Are Aliens Saying Hello Via Repeating FRBs? We Don’t Know – Yet

What are repeating FRBs or fast radio bursts? A quantum physicist decodes this term & explains the phenomenon.

The CHIME telescope in British Columbia will search our universe for phenomena such as fast radio bursts (FRBs), pulsars and more. Image used for representational purposes.

If you were the point of contact for an alien civilisation, what’s the first thing you would say? I would probably tell the aliens about coffee, and then have them try some. That would surely, and perhaps literally, warm them up to us.

I ask this because I’m a complete sci-fi romantic, and some recent astronomical news has left me daydreaming like Cinderella before she met Prince Charming. Full disclosure: no, we have not found evidence of an alien civilisation.

In fact, my starting off the way I did was probably misleading. However, the detection of repeating fast radio bursts – only the second of its kind to ever be discovered – is significant. Let me tell you why.

What Are Fast Radio Bursts?

First, fast radio bursts (FRBs) are super high energy radio pulses that come from the skies (read: a few billion light years away). While super high energy at their source – a few milliseconds of energy emission can match how much energy our sun emits in a day – by the time they reach the Earth, they emit way less energy.

Think about going to the moon and then trying to receive a signal from Earth on your phone: perhaps a parent is trying to call because you left your jacket behind. Got the visual? The strength of these FRBs when they reach us, is a thousand times less than that.

Substantial Population of Repeating FRBs

Since 2007, these FRBs have been detected over sixty times. Most were individual signals from different sources; only once was a repeating set of signals ever detected. Until now. In July and August 2018, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) FRB project detected six repeating FRBs that appeared to originate from a single source 1.5 billion light years away, along with seven other individual signals.

For a bit of perspective, I’d like to point out that our Milky Way is only about a hundred thousand light years in diameter.

That repeating FRBs were detected at all, gives rise to a number of suggestions. One, repeating FRBs are not an anomaly. The first detection wasn’t a standalone, and according to the CHIME/FRB Nature paper, this second detection “suggests that there exists—and that CHIME/FRB and other wide-field, sensitive radio telescopes will find—a substantial population of repeating FRBs.”

Much More To Be Known About Repeating FRBs

Two, repeating FRBs are inexplicable from the viewpoint of our limited knowledge, and may point to all sorts of unknown powerful astronomical events far, far away! That’s always exciting.

Three, we actually don’t know much about FRBs and their origin, and trying to zoom in on a single source that gives out repeating FRBs, might provide us with the data to know more.

Four, since the sources are unknown, FRBs may have an alien origin. Indeed, Prof Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, says, “Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven’t identified a possible natural source with any confidence. An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking”.

Let me point out that “aliens” isn’t really the first answer that most have when new, inexplicable, exciting things are discovered. Very few scientists are embracing this idea for repeating FRBs because it is incredibly, and I can’t stress this enough, incredibly premature.

So, instead of running through the streets proclaiming that we are not alone, daydream with me. I ask you again: what’s the first thing you, as a point of contact, would say to aliens?

Closest ever, mysterious ‘fast radio burst’ found 30,000 light-years from Earth

Magnetar SGR 1935+2154 was discovered in 2014, but April 2020 was when scientists saw it become active again

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are often mysterious in nature, but not an uncommon observation in deep space. However, researchers have discovered the first FRB to emanate from the Milky Way galaxy, according to a newly published study.

The research details magnetar SGR 1935+2154, which was discovered in 2014, but it wasn’t until April 2020 when scientists saw it become active again, shooting out radio waves and X-rays at random intervals.

“We’ve never seen a burst of radio waves, resembling a Fast Radio Burst, from a magnetar before,” the study’s lead author, Sandro Mereghetti of the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF–IASF), said in a statement.

Artist's impression of the radio bursting magnetar SGR 1935+2154. (Credit: ESA)

Artist’s impression of the radio bursting magnetar SGR 1935+2154. (Credit: ESA)

This FRB likely comes from a neutron star, approximately 30,000 light-years from Earth in the Vulpecula constellation, LiveScience reports. A light-year, which measures distance in space, is approximately 6 trillion miles.

Mereghetti and the other researchers detected the FRB using the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Integral satellite on April 28.

The “Burst Alert System” sent out an alert about the discovery around the world “in just seconds,” which Merghetti said enabled “the scientific community to act fast and explore this source in more detail.”

Astronomers around the globe also spotted the “short and extremely bright burst of radio waves” via the CHIME radio telescope in Canada also on April 28. Subsequent confirmations came from California and Utah the following day.

“This is the first ever observational connection between magnetars and Fast Radio Bursts,” Mereghetti added. “It truly is a major discovery, and helps to bring the origin of these mysterious phenomena into focus.”

The study has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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.

Beirut blast damage mapped by NASA using satellite data

Data from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel satellites was used to produce the map

NASA has used satellite data to map the devastation caused by the deadly blast that rocked Beirut last week.

Modified data from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel satellites was used to produce the map.

The data was analyzed by scientists at NASA’s Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech. The Earth Observatory of Singapore also participated in the project.

“Maps like this one can help identify badly damaged areas where people may need assistance,” said NASA, in a statement.

On the map, dark red pixels – like those present at and around the Port of Beirut – represent the most severe damage. Areas in orange are moderately damaged and areas in yellow are likely to have sustained somewhat less damage. Each colored pixel represents an area of 33 yards.

On the map, dark red pixels – like those present at and around the Port of Beirut – represent the most severe damage. Areas in orange are moderately damaged and areas in yellow are likely to have sustained somewhat less damage. Each colored pixel represents an area of 33 yards. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Earth Observatory of Singapore/ESA)

On the map, the most severely damaged areas are shown in red and areas moderately damaged are orange. Each colored pixel represents an area of 33 yards, according to NASA.

The Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port sent a shock wave that killed at least 160 people, wounded nearly 6,000 and defaced the coastline of the capital city — destroying hundreds of buildings.

The explosion has been linked to a 2,750-ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a hangar at the Beirut port since it was confiscated from a ship in 2013. The cargo is believed to have detonated after a fire broke out nearby.

Is Planet Nine a black hole or a planet? Harvard scientists suggest a way to find out.

Scientists propose a method to determine, once and for all, if any planet-mass black holes are lurking in the outer solar system.  


An artist’s conception of a flare resulting from the interaction of a comet with a theoretical planet-mass black hole.M. Weiss

Since 2016, some scientists have suspected that a massive, unseen world may be lurking in the outer solar system — a world called Planet Nine. The evidence comes from the strange orbits of some smaller objects past Neptune that all seem to be influenced by a bulky, hidden planet far beyond Pluto. But then, just last year, scientists thought of another explanation, and it’s straight out of sci-fi. The researchers proposed that the so-called Planet Nine isn’t a planet at all. Instead, they suggest that the solar system could be home to one of the universe’s earliest black holes: a primordial black hole.

Now, Harvard scientists have proposed a way to determine, once and for all, whether Planet Nine actually could be a black hole. Specifically, the new method would scour the outer solar system for evidence of telltale flares that are emitted when a black hole devours a comet or other distant object. Such flares, they say, should be detectable by the upcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, which is expected to begin a 10-year survey of the southern sky within the next few years.


A number of far-flung objects all have very similar points of closest approach to the Sun, leading scientists to suspect that a massive object, around five to ten times the mass of Earth, may be hiding in the outer solar system.Fauxtoez/Wikimedia Commons

What is Planet Nine?

The Sun’s influence stretches far beyond what most people typically think of when it comes to the solar system. For example, it took 36 years and about 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometers) for the first human-made object, Voyager 1, to leave our Sun’s protective bubble, called the heliosphere. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to learn that scientists are still finding new icy objects orbiting well beyond Neptune, known as Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs). At the end of 2018, for instance, researchers announced the discovery of the then-most distant TNO known, nicknaming it FarOut. Just a few months later in 2019, the same team trumpeted their discovery of an even more distant TNO, calling it FarFarOut.

But unlike FarFarOut, FarOut’s orbit — along with a handful of other extremely distant TNOs — is quite strange. Research shows that about a dozen distant TNOs make their closest approach to the Sun, or reach perihelion, at nearly the exact same point in space. But they can’t explain why. These objects are located roughly 100 astronomical units (AU; 1 AU equals the average Earth-Sun distance) from the Sun, which puts them far beyond Neptune’s gravitational influence. This puzzle is what led researchers to calculate how a hidden planet — a world some five to 10 times the mass of Earth and located anywhere from 400 and 1,500 AU from the Sun — may be shepherding these unique TNOs into position.

On the other hand, Planet Nine might not be a planet at all. It could be a primordial black hole — and with Planet Nine’s suspected super-Earth status, that black hole would only be roughly the size of a grapefruit. Theory says that such tiny black holes could have popped into existence within the first few fractions of a second after the Big Bang (making primordial black holes a possible candidate for dark matter). But the existence of these ancient beasts has yet to be confirmed.


Tiny black holes may speckle the universe and its possible that the solar system captured one.nagualdesign/Tom Ruen/Wikimedia commons

Vera Rubin (Observatory) aims to deliver the final verdict

Normally, black holes are extremely difficult to locate. As their name suggests, nothing, including light, can escape their gravitational grasp once it gets too close. Instead, scientists must pinpoint black holes by observing their influence on nearby objects, or, alternatively, by catching bright flares of light that are emitted when matter spirals into them.

So, to search for black holes in the distant solar system, astrophysicist Avi Loeb of Harvard, along with Harvard undergraduate Amir Siraj, developed a method to seek out flares generated when a black hole encounters small objects in the Oort Cloud, which is a vast shell of potentially trillions of icy bodies that cocoons our solar system. Occasionally, the researchers say, Oort Cloud objects like comets should interact with any black holes lurking around, producing a visible flare of light that the Vera C. Rubin Observatory could detect when it starts its 10-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).

This isn’t an entirely new idea, however. Delivering a final verdict on whether a ninth planet is hiding in our solar neighborhood was already one of the goals for LSST. But in terms of spotting a planet-mass black hole, the groundbreaking survey happens to be perfectly suited for the job.

“Neither of us expected it to conveniently fall within the range that LSST is going to look at,” Siraj tells Astronomy. “But also, beyond just a Planet Nine black hole … we can rule out or confirm [any] planet-mass black holes all the way to the edge of the Oort Cloud.”

If LSST does end up spotting a flare from a primordial black hole masquerading as Planet Nine, another telescope of similar sensitivity could then focus on its location for much longer, likely capturing thousands more flares. But Siraj says that even if the survey doesn’t detect any flares, “we can place very tight limits on the fraction of dark matter that’s tied up in primordial black holes.”

All things considered, Loeb and Siraj expect LSST to have definitive proof of whether or not a planet-mass black hole is lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system within the first year or two of the survey. But even with slim chances of success, the researchers can’t help but hold their breath.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover celebrates 8 years on the Red Planet

The rover touched down on Mars’ Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover celebrated eight years on the Red Planet Wednesday.

The rover touched down on Mars’ Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012. “Since touchdown, the rover journeyed more than 14 miles (23 kilometers), drilling 26 rock samples and scooping six soil samples along the way as it revealed that ancient Mars was indeed suitable for life,” said NASA in a statement. “Studying the textures and compositions of ancient rock strata is helping scientists piece together how the Martian climate changed over time, losing its lakes and streams until it became the cold desert it is today.”

The Curiosity Rover in a selfie taken on Martian Sol 2082 -June 15, 2018 Earth time.

The Curiosity Rover in a selfie taken on Martian Sol 2082 -June 15, 2018 Earth time. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Last year, the rover detected an “unusually high” level of methane on Mars, and in 2018 NASA revealed that it had found organic molecules.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover launched last week on its epic mission to the Red Planet, a journey that is expected to take seven months. The rover is scheduled to land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb 18, 2021. The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is at least one Martian year or about 687 days.

NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic.

In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that he believed astronauts could visit Mars’ moon Phobos by 2040, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

UFO? Mysterious Object Seen In Sky Over Denver Metro Area

DENVER (CBS4)– A bright object seen floating in the skies east of Denver caught a lot of attention. The mysterious object was seen in the sky on Monday.

(credit: CBS)

Several people called the CBS4 newsroom about the object while CBS4 photojournalist Jeremiah Bellile captured video of it.ADVERTISING

A group called the Loon Project said they released a high altitude weather balloon in the area on Monday. The FAA agreed that’s most likely what it was.

(credit: CBS)

Earlier this year, the Colorado Department of Public Safety investigated mysterious drones flying over Colorado’s Eastern Plains. The mysterious sightings were also investigated by the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office which developed a task force along with the FAA, which also looked into the matter.

VLT Measures Main-Belt Asteroid Euphrosyne and Its Moon

Using the high-angular resolution observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have determined the 3D shape, diameter and density of the asteroid (31) Euphrosyne and the diameter of its moon.

This image, taken with the ZIMPOL instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), shows the asteroid Euphrosyne and its moon S/2019 (31) 1 (right). Image credit: Yang et al, arXiv: 2007.08059.

Euphrosyne, one of the biggest objects in the Solar Systrem’s main asteroid belt, was discovered by James Ferguson on September 1, 1854, the first asteroid found from North America.

This asteroid is the namesake of an asteroid family that occupies a highly inclined region in the outer main belt and contains a remarkably large number of members.

