Mars has lakes with liquid water that could be home to life: study

The presence of water on Mars was first discovered in 2018

Mars has an abundance of liquid water in the underground lakes in its south pole, according to a newly published study.

The research, published in Nature Astronomy, found three lakes at Ultimi Scopuli, near Mars’ south pole, that the scientists believe to be filled with brine or saltwater.

“Not only have we confirmed the position, extent and intensity of the reflector identified in our 2018 study,” study co-author Elena Pettinelli said in a translated statement, adding “but we also found three new highly reflective areas.”

The annotated area in this illustration shows where water ice is located near the surface of Mars.

The annotated area in this illustration shows where water ice is located near the surface of Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In 2018, scientists made the incredible discovery of a “stable body of liquid water” on Mars. The three lakes are roughly 6 miles across, nearly a mile deep and approximately 12 miles away from the lake discovered in 2018.

“Our results strengthen the claim of the detection of a liquid water body at Ultimi Scopuli and indicate the presence of other wet areas nearby,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract. “We suggest that the waters are hypersaline perchlorate brines, known to form at Martian polar regions and thought to survive for an extended period of time on a geological scale at below-eutectic temperatures.”

Pettinelli and the other scientists on the study looked at the radar data from MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding), described by NASA as a “subsurface radar sounder with a 40-meter (130-foot) antenna on the Mars Express orbiter.”

The lakes have the potential to be home to microbial life, which has been known to exist in the frost in extreme conditions.


“While the existence of a single subglacial lake could be attributed to exceptional conditions such as the presence of a volcano under the ice sheet, the discovery of an entire lake system implies that their formation process is relatively simple and common, and that these lakes have likely existed for much of Mars’ history,” study co-author and Principal Investigator of the MARSIS experiment Roberto Orosei added in the statement. “For this reason, they could still retain traces of any life forms that could have evolved when Mars had a dense atmosphere, a milder climate and the presence of liquid water on the surface, similar to the early Earth.”

It’s unclear if the 2018 discovery is related to the current discovery, but it may be a sign there is more water to discover, explained Enrico Flamini, president of the International Research School of Planetary Sciences at the University of Chieti-Pescara, who was not involved in the study.

“To say that these new results make me happy is not enough,” Flamini said in the statement. “The only real question still open after our first job was: is this the only proof of liquid water under ice? At the time we had no data to say more, now this new research shows that the 2018 discovery was just the first evidence of a much larger system of liquid water bodies in the Martian subsoil. That’s exactly what I would have hoped for: a great result, really!”

In April 2019, a separate group of researchers suggested the water thought to be responsible for dark streaks on the Red Planet may be coming from well below the surface.

A separate group of researchers suggested in January 2020 that the water on Mars once contained the right ingredients to support life.

In March, other researchers discovered the presence of organic molecules that are “consistent with … life.”

NASA recently launched the Perseverance rover into space to explore Mars. While on the Red Planet, the rover will perform a variety of different functions, including looking for evidence of ancient life.

On Mars, 4 supersalty lakes hiding under the south pole ice cap

Mars keeps getting more interesting.

An artist's depiction of Mars covered in water, as it may have been about 4 billion years ago.An artist’s depiction of Mars covered in water, as it may have been about 4 billion years ago.(Image: © NASA/GSFC)

Remnants of water once found on the surface of Mars may be hidden in a handful of small lakes below the Red Planet’s south pole, and more could exist, according to new research.

For decades, researchers have suspected that water lurks below the polar icecaps of Mars, just as it does here on Earth. In 2018, scientists detected evidence for such a reservoir on the Red Planet — signs of a lake about 12 miles (19 kilometers) across and hidden below about a mile (1.5 km) of ice at the south pole of Mars.

At the time, the researchers said that studying this underground pool of water could yield insights on the past and present chances for life on Mars. However, scientists had many more questions than answers about the origin, composition and longevity of this lake and its water.

In the new study, to learn more about this hidden water, researchers used the MARSIS radar sounder instrument on board the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft to scan a 155-by-185 mile (250-by-300 km) area surrounding the suspected underground lake. The scientists analyzed this radar data with techniques previously used to detect lakes under glaciers in Antarctica.

The scientists confirmed the liquid nature of the previously observed lake, narrowing down its dimensions to about 12 by 18 miles (20 by 30 km) in size. They cannot say how deep this lake extends, as the radio waves from MARSIS cannot penetrate salty water, study co-author Elena Pettinelli, a geophysicist at Roma Tre University in Rome, told

Moreover, Pettinelli and her colleagues identified three other lakes on the order of 6 by 6 miles (10 by 10 km) in size. Strips of dry rock separate these smaller patches of water from the main lake, the scientists said.

The researchers suggested these lakes are extraordinarily salty. High brine content would keep their water liquid despite the extremely cold conditions at the base of the glaciers at Mars’ south pole, the scientists noted.

Potential underground lakes below the south pole of Mars are shown in blue.
Potential underground lakes below the south pole of Mars are shown in blue.  (Image credit: Elena Pettinelli et al, Nature.)

Although Martian polar ice may be melting a little due to warm noontime temperatures, the scientists do not think it likely that such ongoing processes formed these lakes. Instead, the scientists think this saltwater may be the remnants of a larger body of water now lost from the surface, and may be millions or even billions of years old, Pettinelli said.

Scientists have considered the possibility that geothermal activity might have melted polar ice to form the underground lakes, but that explanation was plausible when there was only one such body of water. Forming several lakes this way might require a huge geothermal anomaly. “I don’t think it is physically possible, given what we know,” Pettinelli said.

Instead, these lakes may have formed due to a warmer global climate in the Martian past, Pettinelli said. “This is a complex system of water, not just a single pond,” she said. “It suggests that the conditions that created these lakes might have been more spread across the region, that there might be other systems like this around.”

All in all, if these lakes “are remnants of water that was once on the surface, it certainly may have been a good habitat to harbor life, extinct or living,” Pettinelli said. But the ideal mission to study such potential life would need to drill 0.9 miles (1.5 km) into the ice, which isn’t possible with available technology, she said. “Still, maybe one day a mission to the Martian poles may sample the surface there to see if we can find interesting information,” Pettinelli said.

In the future, the scientists would like to look for similar networks of lakes elsewhere at the south pole, and maybe at the north pole as well, Pettinelli said.

The scientists detailed their findings online today (Sept. 28) in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Meteors that brushed Earth’s atmosphere brought life to Venus, study says

Research suggests asteroids that have grazed Earth’s atmosphere might have scraped microbes that live in the atmosphere and brought them to the second planet in the Solar System

Earlier this month, researchers discovered traces of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, a molecule that is only made on Earth as a byproduct of life. A new study, suggests the phosphine may have emanated from our planet.

The research, from the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University, suggests that asteroids that have grazed Earth’s atmosphere in the past — believed to be at least 600,000 — might have scraped microbes that live in the atmosphere and brought them to the second planet in the Solar System.

