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  1. #1031
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    Is this ancient moon rock from Earth?
    Paul Scott Anderson in EARTH | SPACE | February 3, 2019

    An intriguing ancient rock found on the moon and brought back by the Apollo 14 mission may actually have originated from Earth, a new study says.


    Part of this rock is granite composed of quartz, feldspar, and zircon crystals – all common on Earth but rare on the moon. Did it originate from Earth? Image via NASA.
    What would be the best place to look for the oldest known rocks on Earth? Deep underground? The bottom of the ocean? As it turns out, the ideal location might be … the moon! An international team of scientists associated with the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration (CLSE), part of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI), have reported the oldest known Earth rock might have been in a sample returned from the moon by Apollo 14. The peer-reviewed discovery has been published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

    It’s thought that the rock was jettisoned off the Earth by an impacting asteroid or comet, eventually colliding with the moon about 4 billion years ago, during the Hadean eon. At the time, the moon was about three times closer to Earth than it is now, making that even more of a possibility.

    We usually tend to think of meteorites – from the moon or an asteroid – impacting Earth, but the team, led by Research Scientist Jeremy Bellucci and Professor Alexander Nemchin, wanted to try to locate pieces of Earth rocks that had impacted the moon. The team, based at the Swedish Museum of Natural History and Curtin University in Australia, found what they were searching for – a two-gram fragment of granite rock containing quartz, feldspar and zircon crystals – all common on Earth but highly unusual on the moon.

    There was other evidence as well. Chemical analysis of the fragment showed that it crystallized in an Earth-like oxidized system, at Earth-like temperatures, rather than in the reducing and higher temperature conditions found on the moon. Analysis showed that it likely crystallized about 12 miles (20 kilometers) beneath the Earth’s surface, 4.0-4.1 billion years ago, and was then excavated by a large meteorite impact. Eventually it impacted the moon. According to CLSE Principal Investigator David A. Kring, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI):

    It is an extraordinary find that helps paint a better picture of early Earth and the bombardment that modified our planet during the dawn of life.

    Is this proof that the fragment came from Earth? Not quite, but it is very compelling. It may have crystallized on the moon, but evidence of the conditions necessary for that have never been found before in any lunar samples returned to Earth. The only known way it could have formed on the moon would be if it originated deep in the moon’s mantle. According to Bellucci:

    If it formed on the moon, it must have formed 167 kilometers [104 miles] deep. Even a massive impact on the moon would not be able to dig up rocks from that far down.

    If rocks from the moon can be ejected and end up on Earth, then the opposite should be expected to happen as well, as explained by William Bottke at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Colorado:

    Earth’s been hit by a lot of very big things, and it’s conceivable that some of those impacts have ejected material far enough away that it’s been able to escape the clutches of Earth and make it to the moon. What they’ve pointed out is an interesting inconsistency and they’ve pointed out a possible hypothesis, and now we get to figure out whether it holds water or not.

    Bottom line: It’s been known for a long time that pieces of the moon can be blasted off the surface during impacts and then later hit the Earth as meteorites. This new study now provides evidence that the opposite can also occur – bits of rock from Earth can also end up on the moon – waiting to be discovered by future human or robot explorers.
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  2. #1032
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    thank you. ilan for all the great space info you post

  3. #1033
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    You're most welcome...
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  4. #1034
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    America’s Enduring Obsession With UFOs
    Keith Kloor, Medium | February 4, 2019

    How the media keeps extraterrestrial infatuation top of mind

    Image added for some spice. Image credit Getty Images. - ilan
    Near the end of 2018, a startling claim made international headlines: “Pilots report seeing ‘very fast’ UFO above Ireland,” CNN reported. “If it wasn’t aliens, what was it?” The Washington Post asked.

    News of the unidentified flying object flew across the globe like a meteor, which is what the mysterious entity most likely was, according to aviation and astronomy experts. As is often the case, that tidbit was buried at the bottom of most news stories.

    UFO sightings are reported to local authorities or volunteer UFO groups with varying degrees of fanfare. A recent visit to the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) website features sightings logged from Canada to Mississippi. A pilot in Alabama reported seeing an “oddly shaped circular object” in 2017. A camper in Idaho spotted a “massive triangular craft” last summer.

