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.

Mysterious, gel-like substance discovered on the far side of the moon has been identified

It was found during China’s Chang’e 4 mission to the moon.

Scientists have identified a strange, gel-like substance that was discovered on the far side of the moon.

The material was found last year during China’s Chang’e 4 mission to the moon. Citing the Chinese language publication OurSpace, reports that the matter was “gel-like.”

China's Chang'e 4 moon rover, known as Yutu 2, photographed by the Chang'e 4 lander on the moon's far side.

China’s Chang’e 4 moon rover, known as Yutu 2, photographed by the Chang’e 4 lander on the moon’s far side. (CNSA)

In a paper published in the journal Earth and Planetary Sciences, researchers described the substance as a “dark greenish and glistening impact melt breccia.”

Impact melt breccia is a type of lunar rock formed from asteroids striking the surface of the moon.

In their paper, the scientists explain that the substance discovered by the Chang’e 4 mission’s Yutu-2 rover is similar to two melt breccia samples returned from the moon by NASA’s Apollo 15 and Apollo 17 missions.

In a separate project, scientists have used radar technology to shed new light on the subsurface of the moon.

Asteroid Apophis inbound: Will it hit Earth in 2029 or let us live?

Asteroids the size of Apophis are far fewer in number and so do not pass this close to Earth as often but Apophis is a also representative of about 2,000 currently known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids.

Asteroid Apophis inbound: Will it hit Earth in 2029 or let us live?

At closest approach, Apophis will be over the Atlantic Ocean | Photo for representation


  • Asteroid called 99942 Apophis will cruise by Earth, about 31,000 km above the surface
  • That’s within distance that some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth
  • A team of astronomers discovered Apophis in June 2004

On April 13, 2029, a speck of light will streak across the sky getting brighter and faster.

At one point it will travel more than the width of the full Moon within a minute and it will get as bright as the stars in the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor is colloquially known in the US as the Little Dipper).

But, it won’t be a satellite or an airplane.

Then what it may be? Well, it will be a 340-metre-wide near-Earth asteroid.

The asteroid called 99942 Apophis will cruise harmlessly by Earth, about 31,000 km above the surface. That’s within the distance that some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth.

The international asteroid research community couldn’t be more excited.


This week at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Maryland, scientists are gathering to discuss observation plans and science opportunities for the celestial event still a decade away.

During a session on April 30, scientists will discuss everything from how to observe the event to hypothetical missions we could send out to the asteroid.

“The Apophis close approach in 2029 will be an incredible opportunity for science,” Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who works on radar observations of near-Earth objects (NEOs), said.

“We’ll observe the asteroid with both optical and radar telescopes. With radar observations, we might be able to see surface details that are only a few meters in size,” Marina Brozovic said.

WATCH | Apophis asteroid and Earth at closest approach

It’s rare for an asteroid of this size to pass by the Earth so close. Although scientists have spotted small asteroids, on the order of 5-10 metres, flying by Earth at a similar distance, asteroids the size of Apophis are far fewer in number and so do not pass this close to Earth as often.ADVERTISEMENT

The asteroid, looking like a moving star-like point of light, will first become visible to the naked eye in the night sky over the southern hemisphere, flying above Earth from the east coast to the west coast of Australia. It will be mid-morning on the East Coast of the United States when Apophis is above Australia. It will then cross the Indian Ocean, and by the afternoon in the eastern US it will have crossed the equator, still moving west, above Africa.

At closest approach, Apophis will be over the Atlantic Ocean and it will move so fast that it will cross the Atlantic in just an hour.Small asteroid was caught in process of spinning so fast it’s throwing off material, according to new data from Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories | Photo via Nasa


A team of astronomers discovered Apophis in June 2004.

The observations caused quite a stir – initial orbital calculations revealed that the asteroid had a 2.7 per cent chance of impacting Earth in 2029.

Fortunately, additional observations refined the orbit and completely ruled out that possibility.

Current calculations show that Apophis still has a small chance of impacting Earth, less than 1 in 1,00,000 many decades from now, but future measurements of its position can be expected to rule out any possible impacts.

Davide Farnocchia, an astronomer at JPL’s Center for Near Earth Objects Studies (CNEOS), who is co-chairing the April 30 session on Apophis with Brozovicm, said, “We already know that the close encounter with Earth will change Apophis’ orbit, but our models also show the close approach could change the way this asteroid spins, and it is possible that there will be some surface changes, like small avalanches.”

“Apophis is a representative of about 2,000 currently known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs),” Paul Chodas, director of CNEOS, said. “By observing Apophis during its 2029 flyby, we will gain important scientific knowledge that could one day be used for planetary defense.”

(Inputs from Nasa)

There’s more metal on the moon than we thought

Earth’s moon is more metal than scientists imagined.

NASA’s prolific Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) found rich evidence of iron and titanium oxides under the surface of the moon, which may show a close connection with Earth’s early history.

Scientists have been debating how the moon formed for decades. The leading theory suggests that a Mars-size world collided with Earth billions of years ago. The colliding world shattered upon impact and blasted part of the proto-Earth’s surface into space. The debris surrounded Earth with a ring; the moon we see today is the result of that ring slowly collapsing under its own gravity.

