China’s Lunar Rover Has Found Something Weird on the Far Side of the Moon

Tracks made by Yutu-2 while navigating hazards during lunar day 8, which occurred during late July and early August 2019.

Tracks made by Yutu-2 while navigating hazards during lunar day 8, which occurred during late July and early August 2019.

China’s Chang’e-4 lunar rover has discovered an unusually colored, ‘gel-like’ substance during its exploration activities on the far side of the moon.

The mission’s rover, Yutu-2, stumbled on that surprise during lunar day 8. The discovery prompted scientists on the mission to postpone other driving plans for the rover, and instead focus its instruments on trying to figure out what the strange material is.

Day 8 started on July 25; Yutu-2 began navigating a path through an area littered with various small impact craters, with the help and planning of drivers at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, according to a Yutu-2 ‘drive diary’ published on Aug. 17 by the government-sanctioned Chinese-language publication Our Space, which focuses on space and science communication.

Related: Chang’e 4 in Pictures: China’s Mission to the Moon’s Far SideClick here for more Space.com videos…China’s Historic Moon Landing Captured by Probe’s CameraVolume 0%

On July 28, the Chang’e-4 team was preparing to power Yutu-2 down for its usual midday ‘nap’ to protect the rover from high temperatures and radiation from the sun high in the sky. A team member checking images from the rover’s main camera spotted a small crater that seemed to contain material with a color and luster unlike that of the surrounding lunar surface. 

The drive team, excited by the discovery, called in their lunar scientists. Together, the teams decided to postpone Yutu-2’s plans to continue west and instead ordered the rover to check out the strange material.

Yutu-2 found a strangely-colored substance in a crater on the far side of the moon.
Yutu-2 found a strangely-colored substance in a crater on the far side of the moon.

With the help of obstacle-avoidance cameras, Yutu-2 carefully approached the crater and then targeted the unusually colored material and its surroundings. The rover examined both areas with its Visible and Near-Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS), which detects light that is scattered or reflected off materials to reveal their makeup.

VNIS is the same instrument that detected tantalizing evidence of material originating from the lunar mantle in the regolith of Von Kármán crater, a discovery Chinese scientists announced in May.

Tracks showing Yutu-2's approach to the crater for analysis of the gel-like substance.
Tracks showing Yutu-2’s approach to the crater for analysis of the gel-like substance.

So far, mission scientists haven’t offered any indication as to the nature of the colored substance and have said only that it is “gel-like” and has an “unusual color.” One possible explanation, outside researchers suggested, is that the substance is melt glass created from meteorites striking the surface of the moon.

Yutu-2’s discovery isn’t scientists’ first lunar surprise, however. Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmitt discovered orange-colored soil near the mission’s Taurus-Littrow landing site in 1972, prompting excitement from both Schmitt and his moonwalk colleague, Gene Cernan. Lunar geologists eventually concluded that the orange soil was created during an explosive volcanic eruption 3.64 billion years ago. 

Strange orange soil was discovered on the moon by the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Strange orange soil was discovered on the moon by the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Chang’e-4 launched in early December 2018, and made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3. The Yutu-2 rover had covered a total of 890 feet (271 meters) by the end of lunar day 8.

Watch: China’s Historic Moon Landing Captured by Probe’s Camera

A stitched image from Yutu-2 looking back toward the Chang'e-4 lander during lunar day 7, in late June and early July 2019.
A stitched image from Yutu-2 looking back toward the Chang’e-4 lander during lunar day 7, in late June and early July 2019.

The Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover powered down for the end of lunar day 8 on Aug. 7, and began their ninth lunar day over the weekend. The Yutu-2 rover woke up at 8:42 p.m. EDT on Aug. 23 (00:42 GMT Aug. 24), and the lander followed the next day, at 8:10 p.m. (00:10 GMT). 

During lunar day 9, Yutu-2 will continue its journey west, take a precautionary six-day nap around local noontime, and power down for a ninth lunar night around Sept. 5, about 24 hours hours ahead of local sunset.

US Military Eyes Strategic Value of Earth-Moon Space

A potential framework for the use of lunar water ice and asteroid resources.

A potential framework for the use of lunar water ice and asteroid resources.(Image: © Aiden O’Leary/Jason Aspiotis/Booz Allen Hamilton)

This week, the new United States Space Command officially makes its debut, emphasizing that space is a vital military domain — one that’s critical to America’s security and economic well-being.

Standing up the command coincides with ongoing White House support to establish a Space Force as a separate military branch.

To this end, there is increasing military interest in cislunar space. That’s the region extending beyond Earth to the moon. Indeed, the protection of trade routes and lines of communication are traditional military responsibilities, and this will continue to be true as cislunar space becomes “high ground” — a position of advantage or superiority.

Phased approaches

At last June’s Space Resources Roundtable, held at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, the military utility of phased approaches to tap lunar water iceand asteroid resources for propulsion and other applications was detailed.

Jason Aspiotis and Aiden O’Leary of Booz Allen Hamilton in Charlotte, North Carolina, presented a stimulating paper: “In-space Water Supply Chain Servicing the U.S. Military: A Preliminary Estimate of Future Potential U.S. Military Supply and Demand for In-space Water-Based Fuel.”

“It’s a preliminary first-look study to gauge the potential utility of in-space resources, specifically water in the context of U.S. military and intelligence assets,” Aspiotis told Space.com. 

“It adds a lot of capability in terms of more maneuverable assets. I think the high brass is definitely paying attention and starting to consider what it really means for their own strategic plans for the future,” he said.

It’s very important for the military to have diverse supply chains, added O’Leary, so that backups can carry the load in the event that any supply chain is cut off. “I believe it has tremendous value for them,” he said.

Earth's moon and cislunar space loom large in our future. What military and intelligence-gathering purposes will they serve?
Earth’s moon and cislunar space loom large in our future. What military and intelligence-gathering purposes will they serve? 

New focus

The U.S. military’s cislunar interest is interesting, said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. 

It is the opinion of Johnson-Freese that cislunar seems to be a “new focus” for the Department of Defense. 

“It appears partly driven by the new, open U.S. push toward the weaponization of space … required because virtually everything China does in space is considered a threat — and bureaucratic politics,” she told Space.com. 

All bureaucracies need a purpose, Johnson-Freese said. “Apparently part of the ‘need’ is protecting U.S. economic/commercial space interests. It would be interesting to know if this protection was requested by commercial countries or merely anticipated,” she said.

China's Chang'e-4 farside mission uses its Magpie Bridge relay satellite at the Earth-Moon L2 halo orbit.
China’s Chang’e-4 farside mission uses its Magpie Bridge relay satellite at the Earth-Moon L2 halo orbit.

Strategically vital

Cislunar space is strategically vital because the exploitation of space resources can — and will — alter the balance of power on Earth.

That’s the view of Peter Garretson, an independent strategy consultant who focuses on space and defense. A retired Air Force officer, he was previously the director of Air University’s Space Horizons Research Task Force, America’s think tank for space.

“What is driving the U.S. military to look at cislunar is not some present tactical advantage,” Garretson said. “It is fear that China’s moves to cislunar space will provide it with a positional and logistic advantage from which it could occupy, constrict, threaten or coerce U.S. interests.”

Domain awareness

The military will need to articulate requirements, Garretson said, that include cislunar “domain awareness,” in-space refueling and the ability to make use of moon-derived propellant.

“Cislunar space offers a vast maneuver space that is difficult to surveil and from which surprises can then emerge, analogous to deep-sea submarine warfare. The People’s Republic of China’s military-run space program is positioning itself in cislunar space. We are behind, and we must catch up,” Garretson said. “Cislunar space is already the high ground, and the U.S. is already far behind China in its position and its planning.”

