Babe Among the Stars: Kilonova

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy


No doubt every regular reader of my BATS column has heard of a supernova, which is when a really big star goes boom. When even bigger stars explode, they are called hypernovae. This year, when it was announced that gravitational waves had been detected, it turned out that the original explosion which caused them was a KILONOVA. The source? A binary pair of neutron stars collided and merged, producing a gamma-ray burst later named GRB 170817A. A gravitational wave was detected by scientists and they were able to backtrack it to this event. It proves Einstein was correct, and resulted in the Nobel Prize in physics being awarded for the discovery.

Totality – were you there?

On 21 August there was a total eclipse of the Sun. Totality was only viewable in parts of the mid- and west USA, other areas saw a partial eclipse. The next total eclipse will be in July 2019. If you want to see totality then, you’ll have to be in central Argentina, Chile or the Tuamotus (French Polynesia).

Bye Bye Cassini

In September the Saturn orbiter Cassini-Huygens was directed to end its mission by plunging into the gas giant's atmosphere. It had been in orbit around Saturn since 1 July, 2004, and was only being disposed of due to running low on fuel to initiate course corrections. The spacecraft had been named after the discoverer of Saturn's ring divisions, Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, and the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan, Saturn's largest moon. The Cassini-Huygens orbiter sent us back some fabulous images of the ringed world:

Here’s a video of Cassini approaching Saturn set to music. Enjoy! There’s also a short film put together by the team at Astronomy Picture of the Day, where you can experience what it was like to be the Cassini-Huygens orbiter. Pity it’s just two minutes long!

Exploration in 2018

On 20 March NASA plans to launch the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission. Good luck detecting some more weird and wonderful exoplanets! NASA’s InSight is due to launch on 5 May en route to Mars, with arrival scheduled at Elysium Planitia on 26 November. InSight is a robotic lander which will explore the red planet for approximately two years.

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