Mars may have been a ringed planet in its ancient past, study suggests

There are four planets in the Solar System that have rings — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. A new study, however, suggests that Mars may have also once been a ringed planet.

The research highlights that one of Mars’ moons, Deimos, has a slightly altered orbit that suggests there was something responsible for its slight tilt.

“The fact that Deimos’s orbit is not exactly in plane with Mars’s equator was considered unimportant, and nobody cared to try to explain it,” said the study’s lead author Matija Ćuk, a research scientist at the SETI Institute, in a statement. “But once we had a big new idea and we looked at it with new eyes, Deimos’s orbital tilt revealed its big secret.”

(Credit: NASA)

(Credit: NASA)

Deimos is slightly tilted by two degrees to the Martian equator.

The researchers noted that the findings came after looking at Mars’ other moon, Phobos, which they note will eventually orbit too low to the planet (in an astronomical time frame) and the Red Planet’s gravity will tear it apart and form a ring around Mars.

The theory that Mars’ moons break up and form rings has another element to it, the researchers noted. “[A] newborn moon would move away from the ring and Mars,” the statement reads. “Which is in the opposite direction from the inward spiral Phobos is experiencing due to gravitational interactions with Mars. An outward-migrating moon just outside the rings can encounter a so-called orbital resonance, in which Deimos’s orbital period is three times that of the other moon.”

The study has been accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Researchers are learning more about Mars’ ancient past. A study published in March suggested the Red Planet had two unique reservoirs of ancient water that once flowed deep beneath the planet’s surface.

NASA is slated to launch the recently renamed Perseverance rover on July 17, 2020. In March, Fox News reported the pandemic had not yet impacted launch preps for the unmanned rover, with work “continuing on schedule.”

The Perseverance rover will attempt to detect if there is any fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial beings, in addition to other tasks.

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

ASKAP Telescope Traces Four Fast Radio Bursts to Massive Galaxies

Astronomers using the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory have tracked four mysterious blasts of cosmic radio waves back to their home galaxies; all four came from the outer regions of massive galaxies with moderate star-formation rates, ruling out central supermassive black holes and cosmic strings as a source.

Host galaxies of FRBs localized by the ASKAP telescope, from left to right: FRB 190102, FRB 180924, FRB 181112, and FRB 190608. The white circle/ellipse represents the total uncertainty in the FRB position. Image credit: Bhandari et al, doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab672e / ESO.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are enigmatic and rarely detected bursts of energy that come from far beyond our Milky Way Galaxy.

Lasting several milliseconds, they were first detected at the Parkes radio telescope by Australian astronomers Duncan Lorimer and David Narkevic in 2007.

Scientists estimate that there are between 2,000 and 10,000 FRBs occurring in the sky every day.

They emit as much energy in one millisecond as the Sun emits in 10,000 years, but the processes that cause them are unknown.

Using a specially designed transient detector on ASKAP, CSIRO astronomer Shivani Bhandari and colleagues found the exact location of four new fast radio bursts: FRB 180924, FRB 181112, FRB 190102 and FRB 190608.

Follow-up observations with the Gemini South, ESO’s Very Large Telescope, Magellan Baade, Keck, and LCOGT-1m telescopes imaged and found the distances to the host galaxies.

“Major advances for other transient events have been made by studying their home galaxies,” said Dr. J. Xavier Prochaska, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“We are optimistic that studies like ours will be just as vital.”

The astronomers found FRB 180924, FRB 181112, FRB 190102 and FRB 190608 came from massive galaxies that are forming new stars at a modest rate, very similar to the Milky Way.

Their environment is very different to the host galaxy of the first repeating FRB 121102, which is a starburst dwarf galaxy.

All four new FRBs lie in the outskirts of their galaxies, which appears to rule out the progenitor models that involve active galactic nuclei (i.e. accreting supermassive black holes located in the center of galaxies) or free-floating cosmic strings.

“These precisely localized fast radio bursts came from the outskirts of their home galaxies, removing the possibility that they have anything to do with supermassive black holes,” Dr. Bhandari said.

“These fast radio bursts could not have come from a superluminous stellar explosion, or from cosmic strings,” said CSIRO’s Professor Elaine Sadler.

“Models such as mergers of compact objects like white dwarfs or neutron stars, or flares from magnetars created by such mergers, are still looking good.”

“Positioning the sources of fast radio bursts is a huge technical achievement, and moves the field on enormously,” said Dr. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967.

“We may not yet be clear exactly what is going on, but now, at last, options are being ruled out. This is a highly significant paper, thoroughly researched and well written.”

The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Mysterious interstellar ‘Oumuamua could be made of something almost unheard of in science

The mystery surrounding the interstellar object ‘Oumumua seemingly gets weirder by the day.

A new study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggests the interstellar object could be made of hydrogen ice. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it’s rarely observed in a solid form.

“We developed a theory that explains all of ‘Oumuamua’s weird properties,” said study co-author Gregory Laughlin, a professor of astronomy in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in a statement. “We show that it was likely composed of hydrogen ice. This is a new type of object, but it looks like there may be many more of them showing up, going forward.”

Artist's illustration of 'Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object spotted in our solar system.

Artist’s illustration of ‘Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object spotted in our solar system. (M. Kornmesser/ESO)

The cigar-shaped ‘Oumuamua, which was first discovered in October 2017, is unlike anything researchers had ever seen before, due to its shape, as well as its dry surface.

The research notes that hydrogen ice, which needs extremely cold temperatures, is something that is present in the cores of molecular clouds. Molecular clouds form the basis of stars and the researchers believe ‘Oumuamua could contain hydrogen ice after it passed by one of these molecular clouds in deep space, which could explain its speed.

“As ‘Oumuamua passed close to the Sun and received its warmth, melting hydrogen would have rapidly boiled off the icy surface,” the study’s lead author, Darryl Seligman explained, “providing the observed acceleration and also winnowing ‘Oumuamua down to its weird, elongated shape — much as a bar of soap becomes a thin sliver after many uses in the shower.”

It’s possible that these “hydrogen icebergs” or “hydrogen comets” could be more prevalent in the solar system, which could give researchers new information about how stars and planets form.

“Their presence would be an accurate probe of the conditions in the dark recesses of star-forming clouds and provide a critical new clue for understanding the earliest phases of the still-mysterious processes that generate the birth of stars and their accompanying planets,” Laughlin noted.

The 900-foot long cigar-shaped ‘Oumuamua has led to some researchers to believe it could be an alien probe.

study published in November 2018 from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggested it could be “a lightsail of artificial origin” sent from another civilization.

The researcher who discovered ‘Oumuamua, Canadian physicist and astronomer Robert Weryk, said the idea it was from another civilization was just “wild speculation.”

No longer observable by telescopes as of January 2018, many have speculated what ‘Ouamumua is. In addition to the light sail theory, some have theorized that it is a comet or an asteroid.

The mystery about its exact nature deepened in late 2018, when NASA said it had been looking in ‘Ouamumua’s direction for two months but did not originally see it.

HOW SPACEX AND BOEING WILL GET ASTRONAUTS TO THE ISS. A COMPARISON OF THE CREW DRAGON, STARLINER, SOYUZ AND SPACE SHUTTLE.

We’re at a really exciting time where the number of crewed vehicles going to the international space station will go from just one to three!. The Soyuz’s 8 year monopoly for getting humans to the ISS is coming to an end. So today we’re going to take a deep dive on the two new spaceships that will be responsible for taking humans to and from the International Space Station from the United States. We’ll compare the Boeing Starliner riding an Atlas V rocket to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on their Falcon 9 Rocket.SpaceX Crew Dragon Vs Boeing Starliner vs Soyuz vs Space Shuttle comparison commercial crew

Renders by – Reese Carges – @AstroReeseW (Dragon 2/ Falcon 9) and Lionel Oullette – @ArcturusVFX (Starliner / Atlas)

And to see how we’ve progressed in the world of human spaceflight, we’ll also compare all these systems along side Russia’s Soyuz capsule and the United State’s retired Space Shuttle in a side by side comparison. We’ll look at the designs, the rockets they’ll ride, dimensions, cost, safety considerations, and any other unique features that each vehicle offers.

Considering I’ve been up close and personal with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Capsule, and Boeing’s Starliner, I’ve got some good insight on some of these vehicles, so let’s get started!

The International Space Station is still one the greatest feats of human engineering. After all, it’s a football field sized floating laboratory traveling 10 times faster than a bullet, circling the Earth every 90 minutes. It’s taken 33 launches to put all of its pieces into orbit and has been home to over 230 people from almost 20 countries.

ISS crew rotations

The ISS typically has 6 astronauts onboard. Crews are sent in groups of 3 and usually reside at the station for 6 months. There is typically a 3 month overlap for the existing crew and the newly arriving crew. Since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, there’s only been a single ride to the ISS. Russia’s Soyuz vehicle.

But we’re coming up on a really exciting time as the United States prepares to send astronauts to the International Space Station from US soil on two brand new spaceships! And what’s super exciting, is NASA has hired private companies to do the development and operations in a new program called the commercial crew program.

The two companies that won contracts are SpaceX and Boeing. I’m not really going to get into how the commercial crew program got started or has progressed in today’s video, I mostly want to talk about the hardware. Each company has a unique approach to how they’ll get crew to the station, so let’s dive into each one and then we’ll compare them to the Soyuz capsule as well as the Space Shuttle to see how much has changed since the ISS was born.

NASA Commercial Crew program SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner

Starting off with Boeing and their Starliner. Boeing started designing the Starliner, originally known as the CST-100, in 2010 after winning a contract from NASA for the CCDev program. The starliner is a traditional truncated cone capsule design, much like previous spacecraft from the United States. It can carry up to 7 astronauts at a time, although NASA won’t use more than 4 seats at a time.

SpaceX makes history, launches NASA astronauts into space from US soil for the first time since 2011

Historic liftoff: SpaceX launches NASA astronauts into orbit

NASA astronauts blast off into space on a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station.

SpaceX has launched NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on their historic Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission is the first time that astronauts have launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011.

Hurley and Behnken blasted off from Kennedy Space Center’s historic launch pad 39A, which was also used for the Apollo and space shuttle programs, at 3:22 p.m. ET Saturday. An attempt on Wednesday was scrubbed due to weather conditions.

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

There were concerns that bad weather would force Saturday’s launch to be scrubbed, but the mission was able to proceed as planned. President Trump and Vice President Pence, who is chairman of the National Space Council, watched the launch from Kennedy Space Center.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches into space from Kennedy Space Center with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft on May 30, 2020.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches into space from Kennedy Space Center with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft on May 30, 2020. (Photo by Saul Martinez/Getty Images)

Speaking at Kennedy Space Center following the launch, Trump praised America’s “bold and triumphant return to the stars.”

“With this launch, the decades of lost years and little action are officially over,” he said. The names of Hurley and Behnken, he added, will stand in the history books alongside the likes of Mercury and Gemini astronaut Gus Grissom.

“We have liftoff! Congratulations @Astro_Doug, @AstroBehnken, @NASA and @SpaceX!” tweeted Pence.Mike Pence@Mike_Pence

We have liftoff! Congratulations @Astro_Doug, @AstroBehnken, @NASA and @SpaceX! #LaunchAmerica 🇺🇸9,909Twitter Ads info and privacy1,576 people are talking about this

Launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Hurley and Behnken are traveling to the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon spacecraft built by the space company.SpaceX@SpaceX

Liftoff!

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After a short journey into orbit, Crew Dragon began its 19-hour journey to the orbiting space lab.  Autonomous docking with the International Space Station is expected at 10:29 a.m. EDT on Sunday. The duration of the astronauts’ stay on the orbiting space lab is yet to be determined.

After separation, the Falcon 9 booster successfully returned to Earth, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (R) and Doug Hurley sit in a Tesla vehicle after walking out of the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (R) and Doug Hurley sit in a Tesla vehicle after walking out of the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“Today was just an amazing day,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said shortly after the launch. “I can breathe a sigh of relief but I can also tell you that I’m not going to celebrate until Bob and Doug are home safely.”

Bridenstine said he was praying for the astronauts during the liftoff. “I have heard that rumble [of a rocket launch] before, but it’s a whole different feeling when you’ve got your own team on that rocket.”

Under normal circumstances, large crowds would have been expected to witness the historic launch but, citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, NASA urged people to stay away.

A SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Crew Dragon capsule, sits on Launch Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, May 30, 2020.

A SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Crew Dragon capsule, sits on Launch Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, May 30, 2020. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

STS-135, the last space shuttle mission, launched from Kennedy Space Center on July 8, 2011. The space shuttle Atlantis carried four NASA astronauts on the mission to resupply the ISS, as well as an experiment for robotically refueling satellites in space.SpaceX@SpaceX

Falcon 9 booster has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship!

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Since then, the U.S. has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to get astronauts into space. Russia charges the U.S. about $75 million to send an astronaut into space.

NASA recently agreed to pay Russian space agency Roscosmos $90 million for one final seat on one of its Soyuz rockets.

Proxima b, the closest alien planet we know, may be even more Earth-like than we thought

“ESPRESSO has made it possible to measure the mass of the planet with a precision of over one-tenth of the mass of Earth.”

This artist's impression shows what the surface of the alien planet Proxima b might look like.
This artist’s impression shows what the surface of the alien planet Proxima b might look like.  (Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

The closest alien planet to our solar system is even more Earth-like than scientists had thought, new observations suggest.

In a new study, an international team of researchers found that Proxima b, which lies just 4.2 light-years from Earth, is just 17% more massive than our planet. 

Previously, scientists thought that this exoplanet, which lies in the habitable zone of its star, harbored about 1.3 Earth masses. The new measurement indicates that Proxima b is even more like our home planet, at least in size, than previous observations led scientists to think. 

The research team studied Proxima b using the Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations, or ESPRESSO for short.  ESPRESSO is a Swiss spectrograph that is currently mounted on the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile. Spectrographs observe objects and split the light coming from those objects into the wavelengths that make it up so that researchers can study the object in closer detail. 

Proxima b was first detected four years ago by an older spectrograph, HARPS (“High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher”), which is installed on a scope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile  But with these newer observations, scientists have an updated, ultra-precise view of the planet. 

“We were already very happy with the performance of HARPS, which has been responsible for discovering hundreds of exoplanets over the last 17 years,” study co-author Francesco Pepe, an astronomy professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and the person in charge of ESPRESSO, said in a statement. “We’re really pleased that ESPRESSO can produce even better measurements, and it’s gratifying and [a] just reward for the teamwork lasting nearly 10 years.”

“ESPRESSO has made it possible to measure the mass of the planet with a precision of over one-tenth of the mass of Earth,” Michel Mayor, a Swiss astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2019 and helped to develop a new type of spectrograph called Elodie, who was not an author on this study, said in the same statement. “It’s completely unheard of.”

An alien planet 

So what’s the deal with this Earth-sized planet? Proxima b is “one of the most interesting planets known in the solar neighborhood,” Alejandro Suarez Mascareño, the lead author on this study, said in the same statement. 

This strange alien planet orbits Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun. Because the planet orbits right in the middle of its star’s habitable zone, it’s possible that liquid water — and potentially even life — could exist there. Because of its Earth-like mass, scientists believe that, not only could liquid water exist on Proxima b, it could also be a rocky, terrestrial planet similar to Earth. 

But Proxima b orbits around a star that, while close to our solar system, is also much dimmer, and much less massive than our sun. Researchers think that the exoplanet is tidally locked and in synchronous rotation with its star, meaning that one side is always facing the star and one is always facing away: a light side and a dark side. 

In addition, it’s unclear if, Proxima b has an atmosphere. The planet lies very close to its star, completing one orbit every 11 Earth days. So, some researchers think that radiation coming from Proxima Centauri might have stripped away Proxima b’s air, making it impossible for the alien planet’s surface to hold onto liquid water. As scientists continue to study this system with new and better technology, we will be able to better understand what it’s really like on Proxima b. 

This new study was published May 26 to the preprint server arXiv and accepted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. 

Astronomers Discover Hundreds of New Strong Gravitational Lenses

Using data from the Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey (DECaLS), astronomers have discovered 335 new candidate strong lensing systems.

