Captain Pike of ‘Star Trek’ gets spin-off series with Spock and Number One

CBS All Access has greenlit a new "Star Trek" spinoff series with Captain Pike (Anson Mount, center), Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn).

It’s official! After months of speculation — and wishful thinking —  CBS All Access has confirmed that Captain Pike is coming back, with Spock and Number One along for the ride, in the new spin-off series “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

Pike (portrayed by Anson Mount), Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) most recently appeared in season two of “Star Trek: Discovery.” They will reprise those roles in “Strange New Worlds” — the first of two new, live action “Star Trek” spin-offs from CBS All Access.ADVERTISING

The Hollywood Reporter announced the news Friday (May 15), although evidence had been slowly, but steadily, accumulating that this was a very real possibility. 

The new show will follow the crew of the USS Enterprise before Captain Kirk took command of the famed starship. 

Related: Star Trek’s Anson Mount dishes on possible return of Capt. Pike
More: 
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 3: What we know and what we hope forStar Trek on CBS All Access@startrekcbs

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds starring @AnsonMount, @RebeccaRomijn, and @ethangpeck, coming to @CBSAllAccess.#StarTrekSNW #StrangeNewWorlds

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In “Star Trek” lore, Pike took command of the USS Enterprise in 2250 and famed Capt. James T. Kirk replaced him 15 years later. During his tenure in Starfleet, Pike was considered to be one of the most highly decorated starship captains in Starfleet history. The events of season two  of “Discovery” take place around 2257, so we have an approximate eight-year window during which this new season could be set. 

Moreover, the title of the new show suggests that this might be an episodic-based series, instead of a story arc, set during one of Pike’s five-year “tours” that many starships undertook at this point in Starfleet history, to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Anson Mount as Captain Pike was without a doubt the highlight of "Star Trek: Discovery" season two.
Anson Mount as Captain Pike was without a doubt the highlight of “Star Trek: Discovery” season two. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

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Mount has even said in the past that he’d very much like to reprise the role.

“Yes, of course I’d love to continue to occupy that chair. I’m not going to grouse around and be aloof about it,” Mount told Space.com in March. “I’d love to.”

The cast took to Twitter in a message telling fans that they’d listened to the repeated requests to bring this cast back to the small screen.

Alex Kurtzman will oversee the new show, so no surprise there and Heather Kadin, Henry Alonso Myers and Akiva Goldsman will act as co-execuctive producers as well.Click here for more Space.com videos…CLOSEhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.386.2_en.html#goog_548614406Volume 0% PLAY SOUND

“When we said we heard the fans’ outpouring of love for Pike, Number One and Spock when they boarded ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ last season, we meant it,” Kurtzman said in a statement. “These iconic characters have a deep history in ‘Star Trek’ canon, yet so much of their stories has yet to be told. With Akiva and Henry at the helm, the Enterprise, its crew and its fans are in for an extraordinary journey to new frontiers in the Star Trek universe.”

Season three of “Discovery” will air some time later this year, while “Picard” was renewed for a second season earlier this year. A launch date for “Lower Decks” has not been announced yet. 

An episode count and premiere date for “Strange New Worlds” have yet to be determined.

Tom Cruise, NASA teaming up on film to be shot in outer space, space agency’s administrator says

Just when it seems Tom Cruise has conquered every feat in Hollywood, he has another trick up his sleeve.

The 57-year-old movie icon is working with NASA to develop a film shot in outer space aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the news on Twitter on Tuesday.

Tom Cruise. 

Tom Cruise.  (Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

“NASA is excited to work with @TomCruise on a film aboard the @Space_Station,” the tweet read. “We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make @NASA’s ambitious plans a reality.”

The tweet also contained a picture of the International Space Station.Jim Bridenstine@JimBridenstine

NASA is excited to work with @TomCruise on a film aboard the @Space_Station! We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make @NASA’s ambitious plans a reality.

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While Cruise routinely engages in risky stunts for the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, Deadline reported that this film will not be associated with those movies and that Elon Musk’s SpaceX is also in the mix.

In past “Mission: Impossible” installments, Cruise performed daring stunts such as hanging off the side of a jet plane and scaling skyscrapers.

Tom Cruise hangs from a helicopter in 'Mission: Impossible Fallout.'

Tom Cruise hangs from a helicopter in ‘Mission: Impossible Fallout.’ (Paramount Pictures)

According to Deadline, which first reported the news, the film is “in the early stages of liftoff.” As of right now, no film studio is on board, per the outlet.

Cruise has been nominated for three Academy Awards throughout his career and is set to appear in the sequel to his hit flick “Top Gun,” which is scheduled to debut in December.

Reps for Cruise and SpaceX did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: April 27 – May 3, 2020

Venus will be just 27% illuminated this week, but despite that its brightness will be an incredible sight.
Venus will be just 27% illuminated this week, but despite that its brightness will be an incredible … [+] TOM KERSS

Monday, April 27, 2020: Venus at peak brightness

It’s been a dazzling sight for all of 2020 so far, and tonight Venus will reach its peak brightness of magnitude -4.7. “Since it is coming between us and the Sun, it’s showing us more of its night side, becoming a mesmerizing crescent shape in telescopes,” says Tom Kerss, a British astronomy and science communicator who hosts the weekly Star Signs: Go Stargazing! podcast. “Even a small telescope will reveal Venus to be shaped like a tiny crescent moon.” The phenomenon is nothing less than the original observational proof that the planets orbit the Sun and not the Earth.

Tonight it will be 27% illuminated, but despite that, its brightness will be an incredible sight. “It’ll continue to be dazzling in the west after sunset for the next month, so it’s a great time to look out for our nearest planetary neighbour,” says Kerss. Look west after sunset to see Venus at its very best, and if you have a small telescope of a big pair of binoculars, use them! Venus is quickly dipping as it moves rapidly towards the Sun from our point of view; it will be completely invisible by the end of May. 

Is bright Comet ATLAS disintegrating?

Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) has been fainter during the last few nights. It’s possible it’s disintegrating (as comets sometimes do), although it’s still possible ATLAS will survive. Details here.Sharing is caring!

Images of Comet ATLAS – taken on April 5, 2020 – show an elongation of the comet’s nucleus. The elongation is aligned with the axis of the comet’s tail. Astronomers have seen before that comets exhibit this sort of elongation shortly before disintegrating. Is that what’s happening? Image via astronomers Quanzhi Ye (University of Maryland) and Qicheng Zhang (Caltech)/ Ningbo Education Xinjiang Telescope.

Updated April 6, 2020.

Recent observations of Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) show that it’s fading in brightness. According to observers’ reports, after gradually brightening to magnitude 8 as it crossed Mars’ orbit, the comet has appeared fainter during the last few nights. It has sunk to a magnitude of around 8.8 to 9.2 (the bigger the number, the fainter the sky object). Is Comet ATLAS disintegrating? Are our hopes for a bright comet – or even one visible to the eye – dashed? That’s a possibility … but not a certainty.

Astronomers Quanzhi Ye (University of Maryland) and Qicheng Zhang (Caltech) submitted an astronomical telegram titled Possible Disintegration of Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). According to their telegram:

We report the possible disintegration of comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), revealed by the public monitoring program carried out by the 0.6-m Ningbo Education Xinjiang Telescope (NEXT). Images taken on UT 2020 April 5.6-5.9 showed an elongated pseudo-nucleus measuring about 3 arcsec in length and aligned with the axis of the tail, a morphology consistent with a sudden decline or cessation of dust production, as would be expected from a major disruption of the [comet’s] nucleus.

Does this mean the end of Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)? Not necessarily. Time and time again, comets have shown themselves to be erratic and unpredictable. In case Comet ATLAS does remain visible – and in one piece – EarthSky shares some charts below to help you find the celestial visitor.

