Vampire Stars, Frankensatellites & More: A Spooky Space Halloween
|An artist’s concept showing a so-called “blue straggler” star stealing mass from its partner in a binary star system. Soon the giant star (upper left) will donate the remainder of its envelope, leaving only a half-solar-mass white dwarf core (shown peeking through the tenuous envelope of the giant) as the companion to the blue straggler.
CREDIT: Aaron M. Geller
This story was updated at 10:56 a.m. EDT.
Halloween is nearly upon us, which means Earth will soon be crawling with costumed witches, ghouls and zombies. But October has shown us that our planet doesn’t have a monopoly on spookiness.
Over the last month, a series of cosmic phenomena have provided thrills and chills, just in time for Halloween. Here’s a rundown of the recent spooky space news, from revelations about vampire stars to a plan to build Frankensatellites in orbit
The secrets of stellar vampires
“Blue stragglers” are mysterious stars that act much younger than the ancient neighbors with which they formed. They burn much hotter, for example, and appear much bluer.
Astronomers have been trying to explain the origins and behavior of blue stragglers since their discovery in the 1950s, and a new study may finally have done the job. It appears that most blue stragglers are vampires, sucking hydrogen fuel away from companion stars.
This keeps the stars young, just as slurping up victims’ blood keeps the vampires of fiction from dying or growing old. [Haunting Photos: The Spookiest Nebulas in Space]
The sky is falling
The threat of death from above can inspire fear beyond reason, perhaps because we’re often helpless to predict or combat it — just ask Chicken Little. And this October brought an event that evoked some “sky is falling” sentiment.
On Oct. 22, a dead German satellite called ROSAT slammed into Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean, apparently harming nobody. It was the second uncontrolled satellite crash in a month; NASA’s defunct UARS spacecraft fell to Earth on Sept. 24, also causing no known injuries.
Experts had said that there was just a 1-in-2,000 chance that any piece of ROSAT would strike anybody anywhere on Earth. But those odds, while small, were non-zero — enough to get a lot of people talking, and some of them worrying.
Since Mary Shelley published her novel “Frankenstein” in 1818, the idea of creating new life from disparate dead parts has been a staple of the horror genre. And now the concept is getting some traction in space.
The United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced on Oct. 20 that it wants to harvest still-working parts of dead satellites, then incorporate them into new space systems on the cheap.
In DARPA’s plan, a servicing satellite would pluck functioning antennas from defunct spacecraft, then attach them to newly launched mini-satellites in orbit. The “Frankensats” would save the military on launch costs, because antennas are so big, bulky and expensive to get off the ground.
Frankenstein moon mystery
Mary Shelley and her iconic novel also figure prominently in another recent celestial story.
Shelley was reportedly inspired to write “Frankenstein” in the summer of 1816, after staying up all night swapping ghost stories with her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and several other friends.
At the end of the evening, Byron is said to have challenged each member of the group to come up with his or her own scary tale. Shelley later wrote that she couldn’t come up with an idea for several days, but then had a terrifying nightmare about a scientist who created a monster from an assortment of body parts.
Some authorities have questioned her version of events, suggesting Shelley may have taken some liberties with the truth for the sake of a good story. A new study, however, suggests that Shelley’s account rings true.
She mentioned that moonlight streamed into her room when she awoke from her dream in the middle of the night. After poring over astronomical records and visiting the Switzerland estate where Shelley and the group met, researchers determined that light from a bright gibbous moon probably did flood Shelley’s room in the wee hours of June 16, 1816.
Byron’s ghost story challenge, the researchers conclude, likely took place between June 10 and June 13, and Shelley probably awoke from her nightmare around 3 a.m. on June 16.
Freakishly small full moon
Full moons are another Halloween trope, bringing out the werewolves as they do (according to lore). And October’s full moon was particulary noteworthy, for it was the smallest one of the year….
to read more and see more, go to: http://www.space.com/13430-astronomy-space-spooky-universe-halloween.html