These two columns show side-by-side comparisons of gravitational lens candidates imaged by the Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey (color) and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (black and white). Image credit: Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey / NASA / ESA / Hubble / Huang et al.

Gravitational lensing was first theorized by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago to describe how light bends when it travels past massive objects like galaxies and galaxy clusters.

These lensing effects are typically described as weak or strong, and the strength of a lens relates to an object’s position and mass and distance from the light source that is lensed.

Strong lenses can have a mass of 100 billion solar masses, causing light from more distant objects in the same path to magnify and split, for example, into multiple images, or to appear as dramatic arcs or rings.

“Finding these objects is like finding telescopes that are the size of a galaxy. They’re powerful probes of dark matter and dark energy,” said co-author Dr. David Schlegel, a senior scientist in the Physics Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In the study, Dr. Schlegel and colleagues used Cori, a supercomputer at Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, to analyze imaging data from the DECaLS project, one of three surveys conducted in preparation for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) survey.

The lens candidates were identified with the assistance of a neural network, which is a form of artificial intelligence in which the computer program is trained to gradually improve its image-matching over time to provide an increasing success rate in identifying lenses.

“It takes hours to train the neural network. There is a very sophisticated fitting model of ‘What is a lens?’ and ‘What is not a lens?’,” said lead author Dr. Xiaosheng Huang, an astronomer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of San Francisco.

The newly-discovered strong lensing system candidates could provide specific markers for precisely measuring distances to galaxies in the early Universe if supernovae are observed and precisely tracked and measured via these lenses, for example.

Strong lenses also provide a powerful window into the unseen Universe of dark matter, which makes up about 85% of the matter in the Universe, as most of the mass responsible for lensing effects is thought to be dark matter.

Dark matter and the accelerating expansion of the Universe, driven by dark energy, are among the biggest mysteries that physicists are working to solve.

“We already succeeded in winning time on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to confirm some of the most promising lensing candidates revealed in the study, with observing time on the Hubble that began in 2019,” Dr. Huang said.

“Hubble can see the fine details without the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere.”

paper on the findings was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Astronomers Directly Image Giant Planet-Like Object around Sun-Like Star

Using three instruments on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), an international team of astronomers has discovered and imaged a giant sub-stellar object — a giant planet or a brown dwarf — around the very young, Sun-like star TYC 8998-760-1.

This SPHERE image shows TYC 8998-760-1b. Image credit: Bohn et al, doi: 10.1093/mnras/stz3462.

TYC 8998-760-1 is a K3-type star located 309 light-years away in the small southern constellation of Musca.

Also known as 2MASS J13251211-6456207, the star is about the same mass as our Sun, but is only 16.7 million years old.

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT)

This means that its newly-imaged companion, dubbed TYC 8998-760-1b, formed only recently.

The object is 3 times the size of our Jupiter and about 14 times more massive.

It has an estimated surface temperature of about 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,600 degrees Fahrenheit) and likely has a highly inflated atmosphere.

“TYC 8998-760-1b is among the youngest and least massive companions that are directly detected around solar-type stars,” said Leiden Observatory astronomer Alexander Bohn and his colleagues from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and the United States.

These images from VLT’s SPHERE and NaCo instruments show the TYC 8998-760-1 system; proper motion analysis proves that all objects north of the star are background (bg) stars, while the object south-west of TYC 8998-760-1 (highlighted by the white arrow) is co-moving with its host. Image credit: Bohn et al, doi: 10.1093/mnras/stz3462.

The discovery is part of the Young Suns Exoplanet Survey (YSES) of 70 young, solar-mass stars located in the Lower Centaurus-Crux subgroup of the Scorpius-Centaurus association.

The researchers were able to directly image TYC 8998-760-1b using VLT’s SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research) and NaCo (Nasmyth Adaptive Optics System/Near-Infrared Imager and Spectrograph) instruments.

They also analyzed medium-resolution data on TYC 8998-760-1 collected by VLT’s X-SHOOTER spectrograph.

“The discovery of TYC 8998-760-1b opens many pathways for future ground and space-based characterization of the solar-like environment at a very early stage of its evolution,” the scientists said.

Their paper was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Astronomer Uses Bayesian Statistics to Weigh Likelihood of Complex Life and Intelligence beyond Earth

In a new study published this week in the Proceeding of the National Academy of SciencesDr. David Kipping of Columbia University and Flatiron Institute used a statistical technique called Bayesian inference to estimate the odds of complex life and intelligence emerging beyond Earth.

Kipping uses Bayesian statistics to shed light on how extraterrestrial life might evolve in the Universe. Image credit: Dina Dee.

A fundamental question to modern science concerns the prevalence of life, and intelligence, within the Universe.

Searches within the Solar System have not yielded any direct evidence for extraterrestrial life, and the remote detection of chemical biomarkers on exoplanets remains years ahead of present observational capabilities.

The search for intelligence, through the signatures of their technology, may be detectable under certain assumptions and limited observational campaigns have been attempted. However, the underlying assumptions make it challenging to use these null results to directly constrain the prevalence of life or intelligence at this time.

“The rapid emergence of life and the late evolution of humanity, in the context of the timeline of evolution, are certainly suggestive. But in this study it’s possible to actually quantify what the facts tell us,” Dr. Kipping said.

To conduct his analysis, Dr. Kipping used the chronology of the earliest evidence for life and the evolution of humanity.

The astronomer asked how often we would expect life and intelligence to re-emerge if Earth’s history were to repeat, re-running the clock over and over again.

He framed the problem in terms of four possible answers: (i) life is common and often develops intelligence; (ii) life is rare but often develops intelligence; (iii) life is common and rarely develops intelligence; and (iv) life is rare and rarely develops intelligence.

This method of Bayesian statistical inference — used to update the probability for a hypothesis as evidence or information becomes available — states prior beliefs about the system being modeled, which are then combined with data to cast probabilities of outcomes.

“The technique is akin to betting odds. It encourages the repeated testing of new evidence against your position, in essence a positive feedback loop of refining your estimates of likelihood of an event,” Dr. Kipping said.

From these four hypotheses, the scientist used Bayesian mathematical formulas to weigh the models against one another.

“In Bayesian inference, prior probability distributions always need to be selected,” he said.

“But a key result here is that when one compares the rare-life versus common-life scenarios, the common-life scenario is always at least nine times more likely than the rare one.”

His analysis is based on evidence that life emerged within 300 million years of the formation of the Earth’s oceans as found in carbon-13-depleted zircon deposits, a very fast start in the context of Earth’s lifetime.

“The ratio is at least 9:1 or higher, depending on the true value of how often intelligence develops,” he said.

“If planets with similar conditions and evolutionary time lines to Earth are common, then the analysis suggests that life should have little problem spontaneously emerging on other planets.”

“And what are the odds that these extraterrestrial lives could be complex, differentiated and intelligent? Here, my inquiry is less assured, finding just 3:2 odds in favor of intelligent life.”

This result stems from humanity’s relatively late appearance in Earth’s habitable window, suggesting that its development was neither an easy nor ensured process.

“If we played Earth’s history again, the emergence of intelligence is actually somewhat unlikely,” Dr. Kipping said.

“The odds in the study aren’t overwhelming, being quite close to 50:50, and the findings should be treated as no more than a gentle nudge toward a hypothesis.”

“The analysis can’t provide certainties or guarantees, only statistical probabilities based on what happened here on Earth.”

“Overall, our work supports an optimistic outlook for future searches for biosignatures,” he said.

“The slight preference for a rare intelligence scenario is consistent with a straightforward resolution to the Fermi paradox. However, our work says nothing about the lifetime of civilizations, and indeed the weight of evidence in favor of this scenario is sufficiently weak that searches for technosignatures should certainly be a component in observational campaigns seeking to resolve this grand mystery.”

Astronomers Spot First Trojan Asteroid with Comet-Like Tail: 2019 LD2

Watch Jupiter Trojan asteroid 2019 LD2’s orbit the sun for 25 years in this orbit animation. New imagery from the University of Hawaiʻi’s Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) reveals that it has an unusual comet-like tail.

Credit: Space.com / Orbit animation: NASA/JPL-Caltech / image: ATLAS/A. Heinze/IfA / produced & edited by [Steve Spaleta](http://www.twitter.com/stevespaleta)

2019 LD2 is the first known Jupiter trojan asteroid to display cometary activity with a visible coma and tail, according to a team of astronomers from the University of Hawaii and Queen’s University Belfast.

This image shows the Jupiter trojan asteroid 2019 LD2. Image credit: ATLAS.

Trojan asteroids follow the same orbit as a planet, but stay either around 60 degrees ahead or 60 degrees behind along the orbit.

Earth has one trojan asteroid, 2010 TK7. Mars hosts at least nine, Uranus has two, and Neptune has 22 trojans.

Jupiter has more than one million trojan asteroids larger than 1 km. These Jupiter trojans orbit the Sun in two huge groups, one group orbiting ahead of the planet (2019 LD2 belongs to this group) and one group orbiting behind it.

“What makes 2019 LD2 so interesting is that we think most Jupiter trojans were captured billions of years ago,” said Queen’s University Belfast’s Professor Alan Fitzsimmons and colleagues.

“Any surface ice that could vaporize to spew out gas and dust should have done so long ago, leaving the objects quietly orbiting as asteroids — not behaving like comets.”

2019 LD2 was discovered on June 2019 by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), an asteroid impact early warning system being developed by the University of Hawaii and funded by NASA.

A detailed analysis of the discovery images of 2019 LD2 by Professor Fitzsimmons and his colleague, Dr. David Young of Queen’s University Belfast, revealed its probable cometary nature.

Follow-up observations by University of Hawaii astronomers Dr. James ‘J.D.’ Armstrong and Sidney Moss on June 11 and 13, 2019, using the Las Cumbres Observatory global telescope network confirmed the cometary nature of the asteroid.

In July 2019, new ATLAS images caught the object again — now truly looking like a comet, with a faint tail made of dust or gas.

2019 LD2 passed behind the Sun and was not observable from the Earth in late 2019 and early 2020, but upon its reappearance in the night sky in April 2020, ATLAS observations confirmed that it still looks like a comet.

These observations showed that 2019 LD2 has probably been continuously active for almost a year.

“We have believed for decades that trojan asteroids should have large amounts of ice beneath their surfaces, but never had any evidence until now,” Professor Fitzsimmons said.

“ATLAS has shown that the predictions of their icy nature may well be correct.”

“What could have made 2019 LD2 suddenly show cometary behavior? Maybe Jupiter captured it only recently from a more distant orbit where surface ice could still survive. Maybe it recently suffered a landslide or an impact from another asteroid, exposing ice that used to be buried under layers of protective rock,” the astronomers said.

“New observations to find out are being acquired and evaluated. What’s certain is that the Universe is full of surprises — and surveys to guard the Earth from dangerous asteroids often make unexpected discoveries of harmless but fascinating objects that can reveal more about our Solar System’s history.”

Russian military satellite launch spawns space-junk fireball over Australia (video)

EPIC!! Check out this incredible vision captured by Mel Aldridge not long ago at Cashmore near Portland! We’re getting plenty of reports. @abcmelbourne

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Russia launched a military satellite to orbit on Friday (May 22), and the mission generated plenty of action in the downward direction as well.

A four-stage Soyuz-2 rocket lifted off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwestern Russia early Friday morning, carrying a classified payload that’s believed to be the fourth satellite for the country’s EKS OiBU missile-warning network, according to RussianSpaceWeb.com.

The Soyuz successfully delivered the satellite to its intended orbit, the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced Friday afternoon

The rocket’s third stage was expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere over southeastern Australia, with any surviving debris from that part of the booster targeted to splash down in the Pacific Ocean south of Tasmania, RussianSpaceWeb.com reported. 

Many people in the region, from central Victoria to northern Tasmania, saw a brilliant fireball overhead at the appropriate time, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported. This was no coincidence; they were witnessing the fiery death of the Soyuz’s third stage.

“The slow speed, about 6 kilometres per second, is a very telltale sign that it is space junk,” Jonti Horner, an astrophysics professor at the University of Southern Queensland, told the ABC. (Asteroids and other space rocks that slam into our atmosphere are going much faster than that.)

Not every hunk of space junk comes down as quickly as this piece of the Soyuz did. Indeed, Earth orbit is littered with dead satellites, spent rocket bodies and other debris. NASA estimates that there are 500,000 pieces of junk up there at least as big as a marble. And even such small objects can cause serious damage if they hit a spacecraft, considering that bodies in low-Earth orbit zip around our planet at about 17,500 mph (28,160 km/h).

4-billion-year-old nitrogen-containing organic molecules discovered in Martian meteorites

Scientists exploring Mars and analyzing Martian meteorite samples have found organic compounds essential for life: nitrogen-bearing organics in a 4-billion-year-old Martian meteorite. With a new high-spatial resolution in-situ N-chemical speciation technique, they found organic materials — either synthesized locally or delivered during the Noachian — preserved intact in carbonate minerals over a long geological period. Their presence requires abiotic or biotic N-fixation and ammonia storage, suggesting early Mars had a less oxidizing environment than today.


Mars illustration (stock | Credit: © grejak / stock.adobe.com

Mars illustration (stock image; elements furnished by NASA).Credit: © grejak / stock.adobe.com

A research team including research scientist Atsuko Kobayashi from the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) at Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan and research scientist Mizuho Koike from the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, have found nitrogen-bearing organic material in carbonate minerals in a Martian meteorite. This organic material has most likely been preserved for 4 billion years since Mars’ Noachian age. Because carbonate minerals typically precipitate from the groundwater, this finding suggests a wet and organic-rich early Mars, which could have been habitable and favourable for life to start.

For decades, scientists have tried to understand whether there are organic compounds on Mars and if so, what their source is. Although recent studies from rover-based Mars exploration have detected strong evidence for Martian organics, little is known about where they came from, how old they are, how widely distributed and preserved they may be, or what their possible relationship with biochemical activity could be.

Martian meteorites are pieces of Mars’ surface that were themselves blasted into space by meteor impacts, and which ultimately landed on Earth. They provide important insights into Martian history. One meteorite in particular, named Allan Hills (ALH) 84001, named for the region in Antarctica it was found in 1984, is especially important. It contains orange-coloured carbonate minerals, which precipitated from salty liquid water on Mars’ near-surface 4 billion years ago. As these minerals record Mars’ early aqueous environment, many studies have tried to understand their unique chemistry and whether they might provide evidence for ancient life on Mars. However, previous analyses suffered from contamination with terrestrial material from Antarctic snow and ice, making it difficult to say how much of the organic material in the meteorite were truly Martian. In addition to carbon, nitrogen (N) is an essential element for terrestrial life and a useful tracer for planetary system evolution. However, due to previous technical limitations, nitrogen had not yet been measured in ALH84001.

This new research conducted by the joint ELSI-JAXA team used state-of-the-art analytical techniques to study the nitrogen content of the ALH84001 carbonates, and the team is now confident they have found the first solid evidence for 4-billion-year-old Martian organics containing nitrogen.

Terrestrial contamination is a serious problem for studies of extraterrestrial materials. To avoid such contamination, the team developed new techniques to prepare the samples with. For example, they used silver tape in an ELSI clean lab to pluck off the tiny carbonate grains, which are about the width of a human hair, from the host meteorite. The team then prepared these grains further to remove possible surface contaminants with a scanning electron microscope-focused ion beam instrument at JAXA. They also used a technique called Nitrogen K-edge micro X-ray Absorption Near Edge Structure (μ-XANES) spectroscopy, which allowed them to detect nitrogen present in very small amounts and to determine what chemical form that nitrogen was in. Control samples from nearby igneous minerals gave no detectable nitrogen, showing the organic molecules were only in the carbonate.

After the careful contamination checks, the team determined the detected organics were most likely truly Martian. They also determined the contribution of nitrogen in the form of nitrate, one of the strong oxidants on current Mars, was insignificant, suggesting the early Mars probably did not contain strong oxidants, and as scientists have suspected, it was less-oxidizing than it is today.

Mars’ present surface is too harsh for most organics to survive. However, scientists predict that organic compounds could be preserved in near-surface settings for billions of years. This seems to be the case for the nitrogen-bearing organic compounds the team found in the ALH84001 carbonates, which appear to have been trapped in the minerals 4 billion years ago and preserved for long periods before finally being delivered to Earth.

