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A star like our Sun only shines the way it does because of its intrinsic balance. Stars are massive, and the inward gravitational pressure from all that mass acts to contain the outward thermal pressure from all the fusion inside the star. They are in equilibrium, or on the main sequence if you like, and the result is a spherical mass of plasma that holds its shape and emits radiation with relative stability for billions of years. Like our Sun.

But eventually, stars teeter over the edge and lose their balance. Stars like our Sun will expand, take on a malevolent red hue, and begin to destroy anything that comes within their grasp.

Like a planet.

As a star like our Sun fuses hydrogen into helium for billions of years, it loses mass. As it loses mass, its inward force of gravity weakens. Eventually, gravity weakens so much that it can no longer counterbalance all the outward pressure from fusion. It cools, turns red, and expands. It becomes a red giant.

Astronomers know all about this because when they look out into the galaxy with powerful telescopes, they can observe and study stars in all stages of life. They also know that our Sun will follow this path. Eventually, it’ll become a red giant and expand. It’ll consume and destroy Mercury, Venus, and most likely Earth too. It’s an inescapable fate. There’s no technological tool we can wield to save Earth.

For us, this is way in the distant future, billions of years from now. Maybe our distant descendants, if we have any, will escape to another planet or moon or crowd into a generational starship and keep humanity going somehow. If that happens, then those humans, if that’s what they still are, will look back ruefully at the wreckage that used to be the inner planets.

That’s a dramatized version of what will happen because, in actual fact, the Sun will slowly heat up well before it expands and becomes a red giant. It’ll boil Earth’s oceans away, shred Earth’s atmosphere, and sterilize the planet. It won’t be cinematic; it’ll happen over a long period of time.

But any way you look at it, a star consuming a planet is a dramatic event. Astronomers at MIT, Harvard, CalTech, and other institutions caught a glimpse of this drama when they saw a distant red giant consuming one of its planets about 12,000 light-years away in the Eagle (Aquila) constellation. Even though red giants aren’t rare, and they’re likely consuming and destroying planets throughout the Milky Way, this is the first time astronomers have spotted it happening.

“We were seeing the end-stage of the swallowing.”

Kishalay De, MIT Kavli Institute

It all started with the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), a wide-angle camera on one of the telescopes at the Palomar Observatory in California. The ZTF is an automated survey facility that images the entire northern sky every two nights. It’s monitored by astronomers who are interested in different types of transients. The ZTF detects transients like supernovae, flare stars, and asteroids in a field called time-domain astronomy, or the study of how astronomical objects change over time.

In May 2020, the ZTF spotted a star that grew brighter by over 100 times in only ten days, then quickly faded again. When something brightens that much, it’s typically a supernova or something similar. But this one was different. After its rapid brightening, there was a colder, longer-lasting signal. According to the team of researchers, only one event can produce this signal: a star devouring a planet.

The researchers presented their findings in a paper titled “An Infrared Transient from a Star Engulfing a Planet” in the journal Nature. The lead author is Kishalay De, a post-doc at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

“We were seeing the end-stage of the swallowing,” De said in a press release announcing the findings.

“It was unlike any stellar outburst I had seen in my life.”

Kishalay De, MIT Kavli Institute

According to the team, this is what they witnessed.

Lead author De was engaged in different research when it happened. He was searching for eruptions in stellar binaries, stars that orbit each other so closely that one draws matter from the other. The matter transfer is variable, and when it happens, the star receiving the matter brightens temporarily. This is one of the types of transients that ZTF is tuned to detect.

Astronomers studying particular types of stellar objects are accustomed to seeing certain patterns in the light the objects emit. The types and amount of light they emit over time give things like stellar binaries tell-tale light curves. The stellar binaries De was studying are called Luminous Red Novae (LRN), but the light signals from the event, now named ZTF SLRN-2020, didn’t match those from any LRN De had seen before.

So when astronomers detect a light curve

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5 Reasons You Must Backpack Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

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By Michael Lanza

Chances are that, by now, you’ve heard of Idaho’s Sawtooths—having typed that name into a search box may be the reason you’ve landed on this story. Maybe you’ve been intrigued at what you’ve heard or images you’ve seen from Idaho’s best-known mountain range. Perhaps you’ve even been there and the experience has only amplified your curiosity to see more of this range.

As someone who’s had the good fortune of having backpacked all over the country and in many other countries over the past three-plus decades, including the 10 years I spent as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog, I rank the Sawtooths among the 10 best backpacking trips in America.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.
” data-image-caption=”Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ src=”×1024.jpg?resize=683%2C1024&ssl=1″ alt=”Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.” class=”wp-image-45355″ style=”width:572px;height:auto” srcset=” 683w, 200w, 768w, 800w” sizes=”(max-width: 683px) 100vw, 683px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.

I’ve wandered around the Sawtooths at least a couple dozen times over more than two decades, including numerous backpacking trips, dayhikes, peak scrambles, rock climbing, and backcountry skiing. While there remain peaks on my list to climb, a few trails to hike, and many lakes to leap into (or just sit beside), the Sawtooths have become my backyard mountains. I feel at home there.

This story presents the five reasons I think every backpacker should take a multi-day hike through the Sawtooths—spotlighting the characteristics of a trip there that make this place unique. I believe this argument may persuade you to go (if, somehow, the photos don’t do it).

See my e-book “The Best Backpacking Trip in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains” to learn all you need to know to plan and pull off a five-day, 36-mile Sawtooths hike through the core of the Sawtooths, and my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan every detail of a multi-day hike there.

