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A Star That Exploded 40 Years Ago Is Breaking The Rules, Scientists Call It A Treasure

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Astronomers are studying a white dwarf star and it is behaving strangely. It is part of a nova system HM Sagittae (HM Sge) that includes the white dwarf and its red giant companion.

A nova event is defined as a brief explosion which causes a blinding flash and sends the accumulating material into outer space.

Using data from the Hubble telescope and the retired SOFIA observatory, scientists have found some baffling characteristics of this binary star system.

Since its explosion about 40 years ago, HM Sge, which lies 3,400 light-years away in the constellation Sagitta, has grown 250 times brighter. Besides, it did not rapidly fade away as novae commonly do, but has maintained its luminosity for decades.

What’s more confusing is that although the system got hotter, it has paradoxically faded a little.

Hubble’s view of the symbiotic star system. Image: NASA

ALSO SEE: Scientists Spot Massive Asteroid Collision — In Another Solar System

Since HM Sge is a symbiotic star, the dust from the red star and gas of the white dwarf combine to form a blazing hot disk around the latter. This then results in a spontaneous thermonuclear explosion.

Another thing scientists noted was the system’s increase in temperature. According to Hubble’s ultraviolet data, the white dwarf and accretion disk increased from less than 4,00,000 degrees Fahrenheit in 1989 to greater than 450,000 degrees Fahrenheit today.

ALSO SEE: Hubble Telescope Captures Ancient Galaxy That Ate Its Companion 1.3 Billion Years Ago

“When I first saw the new data, I went – ‘wow this is what Hubble UV spectroscopy can do!’ – I mean it’s spectacular, really spectacular,” said Ravi Sankrit, astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

Steven Goldman of STScI, who also worked on the study, said that symbiotic stars in our galaxy are rare. “This unique event is a treasure for astrophysicists spanning decades,” he said. The above findings are expected to provide more insights into the physics and dynamics of stellar evolution in binary systems.

(Image: NASA)





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Suicide Pod To Be Used Soon In Switzerland Amid Threats Of Impending Ban: Report

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A newly developed portable suicide pod, Sarco, is set to be used for the first time in Switzerland within the coming months. The device, which enables death without medical supervision, was initially unveiled in 2019 and functions by replacing oxygen inside the pod with nitrogen, resulting in death by hypoxia.

The organization, known as The Last Resort, believes there are no legal barriers to the use of Sarco in Switzerland. Swiss law generally permits assisted suicide, provided the person performing the act does so voluntarily. Florian Willet, CEO of The Last Resort, expressed confidence in the device’s forthcoming use, describing it as a “beautiful way” to die during Wednesday’s press conference.

The Sarco pod. Image: The Last Resort

However, there is opposition to this viewpoint. Recent reports indicate that the Swiss government may be planning to ban the use of the pod. Article 115 of the Swiss Criminal Code states that assisting in suicide for selfish reasons is punishable.

ALSO SEE: Swiss Company Builds First Bioprocessor From Brain Cells, It’s A Million Times More Efficient

Public prosecutor Peter Sticher of Schaffhausen, per Metro, has warned of potential five-year prison sentences for anyone who uses the pod. Sticher has also sent a letter to the pod’s creator, Philip Nitschke, cautioning him about “serious legal consequences.”

The Sarco pod works by depriving the user of oxygen, which leads to unconsciousness, and then releasing nitrogen gas to ensure death. While the creators of the device claim it offers a painless death, a report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has raised concerns, warning that if the machine fails to induce unconsciousness, the death could be painful.

ALSO SEE: New smart mattress can change its surface temperature to wake you up

The cost to use the Sarco pod is reported to be $20. Prospective users will be subjected to automated questions as part of a psychiatric assessment before they can activate the device by pressing a button, after which there is no going back.

This development has sparked significant debate in Switzerland owing to the ethics and legality of such assisted dying methods.



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Check out NASA’s next space station. It won’t orbit Earth.

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As the International Space Station nears its retirement in 2030, NASA and its contractors are working full tilt on a new lab that will be whizzing through space much farther from Earth.

Right now, at a facility in Turin, Italy, engineers are stress-testing the core module for Gateway, a lunar space station designed to provide astronauts with a place to live, conduct scientific research, and prepare for moonwalks.

Though it may not look like much at the moment, the gunmetal-gray hollow cylinder, pictured above, is a critical facet of NASA’s Artemis moon missions. It will house life-support systems for astronauts, exercise equipment, and banks for scientific instruments. NASA has dubbed the main module HALO, short for Habitation and Logistics Outpost.

If this all sounds like sci-fi mumbo jumbo that is decades into the future, think again: NASA and its partners plan to send HALO and its propulsion element into lunar orbit on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as early as next year, welcoming its first guests around 2028. If successful, Gateway will be the first moon-orbiting space station.

“NASA and its international partners will explore the scientific mysteries of deep space with Gateway,” the agency says, “to return humans to the Moon and chart a path for the first human missions to Mars.”

