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  1. #1001
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    Database shows dozens of UFO sightings in Kokomo
    George Myers, Kokomo Tribune | Jan 3, 2019

    Area has long history of paranormal curiosity

    This screenshot of the History Channel program UFO Hunters depicts lights in the sky some Kokomo residents claim to have seen on April 16, 2008, the night of the Kokomo Boom.
    More than 40 UFO sightings from across Howard County have been reported to a national research center since the mid-1990s, according to a database published late last year.

    The Associated Press released the database in December outlining sightings collected by the National UFO Research Center, an investigative organization based in a decommissioned U.S. Air Force ICBM base in eastern Washington.

    In total, 41 reports from Kokomo were collected by the center, also known as NUFORC, from 1996 to 2017. Two more were received from Greentown.

    Meanwhile, 19 UFO sightings were reported in Peru. Tipton had just two UFO reports.

    It’s the latest chapter for an area that has received national attention in past years for a 2008 boom that left law enforcement searching for a nonexistent downed aircraft; a persistent hum that some residents say caused mysterious health problems; and its role in Project Blue Book, an inquiry into unidentified flying objects by the U.S. Air Force that ran from 1952 to 1969.

    Declassified government documents posted online show at least eight Kokomo sightings reported to the Air Force as part of Project Blue Book. Each was ultimately given a credible explanation by government officials.

    Explanations sometimes referenced activity at Bunker Hill Air Force Base – now called Grissom Air Reserve Base – and other regular aircraft movement. Similar conclusions have been given to more recent controversies.

    But those reality checks have not slowed down the trend of UFO sightings in Kokomo and surrounding communities.

    NUFORC mostly receives sighting reports through its public telephone hotline. Records detailing Kokomo sightings outline conversations between a NUFORC investigator and a feverish local resident, describing the latest strange, seemingly unexplainable phenomenon.

    “I was driving down Markland, by Markland Mall and 31 when I noticed a shining circular disk in the sky, pulled over to make sure and just as I did that, it started spinning faster and two other disks came out and formed a triangular shape, while continuing to spin…” reads one 2014 sighting.

    “They dispersed millions of ‘ball’ like things which were glowing, then disks flew off very quickly and the glowing balls vanished. I’m still very shocked.”

    A 2017 sighting – reports can also be filed online – described a similarly bizarre situation.

    “10 or more red-orangish lights squirmishing, then would vanish and reappear brighter and form a triangle,” explains the Kokomo-based report. “Some moved in a zig-zag motion, then would dart from left to right and then stay motionless.

    “Half hour into witnessing this and all disappeared into thin air, after shooing upwards as a bright white light, 10 minutes later reappeared in same spot as they have been.”

    Unsurprisingly, a chunk of Kokomo’s reports in the NUFORC database – eight, in total – took place on the night of the Kokomo Boom.

    Remembering the boom

    It was a strange end to 2018.

    People in Kosciusko and St. Joseph counties, and as far north as Michigan, reported hearing a loud boom Sunday evening, Dec. 30, that caused homes to shake and dogs to lose control.

    Days later, there is still no explanation.

    “I heard a boom and it wasn’t a firework, it wasn’t a gunshot,” Evan Bordner, a Mishawaka resident, told WSBT-22. “It went on for a little bit. It extended out for a little bit.”

    Some people told the TV station they heard multiple booms, while others spotted helicopters in the Warsaw area.

    It mirrors the mystery of the Kokomo Boom, which gripped the city more than a decade ago.

    On April 16, 2008, Howard County 911 dispatchers were inundated with 146 phone calls within a 15-minute timeframe between 10:25 and 10:40 p.m., about 120 more than normal for an entire night.

    The reason?

    A boom. A really big boom, said callers. Homes had been rocked; the sky was on fire.

    But what was it?

    An aircraft crash? That’s probably it, said police. But there was no crash site, no debris, no evidence at all of a plane falling from the sky.

    “I tried calling news stations, but lines were busy. Channel 6 News helicopter is flying over the area right now,” reads one report from NUFORC.

    “It's kind of weird because we heard a loud explosion, the lights moved and did their thing, and then they fell crashing down. … The police are looking in fields and in homes with flashlights and they originally thought a plane crashed, but they can't find a plane?”

    Another report described the moments after spotting lights in the sky: “This followed an incredible explosive sound, that got the whole town thinking a plane had crashed. Over 1,000 other people in 3 county area reported seeing something and everyone felt the percussion for 3 counties.”

    Officers – police and fire units had both scrambled to the area of U.S. 31 and 300 North in Tipton County upon hearing numerous reports of a loud boom and strange lights in the sky – were puzzled.

    Speculation ran rampant, as some people theorized that the boom and bright lights were a meteor shower, the Tribune reported at the time.

    Or, maybe, just maybe, there was an alien invasion.

    Current Howard County Emergency Management Agency Director Janice Hart, then the active director’s secretary, initially thought an explosion had rocked a nearby factory, according to a Tribune article from April 18, 2008.

    She then spent the next morning handling calls about the noise and lights – and even fireballs.

    “That’s all they’re talking about. I had numerous calls asking if it was a sonic boom, a meteor, even some people joking that it was a UFO,” she said.

    Ultimately, an Indiana National Guard representative ruined everyone’s fun, telling local media – albeit 15 hours later – that the still-famous boom, accompanied by flashing lights and sightings of falling debris, were the result of training exercises for National Guard aircraft headquartered in Fort Wayne.

