Alien civilizations may be trying to contact us

Some scientists are reporting “fast radio bursts” that might be alien civilizations trying to communicate.

Some scientists are reporting “fast radio bursts” that might be alien civilizations trying to communicate.

“Fast radio bursts” are brief and intense pulses of radio waves that are picked up from outer space. Experts are almost certain that there is no way that these radio waves could have originated from Earth but are completely uncertain of what their cause is. A renaissance in radio astronomy has occurred since the discovery of the fast radio burst phenomenon. Some of the bursts have certain scientists speculating that the FRB’s are signals being transmitted by distant alien civilizations.

An international team of astronomers recently uncovered the brightest fast radio burst to date. Their detection was named FRB 150807 because of its discovery date. It was a radio wave that lasted less than half a millisecond, which is .1 percent of the amount of time it takes a human being to blink its eyes.

Their findings were published in a study in Science called “The magnetic field and turbulence of the cosmic web measured using a brilliant fast radio burst” and involved over a dozen scientists. The astronomers reported in the study that they had pinpointed the origin of the FRB to an area smaller than any other study before it. Their study was published only days after another study , “Discovery of a transient gamma ray counterpart to FRB 131104”, reported having seen gamma rays, or highly energetic electromagnetic radiation, closely associated with their fast radio burst.

Organics on Ceres are likely native

Distribution of organic materials is inconsistent with delivery by comets or asteroids.

Organic materials found on dwarf planet Ceres by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft are likely native to the small world, according to research by scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.

The researchers specifically focused on a localized region of organic-rich material near Ernutet Crater, a 32-mile- (52-km-) wide opening on Ceres’ northern hemisphere.

Two origins are theorized for these organic materials or carbon-based compounds. They could have been brought to Ceres by impacting asteroids or comets after the dwarf planet formed 4.5 billion years ago, or they could have been synthesized through an internal process on the dwarf planet.

Located at the boundary of the solar system’s rocky planets and gas giants, Ceres is composed of clays and both sodium- and ammonium-carbonates, all of which indicate the small planet underwent complex chemical evolution.

“Earlier research that focused on the geology of the organic-rich region on Ceres were inconclusive about their origin,” explained Simone Marchi, an SwRI principal investigator who presented the findings Wednesday at a press conference held at the American Astronomical Society’s 49th Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting in Provo, Utah.

“Recently, we more fully investigated the viability of organics arriving via an asteroid or comet impact.”

Through computer simulations, scientists considered a range of variables, including the sizes and velocities of impacting objects.

The simulations indicated comet-like objects that hit Ceres at very high velocities would have had their organic materials destroyed by a mechanism known as shock compression, in which total pressure is lost.

Impacting asteroids, which would have lower velocities, would hold onto between 20 and 30 percent of their organic materials, depending on the angle at which they hit.

However, the localized distribution of organic materials on Ceres is not consistent with what would be seen if those organics had been delivered by small asteroids from the belt between Mars and Jupiter.

While researchers admit they still do not have all the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to Ceres’ organics, “These findings indicate that the organics are likely to be native to Ceres,” Marchi said.

Ceres is geologically differentiated, with a rocky core and icy mantle, and may harbor a subsurface ocean that could possibly be home to microbial life.

German scientists creating artificial Sun

Scientists in Germany are turning on what is being described as ‘the world’s largest artificial sun.’

Scientists in Germany are turning on what is being described as ‘the world’s largest artificial sun.’

The massive honeycomb-like structure, known as the ‘Synlight’, uses 149 large spotlights typically employed in cinemas, to simulate sunlight.

The scientists will focus the enormous array of xenon short-arc lamps on a single 8/8 inch spot.

The scientists from the German Aerospace Centre hope that by doing so, they will be able to reproduce the equivalent of 10,000 times the solar radiation that would normally shine on a surface the same size.

“If you went in the room when it was switched on, you would burn directly,” said Professor Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the DLR, where the experiment is sheltered in a protective radiation chamber.

The experiment consumes as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household would in a year.

The furnace-like conditions that will be created by this energy will reach up to 5,432 Fahrenheit (3,000 degrees Celsius.)

The German government is one of the world’s biggest investors in renewable energy.

The scientists will attempt to find ways of tapping the vast amount of energy that hits the earth in the form of light from the sun.

One of the primary areas of research will be on how to produce hydrogen efficiently. This will be the first step towards creating artificial fuel for airplanes.

According to Professor Hoffschimdt, billions of tons of hydrogen would be needed to drive airplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel.