The moon’s chemical composition, however, doesn’t show clear evidence of that theory. The lunar highlands on the moon, visible from the Earth as bright regions, have rocks with smaller amounts of metal-bearing minerals relative to our planet.

That could make sense if Earth was already layered, with heavier metals sunk to the core — except that the moon’s dark maria planes formed at the same time and have higher metal abundance even than Earth’s rocks.

LRO’s new findings could explain the discrepancy. The new research relies on a device called the Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) instrument, a radar probe designed to map lunar geology, look for water ice and test communications technologies.

The instrument scoured the terrain in the moon’s northern hemisphere for an electrical property called the dielectric constant. This constant is a number comparing the ability of a material to transmit electric fields with that of the vacuum of space. 

Electric-field transmission is useful to find ice in the shadows of craters, where it is protected from the heat of the sun. But it can also identify areas where more metals, like iron and titanium oxides, are exposed to the surface.

And the scientists noticed that the dielectric constant increased with crater size, but only up to a certain point. Craters between 1 and 3 miles (2 and 5 kilometers) in diameter showed the dielectric constant increased steadily as the craters grew larger. For craters between 3 and 12 miles (5 to 20 km) wide, however, the constant held steady.

“It was a surprising relationship that we had no reason to believe would exist,” Essam Heggy, co-investigator of the Mini-RF experiments from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and lead author on the new research, said in a NASA statement

The team’s theory was that the first few hundred feet (or meters) of the moon’s surface has few of these oxides, but a richer source of metal lies further below. Then, as meteors collide with the lunar surface and scratch away upper layers, metals become exposed. That sort of pattern would also explain low metal levels in the lunar highlands and higher abundances in the darker and lower plains closer to the moon’s subsurface.

To test their work, researchers compared Mini-RF’s crater-floor radar images with metal oxide maps produced by a range of missions: LRO Wide-Angle Camera, Japan’s Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) mission (also called Kayuga) and NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft. SELENE and Lunar Prospector are no longer operating, but their archival data remains.

Those observations showed that larger craters did indeed contain more metal, according to NASA, which the researchers believe support their hypothesis about buried metallic deposits that meteors excavate.

The results are even more intriguing in light of a puzzling phenomenon reported in 2019 by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, at the moon. Gravity measurements of the moon suggest there is a lot of dense material that is tens to hundreds of miles (or kilometers) underneath the moon’s massive South Pole-Aitken basin. The GRAIL results, paired with LRO’s new find, thus suggest metals may be more concentrated in certain regions of the moon.

The LRO results are one small step to better understanding how the moon formed, as the observations show how iron and titanium oxides are distributed beneath the moon’s northern hemisphere. Next, the researchers will be looking at crater floors in the southern hemisphere to see how much metal is there.

study based on the research was published Wednesday (July 1) in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

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 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/

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. 


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/

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 “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.Advertisement

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.

NASA wants to use a steam-powered robot to explore icy moons that could host alien life

NASA’s plans to explore the ice moons of the Solar System are getting more detail as the space agency is developing a robot that would use steam to power itself in deep space.

In a post to its website, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes researchers are developing a soccer-ball sized robot known as SPARROW (Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds) that “would use steam propulsion to hop across the sort of icy terrains found on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.”

“The terrain on Europa is likely highly complex,” said Gareth Meirion-Griffith, JPL roboticist and the lead researcher of the concept, in the statement. “It could be porous, it might be riddled with crevasses, there might be meters-high penitentes” – long blades of ice known to form at high latitudes on Earth – “that would stop most robots in their tracks. But SPARROW has total terrain agnosticism; it has complete freedom to travel across an otherwise inhospitable terrain.”

Moons In this artist's concept, a SPARROW robot uses steam propulsion to hop away from its lander home base to explore an icy moon's surface. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Moons In this artist’s concept, a SPARROW robot uses steam propulsion to hop away from its lander home base to explore an icy moon’s surface. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Both moons have been mentioned as candidates to possibly host life previously, including one study published in December 2019 that suggested they could be “indigenous.”

By using steam to power the robot, SPARROW could thrive in the “low-gravity environment” on Enceladus and Europa, hopping “many miles over landscapes that other robots would have difficulty navigating,” NASA added.

With its global ocean, unique chemistry and internal heat, Enceladus has become a promising lead in our search for worlds where life could exist.

With its global ocean, unique chemistry and internal heat, Enceladus has become a promising lead in our search for worlds where life could exist. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Enceladus and Europa both likely have oceans that exist under a layer of ice crust. In 2019, researchers determined Enceladus’ ocean is likely 1 billion years old, placing it in the sweet spot for supporting life.

In 2018, researchers acknowledged they had found the “building blocks” for life on Enceladus, having discovered complex organic molecules.

JPL notes that the SPARROW concept is dependent upon a lander to serve as a home base for it. The lander would “mine ice and melt it” prior to putting it on SPARROW, which would later heat it and create the steam necessary to power itself.

An artist's illustration of a plume of water vapor emanating from Jupiter's moon Europa. (NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI)

An artist’s illustration of a plume of water vapor emanating from Jupiter’s moon Europa. (NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI) (NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI)

JPL added that it’s possible “many SPARROWs could be sent together, swarming around  a specific location or splitting up to explore as much alien terrain as possible.”

