KOI-5Ab is approximately 1,800 light-years from Earth
NASA has discovered an exoplanet with three stars, one with a bizarre orbit that has left astronomers baffled.
The planet, known as KOI-5Ab was discovered in 2009 by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, but it was “abandoned” by scientists because the space telescope had easier candidates to identify.
“KOI-5Ab got abandoned because it was complicated, and we had thousands of candidates,” said David Ciardi, chief scientist of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute, in a statement. “There were easier pickings than KOI-5Ab, and we were learning something new from Kepler every day, so that KOI-5 was mostly forgotten.”
This illustration shows the planet KOI-5Ab transiting across the face of a Sun-like star, which is part of a triple-star system located 1,800 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation. (Credits: Caltech/R. Hurt Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, or IPAC.)
KOI-5Ab is approximately 1,800 light-years from Earth. A light-year, which measures distance in space, is approximately 6 trillion miles.
However, thanks to NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and other Earth-based telescopes, KOA-5Ab has been given new life, with researchers discovering its perplexing orbit.
Due to its size, KOA-5Ab is likely a gas giant, similar to Jupiter or Saturn, but it circles a star in its star system, KOA-5A, once every five days. It’s also out of alignment from at least one of the other two stars and possibly both.
“We don’t know of many planets that exist in triple-star systems, and this one is extra special because its orbit is skewed,” Ciardi added. “We still have a lot of questions about how and when planets can form in multiple-star systems and how their properties compare to planets in single-star systems. By studying this system in greater detail, perhaps we can gain insight into how the universe makes planets.”
It’s unclear what caused the skewed orbit, though they “believe that the second star gravitationally kicked the planet during its development, skewing its orbit and causing it to migrate inward,” the NASA statement added. It’s believed that triple-star systems are roughly 10% of all star systems.
Researchers have discovered other planets with three stars in recent memory. In July 2019, exoplanet LTT 1445Ab was found to orbit one of the three suns, all of which are described as mid-to-late-life red dwarfs.
In September 2020, researchers discovered that the GW Orionis star system, which is located at the edge of the Orion constellation, has two stars that orbit one another with the third orbiting the two siblings at a distance of approximately 740 million miles. Inside the rings could be dust, or the beginnings of a young exoplanet, which could explain the misalignment of the system’s gravitational pull.
More than 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered by NASA in total, approximately 50 of which were believed to potentially be habitable as of September 2018. They have the right size and the right orbit of their star to support surface water and, at least theoretically, to support life.
An international team of astronomers from Serbia and the United States has discovered a new superhighway network to travel through our Solar System much faster than was previously possible.
A whimsical view of the planets of our Solar System and the missions sent from Earth to explore them. Image credit: Jenny Mottar / NASA.
The newly-discovered routes can drive comets and asteroids near Jupiter to Neptune’s distance in under a decade and to 100 AU (astronomical units) in less than a century.
They could be used to send spacecraft to the far reaches of our planetary system relatively fast, and to monitor and understand near-Earth objects that might collide with our planet.
Dr. Nataša Todorović of Belgrade Astronomical Observatory and colleagues observed the dynamical structure of these routes, forming a connected series of arches inside what’s known as space manifolds that extend from the asteroid belt to Uranus and beyond.
This ‘celestial autobahn’ acts over several decades, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands or millions of years that usually characterize Solar System dynamics.
The most conspicuous arch structures are linked to Jupiter and the strong gravitational forces it exerts.
The population of Jupiter-family comets as well as small-size bodies known as Centaurs is controlled by such manifolds on unprecedented time scales.
Some of these bodies will end up colliding with Jupiter or being ejected from the Solar System.
The structures were resolved by gathering numerical data about millions of orbits in our Solar System and computing how these orbits fit within already-known space manifolds.
Global arch-like structure of space manifolds in the Solar System. Image credit: Todorović et al., doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abd1313.
The results need to be studied further, both to determine how they could be used by spacecraft, or how such manifolds behave in the vicinity of the Earth, controlling the asteroid and meteorite encounters, as well as the growing population of artificial man-made objects in the Earth-Moon system.
“It should come at no surprise that Jupiter can induce large-scale transport on decadal time scales, as space missions have been specifically designed for Jupiter-assisted transport, with the flybys of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 being cardinal examples,” the astronomers said.
“That gravity assists can be enabled by manifolds is also well known to astrodynamicists.”
“Yet, their widespread influence on natural celestial bodies has been largely undervalued and unexplored.”
The team’s paper was published in the journal Science Advances.
JAXA will provide technical expertise, devices for a life support and environmental control system, batteries, thermal control and imagery components
Though NASA may have trouble returning to the moon by 2024, the U.S. space agency is doing what it can to eventually explore the lunar surface, announcing a formal partnership with Japan for the lunar Gateway.
NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) formally announced the agreement that will see JAXA contribute to the Gateway, providing technical expertise, devices for life support and environmental control system, batteries, thermal control and imagery components.
“We’re honored to announce this latest agreement with Japan to support long-term human exploration on and around the Moon as part of the Artemis program,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement. “Strengthening our international partnerships and commitments to Artemis puts humanity on a solid path to achieve our common goals of sustainable lunar exploration by the end of this decade.”
Illustration of Gateway in lunar orbit with contributions from international partners. (NASA)
A memorandum of understanding was signed between NASA and Japan at the end of 2020, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has said previously.
In addition, the new agreement will allow opportunities for Japanese astronauts to access the Gateway, which NASA said “will be determined following additional discussions, and documented in a future arrangement.”
“Leveraging the capabilities that international partners contribute to Gateway will be key to enabling access to the lunar surface,” added Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. “We are pleased to move forward in these groundbreaking efforts with Japan and our other partners.”
The Gateway, which is approximately one-sixth the size of the International Space Station, will act as a “rendezvous point” for astronauts traveling to the lunar orbit aboard the Orion spacecraft before they make their way to low-lunar orbit and ultimately, the surface. It will be used for both robotic and human expeditions to both the moon and Mars.
“The capabilities provided by Japan are critical to enabling the interior environment of the Gateway allowing our crews to live and work for longer durations,” explained Dan Hartman, Gateway program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “With the life support systems from Japan, longer duration missions for the Artemis crews can be accomplished with reduced demands on logistics resupply.”
Japan becomes the third international partner to commit to the Gateway. In October 2020, NASA and the European Space Agency signed a deal to cooperate on the Gateway. One month later, the U.S. and Canada signed a deal to collaborate on the lunar outpost as well.
The Gateway will be used as a base for NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program. In 2019, NASA unveiled its vision for the Artemis moon lander that will return U.S. astronauts to the lunar surface.
The Artemis program, the successor to the Apollo program, is notable for a number of reasons, including its goals of sending the first woman to land on the lunar surface and establishing a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite.
To date, only 12 people, all Americans, have landed on the moon. The last NASA astronaut to set foot on the moon was Apollo 17 Mission Commander Gene Cernan on Dec. 14, 1972.
The UK Space Agency and Rolls-Royce are joining forces for a unique study into how nuclear power and technologies could be used as part of space exploration.
This new research contract will see planetary scientists work together to explore the game-changing potential of nuclear power as a more plentiful source of energy, capable of making possible deeper space exploration in the decades to come.
Nuclear propulsion, which would involve channelling the immense energy released in splitting the atom to accelerate propellants, like hydrogen, at huge speeds, has the potential to revolutionise space travel.
By some estimates, this kind of engine could be twice as efficient as the chemical engines that power our rockets today. Spacecraft powered by this kind of engine could, conceivably, make it to Mars in just 3 to 4 months – roughly half the time of the fastest possible trip in a spacecraft using the current chemical propulsion.
Nuclear space power is anticipated to create new skilled jobs across the UK to support the burgeoning UK space economy.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:
As we build back better from the pandemic, it is partnerships like this between business, industry and government that will help to create jobs and bring forward pioneering innovations that will advance UK spaceflight.
Nuclear power presents transformative possibilities for space exploration and this innovative study with Rolls-Royce could help to propel our next generation of astronauts into space faster and for longer, significantly increasing our knowledge of the Universe.
Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:
Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unlock future deep-space missions that take us to Mars and beyond.
This study will help us understand the exciting potential of atomic-powered spacecraft, and whether this nascent technology could help us travel further and faster through space than ever before.
Dave Gordon, UK Senior Vice President, Rolls-Royce Defence said:
We are excited to be working with the UK Space Agency on this pioneering project to define future nuclear power technologies for space. We believe there is a real niche UK capability in this area and this initiative can build on the strong UK nuclear network and supply chain.
We look forward to developing this and other exciting space projects in the future as we continue to develop the power to protect our planet, secure our world and explore our Universe.
It would not just mean a time saving – it would also radically reduce the dose of radiation taken on by astronauts that would be making future trips to Mars or other planets. The size of the dose increases the longer you spend in deep space, away from the bubble of protection given by the Earth’s magnetosphere.
The appeal of a small nuclear power generator for propulsion also comes from the fact that power in space becomes increasingly precious with distance from the Sun. In the outer Solar System, sunlight gets too dim for solar panels, and other technologies like fuel cells are often too patchy as a source of energy.
Nuclear propulsion is an idea that has existed since the 1950s, when the United States attempted to develop a rocket propelled by small atomic bombs tossed out the back.
Federal intelligence on extraterrestrial technology — at your fingertips.
By way of the Freedom of Information Act, thousands of the CIA documents on unidentified flying objects — or unidentified aerial phenomena, as the government calls them — are now accessible via download at the Black Vault, a website operated by author and podcaster John Greenwald Jr.
The CIA claims they have now provided all the information on UAP they have, though there is no way to know that’s true.
“Research by The Black Vault will continue to see if there are additional documents still uncovered within the CIA’s holdings,” Greenwald promised in a statement on his website.
The release comes months before the Pentagon was due to brief Congress on what the military knows about UAP — a date dictated in the most recent COVID-19 relief bill which passed in late December.
The demands for alien intel became so many that the CIA eventually compiled it onto a CD-ROM, obtained by Greenwald and uploaded to the Black Vault, divvied into dozens of downloadable PDFs.
Greenwald told Vice’s Motherboard that he believes the documents are made difficult to parse for calculated reasons.
“The CIA has made it INCREDIBLY difficult to use their records in a reasonable manner,” he said of the “outdated” file format. “In my opinion, this outdated format makes it very difficult for people to see the documents, and use them, for any research purpose.”
Greenwald had filed multiple FOIA requests during the past two decades in pursuit of non-confidential findings on UAP collected by the US government since 1996, he said in a Jan. 7 blog post. In a 2020 interview, he told the Columbia Journalism Review that he began to inquire with the CIA as a teenager.
“You can take something that took more than a decade to come to my mailbox and give it to the public for free in an instant — that’s why I do it,” he said at the time. “I’m fairly hooked on the whole FOIA thing.”
Among the cache’s most intriguing clues is a heavily redacted document that shows that a former CIA assistant deputy director for science and technology “exhibited interest” in one particular unnamed object.
“He decided he would personally look into it, and after, he gave advice on moving forward. That advice is classified,” Greenwald tweeted from the Black Vault Twitter account.
The dump comes at a moment in history when Americans are particularly interested in alien intelligence, indicated by a recent uptickin UFO sightings, and viral popularity of media relating to extraterrestrial life.
Last year, the Defense Department officially declassified shocking video taken by Navy pilots in 2004 and 2015, which made international headlines when it was first leaked by To The Stars Academy, a UFO research group founded by former Blink-182 rocker Tom DeLonge in 2017 and 2018.
At the time, the department asserted that the footage “does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems” and “does not impinge on any subsequent investigations.”
The Nuclear Salt Water Rocket is a rocket engine concept that uses a rapid nuclear reaction in a Uranium salt dissolved in water to create a high thrust, high efficiency engine which eclipses the performance of any rocket engine ever designed. It’s a concept originally presented by Robert Zubrin, which is appealing because it looks more scientifically plausable than many other futuristic propulsion concepts.
It’s also scary on so many levels, using a propellent that has to be stabilized by specially designed tanks, and relies on managing a small nuclear explosion with power outputs of hundreds of gigawatts.
Proposed design Orthodox chemical rockets use heat energy produced by chemical reactions in a reaction chamber to heat the gas products. The products are then expelled through a propulsion nozzle at a very high speed, creating thrust. In a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR), thrust is created by heating a fluid by using a nuclear fission reactor. The lower the molecular weight of the exhaust, hydrogen having the lowest possible, the more efficient the motor can be. However, in this engine the propellant can be anything with suitable properties as there will be no reaction on the part of the propellant. In a NSWR the nuclear salt-water would be made to flow through a reaction chamber and out of an exhaust nozzle in such a way and at such speeds that critical mass will begin once the chamber is filled to a certain point; however, the peak neutron flux of the fission reaction would occur outside the vehicle.
Advantages of the design There are several advantages relative to conventional NTR designs. As the peak neutron flux and fission reaction rates would occur outside the vehicle, these activities could be much more vigorous than they could be if it was necessary to house them in a vessel (which would have temperature limits due to materials constraints). Additionally, a contained reactor can only allow a small percentage of its fuel to undergo fission at any given time, otherwise it would overheat and melt down (or explode in a runaway fission chain reaction). The fission reaction in an NSWR is dynamic and because the reaction products are exhausted into space it doesn’t have a limit on the proportion of fission fuel that reacts. In many ways NSWRs combine the advantages of fission reactors and fission bombs.
Because they can harness the power of what is essentially a continuous nuclear fission explosion, NSWRs would have both very high thrust and very high exhaust velocity, meaning that the rocket would be able to accelerate quickly as well as be extremely efficient in terms of propellant usage. The combination of high thrust and high specific impulse is a very rare trait in the rocket world. One design would generate 13 meganewtons of thrust at 66 km/s exhaust velocity (or exceeding 10,000 seconds ISP compared to ~4.5 km/s (450 s ISP) exhaust velocity for the best chemical rockets of today).
The design and calculations discussed above are using 20 percent enriched uranium salts, however, it would be plausible to use another design which would be capable of achieving much higher exhaust velocities (4,700 km/s) and use 2,700 tonnes of highly enriched uranium salts in water to propel a 300 tonne spacecraft up to 3.6% of the speed of light.
“NSWRs share many of the features of Orion propulsion systems, except that NSWRs would generate continuous rather than pulsed thrust and may be workable on much smaller scales than the smallest feasible Orion designs (which are generally large, due to the requirements of the shock-absorber system and the minimum size of efficient nuclear explosives).”
It will occur this weekend and again in mid-February
Jupiter’s moon lo was once again partially illuminated with a fiery red glow in late December as a volcano erupted, spewing plumes of gases and lava. NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured images of the volcanic plume during its 17th flyby of the planet. The gas giant’s moon is considered the most active volcanic body in existence.
The “Christmas star,” a rare celestial event that occurs when Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in the Solar System, form what looks like a double planet, was one of the highlights of 2020.
True to form, 2021 promises to top that.
This weekend, Mercury will join the two gas giants in what is being dubbed a “triple conjunction,” as the three planets will be within a couple of degrees from one another in the night sky.
Photo credit: NASA
“From Friday evening to Monday evening, the planet Mercury will appear to pass first by Saturn and then by Jupiter as it shifts away from the horizon, visible each evening low in the west-southwest and setting before evening twilight ends,” NASA wrote on its website.
According to Forbes, the three planets will be in the same two degrees of the sky in the Capricorn constellation.
EarthSky.org notes skywatchers may need binoculars to catch some of the planets, but the event can be seen by looking for Jupiter first, then spotting Saturn and Mercury. Jupiter will be the brightest of the trio.
The science website adds that it is best to “find an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunset” to see these planets, starting stargazing no less than 45 minutes after sundown.
Unlike the “Christmas star,” this triple conjunction of planets has happened recently, last occurring in October 2015. By comparison, Jupiter and Saturn form a double conjunction once every roughly 20 years, though the most recent event was the closest the two had been to each other since 1226 A.D.
After this weekend, the next time the trio will form a triple conjunction is Feb. 13, 2021, just before Valentine’s Day.
The next two triple conjunctions are set for April 20, 2026 (Mercury, Mars, Saturn) and June 16, 2028, when Mercury, Venus and Mars make up the event.
As long as people have been alive, they’ve wanted to stay alive. But unlike finding the fountain of youth or becoming a vampire, uploading your brain to a computer or the cloud might actually be possible. Theoretically, we already know how to do it, and Elon Musk is even trying a brain implant with Neuralink. But technically, we have a long way to go. We explain the main technological advancements that we’ll need to make whole brain emulation a reality.
Mind uploading, also known as whole brain emulation (WBE), is the hypothetical futuristic process of scanning a physical structure of the brain accurately enough to create an emulation of the mental state (including long-term memory and “self”) and copying it to a computer in a digital form. The computer would then run a simulation of the brain’s information processing, such that it would respond in essentially the same way as the original brain and experience having a sentientconsciousmind.
Substantial mainstream research in related areas is being conducted in animal brain mapping and simulation, development of faster supercomputers, virtual reality, brain–computer interfaces, connectomics, and information extraction from dynamically functioning brains. According to supporters, many of the tools and ideas needed to achieve mind uploading already exist or are currently under active development; however, they will admit that others are, as yet, very speculative, but say they are still in the realm of engineering possibility.
Mind uploading may potentially be accomplished by either of two methods: Copy-and-upload or copy-and-delete by gradual replacement of neurons (which can be considered as a gradual destructive uploading), until the original organic brain no longer exists and a computer program emulating the brain takes control over the body. In the case of the former method, mind uploading would be achieved by scanning and mapping the salient features of a biological brain, and then by storing and copying, that information state into a computer system or another computational device. The biological brain may not survive the copying process or may be deliberately destroyed during it in some variants of uploading. The simulated mind could be within a virtual reality or simulated world, supported by an anatomic 3D body simulation model. Alternatively the simulated mind could reside in a computer inside (or either connected to or remotely controlled) a (not necessarily humanoid) robot or a biological or cybernetic body.
Among some futurists and within the part of transhumanist movement, mind uploading is treated as an important proposed life extension technology. Some believe mind uploading is humanity’s current best option for preserving the identity of the species, as opposed to cryonics. Another aim of mind uploading is to provide a permanent backup to our “mind-file”, to enable interstellar space travels, and a means for human culture to survive a global disaster by making a functional copy of a human society in a computing device. Whole brain emulation is discussed by some futurists as a “logical endpoint” of the topical computational neuroscience and neuroinformatics fields, both about brain simulation for medical research purposes. It is discussed in artificial intelligence research publications as an approach to strong AI (Artificial general intelligence) and to at least weak superintelligence. Another approach is seed AI, which wouldn’t be based on existing brains. Computer-based intelligence such as an upload could think much faster than a biological human even if it were no more intelligent. A large-scale society of uploads might, according to futurists, give rise to a technological singularity, meaning a sudden time constant decrease in the exponential development of technology. Mind uploading is a central conceptual feature of numerous science fiction novels, films, and games.
