay Stable on the Moon

Walking along on the surface of the Moon, as aptly demonstrated by the Apollo astronauts, is no easy feat.  The gravity at the Moon’s surface is 1/6th of Earth’s and there are plenty of videos of astronauts stumbling, falling and then trying to get up! Engineers have come up with a solution; a robotic arm system that can be attached to an astronauts back pack to give them a helping hand if they fall. The “SuperLimbs” as they have been called will not only aid them as they walk around the surface but also give them extra stability while carrying out tasks. 

The team of MIT engineers identified the problem when considering movement across the lunar surface and were inspired to innovate when they saw videos of astronauts struggling. They acknowledged that while the astronauts were physically very capable, the combination of bulky space suits and 1/6th gravity was recipe for disaster. If an astronaut becomes unbalanced then even though gravity is less, their inertia is the same and they will still fall. 

Sample collection on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 16 astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr. is shown collecting samples with the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the left background. Image: NASA

The solution they designed has been dubbed the Supernumerary Robotic Limbs can be built into their backpack and when needed, be extended. A prototype has been built and it includes a control system to operate the limbs. It was tested on a willing group of volunteers who donned suits to restrict mobility in an attempt to simulate the cumbersome space suits.

As the volunteers attempted to get up from sitting or lying position, the researchers looked at how they moved and how the restrictive suits limited their mobility. The suits were adjusted to more closely simulate a space suit. Using the suit to mimic the stiffness of a traditional suit they got as close as possible to real world testing. The movements of the team in the restricted suits was similar to normal movement but the effort was far less when the SuperLimbs were used. They also found that the volunteers used a common sequence of motions from one step in the process to the next. Using this information enabled them to build the control system to provide maximum efficiency. 

The control system that has been built is intelligent enough to detect the movement of the volunteers be they lying on their side, front or back. Having learned how people usually get up from such positions the system can detect the movement and provide suitable assistance to help. 

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US Space Force is launching more missions than ever. Lawmakers worry America's spaceports can't keep up

The House Armed Services Committee has raised concerns about whether Space Force's two main coastal ranges can keep up with rising launch demands.

China launches new mystery Shiyan satellite (video)

China launched the latest in its secretive Shiyan satellite series on May 12 atop a Long March 4C rocket. China's space agency says the satellite will be used for "space environment monitoring."

Not All Black Holes are Ravenous Gluttons

Some Supermassive Black Holes (SMBHs) consume vast quantities of gas and dust, triggering brilliant light shows that can outshine an entire galaxy. But others are much more sedate, emitting faint but steady light from their home in the heart of their galaxy.

Observations from the now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope help show why that is.

It appears that every large galaxy has an SMBH at its heart. This is true of our Milky Way galaxy and of our closest galactic neighbour, Andromeda (M31.) Like all black holes, SMBHs draw material towards them that gathers in an accretion disk. As the material in the disk rotates and heats up, it emits light before it falls into the hole.

It turns out that both of those SMBHs are among the quiet eaters in the black hole population. Others are much more ravenous, consuming large amounts of matter in clumps and shining brightly for periods of time. Astrophysicists wonder what’s behind the difference.

Recent research published in The Astrophysical Journal has determined what’s happening in these different black holes. The title is “The Accretion Mode in Sub-Eddington Supermassive Black Holes: Getting into the Central Parsecs of Andromeda.” The lead author is Christian Alig, a post-doc student at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.

These images from the research successive zoom-ins at different wavelengths. In the middle image, a dotted white line outlines the circumnuclear ring in M31. In the third image, an arrow shows the filament used as a reference in simulations. Image Credit: Alig et al. 2024.
This figure shows snapshots from the simulation at different intervals from 17.5 million years to 156 million years. (a) and (b) don't deviate much from an N-body simulation, but eventually, a ring takes shape. In (b,) the freshly injected material collides with the uppermost arc. That heats up the gas, creating a hot surrounding atmosphere shown in blue/pink. The stream crosses itself repeatedly after that and experiences friction from the atmosphere. (d) through (f) shows how the gas eventually circularizes into a ring shape. Image Credit: Alig et al. 2024.
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Everything we know about Dune: Prophecy — Release date, plot, cast, & more

Their plans are measured in centuries — here's everything we know about Dune: Prophecy, the prequel series that will explore the past of the Bene Gesserit.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching Starlink satellites on record 21st flight tonight

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to launch for the 21st time tonight (May 17), setting a new reusability record for the company.

Week in images: 13-17 May 2024

Week in images: 13-17 May 2024

Discover our week through the lens

NASA, ESA join forces on life-hunting ExoMars rover

NASA and ESA have signed an agreement to team up on the ExoMars rover mission, which aims to launch a life-hunting robot toward the Red Planet in 2028.

What time is Blue Origin's private NS-25 astronaut launch on May 19?

A Blue Origin rocket will launch its first private astronaut spaceflight since 2022 this weekend. Here's what time to watch.

Scientists are mapping Earth's rivers from space before climate change devastates our planet

New maps of Earth's rivers are documenting our planet before climate change worsens.

Junk from a SpaceX Dragon 'trunk' may have crashed into a Canadian farmer's field (photos)

A farmer in rural Saskatchewan found a charred chunk of debris during planting season in late April. The piece might have come from a SpaceX Crew Dragon, according to a re-entry track.


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