NASA names new moon landing program Artemis after Apollo’s sister

Half a century after NASA sent men to the moon under project “Apollo,” the space agency is now working to land men — and women — on the lunar surface as part of its “Artemis” program.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed the new moniker on Monday (May 13) during a call with reporters that was primarily focused on the budget for the newly-named moon program.

“It turns out that Apollo had a twin sister, Artemis. She happens to be the goddess of the moon,” said Bridenstine, referring to Greek mythology. “Our astronaut office is very diverse and highly qualified. I think it is very beautiful that 50 years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man — and the first woman — to the moon.”

The Artemis program, which was previously only referred to by its component names — including the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, Orion crew vehicle and Gateway lunar outpost — began when President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1 in 2017, directing NASA to return astronauts to the moon. 

Two years later, in March (2019), Vice President Mike Pence further defined the program by announcing a five-year deadline for the first crewed lunar landing. The 2024 mission, he said, should land at the south pole with the “first woman and the next man on the moon.”

On Monday, Trump amended his Fiscal Year 2020 budget request to account for the accelerated schedule and new mission objectives.

“As you know, the President has given our agency the bold charge to land the next man and the first woman on the lunar south pole by 2024 and now President Trump has extended his vote of confidence in our work with an amended budget request for physical year 2020,” said Bridenstine in a video address to employees. “It includes $1.6 billion in additional funding.”

“Among other things, it will allow us to accelerate our development of the Space Launch System and Orion, it will support the development of a human lunar landing system and it will support precursor capabilities on the lunar surface, including increased robotic exploration of the moon’s polar region,” he said.

To achieve the 2024 goal, NASA intends to scale back its plans for a crew-tended, multi-module Gateway to include only the basic parts needed to support an initial landing. Support for a long-term, sustainable lunar presence, as had been NASA’s priority, have been deferred to 2028.

In Greek mythology, Apollo and Artemis were the twin children of Zeus and Leto. In addition to being the goddess of the moon, Artemis was also the goddess of the hunt, with Orion her hunting companion.

The name “Apollo” was first proposed for the 1960s moon landing program by Abe Silverstein, NASA’s then-director for spaceflight development. He chose the name because of its connection to Greek mythology and its “attractive connotations,” per the space agency.

Before being assigned to the current moon landing program, NASA used Artemis to refer to a pair of lunar probes studying the moon’s interactions with the sun. The ARTEMIS — or “Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun” — spacecraft were reassigned from NASA’s THEMIS mission in 2010.

Artemis was also selected by a team competing for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract. The team, led by Draper, named their proposed lunar lander Artemis-7 in honor of the Greek goddess (the number 7 signified Draper’s seventh lunar landing, having a heritage in Apollo).

The name has also been used for a European communications satellite (retired in 2017) and was the fictional title given to the first city on the moon in author Andy Weir’s (“The Martian”) 2017 science fiction novel “Artemis.” There is also a small crater in Mare Imbrium, or the Sea of Showers, on the moon.

Bridenstine said the name Artemis represents the program’s goal of inclusion.

“I have a daughter who is 11 years old and I want her to be able to see herself in the same role as the next women [who] go to the moon see themselves in today,” he said. “This is really a beautiful moment in American history and I am very proud to be a part of it.”

This jellyfish makes glowing proteins previously unknown to science

The jellyfish Aequorea australis DARRIN SCHULTZ/UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA CRUZ/MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM RESEARCH INSTITUTE

In 2017, Nathan Shaner and his colleagues found something unusual in the blue-green waters off Heron Island. As the group of scientists snorkeled the reefs surrounding the coral cay on the southern end of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one spotted a strange-looking jellyfish in the water. The researcher netted it and brought it back to the boat. When the scientists took a closer look, they noticed that the creature’s translucent body was shot through with luminous lines of blue.

The team wasn’t looking for jellies, but Shaner—an optical probe developer at the University of California, San Diego—collected the animal anyway. “Just on a whim, we said, ‘Well, it’s kind of blue, let’s take it home,’” he says.

Now, Shaner and his team have identified five fluorescent proteins in the body of the jellyfish previously unknown to science. The discovery may lead to new techniques for exploring how genes are expressed in cells, and potentially the brightest green fluorescent protein tag ever.

When Shaner and his team got the blue jellyfish—Aequorea australis—back to the lab, they prepared a sample for analysis. After sequencing its transcriptome—the genes expressed in the jelly’s body—Shaner was surprised to find several for light-producing proteins similar to green fluorescent protein (GFP), which scientists have used for decades to track proteins in cells and even create glow-in-the-dark cats. (Three researchers won a Nobel Prize in 2008 for the discovery and for the development of GFP as a fluorescent probe.) The original protein, known as avGEP, is found in the related A. victoria jellyfish; it has led to dozens of bioengineered GFP variants, some of which glow other colors like cobalt blue and turquoise.

Original green fluorescent protein (far left) next to the nine new proteins, viewed under white light (top) and fluorescent light (bottom) NATHAN SHANER

Further analysis revealed the jelly A. australis produces five fluorescent proteins. These include two that glow green, two more that are blue under white light, and one that switches between yellow and clear when exposed to light, Shaner and colleagues report on the preprint server bioRxiv.

The researchers then took a second look at the original GFP jelly, A. victoria, and found genes for four more previously unknown fluorescent proteins. Some proteins from both jellies had narrow excitation and emission peaks, meaning they absorb and emit light at very specific wavelengths. This could make it easier to study the expression of multiple genes at once, using several different colors of fluorescent protein tags. The brightest protein, called AausFP1, was nearly five times brighter than GFP that had been enhanced for more powerful fluorescence.

“Fluorescent proteins are sort of like a Swiss army knife—everyone has a different use for them depending on what they’re trying to study,” Shaner says. “But brighter is always better for pretty much everyone. Hopefully this will actually enable people to see things that they couldn’t see before.”

Besides being bright, AausFP1 doesn’t lose its glow when exposed to light, meaning that it could be used to image cells for an extended amount of time. Shaner reports he was able to photograph the protein continuously for 2.5 days; a normal GFP variant would bleach out within just a few hours.

The study is exciting, says Joachim Goedhart, a fluorescent protein engineer at the University of Amsterdam who was not involved with the work. “They came back with a lot of different and new promising variants.” Still, he says, the fluorescent proteins will need to be modified to make them useful to scientists. Improvements could include mutations to make them smaller, brighter, and easier to manipulate within cells, he says. “There’s still some work to do.”

8 Cool Destinations That Future Mars Tourists Could Explore

By Elizabeth Howell July 24, 2018 Spaceflight 

Touring Mars

Mars is a planet of vast contrasts — huge volcanoes, deep canyons, and craters that may or may not host running water. It will be an amazing location for future tourists to explore, once we put the first Red Planet colonies into motion. The landing sites for these future missions will likely need to be flat plains for safety and practical reasons, but perhaps they could land within a few days’ drive of some more interesting geology. Here are some locations that future Martians could visit.

Olympus Mons

Olympus Mons is the most extreme volcano in the solar system. Located in the Tharsis volcanic region, it’s about the same size as the state of Arizona, according to NASA. Its height of 16 miles (25 kilometers) makes it nearly three times the height of Earth’s Mount Everest, which is about 5.5 miles (8.9 km) high.

Olympus Mons is a gigantic shield volcano, which was formed after lava slowly crawled down its slopes. This means that the mountain is probably easy for future explorers to climb, as its average slope is only 5 percent. At its summit is a spectacular depression some 53 miles (85 km) wide, formed by magma chambers that lost lava (likely during an eruption) and collapsed.

Tharsis volcanoes

While you’re climbing around Olympus Mons, it’s worth sticking around to look at some of the other volcanoes in the Tharsis region. Tharsis hosts 12 gigantic volcanoes in a zone roughly 2500 miles (4000 km) wide, according to NASA. Like Olympus Mons, these volcanoes tend to be much larger than those on Earth, presumably because Mars has a weaker gravitational pull that allows the volcanoes to grow taller. These volcanoes may have erupted for as long as two billion years, or half of the history of Mars.

The picture here shows the eastern Tharsis region, as imaged by Viking 1 in 1980. At left, from top to bottom, you can see three shield volcanoes that are roughly 16 miles (25 km) high: Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Arsia Mons. At upper right is another shield volcano called Tharsis Tholus.

Valles Marineris

Mars not only hosts the largest volcano of the solar system, but also the largest canyon. Valles Marineris is roughly 1850 miles (3000 km) long, according to NASA. That’s about four times longer than the Grand Canyon, which has a length of about 500 miles (800 km). 

Researchers aren’t sure how Valles Marineris came to be, but there are several theories about its formation. Many scientists suggest that when the Tharsis region was formed, it contributed to the growth of Valles Marineris. Lava moving through the volcanic region pushed the crust upward, which broke the crust into fractures in other regions. Over time, these fractures grew into Valles Marineris.RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…CLOSEVolume 0% 

The North and South Poles

Mars has two icy regions at its poles, with slightly different compositions; the north pole (pictured) was studied up close by the Phoenix lander in 2008, while our south pole observations come from orbiters. During the winter, according to NASA, temperatures near both the north and south poles are so frigid that carbon dioxide condenses out of the atmosphere into ice, on the surface. 

The process reverses in the summer, when the carbon dioxide sublimates back into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide completely disappears in the northern hemisphere, leaving behind a water ice cap. But some of the carbon dioxide ice remains in the southern atmosphere. All of this ice movement has vast effects on the Martian climate, producing winds and other effects.

Gale Crater and Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons)

Made famous by the landing of the Curiosity rover in 2012, Gale Crater is host to extensive evidence of past water. Curiosity stumbled upon a streambed within weeks of landing, and found more extensive evidence of water throughout its journey along the crater floor. Curiosity is now summiting a nearby volcano called Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) and looking at the geological features in each of its strata.

One of Curiosity’s more exciting finds was discovering complex organic molecules in the region, on multiple occasions. Results from 2018 announced these organics were discovered inside of 3.5-billion-year-old rocks. Simultaneous to the organics results, researchers announced the rover also found methane concentrations in the atmosphere change over the seasons. Methane is an element that can be produced by microbes, as well as geological phenomena, so it’s unclear if that’s a sign of life.

Medusae Fossae

Medusae Fossae is one of the weirdest locations on Mars, with some people even speculating that it holds evidence of some sort of a UFO crash. The more likely explanation is it is a huge volcanic deposit, some one-fifth of the size of the United States. Over time, winds sculpted the rocks into some beautiful formations.But researchers will need more study to learn how these volcanoes formed Medusae Fossae. A 2018 study suggested that the formation may have formed from immensely huge volcanic eruptions taking place hundreds of times over 500 million years. These eruptions would have warmed the Red Planet’s climate as greenhouse gases from the volcanoes drifted into the atmosphere.

Recurring Slope Lineae in Hale Crater

Mars is host to strange features called recurring slope lineae, which tend to form on the sides of steep craters during warm weather. It’s hard to figure out what these RSL are, though. Pictures shown here from Hale Crater (as well as other locations) show spots where spectroscopy picked up signs of hydration. In 2015, NASA initially announced that the hydrated salts must be signs of running water on the surface, but later research said the RSL could be formed from atmospheric water or dry flows of sand.In reality, we may have to get up close to these RSL to see what their true nature is. But there’s a difficulty — if the RSL indeed host alien microbes, we wouldn’t want to get too close in case of contamination. While NASA figures out how to investigate under its planetary protection protocols, future human explorers may have to admire these mysterious features from afar, using binoculars.

‘Ghost Dunes’ in Noctis Labyrinthus and Hellas basin

Mars is a planet mostly shaped by wind these days, since the water evaporated as its atmosphere thinned. But we can see extensive evidence of past water, such as regions of “ghost dunes” found in Noctis Labyrinthus and Hellas basin. Researchers say these regions used to hold dunes that were tens of meters tall. Later, the dunes were flooded by lava or water, which preserved their bases while the tops eroded away.

Old dunes such as these show how winds used to flow on ancient Mars, which in turn gives climatologists some hints as to the ancient environment of the Red Planet. In an even more exciting twist, there could be microbes hiding in the sheltered areas of these dunes, safe from the radiation and wind that would otherwise sweep them away.

How NASA Tracked Apollo 11 to the Moon and Back with 1960s Tech

One nation’s arrival to the moon was in reality a global, far-reaching endeavor.

The 26-meter (85 feet) antenna in Honeysuckle Creek, Australia, was built in 1967 as part of the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) to support the lunar phase of the Apollo mission to the Moon.

The 26-meter (85 feet) antenna in Honeysuckle Creek, Australia, was built in 1967 as part of the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) to support the lunar phase of the Apollo mission to the Moon.(Image: © NASA)

NASA relied on the U.S. State Department to implement an extensive global network of antennas to collect radio signals from the Apollo missions, including the first moon landing, which occurred 50 years ago.

The monitoring system, collectively referred to as the Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network, has gone through various incarnations: It cut its teeth tracking the first artificial satellites around Earth.

By the time the first American flew in space, NASA had already established at least 30 ground stations on five continents; several islands; and aboard ships sailing the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, according to author Sunny Tsiao in the NASA History Series digital book “Read You Loud and Clear!” (2008).

This electronic link to spacecraft and astronauts involved “two million circuit miles of land and ocean floor cables,” reaching from remote volcanic atolls to cities like Madrid and Canberra, Australia, Tsiao wrote. When antennas collected data, computers and electronics on the ground converted all of it into information that users on Earth could analyze for checks on the health and status of the spacecraft.

Once crewed spaceflight became a reality, engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the Manned Spacecraft (now the Johnson Space) Center in Houston created the network that tracked the Apollo astronauts to the moon and back, abbreviated as MSFN (initially known as the Mercury Space Flight Network, the “M” changed to “‘Manned” later on.) Goddard ran the entire network.

“And all that data — voice data, telemetry data — all came down and eventually went through Goddard before going to Houston,” NASA lunar scientist Noah Petro told Space.com. “Goddard was and still is basically NASA’s hub for communications.” 

The State Department played a crucial role in helping NASA work with foreign governments to place antennas for the network, particularly where the U.S. was less popular and tensions ran high, Tsiao wrote.

In other cases, like Australia, countries were eager to take part and the U.S. encouraged them to take the helm of the communications stations. NASA selected the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, to receive the remote Apollo 11 moonwalk readings, or telemetry. The 85-foot antenna at Honeysuckle Creek to the south, near the city of Canberra, received video of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they took the first steps on the moon. The latter instrument is still in use, but has since moved to nearby Tidbinbilla. 

Officials at NASA wanted to maintain contact with Apollo’s Eagle lunar module as it descended to the moon’s surface after emerging from behind the moon. If the Apollo 11 crew needed to abort the landing, there was a very short period of time in which they could make the decision. And the moon would be visible in Australia when this crucial moment was scheduled to occur. 

Honeysuckle Creek carried most of NASA’s communications with Armstrong and Aldrin during their extravehicular activity. The most crucial of those communications were biomedical data from the astronauts’ Portable Life Support System backpacks. Most of the data from the Columbia command module, which carried astronaut Michael Collins, traveled to the 26-meter antenna at Tidbinbilla. 

These telescopes are now part of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. The CDSCC supports NASA’s Deep Space Network, which now receives information from spacecraft much farther away in the solar system, including the Voyager probes that have crossed into interstellar space. 

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins recalls drinking coffee during ‘lonely’ Moon landing orbit

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Apollo 11’s Michael Collins reflects on historic Moon landing: ‘We were just regular astronauts’

Michael Collins may not be a household name like his fellow Apollo 11 crewmembers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, but he played a pivotal role in the success of the epic mission.

When Armstrong and Aldrin were taking their famous first steps on the Moon on July 20, 1969, Collins was orbiting 60 miles above them in the mission’s command module.

Each time the Columbia Command Module orbited the Moon, he would lose contact with Mission Control in Houston for more than 40 minutes at a time. As a result, he has often been described as “the loneliest person in the universe.”

APOLLO 11 ASTRONAUT MICHAEL COLLINS RECALLS EPIC LAUNCH: ‘WE FELT THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD ON OUR SHOULDERS’

This, however, could not be further from the truth, he explained during an interview with Bob Cabana, the director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday. “I was always asked ‘wasn’t I the loneliest person?’” he said. “The answer was ‘no, I felt fine’.”

1. Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, 1969: The crew of the Apollo 11 mission -- from left Neil Armstrong, Mission Commander, Michael Collins, Lt. Col. USAF, and Edwin Eugene Aldrin, also known as Buzz Aldrin, USAF Lunar Module pilot. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972.

1. Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, 1969: The crew of the Apollo 11 mission — from left Neil Armstrong, Mission Commander, Michael Collins, Lt. Col. USAF, and Edwin Eugene Aldrin, also known as Buzz Aldrin, USAF Lunar Module pilot. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972. (NASA)

Collins, a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and experimental test pilot had spent a lot of time flying airplanes by himself. Additionally, the extensive training undertaken by the Apollo 11 astronauts meant that he was extremely familiar with the Command Module. “I trusted my surroundings,” he said.

“It was perfectly enjoyable, I had hot coffee, I had music if I wanted it,” Collins added. “I was not one iota lonely … it was 40-something minutes of peace and quiet.”

APOLLO 11’S MICHAEL COLLINS REFLECTS ON HISTORIC MOON LANDING: ‘WE WERE JUST REGULAR ASTRONAUTS’

After spending a total of 21 hours and 36 minutes on the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin’s lunar module lifted off and docked with Collins’ Command Module almost four hours later.

File photo - Photograph of the pilot Michael Collins at Apollo 11 Command Module, practicing docking hatch removal from CM simulator at NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, June 28, 1969. Image courtesy National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

File photo – Photograph of the pilot Michael Collins at Apollo 11 Command Module, practicing docking hatch removal from CM simulator at NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, June 28, 1969. Image courtesy National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Fifty years after the incredible events of Apollo 11, Collins paid tribute to Armstrong, who died in 2012. “The Neil that I usually think about is not Neil flying to the Moon and back, although he did a superb job as the mission commander.”

Rather, Collins recalls Armstrong’s incredible ability to share the experiences of Apollo 11 following the crew’s return to Earth. Although something of an introvert, Armstrong wowed audiences during the “Giant Leap” global goodwill tour undertaken by the Apollo 11 astronauts and their wives from Sept. 29 to Nov. 5, 1969.

APOLLO 11 FLIGHT DIRECTOR REMEMBERS HISTORIC MISSION TO THE MOON

“He was a masterful speaker,” he said. “He would have the audience feeling they had almost climbed aboard Columbia with us by the time he had finished his speech.”

