Rogue Ice Moon Could Be Spilling Its Guts All Over 'Alien Megastructure' Star

An older NASA illustration shows a disintigrating planet orbiting Tabby's star.

An older NASA illustration shows a disintigrating planet orbiting Tabby’s star.(Image: © NASA/JPL/Caltech)

Back in 2016, headlines all over the world blared with news of a possible “alien megastructure” detected orbiting a distant Milky Way star. Now, a team of Columbia University astrophysicists has offered up an explanation for the star’s strange behavior that doesn’t involve any little green men.

The “alien” point of light in the sky is known as Tabby’s star, which was named after Tabetha Boyajian, the Louisiana State University astrophysicist who in 2015 first noticed the unusual patterns in its starlight that others initially attributed to alien construction projects. Boyajian noticed that the star tended to dip in brightness at odd intervals, sometimes slightly and sometimes by significant fractions of its total light. It was also slowly losing brightness over time. She later called it in a TED Talk the “most mysterious star in the universe” because no straightforward astrophysical theory could explain the dimming pattern —  though she also expressed skepticism about suggestions that the dimming was the result of a “megastructure” constructed around the star by an advanced civilization.

Astronomers have since offered a number of alternative explanations for the weird light from the star, which is about 1,500 light-years away in space and known formally as KIC 8462852. They range from swarms of comets to “avalanche-like magnetic activity” within the star. Boyajian conducted follow-up research that showed that the dimming is specific to certain light frequencies, which could be explained if a cloud of dust were responsible, scientists have suggested. This new research explains how that dust might have gotten there.

The new theory from the Columbia team resembles the plot of a disaster film more than a science-fiction space opera. They built on earlier work showing that whatever’s causing the dimming is likely locked in an irregular, eccentric orbit around the star. They showed that a disintegrating, orphaned ice moon following such a path could explain the strange dimming.

“It’s likely outgassing water or some other volatile material,” said Brian Metzger, one of the authors of the new paper.

Over the course of millions of years, that material would form an irregular cloud around the star along the orphaned moon’s eccentric orbit, he told Live Science, adding that such a cloud would periodically block some of the star’s light from reaching Earth — just like the effect originally attributed to a Dyson sphere megastructure.

They suspect an orphaned moon, as opposed to a planet, is off-gassing the cloud, because it’s difficult to explain how an icy planet could end up in that irregular orbit in the first place. Based on our own solar system, he said, scientists know that solid, rocky bodies tend to make up the inner parts of a system, while bigger, gaseous planets dominate the outer system. And those planets are often orbited by icy moons.

Metzger and his colleagues described orbital calculations in which a planet like Jupiter, orbited by large moons and following an eccentric orbit, gets knocked (perhaps by another nearby star) into a collision course with its host star. As it falls to its doom, the star would rip those moons from their orbits. Most of the moons would fall into the star or fly out of the system, they showed, but in about 10% of all cases, a moon would end up in an eccentric orbit. And, critically, that orbit would likely place the moon within its star’s “ice line” — the point within which the star’s radiation would blast ice off the moon’s surface.

If the moon were made up of the right materials, they wrote, it would start to break apart due to the increased radiation of its new, closer orbit, spilling that material into interplanetary space like a gargantuan comet. And even though we’d never see the moon with our existing telescopes, that spilled material would form a cloud of dust and gas big enough to block Tabby’s star’s light in strange and unpredictable ways. Over time, the star would appear to get dimmer and dimmer, just like Tabby’s star, as the total amount of dust in its orbit increased.

Nothing’s certain, of course. Metzger said it’s still possible some other phenomenon is creating the effect. But this moon theory offers a compelling explanation for a distant flickering once chalked up (at least in the popular press) to aliens.

The paper, available as a draft online in the preprint journal arXiv, will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

China's Huge Long March 5 Rocket Returns to Flight in Dazzling Nighttime Launch

It’s the third Long March 5 ever to fly.

China’s biggest rocket, the Long March 5, returned to flight for the first time since a 2017 failure Friday (Dec. 27) in a dazzling nighttime launch for the Chinese space program

The Long March 5 Y3 rocket lifted off at 8:45 p.m. Beijing Time carrying the experimental Shijian 20 communications satellite into a geosynchronous orbit. The satellite, which weighs a reported 8 metric tons, is China’s heaviest and most advanced satellite to date, according to state media reports.

The successful launch is the first Long March 5 since a first-stage booster failure in 2017 destroyed the Shijian 18 satellite. The failure prompted redesigns in the rocket’s first-stage engines, which led to a two-year gap between missions. The first Long March 5 rocket lifted off in 2016.