“Although the abundance of terrestrial life in the upper atmosphere is unknown, these planet-grazing shepherds could have potentially been capable of transferring microbial life between the atmospheres of Earth and Venus,” the researchers, Amir Siraj and Abraham Loeb, wrote in the study’s abstract. “As a result, the origin of possible Venusian life may be fundamentally indistinguishable from that of terrestrial life.”

The research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, has been published on the pre-print arXiv server.

The idea put forth in the study by Siraj and Loeb is known as panspermia, the hypothesis that life on one planet originated from microorganisms in outer space and moved to another. In recent memory, it has been suggested that life on Earth may have originated in this manner.

Other theories suggest life could also be originating from comets and asteroids all over the universe.

Several previous studies have discussed the idea of panspermia, including one earlier this year, that suggested comets may have delivered the “essential element” for life on Earth.

In 2019, NASA found sugar molecules on two different meteorites, adding credence to the idea that asteroids play a crucial role in supporting life.

A meteor nicked the atmosphere over southern Australia in December 2017, resulting in a fireball that lasted more than 90 seconds. After traveling more than 800 miles through the atmosphere, this 132-pound meteoroid flew back into space, according to a paper published in December 2019.

Ultimately, additional research is needed to prove the theory, Siraj and Loeb wrote in the study.

“Further work is needed to investigate the existence and abundance of microbial life in the upper atmosphere, particularly at the altitude considered here, ∼ 85 km, at which Earth-grazing object would avoid significant heating,” the researchers explained. “In addition, if life is discovered by a direct probe sent into the atmosphere of Venus, it will be necessary to calibrate the abundance of life as a function of altitude on Venus.”

Venus, which has been called “Earth’s evil twin,” has an extremely harsh climate, with a surface temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s likely too hot to support life, but NASA has recently said that it intends to explore the planet. In July, researchers revealed that Venus has nearly 40 active volcanoes on its surface.

Separately in July, a number of researchers argued that going to the second planet in the Solar System could have benefits for a manned mission to Mars.

In late 2019, NASA said it was working on a stingray-like spacecraft to explore the planet, which has more volcanoes than any other celestial body in the Solar System.

ALMA Detects Salt, Water, Silicon Compounds and Methyl Cyanide around Two Massive Protostars

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have detected sodium chloride, silicon compounds, and water vapor in the circumstellar disks — as well as methyl cyanide in the circumbinary disk — around two massive protostars in IRAS 16547-4247, a binary system located 9,500 light-years away in the constellation of Scorpius.

An artist’s impression of the massive proto-binary system IRAS 16547-4247. Image credit: ALMA / ESO / NAOJ / NRAO.

“Sodium chloride is familiar to us as table salt, but it is not a common molecule in the Universe,” said lead author Dr. Kei Tanaka, an astronomer at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the Department of Earth and Space Science at Osaka University.

“This was only the second detection of sodium chloride around massive young stars.”

“The first example was around Orion KL Source I, but that is such a peculiar source that we were not sure whether salt is suitable to see gas disks around massive stars.”

“Our results confirmed that salt is actually a good marker. Since baby stars gain mass through disks, it is important to study the motion and characteristics of disks to understand how the baby stars grow.”

The astronomers also found that the twin circumstellar disks around IRAS 16547-4247 stars are counter-rotating.

“We found a tentative sign that the disks are rotating in opposite directions,” said co-author Dr. Yichen Zhang, an astronomer in the Star and Planet Formation Laboratory at RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research.

“If the stars are born as twins in a large common gaseous disk, then naturally the disks rotate in the same direction.”

“The counter-rotation of the disks may indicate that these two stars are not actual twins, but a pair of strangers which were formed in separated clouds and paired up later.”

This ALMA composite image shows the massive proto-binary system IRAS 16547-4247. Different colors show the different distributions of dust particles (yellow), methyl cyanide (red), salt (green), and water vapor (blue). Bottom insets are the close-up views of each component. Dust and methyl cyanide are distributed widely around the binary system, whereas salt and water vapor are concentrated in the disk around each protostar. In the wide-field image, the jets from one of the protostars, seen as several dots in the above image, are shown in light blue. Image credit: ALMA / ESO / NAOJ / NRAO / Tanaka et al.

The team expects that further observations will provide more dependable information on the secrets of massive binary systems’ birth.

The presence of water vapor and sodium chloride, which were released by the destruction of dust particles, suggests the hot and dynamic nature of disks around massive protostars.

Interestingly, investigations of meteorites indicate that the disk of the proto-Solar System also experienced high temperatures in which dust particles were evaporated.

“We will be able to trace these molecules released from dust particles well by using the next generation Very Large Array,” the astronomer said.

“We anticipate that we can even obtain clues to understand the origin of our Solar System through studying hot disks with sodium chloride and hot water vapor.”

paper on the findings was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

NASA details how $28B will be spent to return astronauts to the moon in 2024

To date, only 12 people, all Americans, have landed on the moon

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that the full $28 billion is needed for the Artemis moon program, designed to return astronauts to the moon by 2024.

The space agency published the Artemis Plan, which will see the first woman land on the lunar surface, as well as the next man. To date, only 12 people, all Americans, have landed on the moon.

“With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the Moon is well within America’s reach,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “As we’ve solidified more of our exploration plans in recent months, we’ve continued to refine our budget and architecture. We’re going back to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits.

“As we build up a sustainable presence, we’re also building momentum toward those first human steps on the Red Planet,” he added.

Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Credits: NASA

Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Credits: NASA

Of the $28 billion NASA is asking for through fiscal 2025 for the “phase 1” part of the program, $7.6 billion is designated for the Space Launch System rockets. Some $16.2 billion is for the “initial human landing system,” which includes developing, testing and launching the new lunar landers.

Some $518 million is budgeted for lunar suits; $552 million is for “surface logistics”; $1.2 billion is budgeted for exploration technologies and $1.9 billion is for the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program, described as a key component of NASA’s Exploration Strategy that includes the “establishment of commercial contracts for lunar landing transportation services.”

“Our work to catalyze the U.S. space economy with public-private partnerships has made it possible to accomplish more than ever before,” Bridenstine wrote in the introduction of the plan. “The budget we need to achieve everything laid out in this plan represents bipartisan support from the Congress.”

Artist's rendering of an ascent vehicle separating from a descent vehicle and departing the lunar surface.

Artist’s rendering of an ascent vehicle separating from a descent vehicle and departing the lunar surface. (NASA)

“Following a successful hot fire test, the core stage will be shipped to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with the spacecraft,” the space agency wrote in the post. “NASA will launch an SLS and an Orion together on two flight tests around the Moon to check performance, life support, and communication capabilities. The first mission – known as Artemis I – is on track for 2021 without astronauts, and Artemis II will fly with crew in 2023.”