Is competition for key locations at the moon's poles and potential water ice inevitable? This image shows a two-person crew exploring a permanently shadowed crater at the lunar south pole. As an extractable resource, water ice can be processed into oxygen, water and rocket fuel.
Is competition for key locations at the moon’s poles and potential water ice inevitable? This image shows a two-person crew exploring a permanently shadowed crater at the lunar south pole. As an extractable resource, water ice can be processed into oxygen, water and rocket fuel.

Lunar industrialization 

Garretson said that China’s Chang’e-4 farside moon mission and the nation’s Magpie Bridge relay satellite at the Earth-moon L2 halo orbit are part of a well-conceived and cumulative plan.

“They have already put in place the first node in a broader communications architecture, and perhaps a cislunar space domain awareness system as well,” Garretson said. “Next comes sample return, polar landings and 3D printing of a ‘Lunar Palace’ with an industrial mission to make economic use of lunar resources.”

China is absolutely clear on its strategic intent in cislunar space, Garretson said.

“They intend to build an infrastructure to industrialize the moon, and use its resources and ideal location to build large numbers of solar-power satellites for their own energy supply and to service a $21 trillion energy market,” Garretson said. 

An industrial-logistical system of that magnitude, Garretson said, would obviously establish China as the dominant power. 

“Without an equivalent plan to industrialize the moon, the game is lost for the United States of America. We will find ourselves having lost without fighting … confronting a juggernaut with an industrial, logistical and maneuver advantage we cannot possibly match,” Garretson concluded.

What Is Quantum Gravity?

Reference Article: An overview of quantum gravity.

Abstract illustration of particles interacting at the quantum level.

Quantum gravity attempts to explain how gravity works on the universe’s smallest particles.(Image: © Shutterstock)

Gravity was the first fundamental force that humanity recognized, yet it remains the least understood. Physicists can predict the influence of gravity on bowling balls, stars and planets with exquisite accuracy, but no one knows how the force interacts with minute particles, or quanta. The nearly century-long search for a theory of quantum gravity — a description of how the force works for the universe’s smallest pieces — is driven by the simple expectation that one gravitational rulebook should govern all galaxies, quarks and everything in between. [Strange Quarks and Muons, Oh My! Nature’s Tiniest Particles Dissected (Infographic)]

“If there is no theory [of quantum gravity], then the universe is just chaos. It’s just random,” said Netta Engelhardt, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I can’t even say that it would be chaotic or random because those are actually legitimate physical processes.”

The edge of general relativity

At the heart of the thorniest problem in theoretical physics lies a clash between the field’s two greatest triumphs. Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity replaced Isaac Newton’s notion of simple attraction between objects with a description of matter or energy bending space and time around it, and nearby objects following those curved paths, acting as if they were attracted to one another. In Einstein’s equations, gravity is the shape of space itself. His theory kept the traditional description of a smooth, classical universe — one where you can always zoom in further to a smaller patch of space. Click here for more Space.com videos…CLOSEAll Quantum Gravity Theories Suck – Here’s WhyVolume 0%

General relativity continues to ace every test astrophysicists throw at it, including situations Einstein never could have imagined. But most experts expect Einstein’s theory to fall short someday, because the universe ultimately appears bumpy, not smooth. Planets and stars are really collections of atoms, which, in turn, are made up of electrons and bundles of quarks. Those particles hang together or break apart by swapping other types of particles, giving rise to forces of attraction and repulsion. 

Electric and magnetic forces, for example, come from objects exchanging particles known as virtual photons. For example, the force sticking a magnet to the fridge can be described as a smooth, classical magnetic field, but the field’s fine details depend on the quantum particles that create it. Of the universe’s four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces), only gravity lacks the “quantum” description. As a result, no one knows for sure (although there are plenty of ideas) where gravitational fieldscome from or how individual particles act inside them. 

The odd force out

The problem is that even though gravity keeps us stuck to the ground and generally acts as a force, general relativity suggests it’s something more — the shape of space itself. Other quantum theories treat space as a flat backdrop for measuring how far and fast particles fly. Ignoring the curvature of space for particles works because gravity is so much weaker than the other forces that space looks flat when zoomed in on something as small as an electron. The effects of gravity and the curvature of space are relatively obvious at more zoomed-out levels, like planets and stars. But when physicists try to calculate the curvature of space around an electron, slight as it may be, the math becomes impossible. 

In the late 1940s physicists developed a technique, called renormalization, for dealing with the vagaries of quantum mechanics, which allow an electron to spice up a boring trip in an infinite variety of ways. It may, for instance, shoot off a photon. That photon can split into an electron and its antimatter twin, the positron. Those pairs can then shoot off more photons, which can split into more twins, and so on. While a perfect calculation would require counting up the infinite variety of electron road trips, renormalization let physicists gather the unruly possibilities into a few measurable numbers, like the electron charge and mass. They couldn’t predict these values, but they could plug in results from experiments and use them to make other predictions, like where the electron is going.

Renormalization stops working when theoretical gravity particles, called gravitons, enter the scene. Gravitons also have their own energy, which creates more warping of space and more gravitons, which create more warping, and more gravitons, and so on, generally resulting in a giant mathematical mess. Even when physicists try to pile some of the infinities together to measure experimentally, they end up drowning in an infinite number of piles. 

“It effectively means that you need an infinite number of experiments to determine anything,” Engelhardt said, “and that’s not a realistic theory.”

The theory of general relativity says the universe is a smooth fabric, and quantum mechanics says it's a bumpy mess of particles. Physicists say it can't be both.
The theory of general relativity says the universe is a smooth fabric, and quantum mechanics says it’s a bumpy mess of particles. Physicists say it can’t be both.

In practice, this failure to deal with curvature around particles grows fatal in situations where lots of mass and energy twist space so tightly that even electrons and their ilk can’t help but take notice — such as the case with black holes. But any particles very near — or worse, inside — the pits of space-time certainly know the rules of engagement, even if physicists don’t. 

“Nature has found a way to make black holes exist,” Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, wrote in a publication for the institute. “Now it is up to us to find out what nature knows and we do not yet.” 

Bringing gravity into the fold

Using an approximation of general relativity (Engelhardt called it a “Band-Aid”), physicists have developed a notion of what gravitons might look like, but no one expects to see one anytime soon. One thought experiment suggests it would take 100 years of experimentation by a particle collider as heavy as Jupiter to detect one. So, in the meantime, theorists are rethinking the nature of the universe’s most fundamental elements. 

One theory, known as loop quantum gravity, aims to resolve the conflict between particles and space-time by breaking up space and time into little bits — an ultimate resolution beyond which no zooming can take place. 

String theory, another popular framework, takes a different approach and swaps out particles for fiber-like strings, which behave better mathematically than their point-like counterparts. This simple change has complex consequences, but one nice feature is that gravity just falls out of the math. Even if Einstein and his contemporaries had never developed general relativity, Engelhardt said, physicists would have stumbled upon it later through string theory. “I find that pretty miraculous,” she said.

And string theorists have uncovered further hints that they’re on a productive track in recent decades, according to Engelhardt. Simply put, the idea of space itself may be distracting physicists from a more fundamental structure of the universe. 

Theorists discovered in the late 1990s that descriptions of a simple, box-like universe including gravity were mathematically equivalent to a picture of a flat universe with only quantum physics (and no gravity). The ability to jump back and forth between the descriptions suggests that space may not be a fundamental ingredient of the cosmos but rather a side effect that emerges from particle interactions.