Video: Watch China’s Long March 5 Return to Space in Stunning Launch
More: 
This is the 1st Photo of China’s Mars Explorer Launching in 2020

China's massive heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket returns to flight in a dazzling nighttime launch from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island.
China’s massive heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket returns to flight in a dazzling nighttime launch from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island. (Image credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation)

The Long March 5 is an essential booster for China’s space ambitions. The heavy-lift booster will be the one to launch China’s space station modules into orbit, as well as a Mars lander in 2020 and the Chang’e 5 moon sample-return mission

China is also expected to use a version of the Long March 5, called the Long March 5B, to launch a new crewed spacecraft — the successor to its current Shenzhou crew capsule. 

The rocket stands 184 feet (56 meters) tall and weighs nearly 2 million lbs. (867,000 kilograms) at liftoff. It is capable of carrying payloads of up to 55,000 lbs. (25,000 kilograms) into low Earth orbit. It can haul up  31,000 lbs. (14,000 kg) to a higher geostationary transfer orbit.

The Shijian 20 satellite (its name means “Practice”) is designed to be a high-throughput communications satellite “capable of delivering 1 Tbps [1 terabute per second] bandwidth for ultrafast speeds,” Chinese space officials said according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.  

Shijian 20 is also expected to test a laser communications payload for future missions, as well as new ion thrusters for propulsion.

Astronomers Are Closer to Cracking the Mystery of Fast Radio Bursts

Canadian telescope finds eight more repeating blasts—energetic events from deep in the cosmos

Astronomers Are Closer to Cracking the Mystery of Fast Radio Bursts
The CHIME telescope in Canada searches the sky for highly energetic cosmic events called fast radio bursts. Credit: Andre Renard, Dunlap Institute, CHIME Collaboration

Astronomers are edging closer to discovering what causes brief, powerful flashes in the sky known as fast radio bursts (FRBs), after a Canadian telescope discovered eight more of the most intriguing type of these blasts—those that repeat their signals.

FRBs are intensely energetic events that flare for just milliseconds, seemingly all over the sky and from outside the galaxy. But their cause has remained a mystery since the first FRB was identified in 2007. Astronomers hope that studying bursts that repeat their flashes, rather than just flare once, can help to elucidate the origins of FRBs. That’s because it’s easier for high-resolution telescopes to make follow-up observations of ‘repeaters’ and trace their origins than of one-off blasts.

Of the roughly 75 FRBs seen before this month’s discoveries, just 2 bursts were known to be repeaters. The first of these has been extensively studied, and the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope discovered the second repeater earlier this year. CHIME’s latest results, published on the arXiv preprint server on 9 August, now show that repeaters are far from rare. In the past few weeks, another telescope, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, also found a repeater, bringing the total so far to 11—although researchers are yet to publish this result.ADVERTISEMENT

CHIME, which began hunting for FRBs in 2018, has also discovered hundreds of one-off FRBs, CHIME researcher Bryan Gaensler said on Twitter on 12 August. Members of the telescope collaboration are still analysing these events, said Gaensler, an astronomer at the University of Toronto, Canada. “In 25 years of astronomy research, this is unquestionably the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on,” he said.

SCATTERED EVENTS

“This is a pretty exciting result,” says astronomer Laura Spitler at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany. Astronomers’ priority will be to search for the host galaxy of these repeat signals, she says. Pinpointing the host galaxies is essential to cracking the mystery of what causes FRBs. And sketching a picture of the environments in which the blasts are born will allow researchers to whittle down some of the dozens of possible explanations for FRBs. Astronomers suggest that they could be emissions from young magnetars—dense star cores spinning in a magnetic field— or vibrating cosmic strings.

The findings mean that there are now enough repeaters to start comparing these with one-off blasts, to find out whether the two kinds of FRB are produced in similar environments, says Spitler. All FRBs could come from fundamentally similar environments, but perhaps repeat blasts had avoided detection until now or their sources only flare under certain conditions. Or each type could be caused by different events—one that repeats and one that doesn’t.

The CHIME team has already seen clues that could help to answer this question. The eight repeaters seem to be located within a similar range of distances to the one-off bursts. But repeater signals lasted longer on average, the collaboration reports. Spitler says that, if this trend holds, it could be a sign that two seperate phenomena cause the different types of blast, because a— the duration of a blast reflects the underlying mechanism that produces it.

ELUSIVE ENVIRONMENTS

The latest data reveal differences in the environments from which repeaters emanate. A previously discovered burst, FRB 121102—the only repeating signal whose precise host galaxy has been identified—came from a highly magnetized environment. Like FRB 121102, the signal of one of the latest bursts is polarized with a spiral pattern that suggests it comes through a magnetic field. But the strength of the field for the new repeater is around 100 times weaker than that of FRB 121102.ADVERTISEMENT

Many, although not all, of the latest haul also share a feature of the first two repeaters. Rather than being a simple blast with a narrow frequency, the signals descend in frequency in a way that the team compares to a ‘sad trombone’ sound. “Such ‘sad trombone’ signals are actually rather unusual and complicated,” says Spitler. Explaining them poses a challenge to theorists, she adds.

