NASA to launch a deep-space atomic clock tonight

NASA is set to launch an incredible new atomic clock into orbit on a Falcon Heavy today (June 24) in a technology demonstration mission that could transform the way humans explore space.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is a space-ready upgrade to the atomic clocks we use here on Earth and to the clocks that already fly on satellites like those that provide GPS.

Ideally, this new atomic clock will make spacecraft navigation to distant objects in space — on the journey to Mars, for example — more autonomous, NASA said in a statement. The precision in measurement of the spacecraft’s position that scientists hope to get with the Deep Space Atomic Clock will allow spacecraft traveling in deep space to act on their own, without much communication with Earth. It’d be a huge improvement to how spacecraft are currently navigated, NASA said.

Related: This Is What 2 Dozen Satellites Look Like Packed for Launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy

But how does it work?

Astronomers already use clocks to navigate in space. They send a signal to the spacecraft, which sends it back to Earth. The time of that round trip tells scientists the spacecraft’s distance from Earth. That’s because the signal is traveling at the speed of light, so armed with the time it took to go to the spacecraft and back, finding distance is but a simple calculation away. By sending multiple signals over time, scientists can calculate a spacecraft’s trajectory — both where it was and where it’s going.

But in order to know a spacecraft’s location within a small margin of error, astronomers need very precise clocks that can measure billionths of a second, according to NASA. They also need clocks that are extremely stable. “Stability” here refers to how consistently a clock measures a unit of time. While you’d think that clocks always measure the same length of time as a “second,” clocks have a tendency to drift and slowly mark longer and longer times as a “second.” For measuring the locations of spacecrafts in distant space, astronomers need their atomic clocks to be consistent to better than a billionth of a second over days and weeks.

Modern clocks, from those we wear on our wrists to those used on satellites , most often keep time using a quartz crystal oscillator. These take advantage of the fact that quartz crystals vibrate at a precise frequency when voltage is applied to them, NASA said in the statement. The vibrations act like the pendulum in a grandfather clock.

But, by the standards of space navigation, quartz crystal clocks aren’t very stable at all. After six weeks, they may be off by a full millisecond, which translates at the speed of light to 185 miles (300 kilometers). That much error would have a huge impact on measuring the position of a fast-moving spacecraft, NASA said.

Atomic clocks combine quartz crystal oscillators with certain types of atoms to create better stability. NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock will use mercury atoms and be off by less than a nanosecond after four days and less than a microsecond after 10 years. It would take 10 million years for the clock to be wrong by a whole second, according to NASA.

Related: A NASA Atomic Clock on SpaceX’s Next Falcon Heavy Will Pioneer Deep-Space Travel Tech

It may not be surprising to learn that atomic clocks take advantage of the structure of atoms, which are composed of a nucleus of protons and neutrons surrounded by electrons. The atoms of each element have a distinct structure, with a different number of protons in the nucleus. While the number of electrons each type of atom has can vary, the electrons occupy distinct energy levels, and a jolt of exactly the right amount of energy can cause an electron to jump to a higher energy level around the nucleus.

The energy required to make an electron do this jump is unique to each element and consistent to all atoms of that element. “The fact that the energy difference between these orbits is such a precise and stable value is really the key ingredient for atomic clocks,” Eric Burt, an atomic clock physicist at JPL, said in the statement. “It’s the reason atomic clocks can reach a performance level beyond mechanical clocks.”

In essence, atomic clocks can correct themselves. In an atomic clock, the frequency of the quartz oscillator is transformed into the frequency that is applied to a collection of atoms from a specific element. If the frequency is correct, it will cause many electrons in the atoms to jump energy levels. But if it’s not, fewer electrons will jump. That tells the clock that the quartz oscillator is off-frequency and how much to correct it. On the Deep Space Atomic Clock, this correction is calculated and applied to the quartz oscillator every few seconds.

But that’s not all that makes the Deep Space Atomic Clock special. This clock doesn’t just use mercury atoms, it also uses charged mercury ions.

Because ions are atoms that have electric charge, they can be contained in an electromagnetic “trap.” This keeps the atoms from interacting with the walls of a vacuum chamber, a common problem with the neutral atoms used in regular atomic clocks. When they interact with the vacuum walls, environmental changes such as temperature can cause changes in the atoms themselves, and lead to frequency errors.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock won’t be subject to such environmental changes, according to NASA, and so will be 50 times more stable than the clocks used on GPS satellites. After the clock launches today, scientists will be able to begin testing the clock’s precision as it spends days, then months in orbit.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock will launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as one of two dozen payloads. The 4-hour launch window opens at 11:30 p.m. EDT (0330 June 25 GMT); visit Space.com tomorrow for complete coverage of the launch.

Voracious black holes could feed alien life on rogue worlds

Supermassive black holes lurk in the hearts of most galaxies. (Credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

Supermassive black holes lurk in the hearts of most galaxies. (Credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

Black holes are engines of destruction on a cosmic scale, but they may also be the bringers of life. New research on supermassive black holes suggests that the radiation they emit during feeding frenzies can create biomolecular building blocks and even power photosynthesis.

The upshot? Far more worlds roaming the Milky Way and beyond could be suitable to life, the researchers speculated.

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For their new study, published May 24 in the Astrophysical Journal, scientists created computer models to look at the radiating disks of gas and dust called active galactic nuclei, or AGN, that swirl around supermassive black holes. Some of the brightest objects in the universe, AGN form as a black hole’s gravity binds matter. As that matter swirls around a black hole, it releases incredible amounts of light and radiation. [9 Ideas About Black Holes That Will Blow Your Mind]

Since the early 1980s, scientists have suspected that this radiation would create a dead zone around an AGN. Some researchers even proposed that such an AGN could explain why we haven’t seen any complex extraterrestrial life towards the center of the Milky Way. Our galaxy has a monstrous black hole at its center, called Sagittarius A*. Previous studies have found that within 3,200 light-years of a Sagittarius A*-sized AGN, X-rays and ultraviolet light could strip the atmospheres from Earth-like planets. (The Milky Way is nearly 53,000 light-years across.)

“People have mostly been talking about the detrimental effects [of black holes],” Manasvi Lingam, lead author on the study and an astronomer at Harvard University, told Live Science. “We wanted to reexamine how detrimental [the radiation] is … and ask ourselves if there were any positives.”

The researchers’ models suggest that worlds with atmospheres that are thicker than Earth’s or those far enough away from an AGN to retain their atmospheres might still stand a chance of hosting life. At certain distances, there exists a galactic Goldilocks zone that gets just the right amount of ultraviolet radiation.

At this level of radiation, the atmosphere wouldn’t be stripped away, but the radiation could break apart molecules, creating compounds that are necessary for building proteins, lipids and DNA — the cornerstones to life, at least as we know it. For a black hole the size of Sagittarius A*, the Goldilocks region would extend approximately 140 light-years from the black hole’s center, where 1 light-year is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers).

The scientists also looked at the effects of the radiation on photosynthesis, the process by which most plants utilize the sun’s energy to create sugars. And AGN emit enormous amounts of that key ingredient — light. This would be particularly important for plants on free-floating planets, which have no nearby host star to provide a light source. Astronomers have estimated there could be around 1 billion such rogue planets drifting in the Goldilocks zone of a Milky Way-like galaxy, according to Manasvi.

Calculating the area over which AGN could power photosynthesis, the scientists found that large portions of galaxies, particularly those with supermassive black holes, could have AGN-powered photosynthesis. For a galaxy similar to our own, this region would extend around 1,100 light-years out from the center of the galaxy. In small, dense galaxies called ultracompact dwarfs, more than half of the galaxy could reside in that photosynthetic zone.

Taking a fresh look at the negative effects of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation in these zones, the scientists in the new study further found that the adverse consequences of an AGN neighbor have been exaggerated in the past. Bacteria on Earth have created biofilms to protect themselves from ultraviolet rays, and life in ultraviolet-heavy areas could have developed similar techniques.

X-rays and gamma-rays, which AGNs also spew in enormous quantities, are also readily absorbed by Earth-like atmospheres and would likely not have a large influence on life, the researchers said.

The scientists estimated that the damaging effects of AGN radiation likely would end at around 100 light-years out from a Sagittarius A*-size black hole.

“Looking at what we know about Earth, it does suggest that maybe the positive effects seem to be extended over a larger region than the negative effects,” Lingam told Live Science. “That was definitely surprising.”

Senators get classified briefing on UFO sightings

Senators get classified briefing by Pentagon on UFO sightings.

Three more U.S. senators received a classified Pentagon briefing on Wednesday about a series of reported encounters by the Navy with unidentified aircraft, according to congressional and military officials — part of a growing number of requests from members of key oversight committees.

One of them was Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose office confirmed the briefing to POLITICO.

“If naval pilots are running into unexplained interference in the air, that’s a safety concern Senator Warner believes we need to get to the bottom of,” his spokesperson, Rachel Cohen, said in a statement.

The interest in “unidentified aerial phenomenon” has grown since revelations in late 2017 that the Pentagon had set up a program to study the issue at the request of then-Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Officials interviewed multiple current and former sailors and aviators who claim to have encountered highly advanced aircraft that appeared to defy the laws of aerodynamics when they intruded on protected military airspace — some of which were captured on video and made public.

The Navy has played a prominent role in light of the testimony of F/A-18 pilots and other personnel operating with the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier battle group off California in 2004 and the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Atlantic in 2015 and 2016.

The growing congressional interest is credited for playing a major role in the service’s recent decision to update the procedures for reporting such unexplained sightings, which POLITICO first reported in April.

“Navy officials did indeed meet with interested congressional members and staffers on Wednesday to provide a classified brief on efforts to understand and identify these threats to the safety and security of our aviators,” spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Day said in a statement.

He said “follow-up discussions with other interested staffers” were also scheduled for Thursday. “Navy officials will continue to keep interested congressional members and staff informed. Given the classified nature of these discussions, we will not comment on the specific information provided in these Hill briefings.”

The briefings come several days after President Donald Trump told ABC News that he, too, had been briefed on the reports. “I did have one very brief meeting on it,” he said. “But people are saying they’re seeing UFOs. Do I believe it? Not particularly.”

But several current and former officials with direct knowledge describe the Capitol Hill briefing as the latest for members of Congress and their staff representing the Intelligence, Armed Services and Defense Appropriations panels.

“There are people coming out of the woodwork,” said one former government official who has participated in some of the meetings.

A current intelligence official added: “More requests for briefings are coming in.”

The sessions have been organized by the Navy but have also included staff from the under secretary of Defense for Intelligence, the sources said. Both were not authorized to talk publicly about the briefings.

Advocates for giving the mystery greater attention say they hope Congress will take more formal steps, such as requiring the Department of Defense to collect and complete a detailed analysis of data collected by satellites and other means of unidentified craft intruding into military airspace or operating under the sea.

NASA’s Cassini reveals New Sculpting in Saturn Rings

As NASA’s Cassini dove close to Saturn in its final year, the spacecraft provided intricate detail on the workings of Saturn’s complex rings, new analysis shows.


A false-color image mosaic shows Daphnis, one of Saturn’s ring-embedded moons, and the waves it kicks up in the Keeler gap. Images collected by Cassini’s close orbits in 2017 are offering new insight into the complex workings of the rings.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

As NASA’s Cassini dove close to Saturn in its final year, the spacecraft provided intricate detail on the workings of Saturn’s complex rings, new analysis shows.

Although the mission ended in 2017, science continues to flow from the data collected. A new paper published June 13 in Science describes results from four Cassini instruments taking their closest-ever observations of the main rings.

Findings include fine details of features sculpted by masses embedded within the rings. Textures and patterns, from clumpy to strawlike, pop out of the images, raising questions about the interactions that shaped them. New maps reveal how colors, chemistry and temperature change across the rings.

Like a planet under construction inside a disk of protoplanetary material, tiny moons embedded in Saturn’s rings (named A through G, in order of their discovery) interact with the particles around them. In that way, the paper provides further evidence that the rings are a window into the astrophysical disk processes that shape our solar system.

The observations also deepen scientists’ understanding of the complex Saturn system. Scientists conclude that at the outer edge of the main rings, a series of similar impact-generated streaks in the F ring have the same length and orientation, showing that they were likely caused by a flock of impactors that all struck the ring at the same time. This shows that the ring is shaped by streams of material that orbit Saturn itself rather than, for instance, by cometary debris (moving around the Sun) that happens to crash into the rings.

“These new details of how the moons are sculpting the rings in various ways provide a window into solar system formation, where you also have disks evolving under the influence of masses embedded within them,” said lead author and Cassini scientist Matt Tiscareno of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

Enduring Mysteries

At the same time, new puzzles have arisen and old mysteries have deepened with the latest research. The close-up ring images brought into focus three distinct textures — clumpy, smooth and streaky — and made it clear that these textures occur in belts with sharp boundaries. But why? In many places the belts aren’t connected to any ring characteristics that scientists have yet identified.

“This tells us the way the rings look is not just a function of how much material there is,” Tiscareno said. “There has to be something different about the characteristics of the particles, perhaps affecting what happens when two ring particles collide and bounce off each other. And we don’t yet know what it is.”

The data analyzed were gathered during the Ring Grazing Orbits (December 2016 to April 2017) and the Grand Finale (April to September 2017), when Cassini flew just above Saturn’s cloud tops. As the spacecraft was running out of fuel, the mission team deliberately plunged it into the planet’s atmosphere in September 2017.

Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) uncovered another mystery. The spectrometer, which imaged the rings in visible and near-infrared light, identified unusually weak water-ice bands in the outermost part of the A ring. That was a surprise, because the area is known to be highly reflective, which usually is a sign of less-contaminated ice and thus stronger water ice bands.

The new spectral map also sheds light on the composition of the rings. And while scientists already knew that water ice is the main component, the spectral map ruled out detectable ammonia ice and methane ice as ingredients. But it also doesn’t see organic compounds — a surprise, given the organic material Cassini has discovered flowing from the D ring into Saturn’s atmosphere.

“If organics were there in large amounts — at least in the main A, B and C rings — we’d see them,” said Phil Nicholson, Cassini VIMS scientist of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “I’m not convinced yet that they are a major component of the main rings.”

The research signals the start of the next era of Cassini science, said NASA’s Ames Research Center’s Jeff Cuzzi, who’s been studying Saturn’s rings since the 1970s and is the interdisciplinary scientist for rings on the Cassini mission.

“We see so much more, and closer up, and we’re getting new and more interesting puzzles,” Cuzzi said. “We are just settling into the next phase, which is building new, detailed models of ring evolution — including the new revelation from Cassini data that the rings are much younger than Saturn.”

The new observations give scientists an even more intimate view of the rings than they had before, and each examination reveals new complexities, said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“It’s like turning the power up one more notch on what we could see in the rings. Everyone just got a clearer view of what’s going on,” Spilker said. “Getting that extra resolution answered many questions, but so many tantalizing ones remain.”

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The radio antenna was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the U.S. and several European countries.

More information about Cassini can be found here: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/cassini


Story Source:

Materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion LaboratoryNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Astronomers spot moon ‘flashing at us’ and no one can explain why

A new study suggests that a ‘large body,’ perhaps an ancient planet or asteroid, crashed into the Moon and gave it its distinctive features.

Humans have been noticing flashes of light coming from the Moon for thousands of years but we still don’t understand why this happens or what causes it.

The strange occurrence is known as a transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) and an astronomer from Germany thinks he’s on the cusp of solving this moon mystery.

Hakan Kayal from the University of Würzburg in Bavaria is working on a project that might reveal what causes the quick shifts of light and darkness on the Moon.

He is using a brand new type of telescope system that is based in Spain and it’s already making progress, despite only being used since April.

Kayal describes the TLP flashes as bursts of light that last for seconds but Popular Science notes that some ‘flashes’ have been observed lighting up the Moon surface for hours at a time.

Some other experts describe the light spikes as sparkly and red or pink.

TLP is often observed a few times a week and can sometimes leave dark spots on the Moon.

Popular explanations for them include meteorite impacts and gas released from moonquakes reflecting light abnormally.Video

The first confirmed sighting of TLP was made by a Russian astronomer in 1958 and the European Space Agency has since made a special telescope, called NELIOTA, which discovered that the flashes happen far more often that people first thought.

This is why explaining the flashing Moon is so hard because it happens so often and there could be multiple reasons for it.

Kayal’s new telescope system, which is still being developed, is fairly low budget and involves two telescopes that constantly observe the Moon with cameras and relay what they see to computers powered by artificially intelligent software.

This AI software is tasked with distinguishing lunar flashes from other bright phenomenon, like meteorites, so the possible causes of TLP can be whittled down.

Astronomers think it is important to understand what causes the phenomenon before humans reach the Moon again as some of the explanations for TLP could be dangerous.