As hard as it might be for us mortals embedded in the fabric of space to imagine, the relationship between space and particles might be something like the one between room temperature and air molecules. Physicists once thought of heat as a fluid that flowed from a warm room to a cool room, but the discovery of molecules revealed that what we sense as temperature “emerges” from the average speed of air molecules. Space (and equivalently, gravity) may similarly represent our large-scale experience of some small-scale phenomenon. “Within string theory, there are pretty good indications at this point that space is actually emergent,” Engelhardt said.

But string theory’s universe in a box has a different shape from the one we see (although Engelhardt said this difference may not be a deal breaker, since quantum gravity could act the same way for all possible universe shapes). Even if lessons from the box universe do apply in reality, the mathematical framework remains rough. Physicists are a long way from cutting their theoretical ties to space and achieving an accurate description of quantum gravity in all its bumpy glory. 

While they continue to work out the substantial mathematical kinks in their respective theories, some physicists harbor hope that their astrophysical observations may someday nudge them in the right direction. No experiment to date has diverged from general relativity’s predictions, but in the future, a diverse array of gravitational-wave detectors sensitive to many wave sizes could catch the subtle whispers of gravitons. However, Engelhardt said, “my instinct would be to look at the cosmos rather than to look at particle colliders.”

Strange giant planet ‘unlike any other’ discovered

Astronomers have spotted a giant exoplanet that they say is unlike any other.

Planet HR 5183 b has three times the mass of Jupiter and travels on an incredibly long, egg-shaped path around its star, according to Caltech, which led the research. The planet takes 45 to 100 years to complete its orbit, Caltech noted in a statement.

“If this planet were somehow placed into our own solar system, it would swing from within our asteroid belt to out beyond Neptune,” it added.

Scientists’ study of the newly discovered planet will be published in The Astronomical Journal.

“This planet is unlike the planets in our solar system, but more than that, it is unlike any other exoplanets we have discovered so far,” said Sarah Blunt, a Caltech graduate student and first author on the study, in the statement. “Other planets detected far away from their stars tend to have very low eccentricities, meaning that their orbits are more circular. The fact that this planet has such a high eccentricity speaks to some difference in the way that it either formed or evolved relative to the other planets.”

An illustration comparing the "eccentric" orbit of HR 5183 b to the more circular orbits of the planets in our own solar system.

An illustration comparing the “eccentric” orbit of HR 5183 b to the more circular orbits of the planets in our own solar system.(Credit: W. M. Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko)

The Lick Observatory in Northern California, the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the McDonald Observatory in Texas all provided data for the study.

While the planet’s star, HR 5183, had been studied since the ’90s, HR 5183 b’s epic journey meant that experts lacked full orbit information.

“This planet spends most of its time loitering in the outer part of its star’s planetary system in this highly eccentric orbit, then it starts to accelerate in and does a slingshot around its star,”  said Caltech Professor of Astronomy Andrew Howard, who leads the California Planet Search, in the statement. “We detected this slingshot motion. We saw the planet come in and now it’s on its way out. That creates such a distinctive signature that we can be sure that this is a real planet, even though we haven’t seen a complete orbit.”

Experts believe that the planet’s strange orbit is likely because it nudged another similar-size planet out of the solar system.

“This newfound planet basically would have come in like a wrecking ball,” said Howard, in the statement. “Knocking anything in its way out of the system.”
In a separate project, astronomers recently spotted a rocky “Star Wars” exoplanet with three suns.

Experts from the Harvard Center for Astrophysics used NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS) telescope to spot planet LTT 1445 A b and its three stars.

India’s Chandrayaan-2 Spacecraft Scouts the Moon in New Lunar Photos

A view of the north polar region of the moon as seen by Chandrayaan-2 on Aug. 23, 2019.
A view of the north polar region of the moon as seen by Chandrayaan-2 on Aug. 23, 2019.

India’s Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft is settling into orbit around the moon and has an incredible view as it waits to try to make history.

The spacecraft arrived in lunar orbit on Aug. 19 (Aug. 20 local time at the Indian Space Research Organisation‘s mission control) and is currently conducting a series of maneuvers to tweak that orbit in preparation for a landing attempt in less than two weeks.

As it does so, the spacecraft is capturing stunning images of the moon’s pitted surface, including a set taken on Aug. 23 by the vehicle’s Terrain Mapping Camera 2. Those images include one showing the lunar north pole, including Plaskett, Rozhdestvenskiy, Hermite, Sommerfeld and Kirkwood craters.

A second image shows a region of the far side’s northern hemisphere, including the Jackson, Mach, Mitra and Korolev craters.

Chandrayaan-2 is settling into an orbit sweeping between the poles of the moon. In about a week, the orbiter will separate from the rest of the mission and continue on this path for the next year or so. The probe is modeled on India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, which carried the instrument that confirmed the presence of water ice in craters near the moon’s poles. 

A view of the far side of the moon captured by the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft on Aug. 23, 2019.
A view of the far side of the moon captured by the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft on Aug. 23, 2019. 

The lander portion of the spacecraft, with a rover tucked on board, will head toward the surface near the moon’s south pole, attempting India’s first soft lunar landing. If the maneuver is successful, the country will become just the fourth to have accomplished such a feat, after the Soviet Union, the U.S. and China.

Landing is scheduled for Sept. 6 (Sept. 7 at mission control).

Asteroid That’s Nearly the Height of the World’s Tallest Building Is Flying by Earth Soon

An artistic depiction shows a huge asteroid about to slam into Earth.

An artistic depiction shows a huge asteroid about to slam into Earth.(Image: © Shutterstock)

A monster of an asteroid that nearly rivals the height of the Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest building, located in Abu Dhabi — is cruising by Earth in less than a month, according to NASA. 

The asteroid 2000 QW7 is incredibly bulky, measuring anywhere between 951 and 2,132 feet (290 and 650 meters) in diameter, and just a tad shorter than the 2,716-foot-tall (828 m) Burj Khalifa.

This asteroid is so immense, it’s nearly twice the height of the 1,250-foot-tall (381 m) Empire State building. It’s expected to whiz by our blue planet on Sept. 14, according to the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), a part of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.CLOSEVolume 0%This video will resume in 4 seconds 

However, asteroid 2000 QW7 isn’t exactly in a position to drop in for tea. First off, it will be going incredibly fast — 14,361 mph (23,100 km/h) — as it zooms by Earth, CNEOS reported. Second, even though it’s considered a near-Earth object, it will still be quite far away. Asteroids and other space materials are considered near-Earth objects if they pass within 1.3 astronomical units of our planet (an astronomical unit is the distance from Earth to the sun, or 92.9 million miles (149.6 million kilometers)).

As CNEOS notes, 2000 QW7 will pass within 0.03564 astronomical units of Earth, which is equivalent to about 3.3 million miles (5.3 million km). Put another way, that’s 13.87 times the distance between Earth and the moon.

Just like Earth, asteroid 2000 QW7 orbits the sun. However, it only sporadically crosses paths with Earth. The last time it approached our planet was Sept. 1, 2000. After Sept. 14, the next time it’s expected to pass by is Oct. 19, 2038, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Physicists Finally Narrowed Down the Mass of the Tiniest ‘Ghost Particle’ in the Universe

This photo shows the inside of a cylindrical antineutrino detector designed to detect the rare fundamental particles.

(Image: © Roy Kaltschmidt photo, LBNL)

We’re full of neutrinos all the time. They’re everywhere, nearly undetectable, flitting through normal matter. We barely know anything about them — not even how heavy they are. But we do know that neutrinos have the potential to alter the shape of the entire universe. And because they have that power, we can use the shape of the universe to weigh them — as a team of physicists has now done.

