Dwarf planet Ceres has an ‘ancient ocean’ with salt water, researchers confirm

Seven research papers were published that look at Ceres’ Occator Crater, which is where scientists believe an ocean of ‘salt-enriched water’ exists

Researchers have discovered that the dwarf planet Ceres has an “ancient ocean” with salt water, which means the space object may still be geologically active.

Using data from NASA’S Dawn spacecraft, seven research papers were published on Monday in the scientific journals Nature Communications, Nature Geoscience and Nature Astronomy that look at Ceres’ Occator Crater, which is where scientists believe an ocean of brine, or “salt-enriched water,” exists. By analyzing Ceres’ gravity, the experts were able to determine the brine reservoir is approximately 25 miles below the surface and hundreds of miles wide.

“Dawn accomplished far more than we hoped when it embarked on its extraordinary extraterrestrial expedition,” said Mission Director Marc Rayman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement. “These exciting new discoveries from the end of its long and productive mission are a wonderful tribute to this remarkable interplanetary explorer.”

This mosaic of Ceres' Occator Crater is composed of images NASA's Dawn mission captured on its second extended mission in 2018. Bright pits and mounds (foreground) were formed by salty liquid released as Occator's water-rich floor froze after the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI)

This mosaic of Ceres’ Occator Crater is composed of images NASA’s Dawn mission captured on its second extended mission in 2018. Bright pits and mounds (foreground) were formed by salty liquid released as Occator’s water-rich floor froze after the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI)

Dawn arrived at Ceres in 2015 and the last contact with the craft was in October 2018.

The Occator Crater, a strange place with bright white spots that are salt deposits, has long been a source of interest for NASA. Rayman himself mentioned it in a 2018 blog post. “Studying this one crater and the area around it (together known as a geological unit) could reveal more about the complex geology there,” he wrote at the time.

It’s believed the crater is about 22 million years old, but the ice volcanoes that surround it could be anywhere from billions of years old. The salt deposits could be as young as 2 million years old, according to one of the recently published studies.

This mosaic of Ceres' Occator Crater is composed of images NASA's Dawn mission captured on its second extended mission, in 2018. Bright pits and mounds (foreground) were formed by salty liquid released as Occator's water-rich floor froze after the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI)

This mosaic of Ceres’ Occator Crater is composed of images NASA’s Dawn mission captured on its second extended mission, in 2018. Bright pits and mounds (foreground) were formed by salty liquid released as Occator’s water-rich floor froze after the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI)

“The 57-mile diameter Occator Crater turned out to be the ‘star’ in terms of geologically recent activity on dwarf planet Ceres,”  planetary scientist David Williams of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration said in a separate statement. “The bright materials observed in this 22-million-year-old impact crater appear to have erupted in the last 2 to 9 million years, indicating there is some internal heat still left in Ceres.”

Further research is needed to determine their exact age.

“All of the results suggest one or more brine reservoirs within the crust of Ceres, perhaps relics of an ancient ocean on this icy world,” added Williams, who is part of a team developing a concept for NASA to return to Ceres. “If it comes to fruition, a sample return mission would allow us to bring some of these bright materials to Earth to conclusively determine their origin.”

In addition to being a dwarf planet, Ceres is also the largest known asteroid, with a diameter approaching 600 miles. It also contains the largest mountain on the largest known asteroid in the solar system, Ahuna Mons, which rises more than 13,000 feet. It’s unclear exactly what caused the formation of Ahuna Mons, with its slopes decorated by vertical streaks, but NASA has a new theory.

One of the last images of Ceres from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows bright spots in Occator Crater. Dawn captured this view on Sept. 1, 2018, from an altitude of 2,340 miles (3,370 kilometers) above the dwarf planet's surface.

One of the last images of Ceres from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows bright spots in Occator Crater. Dawn captured this view on Sept. 1, 2018, from an altitude of 2,340 miles (3,370 kilometers) above the dwarf planet’s surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

“The new hypothesis, based on numerous gravity measurements, holds that a bubble of mud rose from deep within the dwarf planet and pushed through the icy surface at a weak point rich in reflective salt — and then froze,” the space agency said in a 2019 statement.

By comparison, the largest mountain on Earth, Mount Everest, rises 29,029 feet.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and was first spotted by Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801.

In 2017, Dawn found the building blocks for life on the dwarf planet, spotting organic molecules that appeared to form on Ceres and not from an asteroid or comet strike.

Are Aliens Saying Hello Via Repeating FRBs? We Don’t Know – Yet

What are repeating FRBs or fast radio bursts? A quantum physicist decodes this term & explains the phenomenon.

The CHIME telescope in British Columbia will search our universe for phenomena such as fast radio bursts (FRBs), pulsars and more. Image used for representational purposes.

If you were the point of contact for an alien civilisation, what’s the first thing you would say? I would probably tell the aliens about coffee, and then have them try some. That would surely, and perhaps literally, warm them up to us.

I ask this because I’m a complete sci-fi romantic, and some recent astronomical news has left me daydreaming like Cinderella before she met Prince Charming. Full disclosure: no, we have not found evidence of an alien civilisation.

In fact, my starting off the way I did was probably misleading. However, the detection of repeating fast radio bursts – only the second of its kind to ever be discovered – is significant. Let me tell you why.

What Are Fast Radio Bursts?

First, fast radio bursts (FRBs) are super high energy radio pulses that come from the skies (read: a few billion light years away). While super high energy at their source – a few milliseconds of energy emission can match how much energy our sun emits in a day – by the time they reach the Earth, they emit way less energy.

Think about going to the moon and then trying to receive a signal from Earth on your phone: perhaps a parent is trying to call because you left your jacket behind. Got the visual? The strength of these FRBs when they reach us, is a thousand times less than that.

Substantial Population of Repeating FRBs

Since 2007, these FRBs have been detected over sixty times. Most were individual signals from different sources; only once was a repeating set of signals ever detected. Until now. In July and August 2018, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) FRB project detected six repeating FRBs that appeared to originate from a single source 1.5 billion light years away, along with seven other individual signals.

For a bit of perspective, I’d like to point out that our Milky Way is only about a hundred thousand light years in diameter.

That repeating FRBs were detected at all, gives rise to a number of suggestions. One, repeating FRBs are not an anomaly. The first detection wasn’t a standalone, and according to the CHIME/FRB Nature paper, this second detection “suggests that there exists—and that CHIME/FRB and other wide-field, sensitive radio telescopes will find—a substantial population of repeating FRBs.”

Much More To Be Known About Repeating FRBs

Two, repeating FRBs are inexplicable from the viewpoint of our limited knowledge, and may point to all sorts of unknown powerful astronomical events far, far away! That’s always exciting.

Three, we actually don’t know much about FRBs and their origin, and trying to zoom in on a single source that gives out repeating FRBs, might provide us with the data to know more.

