ARISS to Celebrate 20 Years of Ham Radio on the International Space Station

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) will soon celebrate 20 years of continuous ham radio operations on the International Space Station (ISS). NASA is commemorating the milestone with a newly produced infographic highlighting the educational contacts via amateur radio between astronaut crew members aboard the ISS and students. Over its 20 years, ARISS has supported nearly 1,400 scheduled ham radio contacts with schools, student groups, and other organizations.

Planning for ARISS began in 1996 as a cooperative venture among national amateur radio and amateur satellite societies, with support from their respective space agencies. The ARISS ham radio gear actually arrived on the station before the Expedition 1 crew, headed by Commander Bill Shepherd, KD5GSL. The FCC issued ham radio call sign NA1SS for ISS operations. After Expedition 1 arrived on station, some initial tests with ARISS ham radio ground stations and individual hams confirmed the ham gear was working properly. The first ARISS school contact was made with students at Luther Burbank Elementary School in Illinois on December 21, 2000, with Shepherd at the helm of NA1SS on the ISS, and ARISS operations team mentor Charlie Sufana, AJ9N, guiding the operation on the ground.

NASA produced a video of students talking with astronaut Chris Cassidy, KF5KDR, during an ARISS contact in May 2020.

Before and during scheduled ham radio contacts, students, educators, parents, and communities learn about space and related technologies, and radio communication using amateur radio. ARISS has inspired thousands of students, promoting exploration through educational experiences spanning science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics.

ARISS relies on a large network of amateur radio operator volunteers, many associated with radio clubs in the communities where students and groups participating in the contact reside. ARISS volunteers support satellite ground stations, serve as technical mentors, and provide additional help in the areas of education, community outreach, and public relations.

While student-to-astronaut radio contacts are a primary objective for ARISS, the capability has also inspired further experimentation for amateur radio in space and evaluation of new technologies. In September, ARISS announced that the initial element of its next-generation ham radio system had been installed in the ISS Columbus module. The new radio system replaces equipment originally certified for spaceflight in mid-2000. The onboard ham station also provides a contingency communications system for the ISS crew. Several astronauts have also enjoyed using NA1SS to make casual contacts with — and delighting — earthbound members of the ham radio community.

In the US, ARISS sponsors include ARRLAMSAT, and NASA, the ISS National Lab-Space Station Explorers, and NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program. Global organizing partners include International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) member-societies as well as AMSAT organizations, and space agencies in Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan, and elsewhere.

The next proposal window for US schools and educational organizations to host an amateur radio contact with a crew member on board the ISS opened on October 1 for contacts that would take place from July through December 2021.

Like many educators who have coordinated ARISS radio contacts for their students, teacher Rita Wright, KC9CDL, an ARRL member, described the first ARISS school contact as inspirational and having a lasting impact on their community. Five months after their contact, nearly 500 students greeted Bill Shepherd when he visited Luther Burbank School. Wright said it was “like tossing a pebble into a stream.”

“The ripple effects are still occurring, and I suspect will continue to occur for a long time,” she said. “We have a young staff, and witnessing these events has inspired some to look for other interdisciplinary projects. They are beginning their dream. Many of our students are looking forward to careers associated with the space industry.” 

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

The Phenomenon Key Art
Courtesy of Farah Films

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the trailer below:

Jupiter amazingly bright in July’s night sky and look for Saturn nearby

As the sun sets, look to the east-southeast for the appearance of Jupiter and Saturn.  Gigantic Jupiter, enveloped by a deep atmosphere and icy cold, shines brilliantly, while Saturn, appearing only about 1/13 as bright, still glows conspicuously with a sedate yellow-white hue. Saturn was the Roman moniker for the Greek god Cronus, the personification of “Father Time.”  Ancient sky watchers named the planets for their most notable aspect, and Saturn seemed to move sluggishly compared to the other deities, taking almost 30 years to make one complete circuit of the sky. How amazed they would have been if they could have viewed Saturn through a telescope and gazed upon its magnificent system of rings.

Jupiter and Moons as seen from Backyard Telescope July 20, 2020
Jupiter and Moons as seen from Backyard Telescope July 20, 2020
Jupiter and Moons as seen from Backyard Telescope July 20, 2020

And have you ever wondered how the ancient Romans happened to name Jupiter after the most powerful of gods, although they knew nothing of the planet’s physical characteristics?

Comet NEOWISE surprises some stargazers with two tails

Astronauts Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, and ISS commander Chris Cassidy speak with Bill Hemmer.