The team agrees that there are many important open questions, such as where did these nitrogen-containing organics come from? Kobayashi explains: “There are two main possibilities: either they came from outside Mars, or they formed on Mars. Early in the Solar System’s history, Mars was likely showered with significant amounts of organic matter, for example from carbon-rich meteorites, comets and dust particles. Some of them may have dissolved in the brine and been trapped inside the carbonates.” The research team lead, Koike adds that alternatively, chemical reactions on early Mars may have produced the N-bearing organics on-site. Either way, they say, these findings show there was organic nitrogen on Mars before it became the red planet we know today; early Mars may have been more ‘Earth-like’, less oxidising, wetter, and organic-rich. Perhaps it was ‘blue.’

NASA sets date to research asteroid Bennu after coronavirus pandemic caused delays

After getting delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, NASA has finally picked out a date to research samples of the asteroid Bennu.

The space agency said that it now expects the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to begin its first attempt at sampling the asteroid on Oct. 20. The initial date was Aug. 25, but that was pushed back because of the pandemic. The second rehearsal, which was initially scheduled for June, will now take place on Aug. 11.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission has been demonstrating the very essence of exploration by persevering through unexpected challenges,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said in a statement earlier this week. “That spirit has led them to the cusp of the prize we all are waiting for — securing a sample of an asteroid to bring home to Earth, and I’m very excited to follow them through the home stretch.”

This is a mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

This is a mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

Since arriving at the asteroid in December 2018, OSIRIS-REx (which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security Regolith Explorer) has been observing the space rock and looking for spots to land.

It has snapped some incredible images of the asteroid and made observations about it that have surprised researchers, including the fact it was shooting out rocks.

“This mission’s incredible performance so far is a testament to the extraordinary skill and dedication of the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I am confident that even in the face of the current challenge, this team will be successful in collecting our sample from Bennu.”https://f59a745ca68c1d320bcdd7339ccd4b4c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

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

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

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

OSIRIS-REx is expected to begin a two-year journey back to Earth in the middle of 2021 and return with samples in September 2023.

Earth’s magnetic field weakens, impacting satellites and spacecraft: report

Earth’s magnetic field is gradually weakening in an area that stretches from Africa to South America, and scientists who are trying to understand why.

This weakening is also causing technical disturbances in some satellites orbiting Earth.

Scientists are using data from the European Space Agency’s Swarm constellation to improve our understanding of this area, which is known as the ‘South Atlantic Anomaly.’

Among other things, Earth’s magnetic field protects humanity from space radiation and super-charged particles emanating from the sun. According to the ESA, the magnetic field is generated by an extremely hot swirling liquid iron that comprises the planet’s outer core — which is about 3,000 kilometers under our feet.

The magnetic field is thought to be generated by an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up Earth’s the outer core.

The magnetic field is thought to be generated by an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up Earth’s the outer core. (ESA/ATG Medialab)

“The new, eastern minimum of the South Atlantic Anomaly has appeared over the last decade and in recent years is developing vigorously,” said Jürgen Matzka, from the German Research Centre for Geosciences, in a statement. “We are very lucky to have the Swarm satellites in orbit to investigate the development of the South Atlantic Anomaly. The challenge now is to understand the processes in Earth’s core driving these changes.”

Researchers have speculated that the current weakening of the magnetic field is a sign that Earth is heading for an eminent pole reversal—in which the north and south magnetic poles switch places.

Although that may sound dramatic, that type of event has happened throughout the planet’s long history, at a rate of about once every 250,000 years, according to the ESA.

10 Things To Know about the NASA / SpaceX Crew Demo 2 Mission

Crew Dragon Demo-2 (or DM-2) will be the first crewed test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled for launch to the International Space Station on 27 May 2020 at 20:33:33 UTC (4:33:33 PM EDT). Demo-2 will be the first crewed orbital spaceflight launched from the United States since the final Space Shuttle mission, STS-135, in 2011, on which Douglas G. Hurley was the pilot. Hurley will be spacecraft commander on Crew Dragon Demo-2, joined by Robert L. Behnken as joint operations commander. Crew Dragon Demo-2 will also be the first two-person orbital spaceflight launched from the United States since STS-4 in 1982.

Crew

Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken were announced as the primary crew on 3 August 2018. Both astronauts are veterans of the Space Shuttle program, and the Demo-2 flight will be the third trip to space for each of them.

PositionAstronaut
Spacecraft commander Douglas G. HurleyNASA
Third spaceflight
Joint operations commander Robert L. BehnkenNASA
Third spaceflight
PositionAstronaut
Spacecraft commander Michael S. HopkinsNASA
Second spaceflight
Joint operations commander Victor J. GloverNASA
First spaceflight

Timeline

The Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission was originally planned for launch in July 2019 as part of the Commercial Crew Development contract with a crew of two on a 14-day test mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

On 20 April 2019, the Crew Dragon capsule from the Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission was destroyed during static fire testing of its SuperDraco thrusters, ahead of its planned use for the in-flight abort test. SpaceX traced the cause of the anomaly to a component that leaked oxidizer into the high pressure helium lines, which then solidified and damaged a valve.

On 19 January 2020, a Crew Dragon capsule successfully completed an in-flight abort test.

On 9 April 2020, the NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he is “fairly confident” that astronauts can fly to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship at the end of May or in early June 2020, pending final parachute tests, data reviews and a training schedule that can escape major impacts from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On 17 April 2020, NASA and SpaceX announced the launch date as 27 May 2020. The arrival of the Crew Dragon will raise the station’s crew size from three to five. Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will perform duties and conduct experiments as crew onboard the International Space Station for several months, until the next Crew Dragon launch. Hurley and Behnken are expected to live and work aboard the space station for two or three months, and then return to Earth for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral.

On 23 April 2020, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine urged space enthusiasts not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center to view the launch, and asked people to instead watch the launch on television or online. Bridenstine explained that maintenance crew are working in cohesive shifts, to mitigate workers’ exposure to coronavirus.

Crew Dragon Demo-2 will mark the first crewed US spaceflight mission not to include the presence of the public at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, selected members of the press will be allowed to witness the launch.

On 1 May 2020, SpaceX successfully demonstrated the Mark 3 parachute system, a critical milestone for the mission approval.

In an effort to engage the public, notably the Class of 2020 who weren’t able to attend their graduations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both NASA and SpaceX invited students and graduates to submit their photos to be flown to the ISS.

Mission

The Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission is intended to finish the validation process for human-rated spaceflight operations on SpaceX hardware. If successful, the demonstration flight will allow for human rated certification of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the Falcon 9 rocket, the crew transportation system, launch pad, and SpaceX’s capabilities. The mission includes astronaut testing of Crew Dragon capabilities on orbit.

The Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Kennedy Space Center launch pad LC-39A on May 27, and dock to pressurized mating adapter PMA-2 on the Harmony module of the ISS on May 28. Hurley and Behnken will join the Expedition 63 mission for several months.

Docking and undocking operation will be autonomously controlled by the Crew Dragon spacecraft, but monitored by the flight crew in case manual intervention becomes necessary.

The first stage booster will attempt to land autonomously on the floating barge Of Course I Still Love You, which will be prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon returning to Earth, the Crew Dragon capsule will parachute into the Atlantic Ocean, where it will be recovered by the Go Navigator recovery vessel.

Insignia and livery

NASA “worm” logotype used from 1975 until 1992.

The mission insignia was designed by Andrew Nyberg, an artist from Brainerd, Minnesota who is a nephew of spacecraft commander Hurley. The insignia features the logos of the Commercial Crew Program, Falcon 9, Crew Dragon, and the red chevron of NASA’s “meatball” insignia. Also depicted are the American flag and a symbol of the ISS. The words NASASpaceXHurley and Behnken are printed around the border, along with the words “First crewed flight” and DM-2. The insignia outline is in the shape of the Crew Dragon capsule.

The Falcon 9 booster will display NASA’s iconic worm logo. This is the first time the logo has been officially used since it was retired in 1992.

ASTRONOMERS MIGHT HAVE FOUND APOLLO 10’S “SNOOPY” LUNAR MODULE

An old friend might be found again…


A small near-Earth object might be a historic piece of space hardware: the Apollo 10 lunar module, dubbed “Snoopy.”

Snoopy
The Snoopy lunar module, closing in on the Charlie Brown command module.
NASA / Project Apollo Archive

On May 23, 1969, astronauts aboard Apollo 10 jettisoned the Snoopy lunar module and headed for Earth. That’s the last time humans set eyes on Snoopy — now, astronomers may have rediscovered this fascinating artifact of space history.

Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society astronomer Nick Howes shared the possible discovery recently at Cheltenham Science Festival. Howes, who began the search for Snoopy in 2011, said in a recent Sky News report that he is 98% certain that the object in question is, in fact, Snoopy. However, it will require follow-up observations to conclusively prove (or disprove) this conclusion.

Faulkes
The 2-meter Faulkes Telescope South at Siding Spring Observatory.
Nick Howes / LCOGT

Astronomers started the hunt in 2011 using the Faulkes North Telescope in Hawai’i, the Faulkes South Telescope in Australia, and data from the Catalina Sky Survey, located outside of Tucson, Arizona. The break came last year during observations taken at the Mt Lemmon and other survey observatories, with the discovery of the small Earth-crossing asteroid 2018 AV2. Orbiting the Sun once every 382 days, 2018 AV2 spends most of its time trailing Earth in its orbit around the Sun. Two factors grabbed astronomers’ attention: its low orbital inclination (less than 1°) relative to the ecliptic, and its low speed,  less than a kilometer per second relative to Earth’s orbital velocity.

Other factors also led to the conclusion that 2018 AV2 is likely to be Snoopy. It’s already listed as an artificial object on the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center’s Distant Artificial Objects page. According to Howes, the object’s brightness also corresponded to “a size in the right ballpark.” In addition, Howes says he had received mail “from a trusted astronomer at the Arizona Sky Survey indicating that JPL teams had also worked on it, and it looked like it was in the right place in 1969.”  

Apollo 10: Prelude to History

Often forgotten between the dramatic Apollo 8 mission around the Moon and the first crewed Moon landing of Apollo 11, Apollo 10 was still a vital mission. After Apollo 9 tested the lunar module in space for the first time in Earth orbit, Apollo 10 acted as a dress rehearsal for the Moon landing. The astronauts flew the lunar module down to within 14.5 kilometers (9 miles) of the lunar surface. The module was named “Snoopy” after the Peanuts comics strip character, while the corresponding command module was named Charlie Brown.

Snoopy
The view from Snoopy, looking out over the lunar landscape.
NASA / Project Apollo Archive

Snoopy’s trajectory was unique among the Apollo missions. Unlike in the five missions that landed on the Moon, the Snoopy lunar module was ultimately jettisoned into an orbit around the Sun.

Apollo 10
Apollo 10 astronauts (Commander Tom Stafford is patting Snoopy’s nose) preparing for departure.
NASA

False Alarms

There have been several false finds over the years in the hunt to recover Snoopy. Around 2015 astronomers were convinced that the small near-Earth asteroid WT1190F was in fact the lost lunar module. WT1190F struck Earth in the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka on November 13, 2015, and is now thought to have been the trans-lunar injection stage from the 1998 Lunar Prospector mission.

In 2006 one of the first temporary mini-moons of the Earth was discovered, 2006 RH120. As the ranks of near-Earth asteroids has grown in the years since, astronomers have realized that small asteroids are occasionally captured by the Earth-Moon system, following complex orbits around the pair before being ejected back out into solar orbit. These objects may be confused with discarded Space Age hardware, which often follows the same path. For example, asteroid J002E3 was spotted back in 2002, but astronomers soon realized that its spectra matched paint used by NASA in the late 1960s. The object turned out to be a third-stage booster from Apollo 12. Another asteroid, 2013 QW1, turned out to be an upper stage booster from China’s Chang’e 2 Moon mission.

2018 AV2
The orbit of 2018 AV2.
NASA / JPL

Unfortunately, 2018 AV2 is currently 0.374 astronomical units (34.7 million miles) from Earth, making it a faint +29.5 magnitude object. Its next close approach won’t come until July 10, 2037, when it will pass 4 million miles from Earth, equivalent to 16 times the Earth-Moon distance.

However, it would theoretically be possible to observe the object now: Howes notes that a Falcon Heavy or Delta IV rocket could traverse the current distance in a year. Another possibility would be to send a small CubeSat along with a future SLS launch, with the purpose of flying by the object to make observations.

Spectral analysis, a radar profile, and other observations would go a long ways towards confirming or rejecting the object’s identity. After all, hollow metallic artificial objects react differently to solar heating and radiative pressure (known as the Yarkovsky effect) than solid space rocks.

Certainly, Snoopy is one of the more curious objects man-made objects in solar orbit. Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, which SpaceX launched into solar orbit via its inaugural Falcon Heavy flight in 2018, probably wins for “most curious.” Howes notes that Musk is a big fan of the Apollo program, so maybe a salvage isn’t totally out of the question. The module has suffered from a half-century of continuous ultraviolet radiation exposure, but it should be relatively intact.

“There’s clearly a lot from humankind’s first foray in to deep space still out there,” says Howes, “and whilst the scientific argument to retrieve them is marginal, I think with Snoopy you have a unique, one-off remnant of our greatest technical achievement . . . One I’d love to show close-up images of to [Apollo 10 astronauts] Tom Stafford and the family of Gene Cernan one day.”

Charlie Brown
Looking out the lunar module window at Charlie Brown.
NASA / Apollo Image Archives.

For now though, it’s an interesting idea to consider as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, that a part of the precursor mission that made it all possible is still out there, silently orbiting the Sun.

Evidence suggests sun entering ‘solar minimum’ stage: reports

It’s been 100 days since the last recorded sunspot, which one expert says is evidence that we are entering a phase called solar minimum, reports said.

There have been whispers on social media about an impending Ice Age (Just What We Need!), but NASA scientists have said we should not be overly worried, according to PennLive.com.

“So far this year, the Sun has been blank 76 percent of the time, a rate surpassed only once before in the Space Age,” SpaceWeather.com reported, according to Forbes. “Last year, 2019, the Sun was blank 77 percent of the time. Two consecutive years of record-setting spotlessness adds up to a very deep solar minimum, indeed.”

NASA says that about every 11 years, “sunspots fade away, bringing a period of relative calm.”

“This is called a solar minimum,” Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said on NASA.gov. “And it’s a regular part of the sunspot cycle.”

The NASA report said in 2014, there was a high rate of sunspots and solar flares. The article said the sun doesn’t “become dull” during these times, rather solar activity simply changes form.

Dr. Tony Phillips, an astronomer, told the U.K. Sun newspaper that the “solar minimum” is underway and it is a deep one.Video

“Sunspot counts suggest it is one of the deepest of the past century,” he told the paper. “The sun’s magnetic field has become weak, allowing extra cosmic rays into the solar system.”

He continued, “Excess cosmic rays pose a health hazard to astronauts and polar air travelers, affect the electro-chemistry of Earth’s upper atmosphere and may help trigger lightning.”

Some theorize that a lingering “solar minimum” could result in crop loss, famine and brutal cold. The Pennlive report said scientists indicate that even if we do enter a phase called “grand solar minimum” it would essentially only offset “a few years of warming caused by human activities.”

“Even if a Grand Solar Minimum were to last a century, global temperatures would continue to warm,” NASA Global Climate Change reported, according to Pennlive. “Because more factors than just variations in the Sun’s output change global temperatures on Earth, the most dominant of those today being the warming coming from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.”

Space Force launches robotic X-37B space plane on new mystery mission

It’s the sixth flight of the clandestine space plane.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The U.S. Space Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane successfully launched on its sixth mystery mission from Florida today (May 17). 

Riding atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the clandestine craft blasted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here at 9:14 a.m. EDT (1314 GMT). 

The on-time liftoff occurred just 24-hours after poor weather conditions at the Florida launch site forced ULA to scrub its original launch attempt, Saturday morning. 

While the X-37B’s exact purpose is a secret, Space Force officials have revealed that the craft is packing numerous experiments on this trip to test out different systems in space. Some of those experiments include a small satellite called FalconSat-8, two NASA payloads designed to study the effects of radiation on different materials as well as seeds to grow food, and a power-beaming experiment using microwave energy.

