Possible meteor seen streaking across Southern California sky

A bright light streaking across the sky in Southern California Wednesday evening lit up social media with what amateur astronomers identifying it as a possible meteor.

Residents from Los Angeles to San Diego caught the event on camera.

“Saw the most crazy meteor I’ve ever seen!! It blew into pieces and burned up in the atmosphere!!,” one woman wrote on Twitter. “Oh My Lanta that was SO COOL!!!!! And I caught the end on camera!!”Summer C@summerrabel

Saw the most crazy meteor I’ve ever seen!! It blew into pieces and burned up in the atmosphere!! Oh My Lanta that was SO COOL!!!!! And I caught the end on camera!!#meteor

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1,481Twitter Ads info and privacy372 people are talking about thiskimmy@renfriiiii

My boyfriend caught this video of the meteor shower in california and wanted me to post it!! ☄️ #meteor #SanDiego

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4,242Twitter Ads info and privacy1,157 people are talking about thisKelcey@badddgalkeke

Y’ALL I was really thinking it was the end of the world…. This thing was huge #meteor

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SCIENTISTS JUST DISCOVERED GIANT 790,000-YEAR-OLD METEOR CRATERJon Burton@JonTt

My Tesla caught the LA #meteor on my way along the PCH tonight…

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KABC-TV reported it was likely either a meteor or space debris, but there has been no official confirmation on the unidentified object yet.

Tarantula Nebula stuns in new view from the Spitzer Space Telescope

NASA has released an incredible high-resolution image of the distant Tarantula Nebula captured by the soon-to-be-retired Spitzer Space Telescope.

The space agency notes that the Nebula was one of the first targets studied by the Spitzer Space Telescope following its launch in 2003. The infrared observatory will be retired on Thursday.

This image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Tarantula Nebula in two wavelengths of infrared light.

This image captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Tarantula Nebula in two wavelengths of infrared light. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The image uses data from a number of Spitzer observations, the most recent of which were captured in February and September of last year.

“I think we chose the Tarantula Nebula as one of our first targets because we knew it would demonstrate the breadth of Spitzer’s capabilities,” said Michael Werner, Spitzer’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement. “That region has a lot of interesting dust structures and a lot of star formation happening, and those are both areas where infrared observatories can see a lot of things that you can’t see in other wavelengths.”

In 2012, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured a “star-filled web” within the Tarantula Nebula, Space.com reports.

Scientists Have Found Some Strange Object In Space

Astronomers have cataloged eight planets, 6,500 comets and more than 525,000 asteroids, but a mysterious thing happened on October 19, 2017 in Hawaii that grabbed the attention of millions of people and scientists around the world because what they discovered was unlike anything seen before. The first ever recorded interstellar object was found to have entered our solar system somewhere from deep space. It was given the name Oumuamua, named after the Hawaiian term for ‘scout’ or ‘messenger from afar’, and its path showed that it was not gravitationally bound to our own solar system. But what was this strange object, and where did it come from?

Beer Nebulae Cloud… the biggest bar in the Universe

Every now and then you hear something which grabs your attention.  This captured my attention: There is a cloud of alcohol (ethyl alcohol – the happy juice found in beer, wine, and spirits) floating in space.  This isn’t a small cloud either.  There is enough alcohol in this cloud to fill 400 trillion trillion pints of beer.  That is one hell of a keg party.

That’s the good news.

Imagine a whole space cloud filled with beer. An intergalatic kegger!

The bad news is it is 10,000 light years away in the constellation of Aquila.  It’s unlikely we could get to the cloud any time soon.  The booze cloud, known as G34.3, is so large (1000 times the size of our solar system) our solar system could drown itself inside many times over.

Space alcohol was discovered back in 1975 by Dr. Ben M. Zuckerman of the University of California at Los Angeles, so it’s not a recent discovery.  The booze cloud was found in 1995 by Drs. Tom Millar, Geoffrey MacDonald and Rolf Habing.  What makes this cloud so interesting is the massive amounts of alcohol in the cloud.  There are other compounds in this cloud, 32 in all, but alcohol is the most abundant.

Scientists theorize simpler compounds collect on bits of dust.  When these compounds get close enough, they are able to react with each other forming more complex molecules like alcohol.  These reactions can take place over 10,000 years, thus beating the longest fermentation you or anyone else has ever experienced.

In the center of the cloud is a young and very drunk star (not Paris Hilton).  Scientists believe the grains of dust carrying the alcohol drifted near the young star, and were warmed up enough to cause the alcohol to turn into its gas state creating the massive clouds of booze.  That or space aliens are planning for one crazy Oktoberfest!

Super-Earth Planet Likely Made of Diamond

Illustration of the Interior of 55 Cancri e

Illustration of the interior of 55 Cancri e — an extremely hot planet with a surface of mostly graphite surrounding a thick layer of diamond, below which is a layer of silicon-based minerals and a molten iron core at the center.(Image: © Haven Giguere)

Move over, Hope Diamond. The most famous gems on Earth have new competition in the form of a planet made largely of diamond, astronomers say.

The alien planet, a so-called “super-Earth,” is called 55 Cancri e and was discovered in 2004 around a nearby star in our Milky Way galaxy. After estimating the planet’s mass and radius, and studying its host star’s composition, scientists now say the rocky world is composed mainly of carbon (in the form of diamond and graphite), as well as iron, silicon carbide, and potentially silicates.

At least a third of the planet’s mass is likely pure diamond.

“This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan of Yale University said in a statement. “The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite.”

55 Cancri e is the first likely “diamond planet” to be identified around a sun-like star, though such worlds have been theorized before. Planets like this are vastly different from our Earth, which has relatively little carbon.

“By contrast, Earth’s interior is rich in oxygen, but extremely poor in carbon — less than a part in thousand by mass,” said study co-author and Yale geophysicist Kanani Lee.

55 Cancri e is what’s known as a super-Earth, with a radius twice as wide as that of our own planet, and a mass eight times greater. It speeds around its host star, making a full orbit in just 18 hours (Earth takes 365 days). It is so close in to the star that its surface temperature reaches a scorching 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,100 degrees Celsius), making it probably way too hot for life. [Oozing Super-Earth: Images of Alien Planet 55 Cancri e]

Previous studies of this planet suggested it might actually be covered with oozing “supercritical fluids” — high-pressure liquid-like gases — seeping out from its rocks. But this idea was based on the assumption that 55 Cancri e had a similar chemical makeup as Earth, Madhusudhan said. The new findings suggest the planet has no water at all.Click here for more Space.com videos…CLOSEVolume 0%This video will resume in 4 seconds PLAY SOUND

The revelation of the planet’s diamond nature means that it could have very different thermal evolution and plate tectonics processes than Earth, which could create bizarre types of volcanism, seismic activity, and mountain formation.  

55 Cancri e is one of five planets encircling a sun-like star called 55 Cancri, which lies about 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cancer. This star is so close it is visible to the naked eye in the night sky.

The researchers hope to make follow-up observations of this star system to better determine the star’s composition and to analyze 55 Cancri e’s atmosphere. This information could bolster the idea that the planet is a diamond world.

A paper reporting the new findings has been accepted for publication in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Great news! Asteroid 16 Psyche contains enough GOLD, NASA plans to launch space probe

The asteroid 16 Psyche, which is located in the primary asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, could contain precious metals such as gold and platinum, which may be worth thousands of billions of pounds.

Representative image Representative image

Asteroid called 16 Psyche could hold thousands of billions of pounds worth of gold? Yes, you read it right. The NASA is planning to send a probe to the asteroid that could hold thousands of billions of pounds worth of gold, platinum and other special metals. The asteroid 16 Psyche, which is located in the primary asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, could contain precious metals such as gold and platinum, which may be worth thousands of billions of pounds.