Euphrosyne orbits the Sun every 5.61 years and has a small satellite, S/2019 (31) 1, discovered in 2019.

It is a C-type asteroid with a primitive surface possibly covered by ejection blanket in the same collision which created its moon and other Euphrosyne asteroids.

“The main asteroid belt is a dynamically living relic, with the shapes, sizes, and surfaces of most asteroids being altered by ongoing collisional fragmentation and cratering events,” said ESO astronomer Bin Yang and her colleagues.

“Space probes and ground-based observations revealed a fascinating variety among asteroid shapes, where large asteroids are nearly spherical and small asteroids are irregularly shaped.”

Full set of VLT/SPHERE/ZIMPOL images of (31) Euphrosyne. Image credit: Yang et al, arXiv: 2007.08059.

“Most asteroids with diameters greater than 100 km (62 miles) have likely kept their internal structure intact since their time of formation because the dynamical lifetime of those asteroids is estimated to be comparable to the age of the Solar System.”

Dr. Yang and co-authors used the SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research) and the ZIMPOL (Zurich Imaging Polarimeter) instruments on VLT to observe Euphrosyne and its tiny moon.

Their observations show that the asteroid has a nearly spherical shape with the sphericity index of 0.9888 and its surface lacks large impact craters.

“Euphrosyne is the third most spherical body among the main belt asteroids with known shapes after Ceres and Hygiea,” they said.

“Its round shape is consistent with a re-accumulation event following the giant impact at the origin of the Euphrosyne family.”

According to the astronomers, Euphrosyne’s diameter is 268 km (166.5 miles), making it one of the top ten largest main belt asteroids.

“The bulk density of Euphrosyne is 1,665 kg/m3, which is the first high precision density measurement via ground-based observations for a Cb-type asteroid,” they said.

“Such density implies that a large amount of water (at least 50% in volume) must be present in Euphrosyne.”

“The surface of Euphrosyne is nearly featureless with no large craters detected, which is consistent with its young age and ice-rich composition.”

The researchers also estimated the diameter of Euphrosyne’s satellite to be 4 km (2.5 miles).

“The orbit of S/2019 (31) 1 is circular, prograde, and equatorial, similar to most known satellites around large main belt asteroids,” they said.

The findings will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Astronomers spot glowing ‘butterfly’ in deep space

The bubble of gas was spotted between 3,000 and 6,500 light-years away

Astronomers have spotted a “butterfly” in deep space.

The bubble of gas, known as NGC 2899, was spotted between 3,000 and 6,500 light-years away, in the Southern constellation of Vela (The Sails). It has two central stars, which astronomers believe may give it its “nearly symmetric appearance,” researchers wrote in a note on the European Southern Observatory’s website.

“It appears to float and flutter across the sky,” the ESO researchers wrote.

NGC 2899 had never been captured in an image before in such detail, as the “faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars” can be seen, the ESO added.

This highly detailed image of the fantastic NGC 2899 planetary nebula was captured using the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. This object has never before been imaged in such striking detail, with even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars. (Credit: ESO)

This highly detailed image of the fantastic NGC 2899 planetary nebula was captured using the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. This object has never before been imaged in such striking detail, with even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars. (Credit: ESO)

NGC 2899 was spotted by ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Astronomers were able to take the image of NGC 2899 using the FORS instrument on UT1, one of four telescopes that comprise the VLT.

The swathes of gas are so large they extend nearly two light-years from its center. Given how bright the bubble appears in the picture, the gas is extraordinarily hot, burning at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, aided by the radiation from the nebula’s parent star.

A light-year, which measures distance in space, is the equivalent of nearly 6 trillion miles.

NGC 2899 is not the only “butterfly” structure to be spotted in space in recent memory. In March 2019, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope spotted Westerhout 40 (W40) 1,400 light-years from the sun.

The first interplanetary helicopter is on its way to Mars

An artist's impression of NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity.
An artist’s impression of NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity. (Image credit: NASA)

The first helicopter designed to fly on another planet is now on its way to Mars.

NASA’s Mars helicopter, called Ingenuity, is hitching a ride to the Red Planet with the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which lifted off on an Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station  today (July 30).

Tucked beneath the rover’s belly, Ingenuity will spend the next six months en route to Mars. The mission is scheduled to land on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, and within the next few months the rotorcraft will attempt the first-ever flight through another planet’s atmosphere. 

“We as human beings have never flown or rotorcraft outside of our own Earth’s atmosphere, so this will actually be a very much a Wright Brothers moment, except on another planet,” Mimi Aung, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager, said in a news conference on Tuesday (July 28).

While NASA and other space agencies around the world have sent landers, orbiters and rovers to the Red Planet, no one has attempted to fly an aircraft on another planet before. On Mars the atmosphere is much thinner than it is on Earth, which means there’s less air to generate lift and more technical challenges in designing a craft that will stay aloft.

“Flying a rotorcraft at Mars is very difficult. First and foremost, the atmosphere there is very thin, about 1% compared to the Earth’s atmospheric density here,” Aung said. “To build a vehicle that can fly at Mars, it has to be very light and be able to spin very fast.”

Ingenuity is tucked under the belly of the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity is tucked under the belly of the Perseverance rover. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingenuity weighs about 4 lbs. (1.8 kilograms) and has two counter-rotating blades that measure about 4 feet (1.2 meters) long. Those blades should spin at a rate of about 2,400 revolutions per minute, NASA said in Ingenuity’s mission description. To test the helicopter, NASA simulated the Martian atmosphere in a testing chamber at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.

While Ingenuity is only an experimental mission — its primary objective is to test powered flight on Mars — a successful flight could shape the future of exploration on Mars. Click here for more videos…How will Mars Helicopter ‘Ingenuity’ be delivered to Martian surface? 0% PLAY SOUND

For robotic missions like the Perseverance rover, helicopters could scout the Martian terrain and help plan driving routes. With that same aerial view, rotorcraft could also be used to study the planet’s geology from a different perspective, and they could even help astronauts explore Mars someday, NASA said.

“This Mars helicopter Ingenuity could lead to the opening up of a whole new way to explore space” and to take “exploration missions to the aerial dimension,” Aung said.

Astronomers Detect Short Bursts of Radio Waves from Distant Magnetar

Using ESA’s International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (Integral), NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and several radio telescopes, astronomers have detected short and very bright radio bursts as well as gamma- and X-rays from SGR 1935+2154, a magnetar located 4,400 parsecs (14,351 light-years) away in the constellation of Vulpecula.

An artist’s impression of the magnetar SGR 1935+2154. Image credit: ESA.

Discovered in 2014 following a substantial burst of X-rays, SGR 1935+2154 became active again in April 2020.

The Integral space observatory detected a burst of X-rays on April 28, 2020, automatically alerting observatories worldwide about the discovery.

“We detected the magnetar’s burst of high-energy X-rays using Integral on April 28,” said lead author Dr. Sandro Mereghetti, a researcher at Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF-IASF).

“Integral’s ‘Burst Alert System’ automatically alerted observatories worldwide about the discovery in just seconds.”

“This was hours before any other alerts were issued, enabling the scientific community to act fast and explore this source in more detail.”

The CHIME radio telescope spotted a short and extremely bright burst of radio waves from the direction of SGR 1935+2154 on the same day, over the same timeframe as the X-ray emission.

This was independently confirmed a few hours later by the Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2 (STARE2).

“We’ve never seen a burst of radio waves, resembling a fast radio burst, from a magnetar before,” Dr. Mereghetti said.

“Crucially, the Imager on-board Integral (IBIS) instrument allowed us to precisely pinpoint the origin of the burst, nailing its association with the magnetar,” said Dr. Volodymyr Savchenko, an astronomer in the Integral Science Data Centre at the University of Geneva.

“Most of the other satellites involved in the collaborative study of this event weren’t able to measure its position in the sky — and this was crucial in identifying that the emission did indeed come from SGR1935+2154.”

“This is the first ever observational connection between magnetars and fast radio bursts,” Dr. Mereghetti said.

“It truly is a major discovery, and helps to bring the origin of these mysterious phenomena into focus.”

This connection strongly supports the idea that fast radio bursts emanate from magnetars, and demonstrates that bursts from these highly magnetized objects can also be spotted at radio wavelengths.

“By bringing together observations from the high-energy part of the spectrum all the way to radio waves, from across the globe and in space, we have been able to elucidate a long-standing mystery in astronomy. We’re thrilled that Integral played a key role in this,” said Integral project scientist Dr. Erik Kuulkers, a researcher at ESA.

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

Watch live: SpaceX Crew Dragon heading home with 1st NASA crew

SpaceX’s Demo-2 Crew Dragon Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station Saturday, Aug. 1, and is on its way back to Earth with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. You can watch its splashdown live on Sunday, Aug. 2, here, courtesy of NASA TV. 

Full coverage: SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 Crew Dragon astronaut test flight

Behnken and Hurley bid farewell to their Expedition 63 crewmates — NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner — earlier today. The Demo-2 crew are scheduled to return to Earth on Sunday, Aug. 2, with a splashdown off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, weather permitting. NASA and SpaceX are watching weather impacts from a potential tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean. Splashdown is currently scheduled for 2:48 p.m. EDT (1848 GMT)

NASA is providing a live webcast through landing, which you can see above.

From NASA:

Editor’s Note: Updated on July 28, 2020 to show start time for Wednesday, July 29’s Return Flight Readiness Review news briefing moved up to no earlier than 3:30 p.m. EDT.

NASA will provide live coverage of activities leading up to, during, and following the return of the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight with the agency’s astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley from the International Space Station.

The duo arrived at the orbiting laboratory on May 31, following a successful launch on May 30 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting 7:34 p.m. EDT Saturday, Aug. 1, for undocking of the Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft from the space station and 2:42 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2, for splashdown, which will be the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.

Coverage on NASA TV and the agency’s website will begin at 9:10 a.m., Aug. 1, with a short farewell ceremony on station and resume at 5:15 p.m., with departure preparations through splashdown and recovery at one of seven targeted water landing zones in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida.

All media participation in news conferences and interviews will be remote; no media will be accommodated at any NASA site due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To participate in the briefings by phone or to request a remote interview with the crew members, reporters must contact the newsroom at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston at 281-483-5111 no later than two hours prior to each event.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 return coverage is as follows (all times Eastern):

Wednesday, July 29

Approximately 6 p.m. (or one hour after Return Flight Readiness Review completion) – Return Flight Readiness Review briefing at Johnson, with the following participants:

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine 

Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

Joel Montalbano, manager, NASA’s International Space Station Program

Benji Reed, director, crew mission management, SpaceX

A media phone bridge will be available for this event.

Friday, July 31

10:45 a.m. – Crew News Conference from the International Space Station, with the following participants:

NASA astronaut Bob Behnken

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy

A media phone bridge will be available for this event.

Saturday, Aug. 1

9:10 a.m. – SpaceX Dragon Demo-2 Farewell Ceremony aboard the International Space Station (ceremony begins about 9:15 a.m.)

5:15 p.m. – NASA TV undocking coverage begins for the 7:34 p.m. undocking (NASA Television will have continuous coverage from undocking to splashdown)

Sunday, Aug. 2

2:42 p.m. – Splashdown

5 p.m. – Administrator post-splashdown news conference at Johnson, with the following representatives:

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

Commercial Crew Program representative

International Space Station representative

SpaceX representative

NASA Astronaut Office representative

A media phone bridge will be available for this event.

Tuesday, Aug. 4

4:30 p.m. – Demo-2 Crew News Conference from the Johnson Space Center, with the following participants:

NASA astronaut Bob Behnken

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley

A media phone bridge will be available for this event.

These activities are a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has been working with the U.S. aerospace industry to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011. This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown and recovery operations. 

The test flight also is helping NASA certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, which would occur following NASA certification.

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

For more information about splashdown locations, weather criteria and recovery logistics, visit:

For full mission coverage, NASA’s commercial crew blog, and more information about the mission, visit:

Scientists Have ‘Woken Up’ Microbes Trapped Under The Seafloor For 100 Million Years

Researchers have successfully revived tiny microbes trapped dormant in a seemingly lifeless zone of the seabed for more than 100 million years.

A team of scientists from Japan and America were looking to see whether microscopic life survives in the less-than-hospitable conditions beneath the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean.

“We wanted to know how long the microbes could sustain their life in a near-absence of food,” said microbiologist Yuki Morono from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, who led the study.

They got their answer: microbes that had been trapped in seabed sediments deposited 100 million years ago could be revived with the right food and a bit of added oxygen.

Which is impressive. The pressure is immense for microbes on the seafloor, all that water stacked on top of the seabed. Not to mention the lack of oxygen, few essential nutrients, and the measly energy supplies.

When life gets trapped in other high-pressure environments, fossils usually form given a million years or more, but these mighty microbes were very much alive. 

“We knew that there was life in deep sediment near the continents where there’s a lot of buried organic matter,” said Morono’s colleague, geomicrobiologist Steven D’Hondt from University of Rhode Island. “But what we found was that life extends in the deep ocean from the seafloor all the way to the underlying rocky basement.”

The soil the microbes were trapped in was taken from a 2010 expedition to the South Pacific Gyre, a seemingly lifeless zone in the centre of swirling ocean currents to the east of Australia, known as one of the most food-limited and life-deficient parts of the ocean (and a trash vortex, with all the plastic pollution it gathers at the surface).