Collins, who had been the pilot of the Gemini 10 mission in 1966, explained that he turned down an opportunity to be the commander of Apollo 17.

“That would be another three years of living in dingy hotels,” he said, noting that he did not want to be separated from his “wonderful” wife and young children.

The interview at Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch on July 16, 1969.

Russia launches major new telescope into space after delays

This morning at 8:31 AM (EST) @roscosmos successfully launched their Spektr-RG mission on a Proton rocket. Now the space observatory can begin operation and study distant galaxies!
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MOSCOW – A Russian Proton-M rocket successfully delivered a cutting-edge space telescope into orbit Saturday after days of launch delays, Russia’s space agency said.

Roscosmos said the telescope, named Spektr-RG, was delivered into a parking orbit before a final burn Saturday that kicked the spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit and on to its final destination: the L2 Lagrange point.

A Russian Proton-M rocket takes off from the launch pad at Russia's space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

A Russian Proton-M rocket takes off from the launch pad at Russia’s space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. (Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service photo via AP)

Lagrange points are unique positions in the solar system where objects can maintain their position relative to the sun and the planets that orbit it. Located 0.93 million miles from Earth, L2 is particularly ideal for telescopes such as Spektr-RG.

If all goes well, the telescope will arrive at its designated position in three months, becoming the first Russian spacecraft to operate beyond Earth’s orbit since the Soviet era. The telescope aims to conduct a complete x-ray survey of the sky by 2025, the first space telescope to do so.

The Russian accomplishment comes as the U.S. space agency NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.

Russian space science missions have suffered greatly since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Budget cuts have forced the Russian space program to shift toward more commercial efforts.

A Russian Mars probe, called Mars 96, failed to leave Earth’s orbit in 1996. A later attempt to send a probe to Mars, called Fobos-Grunt, suffered a similar fate in 2011.

Work on Spektr-RG telescope began in the 1980s but was scrapped in the 1990s. Spektr-RG was revived in 2005 and redesigned to be smaller, simpler and cheaper.

In its modern form, the project is a close collaboration between Russian and German scientists, who both installed telescope equipment aboard the Russian spacecraft.

Meet the Ploonets! Runaway Moons with Delusions of Planethood Get Astronomy’s Cutest Name Ever

An artist's illustration of a potentially habitable exomoon orbiting a giant planet in a distant solar system.

An artist’s illustration of a potentially habitable exomoon orbiting a giant planet in a distant solar system.

What do you call a runaway exomoon with delusions of planethood? You call it a “ploonet,” of course.

Scientists had previously proposed the endearing term “moonmoons” to describe moons that may orbit other moons in distant solar systems. Now, another team of researchers has coined the melodious nickname “ploonet” for moons of giant planets orbiting hot stars; under certain circumstances, these moons abandon those orbits, becoming satellites of the host star.

The former moon is then “unbound” and has an orbit like a planet’s — ergo, a ploonet.

Related: Top 10 Amazing Moon Facts

Ploonets — and all exomoons, for that matter — have yet to be detected. But ploonets may produce light signatures that planet-hunting telescopes could identify, researchers reported in a new study. Their findings were published June 27 in the preprint journal arXiv and have not been peer-reviewed.

For the study, the scientists created computer models to test scenarios that might transform a planet-orbiting moon into a star-orbiting ploonet. The researchers found that if a moon is circling a type of exoplanet known as a “hot Jupiter” — a massive gas giant close to a star — the gravitational tug of war between star and planet could be powerful enough to wrest the moon from its planetary orbit and send the object circling around the star instead.

Orbiting a nearby star would be stressful for a tiny ploonet; during its transit, the ploonet’s atmosphere could evaporate and the world would lose some of its mass, creating a distinctive signature in the light emitted from the star’s vicinity, the study said. That’s the signature that telescopes might be able to detect.

In fact, recent observations of mysterious light emissions around faraway hot stars could be explained by the appearance, and drawn-out deaths, of wayward ploonets, the study said.

Some ploonets could sustain their orbits for hundreds of millions of years. By accreting material from the disk of dust and gas around its star, a ploonet could even build up its body until it eventually became a small planet, the study authors wrote.

However, most ploonets would likely be relatively short-lived, the simulations showed. The majority of the endearingly named objects disappeared within a million years and never became planets; instead, they disintegrated during collisions with their former host planets, were gobbled up by stars in acts of “planetary cannibalism” or were ejected from orbit into space, the researchers reported.

Atmosphere of midsize planet revealed by Hubble, Spitzer

Two NASA space telescopes have identified the detailed chemical ‘fingerprint’ of a planet between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. No planets like this can be found in our own solar system, but they are common around other stars.


This artist’s illustration shows the theoretical internal structure of the exoplanet GJ 3470 b. It is unlike any planet found in the Solar System. Weighing in at 12.6 Earth masses the planet is more massive than Earth but less massive than Neptune. Unlike Neptune, which is 3 billion miles from the Sun, GJ 3470 b may have formed very close to its red dwarf star as a dry, rocky object. It then gravitationally pulled in hydrogen and helium gas from a circumstellar disk to build up a thick atmosphere. The disk dissipated many billions of years ago, and the planet stopped growing. The bottom illustration shows the disk as the system may have looked long ago. Observation by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have chemically analyzed the composition of GJ 3470 b’s very clear and deep atmosphere, yielding clues to the planet’s origin. Many planets of this mass exist in our galaxy.Credit: NASA, ESA, and L. Hustak (STScI)

Two NASA space telescopes have teamed up to identify, for the first time, the detailed chemical “fingerprint” of a planet between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. No planets like this can be found in our own solar system, but they are common around other stars.

The planet, Gliese 3470 b (also known as GJ 3470 b), may be a cross between Earth and Neptune, with a large rocky core buried under a deep, crushing hydrogen-and-helium atmosphere. Weighing in at 12.6 Earth masses, the planet is more massive than Earth but less massive than Neptune (which is more than 17 Earth masses).

Many similar worlds have been discovered by NASA’s Kepler space observatory, whose mission ended in 2018. In fact, 80% of the planets in our galaxy may fall into this mass range. However, astronomers have never been able to understand the chemical nature of such a planet until now, researchers say.

By inventorying the contents of GJ 3470 b’s atmosphere, astronomers are able to uncover clues about the planet’s nature and origin.

“This is a big discovery from the planet-formation perspective. The planet orbits very close to the star and is far less massive than Jupiter — 318 times Earth’s mass — but has managed to accrete the primordial hydrogen/helium atmosphere that is largely ‘unpolluted’ by heavier elements,” said Björn Benneke of the University of Montreal in Canada. “We don’t have anything like this in the solar system, and that’s what makes it striking.”

Astronomers enlisted the combined multi-wavelength capabilities NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to do a first-of-a-kind study of GJ 3470 b’s atmosphere.

This was accomplished by measuring the absorption of starlight as the planet passed in front of its star (transit) and the loss of reflected light from the planet as it passed behind the star (eclipse). All told, the space telescopes observed 12 transits and 20 eclipses. The science of analyzing chemical fingerprints based on light is called “spectroscopy.”

“For the first time we have a spectroscopic signature of such a world,” said Benneke. But he is at a loss for classification: Should it be called a “super-Earth” or “sub-Neptune?” Or perhaps something else?

Fortuitously, the atmosphere of GJ 3470 b turned out to be mostly clear, with only thin hazes, enabling the scientists to probe deep into the atmosphere.

“We expected an atmosphere strongly enriched in heavier elements like oxygen and carbon which are forming abundant water vapor and methane gas, similar to what we see on Neptune,” said Benneke. “Instead, we found an atmosphere that is so poor in heavy elements that its composition resembles the hydrogen/helium-rich composition of the Sun.”

Other exoplanets, called “hot Jupiters,” are thought to form far from their stars and over time migrate much closer. But this planet seems to have formed just where it is today, said Benneke.

The most plausible explanation, according to Benneke, is that GJ 3470 b was born precariously close to its red dwarf star, which is about half the mass of our Sun. He hypothesizes that essentially it started out as a dry rock and rapidly accreted hydrogen from a primordial disk of gas when its star was very young. The disk is called a “protoplanetary disk.”

“We’re seeing an object that was able to accrete hydrogen from the protoplanetary disk but didn’t run away to become a hot Jupiter,” said Benneke. “This is an intriguing regime.”

One explanation is that the disk dissipated before the planet could bulk up further. “The planet got stuck being a sub-Neptune,” said Benneke.

NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be able to probe even deeper into GJ 3470 b’s atmosphere, thanks to Webb’s unprecedented sensitivity in the infrared. The new results have already spawned great interest from American and Canadian teams developing the instruments on Webb. They will observe the transits and eclipses of GJ 3470 b at light wavelengths where the atmospheric hazes become increasingly transparent.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Space operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

First photo of Einstein’s ‘spooky action at a distance’ phenomenon captured

First photo of Einstein’s ‘spooky action at a distance’ phenomenon captured Jasper Hamill

(Photographer: University of Glasgow) Scientists have captured the first photograph of a mysterious phenomenon which Albert Einstein once described as ‘spooky action at a distance’.

The image is of a strong form of quantum entanglement, where two particles interact with each other and share their physical states for an instant – no matter how great the distance which separates them.

This connection is known as Bell entanglement and underpins the field of quantum mechanics. Paul-Antoine Moreau, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: ‘The image we’ve managed to capture is an elegant demonstration of a fundamental property of nature, seen for the very first time in the form of an image.

‘It’s an exciting result which could be used to advance the emerging field of quantum computing and lead to new types of imaging.’ Einstein thought quantum mechanics was ‘spooky’ because of the instantaneousness of the apparent remote interaction between two entangled particles.

This seemed incompatible with elements of his special theory of relativity. Scientist Sir John Bell later formalised this concept by describing a strong form of entanglement exhibiting this feature.

Bell entanglement is today being harnessed in practical applications like quantum computing and cryptography, however it has never before been captured in a single image. The team of physicists from the University of Glasgow described how they recorded the phenomenon in a photo for the first time.

They devised a system which fires a stream of entangled photons from a quantum source of light at ‘non-conventional’ objects – displayed on liquid-crystal materials which change the phase of the photons as they pass through.

Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2019/07/12/first-photo-of-einsteins-spooky-action-at-a-distance-phenomenon-captured-10225576/?ito=social&fbclid=IwAR0hv7XgEcfy3hLBn3WHHg_slbhhrTNax5OXndNPh3ZxbsjeE9v72wvqEH0?ito=cbshare

NASA’s Hubble telescope detects supermassive black hole that defies theoretical models

NASA’s Hubble telescope has recently discovered a supermassive black hole that defies existing theories about the universe, a report said.

The black hole, which is about 250 million times heavier than the sun, lies at the heart of the spiral galaxy NGC 3147 and is 140 million light-years from Earth.

The Hubble telescope has detected a supermassive black hole that technically shouldn't exist, according to new findings. 

The Hubble telescope has detected a supermassive black hole that technically shouldn’t exist, according to new findings. (nasa.gov)

Spotted around the black hole was a thin “accretion disk” containing debris and gas rapidly pacing around the edge, according to findings published Thursday in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The black hole was unusual in that its gravitational pull was not capturing the disk of material, which was moving at 10 percent the speed of light, according to the journal.

Lead author Stefano Bianchi said it’s “the same type of disk we see in objects that are 1,000 or even 100,000 times more luminous.”

“The predictions of current models for gas dynamics in very faint active galaxies clearly failed,” Bianchi added.

Black hole concept (stock image).Credit: © vchalup / Adobe Stock

As if black holes weren’t mysterious enough, astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found an unexpected thin disk of material furiously whirling around a supermassive black hole at the heart of the magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 3147, located 130 million light-years away.

The conundrum is that the disk shouldn’t be there, based on current astronomical theories. However, the unexpected presence of a disk so close to a black hole offers a unique opportunity to test Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity. General relativity describes gravity as the curvature of space and special relativity describes the relationship between time and space.

“We’ve never seen the effects of both general and special relativity in visible light with this much clarity,” said Marco Chiaberge of the European Space Agency, and the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore, Maryland, a member of the team that conducted the Hubble study.

“This is an intriguing peek at a disk very close to a black hole, so close that the velocities and the intensity of the gravitational pull are affecting how the photons of light look,” added the study’s first author, Stefano Bianchi of Università degli Studi Roma Tre, in Rome, Italy. “We cannot understand the data unless we include the theories of relativity.”

Black holes in certain types of galaxies like NGC 3147 are malnourished because there is not enough gravitationally captured material to feed them regularly. So, the thin haze of infalling material puffs up like a donut rather than flattening out in a pancake-shaped disk. Therefore, it is very puzzling why there is a thin disk encircling a starving black hole in NGC 3147 that mimics much more powerful disks found in extremely active galaxies with engorged, monster black holes.

“We thought this was the best candidate to confirm that below certain luminosities, the accretion disk doesn’t exist anymore,” explained Ari Laor of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology located in Haifa, Israel. “What we saw was something completely unexpected. We found gas in motion producing features we can explain only as being produced by material rotating in a thin disk very close to the black hole.”

The astronomers initially selected this galaxy to validate accepted models about lower-luminosity active galaxies — those with black holes that are on a meager diet of material. Models predict that an accretion disk forms when ample amounts of gas are trapped by a black hole’s strong gravitational pull. This infalling matter emits lots of light, producing a brilliant beacon called a quasar, in the case of the most well-fed black holes. Once less material is pulled into the disk, it begins to break down, becomes fainter, and changes structure.

“The type of disk we see is a scaled-down quasar that we did not expect to exist,” Bianchi said. “It’s the same type of disk we see in objects that are 1,000 or even 100,000 times more luminous. The predictions of current models for gas dynamics in very faint active galaxies clearly failed.”

The disk is so deeply embedded in the black hole’s intense gravitational field that the light from the gas disk is modified, according to Einstein’s theories of relativity, giving astronomers a unique look at the dynamic processes close to a black hole.

Hubble clocked material whirling around the black hole as moving at more than 10% of the speed of light. At those extreme velocities, the gas appears to brighten as it travels toward Earth on one side, and dims as it speeds away from our planet on the other side (an effect called relativistic beaming). Hubble’s observations also show that the gas is so entrenched in the gravitational well the light is struggling to climb out, and therefore appears stretched to redder wavelengths. The black hole’s mass is around 250 million Suns.

The researchers used Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) to observe matter swirling deep inside the disk. A spectrograph is a diagnostic tool that divides light from an object into its many individual wavelengths to determine its speed, temperature, and other characteristics at a very high precision. The astronomers needed STIS’s sharp resolution to isolate the faint light from the black-hole region and block out contaminating starlight.

“Without Hubble, we wouldn’t have been able to see this because the black-hole region has a low luminosity,” Chiaberge said. “The luminosities of the stars in the galaxy outshine anything in the nucleus. So if you observe it from the ground, you’re dominated by the brightness of the stars, which drowns the feeble emission from the nucleus.”

The team hopes to use Hubble to hunt for other very compact disks around low-wattage black holes in similar active galaxies.

The team’s paper will appear online today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of Stefano Bianchi (Università degli Studi Roma Tre, Rome, Italy); Robert Antonucci (University of California, Santa Barbara, California); Alessandro Capetti (INAF — Osservatorio Astrofisico di Torino, Pino Torinese, Italy); Marco Chiaberge (Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland); Ari Laor (Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel); Loredana Bassani (INAF/IASF Bologna, Italy); Francisco Carrera (CSIC-Universidad de Cantabria, Santander, Spain); Fabio La Franca, Andrea Marinucci, Giorgio Matt, and Riccardo Middei (Università degli Studi Roma Tre, Roma, Italy); and Francesca Panessa (INAF Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali, Rome, Italy).

“The predictions of current models for gas dynamics in very faint active galaxies clearly failed,” Bianchi added.

Apollo 11: NASA and the ‘lost’ Moon landing tapes

50 years after the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong’s sons Mark and Rick describe the day when their father walked on the Moon.

NASA has responded to recent reports of “lost” Apollo 11 Moon landing tapes, but is adamant that no footage of the historic mission has been lost.

“With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing approaching, reports have resurfaced that NASA lost some precious video footage of that first moonwalk,” the space agency explains, in a statement on its website. “There is no missing video footage from the Apollo 11 moonwalk,” it adds.

July 20th marks the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.

APOLLO 11: FORMER NASA INTERN BOUGHT ORIGINAL MOON LANDING RECORDINGS FOR $217, COULD BE WORTH $2M

Apollo 11 tapes are in the spotlight at the moment. A set of original videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 Moon landing that were bought for $217.77 at a government surplus auction by a former NASA intern in the 1970s will be auctioned on July 20.

FILE - In this image provided by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969.

FILE – In this image provided by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. (Neil A. Armstrong/NASA via AP, File)

The former intern, Gary George, planned to sell the used tapes, which could be re-recorded, to local TV stations. They could sell for up to $2 million, according to Sotheby’s, which is running the auction.

NASA says that the footage on the tapes is already preserved. “In 2019, a one-time NASA intern is selling what he describes as videotapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk that he bought at an auction of surplus government goods,” the space agency says on its website. “If the tapes are as described in the sale material, they are 2-inch videotapes recorded in Houston from the video that had been converted to a format that could be broadcast over commercial television and contain no material that hasn’t been preserved at NASA.”

APOLLO 11’S MICHAEL COLLINS REFLECTS ON HISTORIC MOON LANDING: ‘WE WERE JUST REGULAR ASTRONAUTS

This is not the first time that Apollo 11 tapes have made headlines.

Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong reflected in his helmet, during the moon landing in 1969.

Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong reflected in his helmet, during the moon landing in 1969. (NASA)

More than 10 years ago, NASA launched a search for, but could not locate, some of the “original” Apollo 11 data tapes, which directly recorded data transmitted from the Moon. “An intensive search of archives and records concluded that the most likely scenario was that the program managers determined there was no longer a need to keep the tapes – since all the video was recorded elsewhere – and they were erased and reused,” it explains.

According to NASA, data on the tapes, including video data, was relayed to the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston, which is now the Johnson Space Center. “The video was recorded there and in other locations,” it said, in its statement, noting that no footage is missing.

50 YEARS AFTER APOLLO 11, NEIL ARMSTRONG’S SONS DESCRIBE THE DAY THEIR DAD WALKED ON THE MOON

NASA explained that data from the mission was sent from the Apollo 11 spacecraft to a ground station in California and two ground stations in Australia. This data was then retransmitted to the Manned Spaceflight Center. The ground stations also recorded the data on special 1-inch, 14-track tapes, one track of which was for video.

File photo - Commander Neil Armstrong climbs down the ladder of the Lunar Module (LM) the 'Eagle' to become the first man to set foot on the Moon, during NASA's Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, July 1969. Video footage taken during the mission.

