This Comet Might Be from Interstellar Space. Here’s How We Could Find Out

A depiction of the path of Comet C/2019 Q4, which may be the second interstellar object detected to date.

A depiction of the path of Comet C/2019 Q4, which may be the second interstellar object detected to date.(Image: © ESA)

At first, it was just another bright, fuzzy speck in the sky. But it may turn out to be something much more exciting: the second known object to hurtle through our solar system after leaving another system.

Astronomers will need a lot more observations before they can be confident giving the comet that title, but early data about the object seems promising. That would make the comet, currently known as Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) after the person who first spotted it, the first traveling successor to the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua, which was discovered in October 2017.

“Based on the available observations, the orbit solution for this object has converged to the hyperbolic elements shown below, which would indicate an interstellar origin,” read the Minor Planet Electronic Circular about the object.

Such a statement is issued on behalf of the International Astronomical Union by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory when observers have registered enough data about an object to begin calculating its path through space.

The vast majority of asteroids and comets that astronomers have tracked to date follow an elliptical orbit: oval or egg-shaped or nearly circular. These objects spend eons looping through the solar system, perhaps kicked around a bit after straying too close to a planet and getting tugged off course. They were made in our solar system and remain trapped here, pacing around the sun’s mass.

But as the Minor Planet Electronic Circular noted, for C/2019 Q4, the data so far suggest that its path is a hyperbola, with the object arcing in from beyond our solar system and destined to leave the neighborhood again soon. That’s a trajectory scientists have so far seen only from ‘Oumuamua, although estimates suggest that these visitors should charge through our solar system fairly regularly. (A few months ago, scientists suggested a meteorite that hit Earth in 2014 may also have been interstellar.)

A Crimean skywatcher named Gennady Borisov made the first sighting of C/2019 Q4, on Aug. 30, and caught sight of it again two days later. Since then, six other astronomers have filed observations to the Minor Planet Center’s data hub, which houses the Minor Planet Electronic Circular. The data cover Aug. 30 to Sept. 8.

Corey S. Powell@coreyspowell · Sep 10, 2019

Astronomers may have spotted an interstellar comet heading into the solar system. Still uncertain, but we should know more in another week or two. …YE Quanzhi@YeqzidsNEOCP (==near-Earth object confirmation page) object gb00234 still baffles folks. Could it be the second interstellar object and the first interstellar comet? New observations are in, but the orbit solution is still interstellar. …

Corey S. Powell@coreyspowell

Here’s an image of the possible interstellar comet, taken by G. Borisov, who discovered it. (HT @TM_Eubanks)

View image on Twitter

803:36 AM – Sep 11, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy26 people are talking about this

Astronomers hope that those sightings will soon have plenty of company. “Further observations are clearly very desirable, as all currently available observations have been obtained at small solar elongations and low elevations,” the circular continued.

And there should be plenty of opportunities for observers to gather more data about C/2019 Q4. The search may need to pause for a month or so because of the object’s proximity to the sun, but Borisov spotted the comet early enough in its journey that astronomers should be able to study it for at least a year, according to the circular. That’s in stark contrast to ‘Oumuamua, which was already waving goodbye to our solar system when scientists spotted it.

Comet C/2019 Q4, in contrast, is the kind of interstellar candidate that the European Space Agency (ESA) hopes to study via a mission called Comet Interceptor in just a few years. That mission consists of a trio of spacecraft that ESA wants to send to an Oort Cloud object or an interstellar object, depending on what observations are available as planning progresses.

According to a statement from ESA, C/2019 Q4 is a couple miles (a few kilometers) across and will pass closest to the sun, about 186 million miles (300 million km) away from the sun, in early December. That’s about twice the average distance between Earth and the sun.

1st Color Photo of Interstellar Comet Reveals Its Fuzzy Tail

The first color image of the comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), which astronomers believe to be the first known interstellar comet ever identified, was captured by the Gemini North telescope at Hawaii's Mauna Kea. Gemini North acquired four 60-second exposures in two color bands (red and green). The blue and red lines are background stars moving in the background.
The first color image of the comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), which astronomers believe to be the first known interstellar comet ever identified, was captured by the Gemini North telescope at Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. Gemini North acquired four 60-second exposures in two color bands (red and green). The blue and red lines are background stars moving in the background.

Astronomers have taken the first color photo of a potentially interstellar comet, and it looks spectacular.

The colored image allowed astronomers to spot a comet tail, which is the product of gases flowing off its surface. This tail is unique among the suspected interstellar visitors to our solar system. Of course, there have only been two such guests so far — this comet, named Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), and ‘Oumuamua, which is a long asteroid or space rock with no obvious gases flowing from its surface.

Astronomers nabbed the view the night of Sept. 9-10 using the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph on the Gemini North Telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea.

“This image was possible because of Gemini’s ability to rapidly adjust observations and observe objects like this, which have very short windows of visibility,” Andrew Stephens, who coordinated the observations at the Gemini Observatory, said in a statement. “However, we really had to scramble for this one since we got the final details at 3:00 a.m. [local time] and were observing it by 4:45!”