Sun could unleash violent ‘superflare’ in the next century, researchers warn

Earth’s aging sun could produce a massive superflare in the coming century.

Superflares are explosive bursts of energy on stars that are visible across hundreds of light years. If a particularly strong one erupted from our sun, it would wipe out all technology on Earth, lead to widespread blackouts and cause trillions of dollars in economic damage.

Lloyd’s of London, the insurance company, estimates the damage from such an event would last between one and two years and cost in the range of $600 billion and $2.6 trillion, The Sun reported.

“Our study shows that superflares are rare events,” Yuta Notsu, a researcher in Colorado University-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said in a statement. “But there is some possibility that we could experience such an event in the next 100 years or so.”

Artist's impression shows a superflare near a distant star.

Artist’s impression shows a superflare near a distant star. (NASA, ESA and D. Player)

The data used in the study come from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which has searched the sky for distant planets. The space agency saw the activity of stars and noticed starlight that would briefly brighten before getting dim. Those occurrences are known as superflares.

They also utilized the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft and the Apache Point Observatory in Mexico, observing 43 superflares that came from stars similar in age and size to our own sun.

“If a superflare occurred 1,000 years ago, it was probably no big problem. People may have seen a large aurora,” Notsu said in a published statement, referencing phenomena like the Northern Lights. “Now, it’s a much bigger problem because of our electronics.”

Despite not knowing exactly when a superflare could happen, scientists advised people to do more to prepare for the possibility by protecting electronics from space radiation.

The results of the study were published in The Astrophysical Journal.

NASA set to visit mysterious metal dead planet

NASA is preparing for a mission that could see it visit a mysterious, dead planet in deep space.

Set for a target date of Jan. 31, 2026, the government space agency is preparing to send a spacecraft to the asteroid Pysche. Unlike most asteroids, which are largely comprised of rock and ice, researchers believe Pysche is made up of mostly iron and nickel, much like the Earth’s core.

“They [scientists] wonder whether Psyche could be the nickel-iron heart, or exposed core, of an early planet maybe as large as Mars that lost its rocky outer layers through violent collisions billions of years ago,” NASA wrote in a statement on its website. “If so, it would provide a unique look into the solar system’s distant past, when the kind of high-speed protoplanet encounters that created Earth and the other terrestrial planets were common.”

This artist's-concept illustration depicts the spacecraft of NASA's Psyche mission near the mission's target, the metal asteroid Psyche. The artwork was created in May 2017 to show the five-panel solar arrays planned for the spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

This artist’s-concept illustration depicts the spacecraft of NASA’s Psyche mission near the mission’s target, the metal asteroid Psyche. The artwork was created in May 2017 to show the five-panel solar arrays planned for the spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

Part of the asteroid belt, the 125-mile-wide Pysche orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. It’s believed Pysche weighs 49 billion billion pounds, making it 0.03 percent the size of our Moon, according to Live Science. That would make it the 11th largest known asteroid in the solar system.

The largest asteroid in the solar system is Ceres, which is one-quarter the size of the Moon; it’s also considered the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system.

The mission is about to begin its Phase C, where the final design and fabrication are locked in, after an extensive review by NASA Headquarters.

“The Psyche team is not only elated that we have the go-ahead for Phase C, more importantly, we are ready,” said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton in the statement. “With the transition into this new mission phase, we are one big step closer to uncovering the secrets of Psyche, a giant mysterious metallic asteroid, and that means the world to us.”

Despite the excitement surrounding the mission, it still has to go through three more phases, including Phase D, which will start sometime in early 2021.

If all goes well, the craft would launch in August 2022, fly past Mars in 2023 and eventually arrive at the asteroid in 2026.

Astronomers Find a “Massive, Dense Structure” Beneath the Largest Crater on the Moon

“The dense mass—”whatever it is, wherever it came from”—is weighing the basin floor downward by more than half a mile…”

Astronomers have recently found a strange, humongous deep mass structure beneath the largest crater in our solar system; the Moon’s South Pole Aitken basin.Advertisement

There, researchers discover an anomaly with a massive unexpected mass.

And although it’s not aliens, astronomers say that the mysterious mass may very well contain the metallic remnants from the asteroid that slammed into the moon, forming the crater.

“Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground. That’s roughly how much unexpected mass we detected,” said lead author Peter B. James, Ph.D., assistant professor of planetary geophysics in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

Photo taken from Apollo 8 during the 1968 mission on their first approach to the Moon. Credits: NASA.
Photo taken from Apollo 8 during the 1968 mission on their first approach to the Moon.
Credits: NASA.

An oval crater

The crater located on the far side of the moon is an oval-shaped region around 2,000 kilometers wide.Advertisement

Measurements throughout th years have revealed it is several miles deep.

The new, anomalous mass beneath the crater is detailed in the study “Deep Structure of the Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin” — is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

To spot the anomaly, astronomers analyzed data from NASA’s Grail Mission which allowed them to accurately measure the changes in gravity strength around the moon.

“When we combined that with lunar topography data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we discovered the unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin,” James said.

“One of the explanations of this extra mass is that the metal from the asteroid that formed this crater is still embedded in the Moon’s mantle.”

The location of the underground structure circled in the South Pole-Atiken basin. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona.
The location of the underground structure circled in the South Pole-Atiken basin. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona.

Mysterious structure

The researchers revealed that the dense mass of the structure –“whatever it is, wherever it came from” is causing the entire basin floor to weigh in by more than half a mile.

The team of researchers revealed through computer simulations of asteroid collisions into the moon that under the right conditions, iron-nickel cores from asteroids could have been dispersed into the upper mantle of the moon during collisions.

“We did the math and showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon’s mantle until the present day, rather than sinking to the Moon’s core,” James said.Advertisement

But also in addition to coming from asteroid impacts, astronomers say that the origin of the mysterious structure could be related to the concentration of extremely dense oxides, left there by the last phases of lunar magma ocean solidification.

NASA’s Mars helicopter whirls through tests on way to 2020 launch

This image of the flight model of NASA's Mars Helicopter was taken on Feb. 14, 2019, in a cleanroom at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The aluminum base plate, side posts, and crossbeam around the helicopter protect the helicopter's landing legs and the attachment points that will hold it to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech )

This image of the flight model of NASA’s Mars Helicopter was taken on Feb. 14, 2019, in a cleanroom at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The aluminum base plate, side posts, and crossbeam around the helicopter protect the helicopter’s landing legs and the attachment points that will hold it to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech )

NASA’s first Mars helicopter is getting close to final approval for launch after passing several key tests.

The Mars Helicopter flight demonstration project will launch next summer with the Mars 2020 rover and touch down on the Red Planet in February  2021.

While the rover searches for signs of past life on the Red Planet and caches samples for future return to Earth, the helicopter will soar above Mars in a series of demonstration flights. Future missions could see such helicopters scouting ahead for where rovers could go next.

“Nobody’s built a Mars helicopter before, so we are continuously entering new territory,” MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

Back in January, the flight model flew in a simulated Martian environment at JPL’s Space Simulator, a vacuum chamber that has a diameter of 25 feet (roughly 8 meters). Then it was moved to a Lockheed Martin Space facility in Denver.

At its new location, the helicopter was tested for compatibility with the Mars Helicopter Delivery System. This system will carry the helicopter under the Mars 2020 rover’s belly during launch and cruise to Mars. The helicopter will separate from the rover after landing.

In Denver, the connections and mechanisms between the delivery system and helicopter were tested to make sure they fit together. The mated system experienced vibrations similar to what happens during launch and cruise. Also, the helicopter and delivery system were put into a thermal vacuum chamber to see how they performed in cold temperatures (minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 129 degrees Celsius), similar to the conditions they’ll experience in deep space and on the Martian surface.

With these tests complete, the helicopter went back to JPL on May 11 for several more procedures, including spinning up the rotor blades and installing a new solar panel. More testing is ahead, but the end is in sight — at least for work here on Earth

“We expect to complete our final tests and refinements and deliver the helicopter to the High Bay 1 clean room for integration with the rover sometime this summer,” Aung said, “but we will never really be done with testing the helicopter until we fly at Mars.”

Since the helicopter is a demonstrator, it has no science instruments on board; rather, its main purpose is to show that powered flight in the Martian atmosphere is achievable. The Red Planet’s air is just 1% as dense as that of Earth.

Even if the minicoptercan take flight, there are other obstacles to overcome, such as the time lag involved in controlling it from Earth. (It takes between 4 minutes and 24 minutes for signals to travel between Earth and Mars, depending on the positions of the two planets in space.) Imaging will also be tested to see the helicopter’s capabilities for transmitting high-resolution color photos.

“Future Mars missions could enlist second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations,’ NASA officials added in the statement. “They could investigate previously unvisited or difficult-to-reach destinations such as cliffs, caves and deep craters, act as scouts for human crews or carry small payloads from one location to another. But before any of that happens, a test vehicle has to prove it is possible.”

Mysterious light flashes on the Moon have been baffling researchers for decades

Astronomers have been excited by the Moon for eons, a level that has grown considerably as technological advancements gave humanity access to its surface, and helped researchers make observations from afar. And though there have been several notable lunar-related discoveries since man first walked on the Moon in 1969, there is still one phenomenon that has perplexed researchers for decades.

Mysterious, random flashes of light coming from the Moon’s surface.

Known as “transient lunar phenomena,” these mysterious, bizarre flashes of light can occur randomly, sometimes several times a week. Often times, they last for just a few minutes but have also been known to last for hours.

There have been a number of explanations over the years, from meteors to moonquakes to UFOs, but none have ever been proven. A new telescope in Spain, though, may provide the answer.

This image of the moon is taken from the new telescope of JMU. (Credit: Universität Würzburg)

This image of the moon is taken from the new telescope of JMU. (Credit: Universität Würzburg)

The lunar telescope, built by Hakan Kayal’s team at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany, will be pointed at the lunar surface for 24 hours a day and take videos and pictures if both of its cameras register a luminous phenomenon.

“The so-called transient lunar phenomena have been known since the 1950s, but they have not been sufficiently systematically and long-term observed,” said Kayal, a professor of space technology at the university, in a statement.

Observations of the transient lunar phenomena go back even further, to 1787, according to CNET. The news outlet also noted that Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins told NASA in 1969 about the strange occurrence.

“There is an area that is considerably more illuminated than the surrounding area,” Collins told NASA mission control on July 15, 1969, one day prior to the landing on the Moon. “It just has — seems to have a slight amount of fluorescence to it. A crater can be seen, and the area around the crater is quite bright.”

The telescope will be in a private observatory in Spain, which Kayal said was chosen over Germany because it offers “simply better weather conditions for observing the Moon.”

Kayal also said observations from the remote-controlled telescope will be compared with those from the European Space Agency. “If the same thing was seen there, the event can be considered confirmed,” he added.

Professor Hakan Kayal next to the moon telescope. (Credit: Tobias Greiner / Universität Würzburg)

Professor Hakan Kayal next to the moon telescope. (Credit: Tobias Greiner / Universität Würzburg)

The astronomer also said that interest in the bizarre lunar flashes is high due to renewed interest in the Moon, thanks to a new “space race” from private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as advancements from domestic and foreign governments, including China.

“Anyone who wants to build a lunar base at some point must of course be familiar with the local conditions,” Kayal said in the release.

In January, China landed its Chang’e 4 lunar explorer on the far side of the Moon, becoming the first country to ever land on the side facing away from Earth.

More recently, Blue Origin, led by Jeff Bezos, announced plans to send its Blue Moon lander to the celestial satellite. “It’s time to go back to the Moon,” Bezos said in a press conference last month. “This time to stay.”

Football field-sized asteroid could hit Earth this year

According to a list of the most concerning space objects complied by the European Space Agency, an asteroid, known as 2006 QV89, with a diameter wider than a football field has a roughly one in 7,000 chance of hitting the Earth later this year. The ESA has 2006 QV89 ranked fourth on its top ten list. It is likely that the asteroid will pass Earth at a distance of more than 4.2 million miles, according to current modeling.

An enormous asteroid with a diameter wider than a football field has a roughly one in 7,000 chance of hitting the Earth later this year. However, it’s nothing to lose sleep over.

Known as asteroid 2006 QV89, the space rock, which has a diameter of 164 feet, could potentially hit the planet on Sept. 9, 2019, according to a list of the most concerning space objects compiled by the European Space Agency. The ESA has 2006 QV89 ranked fourth on its top ten list.

According to current modeling, it’s likely that 2006 QV89, which is on the risk list but not the priority list, will pass Earth at a distance of more than 4.2 million miles. The ESA does note that the likelihood of its model being off is less than one-hundredth of one percent.

A KILLER ASTEROID IS COMING — WE DON’T KNOW WHEN (SO LET’S BE READY), BILL NYE SAYS

The space rock was discovered on August 29, 2006, by the Catalina Sky Survey.

Although extremely rare, asteroids have hit the planet previously and caused significant damage.

In 1908, there was an enormous explosion near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Yeniseysk Governorate, Russia, that flattened roughly 770 square miles of forest, likely due to a meteorite. It is now known as the Tunguska event.

Over 100 years later, in an occurrence now known as the Chelyabinsk Event, a meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere on February 15, 2013, over Russia and crashed. The damage from the explosion caused the damage to more than 7,200 buildings and resulted in nearly 1,500 injuries, though none of them were fatal.

NASA has recently expanded its planetary defense protocols, including last year’s unveiling of a bold new plan to protect Earth.

Last June, NASA unveiled a 20-page plan that details the steps the U.S. should take to be better prepared for near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of the planet.

ANCIENT ASTEROID STRIKES ON MARS MAY HAVE ‘PRODUCED KEY INGREDIENTS FOR LIFE’

Lindley Johnson, the space agency’s planetary defense officer, said at the time that the country “already has significant scientific, technical and operational capabilities” to help with NEOs, but implementing the new plan would “greatly increase our nation’s readiness and work with international partners to effectively respond should a new potential asteroid impact be detected.”

In addition to enhancing NEO detection, tracking and characterizing capabilities and improving modeling prediction, the plan also aims to develop technologies for deflecting NEOs, increasing international cooperation and establishing new NEO impact emergency procedures and action protocols.

According to a 2018 report put together by Planetary.org, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.

Exomoons may be home to extra-terrestrial life

ew research looks at the possibility of moons outside our solar system causing gaps in the rings of planets.


Artist’s concept of a moon orbiting a ringed planet (stock image).Credit: © marcel / Adobe Stock

Moons orbiting planets outside our solar system could offer another clue about the pool of worlds that may be home to extra-terrestrial life, according to an astrophysicist at the University of Lincoln.

Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system and up to this point nearly 4,000 have been discovered. Only a small proportion of these are likely to be able to sustain life, existing in what is known as the habitable zone. But some planets, especially large gas giants, may harbour moons which contain liquid water.

Dr Sutton said: “These moons can be internally heated by the gravitational pull of the planet they orbit, which can lead to them having liquid water well outside the normal narrow habitable zone for planets that we are currently trying to find Earth-like planets in. I believe that if we can find them, moons offer a more promising avenue to finding extra-terrestrial life.”

This interest has inspired Dr Sutton’s latest research, which looked at the possibility of moons orbiting the exoplanet J1407b, analysing whether they may have caused gaps in the planet’s ring system.

Because of their size and distance from Earth, exomoons are very difficult to detect. Scientists have to locate them by looking for the effect they have on objects around them, such as planetary rings.

Dr Sutton ran computer simulations to model the rings around J1407b, which are 200 times larger than those around Saturn. Gravitational forces between all particles were calculated and used to update the positions, velocities and accelerations in the computer models of the planet and its ring system. He then added a moon that orbited at various ratios outside of the rings to test whether this caused gaps to form where expected over 100 orbital periods.

Findings revealed that while the orbiting moon did have an effect on the scattering of particles along the ring edge, the expected gaps in the ring structure were unlikely to be caused by the gravitational forces of a currently unseen moon orbiting outside the rings.

UFOs are real, But don’t assume they’re alien spaceships

In 2014 and 2015, pilots with the U.S. Navy reported multiple UFO sightings during training maneuvers.

In 2014 and 2015, pilots with the U.S. Navy reported multiple UFO sightings during training maneuvers. (Copyright History 2019)

UFOs are very real, as we have recently seen — but that doesn’t mean E.T. has been violating our airspace.

“UFO” refers to any flying object an observer cannot readily identify. And pilots with the U.S. Navy saw fast-moving UFOs repeatedly off the East Coast throughout 2014 and 2015, in one case apparently nearly colliding with one of the mysterious objects, The New York Times reported earlier this week.

Those incidents were reported to the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), whose existence the Times and Politico revealed in December 2017. (Interestingly, those 2017 stories cited Pentagon officials as saying that AATIP had been shut down in 2012.)