Daily Express reported that the NASA is planning to launch a solar powered space probe towards the asteroid in 2022, which should arrive in 2026. It would then spend two years investigating the asteroids metallic composition.

According to NBC News, experts believe the asteroid could contain precious metals such as gold and platinum, which may be worth thousands of billions of pounds.

In March, US Vice President Mike Pence announced that he wanted to put astronauts back on the Moon by 2024, despite setting his previous goal at 2028. US President Donald Trump, however, is yet to make it clear whether he supports the mission.

Scott Moore, who heads up EuroSun Mining, said the sheer amount of gold in the asteroid threatens to throw the gold industry into chaos.

“The ‘Titans of Gold’ now control hundreds of the best-producing properties around the world,” he told Oil Price.

“But the 4-5 million ounces of gold they bring to the market every year pales in comparison to the conquests available in space.”

 Dubbed the Discovery Mission, it will arrive at Psyche 16 around 2026. But bringing back an asteroid of this value could completely wipe out our global economy.

Huge star ate its dead neighbor, creating brightest supernova ever, scientists say

An exploding star that blazed to life 240 million light-years away in the Perseus constellation may have consumed its dead neighbor, new research shows.

Although the blast, officially known as SN 2006gy, grew brighter and measured hundreds of times more powerful than a typical supernova, scientists were unsure what characteristics made the incident so unique.

A bright supernova flares across the sky in this illustration.

A bright supernova flares across the sky in this illustration. (Science Photo Library – MEHAU KULYK via Getty Images)

In new research published Thursday in the Science journal, astronomers analyzed for a second time the emission lines emanating from the explosion.

The astronomers found large deposits of iron in the emissions, Live Science reported, which they believe could be the result of the supernova interacting with a different layer of stellar material that was ejected hundreds of years earlier.

Researchers have one theory that SN 2006gy actually began with two stars, not one.

“A candidate scenario to explain this is [the] evolution of a binary progenitor system, in which a white dwarf spirals into a giant or supergiant companion star,” the researchers wrote in the study.

This NASA illustration shows what the super-luminous supernova SN 2006gy may have looked like.

This NASA illustration shows what the super-luminous supernova SN 2006gy may have looked like.

A collision among stars that orbit around one another would reportedly be quite rare, happening once every 10,000 years or so in the Milky Way.

The mystery behind a superbright supernova may just have been solved

The explosion likely occurred within a dense shell of matter shed by a companion star.

 The supernova SN 2006gy was the brightest and most energetic stellar explosion ever recorded when it was discovered in 2006. At top, an artist's illustration shows how SN 2006gy may have appeared at a close distance. The bottom left panel is an infrared image by the Lick Observatory of NGC 1260, the galaxy containing SN 2006gy. The panel to the right shows an X-ray image of the same field of view captured by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The supernova SN 2006gy was the brightest and most energetic stellar explosion ever recorded when it was discovered in 2006. At top, an artist’s illustration shows how SN 2006gy may have appeared at a close distance. The bottom left panel is an infrared image by the Lick Observatory of NGC 1260, the galaxy containing SN 2006gy. The panel to the right shows an X-ray image of the same field of view captured by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.(Image: © X-ray: NASA/CXC/UC Berkeley/N.Smith et al.; IR: Lick/UC Berkeley/J.Bloom & C.Hansen)

One of the most luminous stellar explosions ever detected may now be explained. It came from the detonation of a dead star within the dense shell of matter ejected from that sun’s companion star, a new study suggests.

Supernovas are explosions that can happen when stars die, either after the stars burn all their fuel or gain a sudden influx of new fuel. These outbursts can briefly outshine all of the other suns in these stars’ galaxies, making them visible from halfway across the universe.ADVERTISING

Recently, scientists discovered a rare class of exploding star known as superluminous supernovas. These explosions are up to 100 times brighter than regular supernovas but account for less than 0.1% of all supernovas.

Much remains unknown about what powers superluminous supernovas; they release far more energy than any standard mechanism for powering supernovas can explain. To learn more about what drives these extraordinary explosions, scientists focused on SN 2006gy, one of the first known superluminous supernovas. SN 2006gy occurred in a galaxy 240 million light-years away and was the brightest and most energetic supernova ever recorded when it was discovered, in 2006.

A little more than a year after SN 2006gy was spotted, researchers detected an unusual spectrum of light from the supernova. Now, scientists have deduced that this light came from an envelope of iron around the supernova, revealing clues as to what might have caused the explosion.

The researchers developed computer models of what kind of light would be generated by envelopes of iron with various masses, temperatures, clumping patterns and other properties. They found that the wavelengths and energies of light seen from SN 2006gy likely came from a huge amount of iron — “over a third of the sun’s mass” — expanding at about 3,355 mph (5,400 km/h), study lead author Anders Jerkstrand, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, told Space.com.

Initial analysis of SN 2006gy suggested that the supernova happened after a giant star ran out of fuel, with the star’s core then collapsing under its own weight into an extraordinarily dense nugget in a fraction of a second and rebounding with a giant blast outward. However, such a “core-collapse” supernova likely would not have generated an iron envelope with the kind of mass and expansion rate that the new study calculated.

Instead, a scenario consistent with the new findings suggests that SN 2006gy was a so-called Type Ia supernova, which occurs when one star pours enough fuel onto a dead star known as a white dwarf to trigger an extraordinary nuclear explosion. (White dwarfs are the superdense, Earth-size cores of stars that exhausted all their fuel and shed their outer layers without catastrophic explosions.)

Specifically, the scenario called for a white dwarf in a close binary orbit with a hydrogen-rich companion star. “Such systems are in fact well known and common — the so-called cataclysmic variables, of which we know of several hundred,” Jerkstrand said.Click here for more Space.com videos…‘We Don’t Planet’ Episode 12: Type-1a SupernovaeVolume 0% PLAY SOUND

When such a companion star gets old, it swells, trapping the white dwarf in its expanding shell. The resulting friction “causes the white dwarf to spiral towards the center, and at the same time, the envelope material is ejected,” Jerkstrand said.

Normally in such binary systems, the white dwarf may spend millions or billions of years spiraling toward the center of its companion before exploding as a Type Ia supernova, Jerkstrand said. However, with SN 2006gy, the researchers suspected that the white dwarf may have exploded “within only about a century since the initiation of the inspiral phase,” he said.

This supernova then slammed into the dense shell of material ejected from the white dwarf’s companion star, which was still relatively nearby. Striking this envelope would have been “like hitting a brick wall, and most of the motion energy of the supernova was transformed into light in this collision,” explaining why SN 2006gy was so bright, Jerkstrand said.

A few other superluminous supernovas share similar properties with SN 2006gy. That similarity suggests that these supernovas also share the same underlying mechanics, the researchers said.

Future research can investigate how binary systems that might give rise to such superluminous supernovas may form. Researchers could also look into what exactly might trigger a Type Ia supernova from white dwarfs in such systems only a century or so after they spiral toward the centers of their companions.

“Did the supernova occur as the inspiraling white dwarf encountered another compact object

at the center of the companion, or did it accrete matter until it became too massive and exploded?” Jerkstrand said.

The scientists detailed their findings in the Jan. 24 issue of the journal Science.

China releases huge batch of amazing Chang’e-4 images from moon’s far side

lunar surface chang'e missionAn image taken by China’s Chang’e-4 mission on the moon.(Image: © CNSA)

China’s long-lived lunar robots Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 are once again at work on the far side of the moon, where they woke up for their 14th day on Jan. 18 and 19 respectively.