Artemis III, happening in 2024, will be the mission to return to the moon.

In January, Congressman Kendra Horn, D-Okla., proposed a bill to urge NASA to consider a 2028 deadline for putting U.S. astronauts back on the moon in order to boost the space agency’s long-term plans for crewed Mars exploration.

NASA’s Artemis program aims to land American astronauts on the moon by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite.

In 2019, NASA revealed details of its vision for the Artemis Moon Lander that will return American astronauts to the lunar surface.

Initial mission capability for 2024 involves landing two astronauts on the moon’s South Pole. Astronauts will live and work out of the lander for six and a half days, according to NASA.

Longer-term, the lander will need to transport four people to the lunar South Pole.

After Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, only 10 more men, all Americans, have walked on the lunar surface. The last NASA astronaut to set foot on the moon was Apollo 17 Mission Commander Gene Cernan, on Dec. 14, 1972.

NASA finds parts of another asteroid on asteroid Bennu

NASA said parts of Vesta were discovered on Bennu, ranging in size from 5 to 14 feet

NASA has discovered something peculiar on the asteroid Bennu — bits of another asteroid.

In a statement posted to its website, the government space agency said parts of the asteroid Vesta were discovered on Bennu, ranging in size from five to 14 feet. They are also significantly different in color when compared to asteroid Bennu.

“We found six boulders ranging in size from 5 to 14 feet (about 1.5 to 4.3 meters) scattered across Bennu’s southern hemisphere and near the equator,” said the study’s lead author, Daniella DellaGiustina, in the statement. “These boulders are much brighter than the rest of Bennu and match material from Vesta.”

During spring 2019, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured these images, which show fragments of asteroid Vesta present on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The bright boulders (circled in the images) are pyroxene-rich material from Vesta. Some bright material appear to be individual rocks (left) while others appear to be clasts within larger boulders (right). (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

During spring 2019, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured these images, which show fragments of asteroid Vesta present on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The bright boulders (circled in the images) are pyroxene-rich material from Vesta. Some bright material appear to be individual rocks (left) while others appear to be clasts within larger boulders (right). (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

After discovering the fragments in the spring of 2019, scientists observed them further and found they contained traces of the mineral pyroxene, found on Vesta.

“Our leading hypothesis is that Bennu inherited this material from its parent asteroid after a vestoid (a fragment from Vesta) struck the parent,” study co-author Hannah Kaplan added in the statement. “Then, when the parent asteroid was catastrophically disrupted, a portion of its debris accumulated under its own gravity into Bennu, including some of the pyroxene from Vesta.”

NASA created a video to show the findings in greater detail.

It isn’t uncommon for asteroids to crash into each other. “Examples include dark material on crater walls seen by the Dawn spacecraft at Vesta, a black boulder seen by the Hayabusa spacecraft on Itokawa, and very recently, material from S-type asteroids observed by Hayabusa2 at Ryugu,” NASA wrote in the statement. “This indicates many asteroids are participating in a complex orbital dance that sometimes results in cosmic mashups.”

The researchers hope future observations will give them clues about why these mashups happen.

“Future studies of asteroid families, as well as the origin of Bennu, must reconcile the presence of Vesta-like material as well as the apparent lack of other asteroid types,” said study co-author and OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta. “We look forward to the returned sample, which hopefully contains pieces of these intriguing rock types.”

The research was published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.

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

After being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, NASA said OSIRIS-REx’s first attempt at sampling the asteroid will occur on Oct. 20, pushed back from Aug. 25. The second rehearsal took place on Aug. 11 after being pushed back from June.

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

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

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

Asteroid to have ‘extremely close encounter’ with Earth this week

Asteroid 2020 SW will safely fly past the planet at a distance of about 17,556 miles

An asteroid will have an “extremely close encounter” with Earth on Thursday, when it flies by the planet at a distance of fewer than 20,000 miles, according to the Virtual Telescope Project.

Asteroid 2020 SW will safely fly past the planet at a distance of approximately 17,556 miles, according to

It was first discovered on Sept. 18, 2020, by the  Mt. Lemmon Observatory in Arizona, but it has made close approaches since Sept. 1975, according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). Since 1975, it has made approaches at a fairly constant rate.

File image - Earth is surrounded by a host of asteroids.

File image – Earth is surrounded by a host of asteroids. (Credit: P. Carril/NASA)

The exact size of 2020 SW is unclear, but it is “estimated to be about 14 to 32 feet in diameter,” according to

“Potentially hazardous” NEOs are defined as space objects that come within 0.05 astronomical units (4.6 million miles) and measure more than 460 feet in diameter, according to NASA. According to a 2018 report put together by, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.

After it flies past Earth on Thursday, the next time it will zip past the planet is nearly a decade later, on June 3, 2029.

In August, an asteroid the size of a pickup-truck flew within 2,000 miles of Earth, the closest ever recorded. It was missed by NASA until after it flew past the planet.

NASA unveiled a 20-page plan in 2018 that details the steps the U.S. should take to be better prepared for NEOs, such as asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of the planet.

recent survey showed that Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid impacts over sending humans back to the moon or to Mars.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in April 2019 that an asteroid strike is not something to be taken lightly and is perhaps Earth’s biggest threat.

The Mystery of the Lunar Transient Phenomena

An exploration of the transient lunar phenomena, strange brightening, darkening and discolorations on the surface of the moon observed by professional astronomers.

transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) or lunar transient phenomenon (LTP) is a short-lived light, color or change in appearance on the surface of the Moon. The term was created by Patrick Moore in his co-authorship of NASA Technical Report R-277 Chronological Catalog of Reported Lunar Events, published in 1968.

Claims of short-lived lunar phenomena go back at least 1,000 years, with some having been observed independently by multiple witnesses or reputable scientists. Nevertheless, the majority of transient lunar phenomenon reports are irreproducible and do not possess adequate control experiments that could be used to distinguish among alternative hypotheses to explain their origins.

Most lunar scientists will acknowledge transient events such as outgassing and impact cratering do occur over geologic time. The controversy lies in the frequency of such events.

Alien planets in deep space likely made of diamonds

The research suggests that these “carbon-rich” planets could have the right conditions, such as water heat and pressure, to turn carbon into diamonds

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but what about an entire planet made of diamonds?

Newly published research suggests that some exoplanets in deep space largely comprised of carbon could turn into diamonds.

The research, published in The Planetary Science Journal, suggests that these “carbon-rich” planets could have the right conditions, such as water, heat and pressure, to turn the carbon into diamonds. These planets could also form other minerals that are found on Earth, such as silicates and oxides.

llustration of a carbon-rich planet with diamond and silica as main minerals. Water can convert a carbide planet into a diamond-rich planet. In the interior, the main minerals would be diamond and silica (a layer with crystals in the illustration). The core (dark blue) might be iron-carbon alloy. Credit: Shim/ASU/Vecteezy

llustration of a carbon-rich planet with diamond and silica as main minerals. Water can convert a carbide planet into a diamond-rich planet. In the interior, the main minerals would be diamond and silica (a layer with crystals in the illustration). The core (dark blue) might be iron-carbon alloy. Credit: Shim/ASU/Vecteezy

“These exoplanets are unlike anything in our solar system,” said the study’s lead author, Harrison Allen-Sutter, in a statement.

