Get set for July 4 buck moon, partial lunar eclipse: NASA’s top tips for July skywatchers

The July 4 full moon is known as the buck moon or thunder moon

Skywatchers are in for a treat on July 4, when the buck moon, or July full moon, rises in the sky. There will also be a partial lunar eclipse.

“July’s full moon will rise after sunset in the evening of Saturday, July 4, before reaching peak illumination at 12:44 A.M Eastern Time on Sunday, July 5,” explains The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Look towards the southeast to watch it rise above the horizon.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains that the buck moon earned its name because it occurs at a time of the year when a buck’s antlers are “in full growth mode.” Another name for the buck moon is the thunder moon.

NASA notes that there will also be a partial penumbral eclipse of the moon. In a penumbral lunar eclipse, part of the moon passes through the outer part of Earth’s shadow, the space agency says.

On the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the full buck moon rises above the skyline of lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City on July 16, 2019 as seen from Kearney, New Jersey - file photo.

On the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the full buck moon rises above the skyline of lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City on July 16, 2019 as seen from Kearney, New Jersey – file photo. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

“The moon will be close enough to opposite the Sun that its northern edge will pass through the partial shadow of the Earth,” explains NASA on its website. “Although visible from the Americas, this slight dimming of part of the moon should be difficult or impossible to notice without instrumentation. The moon will appear full for about three days around the eclipse, from Friday evening into Monday morning, making this a full moon weekend.”

Last month, skywatchers across the globe enjoyed the stunning June full moon or strawberry moon. The strawberry moon was also a penumbral lunar eclipse for skywatchers in Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania.

The buck moon, however, will not be as high in the sky as the strawberry moon. “For 2020, this full Moon in early July is closer to the summer solstice and will be lower in the sky than the full Moon in June,” explains NASA on its website.

The May full moon, known as the flower moon, was the last supermoon of 2020.

July is also a good time for seeing Venus and Mercury, according to NASA. “Wednesday morning, July 8, 2020, will be when the brightest of the planets, Venus, reaches its greatest brilliancy,” it explains, on its website. “Starting the morning of Thursday, July 16, 2020, the planet Mercury will be above the horizon at the time morning twilight begins (at least for the Washington, D.C. area), making all five of the naked eye planets visible (if you have a clear view of Mercury on the horizon in the east-northeast and Jupiter and Saturn on the horizon in the southwest).”

The five naked-eye planets are Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter

This New Catalog of the Universe Contains, to the Best of Our Knowledge, One of Everything

If you want to find technologically advanced life, investigate the anomalies.

Eros color.jpg
Catalog item P023: The asteroid 433 Eros, as seen by NASA’s NEAR spacecraft in 2000. (NASA/JPL/JHUAPL)

Breakthrough Listen, an initiative launched five years ago to search for evidence of technologically advanced life in the universe, has published a new catalog called “Exotica” with 865 entries consisting of 737 distinct astronomical targets. Its aim, according to Brian Lacki at the University of California at Berkeley and a team of international colleagues, is to serve as a single list containing “one of everything.”

The idea is to represent the entire breadth of astrophysical phenomena, from distant galaxies to small objects in our own Solar System. It includes planets and moons, stars at every point of their life cycle, galaxies of various sizes, star clusters and quasars. A special emphasis is put on objects with extreme properties and on anomalies like “Tabby’s Star,” with its puzzling dimming behavior, and the interstellar object ʻOumuamua, which two years ago was suggested by some in the SETI community to be possible evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization.

Since we still have only a vague idea where or how to find such evidence, I think looking for anomalies is the way to go. This new catalogue seems helpful as a first step. Take, for example, Item P023 in the catalog, the asteroid 433 Eros, which recently sparked quite a bit of discussion in the German SETI community.

A Mars-crossing asteroid with a diameter of about 35 kilometers on its long axis, Eros might even have crossed Earth’s orbit in the distant past, and may do so again in the future. The NEAR Shoemaker space probe flew past the object in 1998, then photographed it extensively during its orbiting phase two years later. Among the many images it returned was the one below, showing an anomalously shaped object on the surface.

Eros image.jpg
NEAR took this image of the surface of Eros from a distance of 53 kilometers on May 1, 2000. The rectangular object at upper right is shown in close-up. (NASA/JPL/JHUAPL)

Daniel Gerritzen from the German SETI group took a closer look at that object and tentatively suggested it might be artificial in origin. The NEAR team estimated it to be 45 meters across and described it as a “rectangular boulder.” By Gerritzen’s calculations, it’s a little bigger than that—at least 74 meters long and nearly 20 meters wide.

The NEAR spacecraft was equipped with an infrared sensor, and if the object were indeed artificial, one would expect a different heat signature for the anomaly compared to its surroundings. But when NEAR completed a close pass, its infrared sensor unfortunately stopped working.

Of course, none of this means the object was created by intelligent extraterrestrials. We know that looks can deceive, the best example being the infamous “Face on Mars.” In early images, that structure had a strong resemblance to a human face, but upon closer (and higher-resolution) inspection, it turned out to be a perfectly ordinary mountain.

Most remote sensing experts and planetary geologists would take it for granted that the Eros image simply shows a rock formation. Right now, that’s a reasonable working hypothesis. But rather than stop there, we need to keep an open mind and investigate whatever seems anomalous, because that’s the way we make new discoveries. Breakthrough Listen’s new catalog at least gives us a starting point.

Stunning NASA time-lapse video shows 10 years in life of sun

The video was created from images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe blasts off from Cape Canaveral on its mission to the Sun.

NASA has released a stunning 61-minute time-lapse video that shows a decade in the life of the sun.

The video was created from images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

“From its orbit in space around Earth, SDO has gathered 425 million high-resolution images of the Sun, amassing 20 million gigabytes of data over the past 10 years,” explained NASA in a statement on its website. “This 10-year time lapse showcases photos taken at a wavelength of 17.1 nanometers, which is an extreme ultraviolet wavelength that shows the Sun’s outermost atmospheric layer – the corona.”

The space agency released the time-lapse video to mark SDO’s 10th year in space. The orbiting observatory was launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Feb. 11, 2010. In a statement accompanying the time-lapse video posted to YouTube, NASA noted that, as of June 2020, SDO has been watching the sun non-stop for over a full decade.

“The video shows the rise and fall in activity that occurs as part of the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle and notable events, like transiting planets and eruptions,” it said.

During its 10 years in space, the SDO has also observed solar tornadoes, giant waves in plasma on the solar surface, polar coronal holes and magnetic explosions.

This composite image is made from 151 individual SDO frames. They span the full ten-year run of the time-lapse. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO)

This composite image is made from 151 individual SDO frames. They span the full ten-year run of the time-lapse. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO)

Earth’s star continues to reveal its secrets. NASA’s $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe mission, which launched in 2018, has taken humanity closer to the sun than ever before and the spacecraft is helping scientists shed new light on the star.

Scientists have observed bursts of energetic particles never seen before on such a small scale, as well as switchback-like reversals in the out-flowing solar magnetic field that seem to whip up the solar wind. The unexpected phenomenon has been compared to the cracking of a whip.

The stunning NASA time-lapse video shows 10 years in the life of the Sun.

The stunning NASA time-lapse video shows 10 years in the life of the Sun. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO)

Researchers said they also finally have evidence of a dust-free zone encircling the sun. Farther out, there’s so much dust from vaporizing comets and asteroids that one of 80 small viewfinders on one instrument was pierced by a grain earlier this year.

To withstand the heat of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the probe is protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.

Ocean on Jupiter’s moon ‘could be habitable,’ researchers say

Europa is one of just a handful of places in the Solar System that could be suitable for life

With NASA slated to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa sometime in the next decade, researchers are increasingly confident that the ocean on the celestial satellite “could be habitable.”

Speaking at the 2020 Goldschmidt Conference earlier this month, NASA researchers said they have developed a model that shows Europa, the sixth largest moon in the Solar System, could support life.

“We were able to model the composition and physical properties of the core, silicate layer, and ocean,” NASA JPL researcher and the study’s lead author, Mohit Melwani Daswani, said in a statement. “We find that different minerals lose water and volatiles at different depths and temperatures. We added up these volatiles that are estimated to have been lost from the interior, and found that they are consistent with the current ocean’s predicted mass, meaning that they are probably present in the ocean.”

(Credit: NASA)

(Credit: NASA)

The research can be read here, but it has not yet been peer-reviewed.

The ocean is under a dense layer of frozen crust that is largely believed to be at least six and as many as 19 miles thick. The surface temperature on Europa is exceptionally cold as well, approximately -260 degrees Fahrenheit at the equator and -370 degrees Fahrenheit at the poles, according to

While the ocean is widely believed to be warm, researchers are only just learning that it likely formed due to the minerals being broken down by either tidal forces or radioactive decay, according to Universe Today.

“Indeed it was thought that this ocean could still be rather sulfuric,” Daswani explained, “but our simulations, coupled with data from the Hubble Space Telescope, showing chloride on Europa’s surface, suggests that the water most likely became chloride rich. In other words, its composition became more like oceans on Earth. We believe that this ocean could be quite habitable for life.”

In August 2019, NASA confirmed it would launch a mission to Europa, a trek that could answer whether the icy celestial body could be habitable for humans and support life.

Voyager 2 snapped this image of Jupiter's moon Europa during the spacecraft's 1979 flyby. (Credit: NASA)

Voyager 2 snapped this image of Jupiter’s moon Europa during the spacecraft’s 1979 flyby. (Credit: NASA)

The Europa Clipper, which could launch as soon as 2023 but has a baseline commitment of a “launch readiness date by 2025,” will have a mass spectrometer on the craft, used to determine the mass of ions in an atom.

The mission for the solar-powered Clipper is expected to cost around $4 billion, according to NASA. The space agency has previously said the purpose of the mission will be to investigate whether Europa, the sixth-largest of Jupiter’s 79 known moons, “could harbor conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology.”

2018 study expressed concerns that Europa’s surface may be extremely porous, which could harm any probe that touches down on its surface.

In December 2019, a study suggested that if there is life on Europa, it would be indigenous to the moon and not related to humans.

Strange Flying Objects Leave Boise… July 25, 1949

Boise, Idaho   Daily Statesman – July 25, 1949

Strange Flying Objects Leave Boise…

Investigation By Air Force To Be Started
Mysterious Craft Pass
Frightened Flyer
At Very Close Range

A Boise valley pilot told Sunday of seeing seven V-shaped flying objects at at close range over the Mountain Home desert, and said the experience left him “frightened and shaken.”

The strange craft, he said, were not United States aircraft, as far as he could determine, and they had no visible means of propulsion, yet traveled at what he said was a “tremendous rate of speed.”

It has been learned that the Air Force’s intelligence division is sending an operative to investigate the incident.  The Boise valley pilot released the information only on the condition that his name not be used.  He is the manager of one of the valley’s major airports.

The pilot said the seven objects, or aircraft, came within 1000 or 2000 feet of his plane as he was flying toward Boise, about 10 miles west of Mountain Home.

No Pilot Discernible

They looked like a V, he said, with a circular body within the V and a belly-like object sitting under the nose of the V.  He said that that he could see no sign of a pilot or “anything like a human being” in the aircraft.

The color, he said, was not the metallic color one usually associates with military aircraft.  He said it was “neither white nor gray” but a shade that he had never seen before.

A circular portion of the body just behind the nose of the V appeared to change in color from time to time, he said, and the outer edges of the V seemed to [oscillate] once or twice during the two minutes he had the craft under observation.

The pilot saw the objects at 12:05 p.m. yesterday while he was at an altitude of 10,000 feet on the right hand side of the highway from Mountain Home to Boise.

No Markings on Craft

He said the objects came up from his left side at about 9000 feet and crossed in front of his plane to the right, and disappeared on an easterly heading at “tremendous speed.”

There were no visible markings on the craft, he said.  Their formation was unlike any ordinary military formation flying.  He said they were in two “tight lines of three each, with the seventh object either in the middle of the lines or slightly above.”

He said he could not see a propeller or any smoke trail indicating jet or rocket power in the objects.

The pilot said the objects departed between the mountains and the town of Mountain Home. The Mountain Home air base, informed of the occurrence, said it had “no experimental aircraft on the field.”

And, the Air Force’s flight center at McChord Field, Wash., said no formation of aircraft had been cleared through this area.  The pilot said the experience left him with a “funny, ghostly feeling.”

Boeing 747 Followed by a UFO | Confirmed by FAA and Air Force Radar | Japan Air Lines Flight 1628

ANCHORAGE, JAN. 1 — A veteran pilot whose UFO sighting was confirmed on radar screens Tuesday said the mysterious object was so enormous that it dwarfed his Japan Airlines cargo plane.

Capt. Kenju Terauchi, the pilot, also said he saw two other small unidentified objects — smaller than his cargo carrier — that did not appear on radar.

Terauchi, his copilot and flight engineer told Federal Aviation Administration investigators that they saw the lights of an unidentified object on the evening of Nov. 17.

Terauchi made a drawing of how he thought the objects looked. He drew a giant walnut-shaped object, with big bulges above and below a wide flattened brim.

“They were flying parallel and then suddenly approached very close,” said Terauchi, 47, who requested and received FAA permission to take whatever action was necessary to avoid the object that appeared for a time on FAA and Air Force radar and on the radar screen in the cockpit of JAL flight 1628.

The FAA confirmed on Tuesday that government radar picked up the object that Terauchi said followed his Boeing 747 cargo jet.

Terauchi, a pilot for 29 years, said he briefly glimpsed the large unknown object in silhouette. “It was a very big one — two times bigger than an aircraft carrier,” he said.

Terauchi made a drawing of how he thought the objects looked. He drew a giant walnut-shaped object, with big bulges above and below a wide flattened brim.

The captain, who is stationed in Anchorage with his family, was flying the jumbo jet from Iceland to Anchorage on a Europe-to-Japan flight when the crew encountered the object in clear weather over Alaska.

Terauchi said the three unidentified objects followed his jet for 400 miles.

“It was unbelievable,” he said, acknowledging that some of his colleagues have doubts about what the crew saw.

FAA investigators who questioned the crew in Anchorage concluded in a report that the crew was “normal, professional, rational, {and had} no drug or alcohol involvement.” The crew’s flying experience totals more than 46 years, the pilot said.

Terauchi said the crew was not frightened but wanted to avoid whatever was lit up in their flight path. “We want to escape from this.”

They followed FAA directives to drop 4,000 feet and make turns — including a 360-degree turn, but Terauchi said, “They were still following us.”

He said the evasive maneuvers were of no avail and the lights stayed close — once appearing in front of the cockpit.

FAA flight control reports indicate the object stayed with JAL Flight 1628 for at least 32 minutes. Terauchi said he thought it was longer. The flight controller directing the JAL plane reported the object on his radar was as close as five miles to the jet.

Terauchi said the objects moved quickly and stopped suddenly. He referred to the objects as “the two small ships and the mother ship.”

Terauchi said jokingly that he thought the UFOs might have followed his chartered cargo plane because “we were carrying Beaujolais, a very famous wine made in France. Maybe they want to drink it.”

Compact System of Super-Earths Found around Lacaille 9352

A team of astronomers from the RedDots project has discovered two super-Earths and a candidate planet orbiting the nearby 4.57-billion-year-old red dwarf star Lacaille 9352.

An artist’s impression of the multiplanetary system of super-Earths orbiting the nearby red dwarf star Lacaille 9352. Image credit: Mark Garlick.

At 10.7 light-years away, Lacaille 9352 is the 12th closest star system to the Sun.

Also known as Gliese 887, GJ 887 and HD 217987, this red dwarf lies in the southern constellation of Piscis Austrinus.

The star is much dimmer and about half the size of our Sun, which means that the habitable zone is closer to Lacaille 9352 than Earth’s distance from the Sun.

University of Göttingen astronomer Sandra Jeffers and her colleagues from the RedDots team monitored Lacaille 9352 using the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) spectrograph on ESO’s La Silla 3.6-m telescope.

“We used a technique known as Doppler wobble, which enables us to measure the tiny back and forth wobbles of the star caused by the gravitational pull of the planets,” they explained.

Monitoring Lacaille 9352, they detected periodic signals, indicating the presence of two planets on orbits with periods of 9.3 and 21.8 days.

The planets, named Lacaille 9352b (Gliese 887b) and Lacaille 9352c (Gliese 887c), have minimum masses of 4.2 and 7.6 Earth masses, respectively.

Both planets are interior to, but close to the inner edge of, the liquid-water habitable zone.

They have surface temperature of 195 degrees Celsius (383 degrees Fahrenheit) and 79 degrees Celsius (174 degrees Fahrenheit), respectively.

Dr. Jeffers and co-authors also detected an unconfirmed signal with a period of 50 days, which could correspond to a third super-Earth, Lacaille 9352d (Gliese 887d), in a more temperate orbit.

“We also discovered two interesting facts about Lacaille 9352, which turn out to be good news not only for the newly-discovered planets but also for astronomers,” they said.

“The first is that the red dwarf has very few starspots, unlike our Sun.”