    The string of lights, the official said, came from the dropping of flares from several thousand feet above ground, a technique used by jets to evade heat-seeking missiles while in combat.

    The sonic boom? An inadvertent breaking of the sound barrier. The jets routinely trained in airspace known as Hilltop Military Operations Area, spanning from West Lafayette to Logansport, including parts of Howard and Tipton counties, according to the official’s statement.

    But many local residents, specifically eyewitnesses, fail to accept that explanation, evidenced by national programs on Discovery Channel’s Investigation X and History Channel’s UFO Hunters.

    So what really happened? The government says Kokomo has its answers.

    Not everyone agrees.
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    Galaxy collision to send solar system flying?
    Eleanor Imster in SPACE | January 6, 2019

    A new computer simulation shows the Large Magellanic Cloud is hurtling toward our galaxy on a collision course. Could the collision knock our solar system out of the Milky Way?


    A catastrophic galaxy collision could send our solar system flying into space. That’s the conclusion of new research conducted via the EAGLE Project – a comprehensive computer simulation aimed at understanding how galaxies form and evolve – conducted on some of the world’s largest supercomputers. Astrophysicists at Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, working with the University of Helsinki in Finland, use data from the Eagle Project to predict a collision between our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud. The collision might dislodge our solar system, and send it flying, some two billion years from now.

    The new work was published January 4, 2019, in the peer-reviewed journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    Astronomers had earlier predicted an impact between our Milky Way and a much-larger neighboring galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy. Scientists say our two large galaxies will collide in some 8 billion years.

    Before that happens, a collision between our Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud might occur. If it happens, the collision could wake up our galaxy’s central, supermassive black hole, which would begin devouring surrounding gas and increase in size by up to 10 times. As it feeds, this future active black hole at the center of our Milky Way would throw out high-energy radiation. According to these scientists’ statement:

    … while these cosmic fireworks are unlikely to affect life on Earth, the scientists say there is a small chance that the initial collision could send our solar system hurtling into space.

    Artist’s concept of Earth’s night sky some 4 billion years in the future. The Andromeda galaxy (left) will fill our field of view then, astronomers say, as it heads toward a collision, or merger, with our Milky way galaxy in about 8 billion years. Read more about the eventual merger of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Image via NASA/ESA/Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI/T. Hallas/A. Mellinger.
    Galaxies like our own Milky Way are surrounded by a group of smaller satellite galaxies that orbit around them, in a similar way to how bees move around a hive. Typically, these satellite galaxies have a quiet life and orbit around their hosts for many billions of years. However, from time to time, they sink to the center, collide and are devoured by their host galaxy.

    The Large Magellanic Cloud is the brightest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way and only entered our neighborhood about 1.5 billion years ago. It sits about 163,000 light-years from the Milky Way. Until recently astronomers thought that it would either orbit the Milky Way for many billions of years, or, since it moves so fast, escape from our galaxy’s gravitational pull.

    However, recent measurements indicate that the Large Magellanic Cloud has nearly twice as much dark matter than previously thought. The researchers say that since it has a larger than expected mass, the Large Magellanic Cloud is rapidly losing energy and is doomed to collide with our galaxy.

    The research team used the EAGLE galaxy formation supercomputer simulation to predict the collision. Marius Cautun, a postdoctoral fellow in Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, is lead author of the study. Cautun said:

    While two billion years is an extremely long time compared to a human lifetime, it is a very short time on cosmic timescales.

    The destruction of the Large Magellanic Cloud, as it is devoured by the Milky Way, will wreak havoc with our galaxy, waking up the black hole that lives at its center and turning our galaxy into an active galactic nucleus or quasar.

    This phenomenon will generate powerful jets of high energy radiation emanating from just outside the black hole. While this will not affect our solar system, there is a small chance that we might not escape unscathed from the collision between the two galaxies which could knock us out of the Milky Way and into interstellar space.

    The collision between the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Milky Way could be spectacular, the researchers say. Co-author Carlos Frenk, Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology, Durham University, said:

    Barring any disasters, like a major disturbance to the solar system, our descendants, if any, are in for a treat: a spectacular display of cosmic fireworks as the newly awakened supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy reacts by emitting jets of extremely bright energetic radiation.
    Last edited by ilan; 01-06-2019 at 02:14 PM.
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    New Juno images of Io’s fiery volcanoes
    Paul Scott Anderson in SPACE | January 6, 2019

    Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active world in our solar system. The Juno spacecraft – now orbiting Jupiter – has now gazed across a distance to acquire new images and insights about the “fires of Io.”


    Meet Io, Jupiter’s innermost large moon. The red dots – nicknamed the “fires of Io” – are active volcanoes.
    December 2018
    image via NASA’s Juno spacecraft (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/INAF).

    Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active world in the solar system – even more active than Earth – with hundreds of volcanoes erupting at any almost given time. The Voyager spacecraft discovered that Io has active volcanoes, back in the late 1970s, and – in the late 1990s and early 2000s – the Galileo mission provided more stunning images of the “fires of Io.” Now, NASA’s current mission at Jupiter – the Juno orbiter spacecraft – has sent back new photos of a volcanic plume on this molten little world. The news was announced by the Southwest Research Institute on December 31, 2018.

    The new images and other data were taken on the winter solstice in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere – December 21 – by various instruments such as the JunoCam camera. The Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) and the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVS) also observed Io for over an hour, to study the moon’s polar regions as well as look for evidence of any current active eruptions.