Moving the HALO module

NASA has dubbed the main module HALO, short for Habitation and Logistics Outpost.
Credit: Thales Alenia Space

Maintaining a space station around a planetary body other than Earth won’t be an easy feat. While the ISS orbits just 250 miles above Earth and is only a short spaceflight away in an emergency, the moon is over 230,000 miles in the distance, with the quickest journey back home taking two to four days. 

Despite the challenges, NASA is getting lots of international help to bring Gateway to fruition. Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, and Japan are contributing key components to build the station, which will have a unique path around the moon.

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Scientists considered many potential orbits before determining the best fit for Gateway. The station will fly in a so-called “near rectilinear halo orbit.” Since 2022, a small microwave-oven-sized spacecraft, CAPSTONE, has scouted out this path, which would look a little like a string of pearls hanging from a neck, if you drew it on paper. 

The unusual orbit is intended to be fuel-efficient and offer relatively close access to the lunar south pole, where astronauts will explore, look for water ice around the shadowy craters, and practice living in an extraterrestrial environment.

Why not a low circular orbit around the moon, one might ask? It certainly would put the station closer to the ground, but it would also require a lot more fuel to counteract the tug of the moon’s gravity, according to NASA. A distant retrograde orbit, on the other hand, while more stable and less fuel-consuming, would be too inconvenient for trips back and forth to the surface. 

But the near rectilinear halo orbit, a weeklong loop around the moon’s poles, is thought to offer the best of both worlds. The station would also continuously face Earth, allowing uninterrupted communication with flight controllers. 

The HALO section is just one of four modules where international astronauts will live and work. NASA has said the assembly of Gateway in space will happen in stages, beginning with the Artemis IV mission, slated for no earlier than September 2028, and finishing with Artemis VI. The expansion pieces will launch with the Orion spaceship atop NASA’s Space Launch System, casually referred to as the “mega moon rocket.” 

If you’re having trouble visualizing how this will all come together, take a look back at the new photo of HALO. Inside the module on the right side of the tube is where a cargo spacecraft and the European Space Agency’s Lunar View, a module with large windows, will dock. That crucial ESA part will have refueling capabilities for the propulsion module. 

NASA has given the propulsion module perhaps the least creative name in the agency’s history: the Power and Propulsion Element. It will harness solar power for Gateway’s subsystems and ionize xenon gas for the thrust needed to maintain the station’s orbit. 

Astronauts touring Gateway in VR

NASA astronauts see images like this when they’re touring the Gateway space station with virtual reality.
Credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

To the left on the outside of HALO is a docking port where SpaceX’s Starship and Blue Origin’s Blue Moon landers will dock during the Artemis IV and V missions, respectively. NASA administrator Bill Nelson has said using private vendors will help the agency buy down the technical risks and costs for the Artemis program, which seeks to use the moon as a springboard for eventual missions to Mars.

“I’ve said it before: We want more competition. We want two landers, and that’s better, and it means that you have reliability. You have backups,” Nelson told reporters last year. “These are public-private partnerships. It’s the new way that we go to the moon.”

After engineers finish stress-testing HALO at Thales Alenia Space in Italy, the module will go to Gilbert, Arizona, where Northrop Grumman, its builder, will finish its outfitting and prep it for launch. 





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Scientists Detect Gases On Venus Produced By Life On Earth; What Does It Mean?

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The debate on whether Venus once hosted life has reignited after discovery of two gases considered to be biosignatures. Two teams examining the hellish world presented evidence of phosphine and ammonia which are produced through biological processes on Earth.

During the national astronomy meeting on Thursday, Dave Clements from the Imperial College London said that signatures of the said gases could have been a part of Venus‘s warm and wet phase and they eventually settled in the clouds as global warming kicked in.

We now know that the surface temperature on Venus is about 450 degrees Celsius and the atmospheric pressure is 90 times that of Earth. However, the temperature significantly decreases above 50 kilometres and so does the pressure hinting at potential habitability for microbes.

“Our findings suggest that when the atmosphere is bathed in sunlight the phosphine is destroyed. All that we can say is that phosphine is there. We don’t know what’s producing it. It may be chemistry that we don’t understand. Or possibly life,” Clements said per The Guardian.

ALSO SEE: NASA Beams Hip-Hop Song By Missy Elliot To Venus For The First Time Ever

Here on Earth, the toxic phosphine gas is produced by anaerobic bacteria in environments that lack oxygen.

The planet Venus. Image: NASA

Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University, presented the findings of ammonia in Venusian atmosphere. Ammonia on Earth is produced by nitrogen-converting bacteria or industrial processes.

However, the expert emphasised that discovery of these gases do not indicate the confirmation of microbes on Venus.

ALSO SEE: Researchers Discover Signs Of Life On Venus Using Data From NASA’s Pioneer Venus Multiprobe!

Notably, similar findings were presented in 2020 about finding tiny amounts of phosphine on the planet. The question on Venus’s past will hopefully be answered in the next decade through two missions that NASA has planned. The agency will launch the DAVINCI mission (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) in 2029 followed by VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and spectroscopy) in 2031.

ISRO is working on the Shukrayaan mission to explore the planet but the agency is yet to provide any updates on development and launch timeline. Last year, ISRO Chairman S Somanath said that the spacecraft’s payloads are in development phase.

(Image: NASA)



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