Former AATIP head Luis Elizondo, by the way, is involved with a new six-part series called ” Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation,” which premieres tonight (May 31) on The History Channel.

The Navy pilots said some UFOs reached hypersonic speeds without any detectable exhaust plumes, suggesting the possible involvement of super-advanced propulsion technology. Still, Defense Department officials aren’t invoking intelligent aliens as an explanation, according to this week’s Times story — and they’re right to be measured in this respect, scientists say.

There are multiple possible prosaic explanations for the Navy pilots’ observations, said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI ( Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence ) Institute in Mountain View, California.

He pointed out, for example, that the sightings occurred off the coast, as did a similar 2004 observation unveiled in conjunction with the December 2017 stories. (That previous sighting occurred near San Diego).

Coastal regions are where you might expect to find a rival nation’s advanced reconnaissance craft, Shostak said, because incursions over the continental United States would be more obvious and easily detected.

He also noted that, according to the recent Times story, the Navy pilots began spotting the UFOs after their jets’ radar system was upgraded. That detail suggests the sightings might stem from some sort of software bug or instrument issue, he said.

“As anybody who uses Microsoft products knows, whenever you upgrade any technical product, there are always problems,” Shostak said.

Such reasoning is bolstered by the current tendency of UFOs to manifest as blobs or blurs on the displays of advanced instruments rather than as crisply defined objects in cellphone photos.

“The sightings always recede to the edge of what technology allows you to do,” Shostak said. “The aliens are kind of keeping pace with technology.”

Common sense also argues against jumping to the E.T. conclusion. If these UFOs are indeed alien spacecraft, what exactly are they doing? Why were they sent here, across the vast gulfs of space and time?

“If the aliens are here, you gotta say they’re the best houseguests ever, because they never do anything,” Shostak said. “They just buzz around. They don’t address climate change; they don’t steal our molybdenum.”

Related: UFO Watch: 8 Times the Government Looked for Flying Saucers

But such skepticism should not be taken as a dismissal of the E.T. possibility, Shostak stressed.

“It’s not trivial to say what these things are,” he said. And Shostak applauded a newly enacted classified Navy policy, as reported by the Times, instructing pilots on how to report UFOs (which the military, and many other people, now call “unexplained aerial phenomena,” likely in an attempt to dodge the tinfoil-hat stigma associated with the term “UFO.”)

“That’s a good policy,” he said. “Let them do it.”

After all, we’ve learned over the past decade or so that our Milky Way galaxy is home to huge numbers of potentially habitable worlds. Observations by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, for example, suggest that at least 20% percent of the galaxy’s 200 billion or so stars likely harbor a rocky planet in the “habitable zone,” that just-right range of distances where liquid surface water could exist.

So, while the odds may be long that any UFO witnessed to date was an extraterrestrial craft, it’s far from crazy to suspect that intelligent aliens are out there somewhere (or at least were out there somewhere, at some point during the Milky Way’s 13-billion-year history). That’s why people like Shostak keep listening for signals from the sky.

‘Double asteroid’ zooming by Earth at 43,000 mph captured in amazing photo

A unique “double asteroid” was photographed by a powerful telescope as it whizzed by Earth last month at over 43,000 mph.

The asteroid, classified as 1999 KW4, is made up of two components — a larger body orbited by a smaller one separated by about 1.6 miles. It got as close as 3.2 million miles to Earth on May 25 — about 14 times the distance from Earth to the Moon, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said in a news release Monday.

The double asteroid, which has an orbit well known to scientists, is not an impact threat to Earth, ESO officials said. Scientists with the ESO and the International Asteroid Warning Network worked together to predict the flyby and make appropriate preparations for observing the object.

The left-hand image shows SPHERE observations of Asteroid 1999 KW4. The angular resolution in this image is equivalent to picking out a single building in New York — from Paris. An artist's impression of the asteroid pair is shown on the right. (ESO)

The left-hand image shows SPHERE observations of Asteroid 1999 KW4. The angular resolution in this image is equivalent to picking out a single building in New York — from Paris. An artist’s impression of the asteroid pair is shown on the right. (ESO)

The organization said it used its Very Large Telescope (VLT) to spot the passing asteroid. The VLT was able to capture images sharp enough to distinguish the two parts of the asteroid thanks to its Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE) instrument. SPHERE’s main purpose is to observe exoplanets — planets located outside our Solar System.

ESO astronomer Olivier Hainaut said data obtained will help in evaluating effective strategies to deflect potential asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

“In the worst possible case, this knowledge is also essential to predict how an asteroid could interact with the atmosphere and Earth’s surface, allowing us to mitigate damage in the event of a collision,” he said.

The ESO noted that 1999 KW4 is similar to a binary asteroid called Didymos and its smaller orbiting companion, Didymoon, which could become a threat to Earth in the distant future.

Former US defense official: We know UFOs are real – here’s why that’s concerning

‘Unidentified’ gives military personnel on the frontlines a voice about what they are encountering in the skies.

After a bombshell report detailing near-daily interactions with unidentified flying objectsby Navy pilots in 2014 and 2015, Christopher Mellon has argued that this information is nothing new, and the government needs to do something about it.

Mellon, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, is involved with a new History Channel series, ‘Unidentified,’ which will expand on topics discussed in a recent New York Times article. In numerous interviews, Navy pilots revealed that they saw UFOs moving at hypersonic speeds, performing acts “beyond the physical limits of a human crew,” and emitting “no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes.”

In a Wednesday morning interview with “Fox & Friends,” Mellon, who has written extensively on the topic before, outlined the reasons the Navy is concerned about these sightings.Video

“We know that UFOs exist. This is no longer an issue,” he said. “The issue is why are they here? Where are they coming from and what is the technology behind these devices that we are observing?”

There are indications, Mellon said, that the objects reported by Navy pilots in 2014 and 2015 were doing things that aren’t possible in this physical realm.

The speeds being reported (about 5,000 miles per hour, according to Mellon) were only sustainable for about an hour by an aircraft in the air, and these objects would be flying around all day long, the pilots said.

“Pilots observing these craft are absolutely mystified and that comes through clearly in their public statements,” Mellon continued.

Fascination turned to fear one day, however, when a Super Hornet pilot said he almost collided with one of the objects — which he described as a sphere encasing a cube. An official report was filed, and the incident shattered the previous theory by Navy pilots that the objects were a part of some sort of extremely classified drone operation.

“These are reactions between intelligently controlled vehicles operating in and around U.S. military facilities, hence the concern,” Mellon explained.

“One: there have been near mid-air collisions so there is a safety issue. Two, there is a vital national security issue which is that our sovereignty is being violated by vehicles of unknown origin,” he continued.

Although all of this information is old news to Mellon, it’s taken America by storm, and he says we’re hardly the only country to have interactions with these objects. Having written extensively about UFO sightings before, Mellon said he’s frustrated with the lack of action being taken by the government, as are the Navy pilots who experienced the sightings.

He decided that the only way to make progress was to release this information to the public in the form of his new show, and television interviews.

“We are giving military personnel on the front line a voice,” he said. “We are helping them get out the message of what it is they are encountering and why they are so concerned about it.”

Incredible images show lightning bolt hitting Russian rocket during launch

Talk about a charge.

Incredible images show a Russian Soyuz rocket being hit with a bolt of lightning 10 seconds into its flight.

The lightning bolt hit the rocket on its nose fairing, as well as its third-stage booster segment, according to the Daily Mail, which cited the spacecraft’s on-board instruments.

Despite the frightening occurrence, the Russian Ministry of Defense said the spacecraft was functioning normally and was continuing its trek to low-Earth orbit, where it successfully delivered a navigation satellite.

Soyuz rocket hit by lightning. (Credit: East2West)

Soyuz rocket hit by lightning. (Credit: East2West)

“A stable telemetric connection is established and maintained with the spacecraft,” the government agency wrote in a post. “The on-board systems of the Glonass-M spacecraft are functioning normally.”

Dmitry Rogozin, the Director General of Roscosmos, posted a video of the strike to Twitter and said not even “[l]ightning is not an obstacle for you,” according to a translated version of the tweet.

Поздравляем командование Космических войск, боевой расчёт космодрома Плесецк, коллективы РКЦ “Прогресс” (Самара), НПО имени С.А.Лавочкина (Химки) и ИСС имени академика М.Ф.Решетнёва (Железногорск) с успешным запуском КА ГЛОНАСС!
Молния вам не помеха3,1266:24 AM – May 27, 20191,492 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

Although the image of the Roscosmos Soyuz 2-1b rocket, which took off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on May 27, being hit may be startling to some, it’s not an uncommon occurrence.

LiveScience reports that airplanes routinely get hit by lightning and the Apollo 12 mission that carried the Saturn V rocket was also hit by a lightning bolt in November 1969.

According to a 1970 NASA investigation, the Apollo 12 vehicle was hit twice by lightning during its launch, once at 36.5 seconds and the other at 52 seconds.

“As a result, many temporary effects were noted in both the launch vehicle and spacecraft,” the report said. “Some permanent effects were noted in the spacecraft and involved the loss of nine non-essential instrumentation sensors. All noted effects were associated with solid-state circuits, which are the most susceptible to the effects of a discharge.”

The report added that lightning “can be triggered by the presence of the long electrical length created by the space vehicle and its exhaust plume in an electric field which would not otherwise have produced natural lightning.”

A few instruments were knocked offline, including fuel cells, displays and telemetry, however, some innovative thinking from flight controller John Aaron and astronaut Alan Bean saved the mission, according to Science Alert.

Today, NASA has stringent weather guidelines for launches. If there is a chance of lightning within 5 miles of the launch pad, NASA will postpone a launch, the space agency said on its website.

All space agencies around the world also have lightning protection built into spacecraft, as well as their launch pads.

‘Wow, What Is That?’ Navy Pilots Report Unexplained Flying Objects

“These things would be out there all day,” Lt. Ryan Graves said. “Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.”CreditTony Luong for The New York Times

“These things would be out there all day,” Lt. Ryan Graves said. “Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.”CreditCreditTony Luong for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The strange objects, one of them like a spinning top moving against the wind, appeared almost daily from the summer of 2014 to March 2015, high in the skies over the East Coast. Navy pilots reported to their superiors that the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds.

“These things would be out there all day,” said Lt. Ryan Graves, an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot who has been with the Navy for 10 years, and who reported his sightings to the Pentagon and Congress. “Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.”

In late 2014, a Super Hornet pilot had a near collision with one of the objects, and an official mishap report was filed. Some of the incidents were videotaped, including one taken by a plane’s camera in early 2015 that shows an object zooming over the ocean waves as pilots question what they are watching.

“Wow, what is that, man?” one exclaims. “Look at it fly!”

No one in the Defense Department is saying that the objects were extraterrestrial, and experts emphasize that earthly explanations can generally be found for such incidents. Lieutenant Graves and four other Navy pilots, who said in interviews with The New York Times that they saw the objects in 2014 and 2015 in training maneuvers from Virginia to Florida off the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, make no assertions of their provenance.

But the objects have gotten the attention of the Navy, which earlier this year sent out new classified guidance for how to report what the military calls unexplained aerial phenomena, or unidentified flying objects.Video1:08‘Look at That Thing’: Footage Shows Pilots Spotting Unknown ObjectVideos filmed by Navy pilots show two encounters with flying objects. One was captured by a plane’s camera off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., on Jan. 20, 2015. That footage, published previously but with little context, shows an object tilting like a spinning top moving against the wind. A pilot refers to a fleet of objects, but no imagery of a fleet was released. The second video was taken a few weeks later.CreditCreditU.S. Department of Defense

Joseph Gradisher, a Navy spokesman, said the new guidance was an update of instructions that went out to the fleet in 2015, after the Roosevelt incidents.

“There were a number of different reports,” he said. Some cases could have been commercial drones, he said, but in other cases “we don’t know who’s doing this, we don’t have enough data to track this. So the intent of the message to the fleet is to provide updated guidance on reporting procedures for suspected intrusions into our airspace.”

The sightings were reported to the Pentagon’s shadowy, little-known Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which analyzed the radar data, video footage and accounts provided by senior officers from the Roosevelt. Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence official who ran the program until he resigned in 2017, called the sightings “a striking series of incidents.”Navy pilots from the VFA-11 “Red Rippers” squadron aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in 2015. The squadron began noticing strange objects just after the Navy upgraded the radar systems on its F/A-18 fighter planes.CreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times

Navy pilots from the VFA-11 “Red Rippers” squadron aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in 2015. The squadron began noticing strange objects just after the Navy upgraded the radar systems on its F/A-18 fighter planes.CreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times

The program, which began in 2007 and was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time, was officially shut down in 2012 when the money dried up, according to the Pentagon. But the Navy recently said it currently investigates military reports of U.F.O.s, and Mr. Elizondo and other participants say the program — parts of it remain classified — has continued in other forms. The program has also studied video that shows a whitish oval object described as a giant Tic Tac, about the size of a commercial plane, encountered by two Navy fighter jets off the coast of San Diego in 2004.

Leon Golub, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the possibility of an extraterrestrial cause “is so unlikely that it competes with many other low-probability but more mundane explanations.” He added that “there are so many other possibilities — bugs in the code for the imaging and display systems, atmospheric effects and reflections, neurological overload from multiple inputs during high-speed flight.”

Lieutenant Graves still cannot explain what he saw. In the summer of 2014, he and Lt. Danny Accoin, another Super Hornet pilot, were part of a squadron, the VFA-11 “Red Rippers” out of Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., that was training for a deployment to the Persian Gulf.

Lieutenants Graves and Accoin spoke on the record to The Times about the objects. Three other pilots in the squadron also spoke to The Times about the objects but declined to be named.

Lieutenants Graves and Accoin, along with former American intelligence officials, appear in a six-part History Channel series, “Unidentified: Inside America’s U.F.O. Investigation,” to air beginning Friday. The Times conducted separate interviews with key participants.

The pilots began noticing the objects after their 1980s-era radar was upgraded to a more advanced system. As one fighter jet after another got the new radar, pilots began picking up the objects, but ignoring what they thought were false radar tracks.

“People have seen strange stuff in military aircraft for decades,” Lieutenant Graves said. “We’re doing this very complex mission, to go from 30,000 feet, diving down. It would be a pretty big deal to have something up there.”

But he said the objects persisted, showing up at 30,000 feet, 20,000 feet, even sea level. They could accelerate, slow down and then hit hypersonic speeds.

Lieutenant Accoin said he interacted twice with the objects. The first time, after picking up the object on his radar, he set his plane to merge with it, flying 1,000 feet below it. He said he should have been able to see it with his helmet camera, but could not, even though his radar told him it was there.

A few days later, Lieutenant Accoin said a training missile on his jet locked on the object and his infrared camera picked it up as well. “I knew I had it, I knew it was not a false hit,” he said. But still, “I could not pick it up visually.”

At this point the pilots said they speculated that the objects were part of some classified and extremely advanced drone program.

A spotlight on the people reshaping our politics. A conversation with voters across the country. And a guiding hand through the endless news cycle, telling you what you really need to know.SIGN UPLieutenant Graves with Navy flight log books.

But then pilots began seeing the objects. In late 2014, Lieutenant Graves said he was back at base in Virginia Beach when he encountered a squadron mate just back from a mission “with a look of shock on his face.”

He said he was stunned to hear the pilot’s words. “I almost hit one of those things,” the pilot told Lieutenant Graves.

The pilot and his wingman were flying in tandem about 100 feet apart over the Atlantic east of Virginia Beach when something flew between them, right past the cockpit. It looked to the pilot, Lieutenant Graves said, like a sphere encasing a cube.

The incident so spooked the squadron that an aviation flight safety report was filed, Lieutenant Graves said.

The near miss, he and other pilots interviewed said, angered the squadron, and convinced them that the objects were not part of a classified drone program. Government officials would know fighter pilots were training in the area, they reasoned, and would not send drones to get in the way.

“It turned from a potentially classified drone program to a safety issue,” Lieutenant Graves said. “It was going to be a matter of time before someone had a midair” collision.

What was strange, the pilots said, was that the video showed objects accelerating to hypersonic speed, making sudden stops and instantaneous turns — something beyond the physical limits of a human crew.

“Speed doesn’t kill you,” Lieutenant Graves said. “Stopping does. Or acceleration.”

Asked what they thought the objects were, the pilots refused to speculate.

“We have helicopters that can hover,” Lieutenant Graves said. “We have aircraft that can fly at 30,000 feet and right at the surface.” But “combine all that in one vehicle of some type with no jet engine, no exhaust plume.”

Lieutenant Accoin said only that “we’re here to do a job, with excellence, not make up myths.”

