Space probe reveals secrets of ‘restless’ Milky Way

Space probe reveals secrets of ‘restless’ Milky Way
Above, four maps of the Milky Way made with new data collected by the ESA space probe Gaia. (European Space Agency)
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Updated 13 June 2022

Space probe reveals secrets of ‘restless’ Milky Way

Space probe reveals secrets of ‘restless’ Milky Way
  • European Space Agency: Mission’s third data set ‘revolutionizes our understanding of the galaxy’

PARIS: The Gaia space probe on Monday unveiled its latest discoveries in its quest to map the Milky Way in unprecedented detail, surveying nearly two million stars and revealing mysterious “starquakes” which sweep across the fiery giants like vast tsunamis.
The mission’s third data set, which was released to eagerly waiting astronomers around the world at 1000 GMT, “revolutionizes our understanding of the galaxy,” the European Space Agency (ESA) said.
ESA Director-General Josef Aschbacher told a press conference that it was “a fantastic day for astronomy” because the data “will open the floodgates for new science, for new findings of our universe, of our Milky Way.”
Some of the map’s new insights came close to home, such as a catalogue of more than 156,000 asteroids in our Solar System “whose orbits the instrument has calculated with incomparable precision,” Francois Mignard, a member of the Gaia team, said.
But Gaia also sees beyond the Milky Way, spotting 2.9 million other galaxies as well as 1.9 million quasars — the stunningly bright hearts of galaxies powered by supermassive black holes.
The Gaia spacecraft is nestled in a strategically positioned orbit 1.5 million kilometers (937,000 miles) from Earth, where it has been watching the skies since it was launched by the ESA in 2013.
The observation of starquakes, massive vibrations that change the shape of the distant stars, was “one of the most surprising discoveries coming out of the new data,” the ESA said.
Gaia was not built to observe starquakes but still detected the strange phenomenon on thousands of stars, including some that should not have any — at least according to our current understanding of the universe.
“We have a fantastic new gold mine to do the asteroseismology of hundreds of thousands of stars in our Milky War galaxy,” said Gaia team member Conny Aerts.
Gaia has surveyed more than 1.8 billion stars but that only represents around one percent of the stars in the Milky Way, which is about 100,000 light years across.
The probe is equipped with two telescopes as well as a billion-pixel camera, which captures images sharp enough to gauge the diameter of a single strand of human hair 1,000 kilometers away.
It also has a range of other instruments that allow it to not just map the stars, but measure their movements, chemical compositions and ages.
The incredibly precise data “allows us to look more than 10 billion years into the past history of our own Milky Way,” said Anthony Brown, the chair of the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium which sifted through the massive amount of data.
The results from Gaia are already “far beyond what we expected” at this point, Mignard said.
They show that our galaxy is not moving smoothly through the universe as had been thought but is instead “turbulent” and “restless,” he said.
“It has had a lot of accidents in its life and still has them” as it interacts with other galaxies, he added. “Perhaps it will never be in a stationary state.”
“Our galaxy is indeed a living entity, where objects are born, where they die,” Aerts said.
“The surrounding galaxies are continuously interacting with our galaxy and sometimes also falling inside it.”
Around 50 scientific papers were published alongside the new data, with many more expected in the coming years.
Gaia’s observations have fueled thousands of studies since its first dataset was released in 2016.
The second dataset in 2018 allowed astronomers to show that the Milky Way merged with another galaxy in a violent collision around 10 billion years ago.
It took the team five years to deliver the latest data, which was observed from 2014 to 2017.
The final dataset will be released in 2030, after Gaia finishes its mission surveying the skies in 2025.
Monday’s release confirmed only two new exoplanets — and 200 other potential candidates — but far more are expected in the future.
“In principle Gaia, especially when it goes on for the full 10 years, should be capable of detecting tens of thousands of exoplanets down to Jupiter’s mass,” Brown said.