As part of a 2010 expedition onboard the JOIDES Resolution drillship, the team extracted sediment cores going as deep as 75 meters (250 feet) below the seafloor, which rests nearly 6 kilometres (almost 20,000 feet) below the ocean’s surface.

They took samples from ancient pelagic clay, which accumulates in the deepest and most remote parts of the ocean, and much younger and chalky nannofossil oozes, between 4.3 and 13 million years old.

They found oxygen-consuming microbes (and dissolved oxygen) right through every layer of the cores, from top to bottom, and at every site they sampled in the South Pacific Gyre. But the microbes were hiding out in very low numbers.

On board the ship, samples were taken out of the sediment cores to see if the energy-starved microbes had retained their “metabolic potential” and could feast and multiply.

The ancient microbes were given a boost of oxygen and fed traceable substrates containing carbon and nitrogen, their food of choice, before the glass vials were sealed, incubated and only opened after 21 days, 6 weeks or 18 months.

Even in the oldest sediments sampled, the researchers were able to revive up to 99 percent of the original microbial community.

“At first I was sceptical, but we found that up to 99.1 percent of the microbes in sediment deposited 101.5 million years ago were still alive and were ready to eat,” Morono said.

After their lengthy incubation, the microbial communities were sorted based on their genes. The researchers reported the seafloor soils were dominated by bacteria, but not the type that form spores, which means they were ready to grow as soon as they were given the right food.

Some microbes had increased in numbers 10,000 times, and consumed the available carbon and nitrogen 68 days into their incubation.

“It shows that there are no limits to life in the old sediment of the world’s ocean,” D’Hondt said. “In the oldest sediment we’ve drilled, with the least amount of food, there are still living organisms, and they can wake up, grow and multiply.”

It’s not only at the depths of the oceans that microbes have shown how hardy they can be. Scientists have also found microbes living in extreme conditions in Antarctica, as well as the driest deserts.

The study is published in Nature Communications.

NASA: Mars rover Perseverance in ‘safe mode’ after launch, but should recover

NASA is celebrating the launch of its most advanced Mars rover ever today (July 30), even as engineers tackle a glitch that left the spacecraft in a protective “safe mode” shortly after liftoff. 

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launched toward the Red Planet at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT), riding an Atlas V rocket into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover experienced minor communications and temperature glitches after launch, but the issues aren’t expected to harm the mission as a whole, NASA officials said.

“It was an amazing launch, right on time,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a post-launch news conference. “I think we’re in great shape. It was a great day for NASA.”

Shortly after the conference, NASA confirmed that Perseverance slipped into “safe mode” due to an unexpected temperature difference. 

“Data indicate the spacecraft had entered a state known as safe mode, likely because a part of the spacecraft was a little colder than expected while Mars 2020 was in Earth’s shadow,” NASA officials said in a statement. “All temperatures are now nominal and the spacecraft is out of Earth’s shadow.”

Post-launch hiccups 

During today’s post-launch news conference, the team received word that one issue, a lingering communications issue, was fixed. Within the first few hours after launch, although mission personnel could pick up the signal the spacecraft was sending home, it wasn’t being processed correctly.

However, that situation didn’t cause much concern, Matt Wallace, deputy project manager for Mars 2020 with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, said during the briefing. The miscommunication was caused by the fact that NASA relies on a system called the Deep Space Network to communicate with Perseverance even soon after launch, when the spacecraft isn’t yet all that deep into space.

And, because the Deep Space Network is made up of massive antennas equipped with super sensitive receivers, the signal from a spacecraft so close to the network can end up blasting the system, like someone screaming directly into your ear. Engineers needed to tweak the network settings in order to actually process the information coming from the spacecraft.

“Just as the administrator was speaking, I did just get a text that we were able to lock up on that telemetry,” Wallace said. “All the indications that we have — and we have quite a few — are that the spacecraft is just fine.”

NASA’s Curiosity rover faced a similar issue during its launch in 2011, Wallace said. “It’s something that we’ve seen before with other Mars missions,” Bridenstine said. “This is not unusual. Everything is going according to plan.”

Perseverance’s ‘safe mode’ explained

The mission team revealed a second post-launch hiccup shortly later in the news conference: Perseverance went into safe mode. 

When the spacecraft got a little colder than expected passing through Earth’s shadow, it automatically put itself into that state, according to the NASA statement, although the spacecraft’s temperature quickly bounced back and isn’t concerning the team.

Wallace emphasized that such a status shouldn’t harm the mission as a whole. Safe mode is, as the name implies, designed to be safe for the spacecraft to be in right now. 

“The spacecraft is happy there,” Wallace said. “The team is working through that telemetry, they’re going to look to the rest of the spacecraft health. So far, everything I’ve seen looks good.”

Later, Wallace told that the Perseverance mission team had traced the the temperature issue to the system that uses freon to keep the rover’s nuclear battery cool. 

Because Perserverance’s launch carried it into Earth’s shadow, it led to colder than expected temperatures in the cooling system, as compared to a launch in uninterrupted sunlight, Wallace told When NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has a similar nuclear battery, launched in 2011, it was always in daylight and did not experience the issue, he added.

“Unfortunately, our analysis is never really perfect,” Wallace added. “Curiosity didn’t have an eclipse in its flight trajectory so we didn’t have flight data to know what was going to happen.”

“The spacecraft was never in jeopardy,” he continued. “Our philosophy is to be overly conservative on the parameters because we’d much rather trigger a safing event we didn’t need, than miss a safing event we do need.”

The team will continue to analyze the telemetry data that the vehicle has sent so far and double check that this is indeed the hiccup. Once that is complete, the team can put the rover back in an operational status.

Wallace said he expects for the spacecraft to return to normal operations mode tomorrow (July 31). But the team is not in any rush and are taking their time to carefully review all the data.

Perseverance is scheduled to fly straight and steady for the next at least two weeks, anyway, he said, and so the team has time to get the spacecraft back into normal operating mode before the first necessary trajectory adjustment of its journey.

A gorgeous launch 

NASA's Mars rover Perseverance launches toward the Red Planet atop an Atlas V rocket, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020.
NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance launches toward the Red Planet atop an Atlas V rocket, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020. (Image credit: ULA)

The launch itself went smoothly, with an unusually quiet countdown in mission control rooms, despite an earthquake that rattled southern California, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about 20 minutes before the rocket fired in Florida.

Today’s liftoff marked an important victory for the agency, which worried that measures imposed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic might slow launch preparations enough that Perseverance might miss its three-week window for a launch, which is dependent on orbital trajectories.

Another comparable opportunity wouldn’t come again until 2022; if that 26-month delay had occurred, it would have cost the agency an extra $500 million, according to Bridenstine, on top of an already difficult mission.

“[It was] adversity all along the way, but this is true for any project of this nature,” Bridenstine said of struggles before the pandemic, which included a cracked heat shield and the late addition of a complicated ride-along helicopter. “Then you put on top of that the coronavirus … I’m not gonna lie, it’s a challenge. It’s very stressful. But look, the teams made it happen.”

But, despite earlier delays that pushed the launch more than a week into its window, the spacecraft blasted off during its first shot of its first countdown.

“It was truly a team effort. And in every single case, everyone stood up and said, ‘Yes, we want to do what we can to help,'” Lori Glaze, director of the agency’s planetary science division, said. “Somehow, we made it through this.”

Now, the spacecraft and its human team back on Earth need to make it through a seven-month journey in deep space to reach the Red Planet. Once the spacecraft arrives at Mars, it will undergo the notoriously perilous process of entry, descent and landing.

That process will unfold on Feb. 18, 2021.

Alleged ‘Alien Cube’ 10 Times Bigger Than Earth Appears In NASA’s Sun Photo, Expert Claims


  • UFO expert Scott Waring claimed to have spotted an alien vessel hovering in front of the Sun in an image taken by NASA’s SOHO satellite
  • Waring thinks the vessel may have been extracting rare particles from the Sun
  • There is no information or statement from NASA that would be able to verify his claims

AUFO expert claimed to have spotted a massive cube-shaped alien vessel hovering in front of the Sun. The expert estimated that the strange object could be about 10 times bigger than Earth.

The strange sighting was reported by Scott Waring of the UFO-focused blog ET Data Base. In a recent blog post, Waring stated that he saw the alleged alien cube while he was browsing through the images captured by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

SOHO is a robotic spacecraft launched by NASA in 1995 to observe the Sun by taking images of its surface. It was originally supposed to carry out its mission for two years, but NASA decided to extend its operations.

As Waring was going through SOHO’s website, he came across an image of the Sun that caught his attention. The photo shows the massive star with a square-shaped dark object in front of it. After analyzing the photo and zooming in on the strange object, Waring theorized that it could be a massive alien vessel that was flying in front of the Sun.

Based on the image, Waring estimated that the object could be around 10 times bigger than Earth. The UFO expert speculated that the alleged alien cube vessel resides within the Sun, which Waring believes is hollow.

“This cube is many times bigger than Earth itself,” Waring stated in a blog post. “The cube is in the northern hemisphere of our Sun. The cube is often seen coming and going from our Sun and it’s thought that either the cubes created a hollow Sun to live within and gather energy from or there are some special particles that we are not yet aware of at our stance of existence… and these cube ships are gathering those rare particles.”

Although Waring used NASA’s photo in his blog post, there is no information or statement from the agency that could verify his claims.

SOHO photoPhoto captured by NASA’s SOHO satellite. Photo: NASA SOHO

Why NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance will use nuclear power to keep itself warm

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover displaying where its MMRTG would be inserted, between the panels on the right marked by gold tube, before the power system was inserted.NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover displaying where its MMRTG would be inserted, between the panels on the right marked by gold tube, before the power system was inserted.(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A spacecraft is only as strong as its power source, which is why when NASA was designing its Perseverance Mars rover, the agency turned to radioactive plutonium.

The plutonium that will be blasting off the planet on Thursday (July 30) isn’t in the same form as is used for weapons, and it’s well protected in case something happens to go wrong during the launch. But these plutonium units are a respected power source for spacecraft — NASA’s Curiosity rover runs on a similar device.

“NASA likes to explore, and we have to explore in some very distant locations, dusty locations, dark locations and harsh environments,” June Zakrajsek, a nuclear fuel expert at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, said in a Department of Energy (DOE) podcast about the Perseverance mission. “When we’re in those kinds of environments, solar energy sometimes does not provide the power that we need. The light just does not get to those locations like we would need it.”

School girls in India discover Earth-bound asteroid

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) – Two teenage girls from India have discovered an Earth-bound asteroid by poring through images from a University of Hawaii telescope, an Indian space education institute said on Monday.

The asteroid is presently near Mars and its orbit is expected to cross that of Earth in about one million years’ time, said SPACE India, a private institute where the two 14-year-old girls received training.

“I look forward to… when we will get a chance to name the asteroid,” said Vaidehi Vekariya, who added that she wants to become an astronaut when she is older.

The asteroid, currently called HLV2514, may be officially christened only after NASA confirms its orbit, a SPACE India spokeswoman said.

Radhika Lakhani, the other student, said she was working hard on her education. “I don’t even have a TV at home, so that I can concentrate on my studies.”

Asteroids and comets pose a potential threat to Earth, and scientists discover thousands of them each year. In 2013, an asteroid heavier than the Eiffel Tower exploded over central Russia, leaving more than 1,000 people injured from its shockwave.

The two girls, who hail from the western Indian city of Surat, discovered the object as part of an asteroid search campaign conducted by SPACE India along with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), a NASA-affiliated citizen scientist group.

IASC Director J. Patrick Miller confirmed the discovery, according to an email from him to the girls seen by Reuters.

The girls used specialised software to analyse the images snapped by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, and made the discovery in June, SPACE India said.

The institute is among the few private space education initiatives in India, a country known for championing low-cost space technology that has spurred missions to the moon and Mars.

NASA is going to send a ‘balloon the size of a football stadium’ to study the stars

An 8.4-foot telescope on the balloon will be able to see light wavelengths not visible by humans

Fans may not be able to enter football stadiums this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that’s not stopping NASA from sending a football-stadium-sized balloon to study the stars.

NASA said it will send an 8.4-foot telescope, known as ASTHROS (short for Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths), into the stratosphere on a “balloon the size of a football stadium” to look at light wavelengths that are not visible to the human eye.

“Balloon missions like ASTHROS are higher-risk than space missions but yield high rewards at modest cost,” said JPL engineer Jose Siles, project manager for ASTHROS, in a statement. “With ASTHROS, we’re aiming to do astrophysics observations that have never been attempted before. The mission will pave the way for future space missions by testing new technologies and providing training for the next generation of engineers and scientists.”

This illustration shows a high-altitude balloon ascending into the upper atmosphere. When fully inflated, these balloons are 400 feet (150 meters) wide, or about the size of a football stadium, and reach an altitude of 130,000 feet (24.6 miles or 40 kilometers). (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Michael Lentz)

This illustration shows a high-altitude balloon ascending into the upper atmosphere. When fully inflated, these balloons are 400 feet (150 meters) wide, or about the size of a football stadium, and reach an altitude of 130,000 feet (24.6 miles or 40 kilometers). (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Michael Lentz)

In order to study the far-infrared light, ASTHROS will need to be 130,000 feet in the air, approximately four times higher than commercial flights fly. For comparison purposes, the boundary of space is 62 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Though balloons may seem “antiquated,” NASA notes they offer advantages such as cheaper launch costs.