As stargazers try to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE as it soars across the nighttime sky, careful viewers may notice the comet has two tails trailing behind it.

An unprocessed image from the WISPR instrument on board NASA’s Parker Solar Probe shows comet NEOWISE on July 5, 2020, shortly after its closest approach to the Sun. The Sun is out of frame to the left. The faint grid pattern near the center of the image is an artifact of the way the image is created. The small black structure near the lower left of the image is caused by a grain of dust resting on the imager’s lens. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Brendan Gallagher

The comet’s main tail or dust tail, which is always whitish in color because its particles easily reflect sunlight at every wavelength, is made of fragments from the comet that have been ejected from its nucleus and curves outside the path of the comet’s trajectory, according to Forbes.

This outstanding composition shows the blue ion tail and the grey/white dust tail of comet NEOWISE as it nears its closest approach to Earth. The dust tail is curved and diffuse while the ion tail is straight and highly collimated. Both are caused by extremely different physical processes.
 
DAMIAN PEACH / IAN SHARP

The dust that makeup up the main tail are pulled by three forces: the sun, the comet itself and the force from the sun’s radiation.

Differently sized particles are all subjected to the same amount of gravitational acceleration but smaller dust grains are affected more than larger ones by solar radiation and move at different speeds, making the tail appear wider.

The second slightly narrower tail, however, actually becomes prominent before the main dust tail, according to Forbes.

At some point in the comet’s trajectory, ultraviolet light radiating from the sun becomes strong enough that it heats up and ionizes the comet’s carbon monoxide – the weakest ice-based molecule in the makeup of a comet, according to the magazine.

The carbon monoxide absorbs the sunlight and fluoresces at 4200 Angstroms, the wavelength for blue light, making it appear blue, according to an article from Case Western Reserve University.

The main dust tail is always a grayish-white, the same color as the comet itself.

The ion tail always points away from the sun in a straight line because it distorts magnetic field lines as it interacts with charged wind particles from the sun, according to the university.

The ion tail is made up of single molecules that are all equal in mass, meaning they’re affected by the forces around them equally and follow the same, narrower path, according to Forbes.

In early photos of comets, the blue ion tail is the only one visible.

NEOWISE, the brightest comet in the sky since Hale-Bopp in 1997, was discovered in March and can be seen by the naked eye for most viewers in the Northern Hemisphere this month.

While many comets have two tails, including all “great comets,” it’s also possible NEOWISE has an extra ion tail.

“Parker Solar Probe’s images appear to show a divide in the ion tail,” NASA said of NEOWISE. “This could mean that comet NEOWISE has two ion tails, in addition to its dust tail, though scientists would need more data and analysis to confirm this possibility.”

Look up! NEOWISE comet’s best viewing occurs this week

IMAGE: Neowise comet
The comet Neowise is seen from near Effingham, Kan., Monday, July 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)Source: Associated Press

Astronomy buffs will get a treat in the night sky the next few weeks as Comet NEOWISE passes us by on its way back to the outer solar system. 

While the comet will be visible for the next few weeks, those at Space.com feel the best time will come during the July 14th-19th stretch, which is this Tuesday through Sunday. 

Don’t miss your chance to catch a glimpse. If you don’t catch the comet this time around, you would have to wait another 6800 years, making this a once in a lifetime opportunity!

The comet, which is about 3 miles across in size, has already passed by the sun and while it will be dimming as it continues its journey, it will be a slow dimming process as it now approaches Earth. After moves past its closest point to Earth (64 million miles away) on July 22nd, the dimming will become more rapid as the comet moves away from both the sun and Earth. 

It has been visible in the morning, but by July 18th, it will only appear 5 degrees above the horizon at twilight and it will no longer be visible in the morning just a few days later. 

Despite the morning visibility diminishing, the visibility will get better in the evening with visibility 10 degrees above the horizon starting tonight (July 14th), doubling to 20 degrees by July 19th. The moon phase should cooperate as well, with a waning crescent phase. Tanger Black – US11.5-12 | EU46The Softest & Comfortable Indestructible Shoes The all-in-one solution to work shoes that provide a perfect blend of comfort, style and protection. Thanks to the advancements we’ve made in footwear…Ad By Indestructible ShoesSee More

For best viewing at night, start looking about one hour after sunset just over the northwest horizon. Of course, give yourself the most ideal conditions possible for viewing, such as getting away from light pollution and higher cloud coverage. While the comet will be visible with the naked eye, binoculars or other optical aides will enhance the view. 