    People who claim to see UFOs are typically adamant about what they witnessed, though most space experts are unconvinced. “No serious astronomer gives any credence to any of these stories,” astrophysicist Martin Rees notably said in 2012. He’s right. UFO reports can be attributed to commercial or military jets, weather balloons, an odd cloud formation, a comet, or Venus (under certain atmospheric conditions, the planet can appear as a fast-moving, bright halo). Some intrepid photographers have even confused insects flying around a camera lens for alien aircrafts.

    The truth is, the number of reported UFO sightings have actually “fallen significantly in recent years,” says Peter Davenport, director of the Seattle-based National UFO Reporting Center, whose organization keeps a monthly tally. Sightings have fluctuated for decades, peaking in 2014 with 8,619 documented reports of UFOs. In 2018, 3,236 sightings were recorded.

    America’s fascination with UFOs, however, isn’t going anywhere, much to the chagrin of scientists who thought we’d left our collective extraterrestrial frenzy behind decades ago. Since the first publicized UFO sighting by a private pilot named Kenneth Arnold in 1947 — he reported spotting “nine bright saucer-like objects” while flying his plane in Washington state — extraterrestrial contact has served as a Hollywood muse and continuous source of media fodder.

    Today, Ancient Aliens, a controversial pseudo-documentary series that argues space aliens shaped humanity, is the History Channel’s most popular show. Recently, the network unveiled “Project Blue Book,” a new show based on the U.S. Air Force’s investigation into UFOs during the 1950s and 1960s. Another upcoming TV series, based on “real life” UFO events at a U.S military base in Britain, is being produced by Sony.

    Yet given the consensus among scientists that space aliens aren’t visiting Earth, it’s tough to understand how reports of a UFO streaking across Ireland makes news headlines with little skepticism. Until recently, the topic had largely been relegated to the tabloids and fringe outlets.

    A major impetus for the resurgent interest in UFOs from news organizations can be traced to a December 2017 front-page article in the New York Times, which revealed that the U.S. government had, in the recent past, spent $22 million on a secretive project run by the Pentagon to research and assess “the threat posed” by UFOs, according to the piece. The Times story set off a flurry of wide-eyed coverage in prestigious mainstream organizations such as NPR, CNN, and every other major broadcast news outlet. The reports suggested that the military is taking UFO sightings seriously, even if scientists are not.

    Such prominent attention from the press sends a signal to the public, says Glenn Sparks, a communications professor at Purdue, who studies how beliefs and emotions are influenced by the media. “If UFOs are getting credible news coverage, and the news media are taking it seriously, that is likely to have an impact on how the average person might think about it,” he says. This media coverage, he adds, also fuels an already robust entertainment market for the topic.

    Understanding our latest round of extraterrestrial fervor requires an awareness of how UFOs became woven into the fabric of American culture in the first place. While Hollywood certainly has played an influential role, I argue it’s the news media that keeps the specter of extraterrestrials alight in our skies and minds.

    America’s cultural fascination with UFOs is well established. Iconic films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and popular shows such as The X-Files have fed this curiosity. Additionally, television stations — particularly cable networks like the History Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic — have provided “a steady supply of sympathetic documentaries about UFOs and alien contact” for decades, says Penn State historian Greg Eghigian in a 2015 paper. As it happens, research suggests that UFO sightings have periodically spiked after the release of popular sci-fi flicks, such as Independence Day and Steven Spielberg’s remake of War of the Worlds.

    But the role news media has played in amplifying UFO fervor both now and in the past cannot be understated. The birth of the UFO phenomenon in the United States can be traced to the Associated Press’s 1947 dispatch on Arnold’s sighting. In his book, Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination, author Keith Thompson recounts what happened next: “Within a matter of hours, Arnold’s story — trumpeted by the evocative phrase ‘flying saucers,’ a creation of anonymous headline writers — became front-page news throughout the nation.”

    Hundreds of similar mysterious objects were reported in the following weeks and months across the United States. “Flying Saucers Seen In Most States Now,” read one headline from the San Francisco Chronicle on July 7, 1947.

    This rash of UFO sightings occurred at an edgy time in American history: Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was still fresh in the national psyche and the Soviet Union’s nuclear ambitions were beginning to spook Americans. It was in this “fertile milieu in which the phrase ‘flying saucer’ would quickly lodge in the public imagination, where it began to crackle like a low-grade neon sign,” Thompson writes.

