Earth’s Second Known Minimoon is Natural Object, Astronomers Say

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.

Mysterious object that could be 1960s rocket booster will fly past Earth today: how to view it

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

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

NASA has posted a video of 2020 SO’s looping orbits around the Earth.https://www.youtube.com/embed/v-v2w0wq40I

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.

Can ET see us? Some planets beyond solar system can view Earth, researchers find

1,004 stars that are similar to our sun have a ‘direct line of sight to observe Earth’s biological qualities from far, far away’

More than 4,500 exoplanets have been discovered so far, with only a small portion thought to have the properties to contain life. A new study suggests that some of those planets and any extraterrestrial life that lives on them can see us too.

The research, published in the scientific journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, has identified 1,004 stars that are similar to our sun that may have Earth-like planets in their orbit. These star systems have a “direct line of sight to observe Earth’s biological qualities from far, far away,” according to a statement accompanying the research.

“Let’s reverse the viewpoint to that of other stars and ask from which vantage point other observers could find Earth as a transiting planet,” Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy and director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, said in the statement. 

The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of Earth taken Feb. 14, 1990, by NASA’s Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from the sun. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of Earth taken Feb. 14, 1990, by NASA’s Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from the sun. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“If observers were out there searching, they would be able to see signs of a biosphere in the atmosphere of our Pale Blue Dot,” Kaltenegger added. 

Sagan, one of the world’s most famous astronomers, was instrumental in the “Pale Blue Dot ” photo taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft in February 1990, looking at Earth from more than 3.7 billion miles away.

The findings, while thought-provoking, are limited by the amount of time each of the star systems can observe Earth, the researchers noted. Only 508 of them are able to “guarantee a minimum 10 [hour] long observation of Earth’s transit,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The study’s co-author, Joshua Pepper, said “only a very small fraction” of exoplanets could align just right so those on Earth could see their transit, but all of the 1,004 identified in the paper can see us, potentially “calling their attention.”

It’s also possible the life on these planets could exist for billions of years, given the properties that they are believed to possess, a sign they need additional study.

These planets have been observed due to transit observations, or when an object crosses in front of a star, dimming the star, thus allowing astronomers to see it. This type of observation will be expanded when NASA launches its James Webb Space Telescope in October 2021. If an extraterrestrial civilization had its own advanced equipment, similar to the JWST, they may be able to see us as well.

“If we found a planet with a vibrant biosphere, we would get curious about whether or not someone is there looking at us too,” Kaltenegger explained. “If we’re looking for intelligent life in the universe, that could find us and might want to get in touch. We’ve just created the star map of where we should look first.”

In June, a separate group of researchers suggested there are 36 “intelligent civilizations” in the Milky Way galaxy, a calculation the experts have dubbed “the Astrobiological Copernican Limit.”

A separate study published in mid-May suggested that not only is the “universe teeming with life,” but that it’s “the favored bet.”

NASA starts assembling Artemis Space Launch System rocket

Artemis I mission is scheduled for next year, with astronauts returning to the moon as soon as 2024

Margaret Weitekamp, curator at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum weighs in on NASA’s preparation for the future of American spaceflight.

NASA has started assembling the Artemis Space Launch System, marking an important milestone ahead of future missions to the moon.

“At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers lowered the first of 10 segments into place Nov. 21 for the twin solid rocket boosters that will power the first flight of the agency’s new deep space rocket,” NASA said in a statement. “Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight to test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon with the Artemis program.”

The space agency said the booster segments arrived by train in June from Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing facility in Utah.

“Stacking operations began Nov. 19 with engineers transporting a booster segment from the Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility to the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building,” it said.

The Artemis I mission is scheduled to take place in 2021.

“Stacking the first piece of the SLS rocket on the mobile launcher marks a major milestone for the Artemis Program,” said Andrew Shroble, an integrated operations flow manager with civil engineering firm Jacobs. “It shows the mission is truly taking shape and will soon head to the launch pad.”

The aft segments of the Space Launch System solid rocket boosters for the Artemis I mission prepare to move from high bay 4 inside NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for stacking on the mobile launcher inside high bay 3.

The aft segments of the Space Launch System solid rocket boosters for the Artemis I mission prepare to move from high bay 4 inside NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for stacking on the mobile launcher inside high bay 3. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA’s Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the moon in 2024. However, a recent report from the NASA Office of Inspector General described the 2024 timeline as overly ambitious.

Earlier this year NASA tested the booster rocket technology that will be used to power future Artemis missions to the moon.

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

The U.S. is the only country to have placed astronauts on the moon, having last done so in December 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission. Only 12 men, all Americans, have set foot on the moon.

Bizarre ‘super planet’ discovered for first time with radio observations

Known as BDR J1750+3809 or Elegast, the object is actually a brown dwarf

Researchers have discovered a bizarre “super-planet” for the first time using radio observations, according to a new study.

Known as BDR J1750+3809 or Elegast, the “super-planet” is actually a brown dwarf, a celestial object that is too cold and small to be a star. The discovery was made by researchers at the University of Hawaii, working in conjunction with tools from NASA and the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope in Europe.

“This work opens a whole new method to finding the coldest objects floating in the sun’s vicinity, which would otherwise be too faint to discover with the methods used for the past 25 years,” the study’s co-author, Michael Liu, said in a statement.

Artist’s impression of the discovery dubbed Elegast. The blue loops depict the magnetic field lines. (ASTRON/Danielle Futselaar)

Artist’s impression of the discovery dubbed Elegast. The blue loops depict the magnetic field lines. (ASTRON/Danielle Futselaar)

Brown dwarfs are generally harder to find using methods that astronomers normally use to find other stars. However, the light they emit at radio wavelengths was vital in the discovery of Elegast, the researchers added.

Since they lack the mass to trigger hydrogen fusion, they can’t be considered stars. Given their gaseous atmospheres, brown dwarfs resemble Jupiter and Saturn, the gas giants in our solar system, more than they resemble stars themselves.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Why point our radio telescope at cataloged brown dwarfs?'” the study’s lead author, Harish Vedantham, added. “Let’s just make a large image of the sky and discover these objects directly in the radio.”

With the discovery of BDR J1750+3809, the researchers hope that more brown dwarfs — the closest things to exoplanets — could be discovered with radio telescopes

The research has been published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters

More than 4,500 exoplanets have been discovered so far, with only a small portion thought to have the properties to contain life.

In October, a separate group of researchers discovered 24 potential “superhabitable” planets that may have conditions more suited to host life.

Spacecraft that successfully ‘bombed’ an asteroid is close to home with valuable cargo

The spacecraft is on a journey of 3 billion miles

In newly released images from the MASCOT Lander, the surface of the asteroid Ryugu is ‘even crazier’ than expected. According to scientists, the asteroid is covered in rough blocks and strewn with boulders.

A Japanese spacecraft that successfully “bombed” an asteroid after a journey of more than 3 billion miles through space is close to returning to Earth.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft is slated to drop at least 100 milligrams of the near-Earth asteroid, Ryugu, in Woomera, Australia, on Dec. 6. After that, it will continue its journey to visit additional asteroid targets.

“We are now on a landing course for Earth,” Hayabusa2 project manager Yuichi Tsuda said on Friday. “The altitude will now gradually decrease towards Woomera. Fasten your seatbelt firmly and if you are travelling with young children, please assist them. The landing approach direction is scheduled to be 1-5-0.”

Scientists at JAXA believe the samples, especially those taken from under Ryugu’s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.

The 3,000-foot-wide (900 meters) carbon-rich asteroid Ryugu, photographed by Japan's Hayabusa2 probe in June 2018. 

The 3,000-foot-wide (900 meters) carbon-rich asteroid Ryugu, photographed by Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe in June 2018.  (JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)

In February 2019, Hayabusa2 briefly touched down onto Ryugu and fired a scientific research “bullet” into the space rock, collecting samples.

A few months later, in April, the craft dropped a small explosive box that sent a copper ball the size of a baseball slamming into the asteroid, ultimately to collect samples. The samples were collected in July 2019 and are believed to contain traces of carbon and organic matter in the asteroid soil samples. 

The asteroid may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to NASA.

Makoto Yoshikawa, a Hayabusa2 project mission manager, said scientists are especially interested in analyzing organic materials in the Ryugu soil samples.

“Organic materials are origins of life on Earth, but we still don(asterisk)t know where they came from,” Yoshikawa said. “We are hoping to find clues to the origin of life on Earth by analyzing details of the organic materials brought back by Hayabusa2.”

Hayabusa2, which started its return journey to Earth in August 2019, will drop off the precious cargo, then continue on its journey. It will next perform a fly-by of asteroid (98943) 2001 CC21 in July 2026 and a rendezvous with asteroid 1998 KY26 in July 2031.

The craft, which is operated by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, is believed to have captured at least 100 milligrams of Ryugu, drop the sample and then continue on t

Launched on Dec. 3, 2014, Hayabusa2 arrived at Ryugu on June 27, 2018, when the asteroid was almost 170 million miles from Earth. Its journey back to Earth was shorter due to the current locations of Ryugu and Earth.

The asteroid, which is roughly 180 million miles from Earth, is named Ryugu (“Dragon Palace” in Japanese) after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale.

Days before Christmas, Jupiter and Saturn will look like one bright star — some believe the alignment is the same described in the Bible

It will be the first time the planets are this close since the Middle Ages

A rare event in the heavens just ahead of Christmas will feature an alignment of planets that a famous astronomer believed was the phenomenon that is mentioned in the Bible when Jesus Christ was born.POLL: Who is the most corrupt?

The alignment of Jupiter and Saturn will appear in the skies on December 21, the winter solstice. The last time the rare alignment of the planets was this close was in 1623, nearly 400 years ago. That was only 14 years after Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter with the invention of the telescope.

Another famous astronomer, Johannes Kepler, posited in 1614 that the alignment of the two planets might have been what was reported in the Nativity Story of Christ in the Bible. The planets aligned in 7 B.C., around the time that Christ was born.

The account in the Gospel of Matthew says that the wisemen came to Jerusalem to seek the birth of the “King of the Jews” after seeing a bright star in the sky.

…behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.

There is much debate among theologians and Christians as to whether the bright star in the sky was a natural phenomenon or a supernatural event.

Whether the star was the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn or not, the rare sight will be visible to those in the Northern Hemisphere shortly after sunset in the southwestern sky. The conjunction will dip under the horizon after a few hours.

Here’s more about the rare planetary conjunction:

Remarkable fireball captured breaking up on film

The footage was taken roughly 60 miles off the southern Tasmanian coast

An enormous fireball was caught on camera streaking across the night sky in Australia, before breaking up over the Tasman Sea.

The footage, captured by the vessel RV Investigator, was taken on Nov. 18, roughly 60 miles off the southern Tasmanian coast, according to a blog post from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). 

“What we saw on reviewing the livestream footage astounded us, the size and brightness of the meteor was incredible,” CSIRO Voyage Manager on board, John Hooper, said in the post. “The meteor crosses the sky directly in front of the ship and then breaks up – it was amazing to watch the footage and we were very fortunate that we captured it all on the ship livestream.”

A still shot from the video with the meteor top left. Credit: CSIRO

A still shot from the video with the meteor top left. Credit: CSIRO

The livestream, which operates 24/7 from a camera on the RV Investigator, shows the fireball turning a bright green color before it broke apart.

“Over 100 tons of natural space debris enters Earth’s atmosphere every day,” Glen Nagle from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, explained in the post. “Most of it goes unseen as it occurs over an unpopulated area like the southern ocean.”

“Cameras are everywhere, in our pockets and around our cities, but they have to be pointed in the right place at the right time – RV Investigator was in that place and time,” Nagle added.

RV Investigator. Credit: CSIRO.

RV Investigator. Credit: CSIRO.

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.

Last month, 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.

9th planet discovered? Researchers find evidence of ‘lost planet’ in the solar system

Experts believe an ‘ice giant’ was ‘was kicked out … of the solar system by unknown forces’

Though researchers continue to hunt for the mysterious Planet 9, experts have discovered evidence that another planet, residing between Uranus and Saturn, “escaped” billions of years ago.

The research, published in the scientific journal Icarus, suggests that an “ice giant” was “kicked out” in the early days of the solar system by unknown forces.

“We now know that there are thousands of planetary systems in our Milky Way galaxy alone,” the study’s lead author, Carnegie Mellon University researcher Matt Clement said in a statement. “But it turns out that the arrangement of planets in our own solar system is highly unusual, so we are using models to reverse engineer and replicate its formative processes. This is a bit like trying to figure out what happened in a car crash after the fact – how fast were the cars going, in what directions, and so on.”

(Credit: NASA)

(Credit: NASA)

The researchers created 6,000 simulations to look at the early days of the solar system and found that Jupiter orbited around the sun three times for every two times that Saturn did, suggesting their relationship has evolved significantly.

The model also demonstrated that the positions of Uranus and Neptune, both ice giants themselves, were altered by the Kuiper belt, as well as the aforementioned planet that was kicked out.

“This indicates that while our solar system is a bit of an oddball, it wasn’t always the case,” explained Clement. “What’s more, now that we’ve established the effectiveness of this model, we can use it to help us look at the formation of the terrestrial planets, including our own, and to perhaps inform our ability to look for similar systems elsewhere that could have the potential to host life.”

In October, scientists discovered an Earth-sized rogue planet found floating in the Milky Way.

Two months prior, a separate group of researchers suggested there could be more “rogue” planets than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

An experiment hinted at Martian life in the ’70s. So why did we stop looking?

mars rover on mars
The Curiosity rover looked for molecules essential for life as we know it, but not for life itself.NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

When the Viking landers touched down on the Martian surface at the height of the Watergate scandal, they kicked up two clouds of rusty soil and a debate that would continue for more than four decades.

That mission, NASA’s first direct search for Martian microbes, resulted in an inconclusive shrug, finding both signs of lifelike activity as well as an absence of the ingredients that such life would presumably need. Most researchers concluded that an errant chemical reaction could explain the conflicting results, but some remain convinced that the Viking landers detected life on Mars in 1976. Gilbert Levin in particular, one of Viking’s principle investigators, has long advocated for a follow-up mission to carry out a more advanced version of the original experiment, as he recently argued in Scientific American. Yet, six landings later, no such instrument has made the cut, leaving Levin and his collaborators asking the obvious question—why have we stopped looking for life on Mars?

Levin’s convictions spring from decades of mulling over the aftermath of Viking’s so-called labeled release experiment. The lander took soil samples onboard and added a nutrient-rich soup with radioactive carbon atoms. The nutrients acted as a meal for any potential microbes, and the atoms as red flags for the researchers to spot. Equipment on the lander took regular whiffs to see if any Martian microbes were partaking in and excreting the labeled carbon atoms into the air. After finding that something did seem to be interacting with the radioactive carbon atoms, the next step for NASA was to see if they could alter that process as a control or confirmation. If there really were living microbes burping up those carbon atoms, researchers expected to see changes in how many carbon atoms were present if they cranked up the heat.

To do so, the Viking team remotely baked the chamber at 320 degrees Fahrenheit, and the reaction stopped. Keeping the soil in the dark for 10 days also halted the mystery process, while lightly roasting the soil at an intermediate 120 degrees merely slowed it.

On their own, the labeled release results hinted that the heat and darkness could be killing carbon-gobbling germs in the red soil, but Viking’s other instruments told a different story. One in particular found no traces of the chemical ingredients Earth life is made of, such as amino acids, suggesting that the dead soil was somehow releasing the gases through chemistry of its own. (Although this conclusion too, is debated.)