Keep an eye on the forecast for viewing by checking out our daily forecast article

Neowise comet and rare astronomical phenomena captured in remarkable image

The C/2020 F3 comet was discovered in March

A photographer in Italy captured the image of a lifetime when he snapped a picture showing two astronomical phenomena, including a streaking comet and “night-shining” clouds.

Atop the nearly 11,500 foot-high Hochfeiler mountain in the South Tyrol Alps in Italy, Martin Rietze captured the image of the NEOWISE comet and the Noctilucent clouds, SWNS reports.

The comet, also known as C/2020 F3, was discovered in March by NASA’s NEOWISE space telescope.

The NEOWISE comet seen above noctilucent clouds taken from the Hochfeiler mountain in the South Tyrol alps in Italy on July 8. (Credit: SWNS)

The NEOWISE comet seen above noctilucent clouds taken from the Hochfeiler mountain in the South Tyrol alps in Italy on July 8. (Credit: SWNS)

Noctilucent clouds occur when astronomical light reflects on ice in the clouds.

The comet, which can be observed with the naked eye, has been visible since July 7, NASA said on its website.

“Through about the middle of the month, the comet is visible around 10 degrees above the northeastern horizon (the width of your outstretched fist) in the hour before dawn,” the space agency added. “From mid-July on, it’s best viewed as an evening object, rising increasingly higher above the northwestern horizon.”

NASA notes that the comet’s closest approach to earth will be on July 22, at a distance of about 64 million miles.

“The comet takes about 6,800 years to make one lap around its long, stretched out orbit, so it won’t visit the inner solar system again for many thousands of years,” the agency explained on its website.

Can You Really Become a Mars Land Owner?

You may soon be able to own a piece of the red planet!

On Nov. 26, 2018, NASA’s InSight lander touched down on Mars, becoming the eighth space-exploring robot to visit the Red Planet. For adventurous humans inspired to eventually follow in the footsteps of this spacecraft, possibly terraforming Mars or owning land there may seem like the next best thing. A handful of companies, such as Buy Mars and Lunar Embassy, sell ads on Facebook and elsewhere claiming they “possess a legal trademark and copyright for the sale of extraterrestrial property” or are the “only recognized world authority” for the sale of lunar and planetary real estate. Deeds sell between $30 and $500. While it may be true that colonizing Mars is on the horizon, can anyone really own property on Mars?

How Valid Is a Mars Land Deed?

Like all real estate transactions, it comes down to the law. The foundational law for space was drafted 50 years ago, when space exploration was still in its infancy. In 1967, the United States, the then–Soviet Union and the United Kingdom wrote the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” Nicknamed the “Outer Space Treaty,” the document established guidelines to ensure equal and peaceful access to space. More than 100 nations signed it. It accounts for real estate in space, among other things. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty states, “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” In short, nobody can claim ownership of Mars or land on Mars, or do so with any other celestial body.

But the treaty was made to be modified as society advanced. In 2015, the United States Congress passed the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015, or SPACE Act, which allows U.S. citizens to “possess, own, transport, use and sell” materials extracted from celestial bodies, reported Nature. The new law accounts for the growing interest in mining asteroids, the moon or other celestial bodies for minerals or other resources. Private companies will be able to set up shop on Mars, mine it and lay claim to those resources, but won’t be able to own the land.

For those who really want a Mars land deed with their name on it, there’s nothing wrong with buying one. It’s a novelty item that might make a nice gift for the person who has everything. But it’s just for fun. The document won’t be recognized by any government authority as legitimate or legally binding.

A Mars Colony Is Coming

Even as the Mars InSight lander begins to gather scientific data from the Red Planet to better inform the potential for human survival there, Earthlings are making plans to colonize Mars. In December 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Space Policy Directive-1, which refocused America’s space program on human exploration. The plan involves returning humans to the moon, establishing a means for traveling to Mars by the 2030s and eventually expanding human presence across the solar system later in the century.

Getting beyond the moon will require advanced rocket propulsion to speed astronauts to their destination. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is building the boosters for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, designed to take humans beyond Earth orbit. In 2020, the rockets will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to the lunar vicinity as part of Exploration Mission-1. The mission will be step one in a series of increasingly complex missions that will work like stepping stones to lead humans into deep space.

Others are shooting for Mars, too. Mars One, a venture launched by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, says they aim to have humans on Mars by 2031.

When Will Humans Begin Terraforming Mars?