Four, since the sources are unknown, FRBs may have an alien origin. Indeed, Prof Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, says, “Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven’t identified a possible natural source with any confidence. An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking”.

Let me point out that “aliens” isn’t really the first answer that most have when new, inexplicable, exciting things are discovered. Very few scientists are embracing this idea for repeating FRBs because it is incredibly, and I can’t stress this enough, incredibly premature.

So, instead of running through the streets proclaiming that we are not alone, daydream with me. I ask you again: what’s the first thing you, as a point of contact, would say to aliens?

Closest ever, mysterious ‘fast radio burst’ found 30,000 light-years from Earth

Magnetar SGR 1935+2154 was discovered in 2014, but April 2020 was when scientists saw it become active again

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are often mysterious in nature, but not an uncommon observation in deep space. However, researchers have discovered the first FRB to emanate from the Milky Way galaxy, according to a newly published study.

The research details magnetar SGR 1935+2154, which was discovered in 2014, but it wasn’t until April 2020 when scientists saw it become active again, shooting out radio waves and X-rays at random intervals.

“We’ve never seen a burst of radio waves, resembling a Fast Radio Burst, from a magnetar before,” the study’s lead author, Sandro Mereghetti of the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF–IASF), said in a statement.

Artist's impression of the radio bursting magnetar SGR 1935+2154. (Credit: ESA)

Artist’s impression of the radio bursting magnetar SGR 1935+2154. (Credit: ESA)

This FRB likely comes from a neutron star, approximately 30,000 light-years from Earth in the Vulpecula constellation, LiveScience reports. A light-year, which measures distance in space, is approximately 6 trillion miles.

Mereghetti and the other researchers detected the FRB using the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Integral satellite on April 28.

The “Burst Alert System” sent out an alert about the discovery around the world “in just seconds,” which Merghetti said enabled “the scientific community to act fast and explore this source in more detail.”

Astronomers around the globe also spotted the “short and extremely bright burst of radio waves” via the CHIME radio telescope in Canada also on April 28. Subsequent confirmations came from California and Utah the following day.

“This is the first ever observational connection between magnetars and Fast Radio Bursts,” Mereghetti added. “It truly is a major discovery, and helps to bring the origin of these mysterious phenomena into focus.”

The study has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

It’s unknown how common FRBs actually are and why some of them repeat and others do not; most of their origins are also mysterious in nature.

Some researchers have speculated they stem from an extraterrestrial civilization. But others, including the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, or SETI, have said that explanation “really doesn’t make sense.”

They come from all over space “and arranging cooperative alien behavior when even one-way communication takes many billions of years seems unlikely — to put it gently,” SETI wrote in a September 2019 blog post.

First discovered in 2007, FRBs are relatively new to astronomers and their origins are mysterious. According to ScienceAlert, some of them can generate as much energy as 500 million suns in a few milliseconds.

In July 2018, an FRB that hit Earth was nearly 200 megahertz lower than any other radio burst ever detected.

Beirut blast damage mapped by NASA using satellite data

Data from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel satellites was used to produce the map

NASA has used satellite data to map the devastation caused by the deadly blast that rocked Beirut last week.

Modified data from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel satellites was used to produce the map.

The data was analyzed by scientists at NASA’s Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech. The Earth Observatory of Singapore also participated in the project.

“Maps like this one can help identify badly damaged areas where people may need assistance,” said NASA, in a statement.

On the map, dark red pixels – like those present at and around the Port of Beirut – represent the most severe damage. Areas in orange are moderately damaged and areas in yellow are likely to have sustained somewhat less damage. Each colored pixel represents an area of 33 yards.

On the map, dark red pixels – like those present at and around the Port of Beirut – represent the most severe damage. Areas in orange are moderately damaged and areas in yellow are likely to have sustained somewhat less damage. Each colored pixel represents an area of 33 yards. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Earth Observatory of Singapore/ESA)

On the map, the most severely damaged areas are shown in red and areas moderately damaged are orange. Each colored pixel represents an area of 33 yards, according to NASA.

The Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port sent a shock wave that killed at least 160 people, wounded nearly 6,000 and defaced the coastline of the capital city — destroying hundreds of buildings.

The explosion has been linked to a 2,750-ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a hangar at the Beirut port since it was confiscated from a ship in 2013. The cargo is believed to have detonated after a fire broke out nearby.

Is Planet Nine a black hole or a planet? Harvard scientists suggest a way to find out.

Scientists propose a method to determine, once and for all, if any planet-mass black holes are lurking in the outer solar system.  


An artist’s conception of a flare resulting from the interaction of a comet with a theoretical planet-mass black hole.M. Weiss

Since 2016, some scientists have suspected that a massive, unseen world may be lurking in the outer solar system — a world called Planet Nine. The evidence comes from the strange orbits of some smaller objects past Neptune that all seem to be influenced by a bulky, hidden planet far beyond Pluto. But then, just last year, scientists thought of another explanation, and it’s straight out of sci-fi. The researchers proposed that the so-called Planet Nine isn’t a planet at all. Instead, they suggest that the solar system could be home to one of the universe’s earliest black holes: a primordial black hole.

Now, Harvard scientists have proposed a way to determine, once and for all, whether Planet Nine actually could be a black hole. Specifically, the new method would scour the outer solar system for evidence of telltale flares that are emitted when a black hole devours a comet or other distant object. Such flares, they say, should be detectable by the upcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, which is expected to begin a 10-year survey of the southern sky within the next few years.


A number of far-flung objects all have very similar points of closest approach to the Sun, leading scientists to suspect that a massive object, around five to ten times the mass of Earth, may be hiding in the outer solar system.Fauxtoez/Wikimedia Commons

What is Planet Nine?

The Sun’s influence stretches far beyond what most people typically think of when it comes to the solar system. For example, it took 36 years and about 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometers) for the first human-made object, Voyager 1, to leave our Sun’s protective bubble, called the heliosphere. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to learn that scientists are still finding new icy objects orbiting well beyond Neptune, known as Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs). At the end of 2018, for instance, researchers announced the discovery of the then-most distant TNO known, nicknaming it FarOut. Just a few months later in 2019, the same team trumpeted their discovery of an even more distant TNO, calling it FarFarOut.

But unlike FarFarOut, FarOut’s orbit — along with a handful of other extremely distant TNOs — is quite strange. Research shows that about a dozen distant TNOs make their closest approach to the Sun, or reach perihelion, at nearly the exact same point in space. But they can’t explain why. These objects are located roughly 100 astronomical units (AU; 1 AU equals the average Earth-Sun distance) from the Sun, which puts them far beyond Neptune’s gravitational influence. This puzzle is what led researchers to calculate how a hidden planet — a world some five to 10 times the mass of Earth and located anywhere from 400 and 1,500 AU from the Sun — may be shepherding these unique TNOs into position.