Hold your horses! Colombian senator rides through Congress

Hold your horses! Colombian senator rides through Congress
Updated 29 September 2022

Hold your horses! Colombian senator rides through Congress

Hold your horses! Colombian senator rides through Congress
  • Colombia Congress has allowed members to bring their pets 

BOGOTA, Colombia: Members of Colombia’s Congress can now bring their pets to work, in a world first, and for one senator, wild horses couldn’t have dragged him away from marking the first day of the new rule.
Alirio Barrera showed up to work astride his white horse. 
He first rode through the capital Bogota before steering his steed into the halls of Congress, to make a statement about the importance of horses for the Colombian countryside.
“It is a tribute to the farmers, to the men and women, to the herdsmen who live with horses. To all those people who work in the fields,” he told AFP, holding his horse — named Pasaporte — by the bridle.
Senate president Roy Barreras announced the new policy last week, with his dog lounging in his lap. This makes the Colombian Congress “the first in the world to be pet-friendly,” he said.
For Barrera, “my pet is my horse.”
“If the law is for one, let it be for all.”
But his ride to work rubbed some colleagues the wrong way. Senator Andrea Padilla criticized what she called “an immature attitude with which he wanted to ridicule a good decision.”
“It is not the same thing to take a dog to the office as a horse,” she said. “A horse suffers on the asphalt, on the sidewalk, it suffers on these waxed floors.”


‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ rapper Coolio dies at age 59

‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ rapper Coolio dies at age 59
Updated 29 September 2022

‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ rapper Coolio dies at age 59

‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ rapper Coolio dies at age 59

LOS ANGELES: Coolio, the rapper who was among hip-hop’s biggest names of the 1990s with hits including “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “Fantastic Voyage,” died Wednesday at age 59, his manager said.
Coolio, whose legal name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr., died at the Los Angeles home of a friend, longtime manager Jarez Posey told The Associated Press. The cause was not immediately clear.
Coolio won a Grammy for best solo rap performance for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the 1995 hit from the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer film “Dangerous Minds” that sampled Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song “Pastime Paradise.”
He was nominated for five other Grammys during a career that began in the late-1980s.
Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh, Coolio moved to Compton, California, where he went to community college. He worked as a volunteer firefighter and in airport security before devoting himself full-time to the hip-hop scene.
His career took off with the 1994 release of his debut album on Tommy Boy Records, “It Takes a Thief.” It’s opening track, “Fantastic Voyage,” would reach No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A year later, “Gangsta’s Paradise” would become a No. 1 single, with its dark opening lyrics:
“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s not much left, ‘cause I’ve been blastin’ and laughin’ so long, that even my mama thinks that my mind is gone.”

David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000

David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000
Updated 27 September 2022

David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000

David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000
  • The handwritten lyrics sold for five times as much as the £40,000 estimate
  • The lyrics were previously on display as part of the V&A Museum's David Bowie Is collection

LONDON: David Bowie’s original handwritten lyrics for the pop classic “Starman,” part of an album that catapulted him to international stardom, on Tuesday sold at auction in Britain for £203,500.
Released as a single in 1972, the song about a Starman who would “like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds” featured on the Ziggy Stardust concept album.
The handwritten lyrics sold for five times as much as the £40,000 estimate.
The winning bidder was Olivier Varenne, director of acquisitions and alliances and collections at the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, on behalf of a private collector.
“We had almost unprecedented interest from around the world for this historic piece of memorabilia,” said Paul Fairweather of Omega Auctions.
“We’re very pleased with the incredible price achieved and are sure the lyrics will be rightly prized and treasured by the winning bidder.”
The lyrics were previously on display as part of the V&A Museum’s David Bowie Is collection. They had been owned by the same person since the 1980s.
The A4 page features handwritten amendments and edits by Bowie, including corrected spelling mistakes and additions.
The lyrics were sold as part of a David Bowie and glam rock sale on Tuesday.
In 2019, the first demo of Bowie singing Starman sold for 51,000 pounds after gathering dust in a loft for nearly five decades.
Bowie can be heard telling his guitarist Mick Ronson, who died in 1993, that he has not finished singing the song when he tries to end the demo.
The singer, born David Jones, died aged 69 in New York in 2016.