In recent memory, researchers have discovered several planets that may be comprised of diamonds, including 55 Cancri e, discovered in 2004.

Planets, as well as stars, are largely comprised of dust and gas. However, when planets surrounding stars have larger amounts of carbon in them and water is present, “a diamond-rich composition” can be created.

For comparison purposes, Earth has a relatively little diamond component to it, at approximately 0.001%.

“Excess water after the reaction can be stored in dense silica polymorphs in the interiors of the converted carbon planets,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract. “Such conversion of mineralogy to diamond and silicates would decrease the density of carbon-rich planet, making the converted planets distinct from silicate planets in mass–radius relations for the 2–8 Earth mass range.”

To come up with their hypothesis, the researchers harnessed intense heat and pressure using high-pressure diamond-anvil cells. From there, they put silicon carbide under water and compressed it between two diamonds, heating the mixture with lasers.

Eventually, the silicon carbide turned into diamonds and silica.

While the presence of diamonds may be intriguing to the late Marilyn Monroe, it’s unlikely these planets host life, the researchers added. They noted they likely are not geologically active and probably have atmospheres that are not conducive to supporting life.

“Regardless of habitability, this is one additional step in helping us understand and characterize our ever-increasing and improving observations of exoplanets,” Allen-Sutter added in the statement. “The more we learn, the better we’ll be able to interpret new data from upcoming future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope to understand the worlds beyond on our own solar system.”

NASA’s James Webb Telescope is slated to launch in October 2021, having been pushed back several months because of the coronavirus pandemic, Fox News previously reported.

More than 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered by NASA in total, approximately 50 of which were believed to potentially be habitable as of September 2018. They have the right size and the right orbit of their star to support surface water and, at least theoretically, to support life.

Saving The World, By Moving Mountains In Space

For billions of years life on Earth has been at the mercy of cosmic events which could strike without warning and sometimes caused mass extinctions in the biosphere. However, humanity is now the first species to understand this, and next year a spacecraft is going to demonstrate that not only does humanity understand the problem, we can predict the events and will be able to prevent the events.

This spacecraft is called the Double Asteroid Redirect Test, and it will literally move a mountain, just a little bit. This is a truly profound capability that will ensure humanity has a bright and hopeful future!

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is a planned space probe that will demonstrate the kinetic effects of crashing an impactor spacecraft into an asteroid moon for planetary defense purposes. The mission is intended to test whether a spacecraft impact could successfully deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

A demonstration of an asteroid deflection is a key test that NASA and other agencies wish to perform before the actual need of planetary defense is present. DART is a joint project between NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), and it is being developed under the auspices of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.


The NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) operating in a vacuum chamber.

Scientists estimate 25,000 large asteroids lurk in the Solar System, though to date, surveys have detected about 8000, therefore NASA officials think it is imperative to develop an effective plan should a near-Earth object threaten Earth. DART is an impactor that hosts no scientific payload other than a Sun sensor, a star tracker, and 20 cm aperture camera (DRACO) to support autonomous navigation to impact the small asteroid’s moon at its center. It is estimated that the impact of the 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) DART at 6 kilometres per second (3.7 mi/s) will produce a velocity change on the order of 0.4 mm/s, which leads to a small change in trajectory of the asteroid system, but over time, it leads to a large shift of path. Overall, DART is expected to alter the speed of Dimorphos (Didymos B) orbit by about half a millimeter per second, resulting in an orbital period change of perhaps 10 minutes. Over a span of millions of kilometers, the cumulative trajectory change would turn a collision with a genuinely Earth-bound asteroid or comet into a safe outcome. The actual velocity change and orbital shift will be measured a few years later by a small spacecraft called Hera that would do a detailed reconnaissance and assessment. Hera was approved in November 2019.

DART spacecraft will use the NEXT ion thruster, a type of solar electric propulsion. It will be powered by 22 m2 solar arrays to generate the ~3.5 kW needed to power the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster–Commercial (NEXT-C) engine. The DART impactor is also proposed to make a flyby observation of other near-Earth asteroids such as 2001 CB21 and 3361 Orpheus during its trajectory to 65803 Didymos. It will obtain some images in the visible spectrum.

It was originally planned for DART to be a secondary payload on a commercial launch to keep costs low, however a mission update presentation in November 2018 notes that the mission now has a dedicated launch vehicle. In April 2019, that launch vehicle was announced to be a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Secondary spacecraft

The Italian Space Agency (ASI) will contribute a secondary spacecraft called LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids), a small 6-unit CubeSat that will piggyback with DART and will separate shortly before impact to acquire images of the impact and ejecta as it drifts past the asteroid.  LICIACube will communicate directly with Earth, sending back images of the ejecta after the Dimorphos (Didymos B) flyby.

In a collaborating project, the European Space Agency is developing Hera, a spacecraft that will be launched to Didymos in 2024  — after DART’s impact — to do a detailed reconnaissance and assessment. Hera would carry two CubeSatsAPEX and Juventas.

“Utsurobune”: A UFO Legend from Nineteenth-Century Japan

A mysterious event in Japan at the beginning of the nineteenth century shows surprising similarities with stories of UFOs.

Professor emeritus at Gifu University. Born in 1947. Specializes in optical information engineering, but has also lectured on skeptical thinking. Leading researcher on utsurobune (hollow ship) legends. Published Edo utsurobune misuterī in 2009 under a pen name, which was translated and published in English in 2019 as The Mystery of Utsuro-bune.

In 1803, a round vessel drifted ashore on the Japanese coast and a beautiful woman emerged, wearing strange clothing and carrying a box. She was unable to communicate with the locals, and her craft was marked with mysterious writing. This story of an utsurobune, or “hollow ship,” in the province of Hitachi (now Ibaraki Prefecture) is found in many records of the Edo period (1603–1868), and Tanaka Kazuo, professor emeritus at Gifu University, has studied the topic for many years. What drew him away from his main research area, applied optics, to investigate this curious episode? And what really took place?

“Like a Flying Saucer”

Tanaka says he began to research the ship after the deadly subway sarin attacks in 1995 by the Aum Shinrikyō cult. “There was a lot of coverage of Aum founder Asahara Shōkō’s prophecies and claims to be able to float in the air. Yet the cult’s senior members were part of the scientific elite. I started giving lectures considering paranormal phenomena from a scientific perspective, which meant that I was collecting all kinds of materials for teaching, such as about UFOs in the United States and Japanese folklore. While doing so, I came across the utsurobune legend.” He adds, “Long before the American UFO stories, the craft depicted in Edo-period Japanese documents for some reason looked like a flying saucer. This was fascinating to me.”

