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Star Burps Dust #astronomy #Betelgeuse

I waxed poetic while holding my breath in late 2019, waiting for the star Betelgeuse to go nova. It was dimming in a most-notable manner, which was odd and exciting. Then it brightened again, seeming to thumb its photonic nose at us all.

The mystery of what this red giant was up to seems to be solved. While not as exciting as a supernova, it is pretty nifty. The actual astronomical images are available online, but this artist’s rendering is eye-catching.

Hubble Space Telescope’s UV data… combined with some timely ground observations indicated that a big burp that formed a cloud of dust near the star may have caused the star to get darker.

“With Hubble, we could see the material as it left the star’s surface and moved out through the atmosphere, before the dust formed that caused the star to appear to dim,” said Andrea Dupree, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who made those observations. She is also a co-author on the new paper. ARS

I’ll have to hope for a Big Boom somewhere else.

Lost Apple Project Scores #citizenscientist #history #agriculture

In the fall, in Mimbres Valley farmers markets in southwest New Mexico, I can buy Red Delicious apples. And they are… delicious, that is. Not those mealy things found in supermarkets. That’s because there are orchards here with trees over 80 years old. Apparently, the Pacific Northwest has its own bounty.

There were once at least 17,000 named varieties of apples in North America, but only about 4,500 are known to exist today. By the 20th century, farmers stopped growing most apple types.

The Lost Apple Project [is] a nonprofit organization that searches abandoned farms and orchards in the Pacific Northwest to locate old varieties. Benscoter recently found seven types of apples in old orchards in Oregon, Washington and Idaho that were thought to have gone extinct as long as a century ago. NPR

These old varieties can be identified using a resource from the Federal government I’d never heard of before: the USDA’s Pomological Watercolors Digital Collection. Between 1886 to 1942, 7,584 watercolor paintings of American fruits and nuts were collected, including 3,807 images of apples. That leaves over 13,000 still lost, but maybe a few more will emerge from private collections.

The Project’s finds aren’t simply interesting, they can be useful. “The rediscoveries are a step toward increased genetic diversity of apples. He can test the historic varieties to find out what farmers and buyers will want. The USDA can then piece together that information to help farmers more reliably grow apples, not use as much pesticides and increase nutritional quality.”

Apple trees are often propagated by grafting, so cuttings from the newly rediscovered apples can be rescued immediately. It’s nice to know this piece of history is not lost, and perhaps people can join bears, deer, and squirrels in an annual feast. Congratulations, citizen scientists.

China’s on Mars :)

I should have posted this days ago: China has a lander and rover on Mars!

Earth-bound mockup

“Congratulations to CNSA’s #Tianwen1 team for the successful landing of China’s first Mars exploration rover, #Zhurong! Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet.” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator at NASA

Zhurong will use ground-penetrating radar, a laser, and sensors to study Mars’ atmosphere and magnetic field, and look for water ice.

I’m late to the party in offering congratulations to China, but I don’t feel too bad. Even Wikipedia’s entry is paltry at this point. Let’s hope nifty discoveries make a bigger impression soon.

Mourn With Ghosts #archeology #haiku #sciku

Millennia past,
Was carefully buried child,
Lovingly buried?

It’s hard for me to imagine what the family’s life was like, but perhaps I could understand their grief.

A purposefully excavated pit followed by intentional covering of the corpse. The child appears to have been prepared for a tightly shrouded burial, placed on one side with knees drawn toward the chest. Even more notable is that the position of the child’s head suggests it rested on some sort of support, like a pillow. CNET