‘The Phenomenon’ director James Fox and former Pentagon official Christopher Mellon join ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’
President Trump’s signature Sunday on the $2.3 trillion COVID-19 relief and government funding bill started a 180-day countdown for the Pentagon and spy agencies to say what they know about UFOs.
The provision received very little attention in part because it wasn’t included in the text of the 5,593-page legislation, but as a “committee comment” attached to the annual intelligence authorization act, which was rolled into the massive bill.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in the comment it “directs the [director of national intelligence], in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the heads of such other agencies… to submit a report within 180 days of the date of enactment of the Act, to the congressional intelligence and armed services committees on unidentified aerial phenomena.”
The report must address “observed airborne objects that have not been identified” and should include a “detailed analysis of unidentified phenomena data collected by: a. geospatial intelligence; b. signals intelligence; c. human intelligence; and d. measurement and signals intelligence,” the committee said.
The report must also contain “[a] detailed analysis of data of the FBI, which was derived from investigations of intrusions of unidentified aerial phenomena data over restricted United States airspace … and an assessment of whether this unidentified aerial phenomena activity may be attributed to one or more foreign adversaries.”
‘It’s a bit presumptuous and arrogant for us to believe that there’s no other form of life anywhere in the entire universe’
No one can say for certain what UFOs actually are, but a former director of the CIA said some of the recently unexplained phenomenon “might … constitute a different form of life.”
Speaking on a podcast with American economist Tyler Cowen, John Brennan said that while he did not know what the phenomenon was exactly, “It’s a bit presumptuous and arrogant for us to believe that there’s no other form of life anywhere in the entire universe.”
“… I think some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing continues to be unexplained and might, in fact, be some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don’t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life,” Brennan said, according to a transcript of the podcast.
Nick Pope, a former employee and UFO investigator for Britain’s Ministry of Defense, said Brennan’s comments are “intriguing,” given his former position.
“When I first heard the interview I thought he was going to play it safe, and his mention of weather phenomena reinforced that view,” Pope told Fox News via email. “But for him then to start speculating about something people ‘might say constitutes a different form of life’ was extraordinary. While it may have been a slip of the tongue and an inadvertent muddling of tenses, I was also fascinated to hear him mention not just the previous U.S. Navy UFO sightings, but ‘some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing’, as if he was talking about future events.”
Brennan, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Obama from March 2013 until January 2017, also discussed the trio of videos that were officially released by the Pentagon in April of “unidentified aerial phenomena.”
“I’ve seen some of those videos from Navy pilots, and I must tell you that they are quite eyebrow-raising when you look at them,” Brennan explained. “You try to ensure that you have as much data as possible in terms of visuals and also different types of maybe technical collection of sensors that you have at the time.”
The videos in reference, known as “FLIR1,” “Gimbal” and “GoFast,” were previously captured by Navy aircraft, with the footage circulating in the public for years.
They were originally released to the New York Times and to The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, headed by Blink-182 co-founder Tom DeLonge. After the videos were released publicly, DeLonge said “UFOs are real” in a since-deleted tweet.
In July, the New York Times reported that a small group of government officials, including Reid, and scientists believe objects of “undetermined origin” have crashed to Earth and have been retrieved. The publication cited Eric W. Davis, an astrophysicist who worked as a subcontractor and a consultant for the Pentagon UFO program.
Davis, who now works for defense contractor Aerospace Corporation, said he gave briefings on the recovery of unexplained objects to staff members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Oct. 21 and Oct. 23, 2019.
Nostradamus’ predictions for 2021: Asteroids, zombies and a bad outlook.
And you thought it couldn’t get any worse?
World-ending asteroids, zombies and ruinous famine are on deck for 2021, according to French philosopher Michel de Nostradamus, whose track record for predicting the future has been freakishly accurate.
Nostradamus, who died in 1566, has famously prophesied calamitous events through his “Les Prophéties,” a collection of poetic quatrains. The Renaissance-era seer alluded to such events as the French Revolution, the development of the atomic bomb and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Now, close readers of his work say he foresaw a 2021 even more destructive than this hellscape of a year.
In his writings, he mentions “Few young people: half-dead to give a start.” This can only mean one thing, according to Yearly-Horoscope: a zombie apocalypse.
“Fathers and mothers dead of infinite sorrows / Women in mourning, the pestilent she−monster: / The Great One to be no more, all the world to end,” the philosopher went on, ominously.
“After great trouble for humanity, a greater one is prepared,” Nostradamus wrote. “The Great Mover renews the ages: / Rain, blood, milk, famine, steel, and plague, / Is the heavens fire seen, a long spark running.”
The company says it will offer “opportunities for groundbreaking research and life-changing travel experiences for off-world travels.”
Self-hep guru Tony Robbins is reportedly putting some of his money behind a Cape Canaveral start-up that wants to send people to space onboard balloons.
The company, Space Perspective, announced Wednesday in a press release that it has secured $7 million “for the development and early flights of Spaceship Neptune to the edge of space.”
A high-performance space balloon with a pressurized capsule. (Space Perspective)
“The infusion of capital advances the human space flight company another step closer to fundamentally changing the way people have access to space for research and tourism,” the statement read.
Space Perspective said it chose investors who are the “cutting edge of venture capital.” Among its investors is Robbins.
“My life is dedicated to delivering people extraordinary experiences that expand human consciousness,” Robbins said in a press release. “I always say a belief is a poor substitute for an experience and Jane and Taber’s work at Space Perspective will deliver a life-changing experience to people across the world and help us all realize that we are part of a human family sharing this remarkable planet.”
According to the company, the “space balloon” uses a pressurized capsule technology that “gently travels to and from the edge of space over a six-hour period.”
The company says it will offer “opportunities for groundbreaking research and life-changing travel experiences for off-world travels.”
It’s first flight, Neptune 1, is scheduled around the end of the first quarter 2021 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.
The storm was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018
A massive dark storm on Neptune that was first spotted two years ago has suddenly changed directions, leaving experts without answers.
The storm was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018, where it was seen on the planet’s Northern Hemisphere. In 2019, it was seen moving toward the planet’s Southern Hemisphere, but in August 2020, it started moving back north again, unlike other dark spots that have been spotted on the ice giant in the past. Another smaller, dark spot was also seen, believed to be a part of the larger storm that broke off into a separate storm.
“We are excited about these observations because this smaller dark fragment is potentially part of the dark spot’s disruption process,” Michael H. Wong of the University of California at Berkeley said in a statement. “This is a process that’s never been observed. We have seen some other dark spots fading away and they’re gone, but we’ve never seen anything disrupt, even though it’s predicted in computer simulations.”