“Balloon missions don’t only have lower costs compared to space missions, they also have shorter times between early planning and deployment, which means they can accept the higher risks associated with using new or state-of-the-art technologies that haven’t yet flown in space,” NASA added in the statement.

An instrument on ASTHROS will measure the motion and speed of gas around stars that have recently formed in four regions of space, two of which are in the Milky Way.

The mission will launch in December 2023 from Antarctica, NASA said.

NASA is getting ready to launch its Perseverance rover later this month.

This rover, which will also have a small, autonomous helicopter, known as Ingenuity, will explore Mars and attempt to detect if there is any fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial beings, in addition to other tasks.

First Ever Direct Image of a Multi-Planet System around a Sun-like Star Captured by ESO Telescope

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) has taken the first ever image of a young, Sun-like star accompanied by two giant exoplanets. Images of systems with multiple exoplanets are extremely rare, and — until now — astronomers had never directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to the Sun. The observations can help astronomers understand how planets formed and evolved around our own Sun.

Just a few weeks ago, ESO revealed a planetary system being born in a new, stunning VLT image. Now, the same telescope, using the same instrument, has taken the first direct image of a planetary system around a star like our Sun, located about 300 light-years away and known as TYC 8998-760-1.

This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our Solar System, but at a much earlier stage of its evolution,” says Alexander Bohn, a PhD student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who led the new research published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters

Even though astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of planets in our galaxy, only a tiny fraction of these exoplanets have been directly imaged,” says co-author Matthew Kenworthy, Associate Professor at Leiden University, adding that “direct observations are important in the search for environments that can support life.” The direct imaging of two or more exoplanets around the same star is even more rare; only two such systems have been directly observed so far, both around stars markedly different from our Sun. The new ESO’s VLT image is the first direct image of more than one exoplanet around a Sun-like star. ESO’s VLT was also the first telescope to directly image an exoplanet, back in 2004, when it captured a speck of light around a brown dwarf, a type of ‘failed’ star.

Our team has now been able to take the first image of two gas giant companions that are orbiting a young, solar analogue,” says Maddalena Reggiani, a postdoctoral researcher from KU Leuven, Belgium, who also participated in the study. The two planets can be seen in the new image as two bright points of light distant from their parent star, which is located in the upper left of the frame (click on the image to view the full frame). By taking different images at different times, the team were able to distinguish these planets from the background stars.

The two gas giants orbit their host star at distances of 160 and about 320 times the Earth-Sun distance. This places these planets much further away from their star than Jupiter or Saturn, also two gas giants, are from the Sun; they lie at only 5 and 10 times the Earth-Sun distance, respectively. The team also found the two exoplanets are much heavier than the ones in our Solar System, the inner planet having 14 times Jupiter’s mass and the outer one six times.

Bohn’s team imaged this system during their search for young, giant planets around stars like our Sun but far younger. The star TYC 8998-760-1 is just 17 million years old and located in the Southern constellation of Musca (The Fly). Bohn describes it as a “very young version of our own Sun.

These images were possible thanks to the high performance of the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s VLT in the Chilean Atacama desert. SPHERE blocks the bright light from the star using a device called coronagraph, allowing the much fainter planets to be seen. While older planets, such as those in our Solar System, are too cool to be found with this technique, young planets are hotter, and so glow brighter in infrared light. By taking several images over the past year, as well as using older data going back to 2017, the research team have confirmed that the two planets are part of the star’s system.

Further observations of this system, including with the future ESO Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), will enable astronomers to test whether these planets formed at their current location distant from the star or migrated from elsewhere. ESO’s ELT will also help probe the interaction between two young planets in the same system. Bohn concludes: “The possibility that future instruments, such as those available on the ELT, will be able to detect even lower-mass planets around this star marks an important milestone in understanding multi-planet systems, with potential implications for the history of our own Solar System.”

More information

This research was presented in the paper “Two Directly Imaged, Wide-orbit Giant Planets around the Young, Solar Analog TYC 8998-760-1” to appear in The Astrophysical Journal Letters (

The team is composed of Alexander J. Bohn (Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, The Netherlands), Matthew A. Kenworthy (Leiden Observatory), Christian Ginski (Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Leiden Observatory), Steven Rieder (University of Exeter, Physics Department, UK), Eric E. Mamajek (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, USA and Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Rochester, USA), Tiffany Meshkat (IPAC, California Institute of Technology, USA), Mark J. Pecaut (Rockhurst University, Department of Physics, USA), Maddalena Reggiani (Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Jozua de Boer (Leiden Observatory), Christoph U. Keller (Leiden Observatory), Frans Snik (Leiden Observatory) and John Southworth (Keele University, UK).

For external comment on the paper, please contact ESO Astronomer Carlo Manara (, who did not participate in the study. 

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”. 

With Pentagon UFO unit in the spotlight, report mentions ‘off-world vehicles not made on this earth’

Some of the objects were of man-made materials, but others are questionable

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

A long-hidden UFO investigative unit within the Pentagon will make some of its findings public, according to a New York Times report.

The unit, which is now part of the Office of Naval Intelligence, has spent over a decade discussing mysterious events in classified briefings, according to the news outlet. A government contractor told the Times that he gave a classified briefing to the Department of Defense in March, describing retrievals from “off-world vehicles not made on this Earth.”

The Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force at the Office of Naval Intelligence was described in a Senate Intelligence Committee report last month. The unit standardizes “collection and reporting on unidentified aerial phenomenon, any links they have to adversarial foreign governments, and the threat they pose to U.S. military assets and installations,” the report said.

“However, the Committee remains concerned that there is no unified, comprehensive process within the Federal Government for collecting and analyzing intelligence on unidentified aerial phenomena, despite the potential threat,” it added. “The Committee understands that the relevant intelligence may be sensitive; nevertheless, the Committee finds that the information sharing and coordination across the Intelligence Community has been inconsistent, and this issue has lacked attention from senior leaders.”

In the report, the Senate Intelligence Committee directs the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, to submit a report to the congressional intelligence and armed services committees on unidentified aerial phenomena (or “anomalous aerial vehicles”). The report must include “observed airborne objects that have not been identified.”

The Committee says that the report should be submitted within 180 days of the enactment of the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal 2021. The bill was introduced on June 8, 2020.

The New York Times reports that a small group of government officials and scientists believe that objects of “undetermined origin” have crashed to Earth and been retrieved, including former Sen. Harry Reid. While some have been found to be man-made materials, there are question marks over others.

The publication cites Eric W. Davis, an astrophysicist who worked as a subcontractor and a consultant for the Pentagon UFO program. Davis, who now works for defense contractor Aerospace Corporation, said he also gave briefings on the recovery of unexplained objects to staff members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Oct. 21 and Oct. 23, 2019, respectively, the Times added.

“As we have said previously, the Department of Defense and all of the military departments take any incursions by unauthorized aircraft into our training ranges or designated airspace very seriously, and examine each report,” a spokesperson for the Department of Defense told Fox News, via email.  “This includes examinations of incursions that are initially reported as ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ (UAP) when the observer cannot immediately identify what he or she is observing.”

The Department of Defense, she explained, does not discuss publicly the details of either the observations or the examination of reported incursions into its training ranges or designated airspace, including incursions initially designated as UAP.

“Regarding the task force mentioned in the article, I can say that the department is creating a task force to gain knowledge and insight into the nature and origins of UAPs, as well as their operations, capabilities, performance, and/or signatures,” she added. “The mission of the task force will be to detect, analyze, catalog, consolidate, and exploit non-traditional aerospace vehicles/UAPs posing an operational threat to U.S. national security and avoid strategic surprise.”

Fox News has also reached out to Aerospace Corporation with a request for comment on this story.

In speaking with the New York Times, Reid said he believes the government and the private sector may have retrieved materials from unidentified objects. “After looking into this, I came to the conclusion that there were reports — some were substantive, some not so substantive — that there were actual materials that the government and the private sector had in their possession,” Reid said in the interview.

Reid’s comments are the latest from the former lawmaker. In June 2019, he told Nevada’s KNPR that he wished lawmakers would hold public hearings into what the military knows.

“They would be surprised how the American public would accept it,” Reid said during the wide-ranging interview. “People from their individual states would accept it.”

The former Nevada senator has also tweeted multiple times about the topic, including in April, when he said he was happy the Pentagon released three videos of “unidentified aerial phenomena”, adding the “American people deserve to be informed.”

In December 2017, Fox News reported that the Pentagon had secretly set up a program to investigate UFOs at the request of Reid.

Pentagon UFO unit to publicly release some findings including “off-world vehicles not made on this earth.”

The Pentagon team tasked with studying unidentified flying objects plans to publicly release information on its findings.

The unit, now known as Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force, will report at least some of its work to the Senate Intelligence Committee every six months —  with some of the group’s past officials hinting of possible otherworldly artifacts, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Eric Davis, one of the former officials from the Pentagon UFO program, said while he worked there the team found objects he believed “we couldn’t make…ourselves,” he told the Times.

Davis also said he gave a classified briefing to a Defense Department agency this March during which he elaborated on “off-world vehicles not made on this earth.”

It is not immediately clear what will be detailed in the force’s reports to the Senate, though the goal is to determine whether other nations have made advancements in aviation engineering beyond the US’s knowledge.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told a Miami CBS affiliate earlier this month that he wanted more clarity from the task force as a matter of national security.

“We have things flying over our military bases and places where we are conducting military exercises and we don’t know what it is — and it isn’t ours,” Rubio said.

“Frankly, that if it’s something from outside this planet — that might actually be better than the fact that we’ve seen some technological leap on behalf of the Chinese or the Russians or some other adversary that allows them to conduct this activity.”

Trump says he’s heard ‘interesting’ things about UFO mecca Roswell

Rubio’s committee required the publicizing of findings as part of a committee report on intelligence agency budgets for 2021.

The committee mandates the task force “standardize collection and reporting on unidentified aerial phenomenon, any links they have to adversarial foreign governments, and the threat they pose to U.S. military assets and installations. ”

“Maybe there is a completely, sort of, boring explanation for it,” Rubio added. “But we need to find out.”

The UFO program began in 2007 under the Defense Intelligence Agency and has since morphed and been moved under the operation of the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Times reported.

Luis Elizondo, the program’s previous director who resigned in 2017, told the paper he was convinced the team has studied objects of unknown origin.

He praised the idea of delivering reports to the committee as a way to pull back the curtain on some of that work.

“It no longer has to hide in the shadows,” Elizondo reportedly said. “It will have a new transparency.”

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover: What you need to know

Utrecht University geologist William McMahon explains the latest findings.

NASA is getting ready to launch its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on an epic mission to the Red Planet.

The launch window for the spacecraft that will carry the Perseverance rover to Mars opens on July 30 and closes on Aug 15, 2020.

Launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rover is scheduled to land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb 18, 2021. The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is at least one Martian year or about 687 days.

“Perseverance is a robotic scientist weighing just under 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms),” explains NASA in a statement. “The rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life on Mars, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect rock and soil samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.”

This illustration depicts NASA's Perseverance rover operating on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration depicts NASA’s Perseverance rover operating on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Notably, NASA’s Mars helicopter will hitch a ride on the Perseverance rover. A technology demonstration, the helicopter will test the first powered flight on Mars, according to the space agency.

Another technology demonstration called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) will produce oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide atmosphere, which could be crucial as NASA works toward its long-term goal of eventually sending humans to Mars.

Chris Carberry, CEO of Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades, told Fox News that the mission will get people talking about future space exploration.

This artist's concept shows the Mars Helicopter on the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept shows the Mars Helicopter on the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“I think this launch can really connect everybody to the realities of sending humans to Mars,” he said.

The Perseverance rover also follows hot on the heels of NASA’s historic Demo-2 mission with SpaceX, which recently launched astronauts into space from American soil for the first time since the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011.

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

Attached to the Perseverance Mars rover, this 3-by-5-inch aluminum plate commemorates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and pays tribute to the perseverance of healthcare workers around the world.

Attached to the Perseverance Mars rover, this 3-by-5-inch aluminum plate commemorates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and pays tribute to the perseverance of healthcare workers around the world. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“[Mars 2020 is] a really interesting mission – I think it’s really well timed in the context of what has been happening,” Carberry said.

NASA’s goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could visit Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

Citing repair issues, NASA recently pushed the start of the Mars 2020 launch window back from July 17 to July 20. A NASA spokesman told Fox News that the delay was not related to the coronavirus pandemic.

If the rover isn’t launched by mid-August, it would need to wait until 2022 when Earth and Mars are back in proper alignment. A two-year delay could add another $500 million to the nearly $3 billion mission.

Perseverance is one of three upcoming missions to Mars. The United Arab Emirates and China also are preparing spacecraft for launch to the red planet by mid-August.

NASA recently announced that the Perseverance rover will carry a small aluminum plate honoring health care workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

China’s first Mars rover Tianwen-1 launches this week. Here’s what it will do.