Please share your thoughts or experiences there in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I
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The Venerable Hubble Space Telescope Keeps Delivering

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The world was much different in 1990 when NASA astronauts removed the Hubble Space Telescope from Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay and placed it into orbit. The Cold War was ending, there were only 5.3 billion humans, and the World Wide Web had just come online.

Now, the old Soviet Union is gone, replaced by a smaller but no less militaristic Russia. The human population has ballooned to 8.1 billion. The internet is a fixture in daily life. We also have a new, more powerful space telescope, the JWST.

But the Hubble keeps delivering, as this latest image shows.

The lenticular galaxy NGC 4753 is about 60 million light-years away. Lenticular galaxies are midway between elliptical and spiral galaxies. They have large-scale disks but only poorly defined spiral arms. NGC 4753 sees very little star formation because like other lenticulars, it’s used up most of its gas. The fact that they contain mostly older stars makes them similar to elliptical galaxies.

Among lenticulars, NGC 4753 is known for the dust lanes surrounding its nucleus. Astronomers think that spirals evolve into lenticulars in dense environments because they interact with other galaxies and with the intergalactic medium. However, NGC 4753 is in a low-density environment. Its environment and complex structure make it a target for astronomers to test their theories of galaxy formation and evolution.

This Hubble image is the sharpest ever taken of NGC 4753, revealing its intriguing complexity and highlighting the space telescope’s impressive resolving power.

Astronomers think that NGC 4753 is the result of a merger with a dwarf galaxy over one billion years ago. The dwarf galaxy was gas-rich, and NGC 4753's distinct dust rings probably accreted from the merger. NGC 4753's powerful gravity then shaped the gas into the complex shapes we see in this image. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Kelsey
Astronomers think that NGC 4753 is the result of a merger with a dwarf galaxy over one billion years ago. The dwarf galaxy was gas-rich, and NGC 4753’s distinct dust rings probably accreted from the merger. NGC 4753’s powerful gravity then shaped the gas into the complex shapes we see in this image. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Kelsey

NGC 4763’s unique structure results from a merger with a dwarf galaxy about 1.3 billion years ago. The video below from NOIRlab explains what happened.

NGC 4753 also hosts two known Type 1a supernovae, which are important because they help astronomers study the expansion of the Universe. They serve as standard candles, an important rung in the cosmic distance ladder.

Galaxies like NGC 4753 may not be rare, but the viewing angle plays a key role in identifying them. Our edge-on view of the galaxy makes its lenticular form clear. We could be seeing others like it from different angles that obscure its nature.

This is a model of NGC 4753, as seen from various viewing orientations. From left to right and top to bottom, the angle of the line of sight to the galaxy's equatorial plane ranges from 10° to 90° in steps of 10°. Although galaxies similar to NGC 4753 may not be rare, only certain viewing orientations allow for easy identification of a highly twisted disk. This infographic is a recreation of Figure 7 from a 1992 research paper.
This is a model of NGC
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Juno Reveals Secrets About Europa’s Icy Surface

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Europa has always held a fascination to me. I think it’s the concept of a world with a sub-surface ocean and the possibility of life that has inspired me and many others. In September 2022, NASAs Juno spacecraft made a flyby, coming within 355 kilometres of the surface. Since the encounter, scientists have been exploring the images and have identified regions where brine may have bubbled to the surface. Other images revealed possible, previously unidentified steep-walled depressions up to 50km wide, this could be caused by a free-floating ocean! 

Juno was launched to Jupiter on 5 August 2011. It took off from the Cape Canaveral site on board an Atlas V rocket and travelled around 3 billion kilometres. It arrived at Jupiter on 4 July 2016 and in September 2022 made its closest flyby of Europa. The frozen world is the second of the four Galilean satellites that were discovered by Galileo over 400 years ago. Visible in small telescopes, the true nature of the moon is only detectable by visiting craft like Juno. 

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Artist’s impression of NASA’s Galileo space probe in orbit of Jupiter. Credit: NASA

During its close fly-by, one of the onboard cameras known as Juno-Cam took the highest resolution images of the moon since Galileo took a flyby in 2000. The images supported the long held theory that the icy crusts at the north and south poles are not where they used to be. Another instrument on board, known as the Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), revealed possible activity resembling plumes where brine may have bubbled to the surface.

The ground track over Europa that was followed by Juno enabled imaging around the equatorial regions. The images revealed the usual, expected blocks of ice, walls, ridges and scarps but also found something else. Steep walled depressions that measured 20 to 50 kilometres across were also seen and they resembled large ovoid pits. 

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One of Juno’s enormous solar panels, unfurled on Earth. NASA/JPL. SWrI

The observations of the meanderings of the north/south polar ice and the varied surface features all point towards an outer icy shell that is free-floating upon the sub surface ocean. This can only happen if the outer shell is not connected to the rocky interior. When this happens, there are high levels of stress on the ice which then causes the fracture pattern witnessed. The images represent the first time such patterns have been seen in the southern hemisphere, the first evidence of true polar wandering.

The images from the SRU surprisingly provided the best quality images. It was originally designed to detect faint light from stars for navigation. Instead, the team used it to capture images when Europa was illuminated by the gentle glow of sunlight reflected from Jupiter. It was quite a novel approach and allowed complex features to become far more pronounced than before. Intricate networks of ridges criss-crossing the surface were identified along with dark stains from water plumes. One feature in particular stood out, nicknamed ‘the Platypus’, it was a 37 kilometre by 67 kilometre region shaped somewhat like a platypus.

Source : NASA’s Juno Provides High-Definition Views of Europa’s Icy Shell

The post Juno Reveals Secrets About Europa’s Icy Surface appeared first on Universe Today.

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