After recreating the experiments in arid places around the world such as Antarctica and Chile’s Atacama Desert, Levin published a peer-reviewed paper in 2016 in the journal Astrobiology arguing that that no alternative hypothesis can match the exact pattern of activity Viking found. He now supports an updated labeled release experiment that can distinguish between chemical and biological activity more precisely—but NASA has no plans to fly such an experiment in the foreseeable future.

“The idea that one can directly detect life with a single instrument is not reasonable at present,” a representative of NASA’s astrobiology program said in an email statement. “Results for the Viking landers and from the analysis of the Martian meteorite collected from Antarctica have demonstrated how hard it is to find undisputable evidence for life even with multiple measurements from different instruments.

Interpreting even a straightforward experiment, it turns out, requires a lot of complex context—context that was completely lacking for the alien planet at the time of the Viking mission and remains incomplete today. “The whole point of [NASA’s off-Earth biology strategy since then] was to find the right environments first and then look for life. And we’re still in that process,” says John Rummel, a scientist at the SETI institute and previous planetary protection officer at NASA. “I would love to go back and do life detection studies, but only in the right place,” he says, such as a Martian locale that’s comparatively wet, warm, and well understood.

Although NASA has abandoned straight life-detecting experiments in favor of asking general questions about the Martian environment that are more likely to have conclusive answers, researchers have still been able to gather plenty of circumstantial biological evidence from landers, much of it painting Mars as a brutal place for life.

Without an Earth-like magnetic field and ozone layer, anything on the Red Planet’s soil must bear the full brunt of cosmic rays and the sun’s ultraviolet radiation—a force so lethal not even the formidable tardigrades can take it. To make matters worse, ten years ago the Phoenix lander discovered that Martian soil is about 1 percent perchlorates, a substance that breaks down into bleach-like chemicals toxic to life and its building blocks. (Incidentally, post-Viking experiments found that perchlorates could also participate in reactions that release carbon in a life-like way, although Levin argues they can’t explain the controls).

Falling meteorites should have littered Mars’s surface with amino acids and other organic molecules, but the Curiosity rover found almost none of those—evidence that even precursors to life have been thoroughly bleached and radiation-blasted away on the surface. The environment’s apparent lethality now makes revisiting the Viking result an even less compelling option to many.

“It’s like saying, ‘can you have life in a 400-degree oven,’” says Samuel Kounaves, a planetary chemist at Tufts University. “It doesn’t matter what you found in there.”

No one can guarantee that life hasn’t found a way to survive, Kounaves says, but between the complexity of interpreting results from a single experiment and the low chance of surface habitability, it’s no surprise that a Viking-style life detection experiment hasn’t passed the highly competitive selection process to fly on a mission. “NASA doesn’t want to send something there and spend lots of money and have it come back with a false positive because of some chemistry,” he says.ADVERTISEMENT

Kounaves’s research has instead pivoted toward designing direct detection missions for the watery gas-giant moons Enceladus and Europa, which conveniently shoot geysers of frozen seawater out into space for easier collection and on-the-spot analysis.

He still thinks life likely existed on Mars and may even continue to eke out a living today, just not where the surface-exploring rovers roam. “There could be life there,” Kounaves says, “but to find it we’ll have to dig deep.”

China seeks to retrieve first Moon rocks since 1970s

The moon
image captionOnly the United States and the Soviet Union have so far retrieved lunar samples from the Moon

China is to make the first attempt to retrieve rocks from the Moon since the 1970s.

It is hoped the unmanned Chang’e-5 probe, to be launched on Tuesday, will bring back samples to help understand the Moon’s origin and formation.

The last mission of its kind, Luna 24, was by the Soviet Union in 1976.

If the latest probe is successful, China will become the third country to have retrieved lunar rock, after the US and the USSR.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft- named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the Moon – will be launched by a Long March 5 rocket.

The probe will attempt to collect 2kg of samples from an as yet unvisited area of the Moon named the Ocean of Storms.

In comparison, the 1976 mission collected 170 grams, and the Apollo mission that put man on the Moon brought back 382kg of rocks and soil.

The Long March 5 rocket, which will launch China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe
image captionA Long March rocket will launch the lunar probe from the Wenchang space centre in Hainan province

Experts are hoping Chang’e-5 will give a better understand how long the Moon remained volcanically active and when its magnetic field – essential in protecting any life from the Sun’s radiation – dissipated.

China made its first lunar landing in 2013 and plans to retrieve samples from Mars within a decade.

Pristine ‘fireball’ meteorite contains extraterrestrial organic compounds

It crashed down onto a frozen lake in Michigan, untainted by Earth’s environment.

A meteor streaking through a sky full of stars
The meteorite was recovered from a frozen lake in Hamburg, Michigan in January 2018.Brannon Naito

Meteorites are little bundles of scientific evidence, holding secrets to deep space and how life was seeded on Earth. The problem is, it’s rare that they’re actually recovered before they are contaminated by liquid water and terrestrial microbes, rendering them far less useful. So when a meteorite fell on a frozen lake in Hamburg, Michigan in early 2018 and was recovered within two days by a meteorite hunter who then brought it to the Field Museum in Chicago, scientists were intrigued. They flocked to the museum to study the unusually pristine specimen.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science takes a look at that space rock, identifying 2600 organic compounds and dating the material to 4.5 billion years old. The work was a collaboration between 29 scientists from 24 institutions who each applied their own technique to identify organic compounds in the sample.

Most meteorites that fall to Earth land in the ocean, which makes up over 70% of the Earth’s surface, or in uninhabited land areas, so they go unnoticed. This meteorite, though, fell in Michigan, and it was visible from Chicago as it was falling—sightings were reported by 674 people in 10 different states. A NASA weather probe was then able to track down its location, and it was a meteorite hunter—not a scientist—who went to retrieve the rock from the frozen lake on which it had landed and turned it over to the Field Museum. It was these serendipitous events that made the research possible.

Researchers identified 2600 organic compounds on the meteorite, which were mostly heavy, complex hydrocarbons. The realization that meteorites hold organic compounds is not new, according to Philipp Heck, a curator at the Field Museum and lead author of the study. It just lends even more evidence to an existing theory—that similar space rocks dropped off organic material to Earth billions of years ago, and that material helped seed life on our planet.

“It actually makes it much more likely now … that meteorites played an important role in delivering organics to Earth,” says Heck. Eventually, these organics developed into early forms of life.

The authors of the study were also able to determine that the original asteroid the rock came from formed 4.5 billion years ago by looking at isotopes in the rock. The piece that landed on Earth broke off from its parent body about 12 million years ago. They determined this by analyzing the changes that occurred in the meteorite due to cosmic radiation, which is ubiquitous in the Solar System. Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field protects us from the rays, but out in space they bombard nearly everything in sight, changing and breaking down molecules.

“I like to use the rain bucket analog,” says Heck. “When you have a rainfall outside that is pretty constant over an afternoon, and you put a bucket outside and wait for an unspecified time, take it in, and then look at the water level in the bucket, you can determine how long it was outside if you know how much rain fell.” So by seeing how much isotopes in the meteorite have changed, they can see how long it’s been careening through space.

According to Heck, meteorite researchers are unlike other scientists in that they rely on ordinary people to recover samples rather than finding them on their own. This is because of the random, unpredictable way that meteorites fall to Earth. Without meteorite hunter Robert Ward and private collector Terry Boudreaux, he says, the Hamburg meteorite might not have been recovered before it was exposed to liquid water and its original organic compounds mixed up with terrestrial compounds.

“This collaboration between citizen scientists and scientific institutions made such a study possible,” says Heck.

Fast Radio Burst from Galactic Magnetar SGR 1935+2154 is Repeating

Astronomers have detected two more millisecond-duration radio bursts from SGR 1935+2154, a magnetar located over 14,000 light-years away in the constellation of Vulpecula. The detection supports the hypothesis that — at least some — fast radio bursts are emitted by magnetars at cosmological distances.

On May 24, 2020, four European radio telescopes detected two bright radio bursts from the SGR 1935+2154 magnetar. Image credit: Danielle Futselaar / Artsource.nl.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are mysterious and rarely detected bursts of radio waves from space.

These events have durations of milliseconds and exhibit the characteristic dispersion sweep of radio pulsars.

They emit as much energy in one millisecond as the Sun emits in 10,000 years, but the physical phenomenon that causes them is unknown.

One theory hypothesized FRBs to be neutron stars with exceptionally strong magnetic fields, commonly known as magnetars.

On April 28, 2020, a breakthrough was made when two teams of astronomers independently detected an extremely bright radio burst from the Galactic magnetar SGR 1935+2154, using the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst Project (CHIME/FRB) and the Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2 (STARE2), respectively.

The specific energy of the burst, dubbed FRB 200428, was similar to, although approximately 30 times less than, the specific energy of the faintest known FRB.

In May 2020, a research team led by Chalmers University of Technology astronomer Franz Kirsten pointed four radio telescopes towards SGR 1935+2154.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said team member Dr. Mark Snelders, an astronomer in the Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy at the University of Amsterdam.

“Our radio telescopes had only rarely been able to see fast radio bursts, and this source seemed to be doing something completely new. We were hoping to be surprised!”

The astronomers monitored SGR 1935+2154 every night for more than four weeks after the discovery of FRB 200428, a total of 522 hours of observation.

On May 24, they detected two bright radio bursts with fluences of 112 ms and 24 ms, respectively, but separated in time by 1.4 s.

“We clearly saw two bursts, extremely close in time,” said team member Dr. Kenzie Nimmo, astronomer in the Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy and ASTRON.

“Like the flash seen from the same source on April 28, this looked just like the fast radio bursts we’d been seeing from the distant Universe, only dimmer. The two bursts we detected on May 24 were even fainter than that.”

Together with the FRB 200428 burst, as well as a much fainter burst seen by the FAST radio telescope, the new observations demonstrate that SGR 1935+2154 can produce bursts with apparent energies spanning roughly seven orders of magnitude, and that the burst rate is comparable across this range.

“The brightest flashes from this magnetar are at least 10 million times as bright as the faintest ones,” said team member Dr. Jason Hessels, an astronomer in the Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy and ASTRON.

“We asked ourselves, could that also be true for fast radio burst sources outside our Galaxy?”

“If so, then the Universe’s magnetars are creating beams of radio waves that could be criss-crossing the cosmos all the time — and many of these could be within the reach of modest-sized telescopes like ours.”

The findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

One of the best places to look for life in the solar system is erupting with water: scientists don’t know why

The research notes plumes could be coming from Europa’s crust instead of its ocean

One of the best spots to look for life, NASA is slated to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa in the next 10 years. A new study, however, notes the water plumes that are erupting from the celestial satellite could shed new light on cryovolcanic eruptions across icy bodies throughout the solar system.

The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, notes the plumes could actually be coming from Europa’s crust instead of its ocean.

“Understanding where these water plumes are coming from is very important for knowing whether future Europa explorers could have a chance to actually detect life from space without probing Europa’s ocean,” said the study’s lead author Gregor Steinbrügge in a statement.

This artist’s conception of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa shows a hypothesized cryovolcanic eruption, in which briny water from within the icy shell blasts into space. A new model of this process on Europa may also explain plumes on other icy bodies. (Credit: Justice Blaine Wainwright)

This artist’s conception of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa shows a hypothesized cryovolcanic eruption, in which briny water from within the icy shell blasts into space. A new model of this process on Europa may also explain plumes on other icy bodies. (Credit: Justice Blaine Wainwright)

The researchers used images collected by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft to come up with their theory.

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

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

The model created by the researchers showed that the water on Europa transforms into ice at the later stage of impact, with increased salinity, effectively moving sideways through Europa’s ice shell before it becomes even saltier.

“We developed a way that a water pocket can move laterally – and that’s very important,” Steinbrügge added. “It can move along thermal gradients, from cold to warm, and not only in the down direction as pulled by gravity.”

“Even though plumes generated by brine pocket migration would not provide direct insight into Europa’s ocean, our findings suggest that Europa’s ice shell itself is very dynamic,” explained study co-author Joana Voigt. 

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

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

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

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

Pickup truck-sized asteroid came less than 300 miles from hitting Earth

The space rock, known as 2020 VT4, passed within 240 miles of Earth’s surface on Nov. 13

An asteroid roughly the size of a Ford F-150 flew less than 300 miles away from Earth last week, setting a record for the closest-known asteroid to fly past the planet without hitting it, NASA announced.

According to the Center for Near-Earth Studies (CNEOS), the space rock, known as 2020 VT4, passed within 240 miles of Earth’s surface on Nov. 13 at 5:20 UTC. 

It was initially discovered by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, which is run by both NASA and the University of Hawaii.

2020 VT4 is considered a Near-Earth Object (NEO) given its close proximity to Earth. However, given its size (between 16 feet and 32 feet wide), it is not considered a “potentially hazardous” NEO and likely would have broken up in the atmosphere.

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

In August, a similar-sized asteroid known as 2020 QG flew within 2,000 miles of Earth, which was a record at the time. Although NASA did not spot 2020 QG until it passed the planet, it too would not have caused any damage had it hit Earth, a NASA spokesman previously told Fox News. 

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

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

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

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

Faster than light travel with Alcubierre drives

We see them all the time in the best science fiction stories — ships with warp drives that make it possible for the characters to explore new planets and new galaxies. These crafts would go even faster than the speed of light except, if general relativity taught us anything, it’s that nothing can exceed the speed of light. Right? After all, light has no mass and thus it can move at 299,792,458 meters per second.

Well, that’s true. Nothing can exceed that universal speed limit. Except it’s still possible to construct a warp drive without breaking any laws of physics.

In 1994, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre wrote a paper laying the mathematical and scientific foundation for a real life warp drive that wouldn’t interfere with general relativity. He became interested in this method of interstellar travel after seeing it used in science fiction stories to travel across vast distances.

Image result for warp drive
Image from the film “Star Trek Beyond”.

How a warp drive works is by expanding and contracting the fabric of spacetime around a ship and its bubble. The ship never accelerates or moves, it is the fabric around it that moves and pushes it forward. Imagine, as an analogy, standing on a conveyer belt where you never actually have to walk. Instead, the fabric of the belt itself is what’s propelling you forward. The contraction of the spacetime in front of the ship will pull it towards that point while the expansion behind it will continue this forward motion. Einstein showed that spacetime can be bent by mass or energy, and if spacetime can be bent then it can be manipulated in other ways. The reason this ship would be able to move faster than the speed of light is because general relativity tells us that nothing within space can break the speed limit, however, there is no speed limit on how fast space itself can contract or expand. We’re not moving a thing within space — we’re moving space itself.

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Alcubierre’s work was hopeful and impressive but it had a lot of holes as well. In his original paper he theorized that to power such a spacecraft we would need more negative energy than there is energy in the entire universe. This negative energy is what causes space to expand. The problem is that negative energy is elusive and many scientists even doubt its existence, much less having hope we can make enormous amounts of it.

What we have observed of what could be negative energy has been very small. The idea is that what appears to be black, empty space is really not. There’s an energy density of empty space — what we refer to as the zero point energy. Quantum mechanics tells us that empty space is filled with particles of energy popping in and out of existence. If we can stop these particles from appearing, we’ll have negative energy.

Scientists have tried to create this in a lab by pushing two metal plates together (the plates are so flat that they’re perfectly smooth almost down to an atomic level) even closer than the width of a human hair. That space is so small that it wouldn’t allow the particles to exist, causing the force around the plates to increase and thus bearing the signature of negative energy. What has been observed of this phenomenon is not much, only a measurement too small to be conclusive.