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Photographer Steve Pauken in Bisbee, Arizona, said: “Comet C/2019-Y4 Atlas on April 2. Getting a bit brighter.”

Original article is below. Be aware that, if the comet has faded, all bets are off for brightness predictions.

A recently discovered comet is getting the attention of astronomers and sky enthusiasts as it’s become brighter than expected in the last few days. Astronomers using the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) in Hawaii discovered Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) on December 28, 2019. As of mid-late March, it shines at about the brightness of an 8th-magnitude star – not visible to the eye yet – but within reach of medium-sized telescopes in dark skies. The comet is currently crossing Mars’ orbit and is approaching the inner solar system. As it gets closer to us, it’ll get brighter still. You’ll find charts for observers at the bottom of this post.

Comet ATLAS should become bright enough to be easily visible in binoculars, and perhaps bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye from dark sky locations.

Just know that comets are notoriously erratic and inherently unpredictable! We will have to wait to see how Comet ATLAS performs.

Strange Things Do Happen at Full Moon

Unlike the Earth, the Moon doesn’t have enough surface activity to cover up its blemishes.(Image: © NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Recently BBC News reported that some British police departments have decided to add extra officers on nights with a full moon.

The concern isn’t over werewolves or vampires—no need to issue silver bullets or wooden stakes—but more human threats such as petty thieves and violent criminals.

For years, some who work in police and emergency services (such as doctors and nurses) have anecdotally claimed that full moon nights are busier, crazier, and more dangerous than nights when the moon is dim. This perception may be rooted more in psychology than reality.

Belief in the moon’s influence is an ancient one, and common in many cultures including our own. If police and doctors are expecting that full moon nights will be more hectic, they may interpret an ordinary night’s traumas and crises as more extreme than usual. Our expectations influence our perceptions, and we look for evidence that confirms our beliefs. (The same thing happens on “bad days” when everything seems to go wrong, but only a few key things actually do.)

Yet carefully controlled studies have not found good evidence supporting this idea.

For example, researchers Ivan Kelly, James Rotton, and Roger Culver, in their study “The Moon was Full and Nothing Happened” (published in the book “The Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal,” 1991) examined more than 100 studies of alleged lunar effects and found no significant correlation between phases of the moon and disasters, homicide rates, etc. Furthermore, there is no known mechanism by which the moon would somehow influence a person’s mind to make him more dangerous—except of course for his own expectations.

Still, though the evidence for any direct influence of a full moon is negligible and contradictory, there is some evidence for a less direct (yet more obvious) connection.

There is a good reason why there may be more crime on the nights of a full moon; it has to do with statistics, not lunacy. People are more active during full moons than moonless nights. An especially beautiful full moon may draw families out into the night to appreciate it, and lovers to local necking spots. Muggers and other criminals who ply their trade at night also use the moon’s illumination to carry out their dirty deeds.

If there is even slightly more activity—any activity—on a full moon night, then that may translate into a slight but real increase in crime, accidents, and injuries. No werewolves needed.

20 Ways the World Could End

Are we in danger of being erased from the universe? Here we look at the factors that could doom humanity: natural disasters, human-triggered cataclysms, willful self-destruction, and greater forces directed against us.

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We’ve had a good run of it. In the 500,000 years Homo sapiens has roamed the land we’ve built cities, created complex languages, and sent robotic scouts to other planets. It’s difficult to imagine it all coming to an end. Yet 99 percent of all species that ever lived have gone extinct, including every one of our hominid ancestors. In 1983, British cosmologist Brandon Carter framed the “Doomsday argument,” a statistical way to judge when we might join them. If humans were to survive a long time and spread through the galaxy, then the total number of people who will ever live might number in the trillions. By pure odds, it’s unlikely that we would be among the very first hundredth of a percent of all those people. Or turn the argument around: How likely is it that this generation will be the one unlucky one? Something like one fifth of all the people who have ever lived are alive today. The odds of being one of the people to witness doomsday are highest when there is the largest number of witnesses around—so now is not such an improbable time.

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Human activity is severely disrupting almost all life on the planet, which surely doesn’t help matters. The current rate of extinctions is, by some estimates, 10,000 times the average in the fossil record. At present, we may worry about snail darters and red squirrels in abstract terms. But the next statistic on the list could be us.

Natural Disasters

1. Asteroid impact  Once a disaster scenario gets the cheesy Hollywood treatment, it’s hard to take it seriously. But there is no question that a cosmic interloper will hit Earth, and we won’t have to wait millions of years for it to happen. In 1908 a 200-foot-wide comet fragment slammed into the atmosphere and exploded over the Tunguska region in Siberia, Russia, with nearly 1,000 times the energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Astronomers estimate similar-sized events occur every one to three centuries. Benny Peiser, an anthropologist-cum-pessimist at Liverpool John Moores University in England, claims that impacts have repeatedly disrupted human civilization. As an example, he says one killed 10,000 people in the Chinese city of Chi’ing-yang in 1490. Many scientists question his interpretations: Impacts are most likely to occur over the ocean, and small ones that happen over land are most likely to affect unpopulated areas. But with big asteroids, it doesn’t matter much where they land. Objects more than a half-mile wide—which strike Earth every 250,000 years or so—would touch off firestorms followed by global cooling from dust kicked up by the impact. Humans would likely survive, but civilization might not. An asteroid five miles wide would cause major extinctions, like the one that may have marked the end of the age of dinosaurs. For a real chill, look to the Kuiper belt, a zone just beyond Neptune that contains roughly 100,000 ice-balls more than 50 miles in diameter. The Kuiper belt sends a steady rain of small comets earthward. If one of the big ones headed right for us, that would be it for pretty much all higher forms of life, even cockroaches.

2. Gamma-ray burst  If you could watch the sky with gamma-ray vision, you might think you were being stalked by cosmic paparazzi. Once a day or so, you would see a bright flash appear, briefly outshine everything else, then vanish. These gamma-ray bursts, astrophysicists recently learned, originate in distant galaxies and are unfathomably powerful—as much as 10 quadrillion (a one followed by 16 zeros) times as energetic as the sun. The bursts probably result from the merging of two collapsed stars. Before the cataclysmal event, such a double star might be almost completely undetectable, so we’d likely have no advance notice if one is lurking nearby. Once the burst begins, however, there would be no missing its fury. At a distance of 1,000 light-years—farther than most of the stars you can see on a clear night—it would appear about as bright as the sun. Earth’s atmosphere would initially protect us from most of the burst’s deadly X rays and gamma rays, but at a cost. The potent radiation would cook the atmosphere, creating nitrogen oxides that would destroy the ozone layer. Without the ozone layer, ultraviolet rays from the sun would reach the surface at nearly full force, causing skin cancer and, more seriously, killing off the tiny photosynthetic plankton in the ocean that provide oxygen to the atmosphere and bolster the bottom of the food chain. All the gamma-ray bursts observed so far have been extremely distant, which implies the events are rare. Scientists understand so little about these explosions, however, that it’s difficult to estimate the likelihood of one detonating in our galactic neighborhood.

3. Collapse of the vacuum  In the book Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut popularized the idea of “ice-nine,” a form of water that is far more stable than the ordinary kind, so it is solid at room temperature. Unleash a bit of it, and suddenly all water on Earth transforms to ice-nine and freezes solid. Ice-nine was a satirical invention, but an abrupt, disastrous phase transition is a possibility. Very early in the history of the universe, according to a leading cosmological model, empty space was full of energy. This state of affairs, called a false vacuum, was highly precarious. A new, more stable kind of vacuum appeared and, like ice-nine, it quickly took over. This transition unleashed a tremendous amount of energy and caused a brief runaway expansion of the cosmos. It is possible that another, even more stable kind of vacuum exists, however. As the universe expands and cools, tiny bubbles of this new kind of vacuum might appear and spread at nearly the speed of light. The laws of physics would change in their wake, and a blast of energy would dash everything to bits. “It makes for a beautiful story, but it’s not very likely,” says Piet Hut of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. He says he worries more about threats that scientists are more certain of—such as rogue black holes.

