A ninth-magnitude star in our neighborhood of the Milky Way has been found to contain 65 different elements, including large proportions of heavier elements like gold. This star required either a supernova or a neutron star merger to form. Plus, another solar flare, a strong marsquake, cosmic rays, cookies, and this week in rocket history, we look back at STS-82 (84).



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Show Notes

It’s active Sun time!

Found: Metal-rich star. Parents being sought.

  • University of Michigan press release
  • “The R-Process Alliance: A Nearly Complete R-Process Abundance Template Derived from Ultraviolet Spectroscopy of the R-Process-Enhanced Metal-Poor Star HD 222925,” Ian U. Roederer et al., to be published in Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series (preprint on arxiv.org)

Found: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Volcano’s effects reached space

InSight records largest marsquake yet

Syncing clocks with cosmic rays

This Week in Rocket History: STS-84

Rocket to measure electric field

Cookies and science don’t sell


It’s random news day! We’ve got an X-class solar flare.

And an amazing image from JWST.

The incredible effects of a volcanic eruption in space.

A very strong quake on Mars.

Cosmic rays.

And… cookies?

Yes, cookies. Plus, this week in rocket history, I get to talk about the Space Shuttle again.

All of this now, right here on the Daily Space.

I am your host Dr. Pamela Gay.

I am your host Erik Madaus.

And we’re here to put science in your brain.

IMAGE: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare – as seen in the bright flash towards the middle of the Sun – on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. The image shows a subset of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the extremely hot material in flares and which is colorized in teal. CREDIT: NASA/SDO

If you’re like me, you started your day with a glance at the weather, and maybe a few choice words for the Sun and the summer heat it is bringing many of us far too early in the year. While your standard weather forecast is going to let you know about terrestrial conditions, like wind, rain, temperature, and humidity, there is another kind of weather that we’re going to need to pay attention to for the next several years: The Space Weather Report.

Our Sun has an eleven-year activity cycle, during which it transforms from a placid ball of spotless plasma to a messy tangle of magnetic fields and sunspots. When those tangled field lines snap, they can release magnificent amounts of energy as flares – including high-speed particles – in our direction. These flares can trigger everything from harmlessly beautiful aurorae to power grid failures. In between these extremes are communications blackouts during which normal radio and shortwave communications is impossible due to interference from the Sun.

On May 10 – the day before we recorded this episode – the Sun let loose an X1-class flare directly at the Earth. Space weather forecasters at NOAA have predicted high-frequency radio blackouts for most of the Atlantic ocean and western parts of Europe and North Africa. The region of the solar activity responsible for this spot may release additional flares. Some folks have already seen fantastic aurorae, and if you are one of them and you happened to get a good image, please share it with us on Twitter by tagging @cosmoquestx.

If you want to keep up to date on the latest space weather forecasts, NOAA has you covered at swpc.noaa.gov. We’ll have that link in our show notes at DailySpace.org.

IMAGE: The star HD 222925 is a ninth-magnitude star located toward the southern constellation Tucana. CREDIT: The STScI Digitized Sky Survey

Our Sun is one of the more metal-rich stars we’ve studied. Its high concentration of heavy elements kind of makes sense. If the cloud of material that formed our Sun and solar system hadn’t been high in metals, the materials needed to form our world – with its nickel-iron core – wouldn’t have been around.

As we work to understand what it takes to form our kind of solar system, we are looking for stars that capture the history of our galaxy’s chemical evolution in their atmospheres. This isn’t easy. Our chemically complex Sun is more than 98% hydrogen & helium with just 1.3% of its atoms being heavier elements. We are trying to measure one part in thousands when we go looking for complex atoms in chemical boring stars.

But we can do it, and sometimes the results are super weird. 

In a paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, researchers led by Ian Roederer detail the presence of 63 different elements in an otherwise metal-poor star. The majority of the atoms are formed when neutrons bombard the nucleus of atoms and then decay such that the atoms transform into heavier elements. This can happen in both supernovae and during the collision of neutron stars. 

The ratios of the elements – how much cadmium is formed compared to niobium – should eventually allow us to say, “This star’s elements came from a neutron star merger, and this one came from some kind of supernova.” We’re still teasing out the details, but this newly studied star has many of the same ratios as our Sun, hinting that both got suites of their materials from the same kinds of past events. 