File photo – Commander Neil Armstrong climbs down the ladder of the Lunar Module (LM) the ‘Eagle’ to become the first man to set foot on the Moon, during NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, July 1969. Video footage taken during the mission.(Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images)

“The video footage was recorded in ‘slow scan’ — 10 video frames per second — which meant it couldn’t be directly broadcast over commercial television,” NASA explains. “The video was converted for broadcast and uplinked to a satellite, then downlinked to Houston, from which it was sent out to the world.”

In early 2005, in response to a request from NASA retirees and others, the space agency launched a search for the 14-track tapes. However, the agency couldn’t find the tapes and determined that they had most likely been erased and used again, which, it says “was standard practice at the time.”

BUZZ ALDRIN, OTHERS TELL APOLLO’S INSIDE STORY IN RARE, NEWLY RELEASED INTERVIEWS

While NASA was unable to locate the tapes, the data had already been recorded elsewhere and was saved by the agency.

File photo - a footprint from the Apollo 11 mission on the lunar surface.

File photo – a footprint from the Apollo 11 mission on the lunar surface. (Photo by NASA/Newsmakers)

“There was no video that came down slow scan that was not converted live, fed live, to Houston and fed live to the world,” said NASA Engineer Dick Nafzger, during a press conference in 2009. “So, just in case anyone thinks there is video out there that hasn’t been seen, that is not the case.”

However, the researchers did find the video that had been converted to broadcast that was higher quality than they had previously seen.

APOLLO 11 ASTRONAUT MICHAEL COLLINS REVEALS UNSEEN PHOTO OF MOON LANDING CREW HE ‘FOUND AT THE BOTTOM OF A BOX’

Parts of the video were restored, enhanced for viewing in HD, and released in July 2009.

Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant an American flag on the surface of the moon in July 1969.

Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant an American flag on the surface of the moon in July 1969. (NASA)

Only 12 men, all Americans, have walked on the Moon and the Apollo program continues to be a source of fascination.

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Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins recently revealed a previously unseen photo of the famous Moon landing crew members that he “found at the bottom of a box.”

Massive, kilometer-sized asteroid was just found orbiting the Sun

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A newly found asteroid has been spotted orbiting the Sun, whizzing past the star every 151 days, the shortest orbit of any space rock on record.

Known as 2019 LF6, this asteroid is quite large, at 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) across and is part of the “Atira” asteroid group, 20 space rocks whose orbits fall entirely within Earth’s.

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“Thirty years ago, people started organizing methodical asteroid searches, finding larger objects first, but now that most of them have been found, the bigger ones are rare birds,” says Quanzhi Ye, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech who discovered 2019 LF6, in a statement.

(Credit: California Institute of Technology)

(Credit: California Institute of Technology)

“LF6 is very unusual both in orbit and in size—its unique orbit explains why such a large asteroid eluded several decades of careful searches,” Ye added. “We only have about 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset to find these asteroids.”

One other Atira asteroid has been discovered by the ZTF team, 2019 AQ3, which orbits the Sun approximately once every 165 days.

“Both of the large Atira asteroids that were found by ZTF orbit well outside the plane of the solar system,” NASA JPL research and Caltech professor Tom Prince said in the statement. “This suggests that sometime in the past they were flung out of the plane of the solar system because they came too close to Venus or Mercury.”

In its elliptical 151-day orbit, 2019 LF6 goes out past Venus and at certain points, comes closer to the Sun than Mercury does. By comparison, Mercury orbits the Sun every 88 days, Venus’ orbit takes 225 days and Earth orbits the Sun every 365 days.

2019 LF6 was discovered by the Zwicky Transient Facility, “a state-of-the-art camera” at the Palomar Observatory. It looks at the sky rapidly, searching for objects such as exploding stars or moving asteroids, which made it the perfect tool to look for the Atria asteroids.

Mysterious X-37B military space plane caught on camera

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B robotic space plane in orbit, as photographed by satellite tracker Ralf Vandebergh.

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B robotic space plane in orbit, as photographed by satellite tracker Ralf Vandebergh.

Skywatcher and satellite tracker Ralf Vandebergh of the Netherlands recently caught a rare glimpse of the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane.

Vandebergh said he’d been hunting for the robotic spacecraft for months and finally managed to track it down in May. But it took a bit longer to get photos of the vehicle.

“When I tried to observe it again [in] mid-June, it didn’t meet the predicted time and path,” Vandebergh explained. “It turned out to have maneuvered to another orbit. Thanks to the amateur satellite observers’ network, it was rapidly found in orbit again, and I was able to take some images on June 30 and July 2.”

The X-37B’s recent passes were almost overhead, Vandebergh added.

Related: The X-37B Space Plane: 6 Surprising Facts

Beyond expectations

The X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), looks like a miniature version of NASA’s retired space shuttle.

“It is really a small object, even at only 300 kilometers [186 miles] altitude, so don’t expect the detail level of ground-based images of the real space shuttle,” Vandebergh said.

Taking this into consideration, the newly captured imagery far exceeded Vandebergh’s expectations.

“We can recognize a bit of the nose, payload bay and tail of this mini-shuttle, with even a sign of some smaller detail,” he said.

Vandebergh captured the photos using a 10-inch F/4,8 aperture Newtonian telescope with an Astrolumina ALccd 5L-11 mono CMOS camera. Tracking was fully manual through a 6×30 finderscope, he said.

Classified duties

The X-37B has winged past 666 days of flight on this latest mission, which is called OTV-5 because it’s the fifth flight for the program.

OTV-5 began on Sept. 7, 2017, with a launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 boosterfrom NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

X-37B missions are carried out under the auspices of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, and mission control for OTV flights is handled by the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. This squadron oversees operations of the X-37B and is tagged as the Air Force Space Command’s premier organization for space-based demonstrations, pathfinders and experiment testing, gathering information on objects high above Earth and carrying out other intelligence-gathering duties.

And that may be a signal as to what the robotic craft is doing — both looking down at Earth and upward.

Related: US Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Space Plane (Infographic)

Flight-duration record

Each X-37B mission has set a new flight-duration record for the program:

Most X-37B payloads are classified, and the Air Force releases few details about the spacecraft’s orbit and activities. The only OTV-5 payload that Air Force officials have revealed is the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, or ASETS-II.

Developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), this cargo is testing experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipes for long-duration stints in the space environment.

According to AFRL, the payload’s three primary science objectives are to measure initial on-orbit thermal performance, to measure long duration thermal performance, and to assess any lifetime degradation.

Tarmac touchdown

Exactly when OTV-5 will end is unknown.

The last X-37B mission touched down at KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility — a first for the program. All prior missions had ended with a tarmac touchdown at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Several website postings say that the sixth mission, OTV-6, is planned for this year on a United Launch Alliance Atlas-5(501) rocket. Launch would be from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41.

Reusable vehicles

The classified X-37B program “fleet” consists of two known reusable vehicles, both of which were built by Boeing.

The X-37B vehicles were built at several Boeing locations in Southern California, including Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and El Segundo. The program transitioned to the U.S. Air Force in 2004 after earlier funded research efforts by Boeing, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The military space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.6 m).

The X-37B’s payload bay, which measures 7 feet (2.1 m) by 4 feet (1.2 m), can be outfitted with a robotic arm. The spacecraft has a launch weight of 11,000 lbs. (4,990 kilograms) and is powered on orbit by gallium-arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries.

Prior to OTV-5’s launch, Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said there were many firsts on this mission, making it a milestone for the program. “It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community,” he said at the time.

The Air Force also noted that OTV-5 was launched into, and will be landed from, a higher-inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope.

Scientists create a ‘lifelike’ material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material’s DNA.

Cornell University engineers have created an artificial material that has three key traits of life — metabolism, self-assembly and organization. The engineers were able to pull off such a feat by using DNA in order to make machines from biomaterials that would have characteristics of alive things.

Dubbing their process DASH for “DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical” materials, the scientists made a DNA material that has metabolism — the set of chemical processes that convert food into energy necessary for the maintenance of life.

The goal for the scientists is not to create a lifeform but a machine with lifelike characteristics, with Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering, pointing out “We are not making something that’s alive, but we are creating materials that are much more lifelike than have ever been seen before.”

The major innovation here is the programmed metabolism that is coded into the DNA materials. The set of instructions for metabolism and autonomous regeneration allows the material to grow on its own.

In their paper, the scientists described the metabolism as the system by which “the materials comprising life are synthesized, assembled, dissipated, and decomposed autonomously in a controlled, hierarchical manner using biological processes.”

To keep going, a living organism must be able to generate new cells, while discarding old ones and waste. It is this process that the Cornell scientists duplicated using DASH. They devised a biomaterial that can arise on its own from nanoscale building blocks. It can arrange itself into polymers first and into mesoscale shapes after.

The DNA molecules in the materials were duplicated hundreds of thousands of times, resulting in chains of repeating DNA that were a few millimeters in length. The solution with the reaction was injected into a special microfluidic device that facilitated biosynthesis.

This flow washed over the materials, causing DNA to synthesize its own strands. The material even had its own locomotion, with the front end growing while the tail end was degrading, making it creep forth.

This fact allowed the researchers to have portions of the materials competing against each other.

“The designs are still primitive, but they showed a new route to create dynamic machines from biomolecules. We are at a first step of building lifelike robots by artificial metabolism,” explained Shogo Hamada, the lead and co-corresponding author of the paper as well as a lecturer and research associate in the Luo lab. “Even from a simple design, we were able to create sophisticated behaviors like racing. Artificial metabolism could open a new frontier in robotics.”

Credit: Shogo Hamada / Cornell UniversityGenerated DASH patterns.

The material that was created lasted for two cycles of synthesis and degradation but the longevity can be extended, think the researchers. This could lead to more generations of the material, eventually resulting in a “lifelike self-reproducing machines,” said Hamada.

He also foresees that the system can result in a “self-evolutionary possibility.”

Next for the material? The engineers are looking at how to get it to react to stimuli and be able to seek out light or food all on its own. They also want it to be able to avoid harmful stimuli.

How you and your friends can play a video game together using only your minds

Researchers have created a method for two people to help a third person solve a task using only their minds.


Brain-computer interface concept (stock image).Credit: © freshidea / Adobe Stock

Telepathic communication might be one step closer to reality thanks to new research from the University of Washington. A team created a method that allows three people to work together to solve a problem using only their minds.

In BrainNet, three people play a Tetris-like game using a brain-to-brain interface. This is the first demonstration of two things: a brain-to-brain network of more than two people, and a person being able to both receive and send information to others using only their brain. The team published its results April 16 in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, though this research previously attracted media attention after the researchers posted it September to the preprint site arXiv.

“Humans are social beings who communicate with each other to cooperate and solve problems that none of us can solve on our own,” said corresponding author Rajesh Rao, the CJ and Elizabeth Hwang professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and a co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology. “We wanted to know if a group of people could collaborate using only their brains. That’s how we came up with the idea of BrainNet: where two people help a third person solve a task.”

As in Tetris, the game shows a block at the top of the screen and a line that needs to be completed at the bottom. Two people, the Senders, can see both the block and the line but can’t control the game. The third person, the Receiver, can see only the block but can tell the game whether to rotate the block to successfully complete the line. Each Sender decides whether the block needs to be rotated and then passes that information from their brain, through the internet and to the brain of the Receiver. Then the Receiver processes that information and sends a command — to rotate or not rotate the block — to the game directly from their brain, hopefully completing and clearing the line.

The team asked five groups of participants to play 16 rounds of the game. For each group, all three participants were in different rooms and couldn’t see, hear or speak to one another.

The Senders each could see the game displayed on a computer screen. The screen also showed the word “Yes” on one side and the word “No” on the other side. Beneath the “Yes” option, an LED flashed 17 times per second. Beneath the “No” option, an LED flashed 15 times a second.

“Once the Sender makes a decision about whether to rotate the block, they send ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the Receiver’s brain by concentrating on the corresponding light,” said first author Linxing Preston Jiang, a student in the Allen School’s combined bachelor’s/master’s degree program.

The Senders wore electroencephalography caps that picked up electrical activity in their brains. The lights’ different flashing patterns trigger unique types of activity in the brain, which the caps can pick up. So, as the Senders stared at the light for their corresponding selection, the cap picked up those signals, and the computer provided real-time feedback by displaying a cursor on the screen that moved toward their desired choice. The selections were then translated into a “Yes” or “No” answer that could be sent over the internet to the Receiver.

“To deliver the message to the Receiver, we used a cable that ends with a wand that looks like a tiny racket behind the Receiver’s head. This coil stimulates the part of the brain that translates signals from the eyes,” said co-author Andrea Stocco, a UW assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, or I-LABS. “We essentially ‘trick’ the neurons in the back of the brain to spread around the message that they have received signals from the eyes. Then participants have the sensation that bright arcs or objects suddenly appear in front of their eyes.”

If the answer was, “Yes, rotate the block,” then the Receiver would see the bright flash. If the answer was “No,” then the Receiver wouldn’t see anything. The Receiver received input from both Senders before making a decision about whether to rotate the block. Because the Receiver also wore an electroencephalography cap, they used the same method as the Senders to select yes or no.

The Senders got a chance to review the Receiver’s decision and send corrections if they disagreed. Then, once the Receiver sent a second decision, everyone in the group found out if they cleared the line. On average, each group successfully cleared the line 81% of the time, or for 13 out of 16 trials.

The researchers wanted to know if the Receiver would learn over time to trust one Sender over the other based on their reliability. The team purposely picked one of the Senders to be a “bad Sender” and flipped their responses in 10 out of the 16 trials — so that a “Yes, rotate the block” suggestion would be given to the Receiver as “No, don’t rotate the block,” and vice versa. Over time, the Receiver switched from being relatively neutral about both Senders to strongly preferring the information from the “good Sender.”

The team hopes that these results pave the way for future brain-to-brain interfaces that allow people to collaborate to solve tough problems that one brain alone couldn’t solve. The researchers also believe this is an appropriate time to start to have a larger conversation about the ethics of this kind of brain augmentation research and developing protocols to ensure that people’s privacy is respected as the technology improves. The group is working with the Neuroethics team at the Center for Neurotechnology to address these types of issues.

“But for now, this is just a baby step. Our equipment is still expensive and very bulky and the task is a game,” Rao said. “We’re in the ‘Kitty Hawk’ days of brain interface technologies: We’re just getting off the ground.”

‘What would you do if we found aliens?’ survey asks

Will humans ever make contact with an advanced alien civilization? 

The quest to identify UFOs and even find intelligent life on other worlds has been heating up for decades … to no avail. But there are still plenty of spots and wavelengths where aliens could be hiding. So, what would humans do if we found concrete evidence that we are not alone in the universe? Turns out, there’s no real plan for how humanity would respond, let alone how we would deal with such a monumental discovery.

The U.K. SETI Research Network (UKSRN) wants to change that by asking Earthlings their views on the search for aliens and how they’d react to a discovery. The network announced the survey, which it said is the largest such survey to date, yesterday (July 1) during the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, according to The Guardian. [Greetings, Earthlings! 8 Ways Aliens Could Contact Us]

The online survey includes questions such as:

If we discover a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence, would you:

— Not care much about it?
— Just follow the news, comment?
— Interact on social media about this topic?

And this one: Some people think we should send messages into space even if we don’t receive a message first. What is your opinion?

— This is a bad idea. We should ban people from sending messages.
— There should be rules or laws about who can send messages and what they can say.
— Anybody who wants to send a message into space should be allowed to do so.

So, what are the odds we’d really need answers to these questions? To date, a lot of effort and money have gone into listening for alien signals. For instance, Breakthrough Listen’s team at the University of California, Berkeley’s SETI Research Center released 1 million gigabytes of datarelated to such a quest. The scientists had looked for anomalous pings in both radio and optical wavelengths emitted by 1,327 star systems. The result? None of those signals could be traced to anything other than human sources.

Just this month, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) celebrated 50 years of looking for and studying UFO phenomenon. The nonprofit relies on volunteers to help find and identify these objects. Though the members insist that “we are not alone,” they have yet to spot conclusive evidence to support that claim.

Even the U.S. government has suggested it’s serious about investigating bizarre craft of unknown origin. In 2017, the Pentagon confirmed that a secret “UFO” office — called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program — had spent $22 million over five years to study such baffling aeronautical reports. And even though funding ended in 2012, the program apparently remained alive.

More recently, declassified videos have shown U.S. Navy pilots talking about seeing UFOs that demonstrated unexplainable properties.

“Despite the fact that we [have] never detected a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence, this does not mean that it is never going to happen. What if it does?” Martin Dominik, an astrophysicist at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, told Live Science in an email.

“The SETI community are currently rethinking this issue in the wake of the spread of social media and fake news. If there are consequences for the wider public, the decision about where to go becomes a political one rather than a scientific one,” said Dominik, who is also a UKSRN member.

What have researchers learned so far from the survey responses?

“I do not want to release any data at this moment, because it would bias the views of those who are still to respond,” Dominik said.

Check out the survey and let the SETI group know what you’d do upon contact with extraterrestrial intelligence.

Trump’s opinion on UFOs: Nope — but you never know

Trump tells Tucker Carlson that he has not heard of the U.S. government possessing wreckage from a UFO, but that he has an ‘open mind’; reaction and analysis from journalist Nick Pope, who once investigated UFO sightings for the British Ministry of Defense.

Does President Trump believe the truth is out there?

Apparently not.

During an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Trump, who has all our information about extraterrestrials and UFOs at his disposal, said he isn’t convinced UFOs exist.

But he’s keeping an open mind.

“Well, I don’t want to really get into it too much.  But personally, I tend to doubt it,” he told Carlson. “I’m not a believer, but you know, I guess anything is possible.”

Carlson was pressing the president on a recent briefing he had regarding the Navy pilots who reported seeing “strange objects” flying at hypersonic speeds and emitting “no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes.” Last week, the Defense Department also held a briefingwith Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., as well as two other senators as part of an apparent effort to communicate with politicians about naval encounters with unidentified aircraft.Video

“I mean, you have people that swear by it, right?” Trump mused.

“And pilots have come in and they said — and these are pilots that have — not pilots that are into that particular world, but we have had people saying that they’ve seen things.”

Carlson also asked the president about a claim made by a government official who said U.S. is in possession of UFO wreckage at a facility on an Air Force Base. Trump said he hadn’t heard about it but had seen the story covered on Carlson’s show.

“I don’t assume it’s correct.  But, I have an open mind, Tucker,” he continued.