Enceladus is not the only celestial satellite of Saturn to intrigue scientists. In June, NASA announced the latest mission in its New Frontiers program. Known as Dragonfly, the mission will explore Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, which could potentially host extraterrestrial life.

Two months later, NASA confirmed it would launch a mission to Europa, a trek that could answer whether the icy celestial body could be habitable for humans and support life.

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

This New Catalog of the Universe Contains, to the Best of Our Knowledge, One of Everything

If you want to find technologically advanced life, investigate the anomalies.

Eros color.jpg
Catalog item P023: The asteroid 433 Eros, as seen by NASA’s NEAR spacecraft in 2000. (NASA/JPL/JHUAPL)

Breakthrough Listen, an initiative launched five years ago to search for evidence of technologically advanced life in the universe, has published a new catalog called “Exotica” with 865 entries consisting of 737 distinct astronomical targets. Its aim, according to Brian Lacki at the University of California at Berkeley and a team of international colleagues, is to serve as a single list containing “one of everything.”

The idea is to represent the entire breadth of astrophysical phenomena, from distant galaxies to small objects in our own Solar System. It includes planets and moons, stars at every point of their life cycle, galaxies of various sizes, star clusters and quasars. A special emphasis is put on objects with extreme properties and on anomalies like “Tabby’s Star,” with its puzzling dimming behavior, and the interstellar object ʻOumuamua, which two years ago was suggested by some in the SETI community to be possible evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization.

Since we still have only a vague idea where or how to find such evidence, I think looking for anomalies is the way to go. This new catalogue seems helpful as a first step. Take, for example, Item P023 in the catalog, the asteroid 433 Eros, which recently sparked quite a bit of discussion in the German SETI community.

A Mars-crossing asteroid with a diameter of about 35 kilometers on its long axis, Eros might even have crossed Earth’s orbit in the distant past, and may do so again in the future. The NEAR Shoemaker space probe flew past the object in 1998, then photographed it extensively during its orbiting phase two years later. Among the many images it returned was the one below, showing an anomalously shaped object on the surface.

Eros image.jpg
NEAR took this image of the surface of Eros from a distance of 53 kilometers on May 1, 2000. The rectangular object at upper right is shown in close-up. (NASA/JPL/JHUAPL)

Daniel Gerritzen from the German SETI group took a closer look at that object and tentatively suggested it might be artificial in origin. The NEAR team estimated it to be 45 meters across and described it as a “rectangular boulder.” By Gerritzen’s calculations, it’s a little bigger than that—at least 74 meters long and nearly 20 meters wide.

The NEAR spacecraft was equipped with an infrared sensor, and if the object were indeed artificial, one would expect a different heat signature for the anomaly compared to its surroundings. But when NEAR completed a close pass, its infrared sensor unfortunately stopped working.

Of course, none of this means the object was created by intelligent extraterrestrials. We know that looks can deceive, the best example being the infamous “Face on Mars.” In early images, that structure had a strong resemblance to a human face, but upon closer (and higher-resolution) inspection, it turned out to be a perfectly ordinary mountain.

Most remote sensing experts and planetary geologists would take it for granted that the Eros image simply shows a rock formation. Right now, that’s a reasonable working hypothesis. But rather than stop there, we need to keep an open mind and investigate whatever seems anomalous, because that’s the way we make new discoveries. Breakthrough Listen’s new catalog at least gives us a starting point.

Stunning NASA time-lapse video shows 10 years in life of sun

The video was created from images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe blasts off from Cape Canaveral on its mission to the Sun.

NASA has released a stunning 61-minute time-lapse video that shows a decade in the life of the sun.

The video was created from images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

“From its orbit in space around Earth, SDO has gathered 425 million high-resolution images of the Sun, amassing 20 million gigabytes of data over the past 10 years,” explained NASA in a statement on its website. “This 10-year time lapse showcases photos taken at a wavelength of 17.1 nanometers, which is an extreme ultraviolet wavelength that shows the Sun’s outermost atmospheric layer – the corona.”

The space agency released the time-lapse video to mark SDO’s 10th year in space. The orbiting observatory was launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Feb. 11, 2010. In a statement accompanying the time-lapse video posted to YouTube, NASA noted that, as of June 2020, SDO has been watching the sun non-stop for over a full decade.

“The video shows the rise and fall in activity that occurs as part of the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle and notable events, like transiting planets and eruptions,” it said.

During its 10 years in space, the SDO has also observed solar tornadoes, giant waves in plasma on the solar surface, polar coronal holes and magnetic explosions.

This composite image is made from 151 individual SDO frames. They span the full ten-year run of the time-lapse. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO)

This composite image is made from 151 individual SDO frames. They span the full ten-year run of the time-lapse. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO)

Earth’s star continues to reveal its secrets. NASA’s $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe mission, which launched in 2018, has taken humanity closer to the sun than ever before and the spacecraft is helping scientists shed new light on the star.

Scientists have observed bursts of energetic particles never seen before on such a small scale, as well as switchback-like reversals in the out-flowing solar magnetic field that seem to whip up the solar wind. The unexpected phenomenon has been compared to the cracking of a whip.

The stunning NASA time-lapse video shows 10 years in the life of the Sun.