Hydrogen is considered a promising future source of fuel. This is because it does not produce carbon emissions, therefore not contributing to global warming.

Astronomers find galaxy cluster obscured by quasar

Search is on for more galaxy clusters hidden by very bright, active supermassive black holes.

Astronomers have discovered a large galaxy cluster with a mass of approximately 690 trillion suns that until now was obscured by an extremely bright quasar, an active supermassive black hole feeding on material surrounding it.

Composed of several hundred individual galaxies, the cluster is located about 2.4 billion light years from Earth and surrounds the quasar.

Designated PKS1353-341, the quasar, which is 46 billion times brighter than our Sun, was long thought to be alone in its region of space. It is surrounded by a huge disk of swirling material, of which large chunks are falling into it and in the process radiating high levels of energy as light.

“This might be a short-lived phase that clusters go through, where the central black hole has a quick meal, gets bright, and then fades away again. This could be a blip that we just happened to see. In a million years, this might look like a diffuse fuzzball,” explained Michael McDonald of MIT‘s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

The discovery of the galaxy cluster suggests other, similar clusters could be hiding behind extremely bright objects. Such clusters provide important information about the amount of matter in the universe and the rate at which the universe is expanding, which is why astronomers are now searching for them.

One reason scientists missed this large cluster is their assumption that clusters appear “fluffy” and give off diffuse X-ray signals, very unlike quasars, which are bright, single-point sources.

“This idea that you could have a rapidly accreting black hole at the center of a cluster–we didn’t think that was something that happened in nature,” McDonald said.

To find more hidden clusters, he and fellow researchers set up a survey titled Clusters Hiding in Plain Sight (CHiPS), which involved looking at archival X-ray images of very bright objects. They then followed up by studying these objects using the Magellan Telescope, an optical observatory in Chile.

If the Magellan observations revealed more galaxies than expected surrounding the bright object, they then observed the point source using the space-based Chandra X-ray Observatory.

“Some 90 percent of these sources turned out not to be clusters,” McDonald said.

The CHiPS survey did find one new galaxy cluster obscured by a very bright supermassive black hole.

Findings of the study have been published in the Astrophysical Journal.


NASA papers guide search for extraterrestrial life

Network of scientists discuss search for biosignatures on exoplanets.

Five papers produced by a two-year interdisciplinary study on finding life beyond Earth provide guidelines on the search for extraterrestrial life in both our solar system and others.

Organized by NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), the papers include contributions by astrobiologists, planetary scientists, Earth scientists, heliophysicists, astrophysicists, chemists, and biologists.

Scientists with NASA’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) at the University of Washington (UW) focused on a multidisciplinary approach to finding life beyond Earth.

“For life to be detectable on a distant world, it needs to strongly modify its planet in a way that we can detect. But for us to correctly recognize life’s impact, we also need to understand the planet and star–that environmental context is key,” noted Virginia Meadows of UW and principal investigator of VPL.

More than 3,700 exoplanets have been discovered since 1992. NExSS was created by NASA to draw from various scientific fields in searching for biosignatures, signs of extraterrestrial life.

A key accomplishment of NExSS has been facilitating communication between scientists searching for signs of microbial life on other solar system worlds and those looking for such signs on exoplanets.

The first of the papers, all published in the journal Astrobiology, identifies two types of signals scientists can use to search for life. One comes in the form of a planet’s atmospheric gases, such as oxygen, which can be produced by life ranging from microbes to plants. The other is through the type of light reflected by life forms, such as the colors of leaves.

These signatures can already be seen from Earth orbit. A new generation of telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), will let scientists probe exoplanets’ atmospheres.

In the second paper, researchers discuss “false positives” or signals that can erroneously lead scientists to conclude a planet has life, and “false negatives,” where signs of life could be missed. For example, oxygen can be produced by life as well as by non-living processes.

“There are lots of things in the universe that could potentially put two oxygen atoms together, not just photosyntheseis–let’s try to figure out what they are,” Meadows emphasized. “Under what conditions are they more likely to happen, and how can we avoid getting fooled?”

Understanding potential biosignatures is the focus of the third and fourth papers, in which researchers apply lessons learned from Earth to the exploration of other planets. Based on factors such as the chemistry in a planet’s atmosphere, a planet’s climate, and the presence of oceans and continents, scientists can assign a probability score as to whether that planet is likely to harbor life.