And those of us here on Earth can take a new look through the lander’s and rover’s lunar eyes, as China released a huge batch of data on Monday (Jan. 20). The data release includes high-resolution images of the moon from the Chang’e-4 lander’s terrain camera and the panoramic camera on the Yutu-2 rover. 

Chang’e-4 just reached the first anniversary of its historic landing in Von Kármán Crater, within the gigantic South Pole-Aitken basin. The newly published photos cover nearly a year of pioneering exploration on the far side of the moon, where no previous mission has landed.

The China Lunar Exploration Program made the data available online at a dedicated website for the country’s moon missions. 

Doug Ellison, engineering camera team lead for the Curiosity Mars Rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, downloaded a range of the data and tweeted out processed images.Doug Ellison@doug_ellison · Replying to @doug_ellison

The first 6 images from the rover panoramic camera. These are actually color – need to debayer them. Will reply down this thread. Data : http://moon.bao.ac.cn .

View image on Twitter

Doug Ellison@doug_ellison

Oh – this is so pretty.

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Ellison also stitched together single shots to produce larger images, along with cylindrical and azimuth panoramas. His gallery of Chang’e-4 images is viewable here.

Images include close-up views of craters and regolith, or lunar soil, in Von Kármán Crater, as well as various shots of the lander and rover, the distant skyline and Yutu-2’s roving tracks. Andrew Jones@AJ_FI

Four pics of Von Kármán crater from a couple thousand images released from the Chang’e-4 rover Yutu-2’s PCAM. Thanks to @doug_ellison for the instructions & check out the amazing stuff in his thread (processing, 3D models, panoramas…) https://twitter.com/doug_ellison/status/1213627914635231232 …

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

Techniques Spatiales, a French space-related Twitter account, converted data from the lander’s camera into image files that can be accessed here.

Philip Stooke, a cartographer at the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration at Western University in Ontario, has used the new data to refine maps charting the roving route of Yutu-2. Over its first 13 lunar days, Yutu-2 drove 1,171 feet (357 meters).Click here for more Space.com videos…CLOSEVolume 0% PLAY SOUND

The Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover have completed 13 lunar days on the moon. The solar-powered duo awaken between 24 and 48 hours after sunrise over the mission landing site and power down about 24 hours before sunset. Searing-hot lunar days and the brutally cold nights each last around 14 Earth days. 

Yutu-2 began its 14th lunar day on Jan. 18, and the lander did so on Jan. 19, according to the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. Both the rover and lander have now exceeded their design lifetimes of three months and one year and continue to operate with all science payloads in a healthy condition, according to the China National Space Administration.

lunar surface chang'e mission
A view of the moon’s far side from China’s Chang’e 4 lander and rover, which have survived more than a year in the lunar environment. (Image credit: CNSA)

Because the lunar far side never faces the Earth, data from the spacecraft are relayed via the Queqiao communications satellite, which is positioned around a gravitationally stable point beyond the moon. With the spacecraft on the lunar surface performing well, Queqiao has recently kicked off a pioneering low-frequency radio-astronomy experiment.

Yutu-2 drive map to the end of lunar Day 13.
This map by Phil Stooke shows the driving activity of China’s Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the moon as of the mission’s Day 13.  (Image credit: Phil Stooke)

Next up in its lunar campaign, China is preparing to launch its Chang’e-5 sample-return mission late this year. Chang’e-5 will launch on the huge Long March 5 rocket and will be the first mission to retrieve samples from the moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

Were Alien Secrets Hidden in Roswell and Area 51? ‘Project Blue Book’ UFO Hunters Investigate.

Two locations are legendary among UFO seekers. One is Roswell, New Mexico, where sightings of a so-called flying saucer electrified the town in 1947. The other is Area 51 near Groom Lake, Nevada, where the U.S. government has long maintained a secret base that some say hides UFO-related technology and experiments.

Both of these mysterious and much-discussed sites are front-and-center in the second season of “Project Blue Book,” the History Channel drama based on an actual U.S. Air Force program by the same name, in which teams of experts investigated reports of UFOs from 1952 to 1969. 

In the new season, premiering tonight (Jan. 21), Aidan Gillen returns as Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the astrophysicist and professor who served as the real Project Blue Book program’s science advisor decades ago; Hynek is known to many as the “father of UFOlogy.” As Hynek and his colleagues continue their search for the truth about UFOs, they uncover new layers of government deception and cover-ups, set against the backdrop of an intensifying Cold War. At the same time, the show incorporates historic UFO stories that still stir the imagination today, according to the History Channel.

Related: 15 Far-Out Facts About Area 51

Aidan Gillen returns in the second season of "Project Blue Book," as UFO investigator Dr. J. Allen Hynek.
Aidan Gillen returns in the second season of “Project Blue Book,” as UFO investigator Dr. J. Allen Hynek. (Image credit: Photo by Eduardo Araquel/HISTORY Copyright 2020)

While the first season of “Project Blue Book” was an introduction to the strange phenomenon of UFOs, “the second season is about going back to the beginning, to understand where the conspiracy was,” said show co-writer and executive producer Sean Jablonski. To do that, “Project Blue Book” went to Roswell, drawing from eyewitness accounts of people who lived there at the time of the alleged UFO crash and subsequent military cover-up, Jablonski told Live Science.

Though the events at Roswell took place six years before the real Project Blue Book investigation began, the story is so intertwined with America’s UFO lore that the writers felt compelled to include it, said show creator, writer and co-executive producer David O’Leary.

“It’s in many ways the granddaddy of UFO cases,” O’Leary told Live Science.Accounts of a “flying saucer” in Roswell, New Mexico, were later disputed by U.S. Army officials, who claimed the UFO was a weather balloon. (Image credit: Roswell Daily Record)

The so-called Roswell Incident took place in July 1947. Following a thunderstorm, strange debris found northwest of Roswell was swiftly collected by military personnel at Roswell Army Air Field, according to the city’s official website. A press release issued by public information officer Lt. Walter Haut on July 8, 1947, described “a flying saucer” that was now in the army’s possession. 

However, another press release appeared the next day, this one issued by Lt. Gen. Roger Ramey. According to the new report, the recovered object was a weather balloon. 

“That was the start of the best known and well-documented UFO cover-up,” according to Roswell’s website.

Other episodes of “Project Blue Book” were inspired by actual locations that boast equally compelling associations with UFOs, such as the mysterious Area 51 and Skinwalker Ranch in Ballard, Utah. Another memorable case highlights multiple UFO encounters that took place not on land, but over the Atlantic Ocean, during a series of NATO maneuvers in September 1952 called Operation Mainbrace, O’Leary said.

At the center of Project Blue Book — in the series and in the Air Force program — was Hynek. He knew very early on that government officials were concealing information about UFOs from the public, “but he stayed with the program, because he was a scientist.” O’Leary explained. 

“This was a way for him to gain access to cases, even as he was being complicit in the cover-up itself. So it’s a bit like, ‘How do you expose the greatest cover-up of all time when you’re a part of it?'” said O’Leary.

“See them aliens”

The real Project Blue Book ended decades ago, but public fascination with UFOs still runs high; in September 2019, more than 1.5 million people RSVP’d to a sketchy-sounding festival in Rachel, Nevada, called “Storm Area 51” (also called “Alien Stock”) with the intent of breaching the perimeter of Area 51 to “see them aliens,” Live Science previously reported. (Only a few thousand people actually showed up, and there was no gate-storming and no aliens in sight, according to Vox.)