    Meanwhile, government officials struggled to calm citizens — and make sense of what was happening. In public statements, the Pentagon sought to downplay the sightings, but within some parts of the military, there were real concerns and confusion. At first, the frequency of sightings and similarity of their descriptions led Air Force investigators to wonder: Could some of the disc-like objects be extraterrestrial in origin?

    But by 1949, the Pentagon officially dismissed UFOs as a product of hoaxes, misidentification, hallucinations, and mass hysteria. To convey this to the public, military officials worked closely with the Saturday Evening Post on a two-part article that derided the idea of intergalactic ships whirring through the skies. “It is a jittery age we live in,” the magazine concluded, “particularly since our scientists and military spokesmen have started talking about sending rockets to the moon… it is a small wonder that harassed humans, already suffering from atomic psychosis, have started seeing saucers and Martians.”

    Instead of putting the matter to rest, as the Pentagon hoped, the article aroused ire and disquiet. Concerned that its public engagement was feeding into the country’s “war nerves,” the Pentagon resolved to go silent on UFO commentary.

    Into this vacuum stepped a group of citizen crusaders, rank opportunists, and con artists. One leading voice was retired Marine Corps Major Donald Keyhoe, who in January of 1950 published a widely circulated article in True Magazine titled, “Flying Saucers are Real.” UFO sightings were soon taken up by mainstream media’s most iconic and influential publications. In 1952, Life Magazine published a lengthy article titled, “Have we visitors from outer space?” This was a watershed moment, writes Mark O’Connell in his recent book, The Close Encounters Man. “When Life spoke, the whole country listened,” he writes.

    Hollywood, of course, also seized on the craze. In 1949, a Hollywood writer named Frank Scully published several columns in Variety that claimed the government was in possession of crashed saucers and alien corpses. (A few years later his sources were revealed to be hoaxers.) Numerous alien films were released over the next 10 years, including The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invaders from Mars, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and Invasion of the Saucer Men.

    By the late 1960s, America’s UFO phenomenon was in full bloom. There were flying saucer cults, UFO-monitoring organizations, and more UFO sightings covered widely in the press. In 1966, five percent of Americans told a Gallup poll they had seen something resembling a UFO. In the same poll, “nearly all Americans — 96 percent — said they had heard or read about flying saucers,” writes Gallup analyst Lydia Saad.

    In 1969 — the same year U.S. astronauts went to the moon — the Pentagon announced it was closing up shop on any UFO research. The Air Force had examined more than 10,000 sightings since 1952 as part of a series of investigations called Project Blue Book. There was no threat to national security, the agency concluded, and “no evidence indicating the sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.”

    If only that were the end of the story.

    Today, a new set of crusading actors are reviving a UFO narrative with all the trappings of America’s first round of extraterrestrial enchantment. On December 16, 2017, Politico, the New York Times, and the Washington Post published near simultaneous stories about an obscure $22 million Pentagon project that officially existed between 2008 and 2012.

    All three outlets had essentially the same story: The Pentagon program was created at the behest of former Democratic Senator Harry Reid in 2008 and was run jointly for a time with Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, whose owner, Robert Bigelow, has long been on the hunt for extraterrestrials and poltergeists.

    Politico and the Washington Post treated the Pentagon program as it appeared to be: A pet project of a senator that didn’t amount to much — other than “reams of paperwork” — and did not provide evidence that alien spaceships were buzzing our skies. Both stories had well-placed sources in the intelligence community that were skeptical of the program’s purpose and deliverables. Absent any salacious details, neither story got wider pickup.

    The New York Times, however, played up dubious tidbits that the Washington Post or Politico either didn’t find credible or simply didn’t know about — namely that the program had found “metal alloys and other materials… recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena,” that got stored in a Bigelow Aerospace warehouse. There is no indication in the Times story that any of these “materials” were seen firsthand by its reporters.

    The Times also had something its competitors apparently didn’t: Grainy footage of two Navy F/A-18 fighter jets in 2004 tracking an apparent unknown object “traveling at high speed and rotating” off the coast of San Diego. The 45-second video and the Times front page article went viral.

    But there’s more to the Times story that should’ve given readers pause.