If we do figure out how to create more negative energy in the future, we may not need as much of it as Alcubierre first theorized. Later refinements to his paper by NASA scientists drastically reduced the amount of energy the warp drive would need by oscillating parts of the craft at high frequencies, making it easier to move through spacetime and lessening the amount of energy required. Modern theories on how much negative energy we’d need range from 65 exajoules to the energy of a few negative and positive solar masses. 65 exajoules is around the amount of energy the US uses in one year. Still a lot, but definitely an improvement and definitely doable. If we could utilize dark energy, we’d only need about the mass of Jupiter. The only problem is we don’t understand much if anything about what dark energy is or how it works. It might end up being the exotic material we need.

By comparison, attempting interstellar space travel with conventional rockets would not only take hundreds of thousands of years but would require a tank larger than the entire universe. Not to mention finding a material that could withstand that length of travel.

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There’s been several proposed methods of communication even while in a warp drive craft — some methods are so fast you’d receive a reply before the message sent.

Some models of the spacecraft have it moving at 10 times the speed of light, making a trip to our nearest exoplanet, Alpha Centauri Bb, a matter of six months even though it’s over 4 light years away. Our fastest crafts now can go at 20,000 miles per hour, meaning that it would take us 142,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri Bb, and a return trip from there is even more unlikely. 20,000 miles per hour is 0.003% the speed of light.

Traveling so fast would take us through higher dimensions, meaning that it’s also possible that warp drives could give us a way not only to explore our own universe, but the multiverse as well. There is a limit to how fast a warp drive could theoretically go, but even those speed limits would let us arrive at a new galaxy in a fraction of a fraction of a second. As an added advantage, the ship could speed up and slow down and passengers wouldn’t experience time dilation. In other words, you wouldn’t arrive at your destination to find out that you’re so far ahead in time that everyone you know is dead back on Earth.

Other problems besides energy sources also include particles accumulated during travel that may inadvertently get launched during deceleration and destroy entire worlds. In fact, there may be no way to decelerate once the craft starts moving and the crew may end up dead for any number of reasons. But so far all the math and experimental data has shown warp drives as a possibility.

If we do find a way to create the tech, it’ll be centuries before we see it put to use. Like wormholes, the possibilities warp drives would provide are enormous but they won’t come easy.

We won’t have to wait hundreds of years to begin exploring the far reaches of space, however; NASA has a goal of making an interstellar craft before the year 2100.

Soyuz MS-17 completes Ultrafast 3 hour journey to ISS

The three space travelers of the Soyuz MS-17 mission launched on a six-month mission the International Space Station.

Soyuz MS-17 lifted off on a Soyuz 2.1a booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Site No. 31/6, in Kazakhstan at 05:45:04 UTC on 14 October (01:45:04 EDT), lofting its international crew to space for a very fast, two orbit, three hour rendezvous with Station.

Ultrafast rendezvous method:

The launch marked a milestone for a crewed Soyuz spacecraft, being the first to use a new “ultrafast” rendezvous” scheme with the ISS. Following a flawless ascent to the correct orbit, Soyuz MS-17 caught up with the orbiting laboratory in only two orbits (three hours), halving the time it takes for crew to get to the Station.

This method takes over from the previous one that saw the Soyuz spacecraft spend four orbits in free-flight to catch up with the ISS in approximately six hours. That method, which was first used with crew on Soyuz TMA-08M in March 2013, took over from an even older method where the Soyuz would complete 34 orbits before arriving at the ISS, leaving the crew inside the small spacecraft for over two days.

Although Soyuz MS-17 marked the first crewed mission to use the ultrafast method, it has been tested before using un-crewed Progress resupply spacecraft. Multiple Progress have successfully utilized the two-orbit, three hour rendezvous profile, starting with Progress MS-09 in July 2018.

Soyuz MS-17 during rollout to Site No. 31/6 at Baikonur. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Unfortunately, something as simple as a slightly off-nominal orbital insertion or missed correction burn could dash ultrafast rendezvous.

In March 2014, Soyuz TMA-12M launched with the intention of bringing its three crew members to the ISS using the then-new six-hour rendezvous method. However, an issue with the Soyuz’s attitude control system caused the spacecraft to miss its third scheduled course correction burn, necessitating a reversion to the two-day rendezvous plan.

The need to have Soyuz crews arrive at the Station so quickly has to do with the extremely cramped, close-quarters nature of the vehicle. For the crew inside, it is a far better psychological and physical benefit to reach the Station as quickly as possible.  However, it is perfectly safe for crews to be in Soyuz for a two day trip to the Station should that be needed.

Conversely, the U.S. Commercial Crew vehicles, Dragon and Starliner, while theoretically capable of reaching the Station that quickly, do not have that same requirement as they are far roomier for their four passengers given they are not solely ISS rotation vehicles but available for solo missions to Earth orbit as well.

Therefore, the U.S. vehicles target/will target a more leisurely one-day rendezvous flight profile with the Station — as was seen on SpaceX’s Demo-1 and Demo-2 missions and is the plan for Crew-1 in November and Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test 2 mission in 2021.

The Mission:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has been sweeping the planet since November 2019, extra precautions were needed as the crew prepared for their journey to the Station. Similar precautions were used prior to the launch of Soyuz MS-16 and SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 mission, both of which left the planet amid the pandemic.

Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov (L-R) wearing protective face masks in front of their spacecraft, October 2020. (Credit: NASA/Roscosmos)

Roscosmos trained a two member reserve crew (in addition to each back-up) to add extra precaution and insure launch occurred on time even if any member of the prime or backup crew falls sick. Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Andrei Babkin took the positions of Reserve Commander and Flight Engineer 1 respectively, while NASA opted not to assign a reserve to Rubins and Vande Hei.

The launch placed Soyuz MS-17 into its initial orbit, where the craft then separated, deployed its solar arrays and communication antennas, and when immediately sent its position and velocity data back to Mission Control, Moscow, to verify a good orbit insertion and ability to perform the ultrafast rendezvous.

With that data confirmed, the crew arrived at the ISS in approximately 3 hours and 12 minutes, where they docked to the Rassvet docking port at 08:48 UTC (04:48 EDT).  Once docked, they will join Expedition 63 crew members Chris Cassidy, Anatoli Ivanishin, and Ivan Vagner, who have occupied the station since April this year and are scheduled to depart later this month.

As members of Expedition 64, they are scheduled to be joined by SpaceX Crew-1, the first operational crew rotation flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The flight will ferry NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the ISS for a six month stay.

Crew-1 was originally scheduled to join Expedition 64 at the end of October; however, an issue with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s gas generators during a September non-NASA launch has caused a delay to no earlier than “early- to mid-November”.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins and Noguchi (L-R) during Dragon training for Crew-1. (Credit: NASA)

During the course of Expedition 64, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are scheduled to perform two spacewalks, the first to carry out routine maintenance on the Russian segment and a second to prepare the Pirs docking compartment for separation, as the module is scheduled to vacate the Station in early 2021 to make way for the arrival of the long-delayed Nauka laboratory module.

Soyuz MS-17 and its three crew members are scheduled to leave the ISS in April 2021 ahead of a return to the Kazakh Steppe, with a total planned flight time of 177 days.

Europa’s icy surface may glow in the dark

Understanding the chemical composition of ice on Jupiter’s intriguing moon could reveal hints about its habitability.

Europa glowing
This illustration of Jupiter’s moon Europa shows how the icy surface may glow on its nightside, the side facing away from the Sun.NASA/JPL-Caltech

The night side of Jupiter’s moon Europa may glow in the dark, scientists reported this week in the journal Nature Astronomy.

When researchers fired beams of electrons at ice samples to simulate the radiation that regularly lashes Europa’s frigid surface, they noticed that the ice emitted a faint glow that varied depending on which minerals were present in the ice. NASA’s Europa Clipper probe may be able to observe this same phenomenon when it reaches the distant moon in a few years—and perhaps use it to investigate whether Europa has conditions amenable for life.

Until now, the only object in our celestial neighborhood known to emit light from its nighttime side is Earth; the electricity humans use to light our dwellings can be seen from the International Space Station, says Murthy Gudipati, a laboratory astrophysicist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Because of its position and the geological aspects of Europa, it could be very similar to Earth in the sense that we have a second object in our system that also glows in the night,” says Gudipati, who published the findings on November 9.

Europa is covered by an icy crust several miles thick, which scientists believe covers a vast ocean that is 40 to 100 miles deep. The moon also receives deluges of charged particles from Jupiter’s strong magnetic field; this radiation would be lethal for a human standing on Europa’s surface. And that would only be relevant if humans were somehow able to withstand the moon’s surface temperatures of, on average, 100 Kelvin (-279.67 Farenheit). “This is a very unique place in our solar system,” Gudipati says. “It is one of the highest contenders for potential habitability [because of] these oceans and it is also very uniquely placed in one of the harshest outside environments.”ADVERTISEMENT

He and his colleagues wanted to understand what happens when charged particles strike Europa’s surface. They fired beams of electrons at ice cores representing different possibilities for Europa’s surface and filmed the results with a video camera. When the electrons struck pure water ice, the researchers saw, the frozen liquid gave off a whitish glow with a faint blue-green tinge. This glow was brighter when the irradiated ice contained magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt). Ice containing sodium chloride (sea salt) had a much dimmer glow without any colorful tinge. Upon further investigation, the scientists found that the light coming off the ice was predominantly white, but green wavelengths were slightly more prevalent in the light coming from the water ice, red in the Epsom salted ice, and blue-green in the sea salt ice.

This glow occurs because when electrons plow into the ice, they energize the material. The frozen water then releases some of this energy in the form of light, with different atoms and molecules giving off light at different wavelengths.

A similar process occurs in the northern lights, Gudipati says. To our eyes, the aurora has an intense green hue because the oxygen in the atmosphere has plenty of room to emit light without interacting with other materials. The composition of the luminescent ice is denser and more varied; there may be several compounds constantly emitting light that muddles together to form a mostly whitish glow.ADVERTISEMENT

“In the ice there is no space between one atom and the other atoms; it is like sea lions sunbathing, they cannot move around,” Gudipati says. “It is totally crowded and each of these excited atoms or molecules interacts with its surroundings.”

He and his colleagues estimate that, if Europa’s surface glows in the night like the ice in their experiment, the Europa Clipper’s planned instruments would likely be able to detect it as the spacecraft zooms past. The mission, which will launch in the mid-2020s, could give scientists an opportunity to figure out how suitable Europa might be for life by analyzing the glow coming off the night side of the moon.

As it sloshes against the seafloor, Europa’s ocean likely interacts with the rocky substrate to produce minerals that may be vital for life. Some of these minerals will eventually make their way into the ice covering Europa’s ocean. This frigid shell is scarred by relatively few craters, indicating that its surface is young. “Those impact craters are somehow cleaned up, and that cleaning up would only happen if there is an exchange between the interior and surface,” Gudipati says.ADVERTISEMENT

Depending on how brightly the ice glows and what wavelengths of light it emits, scientists could determine its chemical composition. “The material on the surface could bear some fingerprints from what the material was in the oceans [over] time,” Gudipati says.

Researchers discover Mars had water before there was life on Earth

Life is widely believed to have first appeared on Earth approximately 3.5B years ago

NASA is on its way to figuring out whether Mars contains fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial life, but a new study suggests the Red Planet had water billions of years earlier than previously believed.

The research, published in Science Advances, notes there was water on Mars’ surface 4.4 billion years ago. The experts looked at meteorite NWA 7533, believed to have originated on Mars, and found levels of oxidation inside the space rock that suggests there was water on Mars long before there was life on Earth.

“This oxidation could have occurred if there was water present on or in the Martian crust 4.4 billion years ago during an impact that melted part of the crust,” study co-author and University of Tokyo planetary scientist Takashi Mikouchi said in a statement. “Our analysis also suggests such an impact would have released a lot of hydrogen, which would have contributed to planetary warming at a time when Mars already had a thick insulating atmosphere of carbon dioxide.”

Martian meteorite NWA 7533 is worth more than its weight in gold. (Credit: University of Copenhagen/Deng et al.)

Martian meteorite NWA 7533 is worth more than its weight in gold. (Credit: University of Copenhagen/Deng et al.)

Previous estimates put the presence of water on Mars at approximately 3.7 billion years ago, roughly 700 million years later than the new study suggests.

Mikouchi, who said this is the first time he has studied NWA 7533 (discovered in the Sahara Desert in 2012), noted that the team’s analysis of it “led … to some exciting conclusions.”

Along with NWA 7533, meteorite NWA 7504 was also discovered in the Sahara around the same time.

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.https://6e42cfc220aecd370c94c7280d0b055b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

If indeed there was water on Mars earlier than previously believed, the researchers suggested it could be from a “natural byproduct” of another process that went into forming Mars.

In October, a separate group of researchers found that Mars has an abundance of liquid water in the underground lakes in its south pole.

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

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

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

Space Is Littered With Dead Rocket Stages. What If We Turned Them Into Habitats?

One company wants to fashion space stations out of space junk. Will it work?nanoracks outpostNANORACKS

  • Nanoracks, a space company that specializes in getting commercial payloads to the ISS, plans to create the first space recycling program.
  • The “Outpost” program will renovate spent upper stages already in orbit into space stations.
  • The company plans to perform its first demonstration next May.

Just outside the upper reaches of our atmosphere, past the line separating Earth from space, lies an orbital junkyard of debris. And that junk just keeps piling up with the increasing commercialization of space, leaving many experts worried how the debris could impact astronauts, satellites, and future deep space missions. But where some people see trouble, others see opportunity.

Nanoracks, a space company that has previously helped get commercial payloads to the International Space Station (ISS), aims to recycle the derelict upper stages of rockets orbiting Earth into commercial space stations. The company’s program, “Outpost,” plans to turn Earth’s orbiting junkyard into a recycling center, where an army of robotic space drones will flip unwanted spent upper stages of rockets into orbiting laboratories, greenhouses, fuel depots, or possibly habitats.

Rockets usually have multiple stages that are decoupled to shave weight as they ascend to orbit. The lower stages fall back to Earth after burning all their fuel, pushing the upper stages into the upper atmosphere. The smaller, lighter upper stages give the final kick to place their payloads, and the upper stage itself, into orbit.

This puts rocket scientists at a crossroads: Do they leave enough fuel in the upper stage after orbital insertion so it can turn around, refire its engines, and deorbit to fall back to Earth? Or do they use every last drop of fuel to get the most bang for their buck, leaving the upper stage in orbit and adding to the already large roster of space debris?

In its annual space environment report, the European Space Agency (ESA) included rocket bodies as one of the largest threats to spacecraft:

“Ever since the start of the space age on the 4th of October 1957, there has been more space debris in orbit than operational satellites. Space debris poses a problem for the near Earth environment on a global scale, to which all spacefaring nations have contributed and for which only a globally supported solution can be the answer.”

Earlier this month, an abandoned upper stage of a Chinese rocket narrowly missed colliding with a defunct Soviet satellite. The two objects came within 80 feet of each other, traveling at speeds close to 32,900 miles per hour. The impact would have created an untold number of space debris, with a combined mass of 6,170 pounds. Events like these have put even greater pressure to do something about the growing cloud of space junk surrounding Earth.

Nanoracks CEO Jeffrey Manber, then, sees these derelict upper stages as a gold mine waiting to be prospected. Rocket stages already possess many of the qualities engineers look for in a space station. Upper stages are designed to withstand the incredible stresses of a launch and hold pressure in a vacuum, making them both very durable and safe (once the highly flammable and sometimes toxic fuel is purged).