This Hubble Space Telescope snapshot of the dynamic blue-green planet Neptune reveals a monstrous dark storm (top center) and the emergence of a smaller dark spot nearby (top right). (NASA, ESA, STScI, M.H. Wong/University of California, Berkeley and L.A. Sromovsky and P.M. Fry/University of Wisconsin-Madison))
NASA first flew by Neptune in 1989 with the Voyager 2 spacecraft and took pictures of two dark spots. It wasn’t until 1994 that it was observed on a regular basis by the Hubble. Since then, the space telescope has looked at the “Great Dark Spot” as well as other dark spots on the planet.
The dark storm in question is believed to be 4,600 miles across and is the fourth observed on Neptune since 1993. Unlike hurricanes on Earth, which are low-pressure and spin counterclockwise, these storms rotate clockwise and are high-pressure systems. But as they move toward the equator, they’re impacted by the Coriolis effect, which weakens them, ultimately disintegrating after it reaches a so-called “kill zone.” This particular storm did not.
(NASA, ESA, STScI, M.H. Wong/University of California, Berkeley and L.A. Sromovsky and P.M. Fry/University of Wisconsin-Madison)
“It was really exciting to see this one act like it’s supposed to act and then all of a sudden it just stops and swings back,” Wong said. “That was surprising.”
Wang believed the smaller storm, albeit one that is 3,900 miles across, was the result of the larger storm being disrupted, but that isn’t the case, adding intrigue to what’s causing it.
“I didn’t think another vortex was forming because the small one is farther towards the equator,” the researcher explained. “So it’s within this unstable region. But we can’t prove the two are related. It remains a complete mystery.”
Neptune is still relatively unexplored, as is Uranus, even with the Voyager 2 snapping photos of both planets in 1986 and 1989.
In August, researchers developed computer models that suggest both planets are composed “primarily” of a strange form of water.
In March 2019, scientists at NASA JPL proposed a mission that would explore Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, which some have theorized could have an ocean hidden beneath the surface.
NASA is investing in the technology for future space exploration missions
For all the controversy they stir up on Earth, nuclear reactors can produce the energy and propulsion needed to rapidly take large spacecraft to Mars and, if desired, beyond. The idea of nuclear rocket engines dates back to the 1940s. This time around, though, plans for interplanetary missions propelled by nuclear fission and fusion are being backed by new designs that have a much better chance of getting off the ground.
Crucially, the nuclear engines are meant for interplanetary travel only, not for use in the Earth’s atmosphere. Chemical rockets launch the craft out beyond low Earth orbit. Only then does the nuclear propulsion system kick in.
The challenge has been making these nuclear engines safe and lightweight. New fuels and reactor designs appear up to the task, as NASA is now working with industry partners for possible future nuclear-fueled crewed space missions. “Nuclear propulsion would be advantageous if you want to go to Mars and back in under two years,” says Jeff Sheehy, chief engineer in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. To enable that mission capability, he says, “a key technology that needs to be advanced is the fuel.”
Specifically, the fuel needs to endure the superhigh temperatures and volatile conditions inside a nuclear thermal engine. Two companies now say their fuels are sufficiently robust for a safe, compact, high-performance reactor. In fact, one of these companies has already delivered a detailed conceptual design to NASA.
Nuclear thermal propulsion uses energy released from nuclear reactions to heat liquid hydrogen to about 2,430 °C—some eight times the temperature of nuclear-power-plant cores. The propellant expands and jets out the nozzles at tremendous speeds. This can produce twice the thrust per mass of propellant as compared to that of chemical rockets, allowing nuclear-powered ships to travel longer and faster. Plus, once at the destination, be it Saturn’s moon Titan or Pluto, the nuclear reactor could switch from propulsion system to power source, enabling the craft to send back high-quality data for years.
Getting enough thrust out of a nuclear rocket used to require weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium. Low-enriched uranium fuels, used in commercial power plants, would be safer to use, but they can become brittle and fall apart under the blistering temperatures and chemical attacks from the extremely reactive hydrogen.
However, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. Technologies (USNC-Tech), based in Seattle, uses a uranium fuel enriched to below 20 percent, which is a higher grade than that of power reactors but “can’t be diverted for nefarious purposes, so it greatly reduces proliferation risks,” says director of engineering Michael Eades. The company’s fuel contains microscopic ceramic-coated uranium fuel particles dispersed in a zirconium carbide matrix. The microcapsules keep radioactive fission by-products inside while letting heat escape.
Lynchburg, Va.–based BWX Technologies, is working under a NASA contract to look at designs using a similar ceramic composite fuel—and also examining an alternate fuel form encased in a metallic matrix. “We’ve been working on our reactor design since 2017,” says Joe Miller, general manager for the company’s advanced technologies group.
Both companies’ designs rely on different kinds of moderators. Moderators slow down energetic neutrons produced during fission so they can sustain a chain reaction, instead of striking and damaging the reactor structure. BWX intersperses its fuel blocks between hydride elements, while USNC-Tech’s unique design integrates a beryllium metal moderator into the fuel. “Our fuel stays in one piece, survives the hot hydrogen and radiation conditions, and does not eat all the reactor’s neutrons,” Eades says.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory scientists are using this experimental reactor to heat fusion plasmas up to one million degrees C—on the long journey to developing fusion-powered rockets for interplanetary travel.
There is another route to small, safe nuclear-powered rockets, says Samuel Cohen at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory: fusion reactors. Mainline fusion uses deuterium and tritium fuels, but Cohen is leading efforts to make a reactor that relies on fusion between deuterium atoms and helium-3 in a high-temperature plasma, which produces very few neutrons. “We don’t like neutrons because they can change structural material like steel to something more like Swiss cheese and can make it radioactive,” he says. The Princeton lab’s concept, called Direct Fusion Drive, also needs much less fuel than conventional fusion, and the device could be one-thousandth as large, Cohen says.
Fusion propulsion could in theory far outperform fission-based propulsion, because fusion reactions release up to four times as much energy, says NASA’s Sheehy. However, the technology isn’t as far along and faces several challenges, including generating and containing the plasma and efficiently converting the energy released into directed jet exhaust. “It could not be ready for Mars missions in the late 2030s,” he says.
USNC-Tech, by contrast, has already made small hardware prototypes based on its new fuel. “We’re on track to meet NASA’s goal to have a half-scale demonstration system ready for launch by 2027,” says Eades. The next step would be to build a full-scale Mars flight system, one that could very well drive a 2035 Mars mission.
Scientists built a 27-mile long prototype quantum internet in the US
They successfully used quantum entanglement to teleport signals instantly
The phenomenon sees qubits, the quantum equivalent of computer bits, pair up and respond instantly
Scientists have demonstrated long-distance ‘quantum teleportation’ – the instant transfer of units of quantum information known as qubits – for the first time.