    One of the authors of the story was Leslie Kean, a journalist with a long-standing interest in UFOs and the paranormal, who published a book in 2010 titled, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. At the time, activists in the UFO community were coalescing around the goal of obtaining official “disclosure” about extraterrestrial sightings. This entailed finding current military and aviation whistleblowers to come forward and share the secrets they knew about UFOs — or in the case of Kean’s book, tell of the strange flying objects they had seen or learned about in the course of their jobs. In numerous articles in the Huffington Post over the past decade, Kean has discussed her participation in several nonprofit groups involved in UFOs and the “disclosure” movement.

    On Oct 10, 2017, Kean published a tantalizing article on the Huffington Post’s contributor platform. (The platform, now closed, allowed people to post their own writing to the site). “Something extraordinary is about to be revealed,” she wrote. “Former high-level officials and scientists with deep black experience who have always remained in the shadows” were preparing to dish “inside knowledge” of UFOs.

    Kean described a group of “government insiders” that had come together as part of a new for-profit company called To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science (TTSA). Members included Hal Puthoff, a theoretical physicist and former Scientologist who directed the infamous “psychic spy” program for the CIA and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) in the 1970s and 1980s, and Chris Mellon, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence during the Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations.

    Of note, the founding of TTSA was set in motion by Tom DeLonge, a former guitarist for Blink-182 who has long nursed a very public obsession with UFOs. Another key player was former military intelligence officer named Luis Elizondo, who at the launch of TTSA publicly announced that an “aerospace threat identification program” he had recently overseen at the Pentagon had convinced him the UFO “phenomena was indeed real.”

    The Times, encouraged by Kean, took a serious look at Elizondo and his claims. Other prominent outlets, it turned out, were doing so, too. Two months later, the Times, Politico, and Washington Post stories hit. But it was the Times piece that reverberated across the media landscape.

    ABC News called the Times story and video footage a “bombshell.” MSNBC, in one of its numerous segments on the story, described news of the government’s UFO program as a “remarkable admission by the Pentagon” as a “result of reporting by the New York Times.” Every major television network rolled the video. “You can laugh if you want,” news anchor Bret Baier said on Fox, “but a lot of people are taking this revelation seriously.” Elizondo, who would become a media darling over the months to come, said on CNN: “My personal belief is there is very compelling evidence we may not be alone.”

    Amidst the media frenzy, few prominent outlets bothered to look closely at the juicy particulars of the Times piece, or at the UFO video that left many awestruck. Notable exceptions included Scientific American, which was deeply skeptical about those metal chunks being stored in a Bigelow warehouse, and New York magazine, which, in a damning critique by writer Jeff Wise, faulted the Times story for “selective omissions” and for “making portentous assertions out of context.” Wise wrote that such techniques “are great for exciting an audience, but they’re better suited to Ancient Aliens,” the aforementioned History Channel series, “than the pages of the New York Times.”

    These criticisms hardly registered, though. If anything, the juggernaut grew after Elizondo and TTSA in 2018 rolled out more intriguing videos, obtained from the Pentagon, of supposed UFOs under pursuit by military jets. It launched another news cycle, once again with few skeptical voices in the media.

    Meanwhile, TTSA raised over $2 million from investors. The company’s all-stars, particularly Elizondo, continue to generate media coverage. As the Washington Post noted last May in a new story: “UFOs are suddenly a serious story. You can thank the guy from Blink-182 for that.”

    Actually, you can thank the news media.
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  5. #1035
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    Dynamic atmospheres of Neptune, Uranus
    NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center | Neptune Date: February 7, 2019

    NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered another mysterious dark storm on Neptune and provided a fresh look at a long-lived storm circling around the north polar region on Uranus.

    During its routine yearly monitoring of the weather on our solar system's outer planets, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered a new mysterious dark storm on Neptune (right) and provided a fresh look at a long-lived storm circling around the north polar region on Uranus (left).
    During its routine yearly monitoring of the weather on our solar system's outer planets, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered a new mysterious dark storm on Neptune and provided a fresh look at a long-lived storm circling around the north polar region on Uranus.

    Like Earth, Uranus and Neptune have seasons, which likely drive some of the features in their atmospheres. But their seasons are much longer than on Earth, spanning decades rather than months.