It’s like something straight out of “The Expanse.”
A group of Finnish researchers are proposing a permanent human habitat in the orbit of Ceres, a massive asteroid and dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter.
According to the team, this “megasatellite settlement” could be built by collecting materials from Ceres itself.
If that sounds familiar to fans of the popular sci-fi book and TV series “The Expanse,” that’s because in that fictional universe, Ceres Station plays a pivotal role as one of humanity’s first human off-world colonies. In the series, however, the space rock itself was spun up to create a crewed habitat on its surface with artificial gravity.
In a paper uploaded to the prewrite repository arXiv this week, the team argues that Ceres would be prime real estate because it has nitrogen, which could enable the creation of an Earth-like atmosphere.
In fact, they argue that the environment could even be “better than Earth,” since there’s no adverse weather or natural disasters, and plenty of living space to grow into.
They propose a number of smaller spinning satellites, attached to each other via magnetic tethers to create a massive disk-shaped megasatellite. Artificial gravity approximately equal to that of Earth could be achieved by spinning the massive structure around Ceres.
Such a habitat would have to make a full rotation around the dwarf planet in just 66 seconds to maintain the artificial gravity.
Connecting each habitat would be maglev train-like vehicles, a weightless experience to passengers.
“When first encountered, weightlessness causes nausea and vomiting for some people,” the paper reads. “However, in a settlement where people experience occasional weightlessness from childhood, it is plausible to think that they can tolerate it well during short trips.”
The settlement could also act as a stepping stone to other reaches of the solar system.
“The motivation is to have a settlement with artificial gravity that allows growth beyond Earth’s living area, while also providing easy intra-settlement travel for the inhabitants and reasonably low population density of 500/km2,” the abstract reads. That’s about the population density of New Jersey.
Thanks to its low gravity and fast rotation, the researchers argue that a “space elevator is feasible,” allowing easy transportation of materials from Ceres to other settlements without the need for much fuel.
So what about space radiation and the threat of meteorite impacts? The team has considered those threats as well. They propose a set of massive cylindrical mirrors that could do double duty by collecting sunlight and passing it onto the habitat, while also blocking submeter scale meteoroids.
Scientists around the world have noted that the Earth has been spinning on its axis faster lately—the fastest ever recorded. Several scientists have spoken to the press about the unusual phenomenon, with some pointing out that this past year saw some of the shortest days ever recorded.
For most of the history of mankind, time has been marked by the 24-hour day/night cycle (with some alterations made for convenience as the seasons change). The cycle is governed by the speed at which the planet spins on its axis. Because of that, the length of a day has become the standard by which time is marked—each day lasts approximately 86,400 seconds. The day/night cycle is remarkably consistent despite the fact that it actually varies slightly on a regular basis.
Several decades ago, the development of atomic clocks began allowing scientists to record the passage of time in incredibly small increments, in turn, allowing for measuring the length of a given day down to the millisecond. And that has led to the discovery that the spin of the planet is actually far more variable than once thought. Since such measurements began, scientists have also found that the Earth was slowing its spin very gradually (compensated by the insertion of a leap second now and then)—until this past year, when it began spinning faster—so much so that some in the field have begun to wonder if a negative leap negative second might be needed this year, an unprecedented suggestion. Scientists also noted that this past summer, on July 19, the shortest day ever was recorded—it was 1.4602 milliseconds shorter than the standard.
Planetary scientists are not concerned about the new finding; they have learned that there are many factors that have an impact on planetary spin—including the moon’s pull, snowfall levels and mountain erosion. They also have begun wondering if global warming might push the Earth to spin faster as the snow caps and high-altitude snows begin disappearing. Computer scientists, on the other hand, are somewhat concerned about the shifting spin speed—so much of modern technology is based on what they describe as “true time.” Adding a negative leap second could lead to problems, so some have suggested shifting the world’s clocks from solar time to atomic time.
“After returning its reentry capsule to Earth, Hayabusa-2 departed for a new target object — a small asteroid known as 1998 KY26,” said Dr. Michitoshi Yoshida, director of the Subaru Telescope and an astronomer at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
“This will be the first mission to this small asteroid, so it is very meaningful both in terms of planetary science and planetary defense.”
On December 10, 2020, 1998 KY26 was photographed in the direction of the constellation Gemini as a 25.4-magnitude point of light.
“We successfully photographed the next target asteroid for Hayabusa-2,” Dr. Yoshida said.
“We hope that these data will facilitate Hayabusa-2’s new mission.”
“These Subaru Telescope observations will not only become very important data for Hayabusa-2’s extended mission, they will also give a boost to future missions,” said Hayabusa-2 mission manager Dr. Makoto Yoshikawa, a researcher in JAXA’s Institute for Space and Astronautical Science.
“We are grateful to everyone at the Subaru Telescope.”
The astronomers reported their observations of 1998 KY26 in the Minor Planet Electronic Circular.
How urban explorers uncovered the site—and the memory—of a covert Cold War–era accident.
“Oxcart” was an odd nickname for the plane that killed pilot Walter Ray. Oxcarts are slow, cumbersome, and old. Ray’s A-12 jet, meanwhile, was fast, almost invisible, and novel. Among the US’s first attempts at stealth aircraft, it could travel as quickly as a rifle bullet, and fly at altitudes around 90,000 feet. On a radar screen, it appeared as barely a blip—all the better to spy on Soviets with—and had only one seat.
On January 5, 1967, that single space belonged to Ray, a quiet, clean-cut 33-year old who spent his workdays inside Area 51, then the CIA’s advanced-aviation research facility. Set atop the dried-up bed of Groom Lake in the Nevada desert, the now-infamous spot made for good runways, and was remote enough to keep prying eyes off covert Cold War projects. On the books, Ray was a civilian pilot for Lockheed Martin. In reality, and in secret, he reported to the CIA.
Ray’s last morning on Earth was chilled and windy, with clouds moving in and preparing to drop snow on the nearby mountains. He took off for his four-hour flight to Florida and back a minute ahead of schedule at 11:59 a.m., the sleek curves of the Oxcart’s titanium body triggering sonic shock waves (booms) as it sliced through the atmosphere. He’d done this many times, having already logged 358 hours in these crafts.
At 3:22 p.m., Ray radioed back to base: His gas was low. “I don’t know where my fuel’s gone to,” he said. He lowered the plane out of the speedy headwinds, hoping to save some fuel. But the altitude change couldn’t cut his consumption enough.
Thirty-eight minutes later, Ray radioed in more bad news.
At 4:02, Ray sent his final known transmission: He was going to eject.
Home Plate—as this group of airmen referred to Area 51—began to search. They hoped to hear a transmission from the shortwave radio in his survival kit. For them, this hunt was also personal. Many worked on the same mission as Ray: developing planes that didn’t exist in a place that didn’t exist, sometimes risking an accident like this, which also wouldn’t exist.
Isolated in the desert, the group of about 30 staffers Barnes worked with on the site’s Special Projects felt like family. “We went up on Monday morning, came home Friday night,” recalls former Area 51 crewmember T.D. Barnes. “We couldn’t tell our wives where we were at or what we were doing.”
At 3:25 p.m. the next day, a helicopter found the plane, strewn across three canyons. The crews cut a road through the sand to schlep out the debris before anyone else found it—and found out about the secret flight.ADVERTISEMENT
Two days after takeoff, a CIA aircraft finally spotted Ray’s parachute, and men helicoptered in to locate their comrade. His chute formed a shroud around his body, and his ejection seat sat some 50 yards above him on the hillside. The two hadn’t separated, his parachute hadn’t deployed, and so he had slammed straight into the Earth. Blood spattered the ground, but Ray’s boots still had their spurs.
To explain the aerial search going on, the Air Force told the public a cover story: An SR-71 Blackbird—whose existence had recently been revealed–flying out of Edwards Air Force Base, had gone down.
For years, Ray’s crash sites remained largely hidden from the public. But in the late 1990s, an explorer named Jeremy Krans began what would become a decades-long quest to uncover it all, and ultimately to make Ray’s once-classified life public. “I felt that we needed to do something,” he says, “because nobody knows who the hell Walt is.”
Krans had a pastime that gave him the skills to do something about it: urban exploring, sometimes called “urbex” by the initiated. It’s the art of adventuring in and around abandoned or hidden structures, urban and otherwise. Urbexers scavenger-hunt for sites and then crawl through closed tunnels, scour old buildings, flashlight around finished mines, and trek through old military bases. The community—small and loose but dedicated, lurking and sharing on forums and blogs—is populated by photographers and amateur historians. They like to go places that used to be something else, to someone else. They’ve uncovered spots others likely never knew about, like the New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane and the rainwater drains under Sydney. Krans, once a frequent poster on the urbex forum UER.ca, has always favored defense sites, beginning with empty missile silos and ghostly military installations in his early 20s.
In 1995, he and a group of like-minded friends formed an exploratory crew dubbed “Strategic Beer Command” (a riff on the US’s then-recently disbanded Strategic Air Command). It would be a few years before they’d learn of Ray’s site, but the motivation was already there: a desire to remember what the rest of the world had forgotten.
Krans’s interest in aviation goes back to the 1980s, when his dad, a machinist fascinated by engineering and innovative planes, would sometimes bring home jet models. Krans’s favorite was the SR-71 Blackbird, a Cylon-ship of a craft, and the follow-on to the A-12 he’d one day search out. Meanwhile, Krans devoured films like Indiana Jones and The Goonies—tales of explorers and treasure-hunters.
His own journey into such journeying began just months after his father passed away. Krans’s employer, a General Motors dealership, had sent him to its Automotive Service Educational Program. He felt lost and listless, and spent hours killing time between classes in the school’s computer lab, largely sucked into websites about Area 51, where he had recently made a road trip. He started reading Bluefire, a blog run by a guy named Tom Mahood. In 1997, Mahood spun a tale of searching for—and finding—a long-lost A-12 crash site. It had taken him more than two years, 20 trips, and $6,000 to replace a sunk truck.
Mahood was a veteran prober of Area 51 secrets, having, for instance, dug into the conspiratorial claims of Bob Lazar, whose stories underpin most of the site’s alien lore. (The site’s true Cold War purpose wouldn’t be acknowledged until 2013.) Mahood first read about the A-12 crash in The Oxcart Story, a 1996 CIA history of the plane’s development, which said only that Ray’s craft had gone down about 70 miles from Groom Lake. That’s not a lot to go on. The lack of information appealed to Krans: a quest.
I’ve been here too many times and know too many places that it wasn’t. Like a life-size game of Battleship, it just can’t hide anymore.
– Jeremy Krans
Before Bluefire, Krans hadn’t heard of an A-12, let alone one that had gone down in the desert. The jet, he soon learned, was a marvel in its time. It could fly nearly four miles higher and four times faster (around 2,200 miles per hour, or nearly three times the speed of sound) than its predecessor, the U-2.
At such speeds, friction with the air heated much of its skin up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. In the 1960s, the only metal light and tough enough for such a feat was a titanium alloy, which made up 90 percent of the aircraft. The remainder comprised composite materials—relying heavily on iron ferrite and silicone laminate, swirled with asbestos—that absorbed radar, rather than bouncing the waves back to whoever was watching.
That wasn’t the end of the innovation list. The lubricants also had to work at both the extreme temperatures reached while traveling at three times the speed of sound, and at lower, cooler speeds. The engines needed “spike-shaped cones’’ that could slow down, squish, and then superheat the air coming in for better combustion. According to a CIA history of the plane’s development, without the spikes, the engines would only have gotten 20 percent of the required power. Amidst all this, pilots had to don astronaut-ish suits, with their own temperature and pressure controls and oxygen supplies.
While the A-12 represented a big leap forward, its usefulness would be short-lived. The US decided to stop flying over the USSR in 1960 after a U-2 pilot was shot down; satellites had begun to snap recon pictures from orbit; and the A-12 progeny, the SR-71 had performed its first test flight in 1964. The Oxcart flew only 29 missions, between May 1967 and May 1968, in an operation called Black Shield out of East Asia.
Ray was preparing for Black Shield during his final ride, which went sideways due to several factors: a malfunctioning fuel gauge, electrical mishaps, and perhaps an untested modification he himself had added—a common practice for test pilots. Ray, a short man, had added a 2-by-4 to his seat to make the headrest hit right. When he ejected, the wood kept him from separating from the seat, which stopped the parachute from deploying.
It was in that entrapment that Ray lost his life. And it was in that computer lab that Krans decided he needed to go find out where. At the time, it was just another exploration. “It’s Indiana Jones,” he says. “It’s treasure hunting.”
He liked how his explorations changed his conception of the past. “I’ve had a love-hate relationship with history,” he says. Reading stuff in school? Closer to “hate.” But seeking and finding something physical felt different. “You walk back in time, and you say, ‘Okay, what was happening right here if I was here 40 years ago?’” he says. “It gets you thinking.”
So he set out to think about Walt Ray.
Krans began collecting information that might lead him to Ray. The accident had left two crash sites, one for the pilot and one for his plane, which rocketed on after Ray ejected. He started with the details Mahood had spilled, which did not include the actual site of the crash. Urbexers don’t like to spoil the ending, or make it too easy for crowds to spoil the site itself, and generally leave what they discover as a mystery for others to keep solving. Maps and satellite images are typically their best tools, supplemented by databases of historical, military, or former industrial sites. UrbexUnderground.com recommends aimlessly following rivers, railroad beds, or rural roads—because those routes usually track development.
Mahood had scoured old newspapers. The Los Angeles Times put reports of the covered-up version of the crash four miles southeast of a Union Pacific Railroad site called Leith; the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun plotted it four miles to Leith’s southwest. Not helpful. He’d searched topographic maps and the land itself, looking for scars on the landscape, or roads that seemed to lead nowhere. Krans gathered all the information he could from Mahood’s descriptions.
Wanting to get more details, Krans told officials a “BS story” and then offered to cover a doughnut bill for the recorder’s office in Pioche, Nevada. Information gathered from the paperwork, which included Ray’s death certificate, revealed that the pilot had died 200 yards east of a particular mining claim, a couple miles from the larger Cherokee mining operation. Krans began to gather his own detailed maps of the area, and negatives of aerial photos. Soon, he knew approximately where Ray had met his end: just off an area called Meadow Valley Wash—a low drainage that flows with water when it storms. The spot was miles from anywhere, on the side of a hill whose poky desert plants scrape anyone who walks by, and over which wild horses keep watch.
Krans first headed out in the fall of 1998, driving to Cherokee Mine, and searching for plane debris, at a site somewhere farther out than Ray’s landing spot. To try to find that second location, he took pictures, tried to match them to his maps, and marked down the labeled sticks denoting mining claims. Two more subsequent trips, over a few ensuing years, also revealed nothing.
He gave up for a while. But the story kept flying through his mind. Not a good quitter, he ordered more digital photos from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA. The results offered a few (differing) sets of coordinates for Ray’s hard landing and his plane’s.
The next time Krans went out, in 2005, he took eight people and three trucks. At the time, a flood had washed out the area, leaving 30-foot drops off the side of a narrow road. They uncovered nothing that he was sure came from a downed jet.
When he returned next in 2008, Krans brought along two four-wheelers, companions, and his daughter, Mercedes. At four years old, she’d been hearing about Ray much of her life. All they discovered were water bottles from earlier explorers.
“Something just told us that we were close,” Krans wrote at the time in a post on Roadrunners Internationale’s website, run by Area 51 veteran Barnes. The group aims to preserve the history of those who worked on Area 51′s classified aircrafts during the Cold War—and reunite, digitally and physically, the ones who are left, now that they can freely talk. The Roadrunners, about two dozen strong, have inducted Krans as an “associate member.”
On Krans’s next trip in 2009, he brought old hands and newcomers. One first-timer asked Krans if—after so many years of seeing nothing—he expected to just walk up and uncover the crash site. “Yup,” Krans said around the campfire, a cigar in his mouth and a near-empty beer in his hand. “I’ve been here too many times and know too many places that it wasn’t,” he wrote for the Roadrunners. “Like a life-size game of Battleship, it just can’t hide anymore.”
The next morning, the Commanders began their search where the group had halted the year before. It happened right away: As Krans was walking up a wash offshoot, something synthetic-looking caught his eye. Leaning down, he picked it up. It was an artifact from the A-12.
The others fanned out, and soon found their own pieces. They were right in the middle of the field of debris, left scattered by tragedy more than 40 years before.
Recalling this moment, Krans—who, since graduating from GM, has owned his own car-servicing shop and worked as an HVAC specialist—what it was like to find the site after so long, his voice breaks. “I don’t know how to describe it, I really don’t,” he says.
His limbic system manifests mostly in actions. Such as when, five years later, in 2014, Krans brought a memorial—a model of the A-12, welded to a metal pole—to near Ray’s resting place. He and Mercedes made it. They traced the plane’s edges onto body-shop paper, overlaid it onto a steel plate, and sliced the shape with a plasma cutter. Using a pipe bender from Krans’s old shop, they fabricated the engine housings, which stick out like devilish exhaust pipes.
At one point in their explorations, Mercedes asked her father why they were doing all this.
“Because nobody else did,” Krans told her.
Over the 12 years Krans and various Strategic Beer Command adherents had spent seeking, the true goal of their quest had shifted. “As I kept making trips back, I just—” he pauses. “It got to be more about Walt.”
It became about pulling Ray and the other Area 51 workers—like Barnes—out of anonymity and back into existence. “A bunch of these guys, they were ghosts,” he says. “They didn’t exist for that portion of their lives.” A little metal memorial could change that.
On a September day, I attempted to find it. Outside the small town of Caliente in southeast Nevada, the road turned to well-graded dirt, curving around the rocky mountains whose strata mark the tectonics and erosions that led them to their current state.
The much-worse road that winds up to Cherokee Mine doesn’t have a name. At the intersection, Google Maps says only “Turn left.” Deep gravel threatened to strand the tires; cacti aimed to pierce them. At Cherokee Mine, a wild horse watched from the ridge above, still as a monument.
It was hot outside—115 degrees, much different than the morning Ray took off.