On the other hand, Planet Nine might not be a planet at all. It could be a primordial black hole — and with Planet Nine’s suspected super-Earth status, that black hole would only be roughly the size of a grapefruit. Theory says that such tiny black holes could have popped into existence within the first few fractions of a second after the Big Bang (making primordial black holes a possible candidate for dark matter). But the existence of these ancient beasts has yet to be confirmed.


Tiny black holes may speckle the universe and its possible that the solar system captured one.nagualdesign/Tom Ruen/Wikimedia commons

Vera Rubin (Observatory) aims to deliver the final verdict

Normally, black holes are extremely difficult to locate. As their name suggests, nothing, including light, can escape their gravitational grasp once it gets too close. Instead, scientists must pinpoint black holes by observing their influence on nearby objects, or, alternatively, by catching bright flares of light that are emitted when matter spirals into them.

So, to search for black holes in the distant solar system, astrophysicist Avi Loeb of Harvard, along with Harvard undergraduate Amir Siraj, developed a method to seek out flares generated when a black hole encounters small objects in the Oort Cloud, which is a vast shell of potentially trillions of icy bodies that cocoons our solar system. Occasionally, the researchers say, Oort Cloud objects like comets should interact with any black holes lurking around, producing a visible flare of light that the Vera C. Rubin Observatory could detect when it starts its 10-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).

This isn’t an entirely new idea, however. Delivering a final verdict on whether a ninth planet is hiding in our solar neighborhood was already one of the goals for LSST. But in terms of spotting a planet-mass black hole, the groundbreaking survey happens to be perfectly suited for the job.

“Neither of us expected it to conveniently fall within the range that LSST is going to look at,” Siraj tells Astronomy. “But also, beyond just a Planet Nine black hole … we can rule out or confirm [any] planet-mass black holes all the way to the edge of the Oort Cloud.”

If LSST does end up spotting a flare from a primordial black hole masquerading as Planet Nine, another telescope of similar sensitivity could then focus on its location for much longer, likely capturing thousands more flares. But Siraj says that even if the survey doesn’t detect any flares, “we can place very tight limits on the fraction of dark matter that’s tied up in primordial black holes.”

All things considered, Loeb and Siraj expect LSST to have definitive proof of whether or not a planet-mass black hole is lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system within the first year or two of the survey. But even with slim chances of success, the researchers can’t help but hold their breath.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover celebrates 8 years on the Red Planet

The rover touched down on Mars’ Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover celebrated eight years on the Red Planet Wednesday.

The rover touched down on Mars’ Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012. “Since touchdown, the rover journeyed more than 14 miles (23 kilometers), drilling 26 rock samples and scooping six soil samples along the way as it revealed that ancient Mars was indeed suitable for life,” said NASA in a statement. “Studying the textures and compositions of ancient rock strata is helping scientists piece together how the Martian climate changed over time, losing its lakes and streams until it became the cold desert it is today.”

The Curiosity Rover in a selfie taken on Martian Sol 2082 -June 15, 2018 Earth time.

The Curiosity Rover in a selfie taken on Martian Sol 2082 -June 15, 2018 Earth time. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Last year, the rover detected an “unusually high” level of methane on Mars, and in 2018 NASA revealed that it had found organic molecules.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover launched last week on its epic mission to the Red Planet, a journey that is expected to take seven months. The rover is scheduled to land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb 18, 2021. The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is at least one Martian year or about 687 days.

NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic.

In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that he believed astronauts could visit Mars’ moon Phobos by 2040, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

UFO? Mysterious Object Seen In Sky Over Denver Metro Area

DENVER (CBS4)– A bright object seen floating in the skies east of Denver caught a lot of attention. The mysterious object was seen in the sky on Monday.

(credit: CBS)

Several people called the CBS4 newsroom about the object while CBS4 photojournalist Jeremiah Bellile captured video of it.ADVERTISING

A group called the Loon Project said they released a high altitude weather balloon in the area on Monday. The FAA agreed that’s most likely what it was.

(credit: CBS)

Earlier this year, the Colorado Department of Public Safety investigated mysterious drones flying over Colorado’s Eastern Plains. The mysterious sightings were also investigated by the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office which developed a task force along with the FAA, which also looked into the matter.

VLT Measures Main-Belt Asteroid Euphrosyne and Its Moon

Using the high-angular resolution observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have determined the 3D shape, diameter and density of the asteroid (31) Euphrosyne and the diameter of its moon.

This image, taken with the ZIMPOL instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), shows the asteroid Euphrosyne and its moon S/2019 (31) 1 (right). Image credit: Yang et al, arXiv: 2007.08059.

Euphrosyne, one of the biggest objects in the Solar Systrem’s main asteroid belt, was discovered by James Ferguson on September 1, 1854, the first asteroid found from North America.

This asteroid is the namesake of an asteroid family that occupies a highly inclined region in the outer main belt and contains a remarkably large number of members.

Euphrosyne orbits the Sun every 5.61 years and has a small satellite, S/2019 (31) 1, discovered in 2019.

It is a C-type asteroid with a primitive surface possibly covered by ejection blanket in the same collision which created its moon and other Euphrosyne asteroids.

“The main asteroid belt is a dynamically living relic, with the shapes, sizes, and surfaces of most asteroids being altered by ongoing collisional fragmentation and cratering events,” said ESO astronomer Bin Yang and her colleagues.

“Space probes and ground-based observations revealed a fascinating variety among asteroid shapes, where large asteroids are nearly spherical and small asteroids are irregularly shaped.”

Full set of VLT/SPHERE/ZIMPOL images of (31) Euphrosyne. Image credit: Yang et al, arXiv: 2007.08059.

“Most asteroids with diameters greater than 100 km (62 miles) have likely kept their internal structure intact since their time of formation because the dynamical lifetime of those asteroids is estimated to be comparable to the age of the Solar System.”

Dr. Yang and co-authors used the SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research) and the ZIMPOL (Zurich Imaging Polarimeter) instruments on VLT to observe Euphrosyne and its tiny moon.

Their observations show that the asteroid has a nearly spherical shape with the sphericity index of 0.9888 and its surface lacks large impact craters.

“Euphrosyne is the third most spherical body among the main belt asteroids with known shapes after Ceres and Hygiea,” they said.

“Its round shape is consistent with a re-accumulation event following the giant impact at the origin of the Euphrosyne family.”

According to the astronomers, Euphrosyne’s diameter is 268 km (166.5 miles), making it one of the top ten largest main belt asteroids.

“The bulk density of Euphrosyne is 1,665 kg/m3, which is the first high precision density measurement via ground-based observations for a Cb-type asteroid,” they said.

“Such density implies that a large amount of water (at least 50% in volume) must be present in Euphrosyne.”