“If Lacaille 9352 was as active as our Sun, it is likely that a strong stellar wind — outflowing material which can erode a planet’s atmosphere — would simply sweep away the planets’ atmospheres. This means that the newly-discovered planets may retain their atmospheres, or have thicker atmospheres than the Earth, and potentially host life, even though Lacaille 9352 receives more light than the Earth.”

“The other interesting feature we discovered is that the brightness of Lacaille 9352 is almost constant. Therefore, it will be relatively easy to detect the atmospheres of the super-Earth system, making it a prime target for the James Webb Space Telescope, a successor to Hubble.”

The discovery is described in a paper in the journal Science.

Pentagon should release UFO report, Senate intelligence committee argues

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act. Rubio is asking the Pentagon to compile data on UFOs and submit the findings in an unclassified report. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act. Rubio is asking the Pentagon to compile data on UFOs and submit the findings in an unclassified report. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

The Pentagon should release a public report on UFOs, argues the U.S. Senate intelligence committee. In addition to requiring a public report, the committee plans to impose new rules on how the Department of Defense (DOD) shares information about UFOs.

Unidentified flying objects — a term that refers to objects that are literally unidentified, not necessarily suspected alien spacecraft — have made the news several times in recent years. The New York Times has reported on the  Pentagon’s efforts to track and study UFOs. And the DOD has confirmed the authenticity of videos from U.S. military planes showing flying objects of unknown nature and origin. Now the Senate committee wants to regulate the Pentagon’s tracking effort, according to the committee’s Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. The rule will be part of the 2021 intelligence authorization bill, which Congress has yet to pass.

“The Committee supports the efforts of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force at the Office of Naval Intelligence [ONI] to standardize collection and reporting on unidentified aerial phenomenon, any links they have to adversarial foreign governments, and the threat they pose to U.S. military assets and installations,” the report states.

However, according to the committee’s report, “there is no unified, comprehensive process” for collecting information on unidentified aerial phenomena, “despite the potential threat.”

This announcement, Agence France-Presse pointed out, appears to represent the first confirmation that the ONI is still tracking these objects in a systematic way. Federal officials previously said that a program along these lines existed, but ended in 2012. UFO writer Roger Glassel confirmed in May, based on an email exchange with a Navy representative, the existence of an “interagency team” led by the U.S. Navy and focused on “unidentified aerial phenomena.”

The committee instructed the Director of National Intelligence and other agency heads to submit a report within 180 days with a number of details about the ONI’s investigation. The report must include details about what the federal government knows about “intrusions” into restricted U.S. airspace and other unidentified flying objects, as well as a plan to firm up intelligence collection and sharing on the subject.

“The report shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex,” the committee wrote.

That means at least some of this information should become public when and if the report arrives.

Breakthrough Listen Scans Kepler-160 System for Alien Technosignatures

The Breakthrough Listen Initiative, the largest ever scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of alien civilizations, has conducted a search for artificial radio emission associated with Kepler-160, a system of four planets that includes the newly-discovered habitable-zone planet Kepler-160e.

An artist’s impression of a four-planet system. Image credit:

Kepler-160 is approximately 3,141 light-years away toward the constellation of Lyra.

This Sun-like star is about 12% bigger than our Sun, just 1% more luminous, and is home to at least four massive planets: Kepler-160b, c, d and e.

The planets Kepler-160b, c and d are between 1.7 and 3.1 times the size of Earth and have orbital periods less than 50 days.

The outermost planet, Kepler-160e (also designated KOI-456.04), has a radius of 1.9 times that of the Earth and an orbital period of 378 days.

The alien world, found earlier this year in data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, is in the habitable zone of the host star and has an estimated surface temperature of minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit).

“This Earth-like planet candidate, given its ideal location in the habitable zone of its host star and edge-on orientation projected toward Earth, represents an ideal target for technosignature searches,” said Columbia University astronomer Karen Perez and colleagues.

The researchers observed the Kepler-160 system using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope as part of the ongoing Breakthrough Listen search for alien technosignatures.

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, the United States. Image credit: Jiuguang Wang / CC BY-SA 2.0.

“We searched the radio frequency bands 1.1-1.9 GHz (L-band), 1.8-2.8 GHz (S-band), and 3.95-8 GHz (C-band) for narrowband Doppler-accelerated and wideband artificially-dispersed technosignatures,” they explained.

“We observed Kepler-160 with the Green Bank Telescope for three 5-minute pointings at each frequency band, beginning on June 14, 2020 11:13 UT.”

The scientists did not find any artificial radio signal from the Kepler-160 planetary system.

“Future observations of Kepler-160e with future missions, like PLATO, might recover its transit, confirming its candidacy as a planet and aiding in any further radio observations,” they said.

“Additionally, we expect to carry similar searches towards other exoplanet systems and candidates as more targets of interest are discovered using ongoing missions such as TESS and K2.”

The team’s paper was published online this week on the research website

Astronomers Say There Could Be 36 Communicating Extraterrestrial Civilizations in Milky Way

Using the assumption that intelligent life develops on exoplanets in a similar way as it does on Earth, a duo of researchers from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nottingham has obtained an estimate for the number of communicating extraterrestrial intelligent (CETI) civilizations within our Milky Way Galaxy. They calculate that there could be 36 active CETI civilizations in the Galaxy; the nearest is 17,000 light-years away and most likely hosted by a red dwarf star, likely far surpassing our ability to detect it for the foreseeable future, and making interstellar communication impossible.

Westby & Conselice present a cosmic perspective on the search for life and examine the likely number of CETI civilizations in our Milky Way Galaxy by utilizing the latest astrophysical information. Image credit: Angela Yuriko Smith.

“There should be at least a few dozen active CETI civilizations in our Galaxy under the assumption that it takes 5 billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets, as on Earth,” said Professor Christopher Conselice, senior author of the study.

“The idea is looking at evolution, but on a cosmic scale. We call this calculation the Astrobiological Copernican Limit.”

“The classic method for estimating the number of intelligent civilizations relies on making guesses of values relating to life, whereby opinions about such matters vary quite substantially,” added Dr. Tom Westby, first author of the study.

“Our new study simplifies these assumptions using new data, giving us a solid estimate of the number of civilizations in our Galaxy.”

The two Astrobiological Copernican limits are that intelligent life forms in less than 5 billion years, or after about 5 billion years — similar to on Earth where a communicating civilization formed after 4.5 billion years.

In the strong criteria, whereby a metal content equal to that of the Sun is needed, the authors calculate that there should be around 36 active CETI civilizations in the Milky Way.

They show that the number of civilizations depends strongly on how long they are actively sending out signals of their existence into space, such as radio transmissions from satellites, television, etc.

If other technological civilizations last as long as ours which is currently 100 years old, then there will be about 36 ongoing intelligent technical civilizations throughout our Galaxy.

However, the average distance to these civilizations would be 17,000 light-years away, making detection and communication very difficult with our present technology.

It is also possible that we are the only civilization within our Galaxy unless the survival times of civilizations like our own are long.

“Our new research suggests that searches for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations not only reveal the existence of how life forms, but also give us clues for how long our own civilization will last,” Professor Conselice said.

“If we find that intelligent life is common then this would reveal that our civilization could exist for much longer than a few hundred years, alternatively if we find that there are no active civilizations in our Galaxy it is a bad sign for our own long-term existence.”

“By searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life — even if we find nothing — we are discovering our own future and fate.”

The team’s paper was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

NASA wants to explore Neptune’s moon Triton, which could have an ocean supporting life

NASA has proposed a mission to explore Neptune‘s mysterious and “weird” moon Triton, the coldest known object in the solar system.

In a statement posted to its website, the space agency said the mission, known as Trident, will have a “three-pronged” approach. The mission will observe the celestial satellite to understand the cause of the mysterious plumes emanating from its surface, further explore the moon, which was only 40 percent observed by Voyager 2, and “understand how that mysterious surface keeps renewing itself.”

“Triton is weird, but yet relevantly weird, because of the science we can do there,” said Karl Mitchell, Trident project scientist at JPL, in a statement. “We know the surface has all these features we’ve never seen before, which motivates us to want to know ‘How does this world work?’

Global color mosaic of Triton, taken in 1989 by Voyager 2 during its flyby of the Neptune system. (Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS)

Global color mosaic of Triton, taken in 1989 by Voyager 2 during its flyby of the Neptune system. (Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS)

“As we said to NASA in our mission proposal, Triton isn’t just a key to solar system science — it’s a whole keyring: a captured Kuiper Belt object that evolved, a potential ocean world with active plumes, an energetic ionosphere and a young, unique surface,” Mitchell added.

Four missions are being currently studied with a potential launch date in October 2025 to take advantage of the once-in-13-year window that has the Earth properly aligned with Jupiter. The craft would use Jupiter’s gravitational pull to send it to Triton for a 13-day mission in 2038.

“The mission designers and navigators are so good at this,” said JPL’s William Frazier, project systems engineer of Trident. “After 13 years of flying through the solar system, we can confidently skim the upper edge of Triton’s atmosphere — which is pretty mind-boggling.”

A new Discovery mission proposal, Trident would explore Neptune's largest moon, Triton, which is potentially an ocean world with liquid water under its icy crust. Trident aims to answer the questions outlined in the graphic illustration above. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A new Discovery mission proposal, Trident would explore Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, which is potentially an ocean world with liquid water under its icy crust. Trident aims to answer the questions outlined in the graphic illustration above. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Triton has several oddities compared with other celestial objects, including orbiting in the opposite direction, lying at an extreme tilt and the fact it likely moved from the Kuiper Belt.

It also has a constantly evolving climate and a bizarre atmosphere. Its ionosphere is 10 times more active than other moons in the solar system, a trait NASA describes as “especially strange” because ionospheres are charged by solar particles.

By studying and observing Triton’s “weird” behavior, it could give researchers new insight into objects in the Kuiper Belt, as well as a better understanding of the solar system.

“Triton has always been one of the most exciting and intriguing bodies in the solar system,” said Louise Prockter, director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute/Universities Space Research Association in Houston. “I’ve always loved the Voyager 2 images and their tantalizing glimpses of this bizarre, crazy moon that no one understands.”

In April 2019, NASA announced that nearly 30 years after it sent a spacecraft to Uranus and Neptune, it’s looking to go back.

One month prior, scientists at NASA JPL proposed a mission that would explore Triton, which some have theorized could have an ocean hiding underneath its surface.

Uranus and Neptune are relatively unexplored, despite the fact that Voyager 2 snapped photos of both planets in 1986 and 1989, respectively.

Trump signals he has ‘interesting’ details on Roswell, as son grills him about aliens

Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher and Foster Friess, founder of Friess Associates, join Steve Hilton on ‘The Next Revolution,’ to discuss policy priorities of a potential second Trump term.

President Trump, under rigorous questioning from his son Donald Trump Jr., on Thursday about the existence of extraterrestrial life, suggested he knew “interesting” information about Roswell, N.M. — the site of a 1947 crash that has touched off conspiracy theories about an alien spacecraft ever since.

Trump made the comments in a lighthearted, Father’s Day-themed video interview produced by his presidential campaign that dealt with a variety of topics, including potential U.S. government secrets about aliens.

“Before you leave office, will you let us know if there’s aliens? Because this is the only thing I really want to know. I want to know what’s going on. Would you ever open up Roswell and let us know what’s going on there?” Trump Jr. asked.

“So many people ask me that question,” the president said. “There are millions and millions of people that want to go there, that want to see it. I won’t talk to you about what I know about it but it’s very interesting. But Roswell is a very interesting place with a lot of people that would like to know what’s going on.”

When Trump Jr. further pressed his father on whether he would declassify details about Roswell, the president said, “I’ll have to think about that one.”

It’s unclear what the pair were referring to when discussing the potential of opening up Roswell — the city itself has a booming tourism industry and the one military base in the area was closed during the Vietnam War. Area 51, an Air Force base in Nevada, is a highly classified location that many have speculated could hold secrets about aliens.

The Pentagon earlier this year released unclassified footage showing “unidentified aerial phenomena” of military encounters with other aircraft that behaved in a way that one pilot told the New York Times was “like nothing I’ve ever seen.”Video

“After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems, and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena,” a Pentagon spokeswoman said about the footage’s release.

“DOD is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos,” she added. “The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified.’”

Also during the conversation with his son, the president complimented Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as “good-looking guys” while saying that he thinks the senators and Trump Jr. look better clean-shaven. All three men have recently grown beards.

“In some cases, I think it’s good. In your case, just get rid of it,” the president told his son.

Trump Jr. also asked the president whether he would consider pardoning “Tiger King” star Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic. Trump said he had seen some episodes of the show, noting that Joe Exotic is “quite a character” and saying “that’s a whole strange deal.”

Trump would not commit to pardoning Maldonado-Passage, who was sentenced earlier this year to 22 years in prison for a murder-for-hire plot.

Astronomers Detect Organic Molecules in Starless and Prestellar Regions of Nearby Stellar Nursery

Astronomers have detected the signatures of two complex organic molecules, methanol and acetaldehyde, in starless and prestellar cores of the Taurus Molecular Cloud, a star-forming region located about 440 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Taurus.

An artist’s illustration of complex organic molecules in space. Image credit: Jenny Mottar / NASA.

Prestellar or starless cores are so-named because while they do not yet contain any stars, they mark regions in space where cold dust and gases coalesce into the seeds that will give rise to stars and possibly planets.

Taurus Molecular Cloud | Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter

Each core can stretch over a distance that would cover up to 1,000 solar systems lined up next to each other.

Compared to other objects in the Universe, like galaxies, they form on rather short timescales, with lifespans of less than a million years.

Driven by processes like turbulence and gravitational forces, the gas and dust in a molecular cloud collapses to form filaments, and it is within those filaments that the denser cores form.

“The Taurus Molecular Cloud is especially interesting because it provides a glimpse into different evolutionary stages between cores,” said lead author Samantha Scibelli, a doctoral student with the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona.

“Not all cores may form stars; there is a lot of uncertainty involved. We think many of the cores are in early stages, which is why we don’t see them forming stars right now.”

Using the Arizona Radio Observatory’s 12-m dish telescope on Kitt Peak, southwest of Tucson, Scibelli and Steward Observatory astronomer Yancy Shirley conducted a large sample survey of 31 starless and prestellar cores in the Taurus Molecular Cloud.

“These starless cores we looked at are several hundred thousand years away from the initial formation of a protostar or any planets,” Dr. Shirley said.

“This tells us that the basic organic chemistry needed for life is present in the raw gas prior to the formation of stars and planets.”

The researchers looked for the tell-tale signatures of methanol (CH3OH) and acetaldehyde (CH3CHO) during an observation campaign totaling almost 500 hours of observing time.

They detecting methanol in 100% of the cores targeted and acetaldehyde in 70%.

They interpret these results as evidence that complex organic molecules are much more widespread in nascent star-forming regions than previously thought.

The findings challenge traditional theories of how prebiotic molecules form, because they assume a scenario in which the heat from newborn stars provides the necessary environment for organic molecules to form.

The abundance of complex organic molecules in clouds of extremely cold gas and dust that are still a long way away from such conditions means other processes must be at work.

“Inside these cores, which we think of as birthplaces, cocoons and nurseries of low-mass stars similar to our Sun, the conditions are such that it’s hard to even create these molecules,” Scibelli said.

“By doing surveys like this, we can understand better how precursors to life come into existence, how they migrate and enter solar systems at later stages of star formation.”

The results were published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Here’s Why Mysterious FRB’s Could be Signals From Extraterrestrial Civilizations

“…sometimes the source doesn’t burst for hours and hours and then suddenly you get multiple bursts in a short amount of time.”

Astronomers Spot Repeating Signals From Deep Space, and It Could be Aliens

Fast radio bursts are bright, unresolved, broadband, millisecond flashes observed in parts of the sky outside the Milky Way Galaxy. FRB’s are the most mysterious cosmic phenomena currently boggling astronomers.

A team of astronomers working with the radio Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Cartography Experiment (CHIME) Telescope has detected 8 sources of repetitive fast radio bursts (FRB), instantly increasing the total number of phenomena of this type known up to 10.

This is pretty impressive since only 8 months ago, just one mysterious signal, FRB 121102, was found to be repeated.

However, a news study available at the preprint server arXiv, and submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters, reveals eight previously unknown repeating signals, spotted by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) radio telescope.

Artists rendering of a signal in space. Shutterstock.

The more repeating FRBs we come across, the more info we will have in order to understand what these signals mean.

So far, we don’t know much. We know that Fast Radio Bursts are a very perplexing cosmic phenomenon.

FRBs are identified as spikes in radio data and lost a few milliseconds at most, but during that short period of time, the signals are packed with energy equaling more than 500 million suns.

This means that the signals are extremely powerful and pack a good deal of energy.

The curious thing is that most Fast Radio Bursts are only detected once. We have not managed to come up with a method that allows us to predict them, and tracing them to their source is a very complex thing, although not impossible since astronomers managed to trace an FRB to its original earlier this year.