The findings are only a small preview of the “full awesomeness coming out of CHIME”, said Gaensler. The telescope, which is near Penticton in British Columbia, was initially built to study radio waves from the early Universe. But in 2013, astronomers realized that the half-pipe-shaped telescope, which every day sweeps almost the entire northern sky, could also spot FRBs. For the relatively low cost of US$16 million, they turned CHIME into an FRB-hunter. Astronomers had only recently begun to take the telescope seriously, after initial observations seemed to be caused by interference or instrumental glitches.

“CHIME is definitely living up to its promise”, says Spitler.

The Mystery of the WOW! Signal

An exploration of the Wow! Signal, picked up at the Big Ear radio telescope in 1977. This signal remains unexplained to this day, and represents the best candidate we’ve ever detected of a signal of intelligent alien origin.

The Wow! signal was a strong narrowband radio signal received on August 15, 1977, by Ohio State University‘s Big Ear radio telescope in the United States, then used to support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The signal appeared to come from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius and bore the expected hallmarks of extraterrestrial origin.

Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman discovered the anomaly a few days later while reviewing the recorded data. He was so impressed by the result that he circled the reading on the computer printout, 6EQUJ5, and wrote the comment Wow! on its side, leading to the event’s widely used name.[2]

The entire signal sequence lasted for the full 72-second window during which Big Ear was able to observe it, but has not been detected since, despite several subsequent attempts by Ehman and others. Many hypotheses have been advanced on the origin of the emission, including natural and human-made sources, but none of them adequately explains the signal.[3] Although the Wow! signal had no detectable modulation—a technique used to transmit information over radio waves—it remains the strongest candidate for an alien radio transmission ever detected.[3]

The Wow! Signal with Discoverer Dr. Jerry Ehman https://youtu.be/x67K-Vq1KWk

The Big Ear Wow! Signal (30th Anniversary Report) http://www.bigear.org/Wow30th/wow30th…

SETI in the 1970s http://www.bigear.org/oldseti.htm

The Elusive Wow: Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Robert H. Gray https://amzn.to/2S3GWn3

Hello, Venus! Parker Solar Probe Makes Second Planetary Flyby.

An artist's depiction of NASA's Parker Solar Probe flying past Venus.

An artist’s depiction of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe flying past Venus.(Image: © NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)

The sun is right there in the name of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, but a second mission of opportunity may make the spacecraft just as vital to Venus scientists as to those studying our local star.

Parker Solar Probe launched in August 2018, destined to spend seven years looping ever closer to the sun in hopes of sorting out some of the hottest mysteries about our star. But to do so, the spacecraft needed a carefully choreographed trajectory, one that included seven flybys of Earth’s evil twin, Venus. And Venus scientists, who haven’t had a dedicated NASA spacecraft since the mid-1990s, were not about to let that opportunity fly past them.ADVERTISING

“The Venus flybys are like, if you have like a 48-hour layover in Paris, not leaving the airport,” Shannon Curry, a planetary physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, told Space.com. “It would be crazy not to turn on [the instruments].” Curry and her colleagues made her case, and the Parker Solar Probe will gather its second batch of Venus data today (Dec. 26), as the probe makes its closest approach to the planet at 1:14 p.m. EST (1814 GMT).

Of course, Parker Solar Probe’s instruments are designed to study a star, not a planet. They focus mostly on plasma, the hot mess of charged particles that makes up the sun. Traditionally, planetary scientists want very different instruments on their spacecraft: radar devices to map the surface, spectrometers to identify chemicals and the like. But that doesn’t make plasma data superfluous.

Two dedicated Venus missions have carried plasma detectors to the world: NASA’s Pioneer Venus Orbiter and the European Space Agency’s Venus Express. But those spacecraft were built decades ago. “The stuff that they were able to put on [Parker] Solar Probe takes measurements faster, better, stronger, like the whole deal,” Curry said.

And she and her colleagues have plenty of questions about Venus that plasma data could help answer. For today’s flyby, the team is particularly interested in a feature called the bow shock, where the planet’s neighborhood meets the solar wind of charged particles that constantly stream off the sun.

The precise location of the bow shock varies based on how active the sun is, which changes over the course of the 11-year solar cycle. “We’re not positive it’ll cross the shock or not, but that’s actually important because it’ll tell us physically where the shock is at this point in the solar cycle,” Curry said. “It tells us a lot about what the sun’s doing, and the shock is a nice gauge of that.”