UFOs became a modern sensation after the media reported US businessman Kenneth Arnold as having witnessed “flying saucers” on June 24, 1947. A flood of similar stories followed from around the world. Most famously, a UFO was alleged to have crashed to the ground near Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947. “In the end, though, no wrecks or alien bodies were recovered,” Tanaka says. “There was only the ambiguous testament of witnesses. It was the same with all the other UFO stories from around the world—they were mysteries without any substantial evidence. The utsurobune legend, however, has a number of documents to examine as leads, so in this sense, for researchers it’s a mystery with substance.” 

A Ninja’s Report

A book published in English by Tanaka Kazuo on his research. The cover uses the illustration from Toen shōsetsu (Toen Stories; 1825).

There are similar oral traditions about “hollow ships” across Japan in the Edo period. Tanaka’s research is focused on the various documents that describe the 1803 incident in Hitachi and include illustrations of a beautiful woman and a strange vessel, although they cite different dates. One of the best-known sources is the Toen shōsetsu (Toen Stories), an 1825 collection recording fantastic rumors, which was written by the Toenkai literary circle and edited by Kyokutei Bakin, famous for his lengthy historical romance Nansō Satomi hakkenden (The Eight Dog Chronicles). Others are Nagahashi Matajirō’s 1844 work Ume no chiri (Plum Dust), as well as collections like Ōshuku zakki (Ōshuku Notes), Hirokata zuihitsu (Essays by Hirokata), and Hyōryūki-shū (Records of Castaways), which gathers stories of foreign ships washed up in Japan and of Japanese sailors who came ashore overseas.

From Ōshuku zakki (Ōshuku Notes; around 1815) by Komai Norimura, a vassal of the powerful daimyō Matsudaira Sadanobu. (Courtesy National Diet Library)
From Hirokata zuihitsu (Essays by Hirokata; 1825) by shogunate retainer and calligrapher Yashiro Hirokata, who was also a member of the Toenkai circle. (Courtesy National Archives of Japan)
From Mito bunsho (Mito Document). (Courtesy the owner)

At first, Tanaka theorized that the incident was an embellished account concerning a shipwrecked Russian whaler, but he could not find any mention of such a disaster in official records. Instead, he discovered new materials, becoming absorbed in further background research. To date, he has found 11 documents relating to the Hitachi utsurobune legend, of which the most interesting are thought to date from 1803, the same year that the craft was said to have come to shore.

One is the Mito bunsho (Mito Document) owned by a collector in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture. Tanaka noticed that the woman’s clothing in an illustration in the work was similar to that of a bodhisattva statue at the Shōfukuji temple in Kamisu, also in Ibaraki, which is dedicated to the raising of silkworms. A legend credits the start of sericulture in the area to a Princess Konjiki (or “golden princess”), who is a motif in images at the temple. In one version of the story, Princess Konjiki is washed up to shore after traveling from India on a dugout boat in the shape of a cocoon. She repays the kindness of a local couple who try to nurse her back to health by bestowing on them the secrets of sericulture when she herself becomes a silkworm after her death. Among the various materials, only the illustration in the Mito document appeared greatly similar to Princess Konjiki. Tanaka thinks that when the first rumors of a “hollow ship” coming ashore at a beach called Kashimanada were spreading, the people at Shōfukuji may have decided to incorporate it into promotion of the temple.

Another even more important source is the Banke bunsho (Banke Document) owned by Kawakami Jin’ichi, the heir to the Kōka ninjutsu (ninja arts) tradition and a ninjutsu researcher and martial artist. It is named after the Banke, or Ban family, of Kōka ninja. While some other materials say the vessel came ashore at locations like Harayadori or Haratonohama, there is no evidence that such places exist. This document, however, records the location as Hitachihara Sharihama, which appeared in a map produced by the famous cartographer Inō Tadataka, and is now known as Hasaki Sharihama in Kamisu. Tanaka comments that while the other materials show geographical inconsistencies, this document mentions a real place name. He says that Kawakami suggested a Banke member might have been assembling information while working for the head of the Owari domain (now Aichi Prefecture). “If so, he wouldn’t record any untruths, so we can say the document is very reliable.”

Awaiting New Revelations

The folklorist Yanagita Kunio once said that all of the utsurobune legends were groundless fictions. “But in the case of the Hitachi utsurobune, there’s a clear difference from other stories around the country,” Tanaka says. “For one, it’s specified as having taken place in 1803. And then, it’s strange that there are specific pictures of the craft showing it as resembling a flying saucer. I feel it was probably based on something that really happened. But Japan was largely closed off then, so if there was a wreck of a foreign ship or foreign people had arrived in the country, it would have been a huge event and a government official would have investigated and left a public document. When British sailors entered Ōtsuhama [now Kitaibaraki] in 1824, it became one of the causes of an edict to repel foreign vessels the following year. So it might be that there was witness testimony of something taking place for just a short time at Kashimanada. It’s possible that this became tied in with earlier utsurobune legends.”

Just as descriptions of the woman’s clothing vary depending on the document, so do those of the shape and size of her vessel. For example, Records of Castaways says that it was around 3.3 meters high and 5.4 meters wide (when converted into current measurements) and that it was made of rosewood and iron with glass and crystal windows. “I’m not sure whether Records of Castaways was an official document. There are two volumes altogether, and apart from the utsurobune, they’re all incidents that actually took place. This suggests that the writer at least believed the utsurobune was really washed up to shore,” Tanaka says. 

There are countless mysteries connected with the “hollow ship,” such as the meaning of the script written inside it. Tanaka says that one theory has it that it resembles the pseudo-Roman letters sometimes seen in the border of ukiyo-e prints. “So it might be simply decorative. Although it’s not impossible that we’ll discover evidence that it’s alien script!” Having said this, he laughs. “There are likely to be further discoveries of currently unknown materials related to the utsurobune, and new revelations. This legend is so appealing because it’s possible to come up with so many different theories. Having a story like this in Japan—from 140 years before the American UFO sightings—that stimulates the imagination to this extent reminds me of how deep and fascinating Japanese culture can be.”

From Hyōryūki-shū (Records of Castaways) by an unknown author. The text describes the woman as being around 18 to 20 years of age, well-dressed, and beautiful. Her face is pale, and her eyebrows and hair are red. It is impossible to communicate with her, so it is unclear where she is from. She holds a plain wooden box as though it is very important to her and keeps her distance. There is mysterious script written in the boat. (Courtesy Iwase Bunko Library in Nishio, Aichi Prefecture)
From Hyōryūki-shū (Records of Castaways) by an unknown author. The text describes the woman as being around 18 to 20 years of age, well-dressed, and beautiful. Her face is pale, and her eyebrows and hair are red. It is impossible to communicate with her, so it is unclear where she is from. She holds a plain wooden box as though it is very important to her and keeps her distance. There is mysterious script written in the boat. (Courtesy Iwase Bunko Library in Nishio, Aichi Prefecture)

Japanese military given instructions on UFOs

It is not the first time the Japanese government has made a statement about potential alien spacecraft appearing on Earth.