4. Rogue black holes  Our galaxy is full of black holes, collapsed stellar corpses just a dozen miles wide. How full? Tough question. After all, they’re called black holes for a reason. Their gravity is so strong they swallow everything, even the light that might betray their presence. David Bennett of Notre Dame University in Indiana managed to spot two black holes recently by the way they distorted and amplified the light of ordinary, more distant stars. Based on such observations, and even more on theoretical arguments, researchers guesstimate there are about 10 million black holes in the Milky Way. These objects orbit just like other stars, meaning that it is not terribly likely that one is headed our way. But if a normal star were moving toward us, we’d know it. With a black hole there is little warning. A few decades before a close encounter, at most, astronomers would observe a strange perturbation in the orbits of the outer planets. As the effect grew larger, it would be possible to make increasingly precise estimates of the location and mass of the interloper. The black hole wouldn’t have to come all that close to Earth to bring ruin; just passing through the solar system would distort all of the planets’ orbits. Earth might get drawn into an elliptical path that would cause extreme climate swings, or it might be ejected from the solar system and go hurtling to a frigid fate in deep space.

5. Giant solar flares  Solar flares—more properly known as coronal mass ejections—are enormous magnetic outbursts on the sun that bombard Earth with a torrent of high-speed subatomic particles. Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field negate the potentially lethal effects of ordinary flares. But while looking through old astronomical records, Bradley Schaefer of Yale University found evidence that some perfectly normal-looking, sunlike stars can brighten briefly by up to a factor of 20. Schaefer believes these stellar flickers are caused by superflares, millions of times more powerful than their common cousins. Within a few hours, a superflare on the sun could fry Earth and begin disintegrating the ozone layer (see #2). Although there is persuasive evidence that our sun doesn’t engage in such excess, scientists don’t know why superflares happen at all, or whether our sun could exhibit milder but still disruptive behavior. And while too much solar activity could be deadly, too little of it is problematic as well. Sallie Baliunas at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics says many solar-type stars pass through extended quiescent periods, during which they become nearly 1 percent dimmer. That might not sound like much, but a similar downturn in the sun could send us into another ice age. Baliunas cites evidence that decreased solar activity contributed to 17 of the 19 major cold episodes on Earth in the last 10,000 years.

6. Reversal of Earth’s magnetic field  Every few hundred thousand years Earth’s magnetic field dwindles almost to nothing for perhaps a century, then gradually reappears with the north and south poles flipped. The last such reversal was 780,000 years ago, so we may be overdue. Worse, the strength of our magnetic field has decreased about 5 percent in the past century. Why worry in an age when GPS has made compasses obsolete? Well, the magnetic field deflects particle storms and cosmic rays from the sun, as well as even more energetic subatomic particles from deep space. Without magnetic protection, these particles would strike Earth’s atmosphere, eroding the already beleaguered ozone layer (see #5). Also, many creatures navigate by magnetic reckoning. A magnetic reversal might cause serious ecological mischief. One big caveat: “There are no identifiable fossil effects from previous flips,” says Sten Odenwald of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “This is most curious.” Still, a disaster that kills a quarter of the population, like the Black Plague in Europe, would hardly register as a blip in fossil records.

7. Flood-basalt volcanism  In 1783, the Laki volcano in Iceland erupted, spitting out three cubic miles of lava. Floods, ash, and fumes wiped out 9,000 people and 80 percent of the livestock. The ensuing starvation killed a quarter of Iceland’s population. Atmospheric dust caused winter temperatures to plunge by 9 degrees in the newly independent United States. And that was just a baby’s burp compared with what the Earth can do. Sixty-five million years ago, a plume of hot rock from the mantle burst through the crust in what is now India. Eruptions raged century after century, ultimately unleashing a quarter-million cubic miles of lava—the Laki eruption 100,000 times over. Some scientists still blame the Indian outburst, not an asteroid, for the death of the dinosaurs. An earlier, even larger event in Siberia occurred just about the time of the Permian-Triassic extinction, the most thorough extermination known to paleontology. At that time 95 percent of all species were wiped out.

Sulfurous volcanic gases produce acid rains. Chlorine-bearing compounds present yet another threat to the fragile ozone layer—a noxious brew all around. While they are causing short-term destruction, volcanoes also release carbon dioxide that yields long-term greenhouse-effect warming.The last big pulse of flood-basalt volcanism built the Columbia River plateau about 17 million years ago. We’re ripe for another.

8. Global epidemics  If Earth doesn’t do us in, our fellow organisms might be up to the task. Germs and people have always coexisted, but occasionally the balance gets out of whack. The Black Plague killed one European in four during the 14th century; influenza took at least 20 million lives between 1918 and 1919; the AIDS epidemic has produced a similar death toll and is still going strong. From 1980 to 1992, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mortality from infectious disease in the United States rose 58 percent. Old diseases such as cholera and measles have developed new resistance to antibiotics. Intensive agriculture and land development is bringing humans closer to animal pathogens. International travel means diseases can spread faster than ever. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert who recently left the Minnesota Department of Health, described the situation as “like trying to swim against the current of a raging river.” The grimmest possibility would be the emergence of a strain that spreads so fast we are caught off guard or that resists all chemical means of control, perhaps as a result of our stirring of the ecological pot. About 12,000 years ago, a sudden wave of mammal extinctions swept through the Americas. Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History argues the culprit was extremely virulent disease, which humans helped transport as they migrated into the New World.

Human-Triggered Disasters

9. Global warming  The Earth is getting warmer, and scientists mostly agree that humans bear some blame. It’s easy to see how global warming could flood cities and ruin harvests. More recently, researchers like Paul Epstein of Harvard Medical School have raised the alarm that a balmier planet could also assist the spread of infectious disease by providing a more suitable climate for parasites and spreading the range of tropical pathogens (see #8). That could include crop diseases which, combined with substantial climate shifts, might cause famine. Effects could be even more dramatic. At present, atmospheric gases trap enough heat close to the surface to keep things comfortable. Increase the global temperature a bit, however, and there could be a bad feedback effect, with water evaporating faster, freeing water vapor (a potent greenhouse gas), which traps more heat, which drives carbon dioxide from the rocks, which drives temperatures still higher. Earth could end up much like Venus, where the high on a typical day is 900 degrees Fahrenheit. It would probably take a lot of warming to initiate such a runaway greenhouse effect, but scientists have no clue where exactly the tipping point lies.

10. Ecosystem collapse  Images of slaughtered elephants and burning rain forests capture people’s attention, but the big problem—the overall loss of biodiversity—is a lot less visible and a lot more serious. Billions of years of evolution have produced a world in which every organism’s welfare is intertwined with that of countless other species. A recent study of Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior offers an example. Snowy winters encourage wolves to hunt in larger packs, so they kill more moose. The decline in moose population allows more balsam fir saplings to live. The fir trees pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which in turn influences the climate. It’s all connected. To meet the demands of the growing population, we are clearing land for housing and agriculture, replacing diverse wild plants with just a few varieties of crops, transporting plants and animals, and introducing new chemicals into the environment. At least 30,000 species vanish every year from human activity, which means we are living in the midst of one of the greatest mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Stephen Kellert, a social ecologist at Yale University, sees a number of ways people might upset the delicate checks and balances in the global ecology. New patterns of disease might emerge (see #8), he says, or pollinating insects might become extinct, leading to widespread crop failure. Or as with the wolves of Isle Royale, the consequences might be something we’d never think of, until it’s too late.