And the environment on either side of the bow shock differs dramatically. Outside the shock is the pristine solar wind and the effects of solar storms. But if Parker Solar Probe crosses inside the shock, scientists should be able to better understand how quickly Venus is losing its atmosphere.

“The magnetic fields pile up and actually sort of drag the atmosphere off. It’s almost like a slingshot,” Curry said. “That’s one of the biggest ways the atmosphere of Venus gets removed, the sun’s magnetic field lines.”

Venus scientists are interested in a more detailed measurement of atmosphere loss, because atmospheric pressure affects what state water takes; it’s Earth’s even 1 bar of pressure that helps keep our oceans liquid. “At some point, maybe liquids could exist again [on Venus], or maybe they did before and we just don’t know,” Curry said.

But the Venus atmospheric-loss measurements will really crank up during Parker Solar Probe’s next two flybys, in July 2020 and February 2021. These two visits will carry the spacecraft right through what scientists call the tail of Venus, which is where the atmosphere slips away from the planet.

“Those are going to be the super-important ones. I think these first two are almost — not like dress rehearsals, but it’s really important to make sure we get everything right,” Curry said. “Flybys 3 and 4 will tell us mountains about atmospheric escape at Venus and then a lot of other dynamics we just don’t understand.”

Curry said that Parker Solar Probe may be able to solve a long-standing mystery about the surface of Venus: whether the planet sports small, patchy crustal magnetic fields. So far, Mars is the only planet where scientists have seen this phenomenon. “It’s like a little magnetic rash on its belly, like little bubbles with magnetic fields,” Curry said. But no one’s gotten a close enough look at Venus to check for them. “We might not [see them], and they might not even be there. We just don’t know.”

The results of the first Venus flyby, which took place in October 2018, prove the importance of practice. During the pass, the spacecraft ended up shutting its instruments down, convinced that they were pointing straight at the sun, which they aren’t meant to do.

“We’re just looking at Venus, not the sun. Venus is just a superbright planet the way it reflects,” Curry said. “That’s why the instruments got confused.” Now, Curry said, the project team believes it’s figured out how to keep that error from happening again.

And the Venus work is benefiting from a science bonus discovered by the main Parker Solar Probe team, which realized that the spacecraft could gather and send back more data than originally anticipated. Curry had been willing to fight for even just an hour of data on a flyby; during the first maneuver, the team got about 10 hours of observations.

Curry is hoping to build similar Venus collaborations with the European and Japanese team running the BepiColombo mission en route to Mercury and with Europe’s Solar Orbiter mission. Like Parker Solar Probe, both of these spacecraft also need to make Venus flybys to reach their targets.

“These are the only measurements of Venus we’re going to have for, frankly, it might be the next decade,” Curry said. “We have nothing planned to go to Venus.” And the missions NASA is considering don’t carry plasma instruments like Parker Solar Probe does, so questions like atmospheric loss might go unanswered even then.

Combine those two factors, and the mission’s accidental planetary science looks even more precious. “With Venus science,” Curry said, “anybody who gets data is a hero.”

A Star That's 200,000,000 Years Older than the Universe

Hubble Finds Birth Certificate of Oldest Known Star

This is a Digitized Sky Survey image of the oldest star with a well-determined age in our galaxy. The aging star, cataloged as HD 140283, lies 190.1 light-years away.

This is a Digitized Sky Survey image of the oldest star with a well-determined age in our galaxy. The aging star, cataloged as HD 140283, lies 190.1 light-years away. The Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO) UK Schmidt telescope photographed the star in blue light. Credit: Digitized Sky Survey (DSS), STScI/AURA, Palomar/Caltech, and UKSTU/AAO
A team of astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has taken an important step closer to finding the birth certificate of a star that’s been around for a very long time.

“We have found that this is the oldest known star with a well-determined age,” said Howard Bond of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.

The star could be as old as 14.5 billion years (plus or minus 0.8 billion years), which at first glance would make it older than the universe’s calculated age of about 13.8 billion years, an obvious dilemma.

But earlier estimates from observations dating back to 2000 placed the star as old as 16 billion years. And this age range presented a potential dilemma for cosmologists. “Maybe the cosmology is wrong, stellar physics is wrong, or the star’s distance is wrong,” Bond said. “So we set out to refine the distance.”

The new Hubble age estimates reduce the range of measurement uncertainty, so that the star’s age overlaps with the universe’s age — as independently determined by the rate of expansion of space, an analysis of the microwave background from the big bang, and measurements of radioactive decay.

This “Methuselah star,” cataloged as HD 140283, has been known about for more than a century because of its fast motion across the sky. The high rate of motion is evidence that the star is simply a visitor to our stellar neighborhood. Its orbit carries it down through the plane of our galaxy from the ancient halo of stars that encircle the Milky Way, and will eventually slingshot back to the galactic halo.