Biologists and geologists will have to work together to interpret findings about individual planets to determine whether life can adapt to their particular environments, explained Nancy Kiang, a VPL member and biometeorologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

The fifth paper focuses on ground- and space-based telescopes, both current and future, that will be used to search for signs of life beyond Earth.

NASA selects first nine commercial crew astronauts

Scheduled for 2019, astronaut launches will be first from American soil, on American vehicles, since 2011.

Nine men and women have been selected by NASA to be the first astronauts to fly on commercial spaceflight vehicles built by Boeing and SpaceX.

Unofficially dubbed the “Commercial Crew Nine,” the group, whose names were announced by the space agency on Friday, August 3, consist of eight NASA astronauts and one who works for Boeing.

Their launches to the International Space Station (ISS) will be the first from US soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

The astronauts were introduced in a public announcement made at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

“This is a big deal for our country, and we want Americans to know that we are back. We’re flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will each conduct two inaugural test flights to the ISS. For both companies, the first flights will be un-crewed. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket while Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Both rockets are reusable.

Target dates for both the un-crewed and crewed launches remain uncertain. SpaceX hopes to launch the un-crewed mission in November of this year and the crewed one sometime next spring. Boeing’s schedule is similar, with the un-crewed launch now planned for either late 2018 or early 2019 and the crewed launch scheduled for mid-2019.

Both first flights were initially scheduled to launch in August 2018 and be followed by crewed launches later this year.

In 2014, NASA awarded SpaceX and Boeing contracts to fly astronauts to the ISS after the two companies won a competition that lasted four years.

One year later, the space agency announced that astronauts Bob Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley, and Sunita Williams were beginning training with SpaceX and Boeing.

Behnken and Hurley, both veteran NASA astronauts, will be the first to fly on the Crew Dragon, with launch currently scheduled for April 2019.

NASA astronauts Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson will be the first to fly on the Starliner.

Both the Crew Dragon and Starliner will fly two more missions after their crewed test flights. Veteran NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins and newcomer Victor Glover will fly on the next Crew Dragon mission while former ISS commander Williams and newcomer John Cassada will fly on the next Starliner mission.

Spanish telescope images meteorites impacting the Moon

Brief “flashes” caused by impacts on the Moon have been seen for at least 1,000 years.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released images of two meteorites impacting the Moon in mid-July, captured by the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS) installed on three separate telescopes in Spain.

Equipped with high-resolution CCD video cameras, the lunar observing system was built to record the brief flashes, known as “transient lunar phenomena,” produced when meteorites hit the Moon.

“For at least a thousand years, people have claimed to witness short-lived phenomena occurring on the face of the Moon. By definition, these transient flashes are hard to study, and determining their cause remains a challenge,” the ESA noted in a public statement.

“For this reason, scientists are studying these ‘transient lunar phenomena’ with great interest, not only for what they can tell us about the Moon and its history, but also about Earth and its future.”

The meteorites that hit the Moon on July 17 and 18, less than 24 hours apart, were likely pieces of the Alpha Capricornids summer meteor shower, which originates from the tail of Comet 169P/NEAT, the ESA statement reported.

Each of the parent meteoroids were no larger than an average walnut, scientists estimate.

Studying meteorite impacts on the Moon helps scientists better understand such impacts on objects throughout the solar system.

“By studying meteoroids on the Moon, we can determine how many rocks impact it and how often, and from this, we can infer the chance of impacts on Earth,” said MIDAS member and meteorite specialist Jose Maria Madiedo of the University of Huelva in Spain.

“At MIDAS, we observe impacts on the ‘dark side’ of the Moon, meaning impact flashes stand out against the dark lunar ground.”

The Moon’s “dark side” is any lunar region not lit by the Sun at a given time and should be distinguished from its “far side,” which perpetually faces away from the Earth.

Video footage of both impacts is available for viewing on the ESA website.

NASA releases image, video, of Saturn’s auroras

Data from Hubble and Cassini reveal remarkable similarities with Earth’s auroras.

Last year, while the Cassini spacecraft was still orbiting Saturn, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST) captured a stunning view of the planet’s northern aurora, which, after being combined with Cassini data, was just released as an image and video.

When Saturn experienced its summer solstice on May 24, 2017, meaning its north pole was tilted toward the Sun, both Hubble and Cassini observed and measured the northern aurora.

Although the aurora appears blue, it actually glows in ultraviolet wavelengths, which can only be seen from space. When hydrogen gas at the north pole interacts with energetic electrons generated by the planet’s powerful magnetic field, intense auroras are created. Because Saturn rotates rapidly on its axis, with a Saturn “day” taking just 11 hours, the auroras’ appearances constantly change.

