What did the Soviets photograph on Venus? – Real Images!

In the 1950s, the now legendary race into space began, in which the United States of America and the Soviet Union shifted their strong competition into space. Both sides attempted to gain supremacy in space. Pioneering work was to be done in order to underpin the scientific power of the respective state.

Everyone knows about the race to launch the first orbiting satellite into space and that it ended with a Soviet victory by Sputnik 1. Also the first man in space – Yuri Gagarin – was Soviet. Of course, the fight for the first manned journey to the moon is still in the minds of people all over the world today. When Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969 and Neil Armstrong took his famous step for mankind, the USA could finally present itself as the winner.

In all these competitions in space, however, another interesting subject area fell behind. For Venus was also studied extensively. The Soviets even succeeded in using probes to take photographs of the planet’s surface.

Earth is about to lose its second moon, forever

Godspeed, SO 2020. Enjoy your journey around the sun.

(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Earth’s second moon will make a close approach to the planet next week before drifting off into space, never to be seen again.

“What second moon,” you ask? Astronomers call it 2020 SO — a small object that dropped into Earth’s orbit about halfway between our planet and the moon in September 2020. Temporary satellites like these are known as minimoons, though calling it a moon is a bit deceptive in this case; in December 2020, NASA researchers learned that the object isn’t a space rock at all, but rather the remains of a 1960s rocket booster involved in the American Surveyor moon missions.

This non-moon minimoon made its closest approach to Earth on Dec. 1 (the day before NASA identified it as the long-lost booster), but it’s coming back for one more victory lap, according to EarthSky.org. Minimoon 2020 SO will make a final close approach to Earth on Tuesday (Feb. 2) at roughly 140,000 miles (220,000 kilometers) from Earth, or 58% of the way between Earth and the moon.

The booster will drift away after that, leaving Earth’s orbit entirely by March 2021, according to EarthSky. After that, the former minimoon will be just another object orbiting the sun. The Virtual Telescope Project in Rome will host an online farewell to the object on the night of Feb. 1.

NASA learned that the object has made several close approaches to Earth over the decades, even coming relatively near in 1966 — the year that the agency launched its Surveyor 2 lunar probe on the back of a Centaur rocket booster. That gave scientists their first big clue that 2020 SO was man-made; they confirmed it after comparing the object’s chemical makeup with that of another rocket booster, which has been in orbit since 1971.

Godspeed, minimoon 2020 SO. We built you. We abandoned you. And now, you abandon us.

‘Odd’ lights spotted in North Carolina sky prompts several theories

The strange lights were seen floating over the state’s Indian Trail community

Could it be?

A mysterious light cluster was spotted in the night sky near Charlotte, N.C., over the weekend, leading to a debate on social media over the possible presence of UFOs in the area, according to a report. 

The strange lights were seen floating over the state’s Indian Trail community and subsequently posted on the “What’s Up Indian Trail?” community Facebook page.

“Anyone know what these lights were tonight?” Alisa Homewood remarked, according to The Charlotte Observer. “No sound at all. They flickered like lanterns, but followed the same exact path up until they disappeared which was odd.”

“My initial thought when I saw the lights was it was the helicopters in the distance, but as the lights got closer there was no sound. Then they went straight up into the sky and disappeared. No smoke, no debris,” she continued.

A few hundred people have since reacted to her post on the community page, offering different opinions for the odd phenomenon, ranging from UFOs to a SpaceX rocket, according to the paper

One of her photos captured a glowing trio of blue lights, which Homewood apparently could not explain. 

“The blue light I didn’t notice until after I took the pictures. In the sky it did not look blue, it looked like a group of bright lights,” she said, according to Charlotte Observer reporter, Mark Price. “I thought it was odd though, that a few people have seen and photographed that same blue-ish grouping of lights.”

The sighting comes as the CIA’s recently decided to declassify more than three decades worth of UFO documents, which one expert called a “real-life X-Files.” 2020 was also arguably the best year ever for UFO coverage.

Scientists Can’t Explain What’s Currently Happening On Jupiter’s Moon Io!

The second smallest and innermost of the four Galilean moons, Io, was first documented by Galileo Galilei in January 1610. Io proved to earthlings, along with the moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, that our pale blue point is not the center of the universe, the galaxy or even the solar system, since these four satellites were apparently orbiting Jupiter, unlike us. While Galileo kept his observations secret for years because of the then Catholic Church, his documentation of Io paved the way for some very strange findings about this moon in the following centuries.

Hot, active volcanoes produce almost half of Jupiter’s moon Io’s sulfur atmosphere, according to new observations using the ALMA telescope. The rest comes from cold sulfur deposits that freeze on the surface, then sublimate in sunlight. Sharing is caring!

Bright yellowish and bluish moon in front of dimmer giant planet.

Composite image of Io and Jupiter (Jupiter image from the Cassini spacecraft, Io image from the new research). Sulfur dioxide plumes from Io’s volcanoes are seen in yellow. Image via ALMA (ESO/ NAOJ/ NRAO)/ I. de Pater et al./ NRAO/ AUI NSF/ S. Dagnello/ NASA/ ESA/ UC Berkeley.

Io, one of the four large Galilean moons of Jupiter, is the most volcanically active body in our solar system, even more so than Earth. It has over 400 active volcanoes and is often described as hellish. Io also has an extremely thin atmosphere, composed mostly of sulfur dioxide (SO2). This little world’s volcanoes regularly spew sulfur dioxide into its atmosphere. Still, scientists weren’t sure whether the atmosphere stems from hot sulfur dioxide coming directly from the volcanoes, or cold sulfur dioxide which accumulates on Io’s surface and freezes before sublimating into the atmosphere. Now they’ve determined it’s both.

Using the ALMA telescope in Chile, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have announced that up to half of the sulfur dioxide in Io’s atmosphere comes directly from its volcanoes. The results have been published in two new peer-reviewed papers accepted for publication in The Planetary Science Journal, which you can read here and here.

Astronomer Imke de Pater, who led the study, said in a statement:

It was not known which process drives the dynamics in Io’s atmosphere. Is it volcanic activity, or gas that sublimates from the icy surface when Io is in sunlight? What we show is that, actually, volcanoes do have a large impact on the atmosphere.

The answer, it turns out, is both.

Some of the sulfur dioxide does indeed freeze out onto the surface, the researchers found. This happens when Io passes through Jupiter’s shadow every 42 hours. When Io was being observed by the researchers on March 20, 2018, they noticed that radio emissions from the sulfur dioxide dropped exponentially. This meant that Io’s lower atmosphere, 6-12 miles (10-20 km) in altitude, collapsed and froze onto the surface.

The temperature during this period fell to -270 degrees Fahrenheit (-168 degrees Celsius), cold enough for sulfur dioxide to freeze. Io’s surface is typically about -230 degrees Fahrenheit (-150 degrees Celsius). Cold, but not quite cold enough for the sulfur dioxide to freeze out.

On September 2 and 11, 2018, the sulfur dioxide emissions rose again within 10 minutes after Io emerged from Jupiter’s shadow back into sunlight. De Pater said:

As soon as Io gets into sunlight, the temperature increases, and you get all this SO2 ice subliming into gas, and you reform the atmosphere in about 10 minutes’ time, faster than what models had predicted.

That explains where some of the frozen sulfur dioxide comes from. But the researchers noticed something else as well. ALMA detected abundant sulfur dioxide over the volcanoes, as well as low levels of the gas globally in Io’s atmosphere. This suggested that the more widespread gas was originating from unseen or “stealth” volcanoes. They emit sulfur dioxide, but not other smoke or particles that can be easily seen.

Right now, the researchers think that extra gas is coming from such stealth volcanoes, although they couldn’t completely rule out the possibility that it could be sulfur dioxide that isn’t completely condensing out onto the surface. As de Pater noted:

The SO2 that we see with ALMA when Io is in eclipse is at a very low level, and we can’t say if that is stealth volcanism or caused by SO2 not completely condensing out.

Bright moon pockmarked and blotched in different vivid colors, on black background.