    The new Hubble view of Neptune shows the dark storm, seen at top center. Appearing during the planet's southern summer, the feature is the fourth and latest mysterious dark vortex captured by Hubble since 1993. Two other dark storms were discovered by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989 as it flew by the remote planet. Since then, only Hubble has had the sensitivity in blue light to track these elusive features, which have appeared and faded quickly. A study led by University of California, Berkeley, undergraduate student Andrew Hsu estimated that the dark spots appear every four to six years at different latitudes and disappear after about two years.

    Hubble uncovered the latest storm in September 2018 in Neptune's northern hemisphere. The feature is roughly 6,800 miles across.

    To the right of the dark feature are bright white "companion clouds." Hubble has observed similar clouds accompanying previous vortices. The bright clouds form when the flow of ambient air is perturbed and diverted upward over the dark vortex, causing gases to freeze into methane ice crystals. These clouds are similar to clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features when air is pushed over mountains on Earth (though Neptune has no solid surface). The long, thin cloud to the left of the dark spot is a transient feature that is not part of the storm system.
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  6. #1036
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    Moon in Winter Circle February 14 and 15
    Deborah Byrd in TONIGHT | February 14, 2019


    On February 14 and 15, 2019, you’ll find the waxing gibbous moon shining inside a large asterism that we in the Northern Hemisphere often call the Winter Circle. It’s a very large star configuration made of brilliant winter stars. Around the world on this night, the moon shines inside the Circle. From anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, look for this pattern to fill up much of the eastern half of sky at nightfall. At 8 to 9 p.m., the Winter Circle will swing to your southern sky, and then it will drift into your western sky around midnight.

    If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere … although it’s not winter for you, these same stars appear around the moon. But, for you, the Circle will appear upside-down with respect to our chart. The star Sirius will be at the top, instead of the bottom.

    The Winter Circle is sometimes called the Winter Hexagon. It’s not one of the 88 recognized constellations, but instead an asterism – a pattern of stars that’s fairly easy to recognize. Our sky chart can’t adequately convey the Winter Circle’s humongous size! It dwarfs the constellation Orion the Hunter, which is a rather large constellation, occupying the southwestern part of the Winter Circle pattern.
    _____________________________________________

    When the Moon is smaller than a 1/4 Moon, it is called a crescent Moon. When it is larger than a 1/4 Moon, but is not a full Moon, it is called a gibbous Moon. - ilan
    Last edited by ilan; 02-14-2019 at 01:20 PM.
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    Today in science: Galileo’s birthday
    Daniela Breitman in HUMAN WORLD | February 15, 2019

    Happy 455th birthday to one of the first modern scientists, Galileo. With the aid of an early telescope, he helped remove Earth from the center of the universe.

    Portrait, attributed to Murillo, of Galileo gazing at the words “E pur si muove” (“And yet it moves;” not legible in this image) scratched on the wall of his prison cell. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
    February 15, 1564. On this date, Italian astronomer, mathematician, and physicist Galileo Galilei was born. He is one of the first people on Earth to have aimed a telescope at the heavens, where he found – among many other things – phases for the planet Venus and four starry points of light orbiting the planet Jupiter. In Galileo’s time, educated people subscribed to the Aristotelian view that Earth lay fixed in the center of a more or less unchanging universe. Thus the discovery of moons orbiting Jupiter (now called the Galilean satellites) and revelation that Venus must orbit the sun, not the Earth, were considered heresy by the Roman Inquisition. In 1633, the Inquisition forced Galileo to recant. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

    Afterwards, famously, he’s said to have said:

    E pur si muove (and yet it moves).

    The phrase is still used today as a retort, implying it doesn’t matter what you believe; these are the facts.

    Galileo grew up in a musical family. In 1574, the family moved to Florence where 18-year-old Galileo began his education in a monastery. He was very successful in his studies, and began studying medicine at the University of Pisa. Due to financial problems, he was unable to finish his degree, but his years at the university were priceless. They introduced him to mathematics and physics, but most importantly, they introduced him to Aristotle’s philosophy.

    Back then, if somebody wished to know about the universe, the way to do it was to read Aristotle’s works. As Dante had put it some centuries before, Aristotle is “the Master of those who know” (Dante, Inferno 4.131). In other words, at that time, knowledge was to philosophy what faith was to religion.