    Juno isn’t designed to study the moons of Jupiter up close, as Galileo or Voyager did. Rather, Juno’s focus is on Jupiter itself. But Juno can and now has still made important observations from a distance. The observations of Io paid off, according to Scott Bolton, principal investigator of the Juno mission and an associate vice president of Southwest Research Institute’s Space Science and Engineering Division:

    We knew we were breaking new ground with a multi-spectral campaign to view Io’s polar region, but no one expected we would get so lucky as to see an active volcanic plume shooting material off the moon’s surface. This is quite a New Year’s present showing us that Juno has the ability to clearly see plumes.
    Last edited by ilan; 01-08-2019 at 02:15 PM.
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    "Orion's Dragon" captured in 3D by NASA's airborne observatory
    Jake Parks, Astronomy | Published: Monday, January 07, 2019

    Using a telescope-mounted airplane, astronomers have uncovered a structure in the Orion Nebula that may shed light on one of the nebula's long-standing secrets.


    While flying more than seven miles above the surface of our planet, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) recently fixated on Earth's nearest star-forming region: the Orion Nebula.

    Based on the data collected by the jetliner, which is equipped with a 106-inch (2.7-meter) diameter telescope, researchers determined that strong stellar winds from a particularly young and active star are disrupting gas within the Orion Nebula, which is located some 1,300 light-years from Earth. These strong winds, in turn, are stifling star formation in the region.

    To make their new finding, the team used the SOFIA data to create a stunning 3D view of the chaotic environment inside the nebula, a decision that also helped them uncover a newfound feature they've since dubbed "Orion's Dragon."

    In total, SOFIA spent about 40 hours collecting spectroscopic observations of the Orion Nebula with a recently upgraded instrument called the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, also known as GREAT. By collecting and combining millions of individual spectra, which measure the chemical fingerprints of light, the researchers were able to generate a three-dimensional data cube that contained both velocity and spatial information for gas within the nebula.

    "As we rotated the data cube, we got our first glimpse of the structure that we've nicknamed Orion's Dragon," said Rhys Taylor, a scientist at the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences and a consultant to the SOFIA team, in a press release. "A few people have said it looks like a sea horse or a pterodactyl, but it looks like a dragon to me."

    No matter what critter or creature you see in Orion's Dragon, it's fascinating to know that the new SOFIA data reveals many tantalizing clues about the structure and evolution of the entire nebula. For instance, until recently, researchers thought that supernovae explosions were one of the main sculptors of star-forming clouds like Orion's Nebula; however, Orion's Dragon begs to differ.

    By rotating and diving through the new data cube, researchers were able to gain insight into how the expanding bubble at the heart of the Orion Nebula is shaped by intense stellar winds. Near the center of the bubble sits a particularly strong newborn star (Theta1 Orionis C [θ1 Ori C]), and the team says it pumps out so much energy that it stirs and heats up the surrounding gas, disrupting and preventing the birth of any new stars nearby.

    Though there is still much work to do before researchers can confidently confirm that strong stellar winds are the primary suppressor of star formation, the newly discovered dragon does hint that we may be on the path to enlightenment.
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    New tool reveals ‘missing’ merging galaxies
    Deborah Byrd in SPACE | January 10, 2019

    Astronomers see many breathtaking merging galaxies, with their giant tidal streams of stars and unusual shapes. But some normal-looking galaxies might be merging, too. Now astronomers have a new tool to find out.

    Galaxies may take billions of years to fully merge into a single galaxy. As astronomers look outward in space, they can see only “snapshots” of this long merger process. Located 300 million light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices, these 2 colliding galaxies have been nicknamed The Mice because of the long tails of stars and gas emanating from each galaxy. Otherwise known as NGC 4676, the pair will eventually merge into a single giant galaxy. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
    When you think about it – given the vastness of space in contrast to the minuteness of all matter – it’s surprising that galaxies collide and merge at all. Yet they do. Astronomers have known for some time, for example, that our Milky Way galaxy will ultimately merge with the large neighboring Andromeda galaxy, some 4 to 8 billion years from now. And just last week we learned that the Large Magellanic Cloud will is on a collision course with our Milky Way, too. This little galaxy will merge with ours in only 2 billion years, possibly knocking our own solar system out of the Milky Way entirely. In distant space, too, astronomers see and study merging galaxies. On January 9, 2019, at the 233rd AAS meeting in Seattle, Washington, astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) said they have a new tool to find galaxy mergers that would otherwise be “missing.”

    They’re searching for these galaxy mergers in data from a survey called MaNGA (Mapping Nearby Galaxies at Apache Point Observatory), which is part of SDSS. The astronomers said in a statement:

    These results show that by going beyond simple searches for merging galaxies based just on how they look, astronomers will now be able find more galaxy mergers than ever before.

    Rebecca Nevin of the University of Colorado is lead author of the new galaxy study, which formed the basis of her Ph.D. thesis at Colorado with astronomer Julie Comerford acting as advisor. Nevin commented:

    Merging galaxies are key to understanding galaxy evolution, but finding them can be tricky.