Io, as seen by the Galileo spacecraft on September 19, 1997. Image via NASA/ JPL/ University of Arizona/ NASA Photojournal.

Earlier observations from the Keck Observatory from last July, however, supported the stealth volcanism scenario. Keck detected abundant sulfur monoxide (SO) over the volcanoes, as well as widespread in the atmosphere. The researchers say that sunlight breaks the sulfur-oxygen bond in the sulfur dioxide that has been ejected hundreds of kilometers above the surface, creating the sulfur monoxide. De Pater said:

But then, when we looked at the SO with Keck, we can only explain the SO emissions, which are widespread on the surface, through this stealth volcanism, because excitation of the SO requires a very high temperature.

By observing Io in its orbit around Jupiter as it moved into and then out of Jupiter’s shadow, the researchers were able to figure out how much of the moon’s sulfur dioxide deposits came from freezing out on the surface and how much came from stealth or other volcanoes. Statia Luszcz-Cook from Columbia University in New York said:

When Io passes into Jupiter’s shadow, and is out of direct sunlight, it is too cold for sulfur dioxide gas, and it condenses onto Io’s surface. During that time, we can only see volcanically-sourced sulfur dioxide. We can, therefore, see exactly how much of the atmosphere is impacted by volcanic activity.

Bright moon pockmarked in different vivid colors, with bluish plume on limb, on black background.

A volcanic eruption on Io, caught by Galileo’s cameras on June 28, 1997. Image via NASA.Mottled colored terrain with large plume on the edge, on black background.

A closer look from Galileo at one of Io’s volcanoes, called Pele, as it was erupting. Image via NASA/ JPL/ USGS.

By using ALMA, scientists were able to “see,” for the first time, plumes of both sulfur dioxide and sulfur monoxide coming up from Io’s volcanoes. Two of those volcanoes, Karei Patera and Daedalus Patera, were erupting in March, and a third volcano was active in September.

The researchers now calculate that 30% to 50% of Io’s atmosphere is produced directly by active volcanoes.

A third gas, potassium chloride (KCI), was also detected by ALMA, and is a common component of lava. According to Luszcz-Cook:

We see KCI in volcanic regions where we do not see SO2 or SO. This is strong evidence that the magma reservoirs are different under different volcanoes.

Katherine de Kleer at the California Institute of Technology added:

By studying Io’s atmosphere and volcanic activity, we can understand more about the volcanoes, the tidal heating process and Io’s interior.

Grayish terrain with dark and bright patches.

The volcano Loki Patera, as seen by Voyager 1 in 1979. The dark U-shaped feature is a lava lake about 124 miles (200 km) across. Image via NASA/ JPL/ USGS/ Planetary Science Institute.Many bright spots on dark sphere, on black background, with labeled colored scale on right side.

Infrared view of Io’s active volcanoes from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, currently orbiting Jupiter. Wow! Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ SwRI/ INAF/ The Planetary Society.

The scientists are eager to learn more about Io’s magma as well, and are planning to observe the moon at additional radio wavelengths. These can probe several inches beneath the surface and provide clues about what Io’s magma is composed of and its temperature. They also want to know more about the temperature of Io’s lower atmosphere. De Pater said:

To measure the temperature of Io’s atmosphere, we need to obtain a higher resolution in our observations, which requires that we observe the moon for a longer period of time. We can only do this when Io is in sunlight, since it does not spend much time in eclipse. During such an observation, Io will rotate by tens of degrees. We will need to apply software that helps us make unsmeared images. We have done this previously with radio images of Jupiter made with ALMA and the Very Large Array.

How can a small moon like Io, way out in the outer solar system, have active volcanoes? Io is volcanically active due to tidal heating. The same side of Io faces Jupiter, just like the same side of the moon always faces Earth. The gravitational pull of Jupiter, as well as the moons Europa and Ganymede, creates tremendous friction and heating inside Io.

The new results help to solve the mystery of how Io’s atmosphere forms and how its volcanoes play a major part in that. But there are still many more questions to be answered – and new ones to be asked – about the solar system’s most active volcanic hotspot.

Bottom line: Active volcanoes produce almost half of Io’s sulfur atmosphere, according to new observations using ALMA.

THIS IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ASTEROID DETECTED

If an object measuring 1 km across were to hit our planet, the consequences would be much graver. There were precedents in the history of our Earth and there is no guarantee it will not happen again. Over a thousand celestial bodies are posing a potential threat today. So what would happen if a really large asteroid were to collide with us?

Human life could be wiped out on March 16, 2880 because a huge asteroid is hurtling towards Earth – and experts don’t know how to stop it

  • Asteroid 1950 DA has a 0.3 per cent chance of hitting Earth in 867 years
  • A possible impact date for 1950 DA is on 16 March, 2880, scientists say
  • If it hits, it would do so with a force of 44,800 megatonnes of TNT
  • But scientists say there is no cause for concern as the risk is low
  • Asteroid’s body defies gravity due to forces known as van Der Waals
  • These forces have never been spotted on an asteroid before
  • Scientists say they are now closer to finding out how to stop the rock

The date of Earth’s potential destruction has been set at 16 March 2880, when an asteroid hurtling through space has a possibility of striking our planet.

Researchers studying the rock found that its body rotates so quickly that it should break apart, but somehow remains intact on its Earth-bound trajectory.

They believe it is held together by cohesive forces known as van der Waals – and although this is considered a major breakthrough, scientists still don’t know how to stop it. 

Scroll down for animation
Nasa won't meet its goal to find 90 percent of potentially dangerous asteroids larger than 460ft (140 metres) in diameter, the agency's Inspector General said+2

Nasa won’t meet its goal to find 90 percent of potentially dangerous asteroids larger than 460ft (140 metres) in diameter, the agency’s Inspector General said

The discovery was made by researchers at the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville.

Previous research has shown that asteroids are loose piles of rubble held together by gravity and friction.

WHAT IS ASTEROID 1950 DA?

The asteroid, named 1950 DA, is a rock two-thirds of a mile in diameter, travelling at about 15 km (nine miles) per second relative to the Earth.

It is approximately 3,280ft (1,000 metres) in diameter, but rotates once every two hours and six minutes.

At this rate, the rock should break apart and eventually disintegrate, but it is not showing any signs of doing so. 

In fact, the rotation is so fast that at its equator, 1950 DA effectively experiences negative gravity.

If an astronaut were to attempt to stand on this surface, he or she would fly off into space unless he or she were somehow anchored.

The presence of cohesive forces has been predicted in small asteroids, but definitive evidence has never been seen before.

It is due to swing so close to Earth it could slam into the Atlantic Ocean at 38,000 miles per hour.

It is estimated that if 1950 DA were to collide with the planet, it would do so with an force of around 44,800 megatonnes of TNT.

Although the probability of an impact is only 0.3 per cent, this represents a risk 50 per cent greater than an impact from all other asteroids.

However, the UT team found that the asteroid, called 1950 DA, is spinning so quickly that it defies these forces.

It is approximately 3,280ft (1,000 metres) in diameter, but rotates once every two hours and six minutes.

At this rate, the rock should break apart and eventually disintegrate, but it is not showing any signs of doing so.

Ben Rozitis, a postdoctoral researcher; Eric MacLennan, a doctoral candidate; and Joshua Emery, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, wanted to know what keeps the body from breaking apart.

By calculating 1950 DA’s temperature and  density, the team detected the cohesive forces that stop it breaking up.

‘We found that 1950 DA is rotating faster than the breakup limit for its density,’ said Rozitis.

‘So if just gravity were holding this rubble pile together, as is generally assumed, it would fly apart. Therefore, interparticle cohesive forces must be holding it together.’

In fact, the rotation is so fast that at its equator, 1950 DA effectively experiences negative gravity.

If an astronaut were to attempt to stand on this surface, they would would be flung off into space.

The presence of cohesive forces has been predicted in small asteroids, but definitive evidence has never been seen before.

The findings, published in this week’s edition of the science journal Nature, have potential implications for defending our planet from a massive asteroid impact.