11. Biotech disaster  While we are extinguishing natural species, we’re also creating new ones through genetic engineering. Genetically modified crops can be hardier, tastier, and more nutritious. Engineered microbes might ease our health problems. And gene therapy offers an elusive promise of fixing fundamental defects in our DNA. Then there are the possible downsides. Although there is no evidence indicating genetically modified foods are unsafe, there are signs that the genes from modified plants can leak out and find their way into other species. Engineered crops might also foster insecticide resistance. Longtime skeptics like Jeremy Rifkin worry that the resulting superweeds and superpests could further destabilize the stressed global ecosystem (see #9). Altered microbes might prove to be unexpectedly difficult to control. Scariest of all is the possibility of the deliberate misuse of biotechnology. A terrorist group or rogue nation might decide that anthrax isn’t nasty enough and then try to put together, say, an airborne version of the Ebola virus. Now there’s a showstopper.

12. Particle accelerator mishap  Theodore Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, raved that a particle accelerator experiment could set off a chain reaction that would destroy the world. Surprisingly, many sober-minded physicists have had the same thought. Normally their anxieties come up during private meetings, amidst much scribbling on the backs of used envelopes. Recently the question went public when London’s Sunday Times reported that the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) on Long Island, New York, might create a subatomic black hole that would slowly nibble away our planet. Alternately, it might create exotic bits of altered matter, called strangelets, that would obliterate whatever ordinary matter they met. To assuage RHIC’s jittery neighbors, the lab’s director convened a panel that rejected both scenarios as pretty much impossible. Just for good measure, the panel also dismissed the possibility that RHIC would trigger a phase transition in the cosmic vacuum energy (see #3). These kinds of reassurances follow the tradition of the 1942 “LA-602” report, a once-classified document that explained why the detonation of the first atomic bomb almost surely would not set the atmosphere on fire. The RHIC physicists did not, however, reject the fundamental possibility of the disasters. They argued that their machine isn’t nearly powerful enough to make a black hole or destabilize the vacuum. Oh, well. We can always build a bigger accelerator.

13. Nanotechnology disaster  Before you’ve even gotten the keyboard dirty, your home computer is obsolete, largely because of incredibly rapid progress in miniaturizing circuits on silicon chips. Engineers are using the same technology to build crude, atomic-scale machines, inventing a new field as they go called nanotechnology. Within a few decades, maybe sooner, it should be possible to build microscopic robots that can assemble and replicate themselves. They might perform surgery from inside a patient, build any desired product from simple raw materials, or explore other worlds. All well and good if the technology works as intended. Then again, consider what K. Eric Drexler of the Foresight Institute calls the “grey goo problem” in his book Engines of Creation, a cult favorite among the nanotech set. After an industrial accident, he writes, bacteria-sized machines, “could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days.” And Drexler is actually a strong proponent of the technology. More pessimistic souls, such as Bill Joy, a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, envision nano-machines as the perfect precision military or terrorist tools.

14. Environmental toxins  From Donora, Pennsylvania, to Bhopal, India, modern history abounds with frightening examples of the dangers of industrial pollutants. But the poisoning continues. In major cities around the world, the air is thick with diesel particulates, which the National Institutes of Health now considers a carcinogen. Heavy metals from industrial smokestacks circle the globe, even settling in the pristine snows of Antarctica. Intensive use of pesticides in farming guarantees runoff into rivers and lakes. In high doses, dioxins can disrupt fetal development and impair reproductive function—and dioxins are everywhere. Your house may contain polyvinyl chloride pipes, wallpaper, and siding, which belch dioxins if they catch fire or are incinerated. There are also the unknown risks to think about. Every year NIH adds to its list of cancer-causing substances—the number is up to 218. Theo Colburn of the World Wildlife Fund argues that dioxins and other, similar chlorine-bearing compounds mimic the effects of human hormones well enough that they could seriously reduce fertility. Many other scientists dispute her evidence, but if she’s right, our chemical garbage could ultimately threaten our survival.

Willful Self-Destruction

15. Global war  Together, the United States and Russia still have almost 19,000 active nuclear warheads. Nuclear war seems unlikely today, but a dozen years ago the demise of the Soviet Union also seemed rather unlikely. Political situations evolve; the bombs remain deadly. There is also the possibility of an accidental nuclear exchange. And a ballistic missile defense system, given current technology, will catch only a handful of stray missiles—assuming it works at all. Other types of weaponry could have global effects as well. Japan began experimenting with biological weapons after World War I, and both the United States and the Soviet Union experimented with killer germs during the cold war. Compared with atomic bombs, bioweapons are cheap, simple to produce, and easy to conceal. They are also hard to control, although that unpredictability could appeal to a terrorist organization. John Leslie, a philosopher at the University of Guelph in Ontario, points out that genetic engineering might permit the creation of “ethnic” biological weapons that are tailored to attack primarily one ethnic group (see #11).

16. Robots take over  People create smart robots, which turn against us and take over the world. Yawn. We’ve seen this in movies, TV, and comic books for decades. After all these years, look around and still—no smart robots. Yet Hans Moravec, one of the founders of the robotics department of Carnegie Mellon University, remains a believer. By 2040, he predicts, machines will match human intelligence, and perhaps human consciousness. Then they’ll get even better. He envisions an eventual symbiotic relationship between human and machine, with the two merging into “postbiologicals” capable of vastly expanding their intellectual power. Marvin Minsky, an artificial-intelligence expert at MIT, foresees a similar future: People will download their brains into computer-enhanced mechanical surrogates and log into nearly boundless files of information and experience. Whether this counts as the end of humanity or the next stage in evolution depends on your point of view. Minsky’s vision might sound vaguely familiar. After the first virtual-reality machines hit the marketplace around 1989, feverish journalists hailed them as electronic LSD, trippy illusion machines that might entice the user in and then never let him out. Sociologists fretted that our culture, maybe even our species, would whither away. When the actual experience of virtual reality turned out to be more like trying to play Pac-Man with a bowling ball taped to your head, the talk died down. To his credit, Minsky recognizes that the merger of human and machine lies quite a few years away.

17. Mass insanity  While physical health has improved in most parts of the world over the past century, mental health is getting worse. The World Health Organization estimates that 500 million people around the world suffer from a psychological disorder. By 2020, depression will likely be the second leading cause of death and lost productivity, right behind cardiovascular disease. Increasing human life spans may actually intensify the problem, because people have more years to experience the loneliness and infirmity of old age. Americans over 65 already are disproportionately likely to commit suicide. Gregory Stock, a biophysicist at the University of California at Los Angeles, believes medical science will soon allow people to live to be 200 or older. If such an extended life span becomes common, it will pose unfathomable social and psychological challenges. Perhaps 200 years of accumulated sensations will overload the human brain, leading to a new kind of insanity or fostering the spread of doomsday cults, determined to reclaim life’s endpoint. Perhaps the current trends of depression and suicide among the elderly will continue. One possible solution—promoting a certain kind of mental well-being with psychoactive drugs such as Prozac—heads into uncharted waters. Researchers have no good data on the long-term effects of taking these medicines.