But precisely because tracing FRB’s to their origin is so hard, is why repeating FRBs are important for astronomers. The new discovery of repeating FRBs means that these are not as rare as we once thought they were, and the new information can help us trace more of the repeaters to their source galaxies. This, in turn, can help us understand what type of environment they originate from, and what exactly causes them.

The more FRBs we identified the more data we have, and this allows astronomers to look for certain similarities or differences that can then help us explain the origin of the Fast Radio Bursts.

Scientists spotted the new signal using the CHIME telescope. Image Credit: CHIME Collaboration.
The CHIME telescope. Image Credit: CHIME Collaboration.

“There is definitely a difference between the sources, with some being more prolific than others,” physicist Ziggy Pleunis of McGill University revealed in an interview with ScienceAlert.

“We already knew from FRB 121102 that the bursts can be very clustered: sometimes the source doesn’t burst for hours and hours and then suddenly you get multiple bursts in a short amount of time. We have observed the same thing for FRB 180916.J0158+65, for which we report ten bursts in this paper.”

FRB 121102 has been identified with a galaxy located approximately 3 billion light-years, well outside the Milky Way, and is embedded in an extreme environment. But not all FRB’s have been found to originate from extreme environments. The polarization of the signals actually tells us a lot about them. If the FRB is really twisted up, it could mean that it came from a really magnetic environment, like a black hole or neutrons star. But one of the recently analyzed FRBs (FRB 180916) was found to be really low, meaning that it did not come from an extreme environment.

The new study has revealed that of the new eight repeating FRB’s, six of them only repeated once with the longest pause between the fast radio bursts being just a little over 20 hours.

The astronomers revealed that FRB 181119 repeated twice after initial detection, totaling three repeats.

What this means remains an enigma.

We don’t know their sources, and we don’t know why FRBs exist, we don’t know why they repeat either. We just know that throughout the universe, FRB’s are being spotted. Alien signals are popping p from all over the cosmos.

It could indicate, however, as noted by Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Vikram Ravi – that all FRBs are repeater signals and some of them are just more active than others.

Most advanced estimates imply there could be as many as 100 FRBs per day in the sky, meaning that we need to step up our game in order to spot more of them.

So far the most prevailing theories trying to explain FRB’s include (magnetars), dark matterblack holessupernovae, and even the activities of alien civilizations.

Harvard Astronomers View on FRBs

Two astrophysicists, Avi Loeb from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Manasvi Lingam at Harvard University investigated FRBs and have put forth the possibility that the mystery signals could actually be evidence of advanced alien technology.

“Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven’t identified a possible natural source with any confidence. An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking.” – Avi Loeb, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Loeb and Lingam analyzed the amount of energy that would be required to send a signal that strong across such a massive distance. They discovered that to do so, aliens would be able to do it with the help of solar energy, which would require a solar array so big that it needs to cover twice the surface area of our planet. This would only work however if the alien civilization was close to their host star as we are to the sun.

But alien propulsion systems may also be an explanation for FRBs intercepted by experts.

The researchers have shown that the engineering they’ve mentioned could actually power a spacecraft with a payload of a million tons through space.

As explained by Lingam, “That’s big enough to carry living passengers across interstellar or even intergalactic distances.”

If FRBs are really the outcome of an alien propulsion system, it would work the following way: Earth is rotating and orbiting, and this means the alien star and galaxy are moving relative to us. This is precisely why we would only see a brief flash. The beam moves across the sky and only hits us for a moment.

Although the above explanation is speculative, the researchers conclude in their paper that

“Although the possibility that FRBs are produced by extragalactic civilizations is more speculative than an astrophysical origin, quantifying the requirements necessary for an artificial origin serves, at the very least, the important purpose of enabling astronomers to rule it out with future data.”

Although we can’t rule out the possibility that its aliens responsible for FRB’s, Seth Shostak from SETI arguest that “one can safely bet it’s not aliens” because of the very nature of FRBs.

The bursters are seen all over the sky, that’s why. The same sort of signal is coming from galaxies that are generally separated by billions of light-years. So how could aliens organize so much of the universe to engage in broadcasting the same sort of signal? There’s hardly been enough time since the Big Bang to coordinate such widespread teamwork, even if you can think of a reason for it!

Aliens or not, FRBs are a truly impressive and mind-bending phenomenon that reveals just how little about the universe we know.

Astronomers detect regular rhythm of radio waves, with origins unknown

Signal from 500 million light years away is the first periodic pattern of radio bursts detected

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Summary: A team of astronomers has picked up on a curious, repeating rhythm of fast radio bursts emanating from an unknown source outside our galaxy, 500 million light years away.

Starry sky (stock | Credit: © pixel /

A team of astronomers, including researchers at MIT, has picked up on a curious, repeating rhythm of fast radio bursts emanating from an unknown source outside our galaxy, 500 million light years away.

Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are short, intense flashes of radio waves that are thought to be the product of small, distant, extremely dense objects, though exactly what those objects might be is a longstanding mystery in astrophysics. FRBs typically last a few milliseconds, during which time they can outshine entire galaxies.

Since the first FRB was observed in 2007, astronomers have catalogued over 100 fast radio bursts from distant sources scattered across the universe, outside our own galaxy. For the most part, these detections were one-offs, flashing briefly before disappearing entirely. In a handful of instances, astronomers observed fast radio bursts multiple times from the same source, though with no discernible pattern.

This new FRB source, which the team has catalogued as FRB 180916.J0158+65, is the first to produce a periodic, or cyclical pattern of fast radio bursts. The pattern begins with a noisy, four-day window, during which the source emits random bursts of radio waves, followed by a 12-day period of radio silence.

The astronomers observed that this 16-day pattern of fast radio bursts reoccurred consistently over 500 days of observations. “This FRB we’re reporting now is like clockwork,” says Kiyoshi Masui, assistant professor of physics in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “It’s the most definitive pattern we’ve seen from one of these sources. And it’s a big clue that we can use to start hunting down the physics of what’s causing these bright flashes, which nobody really understands.”

Masui is a member of the CHIME/FRB collaboration, a group of more than 50 scientists led by the University of British Columbia, McGill University, University of Toronto, and the National Research Council of Canada, that operates and analyzes the data from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, a radio telescope in British Columbia that was the first to pick up signals of the new periodic FRB source.

The CHIME/FRB Collaboration has published the details of the new observation today in the journal Nature.

A radio view

In 2017, CHIME was erected at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in British Columbia, where it quickly began detecting fast radio bursts from galaxies across the universe, billions of light years from Earth.

CHIME consists of four large antennas, each about the size and shape of a snowboarding half-pipe, and is designed with no moving parts. Rather than swiveling to focus on different parts of the sky, CHIME stares fixedly at the entire sky, using digital signal processing to pinpoint the region of space where incoming radio waves are originating.

From September 2018 to February 2020, CHIME picked out 38 fast radio bursts from a single source, FRB 180916.J0158+65, which the astronomers traced to a star-churning region on the outskirts of a massive spiral galaxy, 500 million light years from Earth. The source is the most active FRB source that CHIME has yet detected, and until recently it was the closest FRB source to Earth.

As the researchers plotted each of the 38 bursts over time, a pattern began to emerge: One or two bursts would occur over four days, followed by a 12-day period without any bursts, after which the pattern would repeat. This 16-day cycle occurred again and again over the 500 days that they observed the source.

“These periodic bursts are something that we’ve never seen before, and it’s a new phenomenon in astrophysics,” Masui says.

Circling scenarios

Exactly what phenomenon is behind this new extragalactic rhythm is a big unknown, although the team explores some ideas in their new paper. One possibility is that the periodic bursts may be coming from a single compact object, such as a neutron star, that is both spinning and wobbling — an astrophysical phenomenon known as precession. Assuming that the radio waves are emanating from a fixed location on the object, if the object is spinning along an axis and that axis is only pointed toward the direction of Earth every four out of 16 days, then we would observe the radio waves as periodic bursts.

Another possibility involves a binary system, such as a neutron star orbiting another neutron star or black hole. If the first neutron star emits radio waves, and is on an eccentric orbit that briefly brings it close to the second object, the tides between the two objects could be strong enough to cause the first neutron star to deform and burst briefly before it swings away. This pattern would repeat when the neutron star swings back along its orbit.

The researchers considered a third scenario, involving a radio-emitting source that circles a central star. If the star emits a wind, or cloud of gas, then every time the source passes through the cloud, the gas from the cloud could periodically magnify the source’s radio emissions.

“Maybe the source is always giving off these bursts, but we only see them when it’s going through these clouds, because the clouds act as a lens,” Masui says.

Perhaps the most exciting possibility is the idea that this new FRB, and even those that are not periodic or even repeating, may originate from magnetars — a type of neutron star that is thought to have an extremely powerful magnetic field. The particulars of magnetars are still a bit of a mystery, but astronomers have observed that they do occasionally release massive amounts of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, including energy in the radio band.

“People have been working on how to make these magnetars emit fast radio bursts, and this periodicity we’ve observed has since been worked into these models to figure out how this all fits together,” Masui says.

Very recently, the same group made a new observation that supports the idea that magnetars may in fact be a viable source for fast radio bursts. In late April, CHIME picked up a signal that looked like a fast radio burst, coming from a flaring magnetar, some 30,000 light years from Earth. If the signal is confirmed, this would be the first FRB detected within our own galaxy, as well as the most compelling evidence of magnetars as a source of these mysterious cosmic sparks.

NASA spacecraft takes images of ‘alien sky’ 4.3B miles from Earth

Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft snaps photos of an ‘alien sky’ more than 4.3 billion miles from Earth

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which yielded the first close-up photos of Pluto, has managed to snap photos of an “alien sky” more than 4.3 billion miles from Earth.

The craft took images of nearby stars Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359, which appear to be in vastly different positions from the vantage point we see them on Earth, something known as the “parallax effect.” The space agency notes this is the same effect that people can easily replicate by placing one finger at arm’s length and watching it move when you close one eye or the other.

“It’s fair to say that New Horizons is looking at an alien sky, unlike what we see from Earth,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern in a statement.

This two-frame animation of Wolf 359 blinks back and forth between New Horizons and Earth images of each star, clearly illustrating the different view of the sky New Horizons has from its deep-space perch. (Credit: NASA)

This two-frame animation of Wolf 359 blinks back and forth between New Horizons and Earth images of each star, clearly illustrating the different view of the sky New Horizons has from its deep-space perch. (Credit: NASA)

“That has allowed us to do something that had never been accomplished before — to see the nearest stars visibly displaced on the sky from the positions we see them on Earth,” Stern added.

Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359 are 4.2 and 7.795 light-years away from Earth, respectively. A light-year, which measures distance in space, is approximately 6 trillion miles.

This two-frame animation of Proxima Centauri blinks back and forth between New Horizons and Earth images of each star, clearly illustrating the different view of the sky New Horizons has from its deep-space perch. (Credit: NASA)

This two-frame animation of Proxima Centauri blinks back and forth between New Horizons and Earth images of each star, clearly illustrating the different view of the sky New Horizons has from its deep-space perch. (Credit: NASA)

The parallax effect is used to measure the distance to stars, but since stars are always moving, it’s impossible to see the motion over time. “No human eye can detect these shifts,” Stern explained.

However, the change was spotted thanks to scientists comparing images from the ground to the images taken by the New Horizons craft, creating a 3-D view to see the stars “floating” in front of the background stars.

“The New Horizons experiment provides the largest parallax baseline ever made — over 4 billion miles — and is the first demonstration of an easily observable stellar parallax,” Tod Lauer, New Horizons science team member, added in the statement.

“The New Horizons spacecraft is truly a mission of firsts, and this demonstration of stellar parallax is no different” said Kenneth Hansen, New Horizons program scientist. “The New Horizons spacecraft continues to speed away from Earth toward interstellar space and is continuing to return exciting new data for planetary science.”

Traveling at roughly 33,000 miles per hour, the $720 million New Horizons spacecraft, which launched in January 2006, will continue sending data transmission from its Arrokoth flyby until the latter part of summer 2020. It will eventually reach interstellar space, like the Voyager probes before it.

Previous discoveries include the object Arrokoth, previously known as Ultima Thule. In May 2019, New Horizons discovered water and organic molecules on Arrokoth, which is deep within the so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone, well beyond the orbit of Neptune.

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed and built New Horizons and is managing the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute is leading the New Horizons science team and payload operations.

There Are At Least 36 Intelligent Alien Civilizations In Our Galaxy, Say Scientists

This artist’s impression shows the planet K2-18b, it’s host star and an accompanying planet in this system. K2-18b is now the only super-Earth exoplanet known to host both water and temperatures that could support life.
This artist’s impression shows the planet K2-18b, it’s host star and an accompanying planet in this … [+] ESA/HUBBLE, M. KORNMESSER

It’s the oldest and the greatest cosmic question of all: is there anybody out there?

For years all we’ve had is the Drake Equation to help us understand the question, but no indication of an answer. Now a group of scientists at the University of Nottingham think they’ve come up with a new “cosmic evolution”-based calculation—or, rather, an estimation—that suggests that there are likely to be at least 36 ongoing intelligent civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy.

The Milky Way, home to our Solar System, is estimated to have 100 billion to 400 billion stars, and roughly one exoplanet per star in our galaxy.

Published today in The Astrophysical Journal, the new paper examines the likely number of Communicating Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent (CETI) civilizations in the Milky Way. It assumes that intelligent life comes to occur on other planets much as it has done on our own planet.

It actually makes a lot of assumptions. Indeed, way too many assumptions for some that doubt its generous conclusions.

A key assumption is that it takes around five billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets, as it does on Earth, but that life is probable. That’s a big assumption, for sure. Another is that a technological civilization will last at least 100 years—as ours has, thus far. After all, it took 4.5 billion years of evolution before a technological civilization arose on Earth, and was capable of communicating.

The number of civilizations depends strongly on how long they are actively sending out signals of their existence into space—such as radio transmissions from satellites and TV.

The calculation—which says that there could be 36 active communicating intelligent civilizations in our home galaxy on 4.5-billion years old (or more) Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars—is called the “Astrobiological Copernican Limit” by the researchers. It takes into account:

  • star formation histories.
  • how common metal-rich stars are (like the Sun).
  • the likelihood of stars hosting Earth-like planets in their habitable zones.

“The classic method for estimating the number of intelligent civilizations relies on making guesses of values relating to life, but opinions about such matters vary quite substantially,” said Tom Westby, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham, and lead author on the paper. “Our new study simplifies these assumptions using new data, giving us a solid estimate of the number of civilizations in our galaxy.”

The estimation of at least 36 civilizations is based on a very positive outlook on how, where and why life comes into being, and there’s also a wide errorbar. It could be that many, many more alien civilizations exist. It could also be that none exist.

However, the authors note that the average distance to one of these 36 civilizations is around 17,000 light-years, so detection and communication is currently impossible.

There’s also the thorny question of how long intelligent civilizations tend to survive.

“Searches for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations not only reveals the existence of how life itself forms, but also gives us clues about how long our own civilization will last,” said Christopher Conselice, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Nottingham, who led the research. “If we find that intelligent life is common then this would reveal that our civilization could exist for much longer than a few hundred years.”

“Alternatively, if we find that there are no active civilizations in our galaxy it is a bad sign for our own long-term existence.”

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

Mysterious green glow seen shooting across Australian night sky

Night owls in Western Australia have captured a stunning green glow shoot across the evening sky.Video was captured by locals in Port Hedland, in the state’s Pilbara region, as the sky lit up with the ominous green object.The glow was also seen by people in parts of Victoria and South Australia.

Night owls in Western Australia have captured a stunning green glow shoot across the evening sky. (Supplied)
Video was captured by locals in Port Hedland, in the state’s Pilbara region, as the sky lit up with the ominous green object. (Supplied)

Astronomers believe it was Asteroid 2002 NN4, which was scheduled to pass Earth at about 11.20pm yesterday.The asteroid is estimated to be the size of six football fields, with estimated diameter of up to 570 metres, according to the Centre for Near Earth Object Studies.Despite being clearly visible, the asteroid was about 5.2 million kiolmetres away from our planet, 13 times further away than the moon, NASA says, so there was no risk of it hitting the Earth.NASA say these kinds of occurrences are pretty normal, with an asteroid estimated to be about the same size as 2002 NN4 passing us just last August, and experts at the time called it moderately sized.

The biggest known asteroid that orbits the sun is a whopping 33 kilometres long, Lindley Johnson of NASA’s Planetary Defence Coordination Office told CNN last year.

Astronomers believe it was Asteroid 2002 NN4. (Supplied)

Still, the probability of an asteroid actually hitting Earth is pretty slim — occurring once every two or three centuries, Mr Johnson said at the time.In 2013, a meteor just 17 metres in diameter broke through the Earth’s atmosphere over Russia. The meteor didn’t actually make impact with the planet, but the blast still injured more than 1000 people.Being millions of kilometres away, that wasn’t the case with 2002 NN4.The next time 2002 NN4 will be anywhere near this close to the Earth will be in June 2029.

Astronauts: Falcon 9 rocket was ‘totally different’ ride than the space shuttle

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was a “pure flying machine” compared to the space shuttle, according to the astronauts who rode it into space.