Saturn’s moon Enceladus could support life as more evidence emerges

The possibility that Saturn’s moon Enceladus could support life has strengthened after researchers determined its ocean is likely 1 billion years old, placing it in the sweet spot.

Speaking at the 2019 Astrobiology Science Conference last month, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center scientist Marc Neveu said that the time frame is long enough for life to have emerged on Enceladus.

“In the scenario that best matches the real moons, the ocean of Enceladus is about a billion years old,” Neveu wrote in an abstract, discussing the research. “That’s good news for life: it should have had enough time to arise and there should still be some energy to power it.”

With its global ocean, unique chemistry and internal heat, Enceladus has become a promising lead in our search for worlds where life could exist.

With its global ocean, unique chemistry and internal heat, Enceladus has become a promising lead in our search for worlds where life could exist. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Speaking with Live Science, Neveu said he was surprised when the Cassini spacecraft had discovered an ocean on Enceladus, given its size. “It’s a very tiny moon and, in general, you expect tiny things to not be very active [but rather] like a dead block of rock and ice,” he told the news outlet.

Fifty simulations were created using data from the Cassini spacecraft, which intentionally plunged itself into Saturn’s atmosphere in September 2017. However, there was some guesswork that led Neveu and co-author Alyssa Rhoden to estimate the age of Enceladus’ ocean, which was based on a single simulation, one that best replicated the conditions seen on the celestial satellite, Live Science added.

Additional research is needed to make the simulation faster and get a more precise date for the exact age of Enceladus’ ocean.

Neveu’s study was published in April in the scientific journal, Nature Astronomy.

The prospect for life on Enceladus has been raised before, including by NASA in 2017. The space agency found the presence of hydrogen in its atmosphere, something Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at the time could be meaningful.

“It could be a potential source for energy from any microbes,” Spilker said at the time. “We now know that Enceladus has almost all of the ingredients you would need for life here on Earth.”

In the 2017 announcement, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said these findings were the closest the space agency had come at the time “to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” adding that NASA’s missions “are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”

Complex organic molecules were discovered on Enceladus in 2018, which scientists said are the “building blocks” for life.

Cassini was launched in 1997 at a total cost of $3.9 billion ($2.5 billion in pre-launch costs and $1.4 billion in post-launch) and spent 13 years circling, studying and taking data of Saturn and its moons, including Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, which may also be home to extraterrestrial life.

NASA Hubble Space Telescope takes stunning image of galactic ‘firework show’

Ahead of the Fourth of July, NASA is showing off an impressive fireworks display that really is out of this world.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope managed to take sublime images of a star known as Eta Carinae exploding 7,500-light-years from Earth, expanding with hot gases that are red, white and blue.

“We’ve discovered a large amount of warm gas that was ejected in the Great Eruption but hasn’t yet collided with the other material surrounding Eta Carinae,” explained lead investigator of the Hubble program, Nathan Smith, in a statement. “Most of the emission is located where we expected to find an empty cavity. This extra material is fast, and it ‘ups the ante’ in terms of the total energy for an already powerful stellar blast.”

This Hubble Space Telescope image of the giant, petulant star Eta Carinae is yielding new surprises. Telescopes such as Hubble have monitored the super-massive star for more than two decades. The star, the largest member of a double-star system, has been prone to violent outbursts, including an episode in the 1840s during which ejected material formed the bipolar bubbles seen here. Now, using Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to probe the nebula in ultraviolet light, astronomers have uncovered the glow of magnesium embedded in warm gas (shown in blue) in places they had not seen it before. (Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona) and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute))

This Hubble Space Telescope image of the giant, petulant star Eta Carinae is yielding new surprises. Telescopes such as Hubble have monitored the super-massive star for more than two decades. The star, the largest member of a double-star system, has been prone to violent outbursts, including an episode in the 1840s during which ejected material formed the bipolar bubbles seen here. Now, using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to probe the nebula in ultraviolet light, astronomers have uncovered the glow of magnesium embedded in warm gas (shown in blue) in places they had not seen it before. (Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona) and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute))

Eta Carinae has put on the celestial show before, with NASA noting the spectacular event started in the 1840s when the star went through what’s known as a “titanic outburst, called the Great Eruption,” which made it the second-brightest star visible in the sky for over a decade.

“Eta Carinae, in fact, was so bright that for a time it became an important navigational star for mariners in the southern seas,” NASA added.

Since then, it’s faded and is now barely visible to the naked eye. Over the past 25 years, it’s been studied by every instrument on the Hubble and astronomers believe it may have weighed more than 150 Suns and it may be on the brink of total destruction.

Smith added that they had used Hubble “for decades” to study the star in visible and infrared light, but the new ultraviolet lights give it a very different look.

“We’re excited by the prospect that this type of ultraviolet magnesium emission may also expose previously hidden gas in other types of objects that eject material, such as protostars or other dying stars,” Smith added. Only Hubble can take these kinds of pictures.”

The newly discovered gas may be crucial to understanding how the star erupted and what might happen as it becomes a supernova and explodes. The researchers added that this event may have already happened, but the light has not yet reached Earth.

So it looks like we’ll have at least one more incredible fireworks display, courtesy of the galaxy.

Astronomers Spotted a Car-Size Asteroid Just Hours Before Impact

Astronomers discovered a car-size asteroid hours before it slammed into Earth and burned up in the atmosphere this past weekend, news sources report.

Scientists in Hawaii initially spotted the asteroid, named 2019 MO, on Saturday (June 22). Soon after, the heavenly traveler broke apart in large fireball as it hit the atmosphere about 240 miles (380 kilometers) south of San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to the University of Hawaii.

This is only the fourth time in history that scientists have spotted an asteroid so close to impact. The other three detections all occurred within the past 11 years, including 2008 TC3, 2014 AA and 2018 LA, which landed as a meteorite in southern Africa just 7 hours after it was noticed by scientists. [Doomsday: 9 Real Ways Earth Could End]

Unlike 2018 LA, Earth’s latest visitor was harmless and didn’t make it to the ground. But the asteroid, 13 feet (4 meters) long, still made a spectacular fireball that was equivalent to about 6,000 tons of exploding TNT, according to the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), which is run by the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.

The asteroid’s impact was so powerful, even satellites in orbit spotted it. Satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded its impact and destruction at 5:25 p.m. EDT (21:25 UTC), as you can see on this tweet below.

Small Asteroid (NEOCP A10eoM1) impacted Earth on 2019 June 22http://bit.ly/2X7Os48 @Yeqzids @pgbrown @frankie57pr @fallingstarIfA @PS1NEOwatch @michael_w_busch #astronomy #asteroids569:32 AM – Jun 25, 201957 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

At the time of impact, 2019 MO was traveling about 33,300 mph (14.9 km/s), CNEOS reported. NOAA’s Geostationary Lightning Mapper onboard the satellite GOES-East also mapped the asteroid, according to The Weather Channel.

The fact that scientists detected the asteroid before its annihilation is cause for celebration. This is the first time that two survey telescopes — the University of Hawaii’s ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) and Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) — showed that they can “provide sufficient warning to move people away from the impact site of an incoming asteroid,” according to a statement.

Using these telescopes, astronomers observed 2019 MO four times in just 30 minutes, when the asteroid was just 310,600 miles (500,000 km) from Earth, or 1.3 times the distance from Earth to the moon.

At first, scientists gave it a two out of four rating, meaning it appeared unlikely to hit Earth. But as more data came in, they upgraded 2019 MO to a four. The Nexrad (Next-Generation Radar) weather network in Puerto Rico, which is operated by NOAA’s National Weather Service, also spotted the asteroid, pinpointing its entry location, according to Cnet.

2019 MO was much smaller than the 66-foot-long (20 m) meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013. The energy released by that meteor was equivalent to about 440,000 tons of TNT.

Now that ATLAS is up and running (it began operating in 2015), it will detect all kinds of asteroids, big and small. The system’s two telescopes, situated 100 miles (160 km) apart, scan the night sky for asteroids every two nights. Since then, hey have discovered about 100 asteroids larger than about 100 feet (30 m) in diameter every year.

In theory, ATLAS should be able to find smaller asteroids, such as 2019 MO, about half a day before they arrive and larger objects, like the Chelyabinsk meteor, a few days before they hit, the university said.

That’s good news, as we could all use a warning before asteroids cause enormous fireballs in the sky or send chunks of space rock hurtling toward Earth.

Mysterious ‘fast radio burst’ traced back to its home galaxy for first time ever

An animation shows the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky. Astronomers have discovered about 85 since 2007, and pinpointed two of them. Credit: NRAO Outreach/T. Jarrett (IPAC/Caltech); B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

An animation shows the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky. Astronomers have discovered about 85 since 2007, and pinpointed two of them. Credit: NRAO Outreach/T. Jarrett (IPAC/Caltech); B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Three and a half billion years ago, a mysterious object on the edge of a distant galaxy spewed forth an intensely bright, vanishingly brief burst of radio energy that shot across the universe.

That pulse of energy — known to its fans in the astronomy community as a fast radio burst (FRB) — passed through a wilderness of gas, dust and empty space on its multi-billion-year journey, slowly stretching and changing color as it moved. Then, for less than a millisecond in 2018, that burst zapped past a special telescope in Earth’s Australian outback, giving scientists a rare opportunity to shake hands with one of the most mysterious forms of energy in the universe.

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It’s the first time that astronomers have successfully tracked a one-off FRB back to its origins across space and time, according to the authors of a study published today (June 27) in the journal Science. Understanding where FRBs come from allows scientists to probe the vast tracts of matter between their host galaxies and Earth, and maybe even locate undiscovered pockets of protons and neutrons thought to be lurking between galaxies.[The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe]

“These bursts are altered by the matter they encounter in space,” study co-author Jean-Pierre Macquart, a researcher at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) said in a statement. “Now we can pinpoint where they come from, we can use them to measure the amount of matter in intergalactic space.”

Bursting onto the scene

Since the phenomenon was discovered in 2007, astronomers have observed about 85 FRBs and pinpointed the origins of only one other — a repeating flash that pulsed 9 times from a tiny, star-forming galaxy over about six months in 2016. Pinpointing the source of a one-off FRB, which can last for a fraction of a millisecond, has proved exceedingly difficult, until now.

In their new study, the researchers detected the lone FRB using an array of 36 satellites called the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope. When an FRB passes the array, each satellite picks up the burst’s signal a fraction of a millisecond apart. Using these subtle time differences, the researchers were able to figure out which direction the burst came from, and approximately how far it traveled.

The ASKAP observations pointed to a Milky-Way-size galaxy about 3.6 billion light-years away from Earth. With some help from several other large telescopes around the world, the researchers zoomed in on this galaxy to learn that it was relatively old and not forming many new stars.

According Adam Deller, an astrophysicist at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia and co-author of the new study, the properties of this distant galaxy sit in stark contrast to the galaxy that created a repeating fast-radio burst that was detected in 2016.

“The burst we localized and its host galaxy look nothing like the ‘repeater’ and its host,” Deller said in the statement. “It comes from a massive galaxy that is forming relatively few stars. This suggests that fast radio bursts can be produced in a variety of environments.”

While the repeating FRB detected a few years ago was likely created by a neutron star or supernova explosion (common engines of star formation in active galaxies), this individual burst could have been caused by something else entirely, the researchers wrote.

What else, exactly? Nobody knows yet — but radioactive belches from supermassive black holes or the engines of alien spacecraft have not been ruled out. Only by pinpointing more FRBs will researchers be able to unravel this cosmic mystery. Fortunately, the authors of the new study wrote, now that they’ve got one under their belt, finding the next one should be a little easier.

‘Undisturbed’ Roman-era shipwreck discovered off Cyprus

Archaeologists have discovered the wreck of a Roman-era ship off the east coast of Cyprus.

In a statement, Cyprus’ Department of Antiquities explained that the wreck is the first undisturbed Roman shipwreck found in the Mediterranean island nation’s waters. The ship is loaded with amphorae, or large ancient jars, which are likely from Syria and ancient Cilicia on modern-day Turkey’s southeastern coast.

Analysis of the shipwreck will shed new light on seaborne trade between Cyprus and the rest of the Roman provinces of the eastern Mediterranean, officials explained in the statement.

The wreck was found near the resort town of Protaras by a pair of volunteer divers with the University of Cyprus’ archaeological research unit.

The shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Eastern Cyprus.

The shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Eastern Cyprus. (Republic of Cyprus, Department of Antiquities)

It’s also the first time an underwater archaeological project is fully funded by the Cyprus government.

A team from the Maritime Archaeological Research Laboratory at the University of Cyprus is working with the Department of Antiquities and Cyprus University of Technology to document and protect the site.

Other Roman shipwrecks have been grabbing attention in recent years. In 2017, for example, archaeologists in Egypt discovered three Roman-era shipwrecks and other stunning ancient artifacts on the Mediterranean seafloor off the coast of Alexandria.

Climate change researchers working in the Black Sea also discovered 60 shipwrecks dating back 2,500 years, which include vessels from the Roman and Byzantine eras.

Mysterious ‘Bathtub Rings’ of Titan Replicated on Earth

A false-color view of Titan taken by the Cassini spacecraft. The orange spots may be solids left behind when a liquid hydrocarbon seas evaporated, similar to what happens in a bathtub when it is drained.

A false-color view of Titan taken by the Cassini spacecraft. The orange spots may be solids left behind when a liquid hydrocarbon seas evaporated, similar to what happens in a bathtub when it is drained.(Image: © NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute)

Something dark is spreading across the surface of Titan, and we may finally have some idea what it is.

Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is the only other object in our solar system (besides Earth) known to have liquid on its surface. Frigid seas of methane and ethane fill depressions on the moon like water fills in lakes and oceans on Earth. In regions near Titan’s equator where those liquids have evaporated, researchers have spotted dark smears. Without a close-up view of those smears, however, it’s difficult to know what they’re made of. But researchers suspect the features function a great deal like rings in a bathtub, where solids that were once dissolved in a liquid are left behind as that liquid evaporates. Now, there’s a new piece of evidence bolstering this theory.

A team of researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) dumped methane, ethane and other carbon-containing molecules into a chamber that was chilled to temperatures similar to those on Titan and that was filled with a similar atmosphere. [In Photos: A Look at Titan’s Bizarre Seas]CLOSEVolume 0% 

When bathtub ring-style formations happen on Earth, they result from solids “dropping out” of a liquid as it evaporates. In this chamber, the first solids to drop out, according to a statement, were benzyne crystals. Benzyne is a common enough molecule on Earth, present in gasoline, but in this supercooled chamber, the substance’s hexagonal molecules wrapped themselves around ethane molecules and formed crystals.

Next to drop out were crystals that included acetylene and butane, two more hydrocarbons. Based on what’s known about Titan’s composition, this acetylene-butane crystal is probably much more common on Titan, the researchers said in their statement.

This experiment demonstrates that under Titan-like conditions, bathtub rings of hydrocarbon crystals can form. That doesn’t mean those crystals are forming similar rings on Titan, however. [Amazing Photos: Titan, Saturn’s Largest Moon]

“We don’t know yet if we have these bathtub rings [on Titan],” Morgan Cable, a researcher at JPL who led this research team, said in the statement. “It’s hard to see through Titan’s hazy atmosphere.”

Cable, who will present the results today (June 24) at the 2019 Astrobiology Science Conference in Bellevue, Washington, said in the statement that to know for certain, scientists will have to get a probe much closer to the lakes.

Triple-threat ‘comet interceptor’ could explore an undiscovered space object

A graphic of the spacecraft's course to intercept the comet as it enters the inner solar system.

A graphic of the spacecraft’s course to intercept the comet as it enters the inner solar system.

A new mission will intercept an undiscovered comet en route to Earth’s orbit, the first of its kind to observe a pristine interstellar object as it enters the inner solar system.

Three spacecraft will capture snapshots of the comet from different angles, creating a 3D profile of the object and characterizing its surface, composition, shape and structure.

The “Comet Interceptor” was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) on June 19 as the latest “fast” or F-class mission — in reference to its quick implementation. The mission’s proposal was submitted to ESA in March, and it is scheduled to launch in 2028.

“Pristine or dynamically new comets are entirely uncharted,” Günther Hasinger, ESA’s director of science, said in a statement. “[They] make compelling targets for close-range spacecraft exploration to better understand the diversity and evolution of comets.”

Previous ESA missions to study comets, such as Giotto and Rosetta, have observed short-period comets that have approached the sun several times in recent history and therefore have undergone significant observable changes, according to the statement. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which the Rosetta spacecraft orbited from 2014 to 2016, swings by the sun every 6.5 years. And in 1986, the Giotto spacecraft flew by Halley’s Comet, which has an orbital period of 76 years.

This mission is unique in that it will observe a comet that has not yet interacted with the solar wind environment — and it will launch before its target has been discovered. By observing a pristine comet as it enters the solar system, it can provide information on the evolution of comets as the undiscovered comet will likely contain material that has not yet been altered since the birth of the solar system, the statement added.

In the past, it was difficult to implement this sort of mission. The time frame between discovering a pristine comet and being able to launch a spacecraft to intercept its journey was typically less than a year — too short to prepare and launch a mission. However, recent advances in observational surveys have allowed the discovery of comets while they are much farther away, according to the mission’s website.

Comet Interceptor will hitch a ride to space on ESA’s Ariel exoplanet-hunting mission, which is expected to launch in 2028. Both missions will go to the sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point, which is located about 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth on the opposite side as the sun. From there, the parked Comet Interceptor will use its own propulsion system to chase down its target after the comet has been selected.

NASA to launch a deep-space atomic clock tonight

NASA is set to launch an incredible new atomic clock into orbit on a Falcon Heavy today (June 24) in a technology demonstration mission that could transform the way humans explore space.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is a space-ready upgrade to the atomic clocks we use here on Earth and to the clocks that already fly on satellites like those that provide GPS.

Ideally, this new atomic clock will make spacecraft navigation to distant objects in space — on the journey to Mars, for example — more autonomous, NASA said in a statement. The precision in measurement of the spacecraft’s position that scientists hope to get with the Deep Space Atomic Clock will allow spacecraft traveling in deep space to act on their own, without much communication with Earth. It’d be a huge improvement to how spacecraft are currently navigated, NASA said.

Related: This Is What 2 Dozen Satellites Look Like Packed for Launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy

But how does it work?

Astronomers already use clocks to navigate in space. They send a signal to the spacecraft, which sends it back to Earth. The time of that round trip tells scientists the spacecraft’s distance from Earth. That’s because the signal is traveling at the speed of light, so armed with the time it took to go to the spacecraft and back, finding distance is but a simple calculation away. By sending multiple signals over time, scientists can calculate a spacecraft’s trajectory — both where it was and where it’s going.

