86 stars get official names


This 11 December 2017 video is called International Astronomical Union approves 86 new star names from around the world.

By Mariah Quintanilla, 9:00am, January 2, 2018:

86 stars get official names

Choices reflect international community

In December, astronomers and space enthusiasts received an early present: 86 newly official star names.

Such designations are often derived from Arabic, Greek or Latin origins. But the new monikers also draw inspiration from ancient mythologies and historical star names from indigenous cultures around the world, including in China, Australia and southern Africa. The star names were officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union, which oversees the naming of objects in space, and announced on December 11. Here are some of the names we thought shined the brightest.

Xamidimura

Constellation: Scorpius
According to South African lore, the indigenous Khoikhoi people nicknamed the pair of stars just before the end of the scorpion’s tail “xami di mura,” meaning “eyes of the lion”.

Fafnir

Constellation: Draco
Fafnir is a dwarf from Norse mythology who became a dragon to guard his treasure. He was slain by the hero Sigurd.

Pipirima

Constellation: Scorpius
Pipirima is named for a pair of fraternal twins, the boy Pipiri and his sister Rehua, from a Tahitian legend. When their parents didn’t share a meal of fish one night, the two kids ran away. As the parents came closer to finding them, the twins climbed onto the back of a passing stag beetle and were carried into the sky.

Chalawan

Constellation: Ursa Major
Chalawan, a villainous crocodile king from a Thai folktale, lived in an underwater cave. A man named Krai Thong fell in love with one of Chalawan’s two wives and killed the crocodile king.

Ran

Constellation: Eridanus
Ran, a Norse goddess of the sea, created peril by capturing sailors in her net.

Unurgunite

Constellation: Canis Major
In stories from Australia’s aboriginal people, Unurgunite has two wives, which are represented by stars on either side of the named star. When Mityan, who represents the moon in the stories, fell in love with one of the wives, Unurgunite fought Mityan and won. Mityan has been wandering the universe ever since.

Alsephina

Constellation: Vela
Alsephina is the brightest star in this new list. “Al-safinah” in Arabic means “the ship”, referring to the ancient Greek constellation Argo Navis (named for the Argonauts’ ship and now split into three modern constellations). The bright star, located in one of those constellations called Vela, has been unofficially called Alsephina since at least 1660, when the Dutch-German mapmaker Andreas Cellarius illustrated the star in Harmonia Macrocosmica, a book about the cosmos.

Tianguan

Constellation: Taurus
Tianguan is a binary star that was unofficially named roughly 2,000 years ago during China’s Han period in the Tianguan shu, the first Chinese systematic description of the stars. In 1898, Édouard Chavannes translated the text to French, introducing Chinese constellations in their proper astrological positions to the western world.

Cervantes

Constellation: Ara
Cervantes is named after Miguel de Cervantes, a Spanish writer who wrote the famous novel Don Quixote. The star is orbited by an exoplanet named Quijote, referring to the story’s protagonist.

Titawin

Constellation: Andromeda
Titawin is named after Medina of Tétouan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Morocco that was a central point of contact between Spaniards and Arabs beginning in the 8th century.

Aliens ruled out for why Tabby’s star flickers. Puzzle over where light-dimming dust comes from still remains: here. See also here.

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Supermoon on 1 January 2018


This video says about itself:

The First Supermoon of 2018 Will Appear on New Year’s Day – And It’s Even More Special

29 December 2017

On January 1 – New Year’s Day – we’ll see the first supermoon of 2018.

Life on exoplanets?


This video says about itself:

Some Of The TRAPPIST-1 Planets Could Hold On To An Atmosphere For Billions Of Years

29 December 2017

There is a lot we don’t know about how life started on Earth or how it may have started elsewhere in the Universe, but there are certain things we think are crucial. A planet with an atmosphere is one of these requirements, so researchers have worked out the chance of this happening in the famous seven-planet system TRAPPIST-1.

Some of TRAPPIST-1’s planets could have life-friendly atmospheres: here.

Some TRAPPIST-1 planets may be water worlds. Water is a sign of possible life. Too much water may prevent us from finding it. ByLaurel Hamers, 5:53pm, March 19, 2018.

Can earthworms survive on Mars?


This 6 October 2017 video from the Netherlands is called Earthworm in Mars soil simulant.

From Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands:

Earthworms can reproduce in Mars soil simulant

November 27, 2017

Two young worms are the first offspring in a Mars soil experiment at Wageningen University & Research. Biologist Wieger Wamelink found them in a Mars soil simulant that he obtained from NASA. At the start he only added adult worms. The experiments are crucial in the study that aims to determine whether people can keep themselves alive at the red planet by growing their own crops on Mars soils.

To feed future humans on Mars a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem is a necessity. Worms will play a crucial role in this system as they break down and recycle dead organic matter. The poop and pee of the (human) Martian will also have to be used to fertilise the soil, but for practical and safety reasons we are presently using pig slurry. We have since been observing the growth of rucola (rocket) in Mars soil simulant provided by NASA to which worms and slurry have been added. ‘Clearly the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active. However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant’, said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research.

‘The positive effect of adding manure was not unexpected’, added Wamelink, ‘but we were surprised that it makes Mars soil simulant outperform Earth silver sand’. We added organic matter from earlier experiments to both sands. We added the manure to a sample of the pots and then, after germination of the rucola, we added the worms. We therefore ended up with pots with all possible combinations with the exception of organic matter which was added to all of the pots.