The stunning NASA time-lapse video shows 10 years in the life of the Sun. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO)

Researchers said they also finally have evidence of a dust-free zone encircling the sun. Farther out, there’s so much dust from vaporizing comets and asteroids that one of 80 small viewfinders on one instrument was pierced by a grain earlier this year.

To withstand the heat of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the probe is protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.

Ocean on Jupiter’s moon ‘could be habitable,’ researchers say

Europa is one of just a handful of places in the Solar System that could be suitable for life

With NASA slated to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa sometime in the next decade, researchers are increasingly confident that the ocean on the celestial satellite “could be habitable.”

Speaking at the 2020 Goldschmidt Conference earlier this month, NASA researchers said they have developed a model that shows Europa, the sixth largest moon in the Solar System, could support life.

“We were able to model the composition and physical properties of the core, silicate layer, and ocean,” NASA JPL researcher and the study’s lead author, Mohit Melwani Daswani, said in a statement. “We find that different minerals lose water and volatiles at different depths and temperatures. We added up these volatiles that are estimated to have been lost from the interior, and found that they are consistent with the current ocean’s predicted mass, meaning that they are probably present in the ocean.”

(Credit: NASA)

(Credit: NASA)

The research can be read here, but it has not yet been peer-reviewed.

The ocean is under a dense layer of frozen crust that is largely believed to be at least six and as many as 19 miles thick. The surface temperature on Europa is exceptionally cold as well, approximately -260 degrees Fahrenheit at the equator and -370 degrees Fahrenheit at the poles, according to

While the ocean is widely believed to be warm, researchers are only just learning that it likely formed due to the minerals being broken down by either tidal forces or radioactive decay, according to Universe Today.

“Indeed it was thought that this ocean could still be rather sulfuric,” Daswani explained, “but our simulations, coupled with data from the Hubble Space Telescope, showing chloride on Europa’s surface, suggests that the water most likely became chloride rich. In other words, its composition became more like oceans on Earth. We believe that this ocean could be quite habitable for life.”

In August 2019, NASA confirmed it would launch a mission to Europa, a trek that could answer whether the icy celestial body could be habitable for humans and support life.

Voyager 2 snapped this image of Jupiter's moon Europa during the spacecraft's 1979 flyby. (Credit: NASA)

Voyager 2 snapped this image of Jupiter’s moon Europa during the spacecraft’s 1979 flyby. (Credit: NASA)

The Europa Clipper, which could launch as soon as 2023 but has a baseline commitment of a “launch readiness date by 2025,” will have a mass spectrometer on the craft, used to determine the mass of ions in an atom.

The mission for the solar-powered Clipper is expected to cost around $4 billion, according to NASA. The space agency has previously said the purpose of the mission will be to investigate whether Europa, the sixth-largest of Jupiter’s 79 known moons, “could harbor conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology.”

2018 study expressed concerns that Europa’s surface may be extremely porous, which could harm any probe that touches down on its surface.

In December 2019, a study suggested that if there is life on Europa, it would be indigenous to the moon and not related to humans.

Strange Flying Objects Leave Boise… July 25, 1949

Boise, Idaho   Daily Statesman – July 25, 1949

Strange Flying Objects Leave Boise…

Investigation By Air Force To Be Started
Mysterious Craft Pass
Frightened Flyer
At Very Close Range

A Boise valley pilot told Sunday of seeing seven V-shaped flying objects at at close range over the Mountain Home desert, and said the experience left him “frightened and shaken.”

The strange craft, he said, were not United States aircraft, as far as he could determine, and they had no visible means of propulsion, yet traveled at what he said was a “tremendous rate of speed.”

It has been learned that the Air Force’s intelligence division is sending an operative to investigate the incident.  The Boise valley pilot released the information only on the condition that his name not be used.  He is the manager of one of the valley’s major airports.

The pilot said the seven objects, or aircraft, came within 1000 or 2000 feet of his plane as he was flying toward Boise, about 10 miles west of Mountain Home.

No Pilot Discernible

They looked like a V, he said, with a circular body within the V and a belly-like object sitting under the nose of the V.  He said that that he could see no sign of a pilot or “anything like a human being” in the aircraft.

The color, he said, was not the metallic color one usually associates with military aircraft.  He said it was “neither white nor gray” but a shade that he had never seen before.

A circular portion of the body just behind the nose of the V appeared to change in color from time to time, he said, and the outer edges of the V seemed to [oscillate] once or twice during the two minutes he had the craft under observation.

The pilot saw the objects at 12:05 p.m. yesterday while he was at an altitude of 10,000 feet on the right hand side of the highway from Mountain Home to Boise.

No Markings on Craft

He said the objects came up from his left side at about 9000 feet and crossed in front of his plane to the right, and disappeared on an easterly heading at “tremendous speed.”

There were no visible markings on the craft, he said.  Their formation was unlike any ordinary military formation flying.  He said they were in two “tight lines of three each, with the seventh object either in the middle of the lines or slightly above.”

He said he could not see a propeller or any smoke trail indicating jet or rocket power in the objects.

The pilot said the objects departed between the mountains and the town of Mountain Home. The Mountain Home air base, informed of the occurrence, said it had “no experimental aircraft on the field.”