The qubits were transferred faster than the speed of light over a distance of 27 miles, laying the foundations for a quantum internet service, which could one day revolutionise computing.
But their development relies on cutting-edge scientific theory which transforms our understanding of how computers work.
Pictured, the laser system for the quantum sensors being tested. Researchers found the quantum internet worked over a distance of 27 miles with a fidelity of 90%.
In a quantum internet, information stored in qubits (the quantum equivalent of computer bits) is shuttled, or ‘teleported’, over long distances through entanglement.
Entanglement is a phenomenon whereby two particles are linked in such a way that information shared with one is shared with the other at exactly the same time.
This means that the quantum state of each particle is dependent on the state of the other – even when they are separated by a large distance.
Quantum teleportation, therefore, is the transfer of quantum states from one location to the other.
However, it is highly sensitive to environmental interference that can easily disrupt the quality or ‘fidelity’ of teleportation, so proving the theory in practice has been technologically challenging.
Pictured, Caltech graduate student Andrew Mueller adjusting the cryogenic equipment where the quantum detectors are housed
In their latest experiment, researchers from Caltech, NASA, and Fermilab (Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory) built a unique system between two labs separated by 27 miles (44km).
The system comprises three nodes which interact with one another to trigger a sequence of qubits, which pass a signal from one place to the other instantly.
The ‘teleportation’ is instant, occurring faster than the speed of light, and the researchers reported a fidelity of more than 90 percent, according to the new study, published in PRX Quantum.
Fidelity is used to measure how close the resulting qubit signal is to the original message that was sent.
Pictured, Caltech graduate student Samantha Davis analysing the quantum teleporation fidelity data using real-time data acquisition software
Pictured, Caltech postdoctoral scholar Raju Valivarthi calibrating one of the quantum teleportation nodes
‘This high fidelity is important especially in the case of quantum networks designed to connect advanced quantum devices, including quantum sensors,’ explains Professor Maria Spiropulu from Caltech.
The findings of the project are crucial to hopes of a future quantum internet as well as pushing the boundaries of what scientists known about the quantum realm.
Although the technology is yet to reach the point of being rolled out beyond sophisticated tests such as this, there are already plans for how policy makers will employ the technology.
For example, the US Department of Energy hopes to erect a quantum network between its laboratories across the states.
The power of a quantum computer running on quantum internet will likely exceed the speeds of the world’s current most sophisticated supercomputers by around 100 trillion times.
‘People on social media are asking if they should sign up for a quantum internet provider (jokingly of course),’ Professor Spiropulu told Motherboard.
‘We need (a lot) more R&D work.’
WHAT IS QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT?
In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed by one affects the behaviour of the other, even if they are separated by huge distances.
This means if you measure, ‘up’ for the spin of one photon from an entangled pair, the spin of the other, measured an instant later, will be ‘down’ – even if the two are on opposite sides of the world.
In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed by one affects the behaviour of the other, even if they are separated by huge distances (artist’s impression)
For instance, a laser beam fired through a certain type of crystal can cause individual light particles to be split into pairs of entangled photons.
The theory that so riled Einstein is also referred to as ‘spooky action at a distance’.
Einstein wasn’t happy with theory, because it suggested that information could travel faster than light.
Research suggests intelligent life may have emerged 8 billion years after the Milky Way formed
No one can say for certain whether extraterrestrial civilizations exist, but one new study suggests the Milky Way is full of them, though many could be dead.
The research, which can be read on the arXiv repository, was written by experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology and Santiago High School in Corona, Calif. It uses the famous Drake Equation and determined that intelligent life may have emerged some 8 billion years after the Milky Way formed.
“As we cannot assume a low probability of annihilation, it is possible that intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy is still too young to be observed by us,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Therefore, our findings can imply that intelligent life may be common in the galaxy but is still young, supporting the optimistic aspect for the practice of [search for extraterrestrial intelligence].”
The experts also looked at where other civilizations may live in the universe, noting they are likely to reside on planets in the galactic habitable zone, places in the galaxy where there is an abundance of metals. This could be approximately 13,000 light-years from the galactic center, the researchers noted.
By comparison, the solar system and Earth are approximately 25,000 light-years from the galactic center. A light-year, which measures distance in space, is approximately 6 trillion miles.
However, the researchers also noted the potential for self-annihilation in galactic intelligent life to be “highly influential,” suggesting any intelligent life may have already destroyed themselves.
“[I]f intelligent life is likely to destroy themselves, it is not surprising that there is little or no intelligent life elsewhere,” the researchers added.
Though there is no “explicit” evidence that intelligent life will eventually annihilate themselves, the researchers cited research dating back to the 1960s that progress in science and technology “will inevitably lead to complete destruction and biological degeneration.”
Some potential scenarios put forth by the researchers include war, climate change and the development of biotechnology.
More than 4,500 exoplanets have been discovered so far, with only a small portion thought to have the properties to contain life. A study published in November suggested that the galaxy may actually contain 300 million planets capable of supporting life.
Astronomers listening out for signs alien life have received a mysterious radio signal originating from the general vicinity of Proxima Centauri – one of Earth’s closest neighbours.
And it has no obvious explanation raising the possibility the transmission is an alien signal.
Proxima Centauri is just 4.2 light-years away from Earth and is also the nearest star to the sun.
The signal was received amid 30 hours of observation in 2019 by astronomers at the Parkes Observatory in NSW.
It was then identified just a couple of months ago, as researchers trawled through the data, with its very narrow frequency of 982 MHz suggesting technological rather than natural origins.
The exciting discovery was only publicly revealed this week in news leaked to the British Guardian newspaper.
Scientific American reported that the signal cannot be dismissed as interference of human or natural origin, which means it may have an extraterrestrial origin – a so-called “technosignature”.
Proxima Centauri is also home to an Earth-like planet called Proxima b which is the nearest planet outside our solar system.
The signal was detected as part of the decade-long $US100 ($A131) million Breakthrough Listen project, founded in 2016.
The project is based at the University of California, Berkeley’s SETI Research Center, at the institution’s astronomy department.
Breakthrough Listen is funded by tech billionaire Yuri Milner and led by University of California, Berkeley astrophysicist Andrew Siemion.
“It has some particular properties that caused it to pass many of our checks, and we cannot yet explain it,” Siemion told Scientific American this week.
The signal has been named BLC1 or “Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1” and is being analysed for a paper for publication early next year.
