Wide-field view of Betelgeuse (ground-based image)
This image is a colour composite made from exposures from the Digitized Sky Survey 2 (DSS2). It shows the area around the red supergiant star Betelgeuse.

Sky News This Week: August 26, 2020

In the news recently: dust caused Betelgeuse’s dimming, a weird dent in in Earth’s magnetic field, and Canadian tech sees action at an asteroid and on the ISS.

Betelgeuse dimming caused by dust cloud

A colour composite image made from exposures from the Digitized Sky Survey 2 (DSS2), showing the area around the red supergiant star Betelgeuse. (ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Davide De Martin)

The giant red star Betelgeuse is not going supernova — not yet, at least.

New observations by the Hubble Space Telescope show that unexpected dimming observed in past months was due to a dust cloud. The cloud formed after the star sent hot material into space; researchers have not tracked down the exact cause, but say it was probably linked to the star’s pulsations. While the dimming was not indicative of a supernova, it was spectacular, as it was visible even to the naked eye in late 2019 and early 2020.

Source: European Space Agency’s Hubble Space Telescope website

Earth’s magnetic field has a changing ‘dent’

The magnetic field around our planet is even more complex than imagined. Researchers already knew of a “dent” called the South Atlantic Anomaly, but satellite observations show that the magnetic field in that zone has changed quite a bit over the decades — recent data shows the anomaly’s valley, or region of minimum field strength, has split into two lobes, according to NASA. The magnetic field bows a bit closer to Earth in that region, lowering the barrier that protects our planet from radiation in space. This can also affect satellites flying in the region, which are more exposed to damaging radiation than usual.

Source: NASA

Europa’s icy shell movements betray an ocean

Jupiter’s icy moon Europa had a big alteration just a few million years ago. Observations of cracks in the icy moon’s surface indicate the shell rotated by about 70 degrees. The rotation suggests that the ice is floating free of its rocky core, which must mean there is an ocean of water underneath. This adds even more fuel to the idea that Europa may be a habitable region for microbes, especially hardy ones that can exist in extreme cold.

Source: Universities Space Research Association

Asteroid hunter swoops close to the surface

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) made an epic dress rehearsal of its planned asteroid landing in October. On August 11, the spacecraft swooped within 40 metres (131 feet) of the surface, capturing images and data as it went. The images came back to Earth successfully, showing the region from which the spacecraft will scoop an asteroid sample to return to Earth. Canada’s participation in the mission — the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) — will allow our scientists to receive a portion of the other-worldly sample.

Source: University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

Canadarm2 bids goodbye to final Japanese supply ship

A Canadian robotic arm successfully unberthed the Japanese HTV-9 cargo ship, marking the last supply run of the highly successful spaceship series. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy used Canadarm2 to release the cargo ship on August 18. Canadarm2 was originally envisioned for International Space Station construction, but in recent years has been adapted to snag supply ships as they arrive at the orbiting complex. A successor robotic arm called Canadarm3 is being planned for NASA’s Gateway space station, which NASA hopes to construct around the Moon later in the 2020s.

Source: Canadian Space Agency (via Twitter)

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.