For this reason, Nanoracks isn’t the first to propose the idea of using the upper stages of rockets to create space stations. NASA originally planned its first space station, Skylab, to be built from the upper stage of the mighty Saturn V rocket. Rocket engineer Wernher von Braun proposed venting and refurbishing the upper stage while in orbit to create a ‘wet workshop’ in which astronauts could live and work.

nasa skylab

Servicing satellites in orbit, let alone stripping and renovating spent upper stages, is still an unproven technology. The closest analog may be the Hubble servicing missions that NASA conducted from 1993 to 2009, where teams of astronauts replaced and installed new parts on the Hubble telescope.

In recent years, NASA has moved its focus to unmanned operations. The On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing 1, or OSAM-1, is a robotic spacecraft designed to rendezvous with existing satellites and give them needed tuneups to expand their lifetimes.

Until the technology is proven, Nanoracks will take baby steps to realize its Outposts. The company plans to start small by focusing on the exterior of the rocket, by attaching experimental payloads, power modules, and propulsion units to the rocket’s fuselage.

“Right now, we’re not really modifying anything,” Nate Bishop, the Outpost project manager at Nanoracks, told WIRED:

“We’re focused on showing we can control the upper stage with attachments. But in the future, just imagine a bunch of little robots going up and down the stage to add more connectors and stuff like that.”

In late October, Nanoracks announced its first Outpost demonstration. In a partnership with NASA, the company plans to perform the first structural metal cutting ever done in space. The mission, which is scheduled to launch onboard a SpaceX rocket in May 2021, will include a robotic arm mounted on a platform containing metal pieces representing various upper stages of modern rockets. The arm is tipped with a drill bit that’s able to cut the metal without leaving any debris.

“At long last, Nanoracks is laying the groundwork for converting upper stages in orbit,” Manber said in a press release. “This technology could prove so important as both industry and NASA look to find the most cost-effective vehicles and programs that will bring humans to the moon, and soon to Mars.”

Apophis asteroid, nicknamed ‘God of Chaos,’ is speeding up

Elon Musk in 2019 said that despite the asteroid’s ‘great name’ he wouldn’t worry about it

An asteroid that has been nicknamed after the Egyptian God of Chaos is speeding up, scientists recently revealed.

Scientifically known as 99942 Apophis, the massive, 1,120-foot-wide space rock will fly within 23,441 miles above Earth’s surface on April 13, 2029, as well as in 2036. However, it’s the space rock’s flyby in 2068 that may be impacted by the slight alteration in its previously predicted orbit, due to the Yarkovsky effect, that has scientists talking.

“We have known for some time that an impact with Earth is not possible during the 2029 close approach,” said one of the study’s authors, University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy astronomer Dave Tholen, in a statement. “The new observations we obtained with the Subaru telescope earlier this year were good enough to reveal the Yarkovsky acceleration of Apophis, and they show that the asteroid is drifting away from a purely gravitational orbit by about 170 meters per year, which is enough to keep the 2068 impact scenario in play.”

Asteroid Apophis was discovered on June 19, 2004. (UH/IA)

Asteroid Apophis was discovered on June 19, 2004. (UH/IA)

Tholen, who has been tracking Apophis since his team discovered it in 2004, presented the findings at the 2020 virtual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society. His comments can be found in this video at the 22-minute mark.

The Yarkovsky effect, or Yarkovsky acceleration, is caused by the sun heating the space rock unevenly, resulting in a “process that slightly changes the orbit of the asteroid,” the statement added.

The chances of 99942 Apophis impacting Earth are still low — previously calculated at about 1 in 150,000 by the Center for Near-Earth Studies — but it’s enough to give scientists a pause for concern.

In 2019, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that despite the asteroid’s “great name” he wouldn’t worry about this “particular” asteroid.

He cautioned, however, that a “big rock will hit Earth eventually and we have no defense for it.”

The size and proximity to Earth of 99942 Apophis make it a near-Earth object (NEO), and in this case, a “potentially hazardous” one.

(University of Hawaii)

(University of Hawaii)

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

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

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

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

Our Galaxy Could Have 50 Billion Rogue Planets, Just Doing Whatever the Hell They Want

And we’ll probably never find them.

Free-floating planet, illustration

MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARYGETTY IMAGES

Our galaxy has planets aplenty. Our sun possesses at least eight of them, and in recent years, we’ve learned that most other stars have some, too.

But according to a new simulation of star behavior, a staggering number of planets aren’t orbiting any star at all. Instead, there could be 50 billion rogue planets adrift in the Milky Way.

Scientists have long known about rogue planets. For centuries, astronomers have suspected that rogue planets exist, and in recent years, we’ve even found a few of them. But as a class, rogue planets are still somewhat of a mystery.

How do rogue planets form? How do they become untethered from their host stars? What does life as a rogue planet look like? These questions are tough to answer, because rogue planets are extremely tough to find, let alone study—they’re far away from any light source and could be located anywhere. Even with our most powerful telescopes, the biggest rogue planets are nothing more than the faintest of dots.

To get past these hurdles, astronomers at the University of Leiden built a simulation of 1,500 stars in a real place called the Orion Trapezium star cluster. About 500 of these simulated stars contained between four and six planets, giving the sim a grand total of 2,522 planets, EarthSky reports. When the scientists ran the simulation forward, they found that gravitational effects from the closely packed stars kicked about 350 of those planets outside their respective star systems.

If that’s the case, and you extrapolate that result across the Milky Way, then there could be billions of rogue planets careening throughout the galaxy undetected. Our galaxy has about 200 billion stars, and most of them were born in a cluster similar to the Orion Trapezium. Even our own sun was once part of such a cluster, although our stellar siblings have long since drifted apart.


If all stellar clusters produce rogue planets at the same rate as the simulated Orion Trapezium cluster, the University of Leiden astronomers estimate, then our galaxy could have as many as 50 billion rogue planets. One or two of them may have even come from our sun, although at this point, there’s not much way to tell.


With this many rogue planets peppering our galaxy, astronomers should have an easier time finding candidates to study. Perhaps we’ll learn a great deal about rogue planets in the near future, once our next-generation telescopes start coming online.

The Thermal Nuclear Engine That Could Get Us to Mars in Just 3 Months

It’s twice as efficient as a chemical rocket.


Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) has designed a new thermal nuclear engine it says could carry astronauts to Mars in just three months—and back to Earth in the same amount of time. By using ceramic microcapsules of high assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, USNC’s thermal nuclear engine could cut the trip in half even from optimistic estimates.

“The problem is to produce a nuclear reactor that is light enough and safe enough for use outside the Earth’s atmosphere—especially if the spacecraft is carrying a crew,” New Atlas explains.

Thermal nuclear for propulsion is an old idea. While weapons are thermal, other applications have lingered in the experimental stage and then been discarded, but they’ve still been studied off and on for decades. These designs use the astonishing heat generated by a nuclear reaction to push a rocket at speeds approaching the Star Trek realm compared to what we use today. And they contrast with traditional chemical rockets, where chemical propellants like liquid oxygen are used to make something more like a supersized fossil fuel combustion engine.

USNC’s technology hits just months after Elon Musk suggested that a nuclear engine could be key to getting astronauts to Mars. For Musk, the concern was for astronaut health and safety: the longer the trip to Mars, the longer astronauts are exposed to extraordinary cosmic radiation.

The Department of Energy has found that HALEU fuel is, relative to the higher risk of handling nuclear materials at all, less dangerous than it could be. Cosmic radiation is probably far worse, and negotiating around it has been a huge barrier to any hypothetical Mars travel.

The reactor in USNC’s nuclear thermal propulsion engine is very similar to the design that powers its upcoming microreactor energy facilities. That’s not a coincidence. Although USNC is starkly divided into USNC-Tech and USNC-Power, with different leadership and goals, the corporation’s “ultra safe” goals and designs are shared. Both use HALEU fuel whose ceramic casing is safe in very high temperatures.

“Key to USNC-Tech’s design is a conscious overlap between terrestrial and space reactor technologies,” USNC-Tech CEO Paolo Venneri said in a statement. “This allows us to leverage the advancements in nuclear technology and infrastructure from terrestrial systems and apply them to our space reactors.”

USNC-Tech says its engine delivers twice the thrust of a chemical engine, and because of the encapsulated, low enriched fuel, it’s more stable than previous nuclear thermal designs. This is key, because chemical rockets are simply maxing out.

We’ve plumbed non-nuclear thrust technology to the full depth of our possible understanding, and the next step up from this plateau will require something different. Today, it’s hard to imagine that being anything other than nuclear propulsion.

New details of hellish lava planet light-years from Earth discovered

The planet is roughly the size of the Earth, scientists said

Scientists have discovered new details about a hellish lava planet light-years away from Earth that is unbearably hot, rains rocks and has lava oceans more than 60 miles deep.

I know, cue the jokes, but K2-141b, the planet in question, isn’t anywhere near us.

The exoplanet, meaning it is outside our solar system, hosts one of the most “extreme” environments discovered, according to a study first published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society by scientists from McGill University in Montreal, York University in Toronto and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in India.

Artist’s impression of the lava planet K2-141b. At the center of the large illuminated region there is an ocean of molten rock overlain by an atmosphere of rock vapour. Supersonic winds blow towards the frigid and airless nightside, condensing into rock rain and snow, which sluggishly flow back to the hottest region of the magma ocean.

Artist’s impression of the lava planet K2-141b. At the center of the large illuminated region there is an ocean of molten rock overlain by an atmosphere of rock vapour. Supersonic winds blow towards the frigid and airless nightside, condensing into rock rain and snow, which sluggishly flow back to the hottest region of the magma ocean. (Julie Roussy, McGill Graphic Design and Getty Images )

“Among the most extreme planets discovered beyond the edges of our solar system are lava planets,” McGill University explained in a press release, “fiery hot worlds that circle so close to their host star that some regions are likely oceans of molten lava.”

K2-141b also has supersonic winds speeds in excess of 3,000 mph.

Neptune has the highest wind speeds of any planet in our solar system, which can exceed 1,100 mph – 1.5 times the speed of sound, according to NASA.

The planet’s surface, atmosphere and ocean all appear to be made of rocks and the “extreme weather forecasted by their analysis could permanently change the surface and atmosphere of K2-141b over time,” the McGill release said.

“The study is the first to make predictions about weather conditions on K2-141b that can be detected from hundreds of light years away with next-generation telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope,” lead author Giang Nguyen, a PhD student at York University who worked under the supervision of McGill University Professor Nicolas Cowan on the study, said.

More than half of the planet also has constant daylight because it’s so close to its host star so it’s “gravitationally locked in place,” and the same side always faces the star.

The dark side of the planet, alternatively, has temperatures that can go lower than -300 degrees Fahrenheit.

The lowest temperature ever recorded by a weather station on Earth was -128 degrees F in the Antarctic near the South Pole in 1983, according to the American Geophysical Union.

In the same way water on earth evaporates into the atmosphere and returns as rain, the planet’s rock vapor atmosphere evaporates and rains down as rocks.

“On K2-141b, the mineral vapor formed by evaporated rock is swept to the frigid night side by supersonic winds and rocks ‘rain’ back down into a magma ocean,” the release said. “The resulting currents flow back to the hot day side of the exoplanet, where rock evaporates once more.”

“All rocky planets­, including Earth, started off as molten worlds but then rapidly cooled and solidified. Lava planets give us a rare glimpse at this stage of planetary evolution,” said Professor Cowan of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

300 million habitable planets exist, NASA says

Research found half the stars could be orbited by rocky planets with liquid water on their surfaces

More than 4,500 exoplanets have been discovered so far, with only a small portion thought to have the properties to contain life. A new study suggests that the galaxy may actually contain 300 million planets capable of supporting life.

The research analyzed data from the Kepler space telescope and found approximately half the stars that have a similar temperature to the sun — plus or minus up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit — could also be orbited by rocky planets with liquid water on their surfaces.

“Kepler already told us there were billions of planets, but now we know a good chunk of those planets might be rocky and habitable,” said the study’s lead author, Steve Bryson, in a statement. “Though this result is far from a final value, and water on a planet’s surface is only one of many factors to support life, it’s extremely exciting that we calculated these worlds are this common with such high confidence and precision.”

This illustration depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of a star similar to our Sun. Credits: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

This illustration depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of a star similar to our Sun. Credits: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

The Kepler space telescope, which was launched in 2009, was retired in 2018 after it ran out of fuel. 

The new study, which is slated to be published in The Astronomical Journal, looked at the relationship between the temperature of the star and the light an orbiting planet absorbed, expanding the scope of researchers.

“We always knew defining habitability simply in terms of a planet’s physical distance from a star, so that it’s not too hot or cold, left us making a lot of assumptions,” said study co-author Ravi Kopparapu. “Gaia’s data on stars allowed us to look at these planets and their stars in an entirely new way.”

“Not every star is alike,” Kopparapu added. “And neither is every planet.”

In their findings, the researchers also said there are “at least four” potentially habitable exoplanets within 20 to 30 light-years from Earth. A light-year, which measures distance in space, is approximately 6 trillion miles.

“To me, this result is an example of how much we’ve been able to discover just with that small glimpse beyond our solar system,” Bryson, a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center, added. “What we see is that our galaxy is a fascinating one, with fascinating worlds, and some that may not be too different from our own.”

In October, a separate group of researchers discovered 24 potential “superhabitable” planets that may have conditions more suited to host life.

Are we alone? The question is worthy of serious scientific study

Are we alone? Unfortunately, neither of the answers feel satisfactory. To be alone in this vast universe is a lonely prospect. On the other hand, if we are not alone and there is someone or something more powerful out there, that too is terrifying.

As a NASA research scientist and now a professor of physics, I attended the 2002 NASA Contact Conference, which focused on serious speculation about extraterrestrials. During the meeting a concerned participant said loudly in a sinister tone, “You have absolutely no idea what is out there!” The silence was palpable as the truth of this statement sunk in. Humans are fearful of extraterrestrials visiting Earth. Perhaps fortunately, the distances between the stars are prohibitively vast. At least this is what we novices, who are just learning to travel into space, tell ourselves.

Cover of the October 1957 issue of pulp science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. This was a special edition devoted to ‘flying saucers,’ which became a national obsession after airline pilot Kenneth Arnold sighted a saucer-shaped flying objects in 1947.

I have always been interested in UFOs. Of course, there was the excitement that there could be aliens and other living worlds. But more exciting to me was the possibility that interstellar travel was technologically achievable. In 1988, during my second week of graduate school at Montana State University, several students and I were discussing a recent cattle mutilation that was associated with UFOs. A physics professor joined the conversation and told us that he had colleagues working at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, where they were having problems with UFOs shutting down nuclear missiles. At the time I thought this professor was talking nonsense. But 20 years later, I was stunned to see a recording of a press conference featuring several former US Air Force personnel, with a couple from Malmstrom AFB, describing similar occurrences in the 1960s. Clearly there must be something to this.

With July 2 being World UFO Day, it is a good time for society to address the unsettling and refreshing fact we may not be alone. I believe we need to face the possibility that some of the strange flying objects that outperform the best aircraft in our inventory and defy explanation may indeed be visitors from afar – and there’s plenty of evidence to support UFO sightings.