Weather balloon or UFO? Mysterious object appears over Japan
Image:Mysterious object appears over Japan earlier this year

The Japanese military have been given instructions to record and report sightings of unidentified aerial objects which could pose a potential threat to the country’s security.

While the popular imagination has been excited by UFOs, the military takes UAPs – as they are formally known – very seriously.

The footage was said not to reveal any 'sensitive capabilities or systems'
Declassified: UFOs filmed by US navy pilots

The risk for security officials is that the spotted aircraft are something which an untrained observer is unable to identify, but which could be a foreign incursion into domestic airspace.

But sometimes the UAPs appear to be even more mysterious.

Earlier this year the Pentagon declassified three videos of strange elliptical objects racing across the sky.

The black and white videos were recorded by Navy pilots – one in November 2004 and two in January 2015, according to the US Department of Defence.

One of the clips shows a dark circular object flying in front of a jet, another shows a small object speeding over land and the third shows a circular object racing and then appearing to slow down as it approaches the camera.

Mr Kono cited these videos and explained that while the Japanese defence force pilots are not believed to have ever encountered a UAP, his intention wast to develop a procedure in case such an encounter ever took place.

It is not the first time that members of the Japanese government have broached the topic.

UFO. Pic: Department of Defence
Image:Footage of UFOs has been released by the US DOD

The defence ministry previously stated in 2015 that it had never encountered alien spacecraft although the country’s then chief cabinet secretary, Nobutaka Machimura, said: “Personally, I absolutely believe they exist.”

Then-defence minister Shigeru Ishiba added that in his personal opinion there were “no grounds” to deny that there are UFOs controlled by alien life-forms, although this was not the official government position.

Celebrities fascinated by UFOs include rock star Tom DeLonge, who spoke to Sky News about his work on the subject earlier this month, saying he would not have put music on the backburner just “to chase monsters and ghosts”.

A UFO Legend from Nineteenth-Century Japan

Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the lunar module pilot for Apollo 14, publicly stated he was personally 90% sure that many reports of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, “belong to visitors from other planets”.

He suggested that he had met officials from foreign countries who had personal encounters with alien beings, and suggested that governments were covering up such contacts.

That said, he always maintained that he had never seen a UFO, and that he had never been threatened regarding those claims. He also said that UFOs being covered up was his own personal speculation.

UFO Doc ‘The Phenomenon’ Gets New Trailer, Release Date

The Phenomenon Key Art
Courtesy of Farah Films

James Fox’s feature exploring 70 years of history behind proving UFOs exist will now have a digital release on Oct. 6.

UFO documentary The Phenomenon, which takes an expansive look across 70 years’ worth of history behind proving the existence of UFOs, right up to the latest discoveries, has a new trailer and release date.

The feature — from director James Fox — was originally slated for a wide North American theatrical release via 1091 Media this fall, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic will now premiere worldwide on all digital platforms on Oct. 6.

Co-written by Fox and Marc Barasch, The Phenomenon features never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with key eyewitnesses, experts and officials, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Clinton’s White House chief of staff John Podesta, former Deputy Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Christopher Mellon, and former U.S. Energy Secretary and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, as well as Jacques Vallee, who served as a scientific consultant on Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

E.T. actor Peter Coyotes narrates the film, which was produced by Fox and Dan Farah (Ready Player One), among others.

The Phenomenon is meritorious. It makes the incredible credible,” said Reid, while former Senior CIA Officer and member of the Senior Intelligence Service, Jim Semivan, described it as, “The most important documentary of the year and the most accurate examination of the world’s greatest mystery.”

Vallee said: “Seventy years of secrecy has led to this. The most credible documentary ever made about UFOs.”

Chris Mellon, former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence at the U.S. Department of Defense, said: “I can’t think of a better way for people to begin educating themselves on this long-neglected issue than watching The Phenomenon. The film provides a badly needed remedy for the unwarranted stigma that for too long has prevented government and academia from taking this important topic seriously.”

See the trailer below:

Fighter pilot says UFO he chased in 2004 committed ‘act of war’

Commander David Fravor recalled the strange encounter off San Diego 16 years ago in a podcast

Retired Cmdr. David Fravor spoke about his encounter with a UFO off San Diego’s coast 16 years ago in a podcast with MIT research scientist Lex Fridman. He says what happened on that day was an act of war.

A former U.S. Navy fighter pilot spoke this month about what he says was an encounter with a “Tic Tac”-shaped UFO and believes the flying object committed an “act of war.”

Retired Cmdr. David Fravor recalled the strange encounter off San Diego 16 years ago in a Sept. 8 podcast with MIT research scientist Lex Fridman.

Fravor says he was dispatched to investigate radar anomalies and later described what he saw as “like nothing I’ve ever seen” – a Tic Tac-shaped object able to turn on a dime and make itself invisible to radar, New Zealand’s TV Channel 3 reported.

Image showing an unidentified object that was captured in video by the Navy in 2004.

Image showing an unidentified object that was captured in video by the Navy in 2004. (Department of Defense)

He was followed by other pilots who managed to catch it on video. Clips were leaked in 2017 by a UFO research group founded by punk singer Tom DeLonge of Blink 182, and formally declassified in 2020 by the Pentagon, according to the station.

“This is not like, ‘we saw it and it was gone’, or ‘I saw lights in the sky and it’s gone’ – we watched this thing on a crystal clear day with four trained observers,” Fravor said.

He said he tried to get close to it, but as he did so it accelerated so quickly, it was gone in half a second, according to Channel 3.

“I remember telling the guy in my back seat, ‘Dude, I dunno about you but I’m pretty weirded out,'” Fravor said, according to the station.

Once he landed, Fravor mentioned the object to another pilot, Chad Underwood, the station reported.

Underwood found the UFO, aimed his radar at it – and got jammed.

“He’s telling the radar, ‘Stare down the line of sight, whatever is there I want you to grab it and build a trace file on it,’ which will tell you where it is, how fast it is and the direction that it’s going,” Fravor told Fridman, according to the station.

“The radar is smart enough that when the signal comes back if it’s been messed with, it will tell you – it will give you indications that it’s being jammed… It’s being jammed into about every mode you can see… You can tell it’s being jammed,” he said.

“When you actively jam another platform, that’s technically an act of war,” Fravor told Fridman.

Sign of alien life detected on inhospitable Venus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists said on Monday they have detected in the harshly acidic clouds of Venus a gas called phosphine that indicates microbes may inhabit Earth’s inhospitable neighbor, a tantalizing sign of potential life beyond Earth.