But in order to know a spacecraft’s location within a small margin of error, astronomers need very precise clocks that can measure billionths of a second, according to NASA. They also need clocks that are extremely stable. “Stability” here refers to how consistently a clock measures a unit of time. While you’d think that clocks always measure the same length of time as a “second,” clocks have a tendency to drift and slowly mark longer and longer times as a “second.” For measuring the locations of spacecrafts in distant space, astronomers need their atomic clocks to be consistent to better than a billionth of a second over days and weeks.

Modern clocks, from those we wear on our wrists to those used on satellites , most often keep time using a quartz crystal oscillator. These take advantage of the fact that quartz crystals vibrate at a precise frequency when voltage is applied to them, NASA said in the statement. The vibrations act like the pendulum in a grandfather clock.

But, by the standards of space navigation, quartz crystal clocks aren’t very stable at all. After six weeks, they may be off by a full millisecond, which translates at the speed of light to 185 miles (300 kilometers). That much error would have a huge impact on measuring the position of a fast-moving spacecraft, NASA said.

Atomic clocks combine quartz crystal oscillators with certain types of atoms to create better stability. NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock will use mercury atoms and be off by less than a nanosecond after four days and less than a microsecond after 10 years. It would take 10 million years for the clock to be wrong by a whole second, according to NASA.

Related: A NASA Atomic Clock on SpaceX’s Next Falcon Heavy Will Pioneer Deep-Space Travel Tech

It may not be surprising to learn that atomic clocks take advantage of the structure of atoms, which are composed of a nucleus of protons and neutrons surrounded by electrons. The atoms of each element have a distinct structure, with a different number of protons in the nucleus. While the number of electrons each type of atom has can vary, the electrons occupy distinct energy levels, and a jolt of exactly the right amount of energy can cause an electron to jump to a higher energy level around the nucleus.

The energy required to make an electron do this jump is unique to each element and consistent to all atoms of that element. “The fact that the energy difference between these orbits is such a precise and stable value is really the key ingredient for atomic clocks,” Eric Burt, an atomic clock physicist at JPL, said in the statement. “It’s the reason atomic clocks can reach a performance level beyond mechanical clocks.”

In essence, atomic clocks can correct themselves. In an atomic clock, the frequency of the quartz oscillator is transformed into the frequency that is applied to a collection of atoms from a specific element. If the frequency is correct, it will cause many electrons in the atoms to jump energy levels. But if it’s not, fewer electrons will jump. That tells the clock that the quartz oscillator is off-frequency and how much to correct it. On the Deep Space Atomic Clock, this correction is calculated and applied to the quartz oscillator every few seconds.

But that’s not all that makes the Deep Space Atomic Clock special. This clock doesn’t just use mercury atoms, it also uses charged mercury ions.

Because ions are atoms that have electric charge, they can be contained in an electromagnetic “trap.” This keeps the atoms from interacting with the walls of a vacuum chamber, a common problem with the neutral atoms used in regular atomic clocks. When they interact with the vacuum walls, environmental changes such as temperature can cause changes in the atoms themselves, and lead to frequency errors.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock won’t be subject to such environmental changes, according to NASA, and so will be 50 times more stable than the clocks used on GPS satellites. After the clock launches today, scientists will be able to begin testing the clock’s precision as it spends days, then months in orbit.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock will launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as one of two dozen payloads. The 4-hour launch window opens at 11:30 p.m. EDT (0330 June 25 GMT); visit Space.com tomorrow for complete coverage of the launch.

Voracious black holes could feed alien life on rogue worlds

Supermassive black holes lurk in the hearts of most galaxies. (Credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

Supermassive black holes lurk in the hearts of most galaxies. (Credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

Black holes are engines of destruction on a cosmic scale, but they may also be the bringers of life. New research on supermassive black holes suggests that the radiation they emit during feeding frenzies can create biomolecular building blocks and even power photosynthesis.

The upshot? Far more worlds roaming the Milky Way and beyond could be suitable to life, the researchers speculated.

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For their new study, published May 24 in the Astrophysical Journal, scientists created computer models to look at the radiating disks of gas and dust called active galactic nuclei, or AGN, that swirl around supermassive black holes. Some of the brightest objects in the universe, AGN form as a black hole’s gravity binds matter. As that matter swirls around a black hole, it releases incredible amounts of light and radiation. [9 Ideas About Black Holes That Will Blow Your Mind]

Since the early 1980s, scientists have suspected that this radiation would create a dead zone around an AGN. Some researchers even proposed that such an AGN could explain why we haven’t seen any complex extraterrestrial life towards the center of the Milky Way. Our galaxy has a monstrous black hole at its center, called Sagittarius A*. Previous studies have found that within 3,200 light-years of a Sagittarius A*-sized AGN, X-rays and ultraviolet light could strip the atmospheres from Earth-like planets. (The Milky Way is nearly 53,000 light-years across.)

“People have mostly been talking about the detrimental effects [of black holes],” Manasvi Lingam, lead author on the study and an astronomer at Harvard University, told Live Science. “We wanted to reexamine how detrimental [the radiation] is … and ask ourselves if there were any positives.”

The researchers’ models suggest that worlds with atmospheres that are thicker than Earth’s or those far enough away from an AGN to retain their atmospheres might still stand a chance of hosting life. At certain distances, there exists a galactic Goldilocks zone that gets just the right amount of ultraviolet radiation.

At this level of radiation, the atmosphere wouldn’t be stripped away, but the radiation could break apart molecules, creating compounds that are necessary for building proteins, lipids and DNA — the cornerstones to life, at least as we know it. For a black hole the size of Sagittarius A*, the Goldilocks region would extend approximately 140 light-years from the black hole’s center, where 1 light-year is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers).

The scientists also looked at the effects of the radiation on photosynthesis, the process by which most plants utilize the sun’s energy to create sugars. And AGN emit enormous amounts of that key ingredient — light. This would be particularly important for plants on free-floating planets, which have no nearby host star to provide a light source. Astronomers have estimated there could be around 1 billion such rogue planets drifting in the Goldilocks zone of a Milky Way-like galaxy, according to Manasvi.

Calculating the area over which AGN could power photosynthesis, the scientists found that large portions of galaxies, particularly those with supermassive black holes, could have AGN-powered photosynthesis. For a galaxy similar to our own, this region would extend around 1,100 light-years out from the center of the galaxy. In small, dense galaxies called ultracompact dwarfs, more than half of the galaxy could reside in that photosynthetic zone.

Taking a fresh look at the negative effects of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation in these zones, the scientists in the new study further found that the adverse consequences of an AGN neighbor have been exaggerated in the past. Bacteria on Earth have created biofilms to protect themselves from ultraviolet rays, and life in ultraviolet-heavy areas could have developed similar techniques.

X-rays and gamma-rays, which AGNs also spew in enormous quantities, are also readily absorbed by Earth-like atmospheres and would likely not have a large influence on life, the researchers said.

The scientists estimated that the damaging effects of AGN radiation likely would end at around 100 light-years out from a Sagittarius A*-size black hole.

“Looking at what we know about Earth, it does suggest that maybe the positive effects seem to be extended over a larger region than the negative effects,” Lingam told Live Science. “That was definitely surprising.”

Senators get classified briefing on UFO sightings

Three more U.S. senators received a classified Pentagon briefing on Wednesday about a series of reported encounters by the Navy with unidentified aircraft, according to congressional and military officials — part of a growing number of requests from members of key oversight committees.

One of them was Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose office confirmed the briefing to POLITICO.

“If naval pilots are running into unexplained interference in the air, that’s a safety concern Senator Warner believes we need to get to the bottom of,” his spokesperson, Rachel Cohen, said in a statement.

The interest in “unidentified aerial phenomenon” has grown since revelations in late 2017 that the Pentagon had set up a program to study the issue at the request of then-Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Officials interviewed multiple current and former sailors and aviators who claim to have encountered highly advanced aircraft that appeared to defy the laws of aerodynamics when they intruded on protected military airspace — some of which were captured on video and made public.

The Navy has played a prominent role in light of the testimony of F/A-18 pilots and other personnel operating with the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier battle group off California in 2004 and the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Atlantic in 2015 and 2016.

The growing congressional interest is credited for playing a major role in the service’s recent decision to update the procedures for reporting such unexplained sightings, which POLITICO first reported in April.

“Navy officials did indeed meet with interested congressional members and staffers on Wednesday to provide a classified brief on efforts to understand and identify these threats to the safety and security of our aviators,” spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Day said in a statement.

He said “follow-up discussions with other interested staffers” were also scheduled for Thursday. “Navy officials will continue to keep interested congressional members and staff informed. Given the classified nature of these discussions, we will not comment on the specific information provided in these Hill briefings.”

The briefings come several days after President Donald Trump told ABC News that he, too, had been briefed on the reports. “I did have one very brief meeting on it,” he said. “But people are saying they’re seeing UFOs. Do I believe it? Not particularly.”

But several current and former officials with direct knowledge describe the Capitol Hill briefing as the latest for members of Congress and their staff representing the Intelligence, Armed Services and Defense Appropriations panels.

“There are people coming out of the woodwork,” said one former government official who has participated in some of the meetings.

A current intelligence official added: “More requests for briefings are coming in.”

The sessions have been organized by the Navy but have also included staff from the under secretary of Defense for Intelligence, the sources said. Both were not authorized to talk publicly about the briefings.

Advocates for giving the mystery greater attention say they hope Congress will take more formal steps, such as requiring the Department of Defense to collect and complete a detailed analysis of data collected by satellites and other means of unidentified craft intruding into military airspace or operating under the sea.

NASA’s Cassini reveals New Sculpting in Saturn Rings

As NASA’s Cassini dove close to Saturn in its final year, the spacecraft provided intricate detail on the workings of Saturn’s complex rings, new analysis shows.


A false-color image mosaic shows Daphnis, one of Saturn’s ring-embedded moons, and the waves it kicks up in the Keeler gap. Images collected by Cassini’s close orbits in 2017 are offering new insight into the complex workings of the rings.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

As NASA’s Cassini dove close to Saturn in its final year, the spacecraft provided intricate detail on the workings of Saturn’s complex rings, new analysis shows.

Although the mission ended in 2017, science continues to flow from the data collected. A new paper published June 13 in Science describes results from four Cassini instruments taking their closest-ever observations of the main rings.

Findings include fine details of features sculpted by masses embedded within the rings. Textures and patterns, from clumpy to strawlike, pop out of the images, raising questions about the interactions that shaped them. New maps reveal how colors, chemistry and temperature change across the rings.

Like a planet under construction inside a disk of protoplanetary material, tiny moons embedded in Saturn’s rings (named A through G, in order of their discovery) interact with the particles around them. In that way, the paper provides further evidence that the rings are a window into the astrophysical disk processes that shape our solar system.

The observations also deepen scientists’ understanding of the complex Saturn system. Scientists conclude that at the outer edge of the main rings, a series of similar impact-generated streaks in the F ring have the same length and orientation, showing that they were likely caused by a flock of impactors that all struck the ring at the same time. This shows that the ring is shaped by streams of material that orbit Saturn itself rather than, for instance, by cometary debris (moving around the Sun) that happens to crash into the rings.

“These new details of how the moons are sculpting the rings in various ways provide a window into solar system formation, where you also have disks evolving under the influence of masses embedded within them,” said lead author and Cassini scientist Matt Tiscareno of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

Enduring Mysteries

At the same time, new puzzles have arisen and old mysteries have deepened with the latest research. The close-up ring images brought into focus three distinct textures — clumpy, smooth and streaky — and made it clear that these textures occur in belts with sharp boundaries. But why? In many places the belts aren’t connected to any ring characteristics that scientists have yet identified.

“This tells us the way the rings look is not just a function of how much material there is,” Tiscareno said. “There has to be something different about the characteristics of the particles, perhaps affecting what happens when two ring particles collide and bounce off each other. And we don’t yet know what it is.”

The data analyzed were gathered during the Ring Grazing Orbits (December 2016 to April 2017) and the Grand Finale (April to September 2017), when Cassini flew just above Saturn’s cloud tops. As the spacecraft was running out of fuel, the mission team deliberately plunged it into the planet’s atmosphere in September 2017.

Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) uncovered another mystery. The spectrometer, which imaged the rings in visible and near-infrared light, identified unusually weak water-ice bands in the outermost part of the A ring. That was a surprise, because the area is known to be highly reflective, which usually is a sign of less-contaminated ice and thus stronger water ice bands.

The new spectral map also sheds light on the composition of the rings. And while scientists already knew that water ice is the main component, the spectral map ruled out detectable ammonia ice and methane ice as ingredients. But it also doesn’t see organic compounds — a surprise, given the organic material Cassini has discovered flowing from the D ring into Saturn’s atmosphere.

“If organics were there in large amounts — at least in the main A, B and C rings — we’d see them,” said Phil Nicholson, Cassini VIMS scientist of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “I’m not convinced yet that they are a major component of the main rings.”

The research signals the start of the next era of Cassini science, said NASA’s Ames Research Center’s Jeff Cuzzi, who’s been studying Saturn’s rings since the 1970s and is the interdisciplinary scientist for rings on the Cassini mission.

“We see so much more, and closer up, and we’re getting new and more interesting puzzles,” Cuzzi said. “We are just settling into the next phase, which is building new, detailed models of ring evolution — including the new revelation from Cassini data that the rings are much younger than Saturn.”

The new observations give scientists an even more intimate view of the rings than they had before, and each examination reveals new complexities, said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“It’s like turning the power up one more notch on what we could see in the rings. Everyone just got a clearer view of what’s going on,” Spilker said. “Getting that extra resolution answered many questions, but so many tantalizing ones remain.”

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The radio antenna was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the U.S. and several European countries.

More information about Cassini can be found here: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/cassini


Story Source:

Materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion LaboratoryNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Astronomers spot moon ‘flashing at us’ and no one can explain why

A new study suggests that a ‘large body,’ perhaps an ancient planet or asteroid, crashed into the Moon and gave it its distinctive features.

Humans have been noticing flashes of light coming from the Moon for thousands of years but we still don’t understand why this happens or what causes it.

The strange occurrence is known as a transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) and an astronomer from Germany thinks he’s on the cusp of solving this moon mystery.

Hakan Kayal from the University of Würzburg in Bavaria is working on a project that might reveal what causes the quick shifts of light and darkness on the Moon.

He is using a brand new type of telescope system that is based in Spain and it’s already making progress, despite only being used since April.

Kayal describes the TLP flashes as bursts of light that last for seconds but Popular Science notes that some ‘flashes’ have been observed lighting up the Moon surface for hours at a time.

Some other experts describe the light spikes as sparkly and red or pink.

TLP is often observed a few times a week and can sometimes leave dark spots on the Moon.

Popular explanations for them include meteorite impacts and gas released from moonquakes reflecting light abnormally.Video

The first confirmed sighting of TLP was made by a Russian astronomer in 1958 and the European Space Agency has since made a special telescope, called NELIOTA, which discovered that the flashes happen far more often that people first thought.

This is why explaining the flashing Moon is so hard because it happens so often and there could be multiple reasons for it.

Kayal’s new telescope system, which is still being developed, is fairly low budget and involves two telescopes that constantly observe the Moon with cameras and relay what they see to computers powered by artificially intelligent software.

This AI software is tasked with distinguishing lunar flashes from other bright phenomenon, like meteorites, so the possible causes of TLP can be whittled down.

Astronomers think it is important to understand what causes the phenomenon before humans reach the Moon again as some of the explanations for TLP could be dangerous.

Sun could unleash violent ‘superflare’ in the next century, researchers warn

Earth’s aging sun could produce a massive superflare in the coming century.

Superflares are explosive bursts of energy on stars that are visible across hundreds of light years. If a particularly strong one erupted from our sun, it would wipe out all technology on Earth, lead to widespread blackouts and cause trillions of dollars in economic damage.

Lloyd’s of London, the insurance company, estimates the damage from such an event would last between one and two years and cost in the range of $600 billion and $2.6 trillion, The Sun reported.

“Our study shows that superflares are rare events,” Yuta Notsu, a researcher in Colorado University-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said in a statement. “But there is some possibility that we could experience such an event in the next 100 years or so.”

Artist's impression shows a superflare near a distant star.

Artist’s impression shows a superflare near a distant star. (NASA, ESA and D. Player)

The data used in the study come from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which has searched the sky for distant planets. The space agency saw the activity of stars and noticed starlight that would briefly brighten before getting dim. Those occurrences are known as superflares.

They also utilized the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft and the Apache Point Observatory in Mexico, observing 43 superflares that came from stars similar in age and size to our own sun.

“If a superflare occurred 1,000 years ago, it was probably no big problem. People may have seen a large aurora,” Notsu said in a published statement, referencing phenomena like the Northern Lights. “Now, it’s a much bigger problem because of our electronics.”

Despite not knowing exactly when a superflare could happen, scientists advised people to do more to prepare for the possibility by protecting electronics from space radiation.

The results of the study were published in The Astrophysical Journal.

NASA set to visit mysterious metal dead planet

NASA is preparing for a mission that could see it visit a mysterious, dead planet in deep space.

Set for a target date of Jan. 31, 2026, the government space agency is preparing to send a spacecraft to the asteroid Pysche. Unlike most asteroids, which are largely comprised of rock and ice, researchers believe Pysche is made up of mostly iron and nickel, much like the Earth’s core.

“They [scientists] wonder whether Psyche could be the nickel-iron heart, or exposed core, of an early planet maybe as large as Mars that lost its rocky outer layers through violent collisions billions of years ago,” NASA wrote in a statement on its website. “If so, it would provide a unique look into the solar system’s distant past, when the kind of high-speed protoplanet encounters that created Earth and the other terrestrial planets were common.”

This artist's-concept illustration depicts the spacecraft of NASA's Psyche mission near the mission's target, the metal asteroid Psyche. The artwork was created in May 2017 to show the five-panel solar arrays planned for the spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

This artist’s-concept illustration depicts the spacecraft of NASA’s Psyche mission near the mission’s target, the metal asteroid Psyche. The artwork was created in May 2017 to show the five-panel solar arrays planned for the spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

Part of the asteroid belt, the 125-mile-wide Pysche orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. It’s believed Pysche weighs 49 billion billion pounds, making it 0.03 percent the size of our Moon, according to Live Science. That would make it the 11th largest known asteroid in the solar system.

The largest asteroid in the solar system is Ceres, which is one-quarter the size of the Moon; it’s also considered the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system.

The mission is about to begin its Phase C, where the final design and fabrication are locked in, after an extensive review by NASA Headquarters.