A hundred years from now, humans may be thriving on Mars. But they’ll likely be conducting their lives under the confines of a transparent dome akin to a large terrarium. Climate, temperature and atmosphere will be controlled, and humans will be able to grow plants for food. Terraforming Mars — that is, manipulating the atmosphere to create an Earth-like, habitable environment — is simply not possible using any of the technology available to humans, according to NASA. Scientists have proposed large-scale geo-engineering projects, such as releasing carbon dioxide trapped in the Martian soil to create a thicker atmosphere that warms the planet. But recent studies have shown that there isn’t enough CO2 in the soil. The atmospheric pressure on Mars is also less than 1 percent of that on Earth. If, somehow, scientists could figure out how to warm the skies and get them to rain, the water would evaporate quickly.

For now, humans will have to be satisfied with standing on planet Earth and gazing up at the red dot in the sky. Over the ages, that dot has inspired humanity to imagine an existence beyond the heavens. The potential for extraterrestrial life, colonization and terraformation calls to civilization and soon, we will make our way into space. We’ve taken the first steps by sending machines ahead of us. In fact, Mars is the only planet in the solar system inhabited by robots. Perhaps, one day soon, we will join them.

Comet NEOWISE could give skywatchers a dazzling show this month. Here’s what to know.

Astrophotographer Chris Schur captured this view of Comet NEOWISE F3 from Payson, Arizona before dawn on July 5, 2020.
Astrophotographer Chris Schur captured this view of Comet NEOWISE F3  from Payson, Arizona before dawn on July 5, 2020. (Image credit: Chris Schur/Chris Schur Astrophotography)

Earlier this year, the NEOWISE space telescope discovered its latest comet, a distant and inconspicuous object.  

At the time of its discovery on March 27, the comet — dubbed Comet NEOWISE (short for Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) and cataloged as C/2020 F3, was located 194 million miles (312 million kilometers) from the sun and shining at a very faint magnitude of +17 — that’s about 25,000 times fainter than the faintest star that can be glimpsed with the naked eye. It was only visible with large telescopes.

But in July, Comet NEOWISE has raised hopes that it will become a tantalizing object for skywatchers after two previous comets (ATLAS and SWAN) fizzled out earlier this year. 

When we talk about the comet’s brightness below, we’ll be discussing its magnitude — a measurement of an object’s brightness in the sky. The lower the magnitude, the brighter the object. The brightest stars in the sky are zero or first magnitude. The faintest stars visible to the eye on dark, clear nights are sixth magnitude. First magnitude stars are 100 times brighter than those of sixth magnitude.  

 Third time a comet charm?

Comet NEOWISE survived its closest approach to the sun, (perihelion) unlike its 2020 predecessors, comets ATLAS and SWAN. All the way into its approach to the sun, NEOWISE displayed a perfectly circular and well-condensed head, or coma compared to the faint, wispy, almost ghostly coma displayed by Comet ATLAS and the “hammerhead” looking coma of Comet SWAN, which foretold a possible break-up. As it turned out, both of those objects indeed faded away long before either reached the vicinity of the sun.

Well before NEOWISE’s solar arrival on Friday (July 3), veteran Australian comet watcher, Michael Mattiazzo was confident that NEOWISE would remain intact, giving at least a 70% chance that it would survive its close brush with the sun. 

Skywatcher Michael Jager captured this view of Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) on June 26 with a telescope.
Skywatcher Michael Jager captured this view of Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) on June 26 with a telescope.  (Image credit: MIchael Jager)

And apparently it did! The comet was 27.3 million miles (44 million km) from the sun on July 3, when it was subjected to temperatures of up to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (593 degrees Celsus). Thereafter, rapid motion to the northeast and then east, owing to the comet’s sharp orbital inclination to the orbital plane of the planets, will quickly carry it away from the sun’s vicinity in the days to follow.  

Astrophotographer Chris Schur spotted Comet NEOWISE early today (July 5) from Payson Arizona. 

“The comet continues to be stunning, rising tail first over the plateau, some 20 miles distant,” Schur told Space.com while sharing photo he captured through an Explore Scientific AR152 mm telescope. “I was able to easily see it naked eye with about a degree of tail visually. Gorgeous yellow color in the scope.”

 An overachiever! 

This chart shows the location of Comet NEOWISE in the evening sky in mid-to-late July 2020.
This chart shows the location of Comet NEOWISE in the evening sky in mid-to-late July 2020. (Image credit: Joe Rao/Space.com)

Originally, NEOWISE was not expected to get much brighter than ninth or 10th magnitude, making it accessible only to those with good binoculars or small telescopes. But during the spring, observers in the Southern Hemisphere followed the very rapid brightening of this object as its distances from both the sun and Earth decreased. A consensus of observations placed it at magnitude +9.9 on May 10.  