The comet was discovered by Russian amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov on Aug. 30. Right now its path in the Earth’s sky brings it close to the sun, making it difficult to observe because it is best visible in twilight. In the next few months, the comet is expected to move further away from the sun — making it easier to see. 

For these new Gemini observations, the astronomical team obtained them thanks to a target-of-opportunity program led by Piotr Guzik and Michal Drahus at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. A research paper, led by Guzik, was uploaded to the preprint server Arxiv on Thursday (Sept. 12) and has been submitted to a journal for publication. (Papers on arXiv are not yet peer-reviewed.)

Astronomers aren’t certain if this comet originated from outside our solar system, because its path through space isn’t well defined. So far, however, the data suggests that its path is a hyperbola — meaning that it is dipping into the solar system before flying out again. Most comets and asteroids tracked in the solar system have elliptical orbits, which range from nearly circular to egg-shaped to long-looped orbits.

Russia launches major new telescope into space after delays

This morning at 8:31 AM (EST) @roscosmos successfully launched their Spektr-RG mission on a Proton rocket. Now the space observatory can begin operation and study distant galaxies!
13:08 PM – Jul 13, 2019See Final-Frontier Updates’s other TweetsTwitter Ads info and privacy

MOSCOW – A Russian Proton-M rocket successfully delivered a cutting-edge space telescope into orbit Saturday after days of launch delays, Russia’s space agency said.

Roscosmos said the telescope, named Spektr-RG, was delivered into a parking orbit before a final burn Saturday that kicked the spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit and on to its final destination: the L2 Lagrange point.

A Russian Proton-M rocket takes off from the launch pad at Russia's space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

A Russian Proton-M rocket takes off from the launch pad at Russia’s space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. (Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service photo via AP)

Lagrange points are unique positions in the solar system where objects can maintain their position relative to the sun and the planets that orbit it. Located 0.93 million miles from Earth, L2 is particularly ideal for telescopes such as Spektr-RG.

If all goes well, the telescope will arrive at its designated position in three months, becoming the first Russian spacecraft to operate beyond Earth’s orbit since the Soviet era. The telescope aims to conduct a complete x-ray survey of the sky by 2025, the first space telescope to do so.

The Russian accomplishment comes as the U.S. space agency NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.

Russian space science missions have suffered greatly since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Budget cuts have forced the Russian space program to shift toward more commercial efforts.

A Russian Mars probe, called Mars 96, failed to leave Earth’s orbit in 1996. A later attempt to send a probe to Mars, called Fobos-Grunt, suffered a similar fate in 2011.

Work on Spektr-RG telescope began in the 1980s but was scrapped in the 1990s. Spektr-RG was revived in 2005 and redesigned to be smaller, simpler and cheaper.

In its modern form, the project is a close collaboration between Russian and German scientists, who both installed telescope equipment aboard the Russian spacecraft.

Mysterious ‘fast radio burst’ traced back to its home galaxy for first time ever

An animation shows the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky. Astronomers have discovered about 85 since 2007, and pinpointed two of them. Credit: NRAO Outreach/T. Jarrett (IPAC/Caltech); B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

An animation shows the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky. Astronomers have discovered about 85 since 2007, and pinpointed two of them. Credit: NRAO Outreach/T. Jarrett (IPAC/Caltech); B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Three and a half billion years ago, a mysterious object on the edge of a distant galaxy spewed forth an intensely bright, vanishingly brief burst of radio energy that shot across the universe.

That pulse of energy — known to its fans in the astronomy community as a fast radio burst (FRB) — passed through a wilderness of gas, dust and empty space on its multi-billion-year journey, slowly stretching and changing color as it moved. Then, for less than a millisecond in 2018, that burst zapped past a special telescope in Earth’s Australian outback, giving scientists a rare opportunity to shake hands with one of the most mysterious forms of energy in the universe.

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It’s the first time that astronomers have successfully tracked a one-off FRB back to its origins across space and time, according to the authors of a study published today (June 27) in the journal Science. Understanding where FRBs come from allows scientists to probe the vast tracts of matter between their host galaxies and Earth, and maybe even locate undiscovered pockets of protons and neutrons thought to be lurking between galaxies.[The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe]

“These bursts are altered by the matter they encounter in space,” study co-author Jean-Pierre Macquart, a researcher at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) said in a statement. “Now we can pinpoint where they come from, we can use them to measure the amount of matter in intergalactic space.”

Bursting onto the scene

Since the phenomenon was discovered in 2007, astronomers have observed about 85 FRBs and pinpointed the origins of only one other — a repeating flash that pulsed 9 times from a tiny, star-forming galaxy over about six months in 2016. Pinpointing the source of a one-off FRB, which can last for a fraction of a millisecond, has proved exceedingly difficult, until now.

In their new study, the researchers detected the lone FRB using an array of 36 satellites called the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope. When an FRB passes the array, each satellite picks up the burst’s signal a fraction of a millisecond apart. Using these subtle time differences, the researchers were able to figure out which direction the burst came from, and approximately how far it traveled.

The ASKAP observations pointed to a Milky-Way-size galaxy about 3.6 billion light-years away from Earth. With some help from several other large telescopes around the world, the researchers zoomed in on this galaxy to learn that it was relatively old and not forming many new stars.

