Astronews Recent Space Discoveries (Iss News, Betelgeuse Mystery, Zhurong, Perseverance & More) Welcome to the ninth review of “Space and Astronomy” news, selected for you by Insane Curiosity Channel. The news, which will be weekly, will try to provide a quick overview of everything interesting that has happened in recent days in the field of astronomical research and space exploration. Keep following us! Astronauts install new solar panels in 6-hour spacewalk on International Space Station Working outside the International Space Station two astronauts successfully rolled out a new type of solar array, providing the orbiting outpost with its first power boost in decades. NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency conducted a six-hour and 28-minute extravehicular activity last June, 20, to finish the installation and deployment of the first International Space Station Roll-Out Solar Array. The two Expedition 65 crewmates resumed work where they had left off on a spacewalk on June, 16, by overcoming an interference issue that initially prevented them from unfolding the array fully. The station’s eight original arrays have begun showing degraded power output as they exceed their 15-year design life. The new roll-out solar arrays are being installed in front of, and partially overlaying, six of the older arrays. When used in tandem, the upgraded system will be capable of increasing the station’s electricity supply by 20 to 30 percent. “These new ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays are pretty fantastic. It is pretty incredible to see the material they are [made] out of, for one,” Kimbrough said in a recent NASA interview. “They are this lightweight, flexible composite blanket material that can get stowed very compactly, but when it is rolled out and deployed, it can bring in a lot of sunlight, which in our case will give us a lot of power for the station.” Unlike the legacy arrays, no motor was needed to deploy the new panels to their 19-meter length. After Pesquet released two final bolts, the potential energy held by the array’s rolled-up carbon composite booms was enough to unroll the array. The entire process took about six minutes. In addition to ensuring that the space station has enough power, the new panels are also serving as a test for NASA’s Artemis Gateway to be deployed in orbit around the moon. The Gateway’s planned arrays will be longer and be deployed remotely but otherwise will use the same technology from the same company. This was the 240th spacewalk in support of Space station assembly. The EVA was the eighth for Kimbrough and the fourth for Pesquet. The pair arrived at the station as members of SpaceX’s Crew-2 aboard Dragon Endeavor in April. Kimbrough has now spent 52 hours and 43 minutes on spacewalks. Pesquet has logged 26 hours and 15 minutes. China Orbital Station receives visit from three astronauts The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft docked with China’s space station module hours after launch from Jiuquan last June 16, marking the first crewed visit to the facility. Shenzhou-12 and its crew of three launched on a Long March 2F from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 9:22 p.m. Eastern June, 16. The spacecraft docked with the Tianhe space station core module at 3:54 a.m. June 17, six hours 32 minutes after launch. Astronauts will spend three months aboard the 16.6-meter-long, 4.2-meter-diameter Tianhe (“harmony of the heavens”) module. Shenzhou-12 mission objectives include extravehicular activities, testing performance of a large robotic arm, and verification of a regenerative life support system. The crewed mission is the third of 11 launches planned for the construction of the three-module Chinese Space Station. The Shenzhou-12 docking was also China’s first autonomous rapid rendezvous and docking while carrying crew. The outpost is currently in a 375 by 385-kilometer altitude orbit inclined by 41.5 degrees in order to be suitable for visits from Jiuquan. Tianhe was launched into orbit in late April, marking the start of the construction phase of a Chinese space station project first approved in 1992. The Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft launched to Tianhe in late May, carrying 4.69 tons of cargo in a pressurized segment to supply the Shenzhou-12 mission. The Shenzhou spacecraft itself carries five days of supplies for the crew. Shenzhou-12 is commanded by Nie Haisheng, 56, a veteran of the Shenzhou-6 and Shenzhou-10 missions. Also on the mission are Liu Boming, 54, who participated in Shenzhou-7, and Tang Hongbo, 45, making his first space flight. The mission is China’s seventh crewed flight. It is planned to far surpass the Chinese human spaceflight duration record of 33 days set by Shenzhou-11 in 2016. The Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft and Shenzhou-13 crewed missions will follow in September and October respectively. “Hey, guys, just a moment before we continue… BE sure to join the Insanecuriosity Channel… Click on the bell, you will help us to make products of ever-higher quality!” Great Dimming of Betelgeuse star is solved. Maybe Astronomers say they’ve put to bed the mystery of why one of the most familiar stars in the night sky suddenly dimmed just over a year ago. Do you remember? Betelgeuse, a red supergiant in the constellation of Orion, abruptly darkened in late 2019, early 2020. The strange behavior led many to speculate that it might be about to explode. But now, a team using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chili says the cause was almost certainly a giant dust cloud between us and the star. Even if you can’t name many points in the sky, you’ll definitely know Betelgeuse by sight. It’s the orange dot in the top-left corner of Orion – or bottom-right, if you’re viewing the constellation in the Southern Hemisphere. Close to Earth, relatively speaking, at a distance of about 550 light-years, Betelgeuse is what’s known as a semi-regular variable star. It naturally brightens and darkens for roughly 400 days. But what happened 18 months ago was out of the ordinary. The loss of brightness was far greater than anything previously recorded. Astronomer Miguel Montargès and colleagues investigated the event with the European Southern Observatory’s VLT, one of the most powerful telescopes on Earth. It has the resolution to directly image the surface of Betelgeuse. The researchers compared pictures before, during and after the