“The Psyche team is not only elated that we have the go-ahead for Phase C, more importantly, we are ready,” said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton in the statement. “With the transition into this new mission phase, we are one big step closer to uncovering the secrets of Psyche, a giant mysterious metallic asteroid, and that means the world to us.”

Despite the excitement surrounding the mission, it still has to go through three more phases, including Phase D, which will start sometime in early 2021.

If all goes well, the craft would launch in August 2022, fly past Mars in 2023 and eventually arrive at the asteroid in 2026.

Astronomers Find a “Massive, Dense Structure” Beneath the Largest Crater on the Moon

“The dense mass—”whatever it is, wherever it came from”—is weighing the basin floor downward by more than half a mile…”

Astronomers have recently found a strange, humongous deep mass structure beneath the largest crater in our solar system; the Moon’s South Pole Aitken basin.Advertisement

There, researchers discover an anomaly with a massive unexpected mass.

And although it’s not aliens, astronomers say that the mysterious mass may very well contain the metallic remnants from the asteroid that slammed into the moon, forming the crater.

“Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground. That’s roughly how much unexpected mass we detected,” said lead author Peter B. James, Ph.D., assistant professor of planetary geophysics in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

Photo taken from Apollo 8 during the 1968 mission on their first approach to the Moon. Credits: NASA.
Photo taken from Apollo 8 during the 1968 mission on their first approach to the Moon.
Credits: NASA.

An oval crater

The crater located on the far side of the moon is an oval-shaped region around 2,000 kilometers wide.Advertisement

Measurements throughout th years have revealed it is several miles deep.

The new, anomalous mass beneath the crater is detailed in the study “Deep Structure of the Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin” — is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

To spot the anomaly, astronomers analyzed data from NASA’s Grail Mission which allowed them to accurately measure the changes in gravity strength around the moon.

“When we combined that with lunar topography data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we discovered the unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin,” James said.

“One of the explanations of this extra mass is that the metal from the asteroid that formed this crater is still embedded in the Moon’s mantle.”

The location of the underground structure circled in the South Pole-Atiken basin. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona.
The location of the underground structure circled in the South Pole-Atiken basin. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona.

Mysterious structure

The researchers revealed that the dense mass of the structure –“whatever it is, wherever it came from” is causing the entire basin floor to weigh in by more than half a mile.

The team of researchers revealed through computer simulations of asteroid collisions into the moon that under the right conditions, iron-nickel cores from asteroids could have been dispersed into the upper mantle of the moon during collisions.

“We did the math and showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon’s mantle until the present day, rather than sinking to the Moon’s core,” James said.Advertisement

But also in addition to coming from asteroid impacts, astronomers say that the origin of the mysterious structure could be related to the concentration of extremely dense oxides, left there by the last phases of lunar magma ocean solidification.

NASA’s Mars helicopter whirls through tests on way to 2020 launch

This image of the flight model of NASA's Mars Helicopter was taken on Feb. 14, 2019, in a cleanroom at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The aluminum base plate, side posts, and crossbeam around the helicopter protect the helicopter's landing legs and the attachment points that will hold it to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech )

This image of the flight model of NASA’s Mars Helicopter was taken on Feb. 14, 2019, in a cleanroom at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The aluminum base plate, side posts, and crossbeam around the helicopter protect the helicopter’s landing legs and the attachment points that will hold it to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech )

NASA’s first Mars helicopter is getting close to final approval for launch after passing several key tests.

The Mars Helicopter flight demonstration project will launch next summer with the Mars 2020 rover and touch down on the Red Planet in February  2021.

While the rover searches for signs of past life on the Red Planet and caches samples for future return to Earth, the helicopter will soar above Mars in a series of demonstration flights. Future missions could see such helicopters scouting ahead for where rovers could go next.

“Nobody’s built a Mars helicopter before, so we are continuously entering new territory,” MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

Back in January, the flight model flew in a simulated Martian environment at JPL’s Space Simulator, a vacuum chamber that has a diameter of 25 feet (roughly 8 meters). Then it was moved to a Lockheed Martin Space facility in Denver.

At its new location, the helicopter was tested for compatibility with the Mars Helicopter Delivery System. This system will carry the helicopter under the Mars 2020 rover’s belly during launch and cruise to Mars. The helicopter will separate from the rover after landing.

In Denver, the connections and mechanisms between the delivery system and helicopter were tested to make sure they fit together. The mated system experienced vibrations similar to what happens during launch and cruise. Also, the helicopter and delivery system were put into a thermal vacuum chamber to see how they performed in cold temperatures (minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 129 degrees Celsius), similar to the conditions they’ll experience in deep space and on the Martian surface.

With these tests complete, the helicopter went back to JPL on May 11 for several more procedures, including spinning up the rotor blades and installing a new solar panel. More testing is ahead, but the end is in sight — at least for work here on Earth

“We expect to complete our final tests and refinements and deliver the helicopter to the High Bay 1 clean room for integration with the rover sometime this summer,” Aung said, “but we will never really be done with testing the helicopter until we fly at Mars.”

Since the helicopter is a demonstrator, it has no science instruments on board; rather, its main purpose is to show that powered flight in the Martian atmosphere is achievable. The Red Planet’s air is just 1% as dense as that of Earth.

Even if the minicoptercan take flight, there are other obstacles to overcome, such as the time lag involved in controlling it from Earth. (It takes between 4 minutes and 24 minutes for signals to travel between Earth and Mars, depending on the positions of the two planets in space.) Imaging will also be tested to see the helicopter’s capabilities for transmitting high-resolution color photos.

“Future Mars missions could enlist second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations,’ NASA officials added in the statement. “They could investigate previously unvisited or difficult-to-reach destinations such as cliffs, caves and deep craters, act as scouts for human crews or carry small payloads from one location to another. But before any of that happens, a test vehicle has to prove it is possible.”

Mysterious light flashes on the Moon have been baffling researchers for decades

Astronomers have been excited by the Moon for eons, a level that has grown considerably as technological advancements gave humanity access to its surface, and helped researchers make observations from afar. And though there have been several notable lunar-related discoveries since man first walked on the Moon in 1969, there is still one phenomenon that has perplexed researchers for decades.

Mysterious, random flashes of light coming from the Moon’s surface.

Known as “transient lunar phenomena,” these mysterious, bizarre flashes of light can occur randomly, sometimes several times a week. Often times, they last for just a few minutes but have also been known to last for hours.

There have been a number of explanations over the years, from meteors to moonquakes to UFOs, but none have ever been proven. A new telescope in Spain, though, may provide the answer.

This image of the moon is taken from the new telescope of JMU. (Credit: Universität Würzburg)

This image of the moon is taken from the new telescope of JMU. (Credit: Universität Würzburg)

The lunar telescope, built by Hakan Kayal’s team at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany, will be pointed at the lunar surface for 24 hours a day and take videos and pictures if both of its cameras register a luminous phenomenon.

“The so-called transient lunar phenomena have been known since the 1950s, but they have not been sufficiently systematically and long-term observed,” said Kayal, a professor of space technology at the university, in a statement.

Observations of the transient lunar phenomena go back even further, to 1787, according to CNET. The news outlet also noted that Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins told NASA in 1969 about the strange occurrence.

“There is an area that is considerably more illuminated than the surrounding area,” Collins told NASA mission control on July 15, 1969, one day prior to the landing on the Moon. “It just has — seems to have a slight amount of fluorescence to it. A crater can be seen, and the area around the crater is quite bright.”

The telescope will be in a private observatory in Spain, which Kayal said was chosen over Germany because it offers “simply better weather conditions for observing the Moon.”

Kayal also said observations from the remote-controlled telescope will be compared with those from the European Space Agency. “If the same thing was seen there, the event can be considered confirmed,” he added.

Professor Hakan Kayal next to the moon telescope. (Credit: Tobias Greiner / Universität Würzburg)

Professor Hakan Kayal next to the moon telescope. (Credit: Tobias Greiner / Universität Würzburg)

The astronomer also said that interest in the bizarre lunar flashes is high due to renewed interest in the Moon, thanks to a new “space race” from private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as advancements from domestic and foreign governments, including China.

“Anyone who wants to build a lunar base at some point must of course be familiar with the local conditions,” Kayal said in the release.

In January, China landed its Chang’e 4 lunar explorer on the far side of the Moon, becoming the first country to ever land on the side facing away from Earth.

More recently, Blue Origin, led by Jeff Bezos, announced plans to send its Blue Moon lander to the celestial satellite. “It’s time to go back to the Moon,” Bezos said in a press conference last month. “This time to stay.”

Football field-sized asteroid could hit Earth this year

According to a list of the most concerning space objects complied by the European Space Agency, an asteroid, known as 2006 QV89, with a diameter wider than a football field has a roughly one in 7,000 chance of hitting the Earth later this year. The ESA has 2006 QV89 ranked fourth on its top ten list. It is likely that the asteroid will pass Earth at a distance of more than 4.2 million miles, according to current modeling.

An enormous asteroid with a diameter wider than a football field has a roughly one in 7,000 chance of hitting the Earth later this year. However, it’s nothing to lose sleep over.

Known as asteroid 2006 QV89, the space rock, which has a diameter of 164 feet, could potentially hit the planet on Sept. 9, 2019, according to a list of the most concerning space objects compiled by the European Space Agency. The ESA has 2006 QV89 ranked fourth on its top ten list.

According to current modeling, it’s likely that 2006 QV89, which is on the risk list but not the priority list, will pass Earth at a distance of more than 4.2 million miles. The ESA does note that the likelihood of its model being off is less than one-hundredth of one percent.

A KILLER ASTEROID IS COMING — WE DON’T KNOW WHEN (SO LET’S BE READY), BILL NYE SAYS

The space rock was discovered on August 29, 2006, by the Catalina Sky Survey.

Although extremely rare, asteroids have hit the planet previously and caused significant damage.

In 1908, there was an enormous explosion near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Yeniseysk Governorate, Russia, that flattened roughly 770 square miles of forest, likely due to a meteorite. It is now known as the Tunguska event.

Over 100 years later, in an occurrence now known as the Chelyabinsk Event, a meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere on February 15, 2013, over Russia and crashed. The damage from the explosion caused the damage to more than 7,200 buildings and resulted in nearly 1,500 injuries, though none of them were fatal.

NASA has recently expanded its planetary defense protocols, including last year’s unveiling of a bold new plan to protect Earth.

Last June, NASA unveiled a 20-page plan that details the steps the U.S. should take to be better prepared for near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of the planet.

ANCIENT ASTEROID STRIKES ON MARS MAY HAVE ‘PRODUCED KEY INGREDIENTS FOR LIFE’

Lindley Johnson, the space agency’s planetary defense officer, said at the time that the country “already has significant scientific, technical and operational capabilities” to help with NEOs, but implementing the new plan would “greatly increase our nation’s readiness and work with international partners to effectively respond should a new potential asteroid impact be detected.”

In addition to enhancing NEO detection, tracking and characterizing capabilities and improving modeling prediction, the plan also aims to develop technologies for deflecting NEOs, increasing international cooperation and establishing new NEO impact emergency procedures and action protocols.

According to a 2018 report put together by Planetary.org, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.

Exomoons may be home to extra-terrestrial life

ew research looks at the possibility of moons outside our solar system causing gaps in the rings of planets.


Artist’s concept of a moon orbiting a ringed planet (stock image).Credit: © marcel / Adobe Stock

Moons orbiting planets outside our solar system could offer another clue about the pool of worlds that may be home to extra-terrestrial life, according to an astrophysicist at the University of Lincoln.

Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system and up to this point nearly 4,000 have been discovered. Only a small proportion of these are likely to be able to sustain life, existing in what is known as the habitable zone. But some planets, especially large gas giants, may harbour moons which contain liquid water.

Dr Sutton said: “These moons can be internally heated by the gravitational pull of the planet they orbit, which can lead to them having liquid water well outside the normal narrow habitable zone for planets that we are currently trying to find Earth-like planets in. I believe that if we can find them, moons offer a more promising avenue to finding extra-terrestrial life.”

This interest has inspired Dr Sutton’s latest research, which looked at the possibility of moons orbiting the exoplanet J1407b, analysing whether they may have caused gaps in the planet’s ring system.

Because of their size and distance from Earth, exomoons are very difficult to detect. Scientists have to locate them by looking for the effect they have on objects around them, such as planetary rings.

Dr Sutton ran computer simulations to model the rings around J1407b, which are 200 times larger than those around Saturn. Gravitational forces between all particles were calculated and used to update the positions, velocities and accelerations in the computer models of the planet and its ring system. He then added a moon that orbited at various ratios outside of the rings to test whether this caused gaps to form where expected over 100 orbital periods.

Findings revealed that while the orbiting moon did have an effect on the scattering of particles along the ring edge, the expected gaps in the ring structure were unlikely to be caused by the gravitational forces of a currently unseen moon orbiting outside the rings.

UFOs are real, But don’t assume they’re alien spaceships

In 2014 and 2015, pilots with the U.S. Navy reported multiple UFO sightings during training maneuvers.

In 2014 and 2015, pilots with the U.S. Navy reported multiple UFO sightings during training maneuvers. (Copyright History 2019)

UFOs are very real, as we have recently seen — but that doesn’t mean E.T. has been violating our airspace.

“UFO” refers to any flying object an observer cannot readily identify. And pilots with the U.S. Navy saw fast-moving UFOs repeatedly off the East Coast throughout 2014 and 2015, in one case apparently nearly colliding with one of the mysterious objects, The New York Times reported earlier this week.

Those incidents were reported to the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), whose existence the Times and Politico revealed in December 2017. (Interestingly, those 2017 stories cited Pentagon officials as saying that AATIP had been shut down in 2012.)

Former AATIP head Luis Elizondo, by the way, is involved with a new six-part series called ” Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation,” which premieres tonight (May 31) on The History Channel.

The Navy pilots said some UFOs reached hypersonic speeds without any detectable exhaust plumes, suggesting the possible involvement of super-advanced propulsion technology. Still, Defense Department officials aren’t invoking intelligent aliens as an explanation, according to this week’s Times story — and they’re right to be measured in this respect, scientists say.

There are multiple possible prosaic explanations for the Navy pilots’ observations, said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI ( Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence ) Institute in Mountain View, California.

He pointed out, for example, that the sightings occurred off the coast, as did a similar 2004 observation unveiled in conjunction with the December 2017 stories. (That previous sighting occurred near San Diego).

Coastal regions are where you might expect to find a rival nation’s advanced reconnaissance craft, Shostak said, because incursions over the continental United States would be more obvious and easily detected.

He also noted that, according to the recent Times story, the Navy pilots began spotting the UFOs after their jets’ radar system was upgraded. That detail suggests the sightings might stem from some sort of software bug or instrument issue, he said.

“As anybody who uses Microsoft products knows, whenever you upgrade any technical product, there are always problems,” Shostak said.

Such reasoning is bolstered by the current tendency of UFOs to manifest as blobs or blurs on the displays of advanced instruments rather than as crisply defined objects in cellphone photos.

“The sightings always recede to the edge of what technology allows you to do,” Shostak said. “The aliens are kind of keeping pace with technology.”

Common sense also argues against jumping to the E.T. conclusion. If these UFOs are indeed alien spacecraft, what exactly are they doing? Why were they sent here, across the vast gulfs of space and time?

“If the aliens are here, you gotta say they’re the best houseguests ever, because they never do anything,” Shostak said. “They just buzz around. They don’t address climate change; they don’t steal our molybdenum.”

Related: UFO Watch: 8 Times the Government Looked for Flying Saucers

But such skepticism should not be taken as a dismissal of the E.T. possibility, Shostak stressed.

“It’s not trivial to say what these things are,” he said. And Shostak applauded a newly enacted classified Navy policy, as reported by the Times, instructing pilots on how to report UFOs (which the military, and many other people, now call “unexplained aerial phenomena,” likely in an attempt to dodge the tinfoil-hat stigma associated with the term “UFO.”)

“That’s a good policy,” he said. “Let them do it.”

After all, we’ve learned over the past decade or so that our Milky Way galaxy is home to huge numbers of potentially habitable worlds. Observations by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, for example, suggest that at least 20% percent of the galaxy’s 200 billion or so stars likely harbor a rocky planet in the “habitable zone,” that just-right range of distances where liquid surface water could exist.

So, while the odds may be long that any UFO witnessed to date was an extraterrestrial craft, it’s far from crazy to suspect that intelligent aliens are out there somewhere (or at least were out there somewhere, at some point during the Milky Way’s 13-billion-year history). That’s why people like Shostak keep listening for signals from the sky.

‘Double asteroid’ zooming by Earth at 43,000 mph captured in amazing photo

A unique “double asteroid” was photographed by a powerful telescope as it whizzed by Earth last month at over 43,000 mph.

The asteroid, classified as 1999 KW4, is made up of two components — a larger body orbited by a smaller one separated by about 1.6 miles. It got as close as 3.2 million miles to Earth on May 25 — about 14 times the distance from Earth to the Moon, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said in a news release Monday.

The double asteroid, which has an orbit well known to scientists, is not an impact threat to Earth, ESO officials said. Scientists with the ESO and the International Asteroid Warning Network worked together to predict the flyby and make appropriate preparations for observing the object.

The left-hand image shows SPHERE observations of Asteroid 1999 KW4. The angular resolution in this image is equivalent to picking out a single building in New York — from Paris. An artist's impression of the asteroid pair is shown on the right. (ESO)

The left-hand image shows SPHERE observations of Asteroid 1999 KW4. The angular resolution in this image is equivalent to picking out a single building in New York — from Paris. An artist’s impression of the asteroid pair is shown on the right. (ESO)

The organization said it used its Very Large Telescope (VLT) to spot the passing asteroid. The VLT was able to capture images sharp enough to distinguish the two parts of the asteroid thanks to its Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE) instrument. SPHERE’s main purpose is to observe exoplanets — planets located outside our Solar System.

ESO astronomer Olivier Hainaut said data obtained will help in evaluating effective strategies to deflect potential asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

“In the worst possible case, this knowledge is also essential to predict how an asteroid could interact with the atmosphere and Earth’s surface, allowing us to mitigate damage in the event of a collision,” he said.

The ESO noted that 1999 KW4 is similar to a binary asteroid called Didymos and its smaller orbiting companion, Didymoon, which could become a threat to Earth in the distant future.

Former US defense official: We know UFOs are real – here’s why that’s concerning

‘Unidentified’ gives military personnel on the frontlines a voice about what they are encountering in the skies.

After a bombshell report detailing near-daily interactions with unidentified flying objectsby Navy pilots in 2014 and 2015, Christopher Mellon has argued that this information is nothing new, and the government needs to do something about it.