“It’s the most exciting signal that we’ve found in the Breakthrough Listen project, because we haven’t had a signal jump through this many of our filters before,” Penn State University’s Sofia Sheikh told Scientific American.
Writing on the SETI website, the organisation’s senor astronomer Seth Shostak points out that Breakthrough Listen’s analysts will be looking at every possible explanation for the signal and canvasses many of them himself.
But he does allow some room for optimism.
“As long as we still don’t know, we should continue to consider the alien hypothesis viable,” Shostak writes.
“After all, any SETI detection is going to be dicey when we first make it … there will be plenty of calls for restraint intended to pacify the all-too-eager.
“But it’s reasonable to expect that someday one of these suspicious signals will, indeed, be the sought-after proof of intelligence on another world.”
Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to launch vehicles designed by Frank Stephenson — of McLaren, Ferrari, and BMW fame — onto the Moon’s surface for a remote-controlled car rally.
The cars will be sent into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in October 2021, SpaceX said.
The vehicles will be partially designed, built, and raced by two teams of high-school students.
Moon Mark, an entertainment and education company, is teaming up with aerospace companies Intuitive Machines and Lunar Outpost to organize the car race.
SpaceX wants to race remote-controlled cars on the surface of the Moon.
Elon Musk’s aerospace company plans to launch the vehicles in October 2021 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
It has enlisted legendary designer Frank Stephenson — known for his work at BMW, Ferrari, Maserati, McLaren, and others — to help design the cars.
The two vehicles will be partially designed, built, and raced by two teams of high school students, according to a statement published in November.
They will be carried in a Nova-C lunar lander made by Intuitive Machines.
The race is being organized by Moon Mark, a multimedia and education content company, which partnered with aerospace company Intuitive Machines. Space tech firm Lunar Outpost also joined the race partnership on November 17, the statement said.
Stephenson accepted the appointment as the race design director for Moon Mark Mission 2021 in November.
Those students racing the cars had to first earn the reward.
On July 14, Moon Mark announced that two teams of high school students had created valid car designs in just four weeks: “Team Atlas” is from Buenos Aires, and “Team Ilstar” comes from Shanghai.
The challenges they faced included drone and autonomous vehicle racing, e-gaming, and a space commercialization entrepreneurship contest, according to a statement.
“The two top teams from the qualifying rounds will win a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build and race two vehicles on the Moon,” the companies said.
They will now work with Stephenson, an automotive designer, to create a vehicle that they will speed across the moon’s surface.
“This is a project helping to develop the innovators of the future, allowing them to dream big and realize that nothing is impossible,” Stephenson said in a statement.
“Space is a fascinating place, remaining untapped for budding designers and I’m very much looking forward to sharing some of my knowledge to those involved in this innovative project,” he added.
Mary L. Hagy, Moon Mark Founder and CEO said: “His extraordinary experience and talents in automotive and aerospace design will bring insight and inspiration to our young innovators.”
If you had to describe 2020, you probably wouldn’t say that it was the year the planets aligned. That phrase is reserved for use in good times, and the past year hasn’t been a lucky one for most.
But while things haven’t exactly fallen into place for 2020 thanks to the pandemic, we will be closing the year off with a spectacular space show in which everything lines up just right. Later this month, two planets in our solar system will align, creating a double planet for the first time in 800 years.
Perhaps planets aligning is a good omen for 2021? Either way, it’s a rare event and you need to make plans to watch. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait around for another 400 years for it to happen again. Here’s what you need to know.
The planets are finally going to align
Want to watch a double planet in action? Look up at the sky just after sunset on the evening of Dec. 21, and you will see a rare alignment of Jupiter and Saturn take place. That evening, the two planets will appear closer together than they have been since the Middle Ages.
Planets in our solar system only align every 20 years or so, and the last time these two planets were this close together was on March 4, 1226. In other words, these planets won’t align again in your lifetime.
This event won’t just align Saturn and Jupiter, either. It will make the two planets will look like one single point of bright light in the sky. But while the event will make Saturn and Jupiter look like they’re a double planet, the gaseous planets are still going to be hundreds of millions of miles apart, according to NASA.
The event has been dubbed “the great conjunction,” a nod to Jupiter and Saturn being the biggest gas giants in our solar system.
There has been quite the intergalactic build-up to the big show. Jupiter and Saturn have been making moves to approach each other since the summer, slowly inching closer together months before the final show.
How to watch the planetary display in action
Want to check out the show? Dec. 21 will be the optimal time for seeing the double planet. However, the two planets are actually going to be separated by less than the diameter of a full moon from Dec. 16 to Dec. 25, so you may want to gaze up at the sky a few days before the finale.
You’ll need to use a telescope or binoculars to view the planets, but you’ll get a bonus show, too. Not only will the Saturn and Jupiter double planet be visible, but so will several of their largest moons.
You’ll have the best vantage point if you’re in a location near the equator. Don’t panic if you’re in a different spot, though. You can still see the event from anywhere on Earth as long as the weather is good.
The best time to see this happen is in the western sky shortly after sunset. The phenomenon will be visible for about an hour after the sun goes down, so grab your telescope and head outside right after the sun sets.
If you miss it, your only other shot at catching Jupiter and Saturn this close together will be on March 15, 2080 — and the planets will be much higher in the night sky, making the view less accessible to sky-watchers on planet Earth. If you miss that show, you won’t get another shot until after the year 2400.
Since the beginning of time, man has questioned what happens after death. Of course, there are a variety of typical answers to this question, but scientists may have just added an infinite number of other possibilities, just to shake things up.
According to Robert Lanza, M.D, death is actually a door to an endless number of universes. Furthermore, during our life, Lanza asserts that anything that possibly can happen is happening in some universe. He continues to explain that death does not exist in these scenarios since all of these possibilities are taking place at the same time. The only reason we associate our consciousness with our physical body is due to energy operating around in our brains.
In his book entitled, “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe,“he has stirred up quite a bit of controversy on the internet, as his theory regarding everlasting life is quite a bit different than the typical theories surrounding life and death.
Lanza’s background in regenerative medicine and as a science director of the Advances Cell Technology Company has provided him with an extensive background in dealing with stem cells. And recently, he has become more involved in physics, quantum mechanics, and astrophysics. It was during his studies regarding those topics that he stumbled upon his new theory of biocentrism.
Biocentrism asserts that life and consciousness are both fundamental to the ways of the universe. He further theorizes that it is our consciousness that creates the material universe, instead of being the other way around.
He believes that when we die, we experience a break in the string that binds the mind and body together as one. Once this takes place, we also experience a break with our connection of times and places.
“Indeed, biocentrism suggests it’s a manifold that leads to all physical possibilities. More and more physicists are beginning to accept the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum physics, which states that there are an infinite number of universes.
