atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#6968: Space is the place

So, let's start with and have a gander at what they've got to say.

Betelgeuse unexpectedly and suddenly got dimmer.
Betelgeuse caused a sensation among professional astronomers earlier this month when Edward Guinan of Villanova University and colleagues reported a significant "fainting" of the star. "[Betelgeuse] has been declining in brightness since October 2019, now reaching a modern all-time low of V = +1.12 mag on 07 December 2019 UT," they wrote. "Currently this is the faintest the star has been during our 25+ years of continuous monitoring."
Understand this: red supergiants like Betelgeuse blow up, and when they do it's pretty spectacular. As noted last night, Betelgeuse is about 640 light years away from us, so it's not so close to us that it'd sterilize Earth, but it is close enough that it's going to make winter nights a lot brighter than normal.

But before it can blow up, first it needs to enter iron fusion.

Stars are largely made of hydrogen and helium. Ours is mostly hydrogen, even after five billion years of continuous operation. Most stars (Sun included) only ever manage to fuse hydrogen to helium and then fuse helium to carbon before puttering out and collapsing into a white dwarf, there to radiate heat and light for billions of years longer. You see, the energy produced by a star keeps it from collapsing; the radiation emitted by the fusion taking place in its core pushes against gravity and "inflates" it, keeps the density from going too high. Otherwise, supermassive stars would be impossible.

But the higher the mass of a star, the higher it can go on the periodic table before it runs out of fuel. It takes a great deal of mass pressing on a star's core to fuse things like silicon and sulfur, but the corresponding energy release is enough to keep it from collapsing. We've seen that Betelgeuse is lumpy and roiled and chaotic, but so far it's been doing okay. We assume that most red supergiants are similar but Betelgeuse is close enough that we have a kind of front-row seat.

Eventually, though, the star accumulates a significant amount of iron and nickel, and runs out of the lighter elements...and all hell breaks loose. At lower atomic masses, fusing nuclei together results in a net release of energy. But iron--it takes more energy to fuse iron nuclei than results from the fusion reaction. And so instead of heat and light and other radiation keeping the star "inflated", the iron reaction starts sucking energy out of the star's core.

It dims.

Betelgeuse has been dimming for fifteen years. That's part of the reason they think it's going to explode sometime within the next ten eons; losing luminosity is a sure sign that the star's core has entered iron fusion. I seem to recall someone saying that the observed radius of the star has also been decreasing, though I can't put my finger on where or when I heard that. But everything we're seeing from the star is consistent with what we know about how supernovae take place.

"But," you ask, "if iron fusion costs energy, why does the star explode? Why doesn't it just go out?"

Well, here's the thing: what happens is that the star collapses. Absent certain physical properties of matter, this wouldn't be an issue, and the thing would quietly become a neutron star or a black hole, but the simple fact is that there is a point at which matter reaches a maximum density and simply cannot go any further. Understand that there's still plenty of hydrogen left in the star, and when that hits bottom it all goes off at once. Hydrogen, helium, lithium, everything under iron--tens or hundreds of solar masses of it. The star collapses fast enough that it hits that point of maximum density rather abruptly. The infalling matter bounces off the degeneracy limit, everything that can fuse together fuses, every element in the periodic table is generated, and the energy release results in a virtually indescribable explosion.

Betelgeuse is a "slow variable" meaning that sometimes it is dimmer than others, so that's all this may be. We actually won't know until it explodes, I guess.

But the other thing at that link is the sunspot count. Today marks the 277th day this year where the sun had no sunspots. There are eight days left in the year, and we've already set a record for the space age, exceeding 2008's count by nine days so far.

* * *

Would NASA let SpaceX do that? So, Boeing's Starliner couldn't go to ISS because of a software problem that made it use an excess of its maneuvering propellant. There are rumbles that NASA is mulling the idea of waiving the test requirement.

I'm against that.

SpaceX's Dragon passed its tests with flying colors. If it had not--if Dragon had failed the way Starliner did--do you think NASA people would be trying to talk themselves into accepting it as "good enough"? Somehow I doubt it. The very people who are thinking about giving Boeing a pass here are the ones who'd be all up in arms over "safety requirements" in the case of SpaceX.

What's the point of having test standards if you can just retroactively decide to exempt one of the participants from them?

Almost passing the test, or we would have passed it if we hadn't made this mistake, that's really not good enough, is it? Not when we're talking about a man-rated system, we're not.

* * *

Meanwhile, Boeing just fired their CEO because 737MAX. That product has been an unmitigated disaster for Boeing.