China’s Mars rover will likely attempt to land at a site in northeastern Mars, according to a new paper published just days ahead of the mission’s launch.

The paper, which was published last week in the journal Nature Astronomy, was written by team members of China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission, which aims to send an orbiter and a lander/rover duo to the Red Planet. 

The study reveals new details about Tianwen-1, outlining its intended landing area, science goals and the names of instruments aboard the spacecraft. It also stresses the historic nature of the mission: Not only is Tianwen-1 China’s first fully homegrown Mars mission, it’s also the first to carry both a planetary orbiter and a rover. (China’s first Mars craft of any kind, an orbiter called Yinghuo-1, launched on a Russian rocket along with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission in November 2011. The launch failed, and all the spacecraft aboard eventually fell back to Earth.) 

An artist's illustration of China's first Mars rover Tianwen-1 on the Red Planet. The mission launches on July 23, 2020.
An artist’s illustration of China’s first Mars rover Tianwen-1 on the Red Planet. The mission launches on July 23, 2020. (Image credit: CNSA)

Tianwen-1 means “questions to heaven” and was taken from the title of a poem by Qu Yuan (340-278 BCE). The mission is expected to launch on a Long March 5 rocket in late July or early August from Wenchang on Hainan Island, according to the paper. Current unofficial estimates suggest a launch around July 23.

The spacecraft will reach Mars in February 2021, at the same time as NASA’s Perseverance rover and the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter, which launched on Sunday (July 19). However, China’s rover will remain attached to the orbiter for two to three months before attempting its landing, according to the paper.

The chosen landing area is Utopia Planitia, a huge basin formed by a large impact far back in Mars’ history that was also the region where NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976. According to areas defined in earlier statements on landing areas, China had isolated a portion of the vast plain as a candidate landing area, running from Isidis Planitia to the big volcano Elysium Mons. 

A Long March-5 rocket was vertically transported to the launch area at China’s Wenchang Space Launch Center on July 17, 2020. Note the logos of the European (ESA), French (CNES), Argentine (CONAE) and Austrian (FFG) space agencies in addition to that of the China National Space Agency (CNSA).
China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission and its Long March-5 rocket rolled out to the launch area at China’s Wenchang Space Launch Center on July 17, 2020. (Image credit: CNSA)

The low elevation of the area means there will be more time and atmosphere for the entry spacecraft to slow down and safely descend to the surface. The latitude, between roughly 20 and 30 degrees north, is also suitable for receiving enough sunlight to power the roughly 530-lb. (240 kilograms) rover. The relatively smooth surface will also be conducive for roving. The mission also benefits from the engineering heritage of China’s Chang’e lunar exploration program, the paper noted.

The rover is expected to be in operation for about 90 Martian days, or sols, and is nearly twice the mass of China’s Yutu-2 rover, which is currently in its 20th lunar day on the far side of the moon. The Tianwen-1 orbiter will provide a relay communication link to the rover while performing its own scientific observations for one Martian year, according to the paper. (One sol is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day. One Martian year is 687 Earth days.)

The orbiter will operate in a polar orbit in order to  map Mars’ morphology and geological structure while also using the Mars-Orbiting Subsurface Exploration Radar instrument to investigate soil characteristics and water-ice distribution. It will also measure the ionosphere and the electromagnetic and gravitational fields, the new paper reported.

The rover will investigate the surface soil characteristics and water-ice distribution with its own Subsurface Exploration Radar. It will also analyze surface material composition and characteristics of the Martian climate and environment on the surface. 

One of the paper’s authors was Wan Weixing, the chief scientist for Tianwen-1. Wan died in May, just a couple of months before the coming launch. He is described as a world-leading space scientist and a pioneer in China’s planetary science program in an obituary published last month, also by Nature Astronomy. His given name, Weixing, literally means “satellite.”

As well as detailing his career in space, science and academia, the obituary gives insight into Wan’s other interests. He often stayed up late to watch English Premier League or Italian Serie A soccer matches, sometimes causing him trouble in getting to academic meetings the next morning, obituary author Yong Wei recalls.

WATCH Japan and UAE Successfully Launch a Probe to Mars

Watch Japan and UAE successfully launch of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 42 (H-IIA F42). The H-IIA Launch Vehicle No.42 will carry aboard Emirates Mars Mission’s (EMM) Hope probe, developed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in the United Arab Emirates.

UAE successfully launches Hope probe, Arab world’s first mission to Mars

A rocket carrying the unmanned probe, known as Al-Amal in Arabic, joins China and US in race to red planet

An H-2A rocket carrying the Hope Probe lifts off from the launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center
 An H-2A rocket carrying the Hope Probe lifts off from the launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center Photograph: KYODO/Reuters

The first Arab space mission to Mars has blasted off aboard a rocket from Japan, with its unmanned probe – called Al-Amal, or Hope – successfully separating about an hour after liftoff.

A live feed of the launch showed the rocket carrying the probe lifting off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan at 6.58am (9.58pm GMT).

Almost exactly one hour later, the feed showed people applauding in the Japanese control room as the probe successfully detached.

In Dubai, the launch was met with rapturous excitement, with the UAE Mars mission’s deputy project manager Sarah al-Amiri declaring it “an indescribable feeling” to see the probe blasting off.

“This is the future of the UAE,” Amiri, who is also minister of state for advanced sciences, told Dubai TV from the launch site.

The Emirati project is one of three racing to Mars, including Tianwen-1 from China and Mars 2020 from the United States, taking advantage of a period when the Earth and Mars are nearest.

In October, Mars will be a comparatively short 38.6m miles (62m km) from Earth, according to Nasa.

Hope is expected to reach Mars’s orbit by February 2021, marking the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE, an alliance of seven emirates

Unlike the two other Mars ventures scheduled for this year, it will not land on the planet, but instead orbit it for a whole Martian year, or 687 days.

While the objective of the Mars mission is to provide a comprehensive image of the weather dynamics in the red planet’s atmosphere, the probe is a foundation for a much bigger goal – building a human settlement on Mars within the next 100 years.

The UAE also wants the project to serve as a source of inspiration for Arab youth, in a region too often wracked by sectarian conflicts and economic crises.

On Twitter, the UAE’s government declared the probe launch a “message of pride, hope and peace to the Arab region, in which we renew the golden age of Arab and Islamic discoveries.”

Several dozen probes – most of them American – have set off for Mars since the 1960s. Many never made it that far, or failed to land.

The drive to explore Mars flagged until the confirmation less than 10 years ago that water once flowed on its surface.

Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager, has said the Hope probe will offer a special perspective on the elusive planet.

“What is unique about this mission is that for the first time the scientific community around the world will have an holistic view of the Martian atmosphere at different times of the day at different seasons,” Sharaf told a pre-launch briefing.

“We have a strategy to contribute to the global effort in developing technologies and science work that will help one day if humanity decides to put a human on Mars.”

An H-2A rocket carrying the Hope Probe lifts off from the launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center

Jupiter amazingly bright in July’s night sky and look for Saturn nearby

As the sun sets, look to the east-southeast for the appearance of Jupiter and Saturn.  Gigantic Jupiter, enveloped by a deep atmosphere and icy cold, shines brilliantly, while Saturn, appearing only about 1/13 as bright, still glows conspicuously with a sedate yellow-white hue. Saturn was the Roman moniker for the Greek god Cronus, the personification of “Father Time.”  Ancient sky watchers named the planets for their most notable aspect, and Saturn seemed to move sluggishly compared to the other deities, taking almost 30 years to make one complete circuit of the sky. How amazed they would have been if they could have viewed Saturn through a telescope and gazed upon its magnificent system of rings.

Jupiter and Moons as seen from Backyard Telescope July 20, 2020
Jupiter and Moons as seen from Backyard Telescope July 20, 2020
Jupiter and Moons as seen from Backyard Telescope July 20, 2020

And have you ever wondered how the ancient Romans happened to name Jupiter after the most powerful of gods, although they knew nothing of the planet’s physical characteristics?

UAE set for historic Mars mission as it preps Hope orbiter for launch

The orbiter named Amal, or Hope, is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission

The United Arab Emirates is set to launch a historic mission to Mars from an island off the coast of Japan.

The orbiter named Amal, or Hope, is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. Amal will take the UAE into an exclusive group of countries that have orbited Mars that includes the U.S., India and the former Soviet Union, as well as the European Space Agency. China will soon launch its own rover to the Red Planet.

“Two days separate us from the date of the next opportunity to launch the ‘Probe of Hope’ to the Red Planet, God willing. Arabs to Mars” tweeted Dr. Mohammed Alahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency, on Friday.

The launch, initially scheduled for Wednesday from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center, was postponed as a result of thunderstorms, clouds, and unstable weather conditions. The mission’s launch has been reset for 5:58 p.m. ET Sunday, a spokesman for the mission told Fox News Friday.

An employee works at the control room of the Mars Mission at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), in the Gulf emirate of Dubai. 

An employee works at the control room of the Mars Mission at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), in the Gulf emirate of Dubai.  (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Hope’s mission control is the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which is the provider of the H-IIA rocket, said there is a slight chance of further postponement depending on the weather. The company has set a launch window through Aug. 13. A final decision is expected Sunday.

Hope is to reach Mars in February 2021, the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since its formation. A successful Hope mission would be a major step for the oil-dependent economy seeking a future in space.

Mars also looms large for a number of other countries, including China and the U.S., which will soon launch their own missions to the Red Planet.

NASA, for example, is getting ready to launch its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on an epic mission to the Red Planet.

The launch window for the spacecraft that will carry the Perseverance rover to Mars opens on July 20 and closes on Aug 11, 2020.

Launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rover is scheduled to land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb 18, 2021. The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is at least one Martian year or about 687 days.

Chris Carberry, CEO of Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades, told Fox News that this is an exciting time for space exploration.

“International excitement and investment in space exploration has never been so strong,” he said.

NASA’s longer-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could visit Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

China is also planning to launch its own rover to Mars. The Long March-5 carrier rocket carrying the rover is due to blast off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern island province of Hainan in late July or early August, according to state media reports Friday that quoted the China National Space Administration.

“Over the next several years, the European Space Agency (partnering with Russia) and the Indian Space Agency (ISRO) also will be launching robotic missions,” Explore Mars’ Carberry told Fox News. “All of these missions serve as important precursor missions before we send humans to Mars in the 2030s.”

Are UFOs a threat? We need to investigate, says former head of secret US program

File photo - a 'UFO' sighting over Sheffield, U.K, March 4, 1962 (CIA).

File photo – a ‘UFO’ sighting over Sheffield, U.K, March 4, 1962 (CIA).

There’s no denying that America has an enduring fascination with unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. However, UFO interest extends far beyond the U.S. — sightings are reported worldwide, and multiple observations in far-flung locations describe aerial objects that are uncannily similar to each other, Luis Elizondo, former head of a top-secret U.S. government agency tasked with investigating UFOs, recently told Live Science.

Though some label UFOs as alien spacecraft, the term simply describes aerial objects that defy explanation. One possibility is that they represent technology deployed by a hostile human source, so it’s impossible to say for sure that UFOs are harmless, Elizondo said. Evaluating the potential threats posed by UFOs should therefore involve the collaboration of leaders around the world, said Elizondo, who left the Pentagon in 2017 and is now a director of global security and special programs at To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, a private agency pursuing evidence of UFOs.

“I think we’re at the point now where we’re beyond reasonable doubt that these things exist,” Elizondo said. “We know they’re there — we have some of the greatest technology in the world that has confirmed their existence.” But where do these objects come from, what are their capabilities and what are the intentions of whoever may have sent them? Elizondo and other experts delve into these questions in the second season of the series “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation,” with the first episode airing tonight (July 11) on the History Channel.

In the show’s new season, Elizondo and Chris Mellon, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Intelligence, piece together eyewitness accounts and other clues about intriguing, unexplained sightings by military personnel and civilians, according to the series website.

UFOs are also known as unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, and the U.S. government has been collecting reports of these enigmatic objects since the 1950s: in the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, from 1952 to 1969, and through the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), a federal agency that compiled witness accounts of UFO encounters from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Project Blue Book investigated more than 12,000 reports of UFO sightings. Most of those turned out to be misidentification of aircraft, weather balloons, clouds or starlight, but 700 incidents were left unresolved.

Long-standing stigma and government secrecy surrounding UFOs have encouraged people to dismiss sightings as hoaxes or jokes. But as long as the origins and capabilities of even a few of these objects remain unknown, it would be foolish to not take them seriously, Elizondo explained.

“There’s something in our sky and we don’t know what it is, we don’t know where it’s from. Is that a problem? From a national security perspective, yes, it’s a problem,” he said. “We need to understand what these are, in order to make a determination if they’re a threat.”

Elizondo, a former military intelligence officer, led the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which formed in 2007 to probe reports of unexplained aerial sightings and reportedly shuttered in 2012, Live Science previously reported.

As with Project Blue Book, a number of AATIP’s UFO cases turned out to be misidentifications or technology malfunctions — but some UFOs remained unidentified. Over time, Elizondo’s involvement with AATIP led him to the realization that the bureaucracy of the system was failing the public, keeping information about UFOs secret and downplaying the risks they might pose.

“That’s really what led me to resign,” he told Live Science.