    The astronomers said the beautiful visible features of merging galaxies – the giant tidal streams of stars and unusual shapes – are visible in only a small fraction of those observed. They said some galaxies that don’t appear to be merging may actually be merging, after all.
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    The top space stories of 2018: Mars, new moons and a mystery asteroid
    Ashley Strickland, CNN | Updated 4:18 AM ET, Wed December 5, 2018




    (CNN) This year was full of discovery throughout the cosmos.

    We were dazzled by beautiful images from space telescopes; marveled at the discovery of planets, stars and objects; were intrigued by a lunar mystery solved by missing Apollo mission data; and saw the first confirmed image of the birth of a planet.

    Things were just waiting to be found in our own corner of the universe, like 12 new moons around Jupiter, Earth-like characteristics on Pluto and a possible super-Earth orbiting a neighboring star. More studies suggested water on Mars and the moon. And astronomers found the fastest-growing black hole ever.

    Of course, speculation abounded over where signs of life may be found outside Earth.

    Here are some of the most amazing discoveries and space happenings of 2018.

    Oumuamua and other interstellar visitors

    Although it's been over a year since a cigar-shaped object came rapidly tumbling through our solar system, we learned even more about this interstellar visitor in 2018.

    The object, nicknamed 'Oumuamua, was discovered in October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. The name is Hawaiian for "a messenger that reaches out from the distant past."

    Studies based on the observations made during its "flyby" have deemed it a new class of cometary interstellar object, although researchers are still debating how the long, dark-red object accelerated. The surface of it looked like a comet's core, but it didn't have a "coma," the atmosphere and dust around comets as they melt and release gases.

    And this year, Harvard researchers mentioned in a research paper that it was possibly a probe sent from an ancient civilization -- although other experts were skeptical of this suggestion.

    Meanwhile, an interstellar immigrant that originated outside our solar system was found hiding around Jupiter in May. The exo-asteroid, named 2015 BZ509, was captured by the gas giant's orbit during the early days of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. It moves in a retrograde orbit around Jupiter and serves as a warning to other "visitors."

    " 'Oumuamua is a visitor to the solar system," said Helena Morais, study author and professor of statistics at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil. "That was a nice and important confirmation that interstellar objects can pass by. If they pass by, then they may also be captured in a stable orbit, as it is the case of 2015 BZ509."

    Repeating fast radio bursts from space

    The only known repeating fast radio burst in the universe keeps sporadically flaring.

    These radio flashes usually last a millisecond and have unknown physical origin. People love to believe that they're from an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, and this hypothesis hasn't been ruled out entirely by researchers at Breakthrough Listen, a scientific research program dedicated to finding evidence of intelligent life in the universe.

    The newest detections allowed researchers to discover that the radio bursts themselves are polarized and coming from an environment that contains an incredibly strong magnetic field. They were also able to detect the radio bursts at a higher frequency than ever.

    The radio burst itself releases a "monstrous" amount of energy in each millisecond, comparable to what our sun releases in an entire day, the researchers said.

    So is it coming from a black hole, a powerful nebula or a neutron star? Or is it something else? Only time, and more detections, will tell.
    "We can not rule out completely the ET hypothesis for the FRBs in general," said University of California, Berkeley, postdoctoral fellow Vishal Gajjar of Breakthrough Listen and the Berkeley SETI Research Center.

    'Ghost particle' from space found on Earth

    For the first time, scientists were able to trace the origins of a ghostly subatomic particle that traveled 3.7 billion light-years to Earth. The tiny, high-energy cosmic particle is called a neutrino, and it was found by sensors deep in the Antarctic ice in the IceCube detector. The discovery was announced in July.

    Scientists and observatories around the world were able to trace the neutrino to a galaxy with a supermassive, rapidly spinning black hole at its center, known as a blazar.

    "What we've found is not only the first evidence of a neutrino source, but also evidence that this galaxy is a cosmic ray accelerator," Gary Hill, a study co-author, associate professor at the University of Adelaide's School of Physical Sciences and member of the IceCube collaboration, said in a statement. "I have been working in this field for almost 30 years and to find an actual neutrino source is an incredibly exciting moment. Now that we've identified a real source, we'll be able to focus in on other objects like this one, to understand more about these extreme events billions of years ago which set these particles racing towards our planet."

    Scientists say the discovery heralds a new era of space research, allowing the use of these particles to study and observe the universe in an unprecedented way. And the finding suggests that scientists will be able to track the origin of mysterious cosmic rays for the first time.

    A combination of observations and data across the electromagnetic spectrum, provided by observatories on Earth and in space, makes this a prime example of how "multimessenger" astronomy is helping make discoveries possible. Multimessenger astronomy also contributed to the discovery of the neutron star collision that created light, gravitational waves and gold in October 2017.

    Why is Tabby's Star flickering?

    More than 1,000 light-years away, there is a star that has been baffling astronomers since it was first observed in data collected by the Kepler mission. It's now largely known as Tabby's Star, named for Tabetha Boyajian, a Louisiana State University Department of Physics and Astronomy assistant professor.

    For no obvious reason, Tabby's Star has been dimming and brightening in strange and unpredictable ways. It has dimmed for a few days or a week at a time. And then there's the fact that it grew fainter over the past century. It's an F star, which is supposed to maintain constant brightness. So what was causing the dips in light?

    Hint: not an alien megastructure. That theory has been debunked by the latest data set released in January.

    "Dust is most likely the reason why the star's light appears to dim and brighten," Boyajian said. "The new data shows that different colors of light are being blocked at different intensities. Therefore, whatever is passing between us and the star is not opaque, as would be expected from a planet or alien megastructure."

