Inside Space - January 16th, 2020

Inside Space (Jan 16th, 2020)

Phosphorus study / New class of space objects / Potentially dangerous asteroid / Betelgeuse rumor

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1. A new study says that phosphorus, an essential element for life, may have originated in cloud-like regions of gas and dust in between stars. Using data gathered by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) observatory, a team of researchers found that phosphorus-bearing molecules are created when massive stars are formed in these regions. Study authors then parsed through data on the 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko comet gathered by the Rosetta mission and found that the comet contains phosphorus monoxide, the most abundant phosphorus-bearing molecule. "As comets most probably delivered large amounts of organic compounds to the Earth, the phosphorus monoxide found in comet 67P may strengthen the link between comets and life on Earth," said study author Kathrin Altwegg. – SPACE

2. Astronomers have spotted a new class of space objects near Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, a new study says. "These objects look like gas and behave like stars," said Andrea Ghez, a professor of astrophysics at UCLA and a co-author of the study. The new objects look compact most of the time and stretch out when their orbits bring them closest to the black hole. According to the study, these objects were once binary stars that merged together due to the strong gravitational force of the black hole. Astronomers have so far discovered six of these objects. – CNET

3. According to a new NASA study, magnetic storms can originate much closer to Earth than previously thought. Magnetic storms can damage satellites and disrupt radio communications. Observations by NASA's THEMIS mission indicate that a phenomenon called "magnetic reconnection," which causes magnetic storms, happens about three to four Earth diameters away from the planet. Magnetic reconnection occurs when magnetic energy from the solar wind is transferred into Earth’s magnetosphere, where it builds up until it converts into heat and particle acceleration. The discovery could be used to improve models to forecast magnetic storms. – SLASH GEAR

4. Throwback Thursday: The European Space Agency’s Huygens spacecraft landed on Saturn's moon Titan 15 years ago

Once it entered Titan's atmosphere, the spacecraft – named after Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch astronomer who discovered Titan and Saturn’s rings – deployed a 28-foot-diameter (8.5-meter) parachute to slow its velocity.

During its 2.5-hour descent toward Titan, the Huygens lander took measurements of atmospheric composition, winds, pressure, density and temperature.

It also sent hundreds of images taken during the descent, as well as the first images of Titan’s surface. 

One of the images showed pebble-like objects that are thought to be blocks of ice.

5. Astronomers have identified an asteroid that, if it breaks up, could be "dangerous to life on Earth." 2003 YT1 is a binary asteroid consisting of a bigger rock measuring about 1.2 miles (2 km) and a 690-foot (210 m) companion. It appears to have been active in the past, meaning that at some point it fissured and released particles. Scientists say that one of those particles was responsible for a fireball seen over Japan in 2017. That particular rock was probably just a few centimeters in size, but the heat from the sun and gravitational pulls may one day break 2003 YT1 into "potentially hazardous objects" that could enter Earth's atmosphere. – CNET

6. The New York Times has published a multimedia story explaining why, contrary to an ongoing media rumor, Betelgeuse is not about to explode. Some media outlets have recently reported that the dimming of Betelgeuse – a red supergiant some 700 light-years away – indicates that it is about to explode in a supernova. However, that's not necessarily the case. Betelgeuse typically fades and brightens in short cycles of 14 months and longer cycles of about six years. The dimming could also be attributed to clouds of debris obscuring the starlight. It's not known when Betelgeuse will explode but when it does, it will be brighter than a full moon for some time. – NEW YORK TIMES

7. SpaceX plans to build a massive mobile gantry, which would allow the company to compete for U.S. military launch contracts. To keep costs low, SpaceX has long used horizontal integration to add payloads to its rockets. However, the U.S. Air Force (AF) requires that launch service providers use vertical integration to mount payloads atop rockets. That's because the spy satellites built by companies including Lockheed Martin and Boeing are designed in such a way that they cannot be flipped horizontally to be incorporated into a rocket’s payload fairing. According to a Spaceflight Now article earlier this month, SpaceX is "finalizing plans" to build the gantry at the Kennedy Space Center. – TESLARATI

8. Researchers may have found a second planet orbiting the closest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri. In 2016, scientists found a roughly Earth-size exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf that was named Proxima b. After parsing through data on Proxima Centauri's light spectrum, scientists have now discovered a second exoplanet orbiting the star. According to a new study, Proxima c is at least six times more massive than Earth and completes one lap around Proxima Centauri every 5.2 Earth years. However, researchers say that, in order to confirm the existence of Proxima c, they need to gather more data. – SPACE

9. After more than 16 years of discoveries, the Spitzer mission will soon come to an end, NASA said. In a statement, NASA said that on Jan. 30, engineers will decommission the Spitzer telescope, in part because it is becoming increasingly difficult to communicate with the spacecraft. NASA will host an event on Jan. 22 to celebrate the legacy of the telescope, which has been studying the cosmos in infrared light since it was launched in 2003. – NASA

10. Image of the Day: SpaceX has released an animation showing the inflight abort test of the Crew Dragon that will take place on Saturday.

Written and curated by Eduardo Garcia in New York. Eduardo is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School M.A. Science program and writes regularly for the New York Times Climate Fwd: newsletter. In one of his previous lives, Eduardo worked as a Reuters correspondent in Latin America for nearly a decade. 

Edited by Beth Duckett, writer and curator.

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