* * *

The headline is a little bit misleading but the point is that--as usual--the left and the fuggheaded middle are complaining about "sending all that money into space".

You know, the same people who would have complained about "sending all that money to the New World" if socialism had been invented then.

...the United States has a lot of vital infrastructure up there in space, and it does not take very much to destroy it. All you need is a rocket of sufficient power and a handful of BBs. If you can put a can of tomato soup into orbit around the Earth, then you can probably take out GPS satellites. The ability to put something bigger than a can of soup in orbit makes your reach correspondingly greater, and it does not take very much mass or speed to make a collision fatal to a space asset.

Maybe you can't put up your own satellites, but you can deny space to those who can, and you can do it extremely cheaply.

That is why we need a Space Force.

Incidentally, the people complaining that President Trump is doing this to "distract" from impeachment? The first moves towards this were done months ago. This latest development is just making it official.

So either he's a lot smarter than you are, and/or can see about fifty moves ahead of your best strategists. Good luck!

* * *

I find it kind of galling that China is getting to this before we do but then again their ability to do science like this is only possible because of all the money they make on trade with the US.

* * *

If I had seen this just a few days earlier this year's Christmas vignette might have been about something entirely different.

Imagine: Apollo 8 goes behind the Moon, and all hell breaks loose a la Apollo 13. The crew is calmly assessing the situation but without telemetry from the ground they can't figure out what's happening and are scant minutes from dying...when they get a radio signal from the Moon itself, giving them instructions on what to do. A vehicle rises from the surface to meet them, and it's manned by a man in a red space suit who quickly repairs the ailing Command Module. Their lives are saved!

And after they restore radio contact with Earth, Jim Lovell says, "Please be informed there is a Santa Claus."


* * *

If it were any other film, the opening weekend numbers would be fantastic. But it's Star Wars and the numbers are awful.

So much has been said about the decline and fall of SW I don't really need to add anything. When I heard about Disney buying the franchise that gave me A NEW HOPE (PUN INTENDED WITH MALICE AFORETHOUGHT!!!) that subsequent films would not be the utter shitfest that George Lucas extruded with "Phantom Menace", "Clone Wars", and "Revenge of the Sith". Disney, I said, knows how to tell a good story! They know how to make entertaining films!

..."Force Awakens" happened and I figured, okay, okay, they need to find their feet, this is reasonable; the next one will be--


"The Last Jedi" was an unmitigated pile of shit. Worse--when it fell from the diseased anus that extruded it, it took "Force Awakens" down the toilet with it. I've got absolutely zero interest in watching either film now, and my interest in seeing "Rise of Skywalker" is so low that I'm intending to wait until I don't have to pay to stream it before I watch it.

Man--in 1977 I was one of those kids who just went nuts over the thing. I eagerly went to see the re-releases in the 1990s. I bought boxed sets of both the original version and the "enhanced" (v1.1) on videotape.

And then "Phantom Menace" happened, just wasn't any good. "Clone Wars" was boring.

Oh well.

* * *

Where IS the ACLU? "Remember," Second City Cop says, "we're stopping 'persons of color' at overly high rates when compared to their total of the population of Chicago."

SCC makes a couple of good points. "Why is no one in the media calling this a 'mass shooting' and demanding the disarming of the ghetto?" Because the perpetrators and the victims are the wrong color, that's why. The media's inherent racism showing through: "They're darkies; they can't help themselves. That's why we need to ban all guns!"

But even better is this point: "Why is there a party for a dead guy, who was shot and killed when he attempted to carjack a Concealed Carry Permit holder while he was already in another stolen car?" The party was a memorial party for a dead goblin, a criminnal who exercised poor judgement in his selection of victims.

Big surprise, isn't it, that the memorial party for a criminal thug would end up being the site of a gang shootout?

* * *


Meanwhile looks like she could use a little clothing herself, at least a shirt. FFS.

* * *

On may way to get some lunch the other day, passed by a common storage lot for a nearby car dealership, and on it I saw a Jeep Wrangler "Sahara". After they switched back to round headlights for the Wrangler they had some different trim packages and "Sahara" was one of them--light earth tones, mostly tan and khaki, and the usual rugged Wrangler look.

You know...if the price was right, it didn't have rust, and had the straight 6 and four-wheel-drive...I might be tempted. Disadvantage: even noisier and worse on fuel than my Cherokee is. Advantage: c'mon, do I have to tell you??

* * *

I still have too much to do. *sigh*

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