This conclusion was bolstered by the 1950s astronomers who were able to measure a deficiency of heavier elements in the star as compared to other stars in our galactic neighborhood. The halo stars are among the first inhabitants of our galaxy and collectively represent an older population from the stars, like our sun, that formed later in the disk. This means that the star formed at a very early time before the universe was largely “polluted” with heavier elements forged inside stars through nucleosynthesis. (The Methuselah star has an anemic 1/250th as much of the heavy element content of our sun and other stars in our solar neighborhood.)

The star, which is at the very first stages of expanding into a red giant, can be seen with binoculars as a 7th-magnitude object in the constellation Libra.

Hubble’s observational prowess was used to refine the distance to the star, which comes out to be 190.1 light-years. Bond and his team performed this measurement by using trigonometric parallax, where an apparent shift in the position of a star is caused by a change in the observer’s position. The results are published in the February 13 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The parallax of nearby stars can be measured by observing them from opposite points in Earth’s orbit around the sun. The star’s true distance from Earth can then be precisely calculated through straightforward triangulation.

Once the true distance is known, an exact value for the star’s intrinsic brightness can be calculated. Knowing a star’s intrinsic brightness is a fundamental prerequisite to estimating its age.

Before the Hubble observation, the European Space Agency’s Hipparcos satellite made a precise measurement of the star’s parallax, but with an age measurement uncertainty of 2 billion years. One of Hubble’s three Fine Guidance Sensors measured the position of the Methuselah star. It turns out that the star’s parallax came out to be virtually identical to the Hipparcos measurements. But Hubble’s precision is five times better that than of Hipparcos. Bond’s team managed to shrink the uncertainty so that the age estimate was five times more precise.

With a better handle on the star’s brightness Bond’s team refined the star’s age by applying contemporary theories about the star’s burn rate, chemical abundances, and internal structure. New ideas are that leftover helium diffuses deeper into the core and so the star has less hydrogen to burn via nuclear fusion. This means it uses fuel faster and that correspondingly lowers the age.

Also, the star has a higher than predicted oxygen-to-iron ratio, and this too lowers the age. Bond thinks that further oxygen measurement could reduce the star’s age even more, because the star would have formed at a slightly later time when the universe was richer in oxygen abundance. Lowering the upper age limit would make the star unequivocally younger than the universe.

“Put all of those ingredients together and you get an age of 14.5 billion years, with a residual uncertainty that makes the star’s age compatible with the age of the universe,” said Bond. “This is the best star in the sky to do precision age calculations by virtue of its closeness and brightness.”

This Methuselah star has seen many changes over its long life. It was likely born in a primeval dwarf galaxy. The dwarf galaxy eventually was gravitationally shredded and sucked in by the emerging Milky Way over 12 billion years ago.

The star retains its elongated orbit from that cannibalism event. Therefore, it’s just passing through the solar neighborhood at a rocket-like speed of 800,000 miles per hour. It takes just 1,500 years to traverse a piece of sky with the angular width of the full Moon. The star’s proper motion angular rate is so fast (0.13 milliarcseconds an hour) that Hubble could actually photograph its movement in literally a few hours.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

For images, illustrations, and more information about HD 140283, visit:

The "Christmas Star" Graces the Evening Sky

Have you seen a bright ‘star’ gracing the southwestern sky lately? It is the brightest object after the Sun and Moon. This month, it’s impossible to overlook the brilliant planet Venus in the evening sky. During the Festive Season, it looks like a gleaming lantern hanging in the southwest, setting more than three hours after the Sun. Venus has adorned the southwestern twilight sky since early November. No other star or planet can come close to matching Venus in brilliance.

This month, Venus is the unrivaled evening star that will soar from excellent to magnificent prominence in the southwest at nightfall. It’s probably the first “star” you’ll see coming out after sunset. In fact, if the air is very clear and the sky a good, deep blue, try looking for Venus shortly before sunset. Dazzling Venus will grace the evening sky in late December and for the first part of 2020. As if to remind us of her prominence, Venus will meet with the moon as the year ends.

On the evening of December 28, the waxing crescent moon will appear in very close proximity to the brightest planet in our sky, Venus. Astronomers refer to a close celestial pair-up like this as a conjunction. Step outside and enjoy the wonderful celestial show! Look for soft glow of earthshine, with either the unaided eye or binoculars, on the dark side of the moon over the next several days.

Clear Skies Everyone!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

May this time bless you with all of your heart’s desires!

Trump Officially Establishes US Space Force with 2020 Defense Bill Signing

President Donald Trump signs S.1790, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 on, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 at Joint Base Andrews. The act directed the establishment of the U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.