The researchers did not discover actual life forms, but noted that on Earth phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments. The international scientific team first spotted the phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and confirmed it using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile.

“I was very surprised – stunned, in fact,” said astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The existence of extraterrestrial life long has been one of the paramount questions of science. Scientists have used probes and telescopes to seek “biosignatures” – indirect signs of life – on other planets and moons in our solar system and beyond.

“With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist and study co-author Clara Sousa-Silva.

“I should emphasize that life, as an explanation for our discovery, should be, as always, the last resort,” Sousa-Silva added. “This is important because, if it is phosphine, and if it is life, it means that we are not alone. It also means that life itself must be very common, and there must be many other inhabited planets throughout our galaxy.”

Venus has not been the focus of the search for life elsewhere in the solar system, with Mars and other worlds getting more attention.

Phosphine – a phosphorus atom with three hydrogen atoms attached – is highly toxic to people.

Earth-based telescopes like those used in this research help scientists study the chemistry and other characteristics of celestial objects.

Phosphine was seen at 20 parts-per-billion in the Venusian atmosphere, a trace concentration. Greaves said the researchers examined potential non-biological sources such as volcanism, meteorites, lightning and various types of chemical reactions, but none appeared viable. The research continues to either confirm the presence of life or find an alternative explanation.

Venus is Earth’s closest planetary neighbor. Similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth, it is the second planet from the sun. Earth is the third.

Venus is wrapped in a thick, toxic atmosphere that traps in heat. Surface temperatures reach a scorching 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead.

“I can only speculate on what life might survive on Venus, if indeed it is there. No life would be able to survive on the surface of Venus, because it is completely inhospitable, even for biochemistries completely different from ours,” Sousa-Silva said. “But a long time ago, Venus could have had life on its surface, before a runaway greenhouse effect left the majority of the planet completely uninhabitable.”Data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter is used in an undated composite image of the planet Venus. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS.


Some scientists have suspected that the Venusian high clouds, with mild temperatures around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), could harbor aerial microbes that could endure extreme acidity. These clouds are around 90% sulphuric acid. Earth microbes could not survive that acidity.

“If it’s microorganisms, they would have access to some sunlight and water, and maybe live in liquid droplets to stop themselves dehydrating, but they would need some unknown mechanism to protect against corrosion by acid,” Greaves said.

On Earth, microorganisms in “anaerobic” environments – ecosystems that do not rely on oxygen – produce phosphine. These include sewage plants, swamps, rice fields, marshlands, lake sediments and the excrements and intestinal tracts of many animals. Phosphine also arises non-biologically in certain industrial settings.

To produce phosphine, Earth bacteria take up phosphate from minerals or biological material and add hydrogen.

“We have done our very best to explain this discovery without the need for a biological process. With our current knowledge of phosphine, and Venus, and geochemistry, we cannot explain the presence of phosphine in the clouds of Venus. That doesn’t mean it is life. It just means that some exotic process is producing phosphine, and our understanding of Venus needs work,” Sousa-Silva said.

Venus should be hostile to phosphine. Its surface and atmosphere are rich in oxygen compounds that would rapidly react with and destroy phosphine.

“Something must be creating the phosphine on Venus as fast as it is being destroyed,” said study co-author Anita Richards, an astrophysicist associated with the University of Manchester in England.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Twitter called the new findings “the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth.” Among missions that the U.S. space agency is currently considering is one that would send an atmospheric probe to Venus.

“It’s time to prioritize Venus,” Bridenstine wrote.

While previous robotic spacecraft have visited Venus, a new probe may be needed to confirm life.

“Fortunately, Venus is right next door,” Sousa-Silva said. “So we can literally go and check.”

Amateur astronomer discovers large asteroid that flew by Earth this week

An orbit diagram for the near-Earth asteroid 2020 QU6, which made a close approach to Earth on Sept. 10, 2020.
An orbit diagram for the near-Earth asteroid 2020 QU6, which made a close approach to Earth on Sept. 10, 2020. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

An amateur astronomer from Brazil discovered the large, “potentially hazardous” asteroid that safely passed by Earth this week on Thursday (Sept. 10). 

The asteroid, called 2020 QU6, measures roughly 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) wide, or large enough to cause a global catastrophe if it were to hit Earth. However, it posed no risk to our planet as it travelled past the planet at a distance of more than 20 million miles (40 million kilometers), which is more than 100 times the distance between Earth and the moon, according to a statement from the Planetary Society. 

“In the news, we hear more and more frequently about asteroid discoveries primarily because we are getting better at finding and tracking near-Earth asteroids,” Bruce Betts, chief scientist at The Planetary Society, said in the statement. “There aren’t suddenly more asteroids, we’re just getting better at seeing them.”

Asteroid 2020 QU6 was discovered on Aug. 27 by amateur astronomer Leonardo Amaral at the Campo dos Amarais observatory near Sao Paulo Brazil. In 2019, Amaral received an $8,500 grant from The Planetary Society to purchase better telescope equipment that would allow him to find, track, and characterize near-Earth objects (NEOs) more effectively. 

Amaral’s location in the Southern Hemisphere also offers a unique vantage point for finding such a large asteroid, as many professional asteroid-hunting sky surveys are located in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the statement. 

While NASA and other major agencies track asteroids, the discovery of asteroid 2020 QU6 so close to its approach to Earth serves as a reminder for the need to support ground-based astronomers like Amaral. Casey Dreier, chief advocate and senior space policy adviser for The Planetary Society, also noted the importance of investing in new space-based capabilities, such as NASA’s NEO Surveillance Mission, or NEOSM, which is a space telescope designed to find and track threatening near-Earth objects. 

“This discovery reminds us that even though we’ve found most large NEOs we haven’t found all of them,” Dreier said in the statement. 

New Study Expands Breakthrough Listen Initiative’s Search for Intelligent Life

In a new study to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a research team led by University of Manchester astronomers extended a sample of 1,327 stellar systems recently observed by the Breakthrough Listen Initiative by including additional 288,315 stars that also reside within the target fields of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope in Australia — increasing the number of stars analyzed by a factor of more than 200. Their results suggest that less than 0.04% of stellar systems have the potential of hosting advanced civilizations with the equivalent or slightly more advanced radio technology than 21st century humans.

An optical color image of the stellar field centered on HIP 109427, an A1-type star located 89 light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus, from the Pan-STARRS survey, showing the target fields of Green Bank and Parkes receivers, circled in red and white respectively; 46 sources with geometric distances calculated from Gaia data are marked with green crosses. Image credit: Wlodarczyk-Sroka et al, arXiv: 2006.09756.

SETI scientists search for technosignatures — indicators of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligence — using cutting-edge instruments at some of the world’s most powerful telescopes.