Mellon, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, is involved with a new History Channel series, ‘Unidentified,’ which will expand on topics discussed in a recent New York Times article. In numerous interviews, Navy pilots revealed that they saw UFOs moving at hypersonic speeds, performing acts “beyond the physical limits of a human crew,” and emitting “no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes.”

In a Wednesday morning interview with “Fox & Friends,” Mellon, who has written extensively on the topic before, outlined the reasons the Navy is concerned about these sightings.Video

“We know that UFOs exist. This is no longer an issue,” he said. “The issue is why are they here? Where are they coming from and what is the technology behind these devices that we are observing?”

There are indications, Mellon said, that the objects reported by Navy pilots in 2014 and 2015 were doing things that aren’t possible in this physical realm.

The speeds being reported (about 5,000 miles per hour, according to Mellon) were only sustainable for about an hour by an aircraft in the air, and these objects would be flying around all day long, the pilots said.

“Pilots observing these craft are absolutely mystified and that comes through clearly in their public statements,” Mellon continued.

Fascination turned to fear one day, however, when a Super Hornet pilot said he almost collided with one of the objects — which he described as a sphere encasing a cube. An official report was filed, and the incident shattered the previous theory by Navy pilots that the objects were a part of some sort of extremely classified drone operation.

“These are reactions between intelligently controlled vehicles operating in and around U.S. military facilities, hence the concern,” Mellon explained.

“One: there have been near mid-air collisions so there is a safety issue. Two, there is a vital national security issue which is that our sovereignty is being violated by vehicles of unknown origin,” he continued.

Although all of this information is old news to Mellon, it’s taken America by storm, and he says we’re hardly the only country to have interactions with these objects. Having written extensively about UFO sightings before, Mellon said he’s frustrated with the lack of action being taken by the government, as are the Navy pilots who experienced the sightings.

He decided that the only way to make progress was to release this information to the public in the form of his new show, and television interviews.

“We are giving military personnel on the front line a voice,” he said. “We are helping them get out the message of what it is they are encountering and why they are so concerned about it.”

Incredible images show lightning bolt hitting Russian rocket during launch

Talk about a charge.

Incredible images show a Russian Soyuz rocket being hit with a bolt of lightning 10 seconds into its flight.

The lightning bolt hit the rocket on its nose fairing, as well as its third-stage booster segment, according to the Daily Mail, which cited the spacecraft’s on-board instruments.

Despite the frightening occurrence, the Russian Ministry of Defense said the spacecraft was functioning normally and was continuing its trek to low-Earth orbit, where it successfully delivered a navigation satellite.

Soyuz rocket hit by lightning. (Credit: East2West)

Soyuz rocket hit by lightning. (Credit: East2West)

“A stable telemetric connection is established and maintained with the spacecraft,” the government agency wrote in a post. “The on-board systems of the Glonass-M spacecraft are functioning normally.”

Dmitry Rogozin, the Director General of Roscosmos, posted a video of the strike to Twitter and said not even “[l]ightning is not an obstacle for you,” according to a translated version of the tweet.

Поздравляем командование Космических войск, боевой расчёт космодрома Плесецк, коллективы РКЦ “Прогресс” (Самара), НПО имени С.А.Лавочкина (Химки) и ИСС имени академика М.Ф.Решетнёва (Железногорск) с успешным запуском КА ГЛОНАСС!
Молния вам не помеха3,1266:24 AM – May 27, 20191,492 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

Although the image of the Roscosmos Soyuz 2-1b rocket, which took off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on May 27, being hit may be startling to some, it’s not an uncommon occurrence.

LiveScience reports that airplanes routinely get hit by lightning and the Apollo 12 mission that carried the Saturn V rocket was also hit by a lightning bolt in November 1969.

According to a 1970 NASA investigation, the Apollo 12 vehicle was hit twice by lightning during its launch, once at 36.5 seconds and the other at 52 seconds.

“As a result, many temporary effects were noted in both the launch vehicle and spacecraft,” the report said. “Some permanent effects were noted in the spacecraft and involved the loss of nine non-essential instrumentation sensors. All noted effects were associated with solid-state circuits, which are the most susceptible to the effects of a discharge.”

The report added that lightning “can be triggered by the presence of the long electrical length created by the space vehicle and its exhaust plume in an electric field which would not otherwise have produced natural lightning.”

A few instruments were knocked offline, including fuel cells, displays and telemetry, however, some innovative thinking from flight controller John Aaron and astronaut Alan Bean saved the mission, according to Science Alert.

Today, NASA has stringent weather guidelines for launches. If there is a chance of lightning within 5 miles of the launch pad, NASA will postpone a launch, the space agency said on its website.

All space agencies around the world also have lightning protection built into spacecraft, as well as their launch pads.

‘Wow, What Is That?’ Navy Pilots Report Unexplained Flying Objects

“These things would be out there all day,” Lt. Ryan Graves said. “Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.”CreditTony Luong for The New York Times

“These things would be out there all day,” Lt. Ryan Graves said. “Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.”CreditCreditTony Luong for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The strange objects, one of them like a spinning top moving against the wind, appeared almost daily from the summer of 2014 to March 2015, high in the skies over the East Coast. Navy pilots reported to their superiors that the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds.

“These things would be out there all day,” said Lt. Ryan Graves, an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot who has been with the Navy for 10 years, and who reported his sightings to the Pentagon and Congress. “Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.”

In late 2014, a Super Hornet pilot had a near collision with one of the objects, and an official mishap report was filed. Some of the incidents were videotaped, including one taken by a plane’s camera in early 2015 that shows an object zooming over the ocean waves as pilots question what they are watching.

“Wow, what is that, man?” one exclaims. “Look at it fly!”

No one in the Defense Department is saying that the objects were extraterrestrial, and experts emphasize that earthly explanations can generally be found for such incidents. Lieutenant Graves and four other Navy pilots, who said in interviews with The New York Times that they saw the objects in 2014 and 2015 in training maneuvers from Virginia to Florida off the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, make no assertions of their provenance.

But the objects have gotten the attention of the Navy, which earlier this year sent out new classified guidance for how to report what the military calls unexplained aerial phenomena, or unidentified flying objects.Video1:08‘Look at That Thing’: Footage Shows Pilots Spotting Unknown ObjectVideos filmed by Navy pilots show two encounters with flying objects. One was captured by a plane’s camera off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., on Jan. 20, 2015. That footage, published previously but with little context, shows an object tilting like a spinning top moving against the wind. A pilot refers to a fleet of objects, but no imagery of a fleet was released. The second video was taken a few weeks later.CreditCreditU.S. Department of Defense

Joseph Gradisher, a Navy spokesman, said the new guidance was an update of instructions that went out to the fleet in 2015, after the Roosevelt incidents.

“There were a number of different reports,” he said. Some cases could have been commercial drones, he said, but in other cases “we don’t know who’s doing this, we don’t have enough data to track this. So the intent of the message to the fleet is to provide updated guidance on reporting procedures for suspected intrusions into our airspace.”

The sightings were reported to the Pentagon’s shadowy, little-known Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which analyzed the radar data, video footage and accounts provided by senior officers from the Roosevelt. Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence official who ran the program until he resigned in 2017, called the sightings “a striking series of incidents.”Navy pilots from the VFA-11 “Red Rippers” squadron aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in 2015. The squadron began noticing strange objects just after the Navy upgraded the radar systems on its F/A-18 fighter planes.CreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times

Navy pilots from the VFA-11 “Red Rippers” squadron aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in 2015. The squadron began noticing strange objects just after the Navy upgraded the radar systems on its F/A-18 fighter planes.CreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times

The program, which began in 2007 and was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time, was officially shut down in 2012 when the money dried up, according to the Pentagon. But the Navy recently said it currently investigates military reports of U.F.O.s, and Mr. Elizondo and other participants say the program — parts of it remain classified — has continued in other forms. The program has also studied video that shows a whitish oval object described as a giant Tic Tac, about the size of a commercial plane, encountered by two Navy fighter jets off the coast of San Diego in 2004.

Leon Golub, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the possibility of an extraterrestrial cause “is so unlikely that it competes with many other low-probability but more mundane explanations.” He added that “there are so many other possibilities — bugs in the code for the imaging and display systems, atmospheric effects and reflections, neurological overload from multiple inputs during high-speed flight.”

Lieutenant Graves still cannot explain what he saw. In the summer of 2014, he and Lt. Danny Accoin, another Super Hornet pilot, were part of a squadron, the VFA-11 “Red Rippers” out of Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., that was training for a deployment to the Persian Gulf.

Lieutenants Graves and Accoin spoke on the record to The Times about the objects. Three other pilots in the squadron also spoke to The Times about the objects but declined to be named.

Lieutenants Graves and Accoin, along with former American intelligence officials, appear in a six-part History Channel series, “Unidentified: Inside America’s U.F.O. Investigation,” to air beginning Friday. The Times conducted separate interviews with key participants.

The pilots began noticing the objects after their 1980s-era radar was upgraded to a more advanced system. As one fighter jet after another got the new radar, pilots began picking up the objects, but ignoring what they thought were false radar tracks.

“People have seen strange stuff in military aircraft for decades,” Lieutenant Graves said. “We’re doing this very complex mission, to go from 30,000 feet, diving down. It would be a pretty big deal to have something up there.”

But he said the objects persisted, showing up at 30,000 feet, 20,000 feet, even sea level. They could accelerate, slow down and then hit hypersonic speeds.

Lieutenant Accoin said he interacted twice with the objects. The first time, after picking up the object on his radar, he set his plane to merge with it, flying 1,000 feet below it. He said he should have been able to see it with his helmet camera, but could not, even though his radar told him it was there.

A few days later, Lieutenant Accoin said a training missile on his jet locked on the object and his infrared camera picked it up as well. “I knew I had it, I knew it was not a false hit,” he said. But still, “I could not pick it up visually.”

At this point the pilots said they speculated that the objects were part of some classified and extremely advanced drone program.

A spotlight on the people reshaping our politics. A conversation with voters across the country. And a guiding hand through the endless news cycle, telling you what you really need to know.SIGN UPLieutenant Graves with Navy flight log books.

But then pilots began seeing the objects. In late 2014, Lieutenant Graves said he was back at base in Virginia Beach when he encountered a squadron mate just back from a mission “with a look of shock on his face.”

He said he was stunned to hear the pilot’s words. “I almost hit one of those things,” the pilot told Lieutenant Graves.

The pilot and his wingman were flying in tandem about 100 feet apart over the Atlantic east of Virginia Beach when something flew between them, right past the cockpit. It looked to the pilot, Lieutenant Graves said, like a sphere encasing a cube.

The incident so spooked the squadron that an aviation flight safety report was filed, Lieutenant Graves said.

The near miss, he and other pilots interviewed said, angered the squadron, and convinced them that the objects were not part of a classified drone program. Government officials would know fighter pilots were training in the area, they reasoned, and would not send drones to get in the way.

“It turned from a potentially classified drone program to a safety issue,” Lieutenant Graves said. “It was going to be a matter of time before someone had a midair” collision.

What was strange, the pilots said, was that the video showed objects accelerating to hypersonic speed, making sudden stops and instantaneous turns — something beyond the physical limits of a human crew.

“Speed doesn’t kill you,” Lieutenant Graves said. “Stopping does. Or acceleration.”

Asked what they thought the objects were, the pilots refused to speculate.

“We have helicopters that can hover,” Lieutenant Graves said. “We have aircraft that can fly at 30,000 feet and right at the surface.” But “combine all that in one vehicle of some type with no jet engine, no exhaust plume.”

Lieutenant Accoin said only that “we’re here to do a job, with excellence, not make up myths.”

In March 2015 the Roosevelt left the coast of Florida and headed to the Persian Gulf as part of the American-led mission fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The same pilots who were interacting with the strange objects off the East Coast were soon doing bombing missions over Iraq and Syria.

The incidents tapered off after they left the United States, the pilots said.

Why Are Two Stars in Our Galaxy Suddenly Acting Very Strange?

This illustration shows what a binary star system with a red giant feeding material into a white dwarf might look like.

This illustration shows what a binary star system with a red giant feeding material into a white dwarf might look like.(Image: © European Southern Observatory)

There’s a binary star system out there in the Milky Way, and it’s acting very weird.

“AG Draconis,” as astronomers call it, is made up of two stars: a relatively cool giant and a relatively hot white dwarf — the stellar corpse of a low- to medium-size star. They’re 16,000 light-years away from Earth. (A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, meaning everything we see happening on these stars happened 16,000 years ago). And that distance makes them difficult to observe in detail. But we do know some things about them.

The two stars are probably interacting, with material flowing off the surface of the big, cool star and onto the surface of the small, hot star. And every once in a while, about once every nine to 15 years dating back to the 1890s, they become active — going through a period of several years where, once a year, they get much brighter in certain wavelengths that Earth’s telescopes can detect. They’re in an active period now, with flashes (or “outbursts” of energy) detected in April 2016, May 2017 and April 2018. (The 2016 outburst was a bit weird itself, having two peaks two weeks apart.) Researchers expect another outburst in April or May of this year, though it’s too soon for any reports to have been published.

But there’s something weird about this period of activity, as researchers reported in a paper uploaded May 10 to the preprint server arXiv, which has not yet been through peer review. [15 Amazing Images of Stars]RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…CLOSEVolume 0%This video will resume in 7 seconds 

In the past, AG Draconis’ active periods almost always followed a simple pattern: The first couple of outbursts are “cool,” with the temperature of the white dwarf appearing to drop during each of its outbursts. Then, sometimes, the next set of outbursts are “hot,” with the star’s temperature rising. Cool outbursts tend to be much brighter than hot ones.

Researchers suspect that a cool outburst happens when the white dwarf starts to expand, its outermost, atmosphere-like region growing and cooling at the same time. That doesn’t happen during hot outbursts, which are less well-understood.

But this current cycle is weird. Occurring just seven years after a minor outburst in 2008, it’s been made up entirely of “hot” outbursts.

“Such behavior is considerably peculiar in [the] almost 130-year history of [the] observing of this object,” the researchers wrote, offering no explanation for why it might be happening.

Why does any of this “outbursting” happen at all? No one knows for sure.

The researchers pointed to a paper from 2006 posted to arXiv that offers one popular explanation, derived from a different star system. As the white dwarf’s gravity captures material from its giant twin, an “accretion disk” forms — made up of material circling the dwarf and waiting to fall onto its surface. But the disk is unstable, with the giant sometimes feeding more material into it and sometimes less.

Every once in a while, too much material falls onto the dwarf’s surface and there’s a spike in thermonuclear burning on the outside of the star, where there should be fairly little. That hellish blaze spits material out into the system, forming a brief, hot shell around the white dwarf. From Earth, this all looks like a slight tweak in the light across a few wavelengths.

“The future evolution of AG Dra[conis] is an open question,” the researchers wrote. In 2019, they asked, “can we expect (finally) a major, cool or (again) minor, hot outburst?”

It’s also possible, the researchers suggested, that this period of minor outbursts will simply end. That happened once before, during the relatively minor activity period of 1963 to 1966.

Long term, they said, this illustrates the importance of keeping a careful eye on stars like these, so that astronomers may one day crack the code of their behavior. It also demonstrates the difficulty of parsing events in solar systems light-years away.

Real Heroes! Mario Lopez Hosts Wounded Warrior Project Courage Awards

Real Heroes! Mario Lopez Hosts Wounded Warrior Project Courage Awards

“Extra’s” Mario Lopez helped pay tribute to America’s true heroes as host of the 2019 Wounded Warrior Project Courage Awards.

One of the honorees, Michael Carrasquillo, shared his story with “Extra.”

Michael, who received the Courage Award, revealed he was a high-school kid living in New York City when 911 happened. Afterward, he wanted to defend and protect his country, so he joined the Army.

Carrasquillo revealed, “I was an Airborne infantryman. Straight out of basic training and airborne training, I was deployed to Iraq… did a year there, back to my unit, then a year in Afghanistan.”

He continued, “In Afghanistan I was wounded, shot five times and barely survived… spent about two years in the hospital recovering from my injuries…over 44 surgeries, died twice, and very lucky to survive… Now, I’m a wounded warrior.”

To donate visit – https://www.facebook.com/donate/621534348325469/

Watch the video above for more of the patriotic and passionate night in NYC.

NASA Has Just Revealed Images Of An Enormous Asteroid That Could Destroy The Earth

NASA Has Just Revealed Images Of An Enormous Asteroid That Could Destroy The Earth An asteroid with the destructive power of thousands of nuclear warheads could collide with Earth – so NASA is hunting it down. Deep in outer space, a diamond-shaped asteroid is hurtling towards Earth. If the two bodies collide, the space rock – known as Bennu – is big enough to extinguish life on our planet.

A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid’s surface. Bennu also revealed itself to be more rugged than expected, challenging the mission team to alter its flight and sample collection plans, due to the rough terrain. 

Bennu is the target of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, which began orbiting the asteroid on Dec. 31. Bennu, which is only slightly wider than the height of the Empire State Building, may contain unaltered material from the very beginning of our solar system.

“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started.”

Shortly after the discovery of the particle plumes on Jan. 6, the mission science team increased the frequency of observations, and subsequently detected additional particle plumes during the following two months. Although many of the particles were ejected clear of Bennu, the team tracked some particles that orbited Bennu as satellites before returning to the asteroid’s surface.

The OSIRIS-REx team initially spotted the particle plumes in images while the spacecraft was orbiting Bennu at a distance of about one mile (1.61 kilometers). Following a safety assessment, the mission team concluded the particles did not pose a risk to the spacecraft. The team continues to analyze the particle plumes and their possible causes.

“The first three months of OSIRIS-REx’s up-close investigation of Bennu have reminded us what discovery is all about — surprises, quick thinking, and flexibility,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We study asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the solar system. OSIRIS-REx’s sample will help us answer some of the biggest questions about where we come from.”

OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 to explore Bennu, which is the smallest body ever orbited by spacecraft. Studying Bennu will allow researchers to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the sources of water and organic molecules on Earth, the resources in near-Earth space, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

The OSIRIS-REx team also didn’t anticipate the number and size of boulders on Bennu’s surface. From Earth-based observations, the team expected a generally smooth surface with a few large boulders. Instead, it discovered Bennu’s entire surface is rough and dense with boulders. 

The higher-than-expected density of boulders means that the mission’s plans for sample collection, also known as Touch-and-Go (TAG), need to be adjusted. The original mission design was based on a sample site that is hazard-free, with an 82-foot (25-meter) radius. However, because of the unexpectedly rugged terrain, the team hasn’t been able to identify a site of that size on Bennu. Instead, it has begun to identify candidate sites that are much smaller in radius.

