"It’s Never Aliens—until It Is"

In 2017, the big mainstream stories of "near-hits" (aka "near-misses") in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence included episodic dimming of a star caused by possible "alien megastructures," a large object tearing through our solar system, and video captured by a fighter jet of a weird object capable of incredible maneuvers in the sky (video below).

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Billion-dollar spy satellite 'Zuma' lost in failed SpaceX mission

A secret American spy satellite code-named Zuma didn't reach orbit in Sunday's failed SpaceX rocket launch. The cost of the missing U.S. government asset, which officially doesn't exist and officially hasn't been lost, is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

The highly classified payload is “presumed to be a total loss.”

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Mesmerizing videos of recreated astronomical events

Inspired by Kubrick and Nolan, designer Thomas Vanz set out to create cool effects depicting massive phenomena from our universe: Read the rest

NASA uses 450,000 gallons of water to shield launch vehicles from acoustic damage

NASA uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of water during launches to suppress vibration during liftoff: "a curtain of water around the engines to dampen the loudness of the test and protect the core stage from noise damage". Here's the system being tested!

Water flowed during a test at Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About 450,000 gallons of water flowed at high speed from a holding tank through new and modified piping and valves, the flame trench, flame deflector nozzles and mobile launcher interface risers during a wet flow test at Launch Complex 39B. At peak flow, the water reached about 100 feet in the air above the pad surface. The test was a milestone to confirm and baseline the performance of the Ignition Overpressure/Sound Suppression system. During launch of NASA's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, the high-speed water flow will help protect the vehicle from the extreme acoustic and temperature environment during ignition and liftoff.
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Russia planning to build boutique hotel on the International Space Station

Russia's Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities is considering plans to add a space tourism module to the International Space Station. From Popular Mechanics:

The amenities will include a luxury orbital suite parked at the International Space Station (ISS) offering private cabins with big windows, personal hygiene facilities, exercise equipment and even Wi-Fi. In addition gazing at our tiny blue orb from a dizzying altitude of 250 miles, space tourists will have an opportunity for space walks accompanied by a professional cosmonaut.

The entire trip, lasting from one to two weeks will cost $40 million per person and going with the spacewalk option and an extended month-long stay will set the traveler back an additional $20 million....

To minimize the initial cost, (space station contractor) RKK Energia wants to book at least 12 passengers who would agree to make payments of around $4 million up front so that the company could begin the development of the orbital hotel module. It's a similar method that Virgin Galactic used at the beginning of its space tourism ambitions. The same clients will then pay two 12.6 million bills in the two years leading up to the flight, then paying the final $10.8 million payment at the time of the flight.

They better get to work though because the ISS is scheduled for retirement in 2028. Then again, maybe the whole thing can be converted into a boutique hotel.

"Russia's Plan To Build a Luxury Hotel on the ISS" (Popular Mechanics) Read the rest

Breathtaking time-lapse video of last week's SpaceX rocket launch across the sky

Last week, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9, freaking out a lot of people in Southern California who thought they were seeing a UFO streak across the sky. Jesse Watson of Yuma, Arizona captured this incredible time-lapse of the awesome moment. He shot 2452 still images that he edited down to 1315 for this stunning video. From his Vimeo post:

I scouted four locations that had foregrounds to add depth to the imagery and was uniquely inspiring to my hometown. Location choices were between a favorite local hiking mountain, the Imperial Sand Dunes, or a small hill that resides in the historic downtown area overlooking the city. I ended up choosing the location that overlooked the city, partially because it was the easiest to access with all of my time-lapse gear. I used The Photographer’s Ephemeris and Google Maps to help scouting and initial line up...

I have never shot a rocket launch before, so I did not know exactly what to expect as far as exposure or precise location of the rocket in the horizon. I wanted to be prepared to capture comprehensive coverage of the spectacle.

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Astronauts watching Star Wars on the ISS

The crew of the International Space Station watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi in this photograph posted to Twitter by astronaut Mark. T. Vande Hei: "Space Station movie night, complete with “bungee cord chairs”, drink bags, and a science fiction flick!" Read the rest

Trump's Space Council chief says space is "not a commons" and promises that it will become property of US corporations

In a speech last week, US National Space Council executive director Scott Pace rejected the idea that space was a "global commons" or "the common heritage of mankind" and vowed to make the USA "the most attractive jurisdiction in the world for private-sector investment and innovation in outer space." Read the rest

NASA's Juno captures more stunning Jupiter photos

As Juno continues its mission, NASA released new color-enhanced images, like this massive storm in the northern hemisphere. Read the rest

Magnificent online experience inspired by the Voyager Golden Record supports SETI, Carl Sagan Institute, Astronomers Without Borders

Stephen Canfield and his colleagues at WeTransfer curated a stunning online experience inspired by the Voyager Golden Record, the iconic message for extraterrestrials launched into space on a phonograph record 40 years ago. My friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad and I co-produced the first ever vinyl release of the Voyager Record this year and we were honored to help with WeTransfer's effort, titled A Message from Earth.

A Message To Earth includes newly-commissioned images, art, sound, and words from the likes of Gilles Peterson, Wanda Díaz Merced, Aspen Matis, S U R V I V E, Lawrence Krauss, Fatima Al Qadiri, and Oneohtrix Point Never. It's a beautiful, non-linear exhibition of creative work that embodies the sense of hope, optimism, and goodwill instilled by the original Voyager Record.

The exhibition's intention is to relay a message of goodwill and encourage further exploration while raising awareness and funding for Astronomers without Borders, the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, and the SETI Institute. WeTransfer is providing $10,000 grants to each institution to initiate public donations, and the project will be commemorated in a $15 limited edition zine with 100% of generated revenues going to the non-profits above.