No elegant solutions

Many of the UFO sightings that AATIP investigated were recorded by members of the military in restricted airspace. Among them were three mid-air encounters that U.S. Navy pilots captured on video in 2004 and in 2015; the footage was officially declassified and released online on April 27. Other instances involved UAPs flying at what appeared to be hypersonic speeds — more than five times the speed of sound.

None of the objects had visible wings or other means of propulsion. What’s more, they appeared to be performing maneuvers that would have subjected them to as much as 700 times the normal pull of gravity, or 700 Gs, Elizondo said. (Of course, there is no way to confirm those estimates, as the sightings were so fleeting and much of the obvious documentation is not readily available.) To put that into perspective, airplane cockpits can withstand only about 18 Gs before cracking, and people can typically endure just a few seconds at 9 Gs before losing consciousness, as gravity draws blood into the extremities and oxygen ceases to flow to the brain, according to PBS.

“It would be my hope that we can find elegant solutions to what these things are,” he said. “If you can show me one technology that mankind has ever been able to build that does that, great! But so far no one’s been able to show that, to me or anybody in the U.S. government.”

The new season of “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation” begins July 11 on the History Channel at 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT.

Comet NEOWISE surprises some stargazers with two tails

Astronauts Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, and ISS commander Chris Cassidy speak with Bill Hemmer.

As stargazers try to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE as it soars across the nighttime sky, careful viewers may notice the comet has two tails trailing behind it.

An unprocessed image from the WISPR instrument on board NASA’s Parker Solar Probe shows comet NEOWISE on July 5, 2020, shortly after its closest approach to the Sun. The Sun is out of frame to the left. The faint grid pattern near the center of the image is an artifact of the way the image is created. The small black structure near the lower left of the image is caused by a grain of dust resting on the imager’s lens. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Brendan Gallagher

The comet’s main tail or dust tail, which is always whitish in color because its particles easily reflect sunlight at every wavelength, is made of fragments from the comet that have been ejected from its nucleus and curves outside the path of the comet’s trajectory, according to Forbes.

This outstanding composition shows the blue ion tail and the grey/white dust tail of comet NEOWISE as it nears its closest approach to Earth. The dust tail is curved and diffuse while the ion tail is straight and highly collimated. Both are caused by extremely different physical processes.

The dust that makeup up the main tail are pulled by three forces: the sun, the comet itself and the force from the sun’s radiation.

Differently sized particles are all subjected to the same amount of gravitational acceleration but smaller dust grains are affected more than larger ones by solar radiation and move at different speeds, making the tail appear wider.

The second slightly narrower tail, however, actually becomes prominent before the main dust tail, according to Forbes.

At some point in the comet’s trajectory, ultraviolet light radiating from the sun becomes strong enough that it heats up and ionizes the comet’s carbon monoxide – the weakest ice-based molecule in the makeup of a comet, according to the magazine.

The carbon monoxide absorbs the sunlight and fluoresces at 4200 Angstroms, the wavelength for blue light, making it appear blue, according to an article from Case Western Reserve University.

The main dust tail is always a grayish-white, the same color as the comet itself.

The ion tail always points away from the sun in a straight line because it distorts magnetic field lines as it interacts with charged wind particles from the sun, according to the university.

The ion tail is made up of single molecules that are all equal in mass, meaning they’re affected by the forces around them equally and follow the same, narrower path, according to Forbes.

In early photos of comets, the blue ion tail is the only one visible.

NEOWISE, the brightest comet in the sky since Hale-Bopp in 1997, was discovered in March and can be seen by the naked eye for most viewers in the Northern Hemisphere this month.

While many comets have two tails, including all “great comets,” it’s also possible NEOWISE has an extra ion tail.

“Parker Solar Probe’s images appear to show a divide in the ion tail,” NASA said of NEOWISE. “This could mean that comet NEOWISE has two ion tails, in addition to its dust tail, though scientists would need more data and analysis to confirm this possibility.”

What color are comets when they are not near the Sun?

Do comets look as vibrant when they’re not getting a helping hand from the Sun?

Comets are black before they near the Sun but when they approach it, they burst into bright colours just like comet ISON

Comets are black before they near the Sun but when they approach it, they burst into bright colors just like comet.

The heart, or nucleus, of a comet is a collection of frozen water and gases as well as other carbon-based materials. As a result, comets far away from our Sun are effectively black since they have one of the lowest albedos – a measure of how much light they reflect – of any object we have observed.

As a comet gets closer to the Sun, some of these frozen gases sublimate creating the coma – the envelope of atmosphere that surrounds a comet. These gases can reflect sunlight and turn our dark object into a bright, yellow-white body. One of the two tails a comet produces, the ion tail – a collection of charged particles pushed away by the solar wind – will begin to glow with a blue tint.

Look up! NEOWISE comet’s best viewing occurs this week

IMAGE: Neowise comet
The comet Neowise is seen from near Effingham, Kan., Monday, July 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)Source: Associated Press

Astronomy buffs will get a treat in the night sky the next few weeks as Comet NEOWISE passes us by on its way back to the outer solar system. 

While the comet will be visible for the next few weeks, those at feel the best time will come during the July 14th-19th stretch, which is this Tuesday through Sunday. 

Don’t miss your chance to catch a glimpse. If you don’t catch the comet this time around, you would have to wait another 6800 years, making this a once in a lifetime opportunity!

The comet, which is about 3 miles across in size, has already passed by the sun and while it will be dimming as it continues its journey, it will be a slow dimming process as it now approaches Earth. After moves past its closest point to Earth (64 million miles away) on July 22nd, the dimming will become more rapid as the comet moves away from both the sun and Earth. 

It has been visible in the morning, but by July 18th, it will only appear 5 degrees above the horizon at twilight and it will no longer be visible in the morning just a few days later. 

Despite the morning visibility diminishing, the visibility will get better in the evening with visibility 10 degrees above the horizon starting tonight (July 14th), doubling to 20 degrees by July 19th. The moon phase should cooperate as well, with a waning crescent phase. Tanger Black – US11.5-12 | EU46The Softest & Comfortable Indestructible Shoes The all-in-one solution to work shoes that provide a perfect blend of comfort, style and protection. Thanks to the advancements we’ve made in footwear…Ad By Indestructible ShoesSee More

For best viewing at night, start looking about one hour after sunset just over the northwest horizon. Of course, give yourself the most ideal conditions possible for viewing, such as getting away from light pollution and higher cloud coverage. While the comet will be visible with the naked eye, binoculars or other optical aides will enhance the view. 

Keep an eye on the forecast for viewing by checking out our daily forecast article

NEOWISE – The Comet & The Story of The Spacecraft Which Discovered It

Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE is now visible to observers in the Northern Hemisphere. You can see it in the twilight just before sunrise and now, just after sunset without any binoculars or telescopes, it’s the best comet in over a decade.

However, the spacecraft which discovered it has a pretty amazing story, it was launched just over a decade ago, helped find 3 new stars close to the Sun, and a huge catalog of asteroids. After its primary mission ended it was reactived as an asteroid survey telescope and Comet NEOWISE is one of its discoveries.

Neowise comet and rare astronomical phenomena captured in remarkable image

The C/2020 F3 comet was discovered in March

A photographer in Italy captured the image of a lifetime when he snapped a picture showing two astronomical phenomena, including a streaking comet and “night-shining” clouds.

Atop the nearly 11,500 foot-high Hochfeiler mountain in the South Tyrol Alps in Italy, Martin Rietze captured the image of the NEOWISE comet and the Noctilucent clouds, SWNS reports.

The comet, also known as C/2020 F3, was discovered in March by NASA’s NEOWISE space telescope.

The NEOWISE comet seen above noctilucent clouds taken from the Hochfeiler mountain in the South Tyrol alps in Italy on July 8. (Credit: SWNS)

The NEOWISE comet seen above noctilucent clouds taken from the Hochfeiler mountain in the South Tyrol alps in Italy on July 8. (Credit: SWNS)

Noctilucent clouds occur when astronomical light reflects on ice in the clouds.

The comet, which can be observed with the naked eye, has been visible since July 7, NASA said on its website.

“Through about the middle of the month, the comet is visible around 10 degrees above the northeastern horizon (the width of your outstretched fist) in the hour before dawn,” the space agency added. “From mid-July on, it’s best viewed as an evening object, rising increasingly higher above the northwestern horizon.”

NASA notes that the comet’s closest approach to earth will be on July 22, at a distance of about 64 million miles.

“The comet takes about 6,800 years to make one lap around its long, stretched out orbit, so it won’t visit the inner solar system again for many thousands of years,” the agency explained on its website.

Space’s Trash Collector? A Japanese Entrepreneur Wants the Job

A vacuum chamber used to test parts of Astroscale’s IDEA OSG 1 satellite at the company’s factory in Tokyo. The satellite, scheduled to be launched next year, will compile data on the density of space debris.
A vacuum chamber used to test parts of Astroscale’s IDEA OSG 1 satellite at the company’s factory in Tokyo. The satellite, scheduled to be launched next year, will compile data on the density of space debris.Credit…Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

TOKYO — Sitting in a drab industrial neighborhood surrounded by warehouses and factories, Astroscale’s Tokyo office seems appropriately located for a company seeking to enter the waste management business.

Only inside do visitors see signs that its founder, Mitsunobu Okada, aspires to be more than an ordinary garbageman. Schoolroom pictures of the planets decorate the door to the meeting room. Satellite mock-ups occupy a corner. Mr. Okada greets guests in a dark blue T-shirt emblazoned with his company’s slogan: Space Sweepers.

Mr. Okada is an entrepreneur with a vision of creating the first trash collection company dedicated to cleaning up some of humanity’s hardest-to-reach rubbish: the spent rocket stages, inert satellites and other debris that have been collecting above Earth since Sputnik ushered in the space age. He launched Astroscale three years ago in the belief that national space agencies were dragging their feet in facing the problem, which could be tackled more quickly by a small private company motivated by profit.

“Let’s face it, waste management isn’t sexy enough for a space agency to convince taxpayers to allocate money,” said Mr. Okada, 43, who put Astroscale’s headquarters in start-up-friendly Singapore but is building its spacecraft in his native Japan, where he found more engineers. “My breakthrough is figuring out how to make this into a business.”

The 50-pound IDEA OSG 1 satellite will carry panels that measure the number of strikes from debris of even less than a millimeter.
The 50-pound IDEA OSG 1 satellite will carry panels that measure the number of strikes from debris of even less than a millimeter.Credit…Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Over the last half-century, low Earth orbit has become so littered with debris that space agencies and scientists warn of the increasing danger of collisions for satellites and manned spacecraft. The United States Air Force now keeps track of about 23,000 pieces of space junk that are big enough — about four inches or larger — to be detected from the ground.

Scientists say there could be tens of millions of smaller particles, such as bolts or chunks of frozen engine coolant, that cannot be discerned from Earth. Even the tiniest pieces move through orbit at speeds fast enough to turn them into potentially deadly projectiles. In 1983, the space shuttle Challenger returned to Earth with a pea-size pit in its windshield from a paint-chip strike.

And plans are being made to make low orbit even busier, and more essential for communications on Earth. Companies like SpaceX and OneWeb are aiming to create vast new networks of hundreds or even thousands of satellites to provide global internet connectivity and cellphone coverage. The growth of traffic increases the risk of collisions that could disrupt communications, as in 2009 when a dormant Russian military satellite slammed into a private American communications satellite, causing brief disruptions for satellite-phone users.

Worse, each strike like that creates a cloud of shrapnel, potentially setting off a chain reaction of collisions that could render low orbit unusable.

Satellite parts being tested at Astroscale’s Tokyo plant.
Satellite parts being tested at Astroscale’s Tokyo plant.Credit…Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

“If we don’t start removing these things, the debris environment will become unstable,” said William Ailor, a fellow at the Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center in California. “We will continue to have a growing debris population that could affect the ability to operate satellites.”

Enter Mr. Okada, a former government official and internet entrepreneur, who said a midlife crisis four years ago prompted him to return to his childhood passion of space. As a teenager in 1988, he flew to Alabama to join the United States Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, and later chose to attend business school at Purdue University, the alma mater of his hero, Neil Armstrong.

Later, Mr. Okada realized that he could use his experience in the start-up world — he had founded a software company in 2009 — to get a jump on other space debris projects.

“The projects all smelled like government, not crisp or quick,” he said of conferences he attended to learn about other efforts. “I came from the start-up world where we think in days or weeks, not years.”

16 Psyche: The asteroid that could make every person on Earth a billionaire

Could 16 Psyche make every person on Earth a billionaire? The space mining race is heating up.

  • 16 Psyche is an asteroid full of metal in the asteroid belt that could be worth $700 quintillion.
  • NASA plans to visit 16 Psyche by 2026.
  • Commercial mining of faraway asteroids could still be decades away and some set closer targets, like the moon.

Would you like to be a billionaire? All you have to do is figure out how to go into space and mine 16 Psyche, an asteroid made of gold and other metals like iron and nickel. Flying somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, this amazing space rock is estimated to be worth as much as $700 quintillion, thanks to all the metals it contains.

Quintillion, if you are wondering, is 1 with 18 zeroes. It’s such a large amount of money that if you divide it up between everyone alive on Earth currently, each person would get about $93 billion.

