IS SPACE MADNESS A REAL CONCERN OR JUST FICTION LIKE FIREFLY’S REAVERS?

There’s a lot to love about Joss Whedon‘s one-season sci-fi wonder Firefly and the 2005 film Serenity, which turns 15 this week. The series introduced fans to beloved characters and a Western-styled galaxy of adventure, twists, and mysteries. One of the mysteries that Serenity ended up solving was the true nature of the Reavers — insane, cannibalistic space pirates who lurk at the edge of the galaxy. 

Serenity reveals that Reavers are an unexpected side-effect of a calming cocktail given to the colonists of the planet Miranda, at the edge of the human-controlled system. While most became so sedated that they stopped eating and simply let themselves die, one in a thousand of them had the opposite adverse reaction, becoming extremely aggressive. This, the movie explains, are where Reavers come from, but it’s a different answer than the show initially offered. 

MORE SCIENCE BEHIND THE FICTION

Prior to the side-effect revelation, Reavers were thought to be colonists who, confronted with the infinite abyss at the edge of the system, simply lost their minds. To quote the show, Reavers “got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothin’, and that’s what they became.”

In a way, that’s a scarier prospect than Serenity‘s explanation. Can venturing deep into space cause madness? It’s something that real-life space explorers are certainly taking precautions against…

THE ORIGIN OF SPACE MADNESS

Space Madness is a staple of genre fiction. The notion that humans might lose themselves in the vastness of the endless abyss, untethered from their home planet, makes for good story fodder. But, at the beginning of the space age, it was a legitimate concern. The idea was that the nature of space travel would be too much to handle. Being away from one’s family, from the comforts of home, would be an obstacle in the way of physical and mental health.

In addition, there was some concern about the types of people who would volunteer to venture off-world. Some believed that those interested in being astronauts in the first place must have some aberrant mental status. They must be thrill-seekers, impulsive, even suicidal. And whatever mental deficits drove them to become astronauts in the first place would only be exacerbated by the pressures of empty space.

These concerns weighed on the minds of space programs even when considering the first orbital flights, and the trek to the Moon. It turned out, however, that no such symptoms arose in those early astronauts. Instead, they remained calm and collected, performing under high pressure. They were qualified individuals carrying out a job and doing it well.

It’s clear at this point that simply leaving the planet is not a recipe for madness, but what of the years-long journey needed to get to the red planet and back? Such a mission would require years of separation from Earth, from friends and family, locked in a relatively small craft with a finite group of people without the ability to go outside, to feel the wind on your face, to do anything outside of the daily prescribed activities over and over again.

It’s not difficult to imagine how such a scenario might worsen any existing malady, or even create a mental break where one didn’t previously exist.

THE RIGHT BRAIN STUFF

Despite the horrors of space madness never actually manifesting, NASA and other space agencies go to great lengths to ensure the people they send into space are equipped to handle the challenges.

Being an astronaut has a few base pre-requisites. The minimum requirements for astronauts include: a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological or physical science, computer science, or math, with an additional three years of experience in that field or 1,000 hours of flight time. Once that box is checked, if selected to progress in the astronaut pool, there are psychological checks. Both rounds involve a series of interviews to include time with a psychologist and field exercises.

Psychiatric disorders are disqualifying, but a number of other factors can also result in disqualification from the pool. In short, NASA is looking for anything in your life that might cause additional pressures during the mission. The specific measures used to identify qualified candidates and disqualify others are not disclosed, for security reasons. In short, though, they are looking for any risk factors that might impact the mission. Especially on long missions, any distraction — even personal ones like marital problems — is seen as a risk factor that could cause undue stress.

After narrowing down a pool of thousands of applicants to a few select astronauts to eliminate the earth-bound risk as well as is possible, NASA takes extra measures to ensure the mental well-being of its astronauts once off the ground.

Astronauts receive continuous ground-based care throughout the mission by clinical psychology and psychiatry staff on the ground. There are also Crew Care Packages sent during resupply missions, which provide space-based crews with a tether to home. Astronauts also celebrate traditional holidays while in space, whenever possible. Astronauts who stay in space for long periods of time on the International Space Station are able to partake in some of these comforting practices, but they wouldn’t be able to during deep space missions — like those to Mars and beyond. And therein lies the true concern when it comes to mental health.

LONG-TERM CONCERNS

A crewed mission to Mars could take approximately two years, give or take, based on planetary orbits and the amount of time spent on the Martian surface.

To date, the record for the longest consecutive time an individual has spent in space belongs to cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who spent 438 days aboard MIR in the mid-’90s. A decade later, astronaut Scott Kelly spent 340 days aboard the ISS, roughly half the time needed to get to Mars and back.

Duration isn’t the only consideration, though. The vast distances, the communication lag time (up to 40 minutes), extended exposure to radiation and low gravity, and disruption of sleep cycles could all have untold effects on travelers’ physical and mental well-being. NASA has carried out animal studies involving mice and found negative neurological impacts resulting in increased anxiety and decreased cognitive function.

The Mars500 project carried out by the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy held six male participants in isolation for 520 days, intending to mimic some of the characteristics of a crewed Mars mission. They found increased levels of depression and abnormal sleep patterns, which raised some concerns about a small crew traveling to and from Mars without the direct and immediate support of ground control.https://www.youtube.com/embed/OX6Uwqi57iw?wmode=opaque&controls=1&enablejsapi=1&playerapiid=media-youtube-ox6uwqi57iw

While the initial worries about space madness seem to be an invention of popular culture, the road ahead does have specific concerns we have not, as yet, been able to prepare for. NASA and other space-based agencies are doing everything they can to eliminate risks and plan for contingencies, but we likely won’t know the full extent of long-range space travel until we’re already on the road.

The good news is, so far, humanity has been able to weather every horizon and there’s every indication we’ll overcome whatever obstacles come our way as we travel to the next world and beyond. Fingers crossed.

Mars has lakes with liquid water that could be home to life: study

The presence of water on Mars was first discovered in 2018

Mars has an abundance of liquid water in the underground lakes in its south pole, according to a newly published study.

The research, published in Nature Astronomy, found three lakes at Ultimi Scopuli, near Mars’ south pole, that the scientists believe to be filled with brine or saltwater.

“Not only have we confirmed the position, extent and intensity of the reflector identified in our 2018 study,” study co-author Elena Pettinelli said in a translated statement, adding “but we also found three new highly reflective areas.”

The annotated area in this illustration shows where water ice is located near the surface of Mars.

The annotated area in this illustration shows where water ice is located near the surface of Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In 2018, scientists made the incredible discovery of a “stable body of liquid water” on Mars. The three lakes are roughly 6 miles across, nearly a mile deep and approximately 12 miles away from the lake discovered in 2018.

“Our results strengthen the claim of the detection of a liquid water body at Ultimi Scopuli and indicate the presence of other wet areas nearby,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract. “We suggest that the waters are hypersaline perchlorate brines, known to form at Martian polar regions and thought to survive for an extended period of time on a geological scale at below-eutectic temperatures.”

Pettinelli and the other scientists on the study looked at the radar data from MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding), described by NASA as a “subsurface radar sounder with a 40-meter (130-foot) antenna on the Mars Express orbiter.”

The lakes have the potential to be home to microbial life, which has been known to exist in the frost in extreme conditions.

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“While the existence of a single subglacial lake could be attributed to exceptional conditions such as the presence of a volcano under the ice sheet, the discovery of an entire lake system implies that their formation process is relatively simple and common, and that these lakes have likely existed for much of Mars’ history,” study co-author and Principal Investigator of the MARSIS experiment Roberto Orosei added in the statement. “For this reason, they could still retain traces of any life forms that could have evolved when Mars had a dense atmosphere, a milder climate and the presence of liquid water on the surface, similar to the early Earth.”

It’s unclear if the 2018 discovery is related to the current discovery, but it may be a sign there is more water to discover, explained Enrico Flamini, president of the International Research School of Planetary Sciences at the University of Chieti-Pescara, who was not involved in the study.

“To say that these new results make me happy is not enough,” Flamini said in the statement. “The only real question still open after our first job was: is this the only proof of liquid water under ice? At the time we had no data to say more, now this new research shows that the 2018 discovery was just the first evidence of a much larger system of liquid water bodies in the Martian subsoil. That’s exactly what I would have hoped for: a great result, really!”

In April 2019, a separate group of researchers suggested the water thought to be responsible for dark streaks on the Red Planet may be coming from well below the surface.

A separate group of researchers suggested in January 2020 that the water on Mars once contained the right ingredients to support life.

In March, other researchers discovered the presence of organic molecules that are “consistent with … life.”

NASA recently launched the Perseverance rover into space to explore Mars. While on the Red Planet, the rover will perform a variety of different functions, including looking for evidence of ancient life.

On Mars, 4 supersalty lakes hiding under the south pole ice cap

Mars keeps getting more interesting.

An artist's depiction of Mars covered in water, as it may have been about 4 billion years ago.An artist’s depiction of Mars covered in water, as it may have been about 4 billion years ago.(Image: © NASA/GSFC)

Remnants of water once found on the surface of Mars may be hidden in a handful of small lakes below the Red Planet’s south pole, and more could exist, according to new research.

For decades, researchers have suspected that water lurks below the polar icecaps of Mars, just as it does here on Earth. In 2018, scientists detected evidence for such a reservoir on the Red Planet — signs of a lake about 12 miles (19 kilometers) across and hidden below about a mile (1.5 km) of ice at the south pole of Mars.

At the time, the researchers said that studying this underground pool of water could yield insights on the past and present chances for life on Mars. However, scientists had many more questions than answers about the origin, composition and longevity of this lake and its water.

In the new study, to learn more about this hidden water, researchers used the MARSIS radar sounder instrument on board the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft to scan a 155-by-185 mile (250-by-300 km) area surrounding the suspected underground lake. The scientists analyzed this radar data with techniques previously used to detect lakes under glaciers in Antarctica.

The scientists confirmed the liquid nature of the previously observed lake, narrowing down its dimensions to about 12 by 18 miles (20 by 30 km) in size. They cannot say how deep this lake extends, as the radio waves from MARSIS cannot penetrate salty water, study co-author Elena Pettinelli, a geophysicist at Roma Tre University in Rome, told Space.com.

Moreover, Pettinelli and her colleagues identified three other lakes on the order of 6 by 6 miles (10 by 10 km) in size. Strips of dry rock separate these smaller patches of water from the main lake, the scientists said.

The researchers suggested these lakes are extraordinarily salty. High brine content would keep their water liquid despite the extremely cold conditions at the base of the glaciers at Mars’ south pole, the scientists noted.

Potential underground lakes below the south pole of Mars are shown in blue.
Potential underground lakes below the south pole of Mars are shown in blue.  (Image credit: Elena Pettinelli et al, Nature.)

Although Martian polar ice may be melting a little due to warm noontime temperatures, the scientists do not think it likely that such ongoing processes formed these lakes. Instead, the scientists think this saltwater may be the remnants of a larger body of water now lost from the surface, and may be millions or even billions of years old, Pettinelli said.

Scientists have considered the possibility that geothermal activity might have melted polar ice to form the underground lakes, but that explanation was plausible when there was only one such body of water. Forming several lakes this way might require a huge geothermal anomaly. “I don’t think it is physically possible, given what we know,” Pettinelli said.

Instead, these lakes may have formed due to a warmer global climate in the Martian past, Pettinelli said. “This is a complex system of water, not just a single pond,” she said. “It suggests that the conditions that created these lakes might have been more spread across the region, that there might be other systems like this around.”

All in all, if these lakes “are remnants of water that was once on the surface, it certainly may have been a good habitat to harbor life, extinct or living,” Pettinelli said. But the ideal mission to study such potential life would need to drill 0.9 miles (1.5 km) into the ice, which isn’t possible with available technology, she said. “Still, maybe one day a mission to the Martian poles may sample the surface there to see if we can find interesting information,” Pettinelli said.

In the future, the scientists would like to look for similar networks of lakes elsewhere at the south pole, and maybe at the north pole as well, Pettinelli said.

The scientists detailed their findings online today (Sept. 28) in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Meteors that brushed Earth’s atmosphere brought life to Venus, study says

Research suggests asteroids that have grazed Earth’s atmosphere might have scraped microbes that live in the atmosphere and brought them to the second planet in the Solar System

Earlier this month, researchers discovered traces of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, a molecule that is only made on Earth as a byproduct of life. A new study, suggests the phosphine may have emanated from our planet.

The research, from the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University, suggests that asteroids that have grazed Earth’s atmosphere in the past — believed to be at least 600,000 — might have scraped microbes that live in the atmosphere and brought them to the second planet in the Solar System.

“Although the abundance of terrestrial life in the upper atmosphere is unknown, these planet-grazing shepherds could have potentially been capable of transferring microbial life between the atmospheres of Earth and Venus,” the researchers, Amir Siraj and Abraham Loeb, wrote in the study’s abstract. “As a result, the origin of possible Venusian life may be fundamentally indistinguishable from that of terrestrial life.”

The research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, has been published on the pre-print arXiv server.

The idea put forth in the study by Siraj and Loeb is known as panspermia, the hypothesis that life on one planet originated from microorganisms in outer space and moved to another. In recent memory, it has been suggested that life on Earth may have originated in this manner.

Other theories suggest life could also be originating from comets and asteroids all over the universe.

Several previous studies have discussed the idea of panspermia, including one earlier this year, that suggested comets may have delivered the “essential element” for life on Earth.https://afad90ffafbea90bdc39b75d6ba3b046.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

In 2019, NASA found sugar molecules on two different meteorites, adding credence to the idea that asteroids play a crucial role in supporting life.

A meteor nicked the atmosphere over southern Australia in December 2017, resulting in a fireball that lasted more than 90 seconds. After traveling more than 800 miles through the atmosphere, this 132-pound meteoroid flew back into space, according to a paper published in December 2019.

Ultimately, additional research is needed to prove the theory, Siraj and Loeb wrote in the study.

“Further work is needed to investigate the existence and abundance of microbial life in the upper atmosphere, particularly at the altitude considered here, ∼ 85 km, at which Earth-grazing object would avoid significant heating,” the researchers explained. “In addition, if life is discovered by a direct probe sent into the atmosphere of Venus, it will be necessary to calibrate the abundance of life as a function of altitude on Venus.”

Venus, which has been called “Earth’s evil twin,” has an extremely harsh climate, with a surface temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s likely too hot to support life, but NASA has recently said that it intends to explore the planet. In July, researchers revealed that Venus has nearly 40 active volcanoes on its surface.

Separately in July, a number of researchers argued that going to the second planet in the Solar System could have benefits for a manned mission to Mars.

In late 2019, NASA said it was working on a stingray-like spacecraft to explore the planet, which has more volcanoes than any other celestial body in the Solar System.

ALMA Detects Salt, Water, Silicon Compounds and Methyl Cyanide around Two Massive Protostars

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have detected sodium chloride, silicon compounds, and water vapor in the circumstellar disks — as well as methyl cyanide in the circumbinary disk — around two massive protostars in IRAS 16547-4247, a binary system located 9,500 light-years away in the constellation of Scorpius.

An artist’s impression of the massive proto-binary system IRAS 16547-4247. Image credit: ALMA / ESO / NAOJ / NRAO.

“Sodium chloride is familiar to us as table salt, but it is not a common molecule in the Universe,” said lead author Dr. Kei Tanaka, an astronomer at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the Department of Earth and Space Science at Osaka University.

“This was only the second detection of sodium chloride around massive young stars.”

“The first example was around Orion KL Source I, but that is such a peculiar source that we were not sure whether salt is suitable to see gas disks around massive stars.”

“Our results confirmed that salt is actually a good marker. Since baby stars gain mass through disks, it is important to study the motion and characteristics of disks to understand how the baby stars grow.”

The astronomers also found that the twin circumstellar disks around IRAS 16547-4247 stars are counter-rotating.

“We found a tentative sign that the disks are rotating in opposite directions,” said co-author Dr. Yichen Zhang, an astronomer in the Star and Planet Formation Laboratory at RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research.

“If the stars are born as twins in a large common gaseous disk, then naturally the disks rotate in the same direction.”

“The counter-rotation of the disks may indicate that these two stars are not actual twins, but a pair of strangers which were formed in separated clouds and paired up later.”

This ALMA composite image shows the massive proto-binary system IRAS 16547-4247. Different colors show the different distributions of dust particles (yellow), methyl cyanide (red), salt (green), and water vapor (blue). Bottom insets are the close-up views of each component. Dust and methyl cyanide are distributed widely around the binary system, whereas salt and water vapor are concentrated in the disk around each protostar. In the wide-field image, the jets from one of the protostars, seen as several dots in the above image, are shown in light blue. Image credit: ALMA / ESO / NAOJ / NRAO / Tanaka et al.

The team expects that further observations will provide more dependable information on the secrets of massive binary systems’ birth.

The presence of water vapor and sodium chloride, which were released by the destruction of dust particles, suggests the hot and dynamic nature of disks around massive protostars.

Interestingly, investigations of meteorites indicate that the disk of the proto-Solar System also experienced high temperatures in which dust particles were evaporated.

“We will be able to trace these molecules released from dust particles well by using the next generation Very Large Array,” the astronomer said.