According Adam Deller, an astrophysicist at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia and co-author of the new study, the properties of this distant galaxy sit in stark contrast to the galaxy that created a repeating fast-radio burst that was detected in 2016.

“The burst we localized and its host galaxy look nothing like the ‘repeater’ and its host,” Deller said in the statement. “It comes from a massive galaxy that is forming relatively few stars. This suggests that fast radio bursts can be produced in a variety of environments.”

While the repeating FRB detected a few years ago was likely created by a neutron star or supernova explosion (common engines of star formation in active galaxies), this individual burst could have been caused by something else entirely, the researchers wrote.

What else, exactly? Nobody knows yet — but radioactive belches from supermassive black holes or the engines of alien spacecraft have not been ruled out. Only by pinpointing more FRBs will researchers be able to unravel this cosmic mystery. Fortunately, the authors of the new study wrote, now that they’ve got one under their belt, finding the next one should be a little easier.

Astronomers spot moon ‘flashing at us’ and no one can explain why

A new study suggests that a ‘large body,’ perhaps an ancient planet or asteroid, crashed into the Moon and gave it its distinctive features.

Humans have been noticing flashes of light coming from the Moon for thousands of years but we still don’t understand why this happens or what causes it.

The strange occurrence is known as a transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) and an astronomer from Germany thinks he’s on the cusp of solving this moon mystery.

Hakan Kayal from the University of Würzburg in Bavaria is working on a project that might reveal what causes the quick shifts of light and darkness on the Moon.

He is using a brand new type of telescope system that is based in Spain and it’s already making progress, despite only being used since April.

Kayal describes the TLP flashes as bursts of light that last for seconds but Popular Science notes that some ‘flashes’ have been observed lighting up the Moon surface for hours at a time.

Some other experts describe the light spikes as sparkly and red or pink.

TLP is often observed a few times a week and can sometimes leave dark spots on the Moon.

Popular explanations for them include meteorite impacts and gas released from moonquakes reflecting light abnormally.Video

The first confirmed sighting of TLP was made by a Russian astronomer in 1958 and the European Space Agency has since made a special telescope, called NELIOTA, which discovered that the flashes happen far more often that people first thought.

This is why explaining the flashing Moon is so hard because it happens so often and there could be multiple reasons for it.

Kayal’s new telescope system, which is still being developed, is fairly low budget and involves two telescopes that constantly observe the Moon with cameras and relay what they see to computers powered by artificially intelligent software.

This AI software is tasked with distinguishing lunar flashes from other bright phenomenon, like meteorites, so the possible causes of TLP can be whittled down.

Astronomers think it is important to understand what causes the phenomenon before humans reach the Moon again as some of the explanations for TLP could be dangerous.

Scientists completed one of the most detailed explorations inside the Great Blue Hole. Here’s what they found at the bottom of the giant, mysterious sinkhole.

  • The Great Blue Hole is a massive underwater sinkhole that lies off the coast of Belize.
  • Scuba divers and snorkelers have been cruising the surface waters for decades, but very few explorers have dared to venture deeper and explore what lies at the bottom.
  • In the winter of 2018, a crew from Aquatica Submarines ventured to the bottom of the Great Blue Hole and made some unexpected discoveries.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: There’s a massive underwater sinkhole off the coast of Belize that extends 125 meters into the Earth’s crust. It’s called the Great Blue Hole. Scuba divers and snorkelers have been cruising the surface waters for decades, but few have dared to venture deeper and explore what lies beyond the blackness.

In the winter of 2018, a crew from Aquatica Submarines started their descent to the bottom of the Blue Hole. Their mission was to create a 3D map of the sinkhole’s interior, but along the way, they came across some common and not-so-common sights.

As the crew started, they found the usual suspects: reef sharks, turtles, and giant corals. But as they pushed 90 meters, life started to vanish. The culprit was a thick layer of toxic hydrogen sulfide spanning the width of the entire sinkhole like a floating blanket.

Erika Bergman: Underneath that there’s no oxygen, no life, and down there we found conchs and conch shells and hermit crabs that had fallen into the hole and suffocated, really.

Narrator: Past the conch graveyard and toward the bottom of the hole, around 120 meters deep, the team found something they did not expect: small stalactites. The surprise gave scientists clues to the hole’s ancient past.

Bergman: Stalactites can only form because water is dripping down stone. And so we know that this was a big, dry cave, and it was during a really prolific era on Earth, so there were probably lots of stuff living in it.

Narrator: Scientists think the cave formed during the last Ice Age, which ended about 14,000 years ago. That’s when sea levels began to rise, and the cave flooded and collapsed, leaving behind the Blue Hole we see today. Researchers think that other marine sinkholes, like Dragon Hole in South China Sea, and Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas probably formed the same way.

As the scientists continued down the hole, they found another clue to the past: a light buildup of silt on top of the conch graveyard.

Bergman: The silt itself on the bottom is a pretty good record of all of the different hurricanes and storm cycles and glaciations that have happened, so we can see that right around the time of the Mayan collapse, there were huge, huge storm cycles followed by very significant droughts.