And, the Air Force’s flight center at McChord Field, Wash., said no formation of aircraft had been cleared through this area.  The pilot said the experience left him with a “funny, ghostly feeling.”

Boeing 747 Followed by a UFO | Confirmed by FAA and Air Force Radar | Japan Air Lines Flight 1628

ANCHORAGE, JAN. 1 — A veteran pilot whose UFO sighting was confirmed on radar screens Tuesday said the mysterious object was so enormous that it dwarfed his Japan Airlines cargo plane.

Capt. Kenju Terauchi, the pilot, also said he saw two other small unidentified objects — smaller than his cargo carrier — that did not appear on radar.

Terauchi, his copilot and flight engineer told Federal Aviation Administration investigators that they saw the lights of an unidentified object on the evening of Nov. 17.

Terauchi made a drawing of how he thought the objects looked. He drew a giant walnut-shaped object, with big bulges above and below a wide flattened brim.

“They were flying parallel and then suddenly approached very close,” said Terauchi, 47, who requested and received FAA permission to take whatever action was necessary to avoid the object that appeared for a time on FAA and Air Force radar and on the radar screen in the cockpit of JAL flight 1628.

The FAA confirmed on Tuesday that government radar picked up the object that Terauchi said followed his Boeing 747 cargo jet.

Terauchi, a pilot for 29 years, said he briefly glimpsed the large unknown object in silhouette. “It was a very big one — two times bigger than an aircraft carrier,” he said.

Terauchi made a drawing of how he thought the objects looked. He drew a giant walnut-shaped object, with big bulges above and below a wide flattened brim.

The captain, who is stationed in Anchorage with his family, was flying the jumbo jet from Iceland to Anchorage on a Europe-to-Japan flight when the crew encountered the object in clear weather over Alaska.

Terauchi said the three unidentified objects followed his jet for 400 miles.

“It was unbelievable,” he said, acknowledging that some of his colleagues have doubts about what the crew saw.

FAA investigators who questioned the crew in Anchorage concluded in a report that the crew was “normal, professional, rational, {and had} no drug or alcohol involvement.” The crew’s flying experience totals more than 46 years, the pilot said.

Terauchi said the crew was not frightened but wanted to avoid whatever was lit up in their flight path. “We want to escape from this.”

They followed FAA directives to drop 4,000 feet and make turns — including a 360-degree turn, but Terauchi said, “They were still following us.”

He said the evasive maneuvers were of no avail and the lights stayed close — once appearing in front of the cockpit.

FAA flight control reports indicate the object stayed with JAL Flight 1628 for at least 32 minutes. Terauchi said he thought it was longer. The flight controller directing the JAL plane reported the object on his radar was as close as five miles to the jet.

Terauchi said the objects moved quickly and stopped suddenly. He referred to the objects as “the two small ships and the mother ship.”

Terauchi said jokingly that he thought the UFOs might have followed his chartered cargo plane because “we were carrying Beaujolais, a very famous wine made in France. Maybe they want to drink it.”

Compact System of Super-Earths Found around Lacaille 9352

A team of astronomers from the RedDots project has discovered two super-Earths and a candidate planet orbiting the nearby 4.57-billion-year-old red dwarf star Lacaille 9352.

An artist’s impression of the multiplanetary system of super-Earths orbiting the nearby red dwarf star Lacaille 9352. Image credit: Mark Garlick.

At 10.7 light-years away, Lacaille 9352 is the 12th closest star system to the Sun.

Also known as Gliese 887, GJ 887 and HD 217987, this red dwarf lies in the southern constellation of Piscis Austrinus.

The star is much dimmer and about half the size of our Sun, which means that the habitable zone is closer to Lacaille 9352 than Earth’s distance from the Sun.

University of Göttingen astronomer Sandra Jeffers and her colleagues from the RedDots team monitored Lacaille 9352 using the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) spectrograph on ESO’s La Silla 3.6-m telescope.

“We used a technique known as Doppler wobble, which enables us to measure the tiny back and forth wobbles of the star caused by the gravitational pull of the planets,” they explained.

Monitoring Lacaille 9352, they detected periodic signals, indicating the presence of two planets on orbits with periods of 9.3 and 21.8 days.

The planets, named Lacaille 9352b (Gliese 887b) and Lacaille 9352c (Gliese 887c), have minimum masses of 4.2 and 7.6 Earth masses, respectively.

Both planets are interior to, but close to the inner edge of, the liquid-water habitable zone.

They have surface temperature of 195 degrees Celsius (383 degrees Fahrenheit) and 79 degrees Celsius (174 degrees Fahrenheit), respectively.

Dr. Jeffers and co-authors also detected an unconfirmed signal with a period of 50 days, which could correspond to a third super-Earth, Lacaille 9352d (Gliese 887d), in a more temperate orbit.

“We also discovered two interesting facts about Lacaille 9352, which turn out to be good news not only for the newly-discovered planets but also for astronomers,” they said.

“The first is that the red dwarf has very few starspots, unlike our Sun.”

“If Lacaille 9352 was as active as our Sun, it is likely that a strong stellar wind — outflowing material which can erode a planet’s atmosphere — would simply sweep away the planets’ atmospheres. This means that the newly-discovered planets may retain their atmospheres, or have thicker atmospheres than the Earth, and potentially host life, even though Lacaille 9352 receives more light than the Earth.”