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken piloted the first manned flight of the Falcon 9 on May 30. Each astronaut had previously been on on two space shuttle missions, and they spoke of their surprise at how comparatively smooth the SpaceX launch was.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during launch May 30. (NASA/SpaceX)

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during launch May 30. (NASA/SpaceX)

“From the time the engines lit, the first two-and-a-half minutes to staging was about like we expected, except you can never simulate the Gs, so as the Gs built you could certainly feel those,” Hurley told Spaceflight Now. “What I thought was really neat was how sensitive we were to the throttling of the Merlin engines. That was really neat. You could definitely sense that as we broke Mach 1.”

He added: “We didn’t even need to look at the speed. You could tell just by how the rocket felt, so it’s a very pure flying machine.”

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket climbs into orbit May 30 from the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket climbs into orbit May 30 from the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: SpaceX

“Remember, [the] shuttle had solid rocket boosters to start with,” Hurley said. “Those burned very rough for the first two-and-a-half minutes. The first stage with Falcon 9 were the nine Merlin engines. It was a much smoother ride, obviously, because it was a liquid engine ascent.”

This photo provided by NASA shows Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, far right, joining the crew at the International Space Station, after the SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked Sunday, May 31, 2020. The Dragon capsule arrived Sunday morning, hours after a historic liftoff from Florida. It's the first time that a privately built and owned spacecraft has delivered a crew to the orbiting lab. (NASA via AP)

This photo provided by NASA shows Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, far right, joining the crew at the International Space Station, after the SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked Sunday, May 31, 2020. The Dragon capsule arrived Sunday morning, hours after a historic liftoff from Florida. It’s the first time that a privately built and owned spacecraft has delivered a crew to the orbiting lab. (NASA via AP)

Liquid engine ascent is a reference to the mix of super-chilled kerosene and cryogenic liquid oxygen propellants consumed by the Merlin engines.

After the smooth launch, the astronauts said the second stage felt a bit rougher.

“The biggest difference is just the dynamics that are involved, the vibration, the experiences that we felt actually riding a real rocket,” Behnken said.

“It will be interesting to walk with the SpaceX folks to find out why it was a little bit rougher ride on the second stage than it was for shuttle on those three main engines,” Hurley added.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft was developed to largely function autonomously, handling all prep and docking with the International Space Station following the 19-hour flight.

NASA is also working with Boeing on its manned Starliner capsule, which is expected to launch early next year.

Astronomers Uncover New Clues about Ancient Explosion in Milky Way’s Center

About 3.5 million years ago, a so-called Seyfert flare from Sagittarius A*, Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, created two enormous ionization cones that sliced through our Galaxy, beginning with a relatively small diameter close to Sagittarius A* and expanding vastly as they exited the Milky Way. Now, astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have found that the radiation cone that blasted out of the Milky Way’s south pole lit up a massive ribbon-like gas structure — called the Magellanic Stream — trailing the Milky Way’s two satellite galaxies: the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud. The flash lit up a portion of the Magellanic Stream, ionizing its hydrogen by stripping atoms of their electrons.

About 3.5 million years, a tremendous explosion rocked the center of our galaxy. Our distant hominid ancestors, already afoot on the African plains, likely would have seen the resulting flare as a ghostly glow high overhead in the night sky. Image credit: NASA / ESA / G. Cecil, UNC, Chapel Hill & J. DePasquale, STScI.

“The flash was so powerful that it lit up the stream like a Christmas tree — it was a cataclysmic event,” said Dr. Andrew Fox, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

“This shows us that different regions of the Galaxy are linked — what happens in the Galactic center makes a difference to what happens out in the Magellanic Stream. We’re learning about how the black hole impacts the Galaxy and its environment.”

Dr. Fox and colleagues used Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph to probe the stream by using background quasars as light sources.

The astronomers studied sightlines to 21 quasars far behind the Magellanic Stream and 10 behind another feature called the Leading Arm, a tattered and shredded gaseous arm that precedes the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud in their orbit around the Milky Way.

“When the light from the quasar passes through the gas we’re interested in, some of the light at specific wavelengths gets absorbed by the atoms in the cloud,” said Dr. Elaine Frazer, also from the Space Telescope Science Institute.

“When we look at the quasar light spectrum at specific wavelengths, we see evidence of light absorption that we wouldn’t see if the light hadn’t passed through the cloud. From this, we can draw conclusions about the gas itself.”

An enormous outburst from the vicinity of the Milky Way’s central black hole sent cones of blistering ultraviolet radiation above and below the plane of the Galaxy and deep into space. Image credit: NASA / ESA / L. Hustak, STScI.

The team found evidence that the ions had been created in the Magellanic Stream by an energetic flash.

The burst was so powerful that it lit up the stream, even though this structure is about 200,000 light-years from the Galactic center.

Unlike the Magellanic Stream, the Leading Arm did not show evidence of being lit up by the flare. That makes sense, because the Leading Arm is not sitting right below the south galactic pole, so it was not showered with the burst’s radiation.

The same event that caused the radiation flare also burped hot plasma that is now towering about 30,000 light-years above and below the plane of our Galaxy.

These invisible bubbles, weighing the equivalent of millions of Suns, are called the Fermi Bubbles.

Their energetic gamma-ray glow was discovered in 2010 by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

In 2015, the researchers used Hubble’s ultraviolet spectroscopy to measure the expansion velocity and composition of the ballooning lobes. Now they managed to stretch Hubble’s reach beyond the bubbles.

“We always thought that the Fermi Bubbles and the Magellanic Stream were separate and unrelated to each other and doing their own things in different parts of the Galaxy’s halo,” Dr. Fox said.

“Now we see that the same powerful flash from our Galaxy’s central black hole has played a major role in both.”

The findings will be published in the Astrophysical Journal.

The ingredients for life appear well before stars are born, researchers say

A newly published study says that the building blocks for life appear in stellar nurseries — areas in deep space where new stars are formed — well before the stars actually form.

The research notes that organic molecules methanol and acetaldehyde have been found in these stellar nurseries “hundreds of thousands of years” before the stars actually form, according to a University of Arizona statement obtained by Fox News. This flies in the face of previous research, which says that proto-stars need to be present before complex organic molecules can be observed.

“These starless cores we looked at are several hundred thousand years away from the initial formation of a protostar or any planets,” said the study’s co-author and University of Arizona astronomy professor Yancy Shirley in a statement. “This tells us that the basic organic chemistry needed for life is present in the raw gas prior to the formation of stars and planets.”

The study’s lead author, Samantha Scibelli, notes that researchers have long debated where and how to look for the building blocks of life and how they end up on planets other than Earth.

“The exact processes at play are still being debated, because the theoretical models still don’t quite match what we see,” Scibelli added. “With this paper, we can better constrain the mechanisms of formation that might be taking place by telling the theorists how abundant these molecules are.”

The findings have been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

As of June 2020, more than 4,000 exoplanets have been identified, including a “mirror image”  of the Earth and sun that was discovered earlier this month.

Scibelli, a graduate student at the university, added that previous research focused on one molecule, methanol, to look for life. In the new study, methanol was found in all 31 of the pre-stellar cones, but 70 percent of them also contained acetaldehyde, which the researchers believe provides “evidence that complex organic molecules are much more widespread in nascent star-forming regions than previously thought.”

“Inside these cores, which we think of as birthplaces, cocoons and nurseries of low-mass stars similar to our sun, the conditions are such that it’s hard to even create these molecules,” Scibelli explained. “By doing surveys like this, we can understand better how precursors to life come into existence, how they migrate and enter solar systems at later stages of star formation.”

The findings in the research and particularly that in the Taurus Molecular Cloud can give researchers new insight into how our own Solar System formed, Scibellia explained.

“Our solar system was born in a cloud like this, but the cloud is not there anymore for us to see,” she said. “Looking at objects in space is a bit like looking at a photo album with snapshots taken of different people at different stages of life, from their baby days all the way to old age, and in our case starless cores serve as stellar sonograms.”

Researchers recently discovered molecular oxygen for the first time ever outside the Solar System, 561 million light-years from Earth in the Markarian 231 galaxy.

Enigmatic Fast Radio Burst Repeats on 157-Day Cycle

A research team led by University of Manchester astronomers has carried out a long-term monitoring campaign of a repeating fast radio burst called FRB 121102 with the 76-m Lovell Telescope and detected a period of 157 days with a duty cycle of 56%.

An artist’s impression of an orbital modulation model where the FRB progenitor (blue) is in an orbit with a companion astrophysical object (pink). Image credit: Kristi Mickaliger.

Fast radio bursts are enigmatic and rarely detected bursts of energy that come from far beyond the Milky Way Galaxy.

These events have durations of milliseconds and exhibit the characteristic dispersion sweep of radio pulsars. They emit as much energy in one millisecond as the Sun emits in 10,000 years, but the physical phenomenon that causes them is unknown.

To date, more than one hundred FRBs have been detected, yet only some of these have so far been observed to repeat.

The first repeater, FRB 121102, was discovered in 2014 though its repeating nature was not revealed until 2016.

In 2017, astronomers pinpointed the location of the FRB 121102 source and reported that it lies in a star-forming region of a dwarf galaxy more than 3 billion light years from Earth.

Now, University of Manchester’s Dr. Kaustubh Rajwade and colleagues have discovered that radio emission from FRB 121102 follows a cyclic pattern, with bursts observed in a window lasting 90 days followed by a silent period of 67 days.

“This is an exciting result as it is only the second system where we believe we see this modulation in burst activity,” Dr. Rajwade said.

“Detecting a periodicity provides an important constraint on the origin of the bursts and the activity cycles could argue against a precessing neutron star.”

To the team’s surprise, the timescale for FRB 121102’s cycle is almost 10 times longer than the 16-day periodicity exhibited by the recently-discovered repeating 

“This exciting discovery highlights how little we know about the origin of FRBs,” said Dr. Duncan Lorimer, a researcher at West Virginia University.

“Further observations of a larger number of FRBs will be needed in order to obtain a clearer picture about these periodic sources and elucidate their origin.”

The results appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Planets that have ‘significant airborne dust’ could be home to alien life, study says

Though humanity has yet to discover the presence of extraterrestrial life, that hasn’t stopped astronomers from suggesting the universe is teeming with life. A new study suggests that planets with “significant airborne dust” could be the places to look.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, notes that exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System) may have a better shot at having moderate temperatures if they contain a dusty atmosphere, comparing a planet’s topography to the world in the sci-fi classic “Dune.”

“On Earth and Mars, dust storms have both cooling and warming effects on the surface, with the cooling effect typically winning out,” Ian Boutle, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said in a statement. “But these ‘synchronized orbit’ planets are very different. Here, the dark sides of these planets are in perpetual night, and the warming effect wins out, whereas on the dayside, the cooling effect wins out. The effect is to moderate the temperature extremes, thus making the planet more habitable.”

A visualization of three computer simulations of terrestrial exoplanets, showing winds (arrows) and airborne dust (color scale), with an M-dwarf host star in the background. (Credit: Denis Sergeev, University of Exeter)

A visualization of three computer simulations of terrestrial exoplanets, showing winds (arrows) and airborne dust (color scale), with an M-dwarf host star in the background. (Credit: Denis Sergeev, University of Exeter)

The researchers conducted a number of simulations of “terrestrial or Earth-sized exoplanets” using “state-of-the-art” climate models to come up with their findings.

“The inclusion of dust significantly obscures key biomarker gases (e.g. ozone, methane) in simulated transmission spectra, implying an important influence on the interpretation of observations,” the scientists wrote in the study’s abstract. “We demonstrate that future observational and theoretical studies of terrestrial exoplanets must consider the effect of dust.”

The findings add to the number of exoplanets that are able to host life, as well as possibly extending the planet’s “habitable zone,” the distance a planet is from its star where water could exist on the surface.

As of June 2020, more than 4,000 exoplanets have been identified, including a “mirror image”  of the Earth and sun that was discovered earlier this month.

One of the study’s co-authors, University of East Anglia professor Manoj Joshi, said the airborne dust could help support life, but it makes astronomers’ jobs harder in finding that life.

“Airborne dust is something that might keep planets habitable, but also obscures our ability to find signs of life on these planets,” Joshi noted. “These effects need to be considered in future research.”

In early March, an astronomy student from the University of British Columbia discovered 17 new exoplanets, including one that is roughly the same size as Earth.

Known as KIC-7340288 b, the exoplanet is “small enough to be considered rocky” at just 1.5 times the size of Earth, and is in the habitable zone of the star it orbits.

Another recently discovered exoplanet, K2-18b, is also “potentially habitable” and is just 124 light-years from Earth.

In May, a researcher from Columbia University said “the case for a universe teeming with life” is “the favored bet.”

Hidden pattern discovered in repeating radio signal from space

A strange repeating radio signal from space has now been found to have a cycle

A strange repeating radio signal from space has now been found to have a cycle.

New clues have been uncovered in the mystery of fast radio bursts (FRBs) from space. One of these strange signals has been repeating seemingly at random – but with years of observation, an international study has now found a pattern hidden in the noise, which could help reveal what causes them.

FRBs are hugely energetic pulses of radio that last mere milliseconds. Many of them are one-off events, gone in a flash never to be heard from again, while others repeat at random intervals. Or so we thought.

As the first repeater to be found, FRB 121102 is arguably the most famous FRB. Sometimes it whips into a frenzy, firing off dozens of bursts within hours of each other, while other times we won’t hear a peep out of it for months.

Astronomers have been watching it closely since its discovery in 2012, and with that much data, an international team has now found that its activity isn’t random after all. It follows a very regular pattern.

The team studied 32 bursts detected during a four-year observation run, as well as data from previous studies of the object. They found that all of FRB 121102’s emissions occur within a window of about 90 days, before it falls silent for 67 days. Then, the entire 157-day cycle begins again.

“This exciting discovery highlights how little we know about the origin of FRBs,” says Duncan Lorimer an author of the study. “Further observations of a larger number of FRBs will be needed in order to obtain a clearer picture about these periodic sources and elucidate their origin.”

An artist's impression of an orbital model that could be producing the pattern of signals detected from FRB 121102: the radio-emitting object may be in a tight orbit with a massive object like a black hole
An artist’s impression of an orbital model that could be producing the pattern of signals detected from FRB 121102: the radio-emitting object may be in a tight orbit with a massive object like a black hole

This is only the second FRB found to have a repeating pattern. Earlier this year astronomers discovered a signal called FRB 180916, which repeated like clockwork on a 16-day cycle, flaring up regularly for about four days before falling silent for the next 12.

Obviously that’s a much quicker cycle, which raises new questions about what actually causes FRBs. A periodic nature, the team says, might link the phenomenon to orbital motions of objects such as stars, neutron stars and black holes. That’s backed up by the fact that signals from FRB 121102 are extremely twisted and polarized, which could be caused by a massive black hole nearby.

While FRBs remain a mystery for now, every new piece of the puzzle that astronomers discover brings us closer to an answer.

The research was published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Chandra Catches Relativistic Jets from Stellar-Mass Black Hole

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have observed a pair of relativistic jets blasting away from a black hole in the binary system MAXI J1820+070.

In this illustration, MAXI J1820+070 pulls material off a neighboring star and into an accretion disk; above the disk is a region of subatomic particles called the corona. Image credit: Aurore Simonnet / NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

MAXI J1820+070, also known as ASASSN-18ey, is a binary system located about 10,000 light-years away in the constellation of Ophiuchus.

This artist’s impression illustrates how high-speed jets from supermassive black holes would look. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble / L. Calçada, ESO.

The black hole has a mass about 8 times that of our Sun. Its companion star has about half the mass of the Sun.

The black hole’s strong gravity pulls material away from the companion star into an X-ray emitting disk surrounding the black hole.

While some of the hot gas in the disk will cross the event horizon and fall into the black hole, some of it is instead blasted away from the black hole in a pair of jets. These jets are pointed in opposite directions, launched from outside the event horizon along magnetic field lines.

MAXI J1820+070’s black hole was discovered during its July 2018 outburst and was extensively monitored across the electromagnetic spectrum.

In November 2018 and February, May, and June of 2019, Université de Paris astronomer Mathilde Espinasse and colleagues used Chandra to observe jets in this system.

The main panel of the graphic is a large optical and infrared image of the Milky Way galaxy from the PanSTARRS optical telescope in Hawaii, with the location of MAXI J1820+070 above the plane of the galaxy marked by a cross. The inset shows the first observation of MAXI J1820+070 by Chandra on November 13, 2018 and the jet launched on July 7, 2018.

“Just how fast are the jets of material moving away from the black hole? From Earth’s perspective, it looks as if the northern jet is moving at 60% the speed of light, while the southern one is traveling at an impossible-sounding 160% of light speed,” the researchers said.

“This is an example of superluminal motion, a phenomenon that occurs when something travels towards us near the speed of light, along a direction close to our line of sight.”

“This means the object travels almost as quickly towards us as the light it generates, giving the illusion that the jet’s motion is more rapid than the speed of light.”