Footage from U.S. Navy pilots’ 2004 encounters with UFOs, recently shared online, further fueled speculation about the government’s own experiences with these enigmatic sightings and how many were still being kept under wraps. Indeed, evidence surfaced in 2017 suggesting that the U.S. government had been secretly investigating UFOs since 2007

Then, on Jan. 13 of this year, a spokesperson from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) confirmed the existence of at least one video and several top-secret documents regarding the 2004 UFO encounter. The spokesperson further noted that submitting these materials to public scrutiny “would cause exceptionally grave damage to the National Security of the United States.”Advertisement

It would seem that along with a resurgence in public interest in UFOs is a renewed recognition that the government knows more about UFOs than it’s letting on, and is withholding important information, O’Leary said. For that reason, the world of “Project Blue Book” and its UFO cover-ups now seems especially relevant, Jablonski added.

“Project Blue Book, in a way, was the origin of fake news,” Jablonski said. “It was the government’s program to put out stories that say, ‘Whatever you think you saw, you didn’t see.’ This notion of who controls the truth — and the fight over that — is something that probably, above all else, is what resonates today.”

Season two of “Project Blue Book” airs on the History Channel beginning on Jan. 21 at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT.

Are the aliens us? UFOs may be piloted by time-traveling humans, book argues

The great distances covered by visiting “aliens” may be ones of time rather than space, a recent book argues.

Close encounters with our future selves?Close encounters with our future selves?(Image: © thortful.com)

Unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have captured the public’s attention over the decades. As exoplanet detection is on the rise, why not consider that star-hopping visitors from afar might be buzzing through our friendly skies by taking an interstellar off-ramp to Earth?

On the other hand, could those piloting UFOs be us — our future progeny that have mastered the landscape of time and space? Perhaps those reports of people coming into contact with strange beings represent our distant human descendants, returning from the future to study us in their own evolutionary past. 

The idea of us being them has been advanced before. But a recent book, “Identified Flying Objects: A Multidisciplinary Scientific Approach to the UFO Phenomenon” (Masters Creative LLC, 2019), takes a fresh look at this prospect, offering some thought-provoking proposals.

"Identified Flying Objects: A Multidisciplinary Scientific Approach to the UFO Phenomenon" (Masters Creative LLC, 2019) argues that UFOs may be piloted by time-traveling humans.
Identified Flying Objects: A Multidisciplinary Scientific Approach to the UFO Phenomenon” (Masters Creative LLC, 2019) argues that UFOs may be piloted by time-traveling humans. (Image credit: Masters Creative LLC, 2019)

Multidisciplinary approach

The book was written by Michael Masters, a professor of biological anthropology at Montana Technological University in Butte. Masters thinks that – given the accelerating pace of change in science, technology, and engineering –  it is likely that humans of the distant future could develop the knowledge and machinery necessary to return to the past. 

The objective of the book, Masters said, is to spur a new and more informed discussion among believers and skeptics alike. 

“I took a multidisciplinary approach in order to try and understand the oddities of this phenomenon,” Masters told Space.com. “Our job as scientists is to be asking big questions and try to find answers to unknown questions. There’s something going on here, and we should be having a conversation about this. We should be at the forefront of trying to find out what it is.”

Human evolution

Dubbing these purported visitors “extratempestrials,” Masters notes that close-encounter accounts typically describe UFO tenants as bipedal, hairless, human-like beings with large brains, large eyes, small noses and small mouths. Further, the creatures are often said to have the ability to communicate with us in our own languages and possess technology advanced beyond, but clearly built upon, today’s technological prowess. 

Masters believes that through a comprehensive analysis of consistent patterns of long-term biocultural change throughout human evolution — as well as recent advances in our understanding of time and time travel — we may begin to consider this future possibility in the context of a currently unexplained phenomenon. 

“The book ties together those known aspects of our evolutionary history with what is still an unproven, unverified aspect of UFOs and aliens,” he said.

But why not argue that ET is actually a traveler from across the vastness of space, from a distant planet? Wouldn’t that be a simpler answer?

“I would argue it’s the opposite,” Masters responded. “We know we’re here. We know humans exist. We know that we’ve had a long evolutionary history on this planet. And we know our technology is going to be more advanced in the future. I think the simplest explanation, innately, is that it is us. I’m just trying to offer what is likely the most parsimonious explanation.”

Artist's view of an aerial encounter with an unidentified flying object.
Artist’s view of an aerial encounter with an unidentified flying object. (Image credit: MUFON)

Archaeological tourism

As an anthropologist who has worked on and directed numerous archaeological digs in Africa, France and throughout the United States, Masters observes that it is easy to conceptualize just how much more could be learned about our own evolutionary history if we currently possessed the technology to visit past periods of time. 

“The alleged abduction accounts are mostly scientific in nature. It’s probably future anthropologists, historians, linguists that are coming back to get information in a way that we currently can’t without access to that technology,” Masters said. 

“That said, I do think that some component of it is also tourism,” he added. “Undoubtedly in the future, there are those that will pay a lot of money to have the opportunity to go back and observe their favorite period in history. Some of the most popular tourist sites are the pyramids of Giza and Machu Picchu in Peru … old and prehistoric sites.”

Masters calls his UFO research “an evolving project.”

“There’s certainly still missing pieces of the puzzle,” he said. “There are aspects of time that we don’t yet understand. Wanted is a theory of quantum gravity, and we can meld general relativity and quantum mechanics. I’m just trying to put forth the best model I can based on current scientific knowledge. Hopefully, over time, we can continue to build on this.” 

Solve this mystery

“Masters postulates that using a multidisciplinary scientific approach to the UFO phenomenon will be what it takes to solve this mystery once and for all, and I couldn’t agree more,” said Jan Harzan, executive director of the nonprofit Mutual UFO Network (MUFON).

“The premise that UFOs are us from the future is one of many possibilities that MUFON is exploring to explain the UFO phenomenon. All we know for sure is that we are not alone,” Harzan added. “Now the question becomes, ‘Who are they?’ And Masters makes a great case for the time-traveler hypothesis.” Advertisement

Tic-Tac-shaped objects were recently reported zipping through the sky by jet-fighter pilots and radar operators. The Pentagon's Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) was created to research and investigate Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), including numerous videos of reported encounters, three of which were released to the public in 2017.
Tic-Tac-shaped objects were recently reported zipping through the sky by jet-fighter pilots and radar operators. The Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) was created to research and investigate Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), including numerous videos of reported encounters, three of which were released to the public in 2017. (Image credit: U.S. Department of Defense/To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science)

‘Highly dubious claim’

But not everybody is on board with the idea, as you might imagine.

“There is nothing in this book to take seriously, as it depends on the belief that ‘time travel’ is not only possible, but real,” said Robert Sheaffer, a noted UFO skeptic.

Supposedly our distant descendants have mastered time travel, Sheaffer said, and have traveled back in time to visit us. “So, according to Masters, you just spin something fast enough and it will begin to warp space, and even send stuff backwards in time. This is a highly dubious claim,” he said.

Moreover, Sheaffer said that Masters tries to deduce aliens’ evolutionary history from witness descriptions, “suggesting that he takes such accounts far too literally.”

The problem of ‘if’

David Darling is a British astronomer and science writer who has authored books on a sweeping array of topics – from gravity, Zen physics and astrobiology to teleportation and extraterrestrial life.

“I’ve often thought that if some UFOs are ‘alien’ craft, it’s just as reasonable to suppose that they might be time machines from our own future than that they’re spacecraft from other stars,” Darling told Space.com. “The problem is the ‘if.’

Darling said that, while some aerial phenomena have eluded easy identification, one of the least likely explanations, it seems to him, is that they’re artificial and not of this world.

“Outside of the popular mythos of flying saucers and archetypal, big-brained aliens, there’s precious little credible evidence that they exist,” Darling said. “So, my issue with the book is not the ingenuity of its thesis, but the fact that there’s really no need for such a thesis in the first place.”