Everything that can possibly happen occurs in some universe. Death doesn’t exist in these scenarios since all of them exist simultaneously regardless of what happens in any of them. The “me” feeling is just energy operating in the brain. But energy never dies; it cannot be destroyed.”
Of course, his beliefs are just theory, but they are pretty fascinating to think about, don’t you think? And while we can never be certain of what lies ahead, on the other side, it appears that our number of possibilities may have just infinitely expanded. No matter what you believe, quantum physics provides a number of viable theories regarding the unknown aspects of the world, and in the least, Lanza’s book would prove to be an amazing read.
Our intuition tells us that the future can be changed, but Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests that there is no real difference between the future and the past.
The future, present and past may actually not be as different as we think, says science writer and astrophysicist Adam Becker. He explains this mind-bending idea to Michael Marshall and Melissa Hogenboom, with help from the animators at Pomona Pictures.
Humanity has recorded five nearby supernovae. But we might have missed a few.
On July 4, 1054, a star in the constellation Taurus exploded. Some 6,500 light years away, the inhabitants of a canyon in what would, centuries later, be known as New Mexico took notice. They painted the celestial fireworks—which likely outshone Venus—on the sheltered face of an overhanging cliff. Detailed Chinese records of the “guest star” suggest it was visible during the day for more than three weeks, and at night for nearly two years.
Astronomers estimate that perhaps 50 stars have exploded in our galaxy during the last millennium—one roughly every two decades. But the 1054 supernova is one of just five stellar detonations that researchers have confidently identified in historical records, the last of which took place more than 400 years ago. So where are all the supernovae? Where are our celestial fireworks?
Intrigued by this discrepancy, a team of astronomers recently explored how hard it is to spot supernovae and where in the sky they are most likely to be seen. In a not-yet-peer reviewed preprint published Monday on the arXiv, they announced an odd result. While the overall number of supernovae checks out, they’re in all the wrong places.
“I was just stunned,” says Brian Fields, a University of Illinois astronomer and coauthor of the study. “All of the confident [supernovae] completely avoided where the model said they’d be.”
The group, which included undergraduate researchers Tanner Murphey and Jacob Hogan, started with work from other researchers analyzing where in the Milky Way supernovae are most likely to take place. They treated the galaxy as something like two fried eggs stacked yolk-side out; it has a flat disk (which we see edge-on, as a river of stars spilling across the sky) with a round bulge in the middle. Supernovae should be more common in the center where stars, especially swollen red giants just about ready to pop, crowd thickly together. Such calculations have previously suggested that a star dies, somewhere in the bulge or disk, every few decades.
But not all explosions catch the attention of stargazers. Dust expelled from previous generations of stars makes the whole galaxy—and especially the center—look hazy, and supernovae on the other side of the disk might be hard to see from Earth. And to enter the historical record, a supernova has to be not just visible but, as Fields puts it, go-and-tell-the-Emperor-visible. The team estimated that perhaps just one of five supernovae blazes brightly enough to burn through the dusty haze and shine for 90 days, meaning that one might expect such a dramatic event once every century or two—about what historical records indicate.
The end result was a map showing where in the sky the brightest supernovae are most likely to occur, and it was not a complicated map. It roughly traced the locations of some 300 instances of splattered star guts known to astronomers, clustering in the galactic disk and especially near the center of the Milky Way.
But that’s not where historical astronomers saw their transient stars, which exploded above and below the disk. The supernova in 1054, notably, left a debris cloud in precisely the opposite direction—behind us, away from the galactic center. “That’s the most disfavored place in our model and that’s where the most famous supernova is,” Fields says. “That’s amazing to me.”
With only a handful of recorded events, the group can’t make strong statistical claims. But they suspect that the peculiar locations of the historical supernovae undermine one or more of their assumptions. Treating the Milky Way as two fried eggs isn’t the most sophisticated model, for instance. It neglects the clumping of stars into spiral arms, which the group hopes to consider in future research.
The team’s results also highlight a gap in the historical record. All accounts come from civilizations in the northern hemisphere, even though stargazers in South America, Africa, and Australia had a clearer view of the galactic disk—a front row seat to stellar explosions. Perhaps Incan depictions of the 1054 supernova and other events lie buried in the Peruvian Amazon.
Bradley Schaefer, an astronomer at Louisiana State University who was not involved in the research, said in an email that the group had done good work and created a believable sky map that matches previous results. The funky locations of the five historical supernovae don’t worry him too much though, given their low number and the lack of known records from the southern hemisphere.
Much of the interest in this historical astronomy lies in understanding how ancient cultures thought about the stars, but old data sets can also lead to new science. Many sites of stellar wreckage still smolder as expanding clouds, and pinpointing their year or even day of origin can help astronomers reconstruct their history, Fields says.
Researchers also ponder the past to prepare for the future. When the next Milky Way supernova goes off—whether it’s in a year or a century—astronomers definitely won’t miss it. Neutrino detectors noticed a supernova in a neighboring galaxy in 1987, and if something similar happened in our cosmic backyard, Fields says, they would light up “like a Christmas tree.”
Today’s researchers might not bother sif a local star exploded, but they would quickly notify each other, coordinating observations of neutrinos, gravitational waves, and a wide range of wavelengths of light to turn even a dim burst into the best understood supernova in human history.
And there’s a good chance we could see it with the naked eye too. A brilliant and lingering supernova may be a once-in-a-few-centuries occurrence, but we’ll have astronomers and the internet to guide our eyes toward a fainter dot. Perhaps half of all supernovae could be just barely visible, Fields estimates in the new work, if you know where to look. And one of those could come along any day now.
“It’d be really phenomenal to have a galactic supernova,”he says. “You just have to wait, and it will more or less come out of the blue.”
It’s the first moon sample-return mission since 1976.
For the first time in more than four decades, humanity has brought moon rocks down to Earth.
A capsule loaded with lunar dirt and gravel landed in Inner Mongolia today (Dec. 16) at 12:59 p.m. EST (1759 GMT), capping China’s historic and whirlwind Chang’e 5 mission.
The last such moon delivery came courtesy of the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission, which returned about 6 ounces (170 grams) of material in 1976. Chang’e 5’s haul should be much larger — about 4.4 lbs. (2 kilograms), if all went according to plan on the lunar surface.
The four-module, 18,100-lb. (8,200 kg) Chang’e 5 mission — China’s first-ever sample-return effort — launched on Nov. 23 and arrived in lunar orbit five days later. Two of the four modules, a lander and an attached ascent vehicle, touched down near Mons Rümker, a volcanic mountain in the moon’s huge Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”) region, on Dec. 1.