The atomic ratios in this star don’t match what we saw in our one observed neutron star merger, so this further hints that it was supernovae that got this star and maybe us, too, much of the gold we see. And what I find most fascinating about this paper is this one sentence in the discussion: We [assume] that a single r-process event dominated the heavy-element enrichment of the gas from which HD 222925 formed. 

They are able to look at this star, measure its ingredients, and see how multiple supernovae contributed to the formation of its lighter elements, but only one spectacular event was needed to create its heaviest elements.

Folks, we’re reverse engineering stars. And that is kind of awesome. The more we are able to do this, the closer we will get to being able to say: to get to a planetary system like ours, first, these things must happen.

IMAGE: Comparison between Spitzer and Webb Observations. CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech (left), NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI (right)

One of the justifications for building the JWST was being able to better understand the origins and evolution of planetary systems. As it slowly comes into focus and shows us what it is capable of, NASA is eager to show off its first pictures, and like any new parent, point out the details the rest of us might not notice.

Case in point: This image of gas, dust, and stars in the LMC. The glow in the nebula shown here is from my favorite kind of molecule: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. On Earth, these are used to make artificial scents, and in space, they are just kind of hanging out, glowing softly in the infrared. In a new image release, NASA compares JWST’s capabilities with its predecessor, Spitzer. NASA would like you to know: [JWST] will allow us to see the infrared sky with improved clarity, enabling even more discoveries.

Coming up next, we come back down to Earth and talk about how a recent volcanic eruption affected space.

Back in January, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted and was literally heard around the world. Even Beth, in California, heard the sonic boom that day. Plus, the shock waves and tsunami waves also had a far reach. And now, in new research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists examine how that eruption reached and affected space.

IMAGE: The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption on Jan. 15, 2022, caused many effects, some illustrated here, that were felt around the world and even into space. Some of those effects, like extreme winds and unusual electric currents were picked up by NASA’s ICON mission and ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Swarm. Image not to scale. CREDIT: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith

Data collected by NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, mission and ESA’s Swarm satellites was analyzed by scientists, who found that hurricane-speed winds and strange electric currents actually formed in the ionosphere. That’s the very topmost charged atmosphere that butts up against the edge of space. The charged particles in that region tend to form east-flowing electric currents – called the equatorial electrojet. After the eruption, the electrojet surged, reaching five times its normal power, and flipped directions for a brief time.

All of this is due to the extreme winds created from one volcanic explosion that occurred underneath the water. Co-author Joanne Wu notes: It’s very surprising to see the electrojet be greatly reversed by something that happened on Earth’s surface. This is something we’ve only previously seen with strong geomagnetic storms, which are a form of weather in space caused by particles and radiation from the Sun.

The effects of this eruption add another way in which understanding various impacts on space weather is necessary. Changing the flow of electrons in the ionosphere can disrupt GPS and radio signals through that layer, so scientists will continue to study these atmospheric electrical currents.

IMAGE: This spectrogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. Estimated at magnitude 5, this quake was discovered by NASA’s InSight lander on May 4, 2022, the 1,222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH Zurich

Speaking of things that go boom, our favorite Martian lander, InSight, recently recorded the largest marsquake yet, measuring magnitude 5. The quake happened last week on May 4 and tops the previous record, which was magnitude 4.2 and occurred last August.

While this magnitude may be considered ‘merely’ a medium-size quake here on Earth, and especially for people living in regions that experience quakes regularly, on Mars, it’s thought that magnitude 5 is probably near the upper limit possible.

The results released this week are preliminary, and InSight’s science team will continue their analysis to determine the location, potential source, and maybe even something about Mars’s interior. After all, that’s what they’re trying to get insight into – using the reflections of the seismic waves to determine the depth and composition of the crust, mantle, and core of the red planet.

Unfortunately, InSight may be reaching the end of its mission, as dust continues to accumulate on its solar panels. We mentioned a similar issue with Ingenuity yesterday, and with the Martian winter approaching, the situation will only get worse. The team is doing everything they can to keep the lander up and running, and we’ll update you here on Daily Space with InSight’s status.

IMAGE: CTS prototype. The CTS devices are small, lightweight, low cost and easily made compatible with a wide range of existing technologies. CREDIT: Hiroyuki K. M. Tanaka

Our ability to study everything from marsquakes to black holes is contingent on our ability to calibrate and sync our measuring devices. Getting things in sync is strangely one of our greatest challenges. This is due to the limits of relativity and our own technical limitations. If I say sync, different people in the room with me will hear the word “sync” at different times because of the speed of sound. If I flash a light, they will get the light at different times too. 