Narrator: As the team continued to explore the bottom of the hole, they found a 2-liter Coke bottle and a lost GoPro containing some vacation photos. But that wasn’t all.

Bergman: We did encounter two of the probable three people who have been lost in the Blue Hole, so we found kind of the resting place of a couple folks, and we just sort of very respectfully let the Belize government know where we found them, and everyone decided that we would just not attempt any recovery. It’s very dark and peaceful down there, just kind of let them stay.

Narrator: Scientists predict this hole won’t be around forever to explore. Every day, waterfalls of sand fall into it, slowly filling it up like an underwater hourglass. But as for now, we can still admire its beauty and study its many mysteries.



An illustration of a lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. The design being proposed by Lockheed Martin is a two-stage vehicle that is derived from the Orion spacecraft. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

An illustration of a lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. The design being proposed by Lockheed Martin is a two-stage vehicle derived from the Orion spacecraft. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin unveiled a design for a human-rated lunar lander that could be built quickly to meet Vice President Mike Pence’s challenge to return humans to the Moon by 2024.

The two-stage lander concept was presented April 10, 2019, during the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where engineers from Lockheed Martin discussed ideas on how to accelerate lunar lander capabilities.

NASA’s current plan to return humans to the Moon is expected in two phases, as outlined by the agency’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, earlier this week. The first phase is about speed and involves building an initial Lunar Gateway (described as a reusable command module in orbit around the Moon) likely with just a power and propulsion module and a utilization module with docking ports.

Ultimately, the Gateway is being designed to allow for Orion crews to dock and transfer to a reusable lunar lander architecture. It would also be in an orbit that requires little fuel to maintain while allowing for access to a large portion of the Moon’s surface. In the future, the vehicle is envisioned as being a rendezvous location for commercial resupply and refueling ships to replenish a reusable Moon exploration architecture.

NASA envisions a three-part lunar lander system, built via public-private partnerships consisting of a transfer vehicle to travel to low-lunar orbit, a descent vehicle to land on the Moon and an ascent vehicle to return back to the Gateway.

NASA has been working to restart its crewed lunar program for 15 years. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

NASA has been working to restart its crewed lunar program for 15 years. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

However, Lockheed Martin’s lander concept only requires two of those: the descent and ascent vehicles. Moreover, they are expected to be, in part, based off NASA’s Orion crew module, of which Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor.

Orion is currently slated to launch atop NASA’s long-delayed Space Launch System as early as 2020. Known as Exploration Mission-1, it is expected to fly around the Moon before returning to Earth to test much of the spacecrafts systems.

EM-2 is expected to follow as soon as 2022 and will be a full-up human flight, likely utilizing a free-return trajectory around the Moon.

However, Lockheed Martin is proposing that it accelerate development on Orion’s docking hardware and software, including elements of design of the European service module, to allow for EM-2 to dock with the first modules of the Gateway, likely just the power and propulsion module and a utilization module with docking ports.

Those flights would test much of the hardware and software that would go into the proposed lunar lander, which the company would be developing in parallel, another key principle laid out by Bridenstine to allow for a speedy return to the Moon.

EM-3, would then be freed to send a crew in 2024 to the Gateway where its lunar lander could be waiting for them to take at least part of the crew to the surface.

An illustration of the ascent stage of Lockheed Martin's lunar lander design docked to the Gateway. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

An illustration of the ascent stage of Lockheed Martin’s lunar lander design docked to the Gateway. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin said that for this plan to work on an aggressive five-year schedule, engineers would need to start “bending metal” next year. By late 2020, the focus would be on the avionics and software as a basis for systems testing and the beginning of crew training. Additionally, the company said resources from NASA—money—will be required for this to be built.

According to Lockheed Martin, a robotic tech demo would be planned for between 2021 and 2022 in order to further reduce risk.

Lockheed Martin has also been testing Gateway habitat prototypes at Kennedy Space Center since 2015 as part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.

The company’s designs are based based on the Multi-purpose Logistics Modules, which were originally designed to provide logistics for the ISS. The prototype can be reconfigured for numerous missions.

Several companies are contracted under this program, including Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Bigelow Aerospace, etc, but Lockheed Martin was the first to turn the prototype to NASA for testing. Engineers are studying how Orion and future habitats could dock with Gateway.

Numerous systems are in the process of being designed and studied—including life support, radiation protection, thermal control, power, rendezvous, proximity, operations and docking, an airlock and communications—in order to determine which would work best in deep space.

Lockheed Martin is using its Habitat Ground Test ARticle to studying a variety of mission concepts. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin is using its Habitat Ground Test Article to studying a variety of mission concepts. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin


Shazam!PG-13 2019 ‧ Fantasy/Science Fiction ‧ 2h 12m

93% liked this movie – Google users


We all have a superhero inside of us — it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In 14-year-old Billy Batson’s case, all he needs to do is shout out one word to transform into the adult superhero Shazam. Still a kid at heart, Shazam revels in the new version of himself by doing what any other teen would do — have fun while testing out his newfound powers. But he’ll need to master them quickly before the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana can get his hands on Shazam’s magical abilities.Release date: April 5, 2019 (USA)DirectorDavid SandbergProducerPeter SafranScreenplayHenry GaydenProduction companiesWarner Bros.New Line CinemaThe Safran CompanyDC FilmsCritic reviewsEven though Shazam! isn’t one of the most well-known superheroes from the DC comics, his origin story has turned out to be the best DC film in years.Full review