“The other interesting feature we discovered is that the brightness of Lacaille 9352 is almost constant. Therefore, it will be relatively easy to detect the atmospheres of the super-Earth system, making it a prime target for the James Webb Space Telescope, a successor to Hubble.”

The discovery is described in a paper in the journal Science.

Pentagon should release UFO report, Senate intelligence committee argues

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act. Rubio is asking the Pentagon to compile data on UFOs and submit the findings in an unclassified report. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act. Rubio is asking the Pentagon to compile data on UFOs and submit the findings in an unclassified report. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

The Pentagon should release a public report on UFOs, argues the U.S. Senate intelligence committee. In addition to requiring a public report, the committee plans to impose new rules on how the Department of Defense (DOD) shares information about UFOs.

Unidentified flying objects — a term that refers to objects that are literally unidentified, not necessarily suspected alien spacecraft — have made the news several times in recent years. The New York Times has reported on the  Pentagon’s efforts to track and study UFOs. And the DOD has confirmed the authenticity of videos from U.S. military planes showing flying objects of unknown nature and origin. Now the Senate committee wants to regulate the Pentagon’s tracking effort, according to the committee’s Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. The rule will be part of the 2021 intelligence authorization bill, which Congress has yet to pass.

“The Committee supports the efforts of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force at the Office of Naval Intelligence [ONI] to standardize collection and reporting on unidentified aerial phenomenon, any links they have to adversarial foreign governments, and the threat they pose to U.S. military assets and installations,” the report states.

However, according to the committee’s report, “there is no unified, comprehensive process” for collecting information on unidentified aerial phenomena, “despite the potential threat.”

This announcement, Agence France-Presse pointed out, appears to represent the first confirmation that the ONI is still tracking these objects in a systematic way. Federal officials previously said that a program along these lines existed, but ended in 2012. UFO writer Roger Glassel confirmed in May, based on an email exchange with a Navy representative, the existence of an “interagency team” led by the U.S. Navy and focused on “unidentified aerial phenomena.”

The committee instructed the Director of National Intelligence and other agency heads to submit a report within 180 days with a number of details about the ONI’s investigation. The report must include details about what the federal government knows about “intrusions” into restricted U.S. airspace and other unidentified flying objects, as well as a plan to firm up intelligence collection and sharing on the subject.

“The report shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex,” the committee wrote.

That means at least some of this information should become public when and if the report arrives.

Breakthrough Listen Scans Kepler-160 System for Alien Technosignatures

The Breakthrough Listen Initiative, the largest ever scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of alien civilizations, has conducted a search for artificial radio emission associated with Kepler-160, a system of four planets that includes the newly-discovered habitable-zone planet Kepler-160e.

An artist’s impression of a four-planet system. Image credit:

Kepler-160 is approximately 3,141 light-years away toward the constellation of Lyra.

This Sun-like star is about 12% bigger than our Sun, just 1% more luminous, and is home to at least four massive planets: Kepler-160b, c, d and e.

The planets Kepler-160b, c and d are between 1.7 and 3.1 times the size of Earth and have orbital periods less than 50 days.

The outermost planet, Kepler-160e (also designated KOI-456.04), has a radius of 1.9 times that of the Earth and an orbital period of 378 days.

The alien world, found earlier this year in data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, is in the habitable zone of the host star and has an estimated surface temperature of minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit).

“This Earth-like planet candidate, given its ideal location in the habitable zone of its host star and edge-on orientation projected toward Earth, represents an ideal target for technosignature searches,” said Columbia University astronomer Karen Perez and colleagues.

The researchers observed the Kepler-160 system using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope as part of the ongoing Breakthrough Listen search for alien technosignatures.

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, the United States. Image credit: Jiuguang Wang / CC BY-SA 2.0.

“We searched the radio frequency bands 1.1-1.9 GHz (L-band), 1.8-2.8 GHz (S-band), and 3.95-8 GHz (C-band) for narrowband Doppler-accelerated and wideband artificially-dispersed technosignatures,” they explained.

“We observed Kepler-160 with the Green Bank Telescope for three 5-minute pointings at each frequency band, beginning on June 14, 2020 11:13 UT.”

The scientists did not find any artificial radio signal from the Kepler-160 planetary system.

“Future observations of Kepler-160e with future missions, like PLATO, might recover its transit, confirming its candidacy as a planet and aiding in any further radio observations,” they said.

“Additionally, we expect to carry similar searches towards other exoplanet systems and candidates as more targets of interest are discovered using ongoing missions such as TESS and K2.”

The team’s paper was published online this week on the research website

Astronomers Say There Could Be 36 Communicating Extraterrestrial Civilizations in Milky Way

Using the assumption that intelligent life develops on exoplanets in a similar way as it does on Earth, a duo of researchers from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nottingham has obtained an estimate for the number of communicating extraterrestrial intelligent (CETI) civilizations within our Milky Way Galaxy. They calculate that there could be 36 active CETI civilizations in the Galaxy; the nearest is 17,000 light-years away and most likely hosted by a red dwarf star, likely far surpassing our ability to detect it for the foreseeable future, and making interstellar communication impossible.