‘Following the February 2013 asteroid impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia, there is renewed interest in figuring out how to deal with the potential hazard of an asteroid impact,’ said Professor Rozitis.

ANIMATION: Asteroid 1950 DA’s potential trajectory

Tsunami impact

A simulation of an asteroid impact tsunami developed by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, shows waves as high as 400 feet sweeping onto the Atlantic Coast

‘Understanding what holds these asteroids together can inform strategies to guard against future impacts.’

This research reveals some techniques, such sending a massive object on a collision course with the asteroid, could worsen the effects.
The asteroid (pictured), is due to swing so close to Earth it could slam into the Atlantic Ocean at 38,000 miles per hour+2

The asteroid (pictured), is due to swing so close to Earth it could slam into the Atlantic Ocean at 38,000 miles per hour

For example, this technique could get in the way of forces keeping the asteroid together, causing it to break apart into lots of smaller, threatening asteroids that could be on a collision course for Earth.

This may be what occurred with the asteroid P/2013 R3, which was caught by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2013 and 2014 coming undone, possibly due to a collision with a meteor.

‘With such tenuous cohesive forces holding one of these asteroids together, a very small impulse may result in a complete disruption,’ said Professor Rozitis.

The asteroid is travelling at about 9 miles (15km) a second relative to the Earth.

It is due to swing so close to Earth it could slam into the Atlantic Ocean at 38,000 miles per hour. 

It is estimated that if 1950 DA were to collide with the planet, it would do so with a force of around 44,800 megatonnes of TNT.

Although the probability of an impact is only 0.3 per cent, this represents a risk 50 per cent greater than an impact from all other asteroids.

Over the long timescales of Earth’s history, asteroids this size and larger have periodically hammered the planet.

The so-called K/T impact, for instance, ended the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Asteroid 1950 DA was discovered on 23 February 1950. It was observed for 17 days and then faded from view for half a century.

Then, an object discovered on 31 December 2000 was recognised as being the long-lost 1950 DA.

The New Year’s Eve sighting was exactly 200 years to the night after the discovery of the first asteroid, Ceres.

It was found that the asteroid 1950 DA has a trajectory that for a 20-minute window on March 16, 2880, a collision cannot be entirely ruled out.Enlarge   

This graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013. These are the asteroids considered hazardous because they are fairly large (at least 460 feet or 140 meters in size), and because they follow orbits that pass close to the Earth’s orbit

VAN DER WAALS FORCES

Van der Waals forces are the attractive forces that hold molecules close together and are fundamental for chemistry, biology and physics.

They arise due to attraction between oppositely charged areas of substances.

The strength of Van der Waals’ forces is related to the size of atoms and molecules.So the bigger the atom or molecule the bigger the Van der Waals’ force.

However, they are among the weakest known chemical interactions, so they are notoriously hard to study.

But scientists claim there is no cause for concern.

If it is eventually decided 1950 DA needs to be diverted, the hundreds of years of warning could allow a method as simple as dusting the surface of the asteroid with chalk or charcoal, or perhaps white glass beads.

This would change the asteroid’s reflectivity and allow sunlight to do the work of pushing the asteroid out of the way.

Nasa is currently tracking all 1,400 potentially hazardous asteroids so far identified and predicting their future close approaches and impact probabilities.

As part of this effort it is working on the development of an infrared sensor that could improve its asteroid tracking capabilities, dubbed the Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) sensor.

Once launched, the space-based telescope would be positioned at a location about four times the distance between Earth and the moon.

From this lofty perch, NEOCam could observe the comings and goings of near Earth objects, including PHAs, without the impediments such as cloud cover and daylight. 

It’s a cosmic miracle that life on Earth’s lasted this long

Exactly how lucky did we get?

A shooting star in a night scene over the Arabian Desert
Earth’s deserts are more inhabitable than entire planets and exoplanets.Cerqueira/Unsplash

Toby Tyrrell is a professor of Earth System Science at the University of Southampton. This story originally featured on The Conversation.

It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that time then evolution would have come to a crashing halt and we would not be here now. So to understand how we came to exist on planet Earth, we’ll need to know how Earth managed to stay fit for life for billions of years.

This is not a trivial problem. Current global warming shows us that the climate can change considerably over the course of even a few centuries. Over geological timescales, it is even easier to change climate. Calculations show that there is the potential for Earth’s climate to deteriorate to temperatures below freezing or above boiling in just a few million years.

We also know that the Sun has become 30 percent more luminous since life first evolved. In theory, this should have caused the oceans to boil away by now, given that they were not generally frozen on the early Earth—this is known as the “faint young Sun paradox”. Yet, somehow, this habitability puzzle was solved.ADVERTISEMENT

1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines
The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines blasted so much ash into the atmosphere that global temperatures temporarily dropped by 0.6˚C.SRA Blaze Lipowski / picryl

Scientists have come up with two main theories. The first is that the Earth could possess something like a thermostat – a feedback mechanism (or mechanisms) that prevents the climate ever wandering to fatal temperatures.

The second is that, out of a large number of planets, perhaps some just make it through by luck, and Earth is one of those. This second scenario is made more plausible by the discoveries in recent decades of many planets outside our solar system—so-called exoplanets. Astronomical observations of distant stars tell us that many have planets orbiting them, and that some are of a size and density and orbital distance such that temperatures suitable for life are theoretically possible. It has been estimated that there are at least 2 billion such candidate planets in our galaxy alone.Read More

Scientists would love to travel to these exoplanets to investigate whether any of them have matched Earth’s billion years of climate stability. But even the nearest exoplanets, those orbiting the star Proxima Centauri, are more than four light-years away. Observational or experimental evidence is hard to come by.ADVERTISEMENT

Instead, I explored the same question through modelling. Using a computer program designed to simulate climate evolution on planets in general (not just Earth), I first generated 100,000 planets, each with a randomly different set of climate feedbacks. Climate feedbacks are processes that can amplify or diminish climate change—think for instance of sea-ice melting in the Arctic, which replaces sunlight-reflecting ice with sunlight-absorbing open sea, which in turn causes more warming and more melting.

earth habitability simulations
Repeat runs in the simulation were not identical: 1,000 different planets were generated randomly and each run twice. A shows the results on first run; B shows the results on second run. Green circles show success (stayed habitable for 3 billion years) and black failure.Toby Tyrrell

To investigate how likely each of these diverse planets was to stay habitable over enormous (geological) timescales, I simulated each 100 times. Each time the planet started from a different initial temperature and was exposed to a randomly different set of climate events. These events represent climate-altering factors such as supervolcano eruptions (like Mount Pinatubo but much much larger) and asteroid impacts (like the one that killed the dinosaurs). On each of the 100 runs, the planet’s temperature was tracked until it became too hot or too cold or else had survived for 3 billion years, at which point it was deemed to have been a possible crucible for intelligent life.

The simulation results give a definite answer to this habitability problem, at least in terms of the importance of feedbacks and luck. It was very rare (in fact, just one time out of 100,000) for a planet to have such strong stabilising feedbacks that it stayed habitable all 100 times, irrespective of the random climate events. In fact, most planets that stayed habitable at least once, did so fewer than ten times out of 100. On nearly every occasion in the simulation when a planet remained habitable for 3 billion years, it was partly down to luck. At the same time, luck by itself was shown to be insufficient. Planets that were specially designed to have no feedbacks at all, never stayed habitable; random walks, buffeted around by climate events, never lasted the course.ADVERTISEMENT

This overall result, that outcomes depend partly on feedbacks and partly on luck, is robust. All sorts of changes to the modelling did not affect it. By implication, Earth must therefore possess some climate-stabilising feedbacks but at the same time good fortune must also have been involved in it staying habitable. If, for instance, an asteroid or solar flare had been slightly larger than it was, or had occurred at a slightly different (more critical) time, we would probably not be here on Earth today. It gives a different perspective on why we are able to look back on Earth’s remarkable, enormously extended, history of life evolving and diversifying and becoming ever more complex to the point that it gave rise to us.