Worms are very important for a healthy soil, not only on Earth but also in future indoor gardens on Mars or the moon. They thrive on dead organic matter such as old plant remains, which they eat, chew and mix with soil before they excrete it. This poo still contains organic matter that is broken down further by bacteria, thus releasing nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for use by the plants. By digging burrows the worms also aerate and improve the structure of the soil, making watering the plants more effective. The latter proved to be very important in earlier experiments where water would not easily penetrate the soil. Wamelink confirmed that: ‘the application of worms will solve this problem’.

To feed the future humans living on Mars or the moon the project Food for Mars and Moon aims to set up a sustainable agricultural system. It is based on the presence of soils and water (in the form of ice) on both Mars and the moon, and for Earth-based research we are using soil simulants delivered by NASA. The simulants originate from a volcano in Hawaii (Mars) and a desert in Arizona (moon). The experiments started in 2013. Nowadays we are able to grow over a dozen crops, the only species that has resisted our efforts so far is spinach. However crops such as green beans, peas, radish, tomato, potato, rucola, carrot and garden cress all seem possible. The crops were analysed for heavy metals and also alkaloids to check their safety for human consumption. After passing these tests we organized a dinner based on the harvested crops for the people that supported our research via the crowdfunding campaign.

For the first time, researchers have seen life rebounding in the world’s driest [Atacama] desert, demonstrating that it could also be lurking in the soils of Mars: here.

Dwarf planet Haumea has ring


This video says about itself:

The Weirdest Planet Got Weirder – Haumea Has Rings

12 October 2017

Back in January the planet Haumea passed in front of a star, and a Spanish team were observing, using the occultation timings to measure the size and shape of this distant body. And in the process discovered a ring system around this already strange and mysterious body.

By Lisa Grossman, 1:00pm, October 11, 2017:

Oddball dwarf planet Haumea has a ring

It’s the first object past Neptune in the solar system known to have debris circling it

Haumea can do the hula-hoop. The egg-shaped dwarf planet is the first object beyond Neptune to be spotted sporting a ring of particles.

“It now appears that rings can be common in the outer solar system,” says Jose-Luis Ortiz of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Granada, Spain.

On January 21, Ortiz and colleagues used 12 telescopes at 10 observatories to peer into the Kuiper Belt, a region of icy objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, and watch Haumea block the light of a distant star. That tiny eclipse let the team measure the dwarf planet’s size, shape and surrounding environment more accurately than ever before.

Haumea turned out to be larger — its long axis stretches at least 2,322 kilometers, a bit more than half the width of the contiguous United States — and less dense than previously thought, the team reports October 11 in Nature. To their surprise, the researchers also saw the background star flicker before and after its light was blocked by Haumea itself. That flicker is consistent with a 70-kilometer-wide ring about 1,000 kilometers above the dwarf planet’s surface.

The ring is probably made of rock and ice, Ortiz says, but more observations are needed to know for sure. It could be debris kicked up by impacts from small stray space rocks — or even just from the dwarf planet’s spinning. Haumea twirls unusually fast, completing a rotation once every 3.9 hours, which could help fling particles into orbit.

Until recently, the four giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — were the only solar system bodies known to have rings. Then in 2014 and 2015, astronomers spotted rings around the tiny planetoids 10199 Chariklo (SN: 5/3/14, p. 10) and 2060 Chiron, suggesting that small bodies could hold on to rings, too.

Both of those small worlds are known as centaurs, objects whose orbits take them between Jupiter and Neptune, although they may be interlopers from the more distant Kuiper Belt. Since recent searches for rings around Pluto came up empty (SN Online: 10/4/17), no object farther away than Neptune seemed to have rings. Some astronomers speculated that something about the Kuiper Belt disrupted rings around small worlds there, or that the centaurs got their rings as part of the process that kicked them into their current orbits. Haumea’s ring suggests that such structures can form and survive at the solar system’s fringes after all.

“This discovery does disrupt that tidy narrative,” says Matthew Tiscareno of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., who studies Saturn’s rings but was not involved in the new study “Reality is more complicated — that is, interesting.”

Voyager 1,2 spacecraft news


This video says about itself:

See Two Spacecraft Journey to Outer Reaches of Solar System | National Geographic

16 September 2017

After 40 years of service, the two Voyager spacecraft are heading deeper into the cosmos, with Voyager 1 holding the record as the farthest human-made object.

Birds, hurricanes and solar eclipses


This video from Texas in the USA says about itself:

26 August 2017

A Houston taxi driver made an unusual friend during Hurricane Harvey. William Bruso returned to his taxi after getting food to find a hawk sitting on the passenger seat. Dubbed Harvey, the Cooper’s hawk refused to leave his shelter. Bruso made sure the bird wasn’t injured and tried to release him but Harvey seemed unwilling to brave the storm on his own. Eventually, Bruso agreed to let the hawk stay until the hurricane has passed.

The hawk was later set free.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

What Happens to Birds In Hurricanes?

Our hearts go out to all whose lives have been affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. We have also received questions about how hurricanes affect birds. See our article on hurricanes and migration or check the special reports from our BirdCast team summarizing observations from eBirders who are documenting birds in the wakes of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Little is known about longer-term effects of hurricanes on birds. Contribute your observations at eBird.org.

BirdCast Also Reported on Birds and the Eclipse: More than 1,200 eBirders submitted checklists on August 21 during the maximum eclipse in their area. Nighthawks suddenly emerged, magpies flocked to roost, and warblers looked like they were getting ready for a night of migration. Read more from BirdCast.