“We anticipate that we can even obtain clues to understand the origin of our Solar System through studying hot disks with sodium chloride and hot water vapor.”

paper on the findings was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

NASA details how $28B will be spent to return astronauts to the moon in 2024

To date, only 12 people, all Americans, have landed on the moon

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that the full $28 billion is needed for the Artemis moon program, designed to return astronauts to the moon by 2024.

The space agency published the Artemis Plan, which will see the first woman land on the lunar surface, as well as the next man. To date, only 12 people, all Americans, have landed on the moon.

“With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the Moon is well within America’s reach,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “As we’ve solidified more of our exploration plans in recent months, we’ve continued to refine our budget and architecture. We’re going back to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits.

“As we build up a sustainable presence, we’re also building momentum toward those first human steps on the Red Planet,” he added.

Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Credits: NASA

Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Credits: NASA

Of the $28 billion NASA is asking for through fiscal 2025 for the “phase 1” part of the program, $7.6 billion is designated for the Space Launch System rockets. Some $16.2 billion is for the “initial human landing system,” which includes developing, testing and launching the new lunar landers.

Some $518 million is budgeted for lunar suits; $552 million is for “surface logistics”; $1.2 billion is budgeted for exploration technologies and $1.9 billion is for the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program, described as a key component of NASA’s Exploration Strategy that includes the “establishment of commercial contracts for lunar landing transportation services.”

“Our work to catalyze the U.S. space economy with public-private partnerships has made it possible to accomplish more than ever before,” Bridenstine wrote in the introduction of the plan. “The budget we need to achieve everything laid out in this plan represents bipartisan support from the Congress.”

Artist's rendering of an ascent vehicle separating from a descent vehicle and departing the lunar surface.

Artist’s rendering of an ascent vehicle separating from a descent vehicle and departing the lunar surface. (NASA)

“Following a successful hot fire test, the core stage will be shipped to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with the spacecraft,” the space agency wrote in the post. “NASA will launch an SLS and an Orion together on two flight tests around the Moon to check performance, life support, and communication capabilities. The first mission – known as Artemis I – is on track for 2021 without astronauts, and Artemis II will fly with crew in 2023.”

Artemis III, happening in 2024, will be the mission to return to the moon.

In January, Congressman Kendra Horn, D-Okla., proposed a bill to urge NASA to consider a 2028 deadline for putting U.S. astronauts back on the moon in order to boost the space agency’s long-term plans for crewed Mars exploration.

NASA’s Artemis program aims to land American astronauts on the moon by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite.

In 2019, NASA revealed details of its vision for the Artemis Moon Lander that will return American astronauts to the lunar surface.

Initial mission capability for 2024 involves landing two astronauts on the moon’s South Pole. Astronauts will live and work out of the lander for six and a half days, according to NASA.

Longer-term, the lander will need to transport four people to the lunar South Pole.

After Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, only 10 more men, all Americans, have walked on the lunar surface. The last NASA astronaut to set foot on the moon was Apollo 17 Mission Commander Gene Cernan, on Dec. 14, 1972.

NASA finds parts of another asteroid on asteroid Bennu

NASA said parts of Vesta were discovered on Bennu, ranging in size from 5 to 14 feet

NASA has discovered something peculiar on the asteroid Bennu — bits of another asteroid.

In a statement posted to its website, the government space agency said parts of the asteroid Vesta were discovered on Bennu, ranging in size from five to 14 feet. They are also significantly different in color when compared to asteroid Bennu.

“We found six boulders ranging in size from 5 to 14 feet (about 1.5 to 4.3 meters) scattered across Bennu’s southern hemisphere and near the equator,” said the study’s lead author, Daniella DellaGiustina, in the statement. “These boulders are much brighter than the rest of Bennu and match material from Vesta.”

During spring 2019, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured these images, which show fragments of asteroid Vesta present on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The bright boulders (circled in the images) are pyroxene-rich material from Vesta. Some bright material appear to be individual rocks (left) while others appear to be clasts within larger boulders (right). (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

During spring 2019, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured these images, which show fragments of asteroid Vesta present on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The bright boulders (circled in the images) are pyroxene-rich material from Vesta. Some bright material appear to be individual rocks (left) while others appear to be clasts within larger boulders (right). (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

After discovering the fragments in the spring of 2019, scientists observed them further and found they contained traces of the mineral pyroxene, found on Vesta.

“Our leading hypothesis is that Bennu inherited this material from its parent asteroid after a vestoid (a fragment from Vesta) struck the parent,” study co-author Hannah Kaplan added in the statement. “Then, when the parent asteroid was catastrophically disrupted, a portion of its debris accumulated under its own gravity into Bennu, including some of the pyroxene from Vesta.”

NASA created a video to show the findings in greater detail.

It isn’t uncommon for asteroids to crash into each other. “Examples include dark material on crater walls seen by the Dawn spacecraft at Vesta, a black boulder seen by the Hayabusa spacecraft on Itokawa, and very recently, material from S-type asteroids observed by Hayabusa2 at Ryugu,” NASA wrote in the statement. “This indicates many asteroids are participating in a complex orbital dance that sometimes results in cosmic mashups.”

The researchers hope future observations will give them clues about why these mashups happen.

“Future studies of asteroid families, as well as the origin of Bennu, must reconcile the presence of Vesta-like material as well as the apparent lack of other asteroid types,” said study co-author and OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta. “We look forward to the returned sample, which hopefully contains pieces of these intriguing rock types.”

The research was published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.

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.

After being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, NASA said OSIRIS-REx’s first attempt at sampling the asteroid will occur on Oct. 20, pushed back from Aug. 25. The second rehearsal took place on Aug. 11 after being pushed back from June.

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

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.

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.

Asteroid to have ‘extremely close encounter’ with Earth this week

Asteroid 2020 SW will safely fly past the planet at a distance of about 17,556 miles

An asteroid will have an “extremely close encounter” with Earth on Thursday, when it flies by the planet at a distance of fewer than 20,000 miles, according to the Virtual Telescope Project.

Asteroid 2020 SW will safely fly past the planet at a distance of approximately 17,556 miles, according to EarthSky.org.

It was first discovered on Sept. 18, 2020, by the  Mt. Lemmon Observatory in Arizona, but it has made close approaches since Sept. 1975, according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). Since 1975, it has made approaches at a fairly constant rate.

File image - Earth is surrounded by a host of asteroids.

File image – Earth is surrounded by a host of asteroids. (Credit: P. Carril/NASA)

The exact size of 2020 SW is unclear, but it is “estimated to be about 14 to 32 feet in diameter,” according to EarthSky.org.

“Potentially hazardous” NEOs are defined as space objects that come within 0.05 astronomical units (4.6 million miles) and measure more than 460 feet in diameter, according to NASA. According to a 2018 report put together by Planetary.org, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.

After it flies past Earth on Thursday, the next time it will zip past the planet is nearly a decade later, on June 3, 2029.

In August, an asteroid the size of a pickup-truck flew within 2,000 miles of Earth, the closest ever recorded. It was missed by NASA until after it flew past the planet.

NASA unveiled a 20-page plan in 2018 that details the steps the U.S. should take to be better prepared for NEOs, such as asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of the planet.

recent survey showed that Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid impacts over sending humans back to the moon or to Mars.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in April 2019 that an asteroid strike is not something to be taken lightly and is perhaps Earth’s biggest threat.

The Mystery of the Lunar Transient Phenomena

An exploration of the transient lunar phenomena, strange brightening, darkening and discolorations on the surface of the moon observed by professional astronomers.

transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) or lunar transient phenomenon (LTP) is a short-lived light, color or change in appearance on the surface of the Moon. The term was created by Patrick Moore in his co-authorship of NASA Technical Report R-277 Chronological Catalog of Reported Lunar Events, published in 1968.

Claims of short-lived lunar phenomena go back at least 1,000 years, with some having been observed independently by multiple witnesses or reputable scientists. Nevertheless, the majority of transient lunar phenomenon reports are irreproducible and do not possess adequate control experiments that could be used to distinguish among alternative hypotheses to explain their origins.

Most lunar scientists will acknowledge transient events such as outgassing and impact cratering do occur over geologic time. The controversy lies in the frequency of such events.

Alien planets in deep space likely made of diamonds

The research suggests that these “carbon-rich” planets could have the right conditions, such as water heat and pressure, to turn carbon into diamonds

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but what about an entire planet made of diamonds?

Newly published research suggests that some exoplanets in deep space largely comprised of carbon could turn into diamonds.

The research, published in The Planetary Science Journal, suggests that these “carbon-rich” planets could have the right conditions, such as water, heat and pressure, to turn the carbon into diamonds. These planets could also form other minerals that are found on Earth, such as silicates and oxides.

llustration of a carbon-rich planet with diamond and silica as main minerals. Water can convert a carbide planet into a diamond-rich planet. In the interior, the main minerals would be diamond and silica (a layer with crystals in the illustration). The core (dark blue) might be iron-carbon alloy. Credit: Shim/ASU/Vecteezy

llustration of a carbon-rich planet with diamond and silica as main minerals. Water can convert a carbide planet into a diamond-rich planet. In the interior, the main minerals would be diamond and silica (a layer with crystals in the illustration). The core (dark blue) might be iron-carbon alloy. Credit: Shim/ASU/Vecteezy

“These exoplanets are unlike anything in our solar system,” said the study’s lead author, Harrison Allen-Sutter, in a statement.

In recent memory, researchers have discovered several planets that may be comprised of diamonds, including 55 Cancri e, discovered in 2004.

Planets, as well as stars, are largely comprised of dust and gas. However, when planets surrounding stars have larger amounts of carbon in them and water is present, “a diamond-rich composition” can be created.

For comparison purposes, Earth has a relatively little diamond component to it, at approximately 0.001%.

“Excess water after the reaction can be stored in dense silica polymorphs in the interiors of the converted carbon planets,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract. “Such conversion of mineralogy to diamond and silicates would decrease the density of carbon-rich planet, making the converted planets distinct from silicate planets in mass–radius relations for the 2–8 Earth mass range.”

To come up with their hypothesis, the researchers harnessed intense heat and pressure using high-pressure diamond-anvil cells. From there, they put silicon carbide under water and compressed it between two diamonds, heating the mixture with lasers.

Eventually, the silicon carbide turned into diamonds and silica.

While the presence of diamonds may be intriguing to the late Marilyn Monroe, it’s unlikely these planets host life, the researchers added. They noted they likely are not geologically active and probably have atmospheres that are not conducive to supporting life.

“Regardless of habitability, this is one additional step in helping us understand and characterize our ever-increasing and improving observations of exoplanets,” Allen-Sutter added in the statement. “The more we learn, the better we’ll be able to interpret new data from upcoming future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope to understand the worlds beyond on our own solar system.”

NASA’s James Webb Telescope is slated to launch in October 2021, having been pushed back several months because of the coronavirus pandemic, Fox News previously reported.

More than 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered by NASA in total, approximately 50 of which were believed to potentially be habitable as of September 2018. They have the right size and the right orbit of their star to support surface water and, at least theoretically, to support life.

US Soldiers Attacked By Aliens In North Korea

During the Korean War, US soldiers claimed to have encountered hostile enemies of the extraterrestrial kind. Watch today’s insane new video that recounts real US military soldiers experiences in North Korea, as their platoon was attacked by glowing UFO’s.

Saving The World, By Moving Mountains In Space

For billions of years life on Earth has been at the mercy of cosmic events which could strike without warning and sometimes caused mass extinctions in the biosphere. However, humanity is now the first species to understand this, and next year a spacecraft is going to demonstrate that not only does humanity understand the problem, we can predict the events and will be able to prevent the events.

This spacecraft is called the Double Asteroid Redirect Test, and it will literally move a mountain, just a little bit. This is a truly profound capability that will ensure humanity has a bright and hopeful future!

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is a planned space probe that will demonstrate the kinetic effects of crashing an impactor spacecraft into an asteroid moon for planetary defense purposes. The mission is intended to test whether a spacecraft impact could successfully deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

A demonstration of an asteroid deflection is a key test that NASA and other agencies wish to perform before the actual need of planetary defense is present. DART is a joint project between NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), and it is being developed under the auspices of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

Mission

The NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) operating in a vacuum chamber.

Scientists estimate 25,000 large asteroids lurk in the Solar System, though to date, surveys have detected about 8000, therefore NASA officials think it is imperative to develop an effective plan should a near-Earth object threaten Earth. DART is an impactor that hosts no scientific payload other than a Sun sensor, a star tracker, and 20 cm aperture camera (DRACO) to support autonomous navigation to impact the small asteroid’s moon at its center. It is estimated that the impact of the 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) DART at 6 kilometres per second (3.7 mi/s) will produce a velocity change on the order of 0.4 mm/s, which leads to a small change in trajectory of the asteroid system, but over time, it leads to a large shift of path. Overall, DART is expected to alter the speed of Dimorphos (Didymos B) orbit by about half a millimeter per second, resulting in an orbital period change of perhaps 10 minutes. Over a span of millions of kilometers, the cumulative trajectory change would turn a collision with a genuinely Earth-bound asteroid or comet into a safe outcome. The actual velocity change and orbital shift will be measured a few years later by a small spacecraft called Hera that would do a detailed reconnaissance and assessment. Hera was approved in November 2019.

DART spacecraft will use the NEXT ion thruster, a type of solar electric propulsion. It will be powered by 22 m2 solar arrays to generate the ~3.5 kW needed to power the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster–Commercial (NEXT-C) engine. The DART impactor is also proposed to make a flyby observation of other near-Earth asteroids such as 2001 CB21 and 3361 Orpheus during its trajectory to 65803 Didymos. It will obtain some images in the visible spectrum.

It was originally planned for DART to be a secondary payload on a commercial launch to keep costs low, however a mission update presentation in November 2018 notes that the mission now has a dedicated launch vehicle. In April 2019, that launch vehicle was announced to be a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Secondary spacecraft

The Italian Space Agency (ASI) will contribute a secondary spacecraft called LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids), a small 6-unit CubeSat that will piggyback with DART and will separate shortly before impact to acquire images of the impact and ejecta as it drifts past the asteroid.  LICIACube will communicate directly with Earth, sending back images of the ejecta after the Dimorphos (Didymos B) flyby.

In a collaborating project, the European Space Agency is developing Hera, a spacecraft that will be launched to Didymos in 2024  — after DART’s impact — to do a detailed reconnaissance and assessment. Hera would carry two CubeSatsAPEX and Juventas.

“Utsurobune”: A UFO Legend from Nineteenth-Century Japan

A mysterious event in Japan at the beginning of the nineteenth century shows surprising similarities with stories of UFOs.

Professor emeritus at Gifu University. Born in 1947. Specializes in optical information engineering, but has also lectured on skeptical thinking. Leading researcher on utsurobune (hollow ship) legends. Published Edo utsurobune misuterī in 2009 under a pen name, which was translated and published in English in 2019 as The Mystery of Utsuro-bune.

In 1803, a round vessel drifted ashore on the Japanese coast and a beautiful woman emerged, wearing strange clothing and carrying a box. She was unable to communicate with the locals, and her craft was marked with mysterious writing. This story of an utsurobune, or “hollow ship,” in the province of Hitachi (now Ibaraki Prefecture) is found in many records of the Edo period (1603–1868), and Tanaka Kazuo, professor emeritus at Gifu University, has studied the topic for many years. What drew him away from his main research area, applied optics, to investigate this curious episode? And what really took place?

“Like a Flying Saucer”

Tanaka says he began to research the ship after the deadly subway sarin attacks in 1995 by the Aum Shinrikyō cult. “There was a lot of coverage of Aum founder Asahara Shōkō’s prophecies and claims to be able to float in the air. Yet the cult’s senior members were part of the scientific elite. I started giving lectures considering paranormal phenomena from a scientific perspective, which meant that I was collecting all kinds of materials for teaching, such as about UFOs in the United States and Japanese folklore. While doing so, I came across the utsurobune legend.” He adds, “Long before the American UFO stories, the craft depicted in Edo-period Japanese documents for some reason looked like a flying saucer. This was fascinating to me.”

UFOs became a modern sensation after the media reported US businessman Kenneth Arnold as having witnessed “flying saucers” on June 24, 1947. A flood of similar stories followed from around the world. Most famously, a UFO was alleged to have crashed to the ground near Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947. “In the end, though, no wrecks or alien bodies were recovered,” Tanaka says. “There was only the ambiguous testament of witnesses. It was the same with all the other UFO stories from around the world—they were mysteries without any substantial evidence. The utsurobune legend, however, has a number of documents to examine as leads, so in this sense, for researchers it’s a mystery with substance.” 

A Ninja’s Report

A book published in English by Tanaka Kazuo on his research. The cover uses the illustration from Toen shōsetsu (Toen Stories; 1825).

There are similar oral traditions about “hollow ships” across Japan in the Edo period. Tanaka’s research is focused on the various documents that describe the 1803 incident in Hitachi and include illustrations of a beautiful woman and a strange vessel, although they cite different dates. One of the best-known sources is the Toen shōsetsu (Toen Stories), an 1825 collection recording fantastic rumors, which was written by the Toenkai literary circle and edited by Kyokutei Bakin, famous for his lengthy historical romance Nansō Satomi hakkenden (The Eight Dog Chronicles). Others are Nagahashi Matajirō’s 1844 work Ume no chiri (Plum Dust), as well as collections like Ōshuku zakki (Ōshuku Notes), Hirokata zuihitsu (Essays by Hirokata), and Hyōryūki-shū (Records of Castaways), which gathers stories of foreign ships washed up in Japan and of Japanese sailors who came ashore overseas.

