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Astronomers Detect ‘Life-Form Signals’ From New Earth-Sized Planet

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Astronomers have detected strange radio signals coming from a nearby Earth-sized planet named ‘Ross 128b.’

The planet lies only 11 light-years away, and could be home to alien life due to its moderate temperatures.

Skymania.com reports: Its discovery will excite alien-hunters wondering whether unexpected radio emissions picked up by a giant telescope in Puerto Rico in May could be a message from E.T.

The Planetary Habitability Laboratory detected the broadcast using the Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico to study a red dwarf star, Ross 128, as part of a search for Earth-like planets.

Professor Abel Méndez reported afterwards that the team had recorded “some very peculiar signals” from Ross 128. Local radio interference was ruled out as a cause because it did not occur when the telescope listened to other stars.

Other major observatories, the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Allen Telescope Array in California, were brought in to investigate by the SETI organisation – it stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Now a European telescope in Chile has spotted a temperate, Earth-sized planet which orbits its red dwarf star, Ross 128, once every 9.9 days. It is much closer to its sun than Earth is to our own Sun, but because the star is much cooler, temperatures are similar. Ross 128 b’s equilibrium temperature is estimated to lie between -60° and 20°C.

Ross 128 b is now the second-closest temperate planet to be detected after Proxima b, orbiting Proxima Centauri, 4.5 light-years away. But it is considered a more suitable place to look for life because its star is quieter than Proxima Centauri which emits deadly flares of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

An international team of scientists used a planet-seeking instrument called HARPS – the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher – at La Silla Observatory in Chile, operated by the European Southern Observatory.

ESO said yesterday: “It is also the closest planet to be discovered orbiting an inactive red dwarf star, which may increase the likelihood that this planet could potentially sustain life.”

The new planet will be a prime target for ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, currently under construction in Chile, because it will be able to search for signs of life known as “biomarkers” in the planet’s atmosphere if it has one.

Speculation that the radio broadcast, dubbed the Weird! signal, was from E.T. was dampened by the radio telescope team. They concluded that it was probably produced by one or more communications satellites which sit in fixed positions high above the Earth. Such satellites are said to be in geostationary orbits.

Professor Méndez said: “The best explanation is that the signals are transmissions from one or more geostationary satellites. This explains why the signals were within the satellite’s frequencies and only appeared and persisted for Ross 128; this star is close to the celestial equator where many geostationary satellites are located.”

Professor Méndez said the explanation did not yet explain certain patterns in the signals, but these might have been caused by “multiple reflections”.

He added in a blog post: “Many people were more interested in the signals as potential proof of transmissions from an extraterrestrial intelligent civilization.

“Statistically, this is always the last consideration, not because such civilizations are impossible, we humans are an example, but because other possibilities had frequently arisen and no extraterrestrial civilizations have been detected yet. Nevertheless, scientists need to be open to all possibilities and explore them.”

However, SETI investigators look set to turn their attention to the Ross 128 star system again in the light of the discover of an Earth-sized world.

In the Berkeley SETI Research Center’s Breakthrough Listen blog, project scientist Danny Price writes: “So sadly, we’ve already looked closely at Ross 128 and have come up empty. Nonetheless, as Ross 128b is such an exciting target, we are considering additional, deeper observations at radio and optical wavelengths.

“Nearby exoplanets are particularly exciting from a SETI perspective as they permit us to search for and potentially detect much weaker signals than from more distant targets.”

The discovery of the new planet is reported in a paper entitled “A temperate exo-Earth around a quiet M dwarf at 3.4 parsecs”, by X. Bonfils et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Observations of a comet’s first passage through the solar system reveal unexpected secrets

November 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Astrophysical Journal.

Comets are our most direct link to the earliest stages of the formation and evolution of the solar system. Only every few years is a new comet discovered that is making its first trip to the inner solar system from the Oort Cloud, a zone of icy objects enveloping the solar system. Such opportunities offer astronomers a chance to study a special class of comets.