    If anyone feels disappointed that the main culprit is most likely dust, rather than an alien megastructure, Boyajian offers this: "This is definitely something new and exciting. Even if it is dust, what kind of dust does this?"

    Kepler and Dawn come to an end

    The week bridging October and November saw the end of two landmark NASA missions: Dawn and Kepler. Both mission conclusions were expected, and they ran out of fuel within two days of each other.

    Kepler, a nine-year planet-hunting mission, discovered 2,899 exoplanet candidates and 2,681 confirmed exoplanets in our galaxy, revealing that our solar system isn't the only home for planets.

    Kepler allowed astronomers to discover that 20% to 50% of the stars we can see in the night sky are likely to have small, rocky, Earth-size planets within their habitable zones -- which means liquid water could pool on the surface, and life as we know it could exist on these planets.

    Dawn's 11-year mission sent it on a 4.3 billion-mile journey to two of the largest objects in our solar system's main asteroid belt. Dawn visited Vesta and Ceres, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit two deep-space destinations.

    Vesta and Ceres are considered to be like time capsules from the beginning of our solar system. The experiments Dawn carried out enabled astronomers to look at the different ways Vesta and Ceres formed and evolved, as well as revealing that dwarf planets can also host oceans.

    New beginnings for new missions

    Although we bid farewell to historic missions, 2018 was an exciting time for groundbreaking new ones to launch. NASA's TESS, InSight and Parker Solar Probe all had successful launches this year and are already sending back new science, with the promise of discoveries in 2019.

    TESS, a planet-hunting satellite, launched in April. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is NASA's next mission in the search for exoplanets, or those that are outside our solar system, and TESS will be on the lookout for planets that could support life.

    It picked up where Kepler left off. TESS will survey an area 400 times larger than what Kepler observed. NASA expects TESS to allow for the cataloging of more than 1,500 exoplanets, but it has the potential to find thousands. These exoplanets will be studied so that NASA can determine which are the best targets for missions like the James Webb Space Telescope.

    The Mars InSight lander launched in May and landed on the Red Planet on November 26. The lander is already sending back photos and will begin science operations after a few months, when all of its instruments are on the surface.

    It will be the first lander to investigate the deep interior of Mars. This will tell us not only about the history of Mars but about other rocky planets in our solar system like Earth.

    The Parker Solar Probe, named for pioneering astrophysicist Eugene Parker, launched in August and has come closer to the sun than any spacecraft. This is the agency's first mission to the sun and its outermost atmosphere, the corona.

    The mission will last seven years and provide data to answer key questions about the sun. The observations and data could provide insight about the physics of stars, change what we know about the mysterious corona, increase understanding of solar wind and help improve forecasting of major space weather events.

    And OSIRIS-REx, NASA's first asteroid sample return mission, just reached the asteroid Bennu after traveling through space for two years.

    Red Planet rovers

    In June, the Curiosity rover found organic matter in Martian soil samples taken from 3 billion-year-old mudstone and detected methane in the atmosphere.

    "With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet."

    And while Curiosity has had another great year of photos and science on the Red Planet, it's been a sad one for the Opportunity rover.

    On May 30, a dust storm began on Mars. By mid-June, the storm became "planet-encircling." Although Curiosity was largely unaffected, Opportunity was stranded in the dark and has maintained radio silence ever since.

    NASA is hoping that winds will knock dust off of Oppy's solar panels so she can recharge and start communicating again. Until then, all they can do is try paging her each day with the hope of a response.

    And in November, NASA selected the landing site for the next Martian mission: the Mars 2020 rover.

    Is that an exomoon?

    In October, astronomers announced the discovery of what could be an exomoon, a moon outside our solar system. The exomoon, which is estimated to be the size of Neptune, was found in orbit around a gigantic gas planet 8,000 light-years from Earth. This would be the first exomoon ever found.

    Although moons are common in our solar system, which has nearly 200 natural satellites, the long search for interstellar moons has been an empty one. Astronomers have had success locating exoplanets around stars outside our solar system, but exomoons are harder to pinpoint because of their smaller size.

    The scientists behind this discovery are hesitant to confirm that the new find is an exomoon due to some of its peculiarities and the fact that more observation is needed.

    However, the finding is both promising and intriguing. The moon, which orbits a giant exoplanet called Kepler-1625b, is incredibly large, comparable to the size of the gas giant Neptune in our solar system. There's no analog for such a large moon in our own system. In our sky, it would appear two times bigger than Earth's moon, the researchers said.

    Christa McAuliffe's lessons finally taught

    Christa McAuliffe never got to realize her dream of teaching from space.

    The 37-year-old social studies teacher from Boston was selected above nearly 11,000 educators as the primary candidate for the first Teacher in Space Mission. But the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launching on January 28, 1986, taking McAuliffe's life and those of the six astronauts aboard.

    McAuliffe's lessons have remained untaught and forgotten, until now. Astronauts filmed some of her original lessons on the International Space Station, continuing McAuliffe's legacy 32 years after they were planned. It's fitting that the two astronauts, Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold, are both former educators.

    The lessons touch on liquids in zero gravity, Newton's laws, effervescence (bubbles or fizz in liquid) and chromatography, or the separation of a mixture. The first of McAuliffe's lessons has been completed, and the lesson plans are available through the Challenger Center's website.