In March 2015 the Roosevelt left the coast of Florida and headed to the Persian Gulf as part of the American-led mission fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The same pilots who were interacting with the strange objects off the East Coast were soon doing bombing missions over Iraq and Syria.

The incidents tapered off after they left the United States, the pilots said.

Why Are Two Stars in Our Galaxy Suddenly Acting Very Strange?

This illustration shows what a binary star system with a red giant feeding material into a white dwarf might look like.

This illustration shows what a binary star system with a red giant feeding material into a white dwarf might look like.(Image: © European Southern Observatory)

There’s a binary star system out there in the Milky Way, and it’s acting very weird.

“AG Draconis,” as astronomers call it, is made up of two stars: a relatively cool giant and a relatively hot white dwarf — the stellar corpse of a low- to medium-size star. They’re 16,000 light-years away from Earth. (A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, meaning everything we see happening on these stars happened 16,000 years ago). And that distance makes them difficult to observe in detail. But we do know some things about them.

The two stars are probably interacting, with material flowing off the surface of the big, cool star and onto the surface of the small, hot star. And every once in a while, about once every nine to 15 years dating back to the 1890s, they become active — going through a period of several years where, once a year, they get much brighter in certain wavelengths that Earth’s telescopes can detect. They’re in an active period now, with flashes (or “outbursts” of energy) detected in April 2016, May 2017 and April 2018. (The 2016 outburst was a bit weird itself, having two peaks two weeks apart.) Researchers expect another outburst in April or May of this year, though it’s too soon for any reports to have been published.

But there’s something weird about this period of activity, as researchers reported in a paper uploaded May 10 to the preprint server arXiv, which has not yet been through peer review. [15 Amazing Images of Stars]RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…CLOSEVolume 0%This video will resume in 7 seconds 

In the past, AG Draconis’ active periods almost always followed a simple pattern: The first couple of outbursts are “cool,” with the temperature of the white dwarf appearing to drop during each of its outbursts. Then, sometimes, the next set of outbursts are “hot,” with the star’s temperature rising. Cool outbursts tend to be much brighter than hot ones.

Researchers suspect that a cool outburst happens when the white dwarf starts to expand, its outermost, atmosphere-like region growing and cooling at the same time. That doesn’t happen during hot outbursts, which are less well-understood.

But this current cycle is weird. Occurring just seven years after a minor outburst in 2008, it’s been made up entirely of “hot” outbursts.

“Such behavior is considerably peculiar in [the] almost 130-year history of [the] observing of this object,” the researchers wrote, offering no explanation for why it might be happening.

Why does any of this “outbursting” happen at all? No one knows for sure.

The researchers pointed to a paper from 2006 posted to arXiv that offers one popular explanation, derived from a different star system. As the white dwarf’s gravity captures material from its giant twin, an “accretion disk” forms — made up of material circling the dwarf and waiting to fall onto its surface. But the disk is unstable, with the giant sometimes feeding more material into it and sometimes less.

Every once in a while, too much material falls onto the dwarf’s surface and there’s a spike in thermonuclear burning on the outside of the star, where there should be fairly little. That hellish blaze spits material out into the system, forming a brief, hot shell around the white dwarf. From Earth, this all looks like a slight tweak in the light across a few wavelengths.

“The future evolution of AG Dra[conis] is an open question,” the researchers wrote. In 2019, they asked, “can we expect (finally) a major, cool or (again) minor, hot outburst?”

It’s also possible, the researchers suggested, that this period of minor outbursts will simply end. That happened once before, during the relatively minor activity period of 1963 to 1966.

Long term, they said, this illustrates the importance of keeping a careful eye on stars like these, so that astronomers may one day crack the code of their behavior. It also demonstrates the difficulty of parsing events in solar systems light-years away.

Real Heroes! Mario Lopez Hosts Wounded Warrior Project Courage Awards

Real Heroes! Mario Lopez Hosts Wounded Warrior Project Courage Awards

“Extra’s” Mario Lopez helped pay tribute to America’s true heroes as host of the 2019 Wounded Warrior Project Courage Awards.

One of the honorees, Michael Carrasquillo, shared his story with “Extra.”

Michael, who received the Courage Award, revealed he was a high-school kid living in New York City when 911 happened. Afterward, he wanted to defend and protect his country, so he joined the Army.

Carrasquillo revealed, “I was an Airborne infantryman. Straight out of basic training and airborne training, I was deployed to Iraq… did a year there, back to my unit, then a year in Afghanistan.”

He continued, “In Afghanistan I was wounded, shot five times and barely survived… spent about two years in the hospital recovering from my injuries…over 44 surgeries, died twice, and very lucky to survive… Now, I’m a wounded warrior.”

To donate visit – https://www.facebook.com/donate/621534348325469/

Watch the video above for more of the patriotic and passionate night in NYC.

NASA Has Just Revealed Images Of An Enormous Asteroid That Could Destroy The Earth

NASA Has Just Revealed Images Of An Enormous Asteroid That Could Destroy The Earth An asteroid with the destructive power of thousands of nuclear warheads could collide with Earth – so NASA is hunting it down. Deep in outer space, a diamond-shaped asteroid is hurtling towards Earth. If the two bodies collide, the space rock – known as Bennu – is big enough to extinguish life on our planet.

A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid’s surface. Bennu also revealed itself to be more rugged than expected, challenging the mission team to alter its flight and sample collection plans, due to the rough terrain. 

Bennu is the target of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, which began orbiting the asteroid on Dec. 31. Bennu, which is only slightly wider than the height of the Empire State Building, may contain unaltered material from the very beginning of our solar system.

“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started.”

Shortly after the discovery of the particle plumes on Jan. 6, the mission science team increased the frequency of observations, and subsequently detected additional particle plumes during the following two months. Although many of the particles were ejected clear of Bennu, the team tracked some particles that orbited Bennu as satellites before returning to the asteroid’s surface.

The OSIRIS-REx team initially spotted the particle plumes in images while the spacecraft was orbiting Bennu at a distance of about one mile (1.61 kilometers). Following a safety assessment, the mission team concluded the particles did not pose a risk to the spacecraft. The team continues to analyze the particle plumes and their possible causes.

“The first three months of OSIRIS-REx’s up-close investigation of Bennu have reminded us what discovery is all about — surprises, quick thinking, and flexibility,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We study asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the solar system. OSIRIS-REx’s sample will help us answer some of the biggest questions about where we come from.”

OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 to explore Bennu, which is the smallest body ever orbited by spacecraft. Studying Bennu will allow researchers to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the sources of water and organic molecules on Earth, the resources in near-Earth space, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

The OSIRIS-REx team also didn’t anticipate the number and size of boulders on Bennu’s surface. From Earth-based observations, the team expected a generally smooth surface with a few large boulders. Instead, it discovered Bennu’s entire surface is rough and dense with boulders. 

The higher-than-expected density of boulders means that the mission’s plans for sample collection, also known as Touch-and-Go (TAG), need to be adjusted. The original mission design was based on a sample site that is hazard-free, with an 82-foot (25-meter) radius. However, because of the unexpectedly rugged terrain, the team hasn’t been able to identify a site of that size on Bennu. Instead, it has begun to identify candidate sites that are much smaller in radius.

The smaller sample site footprint and the greater number of boulders will demand more accurate performance from the spacecraft during its descent to the surface than originally planned. The mission team is developing an updated approach, called Bullseye TAG, to accurately target smaller sample sites.

“Throughout OSIRIS-REx’s operations near Bennu, our spacecraft and operations team have demonstrated that we can achieve system performance that beats design requirements,” said Rich Burns, the project manager of OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Bennu has issued us a challenge to deal with its rugged terrain, and we are confident that OSIRIS-REx is up to the task.” 

The original, low-boulder estimate was derived both from Earth-based observations of Bennu’s thermal inertia — or its ability to conduct and store heat — and from radar measurements of its surface roughness. Now that OSIRIS-REx has revealed Bennu’s surface up close, those expectations of a smoother surface have been proven wrong. This suggests the computer models used to interpret previous data do not adequately predict the nature of small, rocky, asteroid surfaces. The team is revising these models with the data from Bennu. 

This image shows a view across asteroid Bennu’s southern hemisphere and into space, and it demonstrates the number and distribution of boulders across Bennu’s surface. The image was obtained on Mar. 7 by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of about 3 miles (5 km). The large, light-colored boulder just below the center of the image is about 24 feet (7.4 meters) wide, which is roughly half the width of a basketball court.

The OSIRIS-REx science team has made many other discoveries about Bennu in the three months since the spacecraft arrived at the asteroid, some of which were presented Tuesday at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Conference in Houston and in a special collection of papers issued by the journal Nature. 

The team has directly observed a change in the spin rate of Bennu as a result of what is known as the Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect. The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed. As a result, Bennu’s rotation period is decreasing by about one second every 100 years. Separately, two of the spacecraft’s instruments, the MapCam color imager and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), have made detections of magnetite on Bennu’s surface, which bolsters earlier findings indicating the interaction of rock with liquid water on Bennu’s parent body. 

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Secret NASA plans for Moon base and 37 rocket launches revealed

The near side of the moon, as seen by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The United States aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, Vice President Mike Pence announced on March 25, 2019.

The near side of the moon, as seen by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The United States aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, Vice President Mike Pence announced on March 25, 2019.

NASA’s official plans to build a permanent base on the Moon have leaked online, revealing how and when astronauts will return to the rocky world for the first time in 50 years.

Internal documents show how Nasa wants to launch 37 rockets to the Moon within the next decade, with at least five of these carrying astronauts.

Starting with an unmanned rover in 2023, the space agency is expected to land people on the Moon in 2024.

NASA will then fire manned missions to Earth’s neighbor every year between 2024 and 2028, according to the documents, which were obtained by Arstechnica.

Speaking to The Sun, a NASA spokeswoman confirmed the documents are real and revealed the plans were briefed today during a public session of the Science Committee to the Nasa Advisory Council (NAC).

They show a decade-long program that culminates with a permanent lunar base, which NASA will begin building in 2028.

They are in part a response to recent calls from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to take astronauts back to the Moon.

“In the nearly two months since Pence directed Nasa to return to the Moon by 2024, space agency engineers have been working to put together a plan that leverages existing technology, large projects nearing completion, and commercial rockets to bring this about,” Arstechnica’s Eric Berger wrote.

“Last week, an updated plan that demonstrated a human landing in 2024, annual sorties to the lunar surface thereafter, and the beginning of a Moon base by 2028, began circulating within the agency.”

Berger did not say how he obtained the plans, which have not yet been made public.

They do appear to line up with previous statements from NASA about its lunar program, codenamed Artemis.

As with any space exploration project, the main obstacle is cash.

NASA reckons it will need $4.7 billion to $8.2 billion per year on top of NASA’s existing budget of about $20 billion.

Boss Jim Bridenstine recently asked for an extra $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2020 to start developing a lunar lander.

The plan also relies heavily on contractors delivering ambitious hardware on time, which has hindered Nasa in the past.

Boeing has been developing the core stage of the agency’s next-gen rocket, the Space Launch System, for eight years – but has yet to come up with the goods.

Boeing’s handling of the multi-billion-pound contract, which is now twice over budget, has been blasted by NASA’s Inspector General.

NASA was not immediately available for comment.

NASA finds water, ‘organic molecules’ on mysterious Ultima Thule

Since first encountering the mysterious Ultima Thule earlier this yearNASA has made several discoveries about the ancient space object.

Now, researchers from the government space agency have made a startling discovery about “the farthest world ever explored” – there are both water and “organic molecules” on its surface.

In the research, which is published in the scientific journal Science, NASA describes the mixture of methanol, water ice and organic molecules found on the surface of the Kuiper Belt object as “very different from most icy objects explored previously by spacecraft.”

“We’re looking into the well-preserved remnants of the ancient past,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in a statement. “There is no doubt that the discoveries made about Ultima Thule are going to advance theories of solar system formation.”

Also known as 2014 MU69, Ultima Thule is 4 billion miles from Earth and has captured scientists’ curiosity since they discovered it had a snowman-like appearance. It has two distinct, flat segments and is thought to be an “ancient relic,” likely forming “billions of years ago.”

The distant object Ultima Thule, as seen by NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft on Jan. 1, 2019. Mysterious mound-like features on the body's larger lobe are clearly visible in this view.

The distant object Ultima Thule, as seen by NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft on Jan. 1, 2019. Mysterious mound-like features on the body’s larger lobe are clearly visible in this view. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory)

The research also sheds new light on Ultima Thule’s geology and composition. The 22-mile-long object probably formed after the two lobes orbited each other. However, it’s still unknown what caused them to merge into the object seen today.

Scientists have also found new features on Ultima Thule, including several bright spots, patches and craters, including a 5-mile-wide depression that likely formed from some kind of impact.

Earlier this year, the researchers discovered that Ultima Thule has a reddish color and is considered to be the “reddest outer solar system object ever visited by spacecraft.” Researchers believe the organic molecules on the surface have contributed to its vibrant color.

Traveling at roughly 33,000 miles per hour, the $720 million New Horizons spacecraft will continue sending data transmission from its Ultima Thule flyby until the latter part of summer 2020. Ultima Thule is deep within the so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone, well beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Additionally, New Horizons will also collect observations of other Kuiper Belt objects it passes.

Support Wounded Warrior Project this Memorial Day

Want to join us in supporting a good cause? We are raising money for Wounded Warrior Project and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Every little bit helps. Thank you for your support. I’ve included information about Wounded Warrior Project below. 

Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. 

WWP serves to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women; help severely injured service members aid and assist each other; and provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs.

https://www.facebook.com/donate/621534348325469/10156284915160737/

New AI sees like a human, filling in the blanks

Computer scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have taught an artificial intelligence agent how to do something that usually only humans can do — take a few quick glimpses around and infer its whole environment, a skill necessary for the development of effective search-and-rescue robots that one day can improve the effectiveness of dangerous missions. The team, led by professor Kristen Grauman, Ph.D. candidate Santhosh Ramakrishnan and former Ph.D. candidate Dinesh Jayaraman (now at the University of California, Berkeley) published their results today in the journal Science Robotics.

Most AI agents — computer systems that could endow robots or other machines with intelligence — are trained for very specific tasks — such as to recognize an object or estimate its volume — in an environment they have experienced before, like a factory. But the agent developed by Grauman and Ramakrishnan is general purpose, gathering visual information that can then be used for a wide range of tasks.

“We want an agent that’s generally equipped to enter environments and be ready for new perception tasks as they arise,” Grauman said. “It behaves in a way that’s versatile and able to succeed at different tasks because it has learned useful patterns about the visual world.”

The scientists used deep learning, a type of machine learning inspired by the brain’s neural networks, to train their agent on thousands of 360-degree images of different environments.

Now, when presented with a scene it has never seen before, the agent uses its experience to choose a few glimpses — like a tourist standing in the middle of a cathedral taking a few snapshots in different directions — that together add up to less than 20 percent of the full scene. What makes this system so effective is that it’s not just taking pictures in random directions but, after each glimpse, choosing the next shot that it predicts will add the most new information about the whole scene. This is much like if you were in a grocery store you had never visited before, and you saw apples, you would expect to find oranges nearby, but to locate the milk, you might glance the other way. Based on glimpses, the agent infers what it would have seen if it had looked in all the other directions, reconstructing a full 360-degree image of its surroundings.

“Just as you bring in prior information about the regularities that exist in previously experienced environments — like all the grocery stores you have ever been to — this agent searches in a nonexhaustive way,” Grauman said. “It learns to make intelligent guesses about where to gather visual information to succeed in perception tasks.”

One of the main challenges the scientists set for themselves was to design an agent that can work under tight time constraints. This would be critical in a search-and-rescue application. For example, in a burning building a robot would be called upon to quickly locate people, flames and hazardous materials and relay that information to firefighters.

For now, the new agent operates like a person standing in one spot, with the ability to point a camera in any direction but not able to move to a new position. Or, equivalently, the agent could gaze upon an object it is holding and decide how to turn the object to inspect another side of it. Next, the researchers are developing the system further to work in a fully mobile robot.

Using the supercomputers at UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center and Department of Computer Science, it took about a day to train their agent using an artificial intelligence approach called reinforcement learning. The team, with Ramakrishnan’s leadership, developed a method for speeding up the training: building a second agent, called a sidekick, to assist the primary agent.

“Using extra information that’s present purely during training helps the [primary] agent learn faster,” Ramakrishnan said.

This research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, IBM Corp. and Sony Corp.

Something Strange Punched a Hole in the Milky Way. But What Exactly Is It?

The milky way from Earth.

There’s a “dark impactor” blasting holes in our galaxy. We can’t see it. It might not be made of normal matter. Our telescopes haven’t directly detected it. But it sure seems like it’s out there.

“It’s a dense bullet of something,” said Ana Bonaca, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who discovered evidence for the impactor.