Westby & Conselice present a cosmic perspective on the search for life and examine the likely number of CETI civilizations in our Milky Way Galaxy by utilizing the latest astrophysical information. Image credit: Angela Yuriko Smith.

“There should be at least a few dozen active CETI civilizations in our Galaxy under the assumption that it takes 5 billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets, as on Earth,” said Professor Christopher Conselice, senior author of the study.

“The idea is looking at evolution, but on a cosmic scale. We call this calculation the Astrobiological Copernican Limit.”

“The classic method for estimating the number of intelligent civilizations relies on making guesses of values relating to life, whereby opinions about such matters vary quite substantially,” added Dr. Tom Westby, first author of the study.

“Our new study simplifies these assumptions using new data, giving us a solid estimate of the number of civilizations in our Galaxy.”

The two Astrobiological Copernican limits are that intelligent life forms in less than 5 billion years, or after about 5 billion years — similar to on Earth where a communicating civilization formed after 4.5 billion years.

In the strong criteria, whereby a metal content equal to that of the Sun is needed, the authors calculate that there should be around 36 active CETI civilizations in the Milky Way.

They show that the number of civilizations depends strongly on how long they are actively sending out signals of their existence into space, such as radio transmissions from satellites, television, etc.

If other technological civilizations last as long as ours which is currently 100 years old, then there will be about 36 ongoing intelligent technical civilizations throughout our Galaxy.

However, the average distance to these civilizations would be 17,000 light-years away, making detection and communication very difficult with our present technology.

It is also possible that we are the only civilization within our Galaxy unless the survival times of civilizations like our own are long.

“Our new research suggests that searches for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations not only reveal the existence of how life forms, but also give us clues for how long our own civilization will last,” Professor Conselice said.

“If we find that intelligent life is common then this would reveal that our civilization could exist for much longer than a few hundred years, alternatively if we find that there are no active civilizations in our Galaxy it is a bad sign for our own long-term existence.”

“By searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life — even if we find nothing — we are discovering our own future and fate.”

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

NASA wants to explore Neptune’s moon Triton, which could have an ocean supporting life

NASA has proposed a mission to explore Neptune‘s mysterious and “weird” moon Triton, the coldest known object in the solar system.

In a statement posted to its website, the space agency said the mission, known as Trident, will have a “three-pronged” approach. The mission will observe the celestial satellite to understand the cause of the mysterious plumes emanating from its surface, further explore the moon, which was only 40 percent observed by Voyager 2, and “understand how that mysterious surface keeps renewing itself.”

“Triton is weird, but yet relevantly weird, because of the science we can do there,” said Karl Mitchell, Trident project scientist at JPL, in a statement. “We know the surface has all these features we’ve never seen before, which motivates us to want to know ‘How does this world work?’

Global color mosaic of Triton, taken in 1989 by Voyager 2 during its flyby of the Neptune system. (Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS)

Global color mosaic of Triton, taken in 1989 by Voyager 2 during its flyby of the Neptune system. (Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS)

“As we said to NASA in our mission proposal, Triton isn’t just a key to solar system science — it’s a whole keyring: a captured Kuiper Belt object that evolved, a potential ocean world with active plumes, an energetic ionosphere and a young, unique surface,” Mitchell added.

Four missions are being currently studied with a potential launch date in October 2025 to take advantage of the once-in-13-year window that has the Earth properly aligned with Jupiter. The craft would use Jupiter’s gravitational pull to send it to Triton for a 13-day mission in 2038.

“The mission designers and navigators are so good at this,” said JPL’s William Frazier, project systems engineer of Trident. “After 13 years of flying through the solar system, we can confidently skim the upper edge of Triton’s atmosphere — which is pretty mind-boggling.”

A new Discovery mission proposal, Trident would explore Neptune's largest moon, Triton, which is potentially an ocean world with liquid water under its icy crust. Trident aims to answer the questions outlined in the graphic illustration above. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A new Discovery mission proposal, Trident would explore Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, which is potentially an ocean world with liquid water under its icy crust. Trident aims to answer the questions outlined in the graphic illustration above. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Triton has several oddities compared with other celestial objects, including orbiting in the opposite direction, lying at an extreme tilt and the fact it likely moved from the Kuiper Belt.

It also has a constantly evolving climate and a bizarre atmosphere. Its ionosphere is 10 times more active than other moons in the solar system, a trait NASA describes as “especially strange” because ionospheres are charged by solar particles.

By studying and observing Triton’s “weird” behavior, it could give researchers new insight into objects in the Kuiper Belt, as well as a better understanding of the solar system.

“Triton has always been one of the most exciting and intriguing bodies in the solar system,” said Louise Prockter, director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute/Universities Space Research Association in Houston. “I’ve always loved the Voyager 2 images and their tantalizing glimpses of this bizarre, crazy moon that no one understands.”

In April 2019, NASA announced that nearly 30 years after it sent a spacecraft to Uranus and Neptune, it’s looking to go back.

One month prior, scientists at NASA JPL proposed a mission that would explore Triton, which some have theorized could have an ocean hiding underneath its surface.