The U.S.Space Force and Air Force Rapid Response Capabilities Office have two of the miniature shuttle-like X-37B space planes (also known as Orbital Test Vehicles, or OTVs) that it uses for classified military missions in low-Earth orbit. They have flown five missions since 2010, four of them on ULA Atlas V rockets and the fifth on a SpaceX Falcon 9.

X-37B returns to space

US Space Force to launch X-37B space plane on OTV-6 mission

Today’s launch occurred just six months after the most recent mission, OTV-5, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 2, 2019, completing a record-setting 780 days (just over two years) sojourn in space. 

Boeing built the X-37B space planes for the U.S. Air Force. The two vehicles have spent more than seven years in orbit across their missions. (Command of the mission and other space related activities transferred to the Space Force after its creation in 2019.)

Space Force officials have said that the experiments and technology the X-37B carries “enables the U.S. to more efficiently and effectively develop space capabilities necessary to maintain superiority in the space domain.”

A U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane, encapsulated ahead of a planned May 16, 2020, launch. That liftoff will kick off the sixth mission for the X-37B program.
The X-37B space plane ahead is seen tucked inside the payload fairing of its Atlas V rocket ahead of a May 17, 2020 launch. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

To that end, this mission will have even more experiments than previous flights. That’s thanks to the addition of a new service module — a cylindrical extension attached to the bottom of the craft — a first for this mission. The addition of a service module will help to increase the vehicle’s capabilities, enabling it to conduct more experiments and test new technologies throughout the mission, Space Force officials have said.

ULA launched the X-37B on an Atlas V rocket in the 501 configuration, which means the vehicle has a 17-foot (5 meters) wide payload fairing, a single engine Centaur upper stage, and no solid rocket boosters. 

It marked the 84th flight of the Atlas V, which was recently dethroned as the most flown American launcher. That superlative was snagged by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which became the world’s most flown booster in April and is also set to launch its next flight (a Starlink satellite fleet launch) early Tuesday, May 19.

Honoring coronavirus responders

The U.S. Space Force and United Launch Alliance dedicated the X-37B space plane's OTV_6 launch to the first-responders and victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Space Force and United Launch Alliance dedicated the X-37B space plane’s OTV_6 launch to the first-responders and victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

Saturday’s launch, dubbed USSF-7, is dedicated to the first responders and medical personnel across the country who work daily to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The mission is part of the military’s “America Strong” campaign, which also includes a series of flyovers by the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels. ULA also stamped a tribute on the side of the Atlas V rocket that says: “In memory of COVID-19 victims and tribute to all first responders and front-line workers.”

COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has infected approximately 4.5 million people globally, with 1.45 million of them in the United States. At least 87,991 have died from the disease in the U.S. as of May 16, according to Livescience.

“Thank you for your courage in caring for the sick and keeping us safe,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno tweeted, addressing the many first responders working selflessly to support the nation in this difficult time. 

“There are still heroes in this world,” he added. Click here for more Space.com videos…X-37B space plane to launch atop Atlas V rocket – Mission profile.

Officials at the 45th Space Wing said they have been doing their part to make sure the launch went smoothly while simultaneously protecting its workforce. 

“We have an obligation to keep space capabilities up and running for our nation,” Gen. John Raymond, chief of space operations in the U.S. Space Force and commander of the U.S. Space Command said during a prelaunch talk on May 6. 

To that end, the 45th Space Wing has been rotating crews between launches, reduced on-site staff as much as possible and practiced social distancing. Both NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station have kept public viewing areas closed for this launch as well as a SpaceX launch scheduled for Sunday morning.

This mission marks the second national security launch under the Space Force since its establishment in December. (The first was the AEHF-6 military communications satellite launch in March.)

Another view of the encapsulated X-37B, a robotic vehicle that's about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long.
The X-37B space plane is about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and resembles a miniature space shuttle. For OTV_6, the robotic spacecraft carried a new service module that supports more experiments and longer stays in space. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

Space Force officials have chosen to delay some of the planned missions, however, due to concerns about the pandemic. For instance, the next GPS navigation satellite mission GPS 3 SV03 has been delayed several months to no earlier than June 30 to ensure that ground control crews were able to stay safe. 

It’s a busy time on the space coast, and the GPS constellation is healthy which reduces the pressure to get newer, upgraded satellites into orbit, officials said.

Today’s mission was originally part of a launch double header from Florida’s Space Coast. 

Following the Atlas V launch, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was supposed to take to the skies less than 24 hours later, carrying another batch of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites into orbit. 

That launch was originally on the books for today, but weather delays at the launch site and the emergence of a tropical depression out in the Atlantic prompted SpaceX to move the launch date.

When the Falcon 9 does launch, it will bring the total number of Starlink internet satellites up to nearly 500. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that between 400-800 satellites are needed to begin rolling out the first, albeit limited, iteration of its global internet service. 

If all goes as planned, the Falcon 9 will lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 at 3:10 a.m. EDT (0710 GMT) on Tuesday.  

Captain Pike of ‘Star Trek’ gets spin-off series with Spock and Number One

CBS All Access has greenlit a new "Star Trek" spinoff series with Captain Pike (Anson Mount, center), Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn).

It’s official! After months of speculation — and wishful thinking —  CBS All Access has confirmed that Captain Pike is coming back, with Spock and Number One along for the ride, in the new spin-off series “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

Pike (portrayed by Anson Mount), Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) most recently appeared in season two of “Star Trek: Discovery.” They will reprise those roles in “Strange New Worlds” — the first of two new, live action “Star Trek” spin-offs from CBS All Access.ADVERTISING

The Hollywood Reporter announced the news Friday (May 15), although evidence had been slowly, but steadily, accumulating that this was a very real possibility. 

The new show will follow the crew of the USS Enterprise before Captain Kirk took command of the famed starship. 

Related: Star Trek’s Anson Mount dishes on possible return of Capt. Pike
More: 
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 3: What we know and what we hope forStar Trek on CBS All Access@startrekcbs

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds starring @AnsonMount, @RebeccaRomijn, and @ethangpeck, coming to @CBSAllAccess.#StarTrekSNW #StrangeNewWorlds

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In “Star Trek” lore, Pike took command of the USS Enterprise in 2250 and famed Capt. James T. Kirk replaced him 15 years later. During his tenure in Starfleet, Pike was considered to be one of the most highly decorated starship captains in Starfleet history. The events of season two  of “Discovery” take place around 2257, so we have an approximate eight-year window during which this new season could be set. 

Moreover, the title of the new show suggests that this might be an episodic-based series, instead of a story arc, set during one of Pike’s five-year “tours” that many starships undertook at this point in Starfleet history, to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Anson Mount as Captain Pike was without a doubt the highlight of "Star Trek: Discovery" season two.
Anson Mount as Captain Pike was without a doubt the highlight of “Star Trek: Discovery” season two. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

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Mount has even said in the past that he’d very much like to reprise the role.

“Yes, of course I’d love to continue to occupy that chair. I’m not going to grouse around and be aloof about it,” Mount told Space.com in March. “I’d love to.”

The cast took to Twitter in a message telling fans that they’d listened to the repeated requests to bring this cast back to the small screen.

Alex Kurtzman will oversee the new show, so no surprise there and Heather Kadin, Henry Alonso Myers and Akiva Goldsman will act as co-execuctive producers as well.Click here for more Space.com videos…CLOSEhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.386.2_en.html#goog_548614406Volume 0% PLAY SOUND

“When we said we heard the fans’ outpouring of love for Pike, Number One and Spock when they boarded ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ last season, we meant it,” Kurtzman said in a statement. “These iconic characters have a deep history in ‘Star Trek’ canon, yet so much of their stories has yet to be told. With Akiva and Henry at the helm, the Enterprise, its crew and its fans are in for an extraordinary journey to new frontiers in the Star Trek universe.”

Season three of “Discovery” will air some time later this year, while “Picard” was renewed for a second season earlier this year. A launch date for “Lower Decks” has not been announced yet. 

An episode count and premiere date for “Strange New Worlds” have yet to be determined.

Chinese space junk narrowly missed hitting New York City, report says

Space junk from a new Chinese rocket narrowly missed dropping down on New York City Monday night, according to a report, largely burning up in the atmosphere before some of the debris survived long enough to slam into West Africa.

China test-launched its new single-stage Long March 5B rocket last Tuesday, propelling its cargo into orbit before the 20-ton core eventually fell back into the atmosphere, according to Ars Technica, a technology publication.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, China's new large carrier rocket Long March-5B blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan Province, May 5, 2020. The Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending the trial version of China's new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for test into space. (Guo Cheng/Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, China’s new large carrier rocket Long March-5B blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province, May 5, 2020. The Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending the trial version of China’s new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for test into space. (Guo Cheng/Xinhua via AP)

It’s unlikely that anywhere near that large of an object is what returned to Earth — but fragments weighing up to several hundred pounds could have survived re-entering the atmosphere, astronomer Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told the outlet.

The U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron, which detects, tracks and identifies all manmade objects in orbit, confirmed the re-entry over the Atlantic Ocean at 8:33 p.m. PT Monday.18 SPCS@18SPCS

#18SPCS has confirmed the reentry of the CZ-5B R/B (#45601, 2020-027C) at 08:33 PDT on 11 May, over the Atlantic Ocean. The #CZ5B launched China’s test crew capsule on 5 May 2020. #spaceflightsafety305Twitter Ads info and privacy171 people are talking about this

The doomed core passed right over New York City, Ars reported — and if re-entry had been just a few minutes earlier, debris could reportedly have showered the Big Apple.

Instead, at least part of it fell on a town in Cote d’Ivoire, Quartz reported.

McDowell on Twitter said he could “conclude” that the objects that fell on Cote d’Ivoire “are very likely parts of the Chinese rocket stage.”Jonathan McDowell@planet4589Replying to @planet4589 @zolgafolDaniel

I conclude that the objects seen in Mahounou, and at least some of the other objects from the Cote d’Ivore region whose photos are being circulated in African media, are very likely parts of the Chinese rocket stage.35Twitter Ads info and privacySee Jonathan McDowell’s other Tweets

His Twitter feed shows a number of additional possible crash sites in the path of the returning rocket core, including at least one piece that damaged a house. No injuries were reported.

“Impressive how far downrange debris can get at 28000 km/hr!” he wrote.

A typical, two-stage launch will drop its first rocket into the ocean before reaching orbit, according to NASA. That’s safer than sending an enormous object into orbit that will eventually come back for an uncontrolled re-entry.

It’s also not the first time China has reportedly let its space junk fall haphazardly back to Earth — including the time it apparently let a rocket booster drop onto one of its own villages, spewing toxic fuel and destroying at least one building, Ars reported in November 2019.

China’s space launch safety practices were so concerning to Greg Autry, a former member of the Trump administration’s NASA Landing Team, that he wrote an op-ed in Space News magazine last May urging the president and Congress to address the issue.

“On April 20, China launched the 100th mission of its highly successful Long March-3 rocket series,” he wrote at the time. “[While it] successfully lofted a navigation satellite, designated as Beidou-3I1Q, toward its geosynchronous orbit, it also littered the Chinese landscape with a collection of dangerous rocket boosters leaking toxic fuel.”https://75ba9ffefd33ed8a2b106a98f9e4edff.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

He also described a series of other launch events that resulted in “plummeting space junk” and other safety hazards.

“The safety standards used in Chinese space launch would leave American regulators apoplectic,” Autry added.

In the U.S., the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is scheduled to launch the sixth test flight of its new X-37B from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Saturday, the Space Force announced last week.

NASA asteroid defense test mission may trigger artificial meteor shower, study finds

A planned NASA mission to test its capability to defend Earth from an incoming asteroid could cause the planet’s first-ever artificial meteor shower, a study found earlier this year.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft’s mission will be to slam into the smaller of the two Didymos asteroids as they pass within about 6.8 million miles of the Earth in the fall of 2022.

NASA said the $69 million self-destruct mission is the first aimed at testing its ability to deflect an asteroid by ramming a spacecraft into it at high speeds.

The resulting impact would blast material from the surface of the asteroid and — at least a small amount of it — close enough to Earth that will eventually be drawn toward the ground, according to a March 23 study in The Planetary Science Journal.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft’s mission will be to slam into the smaller of the two Didymos asteroids as they pass within about 6.8 million miles of the Earth in the fall of 2022. (NASA)

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft’s mission will be to slam into the smaller of the two Didymos asteroids as they pass within about 6.8 million miles of the Earth in the fall of 2022. (NASA)

Only a tiny bit of the total ejected material, known as ejecta, would actually make it through the atmosphere over a period of thousands of years, the study found. Much of it will remain within the gravitational pull of Didymos.

Some of that material could present a hazard to future space vehicles, according to the study’s author, Dr. Paul Wiegert, an astronomy and physics professor at the University of Western Ontario.

But a little bit of ejecta, the bits moving fastest after DART’s impact, could reach Earth’s sky relatively quickly and give scientists an opportunity to see the asteroid’s makeup. As the particles burn up entering the atmosphere, scientists could use the color of the light they generate to determine what materials were present.

The study focused on particles of about 1 centimeter in diameter or smaller, although there is a possibility that the particles could be larger. There are also expected to be many more extremely small particles that would be “almost undetectable.”

The ejecta would have to be substantially dense and larger to threaten the Earth’s surface, but particles from the DART mission or future attempts at knocking an asteroid away from a collision course with Earth could spend centuries traveling the solar system — potentially becoming hazards to space operations at some point in the future, according to Wiegert.

He likened it to how space junk buildup in low Earth orbit is becoming a growing problem because early missions didn’t account for how they would dispose of defunct satellites.

The Mystery of a Strange X-Galaxy Powered by a Monster Black Hole Is Finally Solved

A team of US and South African researchers has published highly detailed images of the largest X-shaped “radio galaxy” ever discovered – PKS 2014-55.

Notably, they’ve helped resolve ongoing confusion about the galaxy’s unusual shape.

The spectacular new images were taken using the 64-antenna MeerKAT telescope in South Africa, by an international research team led by Bill Cotton of the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

file 20200512 175224 f1dbkn(Courtesy of SARAO and Bill Cotton et al/Author provided (no reuse))

Above: The MeerKAT image of the giant X-shaped radio galaxy PKS 2014-55. 

Zooming in on a cosmic giant

Our research team also took detailed images of galaxy PKS 2014-55 last year, as part of the Evolutionary Map of the Universe project led by astrophysicist Ray Norris. We used CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia, which just completed its first set of pilot astronomical surveys.

Thanks to its innovative “radio cameras”, ASKAP can rapidly map very large areas of the sky to catalogue millions of objects emitting radio waves, from nearby supernova remnants to distant galaxies.

file 20200512 175219 s8xxo0(CSIRO and the EMU team/Author provided (no reuse))

Above: Our ASKAP image of the giant X-shaped radio galaxy PKS 2014-55. 

The prominent X-shape of PKS 2014-55 is made up of two pairs of giant lobes consisting of hot jets of electrons. These jets spurt outwards from a supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s heart.

The lobes emit electromagnetic radiation in the form of radio waves, which can only be detected by radio telescopes like ASKAP. Humans can’t see radio waves. But if we could, from Earth PKS 2014-55 would look about the same size as the Moon.

What makes a radio galaxy?

Typically, radio galaxies have only one pair of lobes. One is a “jet” and the other a “counter-jet”.

These jets expand into the surrounding space at nearly the speed of light. They initially move in a straight line, but twist and bend into many marvellous shapes as they encounter their surroundings.

Centaurus A, seen below, is an example of a giant elliptical galaxy with two prominent radio lobes.

file 20200512 66657 3w0228(NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre/Flickr, CC BY 4.0)

Above: This image of the Centaurus A galaxy incorporates both optical and radio data. Every galaxy has a black hole at its centre, including the Milky Way.

Galaxy PKS 2014-55’s giant X-shape, with two pairs of lobes emerging at very different angles, is highly unusual.

What makes the lobes?

To understand why having two pairs of lobes is unusual, we first need to understand what creates the lobes.

Nearly all big galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their centre.