    "Filming Christa McAuliffe's lessons in orbit this year is an incredible way to honor and remember her and the Challenger crew," said Mike Kincaid, associate administrator for NASA's Office of Education. "Developed with such care and expertise by Christa, the value these lessons will have as new tools available for educators to engage and inspire students in science, technology, education and math is what will continue to advance a true legacy of Challenger's mission."

    Life could be on these water worlds

    Last year, astronomers announced that ocean worlds like Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's Enceladus may be the best chance for finding life outside Earth in our solar system. Both are icy with subsurface oceans.

    Now, the discovery of complex organic molecules in plumes that rise from Enceladus' subsurface ocean further suggests that the moon could support life as we know it.

    And old data from NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiter in 1997 revealed some of the best observations to date that plumes of water vapor and icy materials erupt from a literal hot spot on Europa.

    NASA plans to further explore ocean worlds in our solar system through the Europa Clipper mission, the first to explore an alien ocean. The Europa Clipper, named for the innovative, streamlined ships of the 1800s, will launch in the 2020s and arrive at Europa after a few years.

    Europa Clipper's instruments will be capable of "sniffing" the atmosphere of Europa, with more than 40 planned flybys. The flybys will be less than 228 miles above the surface, in the observed range of the plumes, which can reach 124 to 228 miles above the surface.

    And although the Cassini mission made close flybys of Enceladus before coming to an end in 2017, proposals for missions to further study Enceladus have been submitted to NASA. Detecting complex organic molecules in its plumes needs further investigation, researchers said.

    "Specific identification of these organic compounds is the next step in our search for life in Enceladus' ocean," said Hunter Waite, program director at the Southwest Research Institute and Cassini's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer principal investigator. "The complexity of the organic compounds identified was beyond our wildest expectations: nonsoluble complex organics floating as a film on an alien ocean. Wrap your head around that."
    Last edited by ilan; 01-11-2019 at 02:07 PM.
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    Dark matter on the move
    EarthSky in SPACE | January 6, 2019

    New evidence suggests that dark matter – the mysterious stuff that makes up a significant percentage of the universe’s mass – can heat up and move around.

    Star formation in tiny dwarf galaxies can slowly “heat up” the dark matter, pushing it outwards, a new study suggests. Left, the hydrogen gas density of a simulated dwarf galaxy, viewed from above. Right, the same for a real dwarf galaxy, IC 1613. In the simulation, repeated gas inflow and outflow causes the gravitational field strength at the center of the dwarf galaxy to fluctuate. The dark matter responds to this by migrating out from the center of the galaxy, an effect known as “dark matter heating.” Image via J. Read et al.
    Scientists have found evidence that dark matter can be heated up and moved around as a result of star formation in galaxies. The findings provide the first observational evidence for the effect known as dark matter heating, and give new clues as to what makes up dark matter. The research was published January 3, 2019, in the peer-reviewed journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    In the new work, an international team of scientists set out to hunt for evidence of dark matter at the centers of nearby dwarf galaxies. Dwarf galaxies are small, faint galaxies that are typically found orbiting larger galaxies like our own Milky Way. They are integral to discussions of dark matter because they appear to have even higher proportions of dark matter than larger galaxies, and because the primary theory of dark matter – the Cold Dark Matter Theory – suggests there should be many more dwarf galaxies orbiting our Milky Way and other galaxies than have been found.

    Dark matter is thought to make up a significant percentage of the mass of the universe. However, since it doesn’t interact with light in the same way as normal matter, it can only be observed through its gravitational effects. The key to studying it may lie in how stars are formed in galaxies.

    When stars form, strong winds can push gas and dust away from the heart of the galaxy. As a result, the galaxy’s center has less mass, which affects how much gravity is felt by the remaining dark matter. With less gravitational attraction, the dark matter gains energy and migrates away from the center, an effect called dark matter heating.

    The team of astrophysicists measured the amount of dark matter at the centers of 16 dwarf galaxies with very different star formation histories. They found that galaxies that stopped forming stars long ago had higher dark matter densities at their centers than those that are still forming stars today. This supports the theory that the older galaxies had less dark matter heating.

    Justin Read is lead author of the study and head of the Department of Physics at the University of Surrey. He said in a statement:

    We found a truly remarkable relationship between the amount of dark matter at the centers of these tiny dwarfs, and the amount of star formation they have experienced over their lives. The dark matter at the centers of the star-forming dwarfs appears to have been ‘heated up’ and pushed out.

    The findings provide a new constraint on dark matter models: dark matter must be able to form dwarf galaxies that exhibit a range of central densities, and those densities must relate to the amount of star formation. Matthew Walker, a study co-author from Carnegie Mellon University, added:

    This study may be the ‘smoking gun’ evidence that takes us a step closer to understanding what dark matter is. Our finding that it can be heated up and moved around helps to motivate searches for a dark matter particle.

    Bottom line: New research suggests dark matter can be heated up and moved around as a result of star formation in galaxies.
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    Holy Cow: Was mysterious flare in space the birth of a black hole?
    Ashley Strickland, CNN | Updated 5:28 PM ET, Thu January 10, 2019

    A mysterious object in the sky, dubbed "The Cow", was captured by telescopes around the world. Scientists believe it could be the birth of a black hole or neutron star, or a new class of object.
    (CNN) Something strange happened in the sky one summer night in 2018, and astronomers are still trying to figure out exactly what occurred. But their telescopes were in the right position to capture a mysterious bright object flaring in the sky before it vanished.