From Ōshuku zakki (Ōshuku Notes; around 1815) by Komai Norimura, a vassal of the powerful daimyō Matsudaira Sadanobu. (Courtesy National Diet Library)
From Hirokata zuihitsu (Essays by Hirokata; 1825) by shogunate retainer and calligrapher Yashiro Hirokata, who was also a member of the Toenkai circle. (Courtesy National Archives of Japan)
From Mito bunsho (Mito Document). (Courtesy the owner)


At first, Tanaka theorized that the incident was an embellished account concerning a shipwrecked Russian whaler, but he could not find any mention of such a disaster in official records. Instead, he discovered new materials, becoming absorbed in further background research. To date, he has found 11 documents relating to the Hitachi utsurobune legend, of which the most interesting are thought to date from 1803, the same year that the craft was said to have come to shore.

One is the Mito bunsho (Mito Document) owned by a collector in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture. Tanaka noticed that the woman’s clothing in an illustration in the work was similar to that of a bodhisattva statue at the Shōfukuji temple in Kamisu, also in Ibaraki, which is dedicated to the raising of silkworms. A legend credits the start of sericulture in the area to a Princess Konjiki (or “golden princess”), who is a motif in images at the temple. In one version of the story, Princess Konjiki is washed up to shore after traveling from India on a dugout boat in the shape of a cocoon. She repays the kindness of a local couple who try to nurse her back to health by bestowing on them the secrets of sericulture when she herself becomes a silkworm after her death. Among the various materials, only the illustration in the Mito document appeared greatly similar to Princess Konjiki. Tanaka thinks that when the first rumors of a “hollow ship” coming ashore at a beach called Kashimanada were spreading, the people at Shōfukuji may have decided to incorporate it into promotion of the temple.

Another even more important source is the Banke bunsho (Banke Document) owned by Kawakami Jin’ichi, the heir to the Kōka ninjutsu (ninja arts) tradition and a ninjutsu researcher and martial artist. It is named after the Banke, or Ban family, of Kōka ninja. While some other materials say the vessel came ashore at locations like Harayadori or Haratonohama, there is no evidence that such places exist. This document, however, records the location as Hitachihara Sharihama, which appeared in a map produced by the famous cartographer Inō Tadataka, and is now known as Hasaki Sharihama in Kamisu. Tanaka comments that while the other materials show geographical inconsistencies, this document mentions a real place name. He says that Kawakami suggested a Banke member might have been assembling information while working for the head of the Owari domain (now Aichi Prefecture). “If so, he wouldn’t record any untruths, so we can say the document is very reliable.”

Awaiting New Revelations

The folklorist Yanagita Kunio once said that all of the utsurobune legends were groundless fictions. “But in the case of the Hitachi utsurobune, there’s a clear difference from other stories around the country,” Tanaka says. “For one, it’s specified as having taken place in 1803. And then, it’s strange that there are specific pictures of the craft showing it as resembling a flying saucer. I feel it was probably based on something that really happened. But Japan was largely closed off then, so if there was a wreck of a foreign ship or foreign people had arrived in the country, it would have been a huge event and a government official would have investigated and left a public document. When British sailors entered Ōtsuhama [now Kitaibaraki] in 1824, it became one of the causes of an edict to repel foreign vessels the following year. So it might be that there was witness testimony of something taking place for just a short time at Kashimanada. It’s possible that this became tied in with earlier utsurobune legends.”

Just as descriptions of the woman’s clothing vary depending on the document, so do those of the shape and size of her vessel. For example, Records of Castaways says that it was around 3.3 meters high and 5.4 meters wide (when converted into current measurements) and that it was made of rosewood and iron with glass and crystal windows. “I’m not sure whether Records of Castaways was an official document. There are two volumes altogether, and apart from the utsurobune, they’re all incidents that actually took place. This suggests that the writer at least believed the utsurobune was really washed up to shore,” Tanaka says. 

There are countless mysteries connected with the “hollow ship,” such as the meaning of the script written inside it. Tanaka says that one theory has it that it resembles the pseudo-Roman letters sometimes seen in the border of ukiyo-e prints. “So it might be simply decorative. Although it’s not impossible that we’ll discover evidence that it’s alien script!” Having said this, he laughs. “There are likely to be further discoveries of currently unknown materials related to the utsurobune, and new revelations. This legend is so appealing because it’s possible to come up with so many different theories. Having a story like this in Japan—from 140 years before the American UFO sightings—that stimulates the imagination to this extent reminds me of how deep and fascinating Japanese culture can be.”

From Hyōryūki-shū (Records of Castaways) by an unknown author. The text describes the woman as being around 18 to 20 years of age, well-dressed, and beautiful. Her face is pale, and her eyebrows and hair are red. It is impossible to communicate with her, so it is unclear where she is from. She holds a plain wooden box as though it is very important to her and keeps her distance. There is mysterious script written in the boat. (Courtesy Iwase Bunko Library in Nishio, Aichi Prefecture)
From Hyōryūki-shū (Records of Castaways) by an unknown author. The text describes the woman as being around 18 to 20 years of age, well-dressed, and beautiful. Her face is pale, and her eyebrows and hair are red. It is impossible to communicate with her, so it is unclear where she is from. She holds a plain wooden box as though it is very important to her and keeps her distance. There is mysterious script written in the boat. (Courtesy Iwase Bunko Library in Nishio, Aichi Prefecture)

Japanese military given instructions on UFOs

It is not the first time the Japanese government has made a statement about potential alien spacecraft appearing on Earth.

Weather balloon or UFO? Mysterious object appears over Japan
Image:Mysterious object appears over Japan earlier this year

The Japanese military have been given instructions to record and report sightings of unidentified aerial objects which could pose a potential threat to the country’s security.

While the popular imagination has been excited by UFOs, the military takes UAPs – as they are formally known – very seriously.

The footage was said not to reveal any 'sensitive capabilities or systems'
Declassified: UFOs filmed by US navy pilots

The risk for security officials is that the spotted aircraft are something which an untrained observer is unable to identify, but which could be a foreign incursion into domestic airspace.

But sometimes the UAPs appear to be even more mysterious.https://b981588965bc3dca514ea42419649f5b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlAdvertisement

Earlier this year the Pentagon declassified three videos of strange elliptical objects racing across the sky.

The black and white videos were recorded by Navy pilots – one in November 2004 and two in January 2015, according to the US Department of Defence.

One of the clips shows a dark circular object flying in front of a jet, another shows a small object speeding over land and the third shows a circular object racing and then appearing to slow down as it approaches the camera.

Mr Kono cited these videos and explained that while the Japanese defence force pilots are not believed to have ever encountered a UAP, his intention wast to develop a procedure in case such an encounter ever took place.

It is not the first time that members of the Japanese government have broached the topic.

UFO. Pic: Department of Defence
Image:Footage of UFOs has been released by the US DOD

The defence ministry previously stated in 2015 that it had never encountered alien spacecraft although the country’s then chief cabinet secretary, Nobutaka Machimura, said: “Personally, I absolutely believe they exist.”

Then-defence minister Shigeru Ishiba added that in his personal opinion there were “no grounds” to deny that there are UFOs controlled by alien life-forms, although this was not the official government position.

Celebrities fascinated by UFOs include rock star Tom DeLonge, who spoke to Sky News about his work on the subject earlier this month, saying he would not have put music on the backburner just “to chase monsters and ghosts”.

A UFO Legend from Nineteenth-Century Japan

Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the lunar module pilot for Apollo 14, publicly stated he was personally 90% sure that many reports of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, “belong to visitors from other planets”.

He suggested that he had met officials from foreign countries who had personal encounters with alien beings, and suggested that governments were covering up such contacts.

That said, he always maintained that he had never seen a UFO, and that he had never been threatened regarding those claims. He also said that UFOs being covered up was his own personal speculation.

UFO Doc ‘The Phenomenon’ Gets New Trailer, Release Date

The Phenomenon Key Art
Courtesy of Farah Films

James Fox’s feature exploring 70 years of history behind proving UFOs exist will now have a digital release on Oct. 6.

UFO documentary The Phenomenon, which takes an expansive look across 70 years’ worth of history behind proving the existence of UFOs, right up to the latest discoveries, has a new trailer and release date.

The feature — from director James Fox — was originally slated for a wide North American theatrical release via 1091 Media this fall, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic will now premiere worldwide on all digital platforms on Oct. 6.

Co-written by Fox and Marc Barasch, The Phenomenon features never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with key eyewitnesses, experts and officials, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Clinton’s White House chief of staff John Podesta, former Deputy Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Christopher Mellon, and former U.S. Energy Secretary and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, as well as Jacques Vallee, who served as a scientific consultant on Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

E.T. actor Peter Coyotes narrates the film, which was produced by Fox and Dan Farah (Ready Player One), among others.

The Phenomenon is meritorious. It makes the incredible credible,” said Reid, while former Senior CIA Officer and member of the Senior Intelligence Service, Jim Semivan, described it as, “The most important documentary of the year and the most accurate examination of the world’s greatest mystery.”

Vallee said: “Seventy years of secrecy has led to this. The most credible documentary ever made about UFOs.”

Chris Mellon, former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence at the U.S. Department of Defense, said: “I can’t think of a better way for people to begin educating themselves on this long-neglected issue than watching The Phenomenon. The film provides a badly needed remedy for the unwarranted stigma that for too long has prevented government and academia from taking this important topic seriously.”

See the trailer below:

Fighter pilot says UFO he chased in 2004 committed ‘act of war’

Commander David Fravor recalled the strange encounter off San Diego 16 years ago in a podcast

Retired Cmdr. David Fravor spoke about his encounter with a UFO off San Diego’s coast 16 years ago in a podcast with MIT research scientist Lex Fridman. He says what happened on that day was an act of war.

A former U.S. Navy fighter pilot spoke this month about what he says was an encounter with a “Tic Tac”-shaped UFO and believes the flying object committed an “act of war.”

Retired Cmdr. David Fravor recalled the strange encounter off San Diego 16 years ago in a Sept. 8 podcast with MIT research scientist Lex Fridman.

Fravor says he was dispatched to investigate radar anomalies and later described what he saw as “like nothing I’ve ever seen” – a Tic Tac-shaped object able to turn on a dime and make itself invisible to radar, New Zealand’s TV Channel 3 reported.

Image showing an unidentified object that was captured in video by the Navy in 2004.

Image showing an unidentified object that was captured in video by the Navy in 2004. (Department of Defense)

He was followed by other pilots who managed to catch it on video. Clips were leaked in 2017 by a UFO research group founded by punk singer Tom DeLonge of Blink 182, and formally declassified in 2020 by the Pentagon, according to the station.

“This is not like, ‘we saw it and it was gone’, or ‘I saw lights in the sky and it’s gone’ – we watched this thing on a crystal clear day with four trained observers,” Fravor said.

He said he tried to get close to it, but as he did so it accelerated so quickly, it was gone in half a second, according to Channel 3.

“I remember telling the guy in my back seat, ‘Dude, I dunno about you but I’m pretty weirded out,'” Fravor said, according to the station.

Once he landed, Fravor mentioned the object to another pilot, Chad Underwood, the station reported.

Underwood found the UFO, aimed his radar at it – and got jammed.

“He’s telling the radar, ‘Stare down the line of sight, whatever is there I want you to grab it and build a trace file on it,’ which will tell you where it is, how fast it is and the direction that it’s going,” Fravor told Fridman, according to the station.

“The radar is smart enough that when the signal comes back if it’s been messed with, it will tell you – it will give you indications that it’s being jammed… It’s being jammed into about every mode you can see… You can tell it’s being jammed,” he said.

“When you actively jam another platform, that’s technically an act of war,” Fravor told Fridman.

Sign of alien life detected on inhospitable Venus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists said on Monday they have detected in the harshly acidic clouds of Venus a gas called phosphine that indicates microbes may inhabit Earth’s inhospitable neighbor, a tantalizing sign of potential life beyond Earth.

The researchers did not discover actual life forms, but noted that on Earth phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments. The international scientific team first spotted the phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and confirmed it using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile.

“I was very surprised – stunned, in fact,” said astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The existence of extraterrestrial life long has been one of the paramount questions of science. Scientists have used probes and telescopes to seek “biosignatures” – indirect signs of life – on other planets and moons in our solar system and beyond.

“With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist and study co-author Clara Sousa-Silva.

“I should emphasize that life, as an explanation for our discovery, should be, as always, the last resort,” Sousa-Silva added. “This is important because, if it is phosphine, and if it is life, it means that we are not alone. It also means that life itself must be very common, and there must be many other inhabited planets throughout our galaxy.”

Venus has not been the focus of the search for life elsewhere in the solar system, with Mars and other worlds getting more attention.

Phosphine – a phosphorus atom with three hydrogen atoms attached – is highly toxic to people.

Earth-based telescopes like those used in this research help scientists study the chemistry and other characteristics of celestial objects.

Phosphine was seen at 20 parts-per-billion in the Venusian atmosphere, a trace concentration. Greaves said the researchers examined potential non-biological sources such as volcanism, meteorites, lightning and various types of chemical reactions, but none appeared viable. The research continues to either confirm the presence of life or find an alternative explanation.

Venus is Earth’s closest planetary neighbor. Similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth, it is the second planet from the sun. Earth is the third.

Venus is wrapped in a thick, toxic atmosphere that traps in heat. Surface temperatures reach a scorching 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead.

“I can only speculate on what life might survive on Venus, if indeed it is there. No life would be able to survive on the surface of Venus, because it is completely inhospitable, even for biochemistries completely different from ours,” Sousa-Silva said. “But a long time ago, Venus could have had life on its surface, before a runaway greenhouse effect left the majority of the planet completely uninhabitable.”Data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter is used in an undated composite image of the planet Venus. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS.

THE ACID TEST

Some scientists have suspected that the Venusian high clouds, with mild temperatures around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), could harbor aerial microbes that could endure extreme acidity. These clouds are around 90% sulphuric acid. Earth microbes could not survive that acidity.

“If it’s microorganisms, they would have access to some sunlight and water, and maybe live in liquid droplets to stop themselves dehydrating, but they would need some unknown mechanism to protect against corrosion by acid,” Greaves said.

On Earth, microorganisms in “anaerobic” environments – ecosystems that do not rely on oxygen – produce phosphine. These include sewage plants, swamps, rice fields, marshlands, lake sediments and the excrements and intestinal tracts of many animals. Phosphine also arises non-biologically in certain industrial settings.

To produce phosphine, Earth bacteria take up phosphate from minerals or biological material and add hydrogen.

“We have done our very best to explain this discovery without the need for a biological process. With our current knowledge of phosphine, and Venus, and geochemistry, we cannot explain the presence of phosphine in the clouds of Venus. That doesn’t mean it is life. It just means that some exotic process is producing phosphine, and our understanding of Venus needs work,” Sousa-Silva said.

Venus should be hostile to phosphine. Its surface and atmosphere are rich in oxygen compounds that would rapidly react with and destroy phosphine.

“Something must be creating the phosphine on Venus as fast as it is being destroyed,” said study co-author Anita Richards, an astrophysicist associated with the University of Manchester in England.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Twitter called the new findings “the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth.” Among missions that the U.S. space agency is currently considering is one that would send an atmospheric probe to Venus.

“It’s time to prioritize Venus,” Bridenstine wrote.

While previous robotic spacecraft have visited Venus, a new probe may be needed to confirm life.

“Fortunately, Venus is right next door,” Sousa-Silva said. “So we can literally go and check.”

Amateur astronomer discovers large asteroid that flew by Earth this week

An orbit diagram for the near-Earth asteroid 2020 QU6, which made a close approach to Earth on Sept. 10, 2020.
An orbit diagram for the near-Earth asteroid 2020 QU6, which made a close approach to Earth on Sept. 10, 2020. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

An amateur astronomer from Brazil discovered the large, “potentially hazardous” asteroid that safely passed by Earth this week on Thursday (Sept. 10). 

The asteroid, called 2020 QU6, measures roughly 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) wide, or large enough to cause a global catastrophe if it were to hit Earth. However, it posed no risk to our planet as it travelled past the planet at a distance of more than 20 million miles (40 million kilometers), which is more than 100 times the distance between Earth and the moon, according to a statement from the Planetary Society. 

“In the news, we hear more and more frequently about asteroid discoveries primarily because we are getting better at finding and tracking near-Earth asteroids,” Bruce Betts, chief scientist at The Planetary Society, said in the statement. “There aren’t suddenly more asteroids, we’re just getting better at seeing them.”

Asteroid 2020 QU6 was discovered on Aug. 27 by amateur astronomer Leonardo Amaral at the Campo dos Amarais observatory near Sao Paulo Brazil. In 2019, Amaral received an $8,500 grant from The Planetary Society to purchase better telescope equipment that would allow him to find, track, and characterize near-Earth objects (NEOs) more effectively. 