Reported UFOs take on all shapes and sizes.
Reported UFOs take on all shapes and sizes.  (Image credit: U.K. National Archives sightings chart, circa 1969)

Exotic physics?

Larry Lemke, a retired NASA aerospace engineer with an interest in the UFO phenomenon, finds the prospect of time-travelling visitors from the future intriguing.

“The one thing that has become clear over the decades of sightings, if you believe the reports, is that these objects don’t seem to be obeying the usual laws of aerodynamics and Newtonian mechanics,” Lemke said, referring to the relationship, in the natural world, between force, mass and motion. 

Toss in for good measure Einstein’s theory of general relativity and its consequences, like wormholes and black holes, along with other exotic physics ideas such as the Alcubierre warp-drive bubble

“There’s a group of thinkers in the field of UFOs that point out that phenomena reported around some UFOs do, in fact, look exactly like general relativity effects,” Lemke said. Missing time is a very common one.”

Lemke said that the idea that somebody has figured out how to manipulate space-time, on a local scale with a low-energy approach, would explain a lot of things across the UFO phenomenon, including those baffling Tic-Tac-shaped objects recently reported by jet-fighter pilots and radar operators. 

“No matter how much knowledge we have, how much we think we know, there’s always some frontier beyond,” he said. “And to understand that frontier is getting more and more esoteric.”

Physicists have discovered that rotating black holes might serve as portals for hyperspace travel

  • Scientists once thought that traveling into a black hole would kill you.
  • But now, physicists have run computer simulations to show that certain types of black holes — large, rotating ones — could serve as portals for hyperspace travel.
  • Some physicists believe that you’d arrive at a remote part of the Milky Way or perhaps in another galaxy altogether.
  • One of the safest passageways might be the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, called Sagittarius A*.

Narrator: Black holes skirt the line between science fiction and science fact. On the one hand, scientists have seen real black holes in action, consuming unsuspecting stars that pass too close. But where reality ends and fiction takes over is at the edge of a black hole — a place called the event horizon, where no spacecraft has ever gone.

So, whatever happens beyond that boundary, inside of a black hole, is anyone’s guess. Scientists agree that if you travel far enough into a black hole, gravity will eventually become so strong that it kills anything in its path. But sci-fi films are more optimistic, depicting black holes as portals through space and time or gateways to other dimensions. And it turns out, some scientists now think the sci-fi buffs may be onto something. Black holes might be suitable for hyperspace travel, after all; it just takes the right kind of black hole.

At the center of every black hole is a point of infinite density, called a singularity. It’s what gives black holes their strong gravitational pull. And for decades, scientists thought singularities were all the same, so anything that passed the event horizon would be destroyed the same way: by being stretched and pulled like an infinitely long piece of spaghetti.

But that all changed in the early 1990s when different research teams in Canada and the US discovered a second singularity called a “mass inflation singularity.” It still has a strong gravitational pull, but it would only stretch you by a finite amount, and potentially NOT kill you in the process, meaning, you might survive the trip through a black hole. More specifically, through a large, rotating black hole, which is where these types of singularities exist.

Now, astronomers obviously can’t travel through a black hole yet to test this theory. In fact, the best place to test this is at the supermassive black hole in the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, which is 27,000 light years away. Not conveniently close to the least.

Therefore, scientists instead run computer simulations to see what would happen if we did manage to reach an isolated, rotating black hole, and now, for the first time, a team of scientists at UMass Dartmouth and Georgia Gwinnett College has done exactly that.

Lior Burko: “You would feel a slight increase in temperature, but it would not be a dramatic increase. It’s just that you don’t have enough time to respond to the very strong forces. It would just go through you too quickly.”

Narrator: He added that passing through a weak singularity is like quickly running your finger through a candle flame that’s 1,000 degrees Celsius. If you hold your finger in the flame long enough, you’ll get burned, but pass your finger through quickly, and you’ll barely feel a thing. Similarly, if you pass through a weak singularity with the right speed and momentum, and at the right time, you may not feel much at all.

As for what happens once you get through to the other side, no one really knows, but Burko has his own ideas. He says one possibility is that we’d arrive at some other remote part of our galaxy, potentially light years away from any planets or stars, but a second, and perhaps more intriguing, possibility is that we’d arrive in a different galaxy altogether. That’s if you even make it that far.

Scientists say more research is needed before we’re anywhere close to successfully traveling through a black hole. But when we are ready, one of the safest passageways might be the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy called Sagittarius A*, and it might just be our ticket out of the Milky Way.

SpaceX Explodes A Rocket To Show That It’s Safe

SpaceX’s In Flight Abort Test was a long awaited demonstration of the launch escape system which would carry crew to safety in the event of a failure.

The test resulted in a simulated rocket failure around 85 seconds into flight, then saw the Crew Dragon capsule escape the booster under its own power and land safely in the ocean. The Booster wasn’t so luck and tore itself apart in a fireball, with the second stage falling 40km and crashing into the Ocean at the speed of sound, making a huge explosion.

Thousands of rocket fans turned out to witness this, and document the event with special camera gear, however many missed the explosion as it was obscured by clouds from many ground locations.

Watch Live Crew Dragon Launch Escape Demonstration

SpaceX is targeting Sunday, January 19 for an in-flight test of Crew Dragon’s launch escape capabilities from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This test, which does not have NASA astronauts onboard the spacecraft, is intended to demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to reliably carry crew to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency on ascent.

The six-hour test window opens at 8:00 a.m. EST, or 13:00 UTC. A backup opportunity with the same six-hour launch window opening at 8:00 a.m. EST, or 13:00 UTC, is available on Monday, January 20. Current weather data suggests our best opportunity for the launch escape test will be towards the end of the four-hour window, but we will continue to provide updates as new data becomes available.

What is space dust, and can it create life?

NASA recently reported that a cloud of dust was surrounding Mars high above its atmosphere. The authors of the study ruled out Mars itself and its moons Phobos and Deimos as the sources of the dust and concluded that it must come from a larger dust cloud floating around between the planets in our solar system.

This “interplanetary dust” is hugely important. It is thought to have played a crucial role in the formation and evolution of our solar system. What’s more, it may even have provided our planet with water – and kick-started life.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Space dust could carry life from planet to planet

We all know how quickly empty spaces fill with dust and, figuratively speaking, the cosmos is no different. Cosmic dust is made up of tiny mineral grains in the nano and micrometer size range (one billionth and one millionth of a metre, respectively). Cosmic dust particles find themselves between the end of one star’s lifetime and at the beginning of the formation of a new solar system.

A star forms from the collapse of a gas cloud made up of hydrogen and helium, elements that were created in the aftermath of the Big Bang. Stars use this hydrogen as fuel, creating heavier elements such as carbon and oxygen and up to the element iron through nuclear fusion processes. These new elements are released at the end of a star’s lifetime, when it collapses under its own gravity and explodes as a supernova. The high energies of such an explosion create additional elements heavier than iron. Some of the heavier elements, metals such as silicon and iron, combine with oxygen to form minerals – which is exactly what dust is.

Our solar system formed from the collapse of a hydrogen and helium gas cloud mixed with dust, otherwise there would not be any rocky planets like Earth and Mars. The fact that Earth contains such heavy elements as gold, lead, or uranium (all heavier than iron) shows that our sun is a third or higher-generation star, preceded by at least one supernova explosion of another nearby star.

Interstellar dust particles, which predate our own solar system, can provide insight into the processes at the end of the lifetime of ancient stars. The interplanetary dust in the inner solar system contains some interstellar dust particles. But the vast majority of interplanetary dust particles in our solar system are released from comets as they approach the sun or from the collision of asteroids in the asteroid belt. They therefore contain clues about the makeup and formation of such “proto-planets”, which are seen as the first steps of planet formation from the huge dust and gas cloud surrounding a new star.