    Officially, it's AT2018cow, a computer-generated catalog name. But researchers much prefer its unofficial name: "The Cow."

    In mid-June, a cosmic flare was registered by astronomers using the ATLAS asteroid survey, or Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System. The flare grew into a sudden burst of bright light from the direction of the dwarf spiral galaxy CGCG 137-068, 200 million light-years away in the Hercules constellation. In terms of galactic neighbors, that's relatively close to us, according to astronomers.

    Then, the bright anomaly vanished as quickly as it arrived.

    The ATLAS astronomers immediately alerted the rest of their community.

    The Cow approximately 80 days after the explosion.

    It captured the attention of astronomers around the globe and was observed using multiple telescopes registering data in optical light, radio wavelengths, X-rays, gamma rays and infrared. They continued to observe it long after the initial brightness faded.

    The astronomers realized that the fast, bright blue event was no normal supernova, an increasingly bright star that explodes and ejects most of its mass before dying.

    "This was an incredibly luminous event, brighter than almost any supernova we've ever seen before," said Daniel Perley, assistant professor of astronomy at Liverpool John Moores University. "The Cow also appeared and faded away very quickly: so quickly that existing supernova models can't properly explain it. It must be a new type of extremely energetic, explosive event."

    Perley is one of several astronomers who presented their findings on the Cow at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Thursday.

    In fact, the anomaly was 10 to 100 times brighter than the average supernova, and it flared and disappeared quicker than other star explosions. The particles within the explosion were traveling at 30,000 kilometers per second -- 10% of the speed of light -- and the activity died down after about 16 days.

    The SOAR telescope in Chile offered a closer look that allowed astronomers to determine that hydrogen and helium were present. If this had been a merger of objects, like those that produce gravitational waves, heavy metals would have been present instead.

    Because the Cow was more "naked" than other explosions, with 10 times less particles swirling around it, astronomers were able to look into the center, revealing a "central engine."

    "A 'lightbulb' was sitting deep inside the ejecta of the explosion," said Raffaella Margutti, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University, in a statement. "It would have been hard to see this in a normal stellar explosion. But the Cow had very little ejecta mass, which allowed us to view the central engine's radiation directly."

    Rather than fading steadily, like most supernovae, there were bumps and wiggles in the data, suggesting that something was powering the material as it expanded out. The light seemed to spike every few days.

    Other astronomers arrived at a similar conclusion, believing that it was an "engine-driven" explosion powered by a black hole or magnetar, a fast-spinning neutron star that forms in a supernova.

    Multimessenger astronomy, a combination of observations and data across the electromagnetic spectrum, helped astronomers come up with several scenarios for that this could be.

    "We think that 'The Cow' is the formation of an accreting black hole or neutron star," Giacomo Terreran, observation lead for the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, said in a statement. "We know from theory that black holes and neutron stars form when a star dies, but we've never seen them right after they are born."

    If that's the case, the telescopes captured the exact moment when a star collapsed, forming a black hole or a neutron star. The bright glow was due to debris swirling around the object. And observing this event with so many imaging sources could give astronomers a better understanding of the physics occurring in the first crucial moments that go into creating a neutron star or black hole.

    Astronomers continue to debate what exactly happened. Liliana Rivera Sandoval, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Texas Tech University Department of Physics and astronomy, believes that it was an uncommon core collapse supernova: the rapid collapse of a massive star that violently exploded. Sandoval and her colleagues used the Swift Observatory to obtain some of the first measurements of the event.
    There are other possibilities.

    Was the Cow a supernova that left behind a magnetar in its wake?

    "If we're seeing the birth of a compact object in real time, this could be the start of a new chapter in our understanding of stellar evolution," said Brian Grefenstette, a NuSTAR instrument scientist at Caltech. "We looked at this object with many different observatories, and of course the more windows you open onto an object, the more you can learn about it. But, as we're seeing with the Cow, that doesn't necessarily mean the solution will be simple."

    Or did a black hole rip apart a white dwarf star?

    "The Cow produced a large cloud of debris in a very short time," said Paul Kuin, an astrophysicist at University College London. "Shredding a bigger star to produce a cloud like this would take a bigger black hole, result in a slower brightness increase and take longer for the debris to be consumed."
    It could also be a new class of object, a fast luminous transient, known as a weak supernova that cools quickly. New telescopes will be able to help spot more of these events in the future.

    "The properties of the Cow strain nearly all models we have tried to devise to explain it," Perley said. "Whatever it is, it must involve some form of energetic and very fast explosion interacting with an extremely dense shell of material very close to the explosion progenitor."
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    THE REAL-LIFE SECRET UFO STUDY BEHIND
    THE NEW TV SERIES “PROJECT BLUE BOOK”

    Adam Epstein, Quartzy | January 12, 2019


    In the 1950s and 1960s, the US Air Force secretly investigated more than 12,000 reports of unidentified flying objects. The findings on the vast majority of those sightings were uneventful: people misidentifying common objects like planes, lights, birds, and comets; hoaxers looking to make a name for themselves; small towns succumbing to hysteria (okay, that one is kind of eventful). But 701 sightings still remain unidentified to this day.

    Some of those sightings will be explored in the new History network scripted TV series, Project Blue Book, based on the real-life UFO study of the same name conducted by the US military at the height of the Cold War. The show stars Aidan Gillen (of The Wire and Game of Thrones fame) as J. Allen Hynek, the astronomer hired by the government to serve as the project’s scientific consultant.