The smaller sample site footprint and the greater number of boulders will demand more accurate performance from the spacecraft during its descent to the surface than originally planned. The mission team is developing an updated approach, called Bullseye TAG, to accurately target smaller sample sites.

“Throughout OSIRIS-REx’s operations near Bennu, our spacecraft and operations team have demonstrated that we can achieve system performance that beats design requirements,” said Rich Burns, the project manager of OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Bennu has issued us a challenge to deal with its rugged terrain, and we are confident that OSIRIS-REx is up to the task.” 

The original, low-boulder estimate was derived both from Earth-based observations of Bennu’s thermal inertia — or its ability to conduct and store heat — and from radar measurements of its surface roughness. Now that OSIRIS-REx has revealed Bennu’s surface up close, those expectations of a smoother surface have been proven wrong. This suggests the computer models used to interpret previous data do not adequately predict the nature of small, rocky, asteroid surfaces. The team is revising these models with the data from Bennu. 

This image shows a view across asteroid Bennu’s southern hemisphere and into space, and it demonstrates the number and distribution of boulders across Bennu’s surface. The image was obtained on Mar. 7 by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of about 3 miles (5 km). The large, light-colored boulder just below the center of the image is about 24 feet (7.4 meters) wide, which is roughly half the width of a basketball court.

The OSIRIS-REx science team has made many other discoveries about Bennu in the three months since the spacecraft arrived at the asteroid, some of which were presented Tuesday at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Conference in Houston and in a special collection of papers issued by the journal Nature. 

The team has directly observed a change in the spin rate of Bennu as a result of what is known as the Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect. The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed. As a result, Bennu’s rotation period is decreasing by about one second every 100 years. Separately, two of the spacecraft’s instruments, the MapCam color imager and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), have made detections of magnetite on Bennu’s surface, which bolsters earlier findings indicating the interaction of rock with liquid water on Bennu’s parent body. 

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Secret NASA plans for Moon base and 37 rocket launches revealed

The near side of the moon, as seen by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The United States aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, Vice President Mike Pence announced on March 25, 2019.

The near side of the moon, as seen by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The United States aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, Vice President Mike Pence announced on March 25, 2019.

NASA’s official plans to build a permanent base on the Moon have leaked online, revealing how and when astronauts will return to the rocky world for the first time in 50 years.

Internal documents show how Nasa wants to launch 37 rockets to the Moon within the next decade, with at least five of these carrying astronauts.

Starting with an unmanned rover in 2023, the space agency is expected to land people on the Moon in 2024.

NASA will then fire manned missions to Earth’s neighbor every year between 2024 and 2028, according to the documents, which were obtained by Arstechnica.

Speaking to The Sun, a NASA spokeswoman confirmed the documents are real and revealed the plans were briefed today during a public session of the Science Committee to the Nasa Advisory Council (NAC).

They show a decade-long program that culminates with a permanent lunar base, which NASA will begin building in 2028.

They are in part a response to recent calls from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to take astronauts back to the Moon.

“In the nearly two months since Pence directed Nasa to return to the Moon by 2024, space agency engineers have been working to put together a plan that leverages existing technology, large projects nearing completion, and commercial rockets to bring this about,” Arstechnica’s Eric Berger wrote.

“Last week, an updated plan that demonstrated a human landing in 2024, annual sorties to the lunar surface thereafter, and the beginning of a Moon base by 2028, began circulating within the agency.”

Berger did not say how he obtained the plans, which have not yet been made public.

They do appear to line up with previous statements from NASA about its lunar program, codenamed Artemis.

As with any space exploration project, the main obstacle is cash.

NASA reckons it will need $4.7 billion to $8.2 billion per year on top of NASA’s existing budget of about $20 billion.

Boss Jim Bridenstine recently asked for an extra $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2020 to start developing a lunar lander.

The plan also relies heavily on contractors delivering ambitious hardware on time, which has hindered Nasa in the past.

Boeing has been developing the core stage of the agency’s next-gen rocket, the Space Launch System, for eight years – but has yet to come up with the goods.

Boeing’s handling of the multi-billion-pound contract, which is now twice over budget, has been blasted by NASA’s Inspector General.

NASA was not immediately available for comment.

NASA finds water, ‘organic molecules’ on mysterious Ultima Thule

Since first encountering the mysterious Ultima Thule earlier this yearNASA has made several discoveries about the ancient space object.

Now, researchers from the government space agency have made a startling discovery about “the farthest world ever explored” – there are both water and “organic molecules” on its surface.

In the research, which is published in the scientific journal Science, NASA describes the mixture of methanol, water ice and organic molecules found on the surface of the Kuiper Belt object as “very different from most icy objects explored previously by spacecraft.”

“We’re looking into the well-preserved remnants of the ancient past,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in a statement. “There is no doubt that the discoveries made about Ultima Thule are going to advance theories of solar system formation.”

Also known as 2014 MU69, Ultima Thule is 4 billion miles from Earth and has captured scientists’ curiosity since they discovered it had a snowman-like appearance. It has two distinct, flat segments and is thought to be an “ancient relic,” likely forming “billions of years ago.”

The distant object Ultima Thule, as seen by NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft on Jan. 1, 2019. Mysterious mound-like features on the body's larger lobe are clearly visible in this view.

The distant object Ultima Thule, as seen by NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft on Jan. 1, 2019. Mysterious mound-like features on the body’s larger lobe are clearly visible in this view. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory)

The research also sheds new light on Ultima Thule’s geology and composition. The 22-mile-long object probably formed after the two lobes orbited each other. However, it’s still unknown what caused them to merge into the object seen today.

Scientists have also found new features on Ultima Thule, including several bright spots, patches and craters, including a 5-mile-wide depression that likely formed from some kind of impact.

Earlier this year, the researchers discovered that Ultima Thule has a reddish color and is considered to be the “reddest outer solar system object ever visited by spacecraft.” Researchers believe the organic molecules on the surface have contributed to its vibrant color.

Traveling at roughly 33,000 miles per hour, the $720 million New Horizons spacecraft will continue sending data transmission from its Ultima Thule flyby until the latter part of summer 2020. Ultima Thule is deep within the so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone, well beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Additionally, New Horizons will also collect observations of other Kuiper Belt objects it passes.

Support Wounded Warrior Project this Memorial Day

Want to join us in supporting a good cause? We are raising money for Wounded Warrior Project and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Every little bit helps. Thank you for your support. I’ve included information about Wounded Warrior Project below. 

Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. 

WWP serves to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women; help severely injured service members aid and assist each other; and provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs.

https://www.facebook.com/donate/621534348325469/10156284915160737/

New AI sees like a human, filling in the blanks

Computer scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have taught an artificial intelligence agent how to do something that usually only humans can do — take a few quick glimpses around and infer its whole environment, a skill necessary for the development of effective search-and-rescue robots that one day can improve the effectiveness of dangerous missions. The team, led by professor Kristen Grauman, Ph.D. candidate Santhosh Ramakrishnan and former Ph.D. candidate Dinesh Jayaraman (now at the University of California, Berkeley) published their results today in the journal Science Robotics.

Most AI agents — computer systems that could endow robots or other machines with intelligence — are trained for very specific tasks — such as to recognize an object or estimate its volume — in an environment they have experienced before, like a factory. But the agent developed by Grauman and Ramakrishnan is general purpose, gathering visual information that can then be used for a wide range of tasks.

“We want an agent that’s generally equipped to enter environments and be ready for new perception tasks as they arise,” Grauman said. “It behaves in a way that’s versatile and able to succeed at different tasks because it has learned useful patterns about the visual world.”

The scientists used deep learning, a type of machine learning inspired by the brain’s neural networks, to train their agent on thousands of 360-degree images of different environments.

Now, when presented with a scene it has never seen before, the agent uses its experience to choose a few glimpses — like a tourist standing in the middle of a cathedral taking a few snapshots in different directions — that together add up to less than 20 percent of the full scene. What makes this system so effective is that it’s not just taking pictures in random directions but, after each glimpse, choosing the next shot that it predicts will add the most new information about the whole scene. This is much like if you were in a grocery store you had never visited before, and you saw apples, you would expect to find oranges nearby, but to locate the milk, you might glance the other way. Based on glimpses, the agent infers what it would have seen if it had looked in all the other directions, reconstructing a full 360-degree image of its surroundings.

“Just as you bring in prior information about the regularities that exist in previously experienced environments — like all the grocery stores you have ever been to — this agent searches in a nonexhaustive way,” Grauman said. “It learns to make intelligent guesses about where to gather visual information to succeed in perception tasks.”

One of the main challenges the scientists set for themselves was to design an agent that can work under tight time constraints. This would be critical in a search-and-rescue application. For example, in a burning building a robot would be called upon to quickly locate people, flames and hazardous materials and relay that information to firefighters.

For now, the new agent operates like a person standing in one spot, with the ability to point a camera in any direction but not able to move to a new position. Or, equivalently, the agent could gaze upon an object it is holding and decide how to turn the object to inspect another side of it. Next, the researchers are developing the system further to work in a fully mobile robot.

Using the supercomputers at UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center and Department of Computer Science, it took about a day to train their agent using an artificial intelligence approach called reinforcement learning. The team, with Ramakrishnan’s leadership, developed a method for speeding up the training: building a second agent, called a sidekick, to assist the primary agent.

“Using extra information that’s present purely during training helps the [primary] agent learn faster,” Ramakrishnan said.

This research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, IBM Corp. and Sony Corp.

Something Strange Punched a Hole in the Milky Way. But What Exactly Is It?

The milky way from Earth.

There’s a “dark impactor” blasting holes in our galaxy. We can’t see it. It might not be made of normal matter. Our telescopes haven’t directly detected it. But it sure seems like it’s out there.

“It’s a dense bullet of something,” said Ana Bonaca, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who discovered evidence for the impactor.

Bonaca’s evidence for the dark impactor, which she presented April 15 at the conference of the American Physical Society in Denver, is a series of holes in our galaxy’s longest stellar stream, GD-1. Stellar streams are lines of stars moving together across galaxies, often originating in smaller blobs of stars that collided with the galaxy in question. The stars in GD-1, remnants of a “globular cluster” that plunged into the Milky Way a long time ago, are stretched out in a long line across our sky.

Under normal conditions, the stream should be more or less a single line, stretched out by our galaxy’s gravity, she said in her presentation. Astronomers would expect a single gap in the stream, at the point where the original globular cluster was before its stars drifted away in two directions. But Bonaca showed that GD-1 has a second gap. And that gap has a ragged edge — a region Bonaca called GD-1’s “spur” — as if something huge plunged through the stream not long ago, dragging stars in its wake with its enormous gravity. GD-1, it seems, was hit with that unseen bullet.


This image from Bonaca’s presentation shows the most detailed map yet of GD-1, revealing the apparent second gap and spur.

“We can’t map [the impactor] to any luminous object that we have observed,” Bonaca told Live Science. “It’s much more massive than a star… Something like a million times the mass of the sun. So there are just no stars of that mass. We can rule that out. And if it were a black hole, it would be a supermassive black hole of the kind we find at the center of our own galaxy.”

It’s not impossible that there’s a second supermassive black hole in our galaxy, Bonaca said. But we’d expect to see some sign of it, like flares or radiation from its accretion disk. And most large galaxies seem to have just a single supermassive black hole at their center.


Top: This image shows what GD-1 appears to actually look like. Bottom: This image shows what computer models predict GD-1 should look like.

With no giant, bright objects visible zipping away from GD-1, and no evidence for a hidden, second supermassive black hole in our galaxy, the only obvious option left is a big clump of dark matter. That doesn’t mean the object is definitely, 100%, absolutely made of dark matter, Bonaca said.

“It could be that it’s a luminous object that went away somewhere, and it’s hiding somewhere in the galaxy,” she added.

But that seems unlikely, in part due to the sheer scale of the object.

“We know that it’s 10 to 20 parsecs [30 to 65 light-years] across,” she said. “About the size of a globular cluster.”


Top: This image again shows what GD-1 appears to actually look like. Bottom: This image shows what computer models predict GD-1 would look like after an interaction with a large, heavy object.

But it’s hard to entirely rule out a luminous object, in part because the researchers don’t know how fast it was moving during the impact. (It may have been moving very fast, but not quite as heavy as expected — a true dark bullet — Bonaca said. Or it could have been moving more slowly but been very massive — a sort of dark hammer.) Without an answer to that question, it’s impossible to be certain where the thing would have ended up.

Still, the possibility of having found a real dark matter object is tantalizing.

Right now, researchers don’t know what dark matter is. Our universe seems to act like the luminous matter, the stuff we can see is just a small fraction of what’s out there. Galaxies bind together as if there’s something heavy inside them, clustered in their centers and creating enormous gravity. So most physicists reason that there’s something else out there, something invisible. There are lots of different opinions as to what it’s made of, but none of the efforts to directly detect dark matter on Earth have yet worked.

This dense ball of unseen something plunging through our Milky Way offers physicists a new scrap of evidence that dark matter might be real. And it would suggest that dark matter is really “clumpy,” as most theories about its behavior predict. [Beyond Higgs: 5 Elusive Particles That May Lurk in the Universe]Advertisement

If dark matter is “clumpy,” then it’s concentrated in irregular chunks distributed roughly across galaxies — much like the luminous matter we see concentrated in stars and nebulae. Some alternative theories, including theories that suggest dark matter doesn’t exist at all, wouldn’t include any clumps — and would have the effects of dark matter distributed smoothly across galaxies.

So far, Bonaca’s discovery is one of a kind, so new that it hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal (though it was met appreciatively by the crowd of physicists at the prestigious conference).

To pull it off, she relied on data from the Gaia mission, an European Space Agency program to map billions of stars in our galaxy and their movements across the sky. It formed the best existing catalog of the stars that seem to be part of GD-1.

Bonaca buttressed that data with observations from the Multi Mirror Telescope in Arizona, which showed which stars were moving toward Earth, and which were moving away. That helped distinguish between stars that were really moving with GD-1, and those that just sat next to it in Earth’s sky. That effort produced the most precise image ever of GD-1, which revealed the second gap, the spur, and a previously unseen region of the stellar stream.

Down the road, Bonaca said, she wants to do more mapping projects to reveal other regions of the sky where something unseen seems to be knocking stars around. The goal, she said, is to eventually map clumps of dark matter all across the Milky Way.

NASA launches rah-rah trailer for 2024 moon mission: ‘We are going’

Let Captain Kirk get you excited about returning humans to the moon.

nasasls
NASA is still working on the Space Launch System as part of its moon ambitions.Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

William Shatner, Captain Kirk from Star Trek, knows a few things about exploring the universe. His voice adds a lot of gravitas to a new NASA video that plays out like a trailer for the agency’s 2024 moon ambitions. 

The video, released Tuesday, is simply called We Are Going. It comes on the heels of a NASA 2020 budget amendment requesting $1.6 billion in additional funding to jump-start its lunar exploration plans, both robotic and human. 

NASA also announced the name Artemis this week for its mission to send astronauts, including the first woman, to the moon in 2024.

The video is meant to get everyone excited about reaching out and touching our lunar neighbor once again. We haven’t visited in person since the last Apollo mission in 1972. 

The 2024 schedule doesn’t give NASA much time to figure out everything from its delayed Space Launch System to a new lunar lander, so the agency needs all the enthusiasm it can get from personnel, politicians and space fans. 

NASA LOOKS TO THE MOON

We Are Going does a good job of laying out the history, majesty, hope and challenges for the new mission while making the whole thing sound pretty magical. The video covers moon landing efforts, but also the concept of an orbital Deep Space Gateway as a stepping stone to Mars.

“Our charge is to go quickly, and to stay, to press our collective efforts forward with a fervor that will see us return to the moon in a manner that is wholly different than 50 years ago,” Shatner narrates.

If this is the trailer, I can’t wait to see the movie.

Rami Malek agreed to play Bond villain only if character had no religious motives

Oscar-winner Rami Malek will play the villain in the still-untitled 25th film in the James Bond franchise. He’ll face off with James Bond vet Daniel Craig. This will be Craig’s fifth time playing the role of secret agent 007.

Bond 25” is currently in production, and the man set to play the iconic British agent’s foe is opening up.

Rami Malek, who was cast as the villain in the upcoming James Bond film back in April, told the BBC he accepted the “terrorist” role only after he was assured he would not be driven by religion.

“I said, ‘We cannot identify him with any act of terrorism reflecting an ideology or religion,'” he said to the BBC. “That’s not something I would entertain, so if that is why I am your choice then you can count me out.”

The Oscar-winning “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Mr. Robot” star previously expressed disdain for playing stereotypical “terrorist” roles in the past and told the publication that the movie’s director, Cary Fukunaga, envisioned the character as a change of pace compared to other roles in the same vein.

“That was clearly not his vision,” the actor, 38, claimed. “He’s a very different kind of terrorist.”

Malek expressed strong enthusiasm for the role but admitted being in a Bond film comes with enormous amounts of pressure.

“It’s another extremely clever script from the people who have figured out exactly what people want in those movies,” he said. “But I feel a substantial weight on my shoulders. I mean, Bond is ­something that we all grow up with.”

Rami Malek, winner of the award for best performance by an actor in a leading role for "Bohemian Rhapsody," poses in the press room at the Oscars on Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Rami Malek, winner of the award for best performance by an actor in a leading role for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” poses in the press room at the Oscars on Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Getty)

The actor, who is of Egyptian descent, went on to discuss his cultural background, and how it affected his upbringing as a son of an immigrant family. He also recalled many school classmates that would frequently mispronounce his name growing up.

“It took me until high school to tell everybody, ‘No, my name is Rami,'” he said. “It’s a very upsetting thing to think about – that I didn’t have the confidence to correct anyone at that point.”

Malek also briefly talked about filming the much-anticipated final season of “Mr. Robot,”confessing he is grateful for taking on the role of Elliot, the show’s hacker protagonist.

“When I heard [the show] was ending, I was disappointed because I love this character, and this television show really changed how we look at television these days and how we look at heroes in the world,” Malek said. “Everywhere I go, even after ­’Bohemian Rhapsody’ and other projects, young people especially seem to gravitate towards this character.”

In a final section of the interview, Malek revealed plans for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody” to make a cameo in another huge musician biopic, the recent Elton John film “Rocketman” starring Taron Egerton.

He said that while the cameo might have made sense historically, as Mercury and John were fairly close friends, the difference in film studios made it impossible to pull off.

“With the different studios involved, I don’t think there was a chance in hell that Fox was going to let me do it. But we wanted to and it was a shame. I would have loved to.”