The actual image and video released by NASA are composites that include images of the aurora taken in early 2018 and transformation of the May 2017 photos from ultraviolet wavelengths to visible light.

One of Cassini’s last images before it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere last September revealed a never-previously-seen auroral storm produced by interactions between plasma in the planet’s magnetosphere and its upper atmosphere.

The spacecraft also tracked an arc-shaped structure within the aurora as it grew and eventually disappeared.

In a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Cassini scientists noted the aurora bears a striking resemblance to auroras seen on Earth and attributed its creation to the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun.

From the combined observations of both Hubble and Cassini, scientists learned that Saturn’s aurora strongly peaked just prior to the planet’s midnight, then did so again around dawn. Both midnight and dawn auroral spikes also occur on Earth.

New Horizons sets its sights on Kuiper Belt object

For the first time in history, the New Horizons spacecraft has glimpsed images of the space object Ultima Thule.

The New Horizons spacecraft has glimpsed the mysterious Kuiper Belt object known as Ultima Thule for the first time.

After spending quite a bit of time observing Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons has a new course set towards the Kuiper Belt. More specifically, its goal is the distant object Ultima Thule — an object that sits roughly 44 AU from the Sun.

Though it is still 107 million miles from Ultima Thule, the craft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager managed to snap roughly four dozen images of the celestial body. It then sent that data back to Earth, where NASA scientists used it to create a composite image and discern the dim object from all the background stars.

That revealed Ultimate Thule sits where astronomers originally thought it did, showing New Horizons is right on track.

“The image field is extremely rich with background stars, which makes it difficult to detect faint objects,” said Hal Weaver, a New Horizons project scientist,  according to Gizmodo. “It really is like finding a needle in a haystack. In these first images, Ultima appears only as a bump on the side of a background star that’s roughly 17 times brighter, but Ultima will be getting brighter—and easier to see—as the spacecraft gets closer.”

There are two reasons the newly compiled picture is so important. Not only does it give new insight into the Kuiper Belt, but it is also marks the most distant images ever taken from Earth. In addition, New Horizons also showed it has the ability to detect its target, which means the astronomers will be able to adjust the craft if needed.

NASA reports that New Horizons will move past Ultima Thule on January 1, 2019. That passing will mark the most distant object ever visited by a human-built spacecraft and give even more insight into Ultima Thune.

“Our team worked hard to determine if Ultima was detected by LORRI at such a great distance, and the result is a clear yes,” said Alan Stern, a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute, according to “We now have Ultima in our sights from much farther out than once thought possible. We are on Ultima’s doorstep, and an amazing exploration awaits!”

Japanese scientists determine age of asteroid Itokawa

Analysis indicates it came from large ancient parent body later destroyed in an impact.

Japanese scientists who analyzed samples taken from asteroid Itokawa and returned to Earth in 2010 by the Hayabusa probe determined the asteroid came from a parent body that formed 4.6 billion years ago, at the dawn of the solar system.

That body was destroyed in an impact with another asteroid approximately 1.5 billion years ago. Remnants from that impact stuck together over time, producing Itokawa.

Between 100,000 and 400,000 years ago, Itokawa was ejected from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and propelled into its current near-Earth orbit, where asteroids usually do not survive very long.

Scientists estimate Itokawa will either break apart or hit the Earth within the next million years.

Hayabusa was launched by the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) in 2003 with the goal of studying the near-Earth asteroid and returning a sample of it to Earth for analysis.

While Itokawa itself poses no current threat to Earth, near-Earth asteroids could potentially pose hazards to our planet. Understanding their formation and evolution processes is important for scientists in terms of both predicting and addressing potential impacts.

The Japanese scientists, including some from Osaka University, looked at tiny, phosphate-rich minerals found in the particles taken from Itokawa’s surface. They then measured the level of uranium inside the particles and determine how much of it had broken down into lead, a process that always occurs at the same pace. This allowed them to put together the asteroid’s history.

From this analysis, the scientists learned that the asteroid’s phosphate minerals crystallized during a time when the parent body experienced shock from an impacting object.

Another discovery the researchers made is that Itokawa’s mineralogy and geochemistry match those of low-iron, low-metal chondrite meteorites that often land on Earth. Chondrites are rocky, non-metallic meteorites that were never modified by melting of their parent bodies.

A paper detailing the scientists’ findings has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.