Onboard NASA’s flying telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, a team lead by Charles Woodward of the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics observed Comet C/2012 K1 (also called Pan-STARRS after the observatory that discovered it in 2012), searching for new insights into the evolution of the early solar system.

Comets originating from the Oort Cloud, like Comet C/2012 K1, remain unaffected by the thermal heating and radiation processing of the Sun. The pristine nature of these comets can preserve surface materials making them ideal targets for observing gas and dust particle composition.

“Comet C/2012 K1 is a time capsule of the early solar system’s composition,” Woodward said. “Every opportunity to study these bodies contributes to our understanding of the general characteristics of comets and the formation of small bodies in in our solar system.”

The team used short and long wavelength cameras on the Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope, FORCAST, to study light emitting from the ‘s coma: gas and dust that form around a comet’s nucleus as it is heated by the Sun. The team used the observations to deduce the size and composition of the and to identify and categorize their thermal properties.

Unexpectedly, these observations revealed weak silicate emission features from the comet, rather than the anticipated strong silicate features found in some prior Oort Cloud comet observations, including those of Comet Hale-Bopp and studies conducted with the Spitzer Space Telescope. By analyzing these silicate emissions and comparing them to thermal models, the researchers determined that the coma’s dust grains are large and comprised predominately of carbon rather than crystalline silicate. This composition challenges existing theoretical models of how Oort cloud comets form.

“Comets are made of the materials that did not get made into planets, so studying the dust in them can help us understand the content, origin, and evolution of the early solar system, including the process of forming rocky planets,” said Woodward.

While missions like the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, or NASA’s Stardust mission provided direct sampling of comet materials, remote observations, such as those conducted aboard SOFIA, provide researchers with an opportunity to understand similarities and differences between different types of comets.

“The strength of Comet C/2012 K1’s silicate features observed in mid-infrared with SOFIA have set the stage for what we have proposed for observations using the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope—to study even fainter more distant comets,” Woodward said. “I think there will be a nice synergy between those two missions, in target selection and targeted follow up.”

This study was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Mars Has a Mysterious “Tail,” According to New Find From NASA Spacecraft

October 21, 2017 Leave a comment

At first glance, Elon Musk’s future home, Mars, looks like an overgrown litter box. But if the red planet has proven anything, it’s that it’s full of surprises, like ancient lakes and supervolcanoes. Now, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft has uncovered another one of the planet’s secrets — a magnetic tail.

Planets like Earth and Venus are protected from bursts of radiation from the sun by large magnetic fields. While it’s likely that Mars once had a global magnetic field similar to Earth’s, it’s gradually lost it over the course of billions of years. According to a new model created by the MAVEN team, Mars has been left to drag around a “magnetotail,” which is formed by highly charged particles from solar wind connecting with magnetic fields on the planet’s surface. This process, called “magnetic reconnection,” might have actually sent much of Mars’ atmosphere off into space.

“Our model predicted that magnetic reconnection will cause the Martian magnetotail to twist 45 degrees from what’s expected based on the direction of the magnetic field carried by the solar wind,” Gina DiBraccio of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center says in a press release. “When we compared those predictions to MAVEN data on the directions of the Martian and solar wind magnetic fields, they were in very good agreement.”

In order to measure Mars’ magnetotail, the MAVEN team used the spacecraft’s magnetometer instrument. They found that although other planets have magnetic fields, Mars’ is a bit of an oddball in our cosmic neighborhood.

“We found that Mars’ magnetic tail, or magnetotail, is unique in the solar system,” DiBraccio says. “It’s not like the magnetotail found at Venus, a planet with no magnetic field of its own, nor is it like Earth’s, which is surrounded by its own internally generated magnetic field. Instead, it is a hybrid between the two.”

According to NASA, the MAVEN researchers will continue to monitor magnetometer data over the next few years to better understand how Mars’ invisible tail is impacted by the planet’s rotation. While Mars might not be the flashiest planet, once again, it proves that it’s unquestionably one of the most fascinating.