“The surface of Euphrosyne is nearly featureless with no large craters detected, which is consistent with its young age and ice-rich composition.”

The researchers also estimated the diameter of Euphrosyne’s satellite to be 4 km (2.5 miles).

“The orbit of S/2019 (31) 1 is circular, prograde, and equatorial, similar to most known satellites around large main belt asteroids,” they said.

The findings will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Astronomers spot glowing ‘butterfly’ in deep space

The bubble of gas was spotted between 3,000 and 6,500 light-years away

Astronomers have spotted a “butterfly” in deep space.

The bubble of gas, known as NGC 2899, was spotted between 3,000 and 6,500 light-years away, in the Southern constellation of Vela (The Sails). It has two central stars, which astronomers believe may give it its “nearly symmetric appearance,” researchers wrote in a note on the European Southern Observatory’s website.

“It appears to float and flutter across the sky,” the ESO researchers wrote.

NGC 2899 had never been captured in an image before in such detail, as the “faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars” can be seen, the ESO added.

This highly detailed image of the fantastic NGC 2899 planetary nebula was captured using the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. This object has never before been imaged in such striking detail, with even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars. (Credit: ESO)

This highly detailed image of the fantastic NGC 2899 planetary nebula was captured using the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. This object has never before been imaged in such striking detail, with even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars. (Credit: ESO)

NGC 2899 was spotted by ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Astronomers were able to take the image of NGC 2899 using the FORS instrument on UT1, one of four telescopes that comprise the VLT.

The swathes of gas are so large they extend nearly two light-years from its center. Given how bright the bubble appears in the picture, the gas is extraordinarily hot, burning at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, aided by the radiation from the nebula’s parent star.

A light-year, which measures distance in space, is the equivalent of nearly 6 trillion miles.

NGC 2899 is not the only “butterfly” structure to be spotted in space in recent memory. In March 2019, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope spotted Westerhout 40 (W40) 1,400 light-years from the sun.

The first interplanetary helicopter is on its way to Mars

An artist's impression of NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity.
An artist’s impression of NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity. (Image credit: NASA)

The first helicopter designed to fly on another planet is now on its way to Mars.

NASA’s Mars helicopter, called Ingenuity, is hitching a ride to the Red Planet with the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which lifted off on an Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station  today (July 30).

Tucked beneath the rover’s belly, Ingenuity will spend the next six months en route to Mars. The mission is scheduled to land on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, and within the next few months the rotorcraft will attempt the first-ever flight through another planet’s atmosphere. 

“We as human beings have never flown or rotorcraft outside of our own Earth’s atmosphere, so this will actually be a very much a Wright Brothers moment, except on another planet,” Mimi Aung, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager, said in a news conference on Tuesday (July 28).

While NASA and other space agencies around the world have sent landers, orbiters and rovers to the Red Planet, no one has attempted to fly an aircraft on another planet before. On Mars the atmosphere is much thinner than it is on Earth, which means there’s less air to generate lift and more technical challenges in designing a craft that will stay aloft.

“Flying a rotorcraft at Mars is very difficult. First and foremost, the atmosphere there is very thin, about 1% compared to the Earth’s atmospheric density here,” Aung said. “To build a vehicle that can fly at Mars, it has to be very light and be able to spin very fast.”

Ingenuity is tucked under the belly of the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity is tucked under the belly of the Perseverance rover. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingenuity weighs about 4 lbs. (1.8 kilograms) and has two counter-rotating blades that measure about 4 feet (1.2 meters) long. Those blades should spin at a rate of about 2,400 revolutions per minute, NASA said in Ingenuity’s mission description. To test the helicopter, NASA simulated the Martian atmosphere in a testing chamber at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.

While Ingenuity is only an experimental mission — its primary objective is to test powered flight on Mars — a successful flight could shape the future of exploration on Mars. Click here for more Space.com videos…How will Mars Helicopter ‘Ingenuity’ be delivered to Martian surface?https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.400.1_en.html#goog_461127048Volume 0% PLAY SOUND

For robotic missions like the Perseverance rover, helicopters could scout the Martian terrain and help plan driving routes. With that same aerial view, rotorcraft could also be used to study the planet’s geology from a different perspective, and they could even help astronauts explore Mars someday, NASA said.

“This Mars helicopter Ingenuity could lead to the opening up of a whole new way to explore space” and to take “exploration missions to the aerial dimension,” Aung said.

Astronomers Detect Short Bursts of Radio Waves from Distant Magnetar

Using ESA’s International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (Integral), NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and several radio telescopes, astronomers have detected short and very bright radio bursts as well as gamma- and X-rays from SGR 1935+2154, a magnetar located 4,400 parsecs (14,351 light-years) away in the constellation of Vulpecula.

An artist’s impression of the magnetar SGR 1935+2154. Image credit: ESA.

Discovered in 2014 following a substantial burst of X-rays, SGR 1935+2154 became active again in April 2020.

The Integral space observatory detected a burst of X-rays on April 28, 2020, automatically alerting observatories worldwide about the discovery.

“We detected the magnetar’s burst of high-energy X-rays using Integral on April 28,” said lead author Dr. Sandro Mereghetti, a researcher at Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF-IASF).

“Integral’s ‘Burst Alert System’ automatically alerted observatories worldwide about the discovery in just seconds.”

“This was hours before any other alerts were issued, enabling the scientific community to act fast and explore this source in more detail.”

The CHIME radio telescope spotted a short and extremely bright burst of radio waves from the direction of SGR 1935+2154 on the same day, over the same timeframe as the X-ray emission.

This was independently confirmed a few hours later by the Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2 (STARE2).

“We’ve never seen a burst of radio waves, resembling a fast radio burst, from a magnetar before,” Dr. Mereghetti said.

“Crucially, the Imager on-board Integral (IBIS) instrument allowed us to precisely pinpoint the origin of the burst, nailing its association with the magnetar,” said Dr. Volodymyr Savchenko, an astronomer in the Integral Science Data Centre at the University of Geneva.

“Most of the other satellites involved in the collaborative study of this event weren’t able to measure its position in the sky — and this was crucial in identifying that the emission did indeed come from SGR1935+2154.”

“This is the first ever observational connection between magnetars and fast radio bursts,” Dr. Mereghetti said.

“It truly is a major discovery, and helps to bring the origin of these mysterious phenomena into focus.”

This connection strongly supports the idea that fast radio bursts emanate from magnetars, and demonstrates that bursts from these highly magnetized objects can also be spotted at radio wavelengths.

“By bringing together observations from the high-energy part of the spectrum all the way to radio waves, from across the globe and in space, we have been able to elucidate a long-standing mystery in astronomy. We’re thrilled that Integral played a key role in this,” said Integral project scientist Dr. Erik Kuulkers, a researcher at ESA.

