SPHERE image of the disc around AB Aurigae
This image shows the disc around the young AB Aurigae star, where ESO’s Very Large Telescope has spotted signs of planet birth. (ESO/Boccaletti et al.)
Sky News This Week: May 20, 2020

In the news recently: a potential planet comes to light in a twisty haze, Martian-like mud is created for lab analysis and Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar shares some ideas for coping with isolation.

In the news recently: a potential planet comes to light in a twisty haze, Martian-like mud is created for lab analysis and Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar shares some ideas for coping with isolation.

A twisty, dusty birthplace

This image shows the disc around the young AB Aurigae star, where ESO’s Very Large Telescope has spotted signs of planet birth. (ESO/Boccaletti et al.)

A planet might be forming in a vortex of dust and gas about 520 light-years from Earth. New observations from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope show a spiral of material around the star AB Aurigae. Astronomers suspect that a planet is being formed in the vortex and creating a disturbance as it orbits the star, similar to how a boat creates waves in a still lake. This suspected planet would likely not be habitable, however, because it orbits at the equivalent distance of Neptune in our Solar System.

Source: European Southern Observatory

Martian-like mud explored on Earth

How does mud behave on Mars, and how does this relate to potentially habitable environments? These are surprisingly complex questions explored in a new simulation study by the German Aerospace Center. The experiments showed that under the right conditions, mud could spill from breaches in the crust during eruptions, flowing for quite a while before freezing again. Researchers are eager to learn more to better understand the story of liquid flows on Mars and other worlds, as well as their effect on life.

Source: Nature GeoScience

Pluto’s haze is constantly changing

An airborne telescope discovered new insights about Pluto’s tenuous atmosphere. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), mounted aboard a modified Boeing 747SP jetliner, showed that small particles from Pluto’s surface can stay suspended in the atmosphere for long periods of time. This may have implications for how long Pluto’s haze persists when it reaches colder regions of its 248-Earth-year orbit around the Sun.

Source: Icarus

Artificial intelligence can now classify galaxies

A new computer program called Morpheus is able to go through images from astronomy to classify galaxies. The research will be helpful in figuring out galactic evolution and charting how the universe has changed during its nearly 14-billion-year-old history. The program will also be able to classify information at a much quicker pace from the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), which will be conducted at the Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile.

Source: The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series

Astronaut Roberta Bondar shares an isolation tip

The first Canadian female in space, Roberta Bondar, recently shared tips for surviving isolation in a video. Bondar has two main ideas. One, based on her time in space, is to look outside: “When we’re in space, we like looking out the window at the Earth beyond. It provides us a sense of peace, a sense of hope and a sense of home.”

But her second tip, she adds, is that on Earth you have an advantage you can use: listening to birdsong. Bondar’s video was shared on the Twitter feed of Governor General Julie Payette, who was also an astronaut.

Source: @GGJuliePayette (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.

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