Far out.

Here are the contents of A Message From Earth:

Preface: A comic of illustrations by Sophy Hollington telling the story and brief history of the original Golden Record.

1. Greetings: Wanda Díaz Merced, a blind astronomer who uses sonification to study interstellar events, presents a study of stars as heard on earth - with a selection of images curated by NASA's Rebecca Roth.

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Intensity of Southern California fires as seen from space

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of the horrific fires rapidly spreading through Southern California. Stay safe, friends. From NASA:

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this natural-color image with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, MODIS, instrument on Dec. 05, 2017. Actively burning areas (hot spots), detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red. Each hot spot is an area where the thermal detectors on the MODIS instrument recognized temperatures higher than background. When accompanied by plumes of smoke, as in this image, such hot spots are diagnostic for fire.

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This is the first observed object from outside our solar system

Oumuamua is the first observed interstellar asteroid. It was discovered on October 19 and is about 800 meters long. Oumuamua is simply paying our solar system a visit as it continues its journey across the Milky Way.

From CNN

There are most likely between one and 10 of these types of "visitors" per year in our solar system -- but they move so fast that we've never been able to see or study them.

'Oumuamua came from the direction of Vega, a bright star in the Lyra constellation. But even at 85,700 miles per hour, it took so long to reach our solar system that Vega wasn't in the same position 300,000 years ago.

The astronomers believe that instead, the object could have been traveling through our home galaxy, the Milky Way, for hundreds of millions of years, without being attached to any star system, before reaching us.

Because of its speed, if this type of interstellar object were to crash into Earth, it would have a much greater impact and create more energy than an object from our solar system.

Image: Screenshot of SciNews video - artist's rendering. Read the rest

Help fund a statue honoring the first cat in space

On October 18, 1963, a lovely feline named Félicette became the first cat in space in a trip lasting just 15 minutes and including several minutes of weightlessness. Three months later, scientists euthanized Félicette to study how the flight may have impacted her biology. Now, a fellow named Matthew Serge Guy has launched a Kickstarter to fund a statue in Paris memorializing Félicette. From the Kickstarter:

There are conflicting stories on whether the French space programme simply found Félicette as a stray on the streets of Paris, or if she was purchased from a cat dealer. Either way, she became one of 14 cats put into training for this spaceflight mission.

Ultimately Félicette was chosen, apparently due to her calm nature. But other reports indicate it may have been because the other 13 cats had put on too much weight....

It’s also important to note that Félicette, alongside many other animals that have braved space travel in the name of science, was ultimately an unwilling participant in this experiment. For this mission alone she, alongside 13 other cats, experienced arduous training prior to the mission and eventually gave her life. In that respect, this statue should serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made by all animal astronauts throughout the Space Race.

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Magnificent photo of the International Space Station transiting the moon

On Saturday, space photographer John Kraus, age 17, captured this magnificent image of the International Space Station transiting the full moon. He took the photo using a Nikon D500 and Nikkor 200-500mm lens on an equatorial mount used for astrophotography. This wasn't a lucky shot. It took John weeks of planning. From Kraus's article at Petapixel:

As the ISS orbits Earth at 17,500mph, or roughly five miles per second, the transit lasted just 0.90 seconds.

This transit was visible from a narrow path stretching from the middle of Florida to the east coast. I was stationed in a very specific location, as being just several tenths of a mile can throw off a planned transit photo.

Given that the transit occurred so quickly, and I was in such a specific location, it’s natural to ask how I calculated the information required to take this photo. Luckily, I didn’t have to, as there’s a website dedicated to finding out transit info.

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Juno's beautiful new images of Jupiter

NASA's Sean Doran posted a new set of Jupiter shots imaged by the Juno probe, and they're stunning: "What a blimmin' gorgeous/diabolical planet. Smörgåsbord"

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Relaxing video on awe-inspiring stellar nebulae

Teun van der Zalm developed an algorithm for creating nebulae in games, VR, and film. This showcase of the results, set to a lovely free track by Lee Rosevere, hints at the beauty that emerges from math. Read the rest

NASA playlist of the incredible "sounds of space"

In the vacuum of space, there's no way for sound to travel. But that doesn't mean space is silent. Spacecraft capture radio emissions that can be converted into sound we can hear. Indeed, NASA recently posted a fantastic collection of space audio on Soundcloud and it's wonderfully haunting:

Here are descriptions of some of the recordings:

• Juno Captures the 'Roar' of Jupiter: NASA's Juno spacecraft has crossed the boundary of Jupiter's immense magnetic field. Juno's Waves instrument recorded the encounter with the bow shock over the course of about two hours on June 24, 2016.

• Plasma Waves: Plasma waves, like the roaring ocean surf, create a rhythmic cacophony that — with the EMFISIS instrument aboard NASA’s Van Allen Probes — we can hear across space.

• Saturn's Radio Emissions: Saturn is a source of intense radio emissions, which were monitored by the Cassini spacecraft. The radio waves are closely related to the auroras near the poles of the planet. These auroras are similar to Earth's northern and southern lights. More of Saturn's eerie-sounding radio emissions.

• Sounds of Jupiter: Scientists sometimes translate radio signals into sound to better understand the signals. This approach is called "data sonification". On June 27, 1996, the Galileo spacecraft made the first flyby of Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, and this audio track represents data from Galileo's Plasma Wave Experiment instrument.

• Sounds of a Comet Encounter: During its Feb. 14, 2011, flyby of comet Tempel 1, an instrument on the protective shield on NASA's Stardust spacecraft was pelted by dust particles and small rocks, as can be heard in this audio track.

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