The team’s paper was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Watch live: SpaceX Crew Dragon heading home with 1st NASA crew

SpaceX’s Demo-2 Crew Dragon Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station Saturday, Aug. 1, and is on its way back to Earth with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. You can watch its splashdown live on Sunday, Aug. 2, here, courtesy of NASA TV. 

Full coverage: SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 Crew Dragon astronaut test flight

Behnken and Hurley bid farewell to their Expedition 63 crewmates — NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner — earlier today. The Demo-2 crew are scheduled to return to Earth on Sunday, Aug. 2, with a splashdown off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, weather permitting. NASA and SpaceX are watching weather impacts from a potential tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean. Splashdown is currently scheduled for 2:48 p.m. EDT (1848 GMT)

NASA is providing a live webcast through landing, which you can see above.

From NASA:

Editor’s Note: Updated on July 28, 2020 to show start time for Wednesday, July 29’s Return Flight Readiness Review news briefing moved up to no earlier than 3:30 p.m. EDT.

NASA will provide live coverage of activities leading up to, during, and following the return of the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight with the agency’s astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley from the International Space Station.

The duo arrived at the orbiting laboratory on May 31, following a successful launch on May 30 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting 7:34 p.m. EDT Saturday, Aug. 1, for undocking of the Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft from the space station and 2:42 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2, for splashdown, which will be the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.

Coverage on NASA TV and the agency’s website will begin at 9:10 a.m., Aug. 1, with a short farewell ceremony on station and resume at 5:15 p.m., with departure preparations through splashdown and recovery at one of seven targeted water landing zones in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida.

All media participation in news conferences and interviews will be remote; no media will be accommodated at any NASA site due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To participate in the briefings by phone or to request a remote interview with the crew members, reporters must contact the newsroom at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston at 281-483-5111 no later than two hours prior to each event.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 return coverage is as follows (all times Eastern):

Wednesday, July 29

Approximately 6 p.m. (or one hour after Return Flight Readiness Review completion) – Return Flight Readiness Review briefing at Johnson, with the following participants:

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine 

Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

Joel Montalbano, manager, NASA’s International Space Station Program

Benji Reed, director, crew mission management, SpaceX

A media phone bridge will be available for this event.

Friday, July 31

10:45 a.m. – Crew News Conference from the International Space Station, with the following participants:

NASA astronaut Bob Behnken

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy

A media phone bridge will be available for this event.

Saturday, Aug. 1

9:10 a.m. – SpaceX Dragon Demo-2 Farewell Ceremony aboard the International Space Station (ceremony begins about 9:15 a.m.)

5:15 p.m. – NASA TV undocking coverage begins for the 7:34 p.m. undocking (NASA Television will have continuous coverage from undocking to splashdown)

Sunday, Aug. 2

2:42 p.m. – Splashdown

5 p.m. – Administrator post-splashdown news conference at Johnson, with the following representatives:

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

Commercial Crew Program representative

International Space Station representative

SpaceX representative

NASA Astronaut Office representative

A media phone bridge will be available for this event.

Tuesday, Aug. 4

4:30 p.m. – Demo-2 Crew News Conference from the Johnson Space Center, with the following participants:

NASA astronaut Bob Behnken

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley

A media phone bridge will be available for this event.

These activities are a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has been working with the U.S. aerospace industry to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011. This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown and recovery operations. 

The test flight also is helping NASA certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, which would occur following NASA certification.

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

For more information about splashdown locations, weather criteria and recovery logistics, visit:


For full mission coverage, NASA’s commercial crew blog, and more information about the mission, visit:


Scientists Have ‘Woken Up’ Microbes Trapped Under The Seafloor For 100 Million Years

Researchers have successfully revived tiny microbes trapped dormant in a seemingly lifeless zone of the seabed for more than 100 million years.

A team of scientists from Japan and America were looking to see whether microscopic life survives in the less-than-hospitable conditions beneath the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean.

“We wanted to know how long the microbes could sustain their life in a near-absence of food,” said microbiologist Yuki Morono from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, who led the study.

They got their answer: microbes that had been trapped in seabed sediments deposited 100 million years ago could be revived with the right food and a bit of added oxygen.

Which is impressive. The pressure is immense for microbes on the seafloor, all that water stacked on top of the seabed. Not to mention the lack of oxygen, few essential nutrients, and the measly energy supplies.

When life gets trapped in other high-pressure environments, fossils usually form given a million years or more, but these mighty microbes were very much alive. 

“We knew that there was life in deep sediment near the continents where there’s a lot of buried organic matter,” said Morono’s colleague, geomicrobiologist Steven D’Hondt from University of Rhode Island. “But what we found was that life extends in the deep ocean from the seafloor all the way to the underlying rocky basement.”

The soil the microbes were trapped in was taken from a 2010 expedition to the South Pacific Gyre, a seemingly lifeless zone in the centre of swirling ocean currents to the east of Australia, known as one of the most food-limited and life-deficient parts of the ocean (and a trash vortex, with all the plastic pollution it gathers at the surface).

As part of a 2010 expedition onboard the JOIDES Resolution drillship, the team extracted sediment cores going as deep as 75 meters (250 feet) below the seafloor, which rests nearly 6 kilometres (almost 20,000 feet) below the ocean’s surface.https://fa826455efc4aa7ffe0c14752103631c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

They took samples from ancient pelagic clay, which accumulates in the deepest and most remote parts of the ocean, and much younger and chalky nannofossil oozes, between 4.3 and 13 million years old.

They found oxygen-consuming microbes (and dissolved oxygen) right through every layer of the cores, from top to bottom, and at every site they sampled in the South Pacific Gyre. But the microbes were hiding out in very low numbers.

On board the ship, samples were taken out of the sediment cores to see if the energy-starved microbes had retained their “metabolic potential” and could feast and multiply.

The ancient microbes were given a boost of oxygen and fed traceable substrates containing carbon and nitrogen, their food of choice, before the glass vials were sealed, incubated and only opened after 21 days, 6 weeks or 18 months.

Even in the oldest sediments sampled, the researchers were able to revive up to 99 percent of the original microbial community.

“At first I was sceptical, but we found that up to 99.1 percent of the microbes in sediment deposited 101.5 million years ago were still alive and were ready to eat,” Morono said.

After their lengthy incubation, the microbial communities were sorted based on their genes. The researchers reported the seafloor soils were dominated by bacteria, but not the type that form spores, which means they were ready to grow as soon as they were given the right food.

Some microbes had increased in numbers 10,000 times, and consumed the available carbon and nitrogen 68 days into their incubation.

“It shows that there are no limits to life in the old sediment of the world’s ocean,” D’Hondt said. “In the oldest sediment we’ve drilled, with the least amount of food, there are still living organisms, and they can wake up, grow and multiply.”