The solar-powered lander was equipped with cameras, ground-penetrating radar and an imaging spectrometer to take the measure of its surroundings. But the lander’s main job was to collect samples, which it busily did for the next two days, snagging stuff from the surface and from up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) underground.
On Dec. 3, this moon material launched aboard the ascent vehicle, which met up with the other two Chang’e 5 modules — an orbiter and a return capsule — in lunar orbit on Dec. 5. (The liftoff apparently damaged the lander, which stopped working on Dec. 3. But this was no great loss; the lander would have died on Dec. 11 anyway, when darkness descended on Mons Rümker.)
The Chang’e 5 team deorbited the ascent vehicle on Dec. 7, sending the craft back to the moon with a crash. Five days later, the orbiter and return capsule began the journey back to Earth, which culminated today with the capsule’s landing in Inner Mongolia.
Chang’e 5 was the latest mission in the Chang’e program of robotic lunar exploration, which is named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology. Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 lofted moon orbiters in 2007 and 2010, respectively, and Chang’e 3 put a lander-rover duo down on the lunar nearside in December 2013.
Next up was Chang’e 5 T1, which launched a prototype return capsule around the moon in October 2014 to help prepare for the touchdown that occurred today. Then came Chang’e 4, which in January 2019 pulled off the first-ever soft landing on the moon’s mysterious farside. That touchdown involved a lander-rover pair, as with Chang’e 3.
The Chang’e 4 lander and rover are still going strong, as is Chang’e 3’s lander. (The Chang’e 3 rover died after 31 months of work on the lunar surface.)
With Chang’e 5’s apparent success — mission teams still need to inspect and assess the returned sample — China has become just the third nation to bring moon material to Earth. The other two are the Soviet Union and the United States, which hauled home about 842 lbs. (382 kg) of lunar rocks and dirt during the six Apollo surface missions between 1969 and 1972.
The Chang’e 5 samples should provide a new window into lunar history and evolution, scientists say, given that rocks in the Mons Rümker region are thought to have formed just 1.2 billion years ago or so.
“All of the volcanic rocks collected by Apollo were older than 3 billion years. And all of the young impact craters whose ages have been determined from the analysis of samples are younger than 1 billion years,” Bradley Jolliff, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement.Advertisement
“So the Chang’e 5 samples will fill a critical gap,” Jolliff said. “These samples will be a treasure trove!”
Today’s landing was the second such Earth return in just 11 days. On Dec. 5, the return capsule of Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission touched down in the Australian Outback with precious pieces of the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu. And there are more such cosmic deliveries coming: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to return samples of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in September 2023.
The exoplanet HD 106906 b is 336 light-years from Earth
Although scientists have yet to find the elusive Planet 9, a recently discovered exoplanet in deep space may provide further evidence the mysterious celestial object indeed exists.
The exoplanet HD 106906 b is 336 light years from Earth and has a bizarre orbit around its pair of host stars, going around once every 15,000 years, according to a study published in The Astronomical Journal.
First discovered in 2013, the exoplanet is massive, at 11 times the size of Jupiter. Yet, it was only recently, thanks to measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope, that scientists were able to see its elongated — 730 times the distance between the Earth and the sun — and inclined orbit, unlike any of the known planets in the Solar System.
This 11-Jupiter-mass exoplanet called HD106906 b occupies an unlikely orbit around a double star 336 light-years away and it may be offering clues to something that might be much closer to home: a hypothesized distant member of our Solar System dubbed “Planet Nine.” This is the first time that astronomers have been able to measure the motion of a massive Jupiter-like planet that is orbiting very far away from its host stars and visible debris disc. (Credit: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser)
“To highlight why this is weird, we can just look at our own Solar System and see that all of the planets lie roughly in the same plane,” explained the study’s lead author, Meiji Nguyen of the University of California, Berkeley, in a statement. “It would be bizarre if, say, Jupiter just happened to be inclined 30 degrees relative to the plane that every other planet orbits in. This raises all sorts of questions about how HD 106906 b ended up so far out on such an inclined orbit.”
The researchers believe that HD 106906 b may have formed quite close to its host stars, but over time, drag caused the orbit to decay. Instead of crashing into the stars as would normally happen, the gravity of the two stars pushed it out of the system, but at the right moment, another star passed close by, resulting in a far off, elongated orbit.
If Planet 9 exists, a similar scenario may have played out in the early days of our Solar System, with Jupiter’s gravity pushing it toward the edge, only for it to be saved by another, alien star.
“It’s as if we have a time machine for our own Solar System going back 4.6 billion years to see what may have happened when our young Solar System was dynamically active and everything was being jostled around and rearranged,” study co-author Paul Kalas added.
Researchers want to study HD 106906 b further to learn how it formed and where and see if there are additional links to Planet 9, a celestial object which despite the hype surrounding it, has yet to be found.
“Despite the lack of detection of Planet Nine to date, the orbit of the planet can be inferred based on its effect on the various objects in the outer Solar System,” study co-author Robert De Rosa added. “This suggests that if a planet was indeed responsible for what we observe in the orbits of trans-Neptunian objects it should have an eccentric orbit inclined relative to the plane of the Solar System. This prediction of the orbit of Planet Nine is similar to what we are seeing with HD 106906b.”
A hypothetical planet that has been described as “the solar system’s missing link,” Planet 9 (also known as Planet X) has been part of the lexicon for several years, first mentioned in 2014. It was brought up again in 2016, when Caltech astrophysicists Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin wrote about it.
Artist’s illustration of Planet Nine, a hypothetical world that some scientists think lurks undiscovered in the far outer solar system. (R. Hurt (IPAC)/Caltech)
In October 2017, NASA released a statement saying that Planet 9 might be 20 times further from the Sun than Neptune is, going so far as to say “it is now harder to imagine our solar system without a Planet 9 than with one.”
Some researchers have suggested the mysterious planet may be hiding behind Neptune and it may take up to 1,000 years before it’s actually found.
Two studies published in March 2019 offered support of its existence, however, a separate study published in September 2019 suggested the theoretical object may not be a giant planet hiding behind Neptune — but rather a primordial black hole.
A study published in January 2019 suggested that some of the farthest celestial bodies in our planetary system aren’t being impacted by this yet-to-be-discovered planet, but rather another mysterious object deep in the echoes of space.
The Solar One craft is a combination of three “near-future” technologies, like the Navy’s compact fusion reactor, and one (literally!) far-flung idea.
A lot would have to go right for this idea to work at any point soon.
In a fascinating new paper, amateur astronomer Alberto Caballero suggests a combination of near-future technologies could carry people to the Alpha Centauri system, home to the nearest potentially habitable exoplanet, at about 22 percent the speed of light.