This Apollo-Era Rocket Stage, Lost For Half a Century, Turned Up in a Telescope Search

Found in a hunt for asteroids, an old pal checks in on its way around the sun.

Centaur upper stage
A Centaur upper stage like this one, photographed in 1964, was recently identified by a telescope that normally looks for asteroids. (NASA)

Astronomers have confirmed that a small object temporarily captured by Earth’s orbit is the Centaur upper-stage rocket booster that helped lift NASA’s ill-fated Surveyor 2 spacecraft toward the moon in 1966.

The object, designated 2020 SO, was initially detected by the Panoramic Survey Telescope And Rapid Response System, which monitors near-Earth objects such as asteroids that might pose a threat to Earth. Upon closer examination, scientists at the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) realized that this was no ordinary asteroid. Typically, the orbit of an asteroid is more elongated and tilted relative to Earth’s orbit. However, before 2020 SO was captured by this planet’s gravity, it was orbiting around the sun in a near circle and in an orbital plane that almost matched Earth’s. Adding to the mystery, the trajectory of 2020 SO was changing slightly in response to getting pushed by the solar wind, suggesting it was likely hollow.

Suspecting that they had discovered an old rocket booster, CNEOS director Paul Chodas calculated the object’s orbit backward in time and found that 2020 SO’s approach in late 1966 would have been close enough that it might have originated from Earth—coinciding with the launch of the Surveyor 2 spacecraft aboard an Atlas-Centaur rocket. A thruster malfunction had caused the spacecraft to crash into the moon on September 23, while the spent Centaur upper-stage rocket sailed into space.

Final confirmation of the identity of 2020 SO came from a team led by Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor and planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. “My job description is pretty simple—if something is going to hit the Earth, I tell what it is made of…before it hits us of course!”says Reddy, who performed follow-up observations using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility. He and his team compared the spectrum data from 2020 SO with that of 301 stainless steel, the material used to construct Centaur rocket boosters in the 1960s.

While the match was good, it wasn’t perfect, so they investigated further. “A colleague in the Air Force alerted us to look at other similar rocket bodies in Earth orbit,” says Reddy. “My grad student was able to initially get visible wavelength spectra of two of the Centaur rocket bodies from the 1970s using our small 24-inch telescope at the university.” The spectra matched with 2020 SO, confirming its identity as a fellow Centaur booster.

2020 SO made its closest approach to Earth on December 1, 2020, and will remain within Earth’s sphere of gravitational dominance until it escapes back into a new orbit around the sun in March 2021.

But even after we say farewell to the Centaur rocket booster, this might only be the beginning of encounters with historic space artifacts. Says Reddy: “The number of objects we put in space each year is only going up, so we are bound to run into objects like 2020 SO in the future as humanity spreads its wings across the inner solar system.” Who says you can’t go home again?

Perseverance rover: The search for life on Mars begins in February

PerseveranceroveronMars_thumb

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Perseverance rover, which will soon begin roaming Mars in search of signs of ancient life. NASA/JPL-Caltech

On 18 February, the Mars2020 mission will touch down in a small crater called Jezero near the Martian equator. The mission includes a rover called Perseverance that will explore the area, analyze rocks and gather samples to be returned to Earth by a later mission due to fly in 2026. The mission also includes a helicopter drone called Ingenuity that will scout ahead, looking for intriguing targets to study.

Jezero is interesting because it was once filled with liquid water and so should contain significant evidence of its effects. Even more tantalizing is the possibility that the crater once hosted life. Indeed, part of the Mars2020 mission is to search for signs of life and any biosignatures preserved in the rock.

Planetary geologists have long studied Jezero, marking it as a potential landing site for Mars missions. But the decision to send a rover there has made it the target of much more study.about:blankabout:blank

In particular, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, currently orbiting the Red Planet, has sent back numerous visible and infrared images of the region that have allowed geologists to study remotely the types of rock Perseverance is likely to encounter.

Now Adrian Brown from NASA headquarters in Washington DC says this work has helped to create a remarkably detailed picture of the rocks that Perseverance will find and how they might have been altered by the action of water. Brown also discusses the idea that the rocks in Jezero crater are similar to Earth-bound outcrops in Warrawoona, Australia, which contain the oldest fossilized evidence of life on Earth.

PerseverancelandingsiteJezerocrater

Jezero Crater is seen in this natural-color mosaic made by combining shots from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Express. The Perseverance rover’s landing site (circled) is near the ancient river delta that winds from the crater’s rim on the leftNASA/JPL/MSSS/ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin/J. Cowart

First some background. Mars was once very different from the dry arid planet we see today. Some 4 billion years ago, Mars’s many volcanoes, some of the biggest in the Solar System, began pumping huge volumes of gas and dust into the atmosphere.

This trapped energy from the Sun causing temperatures to rise and allowing liquid water to pool on the surface. The atmosphere might even have supported clouds and rainfall, creating conditions that were ripe for the emergence of life.

But about 3.7 billion years ago, the planet began to cool, along with its interior, shutting down the planet’s internal magnetic dynamo and destroying its magnetic field.about:blankabout:blank

As the surface cooled, the liquid water froze at the poles or became permafrost. This created the conditions for massive flooding. Whenever an asteroid impact heated an area, the permafrost melted, sending torrents across the surface. Today, the planet is scarred by the huge channels carved by these floods.

Planetary geologists think Jezero crater filled with water at least twice but that the resulting lakes were long lived, lasting perhaps 10 million years and finally disappearing about 3.7 billion years ago. “This may be the final time water flowed on Mars,” says Brown, who presented this paper at the 23rd International Mars Society Convention in October.

The crater is about 50 kilometers in diameter and well-studied using the cameras aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images at various frequencies of visible and infrared light reveal the composition of the rock and also its grain size, which reveals how it has weathered over time.

Brown says this shows the crater was originally formed in rock consisting of olivine, a mineral containing iron, magnesium and silicates, as well as well carbonates. Brown says an important discovery is a rocky outcrop beyond the waterline that reveals the unaltered rock as it originally formed. This will become an essential reference for the mission, against which altered rocks can be compared.

Water works

Within the crater, clay has formed in various areas, which geologists believe can only happen in the presence of water, which will have carried the necessary minerals from surrounding areas. This is likely to have formed in layers, which may be visible near the shoreline.about:blankabout:blank

The most intriguing line of investigation is Brown’s comparison between the rocks in Jezero crater and those at Warrawoona in Australia. Back in 1983, paleobiologists discovered evidence of fossilized cells in these rocks, which formed some 3.5 billion years ago. They represent the oldest geological evidence of life on Earth.

That immediately raises the tantalizing possibility that similar evidence might be present in Jezero crater. If so, an important question is whether Perseverance will be able to gather this evidence and analyze it in the necessary detail.

That’s a big ask, even for a mission designed to look for signs of life. “The limitations in spaceflight-ready instrumentation and the remote location of the scientific team limit the extent of scientific analyses that can be done by rover missions to Mars,” Brown points out.

But even if not, Perseverance will gather samples that will later be returned to Earth by a sample return mission. The advantage of such an approach is that the rocks can be studied in more detail by a wider variety of instruments. “Inspired by the Apollo samples, which still continue propel new lunar science discoveries, we anticipate that the analyses of the samples returned by MSR will rely on future instrumentation that may not even exist today,” says Brown.

Brown says NASA and the European Space Agency have agreed to work on the sample return mission together. “The nominal launch date is planned for 2026, with a nominal return of samples by 2031,” he says. So for a definitive answer to any questions about signs of life on Mars, we will probably have to wait until then.

Stupendously Large Black Holes Could Be Hiding in Universe

If ‘stupendously large’ black holes, those with masses more than 100 billion times that of the Sun, exist in the Universe, they would provide a powerful tool for cosmological tests due to their unique imprints, according to a paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Carr et al. investigated how stupendously large black holes could form and potential limits to their size. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“Black holes are a key prediction of general relativity,” said Queen Mary Emeritus Professor Bernard Carr and colleagues.