In the valley, I stopped following the wash and hiked toward the approximate place where I thought Ray went down, based on a scouring of topographic maps—matched with a picture of the saddle where the recovery helicopter had landed 53 years ago, and a close reading of descriptions from Mahood’s and Krans’s adventures. I scampered up another hill, around its side, back down, up another, and then back to the wash to survey again.
Finally, from the elevation where I started, I saw above me a stick-like object poking up out of a rock just one ridge over. No, I thought. That’s a dead tree. But next to the wood, there it was: a matte black pole poking from the rock, a sculpture at its top. I had been right next to it, just like Krans was when he found the debris field, the remnants of humans past blending within the landscape.
When I reached the spot, a low buzzing came from the scaled-down plane. The wind was sliding across the open ends of its engine housings. Krans didn’t intend for that to happen; it’s just how moving air and open pipes work. “It almost brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?” Krans asks me later.
It did. I started thinking of Ray, falling to Earth. Here. Of a secret death to go with his secret life.
Drilled into the rock next to the memorial is a metal sign: Walter L. Ray, it says, the words welded into the plaque. In service of his country, 5 Jan 1967.
Past the Oxcart, there were no other signs of humans. No evidence of their aerospace achievements, wars cold or hot, lives, or deaths. Only this miniaturized A-12, whose silhouette sits stark against scrubby plants—its nose pointed toward Home Plate.
An Army-green ammo box sits nearby, bolted down and hosting notes from those few who’ve visited. Along with a laminated printout of Ray’s story, there’s a handwritten page from Krans, addressed to Ray. “I will always have a beer for you and the boys,” it says. “You guys earned it. And after the Roadrunners organization is gone, know that the memory will live on.”
The Roadrunners are getting older. The last reunion, which Krans attended, happened in 2015. After that, there weren’t enough of them left. One year at the Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame annual banquet, which has become something of a makeshift reunion for Roadrunners and their associates, Frank Murray, an A-12 pilot himself, came up to Krans and shook his hand. “You make us remember,” Murray told him.
Memories of their time inside Area 51 are, in fact, all the Roadrunners have of that ghost-like period of their lives. “None of us has ever got to go back out there,” says Barnes. “Once you leave, you’re gone.”
The object in question traveled toward our solar system from the direction of Vega, a nearby star 25 light-years away, and intercepted our solar system’s orbital plane on Sept. 6, 2017.
On Sept. 9, its trajectory brought it closest to the sun. At the end of September, it blasted at about 58,900 miles per hour past Venus’ orbital distance, and then, on Oct. 7, it shot past Earth’s before “moving swiftly toward the constellation Pegasus and the blackness beyond,” Loeb writes in the book.
The object was first spotted by an observatory in Hawaii containing the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) — the highest-definition telescope on Earth.
The space object was dubbed ‘Oumuamua (pronounced “oh moo ah moo ah”), which is Hawaiian for — roughly — “scout.”
As space travelers go, it was relatively small at just about 100 yards long, but it was a big deal in the scientific community.
For starters, it was the first interstellar object ever detected inside our solar system. Judging from the object’s trajectory, astronomers concluded it was not bound by the sun’s gravity — which suggested it was just traveling through.
No crisp photos could be taken, but astronomers were able to train their telescopes on the object for 11 days, collecting reams of other data.
At first, scientists thought it was an ordinary comet. But Loeb said that assumption ran the risk of allowing “the familiar to define what we might discover.”
“What would happen if a caveman saw a cellphone?” he asked. “He’s seen rocks all his life, and he would have thought it was just a shiny rock.”
Loeb soon opened his mind to another possibility: It was not a comet but discarded tech from an alien civilization.
A number of unusual properties about the object helped Loeb make this conclusion.
First were ‘Oumuamua’s dimensions.
Astronomers looked at the way the object reflected sunlight. Its brightness varied tenfold every eight hours, suggesting that was the amount of time it took for it to complete a full rotation.
Scientists concluded the object was at least five to 10 times longer than it was wide — sort of like the shape of a cigar.
No naturally occurring space body we’ve ever seen has looked like it — or even close.
“This would make ‘Oumuamua’s geometry more extreme by at least a few times in aspect ratio — or its width to its height — than the most extreme asteroids or comets that we have ever seen,” Loeb writes in his book.
What’s more, ‘Oumuamua was unusually bright. It was at least “ten times more reflective than typical solar system [stony] asteroids or comets,” the author writes.
He likens its surface to that of shiny metal.
But the anomaly that really pushed Loeb toward his ET hypothesis was the way ‘Oumuamua moved.
“The excess push away from the sun — that was the thing that broke the camel’s back,” he said.
Using physics, scientists can calculate the exact path an object should take and what speed it should travel due to the gravitational force exerted by the sun. The sun’s pull will speed up an object massively as it gets closer, then kick it out the other side, only for the object to slow considerably as it gets farther away.
But ‘Oumuamua didn’t follow this calculated trajectory. The object, in fact, accelerated “slightly, but to a highly statistically significant extent,” Loeb writes, as it moved away from the sun.
In other words, it was clearly being pushed by a force besides the sun’s gravity.
At first the explanation seemed simple. Comets show a similar acceleration, because as they approach the sun, their surface is warmed, releasing once-frozen gases, which act like a rocket engine.
Those released materials, however, form a comet’s distinctive tail. Scientists looked carefully for that tail or any sign of gases or dust that might propel ‘Oumuamua and came up empty.
Loeb calculated that with these and other anomalies, the chances that ‘Oumuamua was some random comet was around 1 in a quadrillion, leading him to his blockbuster hypothesis.
But what was it exactly??
One possibility, weirdly enough, could be found in technology we already have here on Earth.
Some 400 years ago, astronomer Johannes Kepler observed comet tails blowing in what looked like a solar breeze and wondered if that same force could propel rocket ships through space like the wind pushes boats through water.
It was a smart idea that scientists now use to develop light sails for probes. Thin, reflective sheeting is unfurled in space to capture the particles streaming off the sun, propelling a ship at great speeds through the empty void. Alternatively, powerful lasers from Earth could be aimed at the sail to make it go even faster.
Loeb, who is involved in a light-sail project to send a tiny, unmanned craft to a nearby star, said if we Earthlings have thought of this idea, then why couldn’t aliens?
He and a colleague crunched the numbers and hypothesized that ‘Oumuamua was not actually cigar-shaped but possibly a disk less than a millimeter thick, with sail-like proportions that would account for its unusual acceleration as it moved away from the sun.
As to its purpose, Loeb isn’t entirely sure. He speculated it could be “space junk” that once served as a kind of space navigation buoy used by a long-ago civilization.
“The only way to look for [alien civilizations] is to look for their trash, like investigative journalists who look through celebrities’ trash,” Loeb said.
Of course, not everyone in the scientific community agrees with his theory.
In July 2019, the ‘Oumuamua Team of the International Space Science Institute published an article in Nature Astronomy concluding, “We find no compelling evidence to favor an alien explanation for ‘Oumuamua.”
Loeb admits his theories have raised astronomers’ eyebrows, but he is resolute about his findings. “Some people do not want to discuss the possibility that there are other civilizations out there,” he told The Post. “They believe we are special and unique. I think it’s a prejudice that should be abandoned.”
‘Some people do not want to discuss the possibility that there are other civilizations out there.’
Avi Loeb, Harvard astronomer and author of “Extraterrestrial”
Loeb said the skeptics are bending over backwards to assign natural origins to the object and that the explanations they’ve given to explain its weird properties don’t stand up to scrutiny.
For example, some scientists have suggested that ‘Oumuamua’s acceleration was caused by frozen hydrogen on its surface turning to gas and driving it like a comet, and that hydrogen would have been invisible to Earth’s infrared cameras, which is why we didn’t detect it.
But Loeb and a colleague published a paper showing that “a hydrogen iceberg traveling through interstellar space would evaporate long before it reached our solar system.”
Whatever the truth, the stakes are high.
The acceptance that an alien race has made contact — even through its trash — would trigger a serious search for more trash, leading us to scour the moon and Mars, for example, for debris that might have crash-landed thousands or millions of years ago.
But, perhaps more important, any further discoveries could redefine our place in the universe.
“It would put us in perspective,” Loeb said. “If we are not alone, are we the smartest kids on the block? If there was a species that eliminated itself through war or changing the climate, we can get our act together and behave better. Instead, we are wasting a lot of resources on Earth fighting each other and other negative things that are a big waste.”
Since ‘Oumuamua’s appearance, a second interstellar object known as 2I/Borisov was spotted entering the solar system by a Crimean telescope in 2019. But that turned out to be a plain old comet.
Until recently, our instruments have not been sensitive enough to pick up these kinds of visitors. But Loeb said technology will soon make it possible to locate more space travelers, and the only way the mystery of ‘Oumuamua will be settled is if a similar object is spotted and more thoroughly investigated with a probe.
He said his book “should motivate people to collect more data on the next object that looks weird.”
“If we find another and we take a photo and it looks like a light sail, I don’t think anyone will argue with that.”
HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – An unidentified flying object spotted in the evening sky over Leeward Oahu prompted witnesses to call 911 on Tuesday.
The sighting happened about 8:30 p.m.
There are multiple videos of what appears to be a glowing‚ oblong mass — both in the sky and in the water.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration say there were no aircraft incidents or accidents in this area at the time. But multiple witnesses reported seeing a large blue object fall out of the sky and into the ocean.
In a one video a woman can be heard saying, “Something is in the sky. What is that?”
Misitina Sape told Hawaii News Now she captured the image at 8:26 p.m. near Haleakala Avenue in Nanakuli.
Not long after, a woman named Moriah spotted what looked like the same object passing over Princess Kahanu Estates.
“I look up and then I was like oh s***!,” she said. “I started calling my husband and them because they were all in the garage. I was like hey. Come look up there. See if you see what I see. They all said yea!”
The 38-year-old says she’s never really been a believer in UFOs, but the bright blue object had them so intrigued they jumped in the car and started following it.
“I don’t know what it was,” she said. “This one was going so fast.”
The journey ended less than three miles from where it began. She says they stopped the car on Farrington Highway in front of the Board of Water Supply building after the object appeared to drop into the ocean.
In one of Moriah’s videos you can hear her say, “(It) went land in the water. Whatever it is.”
She described it as being larger than a telephone pole and says she never heard it make any sound.
“We called 911,” Moriah said, “For have like one cop or somebody for come out and come check em out.”
While officers were on scene Moriah says they spotted a second light.
“My husband went look up and he seen the white one coming,” she said. “The white one was smaller. Was coming in the same direction as the blue one.”
They lost sight of the object after it passed over a nearby mountain.
Thursday morning we asked Honolulu police if investigators figured out what fell in the water. A spokesperson told us they didn’t have any information.
Meanwhile, FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor said the agency received a report from police Tuesday night about a possible plane down in the area “but had no aircraft disappear off radars. And no reports of overdue or missing aircraft.”
Although Moriah’s had a couple days to think about it, she says she’s still baffled by what she saw.
“To this day I don’t know,” she said laughing. “If you guys can find out what it was, I like know, you know?”
The universe is a pretty mesmerizing place. From all of the natural wonders here on earth to the Tesla roadster flying through our galaxy, there’s certainly not a lack of wonder surrounding us. All this amazement naturally leads us to one prominent question, “what color is it?”
Okay, well, maybe that’s just me, but a group of researchers has solidly confirmed what color the universe is. Are you ready for it? It’s beige. But not just any beige, the color of the universe is named “Cosmic Latte”. A team of astronomers from Johns Hopkins University gave the universe’s color that name in 2002 after running a series of tests collecting massive amounts of light samples.
Initially, in 2001, the researchers thought that the universe was a slightly less attractive greenish white, but in 2002, they issued a correction claiming that the light from 200,000 studied galaxies averaged together comes out to a beige-ish white. And, if you were wondering what the hex triplet value for this “beige-ish white” is, it’s #FFF8E7. All images and videos courtesy of the creative commons or used in accordance with fair use laws.
The Pentagon played a huge role in the release of unclassified documents
If 2019 was a big year for UFO coverage, 2020 may have been the best year ever.
No one can say for certain whether life exists outside of this planet, but the public’s interest levels in the subject have likely never been higher.
In January, the U.S. Navy said the release of certain classified briefings and a classified video about a UFO incident held by the Department of Defense “would cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security” to the U.S., in response to a public records request from Vice.
A couple of weeks later, the U.K. announced that reported UFO sightings by the British public will be published online for the first time. The Royal Air Force ran a UFO unit for 50 years but shut it down in 2009 after coming to the conclusion that none of the reports offered evidence of a real threat.
In mid-February, after the U.K.’s decision to publish reported UFO sightings online, 61% of Americans surveyed said they want the U.S. government to declassify the country’s so-called “X-files.” Fifty-eight percent said they believe the U.S. government “actively investigates extraterrestrial life.”
April was a blockbuster month as the Pentagon finally released unclassified footage showing “unidentified aerial phenomena” captured by Navy aircraft that had circulated in the public for years.
That same week, Tom DeLonge, the former Blink-182 singer and the head of To the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, the group that originally obtained the videos, said “UFOs are real” in a since-deleted tweet.
The videos, known as “FLIR1,” “Gimbal” and “GoFast,” were originally released to the New York Times and to TTSA.
The first video of the unidentified object was taken on Nov. 14, 2004, and shot by the F-18’s gun camera. The second video was shot on Jan. 21, 2015, and shows another aerial vehicle with pilots commenting on how strange it is. The third video was also taken on Jan. 21, 2015, but it is unclear whether the third video was of the same object or a different one.
In June, the topic spurred national interest once again, after President Trump told his son, Donald Jr., that he had “interesting” details on Roswell, N.M.
“So many people ask me that question,” the president said in response to whether aliens exist. “There are millions and millions of people that want to go there, that want to see it. I won’t talk to you about what I know about it but it’s very interesting. But Roswell is a very interesting place with a lot of people that would like to know what’s going on.”
When Trump Jr. further pressed his father on whether he would declassify details about Roswell, the president said, “I’ll have to think about that one.”
Later that month, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked the Pentagon for a detailed, unclassified report on unidentified aerial phenomena. Rubio cited concerns the issue has been given scant attention from the intelligence community while acknowledging the existence of an “Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force.”
Late July saw the explosive release of a report that mentioned a long-hidden UFO investigative unit within the Pentagon making its findings public, as well as “off-world vehicles not made on this Earth.”
In August, the Pentagon officially launched the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, boosting an effort by the Office of Naval Intelligence, to investigate UFOs following several unexplained incidents that have been observed by the U.S. military.
This announcement came with its own controversies, Nick Pope, a former employee and UFO investigator for Britain’s Ministry of Defense, told Fox News in August.
President Trump made news once again, this time telling Fox News in an October interview that he would take a “good, strong look” at whether there are UFOs.
In December, leaked reports from the Pentagon’s UFO task force discussed “non-human technology,” including an Oct. 2019 email exchange between high-ranking military officials.
The Pentagon report includes a leaked photo, an account of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena emerging from the ocean through the sky, and an admission that the object might have an extraterrestrial origin.
People are interested in knowing about any and every information on unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and aliens. Former US President Barack Obama also recently accepted on a show that he had asked for information about aliens during his presidential tenure, however, he did not reveal what he knows about aliens.
Now another interesting piece of news has surfaced related to UFOs. It is reported that there exist two classified reports by the Pentagon on UFOs. A leaked photo of a mysterious object is a part of the classified report, reported Daily Mail.
Reportedly, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force of the United States Department of Defense issued two classified intelligence position reports in 2018 and the 2020 summer.
The report says that according to a detailed account from The Debrief, these reports circulated widely in the US intelligence community.
The Pentagon report includes a leaked photo, an account of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena emerging from the ocean through the sky, and an admission that the object might have an extraterrestrial origin.
Commenting on the revelation, Nick Pope, the person who investigated UFOs for the UK Ministry of Defence, said that it will give the public a peek behind the curtains when it comes to the handling of UFO issues by the government. As per him, this shows that the US government is taking the UFO phenomena seriously. Nick said that he expects there will be more revelations soon.
However, the Pentagon has not responded to questions related to the two reports.
An intelligence source has, however, said that this photo was included in the 2018 report. As per sources, the photo was captured by a military pilot from her mobile phone’s camera when it was hovering 30,000-35,000 feet above the ocean.
The image has been described as an unidentified silver cube-shaped object. It is said that the report has stated a legitimate possibility of the existence of alien or non-human technology.
‘The Phenomenon’ director James Fox and former Pentagon official Christopher Mellon join ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’
President Trump’s signature Sunday on the $2.3 trillion COVID-19 relief and government funding bill started a 180-day countdown for the Pentagon and spy agencies to say what they know about UFOs.
The provision received very little attention in part because it wasn’t included in the text of the 5,593-page legislation, but as a “committee comment” attached to the annual intelligence authorization act, which was rolled into the massive bill.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in the comment it “directs the [director of national intelligence], in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the heads of such other agencies… to submit a report within 180 days of the date of enactment of the Act, to the congressional intelligence and armed services committees on unidentified aerial phenomena.”
The report must address “observed airborne objects that have not been identified” and should include a “detailed analysis of unidentified phenomena data collected by: a. geospatial intelligence; b. signals intelligence; c. human intelligence; and d. measurement and signals intelligence,” the committee said.
The report must also contain “[a] detailed analysis of data of the FBI, which was derived from investigations of intrusions of unidentified aerial phenomena data over restricted United States airspace … and an assessment of whether this unidentified aerial phenomena activity may be attributed to one or more foreign adversaries.”
‘It’s a bit presumptuous and arrogant for us to believe that there’s no other form of life anywhere in the entire universe’
No one can say for certain what UFOs actually are, but a former director of the CIA said some of the recently unexplained phenomenon “might … constitute a different form of life.”
Speaking on a podcast with American economist Tyler Cowen, John Brennan said that while he did not know what the phenomenon was exactly, “It’s a bit presumptuous and arrogant for us to believe that there’s no other form of life anywhere in the entire universe.”
“… I think some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing continues to be unexplained and might, in fact, be some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don’t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life,” Brennan said, according to a transcript of the podcast.
Nick Pope, a former employee and UFO investigator for Britain’s Ministry of Defense, said Brennan’s comments are “intriguing,” given his former position.
“When I first heard the interview I thought he was going to play it safe, and his mention of weather phenomena reinforced that view,” Pope told Fox News via email. “But for him then to start speculating about something people ‘might say constitutes a different form of life’ was extraordinary. While it may have been a slip of the tongue and an inadvertent muddling of tenses, I was also fascinated to hear him mention not just the previous U.S. Navy UFO sightings, but ‘some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing’, as if he was talking about future events.”