It’s not only at the depths of the oceans that microbes have shown how hardy they can be. Scientists have also found microbes living in extreme conditions in Antarctica, as well as the driest deserts.

The study is published in Nature Communications.

NASA: Mars rover Perseverance in ‘safe mode’ after launch, but should recover

NASA is celebrating the launch of its most advanced Mars rover ever today (July 30), even as engineers tackle a glitch that left the spacecraft in a protective “safe mode” shortly after liftoff. 

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launched toward the Red Planet at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT), riding an Atlas V rocket into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover experienced minor communications and temperature glitches after launch, but the issues aren’t expected to harm the mission as a whole, NASA officials said.

“It was an amazing launch, right on time,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a post-launch news conference. “I think we’re in great shape. It was a great day for NASA.”

Shortly after the conference, NASA confirmed that Perseverance slipped into “safe mode” due to an unexpected temperature difference. 

“Data indicate the spacecraft had entered a state known as safe mode, likely because a part of the spacecraft was a little colder than expected while Mars 2020 was in Earth’s shadow,” NASA officials said in a statement. “All temperatures are now nominal and the spacecraft is out of Earth’s shadow.”

Post-launch hiccups 

During today’s post-launch news conference, the team received word that one issue, a lingering communications issue, was fixed. Within the first few hours after launch, although mission personnel could pick up the signal the spacecraft was sending home, it wasn’t being processed correctly.

However, that situation didn’t cause much concern, Matt Wallace, deputy project manager for Mars 2020 with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, said during the briefing. The miscommunication was caused by the fact that NASA relies on a system called the Deep Space Network to communicate with Perseverance even soon after launch, when the spacecraft isn’t yet all that deep into space.

And, because the Deep Space Network is made up of massive antennas equipped with super sensitive receivers, the signal from a spacecraft so close to the network can end up blasting the system, like someone screaming directly into your ear. Engineers needed to tweak the network settings in order to actually process the information coming from the spacecraft.

“Just as the administrator was speaking, I did just get a text that we were able to lock up on that telemetry,” Wallace said. “All the indications that we have — and we have quite a few — are that the spacecraft is just fine.”

NASA’s Curiosity rover faced a similar issue during its launch in 2011, Wallace said. “It’s something that we’ve seen before with other Mars missions,” Bridenstine said. “This is not unusual. Everything is going according to plan.”

Perseverance’s ‘safe mode’ explained

The mission team revealed a second post-launch hiccup shortly later in the news conference: Perseverance went into safe mode. 

When the spacecraft got a little colder than expected passing through Earth’s shadow, it automatically put itself into that state, according to the NASA statement, although the spacecraft’s temperature quickly bounced back and isn’t concerning the team.

Wallace emphasized that such a status shouldn’t harm the mission as a whole. Safe mode is, as the name implies, designed to be safe for the spacecraft to be in right now. 

“The spacecraft is happy there,” Wallace said. “The team is working through that telemetry, they’re going to look to the rest of the spacecraft health. So far, everything I’ve seen looks good.”

Later, Wallace told Space.com that the Perseverance mission team had traced the the temperature issue to the system that uses freon to keep the rover’s nuclear battery cool. 

Because Perserverance’s launch carried it into Earth’s shadow, it led to colder than expected temperatures in the cooling system, as compared to a launch in uninterrupted sunlight, Wallace told Space.com. When NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has a similar nuclear battery, launched in 2011, it was always in daylight and did not experience the issue, he added.

“Unfortunately, our analysis is never really perfect,” Wallace added. “Curiosity didn’t have an eclipse in its flight trajectory so we didn’t have flight data to know what was going to happen.”

“The spacecraft was never in jeopardy,” he continued. “Our philosophy is to be overly conservative on the parameters because we’d much rather trigger a safing event we didn’t need, than miss a safing event we do need.”

The team will continue to analyze the telemetry data that the vehicle has sent so far and double check that this is indeed the hiccup. Once that is complete, the team can put the rover back in an operational status.

Wallace said he expects for the spacecraft to return to normal operations mode tomorrow (July 31). But the team is not in any rush and are taking their time to carefully review all the data.

Perseverance is scheduled to fly straight and steady for the next at least two weeks, anyway, he said, and so the team has time to get the spacecraft back into normal operating mode before the first necessary trajectory adjustment of its journey.

A gorgeous launch 

NASA's Mars rover Perseverance launches toward the Red Planet atop an Atlas V rocket, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020.
NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance launches toward the Red Planet atop an Atlas V rocket, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020. (Image credit: ULA)

The launch itself went smoothly, with an unusually quiet countdown in mission control rooms, despite an earthquake that rattled southern California, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about 20 minutes before the rocket fired in Florida.

Today’s liftoff marked an important victory for the agency, which worried that measures imposed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic might slow launch preparations enough that Perseverance might miss its three-week window for a launch, which is dependent on orbital trajectories.

Another comparable opportunity wouldn’t come again until 2022; if that 26-month delay had occurred, it would have cost the agency an extra $500 million, according to Bridenstine, on top of an already difficult mission.

“[It was] adversity all along the way, but this is true for any project of this nature,” Bridenstine said of struggles before the pandemic, which included a cracked heat shield and the late addition of a complicated ride-along helicopter. “Then you put on top of that the coronavirus … I’m not gonna lie, it’s a challenge. It’s very stressful. But look, the teams made it happen.”

But, despite earlier delays that pushed the launch more than a week into its window, the spacecraft blasted off during its first shot of its first countdown.

“It was truly a team effort. And in every single case, everyone stood up and said, ‘Yes, we want to do what we can to help,'” Lori Glaze, director of the agency’s planetary science division, said. “Somehow, we made it through this.”

Now, the spacecraft and its human team back on Earth need to make it through a seven-month journey in deep space to reach the Red Planet. Once the spacecraft arrives at Mars, it will undergo the notoriously perilous process of entry, descent and landing.

That process will unfold on Feb. 18, 2021.

Alleged ‘Alien Cube’ 10 Times Bigger Than Earth Appears In NASA’s Sun Photo, Expert Claims


  • UFO expert Scott Waring claimed to have spotted an alien vessel hovering in front of the Sun in an image taken by NASA’s SOHO satellite
  • Waring thinks the vessel may have been extracting rare particles from the Sun
  • There is no information or statement from NASA that would be able to verify his claims

AUFO expert claimed to have spotted a massive cube-shaped alien vessel hovering in front of the Sun. The expert estimated that the strange object could be about 10 times bigger than Earth.

The strange sighting was reported by Scott Waring of the UFO-focused blog ET Data Base. In a recent blog post, Waring stated that he saw the alleged alien cube while he was browsing through the images captured by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

SOHO is a robotic spacecraft launched by NASA in 1995 to observe the Sun by taking images of its surface. It was originally supposed to carry out its mission for two years, but NASA decided to extend its operations.

