Courtesy Thunderf00t via Wikimedia CommonsIn the coming nights, a nearby supernova should be visible using just a pair of binoculars. Located in the Pinwheel Galaxy ( aka NGC 5457) , the supernova, designated PTF 11kly was first detected earlier this week, and is estimated to be 21 million light-years from Earth - fairly close in astronomical terms. According to this report in Reuters, the supernova "will appear, blueish-white, just above and to the left of the last two stars in the Big Dipper handle". At its peak brightness, the phenomenon will outshine all the stars in the Pinwheel Galaxy. This particular kind of supernova, classified as a "Type 1a" event, takes place when an Earth-sizes white dwarf star packed with more mass than our sun suddenly explodes in a thermonuclear blaze of glory. The massive explosion blasts the star's matter out into space in all directions. This stellar material is used in the creation new stars and planets. Past supernova are the reason there are heavy elements in the universe. And speaking of the past, if you're lucky enough to spot PTF 11kly, you'll actually be looking back in time. The light from the exploding star that will be hitting your eyes this week left the Pinwheel Galaxy 21 million years ago. That's a long wait, but I'm sure it will be worth it.
Courtesy Public domainIf you’re like me, you’re fretting about what to buy your significant other this coming holiday season. Let it go. We have bigger problems. There’s a humongous star in the constellation Canis Major that’s in its final death throes and could go supernova at any time. VY Canis Majoris, as it is referenced, is the largest star known to science, and is so huge, if it were placed in the center of our Solar System, it would encompass all the space between our Sun and the orbit of the planet Saturn (see diagram). But don’t worry, the unstable red hypergiant is nearly 5000 light-years away, and is being monitored closely (in far-infrared and submillimeter portions of the light spectrum) by the European Space Agency's new space telescope Herschel. Read more here about what's actually going on.
Here are some more random questions that were submitted to our featured Scientists on the Spot that had nothing to do with their area of expertise. A few were space related, so I gathered them up to answer together.
We had two similar space travel questions. ”How many days does it take to get to the moon?” and, ”How many years does it take to get to Mars?”
First, the moon, which is closer, and rotates around the Earth. That simple fact may make you a lot of money some day.
How long it takes to get to the moon depends on how fast you are traveling and whether or not people are on the ship.
The moon is 238,855 miles from Earth. If you were to travel at a rate of 60 miles an hour from the Earth to the moon it would take165 days to get there. Luckily, spaceships can travel a lot faster.
The first man-made spacecraft to reach the moon was the Soviet Union’s unmanned Luna 2. It reached the moon in 33½ hours, meaning it traveled at an average of 7,131 miles an hour.
Manned spacecraft take longer to reach the moon as you have to take into consideration g-forces, safety and probably resting by the crew. The first manned lunar landing, Apollo 11, was launched from Earth at 1:32pm on July 16, 1969, achieved orbit around the moon some nearly 76 hours later, and made landing on the moon at 8:17pm on July 20, 1969. Apollo 12, the second moon mission, took the longest to get to the moon – over 83 hours, while Apollo 16 was the fastest at just under 72 hours. So, I would say it takes around three days to get to the moon.
Like going to the moon, the time it takes to get to Mars is influenced by how fast you travel, but another crucial factor is that Mars’ distance from Earth changes as the two planets rotate around the Sun, so how long it takes depends on when you leave. Recent unmanned missions to Mars included Spirit (launched June 10, 2003 – arrived January 3, 2004), Pathfinder (December 4, 1996 – arrived July 4, 1997), Mars Odyssey (launched April 7, 2001 – arrived October 24, 2001) and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (launched August 12, 2005 – arrived March 10, 2006), and they average just over 6 months.
It would be about the same about of time for a manned spaceflight, if launched during the time when the two planets are in opposition to one another. The length of time spent on Mars will be impacted by this as well – it will either be a 30-day stay (a total 600+ day mission) or a 450+ day stay (a total 900+ day mission). Again, the difference lies in when the planets are in opposition, which only occurs every 26 months.
The final space question is “What are super novas?”
Super novas are stars blowing up. (Sweet.) Basically, the blowing up star becomes much brighter (because it is blowing up) as the material that made up the star is blown away.
Scientists have observed what is thought to be the most powerful supernova explosion ever recorded.
"Of all exploding stars ever observed, this was the king," said Alex Filippenko, one of the astronomers observing the event.
The object, dubbed SN 2006gy, is thought to have been a star at least 150 times larger than our own sun. It was first discovered last autumn, and its subsequent death throes were so explosive, astronomers think the star may have been obliterated, blasting all its material (metals and heavier elements) into the surrounding region of space. Animation of a star going supernova.
But have no fear, it should have no effect on any of us here on Earth. Astronomers estimate the star was 240 million light-years away from our solar system.
However, a star in our own galaxy named Eta Carinae, appears to be expelling large amounts of material just like SN 2006gy did before it went supernova. It could mean Eta Carinae is facing a similar explosive fate. And if that happens, its demise would not go unnoticed here on Earth, because Eta Carinae is only 7500 light-years away.
"We don't know for sure if Eta Carinae will explode soon, but we had better keep a close eye on it just in case," said Mario Livio, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The last supernova observed in the Milky Way took place more than 400 years ago.
"Eta Carinae's explosion could be the best star-show in the history of modern civilization," Livio said.
"It would be so bright that you would see it during the day, and you could even read a book by its light at night", added Dave Pooley, at the University of California at Berkley.
Despite the celestial light show, and its relative closeness, if Eta Carinae did go supernova, it would still be a safe distance away from Earth.
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