Chavi Pande
BookMyShowShazam feels blessedly old-fashioned, which isn’t to say it’s perfect—or even very good.Full review

David Edelstein
Vulture?Shazam!? operates as a thrilling fantasy and a comedy about the learning curve of growing up.Full review

Pat Padua
Washington PostShazam!, like its namesake hero—much like us all, really—is a bundle of contradictions.Full reviewPaul Asay
Plugged InView 5+ moreAudience reviewsNEW

A brilliant cocktail of coming‑of‑age story, superhero origin, Christmas movie, and hilarious comedy with a lifetime‑…

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F‑U‑N fully arrives in the DCEU with SHAZAM! Although a few dark moments occur, these occur naturally, unliked the …

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SpaceX Falcon Heavy Sticks Triple Rocket Landing with 1st Commercial Launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy successfully launched its first operational mission today (April 11), sticking a triple-rocket landing more than a year after its demo mission catapulted a cherry-red Tesla and a dummy nicknamed Starman into space.

The megarocket, dubbed the most powerful launcher in operation, blasted off at 6:35 p.m. EDT (2235 GMT). It lifted off here from the same site that once hosted NASA’s Apollo moon missions and its fleet of space shuttles: historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. About 34 minutes later, the rocket deployed Arabsat-6A, an advanced communications satellite that will provide internet and communications services to residents of the Middle East, Africa and parts of Europe. 

Falcon Heavy’s second flight went off without a hitch at the beginning of a 2-hour window after high upper level winds thwarted SpaceX’s second launch attempt. A day earlier, Falcon Heavy faced a 24-hour delay due to poor weatherat the launch pad. A dismal weather forecast for Tuesday (April 9) convinced launch officials to issue a delay rather than face just a 30% chance of favorable weather. 

Today’s flight was the first of a Falcon Heavy launch featuring souped-up Block 5versions of its component rockets. (A Falcon Heavy rocket is built of three Falcon 9 first stages, which are combined to form the 27-engine megarocket.) As the rocket’s first-stage engines roared to life, they fired in unison and spewed smoke and fire around the launch pad.

SpaceX made the transition to Block 5 for its Falcon 9 flights in May, after the demo flight of Falcon Heavy in February 2018. Today’s Falcon Heavy boasted more than 5 million lbs. of thrust, a 10% increase over its predecessor.

In addition to the added thrust, the Block 5 Falcon 9 now features a plethora of upgrades, all of which are designed to facilitate reusability. Previous versions of the Falcon 9 were meant to fly only two to three times; however, Musk says the Block 5 is capable of flying as many as 10 times with virtually no refurbishment between flights.Touchdowns! SpaceX Lands All 3 Falcon Heavy Boosters After Launching SatelliteVolume 0% 

To achieve that goal, engineers developed a suite of upgrades for the company’s flagship rocket. The design changes — including improved engines, a more durable interstage (the piece that connects the rocket’s two stages), titanium grid fins and a new thermal protection system — were developed to help the rocket better handle the stresses of launch. These technological advances have enabled the company to establish a growing fleet of flight-proven rockets.

Falcon Heavy now has two spaceflights under its belt. Its first mission launched on Feb. 6, 2018, ferrying Elon Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster — with a spacesuit-wearing test dummy named Starman sitting in the driver’s seat — into orbit. The nearly flawless first launch, which included successful landings by two of the Falcon Heavy’s three first-stage boosters, earned SpaceX major accolades

Related: Out-of-This-World Photos from Falcon Heavy’s Historic Debut Flight

The enthusiasm carried over into today’s flight, as thousands of onlookers gathered in the area to watch the Falcon Heavy fly.

Sonic booms echoed through the sky as the rocket’s two side boosters touched down in unison at SpaceX’s nearby landing sites. The third landed on SpaceX’s drone ship landing pad “Of Course I Still Love You,” stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. (That represents an improvement over the rocket’s first flight, when the core stage missed the drone ship and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after two of three engines did not fire during the descent.)Watch 3 Boosters Put Together to Form Falcon HeavyVolume 0% 

With its first operational Heavy flight in the books, SpaceX is ready to forge ahead with a steady schedule of launches. The next Falcon Heavy flight, due to launch this year, will carry the Space Test Program 2 mission for the U.S. Air Force and a solar-sail mission for The Planetary Society.

Falcon Heavy fetches a base price of $90 million per launch. Last June, SpaceX snagged a highly coveted military mission for the rocket — a $130 million deal to launch an Air Force Space Command satellite sometime in 2020.