Bonaca’s evidence for the dark impactor, which she presented April 15 at the conference of the American Physical Society in Denver, is a series of holes in our galaxy’s longest stellar stream, GD-1. Stellar streams are lines of stars moving together across galaxies, often originating in smaller blobs of stars that collided with the galaxy in question. The stars in GD-1, remnants of a “globular cluster” that plunged into the Milky Way a long time ago, are stretched out in a long line across our sky.

Under normal conditions, the stream should be more or less a single line, stretched out by our galaxy’s gravity, she said in her presentation. Astronomers would expect a single gap in the stream, at the point where the original globular cluster was before its stars drifted away in two directions. But Bonaca showed that GD-1 has a second gap. And that gap has a ragged edge — a region Bonaca called GD-1’s “spur” — as if something huge plunged through the stream not long ago, dragging stars in its wake with its enormous gravity. GD-1, it seems, was hit with that unseen bullet.


This image from Bonaca’s presentation shows the most detailed map yet of GD-1, revealing the apparent second gap and spur.

“We can’t map [the impactor] to any luminous object that we have observed,” Bonaca told Live Science. “It’s much more massive than a star… Something like a million times the mass of the sun. So there are just no stars of that mass. We can rule that out. And if it were a black hole, it would be a supermassive black hole of the kind we find at the center of our own galaxy.”

It’s not impossible that there’s a second supermassive black hole in our galaxy, Bonaca said. But we’d expect to see some sign of it, like flares or radiation from its accretion disk. And most large galaxies seem to have just a single supermassive black hole at their center.


Top: This image shows what GD-1 appears to actually look like. Bottom: This image shows what computer models predict GD-1 should look like.

With no giant, bright objects visible zipping away from GD-1, and no evidence for a hidden, second supermassive black hole in our galaxy, the only obvious option left is a big clump of dark matter. That doesn’t mean the object is definitely, 100%, absolutely made of dark matter, Bonaca said.

“It could be that it’s a luminous object that went away somewhere, and it’s hiding somewhere in the galaxy,” she added.

But that seems unlikely, in part due to the sheer scale of the object.

“We know that it’s 10 to 20 parsecs [30 to 65 light-years] across,” she said. “About the size of a globular cluster.”


Top: This image again shows what GD-1 appears to actually look like. Bottom: This image shows what computer models predict GD-1 would look like after an interaction with a large, heavy object.

But it’s hard to entirely rule out a luminous object, in part because the researchers don’t know how fast it was moving during the impact. (It may have been moving very fast, but not quite as heavy as expected — a true dark bullet — Bonaca said. Or it could have been moving more slowly but been very massive — a sort of dark hammer.) Without an answer to that question, it’s impossible to be certain where the thing would have ended up.

Still, the possibility of having found a real dark matter object is tantalizing.

Right now, researchers don’t know what dark matter is. Our universe seems to act like the luminous matter, the stuff we can see is just a small fraction of what’s out there. Galaxies bind together as if there’s something heavy inside them, clustered in their centers and creating enormous gravity. So most physicists reason that there’s something else out there, something invisible. There are lots of different opinions as to what it’s made of, but none of the efforts to directly detect dark matter on Earth have yet worked.

This dense ball of unseen something plunging through our Milky Way offers physicists a new scrap of evidence that dark matter might be real. And it would suggest that dark matter is really “clumpy,” as most theories about its behavior predict. [Beyond Higgs: 5 Elusive Particles That May Lurk in the Universe]Advertisement

If dark matter is “clumpy,” then it’s concentrated in irregular chunks distributed roughly across galaxies — much like the luminous matter we see concentrated in stars and nebulae. Some alternative theories, including theories that suggest dark matter doesn’t exist at all, wouldn’t include any clumps — and would have the effects of dark matter distributed smoothly across galaxies.

So far, Bonaca’s discovery is one of a kind, so new that it hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal (though it was met appreciatively by the crowd of physicists at the prestigious conference).

To pull it off, she relied on data from the Gaia mission, an European Space Agency program to map billions of stars in our galaxy and their movements across the sky. It formed the best existing catalog of the stars that seem to be part of GD-1.

Bonaca buttressed that data with observations from the Multi Mirror Telescope in Arizona, which showed which stars were moving toward Earth, and which were moving away. That helped distinguish between stars that were really moving with GD-1, and those that just sat next to it in Earth’s sky. That effort produced the most precise image ever of GD-1, which revealed the second gap, the spur, and a previously unseen region of the stellar stream.

Down the road, Bonaca said, she wants to do more mapping projects to reveal other regions of the sky where something unseen seems to be knocking stars around. The goal, she said, is to eventually map clumps of dark matter all across the Milky Way.

NASA launches rah-rah trailer for 2024 moon mission: ‘We are going’

Let Captain Kirk get you excited about returning humans to the moon.

nasasls
NASA is still working on the Space Launch System as part of its moon ambitions.Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

William Shatner, Captain Kirk from Star Trek, knows a few things about exploring the universe. His voice adds a lot of gravitas to a new NASA video that plays out like a trailer for the agency’s 2024 moon ambitions. 

The video, released Tuesday, is simply called We Are Going. It comes on the heels of a NASA 2020 budget amendment requesting $1.6 billion in additional funding to jump-start its lunar exploration plans, both robotic and human. 

NASA also announced the name Artemis this week for its mission to send astronauts, including the first woman, to the moon in 2024.

The video is meant to get everyone excited about reaching out and touching our lunar neighbor once again. We haven’t visited in person since the last Apollo mission in 1972. 

The 2024 schedule doesn’t give NASA much time to figure out everything from its delayed Space Launch System to a new lunar lander, so the agency needs all the enthusiasm it can get from personnel, politicians and space fans. 

NASA LOOKS TO THE MOON

We Are Going does a good job of laying out the history, majesty, hope and challenges for the new mission while making the whole thing sound pretty magical. The video covers moon landing efforts, but also the concept of an orbital Deep Space Gateway as a stepping stone to Mars.

“Our charge is to go quickly, and to stay, to press our collective efforts forward with a fervor that will see us return to the moon in a manner that is wholly different than 50 years ago,” Shatner narrates.

If this is the trailer, I can’t wait to see the movie.

NASA’s Voyager and Pioneer Probes Launched Decades Ago and Are Still Out There. Here’s Where They’ll End Up.

Scientists have shown which stars these craft will pass by millions of years after the vehicles stop working.

An artist's visualization of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft.

An artist’s visualization of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft.(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Spacecraft that launched from Earth in the 1970s are still traveling on trajectories that led them out of our solar system and beyond. In a new study, scientists have predicted the future of these spacecraft, determining which stars the vehicles will pass, and how close they will get to these stars, within the next few million years. 

On March 2, 1972, NASA launched its Pioneer 10 spacecraft, which would become the first craft to travel through the asteroid belt. About a year later, Pioneer 11 took flight. And in 1977, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft launched, with Voyager 1 following behind a few weeks later. These spacecraft, in addition to NASA’s New Horizons probe, are the only spacecraft ever launched that are capable of reaching interstellar space. So far, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have broken through that barrier. However, if they continue on, Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11 and NASA’s New Horizons craft are all expected to leave the sun’s sphere of influence, called the heliosphere,  and continue exploring through the interstellar medium.

Eventually, these spacecraft will run out of power and “die”; their science equipment will stop working, and they will stop communicating. In fact, Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 sent their last transmissions in 2003 and 1995, respectively. Though these craft can no longer transmit signals to Earth, researchers have figured out which stars the vehicles will pass long after they cease to be operational. 

These calculations are tricky, because as these spacecraft travel away from Earth, the cosmos around them move, too. Coryn A. L. Bailer-Jones, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, and Davide Farnocchia, of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, have found the spacecraft’s destinations by using the 3D positions and 3D velocities of 7.2 million stars that were included in the second data release from the Gaia space observatory’s survey of over 1 billion stars. 

In the new study, Bailer-Jones and Farnocchia calculated that the next star that Voyager 1 will pass will be Earth’s nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, in 16,700 years. However, this encounter will be unremarkable, as the craft’s closest approach will be 1.1 parsecs (pc) from the star, which equates to 3.59 light-years —  very, very far away. In fact, Voyager 1 is currently 1.3 pc (4.24 light-years) from the star, so this encounter won’t be much closer than the craft’s current location is.  (Earth’s sun is 1.29 pc, or 4.24 light-years, away from Proxima Centauri.)

Voyager 2 and Pioneer 11’s next close encounters will also be with Proxima Centauri, while Pioneer 10’s next flyby will be with the star Ross 248, a small star 10.3 light-years from Earth in the constellation Andromeda.

These distant encounters might not generate excitement. But Bailer-Jones and Farnocchia predicted other future flybys in which the spacecraft will get remarkably close to stars outside our solar system. For example, Voyager 1 will get very close to the star TYC 3135-52-1, a star located about 46.9 light-years from our sun, in 302,700 years. The craft will pass within 0.30 pc, just under a light-year  — so close that the spacecraft might penetrate the star’s Oort cloud, which is a shell of cosmic objects that surround a star past its planets, if it has one, Bailer-Jones told Space.com in an email.

Additionally, the researchers found that Voyager 1 will swing close, within 0.39 pc (1.27 light-years), of Gaia DR2 2091429484365218432, a star that lies a whopping 159.5 pc (520.22 light-years) from the sun. To give you an idea of how close the approach is, we are 1.29 pc (4.24 light-years) away from Proxima Centauri. They predicted that the craft will pass close to this faraway star in 3.4 million years. 

Bailer-Jones told Space.com that this research was inspired by the team’s previous work to trace the possible origins and future destinations of the mysterious interstellar object dubbed ‘Oumuamua

“It was mostly a bit of fun,” Bailer-Jones told Space.com. “But it also reminds us how long it takes to get to nearby stars at the kind of speeds these spacecraft have achieved (around 15 km/s relative to the sun).

“It also highlights that the closest encounters, because they can be tens or hundreds of thousands of years in the future, can be with stars which are not among the nearest stars to the sun right now,” Bailer-Jones continued. “Also, if we want to explore the nearest stars within a human lifetime, we need to accelerate our spacecraft to much higher velocities.”

The study was published April 5, 2019, in the journal IOPscience. 

NASA Will Aim a DART at Target Asteroid in Upcoming Deflection Test

Nudging this asteroid will give valuable clues for surviving a prospective hit.

Fourteen Arecibo radar images of the near-Earth asteroid 65803 Didymos and its moonlet, taken on Nov. 23, 24 and 26, 2003.

Fourteen Arecibo radar images of the near-Earth asteroid 65803 Didymos and its moonlet, taken on Nov. 23, 24 and 26, 2003.(Image: © Arecibo Observatory/NSF)

Telescopes and spacecraft are already watching the skies for potentially hazardous asteroids, but what could be done to actually deflect a dangerous object heading toward Earth? 

On May 1, the audience at the 6th International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference heard more than a dozen presentations related to an upcoming test to nudge an asteroid, and the potential follow-up mission that would view the results up close.

The upcoming mission, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), will send a spacecraft to crash into an object typical of the size of those asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth. According to NASA, almost one-sixth of the known near-Earth asteroids (NEA) are multiple-body or binary systems, and DART will travel to one such system to perform its mission. 

The overall goal of the mission — which will conduct its crash test in about two years — is to gauge what future tools can successfully deflect the orbit of a potentially hazardous asteroid. The mission is led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) and is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

DART will travel to the binary asteroid system 65803 Didymos and will slam into the smaller of the two objects, also known as “Didymoon” or Didymos B. The two rocks may receive another earthly visitor after DART, too. The European Space Agency is proposing a mission called Hera, which would explore Didymos and, alongside the first two European cubesats to travel into deep space, learn about the aftermath of the DART impact.

Didymos is about 2,540 feet (775 meters) wide, and Didymoon measures 540 feet (165 m) across.

The mission’s launch window is now slated to open in July 2021, according to DART Project Manager Cheryl Reed. She also said on May 1 that current estimates suggest the spacecraft will carry a mass of 1,224 lbs. (555 kilograms) and will achieve a closing speed of 14,900 mph (24,000 km/h) before smashing into Didymoon in 2022. 

The spacecraft will use the “kinetic impactor” technique to strike Didymoon and change the asteroid’s motion. (The probe will not employ any explosives.) 

An element to this collision that several researchers touched on at the conference was how much material ejected from the asteroid after the spacecraft hit would help boost deflection — the momentum enhancement factor, which is known as beta. Research teams are working on 2D and 3Dmodels to better understand how Didymoon’s composition, surface material or DART’s angle of impact, for example, would affect deflection.

The Hera mission will receive a final full funding decision in November 2019. If it does get the green light, Hera and its two cubesats, APEX and Juventas, will make a series of measurements, observing the shape of DART’s impact crater, Didymoon’s mass, the asteroid’s density and porosity, and more. 

UFOS INVADING MILITARY AIRSPACE MULTIPLE TIMES PER MONTH, BUT PUBLIC WON’T BE TOLD MORE

Since 2014, UFOs have intruded upon military airspace as often as several times per month, a military official told the Washington Post. In a follow-up published by the Post on Monday, the same official said that the U.S. Navy will not share any more information regarding what they call “unexplained aerial phenomena” with the public, despite drafting formal procedures to document UFO sightings on an ongoing basis.

“There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air spaces in recent years,” the Navy said in a statement released to Politico, who first reported on the new approach. “The Navy is updating and formalizing the process by which reports of any such suspected incursions can be made to the cognizant authorities. A new message to the fleet that will detail the steps for reporting is in drafts.”

The new processes come in response to multiple sightings of rounded objects spotted and tracked on infrared cameras, including footage of a so-called “Tic-Tac” UFO craft released by The New York Times in 2017. During the 2004 incident, the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group tracked multiple UFOs off California’s Baja Peninsula, with pilots, radar technicians and other military officials confirming the mysterious technology.

“At a certain point, there ended up being multiple objects that we were tracking,” Petty Officer Gary Voorhis, stationed aboard the Princeton missile cruiser escorting the USS Nimitz, said in testimony described by Issues in Science & Technology. “They all generally zoomed around at ridiculous speeds, and angles and trajectories and then eventually they all bugged out faster than our radars.”

The vehicles buzzing military installations are described as having no air intake, no exhaust and no other indication of a power source or known method of generating thrust.RELATED STORIES

Joseph Gradisher, spokesman for the office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare, described multiple recorded sightings per month to The Washington Post, but emphasized that any further information will likely remain classified. Congress may see reports with broad statistics regarding the number of sightings and conclusions taken from follow-up investigations.

But while the Navy plans to keep its UFO sightings out of the public eye, the politician who helped fund the Pentagon’s shuttered UFO program, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), says UFO sightings are far more common in military circles than previously revealed.

Speaking with CBS affiliate KLAS in Las Vegas, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described widespread sightings on military bases. “You can’t just hide your head and say these things are not happening,” Reid, who has previously described a UFO arms race between the United States and competing countries, told the I-Team’s George Knapp. “We have military installations where hundreds and hundreds of people who are there see these things.”

Jeff Bezos just unveiled a giant lunar lander that he says is ‘going to the moon’

Jeff Bezos Blue Origin moon lander

WASHINGTON, DC — Jeff Bezos just unveiled a giant lunar-landing vehicle created by his rocket company Blue Origin.

Called “Blue Moon,” the lander is designed to deliver a variety of sizes and types of payloads to the moon’s surface, with the eventual goal of establishing what the company calls a “sustained human presence” on the moon.

“This is an incredible vehicle, and it’s going to the moon,” Bezos said at an event in Washington, DC on Thursday afternoon.

Blue Origin had been teasing the idea of a lunar lander called Blue Moon over the past two years. The company has already receivedmillions of dollars in grants from NASA to develop critical lunar-lander systems.

The model of the Blue Moon lander that Bezos revealed today is the version designed to carry robotic and infrastructure payloads to the moon. Bezos said payloads could weigh up to 7 tons (6.5 metric tonnes). But according to the company’s website, “the larger variant of Blue Moon has been designed to land an ascent vehicle that will allow us to return Americans to the moon by 2024.” A vehicle designed for people was not shown at the event, however.

With this new announcement, Bezos is likely angling to get NASA’s attention. The space agency recently updated its space-exploration plans at the behest of Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump. NASA originally hoped to test a moon lander in 2024, then try for crewed landings in 2028; but now the agency is attempting to attract private industry to design and build a spacecraft to land astronauts on the moon in 2024.

This is a developing story — check back for updates.

Whirling ‘Collapsar’ Stars Gave Universe Its Gold

Merging neutron stars generated the bulk of the rest.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Crab Nebula, a famous and well-studied supernova remnant.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Crab Nebula, a famous and well-studied supernova remnant.(Image: © NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University). Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble))

Most of the universe’s gold, uranium and other heavy elements are generated from rapidly whirling collapsing stars, a new study finds.