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense
Updated 27 September 2022

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense
  • DART’s celestial target is an asteroid “moonlet” about 560 feet (170 meters) in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: A NASA spaceship on Monday struck an asteroid seven million miles away in order to deflect its orbit, succeeding in a historic test of humanity’s ability to prevent a celestial object from devastating life on Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor hit its target, the space rock Dimorphos, at 7:14 p.m. Eastern Time (2314 GMT), 10 months after blasting off from California on its pioneering mission.

“We’re embarking on a new era, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division.

Dimorphos — a 530-foot (160-meter) asteroid roughly comparable in size to an Egyptian pyramid — orbits a half-mile long big brother called Didymos. Never seen before, the “moonlet” appeared as a speck of light around an hour before the collision.

Its egg-like shape and craggy, boulder-dotted surface finally came into clear view in the last few minutes, as DART raced toward it at roughly 14,500 miles (23,500 kilometers) per hour.

NASA scientists and engineers erupted in applause as the screen froze on a final image, indicating that signal had been lost and impact had taken place.

To be sure, the pair of asteroids pose no threat to our planet as they loop the Sun every two of our years.

But NASA has deemed the experiment important to carry out before an actual need is discovered.

By striking Dimorphos head on, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit, shaving 10 minutes off the time it takes to encircle Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 minutes.

Ground telescopes — which can’t see the asteroid system directly but can detect a shift in patterns of light coming from it — should provide a definitive orbital period in the coming days and weeks.

The proof-of-concept has made a reality of what has before only been attempted in science fiction — notably in films such as “Armageddon” and “Don’t Look Up.”

Minutes after impact, a toaster-sized satellite called LICIACube, which already separated from DART a few weeks ago, was expected to make a close pass of the site to capture images of the collision and the ejecta — the pulverized rock thrown off by the strike.

LICIACube’s pictures will be sent back in the next weeks and months.

Also watching the event: an array of telescopes, both on Earth and in space — including the recently operational James Webb — which might be able to see a brightening cloud of dust.

The mission has set the global astronomy community abuzz, with more than three dozen ground telescopes participating, including optical, radio and radar.

“There’s a lot of them, and it’s incredibly exciting to have lost count,” said DART mission planetary astronomer Christina Thomas.

Finally, a full picture of what the system looks like will be revealed when a European Space Agency mission four years down the line called Hera arrives to survey Dimorphos’ surface and measure its mass, which scientists can currently only guess at.

Very few of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar system are considered potentially hazardous to our planet, and none are expected in the next hundred years or so.

But wait long enough, and it will happen.

We know that from the geological record — for example, the six-mile wide Chicxulub asteroid struck Earth 66 million years ago, plunging the world into a long winter that led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs along with 75 percent of all species.

An asteroid the size of Dimorphos, by contrast, would only cause a regional impact, such as devastating a city, albeit with greater force than any nuclear bomb in history.

How much momentum DART imparts on Dimorphos will depend on whether the asteroid is solid rock, or more like a “rubbish pile” of boulders bound by mutual gravity — a property that’s not yet known.

If it had missed, NASA would have another shot in two years’ time, with the spaceship containing just enough fuel for another pass.

But its success marks the first step toward a world capable of defending itself from a future existential threat.

“I think Earthlings can sleep better, definitely I will,” said DART mission systems engineer Elena Adams.

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle
Updated 23 September 2022

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle
  • Doodle marks the Kingdom’s 92nd national day

LONDON: Google has joined Saudi Arabia in the celebrating of its national day with one of its famous Google Doodles, with an image of the Kingdom’s flag on the search engine’s homepage on Friday.

Only visible in Saudi Arabia, the doodle marks the Kingdom’s 92nd national day – known in Arabic as Al-Yaom-ul-Watany.

It was in 1932 that a royal decree was signed calling for the unification of the dual Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz under the name of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Google doodle features the Kingdom’s green flag which was adopted in 1973.