Amaral’s location in the Southern Hemisphere also offers a unique vantage point for finding such a large asteroid, as many professional asteroid-hunting sky surveys are located in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the statement. 

While NASA and other major agencies track asteroids, the discovery of asteroid 2020 QU6 so close to its approach to Earth serves as a reminder for the need to support ground-based astronomers like Amaral. Casey Dreier, chief advocate and senior space policy adviser for The Planetary Society, also noted the importance of investing in new space-based capabilities, such as NASA’s NEO Surveillance Mission, or NEOSM, which is a space telescope designed to find and track threatening near-Earth objects. 

“This discovery reminds us that even though we’ve found most large NEOs we haven’t found all of them,” Dreier said in the statement. 

New Study Expands Breakthrough Listen Initiative’s Search for Intelligent Life

In a new study to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a research team led by University of Manchester astronomers extended a sample of 1,327 stellar systems recently observed by the Breakthrough Listen Initiative by including additional 288,315 stars that also reside within the target fields of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope in Australia — increasing the number of stars analyzed by a factor of more than 200. Their results suggest that less than 0.04% of stellar systems have the potential of hosting advanced civilizations with the equivalent or slightly more advanced radio technology than 21st century humans.

An optical color image of the stellar field centered on HIP 109427, an A1-type star located 89 light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus, from the Pan-STARRS survey, showing the target fields of Green Bank and Parkes receivers, circled in red and white respectively; 46 sources with geometric distances calculated from Gaia data are marked with green crosses. Image credit: Wlodarczyk-Sroka et al, arXiv: 2006.09756.

SETI scientists search for technosignatures — indicators of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligence — using cutting-edge instruments at some of the world’s most powerful telescopes.

No technosignatures have yet been detected, but as more and more comprehensive searches are carried out, astronomers can place tighter and tighter limits on how many stars in our neighborhood might be home to powerful radio transmitters.

In their earlier studies, astronomers from the Breakthrough Listen Initiative looked for technosignatures in radio data gathered when Green Bank and Parkes radio telescopes were pointed in the directions of 1,327 individual stars.

Their search focused on relatively nearby stars — within about 160 light-years from our Sun — because less powerful transmitters would become more easily detectable the closer they are to our telescopes.

However, as anyone who has looked at images of deep space knows, even small regions of the sky are full of stars at a range of distances from Earth.

When Breakthrough Listen searches for technosignatures coming from a nearby star, it is also sensitive to more powerful potential technosignatures from other stars within the telescope’s beam.

University of Manchester astronomers Bart Wlodarczyk-Sroka and Professor Michael Garrett and Berkeley SETI Director Dr. Andrew Siemion took advantage of this fact to determine new, more stringent limits on the prevalence of technosignatures, without the need to gather any new telescope data.

Combing through the catalogue produced by ESA’s Gaia spacecraft, which measured the distances to over a billion stars, they recalculated limits on the prevalence of transmitters around additional stars within radio telescopes’ fields of view.

By selecting stars out to much larger distances — up to about 33,000 light-years — than the original sample of nearby stars, they were able to expand the number of stars studied from 1,327 to 288,315.

“Knowing the locations and distances to these additional sources greatly improves our ability to constrain the prevalence of extraterrestrial intelligence in our own Galaxy and beyond,” Professor Garrett said.

“We expect future SETI surveys to also make good use of this approach.”

“Our results help to put meaningful limits on the prevalence of transmitters comparable to what we ourselves can build using twenty first century technology,” Wlodarczyk-Sroka added.

“We now know that fewer than one in 1,600 stars closer than about 330 light-years host transmitters just a few times more powerful than the strongest radar we have here on Earth.”

“Inhabited worlds with much more powerful transmitters than we can currently produce must be rarer still.”

The sheer number of stars studied enabled the researchers to place some of the most stringent limits to date on the prevalence of powerful radio transmitters in this region of our Galaxy.

In addition, for the first time, they have been able to do this as a function of stellar type — the extended sample includes not only a wide range of main-sequence stars, but also numerous giant stars and white dwarfs.

“This work shows the value of combining data from different telescopes,” Dr. Siemion said.

“Expanding our observations to cover almost 220 times more stars would have required a significant investment of our telescope time, not to mention the computing resources to perform the analysis.”

“By taking advantage of the fact that we already had radio scans of stars in the background of our primary targets, and by reading their positions and distances from the Gaia catalog, our analysis has extracted additional information from the existing dataset.”

“Work like this gets us one step closer to the goal of knowing the answer to humanity’s most profound question: Are we alone?”

Lunar Warming: Jupiter’s Icy Moons Are Heating Each Other Up, New Research Finds

Jupiter’s moons.(NASA)

Despite being so far away from the Sun, Jupiter’s moons are hot—hotter than they should be!

The beautiful, icy moons are known to contain interiors warm enough to host oceans of liquid water. And on the planet’s innermost moon, Io, the heat is intense enough to melt rocks into magma.

Previously, researchers believed that Jupiter was the sole reason behind most of the heating associated with Io’s internal ocean of magma as well as the liquid interiors of its three icy Galilean moons: Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. But now, a new study has found that moon-moon interactions may be more responsible for the heating than the Gas Giant.

Essentially, the researchers have found that the moons gravitationally tug at each other and create friction—a process called tidal heating—while Jupiter itself stretches and squishes them. The tidal heating is what causes the interiors of the moons to heat-up, and it is driven by a phenomenon called tidal resonance.

“It’s surprising because the moons are so much smaller than Jupiter,” said the paper’s lead author Hamish Hay, a postdoctoral fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “You wouldn’t expect them to be able to create such a large tidal response.”

However, they do just that.

For any moon to experience tidal resonance, their oceans must be tens to hundreds of kilometers thick. Incidentally, the oceans on Jupiter’s moons are so thick, that the planet’s influence alone is incapable of creating tides with the right frequency to resonate with the moons. It was only when the researchers added in the gravitational influence of the other moons that they started to see tidal forces approaching the natural frequencies of the moons.

As the tides generated by other moons resonate with a moon’s frequency, they serve as an energy source and excite the subsurface lunar oceans near their natural frequencies. This leads to the generation of fast-flowing tidal waves, which effectively release significant amounts of heat into the oceans and crusts of Io and Europa.

Subsequently, these moons begin experiencing more heating than that caused by Jupiter alone, and in extreme cases, it could also result in the melting of ice or rock internally, especially on Io.

However, this current model functions on the assumption that the tidal resonances never get too extreme. In future studies, Hay and his team of researchers intend to see what happens when they lift that constraint, and also study the true depth of the oceans within these moons.

All in all, getting a complete picture of how these moons influence each other is crucial, as it could shed light on how Jupiter’s wonderful moon system evolved as a whole, and also improve our understanding of how ocean worlds in compact systems evolve.

The findings of this study were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, and they can be accessed here.

Baffling interstellar object ‘Oumuamua could be a ‘dust bunny’

Research theorizes the cigar-shaped object is comprised of dust fragments from an interstellar comet

Ever since its discovery in October 2017, researchers have speculated what the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is: an alien “light sail” from another civilization; it’s made of something almost unheard of in science; others suggest it is a comet or an asteroid.

A new study now suggests it might be something very common on Earth: a cosmic “dust bunny.”

The research, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, theorizes the 900 foot-long cigar-shaped object is comprised of dust fragments from an interstellar comet, which had a chunk of rock broken off. From there, the dust and rock combined and would be “ejected” into interstellar space by solar radiation.

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)

“We propose that ‘Oumuamua’s properties could be explained as those of a fractal dust aggregate (a ‘dust bunny’) formed in the inner coma of a fragmenting exo-Oort cloud comet,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract.

They continued: “Such fragments could serve as accretion sites by accumulating dust particles, resulting in the formation of a fractal aggregate. The fractal aggregate eventually breaks off from the fragment due to hydrodynamic stress. With their low density and tenuously bound orbits, most of these cometary fractal aggregates are then ejected into interstellar space by radiation pressure.”

The idea of a “dust bunny” being created from the rock and dust of another comet is similar to another theory put forth earlier this year. In April, another group of researchers suggested ‘Oumuamua – which means “pathfinder” or “scout” in Hawaiian – could have been ripped from a larger object due to gravity from a nearby star.

No longer observable by telescopes as of January 2018, many have speculated about what ‘Ouamumua is, as it traveled through the Solar System at 57,000 mph.

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.”

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.

A second interstellar object, Comet 2I/Borisov, was discovered in August 2019.

Large-Scale SETI Survey of Vela Region Finds No Signs of Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Astronomers using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope have searched for technosignatures — indicators of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations — in six known exoplanets and over 10 million stellar systems in the Vela region of our Milky Way Galaxy. But in this part of the Milky Way at least, it appears alien civilizations are elusive, if they exist.

Tremblay & Tingay report a new large-scale survey towards the Vela region of the Milky Way. Image credit: NASA.

“The MWA is a unique telescope, with an extraordinarily wide field-of-view that allows us to observe millions of stars simultaneously,” said Dr. Chenoa Tremblay, an astronomer at the CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.

Dr. Tremblay and her colleague, Professor Steven Tingay from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, searched for narrow-band signals consistent with radio transmissions from six known exoplanets (HD 75289b, HD 73526b, HD 73526c, HD 70642b, DE0823-49b and KELT-15b) and 10,355,066 stellar systems in the Vela region.

“The telescope was searching for powerful radio emissions at frequencies similar to FM radio frequencies, that could indicate the presence of an intelligent source,” she explained.

“We observed the sky around the constellation of Vela for 17 hours, looking more than 100 times broader and deeper than ever before.”

“With this dataset, we found no technosignatures — no sign of intelligent life.”

Dipole antennas of the Murchison Widefield Array in Australia. Image credit: Dragonfly Media.

“Even though this was the broadest search yet, we were not shocked by the result,” Professor Tingay said.

“As Douglas Adams noted in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, ‘space is big, really big’.”

“And even though this was a really big study, the amount of space we looked at was the equivalent of trying to find something in the Earth’s oceans but only searching a volume of water equivalent to a large backyard swimming pool.”

“Since we can’t really assume how possible alien civilizations might utilize technology, we need to search in many different ways.”

“Using radio telescopes, we can explore an eight-dimensional search space,” he said.

“Although there is a long way to go in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, telescopes such as the MWA will continue to push the limits — we have to keep looking.”

The team’s paper appears in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

_____

C.D. Tremblay & S.J. Tingay. A SETI survey of the Vela region using the Murchison Widefield Array: Orders of magnitude expansion in search space. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, published online September 7, 2020; doi: 10.1017/pasa.2020.27

‘Potentially hazardous’ asteroid wider than two football fields set to fly past Earth next week

The space rock, known as asteroid 2020 QL2, is more than 120 meters (393 feet) in diameter

An asteroid wider than two professional football fields is set to fly safely past Earth on Sept. 14, according to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies.

The space rock, known as asteroid 2020 QL2, is more than 120 meters (393 feet) in diameter, the government agency notes. It is expected to fly past Earth at a speed of nearly 24,000 mph and come within a distance of 4.2 million miles.

By comparison, the moon is 238,900 miles from the Earth.

File photo: Artistic impression of two near-earth objects. (ESA / P. Carril)

File photo: Artistic impression of two near-earth objects. (ESA / P. Carril)

Asteroid 2020 QL2 is considered “potentially hazardous” by NASA, given its size and close proximity to Earth, although it has almost no chance of hitting the planet next week.

“Potentially hazardous” NEOs are defined as space objects that come within 0.05 astronomical units (4.6 million miles) and measure more than 460 feet in diameter, according to NASA. According to a 2018 report put together by Planetary.org, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.

In August, a basketball court-sized asteroid flew “at least” 45,000 miles away from Earth, according to NASA’s Asteroid Watch.

Separately in August, an asteroid the size of a pickup truck flew within 2,000 miles of Earth, the closest ever recorded. It was missed by NASA until after it flew past the planet.

NASA unveiled a 20-page plan in 2018 that details the steps the U.S. should take to be better prepared for NEOs, such as asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of the planet.

recent survey showed that Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid impacts over sending humans back to the moon or to Mars.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in April 2019 that an asteroid strike is not something to be taken lightly and is perhaps Earth’s biggest threat.

Free-Floating Exoplanets Outnumber Stars in Milky Way

Free-floating, or rogue, exoplanets — free-floating planetary-mass objects that do not orbit a star and instead travel through space — could be surprisingly common in our Milky Way Galaxy; and NASA’s upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (Roman) will detect at least 250 such free-floating planets with masses down to that of Mars, according to a new paper published in the Astronomical Journal.

An artist’s impression of a free-floating exoplanet. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / R. Hurt, Caltech-IPAC.

Free-floating planets are isolated objects that have masses similar to that of planets. The origin of these objects is unknown.

They could form in the gaseous disks around young stars, similar to those planets still bound to their host stars. After formation, they could later be ejected through interactions with other planets in the system, or even fly-by events by other stars.

Or they could form when dust and gas swirl together, similar to the way stars form.

“The Universe could be teeming with rogue planets and we wouldn’t even know it,” said co-author Professor Scott Gaudi, a researcher in the Department of Astronomy at the Ohio State University.

“We would never find out without undertaking a thorough, space-based microlensing survey like Roman is going to do.”

“As our view of the Universe has expanded, we’ve realized that our Solar System may be unusual,” said lead author Samson Johnson, a graduate student at Ohio State University.

“Roman will help us learn more about how we fit in the cosmic scheme of things by studying rogue planets.”

“Identifying those planets will help scientists infer the total number of these rogue planets in our Galaxy.”

Roman, named for NASA’s first chief astronomer who was also known as the ‘mother’ of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, will attempt to build the first census of free-floating planets.

“Roman is designed not only to locate free-floating planets in the Milky Way, but to test the theories and models that predict how these planets formed,” Johnson said.

The team’s study found that Roman is likely to be 10 times more sensitive to free-floating planets than existing efforts, which for now are based on telescopes tethered to the Earth’s surface.

It will focus on planets in the Milky Way, between our Sun and the center of our Galaxy, covering some 24,000 light-years.

“There have been several rogue planets discovered, but to actually get a complete picture, our best bet is something like Roman. This is a totally new frontier,” Johnson said.

Roman, which is scheduled to launch in the next five years, will search for free-floating planets using a technique called gravitational microlensing.

That technique relies on the gravity of stars and planets to bend and magnify the light coming from stars that pass behind them from the telescope’s viewpoint.

This microlensing effect is connected to Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity and allows a telescope to find planets thousands of light-years away from Earth — much farther than other planet-detecting techniques.

But because microlensing works only when the gravity of a planet or star bends and magnifies the light from another star, the effect from any given planet or star is only visible for a short time once every few million years.

And because rogue planets are situated in space on their own, without a nearby star, the telescope must be highly sensitive in order to detect that magnification.

“The microlensing signal from a rogue planet only lasts between a few hours and a couple of days and then is gone forever,” said co-author Dr. Matthew Penny, a researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Louisiana State University.

“This makes them difficult to observe from Earth, even with multiple telescopes. Roman is a game-changer for rogue planet searches.”

The authors estimate that Roman will discover around 250 free-floating planets that are the mass of Mars or larger.

“These planets are not likely to support life. They would probably be extremely cold, because they have no star,” Johnson said.

“If we find a lot of low-mass rogue planets, we’ll know that as stars form planets, they’re probably ejecting a bunch of other stuff out into the Galaxy. This helps us get a handle on the formation pathway of planets in general.”

Rocket limbo complicating NASA’s Europa Clipper mission

NASA’s highly anticipated mission to the Jupiter ocean moon Europa needs a rocket — and soon, the project’s planners say.

NASA's Europa Clipper mission, which will study the Jupiter ocean moon Europa in detail, is scheduled to launch in 2024.NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which will study the Jupiter ocean moon Europa in detail, is scheduled to launch in 2024.(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Europa Clipper probe is scheduled to launch in 2024 to study the Jovian satellite, which harbors a huge sea of liquid water beneath its icy shell. Clipper will assess the habitability of that buried ocean and perform a number of other tasks, including scouting out promising sites for a future life-hunting lander mission.

Congress has long mandated that Clipper launch atop the Space Launch System (SLS), the giant rocket that NASA is developing to send astronauts toward the moon and other distant destinations. But SLS has been plagued by delays and cost overruns, and the megarocket isn’t slated to debut until late 2021.

That initial mission will launch NASA’s Orion capsule on an uncrewed flight around the moon for the space agency’s Artemis program of lunar exploration. SLS and Orion are key elements of Artemis, which seeks to land two astronauts near the moon’s south pole in 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on and around Earth’s nearest neighbor by the end of the decade.

Given the commitment to Artemis and the relatively slow pace of SLS development, the rocket’s availability for an on-time Europa Clipper launch is in serious doubt, NASA’s Office of Inspector General concluded last year.

This concern has apparently bubbled up into the U.S. House of Representatives. The House’s proposed 2021 NASA budget, which was released in July, directs the agency to launch Clipper by 2025 and the Europa lander by 2027. The proposal dictates that SLS be used for both missions “if available.” That wording leaves the door open for a commercial alternative — perhaps SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the operational rocket that comes closest to SLS’ power (though SLS’ power remains purely hypothetical until it flies).

The Europa Clipper team has been planning for both launch contingencies. But the mission cannot stay in this limbo for much longer, team members said. 