The universe’s three lightest elements — hydrogen, helium and lithium — were born in the earliest moments of the cosmos, just a minute or so after the Big Bang. Elements up to iron on the periodic table were mostly forged later, in the cores of stars. 

However, the way in which elements heavier than iron on the periodic table, such as gold and uranium, were created has been a long-standing mystery. Previous research suggested a key clue: atomic nuclei often needed to absorb neutrons rapidly, a phenomenon known as the “r-process” for short.

Related: The Universe: Big Bang to Now in 10 Easy StepsCLOSEVolume 0%This video will resume in 11 seconds 

“It’s fascinating to me that, even this year, in which we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the periodic table, there is still so much we don’t quite understand about how the heavy elements of the universe are created,” study lead author Daniel Siegel, a theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, told Space.com. Those elements include “gold and platinum and the rare-earth elements in our portable electronics,” he said.

In 2017, with the aid of ripples in the fabric of space and time detected via the LIGO and Virgo gravitational-wave observatories, astronomers detected a collision between neutron stars. These are superdense neutron-rich corpses of large stars that perished in catastrophic explosions known as supernovas. The gravitational-wave discovery led researchers to suggest that most r-process elements were forged in the cocoons of material blasted off of merging neutron stars.

The neutron-star collision that researchers detected in 2017 resulted in a black hole. Previous research suggested that the dominant source of r-process elements from that merger was the accretion disk of debris that formed around the black hole. 

“We immediately realized [that] the same physics could be found around completely different astrophysical systems,” Siegel said.

The researchers developed computer simulations of the accretion disks that are expected to form around collapsars, which are collapsing, rapidly spinning massive stars whose deaths result in supernovas and black holes.

“We find that in these accretion disks, a lot of material circularizes around the newly born black hole,” Siegel said. In these incredibly hot, dense, innermost regions of these accretion disks, particles such as electrons, positrons and neutrinos interact in ways that lead protons to convert into neutrons, generating “the initial conditions needed for the formation of heavy elements, such as gold and platinum,” he said.

Collapsars are rarer than neutron-star mergers. However, the larger amount of material that collapsars eject means that they expel more r-process elements than neutron-star collisions do, the researchers said.

“What we find in our study is that collapsars should produce at least 80% of the heavy-element content in our galaxy,” Siegel said. “Almost 20% would come from neutron-star mergers.”

In the future, the researchers want to investigate how elements are created in other kinds of accretion disks, such as supernovas resulting from strongly magnetized stars, Siegel said. “We also want to explore the cosmological implications of our work — what our results suggest for the chemical evolution and assembly of galaxies,” he added.

Siegel and his colleagues Jennifer Barnes and Brian Metzger at Columbia University in New York detailed their findings online May 8 in the journal Nature.

The Gaia Spacecraft Was Studying Stars, But It Found Something Else — 3 Asteroids


This image shows the orbits of more than 14,000 known asteroids, with the yellow denoting asteroids that have been seen by Gaia. The three asteroids that the spacecraft recently discovered are highlighted in gray.

The Gaia spacecraft just did a bit of bonus science: While the European Space Agency (ESA) mission is designed to measure the positions and velocities of stars, Gaia recently found three asteroids not previously known to astronomers.

Asteroids are space rocks left over from the early solar system. Investigating them shows researchers what the solar system looked like billions of years ago, before the planets formed out of material around the sun. Gaia found these three asteroids in December 2018, and a ground-based telescope at Haute-Provence Observatory in France confirmed the find.

The three asteroids have unusual paths through space, ESA officials said in a statement. While the sun and the planets orbit in three-dimensional space, the orbits converge in a flat “plane” — almost like everything is orbiting on top of a solar-system-sized plate.  Many asteroids orbit in the same plane as the sun and the planets, but the paths of these three asteroids are tilted — at 15 degrees or more — compared with the plane of the solar system.

“The population of such high-inclination asteroids is not as well studied as those with less tilted orbits, since most surveys tend to focus on the plane where the majority of asteroids reside,” ESA officials said in the statement. “But Gaia can readily observe them as it scans the entire sky from its vantage point in space, so it is possible that the satellite will find more such objects in the future and contribute new information to study their properties.”Volume 0%00:0001:34More Videos02:45Secretive Space Plane: Meet the X-37B | Video03:51Opportunity Completes Its Mars Mission After 14.5 Years01:05Daytime Auroras Captured Over Svalbard03:43Blastoff! SpaceX Launches Dragon to Space Station on CRS-17 Mission02:34New SpaceX Crew Vehicle Launched and Abort-Tested | Video03:29Organisms Sequenced and Identified Entirely in SpaceClose 

When Gaia detects asteroids, astronomers receive information immediately through an online alert system, so they can do follow-up observations. Such observations require a telescope that is at least 1 meter (about 3 feet) in diameter, ESA officials added.

If astronomers confirm the same asteroid orbit that Gaia sees, the object is cataloged by the Minor Planet Center, which is the worldwide organization responsible for collecting information on asteroids, comets and other small bodies. Even if Gaia doesn’t find a new asteroid, its observations can tell us more about the orbits of asteroids that are already known, ESA officials said.

“So far, several tens of asteroids detected by Gaia have been observed from the ground in response to the alert system, all of them belonging to the main belt, but it is possible that also near-Earth asteroids will be spotted in the future,” ESA officials added.

‘Luxury Space Hotel’ to Launch in 2021

Well-heeled space tourists will have a new orbital destination four years from now, if one company’s plans come to fruition.

That startup, called Orion Span, aims to loft its “Aurora Station” in late 2021 and begin accommodating guests in 2022. 

“We are launching the first-ever affordable luxury space hotel,” said Orion Span founder and CEO Frank Bunger, who unveiled the Aurora Station idea today (April 5) at the Space 2.0 Summit in San Jose, California. [Aurora Station: A Luxury Space Hotel in Pictures]

“Affordable” is a relative term: A 12-day stay aboard Aurora Station will start at $9.5 million. Still, that’s quite a bit less than orbital tourists have paid in the past. From 2001 through 2009, seven private citizens took a total of eight trips to the International Space Station (ISS), paying an estimated $20 million to $40 million each time. (These private missions were brokered by the Virginia-based company Space Adventures and employed Russian Soyuz spacecraft and rockets.)

“There’s been innovation around the architecture to make it more modular and more simple to use and have more automation, so we don’t have to have EVAs [extravehicular activities] or spacewalks,” Bunger said of Aurora Station.

“The goal when we started the company was to create that innovation to make simplicity possible, and by making simplicity possible, we drive a tremendous amount of cost out of it,” he told Space.com. [In Pictures: Private Space Stations of the Future]

Orion Span is building Aurora Station itself, Bunger added. The company — some of whose key engineering players have helped design and operate the ISS — is manufacturing the hotel in Houston and developing the software required to run it in the Bay Area, he said.

Aurora Station will be about the size of a large private jet’s cabin. It’ll measure 43.5 feet long by 14.1 feet wide (13.3 by 4.3 meters) and feature a pressurized volume of 5,650 cubic feet (160 cubic m), Orion Span representatives said. For comparison, the ISS is 357 feet (109 m) long and has an internal pressurized volume of 32,333 cubic feet (916 cubic m).

The private outpost will orbit at an altitude of 200 miles (320 kilometers) — a bit lower than the ISS, which is about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth on average. Right now, it’s unclear how Aurora Station and its future occupants will get to orbit; Orion Span has yet to confirm any deals with launch providers, Bunger said.

Aurora Station will accommodate four paying guests and two crewmembers; these latter personnel will likely be former astronauts, Bunger said. Most of the guests will probably be private space tourists, at least initially, but Orion Span will be available to a variety of customers, including government space agencies, he added. 

And the space hotel will get bigger over time, if everything goes according to plan. As demand grows, Orion Span will launch additional modules to link up with the original core outpost, Bunger said.

“Our long-term vision is to sell actual space in those new modules,” he said. “We’re calling that a space condo. So, either for living or subleasing, that’s the future vision here — to create a long-term, sustainable human habitation in LEO [low Earth orbit].”Fly Around ‘Aurora Station,’ a Planned Space HotelVolume 0% 

Orion Span isn’t alone in seeking to carve out this path. Several other companies, including Axiom Space and Bigelow Aerospace, also aim to launch commercial space stations to Earth orbit in the next few years to meet anticipated demand from space tourists, national governments, researchers and private industry. (Other private players, including Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, are developing vehicles to take paying customers to and from suborbital space, and are scheduled to begin commercial operations soon.)

If you’ve got $80,000 to spare, you can put a (fully refundable) deposit down on an Aurora Station stay beginning today. Folks who fly up will undergo a three-month training program, the last portion of which will occur aboard the space hotel itself, Bunger said. To learn more, go to www.orionspan.com.

Are You Ready for Space Day?

Are You Ready for Space Day?

It’s an exciting time of year. Summer is almost here, and the end of the school year is getting close, but other exciting things are happening, too. For example, Space Day is just around the corner on May 4. Do you have plans for Space Day? If not, you’re in luck. Tell your teacher that NASA, AOL and the Space Day organization are working together to give you a front-row seat for a great Space Day event. 

Image to right: Millions of students around the world have participated in Space Day events. Credit: Space Day

NASA is also participating in a Space Day event on Friday at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington. Associate Administrator Rex Geveden, astronaut Carl Walz and educator astronaut Ricky Arnold will address the gathering. 

Space Day started in 1997 and is held each year on the first Thursday in May. The goal of Space Day is to share the excitement of space exploration. Space Day is a time to learn more about our universe and to excite others about space, too.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center will be hosting one of the most exciting Space Day events. Astronauts and other space experts will talk about training to go to space, traveling to space, and living and working in space. Thanks to a NASA partnership with AOL’s service for kids, KOL™ (Kids Online), your class can watch the event through a webcast. To find more Space Day information and activities, visit the KOL and Educator Astronaut project Web sites. 

Radio KOL’s “DJ Rick” will host the hour-long webcast with the help of NASA astronauts. About 2,000 students have been invited to attend the event in person. They will get to ask the speakers questions. 

Space Day isn’t just for people ON the planet. Students participating in Space Day will have an “out of this world” chance to talk with the crew on the International Space Station. The ISS is a giant laboratory, orbiting over 200 miles above the surface of Earth. The current crew on board is Expedition 13. Pavel Vinogradov is the ISS commander. Jeff Williams is the flight engineer and NASA science officer. Part of their mission is to prepare the station for new additions. They also have to work to take care of the ISS, and they conduct science experiments in orbit. The crew will pause from their normal work to talk with students participating in Space Day. During this 20-minute period, students will ask questions and the crew will answer. (The downlink can also be viewed on NASA TV.) 

Related Resources
+ NASA Edspace Web site

+ NASA TV

+ KOL Expeditions

+ Space Day Web site

“We’re thrilled to participate with NASA in Space Day to allow AOL’s KOL kid users and Radio KOL fans the opportunity to learn directly from astronauts about space travel and rockets, plus have the opportunity to get to talk live to the International Space Station crew,” said KOL education director Mark Stevens. 

Space Day program manager Kay Armstrong said that future exploration depends on people like you. Many of today’s scientists and engineers will be retiring soon. It is important that today’s students be ready to continue the work of exploring space. One of the goals of Space Day is to show how exciting that work can be. 

Mike Green, acting manager of NASA’s Educator Astronaut project, said he is excited about Space Day. He hopes that one day some of the students participating in Space Day will come to work for NASA. He said that he is looking forward to working with AOL on this and other projects. Green also said this is just one of many exciting things to come for NASA education. 

In addition to watching the webcast, you may want to join the millions of students around the world who have participated in Space Day activities. You can talk to your teacher and visit the Space Day Web site to get ideas. Explore a whole universe of possibilities! 

‘Improved’ Gravitational-Wave Detectors Rake in Five Exciting Finds in a Month

And the observation round has just begun.

This artist's illustration shows two colliding neutron stars, the super-dense cores left behind after stars undergo supernova explosions.

This artist’s illustration shows two colliding neutron stars, the super-dense cores left behind after stars undergo supernova explosions.(Image: © NASA/Swift/Dana Berry)

Just a month into a new observing round after significant improvements, gravitational-wave detectors have already used ripples in space-time to pinpoint five potential collisions of cosmic proportions — including one that might be the first-ever black hole found merging with a neutron star.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) started its third observation round in April, using its two detector locations — one in Washington state and one in Louisiana — combined with the Virgo detector in Italy to pinpoint titanic clashes across the cosmos.

During a news conference this morning (May 2), LIGO and Virgo researchers discussed the collaboration’s most recent findings and what the future holds for the rapidly improving field of gravitational-wave astronomy.

“This run opens a new era in gravitational-wave astronomy, one in which detection candidates are being publicly released as quickly as possible after we take the data. In just one month of observing, we’ve identified five gravitational-wave candidates, and this has been made possible by the substantial improvements to the LIGO and Virgo detectors over the past 18 months,” Patrick Brady, an elected LIGO spokesperson and physicist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said during the news conference.CLOSEVolume 0%This video will resume in 2 seconds 

By tracking minuscule distortions in space-time — based on tiny variations in how quickly lasers are able to traverse parts of a giant L-shaped structure — each of the LIGO detectors is able to sense massive collisions millions or billions of light-years from Earth. By combining their measurements from across the U.S., and adding detections from the similar Virgo detector in Italy, scientists can triangulate potential sources of the cataclysmic events. And as these tools are calibrated to be more sensitive over time, they can pick up fainter and more distant signals.

Three of the newest results appear to be mergers involving two black holes, and one seems to be a merger of two superdense neutron stars, Brady said. And “the fifth candidate, which we found on the 26th of April, allows the intriguing possibility that it came from the collision of a neutron star with a black hole,” he added. “Unfortunately, that candidate is rather weak, so it’s going to take us some time to reach a robust conclusion about it. Astronomers around the world have been excitingly following up the candidates from last week using telescopes on the ground and in space, though it seems at the moment neither of the sources have been pinpointed, but this is truly a global and multidisciplinary endeavor.”

“Indeed, April has been an incomparable scientific month,” added Giovanni Prodi, Virgo’s data analysis coordinator and a researcher at the Università di Trento and INFN Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare.

Since its first detection in 2015, LIGO has recorded evidence for two neutron-star mergers, 13 black hole mergers and one possible merger of a black hole and a neutron star, according to a statement released by MIT. Neutron-star mergers can produce light, which sends telescopes racing to find visible evidence of the events. (Researchers were able to spot light from the first neutron-star merger, detected in 2017, using more than 70 ground- and space-based telescopes.)

Astronomers are still searching for evidence of the two most recent detections, on April 25 and 26. The first, a potential neutron-star merger, likely occurred about 500 million light-years from Earth, researchers said in the statement. But because only one of the two LIGO observatories picked up the signal, along with Virgo, researchers have to search more than a quarter of the sky for evidence of the collision. 

The second, which may have been a neutron star colliding with a black hole, happened roughly 1.2 billion light-years away; it was detected at all three sites, letting scientists narrow down its location to about 3 percent of the sky.

While LIGO doesn’t coordinate astronomers searching for the targets they find, the project ise encouraging that search by releasing preliminary results quickly after each detection, researchers said during the news conference.

Related: First Glimpse of Colliding Neutron Stars Yields Stunning Pics

“Also unique to this observing run, we’re now using an automated public alert system for the first time, so you can now follow along with LIGO/Virgo events on Twitter as the action is happening,” Jess McIver, a researcher at Caltech’s LIGO laboratory, said during the news conference. 

“And these public alerts also give a deeper glimpse into the scientific process,” McIver added. “Anyone can follow how our understanding of these events is evolving through careful analysis of the data and improved calibration, so we expect there will be much more insight into the laws of nature and the composition of the universe to come from this observing round and beyond.”Advertisement

These first notifications go out very soon after detections, but researchers at the gravitational- wave detectors continue to analyze the signals to filter out background noise and pin down how likely it is to be certain kinds of signals after the fact, posting updated bulletins. The researchers may publish papers on exceptionally interesting candidates within about three months, Brady said, and ideally the collaboration will release a final list after about six months detailing the candidates and confirmed events for each portion of the run.

The researchers added that they only expect more and better results from the remainder of the round — and that a new detector, the Kamioka Gravitational Wave Detector (KAGRA) in Japan, should be online to help by the final parts of the observing run. And they only anticipate greater sensitivity in observing rounds to follow. (Plus, a planned LIGO facility in India would further boost discoveries.)

“The most exciting thing of the beginning of O3 [this third observation round] is that it’s clear we are going from one event every few months to a few events every month,” Salvatore Vitale, a researcher at the LIGO Laboratory at MIT, said during the news conference. “This is going to allow for all these kinds of tests that require either a very loud, very clear detection or a lot of detections. And we will have both of them.”