Discovery of 500km lunar cave raises hopes for human colonisation of moon

October 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Japan says chasm measuring 500km long and 100 metres wide could be used as a base for astronauts and their equipment

Source: in Tokyo

Scientists have for centuries fantasised about human colonisation of the moon. That day may have drawn a little closer after Japan’s space agency said it had discovered an enormous cave beneath the lunar surface that could be turned into an exploration base for astronauts.

The discovery, by Japan’s Selenological and Engineering Explorer (Selene) probe, comes as several countries vie to follow the US in sending manned missions to the moon.

Using a radar sounder system that can examine underground structures, the orbiter initially found an opening 50 metres wide and 50 metres deep, prompting speculation that there could be a larger hollow.

This week scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed the presence of a cave after examining the hole using radio waves.

The chasm, 500km (310 miles) long and 100 metres wide, appears to be structurally sound and its rocks may contain ice or water deposits that could be turned into fuel, according to data sent back by the orbiter, nicknamed Kaguya after the moon princess in a Japanese fairytale.

Jaxa believes the cave, located beneath an area of volcanic domes known as the Marius Hills on the moon’s near side, is a lava tube created during volcanic activity about 3.5 billion years ago.

“We’ve known about these locations that were thought to be lava tubes … but their existence has not been confirmed until now,” Junichi Haruyama, a researcher at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, told AFP on Thursday.

The agency said the chamber could be used as a base for astronauts and their equipment, since it would protect them from extreme temperatures – ranging from an average of 107C during the day to -153C at night – as well as radiation from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

“We haven’t actually seen the inside of the cave itself so there are high hopes that exploring it will offer more details,” Haruyama said.

The discovery will boost plans by several countries to send astronauts to the moon, almost half a century after the Apollo 11 mission.

Jaxa recently announced that it aimed to put a Japanese astronaut on the moon for the first time by around 2030, most likely as part of an international mission.

In another sign that the US and Soviet Union’s cold war battle for supremacy has been replaced by an Asian space race, China has said it wants to conduct its first manned mission to the moon in around 2036 as part of its ambitious lunar and Mars exploration programmes. Last year it said it had plans to eventually create a colony there.

“Our long-term goal is to explore, land, and settle [on the moon],” Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China’s moon and Mars missions, told the BBC. “We want a manned lunar landing to stay for longer periods and establish a research base.”

Russia, too, has said it hopes to start building a human colony – initially for just four people – on the moon by 2030.

China, Russia, India and the US have made successful unmanned moon landings, but the US is the only country to have put humans on the lunar surface.

Lawmaker: China and Russia Ahead of U.S. Military’s Space Capabilities

September 12, 2017 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON – Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said China and Russia have moved past the United States in the development of national security space capabilities.

He called on the Department of Defense to invest more dollars in the U.S. military’s space capabilities.

“I can’t overstate this. What Russia and China are doing is startling and I describe it this way to people back home. Keep in mind, I’m from Alabama, as George Wallace used to say, you’ve got to get the hay down where the goats can get at it. So I tell folks it’s like this – if you are a little fella and you want to whoop a big fella, but you know there’s no way you can whoop him, he’s just too big, but if you can poke his eyes out and take his ears away from him, all of a sudden he’s blind and deaf,” Rogers said Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) during a discussion on “How to Organize Military Space.”

“You might actually whoop that fella – that’s exactly what this is about. Russia and China want to take our eyes and ears out – our military’s eyes and ears, because that’s what’s up there and that’s why they are spending an inordinate amount of money in their defense budget on space capabilities and they have both already reorganized,” he added. “China set up a Space Corps last year. We are behind the curve on this, and that’s the message I want the Air Force to acknowledge is that change is not a bad thing, necessarily.”

Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, has proposed establishing a Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force by 2019.

“They’ve got six months to produce a report that reviews the ‘organizational and management structure of the Space Corps.’ Then Congress would have the next six months to decide if it’s good enough or if they missed the mark. That gives them plenty of time to come to grips with the reality of the situation and help to actively shape what the solution will be,” he said of his proposed legislation. “In the meantime, Congress will be able to provide input when we receive an interim report on the Space Corps design, and we’ll be able to authorize and appropriate any funds necessitated by this new service.”