Brennan, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Obama from March 2013 until January 2017, also discussed the trio of videos that were officially released by the Pentagon in April of “unidentified aerial phenomena.”
“I’ve seen some of those videos from Navy pilots, and I must tell you that they are quite eyebrow-raising when you look at them,” Brennan explained. “You try to ensure that you have as much data as possible in terms of visuals and also different types of maybe technical collection of sensors that you have at the time.”
The videos in reference, known as “FLIR1,” “Gimbal” and “GoFast,” were previously captured by Navy aircraft, with the footage circulating in the public for years.
They were originally released to the New York Times and to The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, headed by Blink-182 co-founder Tom DeLonge. After the videos were released publicly, DeLonge said “UFOs are real” in a since-deleted tweet.
In July, the New York Times reported that a small group of government officials, including Reid, and scientists believe objects of “undetermined origin” have crashed to Earth and have been retrieved. The publication cited 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 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.
Nostradamus’ predictions for 2021: Asteroids, zombies and a bad outlook.
And you thought it couldn’t get any worse?
World-ending asteroids, zombies and ruinous famine are on deck for 2021, according to French philosopher Michel de Nostradamus, whose track record for predicting the future has been freakishly accurate.
Nostradamus, who died in 1566, has famously prophesied calamitous events through his “Les Prophéties,” a collection of poetic quatrains. The Renaissance-era seer alluded to such events as the French Revolution, the development of the atomic bomb and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Now, close readers of his work say he foresaw a 2021 even more destructive than this hellscape of a year.
In his writings, he mentions “Few young people: half-dead to give a start.” This can only mean one thing, according to Yearly-Horoscope: a zombie apocalypse.
“Fathers and mothers dead of infinite sorrows / Women in mourning, the pestilent she−monster: / The Great One to be no more, all the world to end,” the philosopher went on, ominously.
“After great trouble for humanity, a greater one is prepared,” Nostradamus wrote. “The Great Mover renews the ages: / Rain, blood, milk, famine, steel, and plague, / Is the heavens fire seen, a long spark running.”
The company says it will offer “opportunities for groundbreaking research and life-changing travel experiences for off-world travels.”
Self-hep guru Tony Robbins is reportedly putting some of his money behind a Cape Canaveral start-up that wants to send people to space onboard balloons.
The company, Space Perspective, announced Wednesday in a press release that it has secured $7 million “for the development and early flights of Spaceship Neptune to the edge of space.”
A high-performance space balloon with a pressurized capsule. (Space Perspective)
“The infusion of capital advances the human space flight company another step closer to fundamentally changing the way people have access to space for research and tourism,” the statement read.
Space Perspective said it chose investors who are the “cutting edge of venture capital.” Among its investors is Robbins.
“My life is dedicated to delivering people extraordinary experiences that expand human consciousness,” Robbins said in a press release. “I always say a belief is a poor substitute for an experience and Jane and Taber’s work at Space Perspective will deliver a life-changing experience to people across the world and help us all realize that we are part of a human family sharing this remarkable planet.”
According to the company, the “space balloon” uses a pressurized capsule technology that “gently travels to and from the edge of space over a six-hour period.”
The company says it will offer “opportunities for groundbreaking research and life-changing travel experiences for off-world travels.”
It’s first flight, Neptune 1, is scheduled around the end of the first quarter 2021 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.
The storm was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018
A massive dark storm on Neptune that was first spotted two years ago has suddenly changed directions, leaving experts without answers.
The storm was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018, where it was seen on the planet’s Northern Hemisphere. In 2019, it was seen moving toward the planet’s Southern Hemisphere, but in August 2020, it started moving back north again, unlike other dark spots that have been spotted on the ice giant in the past. Another smaller, dark spot was also seen, believed to be a part of the larger storm that broke off into a separate storm.
“We are excited about these observations because this smaller dark fragment is potentially part of the dark spot’s disruption process,” Michael H. Wong of the University of California at Berkeley said in a statement. “This is a process that’s never been observed. We have seen some other dark spots fading away and they’re gone, but we’ve never seen anything disrupt, even though it’s predicted in computer simulations.”
This Hubble Space Telescope snapshot of the dynamic blue-green planet Neptune reveals a monstrous dark storm (top center) and the emergence of a smaller dark spot nearby (top right). (NASA, ESA, STScI, M.H. Wong/University of California, Berkeley and L.A. Sromovsky and P.M. Fry/University of Wisconsin-Madison))
NASA first flew by Neptune in 1989 with the Voyager 2 spacecraft and took pictures of two dark spots. It wasn’t until 1994 that it was observed on a regular basis by the Hubble. Since then, the space telescope has looked at the “Great Dark Spot” as well as other dark spots on the planet.
The dark storm in question is believed to be 4,600 miles across and is the fourth observed on Neptune since 1993. Unlike hurricanes on Earth, which are low-pressure and spin counterclockwise, these storms rotate clockwise and are high-pressure systems. But as they move toward the equator, they’re impacted by the Coriolis effect, which weakens them, ultimately disintegrating after it reaches a so-called “kill zone.” This particular storm did not.
(NASA, ESA, STScI, M.H. Wong/University of California, Berkeley and L.A. Sromovsky and P.M. Fry/University of Wisconsin-Madison)
“It was really exciting to see this one act like it’s supposed to act and then all of a sudden it just stops and swings back,” Wong said. “That was surprising.”
Wang believed the smaller storm, albeit one that is 3,900 miles across, was the result of the larger storm being disrupted, but that isn’t the case, adding intrigue to what’s causing it.
“I didn’t think another vortex was forming because the small one is farther towards the equator,” the researcher explained. “So it’s within this unstable region. But we can’t prove the two are related. It remains a complete mystery.”
Neptune is still relatively unexplored, as is Uranus, even with the Voyager 2 snapping photos of both planets in 1986 and 1989.
In August, researchers developed computer models that suggest both planets are composed “primarily” of a strange form of water.
In March 2019, scientists at NASA JPL proposed a mission that would explore Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, which some have theorized could have an ocean hidden beneath the surface.
NASA is investing in the technology for future space exploration missions
For all the controversy they stir up on Earth, nuclear reactors can produce the energy and propulsion needed to rapidly take large spacecraft to Mars and, if desired, beyond. The idea of nuclear rocket engines dates back to the 1940s. This time around, though, plans for interplanetary missions propelled by nuclear fission and fusion are being backed by new designs that have a much better chance of getting off the ground.
Crucially, the nuclear engines are meant for interplanetary travel only, not for use in the Earth’s atmosphere. Chemical rockets launch the craft out beyond low Earth orbit. Only then does the nuclear propulsion system kick in.
The challenge has been making these nuclear engines safe and lightweight. New fuels and reactor designs appear up to the task, as NASA is now working with industry partners for possible future nuclear-fueled crewed space missions. “Nuclear propulsion would be advantageous if you want to go to Mars and back in under two years,” says Jeff Sheehy, chief engineer in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. To enable that mission capability, he says, “a key technology that needs to be advanced is the fuel.”
Specifically, the fuel needs to endure the superhigh temperatures and volatile conditions inside a nuclear thermal engine. Two companies now say their fuels are sufficiently robust for a safe, compact, high-performance reactor. In fact, one of these companies has already delivered a detailed conceptual design to NASA.
Nuclear thermal propulsion uses energy released from nuclear reactions to heat liquid hydrogen to about 2,430 °C—some eight times the temperature of nuclear-power-plant cores. The propellant expands and jets out the nozzles at tremendous speeds. This can produce twice the thrust per mass of propellant as compared to that of chemical rockets, allowing nuclear-powered ships to travel longer and faster. Plus, once at the destination, be it Saturn’s moon Titan or Pluto, the nuclear reactor could switch from propulsion system to power source, enabling the craft to send back high-quality data for years.
Getting enough thrust out of a nuclear rocket used to require weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium. Low-enriched uranium fuels, used in commercial power plants, would be safer to use, but they can become brittle and fall apart under the blistering temperatures and chemical attacks from the extremely reactive hydrogen.
However, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. Technologies (USNC-Tech), based in Seattle, uses a uranium fuel enriched to below 20 percent, which is a higher grade than that of power reactors but “can’t be diverted for nefarious purposes, so it greatly reduces proliferation risks,” says director of engineering Michael Eades. The company’s fuel contains microscopic ceramic-coated uranium fuel particles dispersed in a zirconium carbide matrix. The microcapsules keep radioactive fission by-products inside while letting heat escape.
Lynchburg, Va.–based BWX Technologies, is working under a NASA contract to look at designs using a similar ceramic composite fuel—and also examining an alternate fuel form encased in a metallic matrix. “We’ve been working on our reactor design since 2017,” says Joe Miller, general manager for the company’s advanced technologies group.
Both companies’ designs rely on different kinds of moderators. Moderators slow down energetic neutrons produced during fission so they can sustain a chain reaction, instead of striking and damaging the reactor structure. BWX intersperses its fuel blocks between hydride elements, while USNC-Tech’s unique design integrates a beryllium metal moderator into the fuel. “Our fuel stays in one piece, survives the hot hydrogen and radiation conditions, and does not eat all the reactor’s neutrons,” Eades says.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory scientists are using this experimental reactor to heat fusion plasmas up to one million degrees C—on the long journey to developing fusion-powered rockets for interplanetary travel.
There is another route to small, safe nuclear-powered rockets, says Samuel Cohen at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory: fusion reactors. Mainline fusion uses deuterium and tritium fuels, but Cohen is leading efforts to make a reactor that relies on fusion between deuterium atoms and helium-3 in a high-temperature plasma, which produces very few neutrons. “We don’t like neutrons because they can change structural material like steel to something more like Swiss cheese and can make it radioactive,” he says. The Princeton lab’s concept, called Direct Fusion Drive, also needs much less fuel than conventional fusion, and the device could be one-thousandth as large, Cohen says.
Fusion propulsion could in theory far outperform fission-based propulsion, because fusion reactions release up to four times as much energy, says NASA’s Sheehy. However, the technology isn’t as far along and faces several challenges, including generating and containing the plasma and efficiently converting the energy released into directed jet exhaust. “It could not be ready for Mars missions in the late 2030s,” he says.
USNC-Tech, by contrast, has already made small hardware prototypes based on its new fuel. “We’re on track to meet NASA’s goal to have a half-scale demonstration system ready for launch by 2027,” says Eades. The next step would be to build a full-scale Mars flight system, one that could very well drive a 2035 Mars mission.
Scientists built a 27-mile long prototype quantum internet in the US
They successfully used quantum entanglement to teleport signals instantly
The phenomenon sees qubits, the quantum equivalent of computer bits, pair up and respond instantly
Scientists have demonstrated long-distance ‘quantum teleportation’ – the instant transfer of units of quantum information known as qubits – for the first time.
The qubits were transferred faster than the speed of light over a distance of 27 miles, laying the foundations for a quantum internet service, which could one day revolutionise computing.
But their development relies on cutting-edge scientific theory which transforms our understanding of how computers work.
Pictured, the laser system for the quantum sensors being tested. Researchers found the quantum internet worked over a distance of 27 miles with a fidelity of 90%.
In a quantum internet, information stored in qubits (the quantum equivalent of computer bits) is shuttled, or ‘teleported’, over long distances through entanglement.
Entanglement is a phenomenon whereby two particles are linked in such a way that information shared with one is shared with the other at exactly the same time.
This means that the quantum state of each particle is dependent on the state of the other – even when they are separated by a large distance.
Quantum teleportation, therefore, is the transfer of quantum states from one location to the other.
However, it is highly sensitive to environmental interference that can easily disrupt the quality or ‘fidelity’ of teleportation, so proving the theory in practice has been technologically challenging.
Pictured, Caltech graduate student Andrew Mueller adjusting the cryogenic equipment where the quantum detectors are housed
In their latest experiment, researchers from Caltech, NASA, and Fermilab (Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory) built a unique system between two labs separated by 27 miles (44km).
The system comprises three nodes which interact with one another to trigger a sequence of qubits, which pass a signal from one place to the other instantly.
The ‘teleportation’ is instant, occurring faster than the speed of light, and the researchers reported a fidelity of more than 90 percent, according to the new study, published in PRX Quantum.
Fidelity is used to measure how close the resulting qubit signal is to the original message that was sent.
Pictured, Caltech graduate student Samantha Davis analysing the quantum teleporation fidelity data using real-time data acquisition software
Pictured, Caltech postdoctoral scholar Raju Valivarthi calibrating one of the quantum teleportation nodes
‘This high fidelity is important especially in the case of quantum networks designed to connect advanced quantum devices, including quantum sensors,’ explains Professor Maria Spiropulu from Caltech.
The findings of the project are crucial to hopes of a future quantum internet as well as pushing the boundaries of what scientists known about the quantum realm.
Although the technology is yet to reach the point of being rolled out beyond sophisticated tests such as this, there are already plans for how policy makers will employ the technology.
For example, the US Department of Energy hopes to erect a quantum network between its laboratories across the states.
The power of a quantum computer running on quantum internet will likely exceed the speeds of the world’s current most sophisticated supercomputers by around 100 trillion times.
‘People on social media are asking if they should sign up for a quantum internet provider (jokingly of course),’ Professor Spiropulu told Motherboard.
‘We need (a lot) more R&D work.’
WHAT IS QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT?
In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed by one affects the behaviour of the other, even if they are separated by huge distances.
This means if you measure, ‘up’ for the spin of one photon from an entangled pair, the spin of the other, measured an instant later, will be ‘down’ – even if the two are on opposite sides of the world.
In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed by one affects the behaviour of the other, even if they are separated by huge distances (artist’s impression)
For instance, a laser beam fired through a certain type of crystal can cause individual light particles to be split into pairs of entangled photons.
The theory that so riled Einstein is also referred to as ‘spooky action at a distance’.
Einstein wasn’t happy with theory, because it suggested that information could travel faster than light.
Research suggests intelligent life may have emerged 8 billion years after the Milky Way formed
No one can say for certain whether extraterrestrial civilizations exist, but one new study suggests the Milky Way is full of them, though many could be dead.
The research, which can be read on the arXiv repository, was written by experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology and Santiago High School in Corona, Calif. It uses the famous Drake Equation and determined that intelligent life may have emerged some 8 billion years after the Milky Way formed.
“As we cannot assume a low probability of annihilation, it is possible that intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy is still too young to be observed by us,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Therefore, our findings can imply that intelligent life may be common in the galaxy but is still young, supporting the optimistic aspect for the practice of [search for extraterrestrial intelligence].”
The experts also looked at where other civilizations may live in the universe, noting they are likely to reside on planets in the galactic habitable zone, places in the galaxy where there is an abundance of metals. This could be approximately 13,000 light-years from the galactic center, the researchers noted.
By comparison, the solar system and Earth are approximately 25,000 light-years from the galactic center. A light-year, which measures distance in space, is approximately 6 trillion miles.
However, the researchers also noted the potential for self-annihilation in galactic intelligent life to be “highly influential,” suggesting any intelligent life may have already destroyed themselves.
“[I]f intelligent life is likely to destroy themselves, it is not surprising that there is little or no intelligent life elsewhere,” the researchers added.
Though there is no “explicit” evidence that intelligent life will eventually annihilate themselves, the researchers cited research dating back to the 1960s that progress in science and technology “will inevitably lead to complete destruction and biological degeneration.”
Some potential scenarios put forth by the researchers include war, climate change and the development of biotechnology.
More than 4,500 exoplanets have been discovered so far, with only a small portion thought to have the properties to contain life. A study published in November suggested that the galaxy may actually contain 300 million planets capable of supporting life.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to launch vehicles designed by Frank Stephenson — of McLaren, Ferrari, and BMW fame — onto the Moon’s surface for a remote-controlled car rally.
The cars will be sent into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in October 2021, SpaceX said.
The vehicles will be partially designed, built, and raced by two teams of high-school students.
Moon Mark, an entertainment and education company, is teaming up with aerospace companies Intuitive Machines and Lunar Outpost to organize the car race.
SpaceX wants to race remote-controlled cars on the surface of the Moon.
Elon Musk’s aerospace company plans to launch the vehicles in October 2021 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
It has enlisted legendary designer Frank Stephenson — known for his work at BMW, Ferrari, Maserati, McLaren, and others — to help design the cars.
The two vehicles will be partially designed, built, and raced by two teams of high school students, according to a statement published in November.
They will be carried in a Nova-C lunar lander made by Intuitive Machines.
The race is being organized by Moon Mark, a multimedia and education content company, which partnered with aerospace company Intuitive Machines. Space tech firm Lunar Outpost also joined the race partnership on November 17, the statement said.
Stephenson accepted the appointment as the race design director for Moon Mark Mission 2021 in November.
Those students racing the cars had to first earn the reward.
On July 14, Moon Mark announced that two teams of high school students had created valid car designs in just four weeks: “Team Atlas” is from Buenos Aires, and “Team Ilstar” comes from Shanghai.
The challenges they faced included drone and autonomous vehicle racing, e-gaming, and a space commercialization entrepreneurship contest, according to a statement.
“The two top teams from the qualifying rounds will win a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build and race two vehicles on the Moon,” the companies said.
They will now work with Stephenson, an automotive designer, to create a vehicle that they will speed across the moon’s surface.
“This is a project helping to develop the innovators of the future, allowing them to dream big and realize that nothing is impossible,” Stephenson said in a statement.
“Space is a fascinating place, remaining untapped for budding designers and I’m very much looking forward to sharing some of my knowledge to those involved in this innovative project,” he added.
Mary L. Hagy, Moon Mark Founder and CEO said: “His extraordinary experience and talents in automotive and aerospace design will bring insight and inspiration to our young innovators.”
Astronomers listening out for signs alien life have received a mysterious radio signal originating from the general vicinity of Proxima Centauri – one of Earth’s closest neighbours.
And it has no obvious explanation raising the possibility the transmission is an alien signal.
Proxima Centauri is just 4.2 light-years away from Earth and is also the nearest star to the sun.
The signal was received amid 30 hours of observation in 2019 by astronomers at the Parkes Observatory in NSW.
It was then identified just a couple of months ago, as researchers trawled through the data, with its very narrow frequency of 982 MHz suggesting technological rather than natural origins.
The exciting discovery was only publicly revealed this week in news leaked to the British Guardian newspaper.
Scientific American reported that the signal cannot be dismissed as interference of human or natural origin, which means it may have an extraterrestrial origin – a so-called “technosignature”.
Proxima Centauri is also home to an Earth-like planet called Proxima b which is the nearest planet outside our solar system.