“In the case of MAXI J1820+070, the southern jet is pointing towards us and the northern jet is pointing away from us, so the southern jet appears to be moving faster than the northern one.”

“The actual velocity of the particles in both jets is greater than 80% of the speed of light.”

The team estimates that about 181 million billion kg of material was blown away from the black hole in these two jets launched in 2018.

“This amount of mass is comparable to what could be accumulated on the disk around the black hole in the space of a few hours,” the scientists said.

“Studies of MAXI J1820+070 and similar systems promise to teach us more about the jets produced by stellar-mass black holes and how they release their energy once their jets interact with their surroundings.”

The findings will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Scientists discover distant ‘mirror image’ of the Earth and the sun

Scientists have discovered a potentially habitable exoplanet and its star that are a “mirror image” of the Earth and the sun.

Experts from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany, led an international team of astronomers in the discovery of the exoplanet-star-pair.

Exoplanet KOI-456.04 is less than twice the size of Earth, but orbits a sun-like star, explains the Max Planck Institute, in a statement. The star is just over 3,000 light-years from the solar system.

A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals about 6 trillion miles.

A view of Earth’s horizon as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. This image was taken by an Expedition 7 crew member onboard the International Space Station - file photo.

A view of Earth’s horizon as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. This image was taken by an Expedition 7 crew member onboard the International Space Station – file photo. (NASA)

“KOI-456.04 sits in a region of the stellar habitable zone – the distance range around a star admitting liquid surface water on an Earth-like planet – that is comparable to the Earth’s position around the Sun,” the scientists add, in the statement.

Experts also note that KOI-456.04’s host star is unlike the central stars of most other exoplanets.

“Its host star, called Kepler-160, actually emits visible light; the central stars of almost all other exoplanets, on the other hand, emit infrared radiation, are smaller and fainter than the Sun and therefore belong to the class of red dwarf stars,” explains the Institute, in the statement.

The newly discovered planet candidate KOI-456.04 and its star Kepler-160 (second panel from above) have great similarities to Earth and Sun (top panel). (© MPS/René Heller)

The research is published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Scientists used a new search algorithm to discover planet candidate KOI-456.04, which has a 1.9 Earth radii and an orbital period of 378 days. “The surface conditions on KOI-456.04 could be similar to those known on Earth, provided its atmosphere is not too massive and non-Earth-like,” explains the Max Planck Institute, in the statement. “The amount of light received from its host star is about 93 percent of the sunlight received on Earth.”

However, experts also note that more data is needed to formally declare KOI-456.04 a planet. “It cannot currently be ruled out completely that KOI-456.04 is, in fact, a statistical fluke or a systematic measurement error instead of a genuine planet,” they write. “The team estimates the chances of a planetary nature of KOI-456.04 to be about 85 percent pro planet. Obtaining a formal planetary status requires 99 percent.”

The Sonneberg Observatory in Germany, the University of Göttingen, the University of California in Santa Cruz, and NASA also participated in the research.

The Max Planck Institute, along with an international team of astronomers, was recently involved in the discovery of a massive, rotating disk galaxy from the early universe.

Next-Generation Telescopes Could Detect Signs of Life on Rocky Planets around White Dwarfs

A team of astrobiologists from the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University has developed a spectral field guide for Earth-like exoplanets transiting small, dense stars called white dwarfs.

An artist’s impression of a rocky exoplanet orbiting a white dwarf. Image credit: Jack Madden / Cornell University.

In just a few years, astronomers — using tools such as the James Webb Space Telescope, the Extremely Large Telescopes, as well as mission concepts like Origins, HabEx, and LUVOIR — will be able to search for life on exoplanets.

White dwarfs are similar in size to Earth and have relatively stable environments for billions of years after initial cooling, making them intriguing targets for exoplanet searches and characterization of terrestrial planet atmospheres.

Their small size and the resulting large planet transit signal allow observations with the upcoming telescopes to probe the atmosphere of such rocky planets, if they exist.

“Rocky planets around white dwarfs are intriguing candidates to characterize because their hosts are not much bigger than Earth-size planets,” said Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute.

The trick is to catch an exoplanet’s quick crossing in front of a white dwarf.

“We are hoping for and looking for that kind of transit,” said Thea Kozakis, a doctoral candidate in the Carl Sagan Institute.

“If we observe a transit of that kind of planet, scientists can find out what is in its atmosphere, refer back to this paper, match it to spectral fingerprints and look for signs of life. Publishing this kind of guide allows observers to know what to look for.”

Kozakis, Kaltenegger and their colleague, Zifan Lin, assembled the spectral models for different atmospheres at different temperatures to create a template for possible biosignatures.

“We show what the spectral fingerprints could be and what forthcoming space-based and large terrestrial telescopes can look out for,” Kozakis said.

Chasing down these planets in the habitable zone of white dwarf systems is challenging.

“We wanted to know if light from a white dwarf would allow us to spot life in a planet’s atmosphere if it were there,” Dr. Kaltenegger said.

“Our paper indicates that astronomers should be able to see spectral biosignatures — such as methane in combination with ozone or nitrous oxide — if those signs of life are present.”

“This research expands scientific databases for finding spectral signs of life on exoplanets to forgotten star systems.”

“If we would find signs of life on planets orbiting under the light of long-dead stars, the next intriguing question would be whether life survived the star’s death or started all over again — a second genesis, if you will.”

The team’s paper was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Mysterious interstellar comet Borisov survived its encounter with the sun, new study says

A new study notes that interstellar comet 2I/Borisov did break up after it came close to the sun, but seems likely to survive and continue its journey through the Solar System.

The research, which can be read here, noted that the comet partially broke up but concluded it was negligible and, with its core intact, it is likely to continue its epic journey throughout space.

“Overall, our observations reveal that the outburst and splitting of the nucleus are minor events involving a negligible fraction of the total mass: 2I/Borisov will survive its passage through the planetary region largely unscathed,” researchers wrote in the study.

The interstellar comet 2I/Borisov, as seen on Oct. 12 with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

The interstellar comet 2I/Borisov, as seen on Oct. 12 with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA, ESA and David Jewitt/UCLA)

In December 2019, comet 2I/Borisov reached its closest point to the sun, 190 million miles away, known as perihelion. That same month, the Hubble Space Telescope captured images of the comet.

The fact comet 2I/Borisov broke up but largely remained intact is important, as researchers can now study its composition, ScienceAlert reported.

In October 2019, a separate study confirmed that not only is 2I/Borisov interstellar but it has a “cometary appearance,” with an extended coma, a “slightly reddish color” and a faint, broad tail.

Two-color composite image of comet 2I/Borisov captured by the Gemini North telescope on 10 September 2019. The image was obtained with eight 60-second exposures, four in green and four in red bands. CREDIT Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA

Two-color composite image of comet 2I/Borisov captured by the Gemini North telescope on 10 September 2019. The image was obtained with eight 60-second exposures, four in green and four in red bands. CREDIT Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA

It’s unclear where comet 2I/Borisov originated from, but a study published in September 2019 suggested it originated in the binary system 60 Kruger, approximately 13 light-years away. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.

In September 1019, the International Astronomical Union confirmed that the object was from another solar system, making it the second-known interstellar object. Its predecessor, ‘Oumuamua was first discovered in 2017.

study published in October 2019 suggested it could be carrying water on it from beyond the Solar System, which if true, would be the first time water from outside the Solar System has been detected.

In November 2019, astronomers captured an image of the mysterious comet and its impressive tail, which at nearly 100,000 miles long, is roughly 14 times the size of Earth.

The second interstellar object ever discovered, comet 2I/Borisov was first spotted on Aug. 30, 2019 by astronomer Gennady Borisov.

Unlike ‘Ouamuamua, comet 2I/Borisov will be observable for an extended period of time, an idea that has excited astronomers.

Stadium-sized asteroid set to whiz past Earth, NASA says

A stadium-sized asteroid is set to whiz past Earth this week.

On its Asteroid Watch page, NASA said the 1,100-foot asteroid will fly past Earth on Saturday. The space rock will come within 3.16 million miles of Earth, according to NASA.

Asteroid 163348, or 2002 NN4, is traveling at 11.15 kilometers per second (6.9 miles per second or 24,840 mph), according to NASA.

The space agency classifies asteroid 2002 NN4 as a “potentially hazardous object” because it is larger than 492 feet and traveling within 4.6 million miles of Earth.

A football-sized asteroid – labeled 2018 GE3 – buzzed by Earth on April 16, 2018.

A football-sized asteroid – labeled 2018 GE3 – buzzed by Earth on April 16, 2018. (Texas A&M)

In 2019 a football-field-sized asteroid flew past Earth at more than 30,000 mph.

In 2016, NASA opened a new office to track asteroids and comets that come too close to Earth. The Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) formalized the agency’s prior program for detecting and tracking near-Earth Objects, known as NEOs.

A small chunk of an asteroid or comet is known as a meteoroid. When it enters Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor, fireball or shooting star. The pieces of rock that hit the ground, valuable to collectors, are called meteorites.

Mars may have been a ringed planet in its ancient past, study suggests

There are four planets in the Solar System that have rings — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. A new study, however, suggests that Mars may have also once been a ringed planet.

The research highlights that one of Mars’ moons, Deimos, has a slightly altered orbit that suggests there was something responsible for its slight tilt.

“The fact that Deimos’s orbit is not exactly in plane with Mars’s equator was considered unimportant, and nobody cared to try to explain it,” said the study’s lead author Matija Ćuk, a research scientist at the SETI Institute, in a statement. “But once we had a big new idea and we looked at it with new eyes, Deimos’s orbital tilt revealed its big secret.”

(Credit: NASA)

(Credit: NASA)

Deimos is slightly tilted by two degrees to the Martian equator.

The researchers noted that the findings came after looking at Mars’ other moon, Phobos, which they note will eventually orbit too low to the planet (in an astronomical time frame) and the Red Planet’s gravity will tear it apart and form a ring around Mars.

The theory that Mars’ moons break up and form rings has another element to it, the researchers noted. “[A] newborn moon would move away from the ring and Mars,” the statement reads. “Which is in the opposite direction from the inward spiral Phobos is experiencing due to gravitational interactions with Mars. An outward-migrating moon just outside the rings can encounter a so-called orbital resonance, in which Deimos’s orbital period is three times that of the other moon.”

The study has been accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Researchers are learning more about Mars’ ancient past. A study published in March suggested the Red Planet had two unique reservoirs of ancient water that once flowed deep beneath the planet’s surface.

NASA is slated to launch the recently renamed Perseverance rover on July 17, 2020. In March, Fox News reported the pandemic had not yet impacted launch preps for the unmanned rover, with work “continuing on schedule.”

The Perseverance rover will attempt to detect if there is any fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial beings, in addition to other tasks.

NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

ASKAP Telescope Traces Four Fast Radio Bursts to Massive Galaxies

Astronomers using the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory have tracked four mysterious blasts of cosmic radio waves back to their home galaxies; all four came from the outer regions of massive galaxies with moderate star-formation rates, ruling out central supermassive black holes and cosmic strings as a source.

Host galaxies of FRBs localized by the ASKAP telescope, from left to right: FRB 190102, FRB 180924, FRB 181112, and FRB 190608. The white circle/ellipse represents the total uncertainty in the FRB position. Image credit: Bhandari et al, doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab672e / ESO.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are enigmatic and rarely detected bursts of energy that come from far beyond our Milky Way Galaxy.

Lasting several milliseconds, they were first detected at the Parkes radio telescope by Australian astronomers Duncan Lorimer and David Narkevic in 2007.

Scientists estimate that there are between 2,000 and 10,000 FRBs occurring in the sky every day.

They emit as much energy in one millisecond as the Sun emits in 10,000 years, but the processes that cause them are unknown.

Using a specially designed transient detector on ASKAP, CSIRO astronomer Shivani Bhandari and colleagues found the exact location of four new fast radio bursts: FRB 180924, FRB 181112, FRB 190102 and FRB 190608.

Follow-up observations with the Gemini South, ESO’s Very Large Telescope, Magellan Baade, Keck, and LCOGT-1m telescopes imaged and found the distances to the host galaxies.

“Major advances for other transient events have been made by studying their home galaxies,” said Dr. J. Xavier Prochaska, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“We are optimistic that studies like ours will be just as vital.”

The astronomers found FRB 180924, FRB 181112, FRB 190102 and FRB 190608 came from massive galaxies that are forming new stars at a modest rate, very similar to the Milky Way.

Their environment is very different to the host galaxy of the first repeating FRB 121102, which is a starburst dwarf galaxy.

All four new FRBs lie in the outskirts of their galaxies, which appears to rule out the progenitor models that involve active galactic nuclei (i.e. accreting supermassive black holes located in the center of galaxies) or free-floating cosmic strings.

“These precisely localized fast radio bursts came from the outskirts of their home galaxies, removing the possibility that they have anything to do with supermassive black holes,” Dr. Bhandari said.

“These fast radio bursts could not have come from a superluminous stellar explosion, or from cosmic strings,” said CSIRO’s Professor Elaine Sadler.

“Models such as mergers of compact objects like white dwarfs or neutron stars, or flares from magnetars created by such mergers, are still looking good.”

“Positioning the sources of fast radio bursts is a huge technical achievement, and moves the field on enormously,” said Dr. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967.

“We may not yet be clear exactly what is going on, but now, at last, options are being ruled out. This is a highly significant paper, thoroughly researched and well written.”

The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Mysterious interstellar ‘Oumuamua could be made of something almost unheard of in science

The mystery surrounding the interstellar object ‘Oumumua seemingly gets weirder by the day.

A new study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggests the interstellar object could be made of hydrogen ice. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it’s rarely observed in a solid form.

“We developed a theory that explains all of ‘Oumuamua’s weird properties,” said study co-author Gregory Laughlin, a professor of astronomy in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in a statement. “We show that it was likely composed of hydrogen ice. This is a new type of object, but it looks like there may be many more of them showing up, going forward.”

Artist's illustration of 'Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object spotted in our solar system.

Artist’s illustration of ‘Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object spotted in our solar system. (M. Kornmesser/ESO)

The cigar-shaped ‘Oumuamua, which was first discovered in October 2017, is unlike anything researchers had ever seen before, due to its shape, as well as its dry surface.

The research notes that hydrogen ice, which needs extremely cold temperatures, is something that is present in the cores of molecular clouds. Molecular clouds form the basis of stars and the researchers believe ‘Oumuamua could contain hydrogen ice after it passed by one of these molecular clouds in deep space, which could explain its speed.

“As ‘Oumuamua passed close to the Sun and received its warmth, melting hydrogen would have rapidly boiled off the icy surface,” the study’s lead author, Darryl Seligman explained, “providing the observed acceleration and also winnowing ‘Oumuamua down to its weird, elongated shape — much as a bar of soap becomes a thin sliver after many uses in the shower.”

It’s possible that these “hydrogen icebergs” or “hydrogen comets” could be more prevalent in the solar system, which could give researchers new information about how stars and planets form.

“Their presence would be an accurate probe of the conditions in the dark recesses of star-forming clouds and provide a critical new clue for understanding the earliest phases of the still-mysterious processes that generate the birth of stars and their accompanying planets,” Laughlin noted.

The 900-foot long cigar-shaped ‘Oumuamua has led to some researchers to believe it could be an alien probe.

study published in November 2018 from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggested it could be “a lightsail of artificial origin” sent from another civilization.

The researcher who discovered ‘Oumuamua, Canadian physicist and astronomer Robert Weryk, said the idea it was from another civilization was just “wild speculation.”

No longer observable by telescopes as of January 2018, many have speculated what ‘Ouamumua is. In addition to the light sail theory, some have theorized that it is a comet or an asteroid.

The mystery about its exact nature deepened in late 2018, when NASA said it had been looking in ‘Ouamumua’s direction for two months but did not originally see it.


We’re at a really exciting time where the number of crewed vehicles going to the international space station will go from just one to three!. The Soyuz’s 8 year monopoly for getting humans to the ISS is coming to an end. So today we’re going to take a deep dive on the two new spaceships that will be responsible for taking humans to and from the International Space Station from the United States. We’ll compare the Boeing Starliner riding an Atlas V rocket to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on their Falcon 9 Rocket.SpaceX Crew Dragon Vs Boeing Starliner vs Soyuz vs Space Shuttle comparison commercial crew

Renders by – Reese Carges – @AstroReeseW (Dragon 2/ Falcon 9) and Lionel Oullette – @ArcturusVFX (Starliner / Atlas)

And to see how we’ve progressed in the world of human spaceflight, we’ll also compare all these systems along side Russia’s Soyuz capsule and the United State’s retired Space Shuttle in a side by side comparison. We’ll look at the designs, the rockets they’ll ride, dimensions, cost, safety considerations, and any other unique features that each vehicle offers.

Considering I’ve been up close and personal with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Capsule, and Boeing’s Starliner, I’ve got some good insight on some of these vehicles, so let’s get started!

The International Space Station is still one the greatest feats of human engineering. After all, it’s a football field sized floating laboratory traveling 10 times faster than a bullet, circling the Earth every 90 minutes. It’s taken 33 launches to put all of its pieces into orbit and has been home to over 230 people from almost 20 countries.