dimming, and did some modeling to see what kind of behavior might give rise to the views obtained. Two ideas were dominant. Perhaps there was a large cool spot on the surface of the star, because red supergiants like Betelgeuse are known to have very large convective cells that can cause hot spots and cold spots. Or maybe there was a cloud of dust forming right in front of the star as viewed from Earth. The explanation turns out to be “a bit of both”, says colleague Emily Cannon: “Our overall idea is that there was a cool spot on the star which, because of the local drop in temperature, then caused gas ejected previously to condense into dust. So, the cool spot on the surface would initially make the star look dimmer to us. But then this condensation of dust would add to the rapid drop in brightness of the star.” Betelgeuse is about 15-20 times as massive as the Sun. An object that big is likely to go supernova at some point. So, it wasn’t crazy to wonder when this unusual dimming occurred that Betelgeuse might be about to let go in a spectacular explosion. We know that red supergiants can display increased mass loss rates, which may indicate there’s a later stage in their lives when they are more likely to go supernova. But Betelgeuse is a relatively young red supergiant and it probably has a lot more time left: Tens, even hundreds, of thousands of years. It would be an amazing thing to see; the event would be visible in daylight. The last supernova observed in our Milky Way Galaxy was Kepler’s Star, which was observed in 1604. Records from astronomers at the time indicate it was visible during the day for over three weeks. China releases stunning images of Mars taken by its Zhurong rover The Zhurong rover, named after a god of fire in Chinese mythology, landed on the Utopia Planitia region of Mars last May 15. This is China’s first Mars mission, making it the second country to land a rover on the planet, after the United States. The rover sent back its first images of Mars in May, several days after landing, showing a deployed ramp and the flat landscape where it arrived. This Friday, June 11, the new photos included a 360-degree panorama of the landing area, stitched together from several images the rover took after landing before it began driving through the area. Another image showed the orange Martian surface, with scattered rocks, a circular crater on the far side, and dunes in the distance. A third image shows the Chinese flag near the landing platform. The rover also took a selfie using a wireless camera, showing its extended solar panels and a tiny Chinese flag emblazoned on its equipment. The six-wheel solar-powered rover is intended to last three months, during which it will search for signs or evidence of ancient life on Mars’ surface. While the rover explores the planet, its orbiter is also conducting scientific detection operations. While Zhurong is not as technologically advanced as NASA’s Perseverance, which is also currently roving Mars, its presence sends a clear signal that China’s space capabilities are catching up with those of the US. OK, It’s Time for Perseverance to get to Work Given all of the news surrounding the landing and first few months of operation of the Perseverance rover on Mars, it might be surprising that its actual science mission hasn’t even started yet. That changed on June 1st when the rover officially kicked off its first science mission by leaving its landing site. NASA has reported on a variety of firsts coming from the rover, including the first sound recordings on Mars, when it first zapped a rock with its laser, first use of its MOXIE experiment for the first historical oxygen production, and lately the trials and tribulations of the Ingenuity helicopter. But when all is said and done, there is still more science to do. One big to-do on Perseverance’s task list is to collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth on the first-ever Martian sample return mission later in the decade. The rover is carrying 43 sample tubes that can be filled with interesting rocks or regolith that scientists want to take a closer look at. Where those rocks and regolith come from is one of the most important considerations of the mission as a whole, and Perseverance’s first science mission will focus on two major areas of interest. The first stop will be the “Crater Floor Fractured Rough”, which hopefully will be blessed with a more whimsical name, if for no other reason than to make it easier on us science writers when talking about it in the future. For now, this stop can be thought of as the floor of the Jezero crater, where Perseverance landed. Almost 4 billion years ago it was covered with at least 100m of liquid water, and the geology of the region should reflect that much wetter past. The more whimsically named second area of the trip is the Séítah unit. Meaning “amid the sand” in Navajo. Filled with rocks, ridges, and sand dunes, the area could potentially offer up a more recent geological history than the samples found on the crater floor. Navigating around these two areas of interest is no mean feat for a rover being controlled from millions of miles away, so mission scientists have drawn up an old-school road map to help illustrate the path the rover intends to take. The overall route is expected to be between 2.5 km and 5 km, and will end with a return to the “Octavia E. Butler” landing site, having left behind some samples for the return mission to pick up. From there the rover will transition into the second phase of science experiments, which will see it travel north and west to a delta region of the crater, where a river once flowed into the lake that used to occupy the area. All of these areas could provide vital evidence for one of the big mission objectives of the rover – signs of life. It’s exactly these types of environments that evidence for any ancient life forms that might have lived on the wetter, warmer Mars, might still show up. Carbonates, which are common in the delta region, are known to have preserved fossils on Earth. At this point, any such evidence is still wishful thinking, and even the collection of the samples that might eventually contain that evidence is still months away. But Perseverance is finally ready to take that first step – or wheel rotation – on the journey to collect even more data from the bottom of an ancient Martian lakebed. OK guys, we’re done for the week too. What do you think? What news struck you the most?