One distant galaxy, one "very unusual repeating signal." But it's never aliens.
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...a very unusual repeating signal, coming from the same source about 1.5 billion light years away. Such an event has only been reported once before, by a different telescope. ... The CHIME observatory, located in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, consists of four 100-metre-long, semi-cylindrical antennas, which scan the entire northern sky each day.
As his title indicates, Harvard astronomy department chairman Avi Loeb is an extremely credentialed astronomer. So when he asserted that an object currently passing through our solar system might just be the product of an alien intelligence - eyebrows went up. He made this argument in a scientific paper published on the 12th of this month, in the Astrophysical Journal, which is one of the top research publications in all of astronomy.
I got wind of this paper before its official release date, and reached out to Avi. And we ended up having the longest and most in-depth interview he’s given on this fascinating topic thus far. You can hear our full conversation by clicking below:
Avi’s generous availability delighted me, Because like anything connected to aliens, this story has Inevitably led to an avalanche of sound bites and clickbait.
It’s also triggered a fair amount of controversy amongst professional astronomers. The negative reactions have ranged from skepticism, to something verging on … moral outrage. But adversarial debate is one of the key mechanisms by which science advances.
There have been periods stretching for decades when the field of astronomy was divided over some of the most basic aspects of the cosmos. Is the universe expanding? Was there, or was there not a Big Bang? Are black holes a thing – or just a theoretical toy? Great minds lined up on opposite sides of these questions for large proportions of their careers.
Luckily we won't have to spend quite so long on the edge of our seats, because the debate Avi has triggered has a sell-by date. Read the rest
Art Donovan (previously) writes, "Delivered. A very special design commission for the Project Director of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. A 'white glove' delivery, in fact. The first lamp in 28 years that I simply could not trust to survive the
ravages of FedEx."
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In 1977, just a few months after Voyager 1 and 2 began their grand tour of the solar system, Carl Sagan gave the esteemed Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. You can watch them below via YouTube or at the Read the rest
spacecraft took this glamour shot of Jupiter on October 29, 2018, from about 4,400 miles (7,000) kilometers above the planet's clouds. From NASA
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A multitude of magnificent, swirling clouds in Jupiter's dynamic North North Temperate Belt is captured in this image... Appearing in the scene are several bright-white “pop-up” clouds as well as an anticyclonic storm, known as a white oval.
Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran created this image using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager.
JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and to process into image products at: http://missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam.
First discovered a year ago, Oumuamua is the strange cigar-shaped object of interstellar origin that flew through our solar system at 196,000 mph. Since it was first spotted, scientists haven't decisively determined whether it's a mildly active comet or something else. Now, astronomers Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have released a scientific paper asking if Oumuamua could be a "lightsail of artificial origin," part of a space probe developed by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization. Of course this is not a statement of fact but rather a question, albeit a very very interesting one. From CNN:
"'Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization," they wrote in the paper, which has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The theory is based on the object's "excess acceleration," or its unexpected boost in speed as it traveled through and ultimately out of our solar system in January 2018.
"Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that 'Oumuamua is a light sail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment," wrote the paper's authors, suggesting that the object could be propelled by solar radiation.
"COULD SOLAR RADIATION PRESSURE EXPLAIN ‘OUMUAMUA’S PECULIAR ACCELERATION?" (PDF)
(image: artist's impression of Oumuamua, ESO/M. Kornmesser) Read the rest
If you shrink the earth to 1/190 millionth of its current size, it becomes the size of a tennis ball. With this scale as a starting point, a visual effects artist made a very cool video that shows the relative sizes of other planets and stars.
[via Evil Mad Scientist] Read the rest
Very quickly. Before it, and you, freeze.
On Cyprien Verseux's Twitter account, wonderful snapshots of fun with food on the bleak, frozen ice sheets of Antarctica. Read the rest
NASA's Voyager 2 space probe, launched in 1977 on a grand tour of the solar system, may be nearing interstellar space. Carrying a message for extraterrestrials, the iconic Golden Record, the Voyager 2 is now about 11 billion miles (about 17.7 billion kilometers) from Earth and still sends data back daily from its various sensors. Most recently, it has detected an increase in higher-energy cosmic rays that originate outside our solar system. This increase in the rate of cosmic rays indicates that the Voyager 2 may soon break through the heliosphere, the "bubble" of charged particles generated by our sun, and cross into interstellar space. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012.
From the Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
The fact that Voyager 2 may be approaching the heliopause six years after Voyager 1 is also relevant, because the heliopause moves inward and outward during the Sun's 11-year activity cycle. Solar activity refers to emissions from the Sun, including solar flares and eruptions of material called coronal mass ejections. During the 11-year solar cycle, the Sun reaches both a maximum and a minimum level of activity.
"We're seeing a change in the environment around Voyager 2, there's no doubt about that," said Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone, based at Caltech in Pasadena. "We're going to learn a lot in the coming months, but we still don't know when we'll reach the heliopause. We're not there yet -- that's one thing I can say with confidence."
In a decade or so, Voyager 1 and 2 will run out of power and go silent. Read the rest
Many exoplanets are observed or inferred around distant stars, but astronomers report finding the first exomoon, a smaller body orbiting an exoplanet. It is, mind you, an enormous moon.