ISS crew rotations

The ISS typically has 6 astronauts onboard. Crews are sent in groups of 3 and usually reside at the station for 6 months. There is typically a 3 month overlap for the existing crew and the newly arriving crew. Since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, there’s only been a single ride to the ISS. Russia’s Soyuz vehicle.

But we’re coming up on a really exciting time as the United States prepares to send astronauts to the International Space Station from US soil on two brand new spaceships! And what’s super exciting, is NASA has hired private companies to do the development and operations in a new program called the commercial crew program.

The two companies that won contracts are SpaceX and Boeing. I’m not really going to get into how the commercial crew program got started or has progressed in today’s video, I mostly want to talk about the hardware. Each company has a unique approach to how they’ll get crew to the station, so let’s dive into each one and then we’ll compare them to the Soyuz capsule as well as the Space Shuttle to see how much has changed since the ISS was born.

NASA Commercial Crew program SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner

Starting off with Boeing and their Starliner. Boeing started designing the Starliner, originally known as the CST-100, in 2010 after winning a contract from NASA for the CCDev program. The starliner is a traditional truncated cone capsule design, much like previous spacecraft from the United States. It can carry up to 7 astronauts at a time, although NASA won’t use more than 4 seats at a time.

SpaceX makes history, launches NASA astronauts into space from US soil for the first time since 2011

Historic liftoff: SpaceX launches NASA astronauts into orbit

NASA astronauts blast off into space on a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station.

SpaceX has launched NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on their historic Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission is the first time that astronauts have launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011.

Hurley and Behnken blasted off from Kennedy Space Center’s historic launch pad 39A, which was also used for the Apollo and space shuttle programs, at 3:22 p.m. ET Saturday. An attempt on Wednesday was scrubbed due to weather conditions.

The launch is the first time a private company, rather than a national government, has sent astronauts into orbit.

There were concerns that bad weather would force Saturday’s launch to be scrubbed, but the mission was able to proceed as planned. President Trump and Vice President Pence, who is chairman of the National Space Council, watched the launch from Kennedy Space Center.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches into space from Kennedy Space Center with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft on May 30, 2020.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches into space from Kennedy Space Center with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft on May 30, 2020. (Photo by Saul Martinez/Getty Images)

Speaking at Kennedy Space Center following the launch, Trump praised America’s “bold and triumphant return to the stars.”

“With this launch, the decades of lost years and little action are officially over,” he said. The names of Hurley and Behnken, he added, will stand in the history books alongside the likes of Mercury and Gemini astronaut Gus Grissom.

“We have liftoff! Congratulations @Astro_Doug, @AstroBehnken, @NASA and @SpaceX!” tweeted Pence.Mike Pence@Mike_Pence

We have liftoff! Congratulations @Astro_Doug, @AstroBehnken, @NASA and @SpaceX! #LaunchAmerica 🇺🇸9,909Twitter Ads info and privacy1,576 people are talking about this

Launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Hurley and Behnken are traveling to the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon spacecraft built by the space company.SpaceX@SpaceX


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After a short journey into orbit, Crew Dragon began its 19-hour journey to the orbiting space lab.  Autonomous docking with the International Space Station is expected at 10:29 a.m. EDT on Sunday. The duration of the astronauts’ stay on the orbiting space lab is yet to be determined.

After separation, the Falcon 9 booster successfully returned to Earth, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (R) and Doug Hurley sit in a Tesla vehicle after walking out of the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (R) and Doug Hurley sit in a Tesla vehicle after walking out of the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“Today was just an amazing day,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said shortly after the launch. “I can breathe a sigh of relief but I can also tell you that I’m not going to celebrate until Bob and Doug are home safely.”

Bridenstine said he was praying for the astronauts during the liftoff. “I have heard that rumble [of a rocket launch] before, but it’s a whole different feeling when you’ve got your own team on that rocket.”

Under normal circumstances, large crowds would have been expected to witness the historic launch but, citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, NASA urged people to stay away.

A SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Crew Dragon capsule, sits on Launch Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, May 30, 2020.

A SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Crew Dragon capsule, sits on Launch Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, May 30, 2020. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

STS-135, the last space shuttle mission, launched from Kennedy Space Center on July 8, 2011. The space shuttle Atlantis carried four NASA astronauts on the mission to resupply the ISS, as well as an experiment for robotically refueling satellites in space.SpaceX@SpaceX

Falcon 9 booster has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship!

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Since then, the U.S. has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to get astronauts into space. Russia charges the U.S. about $75 million to send an astronaut into space.

NASA recently agreed to pay Russian space agency Roscosmos $90 million for one final seat on one of its Soyuz rockets.

Proxima b, the closest alien planet we know, may be even more Earth-like than we thought

“ESPRESSO has made it possible to measure the mass of the planet with a precision of over one-tenth of the mass of Earth.”

This artist's impression shows what the surface of the alien planet Proxima b might look like.
This artist’s impression shows what the surface of the alien planet Proxima b might look like.  (Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

The closest alien planet to our solar system is even more Earth-like than scientists had thought, new observations suggest.

In a new study, an international team of researchers found that Proxima b, which lies just 4.2 light-years from Earth, is just 17% more massive than our planet. 

Previously, scientists thought that this exoplanet, which lies in the habitable zone of its star, harbored about 1.3 Earth masses. The new measurement indicates that Proxima b is even more like our home planet, at least in size, than previous observations led scientists to think. 

The research team studied Proxima b using the Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations, or ESPRESSO for short.  ESPRESSO is a Swiss spectrograph that is currently mounted on the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile. Spectrographs observe objects and split the light coming from those objects into the wavelengths that make it up so that researchers can study the object in closer detail. 

Proxima b was first detected four years ago by an older spectrograph, HARPS (“High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher”), which is installed on a scope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile  But with these newer observations, scientists have an updated, ultra-precise view of the planet. 

“We were already very happy with the performance of HARPS, which has been responsible for discovering hundreds of exoplanets over the last 17 years,” study co-author Francesco Pepe, an astronomy professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and the person in charge of ESPRESSO, said in a statement. “We’re really pleased that ESPRESSO can produce even better measurements, and it’s gratifying and [a] just reward for the teamwork lasting nearly 10 years.”

“ESPRESSO has made it possible to measure the mass of the planet with a precision of over one-tenth of the mass of Earth,” Michel Mayor, a Swiss astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2019 and helped to develop a new type of spectrograph called Elodie, who was not an author on this study, said in the same statement. “It’s completely unheard of.”

An alien planet 

So what’s the deal with this Earth-sized planet? Proxima b is “one of the most interesting planets known in the solar neighborhood,” Alejandro Suarez Mascareño, the lead author on this study, said in the same statement. 

This strange alien planet orbits Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun. Because the planet orbits right in the middle of its star’s habitable zone, it’s possible that liquid water — and potentially even life — could exist there. Because of its Earth-like mass, scientists believe that, not only could liquid water exist on Proxima b, it could also be a rocky, terrestrial planet similar to Earth. 

But Proxima b orbits around a star that, while close to our solar system, is also much dimmer, and much less massive than our sun. Researchers think that the exoplanet is tidally locked and in synchronous rotation with its star, meaning that one side is always facing the star and one is always facing away: a light side and a dark side. 

In addition, it’s unclear if, Proxima b has an atmosphere. The planet lies very close to its star, completing one orbit every 11 Earth days. So, some researchers think that radiation coming from Proxima Centauri might have stripped away Proxima b’s air, making it impossible for the alien planet’s surface to hold onto liquid water. As scientists continue to study this system with new and better technology, we will be able to better understand what it’s really like on Proxima b. 

This new study was published May 26 to the preprint server arXiv and accepted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. 

Astronomers Discover Hundreds of New Strong Gravitational Lenses

Using data from the Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey (DECaLS), astronomers have discovered 335 new candidate strong lensing systems.

These two columns show side-by-side comparisons of gravitational lens candidates imaged by the Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey (color) and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (black and white). Image credit: Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey / NASA / ESA / Hubble / Huang et al.

Gravitational lensing was first theorized by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago to describe how light bends when it travels past massive objects like galaxies and galaxy clusters.

These lensing effects are typically described as weak or strong, and the strength of a lens relates to an object’s position and mass and distance from the light source that is lensed.

Strong lenses can have a mass of 100 billion solar masses, causing light from more distant objects in the same path to magnify and split, for example, into multiple images, or to appear as dramatic arcs or rings.

“Finding these objects is like finding telescopes that are the size of a galaxy. They’re powerful probes of dark matter and dark energy,” said co-author Dr. David Schlegel, a senior scientist in the Physics Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In the study, Dr. Schlegel and colleagues used Cori, a supercomputer at Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, to analyze imaging data from the DECaLS project, one of three surveys conducted in preparation for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) survey.

The lens candidates were identified with the assistance of a neural network, which is a form of artificial intelligence in which the computer program is trained to gradually improve its image-matching over time to provide an increasing success rate in identifying lenses.

“It takes hours to train the neural network. There is a very sophisticated fitting model of ‘What is a lens?’ and ‘What is not a lens?’,” said lead author Dr. Xiaosheng Huang, an astronomer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of San Francisco.

The newly-discovered strong lensing system candidates could provide specific markers for precisely measuring distances to galaxies in the early Universe if supernovae are observed and precisely tracked and measured via these lenses, for example.

Strong lenses also provide a powerful window into the unseen Universe of dark matter, which makes up about 85% of the matter in the Universe, as most of the mass responsible for lensing effects is thought to be dark matter.

Dark matter and the accelerating expansion of the Universe, driven by dark energy, are among the biggest mysteries that physicists are working to solve.

“We already succeeded in winning time on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to confirm some of the most promising lensing candidates revealed in the study, with observing time on the Hubble that began in 2019,” Dr. Huang said.

“Hubble can see the fine details without the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere.”

paper on the findings was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Astronomers Directly Image Giant Planet-Like Object around Sun-Like Star

Using three instruments on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), an international team of astronomers has discovered and imaged a giant sub-stellar object — a giant planet or a brown dwarf — around the very young, Sun-like star TYC 8998-760-1.

This SPHERE image shows TYC 8998-760-1b. Image credit: Bohn et al, doi: 10.1093/mnras/stz3462.

TYC 8998-760-1 is a K3-type star located 309 light-years away in the small southern constellation of Musca.

Also known as 2MASS J13251211-6456207, the star is about the same mass as our Sun, but is only 16.7 million years old.

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT)

This means that its newly-imaged companion, dubbed TYC 8998-760-1b, formed only recently.

The object is 3 times the size of our Jupiter and about 14 times more massive.

It has an estimated surface temperature of about 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,600 degrees Fahrenheit) and likely has a highly inflated atmosphere.

“TYC 8998-760-1b is among the youngest and least massive companions that are directly detected around solar-type stars,” said Leiden Observatory astronomer Alexander Bohn and his colleagues from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and the United States.

These images from VLT’s SPHERE and NaCo instruments show the TYC 8998-760-1 system; proper motion analysis proves that all objects north of the star are background (bg) stars, while the object south-west of TYC 8998-760-1 (highlighted by the white arrow) is co-moving with its host. Image credit: Bohn et al, doi: 10.1093/mnras/stz3462.

The discovery is part of the Young Suns Exoplanet Survey (YSES) of 70 young, solar-mass stars located in the Lower Centaurus-Crux subgroup of the Scorpius-Centaurus association.

The researchers were able to directly image TYC 8998-760-1b using VLT’s SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research) and NaCo (Nasmyth Adaptive Optics System/Near-Infrared Imager and Spectrograph) instruments.

They also analyzed medium-resolution data on TYC 8998-760-1 collected by VLT’s X-SHOOTER spectrograph.

“The discovery of TYC 8998-760-1b opens many pathways for future ground and space-based characterization of the solar-like environment at a very early stage of its evolution,” the scientists said.

Their paper was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Astronomer Uses Bayesian Statistics to Weigh Likelihood of Complex Life and Intelligence beyond Earth

In a new study published this week in the Proceeding of the National Academy of SciencesDr. David Kipping of Columbia University and Flatiron Institute used a statistical technique called Bayesian inference to estimate the odds of complex life and intelligence emerging beyond Earth.

Kipping uses Bayesian statistics to shed light on how extraterrestrial life might evolve in the Universe. Image credit: Dina Dee.

A fundamental question to modern science concerns the prevalence of life, and intelligence, within the Universe.

Searches within the Solar System have not yielded any direct evidence for extraterrestrial life, and the remote detection of chemical biomarkers on exoplanets remains years ahead of present observational capabilities.

The search for intelligence, through the signatures of their technology, may be detectable under certain assumptions and limited observational campaigns have been attempted. However, the underlying assumptions make it challenging to use these null results to directly constrain the prevalence of life or intelligence at this time.

“The rapid emergence of life and the late evolution of humanity, in the context of the timeline of evolution, are certainly suggestive. But in this study it’s possible to actually quantify what the facts tell us,” Dr. Kipping said.

To conduct his analysis, Dr. Kipping used the chronology of the earliest evidence for life and the evolution of humanity.

The astronomer asked how often we would expect life and intelligence to re-emerge if Earth’s history were to repeat, re-running the clock over and over again.

He framed the problem in terms of four possible answers: (i) life is common and often develops intelligence; (ii) life is rare but often develops intelligence; (iii) life is common and rarely develops intelligence; and (iv) life is rare and rarely develops intelligence.

This method of Bayesian statistical inference — used to update the probability for a hypothesis as evidence or information becomes available — states prior beliefs about the system being modeled, which are then combined with data to cast probabilities of outcomes.

“The technique is akin to betting odds. It encourages the repeated testing of new evidence against your position, in essence a positive feedback loop of refining your estimates of likelihood of an event,” Dr. Kipping said.

From these four hypotheses, the scientist used Bayesian mathematical formulas to weigh the models against one another.

“In Bayesian inference, prior probability distributions always need to be selected,” he said.

“But a key result here is that when one compares the rare-life versus common-life scenarios, the common-life scenario is always at least nine times more likely than the rare one.”

His analysis is based on evidence that life emerged within 300 million years of the formation of the Earth’s oceans as found in carbon-13-depleted zircon deposits, a very fast start in the context of Earth’s lifetime.

“The ratio is at least 9:1 or higher, depending on the true value of how often intelligence develops,” he said.

“If planets with similar conditions and evolutionary time lines to Earth are common, then the analysis suggests that life should have little problem spontaneously emerging on other planets.”

“And what are the odds that these extraterrestrial lives could be complex, differentiated and intelligent? Here, my inquiry is less assured, finding just 3:2 odds in favor of intelligent life.”

This result stems from humanity’s relatively late appearance in Earth’s habitable window, suggesting that its development was neither an easy nor ensured process.

“If we played Earth’s history again, the emergence of intelligence is actually somewhat unlikely,” Dr. Kipping said.

“The odds in the study aren’t overwhelming, being quite close to 50:50, and the findings should be treated as no more than a gentle nudge toward a hypothesis.”

“The analysis can’t provide certainties or guarantees, only statistical probabilities based on what happened here on Earth.”

“Overall, our work supports an optimistic outlook for future searches for biosignatures,” he said.

“The slight preference for a rare intelligence scenario is consistent with a straightforward resolution to the Fermi paradox. However, our work says nothing about the lifetime of civilizations, and indeed the weight of evidence in favor of this scenario is sufficiently weak that searches for technosignatures should certainly be a component in observational campaigns seeking to resolve this grand mystery.”

Astronomers Spot First Trojan Asteroid with Comet-Like Tail: 2019 LD2

Watch Jupiter Trojan asteroid 2019 LD2’s orbit the sun for 25 years in this orbit animation. New imagery from the University of Hawaiʻi’s Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) reveals that it has an unusual comet-like tail.

Credit: / Orbit animation: NASA/JPL-Caltech / image: ATLAS/A. Heinze/IfA / produced & edited by [Steve Spaleta](

2019 LD2 is the first known Jupiter trojan asteroid to display cometary activity with a visible coma and tail, according to a team of astronomers from the University of Hawaii and Queen’s University Belfast.

This image shows the Jupiter trojan asteroid 2019 LD2. Image credit: ATLAS.

Trojan asteroids follow the same orbit as a planet, but stay either around 60 degrees ahead or 60 degrees behind along the orbit.

Earth has one trojan asteroid, 2010 TK7. Mars hosts at least nine, Uranus has two, and Neptune has 22 trojans.

Jupiter has more than one million trojan asteroids larger than 1 km. These Jupiter trojans orbit the Sun in two huge groups, one group orbiting ahead of the planet (2019 LD2 belongs to this group) and one group orbiting behind it.

“What makes 2019 LD2 so interesting is that we think most Jupiter trojans were captured billions of years ago,” said Queen’s University Belfast’s Professor Alan Fitzsimmons and colleagues.

“Any surface ice that could vaporize to spew out gas and dust should have done so long ago, leaving the objects quietly orbiting as asteroids — not behaving like comets.”

2019 LD2 was discovered on June 2019 by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), an asteroid impact early warning system being developed by the University of Hawaii and funded by NASA.