Ideally, you want systems to have a myriad of things to sync up on and the chance to constantly update timing to stay in sync, and a way to do that is suggested in a new paper in Scientific Reports. Researchers are looking at using atmospheric cosmic ray events to synchronize clocks on and below the surface of our planet. When some forms of cosmic rays strike the atmosphere, they trigger a cascade of readily detectable muons, a kind of particle that can travel through the air, earth, and water – and probably fire, too – but we try not to test that in the lab.

These events are occurring on a regular basis all over the globe but are separated in time enough that a suite of detectors under an event will be able to know, “I just saw the same event as that detector over there,” and use the event to sync the time. This is fairly low-cost, completely straightforward, and, the authors of this work point out, the only barrier to using this technique is getting folks to… use this technique.

I, for one, look forward to a muon-synced future.

Next up, Erik returns with this week in rocket history.

This Week in Rocket History

IMAGE: The Space Shuttle Atlantis turns night into day for a few moments as it lifts off on May 15 at 4:07:48 a.m. EDT from Launch Pad 39A on the STS-84 mission. CREDIT: NASA.

Because it’s been a couple of weeks since I was allowed to talk about Space Shuttle missions, This Week in Rocket History is STS-84, part of the Shuttle-Mir program. I’ll also go into detail on one of the long-duration missions conducted by a NASA astronaut on Mir.

Before the Space Shuttle built the International Space Station (ISS), it docked at the Russian Mir space station. It did this a total of nine times, and STS-84 was the sixth of these dockings. Shuttle Atlantis launched on May 15, 1997, carrying a seven-member crew up for just under ten days. The shuttle left one crew member on Mir for a long-duration mission and returned with a different long-duration crew member launched on a previous Shuttle visit. This was one of a few spaceflights where the launching crew and landing crew of the spacecraft were different.

STS-84 was basically just a supply run, exchanging the previously mentioned crewmembers and bringing up several tons of supplies for the station and its research. Despite this, it set several milestones including the conclusion of the first continuous year in space for NASA. Part of that year was conducted by the previous long-duration crewmember, Shannon Lucid, and the rest by Jerry Linenger, who had been on the station since January 15, 1997, on STS-81.

Linenger performed a hundred experiments during his time on Mir as part of the Mir Expedition 22 crew. Before the shuttle came to get him, Linenger became the first American astronaut to do a spacewalk from a foreign space station. Naturally, he wore a Russian spacesuit in the EVA, another first for an American astronaut. Linenger was joined by station commander Vasiliy Tisbiliev for the five-hour spacewalk. NASA astronauts would do EVAs wearing Russian spacesuits in the early years of the ISS as well.

Another exciting thing that happened on Mir during Limenger’s time on the station was one of the worst things that can happen on a space station: a fire in one of the modules. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

IMAGE: Crewmembers from Mir-23 and STS-84 assemble for a group portrait onboard the Spacehab Double Module, as they tie a record (ten) for number of persons aboard a single orbiting spacecraft at one time. They are (from the left, front) Jerry M. Linenger, Vasili V. Tsibliyev, Charles J. Precourt, Aleksandr I. Lazutkin and C. Michael Foale. On the back row, from the left, are Edward T. Lu, Eileen M. Collins, Jean-Francois Clervoy, Elena V. Kondakova and Carlos I. Noriega. CREDIT: NASA

Linenger also witnessed the impact of the Progress M-34 resupply craft during a manual docking attempt gone wrong. Progress M-34 had autonomously docked using the dependable but expensive Kurs system the previous day. Russian mission control wanted to save money and test using the backup manual docking system as the only method. It was not a good test result.

These were just a few highlights of many things that took place on Mir during his mission. Despite all of the problems encountered, Linenger still completed all of the planned science.

Linenger was replaced on Mir by British-American astronaut Michael Foale from STS-84, who would do 35 experiments in his four months, twelve days in space, including two while the shuttle was still docked. Atlantis was docked from May 16 through 21 as the crew transferred supplies faster than planned. Among these supplies was a new oxygen generator to replace the one damaged in the fire.