The signal was detected as part of the decade-long $US100 ($A131) million Breakthrough Listen project, founded in 2016.
The project is based at the University of California, Berkeley’s SETI Research Center, at the institution’s astronomy department.
Breakthrough Listen is funded by tech billionaire Yuri Milner and led by University of California, Berkeley astrophysicist Andrew Siemion.
“It has some particular properties that caused it to pass many of our checks, and we cannot yet explain it,” Siemion told Scientific American this week.
The signal has been named BLC1 or “Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1” and is being analysed for a paper for publication early next year.
“It’s the most exciting signal that we’ve found in the Breakthrough Listen project, because we haven’t had a signal jump through this many of our filters before,” Penn State University’s Sofia Sheikh told Scientific American.
Writing on the SETI website, the organisation’s senor astronomer Seth Shostak points out that Breakthrough Listen’s analysts will be looking at every possible explanation for the signal and canvasses many of them himself.
But he does allow some room for optimism.
“As long as we still don’t know, we should continue to consider the alien hypothesis viable,” Shostak writes.
“After all, any SETI detection is going to be dicey when we first make it … there will be plenty of calls for restraint intended to pacify the all-too-eager.
“But it’s reasonable to expect that someday one of these suspicious signals will, indeed, be the sought-after proof of intelligence on another world.”
If you had to describe 2020, you probably wouldn’t say that it was the year the planets aligned. That phrase is reserved for use in good times, and the past year hasn’t been a lucky one for most.
But while things haven’t exactly fallen into place for 2020 thanks to the pandemic, we will be closing the year off with a spectacular space show in which everything lines up just right. Later this month, two planets in our solar system will align, creating a double planet for the first time in 800 years.
Perhaps planets aligning is a good omen for 2021? Either way, it’s a rare event and you need to make plans to watch. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait around for another 400 years for it to happen again. Here’s what you need to know.
The planets are finally going to align
Want to watch a double planet in action? Look up at the sky just after sunset on the evening of Dec. 21, and you will see a rare alignment of Jupiter and Saturn take place. That evening, the two planets will appear closer together than they have been since the Middle Ages.
Planets in our solar system only align every 20 years or so, and the last time these two planets were this close together was on March 4, 1226. In other words, these planets won’t align again in your lifetime.
This event won’t just align Saturn and Jupiter, either. It will make the two planets will look like one single point of bright light in the sky. But while the event will make Saturn and Jupiter look like they’re a double planet, the gaseous planets are still going to be hundreds of millions of miles apart, according to NASA.
The event has been dubbed “the great conjunction,” a nod to Jupiter and Saturn being the biggest gas giants in our solar system.
There has been quite the intergalactic build-up to the big show. Jupiter and Saturn have been making moves to approach each other since the summer, slowly inching closer together months before the final show.
How to watch the planetary display in action
Want to check out the show? Dec. 21 will be the optimal time for seeing the double planet. However, the two planets are actually going to be separated by less than the diameter of a full moon from Dec. 16 to Dec. 25, so you may want to gaze up at the sky a few days before the finale.
You’ll need to use a telescope or binoculars to view the planets, but you’ll get a bonus show, too. Not only will the Saturn and Jupiter double planet be visible, but so will several of their largest moons.
You’ll have the best vantage point if you’re in a location near the equator. Don’t panic if you’re in a different spot, though. You can still see the event from anywhere on Earth as long as the weather is good.
The best time to see this happen is in the western sky shortly after sunset. The phenomenon will be visible for about an hour after the sun goes down, so grab your telescope and head outside right after the sun sets.
If you miss it, your only other shot at catching Jupiter and Saturn this close together will be on March 15, 2080 — and the planets will be much higher in the night sky, making the view less accessible to sky-watchers on planet Earth. If you miss that show, you won’t get another shot until after the year 2400.
Since the beginning of time, man has questioned what happens after death. Of course, there are a variety of typical answers to this question, but scientists may have just added an infinite number of other possibilities, just to shake things up.
According to Robert Lanza, M.D, death is actually a door to an endless number of universes. Furthermore, during our life, Lanza asserts that anything that possibly can happen is happening in some universe. He continues to explain that death does not exist in these scenarios since all of these possibilities are taking place at the same time. The only reason we associate our consciousness with our physical body is due to energy operating around in our brains.
In his book entitled, “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe,“he has stirred up quite a bit of controversy on the internet, as his theory regarding everlasting life is quite a bit different than the typical theories surrounding life and death.
Lanza’s background in regenerative medicine and as a science director of the Advances Cell Technology Company has provided him with an extensive background in dealing with stem cells. And recently, he has become more involved in physics, quantum mechanics, and astrophysics. It was during his studies regarding those topics that he stumbled upon his new theory of biocentrism.
Biocentrism asserts that life and consciousness are both fundamental to the ways of the universe. He further theorizes that it is our consciousness that creates the material universe, instead of being the other way around.
He believes that when we die, we experience a break in the string that binds the mind and body together as one. Once this takes place, we also experience a break with our connection of times and places.
“Indeed, biocentrism suggests it’s a manifold that leads to all physical possibilities. More and more physicists are beginning to accept the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum physics, which states that there are an infinite number of universes.
Everything that can possibly happen occurs in some universe. Death doesn’t exist in these scenarios since all of them exist simultaneously regardless of what happens in any of them. The “me” feeling is just energy operating in the brain. But energy never dies; it cannot be destroyed.”
Of course, his beliefs are just theory, but they are pretty fascinating to think about, don’t you think? And while we can never be certain of what lies ahead, on the other side, it appears that our number of possibilities may have just infinitely expanded. No matter what you believe, quantum physics provides a number of viable theories regarding the unknown aspects of the world, and in the least, Lanza’s book would prove to be an amazing read.
Our intuition tells us that the future can be changed, but Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests that there is no real difference between the future and the past.
The future, present and past may actually not be as different as we think, says science writer and astrophysicist Adam Becker. He explains this mind-bending idea to Michael Marshall and Melissa Hogenboom, with help from the animators at Pomona Pictures.
Humanity has recorded five nearby supernovae. But we might have missed a few.
On July 4, 1054, a star in the constellation Taurus exploded. Some 6,500 light years away, the inhabitants of a canyon in what would, centuries later, be known as New Mexico took notice. They painted the celestial fireworks—which likely outshone Venus—on the sheltered face of an overhanging cliff. Detailed Chinese records of the “guest star” suggest it was visible during the day for more than three weeks, and at night for nearly two years.
Astronomers estimate that perhaps 50 stars have exploded in our galaxy during the last millennium—one roughly every two decades. But the 1054 supernova is one of just five stellar detonations that researchers have confidently identified in historical records, the last of which took place more than 400 years ago. So where are all the supernovae? Where are our celestial fireworks?
Intrigued by this discrepancy, a team of astronomers recently explored how hard it is to spot supernovae and where in the sky they are most likely to be seen. In a not-yet-peer reviewed preprint published Monday on the arXiv, they announced an odd result. While the overall number of supernovae checks out, they’re in all the wrong places.
“I was just stunned,” says Brian Fields, a University of Illinois astronomer and coauthor of the study. “All of the confident [supernovae] completely avoided where the model said they’d be.”
The group, which included undergraduate researchers Tanner Murphey and Jacob Hogan, started with work from other researchers analyzing where in the Milky Way supernovae are most likely to take place. They treated the galaxy as something like two fried eggs stacked yolk-side out; it has a flat disk (which we see edge-on, as a river of stars spilling across the sky) with a round bulge in the middle. Supernovae should be more common in the center where stars, especially swollen red giants just about ready to pop, crowd thickly together. Such calculations have previously suggested that a star dies, somewhere in the bulge or disk, every few decades.
But not all explosions catch the attention of stargazers. Dust expelled from previous generations of stars makes the whole galaxy—and especially the center—look hazy, and supernovae on the other side of the disk might be hard to see from Earth. And to enter the historical record, a supernova has to be not just visible but, as Fields puts it, go-and-tell-the-Emperor-visible. The team estimated that perhaps just one of five supernovae blazes brightly enough to burn through the dusty haze and shine for 90 days, meaning that one might expect such a dramatic event once every century or two—about what historical records indicate.
The end result was a map showing where in the sky the brightest supernovae are most likely to occur, and it was not a complicated map. It roughly traced the locations of some 300 instances of splattered star guts known to astronomers, clustering in the galactic disk and especially near the center of the Milky Way.
But that’s not where historical astronomers saw their transient stars, which exploded above and below the disk. The supernova in 1054, notably, left a debris cloud in precisely the opposite direction—behind us, away from the galactic center. “That’s the most disfavored place in our model and that’s where the most famous supernova is,” Fields says. “That’s amazing to me.”
With only a handful of recorded events, the group can’t make strong statistical claims. But they suspect that the peculiar locations of the historical supernovae undermine one or more of their assumptions. Treating the Milky Way as two fried eggs isn’t the most sophisticated model, for instance. It neglects the clumping of stars into spiral arms, which the group hopes to consider in future research.
The team’s results also highlight a gap in the historical record. All accounts come from civilizations in the northern hemisphere, even though stargazers in South America, Africa, and Australia had a clearer view of the galactic disk—a front row seat to stellar explosions. Perhaps Incan depictions of the 1054 supernova and other events lie buried in the Peruvian Amazon.
Bradley Schaefer, an astronomer at Louisiana State University who was not involved in the research, said in an email that the group had done good work and created a believable sky map that matches previous results. The funky locations of the five historical supernovae don’t worry him too much though, given their low number and the lack of known records from the southern hemisphere.
Much of the interest in this historical astronomy lies in understanding how ancient cultures thought about the stars, but old data sets can also lead to new science. Many sites of stellar wreckage still smolder as expanding clouds, and pinpointing their year or even day of origin can help astronomers reconstruct their history, Fields says.
Researchers also ponder the past to prepare for the future. When the next Milky Way supernova goes off—whether it’s in a year or a century—astronomers definitely won’t miss it. Neutrino detectors noticed a supernova in a neighboring galaxy in 1987, and if something similar happened in our cosmic backyard, Fields says, they would light up “like a Christmas tree.”
Today’s researchers might not bother sif a local star exploded, but they would quickly notify each other, coordinating observations of neutrinos, gravitational waves, and a wide range of wavelengths of light to turn even a dim burst into the best understood supernova in human history.
And there’s a good chance we could see it with the naked eye too. A brilliant and lingering supernova may be a once-in-a-few-centuries occurrence, but we’ll have astronomers and the internet to guide our eyes toward a fainter dot. Perhaps half of all supernovae could be just barely visible, Fields estimates in the new work, if you know where to look. And one of those could come along any day now.
“It’d be really phenomenal to have a galactic supernova,”he says. “You just have to wait, and it will more or less come out of the blue.”
It’s the first moon sample-return mission since 1976.
For the first time in more than four decades, humanity has brought moon rocks down to Earth.
A capsule loaded with lunar dirt and gravel landed in Inner Mongolia today (Dec. 16) at 12:59 p.m. EST (1759 GMT), capping China’s historic and whirlwind Chang’e 5 mission.
The last such moon delivery came courtesy of the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission, which returned about 6 ounces (170 grams) of material in 1976. Chang’e 5’s haul should be much larger — about 4.4 lbs. (2 kilograms), if all went according to plan on the lunar surface.
The four-module, 18,100-lb. (8,200 kg) Chang’e 5 mission — China’s first-ever sample-return effort — launched on Nov. 23 and arrived in lunar orbit five days later. Two of the four modules, a lander and an attached ascent vehicle, touched down near Mons Rümker, a volcanic mountain in the moon’s huge Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”) region, on Dec. 1.
The solar-powered lander was equipped with cameras, ground-penetrating radar and an imaging spectrometer to take the measure of its surroundings. But the lander’s main job was to collect samples, which it busily did for the next two days, snagging stuff from the surface and from up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) underground.
On Dec. 3, this moon material launched aboard the ascent vehicle, which met up with the other two Chang’e 5 modules — an orbiter and a return capsule — in lunar orbit on Dec. 5. (The liftoff apparently damaged the lander, which stopped working on Dec. 3. But this was no great loss; the lander would have died on Dec. 11 anyway, when darkness descended on Mons Rümker.)
The Chang’e 5 team deorbited the ascent vehicle on Dec. 7, sending the craft back to the moon with a crash. Five days later, the orbiter and return capsule began the journey back to Earth, which culminated today with the capsule’s landing in Inner Mongolia.
Chang’e 5 was the latest mission in the Chang’e program of robotic lunar exploration, which is named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology. Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 lofted moon orbiters in 2007 and 2010, respectively, and Chang’e 3 put a lander-rover duo down on the lunar nearside in December 2013.
Next up was Chang’e 5 T1, which launched a prototype return capsule around the moon in October 2014 to help prepare for the touchdown that occurred today. Then came Chang’e 4, which in January 2019 pulled off the first-ever soft landing on the moon’s mysterious farside. That touchdown involved a lander-rover pair, as with Chang’e 3.
The Chang’e 4 lander and rover are still going strong, as is Chang’e 3’s lander. (The Chang’e 3 rover died after 31 months of work on the lunar surface.)
With Chang’e 5’s apparent success — mission teams still need to inspect and assess the returned sample — China has become just the third nation to bring moon material to Earth. The other two are the Soviet Union and the United States, which hauled home about 842 lbs. (382 kg) of lunar rocks and dirt during the six Apollo surface missions between 1969 and 1972.
The Chang’e 5 samples should provide a new window into lunar history and evolution, scientists say, given that rocks in the Mons Rümker region are thought to have formed just 1.2 billion years ago or so.
“All of the volcanic rocks collected by Apollo were older than 3 billion years. And all of the young impact craters whose ages have been determined from the analysis of samples are younger than 1 billion years,” Bradley Jolliff, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement.Advertisement
“So the Chang’e 5 samples will fill a critical gap,” Jolliff said. “These samples will be a treasure trove!”
Today’s landing was the second such Earth return in just 11 days. On Dec. 5, the return capsule of Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission touched down in the Australian Outback with precious pieces of the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu. And there are more such cosmic deliveries coming: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to return samples of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in September 2023.
The exoplanet HD 106906 b is 336 light-years from Earth
Although scientists have yet to find the elusive Planet 9, a recently discovered exoplanet in deep space may provide further evidence the mysterious celestial object indeed exists.
The exoplanet HD 106906 b is 336 light years from Earth and has a bizarre orbit around its pair of host stars, going around once every 15,000 years, according to a study published in The Astronomical Journal.
First discovered in 2013, the exoplanet is massive, at 11 times the size of Jupiter. Yet, it was only recently, thanks to measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope, that scientists were able to see its elongated — 730 times the distance between the Earth and the sun — and inclined orbit, unlike any of the known planets in the Solar System.
This 11-Jupiter-mass exoplanet called HD106906 b occupies an unlikely orbit around a double star 336 light-years away and it may be offering clues to something that might be much closer to home: a hypothesized distant member of our Solar System dubbed “Planet Nine.” This is the first time that astronomers have been able to measure the motion of a massive Jupiter-like planet that is orbiting very far away from its host stars and visible debris disc. (Credit: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser)
“To highlight why this is weird, we can just look at our own Solar System and see that all of the planets lie roughly in the same plane,” explained the study’s lead author, Meiji Nguyen of the University of California, Berkeley, in a statement. “It would be bizarre if, say, Jupiter just happened to be inclined 30 degrees relative to the plane that every other planet orbits in. This raises all sorts of questions about how HD 106906 b ended up so far out on such an inclined orbit.”
The researchers believe that HD 106906 b may have formed quite close to its host stars, but over time, drag caused the orbit to decay. Instead of crashing into the stars as would normally happen, the gravity of the two stars pushed it out of the system, but at the right moment, another star passed close by, resulting in a far off, elongated orbit.
If Planet 9 exists, a similar scenario may have played out in the early days of our Solar System, with Jupiter’s gravity pushing it toward the edge, only for it to be saved by another, alien star.
“It’s as if we have a time machine for our own Solar System going back 4.6 billion years to see what may have happened when our young Solar System was dynamically active and everything was being jostled around and rearranged,” study co-author Paul Kalas added.
Researchers want to study HD 106906 b further to learn how it formed and where and see if there are additional links to Planet 9, a celestial object which despite the hype surrounding it, has yet to be found.
“Despite the lack of detection of Planet Nine to date, the orbit of the planet can be inferred based on its effect on the various objects in the outer Solar System,” study co-author Robert De Rosa added. “This suggests that if a planet was indeed responsible for what we observe in the orbits of trans-Neptunian objects it should have an eccentric orbit inclined relative to the plane of the Solar System. This prediction of the orbit of Planet Nine is similar to what we are seeing with HD 106906b.”
A hypothetical planet that has been described as “the solar system’s missing link,” Planet 9 (also known as Planet X) has been part of the lexicon for several years, first mentioned in 2014. It was brought up again in 2016, when Caltech astrophysicists Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin wrote about it.
Artist’s illustration of Planet Nine, a hypothetical world that some scientists think lurks undiscovered in the far outer solar system. (R. Hurt (IPAC)/Caltech)
In October 2017, NASA released a statement saying that Planet 9 might be 20 times further from the Sun than Neptune is, going so far as to say “it is now harder to imagine our solar system without a Planet 9 than with one.”
Some researchers have suggested the mysterious planet may be hiding behind Neptune and it may take up to 1,000 years before it’s actually found.
Two studies published in March 2019 offered support of its existence, however, a separate study published in September 2019 suggested the theoretical object may not be a giant planet hiding behind Neptune — but rather a primordial black hole.
A study published in January 2019 suggested that some of the farthest celestial bodies in our planetary system aren’t being impacted by this yet-to-be-discovered planet, but rather another mysterious object deep in the echoes of space.
The Solar One craft is a combination of three “near-future” technologies, like the Navy’s compact fusion reactor, and one (literally!) far-flung idea.
A lot would have to go right for this idea to work at any point soon.
In a fascinating new paper, amateur astronomer Alberto Caballero suggests a combination of near-future technologies could carry people to the Alpha Centauri system, home to the nearest potentially habitable exoplanet, at about 22 percent the speed of light.
But is Caballero cooking with gas, or is this all hot air? There’s a lot to unpack here.
In his paper, which he posted to the non-peer-reviewed, preprint service arXiv, Caballero proposes the concept and design of a new spacecraft he dubs Solar One, which would integrate a larger version of NASA’s Sunjammer light sail, the U.S. Navy’s compact fusion reactor, and several DE-STAR laser systems. Here’s the concept art:
With a mile-long light sail, Caballero says, Solar One could reach “an average of 22 [percent] the speed of light, arriving to the closest potentially habitable exoplanet in less than 19 years with the help of a Bussard scoop.”