SpaceX first announced plans for the Falcon Heavy in April 2011, predicting that its first flight could occur two years later. But that deadline came and went, and it was ultimately seven years before Falcon Heavy got off the ground. Before last year’s launch, Musk estimated that SpaceX invested about $500 million to develop the rocket. SpaceX Starhopper Test-Fires Have BegunVolume 0% 

The Falcon Heavy is part of a growing list of SpaceX launch services and ongoing projects, which could include launching astronauts to the space station later this year during Crew Dragon‘s first crewed test flight. But Falcon Heavy won’t be the most powerful rocket in SpaceX’s arsenal for long. SpaceX is in the early stages of developing a launch system even larger than the Falcon Heavy

Just days before today’s launch, on April 5, the company hit the end of its tether on Starhopper, a test prototype for that massive rocket. That’s an initial stage of the company’s Starship program to design a fully reusable deep-space launcher for missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. The program already has its first passenger: SpaceX announced last September that Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa has booked a trip around the moon that’s slated to fly no earlier than 2023.

SpaceX’s next launch from the Cape is currently scheduled for April 26, when a Falcon 9 rocket will ferry a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station.

First-ever black hole image revealed

By James Rogers | Fox News

Scientists release the first picture of a black hole ever captured

Scientists have obtained the first image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87.

Scientists have released the first-ever image of a black hole, revealing the distant object in stunning detail.

The groundbreaking discovery was made by the Event Horizon Telescope, an international project involving telescopes across the globe that describes itself as a “virtual Earth-sized telescope.” Telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona, Chile, Mexico, Spain and the South Pole participated in the ambitious research project.

The black hole was spotted in galaxy Messier 87 (M87) that is 55 million light years away. A light year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.

“We’re delighted to report to you today that we have seen what we thought was unseeable,” explained Dr. Shep Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope, during a press conference at the National Science Foundation Wednesday. “We have taken advantage of a cosmic opportunity.”View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

National Science Foundation@NSF

You’re looking at the first ever image of a black hole. It was captured by the #NSFFunded @ehtelescope project. #ehtblackhole #RealBlackHole …69.6K8:07 AM – Apr 10, 201937.9K people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

“This was a Herculean task,” explained National Science Foundation Director Dr. France Cordova, during the press conference,  noting that the Event Horizon Telescope’s findings transform and enhance our understanding of black holes. The National Science Foundation has invested $28 million in Event Horizon Telescope project.

The black hole has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun, according to the researchers, who captured the image of a ring-like structure with a dark central region, which is the black hole’s “shadow.”


“”If immersed in a bright region, like a disc of glowing gas, we expect a black hole to create a dark region similar to a shadow — something predicted by Einstein’s general relativity that we’ve never seen before,” explained Heino Falcke of Holland’s Radboud University and chair of the EHT Science Council, in a statement. “This shadow, caused by the gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon, reveals a lot about the nature of these fascinating objects and allowed us to measure the enormous mass of M87’s black hole.”

The shadow of a black hole is the closest we can come to an image of the black hole itself, according to the EHT scientists. “The black hole’s boundary — the event horizon from which the EHT takes its name — is around 2.5 times smaller than the shadow it casts and measures just under 40 billion km [24.8 billion miles] across.,” the explain, in the statement.

NASA said that the black hole had been observed by several of its own missions.View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter


In a historic feat by @EHTelescope & @NSF, a black hole image has been captured for the 1st time. Several of our missions observed the same black hole using different light wavelengths and collected data to understand the black hole’s environment. Details: 27.2K8:45 AM – Apr 10, 201916.8K people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

“Black holes are extremely dense pockets of matter, objects of such incredible mass and miniscule volume that they drastically warp the fabric of space-time,” explains the National Science Foundation, on its website. “Anything that passes too close, from a wandering star to a photon of light, gets captured. Most black holes are the condensed remnants of a massive star, the collapsed core that remains following an explosive supernova.”

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch might mean moon missions for Elon Musk

By Tim Fernholz4 hours ago

The SpaceX rocket expected to vault a Saudi communications satellite into orbit on April 10 is also auditioning to explore space with NASA.

The Falcon Heavy rocket is the most powerful operational rocket in the world, designed to fly the largest satellites into the highest orbits over the earth. The communications satellite being flown in this launch, Arabsat-6A, weighs about six metric tons (6.6 tons).

Though this is just the second flight of the rocket, a smooth mission could bring Elon Musk closer to his dreams of taking humanity out into the solar system. NASA has set a new goal of landing humans on the moon in 2024 that may require SpaceX’s help to achieve.

The vehicle is effectively three of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 boosters lashed together. It debuted with a Feb. 2018 flight that sent a Tesla roadster into orbit around the sun.

SpaceX warned residents of the Florida coast that there are likely to be three large sonic booms when the three boosters return to earth after delivering the satellite.

Arabsat-6A will be launched to an orbit roughly 36,000 km (22,369 miles) above the earth, where it will remain over Africa, the Middle East and Europe as it circles the earth.

You can watch the launch and attempt to return the boosters at 6:36 pm EDT on SpaceX’s live stream:

Human motivations

SpaceX is still showing NASA that its rockets are safe enough to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. A successful test run of that mission in March showed that the company’s Dragon spacecraft was capable of successfully flying to the ISS, docking with the orbital habitat, and then returning to earth to splashdown in the ocean. That means the company could actually launch a crewed flight later this year, pending a few other loose ends.

One requirement is that the company fly seven times using an approved system of pressurized gas canisters in its rockets. Those canisters, known as composite overwrap pressure vessels or COPVs, were linked to a 2016 fire that destroyed a SpaceX rocket and satellite.