No technosignatures have yet been detected, but as more and more comprehensive searches are carried out, astronomers can place tighter and tighter limits on how many stars in our neighborhood might be home to powerful radio transmitters.

In their earlier studies, astronomers from the Breakthrough Listen Initiative looked for technosignatures in radio data gathered when Green Bank and Parkes radio telescopes were pointed in the directions of 1,327 individual stars.

Their search focused on relatively nearby stars — within about 160 light-years from our Sun — because less powerful transmitters would become more easily detectable the closer they are to our telescopes.

However, as anyone who has looked at images of deep space knows, even small regions of the sky are full of stars at a range of distances from Earth.

When Breakthrough Listen searches for technosignatures coming from a nearby star, it is also sensitive to more powerful potential technosignatures from other stars within the telescope’s beam.

University of Manchester astronomers Bart Wlodarczyk-Sroka and Professor Michael Garrett and Berkeley SETI Director Dr. Andrew Siemion took advantage of this fact to determine new, more stringent limits on the prevalence of technosignatures, without the need to gather any new telescope data.

Combing through the catalogue produced by ESA’s Gaia spacecraft, which measured the distances to over a billion stars, they recalculated limits on the prevalence of transmitters around additional stars within radio telescopes’ fields of view.

By selecting stars out to much larger distances — up to about 33,000 light-years — than the original sample of nearby stars, they were able to expand the number of stars studied from 1,327 to 288,315.

“Knowing the locations and distances to these additional sources greatly improves our ability to constrain the prevalence of extraterrestrial intelligence in our own Galaxy and beyond,” Professor Garrett said.

“We expect future SETI surveys to also make good use of this approach.”

“Our results help to put meaningful limits on the prevalence of transmitters comparable to what we ourselves can build using twenty first century technology,” Wlodarczyk-Sroka added.

“We now know that fewer than one in 1,600 stars closer than about 330 light-years host transmitters just a few times more powerful than the strongest radar we have here on Earth.”

“Inhabited worlds with much more powerful transmitters than we can currently produce must be rarer still.”

The sheer number of stars studied enabled the researchers to place some of the most stringent limits to date on the prevalence of powerful radio transmitters in this region of our Galaxy.

In addition, for the first time, they have been able to do this as a function of stellar type — the extended sample includes not only a wide range of main-sequence stars, but also numerous giant stars and white dwarfs.

“This work shows the value of combining data from different telescopes,” Dr. Siemion said.

“Expanding our observations to cover almost 220 times more stars would have required a significant investment of our telescope time, not to mention the computing resources to perform the analysis.”

“By taking advantage of the fact that we already had radio scans of stars in the background of our primary targets, and by reading their positions and distances from the Gaia catalog, our analysis has extracted additional information from the existing dataset.”

“Work like this gets us one step closer to the goal of knowing the answer to humanity’s most profound question: Are we alone?”

Lunar Warming: Jupiter’s Icy Moons Are Heating Each Other Up, New Research Finds

Jupiter’s moons.(NASA)

Despite being so far away from the Sun, Jupiter’s moons are hot—hotter than they should be!

The beautiful, icy moons are known to contain interiors warm enough to host oceans of liquid water. And on the planet’s innermost moon, Io, the heat is intense enough to melt rocks into magma.

Previously, researchers believed that Jupiter was the sole reason behind most of the heating associated with Io’s internal ocean of magma as well as the liquid interiors of its three icy Galilean moons: Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. But now, a new study has found that moon-moon interactions may be more responsible for the heating than the Gas Giant.

Essentially, the researchers have found that the moons gravitationally tug at each other and create friction—a process called tidal heating—while Jupiter itself stretches and squishes them. The tidal heating is what causes the interiors of the moons to heat-up, and it is driven by a phenomenon called tidal resonance.

“It’s surprising because the moons are so much smaller than Jupiter,” said the paper’s lead author Hamish Hay, a postdoctoral fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “You wouldn’t expect them to be able to create such a large tidal response.”

However, they do just that.

For any moon to experience tidal resonance, their oceans must be tens to hundreds of kilometers thick. Incidentally, the oceans on Jupiter’s moons are so thick, that the planet’s influence alone is incapable of creating tides with the right frequency to resonate with the moons. It was only when the researchers added in the gravitational influence of the other moons that they started to see tidal forces approaching the natural frequencies of the moons.

As the tides generated by other moons resonate with a moon’s frequency, they serve as an energy source and excite the subsurface lunar oceans near their natural frequencies. This leads to the generation of fast-flowing tidal waves, which effectively release significant amounts of heat into the oceans and crusts of Io and Europa.

Subsequently, these moons begin experiencing more heating than that caused by Jupiter alone, and in extreme cases, it could also result in the melting of ice or rock internally, especially on Io.

However, this current model functions on the assumption that the tidal resonances never get too extreme. In future studies, Hay and his team of researchers intend to see what happens when they lift that constraint, and also study the true depth of the oceans within these moons.

All in all, getting a complete picture of how these moons influence each other is crucial, as it could shed light on how Jupiter’s wonderful moon system evolved as a whole, and also improve our understanding of how ocean worlds in compact systems evolve.

The findings of this study were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, and they can be accessed here.

Baffling interstellar object ‘Oumuamua could be a ‘dust bunny’

Research theorizes the cigar-shaped object is comprised of dust fragments from an interstellar comet

Ever since its discovery in October 2017, researchers have speculated what the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is: an alien “light sail” from another civilization; it’s made of something almost unheard of in science; others suggest it is a comet or an asteroid.

A new study now suggests it might be something very common on Earth: a cosmic “dust bunny.”

The research, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, theorizes the 900 foot-long cigar-shaped object is comprised of dust fragments from an interstellar comet, which had a chunk of rock broken off. From there, the dust and rock combined and would be “ejected” into interstellar space by solar radiation.

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

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

“We propose that ‘Oumuamua’s properties could be explained as those of a fractal dust aggregate (a ‘dust bunny’) formed in the inner coma of a fragmenting exo-Oort cloud comet,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract.

They continued: “Such fragments could serve as accretion sites by accumulating dust particles, resulting in the formation of a fractal aggregate. The fractal aggregate eventually breaks off from the fragment due to hydrodynamic stress. With their low density and tenuously bound orbits, most of these cometary fractal aggregates are then ejected into interstellar space by radiation pressure.”

The idea of a “dust bunny” being created from the rock and dust of another comet is similar to another theory put forth earlier this year. In April, another group of researchers suggested ‘Oumuamua – which means “pathfinder” or “scout” in Hawaiian – could have been ripped from a larger object due to gravity from a nearby star.

No longer observable by telescopes as of January 2018, many have speculated about what ‘Ouamumua is, as it traveled through the Solar System at 57,000 mph.

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

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

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

A second interstellar object, Comet 2I/Borisov, was discovered in August 2019.