The dust cloud in our solar system gradually moves towards the sun whose gravitational pull acts like a giant vacuum cleaner. On their way, some of the dust particles collide with Mars and Earth. The dust is responsible for the Zodiac light that can be seen after sunset in spring or before sunrise in autumn.

Dust as an origin of life?

Any cosmic dust mineral grain offers a surface for gases, ice or organic matter to stick to. Complex molecules of organic matter as the basic building blocks for life have been documented in intergalactic dust clouds, comets and meteorites.

Understanding the distribution and amount of dust is important because dust could have delivered significant amounts of water and organic matter to the planets in the inner solar system, in particular Earth and Mars. While many researchers think that asteroid and comet impacts may be behind the water and life on Earth, several studies have indicated that dust itself can deliver water and organic matter simultaneously and might have jump-started life. This process would work universally, also on exoplanets in distant solar systems.

So if the dust did jump start life on Earth it is plausible that it could have done so on Mars as well. However, Earth’s magnetic field has protected our atmosphere and water against being destroyed by the solar wind – we get just the right amount of it. Mars has not had a magnetic field for most of its lifetime, and its atmosphere and water have subsequently been lost to space. Without water, organic matter molecules cannot be assembled into the very complex molecules, like DNA and proteins, that make up life. Lack of a thick atmospheric layer also means lack of protection against destruction of organic molecules by UV light and other harmful forms of cosmic radiation. While the jury is still out on whether there was ever life on Mars, it is extremely unlikely that dust could jump start life on Mars today, despite hovering above its atmosphere.

It is obviously important that we learn more about dust. Interplanetary dust particles are actively collected for research by sending planes into the stratosphere or scouring spacecraft returning to land for impacts of these tiny dust particles. If dust particles make it to the ground by themselves, they can be collected as micrometeorites from places where they are recognisable such as ocean or polar sediments.

However, once an interplanetary dust particle enters the Earth’s atmosphere or smashes into a spacecraft, any complex molecules stuck to it are inevitably lost. While we can learn a lot from them about the primordial matter from which our solar system formed as well as the makeup of comets and asteroids, we have to investigate these bodies first-hand to be able to obtain more sensitive information.

A good way to do this is to fly through comet tails. This is what Rosetta did to make the surprise discovery of free oxygen in the coma of comet 67P/Chryumov-Gerasimenko. Meanwhile, NASA’s Stardust mission flew through the tail of comet Wild 2 and returned cosmic dust particles to Earth for analysis in 2006. In 2009, NASA announced that fundamental chemical building blocks of life had been found: glycine, an amino acid.

Additional data like this can hopefully help uncover many more secrets of the dust in the universe – including whether it kick-started life on Earth and whether it could do it again.

7 billion-year-old stardust is oldest material found on Earth

Dust-rich outflows of evolved stars similar to the pictured Egg Nebula are plausible sources of the large presolar grains found in meteorites like Murchison.Dust-rich outflows of evolved stars similar to the pictured Egg Nebula are plausible sources of the large presolar grains found in meteorites like Murchison.(Image: © NASA, W. Sparks (STScI) and R. Sahai (JPL). Inset: SiC grain with ~8 micrometers in its longest dimension. Inset image courtesy of Janaína N. Ávila)

Scientists recently identified the oldest material on Earth: stardust that’s 7 billion years old, tucked away in a massive, rocky meteorite that struck our planet half a century ago. 

This ancient interstellar dust, made of presolar grains (dust grains that predate our sun), was belched into the universe by dying stars during the final stages of their lives. Some of that dust eventually hitched a ride to Earth on an asteroid that produced the Murchison meteorite, a massive, 220-lb. (100 kilograms) rock that fell on Sept. 28, 1969, near Murchison, Victoria, in Australia.  ADVERTISING

New analysis of dozens of presolar grains from the Murchison meteorite revealed a range of ages, from about 4 million years older than our sun — which formed 4.6 billion years ago — up to 3 billion years older than our sun, researchers reported in a new study.

Though the universe abounds with floating stardust, no presolar grains have ever been found in Earth’s rocks. That’s because plate tectonics, volcanism and other planetary processes heated and transformed all the presolar dust that may have collected during Earth’s formation, said lead study author Philipp Heck, the Robert A. Pritzker Associate Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. 

When large, orphan space rocks form — such as the asteroid that produced Murchison — they, too, can pick up ancient, interstellar dust. But unlike dynamic planets, Murchison’s parent asteroid is “an almost-inert piece of rock that formed from the solar nebula and hasn’t changed since then,” so the presolar grains haven’t been cooked down into another type of mineral, Heck told Live Science.

Most presolar grains measure about 1 micron in length, or are even smaller. But the grains the scientists analyzed for the study were much bigger, ranging from 2 to 30 microns in length. 

“We call them ‘boulders,'” Heck said. “We can see them with an optical microscope.”

Stellar “baby boom”

For the study, Heck and his colleagues examined 40 of these so-called boulders from Murchison, grinding up bits of the meteorite and adding acid, which dissolved minerals and silicates and revealed the acid-resistant presolar grains. 

“I always compare it to burning down the haystack to find the needle,” Heck said.

The researchers used a dating technique that measured the grains’ exposure to cosmic rays during their interstellar journey over billions of years. In space, high-energy particles emanate from different sources, bombarding and penetrating solid objects that pass by. Those cosmic rays react with rock to form new elements that accumulate over time. By measuring the quantity of different elements in presolar grains, scientists can estimate how long the dust has been bathing in cosmic rays. 

Think of it this way: Imagine putting a bucket outside during a rainstorm. As long as the rain falls at a steady rate, you could calculate how long the bucket had been outside based on the amount of rain that it collects, Heck explained.

Most of the grains — about 60% — dated to around 4.6 billion to 4.9 billion years ago. One possible explanation for why there were so many grains of this age is that they were all the product of a “little baby boom” of star birth in our galaxy that took place around 7 billion years ago. 

“And then it took about two to two-and-a-half billion years for those stars to become dust producing,” Heck explained. “When a star forms, it doesn’t produce dust. During most of its life, the star doesn’t produce dust. The stars only produce dust at the end of their lives.”

This discovery supports findings by other astronomers that indicate a dramatic spike in star formation around 7 billion years ago, the researchers reported.

What’s more, many of the grains weren’t traveling through space alone; they journeyed as clumps, “almost like granola clusters,” according to Heck. Though it’s uncertain what bound these grains, other studies have shown that some presolar grains are coated with a sticky film of organic matter, which could have cemented these clusters together, Heck said.

Smells like science

Grinding and analyzing bits of space rock also presented the researchers with an unusual by-product — a strong and very pungent smell. The paste of ground-up meteorite released a stench “like rotten peanut butter,” study co-author Jennika Greer, a graduate student at the Field Museum and the University of Chicago, said in a statement.

“I’ve never smelled rotten peanut butter,” Heck told Live Science. “But it did smell really strong.”

Another meteorite that was recently added to the Field Museum’s collection, the Aguas Zarcas from Costa Rica, or “cosmic mudball meteorite,” was said to smell like cooked Brussels sprouts. Volatile organic compounds in rocky meteorites that are abiotic — not formed by living organisms — produce these distinctive smells when they are heated or dissolved, Heck said. 

And Murchison was an especially smelly meteorite, Heck said. When he visited the town of Murchison in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the meteorite’s landing, he spoke with people who had witnessed the event or collected fragments of the space rock. Many of them had tales to tell about the meteorite’s distinctive aroma.