Of course, don’t pack your bags for your new palace just yet – the prospect of actually getting such a giant chunk of precious metals back to Earth is difficult and hasn’t been accomplished yet even on much smaller scales. And 16 Psyche is a truly massive space rock at over 200 km (120 mi) in diameter. It is one of the largest asteroids flying in the asteroid belt.

Experts, like Professor Zarnecki of the Royal Astronomical Society, conjecture we may be up to 50 years away from being able to carry out commercial mining operations of that size. To start things off, NASA is planning to send a Discovery Mission to the asteroid in 2022, which will arrive there by 2026.

Some skeptics also don’t believe the asteroid is as full of expensive things as we think, with Peter Schiff of Euro Pacific Capital tweeting that 16 Psyche may just be “made almost entirely of an iron-nickel alloy, with small amounts of other metals, likely to include gold.” He thinks the news about the asteroid are just out there to help bitcoin, which would benefit from the price of gold going down.

There are also other questions to consider – if it really is so full of gold and other riches, the asteroid could actually crash Earth’s economy, which at $75.5 trillion is a pittance against the amount of money one could get from the asteroid.

Artist’s conceptual drawing of the Psyche spacecraft, which will be used to directly explore 16 Psyche.Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Veteran miner Scott Moore, CEO of the mining company EuroSun Mining, explained to Oil Price that: “The ‘Titans of Gold’ now control hundreds of the best-producing properties around the world, but the 4-5 million ounces of gold they bring to the market every year pales in comparison to the conquests available in space.”

Of course, the thinking that a space gold rush that discovers a vast amount of heavy metals could bring down Earth’s affairs is based on the current state of economy and the needs of the present day. Decades from now our requirements for metal might be entirely different.

16 Psyche was actually discovered back in 1852 by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis, and named after the Greek mythological character Psyche.

Besides this giant rock in the asteroid belt, there are other mining opportunities much closer to Earth. Moore points out that while Psyche “may be the Holy Grail of space exploration for gold,” near-Earth asteroids are much better first targets for mining. Even our moon might be a better place to start such operations. It also has gold as well as platinum and other rare earth metals.

In other nearer goals, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources each plan to mine the 2011 UW158 asteroid, worth up to $5.7 trillion.

Lest you think this is all science fiction, Morgan Stanley projects the global space economy to be already worth $350 billion, which it thinks will grow to trillions by 2040. The race is on between the U.S., China, Japan and even small Luxembourg, which has 10 space-mining companies registered.

Why is NASA sending a spacecraft to a metal world?

Can You Really Become a Mars Land Owner?

You may soon be able to own a piece of the red planet!

On Nov. 26, 2018, NASA’s InSight lander touched down on Mars, becoming the eighth space-exploring robot to visit the Red Planet. For adventurous humans inspired to eventually follow in the footsteps of this spacecraft, possibly terraforming Mars or owning land there may seem like the next best thing. A handful of companies, such as Buy Mars and Lunar Embassy, sell ads on Facebook and elsewhere claiming they “possess a legal trademark and copyright for the sale of extraterrestrial property” or are the “only recognized world authority” for the sale of lunar and planetary real estate. Deeds sell between $30 and $500. While it may be true that colonizing Mars is on the horizon, can anyone really own property on Mars?

How Valid Is a Mars Land Deed?

Like all real estate transactions, it comes down to the law. The foundational law for space was drafted 50 years ago, when space exploration was still in its infancy. In 1967, the United States, the then–Soviet Union and the United Kingdom wrote the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” Nicknamed the “Outer Space Treaty,” the document established guidelines to ensure equal and peaceful access to space. More than 100 nations signed it. It accounts for real estate in space, among other things. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty states, “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” In short, nobody can claim ownership of Mars or land on Mars, or do so with any other celestial body.

But the treaty was made to be modified as society advanced. In 2015, the United States Congress passed the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015, or SPACE Act, which allows U.S. citizens to “possess, own, transport, use and sell” materials extracted from celestial bodies, reported Nature. The new law accounts for the growing interest in mining asteroids, the moon or other celestial bodies for minerals or other resources. Private companies will be able to set up shop on Mars, mine it and lay claim to those resources, but won’t be able to own the land.

For those who really want a Mars land deed with their name on it, there’s nothing wrong with buying one. It’s a novelty item that might make a nice gift for the person who has everything. But it’s just for fun. The document won’t be recognized by any government authority as legitimate or legally binding.

A Mars Colony Is Coming

Even as the Mars InSight lander begins to gather scientific data from the Red Planet to better inform the potential for human survival there, Earthlings are making plans to colonize Mars. In December 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Space Policy Directive-1, which refocused America’s space program on human exploration. The plan involves returning humans to the moon, establishing a means for traveling to Mars by the 2030s and eventually expanding human presence across the solar system later in the century.

Getting beyond the moon will require advanced rocket propulsion to speed astronauts to their destination. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is building the boosters for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, designed to take humans beyond Earth orbit. In 2020, the rockets will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to the lunar vicinity as part of Exploration Mission-1. The mission will be step one in a series of increasingly complex missions that will work like stepping stones to lead humans into deep space.

Others are shooting for Mars, too. Mars One, a venture launched by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, says they aim to have humans on Mars by 2031.

When Will Humans Begin Terraforming Mars?

A hundred years from now, humans may be thriving on Mars. But they’ll likely be conducting their lives under the confines of a transparent dome akin to a large terrarium. Climate, temperature and atmosphere will be controlled, and humans will be able to grow plants for food. Terraforming Mars — that is, manipulating the atmosphere to create an Earth-like, habitable environment — is simply not possible using any of the technology available to humans, according to NASA. Scientists have proposed large-scale geo-engineering projects, such as releasing carbon dioxide trapped in the Martian soil to create a thicker atmosphere that warms the planet. But recent studies have shown that there isn’t enough CO2 in the soil. The atmospheric pressure on Mars is also less than 1 percent of that on Earth. If, somehow, scientists could figure out how to warm the skies and get them to rain, the water would evaporate quickly.

For now, humans will have to be satisfied with standing on planet Earth and gazing up at the red dot in the sky. Over the ages, that dot has inspired humanity to imagine an existence beyond the heavens. The potential for extraterrestrial life, colonization and terraformation calls to civilization and soon, we will make our way into space. We’ve taken the first steps by sending machines ahead of us. In fact, Mars is the only planet in the solar system inhabited by robots. Perhaps, one day soon, we will join them.

Mysterious, gel-like substance discovered on the far side of the moon has been identified

It was found during China’s Chang’e 4 mission to the moon.

Scientists have identified a strange, gel-like substance that was discovered on the far side of the moon.

The material was found last year during China’s Chang’e 4 mission to the moon. Citing the Chinese language publication OurSpace, reports that the matter was “gel-like.”

China's Chang'e 4 moon rover, known as Yutu 2, photographed by the Chang'e 4 lander on the moon's far side.

China’s Chang’e 4 moon rover, known as Yutu 2, photographed by the Chang’e 4 lander on the moon’s far side. (CNSA)

In a paper published in the journal Earth and Planetary Sciences, researchers described the substance as a “dark greenish and glistening impact melt breccia.”

Impact melt breccia is a type of lunar rock formed from asteroids striking the surface of the moon.

In their paper, the scientists explain that the substance discovered by the Chang’e 4 mission’s Yutu-2 rover is similar to two melt breccia samples returned from the moon by NASA’s Apollo 15 and Apollo 17 missions.

In a separate project, scientists have used radar technology to shed new light on the subsurface of the moon.

Asteroid Apophis inbound: Will it hit Earth in 2029 or let us live?

Asteroids the size of Apophis are far fewer in number and so do not pass this close to Earth as often but Apophis is a also representative of about 2,000 currently known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids.

Asteroid Apophis inbound: Will it hit Earth in 2029 or let us live?

At closest approach, Apophis will be over the Atlantic Ocean | Photo for representation


  • Asteroid called 99942 Apophis will cruise by Earth, about 31,000 km above the surface
  • That’s within distance that some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth
  • A team of astronomers discovered Apophis in June 2004

On April 13, 2029, a speck of light will streak across the sky getting brighter and faster.

At one point it will travel more than the width of the full Moon within a minute and it will get as bright as the stars in the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor is colloquially known in the US as the Little Dipper).

But, it won’t be a satellite or an airplane.

Then what it may be? Well, it will be a 340-metre-wide near-Earth asteroid.

The asteroid called 99942 Apophis will cruise harmlessly by Earth, about 31,000 km above the surface. That’s within the distance that some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth.

The international asteroid research community couldn’t be more excited.


This week at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Maryland, scientists are gathering to discuss observation plans and science opportunities for the celestial event still a decade away.

During a session on April 30, scientists will discuss everything from how to observe the event to hypothetical missions we could send out to the asteroid.

“The Apophis close approach in 2029 will be an incredible opportunity for science,” Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who works on radar observations of near-Earth objects (NEOs), said.

“We’ll observe the asteroid with both optical and radar telescopes. With radar observations, we might be able to see surface details that are only a few meters in size,” Marina Brozovic said.

WATCH | Apophis asteroid and Earth at closest approach

It’s rare for an asteroid of this size to pass by the Earth so close. Although scientists have spotted small asteroids, on the order of 5-10 metres, flying by Earth at a similar distance, asteroids the size of Apophis are far fewer in number and so do not pass this close to Earth as often.ADVERTISEMENT

The asteroid, looking like a moving star-like point of light, will first become visible to the naked eye in the night sky over the southern hemisphere, flying above Earth from the east coast to the west coast of Australia. It will be mid-morning on the East Coast of the United States when Apophis is above Australia. It will then cross the Indian Ocean, and by the afternoon in the eastern US it will have crossed the equator, still moving west, above Africa.

At closest approach, Apophis will be over the Atlantic Ocean and it will move so fast that it will cross the Atlantic in just an hour.Small asteroid was caught in process of spinning so fast it’s throwing off material, according to new data from Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories | Photo via Nasa


A team of astronomers discovered Apophis in June 2004.

The observations caused quite a stir – initial orbital calculations revealed that the asteroid had a 2.7 per cent chance of impacting Earth in 2029.

Fortunately, additional observations refined the orbit and completely ruled out that possibility.

Current calculations show that Apophis still has a small chance of impacting Earth, less than 1 in 1,00,000 many decades from now, but future measurements of its position can be expected to rule out any possible impacts.

Davide Farnocchia, an astronomer at JPL’s Center for Near Earth Objects Studies (CNEOS), who is co-chairing the April 30 session on Apophis with Brozovicm, said, “We already know that the close encounter with Earth will change Apophis’ orbit, but our models also show the close approach could change the way this asteroid spins, and it is possible that there will be some surface changes, like small avalanches.”

“Apophis is a representative of about 2,000 currently known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs),” Paul Chodas, director of CNEOS, said. “By observing Apophis during its 2029 flyby, we will gain important scientific knowledge that could one day be used for planetary defense.”

(Inputs from Nasa)

There’s more metal on the moon than we thought

Earth’s moon is more metal than scientists imagined.

NASA’s prolific Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) found rich evidence of iron and titanium oxides under the surface of the moon, which may show a close connection with Earth’s early history.

Scientists have been debating how the moon formed for decades. The leading theory suggests that a Mars-size world collided with Earth billions of years ago. The colliding world shattered upon impact and blasted part of the proto-Earth’s surface into space. The debris surrounded Earth with a ring; the moon we see today is the result of that ring slowly collapsing under its own gravity.

The moon’s chemical composition, however, doesn’t show clear evidence of that theory. The lunar highlands on the moon, visible from the Earth as bright regions, have rocks with smaller amounts of metal-bearing minerals relative to our planet.

That could make sense if Earth was already layered, with heavier metals sunk to the core — except that the moon’s dark maria planes formed at the same time and have higher metal abundance even than Earth’s rocks.

LRO’s new findings could explain the discrepancy. The new research relies on a device called the Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) instrument, a radar probe designed to map lunar geology, look for water ice and test communications technologies.

The instrument scoured the terrain in the moon’s northern hemisphere for an electrical property called the dielectric constant. This constant is a number comparing the ability of a material to transmit electric fields with that of the vacuum of space. 

Electric-field transmission is useful to find ice in the shadows of craters, where it is protected from the heat of the sun. But it can also identify areas where more metals, like iron and titanium oxides, are exposed to the surface.

And the scientists noticed that the dielectric constant increased with crater size, but only up to a certain point. Craters between 1 and 3 miles (2 and 5 kilometers) in diameter showed the dielectric constant increased steadily as the craters grew larger. For craters between 3 and 12 miles (5 to 20 km) wide, however, the constant held steady.

“It was a surprising relationship that we had no reason to believe would exist,” Essam Heggy, co-investigator of the Mini-RF experiments from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and lead author on the new research, said in a NASA statement

The team’s theory was that the first few hundred feet (or meters) of the moon’s surface has few of these oxides, but a richer source of metal lies further below. Then, as meteors collide with the lunar surface and scratch away upper layers, metals become exposed. That sort of pattern would also explain low metal levels in the lunar highlands and higher abundances in the darker and lower plains closer to the moon’s subsurface.

To test their work, researchers compared Mini-RF’s crater-floor radar images with metal oxide maps produced by a range of missions: LRO Wide-Angle Camera, Japan’s Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) mission (also called Kayuga) and NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft. SELENE and Lunar Prospector are no longer operating, but their archival data remains.