As Waring was going through SOHO’s website, he came across an image of the Sun that caught his attention. The photo shows the massive star with a square-shaped dark object in front of it. After analyzing the photo and zooming in on the strange object, Waring theorized that it could be a massive alien vessel that was flying in front of the Sun.

Based on the image, Waring estimated that the object could be around 10 times bigger than Earth. The UFO expert speculated that the alleged alien cube vessel resides within the Sun, which Waring believes is hollow.

“This cube is many times bigger than Earth itself,” Waring stated in a blog post. “The cube is in the northern hemisphere of our Sun. The cube is often seen coming and going from our Sun and it’s thought that either the cubes created a hollow Sun to live within and gather energy from or there are some special particles that we are not yet aware of at our stance of existence… and these cube ships are gathering those rare particles.”

Although Waring used NASA’s photo in his blog post, there is no information or statement from the agency that could verify his claims.

SOHO photoPhoto captured by NASA’s SOHO satellite. Photo: NASA SOHO

Why NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance will use nuclear power to keep itself warm

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover displaying where its MMRTG would be inserted, between the panels on the right marked by gold tube, before the power system was inserted.NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover displaying where its MMRTG would be inserted, between the panels on the right marked by gold tube, before the power system was inserted.(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A spacecraft is only as strong as its power source, which is why when NASA was designing its Perseverance Mars rover, the agency turned to radioactive plutonium.

The plutonium that will be blasting off the planet on Thursday (July 30) isn’t in the same form as is used for weapons, and it’s well protected in case something happens to go wrong during the launch. But these plutonium units are a respected power source for spacecraft — NASA’s Curiosity rover runs on a similar device.

“NASA likes to explore, and we have to explore in some very distant locations, dusty locations, dark locations and harsh environments,” June Zakrajsek, a nuclear fuel expert at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, said in a Department of Energy (DOE) podcast about the Perseverance mission. “When we’re in those kinds of environments, solar energy sometimes does not provide the power that we need. The light just does not get to those locations like we would need it.”

School girls in India discover Earth-bound asteroid

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) – Two teenage girls from India have discovered an Earth-bound asteroid by poring through images from a University of Hawaii telescope, an Indian space education institute said on Monday.

The asteroid is presently near Mars and its orbit is expected to cross that of Earth in about one million years’ time, said SPACE India, a private institute where the two 14-year-old girls received training.

“I look forward to… when we will get a chance to name the asteroid,” said Vaidehi Vekariya, who added that she wants to become an astronaut when she is older.

The asteroid, currently called HLV2514, may be officially christened only after NASA confirms its orbit, a SPACE India spokeswoman said.

Radhika Lakhani, the other student, said she was working hard on her education. “I don’t even have a TV at home, so that I can concentrate on my studies.”

Asteroids and comets pose a potential threat to Earth, and scientists discover thousands of them each year. In 2013, an asteroid heavier than the Eiffel Tower exploded over central Russia, leaving more than 1,000 people injured from its shockwave.

The two girls, who hail from the western Indian city of Surat, discovered the object as part of an asteroid search campaign conducted by SPACE India along with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC), a NASA-affiliated citizen scientist group.

IASC Director J. Patrick Miller confirmed the discovery, according to an email from him to the girls seen by Reuters.

The girls used specialised software to analyse the images snapped by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, and made the discovery in June, SPACE India said.

The institute is among the few private space education initiatives in India, a country known for championing low-cost space technology that has spurred missions to the moon and Mars.

NASA is going to send a ‘balloon the size of a football stadium’ to study the stars

An 8.4-foot telescope on the balloon will be able to see light wavelengths not visible by humans

Fans may not be able to enter football stadiums this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that’s not stopping NASA from sending a football-stadium-sized balloon to study the stars.

NASA said it will send an 8.4-foot telescope, known as ASTHROS (short for Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths), into the stratosphere on a “balloon the size of a football stadium” to look at light wavelengths that are not visible to the human eye.

“Balloon missions like ASTHROS are higher-risk than space missions but yield high rewards at modest cost,” said JPL engineer Jose Siles, project manager for ASTHROS, in a statement. “With ASTHROS, we’re aiming to do astrophysics observations that have never been attempted before. The mission will pave the way for future space missions by testing new technologies and providing training for the next generation of engineers and scientists.”

This illustration shows a high-altitude balloon ascending into the upper atmosphere. When fully inflated, these balloons are 400 feet (150 meters) wide, or about the size of a football stadium, and reach an altitude of 130,000 feet (24.6 miles or 40 kilometers). (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Michael Lentz)

This illustration shows a high-altitude balloon ascending into the upper atmosphere. When fully inflated, these balloons are 400 feet (150 meters) wide, or about the size of a football stadium, and reach an altitude of 130,000 feet (24.6 miles or 40 kilometers). (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Michael Lentz)

In order to study the far-infrared light, ASTHROS will need to be 130,000 feet in the air, approximately four times higher than commercial flights fly. For comparison purposes, the boundary of space is 62 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Though balloons may seem “antiquated,” NASA notes they offer advantages such as cheaper launch costs.

“Balloon missions don’t only have lower costs compared to space missions, they also have shorter times between early planning and deployment, which means they can accept the higher risks associated with using new or state-of-the-art technologies that haven’t yet flown in space,” NASA added in the statement.

An instrument on ASTHROS will measure the motion and speed of gas around stars that have recently formed in four regions of space, two of which are in the Milky Way.

The mission will launch in December 2023 from Antarctica, NASA said.

NASA is getting ready to launch its Perseverance rover later this month.

This rover, which will also have a small, autonomous helicopter, known as Ingenuity, will explore Mars and attempt to detect if there is any fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial beings, in addition to other tasks.

First Ever Direct Image of a Multi-Planet System around a Sun-like Star Captured by ESO Telescope

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) has taken the first ever image of a young, Sun-like star accompanied by two giant exoplanets. Images of systems with multiple exoplanets are extremely rare, and — until now — astronomers had never directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to the Sun. The observations can help astronomers understand how planets formed and evolved around our own Sun.

Just a few weeks ago, ESO revealed a planetary system being born in a new, stunning VLT image. Now, the same telescope, using the same instrument, has taken the first direct image of a planetary system around a star like our Sun, located about 300 light-years away and known as TYC 8998-760-1.

This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our Solar System, but at a much earlier stage of its evolution,” says Alexander Bohn, a PhD student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who led the new research published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters

Even though astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of planets in our galaxy, only a tiny fraction of these exoplanets have been directly imaged,” says co-author Matthew Kenworthy, Associate Professor at Leiden University, adding that “direct observations are important in the search for environments that can support life.” The direct imaging of two or more exoplanets around the same star is even more rare; only two such systems have been directly observed so far, both around stars markedly different from our Sun. The new ESO’s VLT image is the first direct image of more than one exoplanet around a Sun-like star. ESO’s VLT was also the first telescope to directly image an exoplanet, back in 2004, when it captured a speck of light around a brown dwarf, a type of ‘failed’ star.