Uranus and Neptune are relatively unexplored, despite the fact that Voyager 2 snapped photos of both planets in 1986 and 1989, respectively.

Trump signals he has ‘interesting’ details on Roswell, as son grills him about aliens

Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher and Foster Friess, founder of Friess Associates, join Steve Hilton on ‘The Next Revolution,’ to discuss policy priorities of a potential second Trump term.

President Trump, under rigorous questioning from his son Donald Trump Jr., on Thursday about the existence of extraterrestrial life, suggested he knew “interesting” information about Roswell, N.M. — the site of a 1947 crash that has touched off conspiracy theories about an alien spacecraft ever since.

Trump made the comments in a lighthearted, Father’s Day-themed video interview produced by his presidential campaign that dealt with a variety of topics, including potential U.S. government secrets about aliens.

“Before you leave office, will you let us know if there’s aliens? Because this is the only thing I really want to know. I want to know what’s going on. Would you ever open up Roswell and let us know what’s going on there?” Trump Jr. asked.

“So many people ask me that question,” the president said. “There are millions and millions of people that want to go there, that want to see it. I won’t talk to you about what I know about it but it’s very interesting. But Roswell is a very interesting place with a lot of people that would like to know what’s going on.”

When Trump Jr. further pressed his father on whether he would declassify details about Roswell, the president said, “I’ll have to think about that one.”

It’s unclear what the pair were referring to when discussing the potential of opening up Roswell — the city itself has a booming tourism industry and the one military base in the area was closed during the Vietnam War. Area 51, an Air Force base in Nevada, is a highly classified location that many have speculated could hold secrets about aliens.

The Pentagon earlier this year released unclassified footage showing “unidentified aerial phenomena” of military encounters with other aircraft that behaved in a way that one pilot told the New York Times was “like nothing I’ve ever seen.”Video

“After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems, and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena,” a Pentagon spokeswoman said about the footage’s release.

“DOD is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos,” she added. “The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified.’”

Also during the conversation with his son, the president complimented Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as “good-looking guys” while saying that he thinks the senators and Trump Jr. look better clean-shaven. All three men have recently grown beards.

“In some cases, I think it’s good. In your case, just get rid of it,” the president told his son.

Trump Jr. also asked the president whether he would consider pardoning “Tiger King” star Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic. Trump said he had seen some episodes of the show, noting that Joe Exotic is “quite a character” and saying “that’s a whole strange deal.”

Trump would not commit to pardoning Maldonado-Passage, who was sentenced earlier this year to 22 years in prison for a murder-for-hire plot.

Astronomers Detect Organic Molecules in Starless and Prestellar Regions of Nearby Stellar Nursery

Astronomers have detected the signatures of two complex organic molecules, methanol and acetaldehyde, in starless and prestellar cores of the Taurus Molecular Cloud, a star-forming region located about 440 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Taurus.

An artist’s illustration of complex organic molecules in space. Image credit: Jenny Mottar / NASA.

Prestellar or starless cores are so-named because while they do not yet contain any stars, they mark regions in space where cold dust and gases coalesce into the seeds that will give rise to stars and possibly planets.

Taurus Molecular Cloud | Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter

Each core can stretch over a distance that would cover up to 1,000 solar systems lined up next to each other.

Compared to other objects in the Universe, like galaxies, they form on rather short timescales, with lifespans of less than a million years.

Driven by processes like turbulence and gravitational forces, the gas and dust in a molecular cloud collapses to form filaments, and it is within those filaments that the denser cores form.

“The Taurus Molecular Cloud is especially interesting because it provides a glimpse into different evolutionary stages between cores,” said lead author Samantha Scibelli, a doctoral student with the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona.

“Not all cores may form stars; there is a lot of uncertainty involved. We think many of the cores are in early stages, which is why we don’t see them forming stars right now.”

Using the Arizona Radio Observatory’s 12-m dish telescope on Kitt Peak, southwest of Tucson, Scibelli and Steward Observatory astronomer Yancy Shirley conducted a large sample survey of 31 starless and prestellar cores in the Taurus Molecular Cloud.

“These starless cores we looked at are several hundred thousand years away from the initial formation of a protostar or any planets,” Dr. Shirley said.

“This tells us that the basic organic chemistry needed for life is present in the raw gas prior to the formation of stars and planets.”

The researchers looked for the tell-tale signatures of methanol (CH3OH) and acetaldehyde (CH3CHO) during an observation campaign totaling almost 500 hours of observing time.

They detecting methanol in 100% of the cores targeted and acetaldehyde in 70%.

They interpret these results as evidence that complex organic molecules are much more widespread in nascent star-forming regions than previously thought.

The findings challenge traditional theories of how prebiotic molecules form, because they assume a scenario in which the heat from newborn stars provides the necessary environment for organic molecules to form.

The abundance of complex organic molecules in clouds of extremely cold gas and dust that are still a long way away from such conditions means other processes must be at work.

“Inside these cores, which we think of as birthplaces, cocoons and nurseries of low-mass stars similar to our Sun, the conditions are such that it’s hard to even create these molecules,” Scibelli said.

“By doing surveys like this, we can understand better how precursors to life come into existence, how they migrate and enter solar systems at later stages of star formation.”

The results were published in the Astrophysical Journal.