“They said the whole town smelled like methylated spirits, a very strong organic smell,” Heck said. “Even those who hadn’t seen the meteorite themselves — they smelled it.”

What Did Cassini See During Its Historic Mission To Saturn?

A thrilling epoch in the exploration of our solar system came to a close today, as NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made a fateful plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending its 13-year tour of the ringed planet.

“This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it’s also a new beginning,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Cassini’s discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth.”

Telemetry received during the plunge indicates that, as expected, Cassini entered Saturn’s atmosphere with its thrusters firing to maintain stability, as it sent back a unique final set of science observations. Loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft occurred at 7:55 a.m. EDT (4:55 a.m. PDT), with the signal received by NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna complex in Canberra, Australia. 

Earl Maize, program manager for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, and Julie Webster, spacecraft operations team manager

Earl Maize, program manager for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and Julie Webster, spacecraft operations team manager for the Cassini mission at Saturn, embrace in an emotional moment for the entire Cassini team after the spacecraft plunged into Saturn, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky

“It’s a bittersweet, but fond, farewell to a mission that leaves behind an incredible wealth of discoveries that have changed our view of Saturn and our solar system, and will continue to shape future missions and research,” said Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which manages the Cassini mission for the agency. JPL also designed, developed and assembled the spacecraft.

Cassini’s plunge brings to a close a series of 22 weekly “Grand Finale” dives between Saturn and its rings, a feat never before attempted by any spacecraft.

“The Cassini operations team did an absolutely stellar job guiding the spacecraft to its noble end,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. “From designing the trajectory seven years ago, to navigating through the 22 nail-biting plunges between Saturn and its rings, this is a crack shot group of scientists and engineers that scripted a fitting end to a great mission. What a way to go. Truly a blaze of glory.”

As planned, data from eight of Cassini’s science instruments was beamed back to Earth. Mission scientists will examine the spacecraft’s final observations in the coming weeks for new insights about Saturn, including hints about the planet’s formation and evolution, and processes occurring in its atmosphere.

These images shows where on Saturn NASA’s Cassini spacecraft entered the planet’s atmosphere.

This montage of images, made from data obtained by Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, shows the location on Saturn where the NASA spacecraft entered Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15, 2017. The spacecraft entered the atmosphere at 9.4 degrees north latitude, 53 degrees west longitude.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

“Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team now that the spacecraft is no longer flying,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL. “But, we take comfort knowing that every time we look up at Saturn in the night sky, part of Cassini will be there, too.”

Cassini launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and arrived at Saturn in 2004. NASA extended its mission twice – first for two years, and then for seven more. The second mission extension provided dozens of flybys of the planet’s icy moons, using the spacecraft’s remaining rocket propellant along the way. Cassini finished its tour of the Saturn system with its Grand Finale, capped by Friday’s intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn’s moons – particularly Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity – remain pristine for future exploration.

While the Cassini spacecraft is gone, its enormous collection of data about Saturn – the giant planet, its magnetosphere, rings and moons – will continue to yield new discoveries for decades to come.

“Cassini may be gone, but its scientific bounty will keep us occupied for many years,” Spilker said. “We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can learn from the mountain of data it has sent back over its lifetime.”

An online toolkit with information and resources for Cassini’s Grand Finale is available at:

https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/grandfinale

​Watch Cassini’s final view of Saturn at:

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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Proxima Centauri, the sun’s nearest neighbor, may host a 2nd alien planet. Meet Proxima c.

The newly detected icy world remains a candidate planet for now.

An artist’s illustration of the Proxima Centauri planetary system. Portrayed on the right is the newly discovered exoplanet candidate Proxima c, which orbits the red-dwarf host star once every 5.2 Earth years. The system also includes the smaller Proxima b, on the left, a confirmed world that was discovered in 2016.An artist’s illustration of the Proxima Centauri planetary system. Portrayed on the right is the newly discovered exoplanet candidate Proxima c, which orbits the red-dwarf host star once every 5.2 Earth years. The system also includes the smaller Proxima b, on the left, a confirmed world that was discovered in 2016.(Image: © Lorenzo Santinelli)

Proxima b may not be an only child after all.

In August 2016, astronomers announced that a roughly Earth-size exoplanet circles the closest star to the sun, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, which lies a mere 4.2 light-years from us. (For perspective, the Milky Way galaxy’s spiral disk is about 100,000 light-years wide.)

That world, called Proxima b, orbits in Proxima Centauri’s “habitable zone,” the just-right range of distances from a star where liquid water could be stable on a world’s surface. So, there’s a chance that life as we know it may have taken root in the next solar system over from us. (How good that chance is remains a matter of considerable debate, however. For example, Proxima b is tidally locked to its host star, meaning it has a hot dayside and a cold nightside. And red dwarfs are very active stars, so powerful flares may have stripped the planet’s atmosphere long ago.)

Proxima b’s discoverers analyzed “radial velocity” data gathered over multiple years by instruments called HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) and UVES (Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph), which are installed on telescopes operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. The scientists noticed that Proxima Centauri was being tugged slightly by the gravity of an orbiting planet: Proxima b.

The team, led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé of Queen Mary University London, didn’t see any signs of other worlds orbiting the red dwarf at the time, but they couldn’t rule that prospect out. And now, a new study reports that the closest exoplanet to Earth may indeed have a companion.Click here for more Space.com videos…CLOSEVolume 0%This video will resume in 12 seconds PLAY SOUND

A frigid super-Earth candidate

In the new study, which was published online today (Jan. 15) in the journal Science Advances, a team led by Mario Damasso and Fabio Del Sordo (and including Anglada-Escudé, who’s a co-author) re-examined the old HARPS and UVES observations, along with a series of new HARPS measurements. 

The researchers subjected the data to new analyses that tracked Proxima Centauri’s light spectrum over time, looking for regular oscillations that could betray the presence of an undiscovered planet. (Damasso and Del Sordo also presented their results at the Breakthrough Discuss conference in Berkeley, California, last April, before the paper had been accepted for publication.)

There was a lot of information to go through; the combined HARPS and UVES measurements spanned about 17.5 years.

This painstaking work unearthed a possible planet called Proxima c, which is at least 6 times more massive than Earth and may therefore be a type of world known as a super-Earth. Proxima c completes one lap around Proxima Centauri every 5.2 Earth years, making it a poor prospect for life as we know it.

“Given the low luminosity of the host star and the orbital radius of the planet, it receives a very low insolation,” said Damasso, who’s based at the Astrophysical Observatory of Turin, which is run by Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics.

“A simple estimate of the equilibrium temperature gives T~40 K,” Damasso told Space.com via email. (Forty degrees K, or Kelvin, is equivalent to minus 388 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 233 Celsius.)

But Damasso and Del Sordo both stressed that habitability is a difficult topic to address, given the many factors that go into it and the paucity of information available about most exoplanetary systems. For example, to gauge a world’s true life-supporting ability, you’d need to know how thick its atmosphere is and what the air is made of, as well as how active its star is (as the Proxima b example shows). 

In addition, worlds that don’t lie in the traditional “habitable zone” may still be able to harbor life as we know it. After all, the Jupiter moon Europa and Saturn satellite Enceladus are covered by icy shells, but both possess huge subsurface oceans of liquid water.

In addition, the habitability talk generally assesses a world’s suitability for Earth-like life, and there’s certainly no guarantee that aliens in other systems share our biochemistry.

“I am convinced there are so many unknown scenarios to be discovered about planetary features that go beyond our imagination,” Del Sordo, who’s based at the University of Crete, told Space.com via email. “But at the moment this conviction has nothing to do with science; it is only my personal point of view.”