    And so, in spite of not being able to complete his degree in medicine and become a university professor, Galileo still continued his studies of mathematics. He was able to get a few minor teaching positions for a living. After two years of hard work, he published La Bilancetta (The Little Balance), his first scientific book which gained him a reputation. The book commented upon the story of how the king of Syracuse asked Archimedes to verify whether his crown was made of pure gold or a lower-value mix of metals. Galileo presented an invention of his, the “little balance,” today called “hydrostatic balance,” that is used to make more accurate measurements of differences in density.

    Galileo’s reputation was bruised after the publication of his Du Motu (On Motion), a study of falling objects, which showed his disagreement with the Aristotelian view about the subject.

    In 1609, he heard word that in the Netherlands, an instrument had been invented that showed distant objects as if they were close by. Like many others, Galileo quickly figured out the mechanics of the spyglass, but later on he greatly improved the original design. He presented the Venetian State with an eight-powered telescope – a telescope that magnifies normal vision by eight times. His telescope earned him a doubling of his salary and a life tenure at Padua University.

    Over the years, Galileo improved his telescope to magnify up to 20 times.

    With his telescope, he made many astronomical discoveries. For example, he was the first to view the moon magnified 20 times. He drew the moon’s surface, showing that its surface is bumpy and rocky, contrary to the popular belief of the time that the moon was smooth.

    In January 1610, he discovered the four most massive moons of Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Today, they are referred to as the Galilean moons. He laid out all of his findings in his book Siderus Nuncius (The Sidereal Messenger).

    Galileo observed that Venus went through phases, just as the moon does.

    Galileo was a very respected man by 1610, but his increasingly public acceptance of the heliocentric system began to cause him trouble with the Roman Catholic Church.

    In 1618, Galileo was dragged into a controversy about the nature of comets, which was of no help to his social position. Galileo nevertheless published the argument under his own name in Il Saggitore (The Assayer) in 1623, which is to this day one of his best known pieces of work.

    Things didn’t get much better for Galileo before his death in 1642. His work kept defying the accepted Aristotelian view, and earned him the anger of the Roman Catholic Church, which centuries before had founded a group of institutions within the Church’s judicial system – known as the Inquisition – whose whose aim was to combat heresy.

    In particular his 1632 publication of his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Copernican and Ptolemaic opposed the Aristotelian view. In 1633, the Inquisition summoned Galileo to Rome. He was declared a suspect of heresy, was punished by life imprisonment, and was made to abjure formally. Nevertheless, he lived comfortably and was allowed to continue his work.

    Galileo never stopped working. In 1634, his beloved elder daughter, Virginia, died. He was 70 years old. He decided to finish what he started before the telescope interrupted him. He collected and finished his unpublished studies, and in 1638 published them in Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, discussing kinematics and the properties of materials.

    Galileo died on January 8, 1642.

    A list of all of Galileo’s discoveries is a very lengthy one. Although Galileo is greatly praised for his various scientific discoveries, he did much more than just push science forward: he also pushed society forward. His life was much more than just a conflict with religion and Aristotelianism. It was a fight against the suppression of the opinion of an emerging scientific minority.

    Galileo was one of the first to free science from philosophy. He inspired countless others to pursue the freedom of scientific enquiry.

    Bottom line: Galileo was born on February 15, 1564. He was one of the first to aim a telescope at the heavens, thereby showing that Earth is not the center of all things in the universe.
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    Harvard’s top astronomer says an alien ship may be among us — and he doesn’t care what his colleagues think
    Avi Selk, The Washington Post | February 4, 2019


    Avi Loeb poses in the observatory near his office in Cambridge, Mass. His theory about an alien spaceship has made the rounds in the media and caused controversy in the academic community. (Adam Glanzman/For The Washington Post)
    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Before he started the whole alien spaceship thing last year, the chairman of Harvard University's astronomy department was known for public lectures on modesty. Personal modesty, which Avi Loeb said he learned growing up on a farm. And what Loeb calls "cosmic modesty" — the idea that it's arrogant to assume we are alone in the universe, or even a particularly special species.

    You can find a poster for one of these lectures in Loeb's office today, though it's a bit lost among the clutter: photos of Loeb posing under the dome of Harvard's enormous 19th-century telescope; thank-you notes from elementary-school children; a framed interview he gave the New York Times in 2014; his books on the formation of galaxies; his face, again and again — a bespectacled man in his mid-50s with a perpetually satisfied smile.