Rogers said the military’s national security space operations have become “critical” to winning wars.

“I would like to see the Space Corps remain in the department of the Air Force and I hope it fixes it but all these people I talk with are a lot smarter than I am and they all think that eventually it will have to be a completely separate department and service, and maybe they are right but I think that is truly a 15- to 20-year process,” he said.

Rogers responded to concerns about the cost of creating a Space Corps.

“Some people have said setting up the Space Corps will cost too much, but as I mentioned earlier the Space Corps hasn’t been designed yet. Nobody knows if it will cost too much. Again, the DoD gets to design the Space Corps and then Congress will take that information and authorize and appropriate needed funds in the FY19 budget process,” he said.

“I’ve heard some Air Force leaders say that they are working to integrate space and separating the Space Corps out hurts the space enterprise. Let’s be honest, space is special,” he added. “You fight and win differently in space. You also need to organize, train, and equip differently for space. The Space Corps embraces this philosophy.”

15 bursts of radio emission detected from dwarf galaxy 3 billion light years away

September 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Saturday, a telescope in a remote area of West Virginia picked up those 15 bright radio burst signals from a distant corner of the universe, and yesterday, a group of astronomers and astrophysicists shared preliminary results on their observations.

They detected 15 bursts above our detection threshold of 10 sigma in the first two 30-minute scans. They include the detection signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of each burst, along with a very rough estimate of pulse energy density assuming a 12 Jy system equivalent flux density, 300 us pulse width, and uniform 3800 MHz bandwidth.

Breakthrough Listen is a global astronomical initiative launched in 2015 by Internet investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner and cosmologist Stephen Hawking. As part of their program to observe nearby stars and galaxies for signatures of extraterrestrial technology, the Listen science team at UC Berkeley added FRB 121102 to their list of targets. In the early hours of Saturday, August 26, UC Berkeley Postdoctoral Researcher Dr. Vishal Gajjar observed the location of FRB 121102 using the Breakthrough Listen backend instrument at the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The instrument accumulated 400 TB of data on the object over a five hour observation, observing the entire 4 to 8 GHz frequency band. This large dataset was searched for signatures of short pulses from the source over a broad range of frequencies, with a characteristic dispersion, or delay as a function of frequency, caused by the presence of gas in space between us and the source. The distinctive shape that the dispersion imposes on the initial pulse is an indicator of the amount of material between us and the source, and hence an indicator of the distance to the host galaxy.

Analysis by Dr. Gajjar and the Listen team revealed 15 new pulses from FRB 121102. As well as confirming that the source is in a newly active state, the high resolution of the data obtained by the Listen instrument will allow measurement of the properties of these mysterious bursts at a higher precision than ever possible before.

The observations also show for the first time that FRBs emit at higher frequencies (with the brightest emission occurring at around 7 GHz) than previously observed. The extraordinary capabilities of the Listen backend, which is able to record several gigahertz of bandwidth at a time, split into billions of individual channels, enable a new view of the frequency spectrum of FRBs, and should shed additional light on the processes giving rise to FRB emission.

When the recently-detected pulses left their host galaxy our entire Solar System was just 2 billion years old. Life on Earth consisted of only single-celled organisms, and it would be another billion years before even the simplest multi-cellular life began to evolve. Whether or not FRBs eventually turn out to be signatures of extraterrestrial technology, Breakthrough Listen is helping to push the frontiers of a new and rapidly growing area of our understanding of the Universe around us.

Breakthrough Listen is a scientific program in search for evidence of technological life in the Universe. It aims to survey one million nearby stars, the entire galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies at a wide range of radio and optical bands.

Pentagon Ramps Up Space Warfare Effort

April 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Breaking with a decadeslong policy, Defense Department leaders call for faster development of weapons to protect U.S. spy satellites

Gen. John Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘we must prepare for a conflict that extends into space’ through defensive measures, but also by building ‘an offensive capability to challenge’ adversaries.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—The Pentagon is getting serious about gearing up for potential space combat.