“We really need a decision by the end of this calendar year in order to continue to mature the spacecraft development,” Europa Clipper project manager Jan Chodas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said on Wednesday (Sept. 2) during the fall meeting of NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group.

The mission team is already working toward a big milestone at the end of the year: Clipper’s critical design review (CDR), the final vetting hurdle to clear before full-scale manufacturing begins, will be held in December.

The CDR “was originally planned to be earlier, but, because of the launch-vehicle uncertainty, we’ve delayed it until the end of the year,” Chodas said.

The roughly $3 billion Europa Clipper mission has been dealing with other complications as well. Costs have ballooned on several science instruments, for example. And the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact, the extent of which is still being assessed, Chodas said. 

The team is aiming to have Clipper launch-ready in early 2024. Liftoff will occur in summer or fall of that year, if all goes according to plan.

Clipper will eventually settle into orbit around Jupiter. The probe will study Europa in depth during a series of roughly 50 flybys, which will take place over nearly four Earth years. Clipper will use nine science instruments to characterize Europa’s ocean, measure the thickness of the moon’s ice shell and hunt for plumes of water vapor wafting from the surface, among other tasks. The probe will also look for good touchdown sites for the Europa lander, which is still a concept mission, not an official NASA project.

New Study Expands Breakthrough Listen Initiative’s Search for Intelligent Life

In a new study to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a research team led by University of Manchester astronomers extended a sample of 1,327 stellar systems recently observed by the Breakthrough Listen Initiative by including additional 288,315 stars that also reside within the target fields of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope in Australia — increasing the number of stars analyzed by a factor of more than 200. Their results suggest that less than 0.04% of stellar systems have the potential of hosting advanced civilizations with the equivalent or slightly more advanced radio technology than 21st century humans.

An optical color image of the stellar field centered on HIP 109427, an A1-type star located 89 light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus, from the Pan-STARRS survey, showing the target fields of Green Bank and Parkes receivers, circled in red and white respectively; 46 sources with geometric distances calculated from Gaia data are marked with green crosses. Image credit: Wlodarczyk-Sroka et al, arXiv: 2006.09756.

SETI scientists search for technosignatures — indicators of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligence — using cutting-edge instruments at some of the world’s most powerful telescopes.

No technosignatures have yet been detected, but as more and more comprehensive searches are carried out, astronomers can place tighter and tighter limits on how many stars in our neighborhood might be home to powerful radio transmitters.

In their earlier studies, astronomers from the Breakthrough Listen Initiative looked for technosignatures in radio data gathered when Green Bank and Parkes radio telescopes were pointed in the directions of 1,327 individual stars.

Their search focused on relatively nearby stars — within about 160 light-years from our Sun — because less powerful transmitters would become more easily detectable the closer they are to our telescopes.

However, as anyone who has looked at images of deep space knows, even small regions of the sky are full of stars at a range of distances from Earth.

When Breakthrough Listen searches for technosignatures coming from a nearby star, it is also sensitive to more powerful potential technosignatures from other stars within the telescope’s beam.

University of Manchester astronomers Bart Wlodarczyk-Sroka and Professor Michael Garrett and Berkeley SETI Director Dr. Andrew Siemion took advantage of this fact to determine new, more stringent limits on the prevalence of technosignatures, without the need to gather any new telescope data.

Combing through the catalogue produced by ESA’s Gaia spacecraft, which measured the distances to over a billion stars, they recalculated limits on the prevalence of transmitters around additional stars within radio telescopes’ fields of view.

By selecting stars out to much larger distances — up to about 33,000 light-years — than the original sample of nearby stars, they were able to expand the number of stars studied from 1,327 to 288,315.

“Knowing the locations and distances to these additional sources greatly improves our ability to constrain the prevalence of extraterrestrial intelligence in our own Galaxy and beyond,” Professor Garrett said.

“We expect future SETI surveys to also make good use of this approach.”

“Our results help to put meaningful limits on the prevalence of transmitters comparable to what we ourselves can build using twenty first century technology,” Wlodarczyk-Sroka added.

“We now know that fewer than one in 1,600 stars closer than about 330 light-years host transmitters just a few times more powerful than the strongest radar we have here on Earth.”

“Inhabited worlds with much more powerful transmitters than we can currently produce must be rarer still.”

The sheer number of stars studied enabled the researchers to place some of the most stringent limits to date on the prevalence of powerful radio transmitters in this region of our Galaxy.

In addition, for the first time, they have been able to do this as a function of stellar type — the extended sample includes not only a wide range of main-sequence stars, but also numerous giant stars and white dwarfs.

“This work shows the value of combining data from different telescopes,” Dr. Siemion said.

“Expanding our observations to cover almost 220 times more stars would have required a significant investment of our telescope time, not to mention the computing resources to perform the analysis.”

“By taking advantage of the fact that we already had radio scans of stars in the background of our primary targets, and by reading their positions and distances from the Gaia catalog, our analysis has extracted additional information from the existing dataset.”

“Work like this gets us one step closer to the goal of knowing the answer to humanity’s most profound question: Are we alone?”

_____

NASA baffled by mysterious ridges on Mars

The image, taken by the HiRise Context camera, was enhanced with color to help correlate rock units

NASA has spent years observing and exploring Mars, but the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took a picture of a ridged portion of the Martian surface last month that is “puzzling” to researchers.

The image, taken by the HiRise Context camera, was enhanced with color to help correlate rock units, but that has left more questions than answers about the area known as Aureum Chaos.

The team at the University of Arizona, which operates the HiRise camera, offered a suggestion for how the area formed.

(NASA/JPL/UArizona)

(NASA/JPL/UArizona)

“A crudely polygonal patterned ground was created by stresses in the sediments, and groundwater followed the fractures and deposited minerals that cemented the sediments,” the researchers wrote in a blog post. “This was followed by perhaps billions of years of erosion by the wind, leaving the cemented fractures as high-standing ridges.”

“Of course, this story is almost certainly incomplete if not totally wrong,” the researchers added.

According to NASA, the Aureum Chaos is a “229-mile wide area in the eastern part of Valles Marineris.” The region is rough and collapsed, which makes it difficult for rovers to explore.

However, the Ingenuity helicopter attached to the recently launched Perseverance rover could eventually help explore this region of the Red Planet.

In August, NASA reached a “big milestone” on its latest mission to Mars, as the space agency was able to power up the helicopter’s six lithium-ion batteries.

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which recently left Earth on its way to the Red Planet, will perform a number of tasks on Mars, including looking for fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial life.

Much is still being learned about the Martian terrain and atmosphere. Earlier this week, the Curiosity rover spotted a “dust devil” in the Gale Crater.

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

UFO research ‘could change the world,’ Blink-182 co-founder says

‘I’m a big part of a mechanism that is absolutely profound,’ Tom DeLonge said

Navy acknowledges UFO videos in statement; reaction from UFO expert Nick Pope.

In a new interview, Blink-182 co-founder Tom DeLonge said the research he and his To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science organization is doing on UFOs could “change the world.”

Speaking to Sky News, DeLonge, the former guitarist for the band, said he has seen “enormous amounts of data” and would not have made the commitment he has to chase something that is mere “pie in the sky.”

“You’ve got to understand, the last show that I played before I started To The Stars Academy was actually in the UK,” the 44-year-old told the news outlet. “My band headlined Reading and Leeds. You know, it’s like, there’s a hundred thousand people there. ‘And you decided to just leave that to go chase monsters and ghosts?’ You know, I’m not stupid, I’m a pretty savvy guy.”

DeLonge continued: “I’ve been brought into a group of people and I’m a big part of a mechanism that is absolutely profound and [has] already started changing the world. And it’s going to do a lot more.”

In recent memory, DeLonge and the TTSA have been responsible for or had a hand in some notable moments.

In 2017, three videos of “unidentified aerial phenomena” were originally released to the New York Times and to TTSA.

The first video, known as “FLIR1,” of the unidentified object was taken on Nov. 14, 2004, and shot by the F-18’s gun camera. The second video, known as “Gimbal,” was shot on Jan. 21, 2015, and shows another aerial vehicle with pilots commenting on how strange it is.

Musician Tom DeLonge speaks onstage at A Conversation With Tom DeLonge at The GRAMMY Museum on Oct. 13, 2015, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Rebecca Sapp/WireImage)

Musician Tom DeLonge speaks onstage at A Conversation With Tom DeLonge at The GRAMMY Museum on Oct. 13, 2015, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Rebecca Sapp/WireImage)

The third video, known as “GoFast,” was also taken on Jan. 21, 2015, but it is unclear whether it was of the same object or a different one.

The news report and subsequent media coverage surrounding the videos forced the U.S. Navy to admit the videos were real in September 2019. Several months later, in April, the Pentagon publicly released the videos.

“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,” Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough said at the time.

“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,” Gough added. “The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified.’”

“There’s no getting away from the fact that TTSA has driven the agenda on this subject for the last two and half years, ever since the New York Times’s December 2017 stories about AATIP (Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program) and related matters – stories in which TTSA played a key role,” Nick Pope, a former employee and UFO investigator for Britain’s Ministry of Defense, said in an email to Fox News. “TTSA has played a big part in moving this subject forward, out of the fringe and into the mainstream.”

In December 2017, Fox News reported that the Pentagon had secretly set the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program to investigate UFOs at the request of former Sen. Harry Reid. It reportedly ceased operations in 2012, but the 2017 Times report said the Department of Defense was still investigating potential episodes of unidentified flying objects.

Additionally, DeLonge and TTSA signed a deal with the U.S. Army to study its purported extraterrestrial “discoveries” in October 2019.

DeLonge, who is the executive producer of “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation” on the History Channel, noted the topic of UFOs, or unidentified aerial phenomena, is “fraught with taboo and stigma.” However, the public revealing of the AATIP may have changed public perception for good.

“All of a sudden, lo and behold, the world finds out we actually had a real program with $22 million of taxpayer money to actually look at UFOs, but nobody wanted to talk about it,” DeLonge continued.

In a September 2019 Gallup poll, Americans said they are becoming increasingly skeptical that the government knows more than it is letting on as it pertains to UFOs.

Luis Elizondo, who Pope said is “one of the key figures” for his previous involvement with the AATIP and his help releasing the three videos, has said people should pay attention to the comments the government is making about UFOs.

“What the pilots encountered that day was able to perform in ways that defied all logic and our current understanding of aerodynamics,” Elizondo wrote in a Fox News op-ed of the 2004 encounter by U.S. Navy pilots.

Elizondo was also a part of the interview with Sky News and is working with DeLonge on the History Channel project.

DeLonge, who said he experienced the stigma for the first time while in the early days of Blink-182, added the only way to remove that mindset is to get the world’s best and brightest minds working on it.

“I mean, 20 years ago, it was very much like, these are craft and they must be from a planet, or they’re an alien, and that’s kind of where I was when I was in my early 20s in the van,” DeLonge, who previously said “UFOs are real” in a since-deleted tweet, explained.

“Over time, as science moves and it evolves … I just think that we’re gonna find – I assume, I don’t know – but my gut is that we’re going to find out there’s a lot more to this. But the only way we get there is if the stigma is gone and we get the best scientists involved and we get the best facilities and the government working together.”

UFO sighting: Hunters claim to spot ‘747-sized’ alien craft over Dubai

UFO hunters believe they have spotted an enormous alien craft hovering close to the Dubai coast.

UFO: Footage appears to show object in the sky above Dubai

Eagle-eyed alien life conspiracy theorists believe they have acquired video evidence of a UFO brazenly hovering over Earth. What appears as a classic ‘flying saucer’-shaped object is seen flying low in the sky close to the United Arab Emirates city.

The bizarre footage was originally uploaded to YouTube by the UFO & Alien Santana channel, apparently shot by the wife of eyewitness Jovic Alamons.

I looked for glitches and could find no evidence of manipulation in the video

Scott Waring

Self-proclaimed alien researcher Scott Waring believes the video shot in daylight really is proof of UFOs.

Waring took to his UFO Sightings Daily blog to speculate about the anomaly.

He claimed: “Watching this video makes you wonder if its real or not, but the man’s reaction and how he and the woman are transfixed on recording the guy – all is normal.PROMOTED STORY

UFO sighting: Conspiracy theorists believe they have acquired video evidence of a UFO brazenly

UFO sighting: Conspiracy theorists believe they have acquired video evidence of a UFO (Image: UFO Sightings Daily)

UFO sighting: The object appears as a classic ‘flying saucer’-shaped object

UFO sighting: The object appears as a classic ‘flying saucer’-shaped object (Image: UFO Sightings Daily)

“I looked for glitches and could find no evidence of manipulation in the video.

“The UFO appears to be the size of a 747 jet and it is far away, about [one mile] 1.5km in the distance.

“It’s sitting over the ocean off Dubai.”

The so-called ET expert appears by the veracity of the dubious footage.

UFO sighting: The bizarre footage was originally uploaded to YouTube by the UFO & Alien Santana channel (Image: Express)

He said: “The bottom of the craft is rotating one time every 1 second.

“I just wish she continued recording so we can see how it moves.

“A UFO’s movement really tells us a lot about it. It is real, no doubt about it.

“Looks like this UFO just came out of the ocean and was ready to travel.”

2020 shaping up to be banner year for close encounters as UFO spotting replaces bird watching as new pandemic obsession

‘In a time of crisis, we look elsewhere for salvation, even if it means looking to the stars’

What is life beyond us?

Did too much free time questioning loneliness and mortality during the coronavirus lockdown increase sightings of UFOs?

According to data from the nonprofit National UFO Reporting Center, this year spottings are up 51% so far over last year at this time. Among 5,000 incidents recorded this year, 20% occurred in April at the height of America in quarantine.

Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center, concurred with the heightened obsession.

“In a time of crisis, we look elsewhere for salvation, even if it means looking to the stars,” he said.

The Pentagon  created a task force to investigate UFOs following several unexplained incidents that have been observed by the U.S. military.

The Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force was launched earlier last month by Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, boosting an effort by the Office of Naval Intelligence, officials said.

The Defense Department said that it hopes to “improve its understanding of, and gain insight into, the nature and origins of UAPs. The mission of the task force is to detect, analyze and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to U.S. national security.”

The move marks an extension of previous efforts to look into UFOs — but stops well short of trying to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.

A January poll by Ipsos, a research firm, found that 57% of Americans think there is intelligent life on other planets, while 45% believe UFOs exist and have visited Earth.Video

The current obsession has taken over Davenport’s life.

He’s been director of the National UFO Reporting Center since 1994 and these days he’s answering 25 to 50 calls a day while he collects reports of sightings by phone and through his website.

“One might think an increase would be exciting to me, but from my vantage point, it’s just more work,” said Davenport.

‘UFO’ found in Congo turns out to be Project Loon balloon

Footage of the balloon was shared to Twitter, showing a silver-colored object with what appears to be solar panels

The truth may be out there, but it isn’t in a jungle in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What was mistaken for a UFO after it wound up in a dense jungle in the African nation turned out to be an internet balloon from Loon, a subsidiary of AlphabetReuters reports.

Footage of the balloon was shared to Twitter, showing a silver-colored object with what appears to be solar panels. A number of people are seen in the video inspecting the balloon in the Bas-Uele province.

“I’m not able to say exactly what kind of device I observed,” Bas-Uele Governor Valentin Senga told Reuters in an interview. “What intrigues us is that neither the intelligence services nor the local aviation authorities claim to have any information on the overflight of Congolese air space by this aircraft.”

A Project Loon internet balloon at the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, Calif., May 19, 2016. (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

A Project Loon internet balloon at the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, Calif., May 19, 2016. (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

Senga also told the news outlet that two people were detained by police who were intent to search for the device.

“I can confirm that Loon executed a controlled landing of one of our stratospheric balloons in this region,” a Loon spokesperson told Fox News via email. “This landing was done in a safe and secure manner after coordinating with local air traffic control officials. This landing was specifically approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Per Loon’s landing procedures, a parachute deployed and the balloon was brought to the ground at a relatively low speed in an isolated area.”

The spokesperson continued: “At no time did it pose a risk to the local population. A Loon recovery team is already on site to collect the balloon and components.”

Loon “is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to bring Internet connectivity to rural and remote communities worldwide,” according to its website.

It’s not the first time a Loon balloon has been mistaken for an extraterrestrial craft. In 2012, a balloon went rogue and residents of Pike County, Ky., identified the object as a UFO. However, it wasn’t until a year later that Google took credit for the incident.

WHAT LIES BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES OF THE MILKY WAY?

You would certainly have heard more than once that in the distant future people will be able to easily travel between galaxies. Unfortunately, unlike what you can see in sci-fi movies, this opportunity is not going to present itself any time soon. However, we are quite able to observe our galaxy’s neighbours even today.

Mystery radio signal in deep space shows activity exactly when scientists expected

The findings suggest ‘that this repeater [FRB 121102] is likely in another active phase’

In June, astronomers discovered Fast Radio Burst 121102 had a 157-day repeating schedule. Right on schedule, scientists have detected activity from the mysterious radio signal.

The findings, published in The Astronomer’s Telegram, suggest “that this repeater [FRB 121102] is likely in another active phase,” the researchers wrote.