“There are a plethora of observations indicating their existence in the solar or intermediate-mass range. In particular, the existence of binary black holes in the mass range between 10 and 50 solar masses has been demonstrated by the detection of gravitational waves from inspiralling binaries.”

“There is also evidence for supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, including Sagittarius A* at the center of our own Milky Way Galaxy, with a mass of 4 million solar masses.”

“Recently, the imaging of the shadow created by M87*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the giant elliptical galaxy M87 with a mass of 6.5 billion solar masses, has been reported by the Event Horizon Telescope.”

“The supermassive black holes in galactic nuclei span a huge mass range, extending up to nearly 100 billion solar masses,” they said.

“The current heaviest black hole is associated with the quasar TON 618 and has a mass of 70 billion solar masses, while the second heaviest, at the center of the galaxy IC 1101, has a mass inferred from its radio emission of 40 billion solar masses.”

“This raises the issue of whether there could be even larger black holes in galactic nuclei and whether indeed there is any natural upper limit to the mass of a supermassive black hole.”

In their new paper, Professor Carr, Dr. Florian Kühnel from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat and Dr. Luca Visinelli from the University of Amsterdam suggest that stupendously large black holes (SLABs) could be primordial, forming in the early Universe, and well before galaxies.

As primordial black holes don’t form from a collapsing star, they could have a wide range of masses, including very small and stupendously large ones.

“Whilst there isn’t currently evidence for the existence of SLABs, it’s conceivable that they could exist and they might also reside outside galaxies in intergalactic space, with interesting observational consequences,” Professor Carr said.

“However, surprisingly, the idea of SLABs has largely been neglected until now.”

“We’ve proposed options for how these black holes might form, and hope that our work will begin to motivate discussions amongst the community.”

If SLABs are of primordial origin, this raises an interesting link with the suggestion that primordial black holes could provide the dark matter.

Although SLABs themselves clearly cannot do this, since they are too large to reside in galactic halos, it is possible that primordial black holes provide the dark matter in a much lower mass range.

“SLABs themselves could not provide the dark matter,” Professor Carr said.

“But if they exist at all, it would have important implications for the early Universe and would make it plausible that lighter primordial black holes might do so.”

NASA takes a Image of Mysterious Object that arrived from another Solar System!

When we think of the sheer infinite vastness of the universe, we often ask ourselves what mysterious objects may be found in other solar systems. Indeed, space exploration is still in its infancy. While international scientists are currently working feverishly to study in detail the celestial bodies in our own planetary system, we can only speculate about those planets and galactic entities that lie outside the visible universe.

Finally, should the rare case occur that an object from a distant galaxy roams through our solar system, this circumstance is tantamount to a galactic sensation. In the course of our following video, we would like to take a closer look at one of these mysterious objects together with you. Not long ago, NASA succeeded in discovering a fascinating object whose origin lies in an unknown distance. We wish you much pleasure with this exciting topic!

Some Black Holes May Actually Be Secret Wormholes

This is deep.

  • Some black holes could be wormholes, and the difference is in the gamma radiation.
  • Luminous, supermassive black holes called active galactic nuclei (AGN) could really be wormholes.
  • The two cosmic objects emit totally different radiation signatures.

Some scientists believe black holes aren’t all the same—and that some are really wormholes. To find out, we’ll need a way to tell the difference with certainty.

In a new paper, Russian scientists posit that the right blast of gamma radiation could reveal wormholes in black hole disguise.

How would a black hole wormhole work? The answer is actually relatively simple, and it also reveals why such a wormhole would have a detectable physical “tell.” Space’s Charles Q. Choi explains:

“Any matter falling into a mouth of a supermassive wormhole would likely travel at extraordinarily high speeds due to its powerful gravitational fields. The scientists modeled the consequences of matter flowing through both mouths of a wormhole to where these mouths meet, the wormhole’s “throat.” The result of such collisions are spheres of plasma expanding out both mouths of the wormhole at nearly the speed of light, the researchers said.”

This “outburst,” in the literal sense, is what scientists can look for. “The spheres of plasma from wormholes can reach temperatures of about 18 trillion degrees Fahrenheit (10 trillion degrees Celsius),” Choi writes. “At such heat, the plasma would produce gamma rays with energies of 68 million electronvolts.”

This radiation signature is distinct from even the most powerful and radiative known kinds of black holes. Because of that, the “fingerprint” could immediately tell scientists they were looking into a wormhole.

This part is important, because the theory of black holes as wormholes overlaps with one specific kind of black hole: the active galactic nucleus (AGN), which is gigantic and extraordinarily powerful.

AGNs give centers of galaxies their trademark brightness, hence the name, and scientists have argued about their true nature for a long time. “The underlying hypothesis of this work is that the active galactic nuclei are wormhole mouths rather than supermassive black holes,” the researchers explain.


AGNs aren’t well understood, with qualities of supermassive black holes mixed with extreme brightness. They’re broken into categories based on different factors, but the idea that they blast out a huge amount of radiation is what plays into this research. Their radiation signature is different enough from what would emerge from a true wormhole that scientists won’t mistake one for the other.READ THISThe Black Hole Picture Changed Science

So how would such a test work? Think about looking at two lamps, where one has a “warm” compact fluorescent bulb and the other has a “natural” tone. You can immediately tell not just that they’re different, but likely what the difference indicates about what they both are. For cosmologists, the difference between wormholes and AGNs will be just as immediately clear. One of the authors of the paper told Space that he’s surprised this hasn’t been thought of before because of how simple it is.

In future research, if scientists can identify gamma radiation coming from a suspected galactic nucleus, these study findings mean they can hazard a guess that the object isn’t galactic nucleus at all. It could, in fact, be a wormhole. At the very least, it’s something new.

UFO documents released by CIA are ‘real-life X-Files,’ expert says

British investigator said there are some ‘fascinating’ documents in the files

The CIA’s decision to declassify more than three decades worth of UFO documents is a “real-life X-Files,” according to one expert.

Nick Pope, a former employee and UFO investigator for Britain’s Ministry of Defense, said there are some “fascinating” documents in the files, which are more than 2,700 pages. However, the odd manner in which they were released and difficulties searching them will “fuel conspiracy theories.”

“There’s an irony in the UFO community expecting to find a smoking gun in material released by an organization they believe is part of a cover-up, and recent revelations about the Pentagon’s AATIP program and the [Unidentified Aerial Phenomena] Task Force suggest anyone looking in CIA files for the answer to the UFO mystery is looking at the wrong agency,” Pope said in an email to Fox News. “Perhaps these are the documents the government wants people to see, a bit like a magician who does something flamboyant with one hand, to draw people’s attention, while the important thing is going on in his other hand, behind his back.”

Photo by MBARDO on Pexels.com

The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) was formed in 2007 at the behest of former Sen. Harry Reid, Fox News previously reported. It reportedly ceased operations in 2012, but in 2017 The New York Times reported the Department of Defense was still investigating potential episodes of unidentified flying objects.

The recently released documents were uploaded to The Black Vault, a government-centric website run by John Greenewald Jr., who obtained them via a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests over the past few decades.

Last year, Greenwald purchased the CD-ROM that was created by the CIA. In a statement on his website, Greenwald said the CIA “claims this is their ‘entire’ declassified collection,” but added there is no way to verify that. “Research by The Black Vault will continue to see if there are additional documents still uncovered within the CIA’s holdings.”

There are a number of individual documents in the release, including the 1976 story of a government official being handed intelligence on  countless UFO sightings.

Perhaps coincidentally, the U.K. also released its so-called “X-files,” a document trove of reported UFO-related sightings early last year. The Royal Air Force ran a UFO unit for 50 years but shut it down in 2009 after coming to the conclusion that none of the reports offered evidence of a real threat.

After the U.K.’s decision to publish reported UFO sightings online, 61% of Americans surveyed said they wanted the U.S. government to do the same. 

The release of the nearly 2,700 pages of declassified documents comes just a couple of weeks after the New York Post reported that the latest COVID-19 relief and government funding bill gave the Pentagon six months to reveal what they know about UFOs. 