President Donald Trump signs S.1790, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 on, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 at Joint Base Andrews. The act directed the establishment of the U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.(Image: © Airman 1st Class Spencer Slocum, 11th Wing Public Affairs)

President Trump has signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and with it directed the establishment of the U.S. Space Force (USSF) as the sixth branch of the armed forces.

The Space Force is part of the Department of the Air Force, much as the U.S. Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy. The new branch will be stood up over the next 18 months, military officials said.

“It was nearly half a century from Kitty Hawk to the creation of the Air Force. And now it’s 50 years after Apollo 11 that we create the Space Force,” Trump said during signing ceremonies at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Friday (Dec. 20), which you can watch here

“It’s a big moment. That’s a big moment, and we’re all here for it,” he added. “Space … going to be a lot of things happening in space. Because space is the world’s newest warfighting domain. Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. And we’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough. But very shortly, we’ll be leading by a lot. The Space Force will help us deter aggression and control the ultimate high ground.”

Trump also said he will appoint Gen. Jay Raymond to be the first Chief of Space Operations, the senior military member of the new branch.

“And he will become the very first member of the Space Force,” the president said. “He will be on the Joint Chiefs, which we’re now expanding by one position. That’s a very powerful position. So, General Raymond, congratulations, and thank you for you everything you’ve done.”

‘Strategic imperative’

“We are at the dawn of a new era for our nation’s armed forces,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a statement. “The establishment of the U.S. Space Force is an historic event and a strategic imperative for our nation. Space has become so important to our way of life, our economy and our national security that we must be prepared as a nation to protect it from hostile actions.”

Esper also stressed that the Space Force will help the United States prepare itself against threats in an “evolving space environment.” Other military officials echoed his sentiments.

“In military operations, space is not just a place from which we support combat operations in other domains, but a warfighting domain in and of itself,” Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in the same statement. “Our adversaries are building and deploying capabilities to threaten us, so we can no longer take space for granted. The U.S. Space Force is the necessary and essential step our nation will take to defend our national interests in space today and into the future.”

“The launch of the U.S. Space Force propels the nation into a new era,” Barbara Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force, said in the same statement. “An agile, lean and technologically advanced force of talented professionals will now singularly focus on protecting our U.S. national interests and security in space.”

The Air Force is making an effort on multiple fronts to get more agile and responsive to emerging space threats. For example, last month, the Air Force held its first-ever Space Pitch Day in San Francisco, awarding millions of dollars in on-the-spot contracts to companies developing various technologies that could aid the nation’s space security.Click here for more Space.com videos…US Space Force and Command – DOD Explains Why It’s NeededVolume 0% PLAY SOUND

Space capabilities

The Space Force will “maintain and enhance the competitive edge of the Department of Defense (DOD) in space while adapting to new strategic challenges,” according to a newly released fact sheet issued by Space Force Public Affairs.

The Space Force will be headquartered at the Pentagon, like the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, the fact sheet states. And the Space Force’s duties will be wide-ranging.

The newly created branch “organizes, trains and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force,” the fact sheet reads. “USSF responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands. 

You can watch a new video about the Space Force here.

Boeing's New Spacecraft Gets Lost On Way To Space Station

Boeing’s Starliner has been designed and built for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, intended to provide ‘taxi’ services for astronauts to the International Space Station. Today was the first full flight test, launching on board an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral the initial flight was flawless. However after separation the spacecraft got confused and maneuvered incorrectly, burning through fuel needed for the rendezvous. Ultimately the spacecraft was recovered by it was no longer in the correct orbit and at this time space station docking has been ruled out. The vehicle will be tested on orbit to make sure all the systems operated correctly before the Starliner returns and lands at White Sands on Sunday.

Meteors: Crash Course Astronomy

Today Phil helps keep you from ticking off an astronomer in your life by making sure you know the difference between a meteor, meteorite, and meteoroid. When the Earth plows through the stream emitted by a comet we get a meteor shower. Meteors burn up about 100 km above the Earth, but some survive to hit the ground. Most of these meteorites are rocky, some are metallic, and a few are a mix of the two. Very big meteorites can be a very big problem, but there are plans in the works to prevent us from going the way of the dinosaurs.

Astronomers Discovered a Forbidden Planet But Have No idea Why It Exists

Today we’re going to focus on education and learn more about space and space facts that you probably didn’t know about! As has been famously said, space is the final frontier. The greatest of unknowns, space is far vaster than we can comprehend, and filled with phenomenon we barely understand. While we’ve been watching the heavens in awe for millennia, space exploration and discovery only began in earnest in the mid 20th century. Yet even what are no doubt our primitive findings still point at a universe more incredible than we ever thought. Hello and welcome to another episode of The Infographics Show – today we’re taking a look at 50 incredible facts about space!