SpaceX and NASA re-configured the system and have now flown it six times in the upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket and twice in the reusable booster stage. This Falcon Heavy flight will feature the new COPVS in both stages of center booster, which could give NASA the data it needs to finally certify the design for human spaceflight.

Moon improvisation

The Falcon Heavy earned global plaudits when it launched, but got a distinctly cool reception from the US space establishment, which has spent $17 billion on a Boeing-built heavy rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) that faces lengthy delays.

However, in March, NASA administrator James Bridenstine raised the possibility of keeping a planned lunar test of an uncrewed deep-space vehicle on schedule for 2020 by launching it on a commercially-available rocket like the Falcon Heavy instead of waiting for SLS.

SpaceX’s rocket only has about 60% of the lifting power of the SLS, but it costs about one-tenth per launch thanks in part to its reusable boosters, and it is flying today. Using it for the moon mission would come with its own technical hurdles, like figuring out how to mate the spacecraft, called Orion, with the Falcon Heavy, and then to re-fuel it in orbit.

It might be feasible, but only if the Falcon Heavy continues to demonstrate its capabilities with this launch and four others scheduled in the coming years.

Musk, who says he wants to retire on Mars, has already launched the first private moon mission on a Falcon 9 rocket, an Israeli probe expected to touch down on the lunar surface on April 11. His company has also sold a flight around the moon to Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on the as-yet-unbuilt Starship space vehicle.

A Jetsons future? Assessing the role of flying cars in sustainable mobility

Artistic rendering of an electric vertical takeoff and landing taxi cruising through an urban center.Credit: Dave Brenner/University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability

In the 1960s animated sitcom The Jetsons, George Jetson commutes to work in his family-size flying car, which miraculously transforms into a briefcase at the end of the trip.

A new study of the environmental sustainability impacts of flying cars, formally known as electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or VTOLs, finds that they wouldn’t be suitable for a Jetsons-style short commute.

However, VTOLs — which combine the convenience of vertical takeoff and landing like a helicopter with the efficient aerodynamic flight of an airplane — could play a niche role in sustainable mobility for longer trips, according to the study, scheduled for publication April 9 in Nature Communications. Several companies around the world are developing VTOL prototypes.

Flying cars would be especially valuable in congested cities, or in places where there are geographical constraints, as part of a ride-share taxi service, according to study authors from the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems and from Ford Motor Co.

“To me, it was very surprising to see that VTOLs were competitive with regard to energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in certain scenarios,” said Gregory Keoleian, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability.

“VTOLs with full occupancy could outperform ground-based cars for trips from San Francisco to San Jose or from Detroit to Cleveland, for example,” he said.

The U-M-Ford study, the first comprehensive sustainability assessment of VTOLs, looked at the energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and time savings of VTOLs compared to ground-based passenger cars. Although VTOLs produce zero emissions during flight, their batteries require electricity generated at power plants.

The researchers found that for trips of 100 kilometers (62 miles), a fully loaded VTOL carrying a pilot and three passengers had lower greenhouse gas emissions than ground-based cars with an average vehicle occupancy of 1.54. Emissions tied to the VTOL were 52 percent lower than gasoline vehicles and 6 percent lower than battery-electric vehicles.

Akshat Kasliwal, first author of the study and a graduate student at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, said the findings can help guide the sustainable deployment of an emerging mobility system prior to its commercialization.

“With these VTOLs, there is an opportunity to mutually align the sustainability and business cases,” Kasliwal said. “Not only is high passenger occupancy better for emissions, it also favors the economics of flying cars. Further, consumers could be incentivized to share trips, given the significant time savings from flying versus driving.”

In the coming decades, the global transportation sector faces the challenge of meeting the growing demand for convenient passenger mobility while reducing congestion, improving safety and mitigating climate change.

Electric vehicles and automated driving may contribute to some of those goals but are limited by congestion on existing roadways. VTOLs could potentially overcome some of those limitations by enabling piloted taxi services or other urban and regional aerial travel services.

Several aerospace corporations and startup companies — Airbus, Boeing, Joby Aviation and Lilium, for example — and agencies such as NASA have developed VTOL prototypes. One critical efficiency enabler for these aircraft is distributed electric propulsion, or DEP, which involves the use of several small, electrically driven propulsors.

The U-M and Ford researchers used publicly available information from these sources and others to create a physics-based model that computes energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for electric VTOLs.

“Our model represents general trends in the VTOL space and uses parameters from multiple studies and aircraft designs to specify weight, lift-to-drag ratio and battery-specific energy,” said Noah Furbush, study co-author and a master’s student at the U-M College of Engineering.

“In addition, we conducted sensitivity analyses to explore the bounds of these parameters, alongside other factors such as grid carbon intensity and wind speed,” said Furbush, who is also a member of the U-M football team.

The study began while Kasliwal and Furbush were summer interns at Ford. The work continued when the students returned to Ann Arbor, with the help of a Ford-University of Michigan Alliance grant.