    Loeb stands beside his desk on the first morning of spring courses in a creaseless suit, stapling syllabi for his afternoon class. He points visitors to this and that on the wall. He mentions that four TV crews were in this office on the day in the fall when his spaceship theory went viral, and now five film companies are interested in making a movie about his life.

    A neatly handwritten page of equations sits on the desk, on the edge closest to the guest chairs.

    “Oh, this is something I did last night,” Loeb says. It’s a calculation, he explains, supporting his theory that an extraterrestrial spacecraft, or at least a piece of one, may at this moment be flying past the orbit of Jupiter.

    Since publishing his controversial paper, Loeb has run a nearly nonstop media circuit, embracing the celebrity that comes from being perhaps the most academically distinguished E.T. enthusiast of his time — the top Harvard astronomer who suspects technology from another solar system just showed up at our door. And this, in turn, has left some of his peers nonplused — grumbling at what they see as a flimsy theory or bewildered as to why Harvard’s top astronomer won’t shut up about aliens.

    What you can’t call Loeb is a crank. When astronomers in Hawaii stumbled across the first known interstellar object in late 2017 — a blip of light moving so fast past the sun that it could only have come from another star — Loeb had three decades of Ivy League professorship and hundreds of astronomical publications on his résumé, mostly to do with the nature of black holes and early galaxies and other subjects far from any tabloid shelf.

    So when seemingly every astronomer on the planet was trying to figure out how the interstellar object (dubbed ‘Oumuamua, Hawaiian for “scout”) got to our remote patch of Milky Way, Loeb’s extraordinarily confident suggestion that it probably came from another civilization could not be easily dismissed.

    “Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that ‘Oumuamua” — pronounced Oh-mooah-mooah — “is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,” Loeb wrote with his colleague Shmuel Bialy in Astrophysical Journal Letters in November — thrilling E.T. enthusiasts and upsetting the fragile orbits of space academia.

    "'Oumuamua is not an alien spaceship, and the authors of the paper insult honest scientific inquiry to even suggest it," tweeted Paul M. Sutter, an astrophysicist at Ohio State University, shortly after the paper published.

    “A shocking example of sensationalist, ill-motivated science,” theoretical astrophysicist Ethan Siegel wrote in Forbes.

    North Carolina State University astrophysicist Katie Mack suggested to the Verge that Loeb was engaging in a common practice in which an astrophysicist poses a theory that they might not believe. “Sometimes you write a paper about something that you don’t believe to be true at all, just for the purpose of putting out there,” she told the publication.

    Most scientists besides Loeb assume ‘Oumuamua is some sort of rock, be it an asteroid ejected from some star in meltdown hundreds of millions of years ago, or an icy comet wandering the interstellar void. But it’s moving too fast for an inert rock, Loeb points out — zooming away from the sun as if something is pushing it from behind. And if it’s a comet spewing jets of steam, the limited observations astronomers made of it showed no sign.

    Loeb argues that ‘Oumuamua’s behavior means it can’t be, as is commonly imagined, a clump of rock shaped like a long potato, but rather an object that’s very long and no more than 1 millimeter thick, perhaps like a kilometer-long obloid pancake — or a ship sail — so light and thin that sunlight is pushing it out of our solar system.

    And while he’s not saying it’s definitely aliens, he is saying he can’t think of anything other than aliens that fits the data. And he’s saying that all over international news.

    “Many people expected once there would be this publicity, I would back down,” Loeb says. “If someone shows me evidence to the contrary, I will immediately back down.”

    In the meantime, he’s doubling down, hosting a Reddit AMA on “how the discovery of alien life in space will transform our life,” and constantly emailing his “friends and colleagues” with updates on all the reporters who are speaking to him.

    In a matter of months, Loeb has become a one-man alternative to the dirge of terrestrial news.

    “It changes your perception on reality, just knowing that we’re not alone,” he says. “We are fighting on borders, on resources. . . . It would make us feel part of planet Earth as a civilization rather than individual countries voting on Brexit.”

    So now he is famous, styling himself as a truth-teller and risk-taker in an age of overly conservative, quiescent scientists.