In an active galaxy, powerful jets of charged particles can emerge from the area around the supermassive black hole. Astronomers believe these are emitted from near the poles of the black hole, which is why there are two of them, and they usually point in opposite directions.

When the black hole’s activity stops, the jets stop growing and the material in them flows back towards the centre. Thus, what we see as one lobe of a radio galaxy is made up of both a jet spurting out, and the backflow material.

A mystery solved

In the past, there were two major theories for why PKS 2014-55 has two pairs of lobes.

The first suggested there were actually two massive active black holes at the galaxy’s centre, each emitting two powerful jets.

The second theory suggested the supermassive black hole had undergone a spin flip. This is when a rotating black hole’s spin axis has a sudden change in orientation, resulting in a second pair of jets at a different angle from the first pair.

But the recent observations from the South African MeerKAT telescope strongly suggest a third possibility: that the two larger lobes are the fast-moving particles zooming out from the black hole, while the two smaller lobes are the backflow looping around to fall back in.

The MeerKAT team achieved high-resolution images ten times more sensitive than our ASKAP pilot observations conducted here in Australia last year.

A cosmic wonder

Using CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope, our team observed the “purple butterfly” of PKS 2014-55 to be an enormous cosmic structure. It spans at least five million light years – about 20 times the size of our own Milky Way galaxy.

PKS 2014-55 is located on the outskirts of a massive cluster of galaxies known as Abell 3667. It was discovered more than 60 years ago using the Mills Cross Telescope at CSIRO’s old Fleurs field station in New South Wales.

The galaxy’s first detailed radio picture was taken by Ron Ekers in 1969.

Martian rock samples could bring extraterrestrial viruses to Earth, expert warns

As if the planet didn’t have enough to worry about with the coronavirus pandemic, one researcher is worried about extraterrestrial viruses.

Former NASA Ames director Scott Hubbard said he’s concerned that future rock samples brought back from Mars will need to be checked and quarantined, as will the astronauts who return from future visits.

“I have heard from some colleagues in the human spaceflight area that they can see how, in the current environment, the general public could become more concerned about bringing back some alien microbe, virus or contamination,” Hubbard told the Stanford News in an interview.

A recent impact crater on Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

A recent impact crater on Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona) (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Hubbard, who now teaches aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, added that the rock samples brought back by the Perseverance rover will have to be “quarantined and treated as though they are the Ebola virus until proven safe.”

They will also need to be “baked at a high temperature” prior to being safely examined, Hubbard added.

NASA, which recently renamed the rover to Perseverance, will launch the unmanned rover on July 17, 2020. In March, Fox News reported the pandemic had not yet impacted launch preps, with work “continuing on schedule.”

“NASA has policies in place for the safe return of extraterrestrial materials and is studying how best to implement these for Mars Sample Return,” a NASA spokesperson told Fox News in an email. “Any future sample return mission would be subject to detailed planning and rigorous independent expert review.”

“As for humans, the Apollo astronauts from the first few moon missions were quarantined to ensure they showed no signs of illness,” Hubbard explained. “Once it was found that the moon did not pose a risk, the quarantine was eliminated. Such a procedure will undoubtedly be followed for humans returning from Mars.”

Upon returning from the first manned mission to the moon in 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were quarantined for three weeks. Aldrin recently recounted his experience during quarantine on social media.

In a 2019 interview with Fox News, Collins, who said the trio were “just regular astronauts,” said the quarantine was dependent upon the health of a colony of white mice that were with them.

“We had a huge colony of white mice,” Collins told Fox News at the time. “The three of us had gone to the Moon – that was either a national, international, triumph, or it was a total disaster depending on the health of the white mice that we had.”

“If the mice lived, everything was fine,” he added.

The Perseverance rover will attempt to detect if there is any fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial beings, in addition to other tasks.

Once the rover lands on Mars, it will join the still functioning Curiosity rover and the now-deceased Opportunity rover on the Red Planet. Unlike Curiosity or Opportunity, this rover will carry the “first helicopter that will fly on another planet,” NASA added.

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

What Happened in Tunguska in 1908? New Study May Have An Answer

We have studied the conditions of through passage of asteroids with diameters 200, 100, and 50 m, consisting of three types of materials – iron, stone, and water ice, across the Earth’s atmosphere with a minimum trajectory altitude in the range 10–15 km. The conditions of this passage with a subsequent exit into outer space with the preservation of a substantial fraction of the initial mass have been found. The results obtained support our idea explaining one of the long-standing problems of astronomy – the Tunguska phenomenon, which has not received reasonable and comprehensive interpretations to date. We argue that the Tunguska event was caused by an iron asteroid body, which passed through the Earth’s atmosphere and continued to the near-solar orbit.

‘Weird’ exoplanet 800 light-years from Earth has yellow skies and iron rain

Researchers have found the “weird” exoplanet WASP-79b, nearly 800 light-years from Earth, does not have a blue sky as our planet does. Instead, its skies are yellow.

According to a statement from NASA, WASP-79b orbits its host star once every 3.7 Earth days and is not in the habitable zone, the proximity of which a planet is to a star where it could support liquid water.

The exoplanet, known as a “hot Jupiter,” also does not have any evidence of Rayleigh scattering, which is what causes Earth’s skies to appear blue by “scattering the shorter (bluer) wavelengths of sunlight,” the agency noted. That’s left experts puzzled.

This is an artist's illustration of the super-hot exoplanet WASP-79b, located 780 light-years away. The planet orbits precariously close to a star that is much hotter than our Sun. The planet is larger than Jupiter, and its very deep, hazy atmosphere sizzles at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature of molten glass. The Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories measured how starlight is filtered through the planet's atmosphere, allowing for its chemical composition to be analyzed. Hubble has detected the presence of water vapor. (Credits: NASA, ESA and L. Hustak (STScI))

This is an artist’s illustration of the super-hot exoplanet WASP-79b, located 780 light-years away. The planet orbits precariously close to a star that is much hotter than our Sun. The planet is larger than Jupiter, and its very deep, hazy atmosphere sizzles at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature of molten glass. The Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories measured how starlight is filtered through the planet’s atmosphere, allowing for its chemical composition to be analyzed. Hubble has detected the presence of water vapor. (Credits: NASA, ESA and L. Hustak (STScI))

“This is a strong indication of an unknown atmospheric process that we’re just not accounting for in our physical models,” said researcher Kristin Showalter Sotzen of the Johns Hopkins University in a statement. “I’ve shown the WASP-79b spectrum to a number of colleagues, and their consensus is ‘that’s weird.'”

In addition to having a yellow sky, WASP-79b is exceptionally hot, with an average temperature of approximately 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, making it one of the largest exoplanets ever observed.

“WASP-79b is twice the mass of Jupiter and is so hot it has an extended atmosphere, which is ideal for studying starlight that is filtered through and grazes the atmosphere on its way toward Earth,” NASA added.

The exoplanet is 780 light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.

WASP-79b may also have “scattered clouds, and iron lifted to high altitudes could precipitate as rain,” the agency explained.

Researchers also discovered that another exoplanet, WASP 76-b, is believed to have “iron rain.”

Sotzen added that the researchers are not really sure what’s causing the phenomena, as it’s the first time they’ve seen this.

“We need to keep an eye out for other planets like this because it could be indicative of unknown atmospheric processes that we don’t currently understand,” Sotzen explained. “Because we only have one planet as an example, we don’t know if it’s an atmospheric phenomenon linked to the evolution of the planet.”

The findings were published in the Astronomical Journal.

Night Sky May 2020 Update: Comet SWAN, ATLAS, PANSTARRS and more | Astrophotography

As for this month: Comet SWAN is ofcourse the main attraction, but did you know there are two other comets (ATLAS C/2019 Y1 and PANSTARRS C/2017 T2) as well? Also, venus and mercury will be in conjunction and there are some nice Deep Sky Objects for you to image in the milky way. Please let me know if you like this video or not, and if you want me to give you monthly(?) updates on what is out there in the night sky. This and more info can also be found on my website, so if you want you can check that out as well. Clear skies!

Nikola Tesla’s vision of wireless energy may soon become reality thanks to a team of engineers at Stanford University

From 1891 to 1898 Nikola Tesla experimented with the transmission of electrical energy using a radio frequency which produced high voltage, high frequency alternating currents. With that he was able to transfer power over short distances without connecting wires.

 For now, at least, this system is only commercially viable over short distances. A team at Stanford University may soon change all that.

Wireless charging is already a thing (in smartphones, for example), but scientists are working on the next level of this technology that could deliver power over greater distances and to moving objects, such as cars.

Imagine cruising down the road while your electric vehicle gets charged, or having a robot that doesn’t lose battery life while it moves around a factory floor. That’s the sort of potential behind the newly developed technology from a team at Stanford University.

If you’re a long-time ScienceAlert reader, you may remember the same researchers first debuted the technology back in 2017. Now it’s been made more efficient, more powerful, and more practical – so it can hopefully soon be moved out of the lab.

“This is a significant step toward a practical and efficient system for wirelessly recharging automobiles and robots, even when they are moving at high speeds,” says electrical engineer Shanhui Fan.

“We would have to scale up the power to recharge a moving car, but I don’t think that’s a serious roadblock. For recharging robots, we’re already within the range of practical usefulness.”

Wireless electricity transfer relies on generating oscillating magnetic fields that can then cause electrons in a conductor to also oscillate at a particular frequency. However, that frequency is easily messed up if the device is moving. Your smartphone needs to be sitting perfectly still on its charging mat, for example.

What Stanford scientists did in 2017 was set up an amplifier and feedback resistor loop that could change the operating frequency as the receiving device moved. At that stage though, only 10 percent of the power moving through the system was transmitted.

Now, they’ve got it up to 92 percent. That huge boost in efficiency is down to a new ‘switch mode’ amplifier – a more precise solution, but a far more complex one, which is why it’s taken the team another three years to develop it to a satisfactory level.

The basic idea is the same as it was in 2017 though: adjusting the resonating frequency coming from the charger as the device moves around. Right now the system can transmit 10W of power across a distance of up to 65 centimetres (nearly 26 inches), but the researchers say there’s no reason why it can’t be quickly scaled up.

An electric car would need hundreds of kilowatts to charge it, but the system outlined here is fast enough to provide it, if it were built into the road surface, for example. The only limitation would then be how quickly the car’s batteries could absorb the power as the vehicle sped past.

Other potential uses are with robots that can be charged up by pads in the floor of the environments they’re operating in, or with drones that can pass over roof surfaces during their journeys to stay charged up. There would be less need to return to the base to recharge, and the robots and drones wouldn’t even need to stop.

That’s still some way off, not least because the technology remains expensive to implement. It is now available though, at least in prototype, and the scientists say it all operates within frequencies that don’t pose any danger to human health.

Being able to not only beam electricity wirelessly but also to beam it to a moving device could eventually revolutionise the way our gadgets work, and the way we travel.

“To harness the full benefits of wireless power delivery, it is important to develop an efficient and robust scheme that is capable of power delivery to a moving device,” write the researchers in their published paper.

The research has been published in Nature Electronics.

Black hole, 1,000 light-years from Earth, discovered

Researchers have discovered a black hole 1,000 light-years from Earth, the closest one known so far.

Dubbed HR 6819, the black hole is invisible. The star system was only spotted after two companion stars provided researchers with information on its whereabouts. It can be seen on a clear night in the Southern Hemisphere without the use of a binocular or telescope, making it the first black hole to be seen without tools.

“We were totally surprised when we realized that this is the first stellar system with a black hole that can be seen with the unaided eye,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Petr Hadrava, Emeritus Scientist at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, in a statement.

This artist’s impression shows the orbits of the objects in the HR 6819 triple system. This system is made up of an inner binary with one star (orbit in blue) and a newly discovered black hole (orbit in red), as well as a third object, another star, in a wider orbit (also in blue). The team originally believed there were only two objects, the two stars, in the system. However, as they analyzed their observations, they were stunned when they revealed a third, previously undiscovered body in HR 6819: a black hole, the closest ever found to Earth. (Credit: ESO)

This artist’s impression shows the orbits of the objects in the HR 6819 triple system. This system is made up of an inner binary with one star (orbit in blue) and a newly discovered black hole (orbit in red), as well as a third object, another star, in a wider orbit (also in blue). The team originally believed there were only two objects, the two stars, in the system. However, as they analyzed their observations, they were stunned when they revealed a third, previously undiscovered body in HR 6819: a black hole, the closest ever found to Earth. (Credit: ESO)

The star system is located in the Telescopium constellation, which was first discovered in 1751–52 by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

After looking at the system, the researchers found that one of the stars was orbiting the black hole every 40 days, thanks to the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.

“The observations needed to determine the period of 40 days had to be spread over several months,” one of the study’s co-authors, Dietrich Baade, added. “This was only possible thanks to ESO’s pioneering service-observing scheme under which observations are made by ESO staff on behalf of the scientists needing them.”

Though the black hole itself is invisible (as all black holes are) and does not have violent interactions with objects around it, the researchers are nonetheless certain it’s there.

“An invisible object with a mass at least 4 times that of the Sun can only be a black hole,” concluded the study’s lead author, Thomas Rivinius.

There are a number of black holes in the Milky Way galaxy, but the discovery of this one, 1,000 light-years away, suggests there could be many more than have yet to be discovered. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.

“There must be hundreds of millions of black holes out there, but we know about only very few. Knowing what to look for should put us in a better position to find them,” Rivinius added.

One such system that’s under consideration is LB-1, which may also be a triple star system, according to study co-author Marianne Heida.

“LB-1 is a bit [farther] away from Earth but still pretty close in astronomical terms, so that means that probably many more of these systems exist,” Heida said in the statement. “By finding and studying them we can learn a lot about the formation and evolution of those rare stars that begin their lives with more than about 8 times the mass of the Sun and end them in a supernova explosion that leaves behind a black hole.”

The research was published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Space Force releases recruitment video: ‘Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet’

Here are the details on how Space Force came to be and what to expect from it, going forward.

The Space Force released a recruitment video on Wednesday.

The branch posted the video to Twitter, telling potential cadets: “Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet.”

The video is aimed to inspire men and women to join and protect the United States and its interest “in space and to provide space capabilities.”United States Space Force@SpaceForceDoD

Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet.https://go.usa.gov/xvwZ9 

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The Space Force became the sixth branch of the U.S. military in December 2019 and welcomed its first class of cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation in late April.

President Trump authorized the act to create the Space Force at the end of last year. The last time a branch of the armed forces was added was in 1947 when the Air Force split from the Army.

The Space Force operates under the Department of the Air Force, much like how the Marine Corps operates under the Department of the Navy.

The newest 86 officers to join will be sent for space training at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, while others will fill positions relating to cyberspace operations and intelligence.

The newest recruitment video posted Wednesday ends with a recruit looking to the stars as the narrator says: “Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet.”

Twitter has been quick to compare the Space Force to “Star Wars” and “The Last Star Fighter.”United States Space Force@SpaceForceDoD · 

Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet.https://go.usa.gov/xvwZ9 

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Santa Claus, CEO@SantaInc

You guys should’ve just posted the trailer to “The Last Starfighter” (1984).

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President Trump is expected to pick a location for where the new Space Force headquarters will be by the end of the year.

Tom Cruise, NASA teaming up on film to be shot in outer space, space agency’s administrator says

Just when it seems Tom Cruise has conquered every feat in Hollywood, he has another trick up his sleeve.

The 57-year-old movie icon is working with NASA to develop a film shot in outer space aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the news on Twitter on Tuesday.

Tom Cruise. 

Tom Cruise.  (Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

“NASA is excited to work with @TomCruise on a film aboard the @Space_Station,” the tweet read. “We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make @NASA’s ambitious plans a reality.”

The tweet also contained a picture of the International Space Station.Jim Bridenstine@JimBridenstine

NASA is excited to work with @TomCruise on a film aboard the @Space_Station! We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make @NASA’s ambitious plans a reality.

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While Cruise routinely engages in risky stunts for the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, Deadline reported that this film will not be associated with those movies and that Elon Musk’s SpaceX is also in the mix.

In past “Mission: Impossible” installments, Cruise performed daring stunts such as hanging off the side of a jet plane and scaling skyscrapers.