Just under a month late, on June 7, the comet was on the far side of the sun, 73 million miles (117 million km) distant from the star and 147 million miles (236 million km) from Earth. It had increased 12-fold in brightness to a magnitude +7.2. As projected on the sky, the comet was scarcely 24 degrees from the sun (a closed fist at the end of an outstretched arm covers 10 degrees of the sky) and the two were rapidly closing together. Shortly thereafter, the comet was lost to observers in the increasing glare of the sun. 

But from June 22 through June 27, the comet was within the range of the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). SOHO is a cooperative mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. The spacecraft is stationed in a halo orbit around the sun-Earth L1 Lagrangian point, a position roughly 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) sunward of Earth. At this point in space, the orbital period of SOHO exactly matches the orbital period of Earth. From this orbit, SOHO is able to observe the sun 24 hours a day.

Using its Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO-3), which can create an artificial solar eclipse, NEOWISE could be monitored as it passed near to the sun. During this time, the comet appeared to significantly brighten, with comet expert Charles Morris estimating a magnitude of +1.7 just before it passed out of the field of the LASCO-3 camera. Comet NEOWISE also appeared to have developed a rather bright, albeit short and stubby forked-shaped dust tail. 

 Surprise! 

This chart shows the location of Comet NEOWISE in the predawn sky of early July 2020.
This chart shows the location of Comet NEOWISE in the predawn sky of early July 2020.  (Image credit: Joe Rao/Space.com)

And then, quite unexpectedly, amateur astronomers were able to make sightings of Comet NEOWISE before sunrise beginning on July 1.  

“Wow– it was very bright, near magnitude +1,” Ray Brooks of the Arizona Sky Village near Tucson saw the comet through binoculars and told Space.com. “If the comet were in dark skies at a decent elevation, it would be a spectacular naked-eye object.” 

On the morning of July 4,  Brooks could see Comet NEOWISE’s forked double tail break the top of a nearby mountain first, followed by the comet head.Advertisement

Another assiduous Arizona comet watcher is astronomer Carl Hergenrother of Tucson, who saw NEOWISE both on July 1 and July 2, describing as appearing at least as bright as a first magnitude star, in spite of it being very low to the horizon and against a bright twilight sky. 

And the highly reputable comet expert, John E. Bortle of Stormville, New York was amazed at the comet’s performance so far. 

“Theoretically, the comet shouldn’t still be brightening noticeably, as its distance to the sun is undergoing only a small reduction day-to-day at this point, making me think that the comet’s current brightness is not being governed mainly by its distance from the sun but, rather it is experiencing some manner of progressive slow outburst,” he said.

 Is this a Great Comet in the making?

Comets fall into two categories. “Common” comets are faint fuzz-balls that are visible only with the help of good binoculars or telescopes. Tonight, for instance, there are perhaps eight or 10 such comets in our sky.

Then, there are the “Great” comets, those that become bright enough to be plainly visible with the naked eye and accompanied by a striking tail of dust and gas. Unfortunately, such displays do not come around very often. In the average human lifespan, you may get a chance to see perhaps four if you are very fortunate.

The last great comet visible from the Northern Hemisphere was Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997, but is NEOWISE developing into one right now? Based on the very latest brightness estimates, Comet NEOWISE might fall just short of the criteria, though once it becomes evident in darker skies it should be quite obvious, especially away from light polluted cities.

 When and where to look 

NEOWISE is about to take center stage, which we visualize in two diagrams; one for the morning sky and the other for the evening sky. The time frames are for the beginning (morning) and end (evening) of nautical twilight, when the sun is positioned 12 degrees below the horizon, corresponding to approximately 80 minutes before sunrise and 80 minutes after sunset for those living at mid-northern latitudes. The lines extend directly away from the sun, showing the probable direction in the sky of the comet’s tail should one develop.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

In the morning sky, the first views of NEOWISE could come as early as July 5 or 6 in the morning sky, very low above the northeast horizon. By around July 11, the comet will reach an altitude of nearly 10 degrees — for comparison, 10 degrees is roughly equal to the width of your fist held at arm’s length.  Then over the next 10 days it will gradually slide back down toward the north-northeast horizon, eventually disappearing from dawn visibility. 

