Alien "megastructure" mystery deepens, but probably isn't a Dyson sphere

KIC 8462862, a distant star, flickers erratically. Among the possibilities: occlusion by an alien "megastructure" surrounding it in space.

Though it sounds far-fetched, and there's no other evidence of intelligence emanating from the system, the flickering's gotten weirder. The star's total output has diminished continuously over the course of four years.

Jason Wright, the Penn State astronomer who first suggested that Tabby’s Star might be the site of a vast alien construction project, agreed that the new analysis lends credibility to Schaefer’s claim of century-long dimming. “The new paper states, and I agree, that we don’t have any really good models for this sort of behavior,” he said. “That’s exciting!”

Keivan Stassun, an astronomer at Vanderbilt who disputed the idea of long-term dimming, said that Tabby’s star continues to defy explanation. “[Montet’s] intriguing new findings suggest that none of the considered phenomena can alone explain the observations,” he told Gizmodo. “In the end, figuring out this puzzle may require accounting for a combination of effects.”

Or, they just decided to get the Dyson sphere finished ahead of schedule.

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Smithsonian launches online Apollo 11 high-res 3D spacecraft model for moon landing's 47th anniversary

One great way to commemorate the 47th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 11 moon landing, which took place this day in 1969, is to travel to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC (highly recommended!), and see in person the "Columbia" spacecraft that carried astronauts to the moon. But for those of us who can't get to DC and are feeling the O.G. space spirit, starting today you can explore a virtual reality simulation of the capsule's interior, painstakingly digitized by Smithsonian staff.

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Twinkly, LED-studded bracelet featuring the Hubble's "celestial fireworks"

Thinkgeek's $60 Star Spangled Bangle is skinned with the Hubble's amazing "celestial fireworks" image, with 15 recessed USB-charged LEDs run for 8 hours and recharge in an hour. (via Ohgizmo) Read the rest

1,300 Unknown Galaxies Discovered By South African Astronomers

A group of South African astronomers announced on Saturday the discovery of more than a thousand galaxies never before known to have been seen or recorded by human beings. The astronomers “were showing off the first taste of the ultimate cosmic feast of what is to come, at least as seen from this particular dusty crumb called Earth,” writes Dennis Overbye at the New York Times:

Left: A patch of sky about as big as the full moon where the MeerKAT telescope discerned the radio glow of about 200 galaxies. Only a few (circled) had been previously observed; Right: A distant galaxy that is being blown up by a black hole at its center. Credit SKA South Africa

When it’s done, sometime around 2030, the Square Kilometer Array, as it is known, will be the largest telescope ever built on our planet. It will consist of thousands of radio antennas that will collectively cover a square kilometer (hence the name), spread out in mathematically intricate patterns in South Africa and Australia.

The telescope is being built by an international collaboration with its headquarters at the University of Manchester in England. The first phase, to be completed in 2023, will cost 650 million euros.

Astronomers estimate that it will pull some 35,000-DVDs-worth of data down from the sky every second. So much that it would take 2 million years to play on your smartphone.

For now the bounty consists of the radio glow of some 1,300 distant galaxies spotted in a patch of sky about 20 times the size of the full moon, where only 70 galaxies had been counted before.

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NASA's Juno is about to reach Jupiter after a 5-year journey. I visited JPL before the big show.

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Astronomers discover youngest fully formed exoplanet ever known

Astronomers using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope and its extended K2 mission, as well as the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, have discovered the youngest fully formed exoplanet ever detected. Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars beyond our sun.

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World's largest telescope in jeopardy

Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory is the world's largest radio telescope. Arecibo is an icon of science. It's where scientists proved the existence of neutron stars was proven, discovered the first binary pulsar, made the first direct image of an asteroid, made the first discovery of extrasolar planets, and of course transmitted the Arecibo Message, an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligence. And right now, the Arecibo Observatory is facing demolition due to budget cuts. Nadia Drake attended meetings this month in Puerto Rico to where scientists, staff, students, and the National Science Foundation discussed the telescope's fate and why it needs to be saved. From Natalie's wondrous "No Place Like Home" blog at National Geographic:

Science isn’t the only concern at Arecibo. In fact, the majority of people at the meetings discussed the role the observatory plays in inspiring and training Puerto Rican students, some 20,000 of whom visit the site every year.

Though it’s hard to quantify, the value of inspiration and education is not insignificant, especially considering how underrepresented Hispanic students are in the sciences.

As evidence, several students involved in the Arecibo Observatory Space Academy spoke about how important their time at the observatory was, and how this pre-college program gave them hands-on research experience that continues to affect their lives.

“I can say that AOSA has had a great impact on my life,” said Adriana Lopez, a 14-year-old space academy alum. “Always, in my life, I’ve been fascinated with space, and it has led me to join several camps, but none of them have affected me like AOSA.

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SpaceX launched 2 satellites into orbit, but its Falcon 9 rocket crashed

SpaceX successfully deployed two satellites on Wednesday, but the Falcon 9 rocket that carried them into orbit then crashed into its drone ship while touching down in the Atlantic Ocean.

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NASA’s Juno spacecraft will brave Jupiter’s fireworks this 4th of July for Science

On July 4, NASA plans to fly a solar-powered spacecraft the size of a basketball court within 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers) of Jupiter's cloud tops. It's part of the JUNO mission, and Boing Boing plans to cover the big event live from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory——so, watch this space, because we are fascinated by all things space.

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This small asteroid is Earth's constant cosmic companion

NASA announced today that a small asteroid has been discovered in an orbit around our Sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth. And it'll stay that way for centuries to come.

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A First: from space, NASA spots a single methane leak from Earth's atmosphere

“For the first time, an instrument onboard an orbiting spacecraft has measured the methane emissions from a single, specific leaking facility on Earth's surface,” NASA announced Tuesday.

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NASA telescopes spot clues for how Giant Black Holes formed so quickly

NASA today announced that astronomers studying data from NASA’s Great Observatories have found the best evidence yet for “cosmic seeds in the early universe that should grow into supermassive black holes.”

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Transport for London blames Tube delays on "wrong type of sun"

The agency says that the angle of the sunlight that strikes its tracks creates glare that blinds the CCTVs that train-drivers use to ensure that the platform is clear before pulling out of the station. Read the rest

NASA's Kepler Mission Announces Largest Collection of Planets Ever Discovered

NASA announced today that the Kepler mission has verified 1,284 new planets -- the single largest finding of planets to date.

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What happens when you look at the sun through a telescope

TV astronomer and author Mark Thompson uses a pig eye he got from his local butcher to demonstrate what happens to people who make the mistake of looking at the sun through a telescope. Read the rest

Look up in the sky! Eta Aquarids meteor shower expected to peak through May 6

For amateur astronomers, tonight is an exciting night.

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SpaceX plans to send unmanned Dragon spacecraft to Mars by 2018, with humans to follow

By way of tweets and Facebook posts, SpaceX this week announced plans to send its unmanned “Red Dragon” spacecraft to Mars as soon as 2018. Sending this privately-funded craft on a bold, brave, risky trip like this could bring SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk closer to his goal of getting humans to Mars.

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