Because of physics, the behaviors of the smallest particles alter the behaviors of whole galaxies and other giant celestial structures. And if you want to describe the behavior of the universe, your have to take into account properties of its tiniest components. In a new paper, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, researchers used that fact to back-calculate the mass of the lightest neutrino (there are three neutrino masses) from precise measurements of the large-scale structure of the universe.

They took data about the movements of roughly 1.1 million galaxies from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey , stirred it up with other cosmological information and results from much smaller-scale neutrino experiments on Earth, and fed all that information into a supercomputer.Click here for more Space.com videos…CLOSEVolume 0%This video will resume in 5 seconds 

“We used more than half a million computing hours to process the data,” study co-author Andrei Cuceu, a doctoral student in astrophysics at University College London, said in a statement. “This is equivalent to almost 60 years on a single processor. This project pushed the limits for big data analysis in cosmology.”

The result didn’t offer a fixed number for the mass of the lightest type of neutrino, but it did narrow it down: That species of neutrino has a mass no greater than 0.086 electron volts (eV), or about six million times less than the mass of a single electron.

That number sets an upper bound, but not a lower bound, for the mass of the lightest species of neutrino. It’s possible that it doesn’t have any mass at all, the authors wrote in the paper.

What physicists do know is that at least two of the three species of neutrinohave to have some mass, and that there’s a relationship between their masses. (This paper also sets an upper boundary for the combined mass of all three flavors: 0.26 eV.)

Confusingly, the three mass species of neutrino don’t line up with the three flavors of neutrino: electron, muon and tau. According to Fermilab, each flavor of neutrino is made up of a quantum mixture of the three mass species. So a certain tau neutrino has a bit of mass species 1 in it, a bit of species 2 and a bit of species 3. Those different mass species allow the neutrinos to jump back and forth between flavors, as a 1998 discovery (which won the Nobel Prize in physics) showed.

Physicists may never perfectly pinpoint the masses of the three neutrino species, but they can keep getting closer. The mass will keep getting narrowed down as experiments on Earth and measurements in space improve, the authors wrote. And the better physicists can measure these tiny, omnipresent components of our universe the better physics will be able to explain how the whole thing fits together.

We’re full of neutrinos all the time. They’re everywhere, nearly undetectable, flitting through normal matter. We barely know anything about them — not even how heavy they are. But we do know that neutrinos have the potential to alter the shape of the entire universe. And because they have that power, we can use the shape of the universe to weigh them — as a team of physicists has now done.

Because of physics, the behaviors of the smallest particles alter the behaviors of whole galaxies and other giant celestial structures. And if you want to describe the behavior of the universe, your have to take into account properties of its tiniest components. In a new paper, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, researchers used that fact to back-calculate the mass of the lightest neutrino (there are three neutrino masses) from precise measurements of the large-scale structure of the universe.

They took data about the movements of roughly 1.1 million galaxies from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey , stirred it up with other cosmological information and results from much smaller-scale neutrino experiments on Earth, and fed all that information into a supercomputer.

“We used more than half a million computing hours to process the data,” study co-author Andrei Cuceu, a doctoral student in astrophysics at University College London, said in a statement. “This is equivalent to almost 60 years on a single processor. This project pushed the limits for big data analysis in cosmology.”

The result didn’t offer a fixed number for the mass of the lightest type of neutrino, but it did narrow it down: That species of neutrino has a mass no greater than 0.086 electron volts (eV), or about six million times less than the mass of a single electron.

That number sets an upper bound, but not a lower bound, for the mass of the lightest species of neutrino. It’s possible that it doesn’t have any mass at all, the authors wrote in the paper.

What physicists do know is that at least two of the three species of neutrinohave to have some mass, and that there’s a relationship between their masses. (This paper also sets an upper boundary for the combined mass of all three flavors: 0.26 eV.)

Confusingly, the three mass species of neutrino don’t line up with the three flavors of neutrino: electron, muon and tau. According to Fermilab, each flavor of neutrino is made up of a quantum mixture of the three mass species. So a certain tau neutrino has a bit of mass species 1 in it, a bit of species 2 and a bit of species 3. Those different mass species allow the neutrinos to jump back and forth between flavors, as a 1998 discovery (which won the Nobel Prize in physics) showed.

Physicists may never perfectly pinpoint the masses of the three neutrino species, but they can keep getting closer. The mass will keep getting narrowed down as experiments on Earth and measurements in space improve, the authors wrote. And the better physicists can measure these tiny, omnipresent components of our universe the better physics will be able to explain how the whole thing fits together.

Scientists are building a real-life version of the Starship Enterprise’s life scanner

The Starship Enterprise in the original 'Star Trek' series.

The Starship Enterprise in the original ‘Star Trek’ series. (AP)

When the crewmembers of the Starship Enterprise pull into orbit around a new planet, one of the first things they do is scan for life-forms. Here in the real world, researchers have long been trying to figure out how to unambiguously detect signs of life on distant exoplanets.

They are now one step closer to this goal, thanks to a new remote-sensing technique that relies on a quirk of biochemistry causing light to spiral in a particular direction and produce a fairly unmistakable signal. The method, described in a recent paper published in the journal Astrobiology, could be used aboard space-based observatories and help scientists learn if the universe contains living beings like ourselves.

In recent years, remote-life detection has become a topic of immense interest as astronomers have begun to capture light from planets orbiting other stars, which can be analyzed to determine what kind of chemicals those worlds contain. Researchers would like to figure out some indicator that could definitively tell them whether or not they are looking at a living biosphere.

For instance, the presence of excessive oxygen in an exoplanet’s atmosphere might be a good hint that something is breathing on its surface. But there are plenty of ways that nonliving processes can generate oxygen molecules and trick remote observers into believing a world is teeming with life.

Therefore, some researchers have suggested looking for chains of organic molecules. These living chemicals come in two arrangements — a right-handed and a left-handed version that are like mirror-flipped images of each other. In the wild, nature produces equal amounts of these right- and left-handed molecules.

“Biology breaks this symmetry,” Frans Snik, an astronomer at Leiden University in the Netherlands and co-author of the new paper, told Live Science. “This is the difference between chemistry and biology.”

On Earth, living creatures select one molecular “hand” and stick with it. The amino acids that make up the proteins in your body are all left-handed versions of their respective molecules.

When light interacts with long chains of these different-handed arrangements, it becomes circularly polarized, meaning that its electromagnetic waves will travel in either clockwise or counterclockwise spirals. Inorganic molecules won’t generally impart this property to rays of light.

In previous work published online in the preprint journal arXiv, Snik and his colleagues looked at freshly picked English ivy leaves in their lab and watched as the chlorophyll (a green pigment) created circularly polarized light. As the leaves decayed, the circular polarization signal grew weaker and weaker, until it entirely disappeared.

The next step was to test the technique in the field, and so the researchers took an instrument that detects such polarity to the roof of their building at Leiden University and aimed it at a nearby sports field. They were perplexed to see no circularly polarized light, Snik said, until they realized that this was one of the few sports fields in the Netherlands using artificial grass. When the researchers aimed their detector at a forest a few miles away, the circularly polarized signal came through loud and clear.

The million-dollar question is whether or not organisms on another world would exhibit a similar favoritism for single-handed molecules, Snik said. He believes it is a fairly good bet, since carbon-based chemicals best fit together when they all share the same handedness.

His team is now designing an instrument that could be flown to the International Space Station and map the circular polarization signal of Earth to better understand how an analogous signature might look in the light of a distant planet.