Ancient Greek Astronomy

How the ancient Greeks understood the universe; what they got right and what they got wrong. How Aristotle understood the Earth was round by observing lunar eclipses; how Aristarchus of Samos used these results to work out the relative sizes of Earth, the Sun, and Moon, how Eratosthenes of Cyrene measured Earth’s circumference, and how Hipparchus of Nicaea determined created the first catalog of stars and discovered Earth’s 26,000 year axial precession, Finally, we take a look at Claudius Ptolemy’s collection of works in the Almagest, and how he came up with a system of epicycles to explain planets’ retrograde motion.

Thousands of Government UFO Reports Now Available at Canadian University

A private UFO enthusiast has donated his collection of 30,000 documents to the University of Manitoba in Canada. The truth is in there.

A man in Canada says he was attacked by a UFO in 1967. (Not this one.)

A man in Canada says he was attacked by a UFO in 1967. (Not this one.)(Image: © Shutterstock)

The skies of northern Canada are home to plenty of mysterious phenomena (just ask our good buddy “Steve”), including no shortage of alleged UFO sightings. Now, truth seekers at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg may have a busy winter ahead of them, thanks to a recent donation of more than 30,000 UFO-related documents to the school’s archives.

The donation comes courtesy of Chris Rutkowski, a science writer and prolific Canadian ufologist. Rutkowski’s collection includes more than 20,000 UFO reports filed over the past 30 years, plus more than 10,000 UFO-related documents from the Canadian government, according to a statement from the University of Manitoba. Many of these documents concern an infamous UFO encounter known as the Falcon Lake incident — an encounter that Rutkowski calls Canada’s “best-documented UFO case.”ADVERTISING

“It even beats Roswell [the alleged flying saucer spotted over New Mexico in 1947] because the United States still doesn’t recognize that anything happened in Roswell,” Rutkowski told the CBC. The Falcon Lake incident, meanwhile, struck both U.S. and Canadian officials as unusual — and unexplainable.

The incident occurred on May 20, 1967, when an amateur geologist named Stefan Michalak was prospecting for quartz near Falcon Lake in Manitoba — the Canadian province that begins above North Dakota and stretches nearly 800 miles (1,200 kilometers) into the frigid north. During his survey, Michalak was startled by a flock of agitated geese swooping past him. According to Michalak’s numerous retellings of the story, the geese were apparently fleeing from two glowing, cigar-shaped objects in the sky. One of the objects flew off, and the other landed on a rocky terrace nearby.

Stefan Michalak made this sketch of the UFO he encountered at Falcon Lake shortly before approaching it.
Stefan Michalak made this sketch of the UFO he encountered at Falcon Lake shortly before approaching it. (Image credit: Stefan Michalak/ University of Manitoba)

Michalak spent some time sketching the mysterious craft (those sketches, now part of the University of Manitoba’s collection, show a quintessential flying saucer) before finally approaching it. The air was warm and smelled of sulfur, and the craft was noisy with whirrs and hisses. The saucer was hot to the touch — so hot it burned the tips of Michalak’s gloves, he said. It sounded like there were voices coming from within. 

When Michalak looked into the craft through an open door, he expected to see a team of U.S. military pilots. Rather, he saw little more than a panel of blinking lights before the door closed, the craft rotated and a grid-like pattern of tiny holes in the ship’s exterior sprayed his abdomen with scorching-hot gas.Click here for more Space.com videos…CLOSEVolume 0% PLAY SOUND

The attack set Michalak’s shirt and hat ablaze, and left him with first-degree burns on his stomach that echoed the ship’s grid-like pattern. A hospital in Winnipeg treated his burns, which later rose into welts, and he suffered headaches, diarrhea and blackouts for several weeks after. Michalak relayed the incident to both U.S. and Canadian authorities, and he eventually completed a physical and psychological evaluation at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The clinic determined that Michalak was of sound mind and not hallucinating. 

Years later, a twisted piece of metal was recovered from the alleged Falcon Lake landing site. Tests showed the metal to be highly radioactive. To this day, neither the Canadian nor U.S. military has been able to explain the event.

All of Rutkowski’s records on the Falcon Lake incident — plus thousands of other reported UFO encounters — will soon be available at the University of Manitoba’s Archives & Special Collections. Got a few bucks to spare for the unknown? The school has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help digitize these documents.

Hubble captures amazing photos of Comet Borisov speeding past our sun

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured the comet 21/Borisov zooming through our solar system at a breakneck speed of 175,000 kilometers per hour.

The spectacular newly released images were taken from a distance of just under 300 million kilometers, officials said.

“Hubble gives us the best measure of the size of comet Borisov’s nucleus, which is the really important part of the comet,” said David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California Los Angeles, in a statement.