The combined Shuttle and Mir crews conducted science experiments in the Spacehab module mounted in the shuttle’s cargo bay. Most of these experiments were repeats of past ones – it’s always worth confirming the results – but seven of the experiments were new.

Elsewhere in the station, the crew took lots of pictures, partially to survey the damage from the fire. The one thing they did not take pictures of was the station from the outside, which previous missions had done.

Atlantis undocked in the evening of May 21, but it stayed around the station for some time to test a rendezvous system for the future European ATV, which would be used on the ISS. The shuttle would serve the same purpose twelve years later on STS-127, testing the rendezvous sensors for SpaceX’s Dragon in a package called DragonEye.

STS-84 landed back at the Kennedy Space Center on May 24, nine days, 23 hours, and nineteen minutes after launch. It orbited the Earth 144 times.

More News

IMAGE: Glyn Collinson reviews the instrument during rocket reassembly on site in Svalbard. CREDIT: NASA Wallops/Brian Bonsteel

One of the long-standing questions in planetary science is how Earth has water and life, and other planets, like Venus, don’t. A key part of the solution may be the electrical fields of both planets. The Venus Express mission found that the electrical field had a strong electrical potential. This means the field could have pulled apart the positively charged water molecules and blasted them into space. The Earth may have a weaker electrical potential in its magnetic field, and scientists think that this is the reason why Earth still has its water.

To figure this out, a team will determine how much electrical potential the Earth’s magnetic field has. They estimate it to be 25 times weaker than Venus. The measurement is made indirectly. Earth’s atmosphere has electrons moving away at a known speed, and any variation in the speed will be caused by the electrical potential.

The last story before we get to the rocket statistics is not one of our usual topics, but it caught my attention when I was looking for stories to write about. The tagline of the story, and what got my attention is Why Science Doesn’t Help Sell Chocolate Chip Cookies, and the study itself was pretty interesting.

Image: Stack of chocolate chip cookies. CREDIT: Lisa Fotios via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers at The Ohio State University looked at a series of ten studies covering different product types. Taken together, each of these studies came to the same conclusion: people don’t want feel-good things to be sold to them by emphasizing their scientific advantages. However, they do want useful things to emphasize those scientific developments.

Aviva Phillip-Mueller, study co-author said: When pleasure and science are paired together, that feels disjointed to consumers and they aren’t interested in those kinds of products…It seems weird to have the coldness of science try to sell you something pleasurable.

The studies were on things as varied as the cookies in the headline but also smoothies, deodorant, and body wash. The cookie study took 500 students and asked them to rate three different cookie slogans. One slogan mentioned its “luscious chocolatey taste.” The other slogan was, “Scientifically developed to have a luscious chocolatey taste.” Participants rated the first option over the second by 30%.

On the useful product side, another study found that participants preferred a slogan that emphasized its useful properties developed by science, rather than how it smells or feels on the body.

The study also has results beyond marketing; concluding that perceptions about science influence people’s reactions to products with a scientific appeal. Another study co-author, Rebecca Reczek, said: People need a more realistic view of what scientists are really like and how science is a part of our everyday lives, including many of the products we use.

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research, and honestly, has made me hungry.


And now, for some statistics.

The number of toilets in space is seven: four on the ISS, one on Soyuz MS-21, one on the Crew Dragon Freedom, and one on Tianhe.

CREDIT: Annie Wilson

We keep track of orbital launches by launch site, also called spaceport. Here’s that breakdown:

USA 25
China 14
Russia 4
Kazakhstan 3
New Zealand 3
India 1
Iran 1

From those 51 launches, a total of 854 spacecraft were put into orbit.

Your random space fact for this week is that when Malaysia’s Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor went to the ISS in 2007, it was during the holy month of Ramadan. Concerns about his ability to fast led to Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council publishing a list of rules for observant Muslims in space, which included postponing the actual fast until after their return to Earth.

This has been the Daily Space.

You can find more information on all our stories, including images, at DailySpace.org. As always, we’re here thanks to the donations of people like you. If you like our content, please consider joining our Patreon at Patreon.com/CosmoQuestX.


Written by Pamela Gay, Beth Johnson, Erik Madaus, and Gordon Dewis
Hosted by Pamela Gay, Beth Johnson, and Erik Madaus
Audio and Video Editing by Ally Pelphrey
Content Editing by Beth Johnson
Intro and Outro music by Kevin MacLeod, https://incompetech.com/music/