The Fermi paradox

The nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi was famous for posing thought provoking questions. In 1950, at Los Alamos National Laboratory after discussing UFOs over lunch, Fermi asked, “Where is everybody?” He estimated there were about 300 billion stars in the galaxy, many of them billions of years older than the sun, with a large percentage of them likely to host habitable planets. Even if intelligent life developed on a very small percentage of these planets, then there should be a number of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy. Depending on the assumptions, one should expect anywhere from tens to tens of thousands of civilizations.

With the rocket-based technologies that we have developed for space travel, it would take between 5 and 50 million years for a civilization like ours to colonize our Milky Way galaxy. Since this should have happened several times already in the history of our galaxy, one should wonder where is the evidence of these civilizations? This discrepancy between the expectation that there should be evidence of alien civilizations or visitations and the presumption that no visitations have been observed has been dubbed the Fermi Paradox.

This photograph was taken in Wallonia, Belgium. J.S. Henrardi

Carl Sagan correctly summarized the situation by saying that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The problem is that there has been no single well-documented UFO encounter that would alone qualify as the smoking gun. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many governments around the world have covered up and classified information about such encounters. But there are enough scraps of evidence that suggest that the problem needs to be open to scientific study.

UFOs, taboo for professional scientists

When it comes to science, the scientific method requires hypotheses to be testable so that inferences can be verified. UFO encounters are neither controllable nor repeatable, which makes their study extremely challenging. But the real problem, in my view, is that the UFO topic is taboo.

While the general public has been fascinated with UFOs for decades, our governments, scientists and media, have essentially declared that of all the UFO sightings are a result of weather phenomenon or human actions. None are actually extraterrestrial spacecraft. And no aliens have visited Earth. Essentially, we are told that the topic is nonsense. UFOs are off-limits to serious scientific study and rational discussion, which unfortunately leaves the topic in the domain of fringe and pseudoscientists, many of whom litter the field with conspiracy theories and wild speculation.

I think UFO skepticism has become something of a religion with an agenda, discounting the possibility of extraterrestrials without scientific evidence, while often providing silly hypotheses describing only one or two aspects of a UFO encounter reinforcing the popular belief that there is a conspiracy. A scientist must consider all of the possible hypotheses that explain all of the data, and since little is known, the extraterrestrial hypothesis cannot yet be ruled out. In the end, the skeptics often do science a disservice by providing a poor example of how science is to be conducted. The fact is that many of these encounters – still a very small percentage of the total – defy conventional explanation.

The media amplifies the skepticism by publishing information about UFOs when it is exciting, but always with a mocking or whimsical tone and reassuring the public that it can’t possibly be true. But there are credible witnesses and encounters.

Why don’t astronomers see UFOs?

I am often asked by friends and colleagues, “Why don’t astronomers see UFOs?” The fact is that they do. In 1977, Peter Sturrock, a professor of space science and astrophysics at Stanford University, mailed 2,611 questionnaires about UFO sightings to members of the American Astronomical Society. He received 1,356 responses from which 62 astronomers – 4.6 percent – reported witnessing or recording inexplicable aerial phenomena. This rate is similar to the approximately 5 percent of UFO sightings that are never explained.

As expected, Sturrock found that astronomers who witnessed UFOs were more likely to be night sky observers. Over 80 percent of Sturrock’s respondents were willing to study the UFO phenomenon if there was a way to do so. More than half of them felt that the topic deserves to be studied versus 20 percent who felt that it should not. The survey also revealed that younger scientists were more likely to support the study of UFOs.

UFOs have been observed through telescopes. I know of one telescope sighting by an experienced amateur astronomer in which he observed an object shaped like a guitar pick moving through the telescope’s field of view. Further sightings are documented in the book “Wonders in the Sky,” in which the authors compile numerous observations of unexplained aerial phenomena made by astronomers and published in scientific journals throughout the 1700s and 1800s.

Evidence from government and military officers

Some of the most convincing observations have come from government officials. In 1997, the Chilean government formed the organization Comité de Estudios de Fenómenos Aéreos Anómalos, or CEFAA, to study UFOs. Last year, CEFAA released footage of a UFO taken with a helicopter-mounted Wescam infrared camera.

Declassified document describing a sighting of a UFO in December 1977, in Bahia, a state in northern Brazil. Arquivo Nacional Collection

The countries of Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom have been declassifying their UFO files since 2008. The French Committee for In-Depth Studies, or COMETA, was an unofficial UFO study group comprised of high-ranking scientists and military officials that studied UFOs in the late 1990s. They released the COMETA Report, which summarized their findings. They concluded that 5 percent of the encounters were reliable yet inexplicable: The best hypothesis available was that the observed craft were extraterrestrial. They also accused the United States of covering up evidence of UFOs. Iran has been concerned about spherical UFOs observed near nuclear power facilities that they call “CIA drones” which reportedly are about 30 feet in diameter, can achieve speeds up to Mach 10, and can leave the atmosphere. Such speeds are on par with the fastest experimental aircraft, but unthinkable for a sphere without lift surfaces or an obvious propulsion mechanism.

1948 Top Secret USAF UFO extraterrestrial document. United States Air Force

In December 2017, The New York Times broke a story about the classified Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, which was a $22 million program run by the former Pentagon official Luis Elizondo and aimed at studying UFOs. Elizondo resigned from running the program protesting extreme secrecy and the lack of funding and support. Following his resignation Elizondo, along with several others from the defense and intelligence community, were recruited by the To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science, which was recently founded by Tom DeLonge to study UFOs and interstellar travel. In conjunction with the launch of the academy, the Pentagon declassified and released three videos of UFO encounters taken with forward looking infrared cameras mounted on F-18 fighter jets. While there is much excitement about such disclosures, I am reminded of a quote from Retired Army Colonel John Alexander: “Disclosure has happened. … I’ve got stacks of generals, including Soviet generals, who’ve come out and said UFOs are real. My point is, how many times do senior officials need to come forward and say that this is real?”

A topic worthy of serious study

There is a great deal of evidence that a small percentage of these UFO sightings are unidentified structured craft exhibiting flight capabilities beyond any known human technology. While there is no single case for which there exists evidence that would stand up to scientific rigor, there are cases with simultaneous observations by multiple reliable witnesses, along with radar returns and photographic evidence revealing patterns of activity that are compelling.

Declassified information from covert studies is interesting, but not scientifically helpful. This is a topic worthy of open scientific inquiry, until there is a scientific consensus based on evidence rather than prior expectation or belief. If there are indeed extraterrestrial craft visiting Earth, it would greatly benefit us to know about them, their nature and their intent. Moreover, this would present a great opportunity for mankind, promising to expand and advance our knowledge and technology, as well as reshaping our understanding of our place in the universe.

Astronomers find cosmic radio burst source from within Milky Way

A weak burst from inside the Milky Way galaxy was spotted in April

A flash of luck helped astronomers solve a cosmic mystery: What causes powerful but fleeting radio bursts that zip and zigzag through the universe?

Scientists have known about these energetic pulses — called fast radio bursts — for about 13 years and have seen them coming from outside our galaxy, which makes it harder to trace them back to what’s causing them. Making it even harder is that they happen so fast, in a couple of milliseconds.

Then this April, a rare but considerably weaker burst coming from inside our own Milky Way galaxy was spotted by two dissimilar telescopes: one a California doctoral student’s set of handmade antennas, which included actual cake pans, the other a $20 million Canadian observatory.

They tracked that fast radio burst to a weird type of star called a magnetar that’s 32,000 light-years from Earth, according to four studies in Wednesday’s journal Nature.

Astronomers said they used the CHIME radio telescope at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaleden, British Columbia, Canada to trace an April 2020 fast cosmic radio burst to our own galaxy.

Astronomers said they used the CHIME radio telescope at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaleden, British Columbia, Canada to trace an April 2020 fast cosmic radio burst to our own galaxy. (Andre Renard/University of Toronto via AP)

It was not only the first fast radio burst traced to a source, but the first emanating from our galaxy. Astronomers say there could be other sources for these bursts, but they are now sure about one guilty party: magnetars.

Magnetars are incredibly dense neutron stars, with 1.5 times the mass of our sun squeezed into a space the size of Manhattan. They have enormous magnetic fields that buzz and crackle with energy, and sometimes flares of X-rays and radio waves burst from them, according to McGill University astrophysicist Ziggy Pleunis, a co-author of the Canadian study.

This November 2016 photo provided by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment collaboration shows the CHIME radio telescope at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaleden, British Columbia, Canada.

This November 2016 photo provided by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment collaboration shows the CHIME radio telescope at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaleden, British Columbia, Canada. (Andre Renard/University of Toronto via AP)

The magnetic field around these magnetars “is so strong any atoms nearby are torn apart and bizarre aspects of fundamental physics can be seen,” said astronomer Casey Law of the California Institute of Technology, who wasn’t part of the research.

There are maybe a dozen or so of these magnetars in our galaxy, apparently, because they are so young and part of the star birth process and the Milky Way is not as flush with star births as other galaxies, said Shami Chatterjee, a senior research associate in astronomy at Cornell University, who wasn’t part of either discovery team.

This burst in less than a second contained about the same amount of energy that our sun produces in a month, and still that’s far weaker than the radio bursts detected coming from outside our galaxy, said Caltech radio astronomer Christopher Bochenek. He helped spot the burst with handmade antennas.

These radio bursts aren’t dangerous to us, not even the more powerful ones from outside our galaxy, astronomers said.

The ones that come from outside our galaxy and travel millions or billions of light-years are “tens of thousands to millions of times more powerful than anything we have detected in our galaxy,” said co-author Daniele Michilli, an astrophysicist at McGill and part of the Canadian team.

Scientists think these are so frequent that they may happen more than 1,000 times a day outside our galaxy. But finding them isn’t easy.

“You had to be looking at the right place at the right millisecond,” Cornell’s Chatterjee said. “Unless you were very, very lucky, you’re not going to see one of these.”

On Wednesday astronomers said they used the CHIME radio telescope to trace an April 2020 fast cosmic radio burst to our own galaxy and a type of powerful energetic young star called a magnetar. The burst was also detected by a California doctoral student's set of handmade antennas.

On Wednesday astronomers said they used the CHIME radio telescope to trace an April 2020 fast cosmic radio burst to our own galaxy and a type of powerful energetic young star called a magnetar. The burst was also detected by a California doctoral student’s set of handmade antennas. (Andre Renard/University of Toronto via AP)

Even though this is a frequent occurrence outside the Milky Way, astronomers have no idea how often these bursts happen inside our galaxy.

“We still don’t know how lucky we got,” Bochenek said. “This could be a once-in-five-year thing or there could be a few events to happen each year.”

Bochenek’s antennas cost about $15,000. Each is “the size of a large bucket. It’s a piece of 6-inch metal pipe with two literal cake pans around it,” the doctoral student said. They are crude instruments designed to look at a giant chunk of the sky — about a quarter of it — and see only the brightest of radio flashes.

Bochenek figured he had maybe a 1-in-10 chance of spotting a fast radio burst in a few years. But after one year, he hit pay dirt.

Astronomers detect mysterious radio signals from far away galaxy

The Canadian observatory in British Columbia is more focused and refined but is aimed at a much smaller chunk of the sky, and it was able to pinpoint the source to the magnetar in the constellation Vulpecula.

Because the bursts are affected by all the material they pass through in space, astronomers might be able to use them to better understand and map the invisible-to-us material between galaxies and “weigh” the universe, said Jason Hessels, chief astronomer for the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, who wasn’t part of the research.

Astronomers have had as many 50 different theories for what causes these fast radio bursts, including aliens, and they emphasize that magnetars may not be the only answer, especially since there seem to be two types of fast radio bursts. Some, like the one spotted in April, happen only once, while others repeat themselves often.

This undated photo provided by Caltech shows radio astronomer Christopher Bochenek with a STARE2 station he developed near the town of Delta, Utah. On Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, astronomers say they used this system and a Canadian observatory to trace an April 2020 fast cosmic radio burst to our own galaxy.

This undated photo provided by Caltech shows radio astronomer Christopher Bochenek with a STARE2 station he developed near the town of Delta, Utah. On Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, astronomers say they used this system and a Canadian observatory to trace an April 2020 fast cosmic radio burst to our own galaxy. (Caltech via AP)

Michilli said his team has traced one outburst that happens every 16 days to a nearby galaxy and is getting close to pinpointing the source.

Some of these young magnetars are only a few decades old, “and that’s what gives them enough energy to produce repeating fast radio bursts,” Cornell’s Chatterjee said.

Tracking even one outburst is a welcome surprise and an important finding, he said.

“No one really believed that we’d get so lucky,” Chatterjee said. “To find one in our own galaxy, it just puts the cherry on top.”

NASA reestablishes contact with 43-year-old Voyager 2

NASA reestablishes contact with 43-year-old Voyager 2 which is 11.6 BILLION miles from Earth after repairs to antenna in Australia left spacecraft flying solo for seven months

NASA has reestablished contact with its Voyager 2  spacecraft as it travels more than 1.6 billion miles from Earth – after the probe was left flying solo for seven months while repairs were made to the radio antenna in Australia they use to control it.

Mission operators sent a series of commands to the 43-year-old probe using the ground-based Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) antenna, which established a signal confirming the ‘call’ was received.

However, due to the distance, the ground team had to wait more than 34 hours for a reply – but Voyager 2 received the commands and sent back a ‘hello.’

DSS43 is located in Australia and is part of a collection of radio antennas around the world that combine to communicate with any spacecraft beyond the moon. 

Mission operators sent a series of commands to the 43-year-old probe using the Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) (pictured), which established a signal confirming the 'call' was received

Mission operators sent a series of commands to the 43-year-old probe using the Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) (pictured), which established a signal confirming the ‘call’ was receivedDSS43 had been offline since March while NASA completed a series of hardware upgrades, but tested the new components by sending commands to Voyager 2 (pictured)

DSS43 had been offline since March while NASA completed a series of hardware upgrades, but tested the new components by sending commands to Voyager 2 (pictured)

The Australian satellite dish is one of three others that are part of the Deep Space Network (DSN) -the other two include Goldstone, California, and Madrid, Spain.

The successful call suggests DSS43 will be back online fully in February 2021.

Brad Arnold, the DSN project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California, said: ‘What makes this task unique is that we’re doing work at all levels of the antenna, from the pedestal at ground level all the way up to the feedcones at the center of the dish that extend above the rim.’NASA upgrades its 70-meter Deep Space Network satellite dishVoyager 2 launched in 1977 and reached interstellar space just two years ago

Voyager 2 launched in 1977 and reached interstellar space just two years ago

‘This test communication with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are on track with the work we’re doing.’

In 1989, the spacecraft flew over Neptune’s north pole as it made a close flyby, which pushed it southward – and it has been heading in this direction ever since.

Now more than 11.6 billion miles from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it doesn’t have a line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern Hemisphere.

DSS43 is the only technology on our planet with a transmitter powerful enough to reach such a distance and it is now receiving science data of interstellar space from the probe.In 1989, the spacecraft flew over Neptune's north pole as it made a close flyby, which pushed it southward – and it has been heading in this direction ever since. Now more than 11.6 billion miles from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it doesn't have a line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern Hemisphere

In 1989, the spacecraft flew over Neptune’s north pole as it made a close flyby, which pushed it southward – and it has been heading in this direction ever since. Now more than 11.6 billion miles from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it doesn’t have a line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern HemispherThe massive 111-foot wide dish has been operating since 1972, five years before Voyager 2 launched into space, and just received its 'most significant makeovers'

The massive 111-foot wide dish has been operating since 1972, five years before Voyager 2 launched into space, and just received its ‘most significant makeovers’

The massive 111-foot wide dish has been operating since 1972, five years before Voyager 2 launched into space, and just received its ‘most significant makeovers.’