Our team has now been able to take the first image of two gas giant companions that are orbiting a young, solar analogue,” says Maddalena Reggiani, a postdoctoral researcher from KU Leuven, Belgium, who also participated in the study. The two planets can be seen in the new image as two bright points of light distant from their parent star, which is located in the upper left of the frame (click on the image to view the full frame). By taking different images at different times, the team were able to distinguish these planets from the background stars.

The two gas giants orbit their host star at distances of 160 and about 320 times the Earth-Sun distance. This places these planets much further away from their star than Jupiter or Saturn, also two gas giants, are from the Sun; they lie at only 5 and 10 times the Earth-Sun distance, respectively. The team also found the two exoplanets are much heavier than the ones in our Solar System, the inner planet having 14 times Jupiter’s mass and the outer one six times.

Bohn’s team imaged this system during their search for young, giant planets around stars like our Sun but far younger. The star TYC 8998-760-1 is just 17 million years old and located in the Southern constellation of Musca (The Fly). Bohn describes it as a “very young version of our own Sun.

These images were possible thanks to the high performance of the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s VLT in the Chilean Atacama desert. SPHERE blocks the bright light from the star using a device called coronagraph, allowing the much fainter planets to be seen. While older planets, such as those in our Solar System, are too cool to be found with this technique, young planets are hotter, and so glow brighter in infrared light. By taking several images over the past year, as well as using older data going back to 2017, the research team have confirmed that the two planets are part of the star’s system.

Further observations of this system, including with the future ESO Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), will enable astronomers to test whether these planets formed at their current location distant from the star or migrated from elsewhere. ESO’s ELT will also help probe the interaction between two young planets in the same system. Bohn concludes: “The possibility that future instruments, such as those available on the ELT, will be able to detect even lower-mass planets around this star marks an important milestone in understanding multi-planet systems, with potential implications for the history of our own Solar System.”

More information

This research was presented in the paper “Two Directly Imaged, Wide-orbit Giant Planets around the Young, Solar Analog TYC 8998-760-1” to appear in The Astrophysical Journal Letters (https://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8213/aba27e).

The team is composed of Alexander J. Bohn (Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, The Netherlands), Matthew A. Kenworthy (Leiden Observatory), Christian Ginski (Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Leiden Observatory), Steven Rieder (University of Exeter, Physics Department, UK), Eric E. Mamajek (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, USA and Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Rochester, USA), Tiffany Meshkat (IPAC, California Institute of Technology, USA), Mark J. Pecaut (Rockhurst University, Department of Physics, USA), Maddalena Reggiani (Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Jozua de Boer (Leiden Observatory), Christoph U. Keller (Leiden Observatory), Frans Snik (Leiden Observatory) and John Southworth (Keele University, UK).

For external comment on the paper, please contact ESO Astronomer Carlo Manara (cmanara@eso.org), who did not participate in the study. 

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”. 

With Pentagon UFO unit in the spotlight, report mentions ‘off-world vehicles not made on this earth’

Some of the objects were of man-made materials, but others are questionable

The Pentagon has been conducting classified hearings on UFOs for more than a decade.

A long-hidden UFO investigative unit within the Pentagon will make some of its findings public, according to a New York Times report.

The unit, which is now part of the Office of Naval Intelligence, has spent over a decade discussing mysterious events in classified briefings, according to the news outlet. A government contractor told the Times that he gave a classified briefing to the Department of Defense in March, describing retrievals from “off-world vehicles not made on this Earth.”

The Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force at the Office of Naval Intelligence was described in a Senate Intelligence Committee report last month. The unit standardizes “collection and reporting on unidentified aerial phenomenon, any links they have to adversarial foreign governments, and the threat they pose to U.S. military assets and installations,” the report said.

“However, the Committee remains concerned that there is no unified, comprehensive process within the Federal Government for collecting and analyzing intelligence on unidentified aerial phenomena, despite the potential threat,” it added. “The Committee understands that the relevant intelligence may be sensitive; nevertheless, the Committee finds that the information sharing and coordination across the Intelligence Community has been inconsistent, and this issue has lacked attention from senior leaders.”

In the report, the Senate Intelligence Committee directs the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, to submit a report to the congressional intelligence and armed services committees on unidentified aerial phenomena (or “anomalous aerial vehicles”). The report must include “observed airborne objects that have not been identified.”

The Committee says that the report should be submitted within 180 days of the enactment of the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal 2021. The bill was introduced on June 8, 2020.

The New York Times reports that a small group of government officials and scientists believe that objects of “undetermined origin” have crashed to Earth and been retrieved, including former Sen. Harry Reid. While some have been found to be man-made materials, there are question marks over others.

The publication cites 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 also 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, respectively, the Times added.

“As we have said previously, the Department of Defense and all of the military departments take any incursions by unauthorized aircraft into our training ranges or designated airspace very seriously, and examine each report,” a spokesperson for the Department of Defense told Fox News, via email.  “This includes examinations of incursions that are initially reported as ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ (UAP) when the observer cannot immediately identify what he or she is observing.”

The Department of Defense, she explained, does not discuss publicly the details of either the observations or the examination of reported incursions into its training ranges or designated airspace, including incursions initially designated as UAP.

“Regarding the task force mentioned in the article, I can say that the department is creating a task force to gain knowledge and insight into the nature and origins of UAPs, as well as their operations, capabilities, performance, and/or signatures,” she added. “The mission of the task force will be to detect, analyze, catalog, consolidate, and exploit non-traditional aerospace vehicles/UAPs posing an operational threat to U.S. national security and avoid strategic surprise.”

Fox News has also reached out to Aerospace Corporation with a request for comment on this story.

In speaking with the New York Times, Reid said he believes the government and the private sector may have retrieved materials from unidentified objects. “After looking into this, I came to the conclusion that there were reports — some were substantive, some not so substantive — that there were actual materials that the government and the private sector had in their possession,” Reid said in the interview.

Reid’s comments are the latest from the former lawmaker. In June 2019, he told Nevada’s KNPR that he wished lawmakers would hold public hearings into what the military knows.

“They would be surprised how the American public would accept it,” Reid said during the wide-ranging interview. “People from their individual states would accept it.”

The former Nevada senator has also tweeted multiple times about the topic, including in April, when he said he was happy the Pentagon released three videos of “unidentified aerial phenomena”, adding the “American people deserve to be informed.”

In December 2017, Fox News reported that the Pentagon had secretly set up a program to investigate UFOs at the request of Reid.