A Greater Force Is Directed Against Us

18. Alien invasion  At the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, a cadre of dedicated scientists sifts through radio static in search of a telltale signal from an alien civilization. So far, nothing. Now suppose the long-sought message arrives. Not only do the aliens exist, they are about to stop by for a visit. And then . . . any science-fiction devotee can tell you what could go wrong. But the history of human exploration and exploitation suggests the most likely danger is not direct conflict. Aliens might want resources from our solar system (Earth’s oceans, perhaps, full of hydrogen for refilling a fusion-powered spacecraft) and swat us aside if we get in the way, as we might dismiss mosquitoes or beetles stirred up by the logging of a rain forest. Aliens might unwittingly import pests with a taste for human flesh, much as Dutch colonists reaching Mauritius brought cats, rats, and pigs that quickly did away with the dodo. Or aliens might accidentally upset our planet or solar system while carrying out some grandiose interstellar construction project. The late physicist Gerard O’Neill speculated that contact with extraterrestrial visitors could also be socially disastrous. “Advanced western civilization has had a destructive effect on all primitive civilizations it has come in contact with, even in those cases where every attempt was made to protect and guard the primitive civilization,” he said in a 1979 interview. “I don’t see any reason why the same thing would not happen to us.”

19. Divine intervention  Judaism has the Book of Daniel; Christianity has the Book of Revelation; Islam has the coming of the Mahdi; Zoroastrianism has the countdown to the arrival of the third son of Zoroaster. The stories and their interpretations vary widely, but the underlying concept is similar: God intervenes in the world, bringing history to an end and ushering in a new moral order. Apocalyptic thinking runs at least back to Egyptian mythology and right up to Heaven’s Gate and Y2K mania. More worrisome, to the nonbelievers at least, are the doomsday cults that prefer to take holy retribution into their own hands. In 1995, members of the Aum Shinri Kyo sect unleashed sarin nerve gas in a Tokyo subway station, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,000. Had things gone as intended, the death toll would have been hundreds of times greater. A more determined group armed with a more lethal weapon—nuclear, biological, nanotechnological even—could have done far more damage.

20. Someone wakes up and realizes it was all a dream  Are we living a shadow existence that only fools us into thinking it is real? This age-old philosophical question still reverberates through cultural thought, from the writings of William S. Burrows to the cinematic mind games of The Matrix. Hut of the Institute of Advanced Studies sees an analogy to the danger of the collapse of the vacuum. Just as our empty space might not be the true, most stable form of the vacuum, what we call reality might not be the true, most stable form of existence. In the fourth century B.C., Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu framed the question in more poetic terms. He described a vivid dream. In it, he was a butterfly who had no awareness of his existence as a person. When he awoke, he asked: “Was I before Chuang Tzu who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being Chuang Tzu?”

Asteroid Ryugu has texture like ‘freeze-dried coffee’

The asteroid Ryugu has a texture that is highly porous, new images from a Japanese space reveal.

“It is something like freeze-[dried] coffee,” planetary scientist Tatsuaki Okada of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency explained to Science News.

Ryugu’s heat map shows that it’s about 50 percent porous, meaning half of it is holes, Okada and colleagues report. Even most of the asteroid’s large boulders appear porous.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft measured the maximum temperatures during one full rotation of the asteroid Ryugu and found that most of the asteroid stays cool. (T. Okada et al/Nature 2020 )

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft measured the maximum temperatures during one full rotation of the asteroid Ryugu and found that most of the asteroid stays cool. (T. Okada et al/Nature 2020 ) (T. Okada et al/Nature 2020)

Science News reports the airiness of the rock’s texture fits with the idea that Ryugu is essentially a chunk of rubble created from the breakup of a larger mass about 700 million years ago.

“This might be common for the asteroids and even for planetesimals in the early solar system,” Okada says.

The researchers reported their observations Monday in the journal Nature.

Scientists are trying to open a portal to a parallel universe

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee are trying to open a portal to a parallel universe.

The project — which has been compared to the Upside Down in the Netflix blockbuster “Stranger Things” — hopes to show a world identical to ours where life is mirrored.

Leah Broussard, the physicist leading the experiment, told NBC the plan is “pretty wacky” but will “totally change the game,” ahead of a series of experiments she plans to run this summer.

Broussard’s experiment will fire a beam of subatomic particles down a 50-foot tunnel. The beam will pass a powerful magnet and hit an impenetrable wall, with a neutron detector behind it.

If the experiment is successful, particles will transform into mirror images of themselves, allowing them to burrow right through the impenetrable wall.

This would prove that the visible universe is only half of what is out there, Broussard said, but she also admitted that she expects the test to “measure zero.”

In “Stranger Things,” portals began opening, connecting a US town to a dark alternate dimension called the Upside Down.

In reality, if a mirror world exists, it would have its own laws of mirror physics and its own mirror history, according to NBC.

However, there wouldn’t be an alternate version of you. Current theory, the outlet explains, only hypothesizes that mirror atoms and mirror rocks are possible — and perhaps even mirror planets and stars.

What did NASA’s New Horizons discover around Pluto?

New Horizons is the first mission in NASA’s New Frontiers mission category, larger and more expensive than the Discovery missions but smaller than the Flagship Program. The cost of the mission (including spacecraft and instrument development, launch vehicle, mission operations, data analysis, and education/public outreach) is approximately $700 million over 15 years (2001–2016).[37] The spacecraft was built primarily by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. The mission’s principal investigator is Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (formerly NASA Associate Administrator).

After separation from the launch vehicle, overall control was taken by Mission Operations Center (MOC) at the Applied Physics Laboratory in Howard County, Maryland. The science instruments are operated at Clyde Tombaugh Science Operations Center (T-SOC) in Boulder, Colorado.[38] Navigation is performed at various contractor facilities, whereas the navigational positional data and related celestial reference frames are provided by the Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station through Headquarters NASA and JPLKinetX is the lead on the New Horizons navigation team and is responsible for planning trajectory adjustments as the spacecraft speeds toward the outer Solar System. Coincidentally the Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station was where the photographic plates were taken for the discovery of Pluto’s moon Charon; and the Naval Observatory is itself not far from the Lowell Observatory where Pluto was discovered.

New Horizons was originally planned as a voyage to the only unexplored planet in the Solar System. When the spacecraft was launched, Pluto was still classified as a planet, later to be reclassified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Some members of the New Horizons team, including Alan Stern, disagree with the IAU definition and still describe Pluto as the ninth planet.[39] Pluto’s satellites Nix and Hydra also have a connection with the spacecraft: the first letters of their names (N and H) are the initials of New Horizons. The moons’ discoverers chose these names for this reason, plus Nix and Hydra’s relationship to the mythological Pluto.[40]

In addition to the science equipment, there are several cultural artifacts traveling with the spacecraft. These include a collection of 434,738 names stored on a compact disc,[41] a piece of Scaled Composites‘s SpaceShipOne,[42] a “Not Yet Explored” USPS stamp,[43][44] and a Flag of the United States, along with other mementos.[45]

About 30 grams (1 oz) of Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes are aboard the spacecraft, to commemorate his discovery of Pluto in 1930.[46][47] A Florida-state quarter coin, whose design commemorates human exploration, is included, officially as a trim weight.[48] One of the science packages (a dust counter) is named after Venetia Burney, who, as a child, suggested the name “Pluto” after its discovery.

British ‘X-Files’ of UFO sightings is going public

Artist's impression of a UFO

Artist’s impression of a UFO (PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock)

From the early 1950s until 2009, a department in the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) documented and investigated reports of UFOs. Now, more than a decade after the program ended, many of those formerly classified files about UFO sightings will be made available to the public for the first time.

Previously, some MoD files about UFOs had been published online at the U.K. National Archives website, The Telegraph reported. However, all of the agency’s UFO reports will be released this year on “a dedicated gov.uk web page,” a spokesperson for the British Royal Air Force (RAF) told The Telegraph.

The decision came after PA Media, a British news agency, filed a request for the UFO files under the Freedom of Information Act, according to The Telegraph. MoD officials decided “it would be better to publish these records, rather than continue sending documents to the National Archives,” the RAF spokesperson said.

The U.K.’s fascination with UFOs spiked around 1950, prompting the MoD to form the Flying Saucer Working Party to address the phenomenon, according to the U.K. National Archives. UFOs in the early 1950s even captured the attention of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who sent a memo to his air minister in 1952 asking, “What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth?”

