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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incredible images show lightning bolt hitting Russian rocket during launch

Talk about a charge.

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

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

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

Soyuz rocket hit by lightning. (Credit: East2West)

Soyuz rocket hit by lightning. (Credit: East2West)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Heroes! Mario Lopez Hosts Wounded Warrior Project Courage Awards

Real Heroes! Mario Lopez Hosts Wounded Warrior Project Courage Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret NASA plans for Moon base and 37 rocket launches revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA was not immediately available for comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support Wounded Warrior Project this Memorial Day

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

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

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

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New AI sees like a human, filling in the blanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The milky way from Earth.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA LOOKS TO THE MOON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Bezos Blue Origin moon lander

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a developing story — check back for updates.

Whirling ‘Collapsar’ Stars Gave Universe Its Gold

Merging neutron stars generated the bulk of the rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Luxury Space Hotel’ to Launch in 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Ready for Space Day?

Are You Ready for Space Day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources
+ NASA Edspace Web site

+ NASA TV

+ KOL Expeditions

+ Space Day Web site

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

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

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

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