That will be an extreme but worthwhile challenge, Edward Schwieterman, an astronomer and astrobiologist at the University of California, Riverside who was not involved in the work, told Live Science. Capturing an exoplanet’s light means blocking out the light from its parent star, which is usually around 10 billion times brighter, he added. If the world is alive, only a tiny fraction of its light will contain the circular polarization signal.

“The signal is small, but the level of ambiguity is also small,” Schwieterman said, making the method useful despite its difficulty.

Future enormous space-based telescopes, such as the Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor(LUVOIR) observatory, might be able to tease out this faint signature. LUVOIR is still just a concept, but would have a mirror diameter six times wider than the one in the Hubble Space Telescope and could probably fly in the mid-2030s, officials estimate.

Snik thinks the circular polarization technique could also be brought to bear closer to home, on an instrument flown to potentially habitable moons in the outer solar system such as Europa or Enceladus. By aiming such a detector at these frozen worlds, scientists might see the signal of living creatures.

“Maybe our first detection of extraterrestrial life will be in our backyard,” said Snik.

Scientists Discover 2nd Alien Planet Around Star Beta Pictoris — and It’s Huge

An artist's depiction of the newly discovered planet Beta Pictoris c, top left, as seen with its solar system neighbor Beta Pictoris b and backlit by the star itself.

An artist’s depiction of the newly discovered planet Beta Pictoris c, top left, as seen with its solar system neighbor Beta Pictoris b and backlit by the star itself.(Image: © P Rubini/AM Lagrange)

The solar system around a star called Beta Pictoris was already a pretty interesting place, with a large planet scientists have actually seen and a huge amount of rubble flying around. But it just got even more intriguing.

That’s because astronomers now think they’ve picked up on a second planet orbiting the nearby star. The discovery is based on more than 10 years of data about miniscule changes in the star’s orbit caused by the gravitational tug between the star and what scientists now believe to be a planet.

The Beta Pictoris solar system is a special one for scientists because it is fairly close to Earth, at just 63.4 light-years away, and relatively young, at about 23 million years old. That means scientists can study it to better understand the tumultuous adolescence of developing solar systems.

From what scientists knew before the new research, Beta Pictoris’ adolescence already looked awfully messy. 

A disk of planetary rubble clutters the outer reaches of this solar system; astronomers think hunks of rock called planetesimals ricocheting into each other continues to create that debris. Those planetesimals fill the solar system from 50 astronomical units (or AU, the average distance from Earth to our sun) away from Beta Pictoris out to 100 AU. One AU is about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.Click here for more Space.com videos…Giant Exoplanet Rotates 36X Faster Than EarthVolume 0%

About a decade ago, astronomers identified a large planet, nine to 13 times more massive than Jupiter and dubbed Beta Pictoris b, orbiting about 9 AU from the star. Unusual for exoplanets, this one has been imaged; typically, worlds are identified as shadows passing over a star’s disk or as tiny wobbles in the star’s location. And scientists have even spotted exocomets darting across the Beta Pictoris system, slowly losing steam as they go.

But astronomers combing through 10 years of data gathered by the European Southern Observatory’s High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) program realized that what they knew about the Beta Pictoris solar system still didn’t quite add up.Click here for more Space.com videos…Colliding Comets May Be Hiding Alien PlanetVolume 0%

HARPS measures tiny changes in a star’s light caused by slight movements of the star as its gravity interacts with that of a planet. For a star like Beta Pictoris, which regularly grows and shrinks, those tiny changes are very difficult to parse out from these pulses, but that is precisely what the team behind the new research did.

The astronomers were left with signals that they believe can be explained only by a second planet, one that is about nine times the mass of Jupiter and orbits its star once every 1,200 or so days. The planet is about 2.7 AU away from its star, equivalent to the distance from our sun to the asteroid belt.

The researchers said they hope that other techniques will be able to spot the planet, dubbed Beta Pictoris c, as well. This planet may pass directly between its star and Earth, which means scientists could study the world’s atmosphere and any rings or moons that orbit it. If astronomers can directly image Beta Pictoris c, as they have its neighbor, they may also be able to answer questions about how these planets formed.

The research is described in a paper published Monday (Aug. 19) in the journal Nature. 

NASA to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, which may hold life

NASA has officially confirmed a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, a trek that could answer whether the icy celestial body could be habitable for humans and support life.

Known as the Europa Clipper mission, which was originally explored in 2017, the government space agency is now in the phase of completing the final design of the spacecraft that will visit the moon. From there, it will move on to construction and, ultimately, test the spacecraft and science payload.

“We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. “We are building upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere.”

2018 study expressed concerns that Europa’s surface may be extremely porous, which could harm any probe that touches down on its surface.

The space agency said the purpose of the mission will be to investigate whether Europa, the sixth-largest of Jupiter’s 79 known moons, “could harbor conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology.”

The conditions on Europa have been previously likened to exoplanet Barnard B, a “super-Earth” 30 trillion miles from Earth. It likely has a surface temperature of roughly 238 degrees below zero and may have oceans underneath its icy surface, according to a July 2018 statement from NASA.

It’s unclear what the oceans on Europa are made up of, but the Hubble Space Telescope detected the presence of sodium chloride (NaCl) on its surface, according to a study published in June.

“If this sodium chloride is really reflective of the internal composition, then [Europa’s ocean] might be more Earth-like than we used to think,” the study’s lead author, Samantha Trumbo, told Space.com.

NASA said its goal for the Europa Clipper mission is to launch as soon as 2023, but it added that its baseline commitment “supports a launch readiness date by 2025.”

‘UFOs’ are coming out of black holes and altering galaxies forever: ‘It’s all very new science’

‘UFOs’ are coming out of black holes and altering galaxies forever

New discoveries lead scientists to believe ‘UFOs’ are coming out of black holes and altering galaxies.

Black holes are still a mysterious force of spacetime, with the first image of one having been released just a few short months ago. Now, a new study suggests that “UFOs” are coming out of them, helping to reshape galaxies along the way.

According to research published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, hot ionized gas — known as an ultra-fast outflow (UFO) — is flying out of supermassive black holes and could help explain why there is nearly empty darkness encompassing the center of several galaxies.

“These winds might explain some surprising correlations that scientists have known about for years but couldn’t explain,” said the study’s lead author, Roberto Serafinelli, in a statement.

Artist's impression showing how ultrafast winds blowing from a supermassive black hole interact with interstellar matter in the host galaxy, clearing its central regions from gas. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

Artist’s impression showing how ultrafast winds blowing from a supermassive black hole interact with interstellar matter in the host galaxy, clearing its central regions from gas. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

“For example, we see a correlation between the masses of supermassive black holes and the velocity dispersion of stars in the inner parts of their host galaxies,” Serafinelli added. “But there is no way this could be due to the gravitational effect of the black hole. Our study, for the first time, shows how these black hole winds impact the galaxy on a larger scale, possibly providing the missing link.”

The scientists were studying galaxy PG 1114+445, which is described as “active,” where they were able to see the UFOs escaping, using the European Space Agency’s X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton) telescope.

According to the researchers’ data, the energy from the UFO is being transferred to other winds (such as “warm absorbers”) near the black hole, causing these winds to move at incredible speeds.

“We believe that this is the point when the UFO touches the interstellar matter and sweeps it away like a snowplough,” Serafinelli added. “We call this an ‘entrained ultra-fast outflow’ because the UFO at this stage is penetrating the interstellar matter. It’s similar to wind pushing boats in the sea.”

