The Cosmic Companion February 15, 2020

Europe launches its first solar telescope, a massive baby world is found not far from Earth, Betelgeuse changes shape as it dims, and astronomers search for causes of a weird radio signal from space.

Hello everyone!

In this week's episode of The Cosmic Companion, we meet the first European space telescope designed to study the Sun, and a massive young world is found in our galactic neighborhood. We also take a look up at Betelgeuse as one of the most familiar stars in the night sky may be preparing to explode, and we examine an odd radio signal from space which repeats every 16 days, leaving astronomers baffled.

In our upcoming podcast of Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion, I will interview Dr. Gillian Wilson of the University of California Riverside about her discovery of XMM-2599, an ancient galaxy that lived fast and died young. Listen and subscribe to Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion through any major podcast provider, including iTunes, Spotify, or TuneIn! Or, listen in at:

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Let’s take off!

The Week in Space

Solar Orbiter Mission Lifts off on Mission to Explore the Sun

By James Maynard

The Solar Orbiter Mission has taken off on its mission to explore the Sun. Here’s the technology behind this groundbreaking mission.

An artist’s concept of the Solar Orbiter approaching the Sun. Image credit: ESA/ATG Media Lab

On February 10, 2020, the engines of an Atlas V rocket ignited at Cape Canaveral, launching the Solar Orbiter spacecraft on its way to explore the mysteries of our local star. This mission, headed by the European Space Agency (ESA) now heads to the Sun, bringing with it a diverse array of technologies designed to study our stellar parent.

This mission will become the first spacecraft to ever study the polar regions of the Sun in detail, which are (so far) hidden from observation from Earth-based astronomers or any previous spacecraft.

Read more:

Baby Giant Planet Found in Our Own Neighborhood

By James Maynard

A massive world that would dwarf Jupiter has been discovered in our galactic neighborhood, leading astronomers to question how such a massive world could form far from its parent star.

An artist’s concept of a massive gas giant orbiting a cool, dim star. In the 2MASS 1155–7919 systemm, the planet orbits far from its parent star. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech)

Just 330 light years from Earth, a massive baby planet named 2MASS 1155–7919 b has recently been born from a cloud of gas and dust. Researchers from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) found this rare young gas giant, 10 times larger than Jupiter, orbiting far from its stellar companion— 600 times further from its parent star than the Earth is from the Sun.

The star around which this planet orbits is also extremely young, having formed just five million years ago, roughly one-thousandth the age of the Sun.

Read more:

Images of Betelgeuse’s Dimming Surface Reveal the Star’s Changing Shape

By Rob Lea

Observations of Betelguese’s surface have shown that the rapidly dimming supergiant is also changing shape.

Astronomers have observed the ever dimming surface of Betelguese with the aid of the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The stunning new images they have captured not only reveal the star’s unprecedented dimming but also that the red supergiant in the constellation of Orion is changing shape.

Betelgeuse began to noticeably dim in late 2019, with the red supergiant’s estimated drop in brightness currently at around 36% of its normal output. This is a change so extreme it is noticeable with the naked eye. Astronomers and researchers across the globe are clamouring to learn more about this drop in brightness and what it signifies for the star.

Read more:

What is Causing a Strange 16-Day Radio Burst from Space?

By James Maynard

The mysteries of radio waves from space repeating every 16 days may be solved by CHIME — the same instrument that discovered it.

The four cylinders of the CHIME radio telescope, where this unusual signal was first detected. Image credit: CHIME

An odd radio signal is coming from space, starting and stopping in regular 16-day cycles. A team of Canadian astronomers were the first to report finding the source, which they discovered using a novel radio telescope.

This newly-discovered burst of radio waves, called FRB 180814.J0422+73, does not fit any known cause, leading to range-ranging speculations on its nature, ranging from simple interactions between stars, to suggestions the waves are signals from intelligent lifeforms.

Read more:

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Coming soon: The First Woman on the Moon: The Past and Future History of Women in Space by James Maynard

Thanks for reading!

On the February 18th episode of the Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion podcast, I will be interviewing Dr. Gillian Wilson of the University of California Riverside, about her work on the recent discovery of XMM-2599, a monster galaxy from the early Universe that lived fast and died young. Excerpts will also be heard on the video version of the show. Make sure to listen to this exciting episode!

You can also listen to my new podcast, Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion, available on all major podcast distributors, including iTunes, Spotify, and TuneIn! Or, tune in at: You can also add Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion to your flash briefings on Amazon Alexa!

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Thanks for everything and I will see you next week!

Astronomy - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

- James

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