In August, the Pentagon announced it was establishing a task force to “detect, analyze and catalog” unidentified aerial phenomena.

FAA Approves First Fully Automated Commercial Drone Flights

American Robotics granted permission to operate drones without hands-on piloting

American Robotics Scout drones use acoustic technology to detect and avoid drones, birds and other obstacles. PHOTO: AMERICAN ROBOTICS

U.S. aviation regulators have approved the first fully automated commercial drone flights, granting a small Massachusetts-based company permission to operate drones without hands-on piloting or direct observation by human controllers or observers.

The decision by the Federal Aviation Administration limits operation of automated drones to rural areas and altitudes below 400 feet, but is a potentially significant step in expanding commercial applications of drones for farmers, utilities, mining companies and other customers.

It also represents another step in the FAA’s broader effort to authorize widespread flights by shifting away from case-by-case exemptions for specific vehicles performing specific tasks.

In approval documents posted on a government website Thursday, the FAA said that once such automated drone operations are conducted on a wider scale, they could mean “efficiencies to many of the industries that fuel our economy such as agriculture, mining, transportation” and certain manufacturing segments.

The FAA previously allowed drones to inspect railroad tracks, pipelines and some industrial sites beyond the sight of pilots or spotters on the ground as long as such individuals were located relatively close by.

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved the nation’s first-ever fully automated commercial drone flights.

In documents posted to the FAA website, Massachusetts-based American Robotics Inc. got a partial grant of exemption on Jan. 14 that allows unmanned aircraft to fly beyond the line of sight of a remote pilot.

Signed by Flight Standards Service Deputy Executive Director Robert C. Carty, the grant allows American Robotics to operate its Scout quadcopter unmanned aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 20 pounds, in rural settings for research, development and training.

According to the grant, American Robotics’ operation would occur only during daylight in unregulated low-altitude areas with light air traffic and would be limited to 400 feet above ground.

In addition, any individual flights would occur within the boundaries of American Robotics’ customers’ “controlled access farmland” or similar rural environments meeting the same criteria.

“We conduct thorough safety assessments before issuing any unmanned aircraft operation approvals,” the FAA wrote to Fox Business on Saturday.

The agency also highlighted public interest in the case, writing that regulators would learn more about automated operations by allowing American Robotics to proceed with its endeavors.

“Once adopted on a wider scale, such a scheme could lend efficiencies to many of the industries that fuel our economy such as agriculture, transportation, mining, technology, and non-durable manufacturing,” the agency added. “Moreover, the operations will achieve a reduction in environmental impact, as they will involve a small aircraft carrying no passengers or crew, rather than a manned aircraft of significantly greater size.”Video

In order to meet standards, American Robotics tested fully automated drones for four years in eight states, according to initial reporting from The Wall Street Journal.

The Marlborough company’s Scout drones run on predetermined programs and weigh less than 20 pounds. They also have built-in acoustic technology to avoid birds and other aircraft, and safeguards to prevent malfunctions.

“With these approvals, American Robotics is ushering in a new era of widespread automated drone operations,” American Robotics co-founder and CEO Reese Mozer in a press release.

“Decades worth of promise and projection are finally coming to fruition” and will help to unlock the $100 billion commercial drone market.

Previously, the FAA allowed drones to inspect railroad tracks, industrial sites and pipelines, as long as pilots or spotters were in sight.

In December, the FAA said it would issue a long-awaited rule to allow for small drones to fly over people and at night, as well as require remote identification for most drones.

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

Mars missions, a super-powered telescope, and more exciting 2021 space events

Many exciting 2021 space events in store!

An artist's impression of the James Webb Space Telescope, finally set to launch this year.
An artist’s impression of the James Webb Space Telescope, finally set to launch this year.Northrop Grumman

Like nearly everything else in the world, space exploration hit a coronavirus-sized pause button early last year. But we were still able to thrust our way into the cosmos in an otherwise difficult, stressful 2020. And 2021 looks to be a pretty busy time for space both on the ground and out in the void. Here’s a list of missions we’re excited about so you can look forward to what cosmic insights this next orbit around the sun could bring.

A trio of Mars missions

For Mars fans, February will be an exciting month. The Red Planet will welcome the arrival of not one, not two, but three missions.

The first to arrive will be the United Arab Emirates’ Hope spacecraft, or Al Amal. The mission, which is due to arrive on February 9, will send valuable data back to Earth about Mars’ climate and weather. Assuming all goes well, this will mark the first Arab mission to Mars—or any other planet for that matter.

NASA’s Perseverance will touch down on Mars’ Jezero Crater, the site of a former lake, on February 18, where it will perform the most extensive search for past life on Mars to date. Built on the same basic bones as the Curiosity rover which has been trucking away on Mars since 2011, the car-sized Perseverance rover carries different instruments designed to search for signs of past microbial life. It will also deploy Ingenuity, a small helicopter that will demonstrate the first powered flight launched from the surface of another planet. Even more significant, Perseverance will cache the most intriguing Mars samples so that they can eventually be collected and brought back to Earth as early as 2031.

China, ever secretive about its space program, has not said when exactly its ambitious Tianwen-1 mission will arrive at Mars. It’s expected in mid-February where it’ll remain in orbit before sending a lander containing a rover to the surface in May. If it succeeds, China will become the third country to land something on Mars.

A next-generation space observatory

The much-delayed and highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope, plagued by technical problems and mounting costs, will also launch this year (fingers crossed). On October 31st, the Hubble Space Telescope’s successor will be positioned over 932,000 miles from Earth, where it will afford us unprecedented views of the universe in infrared; it’ll be the largest telescope ever placed in space, with 100 times Hubble’s light-gathering power.

“Webb is designed to build upon the incredible legacies of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, by observing the infrared universe and exploring every phase of cosmic history,” said Eric Smith, NASA Webb’s program scientist, in a statement. “The observatory will detect light from the first generation of galaxies that formed in the early universe after the big bang and study the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets for possible signs of habitability.”

‘Lucy’ in the sky with carbon-rich asteroids

In October, NASA is set to launch the Lucy spacecraft. Over its 12-year mission, Lucy will visit the so-called Jovian Trojans—asteroids that share the same orbit as Jupiter but float hundreds of millions of miles ahead or behind the planet, trapped there by the giant planet’s gravity. It’s thought that the Trojan asteroids could hold clues to understanding the early Solar System—and perhaps even clues to the origins of Earth’s organic material.

Back to the Moon

Several missions are shooting for the Moon this year.

The first of NASA’s Artemis missions—an uncrewed test mission known as Artemis 1—is expected to launch in November 2021. The mission will provide engineers back on Earth with a chance to evaluate how the spacecraft performs in deep space and serve as a prelude to returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024.ADVERTISEMENT

In March, India is planning to launch its third lunar mission: Chandrayaan-3. This would be a second attempt at landing on the Moon after the crash of the Vikram lander on the Chandrayaan-2 mission in 2019. If all goes well, the Chandrayaan-3 rover will touch down on the lunar south pole’s Aitken basin—a 1,500-mile-wide scar created when an asteroid slammed into the Moon around 3.9 billion years ago.

And after a decades-long hiatus, Russia’s opening moonshot to reactivate the Russian lunar program plans is known as Luna 25. The much-delayed mission, which has been in development since the late 1990s, is tentatively set for launch in October 2021.

The poster child of commercial space

Last year, SpaceX made history when its Crew Dragon spacecraft proved it can ferry NASA astronauts to humanity’s home away from home—the International Space Station. SpaceX is expected to make those sort of trips routine, with two likely happening later this year. And 2021 might also be the year that we see SpaceX’s 165-foot-tall Starship vehicle, designed to one day take humans to the Red Planet, make it into orbit. Despite a beautiful belly-flopping opera with an explosive finale, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said last year he was “80 to 90 percent” confident that Starship would be ready by the end of 2021.ADVERTISEMENThttps://e893246bedbf0789049fc8236493320d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Notable things to look for in the sky

You can also feast your eyes upon cosmic spectacles from your own abode. On June 10, there will be an annular solar eclipse. That phenomenon occurs when the Moon is farthest away from the Earth to completely cover the Sun, resulting in a ring of light around the darkened moon. Much of Europe and the northeastern United States will see a partial solar eclipse. The best meteor shower of the year may be the Perseids, named that way since they appear to originate from the constellation Perseus in the sky. The stellar light show will peak right in the height of summer in mid-August. So, here’s a simple yet wondrous resolution for the new year: Look up!