A “warm absorber” is a slower moving outflow from the black hole, which often travels “at much lower speeds of hundreds of km/s and have similar physical characteristics – such as particle density and ionization – to the surrounding interstellar matter.”

This type of UFO, known as entrained UFO, is rare, Serafinelli noted, adding it’s only the sixth time it has ever been seen and the first time it was seen interacting with the other types of outflows.

“This is the sixth time these outflows have been detected. It’s all very new science,” Serafinelli continued. “These phases of the outflow have previously been observed separately but the connection between them wasn’t clear up until now.”

The discovery of UFOs and the three outflows together is exciting to researchers, but Norbert Schartel, XMM-Newton project scientist at ESA, wants to know whether this is a common occurrence in space or if it was a one-off event.

“Finding one source is great, but knowing that this phenomenon is common in the Universe would be a real breakthrough,” said Schartel. “Even with XMM-Newton, we might be able to find more such sources in the next decade.”

NASA glimpses surface of distant rocky exoplanet

Data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has given scientists a first glimpse into conditions on the surface of a rocky exoplanet beyond the solar system.

Planet LHS 3844b is located 48.6 light-years from Earth and has a radius 1.3 times that of Earth, according to NASA. The exoplanet, which is orbiting a small star called an M dwarf, was first spotted by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS) in 2018.

A light-year measures distance in space and equals 6 trillion miles.

New research indicates that the mysterious planet’s surface may resemble Earth’s Moon or Mercury, NASA said in a statement released Monday. “The planet likely has little to no atmosphere and could be covered in the same cooled volcanic material found in the dark areas of the Moon’s surface, called mare,” it explained.

Artist's illustration depicts the exoplanet LHS 3844b.

Artist’s illustration depicts the exoplanet LHS 3844b. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt [IPAC])

The infrared Spitzer Space Telescope was able to detect light from the surface of LHS 3844b. “The planet makes one full revolution around its parent star in just 11 hours,” NASA said in the statement. “With such a tight orbit, LHS 3844b is most likely ‘tidally locked,’ which is when one side of a planet permanently faces the star. The star-facing side, or dayside, is about 1,410 degrees Fahrenheit (770 degrees Celsius).”

The research study was published in the journal Nature.

“We’ve got lots of theories about how planetary atmospheres fare around M dwarfs, but we haven’t been able to study them empirically,” said Laura Kreidberg, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., in the statement. “Now, with LHS 3844b, we have a terrestrial planet outside our solar system where for the first time we can determine observationally that an atmosphere is not present.”

TESS discovered the planet via what is known as the “transit method,” which uses the dimming of a parent star to identify the transit of the objects orbiting it.

The Spitzer Space Telescope studied the planet’s surface reflectiveness. “LHS 3844b appears to be the smallest planet for which scientists have used the light coming from its surface to learn about its atmosphere (or lack thereof),” said NASA, in its statement.

The planet is believed to be covered in basalt, or volcanic rock.

In 2017, NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1, nearly 40 light-years away from Earth.

In a separate project, a black hole swallowing a neutron star has likely been detected for the first time, according to scientists.

Tesla Roadster with ‘Starman’ completes first orbit around the sun

Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster that SpaceX launched into space on their Falcon Heavy rocket last year has completed its first orbit around the sun, according to a tracking report.

If you have somehow forgotten about what is one of the coolest things to happen ever, here’s a quick reminder.

In February 2018, SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy rocket and it needed a ‘dummy load’ to send into space in order to demonstrate the capability.

Musk, who is the CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, decided to launch his own Tesla Roadster.

Due to the higher risk of failure with a brand new rocket, SpaceX didn’t want to put something too valuable, like a satellite, but at the same time, Musk didn’t want to just launch a weight into space.

He figured that launching a Tesla Roadster would be more interesting and inspiring.

They installed the electric car inside the fairings on top of the second stage of the Falcon Heavy rocket:

They also strapped a dummy equipped with a spacesuit in the driver’s seat. They named it ‘Starman’.

On February 6, 2018, Falcon Heavy was successfully launched and it released the Tesla Roadster into space:

It resulted in some stunning images of Starman in the Roadster moving, away from Earth, at a higher speed than any other Tesla before it:

The Tesla Roadster is still moving through space at an extremely high speed and according to the ‘whereisroadster‘ website, which has been tracking the veichle’s trajectory, it has now completed a full orbit around the sun:According to the site, the Roadster is making its way closer to Mars:

“The car is 70,093,131 miles (112,803,994 km, 0.754 AU, 6.27 light minutes) from Mars, moving towardthe planet at a speed of 26,628 mi/h (42,854 km/h, 11.90 km/s).”

It has exceeded warranty’s mileage limit by now/ 

Electrek’s Take

While some saw it as a waste of a good Tesla Roadster or creating space debris, I am a big fan of the project.

I liked it so much that I had Canvaspop make print outs of the Roadster in space from high-res images that SpaceX released on Flickr and display it in my house:

The video of the launch was viewed by millions of people and it inspired many to be interested in space again.

At the same time, it also created some great publicity for Tesla with the Roadster being the first car launched into space.

Now it keeps breaking the record of being the car the furthest away from Earth.

NASA Sun Probe Spies the Solar Wind in 1st Birthday Photo

Now all we need is a candle.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe observed the solar wind streaming past during the spacecraft's first solar encounter in November 2018.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe observed the solar wind streaming past during the spacecraft’s first solar encounter in November 2018.(Image: © NASA/Naval Research Laboratory/Parker Solar Probe)

This past Monday (Aug. 12), NASA’s newest solar probe celebrated its first year in space and began preparing for another close swoop by the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe will make a close approach on Sept. 1 as it tries to collect information that will help scientists to better understand the forces behind the solar wind, solar flares and other kinds of “space weather” emanating from the sun. The probe has so far completed two close approaches and NASA expects to release data from these flybys later this year.

One of Parker’s main objectives is to investigate what mechanism might be driving extreme heating in the sun’s outermost layer, known as the corona. Scientists are mystified as to why the corona is over a million degrees Fahrenheit (over 555,000 degrees Celsius), while the solar layers below are only a few thousand degrees Fahrenheit each. 

Parker aims to travel multiple times within Mercury’s orbit to find out more. It’s a difficult mission because, since the spacecraft is so close to the sun, the extreme heating requires special shielding so that Parker’s instruments don’t get fried by radiation. Parker’s heat shield is so dense that even a blowtorch doesn’t disturb it. This allows the spacecraft to nestle close to the sun and make valuable observations.

“The data we’re seeing from Parker Solar Probe’s instruments is showing us details about solar structures and processes that we have never seen before,” Nour Raouafi, the project scientist of the Parker Solar Probe mission, said in a statement. “Flying close to the sun — a very dangerous environment — is the only way to obtain this data, and the spacecraft is performing with flying colors.”CLOSEVolume 90%This video will resume in 12 seconds 

NASA also released a new video from Parker that shows the structures of the solar wind — the constant stream of particles emanating from our sun. The 6-second clip shows a bright “streamer,” or a dense flow of solar wind, flowing off the sun, which sits just off-screen. Particles of dust streak across the field of view, backdropped by the planet Mercury (the bright dot in the background) and the Milky Way’s star-filled galactic center. The video is based on data obtained Nov. 6 to 10, 2018.

There Are Thousands of Tardigrades on the Moon. Now What?

Did they survive their crash landing? If so, what happens to them now?

Dehydrated tardigrades that crash-landed on the moon in April won't come back to life anytime soon

Dehydrated tardigrades that crash-landed on the moon in April won’t come back to life anytime soon.