A far-better viewing perspective will become available in the evening sky starting around July 12, when it will appear low in the northwest sky. In the evenings to follow, the comet will rapidly climb higher in the sky.  

On July 22, NEOWISE will make its closest approach to the Earth, a distance of 64 million miles (103 million km). By July 25, the comet will appear 30 degrees (“three fists”) up from the west-northwest horizon as darkness falls. And on July 30-31st, the comet will be passing just to the north of the fine star cluster of Coma Berenices or Berenice’s Hair.

 Final thoughts

Although on successive July evenings the comet will grow fainter, it will be farther from sun, setting later and visible in a darker sky. As we move into August, the comet will be very well placed for observers with small telescopes.  

Amateur observers should seek the most favorable conditions possible. Even a bright comet, like this one, can be obliterated by thin horizon clouds, haze, humid air, smoke, twilight glow, city lights, or moonlight. Of course, binoculars or telescopes will only enhance the view.Advertisement

For the more technically inclined, or for those who own a “GoTo” Telescope, the ephemeris below is from calculations by Daniel Green.  Positions are valid for 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on every fourth date and provides the comet’s right ascension and declination; next is the comet’s elongation, or angular distance from the sun, followed by the constellation the comet is in, and lastly an approximate predicted magnitude.  

Exciting times are ahead. NEOWISE is here. “Comet” get it!

DateRight AscensionDeclinationElongationConstellationMagnitude
July 505h 07.20m+34°04.8’16°Auriga0.7
July 906h 34.38m+40°24.3’20°Auriga1.2
July 1307h 24.78m+45°41.0’24°Lynx2.0
July 1708h 40.20m+48°11.1’29°Ursa Major2.7
July 2110h 06.66m+46°01.9’36°Ursa Major3.5
July 2511h 20.33m+39°40.1’43°Ursa Major4.3
July 2912h 12.71m+31°40.6’50°Coma Bernices5.1
Aug. 212h 48.45m+24°06.0’55°Coma Bernices5.9
Aug. 613h 13.52m+17°41.2’58°Coma Bernices6.6

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers’ Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Get set for July 4 buck moon, partial lunar eclipse: NASA’s top tips for July skywatchers

The July 4 full moon is known as the buck moon or thunder moon

Skywatchers are in for a treat on July 4, when the buck moon, or July full moon, rises in the sky. There will also be a partial lunar eclipse.

“July’s full moon will rise after sunset in the evening of Saturday, July 4, before reaching peak illumination at 12:44 A.M Eastern Time on Sunday, July 5,” explains The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Look towards the southeast to watch it rise above the horizon.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains that the buck moon earned its name because it occurs at a time of the year when a buck’s antlers are “in full growth mode.” Another name for the buck moon is the thunder moon.

NASA notes that there will also be a partial penumbral eclipse of the moon. In a penumbral lunar eclipse, part of the moon passes through the outer part of Earth’s shadow, the space agency says.

On the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the full buck moon rises above the skyline of lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City on July 16, 2019 as seen from Kearney, New Jersey - file photo.

On the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the full buck moon rises above the skyline of lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City on July 16, 2019 as seen from Kearney, New Jersey – file photo. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

“The moon will be close enough to opposite the Sun that its northern edge will pass through the partial shadow of the Earth,” explains NASA on its website. “Although visible from the Americas, this slight dimming of part of the moon should be difficult or impossible to notice without instrumentation. The moon will appear full for about three days around the eclipse, from Friday evening into Monday morning, making this a full moon weekend.”

Last month, skywatchers across the globe enjoyed the stunning June full moon or strawberry moon. The strawberry moon was also a penumbral lunar eclipse for skywatchers in Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania.

The buck moon, however, will not be as high in the sky as the strawberry moon. “For 2020, this full Moon in early July is closer to the summer solstice and will be lower in the sky than the full Moon in June,” explains NASA on its website.

The May full moon, known as the flower moon, was the last supermoon of 2020.

July is also a good time for seeing Venus and Mercury, according to NASA. “Wednesday morning, July 8, 2020, will be when the brightest of the planets, Venus, reaches its greatest brilliancy,” it explains, on its website. “Starting the morning of Thursday, July 16, 2020, the planet Mercury will be above the horizon at the time morning twilight begins (at least for the Washington, D.C. area), making all five of the naked eye planets visible (if you have a clear view of Mercury on the horizon in the east-northeast and Jupiter and Saturn on the horizon in the southwest).”

The five naked-eye planets are Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter

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.