The researchers said that, in the future, gravitational-wave detectors might be able to record distant supernovas — right now, in our galaxy, but someday perhaps in farther galaxies. They may also be able to detect signals from spinning neutron stars or other exotic sources. And they could learn more about the fates of the mergers, such as if neutron-star mergers form a new, bigger neutron star, or become unstable and sink into a black hole.

“The great thing about where we are right now is we’re just beginning to see the field of gravitational-wave astronomy open,” Brady said. “As the detectors go through a sequence of improvements over the next decade, we’re going to have the capability of seeing [black hole and neutron-star mergers]  throughout the universe and … the possibility to perhaps measure gravitational waves from spinning neutron stars and even things we haven’t yet thought of as serious sources.”

“And that’s a big thing for us; opening a new window on the universe like this really, hopefully brings us a whole new perspective on what’s out there,” he added.

Huge ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid to pass near Earth in 2029: report

Fox News Flash top headlines for May 1 are here. Check out what’s clicking on Foxnews.com

A 1,110-foot-wide asteroid named for the Egyptian god of chaos will fly past Earth in 2029 within the distance of some orbiting spacecraft, according to reports.

The asteroid, 99942 Apophis, will come within 19,000 miles of Earth on April 13, a decade from now, but scientists at the Planetary Defense Conference are already preparing for the encounter, Newsweek reported. They plan to discuss the asteroid’s effects on Earth’s gravity, potential research opportunities and even how to deflect an incoming asteroid in a theoretical scenario.

Scientists say most asteroids that pass near Earth aren’t more than 30 feet wide, making Apophis, named for an Egyptian god of chaos, a rare opportunity for research.

Asteroids have been hitting Earth for nearly 300 million years

Video

The asteroid will be visible to the naked eye and will look like a moving star point of light, according to NASA. It will pass over the United States in the early evening, according to WUSA 9.

Apophis was discovered in 2004 and, after tracking it for 15 years, scientists say the asteroid has a 1 in 100,000 chance of striking Earth decades in the future – after 2060, Newsweek reported.

X-37B Military Space Plane’s Latest Mystery Mission Passes 600 Days

Exactly what it’s doing up there is unclear.

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The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane has now been circling Earth for more than 600 days on its latest mystery mission.

The reusable robotic vehicle, which looks like a miniature version of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters, launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 7, 2017. 

As of today (April 30), the space plane has been aloft for 601 days, on a mission known as Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) because it’s the fifth flight of the X-37B program.

Related: The X-37B Space Plane: 6 Surprising Facts

It’s unclear what exactly the spacecraft is doing up there. X-37B missions are classified, and Air Force officials tend to speak of project goals in general terms, as this excerpt from the X-37B fact sheet shows: “The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

An artist’s depiction of the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane in orbit with its solar array deployed and payload bay open.

Still, the Air Force does divulge some payloads flying on X-37B missions. For example, we know that OTV-5 includes the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader experiment (ASETS-II), which is measuring the performance of electronics and oscillating heat pipes in the space environment. 

The Air Force has at least two X-37B vehicles, both of which were built by Boeing. Each space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a wingspan of almost 15 feet (4.6 m). The solar-powered spacecraft have payload bays about the size of a pickup-truck bed.

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The X-37B launches vertically and lands horizontally on a runway, like the space shuttle orbiters did.

OTV-5 is not, so far, the longest-duration X-37B mission, though the outing will earn that distinction if the established pattern holds: Each OTV flight has lasted longer than its predecessors:

  • OTV-1 launched on April 22, 2010, and ended on Dec. 3, 2010 (224 days in space).
  • OTV-2 began March 5, 2011, and landed on June 16, 2012 (468 days).
  • OTV-3 launched on Dec. 11, 2012, and came down on Oct. 17, 2014 (675 days).
  • OTV-4 lifted off on May 20, 2015, and landed May 7, 2017 (718 days).

NASA chief warns asteroid threat is real: ‘It’s about protecting the only planet we know to host life’

NASA is developing its first planetary-defense mission to combat potential threats from rogue asteroids

NASA is developing its first planetary-defense mission called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART. DART will carefully study a near-Earth asteroid and then collide with it, giving scientists the data they need to develop a plan should they ever need to redirect a truly threatening asteroid.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is sounding the alarm that an asteroid strike is not something to be taken lightly and is perhaps Earth’s biggest threat.

Speaking at the International Academy of Astronautics’ 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Md., on Monday, Bridenstine said the space agency and other asteroid scientists need to make sure people understand that the threat is very real and not just the imagination of big-budget blockbuster movie directors.

“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about movies,” Bridenstine said at the conference, according to Space.com. “This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life, and that is the planet Earth.”

NASA GAMEPLANS MASSIVE ASTEROID STRIKE

“We know for a fact that the dinosaurs did not have a space program. But we do, and we need to use it,” Bridenstine added, attempting to portray planetary defense on the same level as a return trip to the Moon. The Trump administration wants to see astronauts return to the Moon by 2024, with or without the help of NASA.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testifies before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on April 2, 2019, during a hearing to review NASA's fiscal year 2020 budget request.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testifies before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on April 2, 2019, during a hearing to review NASA’s fiscal year 2020 budget request.

Bridenstine knows the perils of asteroid strikes all too well. In February 2013, he had been a Congressman in Oklahoma for just a month when a devastating asteroid streaked across the Russian sky.

Known as the Chelyabinsk Event, it was the largest known meteor strike in over a century and it injured more than 1,600 people. It “released the energy equivalent of around 440,000 tons of TNT,” according to NASA.

“I wish I could tell you these events are exceptionally unique,” Bridenstine said during the presentation, noting they have occurred three times in the past 100 years. “But they are not.”

Currently, there are two asteroid-centric missions going on around the world —  NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe, which reached the Bennu asteroid in December 2018, and the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft, which recently “bombed” the Ryugu asteroid in an effort to learn more about it.

HOW AMERICA CAN GET ITS SLICE OF THE $1 TRILLION SPACE ECONOMY

Bridenstine highlighted the scientific importance of both of these missions but added that planetary defense is also an important component. “Yes, it’s about science, it’s about discovery, it’s about exploration, but one of the reasons we do those missions is so that we can characterize those objects to protect, again, the only planet we know to host life.”

“We have to use our systems, use our capabilities to ultimately get a lot more data, and we have to do it faster,” Bridenstine said.

Planetary defense

When it comes to planetary defense, NASA is not sitting on its haunches, having taken several steps to protect Earth by detecting and tracking near-Earth Objects, also known as NEOs.

Last June, NASA unveiled a 20-page plan that details steps the U.S. should take to be better prepared for NEOs, asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of Earth. Lindley Johnson, the space agency’s planetary defense officer, said at the time that the country “already has significant scientific, technical and operational capabilities” to help with NEOs, but implementing the new plan would “greatly increase our nation’s readiness and work with international partners to effectively respond should a new potential asteroid impact be detected.”

There are approximately 18,000 known NEOs and that number is constantly growing.

MYSTERIOUS INTERSTELLAR METEOR MAY HAVE SLAMMED INTO EARTH IN 2014

In 2016, NASA formalized the agency’s prior program for detecting and tracking NEOs and put it inside its Science Mission Directorate.

NASA will launch its first asteroid defense mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, in 2022. Earlier this month, NASA awarded a $69 million contract to SpaceX, the space exploration company led by Elon Musk, to help with DART.

Currently, asteroid scientists from around the world are conducting a drill showing what the various global agencies would do about a potential asteroid collision. For the first time, the drill is being played out over social media. Updates of the hypothetical event are being shared on the ESA Operations Twitter account until May 3.

Relativity Space to Launch Thai Satellite on 3D-Printed Rocket

Relativity Space says they can 3D-print a rocket in less than 60 days.

Mu Space CEO & Founder James Yenbamroong (left) and Relativity Space CEO & Founder Tim Ellis (right) stand in front of Relativity's Stargate, the world's largest metal 3D printer.

Mu Space CEO & Founder James Yenbamroong (left) and Relativity Space CEO & Founder Tim Ellis (right) stand in front of Relativity’s Stargate, the world’s largest metal 3D printer. (Image: © Business Wire)

The 3D rocket-printing company Relativity announced its second partnership ever, this time with the Thai satellite company mu Space, to launch a satellite into low Earth orbit in about three years.

Los Angeles-based Relativity is a small launch vehicle developer fully funded by venture capital. Investors backing the 3.5-year-old company includes Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital, Mark Cuban and Phillip Spector, who was formerly with Intelsat.

The mu Space satellite would launch in 2022 on what Relativity officials call the first 3D-printed rocket ever built. According to them, this vehicle — Terran 1 — is designed to carry up to 2,756 lbs. (1,250 kilograms) into low Earth orbit, with a cost of $10 million per launch.

Related: NASA Announces $100,000 Winners of Virtual 3D-Printed Mars HabitatsVolume 0% 

Relativity officials say their Stargate machine is the largest metal 3D printer in the world, with the capacity to transform raw materials into a rocket, like Terran 1, in less than 60 days.

“Stargate is constantly getting smarter and faster by using sensors and reward function-based learning,” officials state on Relativity’s website. ”We are creating an entirely new type of evolvable production line.” The company aims to disrupt decades of global aerospace manufacturing, according to their recent announcement about the new partnership. 

Relativity signed its first contract earlier this month, with the Canadian satellite communications company Telesat.

This is just the beginning of Relativity’s ambitions. While currently striving to deploy and resupply satellite constellations into orbit around Earth, Relativity is also making bold statements about its future. By scaling rockets quickly, company officials hope to ”build the future of humanity in space,” according to the website. ”We believe the future of humanity is interplanetary.” 

Meet OSCaR: Tiny Cubesat Would Clean Up Space Junk

The little spacecraft would clean up debris on the cheap.

A little spacecraft could soon make a big contribution in the fight against space junk.

Researchers are developing a cleanup cubesat called OSCaR (Obsolete Spacecraft Capture and Removal), which would hunt down and de-orbit debris on the cheap using onboard nets and tethers. And OSCaR would do so relatively autonomously, with little guidance from controllers on the ground.

“We tell OSCaR what to do and then we have to trust it,” project leader Kurt Anderson, a professor of mechanical, aerospace and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, said in a statement. 

Related: Space Junk Cleanup: 7 Wild Ways to Destroy Orbital Debris

“That’s why this problem actually gets very hard, because we are doing things that a big, expensive satellite would do, but in a cubesat platform,” Anderson added.

Space junk is a big problem, and it’s only getting worse. Nearly 129 million pieces of debris are zooming around Earth at the moment, about 34,000 of which are at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) wide, according to European Space Agency estimates.

These objects are moving so fast — 17,500 mph (28,200 kilometers/h) in low-Earth orbit, for example — that even the smallest of them could damage a satellite.

“There’s a real problem,” said Anderson, who’s developing OSCaR with his students. “The amount of observed debris is increasing faster now than the rate that we’re actually putting more objects into space. This is an indication that [the] earliest stages of the Kessler Syndrome may be upon us.”

The Kessler Syndrome is a crippling cascade of collisions that could occur if the concentration of orbital debris becomes dense enough. Each collision would produce more debris, increasing the frequency of future smash-ups, and so on, potentially making wide swathes of Earth orbit unusable.

There’s growing recognition in the spaceflight community that we need to tackle the space-junk problem, and soon. Scientists and engineers are devising ways to de-orbit satellites efficiently after they finish their missions — through the use of friction-increasing “drag sails,” for example.

Researchers are also studying ways to remove some of the most dangerous junk cluttering up Earth’s orbit. That’s where OSCaR comes in.

The spacecraft is a 3U cubesat, meaning that it measures about 12 inches long by 4 inches wide by 4 inches high (30 centimeters by 10 cm by 10 cm). OSCaR will be very capable for its small size, featuring onboard navigation and communication gear; power, propulsion and thermal-control systems; and four net-launching gun barrels.

Each OSCaR craft will be capable of capturing and removing four pieces of debris, Anderson said. When that work is done, the cleanup cubesat will de-orbit itself within five years.

“There’s an informal agreement that’s been in place for a few years that people who put space objects up there should be practicing good citizenship,” Anderson said. “We envision a day where we could send up an entire flock, or squadron, of OSCaRs to work jointly going after large collections of debris.”

The team aims to test OSCaR on the ground sometime this year, Anderson added. A test in space will follow at some point, if all goes according to plan.

The Universe Is Expanding So Fast We Might Need New Physics to Explain It

Two measurements of the Hubble constant disagree.

This is a ground-based telescope’s view of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The inset image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, reveals one of many star clusters scattered throughout the dwarf galaxy.

This is a ground-based telescope’s view of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The inset image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, reveals one of many star clusters scattered throughout the dwarf galaxy.(Image: © NASA, ESA, Adam Riess, and Palomar Digitized Sky Survey)

The universe is expanding faster than expected, suggesting that astronomers may have to incorporate some new physics into their theories of how the cosmos works, a new study reports.

The revised expansion rate is about 10% faster than that predicted by observations of the universe’s trajectory shortly after the Big Bang, according to the new research. The study also significantly reduces the probability that this disparity is a coincidence, from 1 in 3,000 to just 1 in 100,000.

“This mismatch has been growing and has now reached a point that is really impossible to dismiss as a fluke,” study lead author Adam Riess, a professor of physics and astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said in a statement

“This is not what we expected,” said Riess, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2011 (along with Brian Schmidt and Saul Perlmutter) for showing, in the late 1990s, that the universe’s expansion is accelerating. It’s unclear what’s driving this surprising acceleration, but many astronomers invoke a mysterious, repulsive force called dark energy.  

In the new study, Riess and his colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope to study 70 Cepheid variable stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies. Cepheid variables dim and brighten at predictable rates and are therefore “standard candles” that allow astronomers to calculate distances. 

(Another kind of standard candle, the star explosions known as Type 1a supernovae, enables scientists to measure distances even farther out into space. Riess, Schmidt and Perlmutter’s studies of Type 1a supernovae led to their Nobel-winning discovery.)

Riess and his team also incorporated observations made by the Araucaria Project, a collaboration involving researchers in the United States, Europe and Chile, who studied various LMC binary star systems, noting the dimming that occurred when one star passed in front of its neighbor. This work provided additional distance measurements, helping the study team to improve their understanding of the Cepheids’ intrinsic brightness.

The researchers used all of this information to calculate the universe’s present-day expansion rate, a value known as the Hubble constant, after American astronomer Edwin Hubble. The new number is about 46.0 miles (74.03 kilometers) per second per megaparsec; one megaparsec is roughly 3.26 million light-years. 

The uncertainty attached to this number is just 1.9%, the researchers said. That’s the lowest uncertainty value to date that has been calculated using this approach — down from about 10% in 2001 and 5% in 2009.CLOSEVolume 0% 

The “expected” expansion rate, by contrast, is about 41.9 miles (67.4 km) per second per megaparsec. This projected rate is based on observations that Europe’s Planck satellite made of the cosmic microwave background – the light left over from the Big Bang that created the universe 13.82 billion years ago.

“This is not just two experiments disagreeing. We are measuring something fundamentally different,” Riess said. 

“One is a measurement of how fast the universe is expanding today, as we see it. The other is a prediction based on the physics of the early universe and on measurements of how fast it ought to be expanding,” he added. “If these values don’t agree, there becomes a very strong likelihood that we’re missing something in the cosmological model that connects the two eras.”

The new study was published today (April 25) in The Astrophysical Journal. You can read it for free at the online preprint site arXiv.org.

Daniel Craig is James Bond, Rami Malek stars as villain in ‘Bond 25’

Daniel Craig announces he will return as James Bond

Bond 25” will have some familiar faces.

Daniel Craig is set to return as James Bond, while Léa Seydoux will reprise her role of 007’s love interest Madeleine Swann from 2015’s “Spectre,” it was revealed Thursday.

Other returning cast members include Ralph Fiennes (M), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) and Ben Whishsaw (Q), as well as Jeffrey Wright and Rory Kinnear, The Independent reports.

DID DIRECTOR DANNY BOYLE WANT TO KILL OFF JAMES BOND?

Bohemian Rhapsody” star Rami Malek has been confirmed as the villain in the Cary Joji Fukunaga-directed action film.

The Oscar winner said in a video message, “I’m very much looking forward to joining the cast and crew very soon, I will be making sure that Bond does not have an easy ride of it in his 25th outing.”

Billy Magnussen, David Dencik, Lashana Lynch, Dali Benssalah and Ana de Armas will also appear.

Producer Barbara Broccoli said of the as-yet-untitled flick, “Bond is not on active service when we start — he’s enjoying himself in Jamaica. We consider it Bond’s spiritual home. He starts his journey here. We’ve built an extraordinary house for him. We’ve got quite a ride in store for Mr. Bond.”