A refresher: Solar sailing, a term first coined by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke in his 1964 short story “Sunjammer,” is a method of powering small spacecraft without the use of an expensive propellant. Instead, the spacecraft has a large, mirror-like sail, which harnesses the power of the sun.
NASA retired its Sunjammer light sail in 2014, after a few years of work and a tiny-scale demonstration, but before a planned test flight of a much larger sail at a much higher altitude. But NASA, Bill Nye’s space-travel foundation, and many others players continue to invest in light sails of different kinds.
An artist’s concept of the Bussard Interstellar Ramjet, which uses interstellar hydrogen scooped up from its environment as the spacecraft passes by to provide propellant mass.NASA/PUBLIC DOMAIN
Finally, the Bussard scoop Caballero mentions is more far out than even the rest of these untested ideas.
This is like a spacecraft’s version of a whale’s baleen, skimming all of the protons from a chunk of space and somehow turning that into a nuclear rocket. As that cached NASA page puts it, “There are a variety of limitations to this concept, such as how many protons can be scooped up, the drag created from scooping them—not to mention getting these protons to engage in nuclear fusion for a rocket.”
Caballero posits that the CFR will gather up a terawatt of energy, which would fuel the DE-STAR array. The lasers would scan ahead to dissolve obstacles, behind to increase propulsion, and finally, ahead again to slow the craft as it nears the final destination among the exoplanets. The massive Sunjammer, meanwhile, will more passively propel the craft.
What’s maybe most interesting about Caballero’s idea is that, since he’s an outsider scientist, it’s made from all public information. Even his calculations are powered by, he says, “an online calculator provided by […] a company specialized in lasers.”
So, could the Solar One really fly? That’s hard to say, because even near-future technology is still far away from where we sit in 2020.
Sneaking the Bussard scoop in there feels like a fakeout, because that idea is far further into the future than the others—firmly in the area of pure ideas at this point, without even a tiny amount of proof of concept. But imagining these spacecrafts is arguably just as important today, when scientists, and funders, are making decisions that could influence where humanity can go in the next 100 or even 500 years.
And in that sense, Solar One is a great exercise in what could be possible.
If this plasma propulsion tech is real, it could change everything.
This past autumn, a professor at Wuhan University named Jau Tang was hard at work piecing together a thruster prototype that, at first, sounds too good to be true.
The basic idea, he said in an interview, is that his device turns electricity directly into thrust — no fossil fuels required — by using microwaves to energize compressed air into a plasma state and shooting it out like a jet. Tang suggested, without a hint of self-aggrandizement, that it could likely be scaled up enough to fly large commercial passenger planes. Eventually, he says, it might even power spaceships.
Needless to say, these are grandiose claims. A thruster that doesn’t require tanks of fuel sounds suspiciously like science fiction — like the jets on Iron Man’s suit in the Marvel movies, for instance, or the thrusters that allow Doc Brown’s DeLorean to fly in “Back to the Future.”
But in Tang’s telling, his invention — let’s just call it a Tang Jet, which he worked on with Wuhan University collaborators Dan Ye and Jun Li — could have civilization-shifting potential here in the non-fictional world.
“Essentially, the goal of this technology is to try and use electricity and air to replace gasoline,” he said. “Global warming is a major threat to human civilization. Fossil fuel-free technology using microwave air plasma could be a solution.”
He anticipates this happening fast. In two years, he says, he thinks Tang Jets could power drones. In a decade, he’d like to see them fly a whole airplane.
That would all be awesome, obviously. But it’s difficult to evaluate whether Tang’s invention could ever scale up enough to become practical. And even if it did, there would be substantial energy requirements that could doom aerospace applications.
One thing’s for sure: If the tech works the way he hopes, the world will never be the same.
Tang’s curriculum vitae flits between a dazzling array of strikingly disparate academic topics, from 4D electron microscopy to quantum dot lasers, nanotechnology, artificial photosynthesis, and, of course, phase transitions and plasmonics.
He’s held several professorships, done research at Caltech and Bell Laboratories, published scores of widely-cited papers, edited several scientific journals, and won a variety of awards. He holds a U.S. patent for a device he calls a “synchrotron shutter,” designed to capture electrons traveling near the speed of light.
Tang says he first stumbled onto the idea for the plasma thruster when he was trying to create synthetic diamonds. As he tried to grow them using microwaves, he recalls, he started to wonder whether the same technology could be used to produce thrust.
Other huge stories, like the coronavirus pandemic and the baffling saga of Elon Musk naming his baby “X Æ A-12,” were sucking a lot of oxygen out of the news cycle in early May, when Tang announced his invention to the world. A few outlets picked up Tang’s story, including New Atlas,Popular Mechanics, and Ars Technica, but no journalist appears to have actually talked to him.
Because of that, there was little fanfare surrounding the sheer scope of his ambition for the technology — and it went overlooked that Tang sometimes sounds as though he’s invented a hammer and is now seeing a lot of things as nails.
After describing his plans to conquer aerospace with his new thruster, for instance, he starts to describe plans to take on the automotive industry as well — with jet-powered electric cars.
“I think the jet engine is more efficient than the electric motor, you can drive a car at much faster speeds,” he mused. “That’s what I have in mind: to combine the plasma jet engine with a turbine to drive a car.”
But you wouldn’t want to drive behind it, he warned, because you could be scorched by its fiery jet stream.
Over the course of our interview, Tang also brought up the possibilities of using the technology to build projectile weapons, launch spaceships, power boats, and even create a new type of stove for cooking. On that last point, Tang said that he’s already built a prototype kitchen stove powered by a microwave air plasma torch — but it’s so deafeningly loud that it sounds like a constant lightning strike.
Technically, the Tang Jet is an attempt to build a “plasma thruster,” a concept that’s periodically gained attention in scientific circles. Michael Heil, a retired aerospace and propulsion engineer with a long career of Air Force and NASA research, told Futurism that Tang’s research reminds him of several other attempts to build air propulsion tech that he’s encountered over the years.
Plasma thrusters like those that would power a Tang Jet have been around for a while. NASA first launched a satellite equipped with plasma thrusters back in 2006, but its capabilities are a far cry from what Tang is proposing with his research.
Engineers have long dreamed of a plasma jet-powered plane, but every attempt has been smacked down by the technological limitations of the day. For example, New Scientist reported in 2017 that a team from Electrofluidsystems in Berlin attempted to build a similar thruster — but like every attempt over the previous decade, their work never became useful outside of the lab.
The problems with these attempts aren’t so much faults with the theory — the concept of generating thrust with a plasma torch is fairly sound. Rather, issues begin to pop up when working out the logistics of building a vehicle that actually works.
Tang has little interest in commercializing the jet himself. Instead, he wants to demonstrate its merits in hopes that well-funded government leaders or titans of industry will be inspired to take the ideas and run with them.
“The steps toward realization of a full plasma jet engine would cost lots of money, time and energy,” he said. “Such investment is beyond our present resources. Such tasks should be taken by aerospace industries or governmental agencies.”
That’s a common mindset for scientists, said Christopher Combs, an aerodynamics researcher at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“That’s what us academics do, we figure out the physics and say ‘Well I don’t want to make a product,’” he told Futurism. “It’s kind of a common refrain to see people in academia who have had something that gets a lot of attention.”
Though he’s intrigued by the underlying principles of the Tang Jet, Combs says it’s unlikely that it will scale up to the size needed to lift a plane — in other words, the same challenges that proved insurmountable to previous plasma thrusters will rear their heads once again. The current prototype, for perspective, only produces about 10 Newtons of thrust — about the same as a medium-sized model rocket.
“You’re talking about scaling something by five orders of magnitude — more than 100,000 times!” Combs said. “Which almost never works linearly. Lots of engineering happens in the middle.”
And even if it were to scale perfectly, there’s the issue of power. Iron Man’s suit was powered by an “Arc Reactor,” and the flying DeLorean was powered by a “Mr. Fusion” unit that turned household trash into more than a gigawatt of power — both of which, unfortunately, are fictional.
Fossil fuels store vastly more energy by weight than batteries, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. And that’s too bad, because the Tang Jet needs a whole lot of power.
According to a paper Tang and his collaborators published about the thruster prototype in the journal AIP Advances in May, the technology produces about 28 Newtons of thrust per kilowatt of power. The engines on the Airbus A320, a common commercial jet, produce about 220,000 Newtons of thrust combined, meaning that a comparably-sized jet plane powered by Tang Jets would require more than 7,800 kilowatts.
For perspective, that would mean loading an aircraft up with more than 570 Tesla Powerwall 2 units for a single hour of flight — an impractical load, especially because the A320’s payload could only carry about 130 of the giant battery units. Long story short, no existing battery tech could provide enough juice.
“Does this thing just become a flying Tesla battery?” Combs said. “With the weight of these batteries, you don’t have room for anything else.”
The battery weight issue doesn’t doom the Tang Jet, but it pushes options for its power source into the fringe. Tang is banking on improvements to battery technology over the next years and decades; those Electrofluidsystem researchers speculated about nuclear fusion. Unfortunately, any possible answers could be decades away or impossible.
It is worth noting that there exist compact nuclear fission reactors, like Russia’s KLT-40S, that produce enough power and weigh little enough that they could fit in a passenger plane or rocket.
But the safety and environmental implications of nuclear-powered aircraft are grim, and Heil was quick to point out that generating enough power isn’t the only problem facing a Tang Jet. Actually getting the electricity from the power source to the thrusters would pose its own difficulties, perhaps requiring superconducting materials that don’t exist yet.
“You need power to generate thrust. And how do you move that power around on the aircraft?” Heil said. “Moving and controlling megawatts from the reactor to the jet is a huge challenge. You have to use big thick copper wires, that adds a lot of weight.”
Overall, both Combs and Heil questioned the feasibility of a practical Tang Jet based on the technology we have today. Without a quick fix to the energy problem, it’s certainly a tall order.
But both said they were fascinated by the research and hoped to see future progress. They also pointed out that a plasma thruster could be useful for pushing satellites or spacecraft that are already in orbit — though at that point it would need to bring propellant with it rather than using atmospheric air, since there’d be none in the vacuum of space.
The bottom line, Heil and Combs agreed, is that we won’t have a firmer grasp of the future of the tech until Tang’s colleagues have evaluated and experimented with it.
“I’m rooting for this, and I’d love to see it pan out,” Combs said. “But the scientist in me has some questions and some concerns.”
Sofia Sheikh’s network is investigating more than a million stars for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Sofia Sheikh is a PhD candidate in Astronomy and Astrobiology at Pennsylvania State University. This is her story from the field as told to Charlie Wood.
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence has progressed rapidly in the past few decades. Back in the 1960s, researchers would literally tune the radio dial, hoping to hear artificial patterns in the static that would prove we’re not alone. But they could only listen to one slice of the spectrum at a time. Now, thanks to massive radio telescopes, astronomers can pick up wide swaths of it at once. Breakthrough Listen, a global research group I am part of, is investigating more than a million stars for single-tone signals akin to our AM/FM stations.
In 2017, I led a study of 20 intriguing stars—ones from which Earth’s transit in front of our sun is visible. If a civilization in this zone can see us, perhaps they’re reaching out. It took almost five months for every star to rotate into view and another two years to sort through the hundreds of gigabytes of radio crackling we gathered.
During my analysis, one tone seemed powerful and clear, as you would expect an artificial transmission to be. But when I looked more closely, I noticed that the signal’s frequency barely shifted. This implies its source is stationary relative to the telescope rather than zooming around as a planet, moon, or spacecraft would. My money’s on something like a cell tower. That’s 20 stars down, millions to go.
Breakthrough Listen is the largest ever scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of civilizations beyond Earth. The scope and power of the search are on an unprecedented scale:
The program includes a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth. It scans the center of our galaxy and the entire galactic plane. Beyond the Milky Way, it listens for messages from the 100 closest galaxies to ours.
The instruments used are among the world’s most powerful. They are 50 times more sensitive than existing telescopes dedicated to the search for intelligence.
The radio surveys cover 10 times more of the sky than previous programs. They also cover at least 5 times more of the radio spectrum – and do it 100 times faster. They are sensitive enough to hear a common aircraft radar transmitting to us from any of the 1000 nearest stars.
We are also carrying out the deepest and broadest ever search for optical laser transmissions. These spectroscopic searches are 1000 times more effective at finding laser signals than ordinary visible light surveys. They could detect a 100 watt laser (the energy of a normal household bulb) from 25 trillion miles away.
NASA scientists detect evidence of parallel universe where time runs backward.
In a scenario straight out of “The Twilight Zone,” a group of NASA scientists working on an experiment in Antarctica have detected evidence of a parallel universe — where the rules of physics are the opposite of our own, according to a report.
The concept of a parallel universe has been around since the early 1960s, mostly in the minds of fans of sci-fi TV shows and comics, but now a cosmic ray detection experiment has found particles that could be from a parallel realm that also was born in the Big Bang, the Daily Star reported.
The experts used a giant balloon to carry NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna, or ANITA, high above Antarctica, where the frigid, dry air provided the perfect environment with little to no radio noise to distort its findings. The experts used a giant balloon to carry NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna, or ANITA, high above Antarctica, where the frigid, dry air provided the perfect environment with little to no radio noise to distort its findings.The experts used a giant balloon to carry NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna, or ANITA, high above Antarctica, where the frigid, dry air provided the perfect environment with little to no radio noise to distort its findings. The experts used a giant balloon to carry NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna, or ANITA, high above Antarctica, where the frigid, dry air provided the perfect environment with little to no radio noise to distort its findings.
A constant “wind” of high-energy particles constantly arrives on Earth from outer space.
Low-energy, subatomic neutrinos with a mass close to zero can pass completely through Earth, but higher-energy objects are stopped by the solid matter of our planet, according to the report.
That means the high-energy particles can only be detected coming “down” from space, but the team’s ANITA detected heavier particles, so-called tau neutrinos, which come “up” out of the Earth.
The finding implies that these particles are actually traveling backward in time, suggesting evidence of a parallel universe, according to the Daily Star.
Principal ANITA investigator Peter Gorham, an experimental particle physicist at the University of Hawaii, suggested that the only way the tau neutrino could behave that way is if it changed into a different type of particle before passing through the Earth and then back again.
Gorham, lead author on a Cornell University paper describing the odd phenomenon, noted that he and his fellow researchers had seen several of these “impossible events,” which some were skeptical about.
The simplest explanation for the phenomenon is that at the moment of the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, two universes were formed — ours and one that from our perspective is running in reverse with time going backward.
“We’re left with the most exciting or most boring possibilities,” said Ibrahim Safa, who also worked on the experiment.
Invisible structures generated by gravitational interactions in the Solar System have created a “space superhighway” network, astronomers have discovered.
These channels enable the fast travel of objects through space, and could be harnessed for our own space exploration purposes, as well as the study of comets and asteroids.
By applying analyses to both observational and simulation data, a team of researchers led by Nataša Todorović of Belgrade Astronomical Observatory in Serbia observed that these superhighways consist of a series of connected arches inside these invisible structures, called space manifolds – and each planet generates its own manifolds, together creating what the researchers have called “a true celestial autobahn”.
This network can transport objects from Jupiter to Neptune in a matter of decades, rather than the much longer timescales, on the order of hundreds of thousands to millions of years, normally found in the Solar System.
Finding hidden structures in space isn’t always easy, but looking at the way things move around can provide helpful clues. In particular, comets and asteroids.
There are several groups of rocky bodies at different distances from the Sun. There’s the Jupiter-family comets (JFCs), those with orbits of less than 20 years, that don’t go farther than Jupiter’s orbital paths.
Centaurs are icy chunks of rocks that hang out between Jupiter and Neptune. And the trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) are those in the far reaches of the Solar System, with orbits larger than that of Neptune.
To model the pathways connecting these zones, as TNOs transition through the Centaur category and end up as JFCs, timescales can range from 10,000 to a billion years. But a recent paper identified an orbital gateway connected to Jupiter that seems much quicker, governing the paths of JFCs and Centaurs.
Although that paper didn’t mention Lagrange points, it’s known that these regions of relative gravitational stability, created by the interaction between two orbiting bodies (in this case, Jupiter and the Sun), can generate manifolds. So Todorović and her team set about investigating.
They employed a tool called the fast Lyapunov indicator (FLI), usually used to detect chaos. Since chaos in the Solar System is linked to the existence of stable and unstable manifolds, on short timescales, the FLI can capture traces of manifolds, both stable and unstable, of the dynamical model it’s applied to.
“Here,” the researchers wrote in their paper, “we use the FLI to detect the presence and global structure of space manifolds, and capture instabilities that act on orbital time scales; that is, we use this sensitive and well-established numerical tool to more generally define regions of fast transport within the Solar System.”
They collected numerical data on millions of orbits in the Solar System, and computed how these orbits fit with known manifolds, modelling the perturbations generated by seven major planets, from Venus to Neptune.
And they found that the most prominent arches, at increasing heliocentric distances, were linked with Jupiter; and most strongly with its Lagrange point manifolds. All Jovian close encounters, modelled using test particles, visited the vicinity of Jupiter’s first and second Lagrange points.
A few dozen or so particles were then flung into the planet on a collision course; but a vast number more, around 2,000, became uncoupled from their orbits around the Sun to enter hyperbolic escape orbits. On average, these particles reached Uranus and Neptune 38 and 46 years later, respectively, with the fastest reaching Neptune in under a decade.
The majority – around 70 percent – reached a distance of 100 astronomical units (Pluto’s average orbital distance is 39.5 astronomical units) in less than a century.
Jupiter’s huge influence is not a huge surprise. Jupiter is, apart from the Sun, the most massive object in the Solar System. But the same structures would be generated by all the planets, on timescales commensurate with their orbital periods, the researchers found.
This new understanding could help us better understand how comets and asteroids move around the inner Solar System, and their potential threat to Earth. And, of course, there’s the aforementioned benefit to future Solar System exploration missions.
But we may need to get a better fix on how these gateways work, to avoid those collision courses; and it won’t be easy.
“More detailed quantitative studies of the discovered phase-space structures … could provide deeper insight into the transport between the two belts of minor bodies and the terrestrial planet region,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
“Combining observations, theory, and simulation will improve our current understanding of this short-term mechanism acting on the TNO, Centaur, comet, and asteroid populations and merge this knowledge with the traditional picture of the long-term chaotic diffusion through orbital resonances; a formidable task for the large range of energies considered.”