Breaking with a decadeslong policy that stopped short of publicly advocating putting arms in orbit, U.S. Defense Department leaders are calling for faster development of offensive weapons and combat tactics for space, initially to protect the biggest, most expensive U.S. spy satellites from potential attacks.

The extent of the shift was evident at a recent space symposium here, with one senior general after another calling for more-advanced weaponry and updated rules of engagement that—for the first time—specifically would be designed to counter moves by hostile spacecraft beyond the atmosphere.

“We will be threatened in space, and we need to be prepared for that,” said Brig. Gen.  John Shaw, deputy director of global operations at Strategic Command, the Defense Department unit in charge of nuclear and other long-range weapons. “There isn’t something special as a space war,” he told the conference, that ought to be considered separately from naval or land combat.

The Air Force is working closely with the National Reconnaissance Office to devise offensive strategies against weapons or satellites of other nations that could blind, jam or destroy in-orbit spy satellites, according to several of the symposium’s speakers.

Issues related to space weaponry, especially technology that can disrupt hostile spacecraft, are among the Pentagon’s most closely guarded secrets. Though research has been under way quietly for decades and military leaders in the past few years targeted billions of extra dollars to ensure space superiority, details are highly classified and companies involved in the effort aren’t public.

Recent comments by Pentagon leaders underscore the growing importance of the topic. Throughout the speeches and panels earlier this month, space was described as requiring major investments to ensure that the U.S. military will be ready to execute the full range of defensive and offensive operations. Traditionally, civilian leaders as well as uniformed commanders have tended to avoid explicit calls for speedy deployment of offensive systems.

In a classified briefing at the same conference, Robert Work, the Defense Department’s No. 2 civilian official, highlighted that all of the Pentagon’s efforts are aimed at deterring attacks, rather than instigating hostilities.

“We’re not interested in getting into [a] fight” in space, Gen. John Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, told the conference on a different day. “Nobody wins that fight, but we are interested in being prepared for it.”

Earlier this month, Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “we must prepare for a conflict that extends into space” through defensive measures, but also by building “an offensive capability to challenge” adversaries. He promised to provide details to lawmakers at a coming classified session.

This week, during a telephone hookup earlier with astronauts orbiting the earth, reporters heard President Donald Trump allude to U.S. capabilities with “tremendous military applications in space,” without elaborating.

Early snippets of such tough talk emerged years before Mr. Trump took office, as uniformed commanders grew increasingly concerned about vulnerabilities of their space systems.

With China and Russia particularly focused on testing antisatellite technologies, the U.S. military started thinking about “hardening” existing satellites, fielding smaller models that would be easier to replace and enhancing in-orbit surveillance and tracking capabilities to provide more effective warnings of dangers.

But current thinking among senior Pentagon planners, according to people familiar with the details, goes further than in previous administrations by categorizing offensive space capabilities as essential components of America’s military arsenal.

Joel Sercel, a veteran aerospace engineer, consultant and entrepreneur, said “the U.S. has the most costly space assets of any nation, and is more dependent on them than any other.” Yet “it’s simply not that hard for an adversary to disrupt or destroy” at least some parts of most constellations, he said in a recent interview.

International treaties prohibit launching nuclear warheads or weapons of mass destruction into space, though they don’t ban antisatellite weapons.

Throughout the Cold War and the global realignment that followed, beefing up satellite defenses was considered the primary means of preventing warfare in space.

But in 2007, China used an antisatellite weapon to blast one of its own aging weather satellites into thousands of pieces. The maneuver, followed by other Chinese and Russian tests over the years, rocked the space world and became a watershed moment for Pentagon brass worried about proliferation of space debris and potential attacks on U.S. satellites.

Some of these concepts were initially proposed by the Trump transition team before the inauguration, according to people familiar with the process, and later were endorsed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during his confirmation proceedings. Since then, they have been refined further by commanders.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on April 5 has approved the nomination of Heather Wilson to head the Air Force. Ms. Wilson, a former House member from New Mexico is another strong proponent of offensive space strategy.

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