US Navy drafting new guidelines for reporting UFOs

The U.S. Navy is drafting new guidelines for pilots and other employees to report encounters with ‘unidentified aircraft.’

The U.S. Navy is drafting new guidelines for pilots and other employees to report encounters with “unidentified aircraft.”

The new effort comes in response to more sightings of unknown, advanced aircraft flying into or near Navy strike groups or other sensitive military facilities and formations, according to the Navy.

“There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years,” the Navy said in a statement to Politico, which first reported the move.

“For safety and security concerns, the Navy and the [U.S. Air Force] takes these reports very seriously and investigates each and every report.”

“As part of this effort,” it told Politico, “the Navy is updating and formalizing the process by which reports of any such suspected incursions can be made to the cognizant authorities. A new message to the fleet that will detail the steps for reporting is in draft.”

The initiative comes amid increasing interest from lawmakers and the public following the release of classified files from the Defense Intelligence Agency which revealed the funding of projects that investigated UFOs, wormholes, alternate dimensions and other obscure topics that typically leads to the conspiracy-theory fringes of the web.

That research, first reported by The New York Times in 2017, was funded by the Department of Defense under its Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) and reportedly spent $25 million conducting studies and trying to evaluate multiple unexplained events.

Pentagon projects reveal the U.S. government looked into UFOs, wormholes and other bizarre anomalies

Video

Chris Mellon, a former Pentagon intelligence official and ex-staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Politico that establishing a more structured, official means of reporting what the military now calls “unexplained aerial phenomena” (UAP) — rather than “unidentified flying objects” — would be a “sea change.”

“Right now, we have a situation in which UFOs and UAPs are treated as anomalies to be ignored rather than anomalies to be explored,” he added. “We have systems that exclude that information and dump it.”

The Navy also said it’s taking a more proactive approach in briefing lawmakers.

“In response to requests for information from Congressional members and staff, Navy officials have provided a series of briefings by senior Naval Intelligence officials as well as aviators who reported hazards to aviation safety,” the service told Politico.

The Moon’s Surface Is Totally Cracked

An oblique view of the Daedalus Crater on the far side of the moon, as seen from the Apollo 11 spacecraft in lunar orbit.

An oblique view of the Daedalus Crater on the far side of the moon, as seen from the Apollo 11 spacecraft in lunar orbit.(Image: © NASA)

Is the moon all it’s cracked up to be? Yes — and then some. New analysis of the lunar surface reveals that it’s far more fractured than once thought.

Since the moon formed 4.3 billion years ago, asteroid impacts have scarred its face with pits and craters. But the damage goes far deeper than that, with cracks extending to depths of 12 miles (20 kilometers), researchers recently reported.

Though the moon’s craters have been well-documented, scientists previously knew little about the upper region of the moon’s crust, the megaregolith, which sustained the bulk of the damage from space rock bombardment. In the new study, computer simulations revealed that impacts from single objects could fragment the lunar crust into blocks about 3 feet (1 meter) wide, opening surface cracks that extend for hundreds of kilometers. This suggests that much of the fracturing in the megaregolith could have come from single, high-speed impacts, leaving the crust “thoroughly fractured” early in the moon’s history. [When Space Attacks: 6 Craziest Meteor Impacts]

These findings helped to address questions raised by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), a mission that sent twin spacecraft to the moon in 2011 to create the most detailed lunar gravity map to date.

Data gathered by GRAIL showed that the moon’s crust was far less dense than expected, Sean Wiggins, lead author of the new study and a doctoral candidate with the Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences Department at Brown University in Rhode Island, told Live Science.

Wiggins and his colleagues suspected that ancient impacts could have substantially fractured the lunar surface, “adding porosity and therefore lowering the density,” he said.

Deep impacts

Using simulations, the study authors found that an impact from an object measuring just 0.6 miles (1 km) in diameter could have opened cracks reaching depths of 12 miles (20 km) in the lunar surface. After impacts from objects measuring 6 miles (10 km) in diameter, cracks yawned to similar depths, but also extended laterally to distances up to 186 miles (300 km) from the impact crater.

“There’s quite a lot of damage outside of the main crater area,” Wiggins said. “Material is still very broken up, farther away than we would have predicted.” Over time, networks of cracks grew and connected, creating a fragmented lunar crust, the researchers reported.

The researchers also used the simulations to explore how similar impacts could affect Earth, which has also been pummeled by asteroids, and they found that gravity played an important role in the quantity and severity of the fractures.

Under conditions with higher gravity — such as on Earth — the surface in simulations suffered less damage from impacts, while lower gravity meant that the surface experienced more damage, the simulations showed. This explains why impacts on the moon created surface cracks that penetrated deeper than cracks from asteroid impacts on Earth.

Piecing together a more detailed picture of the megaregolith will help scientists to better understand how that region conducts heat; this could reveal important clues about the formation of other moons and even planets, Wiggins said.

“It definitely opens doors for further investigation into lots of different processes — not just on the moon, but on other bodies as well, like Mars or Earth,” he added.

The findings were published online March 12 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

The ISS is chock-full of bacteria and fungi: study

In this photo provided by NASA, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, center left, works outside the International Space Station, Monday, April 8, 2019.  (NASA via AP)

In this photo provided by NASA, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, center left, works outside the International Space Station, Monday, April 8, 2019.  (NASA via AP)

It turns out astronauts aren’t alone on the International Space Station.

A new study reported by Gizmodo found that a “diverse population of bacteria and fungi” populate the ISS based on 14 months of research.

The results, published in the Microbiome Journal, conclude that “intact/viable bacteria and fungi found on surfaces in closed space systems” have been effectively cataloged for the first time, which could be used to create safer and cleaner conditions for future space missions, including those to Mars.

Additionally, the findings might be vital in the understanding of “confined built environments” on our own planet, such as medical and pharmaceutical clean rooms, according to the study.

For the experiment, eight different locations aboard the ISS were tested over three flight sample sessions in an effort to determine which microorganisms can populate in a closed space.

To find this, surface wipes from each room were treated with propidium monoazide (PMA), a chemical compound that helps determine the DNA of the bacteria present in the microbiome. Other wipes were left untreated.

Many of the organisms detected were seen as harmful to astronauts because they contain properties that resist antibiotics.

Some of these bacteria include Acinetobacter, Sphingomonas and Bacillus — and fungi such as Aspergillus, Cryptococcus, and Rhodotorula.

Unsurprisingly, astronauts were to blame for some of the bacteria and fungal cultures on the ISS.

An abundance of human-associated organisms discovered include Staphylococcaceae — which originate in the skin and in the nasal passage — and Enterobacteriaceae, which comes from the gastrointestinal tract.

Prior to this study, many of the bacterial cultures on the ISS were largely unknown — most could not be determined by traditional methods such as petri dish growth.

This story originally appeared in the New York Post.

NASA’s Cassini Reveals Surprises with Titan’s Lakes

Specular Spectacular
This near-infrared, color view from Cassini shows the sun glinting off of Titan’s north polar seas. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho 
› Full image and caption

On its final flyby of Saturn’s largest moon in 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft gathered radardata revealing that the small liquid lakes in Titan’s northern hemisphere are surprisingly deep, perched atop hills and filled with methane. 

The new findings, published April 15 in Nature Astronomy, are the first confirmation of just how deep some of Titan’s lakes are (more than 300 feet, or 100 meters) and of their composition. They provide new information about the way liquid methane rains on, evaporates from and seeps into Titan – the only planetary body in our solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface. 

Scientists have known that Titan’s hydrologic cycle works similarly to Earth’s – with one major difference. Instead of water evaporating from seas, forming clouds and rain, Titan does it all with methane and ethane. We tend to think of these hydrocarbons as a gas on Earth, unless they’re pressurized in a tank. But Titan is so cold that they behave as liquids, like gasoline at room temperature on our planet. 

Scientists have known that the much larger northern seas are filled with methane, but finding the smaller northern lakes filled mostly with methane was a surprise. Previously, Cassini data measured Ontario Lacus, the only major lake in Titan’s southern hemisphere. There they found a roughly equal mix of methane and ethane. Ethane is slightly heavier than methane, with more carbon and hydrogen atoms in its makeup. 

“Every time we make discoveries on Titan, Titan becomes more and more mysterious,” said lead author Marco Mastrogiuseppe, Cassini radar scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “But these new measurements help give an answer to a few key questions. We can actually now better understand the hydrology of Titan.” 

Adding to the oddities of Titan, with its Earth-like features carved by exotic materials, is the fact that the hydrology on one side of the northern hemisphere is completely different than the that of other side, said Cassini scientist and co-author Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“It is as if you looked down on the Earth’s North Pole and could see that North America had completely different geologic setting for bodies of liquid than Asia does,” Lunine said.

On the eastern side of Titan, there are big seas with low elevation, canyons and islands. On the western side: small lakes. And the new measurements show the lakes perched atop big hills and plateaus. The new radar measurements confirm earlier findings that the lakes are far above sea level, but they conjure a new image of landforms – like mesas or buttes – sticking hundreds of feet above the surrounding landscape, with deep liquid lakes on top. 

The fact that these western lakes are small – just tens of miles across – but very deep also tells scientists something new about their geology: It’s the best evidence yet that they likely formed when the surrounding bedrock of ice and solid organics chemically dissolved and collapsed. On Earth, similar water lakes are known as karstic lakes. Occurring in in areas like Germany, Croatia and the United States, they form when water dissolves limestone bedrock. 

Alongside the investigation of deep lakes, a second paper in Nature Astronomy helps unravel more of the mystery of Titan’s hydrologic cycle. Researchers used Cassini data to reveal what they call transient lakes. Different sets of observations – from radar and infrared data – seem to show liquid levels significantly changed. 

The best explanation is that there was some seasonally driven change in the surface liquids, said lead author Shannon MacKenzie, planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “One possibility is that these transient features could have been shallower bodies of liquid that over the course of the season evaporated and infiltrated into the subsurface,” she said. 

These results and the findings from the Nature Astronomy paper on Titan’s deep lakes support the idea that hydrocarbon rain feeds the lakes, which then can evaporate back into the atmosphere or drain into the subsurface, leaving reservoirs of liquid stored below. 

Cassini, which arrived in the Saturn system in 2004 and ended its mission in 2017 by deliberately plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, mapped more than 620,000 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers) of liquid lakes and seas on Titan’s surface. It did the work with the radar instrument, which sent out radio waves and collected a return signal (or echo) that provided information about the terrain and the liquid bodies’ depth and composition, along with two imaging systems that could penetrate the moon’s thick atmospheric haze.

The crucial data for the new research were gathered on Cassini’s final close flyby of Titan, on April 22, 2017. It was the mission’s last look at the moon’s smaller lakes, and the team made the most of it. Collecting echoes from the surfaces of small lakes while Cassini zipped by Titan was a unique challenge. 

“This was Cassini’s last hurrah at Titan, and it really was a feat,” Lunine said

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the U.S. and several European countries.

More information about Cassini can be found here:

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/cassini

Astronomers Have Found Potential Life-Supporting Conditions on The Nearest Exoplanet

In August of 2016, astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced the discovery of an exoplanet in the neighboring system of Proxima Centauri. The news was greeted with considerable excitement, as this was the closest rocky planet to our Solar System that also orbited within its star’s habitable zone.

Since then, multiple studies have been conducted to determine if this planet could actually support life.

Unfortunately, most of the research so far has indicated that the likelihood of habitability are not good. Between Proxima Centauri’s variability and the planet being tidally-locked with its star, life would have a hard time surviving there.

However, using lifeforms from early Earth as an example, a new studyconducted by researchers from the Carl Sagan Institute (CSI) has shown how life could have a fighting chance on Proxima b after all.

Artist's impression of Proxima b's surface, orbiting the red dwarf star. (ESO)

Artist’s impression of Proxima b’s surface, orbiting the red dwarf star. (ESO)

The study, which recently appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, was conducted by Jack O’Malley-James and Lisa Kaltenegger – a research associate and the director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University.

Together, they examined the levels of surface UV flux that planets orbiting M-type (red dwarf) stars would experience and compared that to conditions on primordial Earth.

The potential habitability of red dwarf systems is something scientists have been debating for decades. On the one hand, they have a number of attributes that are encouraging, not the least of which is their commonality.

Essentially, red dwarfs are the most common type of star in the Universe, accounting for 85 percent of the stars in the Milky Way alone.

They also have the greatest longevity, with lifespans that can last into the trillions of years. Last, but not least, they appear to be the most likely stars to host systems of rocky planets.

This is attested to by the sheer number of rocky planets discovered around neighboring red dwarf stars in recent years – such as Proxima bRoss 128bLHS 1140bGliese 667CcGJ 536, the seven rocky planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1.

Artist's impression of the planets orbiting the ultra-cool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. (ESO)

Artist’s impression of the planets orbiting the ultra-cool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. (ESO)

However, red dwarf stars also present a lot of impediments to habitability, not the least of which is their variable and unstable nature. As O’Malley-James explained to Universe Today via email:

“The chief barrier to the habitability of these worlds is the activity of their host stars. Regular stellar flares can bathe these planets in high levels of biologically harmful radiation. Furthermore, over longer periods of time, the onslaught of X-ray radiation and charged particle fluxes from the host stars places the atmospheres of these planets at risk of being stripped away over time if a planet cannot replenish its atmosphere fast enough.”

For generations, scientists have struggled with questions regarding the habitability of planets that orbit red dwarf stars.

Unlike our Sun, these low-mass, ultra-cool dwarf stars are variable, unstable and prone to flare-ups. These flares release a lot of high-energy UV radiation, which is harmful to life as we know it and capable of stripping a planet’s atmospheres away.

This places significant limitations on the ability of any planet orbiting a red dwarf star to give rise to life or remain habitable for long. However, as previous studies have shown, much of this depends on the density and composition of the planets’ atmospheres, not to mention whether or not the planet has a magnetic field.

To determine if life could endure under these conditions, O’Malley-James and Kaltenegger considered what conditions were like on planet Earth roughly 4 billion years ago.

At that time, Earth’s surface was hostile to life as we know it today. In addition to volcanic activity and a toxic atmosphere, the landscape was bombarded by UV radiation in a way that is similar to what planets that orbit M-type stars experience today.

To address this, Kaltenegger and O’Malley-James modeled the surface UV environments of four nearby “potentially habitable” exoplanets – Proxima-b, TRAPPIST-1e, Ross-128b and LHS-1140b – with various atmospheric compositions. These ranged from ones similar to present-day Earth to those with “eroded” or “anoxic” atmospheres – i.e. those that don’t block UV radiation well and don’t have a protective ozone layer.

Artist's impression of an exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Artist’s impression of an exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

These models showed that as atmospheres become thinner and ozone levels decrease, more high-energy UV radiation is able to reach the ground. But when they compared the models to what was present on Earth, roughly 4 billion years ago, the results proved interesting. As O’Malley-James said:

“The unsurprising result was that the levels of surface UV radiation were higher than we experience on Earth today. However, the interesting result was that the UV levels, even for the planets around the most active stars, were all lower than the Earth experienced in its youth. We know the young Earth supported life, so the case for life on planets in M star systems may not be quite so dire after all.”

What this means, in essence, is that life could exist on neighboring planets like Proxima b right now despite being subjected to harsh levels of radiation. If you consider the age of Proxima Centauri – 4.853 billion years, which is roughly 200 million years older than our Sun – the case for potential habitability may become even more intriguing.

The current scientific consensus is that the first lifeforms on Earth emerged a billion years after the planet formed (3.5 billion years ago). Assuming Proxima b formed from a protoplanetary debris disk shortly after Proxima Centauri was born, life would have had enough time to not only emerge, but get a significant foothold.

While that life may consist solely of single-celled organisms, it is encouraging nonetheless. Aside from letting us know that there could very well be life beyond our Solar System, and on nearby planets, it provides scientists with constraints on what type of biosignatures may be discernible when studying them. As O’Malley-James concluded:

“The results from this study builds the case for focusing on life on Earth a few billion years ago; a world of single-celled microbes – prokaryotes – that lived with high UV radiation levels. This ancient biosphere may have the best overlaps with conditions on habitable planets around active M stars, so could provide us with the best clues in our search for life in these star systems.”

As always, the search for life in the cosmos begins with the study of Earth, since it is the only example we have of a habitable planet. It is therefore important to understand how (i.e. under what conditions) life was able to survive, thrive and respond to environmental changes throughout Earth’s geological history.

For while we may know of only one planet that supports life, that life has been remarkably diverse and has changed drastically over time.

Be sure to check out this video about these latest findings, courtesy of the CSI and Cornell University:

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.