Philip Baldwin, operations manager for NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program, said: ‘The DSS43 antenna is a highly specialized system; there are only two other similar antennas in the world, so having the antenna down for one year is not an ideal situation for Voyager or for many other NASA missions.’

‘The agency made the decision to conduct these upgrades to ensure that the antenna can continue to be used for current and future missions.’

‘For an antenna that is almost 50 years old, it’s better to be proactive than reactive with critical maintenance.’

Not only did the repairs help the dish make contact with Voyager 2, but the upgrades will also benefit other mission,  including the Mars Perseverance rover, which will land on the Red Planet Feb. 18, 2021. 

‘UFO’ spotted over Hawaii was likely a spent rocket, expert says

The rocket had been circling Earth since 2008

UFO spotted over Hawaii on Oct. 24 was likely a spent rocket, according to experts.

Professor Richard Wainscoat, a professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Institute for Astronomy, believes that that lights, which sparked great interest on social media, were likely the reentry of a spent rocket booster. The rocket had been used to launch the Venezuelan satellite, Venesat-1, back in 2008, according to the University of Hawaiʻi

“The used rocket has been circling Earth since the launch, slowly losing altitude due to friction with the tenuous atmosphere in low-Earth orbit,” explained the university in a statement. “On Saturday, the booster made its final orbits.”

Video grab from the footage of the lights in the night sky above Splasher's Grill in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, at 8.50pm on Oct. 24 2020.

Video grab from the footage of the lights in the night sky above Splasher’s Grill in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, at 8.50pm on Oct. 24 2020. (SWNS)

Wainscoat works with the Pan-STARRS telescope on Haleakalā. “Seeing a reentry is relatively rare for a specific location like Hawaiʻi, since we can only see the reentry if it occurs relatively close to us,” he said in the statement.

Footage obtained by SWNS showed the lights moving in the sky outside Splasher’s Grill in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, at 8:50 p.m. local time.

In 2017, a mysterious object in the night sky above Los Angeles was identified as United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base.

Earlier this year a mysterious balloon-like “UFO” object was spotted over Japan. The object, which became a social media sensation, sparked speculation that it was a science experiment or a weather balloon.

In the hunt for Planet Nine, astronomers eye a new search technique for the elusive world

Finding Planet Nine may require looking at telescope images in a different light.

Artist's illustration of Planet Nine, a world about 10 times more massive than Earth that may lie undiscovered in the far outer solar system.

Artist’s illustration of Planet Nine, a world about 10 times more massive than Earth that may lie undiscovered in the far outer solar system.(Image: © Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

Astronomers are vetting a “shifting and stacking” technique that could aid the hunt for the putative world, which some researchers think lurks undiscovered in the far outer system, way beyond Pluto’s orbit. 

The strategy involves shifting space-telescope images along sets of possible orbital paths, then stacking the photos together to combine their light. The technique has already been used to discover some moons in our solar system, and it could potentially spot Planet Nine — also known as Planet X, Giant Planet Five or Planet Next — and other extremely farflung objects, researchers said.

“You really can’t see them without using this kind of method,” Malena Rice, an astronomy Ph.D. student at Yale University in Connecticut, said in a statement. “If Planet Nine is out there, it’s going to be incredibly dim.”

Rice is lead author of a new study that put the method into action. She and co-author Greg Laughlin, an astronomy professor at Yale, shifted and stacked images captured by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which hunts for alien worlds from Earth orbit. 

In a test, the researchers found the faint signals of three known trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) — small bodies that circle the sun beyond Neptune’s orbit — in shifted and stacked TESS images. The scientists then conducted a blind search of two distant patches of sky, turning up 17 new TNO candidates.

“If even one of these candidate objects is real, it would help us to understand the dynamics of the outer solar system and the likely properties of Planet Nine,” Rice said. “It’s compelling new information.”

The researchers are currently working to confirm the 17 candidate TNOs, using imagery captured by ground-based telescopes. 

TNOs are bread crumbs that could lead to the way to Planet Nine. Researchers have inferred the hypothetical world’s existence from the odd orbits of some TNOs, which they say are clustered in a way that strongly suggests sculpting by a big, farflung “perturber.” The data indicate a planet five to 10 times more massive than Earth, orbiting the sun hundreds of times farther away than our world does.

Not everyone is on board with this interpretation, however. Some scientists think the TNOs’ odd clustering arises from the combined gravitational influence of their many minuscule neighbors, not a single big object. 

The new study has been accepted by The Planetary Science Journal. Rice presented the results today (Oct. 27) at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, which is being held virtually this year.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. EDT to clarify that Rice, not Laughlin, is lead author of the new study.

Coyne Incident over Charles Mill Lake was most credible UFO sighting of 1973

On Oct. 18, 1973, north central Ohio residents witnessed strange lights in the sky to the west over Charles Mill Lake.

Coyne incident
This was a sketch of what Capt. Lawrence J. Coyne and his crew witnessed in the sky over Charles Mill Lake on Oct. 18, 1973.

The next morning they were shocked to hear that they weren’t the only ones — a military helicopter flying near Mansfield also reported the lights in what is now known as the Coyne Incident. According to the Center for UFO Studies, the Coyne Incident is now considered the most credible incident in a wave of sightings in 1973.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. a UH-1H helicopter with the United States Army Reserve left Port Columbus, en route to Cleveland Hopkins airport, 96 nautical miles to the north-northeast. In command, in the right-front seat, was Capt. Lawrence J. Coyne. He was 36 years old and with 19 years of flying experience.

At the controls, in the left-front seat, sat 1st Lt. Arrigo Jezzi, 26 years old and a chemical engineer. Behind Jezzi sat Sergeant John Healey, 35, a Cleveland policeman who was the flight medic, and the crew chief, Sergeant Robert Yanacsek, 23 years old a computer technician.

The helicopter was cruising at 2,500 feet above sea level at an indicated airspeed of 90 knots, above mixed hills, woods, and rolling farmland, averaging an elevation of 1,200 feet. The night was totally clear, calm, and starry. The last quarter moon was just rising.

Around 11 p.m., 10 miles south of Mansfield, Healey noticed a single red light to the west, flying south. A few minutes later, Yanacsek reported a single red light on the southeast horizon, assuming it was a tower beacon or aircraft port wing light, until it then turned toward the helicopter and began rapidly approaching.

Coyne quickly powered a descent of 500 feet per minute, simultaneously contacting the National Guard aircraft tower in Mansfield to check if it was one of theirs, but after the initial contact of “This is Mansfield Tower, go ahead Army 1-5-triple-4” all transmissions were lost.

Meanwhile, Coyne increased their descent to 2,000 feet per minute at a speed of 100 knots, but still could not outrun the approaching object. Just as the crew braced for impact the light halted and began hovering above and in front of the helicopter.

Coyne, Healey and Yanacsek all described a cigar-shaped, slightly domed but otherwise featureless, gray metallic structure. Yanacsek described what appeared to be windows along the top of the dome. There was a red light at the bow and an indented white light at the stern, and then while the object hovered over the helicopter (plexiglass windows in the roof allowed the flight crew to view it from below) a green ‘pyramid shaped’ beam similar to a spotlight appeared — first passing over the helicopter’s nose and then up through the windshield and upper window panels enveloping the cockpit in green light.

While this happened, the helicopter had begun to climb, as if the object was dragging it upwards, for about 10 seconds.

The object then accelerated off to the west, leaving the helicopter behind, before executing a turn and racing over Lake Erie. Jezzi estimated that it moved faster than the 250-knot limit for aircraft below 10,000 feet, but not as fast as the 600-knot speed many other witnesses estimated.

The helicopter crew continued on to Cleveland, unable to determine what they saw.

Coyne described himself as a skeptic of UFOs, but admitted he couldn’t provide a reasonable answer for what happened.

In a later interview with the Mansfield News Journal, Jezzi admitted that “The first thing I thought was those Commie bastards … what are they up to?”

Coyne later contacted the Mansfield National Guard Tower, and discovered that they had no recordings of any contact with him that night — not even a tape with the initial contact — but did determine that no other aircraft were in the area at that time.

Coyne had also noticed that during the incident his magnetic compass in the helicopter stopped working correctly and filed a report to have it fixed — but maintenance crews were unable to fix it and eventually had to replace the entire unit.

The flight crew was awarded the National Enquirer Blue Ribbon Panel’s $5,000 award for “the most scientifically valuable report” of 1973.

More information on the Cleo Redd Fisher Museum can be found at this link.

‘Extraterrestrial organic compounds’ found in 2018 Michigan ‘fireball’

Meteorite contained more than 2,000 organic materials, including some dating back to early days of solar system

In 2018, a meteorite fell to Earth, causing a fireball that streaked across the sky in Michigan. Now, researchers have discovered the space rock contains “extraterrestrial organic compounds.” 

The study, published in the scientific journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, notes the meteorite was an H4 chondrite (only 4% of all meteorites that fall to Earth are H4 chondrites). It also contained more than 2,000 organic materials, including some dating back to the early days of the solar system.

“This meteorite is special because it fell onto a frozen lake and was recovered quickly. It was very pristine. We could see the minerals weren’t much altered and later found that it contained a rich inventory of extraterrestrial organic compounds,” the study’s lead author, Philipp Heck, said in a statement. “These kinds of organic compounds were likely delivered to the early Earth by meteorites and might have contributed to the ingredients of life.”

Security camera footage of the fireball in the sky over Toledo, Ohio (T. Masterson and the American Meteor Society)

Security camera footage of the fireball in the sky over Toledo, Ohio (T. Masterson and the American Meteor Society)

Known as the Hamburg meteorite, the fireball entered the Earth’s atmosphere on Jan. 16, 2018. It lit up the skies over large parts of North America, including Ontario, Canada, and the midwestern part of the U.S., before ultimately crashing to Earth in Michigan.

Hours later, meteorite hunters Robert Ward and Larry Atkins found the first parts of the meteorite, Fox News previously reported.

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.

The fragment found by Ward was eventually donated to Chicago’s Field Museum, where it was observed by study co-author Jennika Greer.

“This meteorite shows a high diversity of organics, in that if somebody was interested in studying organics, this is not normally the type of meteorite that they would ask to look at,” Greer explained. “But because there was so much excitement surrounding it, everybody wanted to apply their own technique to it, so we have an unusually comprehensive set of data for a single meteorite.”

The researchers found that the ratio of uranium and its decayed state suggest the asteroid formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago, according to LiveScience. That means the material is from the very early days of the solar system and roughly the same age as Earth.

Since the meteorite fell onto a frozen lake, the fragments that were studied showed “no or little signs of terrestrial weathering,” the researchers noted in the study, making it cleaner than other meteorites that fall to Earth.

“Scientists who study meteorites and space sometimes get asked, do you ever see signs of life? And I always answer, yes, every meteorite is full of life, but terrestrial, Earth life,” Heck added. “As soon as the thing lands, it gets covered with microbes and life from Earth. We have meteorites with lichens growing on them. So the fact that this meteorite was collected so quickly after it fell, and that it landed on ice rather than in the dirt, helped keep it cleaner.”

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.

It’s the End of the World … Somewhere

Extraterrestrials in existential trouble might be easiest to find—and also the most informative

Apocalypse is a word that we throw around pretty readily these days, and we can choose from a cornucopia of terrifying options—from the fierce ochre skies of western North America to the seemingly endless days of a global pandemic, to the suffering of mass migrants and the trauma from unstable political leaders (the specifics of which I leave to your imagination). But it’s a bit unfair to this overused term. The more literal, root meaning of apocalypse, from its construction out of ancient Greek, is “an uncovering.” It is a revelation of knowledge, of what lies beneath the usually perceived reality.

What lies beneath day-to-day reality is a fantastically complex web of phenomena. A web of our individual biological machinery and its place within a four-billion-year story of propagating genetic information and molecular processes, and of the exponentially complicated interplay between competing, cooperating, and merely indifferent systems. Whether in the form of organisms and their biophysical games with inanimate environments, or the back and forth of feedbacks in the dynamics of a well-heated, chemically rich rocky planet.

Perturb that web, poke it or shove it, and there are ripples that don’t always settle quickly. Planetary climate is one major structural element of the web, and is perfectly happy to ripple and slide over to states that modern humans haven’t experienced before. In that sense the revelation of “apocalypse” is indeed appropriate for much of what we’re seeing happening to our planet at the moment; an uncovering of the true cycles and mechanics of the physical and biological world.

But there may be even deeper revelations at play that don’t apply just to the Earth at this particular moment. There are two principal aspects to these. The first is that if there are life-harboring planets elsewhere in the universe, the ones experiencing dramatic and rapid shifts in their conditions might also be the ones that are easiest to identify as living worlds as we peer through our telescopes (a topic I’ve written about in the past). The second aspect is that it’s possible that sentient, technological species experiencing change and trauma might be the ones most likely to give away their presence to the rest of the galaxy.

For example, the trigger for that trauma might be when species approaches a particular level of planetary dominance. With their civilization reaching a tipping point of scale that is far more likely to produce detectable technosignatures for distant astronomers—whether as infrared excesses from waste energy or a flood of peculiar atmospheric compounds from polluting industrial processes.

But it could also be that it is precisely at this point in its existence that a species begins to really look beyond its planetary confines. Is it a coincidence that human spaceflight and dreams of putting settlers on Mars are revving up today in a way that they haven’t for decades? Or a coincidence that there is a resurgence of scientific interest in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? Or that there is an ongoing acceleration in machine learning and algorithms and devices that have the potential to grow exponentially and subvert aspects of our cognitive existence?

I think it’s an interesting idea to consider that civilizations (for want of a more general term) may only begin to make their presence known in the universe when things get really busy, and really bad, at home.

Apart from passive technosignatures, like rapid climate change, the launch of interplanetary or interstellar spacecraft could, if beamed-light propulsion is utilized, produce potent signals detectable elsewhere in the cosmos. Communications with a growing population of exploration vehicles and settlements within a planetary system, or with probes launched to other stars, could also create a noisy beacon for other species to detect. Even efforts to terraform other worlds (and of course this is stretching the realm of possibilities a little), would present a rather shocking event to advanced alien observers steadily tracking the properties of a system.

And perhaps the ultimate in last-ditch attempts to avert a slow-rolling planetary disaster is to send out a distress signal, looking for answers to existential challenges; because at that point why not?

There is a catch though, and it relates to the well-worn ideas of the Fermi paradox. By the time a species is compelled into doing any of these things, and even before its planetary environment is pushed to a Klaxon-like tipping point, perhaps it simply fails. There is no Hail Mary, there isn’t even a noticeable last gasp, instead it all just shuts down. In which case the apparent absence of any evidence for other intelligence in the universe is not just because of our limited searches to date, it is because of a great filter that—like an exhausted parent—just puts an end to any coherent change. There is no bang, and there isn’t even a whimper.

That is of course awfully depressing. But there is a ray of hope, and it’s in the fact that our quest to look for other technological life in the universe is very, very far from complete. We may yet find ourselves detecting the shrieks of civilizations across our galaxy. Even if they’re experiencing their own apocalypse, we would learn critical things about the properties of a great filter; that there might be time yet to slither past it, and that at least we still have a way to go.

NASA’s Perseverance rover is halfway to Mars

It will look for fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial life on Red Planet

The rover launched into space atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida; insight from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

After launching on July 30 to head to the Red Planet, NASA’s Perseverance rover is halfway to Mars, the space agency announced.