Tom Cruise hangs from a helicopter in 'Mission: Impossible Fallout.'

Tom Cruise hangs from a helicopter in ‘Mission: Impossible Fallout.’ (Paramount Pictures)

According to Deadline, which first reported the news, the film is “in the early stages of liftoff.” As of right now, no film studio is on board, per the outlet.

Cruise has been nominated for three Academy Awards throughout his career and is set to appear in the sequel to his hit flick “Top Gun,” which is scheduled to debut in December.

Reps for Cruise and SpaceX did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

Asteroid has close encounter with geosynchronous satellite

A small asteroid had a close encounter with a satellites in geosynchronous orbit this week

A small asteroid had a close encounter with a satellites in geosynchronous orbit this week

A small asteroid came within a cosmic hairbreadth of the ring of communications satellites circling the Earth in geosynchronous orbit this week. Passing by our planet at an altitude of about 35,000 km (22,000 mi), the object measuring four to eight meters (13 to 20 ft) in diameter whizzed past the nearest satellite on April 28, 2020, at 18:49 GMT at a distance of about 1,200 km (750 mi) on one of the closest Earth flybys ever recorded.

When we think of the danger that asteroids pose to the Earth, we usually think of one crashing into the planet like the one that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but as we become more of a spacefaring species dependent on orbital satellites, such asteroids can potentially cause a lot of damage even if they pass well clear of Earth.

Geosynchronous or geostationary satellites sit in an orbital band above the equator where their orbital period is equal to the rotation of the Earth, meaning that they always remain over the same spot. These satellites form the backbone of the orbital telecommunications system and mission planners go to great length to make sure that the spacecraft don’t interfere with one another.

Trajectory of 2020 HS7
Trajectory of 2020 HS7

However, sometimes unexpected hazards can appear quite suddenly. According to ESA, on April 26 (European time) an object was seen by NASA’s Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii. Originally unidentified, the object was observed again the next night and given the temporary name of P20Zlf8 – later changed to its current moniker of 2020 HS7.

2020 HS7 was more than another asteroid to be entered into the books. Calculations showed that it had a 10-percent chance of colliding with the Earth, so space scientists became immediately interested. Less than an hour after the first report was released, Xingming Observatory in China charted its position, trajectory, and brightness. These observations were then refined by the Tautenburg Observatory in Germany.

The good news was that 2020 HS7 wasn’t going to collide with Earth after all, and even if it did, it was so small that it would burn up in the atmosphere. However, it was going to come uncomfortably close to the geosynchronous orbital ring. The measured 1,200 km (746 mi) from the nearest satellite may seem like a long distance, but on a cosmic scale, it’s like dodging a bullet by the width of a hair.

ESA says that the passage of 2020 HS7d provided scientists with an exercise in quickly and accurately tracking and characterizing new asteroids, as well as coordinating follow-up observations for extremely precise measurements, confirming that 2020 HS7 is one of the 50 closest objects ever recorded to fly by the Earth.

A small asteroid the size of a bus will fly safely by Earth today

Asteroid 2020 JA will pass at a range halfway to the moon.

A newly discovered asteroid about the size of a bus will zip safely by Earth today (May 3), passing at a distance just over halfway to the moon. 

The asteroid 2020 JA will fly by Earth at a range of about 148,000 miles (238,000 kilometers) when it passes today. That’s about 0.62 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. (The moon is about 239,000 miles, or 385,000 km, on average.)

Asteroid 2020 JA is between 31 and 72 feet wide (9.6 to 22 meters), according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies. NASA’s Asteroid Watch widget listed the asteroid’s diameter as about 40 feet (12 m) and compared its size to a city bus.

This NASA graphic shows the path of asteroid 2020 JA, a newfound bus-sized space rock that will fly safely by Earth at a distance of 148,000 miles on May 3, 2020.
This NASA graphic shows the path of asteroid 2020 JA, a newfound bus-sized space rock that will fly safely by Earth at a distance of 148,000 miles on May 3, 2020. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project in Ceccano, Italy captured an image of 2020 JA with a telescope. In the image, the asteroid appears as a tiny point of light in a star field.

Small asteroids like 2020 JA zip by Earth several times a month, and typically pose no risk to our planet, NASA officials have said. For example, a tiny asteroid called 2020 HS7 passed Earth at a distance of 23,000 miles (36,400 km) on April 28 but posed no risk of impact.

Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi captured this image of the newfound asteroid 2020 JA from Ceccano, Italy on May 2, 2020. The asteroid fly within 148,000 miles of Earth on May 3.
Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi captured this image of the newfound asteroid 2020 JA from Ceccano, Italy on May 2, 2020. The asteroid fly within 148,000 miles of Earth on May 3. (Image credit: Virtual Telescope Project/Gianluca Masi)

Scientists with NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office regularly track near-Earth objects like comets and asteroids to search for potential impact threats to our planet. To date, astronomers have found 22,776 near-Earth objects, more than 95% of them discovered through NASA-funded surveys, the agency has said. 

George Gilder, the most accurate technology prophet on earth, reveals shocking announcement every American must hear.SEE MORE

New asteroids like 2020 H7 and  2020 JA are being discovered all the time at a rate of 30 each day, NASA has said.

‘Zombie satellite’ that has been orbiting earth since 1967 discovered by Amateur Radio Operator

A “zombie satellite” orbiting earth since 1967 when it was launched by the U.S. military, has been discovered by a radio enthusiast.

NPR reports that the discovery was made by amateur radio operator Scott Tilley, who lives in British Columbia, Canada.

“Well folks, here’s what appears to be a new ZOMBIE SAT!” Tilley tweeted on March 24. Satellite LES-5, he explained, is in a “GEO [Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit] graveyard orbit.”

Tilley also noted subsequent passes by LES-5.Scott Tilley@coastal8049 · 

Well folks, here’s what appears to be a new ZOMBIE SAT!

LES-5 [2866, 1967-066E] in a GEO graveyard orbit.

Confirmation will occur at ~0445 UTC this evening when the satellite should pass through eclipse.

If so this is definitely the oldest emitting GEOsat I know of.

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Scott Tilley@coastal8049

https://twitter.com/coastal8049/status/1247079046103498759 …Scott Tilley@coastal8049LES-5 has set behind the mountains to my east thus concluding data collection.

Here’s the final full pass summary.

Decoding of the telemetry data will occur over the next few days.
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Graveyard orbit — where old satellites go to die —  is about 22,400 miles above the earth, according to NASA, which notes that this is almost 200 miles farther from our planet than the farthest active satellites.

Satellite illustration.

Satellite illustration. (iStock)

The U.N.’s Online Index of Objects Launched Into Outer Space, lists LES-5 as being in geosynchronous orbit.

LES-5 launched on July 1, 1967, according to NASA. Built by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, the satellite was part of the Department of Defense’s Tri-Service Program 591.

Citing data from the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), Geospatial World reported that almost 5,000 satellites orbited around the earth at the start of 2019.

Comet disintegrates in remarkable pictures captured by NASA’s Hubble space telescope

NASA’s Hubble space telescope has captured incredible images of a comet’s disintegration.

Comet C/2019 Y4 (Atlas) was discovered in 2019 by the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) robotic astronomical survey system in Hawaii, according to the European Space Center, which is NASA’s Hubble partner.

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The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captured images of the breakup of Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS).

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captured images of the breakup of Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). (NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA), Q. Ye [University of Maryland])

“It brightened quickly until mid-March, and some astronomers initially anticipated that it might be visible to the naked eye in May to become one of the most spectacular comets seen in the last two decades,” the ESA explained in a statement. “However, the comet abruptly began to get dimmer, leading astronomers to speculate that the icy core may be fragmenting, or even disintegrating.”

Hubble observed the comet’s breakup on April 20 and April 23.

The comet's disintegration captured on April 20, 2020. (NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA), Q. Ye [University of Maryland])

The comet’s disintegration captured on April 20, 2020. (NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA), Q. Ye [University of Maryland])

“Their appearance changes substantially between the two days, so much so that it’s quite difficult to connect the dots,”said UCLA Professor David Jewitt, leader of one of two teams who imaged the comet with Hubble, in a statement.“I don’t know whether this is because the individual pieces are flashing on and off as they reflect sunlight, acting like twinkling lights on a Christmas tree, or because different fragments appear on different days.”

The comet was approximately 91 million miles from Earth when its disintegration was captured by Hubble, according to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which manages the telescope. “If any of it survives, the comet will make its closest approach to Earth on May 23 at a distance of about 72 million miles (116 million kilometers), and eight days later it will skirt past the Sun at 25 million miles (40 million kilometers),” it said in a statement.

The comet's disintegration captured on April 23, 2020. (NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA), Q. Ye [University of Maryland])

The comet’s disintegration captured on April 23, 2020. (NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA), Q. Ye [University of Maryland])

Hubble, which was launched into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery April 24, 1990, recently celebrated 30 years in space. Over the course of three decades, the orbiting telescope has provided a wealth of discoveries.

Meteor Impact Leaves Giant Crater in Africa, Creates Ejecta Blast Zone

April 16, 2020: A meteor impacted the earth in Akure, Nigeria at an angle of 43 degrees on March 28, 2020. The space rock left a large crater and created an ejecta blast zone that damaged many structures.

A Professor of Geophysics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife has debunked the explanation given by Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and the police for the deafening blast experienced early on Saturday near Akure.

Professor Adekunle Abraham Adepelumi, after leading a research team to the site said emphatically it was caused by a meteorite.

The P.M.News first reported that the blast, which left a crater on its trail, and destroyed several buildings, was caused by a meteorite.

Governor Akeredolu at the scene of the Akure explosion on Saturday. He said it was caused by a vehicle carrying explosives

However, Governor Akeredolu and the Police Commissioner Undie Adie attributed the blast to an exploded truck carrying dynamites for a quarry based in Edo state.

Akeredolu even said the truck sank with the impact of the blast.

Professor Adepelumi’s team has given a scientific explanation about what really happened.

The research group did a detailed analysis of the explosion site.

” My research group carried out a detailed analysis of the impact site. A circular impact crater with 21m diameter and 7.8m depth was found which suggest a natural phenomenon.

“Water was found oozing out from the edges of the crater.

“The field evidence point to a conclusion that A METEORIC FROM AN ASTEROID BELT THAT TRAVELS AT A GREAT SPEED FROM SPACE IMPACTED THE LOCATION AT AN ANGLE OF 43 degrees created an ejecta at South-Western part.

“A preliminary insitu vibration, noise, seismicity, water analysis, radioactivity studies, rock and soil investigation were carried out.

“Our findings suggest that the impact of the blasting covers 1 km radius of the surroundings of the crater.

“No evidence of fire or burning of anything was found within the vicinity. No evidence of radioactivity radiation was found within the crater and immediate vicinity.

“The field evidence point to a conclusion that A METEORIC FROM AN ASTEROID BELT THAT TRAVELS AT A GREAT SPEED FROM SPACE IMPACTED THE LOCATION AT AN ANGLE OF 43 degrees created an ejecta at South-Western part.

“No evidence of buried vehicle, buried ordinance or IED was found. However, crack opening that vary in thickness from 3mm to 4metres occurs on the wall of most of the buildings but not at the base of the buildings.

“Also, foreign rocks and strange metallic objects were found within the crater. Most of the destruction occurs on top and roof/ceilings of the buildings.”

NASA reveals surprising odds of asteroid ending life on Earth

NASA has revealed the chances of an asteroid hitting Earth and also offered some insight into where a major space rock might fall.

NASA: Expert says ‘little can be done’ about large asteroids

NASA has revealed the chances of an asteroid hitting Earth, and the space agency reiterates the fact that it is always a risk.

The space agency stated the chances of an asteroid big enough to destroy a city is 0.1 percent in any given year.

However, if one of these rocks were to be on a collision course with Earth, the likelihood is that it will hit water, with NASA stating it is 70 percent more likely to hit water than land.

Even if it does hit land, according to the space agency, there is a 20 percent chance it will hit an unpopulated area.

asteroid

Asteroid warning: NASA reveals shocking odds of asteroid ending life on Earth (Image: GETTY)

asteroid

The space agency stated the chances of an asteroid big enough to destroy a city is 0.1 percent in any given year (Image: GETTY)

The asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs around 66 million years ago was believed to be up to 16 kilometres wide.

Previous research from the University of Berkley, California, believes there is evidence to suggest that non-avian dinosaurs survived around 30,000 years afterwards, and they eventually went extinct due to the 100,000 years of drastic climate change caused by the impact.

Others, however, believe the beasts died out in a matter of months.

Palaeontologist Ken Lacovara previously said: “They died suddenly and were buried quickly.

asteroid

The threat of asteroids will always remain (Image: GETTY)

“It tells us this is a moment in geological time. That’s days, weeks, maybe months.”

However, NASA has revealed that a much smaller asteroid has the ability to cause chaos on the planet.

The space agency said a space rock of just a kilometre wide has the potential to case chaos across the planet.

NASA said: “An individual’s chance of being killed by a meteorite is small, but the risk increases with the size of the impacting comet or asteroid, with the greatest risk associated with global catastrophes resulting from impacts of objects larger than 1 kilometre.”

ESA

The hunt for asteroids (Image: ESA)

However, the space agency moved to reassure frightened minds, stating it is not predicting a major asteroid strike of that size for several centuries.

The space boffins said: “NASA knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small.

“In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.”

NASA has made great strides in discovering near-Earth objects that are over one kilometre in size, with 90 percent now accounted for.

However, this means there are still 10 percent of dangerous asteroids which have not been spotted.

Small asteroid zips safely by Earth just ahead of a larger space rock’s flyby

A small newfound asteroid gave Earth a close shave today (April 28) on the event of another flyby by a much larger space rock, according to NASA. 

The asteroid, called 2020 HS7, is between 13 and 24 feet (4 to 8 meters) in size and passed Earth at a distance of 23,000 miles (36,400 kilometers) when it made its closest approach at 2:51 p.m. EDT (1851 GMT). That range is close to the orbits of some geosynchronous satellites about 22,000 miles (36,000 km) above Earth.ADVERTISING

While that sounds close, there was never any risk to our planet, NASA officials said.

“Small asteroids like 2020 HS7 safely pass by Earth a few times per month,” NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson,  the program executive for the Planetary Defense Coordination Office at agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, said in a statement. “It poses no threat to our planet, and even if it were on a collision path with Earth it is small enough that it would be disintegrated by our Earth’s atmosphere.”

Webcast: See the huge asteroid 1998 OR2 live tonight from Slooh!

This NASA graphic shows the orbit of the newfound asteroid 2020 HS7, which passed safely by Earth on April 28, 2020.
This NASA graphic shows the path of the newfound asteroid 2020 HS7, which passed safely by Earth on April 28, 2020 at a distance of 23,000 miles (36,400 km). (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Asteroid 2020 HS7’s flyby comes just one day before the close approach of a much bigger space rock: the asteroid 1998 OR2. That space rock will pass Earth early Wednesday, April 29, at 5:55 a.m. EDT (0955 GMT).

With a diameter of about 1.5 miles (2 km), asteroid 1998 OR2 is much larger than 2020 HS7, but it’s also passing Earth at a much greater distance — about 3.9 million miles (6.9 million km). That’s about 16 times the distance between the Earth and the moon (about 239,000 miles, or 385,000 km). Click here for more Space.com videos…Asteroid 1998 OR2 will safely fly by Earth – NASA explains

Despite its size, asteroid 1998 OR2 is too small and dim to be seen with the unaided eye. But you can see it through telescopes tonight thanks to a webcast from Slooh.com

The webcast, which you can also see here courtesy of Slooh, begins at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) and will last an hour.

Scientists at NASA and around the world regularly track asteroids that come close to the Earth in order to identify ones that might one day endanger our planet. These so-called “near-Earth objects” are ones that approach within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million km). 

To date, astronomers have discovered 22,776 near-Earth objects, and new ones are being found at a rate of 30 each day, NASA officials said. More than 95% of those objects were found through NASA-funded surveys, they added.

UFO video? Pentagon releases footage of ‘unidentified aerial phenomena,’ but says it’s not out of the ordinary

Pentagon releases footage of ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’

Raw video: The UFOs were spotted in 2004 and 2015 prior to the footage being unclassified by the Pentagon.