The flying saucer group concluded that UFOs were hoaxes, delusions or ordinary objects that were misidentified, recommending “that no further investigation of reported mysterious aerial phenomena be undertaken.” Nevertheless, other MoD divisions continued the work of official UFO investigation in the U.K., ushering such efforts into the 21st century, The National Archives reported.

The last UFO report to be published online by the MoD dates to 2009, covering sightings that took place from January through the end of November of that year. These included “a silver disc-shaped light” (reported in January 2009), “up to 20 orange and red glowing lights” (reported in June), “a large bright silver/white ball/sphere” (reported in July) and “three blazing gold orbs in a diagonal line in the sky” (reported in September).

After MoD enacted a policy change on Dec. 1, 2009, the agency no longer recorded or investigated UFO sightings, according to the report. But what they did find — including many recent UFO reports that were previously available only as hard copies — will be published online within the next few months, said Nick Pope, a former UFO investigator for the MoD.

“There should be some interesting nuggets in these new files,” Pope told The Express.

Beer Nebulae Cloud… the biggest bar in the Universe

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

That’s the good news.

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

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

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

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

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

Has the Kepler Space Telescope Discovered an Alien Megastructure?

The artist's concept shows NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2.

The artist’s concept shows NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2.(Image: © NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle)

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope is tasked with finding small, rocky worlds orbiting distant stars. However, exoplanets aren’t the only thing Kepler can detect — stellar flares, star spots and dusty planetary rings can also pop up in the mission’s observations.

By surrounding their star with swarms of energy-collecting satellites, advanced civilizations could create Dyson spheres. [Read the Full Dyson Sphere Infographic Here.]
By surrounding their star with swarms of energy-collecting satellites, advanced civilizations could create Dyson spheres. [Read the Full Dyson Sphere Infographic Here.] (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

But there’s also been speculation that Kepler may have the ability to detect more than natural phenomena; if they’re out there, Kepler may also detect the signature of artificial structures orbiting other stars. Imagine an advanced civilization that’s well up on the Kardashev scale and has the ability to harness energy directly from its star. This hypothetical alien civilization may want to construct vast megastructures, like supersized solar arrays in orbit around their host star, that could be so big that they blot out a sizable fraction of starlight as they pass in front.ADVERTISING

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When Kepler detects an exoplanet, it does so by sensing the very slight dip in starlight from a given star. The premise is simple: an exoplanet orbits in front of star (known as a “transit”), Kepler detects a slight dimming of starlight and creates a “lightcurve” — basically a graph charting the dip in starlight over time. Much information can be gleaned from the lightcurve, such as the physical size of the transiting exoplanet. But it can also deduce the exoplanet’s shape.

Normally the shape of an exoplanet isn’t particularly surprising because it’s, well, planet-shaped. It’s round. The physics of planetary formation dictate that a planetary body above a certain mass will be governed by hydrostatic equilibrium. But say if Kepler detects something that isn’t round. Well, that’s when things can get a bit weird.

For the most part, any dip in star brightness can be attributed to some kind of natural phenomenon. But what if all possibilities are accounted for and only one scenario is left? What if that scenario is this object appears to be artificial? In other words, what if it’s alien?

In a chilling article written by Ross Andersen of The Atlantic, at first glance, it seems we may be at this incredible juncture.

The research paper is thorough, describing the phenomenon, pointing out that this star is unique – we’ve seen nothing like it. Kepler has collected data on this star steadily for four years. It’s not instrumental error. Kepler isn’t seeing things; the signal is real.

“We’d never seen anything like this star,” Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoctorate researcher at Yale University and lead author, told The Atlantic. “It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.”

The Planet Hunters volunteers are depended on to seek out transits in Kepler’s stars in the direction of the constellation Cygnus. This is a huge quantity of data, from over 150,000 stars in Kepler’s original field of view, and you can’t beat the human eye when identifying a true dip in starlight brightness. The Planet Hunters described KIC 8462852 as “bizarre,” “interesting” and a “giant transit.” They’re not wrong.

Follow-up studies focus on two interesting transit events at KIC 8462852, one that was detected between days 788 and 795 of the Kepler mission and between days 1510 to 1570. The researchers have tagged these events as D800 and D1500 respectively.

The D800 event appears to have been a single transit causing a star brightness drop-off of 15 percent, whereas D1500 was a burst of several transits, possibly indicating a clump of different objects, forcing a brightness dip of up to 22 percent. To cause such dips in brightness, these transiting objects must be huge.

The transit data for KIC 8462852, featuring the obvious transit features D800 and D1500.
The transit data for KIC 8462852, featuring the obvious transit features D800 and D1500. (Image credit: Boyajian et al.)

The researchers worked through every known possibility, but each solution presented a new problem. For example, they investigated the possibility of some kind of circumstellar disk of dust. However, after looking for the infrared signal associated with these disks, no such signal could be seen.

Also, the star is a mature F-type star, approximately 1.5 times the size of our sun. Circumstellar disks are usually found around young stars.

The researchers also investigated the possibility of a huge planetary collision: could the debris from this smashup be creating this strange signal? The likelihood of us seeing a planetary collision is extremely low. There is no evidence in data taken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) that a collision happened, creating a very tiny window of opportunity between WISE’s mission end and the beginning of Kepler’s mission (of a few years) for an astronomically unlikely cosmic event like this to occur.Advertisement

The only natural explanation favored by the researchers seems to focus on an intervening clump of exocomets.

“One way we imagine such a barrage of comets could be triggered is by the passage of a field star through the system,” write the researchers.

Indeed, they argue, there’s a nearby star that might have tidally disturbed otherwise dormant comets in the outermost regions of the KIC 8462852 star system. This small star is located around 1,000 AU from KIC 8462852 and whether it’s a binary partner or an interstellar visitor, its presence may have caused some cometary turmoil. Like the other scenarios, however, the exocomet explanation still falls short of being fully satisfactory.

This research paper focuses only on natural and known possible causes of the mystery transit events around KIC 8462852. A second paper is currently being drafted to investigate a completely different transit scenario that focuses around the possibility of a mega-engineering project created by an advanced alien civilization.

This may sound like science fiction, but our galaxy has existed for over 13 billion years, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination to think that an alien civilization may be out there and evolved to the point where they can build megastructures around stars.

“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build,” Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, told The Atlantic.

Indeed, hunting down huge structures that obscure the light from stars is no new thing. The Search for Extraterrestrial Technology (SETT) is one such project that does just this. Only recently, a survey of the local universe focused on the hope of detecting the waste heat generated by a technologically advanced civilization, specifically a Type II Kardashev civilization.

On the Kardashev scale, a Type II civilization has the ability to utilize all the available energy radiating from a star. Using a vast shell or series of rings surrounding a star, a Dyson sphere-like structure may be constructed. This has the effect of blotting out the star from view in visible wavelengths, but once the solar energy has been used by the alien civilization, the energy is shifted to longer wavelengths and likely lost as infrared radiation.

This recent search for aliens’ waste heat drew a blank, reaching the conclusion that as there appears to be no alien intelligence cocooning stars to harvest their heat, there’s likely no Type II civilization nearby.

But as KIC 8462852 is showing us, there may be something else out there — possibly an alien intelligence that is well on its way to becoming a Type II civilization, which is setting up some kind of artificial structure around its star.

Of course, these mystery transit events are nowhere near “proof” of an alien civilization. In fact, it’s barely evidence and a lot more work needs to be done.

The next step is to point a radio antenna at KIC 8462852, just to see whether the system is generating any artificial radio signals that could indicate the presence of something we’d define as “intelligent.” Boyajian and Wright have now teamed up with Andrew Siemion, the Director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, to get a radio telescope to listen into the star and if they detect an artificial signal, they will request time on the Very Large Array (VLA) to deduce whether any radio signals from that star are the chatter of an alien civilization.