NASA finds an alien planet with 3 suns

KOI-5Ab is approximately 1,800 light-years from Earth

NASA has discovered an exoplanet with three stars, one with a bizarre orbit that has left astronomers baffled.

The planet, known as KOI-5Ab was discovered in 2009 by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, but it was “abandoned” by scientists because the space telescope had easier candidates to identify.

“KOI-5Ab got abandoned because it was complicated, and we had thousands of candidates,” said David Ciardi, chief scientist of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute, in a statement. “There were easier pickings than KOI-5Ab, and we were learning something new from Kepler every day, so that KOI-5 was mostly forgotten.”

This illustration shows the planet KOI-5Ab transiting across the face of a Sun-like star, which is part of a triple-star system located 1,800 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation. (Credits: Caltech/R. Hurt Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, or IPAC.)

This illustration shows the planet KOI-5Ab transiting across the face of a Sun-like star, which is part of a triple-star system located 1,800 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation. (Credits: Caltech/R. Hurt Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, or IPAC.)

KOI-5Ab is approximately 1,800 light-years from Earth. A light-year, which measures distance in space, is approximately 6 trillion miles.

However, thanks to NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and other Earth-based telescopes, KOA-5Ab has been given new life, with researchers discovering its perplexing orbit.

Due to its size, KOA-5Ab is likely a gas giant, similar to Jupiter or Saturn, but it circles a star in its star system, KOA-5A, once every five days. It’s also out of alignment from at least one of the other two stars and possibly both. 

“We don’t know of many planets that exist in triple-star systems, and this one is extra special because its orbit is skewed,” Ciardi added. “We still have a lot of questions about how and when planets can form in multiple-star systems and how their properties compare to planets in single-star systems. By studying this system in greater detail, perhaps we can gain insight into how the universe makes planets.”

In contrast, KOI-5A orbit KOI-5B each other, once every 30 years. KOI-5C orbits the two once every 400 years, leaving the four celestial objects in a skewed orbit as a result of different planes.https://8ad8b944968071790736e215a8f8d54d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

It’s unclear what caused the skewed orbit, though they “believe that the second star gravitationally kicked the planet during its development, skewing its orbit and causing it to migrate inward,” the NASA statement added. It’s believed that triple-star systems are roughly 10% of all star systems.

The findings were recently presented at a virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Researchers have discovered other planets with three stars in recent memory. In July 2019, exoplanet LTT 1445Ab was found to orbit one of the three suns, all of which are described as mid-to-late-life red dwarfs.

In September 2020, researchers discovered that the GW Orionis star system, which is located at the edge of the Orion constellation, has two stars that orbit one another with the third orbiting the two siblings at a distance of approximately 740 million miles. Inside the rings could be dust, or the beginnings of a young exoplanet, which could explain the misalignment of the system’s gravitational pull.

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.

Astronomers Discover New ‘Celestial Autobahn’ in Solar System

An international team of astronomers from Serbia and the United States has discovered a new superhighway network to travel through our Solar System much faster than was previously possible.

A whimsical view of the planets of our Solar System and the missions sent from Earth to explore them. Image credit: Jenny Mottar / NASA.

The newly-discovered routes can drive comets and asteroids near Jupiter to Neptune’s distance in under a decade and to 100 AU (astronomical units) in less than a century.

They could be used to send spacecraft to the far reaches of our planetary system relatively fast, and to monitor and understand near-Earth objects that might collide with our planet.

Dr. Nataša Todorović of Belgrade Astronomical Observatory and colleagues observed the dynamical structure of these routes, forming a connected series of arches inside what’s known as space manifolds that extend from the asteroid belt to Uranus and beyond.

This ‘celestial autobahn’ acts over several decades, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands or millions of years that usually characterize Solar System dynamics.

The most conspicuous arch structures are linked to Jupiter and the strong gravitational forces it exerts.

The population of Jupiter-family comets as well as small-size bodies known as Centaurs is controlled by such manifolds on unprecedented time scales.

Some of these bodies will end up colliding with Jupiter or being ejected from the Solar System.

The structures were resolved by gathering numerical data about millions of orbits in our Solar System and computing how these orbits fit within already-known space manifolds.

Global arch-like structure of space manifolds in the Solar System. Image credit: Todorović et al., doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abd1313.

The results need to be studied further, both to determine how they could be used by spacecraft, or how such manifolds behave in the vicinity of the Earth, controlling the asteroid and meteorite encounters, as well as the growing population of artificial man-made objects in the Earth-Moon system.

“It should come at no surprise that Jupiter can induce large-scale transport on decadal time scales, as space missions have been specifically designed for Jupiter-assisted transport, with the flybys of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 being cardinal examples,” the astronomers said.

“That gravity assists can be enabled by manifolds is also well known to astrodynamicists.”

“Yet, their widespread influence on natural celestial bodies has been largely undervalued and unexplored.”

The team’s paper was published in the journal Science Advances.

NASA helps cement plan to return to the moon

JAXA will provide technical expertise, devices for a life support and environmental control system, batteries, thermal control and imagery components

Though NASA may have trouble returning to the moon by 2024, the U.S. space agency is doing what it can to eventually explore the lunar surface, announcing a formal partnership with Japan for the lunar Gateway. 

NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) formally announced the agreement that will see JAXA contribute to the Gateway, providing technical expertise, devices for life support and environmental control system, batteries, thermal control and imagery components. 

“We’re honored to announce this latest agreement with Japan to support long-term human exploration on and around the Moon as part of the Artemis program,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement. “Strengthening our international partnerships and commitments to Artemis puts humanity on a solid path to achieve our common goals of sustainable lunar exploration by the end of this decade.”

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Illustration of Gateway in lunar orbit with contributions from international partners. (NASA)

Illustration of Gateway in lunar orbit with contributions from international partners. (NASA)

A memorandum of understanding was signed between NASA and Japan at the end of 2020, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has said previously.

In addition, the new agreement will allow opportunities for Japanese astronauts to access the Gateway, which NASA said “will be determined following additional discussions, and documented in a future arrangement.”

“Leveraging the capabilities that international partners contribute to Gateway will be key to enabling access to the lunar surface,” added Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. “We are pleased to move forward in these groundbreaking efforts with Japan and our other partners.”

The Gateway, which is approximately one-sixth the size of the International Space Station, will act as a “rendezvous point” for astronauts traveling to the lunar orbit aboard the Orion spacecraft before they make their way to low-lunar orbit and ultimately, the surface. It will be used for both robotic and human expeditions to both the moon and Mars.

“The capabilities provided by Japan are critical to enabling the interior environment of the Gateway allowing our crews to live and work for longer durations,” explained Dan Hartman, Gateway program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “With the life support systems from Japan, longer duration missions for the Artemis crews can be accomplished with reduced demands on logistics resupply.”

Japan becomes the third international partner to commit to the Gateway. In October 2020, NASA and the European Space Agency signed a deal to cooperate on the Gateway. One month later, the U.S. and Canada signed a deal to collaborate on the lunar outpost as well.

The Gateway will be used as a base for NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program. In 2019, NASA unveiled its vision for the Artemis moon lander that will return U.S. astronauts to the lunar surface.

The Artemis program, the successor to the Apollo program, is notable for a number of reasons, including its goals of sending the first woman to land on the lunar surface and establishing a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite.

To date, only 12 people, all Americans, have landed on the moon. The last NASA astronaut to set foot on the moon was Apollo 17 Mission Commander Gene Cernan on Dec. 14, 1972.