FRB 121102, which has been observed since 2016 by the Lovell Telescope in the U.K., was discovered to have a 157-day repeating pattern. It shows activity for approximately 90 days and then goes silent for 67 days, according to the June study.

An animation shows the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky. Astronomers have discovered about 100 since 2007. (NRAO Outreach/T. Jarrett [IPAC/Caltech]; B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

An animation shows the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky. Astronomers have discovered about 100 since 2007. (NRAO Outreach/T. Jarrett [IPAC/Caltech]; B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

However, the new findings slightly tweak that time frame, suggesting FRB 121102 has an on-off time frame of approximately 156.1 days.

The researchers, from the National Astronomy Observatory of China, detected “at least 12 bursts” from FRB 121102 on Aug. 17. They expect the active part of the signal to end between Aug. 31 and Sept. 9.

“Alternatively, if the source is continuously on after the projected turning-off time, it suggests that the putative period of the source is not real or has evolution,” the scientists wrote. “We encourage more follow-up monitoring efforts from other radio observatories.”

FRB 121102 is the second fast radio burst known to have a repeating schedule after FRB 180916.J0158+65 was found to have a 16-day repeating pattern in February.

It’s unclear exactly why FRB 180916.J0158+65 repeats, but researchers have suggested it could be because it is orbiting a compact object, for example, a black hole, causing its pattern to repeat. It’s also possible that it could be coming from a binary star system, but more research is needed.

It’s unknown how common FRBs actually are and why some of them repeat and others do not; most of their origins are also mysterious in nature.

Some researchers have speculated they stem from an extraterrestrial civilization. But others, including the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, or SETI, have said that explanation “really doesn’t make sense.”

They come from all over space “and arranging cooperative alien behavior when even one-way communication takes many billions of years seems unlikely — to put it gently,” SETI wrote in a September 2019 blog post.

First discovered in 2007, FRBs are relatively new to astronomers and their origins are mysterious. According to ScienceAlert, some of them can generate as much energy as 500 million suns in a few milliseconds.

In July 2018, an FRB that hit Earth was nearly 200 megahertz lower than any other radio burst ever detected.

Comet NEOWISE survived the sun intact, newly released image shows

The image shows the dust and gas coming out of the comet as it emerged from behind the sun on July 3

A newly released image of the comet NEOWISE shows it survived its encounter with the sun intact.

The image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on Aug. 8, shows the dust and gas coming out of the comet as it emerged from behind the sun. This glow measures around 11,000 miles across in the image and shows the detail at which the Hubble is able to take photos.

“Hubble has far better resolution than we can get with any other telescope of this comet,” Caltech graduate student Qicheng Zhang said in a statement. “That resolution is very key for seeing details very close to the nucleus. It lets us see changes in the dust right after it’s stripped from that nucleus due to solar heat, sampling dust as close to the original properties of the comet as possible.”

This ground-based image of comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was taken from the northern hemisphere on July 18, 2020. The inset image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on Aug. 8, 2020, reveals a close-up of the comet after it passed by the sun. Hubble's image is centered on the comet's nucleus, which is too small to be seen, as it is estimated to measure no more than 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) across. Instead, the image shows a portion of the comet's coma, the fuzzy glow, which measures about 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) across in this image. Comet NEOWISE will not pass through the inner solar system for another nearly 7,000 years. (NASA, ESA, Q. Zhang (Caltech), A. Pagan (STScI), and Z. Levay)
This ground-based image of comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was taken from the northern hemisphere on July 18, 2020. The inset image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on Aug. 8, 2020, reveals a close-up of the comet after it passed by the sun. Hubble’s image is centered on the comet’s nucleus, which is too small to be seen, as it is estimated to measure no more than 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) across. Instead, the image shows a portion of the comet’s coma, the fuzzy glow, which measures about 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) across in this image. Comet NEOWISE will not pass through the inner solar system for another nearly 7,000 years. (NASA, ESA, Q. Zhang (Caltech), A. Pagan (STScI), and Z. Levay)

“Because comets are made of ice, they are fragile,” Zhang added in a different statement. “And we weren’t entirely sure whether Comet NEOWISE would survive the journey around the sun.”

Comet ISON, which passed by the sun in 2013, did not survive its encounter with the sun.

Most comets have two tails, a dust tail and one made of electrically charged molecules, according to NASA. However, images released from NASA in July suggested that NEOWISE may actually have two ion tails.

“The jets contain material from deep inside the comet,” Zhang explained. “We are able to see what all this buried material looks like.”

The comet, also known as C/2020 F3, was discovered on March 27 by NASA’s NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) space telescope.

It is the brightest visible comet to be seen in the Northern Hemisphere since Hale-Bopp, which flew past Earth in 1997.

NEOWISE was a photographer’s dream, providing incredible images both on Earth and in space.

It was observable with the naked eye from mid-July to mid-August. The comet’s closest approach to Earth was on July 22 at a distance of about 64 million miles.

Comet NEOWISE is now going back toward the outer part of the solar system and will not return for another 6,800 years.

Astronomers Mystified by Eerie Phenomenon on Mars: Ultraviolet “Nightglow” Spreads Across the Planet’s Sky Every Night

This is an image of the ultraviolet “nightglow” in the Martian atmosphere over the south pole. Green and white false colors represent the intensity of ultraviolet light, with white being the brightest. The nightglow was measured at about 70 kilometers (approximately 40 miles) altitude by the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph instrument on NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft. A simulated view of the Mars globe is added digitally for context, and the faint white area in the center of the image is the polar ice cap. The image shows an unexpectedly bright glowing spiral in Mars’ nightside atmosphere. The cause of the spiral pattern is unknown. Credit: NASA/MAVEN/Goddard Space Flight Center/CU/LASP

Every night on Mars, when the sun sets and temperatures fall to minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit and below, an eerie phenomenon spreads across much of the planet’s sky: a soft glow created by chemical reactions occurring tens of miles above the surface.

An astronaut standing on Mars couldn’t see this “nightglow”—it shows up only as ultraviolet light. But it may one day help scientists to better predict the churn of Mars’ surprisingly complex atmosphere.

Mars’ nightside atmosphere glows and pulsates in this data animation from MAVEN spacecraft observations. Green-to-white false color shows the enhanced brightenings on Mars’ ultraviolet “nightglow” measured by MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph at about 70 kilometers (approximately 40 miles) altitude. A simulated view of the Mars globe is added digitally for context, with ice caps visible at the poles. Three nightglow brightenings occur over one Mars rotation, the first much brighter than the other two. All three brightenings occur shortly after sunset, appearing on the left of this view of the night side of the planet. The pulsations are caused by downwards winds which enhance the chemical reaction creating nitric oxide which causes the glow. Months of data were averaged to identify these patterns, indicating they repeat nightly. Credit: NASA/MAVEN/Goddard Space Flight Center/CU/LASP

“If we’re going to send people to Mars, we better understand what’s going on in the atmosphere,” said Zachariah Milby, a professional research assistant at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU Boulder.

In a study published earlier this month in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, Milby and his colleagues set their sights on understanding the phenomenon. They drew on data from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft to map the planet’s nightglow in greater detail than ever before. 

The team’s findings show how this light display ebbs and flows over Mars’ seasons. The group also discovered something unusual: an unexpectedly bright spot that appears in the planet’s atmosphere just above its equator. 

Mars, in other words, still has a few surprises in store for scientists, said LASP’s Nick Schneider, lead author of the new study. 

“The behavior of the Martian atmosphere is every bit as complicated and insightful as that of Earth’s atmosphere,” said Schneider, also a professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences.

Full picture

MAVEN wasn’t the first spacecraft to spot the nightglow on Mars, a phenomenon that resembles similar glows seen on Earth and Venus. That honor belongs to the European Space Agency’s Mars Express Mission, which entered orbit around Mars in 2003.

But the mission was the first to capture the nightglow for what it is—a dynamic and constantly evolving phenomenon.

“It wasn’t until MAVEN came along in 2014 that we could actually snap this full picture five times a day as the planet rotates,” Schneider said.

The diagram explains the cause of Mars’ glowing nightside atmosphere. On Mars’ dayside, molecules are torn apart by energetic solar photons. Global circulation patterns carry the atomic fragments to the nightside, where downward winds increase the reaction rate for the atoms to reform molecules. The downwards winds occur near the poles at some seasons and in the equatorial regions at others. The new molecules hold extra energy which they emit as ultraviolet light. Credit: NASA/MAVEN/Goddard Space Flight Center/CU/LASP

In the new study, researchers used MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS)—an instrument designed and built at LASP—to snap images of Mars from a distance of 3,700 miles. Those far-flung recordings allowed the team to trace the path of nightglow as it moved across the entire planet. 

Milby led the data analysis for the research while he was still an undergraduate student at CU Boulder.

He explained that the eerie aura appears when air currents high in Mars’ atmosphere plunge to about 40 miles above the planet’s surface. When that happens, lone nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the atmosphere combine to form molecules of nitric oxide, giving off small bursts of ultraviolet light in the process.  

Put differently, when its atmosphere drops, Mars shines.

“It’s a great tracer for dynamics between the layers of the atmosphere,” Milby said.

Bright spots

Milby added that, like on Earth, those dynamics can shift with the seasons. The MAVEN team found, for example, that Mars’ nightglow seems to be brightest at the height of the planet’s northern and southern winters when hotter currents rush away from the equator and toward Mars’ poles.

Milby also found something he wasn’t expecting in the data: an extra-bright blob of nightglow that appeared and disappeared from almost exactly above 0 degrees longitude and 0 degrees latitude on Mars.

“We spent weeks thinking there was a bug in our code somewhere,” Milby said. 

This is an image of the ultraviolet “nightglow” in the Martian atmosphere. Green and white false colors represent the intensity of ultraviolet light, with white being the brightest. The nightglow was measured at about 70 kilometers (approximately 40 miles) altitude by the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph instrument on NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft. A simulated view of the Mars globe is added digitally for context. The image shows an intense brightening in Mars’ nightside atmosphere. The brightenings occur regularly after sunset on Martian evenings during fall and winter seasons, and fade by midnight. The brightening is caused by increased downwards winds which enhance the chemical reaction creating nitric oxide which causes the glow. Credit: NASA/MAVEN/Goddard Space Flight Center/CU/LASP

There wasn’t a bug. The researchers still aren’t sure why Mars is glowing so much at that unusual spot—it may have something to do with the shape of the terrain underneath. But Schneider said that observations like this can help scientists improve their computer models of how the planet’s atmosphere works.

And that could lead to something that every astronaut might use: more accurate weather reports on Mars. 

“We use supercomputers to predict weather on Earth so that you can plan for your vacation or growing crops,” Schneider said. “The same computer models can be spun up for Mars and all the other planets.”

For more on this study, read NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Observes Weird Glowing and Pulsing in Mars’ Night Sky.

An asteroid is on possible collision course with Earth this November: Should we be worried?

2018 VP1 object has created some buzz

As if there weren’t enough to think about these days, now there is talk of an asteroid supposedly heading directly for Earth.

Best-fit animation of 2018 VP1 close approach in November 2020
 Yellow  Moon ·   Blue Earth ·  Pink 2018 VP1

The truth of the matter is, there is an asteroid, and it is headed in our general direction, but maybe not right at us. Still, that’s not stopping some from creating concern.

A flying space object known as 2018 VP1 is hurtling through our solar system right now, and it’s due to be in our vicinity in early November. An internet video and a few stories have created a bit of buzz for those who look for this type of information.

2018 VP1 (also written 2018 VP1) is an Apollonear-Earth asteroid roughly 2 meters (7 feet) in diameter. It has a 0.41% chance (1 in 240) of impacting Earth on 2 November 2020. It was discovered on 3 November 2018 when the asteroid was about 0.003 AU (450,000 km; 280,000 mi) from Earth and had a solar elongation of 165 degrees. The asteroid has a short 12.9 day observation arc and has not been detected since November 2018. The JPL Horizons 2 November 2020 nominal Earth approach is estimated to be roughly 0.0028 AU (420,000 km; 260,000 mi).[2] The line of variation (LOV) allows the asteroid to impact Earth or pass as far away as 0.025 AU (3,700,000 km; 2,300,000 mi).

NASA working to isolate space station air leak

Astronaut Chris Cassidy will join two cosmonauts in the Russian Zvezda service module 

NASA is working to isolate a small air leak in the U.S. segment of the International Space Station.

Astronaut Chris Cassidy will join cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin in the Russian Zvezda service module from Friday night into Monday morning, the space agency said, in a statement on its website.

“Since September of 2019, specialists have been tracking a very slow decrease in the International Space Station stack pressure, and are trying to identify the source,” a NASA spokesman told Fox News, via email. “The leak rate has increased slightly from measurements taken in September, 2019, but still is within overall specifications and presents no immediate danger to the crew or space station.”

NASA and its international partners can carefully monitor the air pressure in each module, the spokesman added.

International Space Station file photo - May 29, 2011.

International Space Station file photo – May 29, 2011. (NASA)

“All the space station hatches will be closed this weekend so mission controllers can carefully monitor the air pressure in each module,” NASA said, in its statement. “The test presents no safety concern for the crew. The test should determine which module is experiencing a higher-than-normal leak rate. The U.S. and Russian specialists expect preliminary results should be available for review by the end of next week.”

Space station commander Cassidy, a U.S. Navy captain who spent 11 years as a member of the Navy’s SEALs, launched to the orbiting space lab on April 9, 2020.

An Asteroid Will Zoom Past Earth in September and it Will be Closer Than the Moon

An asteroid is set to pass Earth by on September 1

An asteroid is set to pass Earth by on September 1

The 2011 ES4 will pass by the earth on September 1, 2020 at 10:49 A.M. Eastern Time. The asteroid is going to fly by at about 44,618 miles.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has observed an asteroid that is going to pass by the Earth. The more concerning thing here is the fact that it will pass at a closer distance than the moon. This is expected to happen by September.

NASA has already listed this on the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS)’s ‘Close Approaches’. As explained by CNEOS, near-Earth Objects are primarily comets and asteroids that are nudged by the gravitational attraction of surrounding planets into the sun’s orbits. This allows them to fly near the Earth. Usually comets are formed in a cold outer planetary system, while the majority of the asteroids are formed inside the solar system between Mars and Jupiter’s orbits.

According to the database The 2011 ES4 will pass by the earth on September 1, 2020 at 10:49 A.M. Eastern Time. The asteroid is going to fly by at about 44,618 miles. The distance between the moon and earth is approximately 238,855 miles.

Further, the CNEOS has put The 2011 ES4 in the Apollo asteroid category. These types of asteroids have a significantly wide orbit around the Earth and the sun. The asteroid’s intersection with Earth’s orbit happens often as it completes revolving around the sun.

The space agency has called The 2011 ES4 as ‘potentially hazardous’ but has not found any threat because of its small diameter.

Wandering stars pass through our solar system surprisingly often

Our sun has had close encounters with other stars in the past, and it’s due for a dangerously close one in the not-so-distant future.

ScholzStar
Scholz’s Star and its binary brown dwarf fly by our solar system some 70,000 years ago in this artist’s illustration. Our sun shines bright in the background.
Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester

Every 50,000 years or so, a nomadic star passes near our solar system. Most brush by without incident. But, every once in a while, one comes so close that it gains a prominent place in Earth’s night sky, as well as knocks distant comets loose from their orbits.

The most famous of these stellar interlopers is called Scholz’s Star. This small binary star system was discovered in 2013. Its orbital path indicated that, about 70,000 years ago, it passed through the Oort Cloud, the extended sphere of icy bodies that surrounds the fringes of our solar system. Some astronomers even think Scholz’s Star could have sent some of these objects tumbling into the inner solar system when it passed.

However, Scholz’s Star is relatively small and rapidly moving, which should have minimized its effect on the solar system. But in recent years, scientists have been finding that these kinds of encounters happen far more often than once expected. Scholz’s Star wasn’t the first flyby, and it won’t be the last. In fact, we’re on track for a much more dramatic close encounter in the not-too-distant future.about:blankabout:blank

“[Scholz’s Star] probably didn’t have a huge impact, but there should be many more stars that have passed through that are more massive,” astronomer Eric Mamajek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose 2015 paper in Astrophysical Journal Letters put Scholz’s Star on the map, tell Astronomy.


What we can learn from the life cycles of stars? Astronomy’s free downloadable eBook, Stars: The galaxy’s building blocks contains everything you need to know about how stars live, die, and change their galactic homes over time.


The discovery of ‘Scholz’s Star

Around Christmas 2013, Mamajek was visiting a friend and fellow astronomer, Valentin Ivanov, at the offices of the European Southern Observatory in Santiago, Chile. While the two chatted, Ivanov was looking at recent observations of a star cataloged as WISE J072003.20–084651.2.

The star caught Mamajek’s interest because it was just about 20 light-years away, but astronomers hadn’t noticed it thanks to its dim nature and tiny apparent movement (or proper motion) across our night sky.

To him, those two things were a clue. Since it didn’t appear to be moving much side to side, the star was likely moving toward us or away from us at a breathtaking pace. As the astronomers continued talking, Ivanov measured the star’s radial velocity to learn how quickly it was moving toward or away from our Sun. Soon, they had their answer.