It might be a long shot, and the phenomenon is more likely a clump of comets or some other natural phenomenon that we haven’t accounted for blocking star light from view, but it’s worth investigating, especially if there really is some kind of alien intelligence building structures, or perhaps, ancient structures of a civilization long-gone, around a star only 1,500 light-years away from Earth.

Meteors: Crash Course Astronomy

Today Phil helps keep you from ticking off an astronomer in your life by making sure you know the difference between a meteor, meteorite, and meteoroid. When the Earth plows through the stream emitted by a comet we get a meteor shower. Meteors burn up about 100 km above the Earth, but some survive to hit the ground. Most of these meteorites are rocky, some are metallic, and a few are a mix of the two. Very big meteorites can be a very big problem, but there are plans in the works to prevent us from going the way of the dinosaurs.

Astronomers Discovered a Forbidden Planet But Have No idea Why It Exists

Today we’re going to focus on education and learn more about space and space facts that you probably didn’t know about! As has been famously said, space is the final frontier. The greatest of unknowns, space is far vaster than we can comprehend, and filled with phenomenon we barely understand. While we’ve been watching the heavens in awe for millennia, space exploration and discovery only began in earnest in the mid 20th century. Yet even what are no doubt our primitive findings still point at a universe more incredible than we ever thought. Hello and welcome to another episode of The Infographics Show – today we’re taking a look at 50 incredible facts about space!

Ancient Greek Astronomy

How the ancient Greeks understood the universe; what they got right and what they got wrong. How Aristotle understood the Earth was round by observing lunar eclipses; how Aristarchus of Samos used these results to work out the relative sizes of Earth, the Sun, and Moon, how Eratosthenes of Cyrene measured Earth’s circumference, and how Hipparchus of Nicaea determined created the first catalog of stars and discovered Earth’s 26,000 year axial precession, Finally, we take a look at Claudius Ptolemy’s collection of works in the Almagest, and how he came up with a system of epicycles to explain planets’ retrograde motion.

UFO photos made famous by ‘The X-Files’ surface, up for auction

A series of iconic purported UFO images, including some that were featured in the “The X-Files” TV show, are up for auction.

The images are part of a Sotheby’s online auction devoted to space photography. They include a lot of six prints by “Billy” Eduard Albert Meier that are from Switzerland in 1975. “These images purport to depict an interstellar visit by spacecraft from the planet Erra, two with a single UFO moving slowly over the town of Berg Rumlikon, and four images depicting a single UFO in a forested hilly area of Schmidrüti,” said Sotheby’s in a statement.

“One of the images in this lot was used to create the famous ‘I Want to Believe’ poster featured in the first three seasons of The X-Files,” the auction house explained.

The poster was often seen in the office of FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder, played by David Duchovny. The lot with the image used to create the ‘I Want to Believe’ poster has a pre-sale estimate of $6,000 to $9,000.

The sale also includes two Meier photos used in the series trailer for the 2016 reboot of the show. One image is part of a set of seven vintage chromogenic prints by Meier in Bachtelhörnli, Switzerland, on March 28, 1976. This lot also has a pre-sale estimate of $6,000 to $9,000.

The image used to create the famous “I Want to Believe” poster featured in the first three seasons of "The X-Files."

The image used to create the famous “I Want to Believe” poster featured in the first three seasons of “The X-Files.” (Courtesy Sotheby’s)

Another image used in the trailer reboot is part of four vintage chromogenic prints by Meier in Schmidrüti, Berg Rumlikon, and Winkelreit-Wetzikon Switzerland in 1975. The lot has a pre-sale estimate of $4,000 to $6,000.

Other photos in the auction include images from the estate of Bill Taub, NASA’s first senior photographer, who documented every major space event from Project Mercury to the end of the Apollo missions.

One of the images, part of a group of six vintage chromogenic prints, that was featured in the trailer for the 2016 reboot of "The X-Files." (Courtesy Sotheby’s)

One of the images, part of a group of six vintage chromogenic prints, that was featured in the trailer for the 2016 reboot of “The X-Files.” (Courtesy Sotheby’s)

Photos captured by NASA’s Lunar Orbiters area also up from auction, as well as images from the vintage NASA photo collection of dealer Philip Kulpa.

Another image, part of a group of four vintage chromogenic prints, that was used in the trailer for for the 2016 reboot of "The X-Files." (Courtesy Sotheby’s)

Another image, part of a group of four vintage chromogenic prints, that was used in the trailer for for the 2016 reboot of “The X-Files.” (Courtesy Sotheby’s)

The auction, which opened Tuesday, runs until Dec. 3.

A runaway star ejected from the galactic heart of darkness

Astronomers have spotted an ultrafast star, traveling at a blistering 6 million km/h, that was ejected by the supermassive black hole at the heart at the Milky Way five million years ago. The discovery of the star, known as S5-HVS1, was made as part of the Southern Stellar Stream Spectroscopic Survey (S5). Located in the constellation of Grus – the Crane – S5-HVS1 was found to be moving ten times faster than most stars in the Milky Way.


Astronomers have spotted an ultrafast star, traveling at a blistering 6 million km/h, that was ejected by the supermassive black hole at the heart at the Milky Way five million years ago.

The discovery of the star, known as S5-HVS1, was made by Carnegie Mellon University Assistant Professor of Physics Sergey Koposov as part of the Southern Stellar Stream Spectroscopic Survey (S5). Located in the constellation of Grus — the Crane — S5-HVS1 was found to be moving ten times faster than most stars in the Milky Way.

“The velocity of the discovered star is so high that it will inevitably leave the galaxy and never return,” said Douglas Boubert from the University of Oxford, a co-author on the study.

Astronomers have wondered about high velocity stars since their discovery only two decades ago. S5-HVS1 is unprecedented due to its high speed and close passage to the Earth, “only” 29 thousand light years away. With this information, astronomers could track its journey back into the center of the Milky Way, where a four million solar mass black hole, known as Sagittarius A*, lurks.

“This is super exciting, as we have long suspected that black holes can eject stars with very high velocities. However, we never had an unambiguous association of such a fast star with the galactic center,” said Koposov, the lead author of this work and member of Carnegie Mellon’s McWilliams Center for Cosmology. “We think the black hole ejected the star with a speed of thousands of kilometers per second about five million years ago. This ejection happened at the time when humanity’s ancestors were just learning to walk on two feet.”

Superfast stars can be ejected by black holes via the Hills Mechanism, proposed by astronomer Jack Hills thirty years ago. Originally, S5-HSV1 lived with a companion in a binary system, but they strayed too close to Sagittarius A*. In the gravitational tussle, the companion star was captured by the black hole, while S5-HVS1 was thrown out at extremely high speed.

“This is the first clear demonstration of the Hills Mechanism in action,” said Ting Li from Carnegie Observatories and Princeton University, and leader of the S5 Collaboration. “Seeing this star is really amazing as we know it must have formed in the galactic center, a place very different to our local environment. It is a visitor from a strange land.”

The discovery of S5-HVS1 was made with the 3.9-meter Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) near Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia, coupled with superb observations from the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, that allowed the astronomers to reveal the full speed of the star and its journey from the center of the Milky Way.

“The observations would not be possible without the unique capabilities of the 2dF instrument on the AAT,” said Daniel Zucker, an astronomer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and a member of the S5 executive committee. “It’s been conducting cutting-edge research for over two decades and still is the best facility in the world for our project.”

These results were published on November 4 online in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and the S5 collaboration unites astronomers from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Chile.