But is Caballero cooking with gas, or is this all hot air? There’s a lot to unpack here.
In his paper, which he posted to the non-peer-reviewed, preprint service arXiv, Caballero proposes the concept and design of a new spacecraft he dubs Solar One, which would integrate a larger version of NASA’s Sunjammer light sail, the U.S. Navy’s compact fusion reactor, and several DE-STAR laser systems. Here’s the concept art:
With a mile-long light sail, Caballero says, Solar One could reach “an average of 22 [percent] the speed of light, arriving to the closest potentially habitable exoplanet in less than 19 years with the help of a Bussard scoop.”
A refresher: Solar sailing, a term first coined by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke in his 1964 short story “Sunjammer,” is a method of powering small spacecraft without the use of an expensive propellant. Instead, the spacecraft has a large, mirror-like sail, which harnesses the power of the sun.
NASA retired its Sunjammer light sail in 2014, after a few years of work and a tiny-scale demonstration, but before a planned test flight of a much larger sail at a much higher altitude. But NASA, Bill Nye’s space-travel foundation, and many others players continue to invest in light sails of different kinds.
An artist’s concept of the Bussard Interstellar Ramjet, which uses interstellar hydrogen scooped up from its environment as the spacecraft passes by to provide propellant mass.NASA/PUBLIC DOMAIN
Finally, the Bussard scoop Caballero mentions is more far out than even the rest of these untested ideas.
This is like a spacecraft’s version of a whale’s baleen, skimming all of the protons from a chunk of space and somehow turning that into a nuclear rocket. As that cached NASA page puts it, “There are a variety of limitations to this concept, such as how many protons can be scooped up, the drag created from scooping them—not to mention getting these protons to engage in nuclear fusion for a rocket.”
Caballero posits that the CFR will gather up a terawatt of energy, which would fuel the DE-STAR array. The lasers would scan ahead to dissolve obstacles, behind to increase propulsion, and finally, ahead again to slow the craft as it nears the final destination among the exoplanets. The massive Sunjammer, meanwhile, will more passively propel the craft.
What’s maybe most interesting about Caballero’s idea is that, since he’s an outsider scientist, it’s made from all public information. Even his calculations are powered by, he says, “an online calculator provided by […] a company specialized in lasers.”
So, could the Solar One really fly? That’s hard to say, because even near-future technology is still far away from where we sit in 2020.
Sneaking the Bussard scoop in there feels like a fakeout, because that idea is far further into the future than the others—firmly in the area of pure ideas at this point, without even a tiny amount of proof of concept. But imagining these spacecrafts is arguably just as important today, when scientists, and funders, are making decisions that could influence where humanity can go in the next 100 or even 500 years.
And in that sense, Solar One is a great exercise in what could be possible.
If this plasma propulsion tech is real, it could change everything.
This past autumn, a professor at Wuhan University named Jau Tang was hard at work piecing together a thruster prototype that, at first, sounds too good to be true.
The basic idea, he said in an interview, is that his device turns electricity directly into thrust — no fossil fuels required — by using microwaves to energize compressed air into a plasma state and shooting it out like a jet. Tang suggested, without a hint of self-aggrandizement, that it could likely be scaled up enough to fly large commercial passenger planes. Eventually, he says, it might even power spaceships.
Needless to say, these are grandiose claims. A thruster that doesn’t require tanks of fuel sounds suspiciously like science fiction — like the jets on Iron Man’s suit in the Marvel movies, for instance, or the thrusters that allow Doc Brown’s DeLorean to fly in “Back to the Future.”
But in Tang’s telling, his invention — let’s just call it a Tang Jet, which he worked on with Wuhan University collaborators Dan Ye and Jun Li — could have civilization-shifting potential here in the non-fictional world.
“Essentially, the goal of this technology is to try and use electricity and air to replace gasoline,” he said. “Global warming is a major threat to human civilization. Fossil fuel-free technology using microwave air plasma could be a solution.”
He anticipates this happening fast. In two years, he says, he thinks Tang Jets could power drones. In a decade, he’d like to see them fly a whole airplane.
That would all be awesome, obviously. But it’s difficult to evaluate whether Tang’s invention could ever scale up enough to become practical. And even if it did, there would be substantial energy requirements that could doom aerospace applications.
One thing’s for sure: If the tech works the way he hopes, the world will never be the same.
Tang’s curriculum vitae flits between a dazzling array of strikingly disparate academic topics, from 4D electron microscopy to quantum dot lasers, nanotechnology, artificial photosynthesis, and, of course, phase transitions and plasmonics.
He’s held several professorships, done research at Caltech and Bell Laboratories, published scores of widely-cited papers, edited several scientific journals, and won a variety of awards. He holds a U.S. patent for a device he calls a “synchrotron shutter,” designed to capture electrons traveling near the speed of light.
Tang says he first stumbled onto the idea for the plasma thruster when he was trying to create synthetic diamonds. As he tried to grow them using microwaves, he recalls, he started to wonder whether the same technology could be used to produce thrust.
Other huge stories, like the coronavirus pandemic and the baffling saga of Elon Musk naming his baby “X Æ A-12,” were sucking a lot of oxygen out of the news cycle in early May, when Tang announced his invention to the world. A few outlets picked up Tang’s story, including New Atlas,Popular Mechanics, and Ars Technica, but no journalist appears to have actually talked to him.
Because of that, there was little fanfare surrounding the sheer scope of his ambition for the technology — and it went overlooked that Tang sometimes sounds as though he’s invented a hammer and is now seeing a lot of things as nails.
After describing his plans to conquer aerospace with his new thruster, for instance, he starts to describe plans to take on the automotive industry as well — with jet-powered electric cars.
“I think the jet engine is more efficient than the electric motor, you can drive a car at much faster speeds,” he mused. “That’s what I have in mind: to combine the plasma jet engine with a turbine to drive a car.”
But you wouldn’t want to drive behind it, he warned, because you could be scorched by its fiery jet stream.
Over the course of our interview, Tang also brought up the possibilities of using the technology to build projectile weapons, launch spaceships, power boats, and even create a new type of stove for cooking. On that last point, Tang said that he’s already built a prototype kitchen stove powered by a microwave air plasma torch — but it’s so deafeningly loud that it sounds like a constant lightning strike.
Technically, the Tang Jet is an attempt to build a “plasma thruster,” a concept that’s periodically gained attention in scientific circles. Michael Heil, a retired aerospace and propulsion engineer with a long career of Air Force and NASA research, told Futurism that Tang’s research reminds him of several other attempts to build air propulsion tech that he’s encountered over the years.