“Within five or 10 minutes, we had the initial results that this thing came within a parsec [3.26 light-years] of the Sun,” Mamajek says. “It was screaming through the solar neighborhood.”about:blankabout:blank

The two astronomers and their colleagues would eventually show that it passed even closer than that. In fact, it passed closer to our Sun than any other known star. This status prompted them to name the cosmic trespasser after its initial discoverer, an astronomer named Ralf-Dieter Scholz, who’s devoted significant time to finding nearby stars.

ancientstar

A wandering star passed within one light-year of the Sun roughly 70,000 years ago. At the time, modern humans were just beginning to migrate out of Africa, and Neanderthals were still sharing the planet with us.José A. Peñas/SINC

All the other passing suns

Mamajek has since moved on from studying Scholz’s Star. But in the meantime, other astronomers have also taken up the work. And, thanks to a European Space Agency satellite called Gaia, which is built to map the precise locations and movements of over a billion stars, we now know about other close encounters.

In 2018, a team of researchers led by Coryn Bailer-Jones of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, used Gaia data to plot our Sun’s future meet-ups with other stars. They discovered nearly 700 stars that will pass within 15 light-years of our solar system over just the next 15 million years. However, the vast majority of close encounters have yet to be discovered, the team suggests. But they suspect roughly 20 stars should pass within just a couple light-years of us every million years.

However, “space is big,” Mamajek points out. “Statistically, most of those stars would pass the outer edge of our solar system.” That means encounters like the one with Scholz’s Star are common, but only a few are close enough to actually dislodge a significant number of comets,

Nonetheless, a few stars should still come surprisingly close. And if a large, slow-moving star did pass through the edge of the Oort Cloud, it could really shake up the solar system.about:blankabout:blank

starsnextdoor

Many nearby stars will pass close to the Oort Cloud, but only one will move through it. In about 1.35 million years, Gliese 710 likely will gravitationally perturb millions of comets, sending a sizable number on a potential collision course with Earth.Astronomy: Roen Kelly

The ‘strongest disrupting encounter’ in history

A massive star steamrolling through the outer solar system is exactly what Gaia data show will happen less than 1.4 million years from now, according to a 2016 study. A star called Gliese 710 will pass within 10,000 astronomical units — 1 AU is equal to the average Earth-Sun distance of 93 million miles. That’s well within the outer edge of the Oort Cloud.

At half the mass of the Sun, Gliese 710 is much larger than Scholz’s Star, which is just 15 percent the mass of the Sun. This means Gliese 710’s hulking gravity could potentially wreak havoc on the orbits of icy bodies in the Oort Cloud. And while Scholz’s Star was so tiny it would have been barely visible in the night sky — if at all — Gliese 710 is larger than our current closest neighbor, Proxima Centauri. So when Gliese 710 reaches its closest point to Earth, it will burn as a brilliant orange orb that will outshine every other star in our night sky.

This event could be “the strongest disrupting encounter in the future and history of the solar system,” the authors wrote in their paper, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Fortunately, the inner solar system is a relatively tiny target, and even if Gliese 710 does send comets flying our way, it would take millions of additional years for these icy bodies to reach us. That should give any surviving future humans plenty of time to take action.

And in the meantime, they can enjoy watching what may be one of the closest stellar flybys in the history of our solar system.

Early Solar System May Have Had Two Suns

In a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Harvard University astrophysicists Avi Loeb and Amir Siraj show that an equal-mass stellar companion to the Sun in the solar birth cluster — the collection of stars that formed together with our star from the same dense cloud of molecular gas — at a separation of 1,000 AU would have increased the likelihood of forming the observed population of objects in the outer Oort Cloud and of capturing the hypothesized Planet Nine.

An artist’s conception of a potential solar companion, which theorists believe was developed in the Sun’s birth cluster and later lost. If proven, the solar companion theory would provide additional credence to theories that the Oort Cloud formed as we see it today, and that Planet Nine was captured rather than formed in place. Image credit: M. Weiss.

Popular theory associates the formation of the Oort Cloud with debris left over from the formation of the Solar System and its neighbors, where objects were scattered by the planets to great distances and some were exchanged amongst stars.

But a binary model could be the missing piece in the puzzle and shouldn’t come as a surprise to scientists.

“Previous models have had difficulty producing the expected ratio between scattered disk objects and outer Oort Cloud objects,” said Siraj, an undergraduate student in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University.

“The binary capture model offers significant improvement and refinement, which is seemingly obvious in retrospect: most Sun-like stars are born with binary companions.”

If the Oort Cloud was indeed captured with the help of an early stellar companion, the implications for our understanding of the Solar System’s formation would be significant.

“Binary systems are far more efficient at capturing objects than are single stars,” Professor Loeb said.

“If the Oort Cloud formed as observed, it would imply that the Sun did in fact have a companion of similar mass that was lost before the Sun left its birth cluster.”

More than just redefining the formation of our Solar System, evidence of a captured Oort Cloud could answer questions about the origins of life on Earth.

“Objects in the outer Oort Cloud may have played important roles in Earth’s history, such as possibly delivering water to Earth and causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. Understanding their origins is important,” Siraj said.

The model also has implications for the hypothesized Planet Nine, which the team believes isn’t alone out there.

“The puzzle is not only regarding the Oort clouds, but also extreme trans-Neptunian objects, like the potential Planet Nine,” Professor Loeb said.

“It is unclear where they came from, and our new model predicts that there should be more objects with a similar orbital orientation to Planet Nine.”

If the Sun did have an early companion that contributed to the formation of the outer Solar System, its current absence begs the question: where did it go?

“Passing stars in the birth cluster would have removed the companion from the Sun through their gravitational influence,” Professor Loeb said.

“Before the loss of the binary, however, the Solar System already would have captured its outer envelope of objects, namely the Oort Cloud and the Planet Nine population,” Siraj added.

“The Sun’s long-lost companion could now be anywhere in the Milky Way.”

_____

Amir Siraj & Abraham Loeb. 2020. The Case for an Early Solar Binary Companion. ApJL 899, L24; doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/abac66

Pickup truck-sized asteroid flew within 2K miles of Earth on Sunday and NASA didn’t see it

The asteroid, known as 2020 QG, flew past Earth from the direction of the sun on Sunday

A giant asteroid hit earth 13,000 years ago and had ‘global consequences’ causing mass extinction and more.

NASA may have updated its plan to protect the planet from asteroid strikes, but a space rock the size of a pickup truck zipped past the planet at a distance of approximately 1,830 miles on Sunday, the closest ever recorded.

And the space agency didn’t see it until after it happened.

The asteroid, known as 2020 QG (formerly known as ZTF0DxQ), flew past the Earth from the direction of the sun, according to Business Insider, which first reported the news. The news outlet cited a tweet from amateur astronomer Tony Dunn.

“Newly-discovered asteroid ZTF0DxQ passed less than 1/4 Earth diameter yesterday, making it the closest-known flyby that didn’t hit our planet,” Dunn, who is also the creator of orbitsimulator.com, wrote.

The object was detected approximately six hours after it flew past Earth’s Southern Hemisphere at a speed of 27,600 mph, Paul Chodas, director of NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, told the news outlet. “We didn’t see it coming.”

2020 QG is considered a Near-Earth Object (NEO) given its close proximity to Earth. However, given its size (between 6 feet and 18 feet wide), it is not considered a “potentially hazardous” NEO and likely would have broken up in the atmosphere

The object’s size was estimated by the Sormano Astronomical Observatory.

“Potentially hazardous” NEOs are defined as space objects that come within 0.05 astronomical units and measure more than 460 feet in diameter, according to NASA. According to a 2018 report put together by Planetary.org, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.

Fox News has reached out to NASA with a request for comment.

This is not the first time in recent memory that NASA has missed a NEO similar to 2020 QG. In February, researchers in the Netherlands discovered 11 “potentially hazardous objects” that are not on NASA’s list of “potentially hazardous” near-Earth objects, using advanced artificial intelligence.

NASA unveiled a 20-page plan in 2018 that details the steps the U.S. should take to be better prepared for NEOs, such as asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of the planet.

recent survey showed that Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid impacts over sending humans back to the moon or to Mars.

In April 2019, NASA awarded a $69 million contract to SpaceX, the space exploration company led by Elon Musk, to help it with asteroid deflection via its DART mission.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in April 2019 that an asteroid strike is not something to be taken lightly and is perhaps Earth’s biggest threat.

Massive black triangle UFO over New Lambton Heights in 1999

A photo of a UFO spotted in Belgium.

Dean “Vern” Garner has kept a secret for 20 years. He thinks about it often, but hardly speaks about it because he has no proof.

The memory came back vividly recently when he was throwing out old newspapers kept for painting. One fell on the floor.

It contained a story, published in this column in November 2017, about Geoff and Maree Masters. Dean hadn’t come across the story until then. 

The couple had shared their story about seeing a massive black triangle-shaped UFO from their Edgeworth front yard one night in the late 1990s.

Dean, who owns Vern’s Guitar Clinic at Wallsend, had a similar experience.

“It was 1999, around November. It was a hot, crystal clear night. You could see the stars. There was no breeze,” he said.

He was living on Grandview Road at New Lambton Heights on top of a ridge. That night, he was having a barbecue.

At about 11pm, he was outside talking to a mate about the forthcoming new year. 

Suddenly, they could see “what appeared to be a fire, down low behind trees”.

They also thought it could be lightning.

“Then the orange light started to rise up. It rose above the eucalypt trees,” he said.

“We could see it coming towards us. I said, ‘we’re about to find out what this thing is’.

“We were absolutely stunned. I said ‘what the hell is that?’. This thing was coming towards us at no more than 25km/h.

“It was about 30 metres high, just above the tallest eucalyptus tree.

“As it approached us, the hairs on our neck and arms stood up. We were in deep shock. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.”

A massive triangular-shaped craft flew above them.

“It was travelling so low, you could have thrown a rock and hit it. It was directly above our heads,” he said.

“As we stood underneath it, there was no doubt what it was. We knew straight away it was an alien craft from another planet. There’s nothing like that on our planet.

“I never thought I’d see a UFO in my life. It seemed to take a minute for the whole craft to pass over our house.”

Light from the craft shone on them and the house.

The pair screamed, “hello, hello”.

“We felt calm, like we weren’t in any danger. It was almost like it was being emitted from the ship somehow,” he said.

He said the UFO had five lights, including a massive orange light in its centre.

“It was kind of like the inside of an orange when you cut an orange in half,” he said.

The orange light itself, he said, was about “three quarters the size of a football field”.

The triangular craft was much bigger.

It appeared to be made of a substance that he likened to “black glass or titanium”.

“This thing was absolutely huge. It was 50 to 100 times the size of a 747,” he estimated. 

“It was a massive ship. It seemed to float on air. There were no engines, no flames, no sound. It was completely silent. It was absolutely beautiful.

“It came from another world, an advanced world. We had the distinct impression that we and everything around us were being filmed. We didn’t know why, we just had that feeling.” 

Similar Sightings

Black triangle UFOs have been sighted many times around the world.

A photo of a UFO spotted in Belgium.

 A photo of a UFO spotted in Belgium.

In 1989 to 1990, for instance, this type of UFO was reported many times in Belgium. Witnesses claimed to see large black silent triangles. 

“Two key factors that make the Belgian wave of sightings so interesting to UFO scholars and skeptics alike are the large number of police making reports and the Belgian government’s official interest in the sightings,” Michael Lauck reported.

Retired Belgian Major General Wilfried de Brouwer, who oversaw the investigation, said there were about 2000 reported sightings. In one case, two police officers spotted a triangular object with three spotlights illuminating the field over which it hovered. In its centre was a red flashing light. 

Sceptics have suggested this type of UFO could be United States Air Force surveillance aircraft developed under “black operations”.

Dean Garner, citing his close encounter of the first kind, dismisses this suggestion. He can’t imagine a stealth military aircraft being as large as the one he saw. Nor can he comprehend why a military craft would want to fly low over Newcastle. 

Huge, Hovering and Silent: The Mystery of ‘Black Triangle’ UFOs

Some speculate they are super-secret US spy craft. Others question whether they might be from elsewhere, conducting some kind of surveillance.

Within the larger mystery of the UFO phenomenon is another, still-unsolved puzzle: Why do so many reports involve strange, triangular-shaped craft—often described as dark in color, virtually noiseless and the size of a football field or larger? What, exactly, are they? And why are so many witnessed hovering or moving slowly and methodically, with no visible contrails?

In the years after the U.S. Air Force coined the term “unidentified flying object” in 1952, reports often referred to UFOs generically as flying saucers. But witnesses then, and since, have described a wide array of shapes: saucers (or two saucers put together), eggs, hats, cigars, boomerangs, lightbulbs—even Tic Tac candies.

Among the most commonly reported shapes were V-shaped, arrowhead-like or triangular. David Marler, UFO researcher and author of Triangular UFOs: An Estimate of the Situation, says he has reviewed more than 17,000 case files involving unidentified triangular craft, sometimes called “black triangles.” Whether the sightings represent advanced U.S. spy craft—as some speculate—or something of unknown origin, their purpose remains mysterious. Given their consistent hovering behavior, Marler says, they might be engaged in “surveillance of some nature—or scanning. Or analyzing the topography.”

“There have been many instances in which these vehicles have been observed over bases operated by the Strategic Air Command,” says Chris Mellon, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, whose career has focused on unconventional threats to American security. Mellon is now an integral part of the investigative team featured on HISTORY’s “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation.”

An International Phenomenon

In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, triangular UFO reports hailed from across the U.S. and beyond. During the 1960s, at the height of Cold War UFO fever, mysterious flying triangles were reported over Connecticut, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas—as well as London, Madrid and Czechoslovakia. In 1969, two National Guard pilots tailed a “triangular shaped object, 50 feet in diameter” for 20 minutes over San Juan, Puerto Rico, until they ran low on fuel and had to return to their base. Many of these incidents would be attributed by officials to atmospheric conditions, weather balloons or other everyday sources, but some remained unexplained.

Black Triangle UFOs
An illustration depicting a triangle UFO.Getty Images

Between 1983 and 1986, a notable rash of mass sightings occurred in New York’s Hudson Valley, some 50 miles north of New York City. One witness, Kevin Soravilla, a retired lieutenant from the Yorktown Police Department, described a huge, silent craft, 100 yards from wingtip to wingtip, hovering low, which banked and made a 45-degree turn before abruptly speeding off. Soravilla said he called Stewart Air Force Base in nearby Newburgh to determine whether one of its C-5 transport planes—then the world’s largest and heaviest aircraft—had been in the skies that night; none had. Later that year, a hulking triangular UFO hovering over a stretch of New York’s Taconic Parkway prompted a huge traffic pile-up as scores of motorists stopped to get a better look. Similar incidents continued in the region for several years.

‘Exceeded the Limits of Conventional Aviation’

Many witnesses describe what they perceive to be the crafts’ extraordinary abilities. One evening in late November 1989, two police officers on patrol in Eupen, Belgium, not far from the German border, spotted an odd triangular object overhead. In the ensuing days, hundreds of Belgians reported similar UFOs, described in news reports as “a triangular object with a bright red center light” or as a “flying platform” with three huge searchlights.

In March 1990, the Belgian air force sent up two F-16 fighter jets to get a closer look at one triangle that had been spotted on radar. Their onboard computers recorded the object’s remarkable maneuverability and its ability to accelerate from 1,000 kilometers per hour (about 621 miles per hour) to 1,800 kilometers per hour (about 1,120 miles per hour) within seconds. “What the computers registered exceeded the limits of conventional aviation,” a Belgian air force colonel told reporters.

In March 1997, Phoenix, Arizona, became a UFO hotspot when some 30,000 local residents saw something strange in the skies. Some reports said the mysterious object was V-shaped, but many described it as triangular. “It was in a triangle shape and it had three lights. It was moving very slowly,” an 11-year-old Cub Scout was quoted as saying. A retired airline pilot described it as “the size of 25 airliners…and it didn’t make a sound.” Others described it as the size of three football fields.

In 2000, police officers from neighboring municipalities in southern Illinois were called to investigate a trucker’s report of a massive arrowhead-shaped craft hovering low in the sky, two stories high and as long as a football field. Dispatch tapes reveal the shock and awe expressed by the different law-enforcement teams, who were all in radio contact with each other. 

The National UFO Reporting Center, which catalogs more than 8,100 sightings of triangle-shaped UFOs since the early 1960s, lists more than 200 in the first half of 2020.

The Truth Behind the Triangles

Many of these sightings have been investigated repeatedly by UFO sleuths. The Belgian triangles have been explained away as stars, planets, balloons or blimps, with a bit of mass hallucination thrown in. The lights over Phoenix were dismissed as flares dropped during an Air National Guard exercise, although that theory has many skeptics. Some say the New York sightings were a hoax perpetrated by local stunt pilots flying in formation.

A F-117 Nighthawk pictured in night vision, 1999. 
A F-117 Nighthawk pictured in night vision, 1999. Usaf/Getty Images

One explanation raises the possibility of the “airship effect.” That’s the theory that people who see unrelated lights in the sky can trick themselves into believing they are all part of the same object. Three lights? Must be a triangular spaceship. Three lights hundreds of yards apart? Must be a really big triangular spaceship.