Those observations showed that larger craters did indeed contain more metal, according to NASA, which the researchers believe support their hypothesis about buried metallic deposits that meteors excavate.

The results are even more intriguing in light of a puzzling phenomenon reported in 2019 by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, at the moon. Gravity measurements of the moon suggest there is a lot of dense material that is tens to hundreds of miles (or kilometers) underneath the moon’s massive South Pole-Aitken basin. The GRAIL results, paired with LRO’s new find, thus suggest metals may be more concentrated in certain regions of the moon.

The LRO results are one small step to better understanding how the moon formed, as the observations show how iron and titanium oxides are distributed beneath the moon’s northern hemisphere. Next, the researchers will be looking at crater floors in the southern hemisphere to see how much metal is there.

study based on the research was published Wednesday (July 1) in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Comet NEOWISE could give skywatchers a dazzling show this month. Here’s what to know.

Astrophotographer Chris Schur captured this view of Comet NEOWISE F3 from Payson, Arizona before dawn on July 5, 2020.
Astrophotographer Chris Schur captured this view of Comet NEOWISE F3  from Payson, Arizona before dawn on July 5, 2020. (Image credit: Chris Schur/Chris Schur Astrophotography)

Earlier this year, the NEOWISE space telescope discovered its latest comet, a distant and inconspicuous object.  

At the time of its discovery on March 27, the comet — dubbed Comet NEOWISE (short for Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) and cataloged as C/2020 F3, was located 194 million miles (312 million kilometers) from the sun and shining at a very faint magnitude of +17 — that’s about 25,000 times fainter than the faintest star that can be glimpsed with the naked eye. It was only visible with large telescopes.

But in July, Comet NEOWISE has raised hopes that it will become a tantalizing object for skywatchers after two previous comets (ATLAS and SWAN) fizzled out earlier this year. 

When we talk about the comet’s brightness below, we’ll be discussing its magnitude — a measurement of an object’s brightness in the sky. The lower the magnitude, the brighter the object. The brightest stars in the sky are zero or first magnitude. The faintest stars visible to the eye on dark, clear nights are sixth magnitude. First magnitude stars are 100 times brighter than those of sixth magnitude.  

 Third time a comet charm?

Comet NEOWISE survived its closest approach to the sun, (perihelion) unlike its 2020 predecessors, comets ATLAS and SWAN. All the way into its approach to the sun, NEOWISE displayed a perfectly circular and well-condensed head, or coma compared to the faint, wispy, almost ghostly coma displayed by Comet ATLAS and the “hammerhead” looking coma of Comet SWAN, which foretold a possible break-up. As it turned out, both of those objects indeed faded away long before either reached the vicinity of the sun.

Well before NEOWISE’s solar arrival on Friday (July 3), veteran Australian comet watcher, Michael Mattiazzo was confident that NEOWISE would remain intact, giving at least a 70% chance that it would survive its close brush with the sun. 

Skywatcher Michael Jager captured this view of Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) on June 26 with a telescope.
Skywatcher Michael Jager captured this view of Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) on June 26 with a telescope.  (Image credit: MIchael Jager)

And apparently it did! The comet was 27.3 million miles (44 million km) from the sun on July 3, when it was subjected to temperatures of up to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (593 degrees Celsus). Thereafter, rapid motion to the northeast and then east, owing to the comet’s sharp orbital inclination to the orbital plane of the planets, will quickly carry it away from the sun’s vicinity in the days to follow.  

Astrophotographer Chris Schur spotted Comet NEOWISE early today (July 5) from Payson Arizona. 

“The comet continues to be stunning, rising tail first over the plateau, some 20 miles distant,” Schur told while sharing photo he captured through an Explore Scientific AR152 mm telescope. “I was able to easily see it naked eye with about a degree of tail visually. Gorgeous yellow color in the scope.”

 An overachiever! 

This chart shows the location of Comet NEOWISE in the evening sky in mid-to-late July 2020.
This chart shows the location of Comet NEOWISE in the evening sky in mid-to-late July 2020. (Image credit: Joe Rao/

Originally, NEOWISE was not expected to get much brighter than ninth or 10th magnitude, making it accessible only to those with good binoculars or small telescopes. But during the spring, observers in the Southern Hemisphere followed the very rapid brightening of this object as its distances from both the sun and Earth decreased. A consensus of observations placed it at magnitude +9.9 on May 10.  

Just under a month late, on June 7, the comet was on the far side of the sun, 73 million miles (117 million km) distant from the star and 147 million miles (236 million km) from Earth. It had increased 12-fold in brightness to a magnitude +7.2. As projected on the sky, the comet was scarcely 24 degrees from the sun (a closed fist at the end of an outstretched arm covers 10 degrees of the sky) and the two were rapidly closing together. Shortly thereafter, the comet was lost to observers in the increasing glare of the sun. 

But from June 22 through June 27, the comet was within the range of the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). SOHO is a cooperative mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. The spacecraft is stationed in a halo orbit around the sun-Earth L1 Lagrangian point, a position roughly 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) sunward of Earth. At this point in space, the orbital period of SOHO exactly matches the orbital period of Earth. From this orbit, SOHO is able to observe the sun 24 hours a day.

Using its Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO-3), which can create an artificial solar eclipse, NEOWISE could be monitored as it passed near to the sun. During this time, the comet appeared to significantly brighten, with comet expert Charles Morris estimating a magnitude of +1.7 just before it passed out of the field of the LASCO-3 camera. Comet NEOWISE also appeared to have developed a rather bright, albeit short and stubby forked-shaped dust tail. 


This chart shows the location of Comet NEOWISE in the predawn sky of early July 2020.
This chart shows the location of Comet NEOWISE in the predawn sky of early July 2020.  (Image credit: Joe Rao/

And then, quite unexpectedly, amateur astronomers were able to make sightings of Comet NEOWISE before sunrise beginning on July 1.  

“Wow– it was very bright, near magnitude +1,” Ray Brooks of the Arizona Sky Village near Tucson saw the comet through binoculars and told “If the comet were in dark skies at a decent elevation, it would be a spectacular naked-eye object.” 

On the morning of July 4,  Brooks could see Comet NEOWISE’s forked double tail break the top of a nearby mountain first, followed by the comet head.Advertisement

Another assiduous Arizona comet watcher is astronomer Carl Hergenrother of Tucson, who saw NEOWISE both on July 1 and July 2, describing as appearing at least as bright as a first magnitude star, in spite of it being very low to the horizon and against a bright twilight sky. 

And the highly reputable comet expert, John E. Bortle of Stormville, New York was amazed at the comet’s performance so far. 

“Theoretically, the comet shouldn’t still be brightening noticeably, as its distance to the sun is undergoing only a small reduction day-to-day at this point, making me think that the comet’s current brightness is not being governed mainly by its distance from the sun but, rather it is experiencing some manner of progressive slow outburst,” he said.

 Is this a Great Comet in the making?

Comets fall into two categories. “Common” comets are faint fuzz-balls that are visible only with the help of good binoculars or telescopes. Tonight, for instance, there are perhaps eight or 10 such comets in our sky.

Then, there are the “Great” comets, those that become bright enough to be plainly visible with the naked eye and accompanied by a striking tail of dust and gas. Unfortunately, such displays do not come around very often. In the average human lifespan, you may get a chance to see perhaps four if you are very fortunate.

The last great comet visible from the Northern Hemisphere was Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997, but is NEOWISE developing into one right now? Based on the very latest brightness estimates, Comet NEOWISE might fall just short of the criteria, though once it becomes evident in darker skies it should be quite obvious, especially away from light polluted cities.

 When and where to look 

NEOWISE is about to take center stage, which we visualize in two diagrams; one for the morning sky and the other for the evening sky. The time frames are for the beginning (morning) and end (evening) of nautical twilight, when the sun is positioned 12 degrees below the horizon, corresponding to approximately 80 minutes before sunrise and 80 minutes after sunset for those living at mid-northern latitudes. The lines extend directly away from the sun, showing the probable direction in the sky of the comet’s tail should one develop.Advertisement

In the morning sky, the first views of NEOWISE could come as early as July 5 or 6 in the morning sky, very low above the northeast horizon. By around July 11, the comet will reach an altitude of nearly 10 degrees — for comparison, 10 degrees is roughly equal to the width of your fist held at arm’s length.  Then over the next 10 days it will gradually slide back down toward the north-northeast horizon, eventually disappearing from dawn visibility. 

A far-better viewing perspective will become available in the evening sky starting around July 12, when it will appear low in the northwest sky. In the evenings to follow, the comet will rapidly climb higher in the sky.  

On July 22, NEOWISE will make its closest approach to the Earth, a distance of 64 million miles (103 million km). By July 25, the comet will appear 30 degrees (“three fists”) up from the west-northwest horizon as darkness falls. And on July 30-31st, the comet will be passing just to the north of the fine star cluster of Coma Berenices or Berenice’s Hair.

 Final thoughts

Although on successive July evenings the comet will grow fainter, it will be farther from sun, setting later and visible in a darker sky. As we move into August, the comet will be very well placed for observers with small telescopes.  

Amateur observers should seek the most favorable conditions possible. Even a bright comet, like this one, can be obliterated by thin horizon clouds, haze, humid air, smoke, twilight glow, city lights, or moonlight. Of course, binoculars or telescopes will only enhance the view.Advertisement

For the more technically inclined, or for those who own a “GoTo” Telescope, the ephemeris below is from calculations by Daniel Green.  Positions are valid for 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on every fourth date and provides the comet’s right ascension and declination; next is the comet’s elongation, or angular distance from the sun, followed by the constellation the comet is in, and lastly an approximate predicted magnitude.  

Exciting times are ahead. NEOWISE is here. “Comet” get it!

DateRight AscensionDeclinationElongationConstellationMagnitude
July 505h 07.20m+34°04.8’16°Auriga0.7
July 906h 34.38m+40°24.3’20°Auriga1.2
July 1307h 24.78m+45°41.0’24°Lynx2.0
July 1708h 40.20m+48°11.1’29°Ursa Major2.7
July 2110h 06.66m+46°01.9’36°Ursa Major3.5
July 2511h 20.33m+39°40.1’43°Ursa Major4.3
July 2912h 12.71m+31°40.6’50°Coma Bernices5.1
Aug. 212h 48.45m+24°06.0’55°Coma Bernices5.9
Aug. 613h 13.52m+17°41.2’58°Coma Bernices6.6

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers’ Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

NASA wants to use a steam-powered robot to explore icy moons that could host alien life

NASA’s plans to explore the ice moons of the Solar System are getting more detail as the space agency is developing a robot that would use steam to power itself in deep space.

In a post to its website, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes researchers are developing a soccer-ball sized robot known as SPARROW (Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds) that “would use steam propulsion to hop across the sort of icy terrains found on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.”

“The terrain on Europa is likely highly complex,” said Gareth Meirion-Griffith, JPL roboticist and the lead researcher of the concept, in the statement. “It could be porous, it might be riddled with crevasses, there might be meters-high penitentes” – long blades of ice known to form at high latitudes on Earth – “that would stop most robots in their tracks. But SPARROW has total terrain agnosticism; it has complete freedom to travel across an otherwise inhospitable terrain.”

Moons In this artist's concept, a SPARROW robot uses steam propulsion to hop away from its lander home base to explore an icy moon's surface. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Moons In this artist’s concept, a SPARROW robot uses steam propulsion to hop away from its lander home base to explore an icy moon’s surface. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Both moons have been mentioned as candidates to possibly host life previously, including one study published in December 2019 that suggested they could be “indigenous.”

By using steam to power the robot, SPARROW could thrive in the “low-gravity environment” on Enceladus and Europa, hopping “many miles over landscapes that other robots would have difficulty navigating,” NASA added.

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

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

Enceladus and Europa both likely have oceans that exist under a layer of ice crust. In 2019, researchers determined Enceladus’ ocean is likely 1 billion years old, placing it in the sweet spot for supporting life.

In 2018, researchers acknowledged they had found the “building blocks” for life on Enceladus, having discovered complex organic molecules.

JPL notes that the SPARROW concept is dependent upon a lander to serve as a home base for it. The lander would “mine ice and melt it” prior to putting it on SPARROW, which would later heat it and create the steam necessary to power itself.

An artist's illustration of a plume of water vapor emanating from Jupiter's moon Europa. (NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI)

An artist’s illustration of a plume of water vapor emanating from Jupiter’s moon Europa. (NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI) (NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI)

JPL added that it’s possible “many SPARROWs could be sent together, swarming around  a specific location or splitting up to explore as much alien terrain as possible.”

Enceladus is not the only celestial satellite of Saturn to intrigue scientists. In June, NASA announced the latest mission in its New Frontiers program. Known as Dragonfly, the mission will explore Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, which could potentially host extraterrestrial life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Credit: NASA)

(Credit: NASA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Flying Objects Leave Boise… July 25, 1949

Boise, Idaho   Daily Statesman – July 25, 1949

Strange Flying Objects Leave Boise…

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

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

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

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

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

No Pilot Discernible

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

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

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

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

No Markings on Craft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compact System of Super-Earths Found around Lacaille 9352

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentagon should release UFO report, Senate intelligence committee argues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakthrough Listen Scans Kepler-160 System for Alien Technosignatures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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