Super slow pulsar, rare white whale and an ice shelf cracking up

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NASA Earth Observatory / Jesse Allen; data: NASA / GSFC / JPL, MISR Team.

Ice shelf crack advancing

The return of sunlight on the Antarctic Peninsula in August meant the landscape became visible again in natural-colour satellite imagery. That’s when scientists saw something interesting: a rift along Larsen C – the continent’s fourth-largest ice shelf – has grown considerably longer.

This composite image is composed from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer on NASA’s Terra satellite. Rougher surfaces appear pink and smoother areas appear purple. The ice shelf is generally smoother than the sea ice, with the exception of the crack – an indication that it is actively growing.

Project MIDAS, a group in the UK tracking the rift, reported that the crack grew 22 kilometres over the past six months. It now stretches 130 kilometres.

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National Parks Service

Yosemite’s 400-acre expansion

As the US National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday, this week Yosemite National Park was gifted Ackerson Meadow, 400 acres of critical wetlands and meadow habitat on the park’s western boundary.

Ackerson Meadow provides habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species. At just 3% of Yosemite National Park’s area, meadows may be home to a third of all of the plant species found in the park.

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X-ray: NASA / CXC / University of Amsterdam / N.Rea et al; Optical: DSS

Slowest pulsar ever detected?

Astronomers have found evidence for what is likely one of the most extreme pulsars, or rotating neutron stars, ever detected.

The source, called 1E 1613 which sits within the supernova remnant RCW 103, exhibits properties of a highly magnetised neutron star, or magnetar, yet its deduced spin period is thousands of times longer than any pulsar ever observed.

Astronomers expect that a single neutron star will spin quickly after its birth in a supernova explosion and will slow down over time as it loses energy. But the researchers estimate that the magnetar within RCW 103 is about 2,000 years old, which is not enough time for the pulsar to slow down to a period of 24,000 seconds by conventional means.

While it is still unclear why 1E 1613 is spinning so slowly, scientists do have some ideas. One leading scenario is that debris from the exploded star has fallen back onto magnetic field lines around the spinning neutron star, causing it to spin more slowly with time.

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Fredrick Christiansen / Murdoch University

Rare white whale calf spotted

Researchers from Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit have recorded extraordinary footage of a rare white southern right whale calf off the coast of Western Australia.

Drones were flown over the whales and their calves to gather valuable footage and images which will enable the researchers to measure and assess their body size and health.

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ESA / U. Reininghaus

Thrusters are closer to go

Four T6 ion thrusters have been fitted to the base of the European Space Agency’s Mercury Transfer Module at their spacecraft testing facility in the Netherlands.

The module, along with the rest of the BepiColombo spacecraft, is due to set off in 2018 on Europe’s first mission to Mercury, carrying Europe’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.

The four 22-centimetre-diameter T6 ion thrusters will provide the thrust during the mission’s 6.5-year journey, including long firing periods lasting several months at a time.

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