    “The mainstream approach [is] you can sort of drink your coffee in the morning and expect what you will find later on. It’s a stable lifestyle, but for me it resembles more the lifestyle of a business person rather than scientists,” he says.

    “The worst thing that can happen to me is I would be relieved of my administrative duties, and that would give me even more time to focus on science,” Loeb adds. “All the titles I have, I can dial them back. In fact, I can dial myself back to the farm.”

    Loeb grew up in an Israeli farming village. He would sit in the hills and read philosophy books imagining the broader universe, he says, a fascination that led him into academia and all the way to 'Oumuamua.

    “I don’t have a class system in my head of academia being the elite,” he says, as he leads a reporter into the locked chamber of the Great Refractor — an enormous 19th-century telescope where he sometimes does photo ops. “I see it as a continuation of childhood curiosity — trying to understand what the world is like.”

    He joined the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., in the late 1980s (“Where Einstein used to be,” he notes) and later took a junior position in Harvard’s astronomy department, where “for 20 years no one had been promoted from within . . . They tenured me after three years.”)

    As he tells it, his life story sounds like a cerebral version of “Forrest Gump” — Loeb always single-mindedly pursuing his science and intersecting with the giants of the field, whom he regularly name-drops. Stephen Hawking had dinner at his house. Steven Spielberg once asked him for movie tips. Russian billionaire Yuri Milner once walked into his office and sat on the couch and asked him to help design humanity’s first interstellar spaceship — which he is now doing, with a research budget of $100 million and the endorsement of Mark Zuckerberg and the late Hawking.

    Loeb mentions casually that when he was 24 years old he got a private audience with the famed physicist Freeman Dyson — and then pauses for effect beneath the 20-foot shaft of the Great Refractor, grinning until he realizes the reporter doesn’t know who Freeman Dyson is.

    At midday, Loeb leaves the telescope and his office and descends to a bare white classroom to introduce the basics of astrophysics to a dozen new students.

    If he’s mastered the national news interview by now, his lecture begins a bit stilted. He looks down at the table as he speaks. He asks the freshmen at this most prestigious of universities to go around the table and list their hobbies.

    Ten minutes later, Loeb goes off script.

    “Did anyone hear the name ‘Oumuamua?” he asks. “What did it mean?”

    Almost everyone nods, and freshman Matt Jacobsen, who came to Harvard from an Iowa farm town, volunteers quietly: “There was speculation that it was from another civilization.”

    “Who made that speculation?” Loeb asks, smiling.

    There’s an awkward silence in the room, and then Jacobsen cries, “Was it you? Oh, my gosh!” and the professor smiles wider.
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    Mercury is quickly approaching its finest appearance of 2019
    Richard Talcott | Published: Friday, February 15, 2019


    This false-color image of Mercury highlights the physical and chemical differences
    of the planet's rocky surface.

    Mercury returns to the evening sky in mid-February. Tonight, it appears 5° high in the west-southwest 30 minutes after sunset.

    The planet shines at magnitude –1.1, bright enough to show up against the twilight glow. (If you don’t see Mercury right away, binoculars will bring it into view.) A telescope will reveal the planet’s disk, which spans 5.6" and appears nearly full.

    The inner world is currently embarking on what will be its finest evening appearance of 2019. A week from now, it will appear twice as far above the western horizon a half-hour after the Sun goes down.
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    CIGAR UFO SPOTTED OVER ILLINOIS TOWN
    Roger Marsh, MUFON | February 12, 2019


    St. Charles, Illinois. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

    An Illinois witness at Saint Charles reported watching a cigar-shaped object moving overhead with lights at both ends, according to testimony in Case 89610 from the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) witness reporting database.

    The witness and her husband were looking out a front kitchen window about 9:30 p.m. on January 3, 2018, when the incident began.

    “Our window overlooks the covered deck, but we like to watch the planes coming and going into and out of the airports in Chicago,” the witness stated. “From the side of the window that I was standing I noticed a bright light and saw a cigar-shaped object with bright lights on the front and back of the object.”

    The witness then alerted her husband.

    “It moved so fast that by the time I told my husband to move over to my side and up look it had moved out of sight. It appeared to come from the northwest and headed southeast out of sight. It made no sound and was a dark metal color with no light between the front and back lights.”​

    Illinois MUFON State Section Director James Wolford closed this case as an Unknown Aerial Vehicle.
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