The Pentagon on Monday released unclassified footage showing “unidentified aerial phenomena” captured by Navy aircraft that had circulated in the public for years.

The videos showing the UFOs were initially released by the Stars Academy of Arts & Science in 2017 and 2018 and were acknowledged by the Navy. One was taken in November 2004 and the other two were captured in January 2015.

“After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems, and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena,” said Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough.

“DOD is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos,” Gough added. “The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified.’”

The 2004 incident occurred 100 miles out into the Pacific Ocean when two Navy pilots on a training mission were dispatched to investigate objects being tracked by a Navy cruiser for two weeks prior. The pilots found one oval-shaped aircraft hovering 50 feet above the water that quickly descended and fled when they moved closer.

“It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” one pilot told the New York Times.

When they were on their way to their rendezvous point 60 miles away, they were radioed by the ship that the object had been was there and had traveled the distance in less than a minute.

“Sir, you won’t believe it,” the radio operator said, “but that thing is at your cap point.”

The two other videos captured objects moving swiftly through the air.

“Dude, this is a f–king drone, bro,” a pilot says on the video.

Former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the footage “scratches the surface of research and materials” made available by the Pentagon.

“I’m glad the Pentagon is finally releasing this footage, but it only scratches the surface of research and materials available,” Reid tweeted Monday. “The U.S. needs to take a serious, scientific look at this and any potential national security implications. The American people deserve to be informed.”Senator Harry Reid@SenatorReid

I’m glad the Pentagon is finally releasing this footage, but it only scratches the surface of research and materials available. The U.S. needs to take a serious, scientific look at this and any potential national security implications. The American people deserve to be informed. https://twitter.com/CBSNews/status/1254802527595515906 …CBS News✔@CBSNewsPentagon formally releases 3 Navy videos showing “unidentified aerial phenomena”

The former lawmaker has been a vocal supporter of investigating UFOs. At his urging, the Defense Department secretly created a program more than a decade ago to investigate UFO sightings.

Last year, the Navy overhauled its process to allow pilots to report sightings in an effort to destigmatize the reporting of them.

“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 at the time. “As part of this effort, the Navy is updating and formalizing the process by which reports of any such suspected incursions can be made to the cognizant authorities.”

President Trump said he was briefed on Navy pilots reported sightings of UFOs but remained skeptical.

“I was struck in the last few couple of weeks, we’re reading more and more reports of Navy pilots seeing lots and lots of UFOs,” ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos said to Trump during an interview in the Oval Office last year. “Have you been briefed on that? What do you make of it?”

“I want them to think whatever they think,” Trump replied, referring to the Navy pilots. “I did have one very brief meeting on it. But people are saying they’re seeing UFOs. Do I believe it? Not particularly.”

What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: April 27 – May 3, 2020

Venus will be just 27% illuminated this week, but despite that its brightness will be an incredible sight.
Venus will be just 27% illuminated this week, but despite that its brightness will be an incredible … [+] TOM KERSS

Monday, April 27, 2020: Venus at peak brightness

It’s been a dazzling sight for all of 2020 so far, and tonight Venus will reach its peak brightness of magnitude -4.7. “Since it is coming between us and the Sun, it’s showing us more of its night side, becoming a mesmerizing crescent shape in telescopes,” says Tom Kerss, a British astronomy and science communicator who hosts the weekly Star Signs: Go Stargazing! podcast. “Even a small telescope will reveal Venus to be shaped like a tiny crescent moon.” The phenomenon is nothing less than the original observational proof that the planets orbit the Sun and not the Earth.

Tonight it will be 27% illuminated, but despite that, its brightness will be an incredible sight. “It’ll continue to be dazzling in the west after sunset for the next month, so it’s a great time to look out for our nearest planetary neighbour,” says Kerss. Look west after sunset to see Venus at its very best, and if you have a small telescope of a big pair of binoculars, use them! Venus is quickly dipping as it moves rapidly towards the Sun from our point of view; it will be completely invisible by the end of May. 

How To See A ‘Starlink Train’ From Your Home This Week As SpaceX Satellites Swarm The Night Sky

ann19035a
An image of the NGC 5353/4 galaxy group made with a telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, USA … [+] VICTORIA GIRGIS/LOWELL OBSERVATO

You’ve heard about the Starlink satellites? They’re so controversial. Designed by SpaceX to create internet access to everywhere on the planet, the ultimate plan is for a massive constellation of 42,000 satellites.

This week they’re bringing a light show like no other to the night skies over Western Europe as dozens of satellites cross one after another over the course of around four hours.

No one foresaw that the first few batches—and there are only 362 up there so far—would be so darned visible. In fact, some are proving to be briefly brighter than the planet Venus.

The “trains” are about 30 satellites. Ironically, Starlink is getting people to look up at the night sky while many are concerned that the very same phenomenon is a threat to it.

Here’s a summary of where we are with Starlink:

  • Environmentalists don’t want more space junk—an argument bolstered by the impending bankruptcy of SpaceX’s rival OneWeb, who has similar plans (and just launched its first 74 satellites).
  • And stargazers? They just want to see a “Starlink Train”.

Whatever your opinion on whether they are a positive or a negative, here’s exactly when to get outside this week, look up, and see one of the most incredible sights of your life—a seemingly never-ending train of super-bright satellites.

How to see the Starlink satellites train

With stargazing from homes, gardens, backyards and windows becoming a popular pastime in these times of lockdown, everyone’s going to want to see a Starlink train. This week, if you’re in Western Europe, it’s easy; you just go outside and look-up to see them travel from west to east.

You don’t any equipment, just your naked eyes and some patience—Starlink trains can be up to 10 minutes “late.”

When to see the Starlink satellites train

To find out exactly when a Starlink train will be visible from your precise location, visit the Find Starlink website (or the “Find Starlink Satellites” app) and just enter your location. It prioritises bright passes of newly-launched satellites—that’s important (some are very dim)— and even gives a live map of where they are now.

You can also get detailed information from the reliable Heavens Above website, which gives comprehensive information on every single Starlink satellite, and even includes a skychart for each individual pass.

SpaceX Readies For Sixth Starlink Launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the sixth batch of Starlink satellites for a planned constellation … [+] NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

Why are Starlink satellites so bright?

Their solar panels are glinting, but there’s actually a huge variation in their brightness. It’s all about angles—your exact position, the satellite’s trajectory, and precisely how far below the horizon the Sun is when the satellite passes.

However, despite the controversy, Starlink satellites are only densely packed and bright—and therefore easy to see—in the first few months after their launch. As their orbits raise, so their brightness greatly reduces.

Is Starlink a terrible blow to modern astronomy? It’s possible. But there’s no doubting that the rise of the “Starlink Trains” is also an unmissable stargazing event.

So get outside and #LookUpLockDown!

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

NASA reveals stunning ‘Cosmic Reef’ blasting to life in nearby galaxy

Two bright nebulas in a galaxy 163,000 light-years away are very pregnant with stars.

Two nebulas burst to life in the next-door galaxy.

Two young nebulas burst to life in the galaxy next-door.(Image: © NASA, ESA and STScI)

Young stars blaze to life in a nearby galaxy, repainting their cosmic neighborhood with fiery blooms of gas and radiation.

This new Hubble Space Telescope image captures just another day in the life of two young nebulas (one red, one blue) in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way located about 163,000 light-years away. But for scientists and space enthusiasts on Earth, the image also marks a special anniversary. Thirty years ago today (April 24), the Hubble launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin its long mission of peering into the deepest reaches of space.ADVERTISING

While the Hubble has since homed in on galaxies from the earliest days of the universe, the telescope didn’t have to look too far to capture this stunning starscape. As a satellite of the Milky Way, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is close enough to be caught in the thrall of our galaxy’s gravity, and it inches a little bit closer to our galaxy every year. (Scientists actually think the neighboring galaxy will crash into ours in the next few billion years or so.)

With about 5% the mass of the Milky Way, the LMC contains many regions where baby stars are still actively forming. The nebulas shown in this Hubble image represent two such “stellar nurseries,” according to a statement from NASA.

These baby stars are big — at least 10 times more massive than Earth’s sun — and they’re bright. The star at the center of the blue nebula in the bottom left corner of the image is about 200,000 times brighter than our sun, Jennifer Wiseman, a senior scientist on the Hubble Project, said in a video accompanying the image.

“Powerful radiation from these stars is causing the surrounding gas to glow in stunning colors,” Wiseman said. “Those massive stars are also driving powerful winds of charged particles, which are sculpting out the bubble and ridge structures we can see across the nebula.”

NASA researchers have nicknamed this image the “Cosmic Reef” for its resemblance to a coral reef in Earth’s oceans — bursting with color and life, but hidden just beyond the reach of human sight.

Big asteroid shows itself ahead of Earth flyby on April 29 (photo)

We have nothing to fear from 1998 OR2.

The Arecibo Observatory captured this radar image of the big asteroid 1998 OR2 on April 18, 2020. 1998 OR2 will fly by Earth at a distance of 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) on April 29.

The Arecibo Observatory captured this radar image of the big asteroid 1998 OR2 on April 18, 2020. 1998 OR2 will fly by Earth at a distance of 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) on April 29.(Image: © Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF)

We’ve now got a good visual on the big space rock that’s going to fly by Earth next week.

On Saturday (April 18), the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico captured a radar image of the asteroid 1998 OR2, which will zoom within 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) of our planet on April 29. 

For perspective: The moon orbits Earth at an average distance of about 239,000 miles (385,000 km). So we have nothing to fear from asteroid 1998 OR2’s Earth flyby on April 29, scientists stress.

Arecibo team members have been wearing masks in the workplace to help minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus, and they apparently see a bit of themselves in the approaching space rock.

“#TeamRadar and the @NAICobservatory staff are taking the proper safety measures as we continue observations. This week we have been observing near-Earth asteroid 1998 OR2, which looks like it’s wearing a mask! It’s at least 1.5 km across and is passing 16 lunar distances away!” team members tweeted on Saturday via the @AreciboRadar account. (@AreciboRadar is not an official Arecibo account. But @NAICobservatory is, and it retweeted the April 18 post.)Arecibo Radar@AreciboRadar

#TeamRadar and the @NAICobservatory staff are taking the proper safety measures as we continue observations. This week we have been observing near-Earth asteroid 1998 OR2, which looks like it’s wearing a mask! It’s at least 1.5 km across and is passing 16 lunar distances away!

View image on Twitter

The Arecibo researchers aren’t the only ones keeping an eye on 1998 OR2. For example, Italian astrophysicist Gianluca Masi, who runs the online Virtual Telescope Project, has been tracking the asteroid as well.

And Masi will continue to do so. On April 28, in fact, he will host a live webcast about 1998 OR2 that will feature telescope views of the object. 

Astronomers estimate that 1998 OR2 is between 1.1 and 2.5 miles (1.8 to 4.1 kilometers) wide — big enough that an impact could threaten human civilization. But, to repeat, there is nothing to fear here; the asteroid will miss us by a large margin on April 29. 

Indeed, you should quell any general death-from-above fears that may be running rampant in your head. NASA has found and tracked the vast majority of giant near-Earth asteroids, and none of them pose a threat to Earth for the foreseeable future.

A Million People on Mars May Not Be Wishful Thinking

But colonists would have to change their diets, and learn to eat crickets.

mars-bfrs.jpg
A mini-fleet of Starships wait near a Martian base in this SpaceX artist’s conception. (SpaceX)

Asustainable, self-sufficient population of one million people can be achieved on Mars within 100 years, according to a new modeling study published by Kevin Cannon and Daniel Britt, both at the University of Central Florida. Their study drew on a plan sketched out by Elon Musk of SpaceX, which begins with about 12 people landing on Mars, followed by multiple ships carrying 100 to 200 passengers at every launch opportunity, roughly every 26 months. The population growth is envisioned to be sustained both by immigration and by births on Mars.

Based on Cannon’s and Britt’s analysis, four of the five major “consumables” necessary for a Martian settlement—energy, water, oxygen, and construction material—can be extracted from the Martian surface in economically practical concentrations. Only food is not obtainable from raw materials on Mars. So, how to solve the food problem? The authors suggest growing plants, insect farming, and cellular agriculture.

Plants have often been suggested in the past, but it would be critical to plant high-calorie crops in order to feed so many people. Insect farming would also be well suited, because it can provide large amounts of calories per unit of land. House crickets are especially suitable for this purpose, and are already used in some granola bars today.

Protein-rich foods also could be obtained from cells grown in bioreactors. Interestingly, clean fish may be favored over cell-grown meats on Mars, because the cultures could be maintained at colder temperatures (closer to 20 degrees Celsius) as compared to the 37 degrees needed for warm-blooded animal cells.

I find these ideas and extrapolations very intriguing. But living on Mars might not be as easy as it seems, even with further progress in technology. Growing plants in Martian soil may be quite a challenge, with perchlorates and other chemicals abundant in sediments found on the Red Planet. In fact, in another study involving the same authors, plants quickly died and earthworms suffocated in a simulated soil similar to the one found on Mars.

Then we have to consider biology. It is far from clear that humans can easily bear children on Mars, considering that Martian gravity is only 38 percent of what we experience on Earth. The human body is adapted to terrestrial conditions, and unexpected complications may result when a basic physical constant is only a third of what we humans are used to. Martian farmers might face other problems, including unfamiliar crop diseases that wipe out their harvests and result in major starvation on Mars.

On the upside, technologies for efficient, sustainable food production on Mars could have benefits for the many more people adapting to climate change back on Earth, and so could prove invaluable for our entire civilization.

Musk’s vision of a million people on Mars is likely not in our immediate future. But it may have gotten more plausible following recent recommendations by a NASA Planetary Protection Independent Review Board, which may lead to lower sterilization requirements for landing in certain regions on Mars where no indigenous life is expected. If people do arrive in passenger ships on Mars and start setting up house, these are the locations we would expect them to settle.

New Study Could Explain How ‘Oumuamua Got Its Bizarre Shape

Interstellar object ‘Oumuamua’s past may have been more violent than we know. New simulations reveal the peculiar chunk of space rock could have been torn apart by a star – reforming into the cigar-shape we know and love today – before being flung willy-nilly out across the galaxy.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

If this is indeed how ‘Oumuamua formed, the new results could answer some of our most burning questions about the more peculiar properties of this pointy space traveller.

‘Oumuamua is primarily famous for being the first rock identified as entering the Solar System from elsewhere – our first known interstellar visitor. We first became aware of it in October 2017, but it wasn’t long before its other peculiarities became apparent.

First, there’s the shape. Most asteroids and comets are sort of potato-like, but ‘Oumuamua is long and thin – its 400-metre (1,300-foot) length is around eight times its breadth. It’s also red in hue, like an asteroid baked by cosmic radiation, dry, and primarily rocky and metallic.

But it was also observed accelerating away from the Sun, faster than could be explained by a gravity assist. That behaviour is more consistent with cometary outgassing, which provides an acceleration boost as volatile ices sublimate when a comet is close to the Sun.

So, it’s still not entirely clear whether ‘Oumuamua is an asteroid or a comet.

Its properties are so unusual that some hypothesised the rock was an alien probe. (There’s absolutely no evidence for that.) Based on its showing up in our Solar System at all, there should be many more objects like ‘Oumuamua out there, in fact. 

Now, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of California, Santa Cruz have determined how the strange object could have formed. Not only is this process completely natural (again, no aliens here), it can explain some of ‘Oumuamua’s odder properties.

“We showed that ‘Oumuamua-like interstellar objects can be produced through extensive tidal fragmentation during close encounters of their parent bodies with their host stars, and then ejected into interstellar space,” said astronomer and astrophysicist Douglas Lin of UC Santa Cruz.

Tidal interactions are the gravitational interactions between two bodies. When a small body approaches a larger body – like a star, or a black hole, or even a large planet – the intense gravity can pull it apart in a process called tidal disruption. An apropos example would be the tidal disruption Jupiter wreaked on comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1992.