We can imagine a very large number of possible outcomes that could have resulted from the conditions JAIME SALCIDO/SIMULATIONS BY THE EAGLE COLLABORATION
For some of us, the idea of parallel Universes spark our wildest dreams. If there are other Universes where certain events had different outcomes — where just one crucial decision went a different way — perhaps there could be some way to access them. Perhaps particles, fields, or even people could be transported from one to the other, enabling us to live in a Universe that’s better, in some ways, than our own. These ideas have a foothold in theoretical physics as well, from the myriad of possible outcomes from quantum mechanics as well as ideas of the multiverse. But do they have anything to do with observable, measurable reality? Recently, a claim has surfaced asserting that we’ve found evidence for parallel Universes, and Jordan Colby Cox wants to know what it means, asking:
There is an article floating around that claims that physicists in Antarctica have found evidence for a parallel universe. I find this highly unlikely, but I wanted to be sure by asking you to address the veracity of the story.
Let’s take a look and find out.
An illustration of multiple, independent Universes, causally disconnected from one another
From a physics point of view, parallel Universes are one of those intriguing ideas that’s imaginative, compelling, but very difficult to test. They first arose in the context of quantum physics, which is notorious for having unpredictable outcomes even if you know everything possible about how you set up your system. If you take a single electron and shoot it through a double slit, you can only know the probabilities of where it will land; you cannot predict exactly where it will show up.
One remarkable idea — known as the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics — postulates that all the outcomes that can possibly occur actually do happen, but only one outcome can happen in each Universe. It takes an infinite number of parallel Universes to account for all the possibilities, but this interpretation is just as valid as any other. There are no experiments or observations that rule it out.
The Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics
A second place where parallel Universes arise in physics is from the idea of the multiverse. Our observable Universe began 13.8 billion years ago with the hot Big Bang, but the Big Bang itself wasn’t the very beginning. There was a very different phase of the Universe that occurred previously to set up and give rise to the Big Bang: cosmological inflation. When and where inflation ends, a Big Bang occurs.
But inflation doesn’t end everywhere at once, and the places where inflation doesn’t end continue to inflate, giving rise to more space and more potential Big Bangs. Once inflation begins, in fact, it’s virtually impossible to stop inflation from occurring in perpetuity at least somewhere. As time goes on, more Big Bangs — all disconnected from one another — occur, giving rise to an uncountably large number of independent Universes: a multiverse.
While many independent Universes are predicted to be created in an inflating spacetime, inflation… [+]KAREN46 / FREEIMAGES
The big problem for both of these ideas is that there’s no way to test or constrain the prediction of these parallel Universes. After all, if we’re stuck in our own Universe, how can we ever hope to access another one? We have our own laws of physics, but they come along with a whole host of quantities that are always conserved.
Particles don’t simply appear, disappear, or transform; they can only interact with other quanta of matter and energy, and the outcomes of those interactions are similarly governed by the laws of physics.
In all the experiments we’ve ever performed, all the observations we’ve ever recorded, and all the measurements ever made, we’ve never yet discovered an interaction that demands the existence of something beyond our own, isolated Universe to explain.
The Standard Model of particle physics accounts for three of the four forces (excepting gravity),… [+]CONTEMPORARY PHYSICS EDUCATION PROJECT / DOE / NSF / LBNL
Unless, of course, you’ve read the headlines that came out this week, reporting that scientists in Antarctica have discovered evidence for the existence of parallel Universes. If this were true, it would be absolutely revolutionary. It’s a grandiose claim that would show us that the Universe as we currently conceive of it is inadequate, and there’s much more out there to learn about and discover than we ever thought possible.
Not only would these other Universes be out there, but matter and energy from them would have the capability to cross over to and interact with matter and energy in our own Universe. Perhaps, if this claim were correct, some of our wildest science fiction dreams would be possible. Perhaps you could travel to a Universe:
Where you chose the job overseas instead of the one that kept you in your country?
Where you stood up to the bully instead of letting yourself be taken advantage of?
Where you kissed the one-who-got-away at the end of the night, instead of letting them go?
Or where the life-or-death event that you or your loved one faced at some point in the past had a different outcome?
A representation of the different parallel “worlds” that might exist in other pockets of the… [+]PUBLIC DOMAIN
So what was the remarkable evidence that demonstrates the existence of a parallel Universe? What observation or measurement was made that brought us to this remarkable and unexpected conclusion?
The ANITA (ANtarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna) experiment — a balloon-borne experiment that’s sensitive to radio waves — detected radio waves of a particular set of energies and directions coming from beneath the Antarctic ice. This is good; it’s what the experiment was designed to do! In both theory and in practice, we have all sorts of cosmic particles traveling through space, including the ghostly neutrino. While many of the neutrinos that pass through us come from the Sun, stars, or the Big Bang, some of them come from colossally energetic astrophysical sources like pulsars, black holes, or even mysterious, unidentified objects.
Researchers prepare to launch the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) experiment
These neutrinos also come in a variety of energies, with the most energetic ones (unsurprisingly) being the rarest and, to many physicists, the most interesting. Neutrinos are mostly invisible to normal matter — it would take about a light-year’s worth of lead to have a 50/50 shot of stopping one — so they can realistically come from any direction.
However, most of the high-energy neutrinos that we see aren’t produced from far away, but are produced when other cosmic particles (also of extremely high energies) strike the upper atmosphere, producing cascades of particles that also result in neutrinos. Some of these neutrinos will pass through the Earth almost completely, only interacting with the final layers of Earth’s crust (or ice), where they can produce a signal that our detectors are sensitive to.
While cosmic ray showers are common from high-energy particles, it’s mostly the muons which make it… [+]ALBERTO IZQUIERDO; COURTESY OF FRANCISCO BARRADAS SOLAS
The rare events that ANITA saw were consistent with a neutrino coming up through the Earth and producing radio waves, but at energies that should be so high that passing through the Earth uninhibited should not be possible.
In fact, there’s an extraordinary piece of evidence that disfavors them coming through the Earth: the IceCube neutrino detector exists, and if high-energy tau neutrinos are regularly passing through the Earth (and the Antarctic ice), IceCube would have definitively seen a signal. And, quite unambiguously, they have not.
When a neutrino interacts in the clear Antarctic ice, it produces secondary particles that leave a… [+]NICOLLE R. FULLER/NSF/ICECUBE
Scientifically, this means that:
ANITA saw radio signals that it could not explain,
their leading hypothesis was that high-energy tau neutrinos are traveling upwards through the Earth,
and that hypothesis was refuted by IceCube observations,
teaching us there is no astrophysical point source out there that is creating the particles that ANITA is indirectly seeing.
So where, in all of this, do the parallel Universes come in?
Because there were only three explanations for what ANITA saw: either there was an astrophysical source for these particles, there’s a flaw in their detector or their interpretation of the detector data, or something very exotic, remarkable, and beyond the Standard Model (known as CPT violation) is happening. Some very good science ruled out the first option (back in January), which means it’s almost certainly the second option. The third? Well, if our Universe cannot violate CPT, maybe this comes from a parallel Universe where CPT is reversed: an explanation that’s as unlikely as it is poorly reasoned.
Every few years, a physicist rediscovers and popularizes the idea that our Big Bang made have… [+]E. SIEGEL, DERIVATIVE FROM ÆVAR ARNFJÖRÐ BJARMASON
Remember: in science, we must always rule out all the conventional explanations that don’t involve new physics before we resort to a game-breaking explanation. Over the past decade, a number of remarkable claims have been made that have disintegrated upon further investigation. Neutrinos don’t travel faster-than-light; we haven’t found dark matter or sterile neutrinos; cold fusion isn’t real; the impossible “reactionless engine” was a failure.
There’s a remarkable story here that’s all about good science. An experiment (ANITA) saw something unexpected, and published their results. A much better experiment (IceCube) followed it up, and ruled out their leading interpretation. It strongly suggested something is amiss with the first experiment, and more science will help us uncover what’s truly occurring. For now, based on the scientific evidence we have, parallel Universes will have to remain a science fiction dream.
Astronomers have detected a bright, long-duration optical flare accompanied by intense radio bursts from Proxima Centauri, the Sun’s nearest stellar neighbor. Their results are an important step to using radio signals from distant stars to effectively produce space weather reports.
Proxima Centauri, the smallest member of the Alpha Centauri system, is an M5.5-type star located 4.244 light-years away in the southern constellation of Centaurus.
The star has a measured radius of 14% the radius of the Sun, a mass of about 12% solar, and an effective temperature of only around 3,050 K (2,777 degrees Celsius, or 5,031 degrees Fahrenheit).
Proxima Centauri has a very slow rotation of 83 days and a long-term activity cycle with a period of approximately 7 years. Its habitable zone ranges from distances of 0.05 to 0.1 AU.
“Astronomers have recently found there are two Earth-like rocky planets around Proxima Centauri, one within the habitable zone where any water could be in liquid form,” said lead author Dr. Andrew Zic, an astronomer in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney and CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.
“But given Proxima Centauri is a cool, small red-dwarf star, it means this habitable zone is very close to the star; much closer in than Mercury is to our Sun.”
“What our research shows is that this makes the planets very vulnerable to dangerous ionizing radiation that could effectively sterilize the planets.”
Dr. Zic and colleagues used CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope, the Zadko Telescope, and NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite to monitor Proxima Centauri at optical and radio wavelengths.
They detected a bright, long-duration optical flare, accompanied by a series of intense, coherent radio bursts.
These detections include the first example of a stellar radio burst temporally coincident with a flare, strongly indicating a causal relationship between these events.
“Our own Sun regularly emits hot clouds of ionized particles during what we call coronal mass ejections,” Dr. Zic said.
“But given the Sun is much hotter than Proxima Centauri and other red-dwarf stars, our habitable zone is far from the Sun’s surface, meaning the Earth is a relatively long way from these events.”
“Further, the Earth has a very powerful planetary magnetic field that shields us from these intense blasts of solar plasma.”
“M-dwarf radio bursts might happen for different reasons than on the Sun, where they are usually associated with coronal mass ejections.”
“But it’s highly likely that there are similar events associated with the stellar flares and radio bursts we have seen in this study.”
“Our research helps understand the dramatic effects of space weather on solar systems beyond our own,” said co-author Dr. Bruce Gendre, an astronomer at the University of Western Australia and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav).
“Understanding space weather is critical for understanding how our own planet biosphere evolved — but also for what the future is.”
“This is an exciting result from ASKAP,” said co-author Professor Tara Murphy, deputy head of the School of Physics at the University of Sydney and an astronomer at OzGrav.
“The incredible data quality allowed us to view the stellar flare from Proxima Centauri over its full evolution in amazing detail.”
“Most importantly, we can see polarized light, which is a signature of these events. It’s a bit like looking at the star with sunglasses on.”
A paper on the findings was published in the Astrophysical Journal.
It seems there’s no other place in the universe with a dense atmosphere, mountains, sand dunes, plains, lakes, rivers and oceans except the planet Earth. But it turns out there’s actually a place much like the Earth in our solar system that has a complex weather cycle, landscapes carved by liquid, and volcanic activity. It may even resemble the Earth in its earliest stages, and some scientists think it might be better to colonize it first instead of Mars.
Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and the second-largest natural satellite in the Solar System. It is the only moon known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only known body in space, other than Earth, where clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.
Titan is one of six gravitationally rounded moons from Saturn, and the most distant from Saturn of those six. Frequently described as a planet-like moon, Titan is 50% larger (in diameter) than Earth’s moon and 80% more massive. It is the second-largest moon in the Solar System after Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, and is larger than the planet Mercury, but only 40% as massive. Discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, Titan was the first known moon of Saturn, and the sixth known planetary satellite (after Earth’s moon and the four Galilean moons of Jupiter). Titan orbits Saturn at 20 Saturn radii. From Titan’s surface, Saturn subtends an arc of 5.09 degrees and, were it visible through the moon’s thick atmosphere, would appear 11.4 times larger in the sky than the Moon from Earth.
Titan is primarily composed of ice and rocky material, which is likely differentiated into a rocky core surrounded by various layers of ice, including a crust of ice Ih and a subsurface layer of ammonia-rich liquid water. Much as with Venus before the Space Age, the dense opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan’s surface until the Cassini–Huygens mission in 2004 provided new information, including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes in Titan’s polar regions. The geologically young surface is generally smooth, with few impact craters, although mountains and several possible cryovolcanoes have been found.
The atmosphere of Titan is largely nitrogen; minor components lead to the formation of methane and ethane clouds and heavy organonitrogen haze. The climate—including wind and rain—creates surface features similar to those of Earth, such as dunes, rivers, lakes, seas (probably of liquid methane and ethane), and deltas, and is dominated by seasonal weather patterns as on Earth. With its liquids (both surface and subsurface) and robust nitrogen atmosphere, Titan’s methane cycle bears a striking similarity to Earth’s water cycle, albeit at the much lower temperature of about 94 K (−179.2 °C; −290.5 °F).
The truth may be out there — but nowhere near as out there as this tale.
Space aliens have reached an agreement with the US government to stay mum on the experiments they conduct on Earth — as well as their secret base on Mars — until mankind is ready to accept them, the former head of Israel’s space program claimed in a new interview.
“The aliens have asked not to announce that they are here [because] humanity is not ready yet,” Haim Eshed told Israeli paper Yedioth Aharonoth, according to the Jewish Press.
The Jewish Press — speculating that Eshed, 87, may have gone to insanity and beyond — goes on to unspool his tangled web, which claims the involvement of President Trump and interplanetary diplomacy.
“Trump was on the verge of revealing [aliens existence], but the aliens in the Galactic Federation are saying, ‘Wait, let people calm down first,’” Eshed, who helmed Israel’s space security program from 1981 to 2010, reportedly said. “They don’t want to start mass hysteria. They want to first make us sane and understanding.”
Until that day, aliens have secured an agreement to keep their moves under wraps, said Eshed, noting that the extraterrestrials come in peace.
“They have been waiting for humanity to evolve and reach a stage where we will generally understand what space and spaceships are,” said Eshed, according to the Jewish Press.
“There’s an agreement between the US government and the aliens. They signed a contract with us to do experiments here. They, too, are researching and trying to understand the whole fabric of the universe, and they want us as helpers.”
One of the hubs of the cooperation is a base on Mars — where, by the way, Eshed claims American astronauts have already set foot.
“There’s an underground base in the depths of Mars, where their representatives are, and also our American astronauts,” Eshed reportedly said.
Eshed acknowledged that it all sounds like science fiction, but claimed that some of his peers are coming around.
“If I had come up with what I’m saying today five years ago, I would have been hospitalized. Wherever I’ve gone with this in academia, they’ve said, ‘The man has lost his mind,’” he reportedly said. “Today they’re already talking differently. I have nothing to lose. I’ve received my degrees and awards, I am respected in universities abroad, where the trend is also changing.”Enlarge ImageGetty Images/iStockphoto
Former President Barack Obama recently refused in an interview with “Late Show” funnyman Stephen Colbert to confirm or deny the existence of extraterrestrial life based on top-secret US records — a move Colbert jokingly took as tacit confirmation.
Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighborhood. Composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles, comets originally formed in the cold outer planetary system while most of the rocky asteroids formed in the warmer inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago. The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the left over bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today. Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.
As the primitive, leftover building blocks of the solar system formation process, comets and asteroids offer clues to the chemical mixture from which the planets formed some 4.6 billion years ago. If we wish to know the composition of the primordial mixture from which the planets formed, then we must determine the chemical constituents of the leftover debris from this formation process – the comets and asteroids.
Top 10 Most Dangerous Asteroids
The top 10 list of most dangerous asteroids on the basis of the report given by the International Space Agency are discussed below:
10. 2002 CE
It is a stony asteroid, classified as near-Earth object and potentially hazardous asteroid of the Amor group. It was discovered by astronomers of the LINEAR program at Lincoln Laboratory’s Experimental Test Site near Socorro, New Mexico, in the United States on 1 February 2002.
It is a highly elongated, stony asteroid, near-Earth object and potentially hazardous asteroid of the Apollo group. It was discovered by astronomers Albert George Wilson and Rudolph Minkowski at the Palomar Observatory in California, United States on 14 September 1951. It will not intersect the Earth until 2586. Its orbit has an eccentricity of 0.34 and an inclination of 13° with respect to the ecliptic, so it is also a Mars-crosser asteroid.
It is an elongated, stony asteroid and slow rotator and considered as near-Earth object and potentially hazardous asteroid of the Apollo and Alinda group. It was discovered by French astronomer Christian Pollas at Caussols in 1989. It passed to the Earth in 2016 but according to the International Space Agency, it will not make another notably close approach until 2069.
It is stony and extremely eccentric asteroid and sizable near-Earth object of the Apollo group. It was discovered by American astronomer Henry L. Giclas at the U.S Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, on 12 December 1947. According to the International Space Agency, it is a potentially hazardous celestial object due to its size and its Earth minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) of 0.0031 AU (460,000 km), which is only about 1.2 lunar distances.
It is a vestoid asteroid considered as a near-Earth object. It was discovered by American astronomer Charles Kowal at Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California on 6 March 1973. It has a low minimum orbit intersection distance with Earth of 0.0036 AU (Astronomical unit) but still listed in a potentially hazardous asteroid list.
It is rare-type asteroid and considered as near-Earth object and potentially hazardous asteroid of the Apollo group. It was discovered by the German astronomer Cuno Hoffmeister at Boyden Observatory in Bloemfontein, South Africa on 5 June 1959. As per International Space Agency, it will approach to the Earth in the 21st century. It revolves on the eccentric orbit, so it is also a Mars and Venus-crosser.
It is a stony trinary asteroid of the Amor group and considered as a near-Earth object and potentially hazardous asteroid. It orbits the Sun at a distance of 1.0–2.5 AU once every 2 years and 4 months (859 days); the orbit has an eccentricity of 0.42 and an inclination of 22° with respect to the ecliptic. Hence, space agencies predicted that it has minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID ≤ 0.05 AU) and has potential to intersect the Earth.
It is an eccentric asteroid and suspected contact-binary, considered as near-Earth object and potentially hazardous asteroid, approximately 2 kilometres in diameter. It belongs to the Apollo group of asteroids and is a relatively slow rotator. It was discovered by the Belgian astronomer Eric Elst and Bulgarian astronomer Vladimir Shkodrov at Rozhen Observatory on 22 September 1987. It had passed from the Earth on 14 August 2000.