Other speculation has focused on top-secret aircraft. Although the U.S. government has largely stayed mum on the matter, it’s common knowledge that the Air Force has experimented with triangular- and V-shaped aircraft for decades, including the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and the F-117 Nighthawk—and possibly others kept under wraps. Sightings near the clandestine spy plane test facility at Area 51 in Nevada may indeed be connected to test flights of some of these craft.

However, the extraordinary size many witness describe is puzzling. And for Marler and others, the volume of the sightings and the consistency of the crafts’ hovering behavior, combined with their unexplainable sudden accelerations, point away from known military technology.

If not home-grown, then what? One theory suggests that these craft are engaged in mapping sensitive sites. The southern Illinois sightings occurred within one to two miles of Scott Air Force Base, home to U.S. Air Mobility Command, which coordinates all global transportation for American troops. The Hudson Valley sightings happened in close proximity to Stewart Air Force Base. And Mellon has interviewed multiple Persian Gulf veterans who witnessed triangular craft near sensitive military operations. “An adversary planning a future attack would want to know every inch of the battlefield,” he says. 

Still, the black triangle mystery persists. “There’s a lot of data,” says Marler. “That doesn’t equate to answers.”

Pentagon launches task force to investigate ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’

Defense Department aims to ‘detect, analyze and catalog’ UFOs that could pose a threat to national security

The Pentagon has been conducting classified hearings on UFOs for more than a decade.

The Pentagon has created a task force to investigate UFOs following several unexplained incidents that have been observed by the U.S. military.

The Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force was launched earlier this month by Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, boosting an effort by the Office of Naval Intelligence, officials said.

The Defense Department said Friday that it hopes to “improve its understanding of, and gain insight into, the nature and origins of UAPs. The mission of the task force is to detect, analyze and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to U.S. national security.”

“The safety of our personnel and the security of our operations are of paramount concern. The Department of Defense and the military departments take any incursions by unauthorized aircraft into our training ranges or designated airspace very seriously and examine each report,” the department said.

“This includes examinations of incursions that are initially reported as UAP when the observer cannot immediately identify what he or she is observing.”

The plans for the task force, which is expected to be officially unveiled in the next few days, were first reported by CNN on Thursday.

The move marks an extension of previous efforts to look into UFOs — but stops well short of trying to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Since 2018, a Navy task force has been informally investigating such incidents and has coordinated information with U.S. intelligence agencies.Video

In April, the Defense Department released and declassified three videos of Navy pilots encountering UFOs in 2004 and 2015.

In 2017, The New York Times reported on the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which had previously been disbanded, according to the Pentagon.

While the new task force’s work will remain classified, that status could change if the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s proposal for an unclassified report on UFOs is adopted by the full Senate and House.

In 1952, ‘Flying Saucers’ Over Washington Sent the Press Into a Frenzy

In 1952, ‘Flying Saucers’ Over Washington Sent the Press Into a Frenzy

UFO reports in the capital’s air space set headlines blaring across the nation about ‘disks’ and ‘whatzits’ and mysterious lights.

If 1952 marked the year that UFO fever spread across Cold War America, events in late July of that year spiked that mania to critical levels. That’s when the grandfather of all “saucer” sightings took place in the skies above the nation’s capital, causing a coast-to-coast collective jaw drop. 

Over several weeks, up to a dozen unexplained objects repeatedly streaked across the skies over Washington, D.C.—spotted not just by crackpots, but by radar operators, professional pilots and other highly credible witnesses. The Air Force scrambled fighter jets, but the ‘saucers’ outran them. Around the U.S., sci-fi-like headlines blared, rumors flew and sightings soared. 

When President Harry Truman quietly called for answers, a representative from the Air Force’s secret UFO-investigation teamProject Blue Book, was summoned to D.C. But before anyone could fully probe the incidents, the Air Force hastily convened a press conference to quell the panic, blaming the whole thing on the weather. 

The incident didn’t just get covered in big-city papers. In every corner of the country, local publications ran stories, many drawn from national wire services, often edited with different details to fit their space. Some added sidebars with local ‘saucer’ news or tidbits like what Albert Einstein thought when asked about UFOs. One reporter got the bright idea to ask the Soviets if they were somehow behind it all. Below, some original clippings from around the nation during that extraordinary historical moment:

UFO_Headline_1
Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Monroe News-Star (Monroe, Louisiana), page 1, July 21, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘The Air Force today investigated reports that several “flying saucers” had been spotted by radar virtually in its own backyard on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. 

Not only were unidentified objects seen on radar—indicating actual substance instead of mere light—but two airline pilots and a newsman saw eerie lights fitting the general description of flying saucers the same night… 

Capt. S.C. (Casey) Pierman of Detroit, piloting Capital Airlines Flight 807…was careful in his report…not to identify the objects as flying saucers. He described them as “like falling stars without tails” but added: “In my years of flying I’ve seen a lot of falling or shooting stars…But these were much faster…They couldn’t have been aircraft. They were moving too fast for that.” ‘ 

UFO_Headline_2
Courtesy of The Cedar Rapids Gazette

The Cedar Rapids Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), page 1, July 29, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘Radar showed that the air over the nation’s capital was full of flying objects early Tuesday, but an airliner directed to one of the radar sightings could not find a thing… https://a8198de371254c39eacffd12adc381cf.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

A CAA [Civil Aeronautics Administration] spokesman said the latest sightings showed as many as 12 unidentified objects on the radar screen at one time… The sightings Tuesday were the third within two weeks.’ 

UFO_Headline_4
Courtesy of The Times-Tribune, Scranton, PA., and Newspapers.com.

The Scranton Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), page 1, July 29, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘The Air Force disclosed today that jet fighters are under orders to maintain a nationwide 24-hour “alert” against “flying saucers” and to shoot them down if possible.’

3-headline ufo
Courtesy of Newspapers.com

The Daily Inter Lake (Kalispell, Montana), page 11, July 31, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘ “It looked like a sphere, so deeply orange colored that it appeared almost the shade of rust. It was silent as death. It was moving too fast and evenly to be a balloon…’

Most persistent rumor is that Boeing Airplane Co. in Seattle, Wash., is either making flying saucers or has been in charge of the engineering of the project. The rumor goes that very small parts of the saucers are being made by widely scattered subcontractors and that the finished items are being assembled at some remote site… 

In the weirder category of rumors is the one that the saucers are either Russian-built or from another planet and that several of them have crashed and have been picked up by the Air Force. It goes on to theorize that the Air Force has been able to repair some of them and make them operate and at the same time is trying to build some of their own just like them.’ 

UFO_Headline_5
Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Daily Independent-Journal (San Rafael, California), page 5, July 29, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘Reports of “saucers” have kept police, air force and weather bureau telephones jangling for several days recently in widely scattered localities… 

At Key West, Fla., the Navy said it was investigating accounts by several sailors who said they saw a “saucer” while attending an outdoor movie…

Near Cleveland, O., three observers of “Operation Skywatch” reported spotting floating lights which rapidly changed color and dodged in and out of the clouds, finally vanishing to the South.’ 

UFO_Headline_6
Courtesy of The Akron Beacon Journal and Newspapers.com

Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio), page 2, July 30, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘ “I wouldn’t doubt but that the things are coming from Russia,” declared Mrs. V.D. Mason of 1488 Massillon rd… 

Mrs. Floyd Wetzel of 901 Sayder st., said, “I think the government knows what’s back of it all and isn’t revealing it.”

“I think they may be coming from another planet if they are anything,” asserted Al Rose of 74 Eastgay dr. “But even so,” he added, “I’m not worried. I’m from England. I saw the bombs falling there in WWII. There’s nothing compared to that.” ’ 

6-img (2)
Courtesy of Newspapers.com

The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), page 3, July 23, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘The Soviet embassy Tuesday denied any connection with flying saucers seen in this area…

Vladimir L. Lomovisev, attaché at the embassy, was asked by a reporter if the strange objects seen in the sky recently were of Soviet origin. He first said “I don’t know,” and then added firmly, “No.” ’

UFO_Headline_7
Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Standard-Sentinel (Hazleton, Pennsylvania), page 1, July 30, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘It was the third time in 10 days that radar—an electronic device which tracks only physical objects not imagination—picked up signs of something unknown packing through pre-dawn black skies…

And the Air Force threw lots of cold water on any chilling speculation about men or missiles from Mars—or enemy nations.’

UFO_Headline_8
Courtesy of Newspapers.com

The Paris News (Paris, Texas), page 1, July 30, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘The Air Force says it’s still checking into flying saucer reports, but it’s certain of one thing: The saucers—whatever they are—don’t seem to be a menace to the United States. Most of the sightings traced to date have turned out to be natural phenomena.’ 

pbb headlines
Courtesy of Newspapers.com

The Rhinelander Daily News (Rhinelander, Wisconsin), page 1, July 30, 1952

EXCERPT: ‘The bulk of these, after cross-checking, have been reasonably well identified as the product of friendly aircraft, out-and-out hoaxes, or electrical or meteorological phenomena…

The two generals added that the hot weather of recent weeks well might be related to the current outbreak of saucer reports. They said that a temperature inversion—a layer of warm air over cool air—sometimes may be sufficient to deflect radar waves and cause a false response on a radar set.’ 

4,700 Potentially Dangerous Asteroids Lurk Near Earth, NASA Says

Orbits and distribution of potentially hazardous asteroids

This diagram illustrates the differences between orbits of a typical near-Earth asteroid (blue) and a potentially hazardous asteroid, or PHA (orange). PHAs have the closest orbits to Earth’s orbit, coming within 5 million miles (about 8 million kilometers), and they are large enough to survive passage through Earth’s atmosphere and cause significant damage.(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A new NASA survey has pinned down the number of asteroids that could pose a collision threat to Earth in what scientists say is the best estimate yet of the potentially dangerous space rocks.

Known near-Earth objects – as of January 2018

The survey found there are likely 4,700 potentially hazardous asteroids, plus or minus 1,500 space rocks, that are larger than 330 feet (100 meters) wide and in orbits that occasionally bring them close enough to Earth to pose a concern, researchers said. To date, only about 30 percent of those objects have actually been found, they added.

Potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs in NASA-speak, are space rocks in orbits that come within 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) of Earth and are large enough to cause damage on regional or global scale if they were ever to hit our planet.

Animation of the 2015 TB145 (NEO) flyby, as seen from the center of the Earth, with hourly trace circles along the path of motion

The new study was based on observations from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), an infrared space telescope. While the telescope data returned an estimate of the potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroid population that is similar to previous projections, it also revealed some surprising new results.RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…Click here for more Space.com videos…Saharan dust cloud fertilizes soil in the AmazonVolume 0% PLAY SOUND

According to the survey, about twice as many asteroids are in so-called “lower-inclination orbits” — which are more closely aligned with Earth’s path around the sun than other objects — than previously thought researchers said. [Video: WISE Telescope’s Asteroid Census]

“A possible explanation is that many of the PHAs may have originated from a collision between two asteroids in the main belt lying between Mars and Jupiter,” NASA officials explained in a statement. “A larger body with a low-inclination orbit may have broken up in the main belt, causing some of the fragments to drift into orbits closer to Earth and eventually become PHAs.”

NEOWISE survey has found that more potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs, are closely aligned with the plane of our solar system than previous models suggested. PHAs are the subset of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) with the closest orbits to Earth's orbit, coming within 5 million miles (about 8 million kilometers).
NEOWISE survey has found that more potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs, are closely aligned with the plane of our solar system than previous models suggested. PHAs are the subset of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) with the closest orbits to Earth’s orbit, coming within 5 million miles (about 8 million kilometers). (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Those low-inclination space rocks also appear to be smaller and brighter than other near-Earth asteroids and are more likely to encounter Earth, researchers said.

“Our team was surprised to find the overabundance of low-inclination PHAs,” Amy Mainzer, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. Mainzer is principal investigator of WISE’s asteroid-hunting mission, which is called NEOWISE.

“Because they will tend to make more close approaches to Earth, these targets can provide the best opportunities for the next generation of human and robotic exploration.”

Earth Causes Asteroid-Quakes

Scientists made the new near-Earth asteroid estimate based on observations of 107 asteroids by WISE, which launched in 2009 and mapped the entire sky twice before ending its primary mission in 2011. Before shutting down, the observatory made a concerted search for near-Earth asteroids as part of an extended mission dubbed NEOWISE.

The $320 million WISE telescope snapped images of about 600 near-Earth asteroids, with about 135 of them being completely new discoveries. The telescope also observed millions of other objects, including distant galaxies and star nurseries.

“NASA’s NEOWISE project, which wasn’t originally planned as part of WISE, has turned out to be a huge bonus,” Mainzer said. “Everything we can learn about these objects helps us understand their origins and fate.”

During its asteroid hunt, the WISE telescope searched for space rocks within about120 million miles (195 million km) of the sun. For comparison, the Earth is about 93 million miles (150 million km) from the sun.

The data from NEOWISE, when combined with other asteroid data observations, helped NASA announce in 2010 that about 90 percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids that come close to our planet had been identified.

The new survey’s results will be detailed in an upcoming edition of the Astrophysical Journal.

Dwarf planet Ceres has an ‘ancient ocean’ with salt water, researchers confirm

Seven research papers were published that look at Ceres’ Occator Crater, which is where scientists believe an ocean of ‘salt-enriched water’ exists

Researchers have discovered that the dwarf planet Ceres has an “ancient ocean” with salt water, which means the space object may still be geologically active.

Using data from NASA’S Dawn spacecraft, seven research papers were published on Monday in the scientific journals Nature Communications, Nature Geoscience and Nature Astronomy that look at Ceres’ Occator Crater, which is where scientists believe an ocean of brine, or “salt-enriched water,” exists. By analyzing Ceres’ gravity, the experts were able to determine the brine reservoir is approximately 25 miles below the surface and hundreds of miles wide.

“Dawn accomplished far more than we hoped when it embarked on its extraordinary extraterrestrial expedition,” said Mission Director Marc Rayman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement. “These exciting new discoveries from the end of its long and productive mission are a wonderful tribute to this remarkable interplanetary explorer.”

This mosaic of Ceres' Occator Crater is composed of images NASA's Dawn mission captured on its second extended mission in 2018. Bright pits and mounds (foreground) were formed by salty liquid released as Occator's water-rich floor froze after the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI)

This mosaic of Ceres’ Occator Crater is composed of images NASA’s Dawn mission captured on its second extended mission in 2018. Bright pits and mounds (foreground) were formed by salty liquid released as Occator’s water-rich floor froze after the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI)

Dawn arrived at Ceres in 2015 and the last contact with the craft was in October 2018.

The Occator Crater, a strange place with bright white spots that are salt deposits, has long been a source of interest for NASA. Rayman himself mentioned it in a 2018 blog post. “Studying this one crater and the area around it (together known as a geological unit) could reveal more about the complex geology there,” he wrote at the time.

It’s believed the crater is about 22 million years old, but the ice volcanoes that surround it could be anywhere from billions of years old. The salt deposits could be as young as 2 million years old, according to one of the recently published studies.

This mosaic of Ceres' Occator Crater is composed of images NASA's Dawn mission captured on its second extended mission, in 2018. Bright pits and mounds (foreground) were formed by salty liquid released as Occator's water-rich floor froze after the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI)

This mosaic of Ceres’ Occator Crater is composed of images NASA’s Dawn mission captured on its second extended mission, in 2018. Bright pits and mounds (foreground) were formed by salty liquid released as Occator’s water-rich floor froze after the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI)

“The 57-mile diameter Occator Crater turned out to be the ‘star’ in terms of geologically recent activity on dwarf planet Ceres,”  planetary scientist David Williams of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration said in a separate statement. “The bright materials observed in this 22-million-year-old impact crater appear to have erupted in the last 2 to 9 million years, indicating there is some internal heat still left in Ceres.”

Further research is needed to determine their exact age.

“All of the results suggest one or more brine reservoirs within the crust of Ceres, perhaps relics of an ancient ocean on this icy world,” added Williams, who is part of a team developing a concept for NASA to return to Ceres. “If it comes to fruition, a sample return mission would allow us to bring some of these bright materials to Earth to conclusively determine their origin.”

In addition to being a dwarf planet, Ceres is also the largest known asteroid, with a diameter approaching 600 miles. It also contains the largest mountain on the largest known asteroid in the solar system, Ahuna Mons, which rises more than 13,000 feet. It’s unclear exactly what caused the formation of Ahuna Mons, with its slopes decorated by vertical streaks, but NASA has a new theory.

One of the last images of Ceres from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows bright spots in Occator Crater. Dawn captured this view on Sept. 1, 2018, from an altitude of 2,340 miles (3,370 kilometers) above the dwarf planet's surface.

One of the last images of Ceres from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows bright spots in Occator Crater. Dawn captured this view on Sept. 1, 2018, from an altitude of 2,340 miles (3,370 kilometers) above the dwarf planet’s surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

“The new hypothesis, based on numerous gravity measurements, holds that a bubble of mud rose from deep within the dwarf planet and pushed through the icy surface at a weak point rich in reflective salt — and then froze,” the space agency said in a 2019 statement.

By comparison, the largest mountain on Earth, Mount Everest, rises 29,029 feet.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and was first spotted by Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801.

In 2017, Dawn found the building blocks for life on the dwarf planet, spotting organic molecules that appeared to form on Ceres and not from an asteroid or comet strike.