This image shows the three Radarsat Constellation Mission satellites evenly spaced on the same orbital plane at an altitude of 600 kilometres. (Canadian Space Agency)
Sky News This Week: April 22, 2020

A Canadian satellite set monitors the flood-prone Red River, Hubble watches a so-called “exoplanet” disappear, and a new theory of Comet Borisov’s mysterious history unfolds.

As a Canadian science and space journalist, I’m excited to be bringing you a biweekly synopsis of the top astronomy and space stories.

In the news recently: a Canadian satellite set monitors the flood-prone Red River, Hubble watched a so-called “exoplanet” disappear, and a new theory of Comet Borisov’s mysterious history unfolds.

Radarsat Constellation starts disaster monitoring

This image shows the three Radarsat Constellation Mission satellites evenly spaced on the same orbital plane at an altitude of 600 kilometres. (Canadian Space Agency)

The Radarsat Constellation mission is getting its first big monitoring test since the Canadian trio of satellites was declared operational in late 2019.

This month, the satellites are monitoring the flood-prone Red River Valley, which borders Winnipeg and other areas in Manitoba. Operated by the Canadian Space Agency, the satellites will also help contribute to long-term understanding of floods to better understand the risk associated with this type of disaster.

Radarsat Constellation is the third generation of radar satellites by Canada, after Radarsat 1 (whose mission has concluded) and the still operational Radarsat 2.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

Exoplanet hunter gets ready for operations

Europe’s Cheops telescope finished its commissioning period in space with successful observations of two exoplanet-hosting stars, marking a significant milestone as it gets ready for science work.

Already, Cheops is finding new insights with its observations. After observing KELT-11b, a planet that is roughly 30 per cent larger than Jupiter, the team nailed down the exoplanet’s diameter: 181,600 kilometres, with an uncertainty of just under 4,300 kilometres.

Cheops is expected to produce measurements five times more accurate than those from Earth, which are blurred by our atmosphere being in the way.

Source: European Space Agency

So-called “exoplanet” likely an astronomical collision

The Hubble Space Telescope has seen a previously-designated planet literally disappear from view, causing astronomers to say it likely wasn’t a planet in the first place.

The object, known as Fomalhaut b, was first announced in 2008 based in part on several years of Hubble observations that show a moving dot. But when more recent observations turned up empty, astronomers realized it likely was a cloud of dust particles created when two asteroids smashed into each other about 25 light-years from Earth.

Source: SpaceTelescope.org (European Space Agency)

Interstellar comet probably came from red dwarf

New analysis of Comet 2I/Borisov has provided more information about its celestial origins.

Astronomers already knew Borisov was an interstellar comet based on its path through space, which doesn’t loop around the Solar System. With the help of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, researchers observed that the comet emitted large quantities of carbon monoxide when it moved close to our Sun.

It’s a fact that points to Borisov’s parent star possibly being a cool red dwarf, the researchers suggested April 20 in Nature Astronomy, giving us the first ever glimpse into the chemical building blocks of another solar system.

Source: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Mars rover finishes weight balance test

NASA’s Perseverance continues final testing as the team carefully observes coronavirus-related distancing measures.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, teams spent three days making sure that the rover has its weight evenly distributed so that it can make a safe landing on the Red Planet.

The launch window opens in July and Canada will assist in helping Perseverance collect promising samples for a return to Earth later this decade.

Source: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Elizabeth Howell (Ph.D.) is a Canadian space journalist who has been obsessed with the topic ever since she, as a young teenager, saw the movie Apollo 13 in 1996. She grew up wanting to be an astronaut. While that hasn’t happened (yet), Elizabeth has seen five human spaceflight launches — including two from Kazakhstan — and she participated in a simulated Red Planet mission at the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

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