The first image shows the comet in front of a distant spiral galaxy; the galaxy’s bright core is smeared in the image because Hubble was tracking the comet.

Comet 2I/Borisov and Distant Galaxy in November 2019

Comet 2I/Borisov and Distant Galaxy in November 2019 ((NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)))

“Surprisingly, our Hubble images show that its nucleus is more than 15 times smaller than earlier investigations suggested it might be. The radius is smaller than half a kilometer. This is important because knowing the size helps us to determine the total number, and mass, of such objects in the solar system, and in the Milky Way. Borisov is the first known interstellar comet, and we would like to know how many others there are.”

According to scientists, 2I/Borisov may represent only the beginning of a series of discoveries of interstellar objects that visit our solar system.

It’s possible that there are thousands of such interstellar objects here at any given time; however, most of them are too faint to be detected with present-day telescopes.

NASA picks site on asteroid Bennu where it will grab space rock sample

‘X’ marks the spot as NASA prepares for a historic asteroid mission.

NASA has selected the site on asteroid Bennu where its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will retrieve a sample of space rock.

Scientists identified four potential sites before picking a spot dubbed “Nightingale” that is located in Bennu’s northern hemisphere.

“After thoroughly evaluating all four candidate sites, we made our final decision based on which site has the greatest amount of fine-grained material and how easily the spacecraft can access that material while keeping the spacecraft safe,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in a statement. “Of the four candidates, site Nightingale best meets these criteria and, ultimately, best ensures mission success.”

This image released by NASA shows sample site Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site on asteroid Bennu. The image is overlaid with a graphic of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site.

This image released by NASA shows sample site Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site on asteroid Bennu. The image is overlaid with a graphic of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

A second site, dubbed Osprey, has been picked as a backup for sample collection.

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

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

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

The spacecraft will use a robotic arm to grab the sample from Bennu.

OSIRIS-Rex will make its first “touch-and-go” sample collection attempt in August 2020. The probe will depart Bennu in 2021 and is scheduled to return to Earth in September 2023, according to NASA.

Neutron Flashes Never-Before-Seen Type of Magnetic Field at Earth

An illustration shows a small neutrons star surround by a disk of loose material.

An illustration shows a small neutrons star surround by a disk of loose material.(Image: © NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA))

A twisted little neutron star devoured chunks of its stellar twin, revealing a never-before-seen phenomenon to scientists watching on Earth.

Unlike most objects in space (including other neutron stars and planet Earth), neutron star GRO J2058+42 doesn’t have two simple magnetic poles at its north and south ends. Instead, it has a distorted magnetic field, with warped regions of intense magnetism sprinkled across the object’s surface. 

The celestial object was discovered in 1995, when it had a big outburst, but since then, it had been in a “quiet state,” which concealed the star’s twisted magnetic field. But in March, the object lit up again as it consumed a big chunk of matter from its twin, a regular star. That’s according to a paper from an international team of scientists, published Sept. 18 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

After black holes, neutron stars are the densest known objects in the universe. Though the objects’ internal physics are poorly understood, researchers know that neutron stars form from the dense cores of ancient stars that go supernova. Scientists also know that these objects are often as heavy and bright as normal stars but only about as wide as a small city. Often, as in the case of this neutron star, the ones we can see from Earth are paired up with normal stars and suck columns of matter off their companions’ surfaces. Neutron stars often spin quite fast and regularly, and researchers study the objects by measuring their brightening and dimming and the particular frequencies of light they emit.

Sometimes, those frequencies include a “cyclotron line,” a feature in the light coming from the star that suggests the presence of a powerful magnetic field, researchers in the new study wrote in a statement. Typically, the neutron stars fall into one of two categories: neutron stars with no cyclotron line and neutron stars with a steady, even cyclotron line caused by a magnetic field with two poles.

This star is different. When it lit up again in March, NASA quickly focused the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) on the light source, and this instrument discovered the cyclotron line, the authors wrote in the paper. But this line was present only 10% of the time. That suggests that something bizarre is going on with GRO J2058+42’s magnetic fields. The star’s field is pointing at Earth for only a tenth of its 3-minute, 16-second rotation period.

It’s difficult to explain why this neutron star has this property, the authors wrote, in part because the data have a number of complicating factors. The gravitational fields around the neutron star are so intense, for example, that most of the X-rays we can see from Earth are actually coming from the far side of the star. As they leave the star’s surface, the object’s gravity bends their path through space until they’re pointed at Earth. That and other issues make it especially difficult to disentangle the data here and figure out precisely what’s going on, the authors wrote.

There are similar magnetic anomalies on our own star, the authors noted in the statement. Sunspots are, in fact, regions where magnetic fields have gotten tangled up in a way that’s likely similar to what’s happening here. But the effect of such spots is far less dramatic, and they have less of an impact on the whole star.