A detailed analysis of the discovery images of 2019 LD2 by Professor Fitzsimmons and his colleague, Dr. David Young of Queen’s University Belfast, revealed its probable cometary nature.

Follow-up observations by University of Hawaii astronomers Dr. James ‘J.D.’ Armstrong and Sidney Moss on June 11 and 13, 2019, using the Las Cumbres Observatory global telescope network confirmed the cometary nature of the asteroid.

In July 2019, new ATLAS images caught the object again — now truly looking like a comet, with a faint tail made of dust or gas.

2019 LD2 passed behind the Sun and was not observable from the Earth in late 2019 and early 2020, but upon its reappearance in the night sky in April 2020, ATLAS observations confirmed that it still looks like a comet.

These observations showed that 2019 LD2 has probably been continuously active for almost a year.

“We have believed for decades that trojan asteroids should have large amounts of ice beneath their surfaces, but never had any evidence until now,” Professor Fitzsimmons said.

“ATLAS has shown that the predictions of their icy nature may well be correct.”

“What could have made 2019 LD2 suddenly show cometary behavior? Maybe Jupiter captured it only recently from a more distant orbit where surface ice could still survive. Maybe it recently suffered a landslide or an impact from another asteroid, exposing ice that used to be buried under layers of protective rock,” the astronomers said.

“New observations to find out are being acquired and evaluated. What’s certain is that the Universe is full of surprises — and surveys to guard the Earth from dangerous asteroids often make unexpected discoveries of harmless but fascinating objects that can reveal more about our Solar System’s history.”

Russian military satellite launch spawns space-junk fireball over Australia (video)

EPIC!! Check out this incredible vision captured by Mel Aldridge not long ago at Cashmore near Portland! We’re getting plenty of reports. @abcmelbourne

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Russia launched a military satellite to orbit on Friday (May 22), and the mission generated plenty of action in the downward direction as well.

A four-stage Soyuz-2 rocket lifted off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwestern Russia early Friday morning, carrying a classified payload that’s believed to be the fourth satellite for the country’s EKS OiBU missile-warning network, according to

The Soyuz successfully delivered the satellite to its intended orbit, the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced Friday afternoon

The rocket’s third stage was expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere over southeastern Australia, with any surviving debris from that part of the booster targeted to splash down in the Pacific Ocean south of Tasmania, reported. 

Many people in the region, from central Victoria to northern Tasmania, saw a brilliant fireball overhead at the appropriate time, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported. This was no coincidence; they were witnessing the fiery death of the Soyuz’s third stage.

“The slow speed, about 6 kilometres per second, is a very telltale sign that it is space junk,” Jonti Horner, an astrophysics professor at the University of Southern Queensland, told the ABC. (Asteroids and other space rocks that slam into our atmosphere are going much faster than that.)

Not every hunk of space junk comes down as quickly as this piece of the Soyuz did. Indeed, Earth orbit is littered with dead satellites, spent rocket bodies and other debris. NASA estimates that there are 500,000 pieces of junk up there at least as big as a marble. And even such small objects can cause serious damage if they hit a spacecraft, considering that bodies in low-Earth orbit zip around our planet at about 17,500 mph (28,160 km/h).

4-billion-year-old nitrogen-containing organic molecules discovered in Martian meteorites

Scientists exploring Mars and analyzing Martian meteorite samples have found organic compounds essential for life: nitrogen-bearing organics in a 4-billion-year-old Martian meteorite. With a new high-spatial resolution in-situ N-chemical speciation technique, they found organic materials — either synthesized locally or delivered during the Noachian — preserved intact in carbonate minerals over a long geological period. Their presence requires abiotic or biotic N-fixation and ammonia storage, suggesting early Mars had a less oxidizing environment than today.

Mars illustration (stock | Credit: © grejak /

Mars illustration (stock image; elements furnished by NASA).Credit: © grejak /

A research team including research scientist Atsuko Kobayashi from the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) at Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan and research scientist Mizuho Koike from the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, have found nitrogen-bearing organic material in carbonate minerals in a Martian meteorite. This organic material has most likely been preserved for 4 billion years since Mars’ Noachian age. Because carbonate minerals typically precipitate from the groundwater, this finding suggests a wet and organic-rich early Mars, which could have been habitable and favourable for life to start.

For decades, scientists have tried to understand whether there are organic compounds on Mars and if so, what their source is. Although recent studies from rover-based Mars exploration have detected strong evidence for Martian organics, little is known about where they came from, how old they are, how widely distributed and preserved they may be, or what their possible relationship with biochemical activity could be.

Martian meteorites are pieces of Mars’ surface that were themselves blasted into space by meteor impacts, and which ultimately landed on Earth. They provide important insights into Martian history. One meteorite in particular, named Allan Hills (ALH) 84001, named for the region in Antarctica it was found in 1984, is especially important. It contains orange-coloured carbonate minerals, which precipitated from salty liquid water on Mars’ near-surface 4 billion years ago. As these minerals record Mars’ early aqueous environment, many studies have tried to understand their unique chemistry and whether they might provide evidence for ancient life on Mars. However, previous analyses suffered from contamination with terrestrial material from Antarctic snow and ice, making it difficult to say how much of the organic material in the meteorite were truly Martian. In addition to carbon, nitrogen (N) is an essential element for terrestrial life and a useful tracer for planetary system evolution. However, due to previous technical limitations, nitrogen had not yet been measured in ALH84001.

This new research conducted by the joint ELSI-JAXA team used state-of-the-art analytical techniques to study the nitrogen content of the ALH84001 carbonates, and the team is now confident they have found the first solid evidence for 4-billion-year-old Martian organics containing nitrogen.

Terrestrial contamination is a serious problem for studies of extraterrestrial materials. To avoid such contamination, the team developed new techniques to prepare the samples with. For example, they used silver tape in an ELSI clean lab to pluck off the tiny carbonate grains, which are about the width of a human hair, from the host meteorite. The team then prepared these grains further to remove possible surface contaminants with a scanning electron microscope-focused ion beam instrument at JAXA. They also used a technique called Nitrogen K-edge micro X-ray Absorption Near Edge Structure (μ-XANES) spectroscopy, which allowed them to detect nitrogen present in very small amounts and to determine what chemical form that nitrogen was in. Control samples from nearby igneous minerals gave no detectable nitrogen, showing the organic molecules were only in the carbonate.

After the careful contamination checks, the team determined the detected organics were most likely truly Martian. They also determined the contribution of nitrogen in the form of nitrate, one of the strong oxidants on current Mars, was insignificant, suggesting the early Mars probably did not contain strong oxidants, and as scientists have suspected, it was less-oxidizing than it is today.

Mars’ present surface is too harsh for most organics to survive. However, scientists predict that organic compounds could be preserved in near-surface settings for billions of years. This seems to be the case for the nitrogen-bearing organic compounds the team found in the ALH84001 carbonates, which appear to have been trapped in the minerals 4 billion years ago and preserved for long periods before finally being delivered to Earth.

The team agrees that there are many important open questions, such as where did these nitrogen-containing organics come from? Kobayashi explains: “There are two main possibilities: either they came from outside Mars, or they formed on Mars. Early in the Solar System’s history, Mars was likely showered with significant amounts of organic matter, for example from carbon-rich meteorites, comets and dust particles. Some of them may have dissolved in the brine and been trapped inside the carbonates.” The research team lead, Koike adds that alternatively, chemical reactions on early Mars may have produced the N-bearing organics on-site. Either way, they say, these findings show there was organic nitrogen on Mars before it became the red planet we know today; early Mars may have been more ‘Earth-like’, less oxidising, wetter, and organic-rich. Perhaps it was ‘blue.’

NASA sets date to research asteroid Bennu after coronavirus pandemic caused delays

After getting delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, NASA has finally picked out a date to research samples of the asteroid Bennu.

The space agency said that it now expects the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to begin its first attempt at sampling the asteroid on Oct. 20. The initial date was Aug. 25, but that was pushed back because of the pandemic. The second rehearsal, which was initially scheduled for June, will now take place on Aug. 11.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission has been demonstrating the very essence of exploration by persevering through unexpected challenges,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said in a statement earlier this week. “That spirit has led them to the cusp of the prize we all are waiting for — securing a sample of an asteroid to bring home to Earth, and I’m very excited to follow them through the home stretch.”

This is a mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

This is a mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

Since arriving at the asteroid in December 2018, OSIRIS-REx (which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security Regolith Explorer) has been observing the space rock and looking for spots to land.

It has snapped some incredible images of the asteroid and made observations about it that have surprised researchers, including the fact it was shooting out rocks.

“This mission’s incredible performance so far is a testament to the extraordinary skill and dedication of the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I am confident that even in the face of the current challenge, this team will be successful in collecting our sample from Bennu.”

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

In December 2019, prior to the pandemic, NASA picked the spot where it would land on the asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx is expected to begin a two-year journey back to Earth in the middle of 2021 and return with samples in September 2023.

Earth’s magnetic field weakens, impacting satellites and spacecraft: report

Earth’s magnetic field is gradually weakening in an area that stretches from Africa to South America, and scientists who are trying to understand why.

This weakening is also causing technical disturbances in some satellites orbiting Earth.

Scientists are using data from the European Space Agency’s Swarm constellation to improve our understanding of this area, which is known as the ‘South Atlantic Anomaly.’

Among other things, Earth’s magnetic field protects humanity from space radiation and super-charged particles emanating from the sun. According to the ESA, the magnetic field is generated by an extremely hot swirling liquid iron that comprises the planet’s outer core — which is about 3,000 kilometers under our feet.

The magnetic field is thought to be generated by an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up Earth’s the outer core.

The magnetic field is thought to be generated by an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up Earth’s the outer core. (ESA/ATG Medialab)

“The new, eastern minimum of the South Atlantic Anomaly has appeared over the last decade and in recent years is developing vigorously,” said Jürgen Matzka, from the German Research Centre for Geosciences, in a statement. “We are very lucky to have the Swarm satellites in orbit to investigate the development of the South Atlantic Anomaly. The challenge now is to understand the processes in Earth’s core driving these changes.”

Researchers have speculated that the current weakening of the magnetic field is a sign that Earth is heading for an eminent pole reversal—in which the north and south magnetic poles switch places.

Although that may sound dramatic, that type of event has happened throughout the planet’s long history, at a rate of about once every 250,000 years, according to the ESA.

10 Things To Know about the NASA / SpaceX Crew Demo 2 Mission

Crew Dragon Demo-2 (or DM-2) will be the first crewed test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled for launch to the International Space Station on 27 May 2020 at 20:33:33 UTC (4:33:33 PM EDT). Demo-2 will be the first crewed orbital spaceflight launched from the United States since the final Space Shuttle mission, STS-135, in 2011, on which Douglas G. Hurley was the pilot. Hurley will be spacecraft commander on Crew Dragon Demo-2, joined by Robert L. Behnken as joint operations commander. Crew Dragon Demo-2 will also be the first two-person orbital spaceflight launched from the United States since STS-4 in 1982.


Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken were announced as the primary crew on 3 August 2018. Both astronauts are veterans of the Space Shuttle program, and the Demo-2 flight will be the third trip to space for each of them.

Spacecraft commander Douglas G. HurleyNASA
Third spaceflight
Joint operations commander Robert L. BehnkenNASA
Third spaceflight
Spacecraft commander Michael S. HopkinsNASA
Second spaceflight
Joint operations commander Victor J. GloverNASA
First spaceflight


The Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission was originally planned for launch in July 2019 as part of the Commercial Crew Development contract with a crew of two on a 14-day test mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

On 20 April 2019, the Crew Dragon capsule from the Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission was destroyed during static fire testing of its SuperDraco thrusters, ahead of its planned use for the in-flight abort test. SpaceX traced the cause of the anomaly to a component that leaked oxidizer into the high pressure helium lines, which then solidified and damaged a valve.

On 19 January 2020, a Crew Dragon capsule successfully completed an in-flight abort test.

On 9 April 2020, the NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he is “fairly confident” that astronauts can fly to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship at the end of May or in early June 2020, pending final parachute tests, data reviews and a training schedule that can escape major impacts from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On 17 April 2020, NASA and SpaceX announced the launch date as 27 May 2020. The arrival of the Crew Dragon will raise the station’s crew size from three to five. Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will perform duties and conduct experiments as crew onboard the International Space Station for several months, until the next Crew Dragon launch. Hurley and Behnken are expected to live and work aboard the space station for two or three months, and then return to Earth for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral.

On 23 April 2020, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine urged space enthusiasts not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center to view the launch, and asked people to instead watch the launch on television or online. Bridenstine explained that maintenance crew are working in cohesive shifts, to mitigate workers’ exposure to coronavirus.

Crew Dragon Demo-2 will mark the first crewed US spaceflight mission not to include the presence of the public at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, selected members of the press will be allowed to witness the launch.

On 1 May 2020, SpaceX successfully demonstrated the Mark 3 parachute system, a critical milestone for the mission approval.

In an effort to engage the public, notably the Class of 2020 who weren’t able to attend their graduations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both NASA and SpaceX invited students and graduates to submit their photos to be flown to the ISS.


The Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission is intended to finish the validation process for human-rated spaceflight operations on SpaceX hardware. If successful, the demonstration flight will allow for human rated certification of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the Falcon 9 rocket, the crew transportation system, launch pad, and SpaceX’s capabilities. The mission includes astronaut testing of Crew Dragon capabilities on orbit.

The Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Kennedy Space Center launch pad LC-39A on May 27, and dock to pressurized mating adapter PMA-2 on the Harmony module of the ISS on May 28. Hurley and Behnken will join the Expedition 63 mission for several months.

Docking and undocking operation will be autonomously controlled by the Crew Dragon spacecraft, but monitored by the flight crew in case manual intervention becomes necessary.

The first stage booster will attempt to land autonomously on the floating barge Of Course I Still Love You, which will be prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon returning to Earth, the Crew Dragon capsule will parachute into the Atlantic Ocean, where it will be recovered by the Go Navigator recovery vessel.

Insignia and livery

NASA “worm” logotype used from 1975 until 1992.

The mission insignia was designed by Andrew Nyberg, an artist from Brainerd, Minnesota who is a nephew of spacecraft commander Hurley. The insignia features the logos of the Commercial Crew Program, Falcon 9, Crew Dragon, and the red chevron of NASA’s “meatball” insignia. Also depicted are the American flag and a symbol of the ISS. The words NASASpaceXHurley and Behnken are printed around the border, along with the words “First crewed flight” and DM-2. The insignia outline is in the shape of the Crew Dragon capsule.

The Falcon 9 booster will display NASA’s iconic worm logo. This is the first time the logo has been officially used since it was retired in 1992.


An old friend might be found again…

A small near-Earth object might be a historic piece of space hardware: the Apollo 10 lunar module, dubbed “Snoopy.”

The Snoopy lunar module, closing in on the Charlie Brown command module.
NASA / Project Apollo Archive

On May 23, 1969, astronauts aboard Apollo 10 jettisoned the Snoopy lunar module and headed for Earth. That’s the last time humans set eyes on Snoopy — now, astronomers may have rediscovered this fascinating artifact of space history.

Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society astronomer Nick Howes shared the possible discovery recently at Cheltenham Science Festival. Howes, who began the search for Snoopy in 2011, said in a recent Sky News report that he is 98% certain that the object in question is, in fact, Snoopy. However, it will require follow-up observations to conclusively prove (or disprove) this conclusion.

The 2-meter Faulkes Telescope South at Siding Spring Observatory.
Nick Howes / LCOGT

Astronomers started the hunt in 2011 using the Faulkes North Telescope in Hawai’i, the Faulkes South Telescope in Australia, and data from the Catalina Sky Survey, located outside of Tucson, Arizona. The break came last year during observations taken at the Mt Lemmon and other survey observatories, with the discovery of the small Earth-crossing asteroid 2018 AV2. Orbiting the Sun once every 382 days, 2018 AV2 spends most of its time trailing Earth in its orbit around the Sun. Two factors grabbed astronomers’ attention: its low orbital inclination (less than 1°) relative to the ecliptic, and its low speed,  less than a kilometer per second relative to Earth’s orbital velocity.

Other factors also led to the conclusion that 2018 AV2 is likely to be Snoopy. It’s already listed as an artificial object on the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center’s Distant Artificial Objects page. According to Howes, the object’s brightness also corresponded to “a size in the right ballpark.” In addition, Howes says he had received mail “from a trusted astronomer at the Arizona Sky Survey indicating that JPL teams had also worked on it, and it looked like it was in the right place in 1969.”  

Apollo 10: Prelude to History

Often forgotten between the dramatic Apollo 8 mission around the Moon and the first crewed Moon landing of Apollo 11, Apollo 10 was still a vital mission. After Apollo 9 tested the lunar module in space for the first time in Earth orbit, Apollo 10 acted as a dress rehearsal for the Moon landing. The astronauts flew the lunar module down to within 14.5 kilometers (9 miles) of the lunar surface. The module was named “Snoopy” after the Peanuts comics strip character, while the corresponding command module was named Charlie Brown.