Tardigrades, which live on every continent on Earth, are also (maybe) living on the moon, following the crash of a lunar lander carrying thousands of the microscopic water bears.

Did any of them survive the impact? If they did, what happens to them now?

When the tardigrades were placed on the Israeli moon mission Beresheet, they were in a tun state — dehydrated, with their chubby limbs and heads retracted and all metabolic activity temporarily suspended. Their arrival on the moon was unexpectedly explosive; Beresheet’s crash landing on April 11 may have scattered the microorganisms onto the lunar surface. 

Tubby tardigrades are notoriously tough, but were the Beresheet tardigrades hardy enough to survive that impact? It’s certainly possible that some of them made it to the moon intact. But what would that mean for the moon to have what might be thousands of Earth microbes as new inhabitants? And what might it mean for the tardigrades?

First of all, is anyone in trouble for accidentally spilling tardigrades on the moon? That’s a complicated question, but the short answer is no. Space agencies from around the world follow a decades-old treaty about what is permissible to leave on the moon, and the only explicit prohibitions are against weapons and experiments or tools that could interfere with missions from other agencies, according to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

In the decades that followed the treaty, other guidelines were created that acknowledged the risks of seeding other worlds with Earth microbes, and these stipulations outlined practices for sterilizing mission equipment to avoid contamination. But even though large space agencies typically follow these rules, there is no single entity enforcing them globally, Live Science previously reported.

Scientists have yet to find any evidence that the moon ever hosted living organisms (other than visiting astronauts and microbial hitchhikers from Earth) that could be threatened by microscopic invaders. However, contamination could carry serious consequences for missions to planets where life might yet be found, such as Mars; experts suggest that one potential consequence of colonizing Mars could be the extermination of native microbial life through exposure to Earth bacteria.Beresheet Spacecraft’s Moon Crash Site Seen by OrbiterVolume 0% 

It’s possible that even before the Beresheet tardigrades crashed on the moon, other forms of terrestrial microbes were already there: gut bacteria in abandoned bags of astronaut poo, said Mark Martin, an associate professor of biology at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

“I’d be very surprised if you couldn’t culture a few things out of the center of that freeze-dried material,” Martin told Live Science. “Especially spore-formers. They make a very thick outer layer of their spore proteins that’s known to protect them against dehydration, radiation — a variety of things.”

Sole survivor

Tardigrades survive conditions that would destroy most other organisms; they do so by expelling the water from their bodies and generating compounds that seal and protect the structure of their cells. The creatures can remain in this so-called tun state for months and still revive in the presence of water; scientists even resuscitated two tardigrades from a 30-year deep freeze in 2016.

As a tun, a tardigrade can weather boiling, freezing, high pressure and even the vacuum of space, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported in 2008, after sending water bears into orbit. Ultraviolet radiation turned out to be the tardigrades’ kryptonite, as few of the creatures survived full exposure to UV light during the ESA experiments.

This could be good news for the desiccated Beresheet tardigrades. If they landed in a spot on the moon shielded from UV radiation, the microscopic creatures might stand a chance of survival, Martin said.It’s Alive! ‘Water Bears’ Revived After 30+ Frozen Years | VideoVolume 0% 

“My guess is that if we went up in the next year or so, recovered the wreckage, and found these tiny, little tuns and put them in water, a few of them would come back to life,” he explained. 

But as long as the tardigrades remain on the moon, their chances of spontaneously awakening are low. Without liquid water, the tiny creatures will remain in a tun state, and while there’s evidence of ice on the moon, liquid water is nowhere to be found. 

Even if the lunar tardigrades did somehow encounter liquid water while still on the moon, without food, air and a moderate ambient temperature, they wouldn’t last very long once they revived, Kazuharu Arakawa, a tardigrade researcher with the Institute for Advanced Biosciences at Keio University in Tokyo, told Live Science in an email.

“Much as I would love to see the establishment of the Lunar Tardigrade Republic, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Martin said.

Something Weird Is Happening to the Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way

An artist's depiction of a black hole at the center of a galaxy.

An artist’s depiction of a black hole at the center of a galaxy.(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Astronomers have been watching the black hole at the center of our galaxy for 20 years, and in May, they saw something they’d never seen before.

Well, technically, they aren’t watching the black hole itself, which scientists call Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*. Instead, they’re looking at the matter around that black hole. When the Milky Way’s black hole is more active than usual, that event horizon becomes brighter as it heats up due to friction. Usually, Sgr A* is pretty calm for a black hole, but in May, that changed, according to new research.

“The black hole is always variable, but this was the brightest we’ve seen in the infrared so far,” Tuan Do, an astronomer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the new study, said on Twitter. “It was probably even brighter before we started observing that night!”

That hypothesis is based on the fact that, when the astronomers focused on the area on May 13, they only saw relatively high brightness decreasing, suggesting that the black hole had passed an unknown peak that was even brighter. According to the new paper, the recent flare brought Sgr A* to twice the brightness of the highest previous measurement to date.

Do and his colleagues made the observations using the Keck telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. That instrument can see the world in near infrared light, which encompasses wavelengths a bit longer than those our eyes can see.

Here’s a timelapse of images over 2.5 hr from May from @keckobservatory of the supermassive black hole Sgr A*. The black hole is always variable, but this was the brightest we’ve seen in the infrared so far. It was probably even brighter before we started observing that night!4,5848:53 PM – Aug 10, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy2,368 people are talking about this

They think the black-hole flare may have been caused by the close passage of either a star called S0-2 last year or a dusty object called G2 in 2014.

The scientists hope more observations of Sgr A* will help them sort out what the massive black hole is doing. Those observations include measurements made overnight on Aug. 13 and 14 after a hiatus due to protests at Mauna Kea.

Other instruments, including the Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes and ground-based instruments, have pointed to Sgr A* on and off throughout the past few months, although those data have yet to be analyzed. ART-XC, a new Russian space telescope that launched about a month ago, also has turned its eye on the black hole despite still being in its calibration period.

The black hole is also the target of the globe-spanning Event Horizon Telescope, a collaboration that published the first image of a black hole in April. The historic image was of the black hole at the heart of a galaxy called M87, but the scientists are also working on processing data about Sgr A*.

The original observations are described in a paper posted to the preprint server arXiv.org on Aug. 5 that was recently accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Cause of mysterious methane spikes on Mars still unknown.

A few months after detecting an “unusually high” level of methane on Mars, researchers have yet to figure out what’s causing the spike. They have, however, ruled out one possibility and appear to be getting closer to answering whether life exists on other planets.

According to a study published in Scientific Reports, researchers from Newcastle University in the U.K. have ruled out that the spike could have been caused by wind erosion of rocks that had trapped the methane from fluid inclusions and fractures on the Red Planet’s surface.

“The questions are — where is this methane coming from, and is the source biological? That’s a massive question and to get to the answer we need to rule out lots of other factors first,” principal investigator Dr. Jon Telling said in a statement.

This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle on Vera Rubin Ridge in Gale crater on Mars. North is on the left and west is on the right, with Gale crater’s rim on the horizon of both edges. This mosaic was assembled from dozens of images taken by Curiosity’s Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). They were all taken on Jan. 23, 2018, during Sol 1943. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

On Earth, methane is produced both from biological and geological sources.

Telling added that over the last decade, winds on Mars have driven more sand movement than previously thought and that the erosions could be similar to those of sand dunes seen on Earth. Using the data they had, they found that wind erosion was not the source of the methane spikes and is coming from another source.

“What’s important about this is that it strengthens the argument that the methane must be coming from a different source,” Telling said. “Whether or not that’s biological, we still don’t know.”