Rolls-Royce and UK Space Agency launch study into nuclear-powered space exploration

The UK Space Agency and Rolls-Royce are joining forces for a unique study into how nuclear power and technologies could be used as part of space exploration.

Credit: Rolls-Royce

This new research contract will see planetary scientists work together to explore the game-changing potential of nuclear power as a more plentiful source of energy, capable of making possible deeper space exploration in the decades to come.

Nuclear propulsion, which would involve channelling the immense energy released in splitting the atom to accelerate propellants, like hydrogen, at huge speeds, has the potential to revolutionise space travel.

By some estimates, this kind of engine could be twice as efficient as the chemical engines that power our rockets today. Spacecraft powered by this kind of engine could, conceivably, make it to Mars in just 3 to 4 months – roughly half the time of the fastest possible trip in a spacecraft using the current chemical propulsion.

Nuclear space power is anticipated to create new skilled jobs across the UK to support the burgeoning UK space economy.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

As we build back better from the pandemic, it is partnerships like this between business, industry and government that will help to create jobs and bring forward pioneering innovations that will advance UK spaceflight.

Nuclear power presents transformative possibilities for space exploration and this innovative study with Rolls-Royce could help to propel our next generation of astronauts into space faster and for longer, significantly increasing our knowledge of the Universe.

Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:

Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unlock future deep-space missions that take us to Mars and beyond.

This study will help us understand the exciting potential of atomic-powered spacecraft, and whether this nascent technology could help us travel further and faster through space than ever before.

Dave Gordon, UK Senior Vice President, Rolls-Royce Defence said:

We are excited to be working with the UK Space Agency on this pioneering project to define future nuclear power technologies for space. We believe there is a real niche UK capability in this area and this initiative can build on the strong UK nuclear network and supply chain.

We look forward to developing this and other exciting space projects in the future as we continue to develop the power to protect our planet, secure our world and explore our Universe.

It would not just mean a time saving – it would also radically reduce the dose of radiation taken on by astronauts that would be making future trips to Mars or other planets. The size of the dose increases the longer you spend in deep space, away from the bubble of protection given by the Earth’s magnetosphere.

The appeal of a small nuclear power generator for propulsion also comes from the fact that power in space becomes increasingly precious with distance from the Sun. In the outer Solar System, sunlight gets too dim for solar panels, and other technologies like fuel cells are often too patchy as a source of energy.

Nuclear propulsion is an idea that has existed since the 1950s, when the United States attempted to develop a rocket propelled by small atomic bombs tossed out the back.

CIA releases UFO ‘Black Vault’ documents early: How to see them online

Pentagon is slated to brief Congress on UFOs soon

Federal intelligence on extraterrestrial technology — at your fingertips.

By way of the Freedom of Information Act, thousands of the CIA documents on unidentified flying objects — or unidentified aerial phenomena, as the government calls them — are now accessible via download at the Black Vault, a website operated by author and podcaster John Greenwald Jr.

Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com

The CIA claims they have now provided all the information on UAP they have, though there is no way to know that’s true.

“Research by The Black Vault will continue to see if there are additional documents still uncovered within the CIA’s holdings,” Greenwald promised in a statement on his website.

The release comes months before the Pentagon was due to brief Congress on what the military knows about UAP — a date dictated in the most recent COVID-19 relief bill which passed in late December.

The demands for alien intel became so many that the CIA eventually compiled it onto a CD-ROM, obtained by Greenwald and uploaded to the Black Vault, divvied into dozens of downloadable PDFs.

Greenwald told Vice’s Motherboard that he believes the documents are made difficult to parse for calculated reasons.

“The CIA has made it INCREDIBLY difficult to use their records in a reasonable manner,” he said of the “outdated” file format. “In my opinion, this outdated format makes it very difficult for people to see the documents, and use them, for any research purpose.”

Greenwald had filed multiple FOIA requests during the past two decades in pursuit of non-confidential findings on UAP collected by the US government since 1996, he said in a Jan. 7 blog post. In a 2020 interview, he told the Columbia Journalism Review that he began to inquire with the CIA as a teenager.

“You can take something that took more than a decade to come to my mailbox and give it to the public for free in an instant — that’s why I do it,” he said at the time. “I’m fairly hooked on the whole FOIA thing.”

Among the cache’s most intriguing clues is a heavily redacted document that shows that a former CIA assistant deputy director for science and technology “exhibited interest” in one particular unnamed object.

“He decided he would personally look into it, and after, he gave advice on moving forward. That advice is classified,” Greenwald tweeted from the Black Vault Twitter account.

The dump comes at a moment in history when Americans are particularly interested in alien intelligence, indicated by a recent uptick in UFO sightings, and viral popularity of media relating to extraterrestrial life.

Last year, the Defense Department officially declassified shocking video taken by Navy pilots in 2004 and 2015, which made international headlines when it was first leaked by To The Stars Academy, a UFO research group founded by former Blink-182 rocker Tom DeLonge in 2017 and 2018.

At the time, the department asserted that the footage “does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems” and “does not impinge on any subsequent investigations.”

The Nuclear Salt Water Rocket – Possibly the Craziest Rocket Engine Ever Imagined.

The Nuclear Salt Water Rocket is a rocket engine concept that uses a rapid nuclear reaction in a Uranium salt dissolved in water to create a high thrust, high efficiency engine which eclipses the performance of any rocket engine ever designed. It’s a concept originally presented by Robert Zubrin, which is appealing because it looks more scientifically plausable than many other futuristic propulsion concepts.

It’s also scary on so many levels, using a propellent that has to be stabilized by specially designed tanks, and relies on managing a small nuclear explosion with power outputs of hundreds of gigawatts.

Proposed design
Orthodox chemical rockets use heat energy produced by chemical reactions in a reaction chamber to heat the gas products. The products are then expelled through a propulsion nozzle at a very high speed, creating thrust. In a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR), thrust is created by heating a fluid by using a nuclear fission reactor. The lower the molecular weight of the exhaust, hydrogen having the lowest possible, the more efficient the motor can be. However, in this engine the propellant can be anything with suitable properties as there will be no reaction on the part of the propellant. In a NSWR the nuclear salt-water would be made to flow through a reaction chamber and out of an exhaust nozzle in such a way and at such speeds that critical mass will begin once the chamber is filled to a certain point; however, the peak neutron flux of the fission reaction would occur outside the vehicle.

Advantages of the design
There are several advantages relative to conventional NTR designs. As the peak neutron flux and fission reaction rates would occur outside the vehicle, these activities could be much more vigorous than they could be if it was necessary to house them in a vessel (which would have temperature limits due to materials constraints). Additionally, a contained reactor can only allow a small percentage of its fuel to undergo fission at any given time, otherwise it would overheat and melt down (or explode in a runaway fission chain reaction).[4] The fission reaction in an NSWR is dynamic and because the reaction products are exhausted into space it doesn’t have a limit on the proportion of fission fuel that reacts. In many ways NSWRs combine the advantages of fission reactors and fission bombs.

Because they can harness the power of what is essentially a continuous nuclear fission explosion, NSWRs would have both very high thrust and very high exhaust velocity, meaning that the rocket would be able to accelerate quickly as well as be extremely efficient in terms of propellant usage. The combination of high thrust and high specific impulse is a very rare trait in the rocket world. One design would generate 13 meganewtons of thrust at 66 km/s exhaust velocity (or exceeding 10,000 seconds ISP compared to ~4.5 km/s (450 s ISP) exhaust velocity for the best chemical rockets of today).

The design and calculations discussed above are using 20 percent enriched uranium salts, however, it would be plausible to use another design which would be capable of achieving much higher exhaust velocities (4,700 km/s) and use 2,700 tonnes of highly enriched uranium salts in water to propel a 300 tonne spacecraft up to 3.6% of the speed of light.

“NSWRs share many of the features of Orion propulsion systems, except that NSWRs would generate continuous rather than pulsed thrust and may be workable on much smaller scales than the smallest feasible Orion designs (which are generally large, due to the requirements of the shock-absorber system and the minimum size of efficient nuclear explosives).”