The researchers analyzed primary energy use and greenhouse gas emissions during the five phases of VTOL flight: takeoff hover, climb, cruise, descent and landing hover. These aircraft use a lot of energy during takeoff and climb but are relatively efficient during cruise phase, traveling at 150 mph. As a result, VTOLs are most energy efficient on long trips, when the cruise phase dominates the total flight miles.

But for shorter trips — anything less than 35 kilometers (22 miles) — single-occupant internal-combustion-engine vehicles used less energy and produced fewer greenhouse gas emissions than single-occupant VTOLs. That’s an important consideration because the average ground-based vehicle commute is only about 17 kilometers (11 miles).

“As a result, the trips where VTOLs are more sustainable than gasoline cars only make up a small fraction of total annual vehicle-miles traveled on the ground,” said study co-author Jim Gawron, a graduate student at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability and the Ross School of Business. “Consequently, VTOLs will be limited in their contribution and role in a sustainable mobility system.”

Not surprisingly, the VTOL completed the base-case trip of 100 kilometers much faster than ground-based vehicles. A point-to-point VTOL flight path, coupled with higher speeds, resulted in time savings of about 80 percent relative to ground-based vehicles.

“Electrification of aircraft, in general, is expected to fundamentally change the aerospace industry in the near future,” Furbush said.

The study’s authors note that many other questions need to be addressed to assess the viability of VTOLs, including cost, noise and societal and consumer acceptance.



London, England. Credit: GoogleA British witness at London reported watching a black, triangle-shaped object “about two-to-three times the size of an A380 passenger jet moving overhead, according to testimony in Case 92298 from the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) witness reporting database.

The witness and his wife were standing in their backyard having a cigarette at 11:30 p.m. on May 1, 2018.

“Jupiter was very low in the sky and we were wondering what it was?” the witness stated. “We got out my phone and used the Skyview app to work it out. We both commented on the fact that we hadn’t ever remembered seeing Jupiter or if we had, we didn’t know that’s what it was. London skies are always full of passenger aircraft coming into land at Heathrow and we are on one of the flight paths they use. The planes come in from the east over our house and then head out west before they turn north towards Heathrow airport. You can always hear them. This black triangle object with round lights on each of its three corners and one central light that was reddish orange in color appeared in the west.”

The witness said the object was about two-to-three times the size of an A380 passenger jet.

“It flew right over us in one fluid motion, in a slight arch. It rotated slowly as it moved across the sky. It probably made one full rotation in the time we witnessed it. It flew from the west horizon to the northeast horizon in about 8-10 seconds. It was completely silent. The sky was completely clear. There were no clouds and the stars were very visible. We both watched this object come in and pass right over us both. We both knew exactly what we had both seen. It was like watching a silent fiction movie or one of those UFO TV shows, but real life. We both just watched it until it wasn’t visible anymore, then looked at each other both with shocked but excited faces and said, ‘what was that.’ Then we both said together, ‘that was a UFO for sure,’ We both knew exactly what we had seen. We are in the photography/film industry. We use our eyes for our job. This object was so clearly a solid structure, but it also had a film static kind of shimmer to the underside of it, a bit like digital glitch. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was like its cloaking device was switching on or switching off. This was so incredibly strange and overwhelming it has most defiantly changed our view on UFOs.”

United Kingdom MUFON Field Investigator Karl Webb closed this case as an Unknown Aerial Vehicle.

‘Spaceplane’ that flies 25 times faster than the speed of sound passes crucial test

Hypersonic plane passes crucial test

A hypersonic ‘spaceplane’ just passed a crucial test for its precooler component. If and when the jet becomes available for commercial use, it could fly people from London to New York in less than 60 minutes.

A ‘spaceplane’ that flies 25 times faster than the speed of sound has successfully passed a crucial testing milestone.

The hypersonic plane is so fast it could jet from London to New York in less than 60 minutes and transport you from the UK to Australia in four hours.

Oxford-based Reaction Engines has been working with the European Space Agency and the UK Space Agency, along with BAE Systems, to make the powerful aircraft.

Reaction Engines has recently been testing a ‘pre-cooler’ for the plane, which is technology that would allow it to travel faster than ever before.

The pre-cooler is critical in the plane’s development because it is required to stop the engine from melting by lowering the temperature of compressed air in the engine from more than 1,000°C to room temperature in one-twentieth of a second.

Thousands of tubes inside the pre-cooler, which are thinner than human hair, contain liquid helium that can cool the air as it rushes past them.

Until now, heat has been a limiting factor for how fast aircraft can travel, including Concorde which traveled at two times the speed of sound.

This technology could now be combined with the spaceplane’s experimental engine, referred to as Sabre.

Sabre is intended to be much lighter than a conventional rocket engine because it would carry less fuel-oxidant.

It is being designed to draw oxygen into the engine to use for combustion from take off until it reaches just over 4,000 mph.

After this point, the engine would need to burn liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen from on-board fuel tanks.

The spaceplane would need to continue using this process until it reached 25 times the speed of sound to enter space.

The company ultimately aims to create a reusable vehicle that has the fuel efficiency of a jet engine with the power of a rocket.

Plans for the hypersonic plane don’t just include getting people around the world in a fraction of the time but also taking people or cargo into Space and back for just a fraction of the current cost.

This story originally appeared in The Sun.