Late Tuesday, Julie Kangas, a navigator working on the Perseverance rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the rover had logged 146.3 million miles as of 1:40 p.m. PST, with another 146.3 million miles to go.

“While I don’t think there will be cake, especially since most of us are working from home, it’s still a pretty neat milestone,” Kangas said in a statement. “Next stop, Jezero Crater.”

This illustration of the Mars 2020 spacecraft in interplanetary space was generated using imagery from NASA's Eyes on the Solar System. The image is from the mission's midway point between Earth and Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration of the Mars 2020 spacecraft in interplanetary space was generated using imagery from NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System. The image is from the mission’s midway point between Earth and Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has also posted a real-time look to see where the rover is at any time.

Though Perseverance has traveled half the distance to Mars, it is not actually halfway between the two planets, Kangas added, as the sun’s gravitational influence impacts the rover’s curved trajectory.

“In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles [42.7 million kilometers] behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles [28.8 million kilometers] in front,” Kangas explained.

The $2.1 billion rover will also come with the first helicopter, known as Ingenuity, that will let researchers understand the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. In August, NASA powered up the six lithium-ion batteries on Ingenuity.

Once Perseverance lands on Mars at the Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, it will join the still functioning Curiosity rover and the now-deceased Opportunity rover on the Red Planet. 

The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is at least one Martian year or about 687 days. While there, it will perform a number of tasks, including looking for fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial life.

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

Extraterrestrial life on the closest 1,000 stars to Earth could see us: experts

The research found there are 1,004 star systems that might contain Earth-like planets

Is search a waste of time?

If indeed aliens do exist, they may be watching us from not too far away in space, a new study has found.

The research found there are 1,004 star systems that might contain Earth-like planets within 300 light-years of Earth that might be able “to detect Earth’s chemical traces of life.”

“If observers were out there searching, they would be able to see signs of a biosphere in the atmosphere of our Pale Blue Dot,” the study’s lead author, Lisa Kaltenegger, a Cornell University astronomer, said in a statement. “And we can even see some of the brightest of these stars in our night sky without binoculars or telescopes.”

The research has been published in the scientific journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

More than 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered by NASA in total, approximately 50 of which were believed to be potentially 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.

Transit observations ‒ when astronomers look at a star and see it dim because another object has crossed in front of it ‒ have allowed astronomers to discover these planets, Kaltenegger added. This type of observation will be expanded when NASA launches its James Webb Space Telescope in October 2021. The JWST was delayed due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, Fox News previously reported.

If an extraterrestrial civilization had its own advanced equipment, similar to the JWST, they might be able to see us as well.

However, not all of the 1,004 star systems could observe us for an extended period of time: only 508 of them “guarantee a minimum 10 [hour] long observation of Earth’s transit,” the researchers wrote in the study.

“Only a very small fraction of exoplanets will just happen to be randomly aligned with our line of sight so we can see them transit,” study co-author Joshua Pepper, associate professor of physics at Lehigh University, added. “But all of the thousand stars we identified in our paper in the solar neighborhood could see our Earth transit the sun, calling their attention.”

The majority of the planets are likely able to support life for billions of years, leaving the researchers intrigued about studying them further.

“If we found a planet with a vibrant biosphere, we would get curious about whether or not someone is there looking at us too,” Kaltenegger explained. “If we’re looking for intelligent life in the universe, that could find us and might want to get in touch. We’ve just created the star map of where we should look first.”

In September, a separate group of researchers from Australia completed “the deepest and broadest search” looking for technological signs of extraterrestrial civilizations at more than 10 million star systems and came up empty.

NASA confirms water has been spotted on the sunlit surface of the moon

The water was spotted on the southern hemisphere on the moon, near the Clavius crater

NASA announced it has discovered water on the sunlit surface of the moon.

The water was spotted near the Clavius crater, one of the largest crater formations on the celestial satellite and one that can be seen with the naked eye, Paul Hayne, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado, said on a conference call with the press. Hayne is the lead author of one of the studies published on the topic.

Casey Honniball, lead author of the other study, said there are between 100 and 400 parts per million of water, or “roughly the equivalent of a 12-ounce bottle of water within a cubic meter of lunar soil.”

This illustration highlights the Moon’s Clavius Crater with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there, along with an image of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) that found sunlit lunar water. (Credit: NASA)

This illustration highlights the Moon’s Clavius Crater with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there, along with an image of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) that found sunlit lunar water. (Credit: NASA)

“We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. “Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.”

The study led by Honniball found the presence of water directly on the surface, while Hayne’s study speculated that water may be trapped in “small spatial scales” all over the surface of the moon.

Researchers have known for some time about the existence of that water on the moon, having first discovered water vapor as early as 1971. In 2009, the first evidence of frozen water on the surface was discovered.

On the call, Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said the results are “exciting for human exploration,” but there are greater implications for it. “Understanding where the water is will help us determine where to send Artemis astronauts on the moon,” Bleacher explained.

The new studies note it could be significantly more accessible than previously thought. As such, the water could be used for drinking, fuel supply and other use cases.

Water was previously believed to only exist on areas of the moon that are always in shadows and do not receive sunlight, making them dangerous and frigid for astronauts to access.

“Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration,” Honniball added in the statement. “But we didn’t know how much, if any, was actually water molecules – like we drink every day – or something more like drain cleaner.”

The discovery was made from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), described as “the world’s largest airborne observatory.”

SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747 airplane capable of flying high in Earth’s atmosphere, allowing for its 9-foot telescope to get a “clear view of the universe and objects in our solar system.” It is able to observe infrared wavelengths that are capable of detecting “phenomena impossible to see with visible light,” NASA added.

In 2018, a separate group of researchers published a study that suggested water on the moon may be more accessible than first thought.

The findings come in advance of NASA’s Artemis program, which is intended to land American astronauts on the moon by 2024, as well as establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite.

Oreo builds asteroid-proof bunker above permafrost line, fills it with cookies and powdered milk

The company provided the bunker’s coordinates, just in case

Oreos will survive the apocalypse.

The threat of asteroids striking the Earth and causing a global catastrophe has inspired some groups to build bunkers to not only protect survivors, but also to ensure the safety of certain plants and animals. Now, the makers of Oreo have ensured that the popular snack will live past any possible asteroid strikes.

In a video published on its YouTube page, Oreo says it was inspired by the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway. According to the seed vault’s website, it is a storage facility for various seeds that has been designed and built to withstand both natural and manmade disasters. It is located above the permafrost line, placing it in the Arctic Circle.

According to Oreo’s video, the vault was also created specifically in regards to Asteroid 2018VP1, which has a slight chance of hitting Earth’s atmosphere on Nov. 2. While it’s unlikely that the asteroid would even survive entering the atmosphere, Oreo apparently isn’t taking any chances.

Oreo explained the vault and how it’s protecting Oreos on its Twitter account. According to one post, “Each cookie pack is wrapped in protective Mylar which can keep our cookies safe from temperatures of -80°F to 300°F.”

In another post, Oreo explains that the vault also contains vials of powdered milk, which reportedly only need to have powdered snow added before being ready to have Oreos dunked in it.

Each cookie pack is wrapped in protective Mylar which can keep our cookies safe from temperatures of -80°F to 300°F.

Oreo has provided the coordinates of the vault, 78°08’58.1″N, 16°01’59.7″E, which places it near the Svalbard seed vault. According to a tweet from the cookie maker, however, there is a coded lock on the door, ensuring the contents are saved for an apocalyptic event.

Asteroid samples escaping from jammed NASA spacecraft

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A NASA spacecraft is stuffed with so much asteroid rubble from this week’s grab that it’s jammed open and precious particles are drifting away in space, scientists said Friday.

Scientists announced the news three days after the spacecraft named Osiris-Rex briefly touched asteroid Bennu, NASA’s first attempt at such a mission.

The mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, said Tuesday’s operation 200 million miles away collected far more material than expected for return to Earth — in the hundreds of grams. The sample container on the end of the robot arm penetrated so deeply into the asteroid and with such force, however, that rocks got sucked in and became wedged around the rim of the lid.

In this image taken from video released by NASA, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft touches the surface of asteroid Bennu on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (NASA via AP)

In this image taken from video released by NASA, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft touches the surface of asteroid Bennu on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (NASA via AP)

Scientists estimate the sampler pressed as much as 19 inches (48 centimeters) into the rough, crumbly, black terrain.

“We’re almost a victim of our own success here,” Lauretta said at a hastily arranged news conference.

Lauretta said there is nothing flight controllers can do to clear the obstructions and prevent more bits of Bennu from escaping, other than to get the samples into their return capsule as soon as possible.

So, the flight team was scrambling to put the sample container into the capsule as early as Tuesday — much sooner than originally planned — for the long trip home.

“Time is of the essence,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of NASA’s science missions.

This is NASA’s first asteroid sample-return mission. Bennu was chosen because its carbon-rich material is believed to hold the preserved building blocks of our solar system. Getting pieces from this cosmic time capsule could help scientists better understand how the planets formed billions of years ago and how life originated on Earth.

Scientists were stunned — and then dismayed — on Thursday when they saw the pictures coming from Osiris-Rex following its wildly successful touch-and-go at Bennu two days earlier.

A cloud of asteroid particles could be seen swirling around the spacecraft as it backed away from Bennu. The situation appeared to stabilize, according to Lauretta, once the robot arm was locked into place. But it was impossible to know exactly how much had already been lost.

The requirement for the $800 million-plus mission was to bring back a minimum 2 ounces (60 grams).

Regardless of what’s on board, Osiris-Rex will still leave the vicinity of the asteroid in March — that’s the earliest possible departure given the relative locations of Earth and Bennu. The samples won’t make it back until 2023, seven years after the spacecraft rocketed away from Cape Canaveral.

Osiris-Rex will keep drifting away from Bennu and will not orbit it again, as it waits for its scheduled departure.

Because of the sudden turn of events, scientists won’t know how much the sample capsule holds until it’s back on Earth. They initially planned to spin the spacecraft to measure the contents, but that maneuver was canceled since it could spill even more debris.

“I think we’re going to have to wait until we get home to know precisely how much we have,” Lauretta told reporters. “As you can imagine, that’s hard. … But the good news is we see a lot of material.”

Japan, meanwhile, is awaiting its second batch of samples taken from a different asteroid, due back in December.

NASA is going to unveil an ‘exciting new discovery’ about the moon

The discovery will ‘inform’ the agency’s Artemis program work, Fox News has learned

Ahead of NASA’s return to the moon in 2024, the space agency is teasing an “exciting new discovery” about the celestial satellite.

According to a source familiar with the situation, the discovery, to be announced Monday at noon EST, is expected to “inform” the agency’s Artemis program work.

“This new discovery contributes to NASA’s efforts to learn about the Moon in support of deep space exploration,” NASA said in a statement.

The announcement will be made from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), described as “the world’s largest airborne observatory.”

SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747 airplane capable of flying high in Earth’s atmosphere, allowing for its 9-foot telescope to get a “clear view of the universe and objects in our solar system.” It is able to observe infrared wavelengths that are capable of detecting “phenomena impossible to see with visible light,” NASA added.

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

In 2019, NASA revealed details of its vision for the Artemis Moon Lander that will return American astronauts to the lunar surface. Artemis will also make history by landing the first woman on the moon.

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

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

Elon Musk sets 4-year timeline for SpaceX Mars mission, says there’s a ‘fighting chance’

The timelines are ‘only guesses,’ but Musk is determined to see his team achieve them

Elon Musk has said he could see a 4-year timeline for SpaceX’s first Mars mission. 

SpaceX founder and CEO Musk spoke at length on Friday during the International Mars Society Convention via Zoom. Musk discussed the timeline his company is following for its first uncrewed mission to Mars, saying that the company is on track to launch the mission in as little as four years. 

“I think we have a fighting chance of making that second Mars transfer window,” Musk said, which would put a launch in 2024. 

He said that making that launch date would require the development team to innovate more and that the company will “probably lose a few ships.” 

The company is trying to develop Starship, which is designed to carry dozens of people on long-range flight so that it would be possible to colonize Mars. Starship will be “the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed,” according to the SpaceX website

Prototype vehicles have so far made low-altitude “hops” from the SpaceX test facility in Texas, CNET reported

The company may also be able to demonstrate orbital refueling capabilities by as soon as 2022, which will allow test flights to the moon. 

“These are just guesses,” Musk cautioned, however. 

Additionally, SpaceX has no plans to develop any bases on Mars, Space.com reported. The company is concerned only with transportation, with its goal to ferry cargo and crew to Mars – someone else will need to develop the means of colonization. 

SETI Just Searched 10 Million Stars For Alien Civilizations

Following the results of our previous low frequency searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), directed toward the Galactic Centre and the Orion Molecular Cloud (Galactic Anticentre), we report a new large-scale survey toward the Vela region with the lowestupper limits thus far obtained with the MWA. Using the MWA in the frequency range 98-128 MHz over a 17 hour period, a 400 deg2 field centered on the Vela Supernova Remnant was observed with a frequency resolution of 10 kHz.

Within this field there are six known exoplanets. At the positions of these exoplanets, we searched for narrow band signals consistent with radio transmissions from intelligent civilizations. No unknown signals were found with a 5σ detection threshold. In total, across this work plus our two previous surveys, we have now examined 75 known exoplanets at low frequencies.

In addition to the known exoplanets, we have included in our analysis the calculation of the Effective Isotropic Radiated Power (EIRP) upper limits toward over 10 million stellar sources in the Vela field with known distances from Gaia (assuming a 10 kHz transmission bandwidth). Using the methods of Wright et al. (2018) to describe an eight dimensional parameter space for SETI searches, our survey achieves the largest search fraction yet, two orders of magnitude higher than the previous highest (our MWA Galctic Anticentre survey), reaching a search fraction of ∼ 2×10−16. We also compare our results to previous SETI programs in the context of the EIRPmin – Transmitter Rate plane.

Our results clearly continue to demonstrate that SETI has a long way to go. But, encouragingly, the MWA SETI surveys also demonstrate that large-scale SETI surveys, in particular for telescopes with a large field-of-view, can be performed commensally with observations designed primarily for astrophysical purposes.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft makes historic touchdown on asteroid Bennu

The mission is NASA’s first to retrieve a sample from the surface of an asteroid.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made its historic touchdown on asteroid Bennu Tuesday, retrieving a sample from the space rock that will be returned to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx reached the surface of Bennu at 6:11 p.m. EDT in a mission that NASA says will help unlock the secrets of the solar system. The “tag” or sample collection, was complete at 6:11 p.m. EDT and the spacecraft left the asteroid’s surface.

The Lockheed Martin-built van-sized spacecraft successfully reached a tennis court-sized crater named Nightingale. Boulders as big as buildings loomed over the touchdown zone. OSIRIS-REx used a robotic arm to grab the sample from Bennu, which is about 200 million miles from Earth.

“This is history, this is amazing,” said Dante Lauretta, Professor of Planetary Science and Cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator, just after touchdown. “It’s almost hard to process, everything that’s happening right now.”

The mission is NASA’s first to retrieve a sample from the surface of an asteroid.

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface.

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

OSIRIS-REx will also provide information that could help protect our planet from a possible collision with Bennu.

Bennu is about as tall as the Empire State Building, and could potentially threaten Earth in the next century, according to NASA. “Bennu has a 1:2700 chance of impacting Earth in the late 2100s, but this mission will also help us learn more about protecting ourselves if necessary,” the agency explains on its website.

OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The spacecraft reached Bennu in December 2018.

The craft is scheduled to depart Bennu next year and will deliver the asteroid sample to Earth on Sep. 24, 2023.