The view from Snoopy, looking out over the lunar landscape.
NASA / Project Apollo Archive

Snoopy’s trajectory was unique among the Apollo missions. Unlike in the five missions that landed on the Moon, the Snoopy lunar module was ultimately jettisoned into an orbit around the Sun.

Apollo 10
Apollo 10 astronauts (Commander Tom Stafford is patting Snoopy’s nose) preparing for departure.

False Alarms

There have been several false finds over the years in the hunt to recover Snoopy. Around 2015 astronomers were convinced that the small near-Earth asteroid WT1190F was in fact the lost lunar module. WT1190F struck Earth in the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka on November 13, 2015, and is now thought to have been the trans-lunar injection stage from the 1998 Lunar Prospector mission.

In 2006 one of the first temporary mini-moons of the Earth was discovered, 2006 RH120. As the ranks of near-Earth asteroids has grown in the years since, astronomers have realized that small asteroids are occasionally captured by the Earth-Moon system, following complex orbits around the pair before being ejected back out into solar orbit. These objects may be confused with discarded Space Age hardware, which often follows the same path. For example, asteroid J002E3 was spotted back in 2002, but astronomers soon realized that its spectra matched paint used by NASA in the late 1960s. The object turned out to be a third-stage booster from Apollo 12. Another asteroid, 2013 QW1, turned out to be an upper stage booster from China’s Chang’e 2 Moon mission.

2018 AV2
The orbit of 2018 AV2.

Unfortunately, 2018 AV2 is currently 0.374 astronomical units (34.7 million miles) from Earth, making it a faint +29.5 magnitude object. Its next close approach won’t come until July 10, 2037, when it will pass 4 million miles from Earth, equivalent to 16 times the Earth-Moon distance.

However, it would theoretically be possible to observe the object now: Howes notes that a Falcon Heavy or Delta IV rocket could traverse the current distance in a year. Another possibility would be to send a small CubeSat along with a future SLS launch, with the purpose of flying by the object to make observations.

Spectral analysis, a radar profile, and other observations would go a long ways towards confirming or rejecting the object’s identity. After all, hollow metallic artificial objects react differently to solar heating and radiative pressure (known as the Yarkovsky effect) than solid space rocks.

Certainly, Snoopy is one of the more curious objects man-made objects in solar orbit. Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, which SpaceX launched into solar orbit via its inaugural Falcon Heavy flight in 2018, probably wins for “most curious.” Howes notes that Musk is a big fan of the Apollo program, so maybe a salvage isn’t totally out of the question. The module has suffered from a half-century of continuous ultraviolet radiation exposure, but it should be relatively intact.

“There’s clearly a lot from humankind’s first foray in to deep space still out there,” says Howes, “and whilst the scientific argument to retrieve them is marginal, I think with Snoopy you have a unique, one-off remnant of our greatest technical achievement . . . One I’d love to show close-up images of to [Apollo 10 astronauts] Tom Stafford and the family of Gene Cernan one day.”

Charlie Brown
Looking out the lunar module window at Charlie Brown.
NASA / Apollo Image Archives.

For now though, it’s an interesting idea to consider as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, that a part of the precursor mission that made it all possible is still out there, silently orbiting the Sun.

Evidence suggests sun entering ‘solar minimum’ stage: reports

It’s been 100 days since the last recorded sunspot, which one expert says is evidence that we are entering a phase called solar minimum, reports said.

There have been whispers on social media about an impending Ice Age (Just What We Need!), but NASA scientists have said we should not be overly worried, according to

“So far this year, the Sun has been blank 76 percent of the time, a rate surpassed only once before in the Space Age,” reported, according to Forbes. “Last year, 2019, the Sun was blank 77 percent of the time. Two consecutive years of record-setting spotlessness adds up to a very deep solar minimum, indeed.”

NASA says that about every 11 years, “sunspots fade away, bringing a period of relative calm.”

“This is called a solar minimum,” Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said on “And it’s a regular part of the sunspot cycle.”

The NASA report said in 2014, there was a high rate of sunspots and solar flares. The article said the sun doesn’t “become dull” during these times, rather solar activity simply changes form.

Dr. Tony Phillips, an astronomer, told the U.K. Sun newspaper that the “solar minimum” is underway and it is a deep one.Video

“Sunspot counts suggest it is one of the deepest of the past century,” he told the paper. “The sun’s magnetic field has become weak, allowing extra cosmic rays into the solar system.”

He continued, “Excess cosmic rays pose a health hazard to astronauts and polar air travelers, affect the electro-chemistry of Earth’s upper atmosphere and may help trigger lightning.”

Some theorize that a lingering “solar minimum” could result in crop loss, famine and brutal cold. The Pennlive report said scientists indicate that even if we do enter a phase called “grand solar minimum” it would essentially only offset “a few years of warming caused by human activities.”

“Even if a Grand Solar Minimum were to last a century, global temperatures would continue to warm,” NASA Global Climate Change reported, according to Pennlive. “Because more factors than just variations in the Sun’s output change global temperatures on Earth, the most dominant of those today being the warming coming from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.”

Space Force launches robotic X-37B space plane on new mystery mission

It’s the sixth flight of the clandestine space plane.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The U.S. Space Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane successfully launched on its sixth mystery mission from Florida today (May 17). 

Riding atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the clandestine craft blasted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here at 9:14 a.m. EDT (1314 GMT). 

The on-time liftoff occurred just 24-hours after poor weather conditions at the Florida launch site forced ULA to scrub its original launch attempt, Saturday morning. 

While the X-37B’s exact purpose is a secret, Space Force officials have revealed that the craft is packing numerous experiments on this trip to test out different systems in space. Some of those experiments include a small satellite called FalconSat-8, two NASA payloads designed to study the effects of radiation on different materials as well as seeds to grow food, and a power-beaming experiment using microwave energy.

The U.S.Space Force and Air Force Rapid Response Capabilities Office have two of the miniature shuttle-like X-37B space planes (also known as Orbital Test Vehicles, or OTVs) that it uses for classified military missions in low-Earth orbit. They have flown five missions since 2010, four of them on ULA Atlas V rockets and the fifth on a SpaceX Falcon 9.

X-37B returns to space

US Space Force to launch X-37B space plane on OTV-6 mission

Today’s launch occurred just six months after the most recent mission, OTV-5, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 2, 2019, completing a record-setting 780 days (just over two years) sojourn in space. 

Boeing built the X-37B space planes for the U.S. Air Force. The two vehicles have spent more than seven years in orbit across their missions. (Command of the mission and other space related activities transferred to the Space Force after its creation in 2019.)

Space Force officials have said that the experiments and technology the X-37B carries “enables the U.S. to more efficiently and effectively develop space capabilities necessary to maintain superiority in the space domain.”

A U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane, encapsulated ahead of a planned May 16, 2020, launch. That liftoff will kick off the sixth mission for the X-37B program.
The X-37B space plane ahead is seen tucked inside the payload fairing of its Atlas V rocket ahead of a May 17, 2020 launch. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

To that end, this mission will have even more experiments than previous flights. That’s thanks to the addition of a new service module — a cylindrical extension attached to the bottom of the craft — a first for this mission. The addition of a service module will help to increase the vehicle’s capabilities, enabling it to conduct more experiments and test new technologies throughout the mission, Space Force officials have said.

ULA launched the X-37B on an Atlas V rocket in the 501 configuration, which means the vehicle has a 17-foot (5 meters) wide payload fairing, a single engine Centaur upper stage, and no solid rocket boosters. 

It marked the 84th flight of the Atlas V, which was recently dethroned as the most flown American launcher. That superlative was snagged by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which became the world’s most flown booster in April and is also set to launch its next flight (a Starlink satellite fleet launch) early Tuesday, May 19.

Honoring coronavirus responders

The U.S. Space Force and United Launch Alliance dedicated the X-37B space plane's OTV_6 launch to the first-responders and victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Space Force and United Launch Alliance dedicated the X-37B space plane’s OTV_6 launch to the first-responders and victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

Saturday’s launch, dubbed USSF-7, is dedicated to the first responders and medical personnel across the country who work daily to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The mission is part of the military’s “America Strong” campaign, which also includes a series of flyovers by the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels. ULA also stamped a tribute on the side of the Atlas V rocket that says: “In memory of COVID-19 victims and tribute to all first responders and front-line workers.”

COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has infected approximately 4.5 million people globally, with 1.45 million of them in the United States. At least 87,991 have died from the disease in the U.S. as of May 16, according to Livescience.

“Thank you for your courage in caring for the sick and keeping us safe,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno tweeted, addressing the many first responders working selflessly to support the nation in this difficult time. 

“There are still heroes in this world,” he added. Click here for more videos…X-37B space plane to launch atop Atlas V rocket – Mission profile.

Officials at the 45th Space Wing said they have been doing their part to make sure the launch went smoothly while simultaneously protecting its workforce. 

“We have an obligation to keep space capabilities up and running for our nation,” Gen. John Raymond, chief of space operations in the U.S. Space Force and commander of the U.S. Space Command said during a prelaunch talk on May 6. 

To that end, the 45th Space Wing has been rotating crews between launches, reduced on-site staff as much as possible and practiced social distancing. Both NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station have kept public viewing areas closed for this launch as well as a SpaceX launch scheduled for Sunday morning.

This mission marks the second national security launch under the Space Force since its establishment in December. (The first was the AEHF-6 military communications satellite launch in March.)

Another view of the encapsulated X-37B, a robotic vehicle that's about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long.
The X-37B space plane is about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and resembles a miniature space shuttle. For OTV_6, the robotic spacecraft carried a new service module that supports more experiments and longer stays in space. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

Space Force officials have chosen to delay some of the planned missions, however, due to concerns about the pandemic. For instance, the next GPS navigation satellite mission GPS 3 SV03 has been delayed several months to no earlier than June 30 to ensure that ground control crews were able to stay safe. 

It’s a busy time on the space coast, and the GPS constellation is healthy which reduces the pressure to get newer, upgraded satellites into orbit, officials said.

Today’s mission was originally part of a launch double header from Florida’s Space Coast. 

Following the Atlas V launch, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was supposed to take to the skies less than 24 hours later, carrying another batch of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites into orbit. 

That launch was originally on the books for today, but weather delays at the launch site and the emergence of a tropical depression out in the Atlantic prompted SpaceX to move the launch date.

When the Falcon 9 does launch, it will bring the total number of Starlink internet satellites up to nearly 500. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that between 400-800 satellites are needed to begin rolling out the first, albeit limited, iteration of its global internet service. 

If all goes as planned, the Falcon 9 will lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 at 3:10 a.m. EDT (0710 GMT) on Tuesday.  

Captain Pike of ‘Star Trek’ gets spin-off series with Spock and Number One

CBS All Access has greenlit a new "Star Trek" spinoff series with Captain Pike (Anson Mount, center), Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn).

It’s official! After months of speculation — and wishful thinking —  CBS All Access has confirmed that Captain Pike is coming back, with Spock and Number One along for the ride, in the new spin-off series “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

Pike (portrayed by Anson Mount), Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) most recently appeared in season two of “Star Trek: Discovery.” They will reprise those roles in “Strange New Worlds” — the first of two new, live action “Star Trek” spin-offs from CBS All Access.ADVERTISING

The Hollywood Reporter announced the news Friday (May 15), although evidence had been slowly, but steadily, accumulating that this was a very real possibility. 

The new show will follow the crew of the USS Enterprise before Captain Kirk took command of the famed starship. 

Related: Star Trek’s Anson Mount dishes on possible return of Capt. Pike
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 3: What we know and what we hope forStar Trek on CBS All Access@startrekcbs

Hit it.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds starring @AnsonMount, @RebeccaRomijn, and @ethangpeck, coming to @CBSAllAccess.#StarTrekSNW #StrangeNewWorlds

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In “Star Trek” lore, Pike took command of the USS Enterprise in 2250 and famed Capt. James T. Kirk replaced him 15 years later. During his tenure in Starfleet, Pike was considered to be one of the most highly decorated starship captains in Starfleet history. The events of season two  of “Discovery” take place around 2257, so we have an approximate eight-year window during which this new season could be set. 

Moreover, the title of the new show suggests that this might be an episodic-based series, instead of a story arc, set during one of Pike’s five-year “tours” that many starships undertook at this point in Starfleet history, to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Anson Mount as Captain Pike was without a doubt the highlight of "Star Trek: Discovery" season two.
Anson Mount as Captain Pike was without a doubt the highlight of “Star Trek: Discovery” season two. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

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Mount has even said in the past that he’d very much like to reprise the role.

“Yes, of course I’d love to continue to occupy that chair. I’m not going to grouse around and be aloof about it,” Mount told in March. “I’d love to.”

The cast took to Twitter in a message telling fans that they’d listened to the repeated requests to bring this cast back to the small screen.

Alex Kurtzman will oversee the new show, so no surprise there and Heather Kadin, Henry Alonso Myers and Akiva Goldsman will act as co-execuctive producers as well.Click here for more videos…CLOSE 0% PLAY SOUND

“When we said we heard the fans’ outpouring of love for Pike, Number One and Spock when they boarded ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ last season, we meant it,” Kurtzman said in a statement. “These iconic characters have a deep history in ‘Star Trek’ canon, yet so much of their stories has yet to be told. With Akiva and Henry at the helm, the Enterprise, its crew and its fans are in for an extraordinary journey to new frontiers in the Star Trek universe.”

Season three of “Discovery” will air some time later this year, while “Picard” was renewed for a second season earlier this year. A launch date for “Lower Decks” has not been announced yet. 

An episode count and premiere date for “Strange New Worlds” have yet to be determined.

Chinese space junk narrowly missed hitting New York City, report says

Space junk from a new Chinese rocket narrowly missed dropping down on New York City Monday night, according to a report, largely burning up in the atmosphere before some of the debris survived long enough to slam into West Africa.

China test-launched its new single-stage Long March 5B rocket last Tuesday, propelling its cargo into orbit before the 20-ton core eventually fell back into the atmosphere, according to Ars Technica, a technology publication.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, China's new large carrier rocket Long March-5B blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan Province, May 5, 2020. The Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending the trial version of China's new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for test into space. (Guo Cheng/Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, China’s new large carrier rocket Long March-5B blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province, May 5, 2020. The Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending the trial version of China’s new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for test into space. (Guo Cheng/Xinhua via AP)

It’s unlikely that anywhere near that large of an object is what returned to Earth — but fragments weighing up to several hundred pounds could have survived re-entering the atmosphere, astronomer Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told the outlet.

The U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron, which detects, tracks and identifies all manmade objects in orbit, confirmed the re-entry over the Atlantic Ocean at 8:33 p.m. PT Monday.18 SPCS@18SPCS

#18SPCS has confirmed the reentry of the CZ-5B R/B (#45601, 2020-027C) at 08:33 PDT on 11 May, over the Atlantic Ocean. The #CZ5B launched China’s test crew capsule on 5 May 2020. #spaceflightsafety305Twitter Ads info and privacy171 people are talking about this

The doomed core passed right over New York City, Ars reported — and if re-entry had been just a few minutes earlier, debris could reportedly have showered the Big Apple.

Instead, at least part of it fell on a town in Cote d’Ivoire, Quartz reported.

McDowell on Twitter said he could “conclude” that the objects that fell on Cote d’Ivoire “are very likely parts of the Chinese rocket stage.”Jonathan McDowell@planet4589Replying to @planet4589 @zolgafolDaniel

I conclude that the objects seen in Mahounou, and at least some of the other objects from the Cote d’Ivore region whose photos are being circulated in African media, are very likely parts of the Chinese rocket stage.35Twitter Ads info and privacySee Jonathan McDowell’s other Tweets

His Twitter feed shows a number of additional possible crash sites in the path of the returning rocket core, including at least one piece that damaged a house. No injuries were reported.

“Impressive how far downrange debris can get at 28000 km/hr!” he wrote.

A typical, two-stage launch will drop its first rocket into the ocean before reaching orbit, according to NASA. That’s safer than sending an enormous object into orbit that will eventually come back for an uncontrolled re-entry.

It’s also not the first time China has reportedly let its space junk fall haphazardly back to Earth — including the time it apparently let a rocket booster drop onto one of its own villages, spewing toxic fuel and destroying at least one building, Ars reported in November 2019.

China’s space launch safety practices were so concerning to Greg Autry, a former member of the Trump administration’s NASA Landing Team, that he wrote an op-ed in Space News magazine last May urging the president and Congress to address the issue.

“On April 20, China launched the 100th mission of its highly successful Long March-3 rocket series,” he wrote at the time. “[While it] successfully lofted a navigation satellite, designated as Beidou-3I1Q, toward its geosynchronous orbit, it also littered the Chinese landscape with a collection of dangerous rocket boosters leaking toxic fuel.”

He also described a series of other launch events that resulted in “plummeting space junk” and other safety hazards.

“The safety standards used in Chinese space launch would leave American regulators apoplectic,” Autry added.

In the U.S., the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is scheduled to launch the sixth test flight of its new X-37B from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Saturday, the Space Force announced last week.