Shoemaker-Levy 9 flew apart into chunks that collided with Jupiter, but the high-resolution simulations performed by Lin and his colleague Yun Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences showed that, when a star is involved, a very different outcome is possible.

tidal oumuamua(NAOC/Y. Zhang)

First, an object flying at just the right distance from the star – a chunk of rock, such as a planetesimal – is fragmented as the tidal stresses pull it apart. Then, as it swings around, these fragments melt and stretch into an elongated configuration. Finally, as it moves away from the star, it recombines, cools and hardens into a crust that gives the newly reformed object structural stability.

This heating and cooling could explain some of the other ‘Oumuamua’s properties, too.

“Heat diffusion during the stellar tidal disruption process also consumes large amounts of volatiles, which not only explains ‘Oumuamua’s surface colours and the absence of visible coma, but also elucidates the inferred dryness of the interstellar population,” Zhang said.

“Nevertheless, some high-sublimation-temperature volatiles buried under the surface, like water ice, can remain in a condensed form.”

As ‘Oumuamua tumbled across the cold depths of interstellar space, these volatiles would remain locked inside; but, when it neared our Sun, the heat could have induced an outgassing event to produce the observed acceleration.

The team’s scenario could also produce many more objects like ‘Oumuamua, accounting for the population of many interstellar asteroids astronomers predicted.

“On average, each planetary system should eject in total about a hundred trillion objects like ‘Oumuamua,” Zhang said. “The tidal fragmentation scenario not only provides a way to form one single ‘Oumuamua, but also accounts for the vast population of asteroid-like interstellar objects.”

At the moment, we still don’t have hard answers. We know ‘Oumuamua must have formed somehow, since it exists. This new research represents one way that could have happened, while answering some puzzles along the way. But more information is just around the corner.

Since the discovery of ‘Oumuamua, a second interstellar object – the comet 2I/Borisov – was identified last year. It’s expected that, as our technological capabilities advance, we will find many more interstellar objects visiting our Solar System.

Perhaps they will be able to reveal ‘Oumuamua’s secrets, too.

The research has been published in Nature Astronomy.

Astronaut Mike Massimino describes the isolation of space, offers corona-virus quarantine, lock-down advice

Former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino experienced both quarantine and isolation during his two trips to space on the space shuttle.

“We went into quarantine before our missions so that we wouldn’t get sick,” he told Fox News, explaining that he and his fellow astronauts spent about a week in quarantine before his spaceflights in 2002 and 2009.

He also experienced the isolation of space during four spacewalks that spanned just over 30 hours. “It was between seven and eight hours apiece,” he said, noting that, busy at work, his mind was fully occupied on each of the spacewalks. “I was always thinking. I never got bored.”

Massimino did, however, get a chance to admire the view during his spacewalks to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. “It was really beautiful, Hubble is 100 miles higher than the International Space Station – you don’t really see as much detail from that altitude, but you really see the curve of the planet.”

Astronaut Mike Massimino peers into space shuttle Columbia's crew cabin during a brief break in work on the Hubble Space Telescope on March 5, 2002.

Astronaut Mike Massimino peers into space shuttle Columbia’s crew cabin during a brief break in work on the Hubble Space Telescope on March 5, 2002. (NASA)

Long hours underwater in a training pool that simulated the conditions of space also prepared him for the spacewalks, he said.

As the world wrestles with the coronavirus pandemic, astronauts have been describing their experiences of isolation in space. For his part, Massimino said that he never felt alone during his space missions. “You have your crewmates with you, you never feel isolated,” he said.

Now a professor at Columbia University’s School of Engineering, Massimino is teaching his classes via Zoom.

For people struggling with isolation, he has the following advice: “It’s important to keep morale up, keep a good schedule,” he said, noting that hygiene and exercise are important. “Do meaningful things, whether that’s work or hobbies – stay connected with friends.”

Astronaut Mike Massimino is photographed through a window of the Space Shuttle Atlantis - file photo.

Astronaut Mike Massimino is photographed through a window of the Space Shuttle Atlantis – file photo. (NASA)

“Remember, you’re not alone,” he added.

The former astronaut will feature in the Science Channel documentary “Hubble: 30 Years of Discovery,” which premieres on Sunday, April 19, at 8 PM ET/PT.

Massimino also discusses his experiences in space in his book “Spaceman: The True Story of a Young Boy’s Journey to Becoming an Astronaut.” A version of the book geared toward middle-school-age children has just been published. “I talk about things I learned in school as a kid and the importance of having a dream and never giving up,” he told Fox News.

NASA spacecraft dives towards asteroid for sampling dress rehearsal

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this series of images of asteroid Bennu on April 14, 2020, during the first rehearsal of the mission's sample collection event. This animation shows the SamCam instrument's field of view as the spacecraft approached and moved away from the asteroid's surface over a 10-minute time period between the "checkpoint" burn and the "back-away" burn. The spacecraft's sampling arm — called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) — is visible in the central part of the frame.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this series of images of asteroid Bennu on April 14, 2020, during the first rehearsal of the mission’s sample collection event. This animation shows the SamCam instrument’s field of view as the spacecraft approached and moved away from the asteroid’s surface over a 10-minute time period between the “checkpoint” burn and the “back-away” burn. The spacecraft’s sampling arm — called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) — is visible in the central part of the frame. (Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx ((Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) spacecraft is one small step closer to nabbing a precious sample from asteroid Bennu. In a planned practice run, the spacecraft got as low as 246 feet (75 meters) above the asteroid before backing off to return to its normal 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) orbit. It also deployed its sampling arm and collected data to further prepare for the epic opportunity, which will take place Aug. 25.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which is getting ready to scoop a sample of asteroid Bennu, has successfully completed a partial dress rehearsal for its historic trip to the asteroid’s surface.

OSIRIS-REx, which has been orbiting Bennu since 2018, is scheduled to attempt to swoop down to the surface to retrieve a sample of the asteroid four months from now and bring that sample back to Earth in 2023. On Tuesday (April 14), during what NASA calls a “checkpoint rehearsal,” OSIRIS-REx got closer to Bennu’s surface than ever before while practicing the sample collection process.

“This rehearsal let us verify flight system performance during the descent, particularly the autonomous update and execution of the Checkpoint burn,” Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement

Video: OSIRIS-REx gets really close to asteroid Bennu in rehearsal
Related: How NASA’s asteroid sample return mission will work (infographic)

This artist's concept shows the trajectory and configuration of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during the checkpoint rehearsal on April 14, 2020.
This artist’s concept shows the trajectory and configuration of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during the checkpoint rehearsal on April 14, 2020. (Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

In its first practice run, OSIRIS-REx went through two of the four maneuvers it would perform during a real asteroid-sampling attempt: the orbit departure burn and the “checkpoint” burn. 

First, the spacecraft fired its engines to leave its 0.6-mile (1 kilometer) orbit around Bennu and descend closer to the space rock’s surface. About four hours later, when OSIRIS-REx was at an approximate altitude of 410 feet (125 meters), it performed the checkpoint burn, which sent the spacecraft in a trajectory toward the location of its third maneuver, called the “matchpoint” burn. But instead of proceeding to that third step, the spacecraft backed away after a nine-minute descent. It reached an altitude of just 246 feet (75 m) — its closest approach yet — before heading back to orbit. 

Not only did OSIRIS-REx successfully execute these two test maneuvers, but it also practiced deploying its sampling arm, known as the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM. The spacecraft’s cameras and sensors also took advantage of the close approach to collect data on the sampling site, which NASA recently dubbed Nightingale. NASA plans to conduct its first sampling attempt at the Nightingale site on Aug. 25, and the spacecraft is scheduled to begin its 2.5-year journey back to Earth in March 2021.

It’s worth noting that mission controllers were able to execute Tuesday’s rehearsal without any hiccups despite the fact that most NASA employees — along with much of the rest of the world — have been ordered to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The mission team has maximized remote work over the last month of preparations for the Checkpoint rehearsal, as part of the COVID-19 response,” NASA officials said in the statement. “On the day of rehearsal, a limited number of personnel monitored the spacecraft’s telemetry from Lockheed Martin Space’s facility, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Arizona, taking appropriate safety precautions, while the rest of the team performed their roles remotely.”

“Executing this monumental milestone during this time of national crisis is a testament to the professionalism and focus of our team,” Burns added. “It speaks volumes about their ‘can-do’ attitude and hopefully will serve as a bit of good news in these challenging times.”

Mysterious interstellar object ‘Oumuamua gets new origin story

More than two years after it was discovered, the mysterious interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is getting a new origin story.

According to a study published in Nature, ‘Oumuamua – which means “pathfinder” or “scout” in Hawaiian – could have been ripped from a larger object due to gravity from a nearby star.

“We showed that ‘Oumuamua-like interstellar objects can be produced through extensive tidal fragmentation during close encounters of their parent bodies with their host stars, and then ejected into interstellar space,” said study co-author Douglas Lin in a statement.

Artist's illustration of Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever spotted in our solar system.

Artist’s illustration of Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever spotted in our solar system. (M. Kornmesser/ESO)

Lin, along with the other researchers, used computer simulations to show how objects like ‘Oumuamua “can form under the influence of tidal forces like those felt by Earth’s oceans,” according to the statement.

The cigar-shaped ‘Oumuamua, which was first discovered in October 2017, is unlike anything researchers had ever seen before, due to its shape, as well as dry surface. This led to some researchers believing it could be an alien probe, but that is likely not the case, the study’s lead author, Yun Zhang added.

“It is really a mysterious object, but some signs, like its colors and the absence of radio emission, point to ‘Oumuamua being a natural object,” Zhang explained.

study published in November 2018 from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggested it could be “a lightsail of artificial origin” sent from another civilization.

The researcher who discovered ‘Oumuamua, Canadian physicist and astronomer Robert Weryk, said the idea it was from another civilization was just “wild speculation.”

On the back of ‘Oumuamua’s discovery, as well as the second interstellar object, Comet 2I/Borisov, which was discovered in August 2019, it’s likely that there are many more interstellar objects waiting to be discovered.

“The discovery of ‘Oumuamua implies that the population of rocky interstellar objects is much larger than we previously thought,” Zhang explained. “On average, each planetary system should eject in total about a hundred trillion objects like ‘Oumuamua. We need to construct a very common scenario to produce this kind of object.”

U.S. Naval Academy astronomer Matthew Knight, who was not involved in the study but co-leads the ‘Oumuamua International Space Science Institute team, said the study “does a remarkable job of explaining a variety of unusual properties of ‘Oumuamua with a single, coherent model.”

No longer observable by telescopes as of January 2018, many have speculated what ‘Ouamumua is. In addition to the light sail theory, some have theorized that it is a comet or an asteroid.

The mystery about its exact nature deepened in late 2018, when NASA said it had been looking in ‘Ouamumua’s direction for two months but did not originally see it.

Introducing Comet SWAN

April 15, 2020: Warning: This story may give you a sense of déjà vu. A new comet has been discovered, and in late May it will pass by the sun near the orbit of Mercury. No, it’s not Comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4), which is currently falling apart on a similar trajectory. Instead, this is Comet SWAN (C/2020 F8):

cometswan_mm

Michael Mattiazzo of Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia, took the picture on April 13th. “This is a 5 minute exposure through my 11-inch Celestron telescope,” says Mattiazzo. “A visual observation using 15x70mm binoculars gave a magnitude of 8.1.”

Mattiazzo discovered the comet two days earlier when he was looking at data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). It suddenly appeared in images from SOHO’s SWAN instrument. “This is my 8th discovery credit for SWAN comets since 2004 and I do check the data on most days,” says Mattiazzo.

Post-discovery images taken by Italian astronomer Ernest Guido and colleagues confirm that the comet is bright (8th magnitude), green, and has a long tail:

cometswan

“We took this picture on April 11th–the same day Mattiazzo found the comet in SWAN data,” says Guido. “We couldn’t see it from Italy, so we used a remote-controlled 0.1 meter telescope in Australia.”

SOHO’s SWAN instrument was not designed to find comets. Its job is to survey the solar system for hydrogen. When the solar wind blows into a cloud of hydrogen-bearing compounds, the impact produces UV photons that SWAN can photograph.

“For SWAN to see a comet, it means the comet must be producing a fairly significant amount of hydrogen,” explains Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. “This is usually in the form of water-ice.”

“It’s extremely likely that Comet SWAN is in ‘outburst’ mode,” he continues. “That is, some major eruption happened to this otherwise small and faint comet, releasing a massive cloud of hydrogen-rich volatiles. SWAN is picking up on this sudden dump of hydrogen into the inner solar system.”

Click to view an interactive preliminary orbit of Comet SWAN. Credit: Gideon van Buitenen

If the outburst continues, Comet SWAN could become visible to the naked eye next month. Preliminary light curves suggest that it could reach 3rd magnitude–dim, but visible without optics. However, Battams, who correctly predicted the demise of Comet ATLAS, is not so sure.

“I doubt that the comet will maintain its current impressive appearance, and will quite possibly fade away soon,” he says. “But we’ve only been viewing it for a couple of days, so no one knows.”

Comet SWAN is currently located in southern skies, best seen by telescopes in Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa and South America. Preliminary orbital elements are available here. Stay tuned for updates.

Repeating Fast Radio Busts – Evidence of Alien Communication

Even More Repeating Fast Radio Bursts Discovered

In September of 2017, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) in British Columbia commenced operations, looking for signs of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) in our Universe. These rare, brief, and energetic flashes from beyond our galaxy have been a mystery ever since the first was observed a little over a decade ago. Of particular interest are the ones that have been found to repeat, which are even rarer.

Before CHIME began collecting light from the cosmos, astronomers knew of only thirty FRBs. But thanks to CHIME’s sophisticated array of antennas and parabolic mirrors (which are especially sensitive to FRBs) that number has grown to close to 700 (which includes 20 repeaters). According to a new study led by CHIME researchers, this robust number of detections allows for new insights into what causes them.

First detected in 2007, FRBs constitute one of the greatest mysteries facing astronomer today. While this phenomenon is incredibly powerful, temporarily outshining even the brightest galactic pulsars by a factor of about one million, they are also incredibly short-lived (lasting about a millisecond). Even though many have been localized to distant galaxies, astronomers are still not sure what accounts for them.

That is not to say there aren’t a whole lot of theories, which range from them being the result of rotating neutron stars or the collapse of strange star crusts to evidence of extra-terrestrial activity. This latter theory is entertained in part because of the few cases where FRBs were found to repeat. No known natural phenomena can account for this, hence the speculation that it could be a form of communication.

This is the question that an international team led by Emmanuel Fonseca – a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics at McGill University, and part of the McGill Space Institute – sought to address. For the sake of their study, the team relied on data from 9 new repeating FRB sources that were recently detected by CHIME to see what they could infer.

Two Populations

What they found from examining these repeaters confirmed something that astronomers have been theorizing for some time. Essentially, there are two populations of FRBs – repeating and non-repeating – which are likely to be caused by different phenomena and/or in different environments. This can be observed by measuring the level of dispersion, the pulse widths, and the magnetized environment around the FRB’s source.

In the case of dispersion, which is caused by the matter the FRB signals must pass through in order to reach us, the team found that the distribution was the same for repeaters and non-repeaters alike. What this suggests is that the two populations have similar distributions and originate in similar local environments.

CHIME consists of four metal "half-pipes", each one 100 meters long. Image Credit: CHIME/Andre Renard, Dunlap Institute.
CHIME consists of four metal “half-pipes”, each one 100 meters long. Image Credit: CHIME/Andre Renard, Dunlap Institute.

When measuring the pulse widths, however, the team found that the widths are larger for repeaters than non-repeaters. From this, they inferred that the bursts from repeating sources are slightly longer in duration, which could also mean that the two populations have two different emission mechanisms. Last, they measured how light interacts with the magnetic environment (aka. Faraday rotation) around the burst sources.

In the case of two of the new repeaters, they found that their rotations measures were actually lower than the rather high measure obtained from the first known repeater (FRB 121101). This could suggest that both repeaters and non-repeaters originate from not-so-heavily magnetized environments. This would further imply that FBR 121101 was an anomaly, though that remains to be seen.

At this juncture, astronomers are still a long way from determining the causes of FRBs and whether or not they fall into distinct populations. But thanks to the rapid evolution taking place in this field, more and more are being detected all the time, thus increasing the likelihood of a major breakthrough!https://www.youtube.com/embed/voRC5ImEMH4?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

Further Reading: AASNOVAThe Astrophysical Journal Letters