“I am so excited this fast-moving star was discovered by S5,” says Kyler Kuehn, at Lowell Observatory and a member of the S5 executive committee. “While the main science goal of S5 is to probe the stellar streams — disrupting dwarf galaxies and globular clusters — we dedicated spare resources of the instrument to searching for interesting targets in the Milky Way, and voila, we found something amazing for ‘free.’ With our future observations, hopefully we will find even more!”

Ad Astra’ Review: Brad Pitt Goes Interplanetary in a Stunning Space Epic

Come for Brad Pitt in space, stay for the stunning cinematography.

Warning: There are some mild spoilers for “Ad Astra” in the review below. 

It’s safe to say that “Ad Astra” is probably not the science fiction film you think it is. Anyone expecting “Independence Day” or some such holiday blockbuster might be disappointed, but any fan of art expressed through cinema, won’t be.

The movie stars Brad Pitt as Major Roy McBride: super cool under pressure, pride of Space Command and son of legendary astronaut H. Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones.

Clifford McBride was the first human to reach both Jupiter and Saturn and a veteran of several deep space missions, which made him the perfect candidate to lead the Lima Project — a deep, deep space mission that would put a team in orbit around Neptune, beyond the influence of the Sun’s radiation, to scan the universe for extraterrestrial intelligence. 

Unfortunately, all contact with the mission was lost some time ago and the team is considered at the very least to be missing in action. That is until some strange energy pulses, like weaker and semi-repetitive gamma-ray bursts, strike Earth, causing catastrophic destruction. Referred to as the “Surge,” these bursts have been deemed to come from the neighborhood of Neptune. Thus Pitt is called upon to travel to Mars and send a series of messages by focused laser transmission in an attempt to make contact with his father. 

The movie is set in the near future, but it doesn’t quite seem to successfully cement portraying futuristic technology whilst incorporating an extension of issues we currently have with space exploration. For example, when Pitt is sent freefalling from — what appears to be a space elevator as it’s struck by the surge and explodes — we later find out wasn’t a space elevator, but actually a giant radio antenna that extends from the planet’s surface to low-Earth orbit. If the materials exist to build this, why hasn’t a space elevator been built to remove the need for expensive and dangerous rocket launches? 

There’s a pretty impressive looking moon base too plus a permanent settlement on Mars, not to mention some kind of ion-Epstein-warp-quantum-hyper-drive propulsion system that’s capable of getting a vessel to Neptune in just 84 days. Voyager 2 took about 12 years.

Sadly then, some of the smaller details prevent a full cinematic immersive experience. Leaving the one-sixth gravity conditions on the moon aside — yup, that old chestnut — some interesting issues are touched upon, like the fact that there are conflicts over lunar territories and a Virgin Atlantic blanket and pillow cost $120 on the flight from Earth to the moon. During the “long” flight to Neptune, Pitt uses electro-stimulation to keep his muscles working, which was a nice touch, although quite what the direct stomach ingestion valve was all about wasn’t adequately explored. (My editor thinks it’s a feeding tube to let him sleep through the trip.)

And therein lies the problem; in some instances a great deal of attention has clearly been paid to get the details right and at other times, it hasn’t.

Director James Gray said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival that “Ad Astra” will feature “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie.”Gray also described the film as “sort of like if you got ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘2001’ in a giant mashup and you put a little [Joseph] Conrad in there.”

The “Apocalypse Now” vibe is undeniable, down to an almost parody of some iconic scenes as Pitt watches the last recordings his father ever made and asks, “What did he find out there … in the abyss?” And Jones even sounds like Marlon Brando as he says, “The world awaits our discovery, my son.”

It is perhaps just a little too similar in places and you can’t help but think that Pitt is going to come out with something like, “At first I thought they’d given me the wrong dossier…” Particularly when he’s reading his father’s list of accomplishments and accolades to himself. Consequently, it’s a little distracting at times.Click here for more Space.com videos…‘Who Was More Believable, Clooney or Pitt?’ – Brad Pitt Talks to ISSVolume 0%

There’s also more than a nod to the other influence Gray mentioned, “2001: A Space Odyssey” with some distinct camera angles and Pitt’s ongoing psych evaluation that requires him to use phrases like, “I remain confident in the completion of this mission.”

Following some shady shenanigans with Space Command, Pitt must stow away on a ship bound for Neptune to destroy the Lima Project spacecraft, now positively identified as the source of the surge. 

He eventually reaches his father and along the way we learn that the Lima Project detected no signs of an alien civilization and thus reinforces the idea that we are in fact alone in the universe. 

And while that notion works well in parallel with the deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction of Pitt’s character, it is of course no basis to make that assumption definitive. Let’s face facts, space is a pretty big place, chances are it’s going to require either a wormhole or faster than light travel to reach the nearest indigenous alien intelligence. Ultimately, instead of looking for life up there, he instead concentrates on the life he is connected to down here, back on Earth; namely his wife, played by Liv Tyler, and family.

In order that some sense of mystery should still be preserved, no revelation will be made concerning exactly how the movie ends. However, we will say this: when Pitt eventually returns to Earth, we desperately wanted his capsule to be opened by a group of apes dressed in black leather and holding rifles.

The screenplay and plot let this movie down considerably, but in the areas where it’s lacking, Pitt’s soulful, nuanced performance manages to pull it up and just about keep it above water. Not only must Pitt overcome moon pirates, rabid Norwegian space monkeys and the bureaucratic red tape of the government, but also some serious personal issues with his father, who was absent through most of Pitt’s life, causing him to reflect on his role in his own family and even wonder whether an unavoidable transmission is taking place as Pitt seemingly becomes more like his father.

Factor in the stunning photography and this is a movie that’s certainly enjoyable, but leaves you feeling that so much more could’ve been accomplished.

Tesla Roadster with ‘Starman’ completes first orbit around the sun

Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster that SpaceX launched into space on their Falcon Heavy rocket last year has completed its first orbit around the sun, according to a tracking report.

If you have somehow forgotten about what is one of the coolest things to happen ever, here’s a quick reminder.

In February 2018, SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy rocket and it needed a ‘dummy load’ to send into space in order to demonstrate the capability.

Musk, who is the CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, decided to launch his own Tesla Roadster.

Due to the higher risk of failure with a brand new rocket, SpaceX didn’t want to put something too valuable, like a satellite, but at the same time, Musk didn’t want to just launch a weight into space.

He figured that launching a Tesla Roadster would be more interesting and inspiring.

They installed the electric car inside the fairings on top of the second stage of the Falcon Heavy rocket:

They also strapped a dummy equipped with a spacesuit in the driver’s seat. They named it ‘Starman’.

On February 6, 2018, Falcon Heavy was successfully launched and it released the Tesla Roadster into space:

It resulted in some stunning images of Starman in the Roadster moving, away from Earth, at a higher speed than any other Tesla before it:

The Tesla Roadster is still moving through space at an extremely high speed and according to the ‘whereisroadster‘ website, which has been tracking the veichle’s trajectory, it has now completed a full orbit around the sun:According to the site, the Roadster is making its way closer to Mars:

“The car is 70,093,131 miles (112,803,994 km, 0.754 AU, 6.27 light minutes) from Mars, moving towardthe planet at a speed of 26,628 mi/h (42,854 km/h, 11.90 km/s).”

It has exceeded warranty’s mileage limit by now/ 

Electrek’s Take

While some saw it as a waste of a good Tesla Roadster or creating space debris, I am a big fan of the project.

I liked it so much that I had Canvaspop make print outs of the Roadster in space from high-res images that SpaceX released on Flickr and display it in my house:

The video of the launch was viewed by millions of people and it inspired many to be interested in space again.

At the same time, it also created some great publicity for Tesla with the Roadster being the first car launched into space.

Now it keeps breaking the record of being the car the furthest away from Earth.