    Initially a skeptic of flying saucers, Hynek came to believe over the course of the top-secret project that serious investigation of UFOs was a legitimate scientific endeavor. By the time the program was shuttered in 1969, Hynek was one of the few people involved who conceded that some UFO cases could simply defy explanation. Today he’s known as the father of ufology, who coined the phrase “close encounter.”

    All of the project’s case files have since been declassified and are available to the public at the US National Archives.

    Project Blue Book, which premiered Jan. 8 and will portray a different sighting each week (an upcoming episode promises a look at the famous “Lubbock Lights,” for instance), exists somewhere between genuine historical fiction and X-Files style sensationalism. But however accurate the series is or isn’t, the true story upon which it’s based is fascinating all on its own.

    The real Project Blue Book

    Not long after UFO sightings became common in the late 1940s, the US military decided that it should probably at least look into these reports, in the interest of public safety. Two early efforts to investigate these strange phenomena failed, but on the third try the US Air Force was able to form Project Blue Book, named after the blue booklets handed out during college exams to signal that this undertaking was of the utmost academic importance.

    Its aims were simple: investigate reports of UFOs using the scientific method, and determine whether any of these objects posed a threat to national security. Hynek, a respected scientist who had worked at Ohio State and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), was brought in to consult and help investigators determine whether UFOs were really just celestial bodies and objects like asteroids, planets, or, stars. In its early years under the direction of US Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, Project Blue Book thrived, investigating cases that we still remember today, including the Mariana Incident in 1950 and the 1952 Washington, DC UFO Incident, which brought panic to the nation’s capitol.

    In response to the DC incident and hundreds of other sightings that were sucking up government resources, the CIA established a panel that concluded Project Blue Book was better off doing whatever it could to debunk reports of UFOs, in order to reduce public interest in the phenomena. From that point until its termination in 1969, the project mostly stopped doing serious investigation, instead concentrating on its new debunking mandate.

    History’s official synopsis for Project Blue Book alludes to this tension between Hynek, who believed that some cases couldn’t just be “explained away,” and his US military bosses, who basically wanted to make the very idea of UFOs disappear, without thoroughly vetting the reports. The latter period of the project was plagued by leadership changes and infighting between skeptics and those like Hynek who believed in the merits of scientific inquiry.

    So did they ever find any aliens?

    Though the TV series may go in a different direction, the real Project Blue Book never found a shred of evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence. Though a handful of sightings were never officially solved, the ones that were all had pretty boring explanations.

    "There has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge,” according to the report on Project Blue Book in the National Archives. “There has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.”

    Bummer. Luckily, there are throngs of ufologists today who are carrying on Hynek’s legacy and trying to investigate the remaining unsolved cases.

    Project Blue Book itself was never reopened, but a similar government program, named Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), was launched in 2007 by former US senator Harry Reid. After not finding anything of substance, AATIP ended in 2012, and was first made public in 2017.

    And of course we can’t know what other secret programs governments are currently running to determine, once and for all, whether aliens are among us.
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    Moon near Aldebaran January 16 and 17
    Bruce McClure in TONIGHT | January 16, 2019


    On January 16 and 17, 2019, the waxing gibbous moon passes in the vicinity of Aldebaran, an ex-pole star, a famous zodiac star and the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

    This is a wonderful time to learn to identify this star, even though you might have to squint a bit to see it in the moon’s glare.

    Aldebaran is a bright reddish star, a good star to come to know. Did you know that Aldebaran is also a former pole star? It’s true, and it’s a fascinating story.

    Many people know that Polaris is the present-day North Star, but few know that Aldebaran reigned as the North Star some 450,000 years ago.

    What’s more, Aldebaran appeared several times brighter in the sky then than it does now. Plus – 450,000 years ago – Aldebaran shone very close to the very bright star Capella on the sky’s dome. In that distant past, these two brilliant stars served as a double pole star in the astronomical year -447,890 (447,891 B.C.).

    At this point, we should probably insert a note about astronomical dating. In ancient times, there was no zero year, so the year A.D. 1 followed the year 1 B.C. However, present-day astronomical calculating is made simpler by equating the astronomical year 0 with the year 1 B.C. Thus, the astronomical year -1 corresponds to 2 B.C. and the astronomical year -2 corresponds to 3 B.C. And so on …

    But back to Aldebaran and Capella as dual pole stars. The identity of the pole star shifts over time, due to the 26,000-year cycle of precession.

    Still, how can it be, you might wonder, that the stars Aldebaran and Capella were once so near each other on the sky’s dome? They’re not especially close together now. Aren’t the stars essentially fixed relative to one another? The answer is that, yes, on the scale of a human lifespan, the stars are essentially fixed. But the stars are actually moving through space, in orbit around the center of the galaxy. In our solar system, galaxy, and universe … everything is always moving. So the sky looked different hundreds of thousands of years ago than it does today.

    So watch for Aldebaran near the moon tonight, and think back to 450,000 years ago, when Aldebaran and Capella teamed up together to serve as Earth’s double north pole star!*

    *Source: Page 363 of Mathematical Astronomy Morsels V by Jean Meeus

    Bottom line: Will you see Aldebaran in the moon’s glare on January 16 or 17, 2019? Plus … the story of Aldebaran when it was part of a double pole star.
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