Plasma thrusters like those that would power a Tang Jet have been around for a while. NASA first launched a satellite equipped with plasma thrusters back in 2006, but its capabilities are a far cry from what Tang is proposing with his research.
Engineers have long dreamed of a plasma jet-powered plane, but every attempt has been smacked down by the technological limitations of the day. For example, New Scientist reported in 2017 that a team from Electrofluidsystems in Berlin attempted to build a similar thruster — but like every attempt over the previous decade, their work never became useful outside of the lab.
The problems with these attempts aren’t so much faults with the theory — the concept of generating thrust with a plasma torch is fairly sound. Rather, issues begin to pop up when working out the logistics of building a vehicle that actually works.
Tang has little interest in commercializing the jet himself. Instead, he wants to demonstrate its merits in hopes that well-funded government leaders or titans of industry will be inspired to take the ideas and run with them.
“The steps toward realization of a full plasma jet engine would cost lots of money, time and energy,” he said. “Such investment is beyond our present resources. Such tasks should be taken by aerospace industries or governmental agencies.”
That’s a common mindset for scientists, said Christopher Combs, an aerodynamics researcher at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“That’s what us academics do, we figure out the physics and say ‘Well I don’t want to make a product,’” he told Futurism. “It’s kind of a common refrain to see people in academia who have had something that gets a lot of attention.”
Though he’s intrigued by the underlying principles of the Tang Jet, Combs says it’s unlikely that it will scale up to the size needed to lift a plane — in other words, the same challenges that proved insurmountable to previous plasma thrusters will rear their heads once again. The current prototype, for perspective, only produces about 10 Newtons of thrust — about the same as a medium-sized model rocket.
“You’re talking about scaling something by five orders of magnitude — more than 100,000 times!” Combs said. “Which almost never works linearly. Lots of engineering happens in the middle.”
And even if it were to scale perfectly, there’s the issue of power. Iron Man’s suit was powered by an “Arc Reactor,” and the flying DeLorean was powered by a “Mr. Fusion” unit that turned household trash into more than a gigawatt of power — both of which, unfortunately, are fictional.
Fossil fuels store vastly more energy by weight than batteries, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. And that’s too bad, because the Tang Jet needs a whole lot of power.
According to a paper Tang and his collaborators published about the thruster prototype in the journal AIP Advances in May, the technology produces about 28 Newtons of thrust per kilowatt of power. The engines on the Airbus A320, a common commercial jet, produce about 220,000 Newtons of thrust combined, meaning that a comparably-sized jet plane powered by Tang Jets would require more than 7,800 kilowatts.
For perspective, that would mean loading an aircraft up with more than 570 Tesla Powerwall 2 units for a single hour of flight — an impractical load, especially because the A320’s payload could only carry about 130 of the giant battery units. Long story short, no existing battery tech could provide enough juice.
“Does this thing just become a flying Tesla battery?” Combs said. “With the weight of these batteries, you don’t have room for anything else.”
The battery weight issue doesn’t doom the Tang Jet, but it pushes options for its power source into the fringe. Tang is banking on improvements to battery technology over the next years and decades; those Electrofluidsystem researchers speculated about nuclear fusion. Unfortunately, any possible answers could be decades away or impossible.
It is worth noting that there exist compact nuclear fission reactors, like Russia’s KLT-40S, that produce enough power and weigh little enough that they could fit in a passenger plane or rocket.
But the safety and environmental implications of nuclear-powered aircraft are grim, and Heil was quick to point out that generating enough power isn’t the only problem facing a Tang Jet. Actually getting the electricity from the power source to the thrusters would pose its own difficulties, perhaps requiring superconducting materials that don’t exist yet.
“You need power to generate thrust. And how do you move that power around on the aircraft?” Heil said. “Moving and controlling megawatts from the reactor to the jet is a huge challenge. You have to use big thick copper wires, that adds a lot of weight.”
Overall, both Combs and Heil questioned the feasibility of a practical Tang Jet based on the technology we have today. Without a quick fix to the energy problem, it’s certainly a tall order.
But both said they were fascinated by the research and hoped to see future progress. They also pointed out that a plasma thruster could be useful for pushing satellites or spacecraft that are already in orbit — though at that point it would need to bring propellant with it rather than using atmospheric air, since there’d be none in the vacuum of space.
The bottom line, Heil and Combs agreed, is that we won’t have a firmer grasp of the future of the tech until Tang’s colleagues have evaluated and experimented with it.
“I’m rooting for this, and I’d love to see it pan out,” Combs said. “But the scientist in me has some questions and some concerns.”
Sofia Sheikh’s network is investigating more than a million stars for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Sofia Sheikh is a PhD candidate in Astronomy and Astrobiology at Pennsylvania State University. This is her story from the field as told to Charlie Wood.
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence has progressed rapidly in the past few decades. Back in the 1960s, researchers would literally tune the radio dial, hoping to hear artificial patterns in the static that would prove we’re not alone. But they could only listen to one slice of the spectrum at a time. Now, thanks to massive radio telescopes, astronomers can pick up wide swaths of it at once. Breakthrough Listen, a global research group I am part of, is investigating more than a million stars for single-tone signals akin to our AM/FM stations.
In 2017, I led a study of 20 intriguing stars—ones from which Earth’s transit in front of our sun is visible. If a civilization in this zone can see us, perhaps they’re reaching out. It took almost five months for every star to rotate into view and another two years to sort through the hundreds of gigabytes of radio crackling we gathered.
During my analysis, one tone seemed powerful and clear, as you would expect an artificial transmission to be. But when I looked more closely, I noticed that the signal’s frequency barely shifted. This implies its source is stationary relative to the telescope rather than zooming around as a planet, moon, or spacecraft would. My money’s on something like a cell tower. That’s 20 stars down, millions to go.
Breakthrough Listen is the largest ever scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of civilizations beyond Earth. The scope and power of the search are on an unprecedented scale:
The program includes a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth. It scans the center of our galaxy and the entire galactic plane. Beyond the Milky Way, it listens for messages from the 100 closest galaxies to ours.
The instruments used are among the world’s most powerful. They are 50 times more sensitive than existing telescopes dedicated to the search for intelligence.
The radio surveys cover 10 times more of the sky than previous programs. They also cover at least 5 times more of the radio spectrum – and do it 100 times faster. They are sensitive enough to hear a common aircraft radar transmitting to us from any of the 1000 nearest stars.
We are also carrying out the deepest and broadest ever search for optical laser transmissions. These spectroscopic searches are 1000 times more effective at finding laser signals than ordinary visible light surveys. They could detect a 100 watt laser (the energy of a normal household bulb) from 25 trillion miles away.