It is a stony asteroid, classified as potentially hazardous asteroid and near-Earth object of the Apollo group, approximately 2 kilometres in diameter. It was discovered by astronomers of the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at Anderson Mesa Station near Flagstaff, Arizona on 11 April 1999. Its orbit has an eccentricity of 0.49 and an inclination of 5° with respect to the ecliptic. Hence, the number of space agencies predicted that in future it will intersect with Earth in 2021, 2032 and 2043. It had already approached the Earth in 2010 but was crossed with marginal distance.
It is a carbonaceous asteroid in the Apollo group discovered by the LINEAR Project on 11 September 1999. According to the latest research, it has 1 in 2700 chance of hitting Earth on the 21th of September 2135. It is considered as the potential hazardous celestial body on the list of the Sentry Risk Table. It is 54 million miles from the Earth and orbits Sun.
The capsule successfully separated from 136,700 miles away
Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully released a small capsule on Saturday and sent it toward Earth to deliver samples from a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on our planet, the country’s space agency said.
The capsule successfully detached from 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) away in a challenging operation that required precision control, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said. The capsule — just 40 centimeters (15 inches) in diameter — is now descending and is expected to land Sunday in a remote, sparsely populated area of Woomera, Australia.
“The capsule has been separated. Congratulations,” JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda said.
Hayabusa2 left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) away, a year ago. After it released the capsule, it moved away from Earth to capture images of the capsule descending toward the planet as it set off on a new expedition to another distant asteroid.
About two hours later, JAXA said it had successfully rerouted Hayabusa2 for its new mission, as beaming staff exchanged fist and elbow touches at the agency’s command center in Sagamihara, near Tokyo.
This Nov. 13, 2019, file image released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), shows asteroid Ryugu taken by Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft. (JAXA via AP, File)
“We’ve successfully come this far, and when we fulfill our final mission to recover the capsule, it will be perfect,” mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said from the command center during a livestreaming event.
People who gathered to watch the capsule’s separation at public viewing events across Japan cheered the success. ”I’m really glad that the capsule has been successfully released. My heart was beating fast when I was watching,” said Ichiro Ryoko, a 60-year-old computer engineer who watched at Tokyo Dome.
Hayabusa2′s return with the world’s first asteroid subsurface samples comes weeks after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made a successful touch-and-go grab of surface samples from asteroid Bennu. China, meanwhile, announced this week that its lunar lander collected underground samples and sealed them within the spacecraft for their return to Earth, as space-developing nations compete in their missions.
In the early hours of Sunday, the capsule, protected by a heat shield, will briefly turn into a fireball as it reenters the atmosphere 120 kilometers (75 miles) above Earth. At about 10 kilometers (6 miles) aboveground, a parachute will open to slow its fall and beacon signals will be transmitted to indicate its location.Video
JAXA staff have set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to receive the signals. They also will use a marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval of the pan-shaped capsule.
Australian National University space rock expert Trevor Ireland, who is in Woomera for the arrival of the capsule, said he expected the Ryugu samples to be similar to the meteorite that fell in Australia near Murchison in Victoria state more than 50 years ago.
“The Murchison meteorite opened a window on the origin of organics on Earth because these rocks were found to contain simple amino acids as well as abundant water,” Ireland said. “We will examine whether Ryugu is a potential source of organic matter and water on Earth when the solar system was forming, and whether these still remain intact on the asteroid.”
Scientists say they believe the samples, especially ones taken from under the asteroid’s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in analyzing organic materials in the samples.
JAXA hopes to find clues to how the materials are distributed in the solar system and are related to life on Earth. Yoshikawa, the mission manager, said 0.1 gram of the dust would be enough to carry out all planned researches.
In this image made from video provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), its members react at the command center in Sagamihara, west of Tokyo, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, after JAXA officials confirmed the successful separation of a capsule from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. (JAXA via AP)
For Hayabusa2, it’s not the end of the mission it started in 2014. It is now heading to a small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a journey slated to take 10 years one way, for possible research including finding ways to prevent meteorites from hitting Earth.
So far, its mission has been fully successful. It touched down twice on Ryugu despite the asteroid’s extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1½ years it spent near Ryugu after arriving there in June 2018.
In its first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In a more challenging mission in July of that year, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that it created earlier by blasting the asteroid’s surface.
Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may help explain how Earth evolved.
Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.
If life does exist on Venus, NASA may have first detected it back in 1978. But the finding went unnoticed for 42 years.
Life on Venus continues to be an extended shot. But there’s reason to require the concept seriously. On Sept. 14, a team of scientists made a bombshell announcement within the journal Nature Astronomy: Using telescopes, they’d detected phosphine, a toxic gas long proposed as a possible sign of alien microbial life, within the upper a part of the planet’s thick atmosphere. The detection was a landmark within the long look for life elsewhere within the scheme, which has mostly focused attention on Mars and some moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn. Meanwhile, Venus, hot and poisonous, was long considered too inhospitable for all the world to survive. But now, digging through archival NASA data, Rakesh Mogul, a biochemist at Cal Poly Pomona in California, and colleagues have found a touch of phosphine picked up by Pioneer 13 — an inquiry that reached Venus in December 1978.
“When the [Nature Astronomy paper] came out, I immediately thought of the legacy mass spectra,” Mogul told Live Science.
Mogul and his coauthors were broadly aware of the information from the missions, he said. “So, for us, it absolutely was a natural next step to convey the information another look. As such, after consulting with my co-authors, we identified the initial scientific articles, and promptly started searching for phosphorous compounds.”
The discovery, published to the arXiv database Sept. 22 and not yet peer-reviewed, doesn’t tell researchers much beyond what was reported in Nature Astronomy — though it does make the presence of phosphine (made of a phosphorus atom and three hydrogens) even more certain, they said. The 1978 data comes from the big Probe Neutral spectroscope (LNMS), one in all several instruments that descended into Venus’ atmosphere as a part of the Pioneer 13 mission.
An image shows how Pioneer-13’s Large Probe, which carried the LNMS, may need to look at because it plunged through Venus’s clouds.
An image shows how Pioneer 13’s large probe, which carried the LNMS, might have looked as it plunged through Venus’s clouds. (Image credit: NASA)
Pioneer 13 dropped an oversized probe (the LNMS) into Venus’ clouds; suspended from a parachute, the probe collected data and beamed it back to Earth because it plummeted toward its robotic death. (Three smaller probes also dropped from Pioneer 13 without parachutes.) The LNMS sampled the atmosphere and ran those samples through mass spectrometry, a typical lab technique accustomed to identify unknown chemicals. When scientists first described the LNMS leads to the 1970s, they didn’t discuss phosphorus-based compounds like phosphine, focusing instead on other chemicals.
When Mogul’s team reexamined the LNMS data from Venus’ lower and middle clouds (a potentially habitable zone on the planet), they found signals that look a good deal like phosphine, the researchers wrote. The scientists also found definitive evidence for atoms of phosphorus within the atmosphere, which likely came from a heavier gas like phosphine.
LNMS wasn’t built to hunt phosphine-like compounds and would have had a tough time distinguishing the gas from other molecules that have similar masses. But Pioneer 13’s sample did have evidence of some molecule present within the gas that had the identical mass as phosphine — in amounts that match the amount described within the Nature Astronomy paper.
“I believe that evidence for [trace chemicals that would be signatures of life] within the legacy data was a form of discounted because it absolutely was thought that they might not exist within the atmosphere,” Mogul said. “I think many of us are now revisiting the notion of Venus as a completely oxidizing environment.” (A “fully oxidizing environment” wouldn’t include phosphine or most other chemicals seen as signs of life.)
Mogul and his colleagues also found hints of other chemicals that shouldn’t arise naturally in Venus’ clouds — substances like chlorine, oxygen, and peroxide.
“We believe this to be a sign of chemistries not yet discovered,” they wrote, “and/or chemistries potentially favorable always.”
What’s needed, they wrote, is further, sustained exploration of Venus.
“We need a more sustained approach for exploration like that of Mars,” Mogul said.
NASA and also the European, Indian and Russian space agencies have plans for Venus probes that may be helpful, he said.
“However, when considering the past, current, and future habitability of Venus, we might need longer-term chemical and geology studies to grasp the sources of any potential chemical [anomalies] within the clouds,” he said. “This can be from orbital probes, balloon-suspended probes within the clouds, and/or heat-stable lander probes.”
The phrase “heat-stable” is vital, given the planet’s habit of killing any robot that lands on its sizzling hot surface.
The reports include an Oct. 16, 2019, email exchange between high-ranking military officials
Two classified reports from the Pentagon’s task force used to “detect, analyze and catalog” UFOs have been leaked, both of which include photos of unidentified objects.
Defense news website TheDebrief.org has published the reports, including an Oct. 16, 2019, email exchange between former Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke and current Vice Chief of Staff for the Air Force Gen. Stephen Wilson. This exchange was obtained by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from The Debrief.
“Recommend you take the brief I just received from our Director of Naval Intelligence VADM Matt Kohler, on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP),” Burke told Wilson in the email. Burke added that “SECNAV will get the same brief tomorrow at 1000,” likely referring to then-Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.
The leaked photo, taken off the East Coast of the U.S. by a “pilot’s personal cell phone,” was a part of the 2018 position report, one source told the news outlet. This report discussed what the unidentified silver “cube-shaped” object could be, with a list of possible explanations discussed, including the fact it could be “alien” or “non-human” technology.
The 2020 photo, which has been leaked but is not widely available yet, is described as a triangle with white lights in each corner. This may be the more interesting photo, Nick Pope, a former employee and UFO investigator for Britain’s Ministry of Defense, told Fox News.
“I’m more interested in the fact that this first photo has been leaked, and in the related leaking of information about the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Task Force, where serving intelligence community personnel have shared insights from two intelligence position reports,” Pope said via email. “With my own defense background in this subject, three things stand out. Firstly, the description by one insider of the reports as ‘shocking’ — a word that begs the question what about UAP do these people find shocking. Secondly, the fact that the intelligence reports seem to have been given a surprisingly wide distribution in various intelligence agencies, and thirdly, the fact that the extraterrestrial hypothesis seems genuinely not to have been taken off the table.”
Pope added he expects further leaks, noting he believes there is “a faction within government clearly wants this information to be released to the public.”
The two position reports from 2018 and 2020 were widely circulated among the defense community, The Debrief added, citing interviews with multiple sources.
The Pentagon has not yet responded to a request for comment from Fox News.
The Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force was launched by Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, boosting an effort by the Office of Naval Intelligence, officials said.
It’s not yet clear how this new task force relates to the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), Pope told Fox News over the summer. Pope cited “former defense officials” with the group who were involved in work relating to UFOs.
The creation of the task force follows inquiries from lawmakers about the subject. In June, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, instructed the director of national intelligence, the secretary of defense and other agency heads to compile data on “unidentified aerial phenomenon.”
“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,” lawmakers wrote in a report.
In July, the New York Times reported that a small group of government officials, including Reid, and scientists believe objects of “undetermined origin” have crashed to Earth and been retrieved. The publication cited 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 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.
In April, the Pentagon officially released videos of “unidentified aerial phenomena,” known as “FLIR1,” “Gimbal” and “GoFast,” previously captured by Navy aircraft. The footage had circulated in the public for years. They were originally released to the New York Times and to The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, headed by Blink-182 co-founder Tom DeLonge.
After the videos were released publicly, DeLonge said “UFOs are real” in a since-deleted tweet.
A fireball that rattled windows and was felt from southern Ontario to Virginia midday Wednesday is widely thought to be an asteroid, experts believe.
According to the American Meteor Society (AMS) in Geneseo, N.Y., the disturbance resulted in at least 150 reports, seen in wide swaths of the eastern part of North America, including Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
On the society’s website, an observer in western New York reported the fireball was bright white with shades of yellow. An observer in Hagerstown, Md., reported a fireball with red and orange sparks, smoke and a persistent train. A report from Welland, Ontario, described a long, bright green train.
There were also multiple 911 calls in central New York after the boom shook windows, though clouds prevented sightings of the fireball.
“Sunny day so it looked like a gold metallic flash against the blue sky,” said a report from Winchester, Va.
EarthCam tweeted footage of the fireball from a camera in Toronto.
Another observer from Port Dover, Ontario said they “still get goosebumps talking about it,” adding the train “was flaming white, wide and long, no smoke.”
A small chunk of an asteroid or comet is known as a meteoroid. When it enters Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor, fireball or shooting star. The pieces of rock that hit the ground, valuable to collectors, are called meteorites.
In October, researchers discovered that a fireball that entered Earth’s atmosphere in January 2018 over Michigan contained “extraterrestrial organic compounds.”
In 2019, a separate group of researchers suggested meteorites actually made life possible on Earth. They identified isotopes of selenium in rocks in Earth’s mantle and found identical isotope signatures inside certain meteorites, notably those from the outer solar system.
In a new paper published in the Astronomical Journal, astronomers from the United States, Canada and Europe provide a detailed characterization of the physical properties and orbital evolution of the asteroid 2020 CD3 — Earth’s second discovered temporary natural satellite, or minimoon. Their results prove that 2020 CD3 is a natural body and not some relic piece of human-made space junk.
This image, taken with the 8-m Gemini North telescope on Hawaii’s Maunakea, shows Earth’s minimoon 2020 CD3 (center, point source). The image combines three images each obtained using different filters to produce this color composite. Image credit: International Gemini Observatory / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / G. Fedorets.
Asteroids and comets can be temporarily captured by planets as natural satellites. Theoretical models predict that the Earth is also surrounded by a cloud of such temporarily captured asteroids, colloquially called minimoons.
Minimoons possess a number of attributes which make them objects of particular interest.
As they spend an extended amount of time in the vicinity of the Earth, they can provide several windows of opportunity to obtain observations of the little studied population of meter-class asteroids.
Due to their relatively long capture duration, accessibility, and small size, minimoons are viable targets for taking the first practical steps in the emerging field of asteroid resource utilization.
Until 2020, only one minimoon had been discovered — 2006 RH120, a tiny near-Earth asteroid with a diameter of approximately 2-3 m (6.6-9.8 feet).
The second known minimoon, 2020 CD3, was discovered on February 15, 2020 by the Catalina Sky Survey 1.5-m telescope on Mt. Lemmon.
One day later, an alert automatically sent out by NASA’s Scout system announced that it was likely temporarily captured in the Earth-Moon system.
Discovering an object on a geocentric orbit always raises suspicion of an artificial origin, but during the 2.5 weeks following its discovery 2020 CD3 could not be linked to any known artificial object nor could a natural origin be ruled out.
On February 26, 2020, the Minor Planet Center therefore added 2020 CD3 to the catalogue of asteroids as a temporarily-captured object with a request for further follow-up observations to establish its nature.
“The discovery in February was significant as the only other minimoon astronomers have documented was recorded back in 2006, spending around a year on an orbit around the Earth,” said Dr. Grigori Fedorets, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast.
“We could not miss such a rare opportunity!”
To characterize the potential minimoon, Dr. Fedorets and colleagues obtained high-precision astrometric follow-up observations in February-May 2020 with the Lowell Discovery Telescope (LDT) and several other ground-based observatories.
By measuring 2020 CD3’s changing brightness over time with the Large Monolithic Imager (LMI) on the LDT, they established its rotation rate to be about 3 min.
“The rotation rate was probably the largest unanswered question of this research,” Dr. Fedorets said.
“Our team showed that it rotates slower than anticipated for objects of this size range.”
The researchers also used the LMI/LDT combination to precisely measure 2020 CD3’s position to refine its orbit.
This information, combined with the minimoon’s physical characteristics — such as an inferred silicate composition — indicate this is certainly a natural object.
This distinguishes it from another recently-discovered minimoon, 2020 SO, which astronomers believe may be the Centaur upper stage rocket booster that helped lift NASA’s Surveyor 2 spacecraft toward the Moon in 1966.
Dr. Fedorets and co-authors also found that 2020 CD3 is between 1 and 1.5 m (3.3-4.9 feet) in diameter and that it came within about 13,000 km (8,100 miles) of Earth at closest approach.
“This object wasn’t bright enough to study for very long,” said Dr. Nick Moskovitz, an astronomer at Lowell Observatory.
“The fact that we have this telescope in our backyard and were able to rapidly respond really made a difference.”
“Minimoons are expected to be discovered in high numbers in the following decade, with the opening of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory expected in 2023,” Dr. Fedorets said.
Known as 2020 SO, the object is believed to be a part of a rocket booster from the Surveyor 2 spacecraft
Look up in the sky — it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … space junk?
A mysterious space object that has been captured by Earth’s orbit and is widely believed to be a rocket booster from the 1960s is now viewable to skygazers as it gets closer to the planet.
Known as 2020 SO, the object is believed to be a part of a Centaur rocket booster from the Surveyor 2 spacecraft, NASA said in November, though that has not been confirmed.
This 1964 photograph shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket before being mated to an Atlas booster. A similar Centaur was used during the launch of Surveyor 2 two years later. Credits: NASA
The Virtual Telescope Project is live-streaming the flyby of the newly-minted Earth satellite. It is slated to have its closest brush with our planet, when 2020 SO will come within 50,000 kilometers (31,000 miles) of Earth on Dec. 1, VTP founder Gianluca Masi wrote on the project’s website.
This flyby will allow astronomers to determine whether it is indeed part of the Centaur upper stage rocket booster that lifted Surveyor 2, or something else.
“The near-Earth object 2020 SO, discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey on 17 Sept. 2020 and announced two days later by the Minor Planet Center, has an estimated diameter in the range 4.5 – 10 meters (source: Nasa/JPL),” Masi added. “We are not sure it is an asteroid (that is, a natural body), as it could be the rocket booster of the Surveyor 2 Nasa mission, dating back to 1966. Furthermore, from 8 Nov. 2020 to March 2021, it will be a temporary satellite of our home planet.”
Whether 2020 SO is man-made or an asteroid, its orbit around the sun is very similar to Earth, making NASA believe it likely is indeed a part of the Surveyor 2, which launched toward the moon in 1966.
“One of the possible paths for 2020 SO brought the object very close to Earth and the Moon in late September 1966,” Center for Near-Earth Object Studies Director Paul Chodas said in a November statement. “It was like a eureka moment when a quick check of launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.”
Unfortunately, the Surveyor 2 never completed its journey, crashing on the lunar surface on Sept. 23, 1966. However, the Centaur booster “sailed past the Moon and disappeared into an unknown orbit about the Sun,” NASA added.
2020 SO initially “slowly drifted” into Earth’s Hill sphere on Nov. 8, 2020, and will remain there for roughly four months before it goes back into orbit around the sun in March 2021.