Artist’s impression of the disappearing star
This illustration shows what the luminous blue variable star in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy could have looked like before its mysterious disappearance. (ESO/L. Calçada)

Sky News This Week: July 2, 2020

Scientists examine the disappearance of a distant blue variable star, Canada announces plans for a contract to build Canadarm3, and data shows the Sun’s plasma has a cycle, too.

Another star bites the dust?

This illustration shows what the luminous blue variable star in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy could have looked like before its mysterious disappearance. (ESO/L. Calçada)

Scientists can find no sign of the signature of a distant blue variable star, which likely means one of two things — it collapsed unexpectedly into a black hole, or it is hiding behind dust. The star is 75 million light-years away in a small galaxy, and is so small it is only visible with its spectrum (light signature). The signature was not visible in fresh observations from several instruments on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope. If the star indeed transformed into a black hole, that would be a surprise since the usual star cycle suggests it would explode first. Alternatively, the star could have lost so much mass in a recent outburst that it is now less luminous (intrinsically bright), making it harder to see through obscuring dust.

Source: European Southern Observatory

MDA readies for Canadarm3 construction contract

Canadarm3 is on the agenda, as Canada moves forward on its plans to contribute to Moon exploration. The Canadian government announced last week it intends to enter into a contract with MDA, the robotics company who built Canadarm (under a division that used to be part of Spar Aerospace), Canadarm2, Dextre and the International Space Station’s Mobile Base. The contract has yet to be awarded and the value has not been disclosed. The timing of the delivery will depend on when NASA plans to build its Lunar Gateway space station, where Canadarm3 is expected to perform maintenance and repairs.


Famous telescope adopts a new procedure amid novel coronavirus

Workers at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) moved parts of the telescope array this month using new techniques along with physical distancing. The workers were equipped with personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies, as well as extra tools to avoid the need for sharing. The team also modified their signalling system to use canned-air horns, since whistles and face masks aren’t an adequate combination. Everything went smoothly, according to NSF. The VLA periodically has its antennas moved to focus on different radio targets in the universe.

Source: National Radio Astronomy Observatory

It’s like rain on your Martian day

Long ago in Martian history, impacts from small bodies slammed into its surface and produced muddy rains. These rains four billion years ago likely created kilometres-thick mudstones on the Red Planet, which are the oldest known sedimentary rocks in the Solar System. Fortunately for the scientists, more data on the discovery may be coming shortly. NASA’s Perseverance rover is expected to land in 2021 in a zone very close to some of the study regions.

Source: Planetary Science Institute

Solar plasma has a cycle, too

It’s well-known that the Sun has an 11-year cycle associated with rises and falls in solar activity. Turns out that plasma or superheated gas in the convection zone of the Sun also has a cycle that is 22 years long. As the plasma flows towards the equator at the bottom of the convection zone, spots tend to form closer to the equator during the solar cycle. The team studying the Sun came to these conclusions by studying sound waves at the surface of the sun that move in the north-south direction through the interior of our star. Data was gathered using the space-based Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and a set of six ground-based telescopes called the Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG).

Source: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany

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.