NASA recently revealed that parts of another asteroid, Vesta, have been spotted on the surface of Bennu.

In April 2019, Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully “bombed” asteroid Ryugu in the name of scientific research.

Earlier in 2019, Hayabusa2 briefly touched down onto Ryugu and fired a scientific research “bullet” into the space rock.

‘Election Day’ asteroid – not a political omen, but it is a warning

This is but the latest in an escalating series of asteroid close-calls and fly-bys

NASA predicts asteroid will pass by Earth on November 2.

Have you heard about the “Election Day” asteroid?

NASA is predicting it will give the Earth a very close shave the day before the presidential election. And while it is not being sent by a “Higher” or evenly “Heavenly Power” smiting us for either reelecting President Donald J. Trump or the prospect of a President Joe Biden, it is a warning we should take extremely seriously.

Worried about COVID-19, the environment, jobs, immigration, terrorism, health care, crime or the cost of education? An asteroid hit will erase all of those worries and quite possibly, all of us.

This is but the latest in an escalating series of asteroid close-calls and fly-bys. Sooner or later – it is the way of the cosmos – one won’t miss. Until that life-destroying impact, the only protection the Earth has at the moment is pure dumb luck. 

A direct hit by an even a relatively “small” asteroid could destroy a city, a state or a region. And yet, we continue to basically ignore this threat. Why?

Generally, because asteroids are not seen as a tangible vote-getter for most politicians, a ratings-winner for much of the media, or even a multi-million-dollar government-grant producer for many scientists.

But an asteroid screaming toward Earth with a minuscule chance of impact hours before the election between Trump and Biden? Cue the clicks.

The asteroid named 2018VP1 is estimated to only be about 7 feet in length. Even if it did manage to impact the Earth, all or most of it would burn up in the atmosphere. But again, that is all part of the “dumb-luck” strategy.

Less than two weeks ago, on Aug. 15, an asteroid the size of an automobile missed the Earth by about 1,800 miles. Not only was it completely undetected, but it was the closest call we have ever had without being impacted.

What’s the big deal?

Well, according to NASA, there are about 25,000 of these near-Earth asteroids from 6 to 460 feet wide. With only 8,000 of them detected. Worse, NASA believes there are tens of millions of these 33 to 65 feet in diameter asteroids zooming around undiscovered within 30 million miles of Earth.

To put it into terms everyone could understand, last year NASA simulated a 200-foot asteroid slamming into New York City. Their study concluded it would have hit New York with 1,000 times the destructive force of the nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima in World War II and instantly killed upwards of 1.3 million people.

That’s the “big deal.”

Humanity must spread out into the solar system to increase its chance of survival.   

For a real-life example of the destructive force from a “small” asteroid, we only have to look at what happened to Siberia on June 30, 1908, when an asteroid less than 150 feet across exploded in the air. It leveled more than 80 million trees and laid waste to an area roughly twice the size of New York City.

Last year in a major study – mostly ignored by our leaders – from Johns Hopkins titled: “Breaking up is hard to do. Asteroids are stronger, harder to destroy than previously thought,” the scientists warned, “It is only a matter of time before these questions go from being academic to defining our response to a major threat.”

All of which begs the question: What are our realistic responses to this major threat?

NASA’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee is now rightfully shifting much of its attention to asteroid detection and deflection. Next year, it will launch the “Double Asteroid Redirection Test” (DART). The goal of this planetary defense mission is to collide with a tiny moon orbiting the near-Earth asteroid “Didymos” to test a technique to deflect its orbit.

That’s better than nothing but any real defense of our planet is still years to decades away and everyone at NASA and within our government knows that.

So then what?

The late professor Stephen Hawking rightfully stressed: “I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster. … I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.”

Hawking specifically singled out asteroids as a major threat to our existence.

At the moment, the eggs holding all of humanity are in the Earth basket.  The United States, Russia and China are now looking to establish bases on the Moon before looking toward Mars. 

If anything, we must accelerate those plans. Humanity must spread out into the solar system to increase its chance of survival.   

The “Election Day” asteroid is putting an exclamation point on that terrifying reality. Time to focus.

Are UFOs Actually Travelling Between Dimensions Instead Of Space?

While most people – believers and sceptics alike – almost certainly imagine space travel and aliens when they hear the term UFO, there are many other theories on offer. Might these strange sightings be of time-travellers for example instead of aliens? Might they be nothing more than “phantom” sightings – some type of “rip” in space time that allows us to peek into the future or the distant past?

One particularly interesting alternative theory is that what we are actually witnessing are visitations from another dimension, as opposed to from another planet.UFO entering a portal

UFO entering a portal

In June 2016 a story appeared online that appeared to show a UFO entering a portal before completely disappearing into it. The event was captured on video and from start to finish lasted less than sixty seconds. A low rumbling sound is also audible throughout the recording.

You can check out the original video posting of this alleged incident below.

Declassified FBI Document Speaks Of “Inter-Dimensional” Beings

There have been many declassified FBI documents relating to UFO activity, and at least one refers to “beings” from another dimension to ours.

What is interesting about the document is that it is dated 8th July 1947 – the same date as the Roswell UFO incident. The document writer acknowledges that the claims made within it are likely to be ignored, but the fact that they are put in front of the FBI in order to investigate is intriguing enough.Cover page of the FBI UFO Section 1 document.

Cover page of the FBI UFO Section 1 document.

Perhaps one of the key parts of the declassified paper is the nine bullet points that highlight key information regarding “a very serious situation that may develop at any time with regard to the “flying saucers”. These can be found on page 22 of the declassified file in question. In full these bullet points read:

  1. Part of their disks carry crews, others are under remote control
  2. Their mission is peaceful. The visitors contemplate settling on this planet.
  3. These visitors are human-like but much larger in size.
  4. They are NOT excarnate earth people, but come from their own world.
  5. They do NOT come from any “planet” as we use the word, but from an etheric planet which interpenetrates with our own and is not perceptible to us.
  6. The bodies of the visitors, and the craft, automatically materialize on entering the vibratory rate of our dense matter.
  7. The disks possess a type of radiant energy or ray, which will easily disintergrate any attacking ship. They re-enter the etheric at will, and so simply disappear from our vision without trace.
  8. The region from which they come is not the “astral plane”, but corresponds to the Lokas or Talas. Students of osoteric matters will understand these terms.
  9. They probably can not be reached by radio, but probably can be by radar, if a signal system can be devised for that (apparatus).

The idea that these UFOs are not travelling through space to get here, but simply materializing in to our plain of perception upon hitting the “vibratory rate” is one that has been theorised before this document was made public.

These are the 10 best locations in the US for UFO enthusiasts to buy a home

Myrtle Beach, S.C., is the No. 1 place in the country to spot an alien and with the lowest median home price

The Department of Defense announces the creation of a new UFO task force, which will analyze the nature and origin of ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’; insight from Nick Pope, UFO expert and former U.K. Ministry of Defense official.

For those hoping to see a UFO in the U.S., a research firm has compiled a list of the 10 best locations in the country for UFO enthusiasts to buy a home.

National real estate marketplace ISoldMyHouse.com has revealed that Myrtle Beach, S.C., is the No. 1 place in the country to spot an alien and with the lowest median home price, just under $168,000. Other cities in the top three are Columbus, Ohio. ($174,109) and Philadelphia, Pa., with a median home price of $187,772.

“Whether you’re scientifically minded or not, the topic of aliens is one that fascinates a lot of people all over the world,” Kris Lippi, owner of ISoldMyHouse.com, said in a statement. “It’s also a topic that excites a lot of people so I’m happy to be able to provide this sort of information for those who want to or have turned their interest in the extraterrestrial into a passion.”

The Southwest is also prominently featured on the list, with Houston, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Phoenix, Tuscon and Mesa, Ariz., also on the list.

The firm, which used data from the National UFO Reporting Center, noted that each of these cities has had “at least” 27 reported UFO sightings and some with more than 100.

The research was conducted after a separate survey revealed that more than half of the country believes in extraterrestrial beings and nearly one-third think they have visited our planet.

In February, a separate research firm revealed 61% of survey respondents want the U.S. government to declassify the country’s so-called X-files and 58% said they believe the government “actively investigates extraterrestrial life.”

In a September 2019 Gallup poll, Americans said they are becoming increasingly skeptical of UFOs but think the government knows more than it is letting on.

2020 has been a banner year for UFO discussion in the U.S., as more news comes out of Washington.

In August, the Pentagon announced the establishment of a new task force to investigate reports of “unidentified aerial phenomenon.” The task force was established after the U.S. Navy publicly released videos from the mid-2000s that reenergized the discussion. 

In September, the National UFO Reporting Center said UFO spottings were up 51% year-over-year, topping 5,000 incidents.

How Nuclear rockets will get us to Mars and beyond

They were developed more than 40 years ago and then almost forgotten but now Nuclear Rockets are set to make a comeback and possibly provide the fastest way to get around our solar system to date. Here look at their history and how they could be used in the next decade or so.

nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) is a type of thermal rocket where the heat from a nuclear reaction, often nuclear fission, replaces the chemical energy of the propellants in a chemical rocket. In an NTR, a working fluid, usually liquid hydrogen, is heated to a high temperature in a nuclear reactor and then expands through a rocket nozzle to create thrust. The external nuclear heat source theoretically allows a higher effective exhaust velocity and is expected to double or triple payload capacity compared to chemical propellants that store energy internally.

NTRs have been proposed as a spacecraft propulsion technology, with the earliest ground tests occurring in 1955. The US maintained an NTR development program through 1973, when it was shut down to focus on Space Shuttle development. Although more than ten reactors of varying power output have been built and tested, as of 2019, no nuclear thermal rocket has flown.[1]

Nuclear power in space applications that have flown include the fission-electric SNAP-10A and TOPAZ series satellites and radioisotope thermoelectric generators.[citation needed]

Whereas all early applications for nuclear thermal rocket propulsion used fission processes, research in the 2010s has moved to fusion approaches. The Direct Fusion Drive project at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is one such example, although “energy positive fusion has remained elusive”. In 2019, the US Congress approved US$125 million in development funding for nuclear thermal propulsion rockets.

‘Very high risk’ defunct Russian satellite and Chinese rocket body will collide tonight: report

A collision could cause more debris to orbit the earth

Dr. Derrick Pitts explains the danger

Experts believe a defunct Russian satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket could smash into each other high above the earth on Thursday, according to reports.

Satellite-tracking company LeoLabs on Wednesday said the defunct objects could come within 39 feet of each other and that there was a 10% chance that they could still collide around 8:56 p.m. ET. The company deemed the potential crash to be a “very high risk.”

“This event continues to be very high risk and will likely stay this way through the time of closest approach,” LeoLabs tweeted.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the two objects were a defunct Soviet navigation satellite called Parus [Kosmos 2004] that launched in 1989 and a Chinese rocket stage.

As of Tuesday, the objects — with a mass of roughly three metric tons — were in low-Earth orbit at an altitude of around 615 miles, LeoLabs said.

Because the objects are located high above the ground, they don’t pose a risk to anyone on earth. However, a crash could cause more debris to orbit the earth, which could increase the risk of future collisions.

The debris could also threaten astronauts.

“If this turns into a collision, it’s probably thousands to tens of thousands of new pieces of debris that is going to cause a headache for any satellite that’s going out into upper low-Earth orbit, or even beyond,” said Dan Ceperley, the CEO of LeoLabs, according to Business Insider. “It’s maybe a much bigger problem than a lot of people realize.”

As of February this year, there are 128 million debris objects in orbit, according to the European Space Agency. Roughly 34,000 of those objects are greater than 10 cm. 

Researchers At Large Hadron Collider Are Confident To Make Contact With Parallel Universe In Days

The astoundingly complex LHC “atom smasher” at the CERN center in Geneva, Switzerland, are fired up to its maximum energy levels ever in an endeavor to identify – or perhaps generate – tiny black holes.

 If successful a very new universe is going to be exposed – modifying completely not only the physics books but the philosophy books too. 

It is even probable that gravity from our own universe may “transfer” into this parallel universe, researchers at the LHC say. The experiment is assured to accentuate alarmist critics of the LHC, many of whom initially warned the high energy particle collider would start the top of our universe with the making a part of its own. But up to now Geneva stays intact and securely outside the event horizon.

No doubt the LHC has been outstandingly successful. First researchers proved the existence of the mysterious Higgs boson “God particle” – a key building block of the cosmos – and it’s seemingly well on the thanks to revealing ‘dark matter’ – a previously untraceable theoretical prospect that’s now believed to form up the foremost of matter within the universe. But next week’s experimentation is reflected to be a game-changer. Mir Faizal, one in every of the three-strong group of physicists behind this experiment, said: “Just as many parallel sheets of paper, which are two-dimensional objects [breadth and length] can exist during a dimension [height], parallel universes can even exist in higher dimensions.”

“We predict that gravity can leak into extra dimensions, and if it does, then miniature black holes are produced at the LHC. Normally, when people consider the multiverse, they think about the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, where every possibility is actualized. This can not be tested so it’s a philosophy and not science. this is often not what we mean by parallel universes. What we mean is real universes in extra dimensions. “As gravity can effuse of our universe into the additional dimensions, such a model may be tested by the detection of mini black holes at the LHC.”

“We have calculated the energy at which we expect to detect these mini black holes in ‘gravity’s rainbow’ [a new scientific theory].”

“If we do detect mini black holes at this energy, then we are going to know that both gravity’s rainbow and additional dimensions are correct.”

When the LHC is fired up the energy is calculated in Tera electron volts – a TeV is 1,000,000,000,000, or one trillion, electron Volts. Up to now, the LHC has sought for mini black holes at energy levels below 5.3 TeV. But the foremost recent study says this is often too low.

Instead, the model forecasts that black holes might form at energy levels of no but 9.5 TeV in six dimensions and 11.9 TeV in 10 dimensions.

Trump to take ‘good, strong look’ at whether there are UFOs

The president replied, ‘Well, I’m gonna have to check on that’

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, President Trump said he would take a “good, strong look” at whether UFOs exist.

“Sunday Morning Futures” host Maria Bartiromo asked Trump point-blank whether the objects exist, to which the president replied, “Well, I’m gonna have to check on that. I mean, I’ve heard that. I heard that two days ago, so I’ll check on that. I’ll take a good, strong look at that.”

In June, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. asked his father if he would let us know if there are aliens, adding it’s “the only thing I really want to know” and if he would ever “open up Roswell and let us know what’s going on there.”

“So many people ask me that question,” the president told his son at the time. “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 pressed further about declassifying information about Roswell, the president said, “I’ll have to think about that one.”

President Trump had expressed skepticism of the existence of UFOs in previous interviews.

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

The Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force was launched 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), Nick Pope, a former employee and UFO investigator for Britain’s Ministry of Defense, told Fox News over the summer. Pope cited “former defense officials” with the group who were involved in work relating to UFOs.

The AATIP was formed in 2007 at the behest of former Sen. Harry Reid, Fox News previously reported. It reportedly ceased operations in 2012, but in 2017 the New York Times reported the Department of Defense was still investigating potential episodes of unidentified flying objects.

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.

“The Committee understands that the relevant intelligence may be sensitive; nevertheless, the Committee finds that the information sharing and coordination across the Intelligence Community has been inconsistent, and this issue has lacked attention from senior leaders,” they added.

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.

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.

Seven months prior, in September 2019, the U.S. Navy first acknowledged the videos contained unidentified objects, specifically using “unidentified aerial phenomena” terminology.