We present new observations of a candidate exomoon associated with Kepler-1625b using the Hubble Space Telescope to validate or refute the moon’s presence. We find evidence in favor of the moon hypothesis, based on timing deviations and a flux decrement from the star consistent with a large transiting exomoon. Self-consistent photodynamical modeling suggests that the planet is likely several Jupiter masses, while the exomoon has a mass and radius similar to Neptune. Since our inference is dominated by a single but highly precise Hubble epoch, we advocate for future monitoring of the system to check model predictions and confirm repetition of the moon-like signal.
The BBC warns that the authors remain tentative about the exomoon's status. This isn't the first exomoon to be reported, only to be exposed as a boring old exoplanet upon closer inspection.
"We've tried our best to rule out other possibilities such as spacecraft anomalies, other planets in the system or stellar activity, but we're unable to find any other single hypothesis which can explain all of the data we have," said Dr Kipping, from Columbia University in New York.
Sadly, it's unlikely that the exomoon would have an exomoonmoon.
Illo: Beschizza / NASA shots of Jupiter and Neptune Read the rest
In 1960, my friend Frank Drake launched Project Ozma, the first modern scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Frank used the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (image above) in Green Bank, West Virginia to listen for interstellar radio transmissions that might be a signature of ETs. Nearly 60 years and countless scans later, we still haven't heard anything. Why? Space is big. Massive. In a 2010 paper, the SETI Institute's Jill Tarter and her colleagues described their ongoing calculations of a “cosmic haystack" where we're searching for an extraterrestrial needle.
"If you build a mathematical model, the amount of searching that we've done in 50 years (as of 2008) is equivalent to scooping one 8-ounce glass out of the Earth's ocean, looking and seeing if you caught a fish," Tarter told NPR. "No, no fish in that glass? Well, I don't think you're going to conclude that there are no fish in the ocean. You just haven't searched very well yet. That's where we are."
Now, Penn State astronomer Jason Wright and colleagues have refined the "cosmic haystack" model to include additional factors involving likely frequencies and bandwidth along with the latest large SETI searches. Even still, they "conclude that the fraction of it searched to date is also very small: similar to the ratio of the volume of a large hot tub or small swimming pool to that of the Earth's ocean."
From Science News:
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Converting the volume to liters for the sake of analogy, the researchers concluded that SETI has covered the equivalent of 7,700 liters out of 1.335 billion trillion liters of water in Earth’s oceans.
In the late 19th century, artist/astronomer Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (1827-1895) painted thousands of stunning works illustrating the beauty and science of the known planets, comets, and celestial phenomena. The Huntington Library near Los Angeles holds 15 of Trouvelot's chromolithographs that were published in 1882 in two portfolios, the Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings:
Initially, the Astronomical Drawings portfolios were sold to astronomy libraries and observatories as reference tools, but as early 20th-century advances in photographic technology allowed for more accurate and detailed depictions of the stars, planets, and phenomena, Trouvelot’s prints were discarded or sold to collectors.
Radiant Beauty: E. L. Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings (The Huntington)
See more at Graphicine: "ETIENNE TROUVELOT – ASTRONOMICAL DRAWINGS" (Thanks Anotherone!)
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Researchers from extraterrestrial research initiative Breakthrough Listen, the SETI Institute, and UC Berkeley used machine learning to detect mysterious repeating radio bursts from a galaxy 3 billion light years from Earth. As of now, the source of the fast radio bursts (FRBs) is unknown and, yes, the bursts "could be the signatures of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligent life," according to the scientists. From the SETI Institute:
In August of 2017, the Listen science team at the University of California, Berkeley SETI Research Center observed FRB 121102 for five hours, using digital instrumentation at the GBT. Combing through 400 TB of data, they reported (in a paper [pdf] led by Berkeley SETI postdoctoral researcher Vishal Gajjar, recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal) a total of 21 bursts. All were seen within one hour, suggesting that the source alternates between periods of quiescence and frenzied activity.
Now, (UC Berkeley doctoral student Gerry) Zhang and collaborators have developed a new machine learning algorithm, and reanalyzed the 2017 GBT dataset, finding an additional 72 bursts that were not detected originally...
Additional FRB research may provide clues about whether or not they are signatures of extraterrestrial technology.
More at UC Berkeley news: "AI helps track down mysterious cosmic radio bursts" Read the rest
A gray area exists between stars and planets, and what was thought to be a failed brown dwarf star has now been determined to be a massive rogue planet with an enormous gravity field. Read the rest
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) got this cool shot of Venus by using new adaptive optics that ignore earth's atmosphere while imaging celestial phenomena.
Via Universe Today:
In astronomy, adaptive optics refers to a technique where instruments are able to compensate for the blurring effect caused by Earth’s atmosphere, which is a serious issue when it comes to ground-based telescopes. Basically, as light passes through our atmosphere, it becomes distorted and causes distant objects to become blurred (which is why stars appear to twinkle when seen with the naked eye).
Head over to the article to see a remarkable before and after shot.
• This is a photo of Neptune, from the ground! ESO's new adaptive optics makes ground telescopes ignore the earth's atmosphere (Universe Today)
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Over the weekend, Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey spotted a near-earth asteroid just a few hours before its impact trajectory took it right into our atmosphere. Luckily, it burned up before impact. Read the rest
I'm obsessed with Manhattanhenge, the two nights a year when the sunset aligns with the prevailing east-west streets of the New York City grid, a phenomenon that Neil deGrasse Tyson named in 1992.
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