Methane was first detected in the Martian atmosphere in 2003, but the recent spike in levels discovered by NASA’s Curiosity rover has perplexed researchers. In June, the space agency confirmed the rover measured the largest level of methane, 21 parts per billion units by volume, since landing on the Red Planet on Aug. 6, 2012.

The New York Times reported in June that sunlight and chemical reactions would break up any methane in Mars’ thin air “within a few centuries,” adding that the newly-detected spike was likely released recently.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Emmal Safi, noted that although the new research is “just a little part of a much bigger story,” he hopes it leads scientists to the answer of whether life exists on other planets.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to discover is if there’s the possibility of life existing on planets other than our own, either living now or maybe life in the past that is now preserved as fossils or chemical signatures,” Safi said.

The Mars methane spike has surprised experts. Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard laboratory to “sniff” methane in the Martian atmosphere 12 times over a 20-month period that ended in 2014.

“During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion,” said NASA in a 2014 statement. “Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.”

Sudden spikes of methane also have been recorded, but scientists don’t know how long these “transient plumes” last or why they differ from seasonal patterns.

NASA finds evidence of ‘interplanetary shock’ for first time

NASA has captured a phenomenon in space that has eluded humanity for centuries — an “interplanetary shock.”

Four spacecraft from the space agency, which are part of the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS) that launched in 2015, managed to get a view of the event in January 2018. The craft were just 12 miles away from one another, which made seeing the spectacle possible.

“MMS was able to measure the shock thanks to its unprecedentedly fast and high-resolution instruments. One of the instruments aboard MMS is the Fast Plasma Investigation,” the space agency said in a statement on its website. “This suite of instruments can measure ions and electrons around the spacecraft at up to 6 times per second. Since the speeding shock waves can pass the spacecraft in just half a second, this high-speed sampling is essential to catching the shock.”

Data from the Fast Plasma Investigation aboard MMS shows the shock and reflected ions as they washed over MMS. The colors represent the amount of ions seen with warmer colors indicating higher numbers of ions. The reflected ions (yellow band that appears just above the middle of the figure) show up midway through the animation, and can be seen increasing in intensity (warmer colors) as they pass MMS, shown as a white dot. (Credit: Ian Cohen)

Data from the Fast Plasma Investigation aboard MMS shows the shock and reflected ions as they washed over MMS. The colors represent the amount of ions seen with warmer colors indicating higher numbers of ions. The reflected ions (yellow band that appears just above the middle of the figure) show up midway through the animation, and can be seen increasing in intensity (warmer colors) as they pass MMS, shown as a white dot. (Credit: Ian Cohen)

NASA continued: “Looking at the data from Jan. 8, the scientists noticed a clump of ions from the solar wind. Shortly after, they saw a second clump of ions, created by ions already in the area that had bounced off the shock as it passed by. Analyzing this second population, the scientists found evidence to support a theory of energy transfer first posed in the 1980s.”

An interplanetary shock, which emanates from the Sun, is a type of “collisionless shock,” where particles transfer energy through electromagnetic fields as opposed to bouncing into one another, NASA added.

“These collisionless shocks are a phenomenon found throughout the universe, including in supernovae, black holes and distant stars. MMS studies collisionless shocks around Earth to gain a greater understanding of shocks across the universe,” the space agency continued.

The researchers behind the observation hope that additional instances are spotted by the MMS that will give them more detailed looks at these interplanetary shocks.

NASA has released a video describing the charged particles, also known as the solar wind, in greater detail.

The research describing the find was published in the journal JGR Space Physics.

Asteroid the size of the Washington Monument will fly past Earth this month

Asteroid the size of the Washington Monument will fly past Earth this month

Washington Monument-sized asteroid to fly past Earth at 42,650 feet per second later this month

Just days after an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building flew past Earth, another “potentially hazardous” space rock will do the same.

Asteroid 2019 OU1 will safely pass by Earth on Aug. 28, coming within 639,000 miles or 0.00687 astronomical units of the planet. At an estimated diameter of 71 to 160 meters (233 to 524 feet), 2019 OU1 has sparked comparisons to the 555-foot tall Washington Monument.

2019 OU1 is also hurtling through space at roughly 42,650 feet per second, according to data compiled by NASA.

The space rock is known as a near-Earth object (NEO) and “potentially hazardous” NEOs are defined as space objects that come within 0.05 astronomical units and measure more than 460 feet in diameter, according to NASA.

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

NASA has been preparing for planetary defense from asteroid strikes for years. A recent survey showed that Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid impacts over sending humans back to the moon or to Mars,

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

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

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

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

NASA awarded a $69 million contract to SpaceX, the space exploration company led by Elon Musk, in April to help it with asteroid deflection via its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.

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

“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about movies,” Bridenstine said at the International Academy of Astronautics’ 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Md., according to Space.com. “This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life, and that is the planet Earth.”

Dark matter may be older than the Big Bang

Dark matter, which researchers believe make up about 80% of the universe’s mass, is one of the most elusive mysteries in modern physics. What exactly it is and how it came to be is a mystery, but a new study now suggests that dark matter may have existed before the Big Bang.


Big Bang illustration (stock image).Credit: © Andrea Danti / Adobe Stock

Dark matter, which researchers believe make up about 80% of the universe’s mass, is one of the most elusive mysteries in modern physics. What exactly it is and how it came to be is a mystery, but a new Johns Hopkins University study now suggests that dark matter may have existed before the Big Bang.

The study, published August 7 in Physical Review Letters, presents a new idea of how dark matter was born and how to identify it with astronomical observations.

“The study revealed a new connection between particle physics and astronomy. If dark matter consists of new particles that were born before the Big Bang, they affect the way galaxies are distributed in the sky in a unique way. This connection may be used to reveal their identity and make conclusions about the times before the Big Bang too,” says Tommi Tenkanen, a postdoctoral fellow in Physics and Astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University and the study’s author.

While not much is known about its origins, astronomers have shown that dark matter plays a crucial role in the formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters. Though not directly observable, scientists know dark matter exists by its gravitation effects on how visible matter moves and is distributed in space.

For a long time, researchers believed that dark matter must be a leftover substance from the Big Bang. Researchers have long sought this kind of dark matter, but so far all experimental searches have been unsuccessful.

“If dark matter were truly a remnant of the Big Bang, then in many cases researchers should have seen a direct signal of dark matter in different particle physics experiments already,” says Tenkanen.

Using a new, simple mathematical framework, the study shows that dark matter may have been produced before the Big Bang during an era known as the cosmic inflation when space was expanding very rapidly. The rapid expansion is believed to lead to copious production of certain types of particles called scalars. So far, only one scalar particle has been discovered, the famous Higgs boson.

“We do not know what dark matter is, but if it has anything to do with any scalar particles, it may be older than the Big Bang. With the proposed mathematical scenario, we don’t have to assume new types of interactions between visible and dark matter beyond gravity, which we already know is there,” explains Tenkanen.

While the idea that dark matter existed before the Big Bang is not new, other theorists have not been able to come up with calculations that support the idea. The new study shows that researchers have always overlooked the simplest possible mathematical scenario for dark matter’s origins, he says.

The new study also suggests a way to test the origin of dark matter by observing the signatures dark matter leaves on the distribution of matter in the universe.

“While this type of dark matter is too elusive to be found in particle experiments, it can reveal its presence in astronomical observations. We will soon learn more about the origin of dark matter when the Euclid satellite is launched in 2022. It’s going to be very exciting to see what it will reveal about dark matter and if its findings can be used to peek into the times before the Big Bang.”


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