More work needed

Proxima c remains a candidate for now, Damasso and Del Sordo emphasized; confirming its existence will require additional information. That information will ideally come from the European Space Agency’s star-mapping Gaia spacecraft, the researchers said.

“According to our study, if Gaia will deliver the data with the expected quality, and in the absence of any unknown impediment, the detection can be reliably confirmed or dismissed,” Damasso said.

The study team is also assessing how additional HARPS and UVES data might aid the confirmation effort, he added. In addition, the researchers are considering searching for Proxima c via direct imaging — in particular, in photos captured by SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch), a tool installed on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.Advertisement

“This is really a challenging task, almost impossible for a blind search with the present capabilities, but having details about the candidate’s orbit can help looking for the planet’s reflected light in the right places,” Damasso said.

The difficulty of directly imaging Proxima c means that the lack of a detection by SPHERE would not be a significant strike against the candidate planet’s existence, Del Sordo added. And the team’s data do suggest that it’s probably there, waiting to be found.

“According to our calculation, at the moment the two-planet model is five times more probable than the one-planet model to explain the data,” Del Sordo said. “It means it is 83% probable planet c exist[s]. Of course, follow-up will be crucial, as Mario said.”

Top-secret UFO files could ‘gravely damage’ US national security if released, Navy says

The truth is out there… but you’re still not allowed to see it.

In 2017, a video of the Nimitz UFO encounter was publicly released.This infamous video of the USS Nimitz UFO encounter may not be the only one out there…(Image: © To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science)

In November 2004, several U.S. Navy pilots stationed aboard the USS Nimitz encountered a Tic-Tac-shaped UFO darting and dashing over the Pacific Ocean in apparent defiance of the laws of physics. Navy officials dubbed the strange craft an “unidentified aerial phenomenon,” but they have remained mum on what, exactly, that phenomenon could’ve been. Now, unsurprisingly to anyone who’s ever considered making a hat out of tinfoil, the military has confirmed they know more than they’re letting on.

In response to a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, a spokesperson from the Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) confirmed that the agency possesses several top-secret documents and at least one classified video pertaining to the 2004 UFO encounter, Vice reported. ADVERTISING

According to the ONI spokesperson, these documents were either labeled “SECRET” or “TOP SECRET” by the agencies that provided them, and that sharing the information with the public “would cause exceptionally grave damage to the National Security of the United States.”

These top-secret files included several “briefing slides” about the incident, provided to the ONI by an unnamed agency. (Because ONI officials did not classify the slides personally, they are unable to declassify them, the spokesperson added). 

The ONI also admitted to possessing at least one video of unknown length, classified as “secret” by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). ONI didn’t reveal whether this footage is the same 1-minute video that was leaked online in 2007 and widely released by The New York Times in 2017. However, in November 2019, several naval officers who witnessed the incident aboard the Nimitz told Popular Mechanics that they had seen a much longer video of the encounter that was between 8 and 10 minutes long. These original recordings were promptly collected and erased by “unknown individuals” who arrived on the ship by helicopter shortly after the incident, one officer said.

Luis Elizondo, a former Pentagon staffer who helped make the Navy video public, told Vice that “people should not be surprised by the revelation that other videos exist and at greater length.”

The FOIA request, submitted in October 2019 by an independent researcher, asked for access to any nonclassified records or portions of records regarding the 2004 UFO encounter. No additional documents were mentioned in the ONI’s response besides the classified briefing and video.

A Mars sample-return mission is coming. Scientists want the public to know what to expect.

Artist's illustration of NASA's planned Mars Ascent Vehicle launching samples off the surface of the Red Planet.Artist’s illustration of NASA’s planned Mars Ascent Vehicle launching samples off the surface of the Red Planet.(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltch)

The first pristine pieces of Mars won’t be coming down to Earth for at least another decade, but the time to start preparing society for the epic arrival is now, scientists say.

NASA’s 2020 Mars rover is scheduled to launch in July of this year and land inside the Red Planet’s 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater next February. The six-wheeled robot will do a variety of work once it gets there, but its headline task is hunting for signs of ancient Mars life. ADVERTISING

Mars 2020 will do this on the ground in Jezero, which hosted a lake and a river delta billions of years ago. The rover will also collect and cache promising samples for eventual return to Earth, where scientists in well-equipped labs around the world can scrutinize them in exacting detail for any evidence of Martian organisms.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will work together to get those samples here. The current plan, which is not yet official, envisions two key launches in 2026. These will send ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) and NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) mission toward the Red Planet.

ERO will make its way to Mars orbit, whereas SRL will drop a stationary lander, the ESA-provided Sample Fetch Rover (SFR), and a small rocket called the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) near the Mars 2020 landing site.

The SFR will pick up the cached Mars 2020 samples, which will be encased in sealed tubes, and haul them back to the MAV. Mars 2020 may store some of its samples on its body; if that’s the case, the NASA rover could roll over to the MAV and make a deposit as well. 

The MAV will then launch into Mars orbit, where it will deploy the container harboring the samples. The ERO will pluck this precious cargo out of the void and haul it back toward Earth, jettisoning the container once our planet is in the crosshairs. The samples will land here in 2031, if all goes according to this preliminary plan.

This touchdown will be a momentous occasion. Engineers will glory in the tremendous technological achievement — we’ve returned samples from the moon, but that’s quite a bit closer to Earth — and scientists will revel in the chance to learn a great deal about ancient Mars and, perhaps, find out whether Earth life is alone in the universe. 

(Researchers have examined Mars material before: meteorites blasted off the Red Planet by asteroid or comet strikes that ended up landing here on Earth. But those Mars rocks aren’t pristine — they endured trips through two planetary atmospheres and lots of time in deep space — and they weren’t specially chosen for their potential to host evidence of life.)

The public will doubtless be excited, too. But if the arrival catches folks off guard, there will probably be considerable fear, anxiety and confusion as well, said Sheri Klug Boonstra of Arizona State University’s Mars Space Flight Facility. So, the members of the international Mars sample-return team need to start educating and engaging laypeople about the effort now, said Klug Boonstra, a science-education specialist who’s the principal investigator of NASA’s Lucy Student Pipeline and Competency Enabler Program.

“The public has to be a major part of the equation,” she told Space.com last month at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, where she gave a presentation on this very topic

For example, some people will likely worry that the samples could harbor some sort of infectious microbe that could get loose and unleash a deadly plague on humanity. The sample-return team has thought about this remote possibility, of course, and is doing its best to ensure it could never come to pass. 

After arriving on Earth, the Mars material will first be vetted at a specially constructed Sample Receiving Facility, which will be designed to prevent contamination in both directions: Nothing unwanted can get in to taint the samples, and nothing from the samples can get out into the wider world. The SRF hasn’t been built; indeed, a site for it hasn’t even been chosen yet. But the sample-return project can use existing Biosafety Level 4 labs — the most secure ones, which keep nasty viruses such as Ebola from spilling out — as a baseline, team member Tim Haltigin of the Canadian Space Agency told Space.com at the AGU meeting.

The public needs to know that such safety measures will be taken, Klug Boonstra said. And it’s also important to get across the potential scientific bounty represented by those little tubes of Mars material, she added. 

The sample-return team is still working out what engagement strategies to employ. Klug Boonstra said the project would like to organize some opt-in focus groups to learn which tacks to take — for example, if activities in schools would be particularly useful in getting the word out.

And that needs to start happening soon, she stressed. It could well take a decade to get Mars sample return fully socialized, especially since our society seems to be getting less science-literate and more sound-bite-driven.

“We don’t want to be in the position where we’re just getting the information out when the public hears that the rocks are coming back,” Klug Boonstra said.