Category Archives: By Daniel Sternklar

Watch The Antares Rocket Launch Live

Orbital Sciences has targeted Sunday, July 13 at 12.52 EDT to launch cargo up to the ISS from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. This will be the second of eight resupply missions NASA has commissioned from Orbital. 

Orbital will use an Antares rocket to launch a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with 1,657 kg of cargo. The liftoff sequence will last about ten minutes, and then Cygnus will separate from the rocket, beginning its four-day-long orbit. The spacecraft will then dock with the ISS for about 40 days. Astronauts will unload all of the supplies onboard, including care packages for the astronauts, food, maintenance equipment, and materials for experiments. The crew will fill the Cygnus spacecraft with about 1,350 pounds of garbage that will be incinerated when it attempts to re-enter the atmosphere.

NASA will broadcast several events surrounding this mission; all of which can be viewed below:


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

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Here’s A List Of Every Upcoming Space Mission For The Next Twenty Years – And Some Of Them Are Unbelievably Awesome

It seems like almost every week there’s a new exciting space mission announced, from fanciful journeys to Mars to serious scientific expeditions.

But how can you keep track of it all? Why, if only someone had compiled every interesting space mission of the next 20 years into a handy timeline. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Well, wish no more, because that is just what we’ve done. Below, you’ll find a list of every rocket launch, spacecraft rendezvous, manned mission, and more you should have on your radar.

Feel like we’ve missed something? Post your suggestion in the comments and, if it’s worthy, we’ll add it to the list.

Note that all dates are subject to change.


March The Planetary Society’s Lightsail 2 their second demonstrator of solar sail technology is expected to launch into orbit.

May SpaceX will perform an unmanned test of its Crew Dragon vehicle in orbit. A manned flight is scheduled to follow by the end of the year.

September 15 NASAs Cassini mission around Saturn will come to an end.

Autumn Private company Asgardia, which wants to create the first space-based nation, will launch its first unmanned satellite.

Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since July 1, 2004. NASA/JPL-Caltech

December Russia’s long-awaited Nauka module, also called the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) at some point next year. The latest reports say it has been delayed to December.

December By the end of next year, Blue Origin is expected to begin manned launchesto space, ahead of paid space tourism flights.

December A new NASA planet-hunting telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), should launch by the end of the year.

December 19 A new European planet-hunting telescope, the Characterising Exoplanets Satellite (CHEOPS), will be ready to launch.

TBD XCORs Lynx spaceplane is set to begin test flights. The plane will seat two people on short hops into space.

TBD Private Arizona-based company World View Enterprises aims to start sending paying customers on high-altitude balloon rides, spending two hours at an altitude of 30,500 meters (100,000 feet) for $75,000.

TBD China will attempt to return samples from the Moon with its Change 5 mission. This will be the first lunar sample return mission since 1976.

TBD Two competitors in Google’s Lunar XPRIZE, Moon Express and SpaceIL, are expected to launch to the Moon and attempt to land unmanned probes, the first ever private lunar landings.

TBD SpaceX’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Falcon Heavy, should launch for the first time.

The Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in operation. SpaceX


January Proposed launch date for Inspiration Mars, a private mission to send two people on a flyby of Mars. Its highly unlikely the mission will ever happen, however.

February NASAs Juno mission, which is currently studying Jupiter, is scheduled to end. A recent issue with the spacecraft, however, has meant the mission may be extended beyond 2019.

April The European Space Agency (ESA) will launch BepiColombo, Europes first mission to Mercury.

May 5 NASA will launch its delayed InSight lander to Mars. Touchdown is expected on November 26. The unmanned probe will study the interior of the Red Planet.

May SpaceX plans to launch its first unmanned mission to Mars, which will also be the first private Mars mission.

July 31 NASAs Solar Probe Plus mission will launch, the first mission to fly into the Suns upper atmosphere, approaching within just 8.5 solar radii of the surface.

July Japans Hayabusa 2 spacecraft will arrive at its target, the asteroid Ryugu. It launched on December 3, 2014, on its way to the asteroid, and will attempt to return a sample to Earth in December 2020.

August NASAs OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid Bennu, returning to Earth in September 2023 with a sample of between 60 grams and 2 kilograms (0.1 and 4.4 pounds) the largest sample returned to Earth since the Apollo missions.

OSIRIS-REx will fire bursts of nitrogen to loosen material from the asteroid. NASA

October NASAs huge new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), is scheduled to launch for the first time. It will send the Orion spacecraft on a three-week mission around the Moon, although rumors abound that one or both of the SLS or Orion may be scrapped.

October NASAs James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the high-profile successor to the Hubble space telescope that has experienced numerous cost overruns and delays, will finally launch.

December India will launch its next mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-2, which will include an orbiter, lander, and rover.

TBD Japan will launch a new Moon mission called SELENE-2, a successor to 2007s SELENE mission. Like Indias mission, it will consist of an orbiter, lander, and rover.

TBD China will aim to become the first nation to land a probe on the far side of the Moon with its Change 4 lunar lander.


January 1 New Horizons will perform a flyby of an object in the outer Solar System, a Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69.

October The Sierra Nevada Corporations unmanned Dream Chaser vehicle, a space plane about a quarter the size of the Space Shuttle, will launch for the first time atop an Atlas V rocket.

Late 2019 Japans unmanned Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) is expected to launch. It will be able to perform a precise landing by analyzing the ground during its approach.

TBD 2019 may be the year that Virgin Galactic finally starts sending paying customers into space.

TBD Asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries may launch its first unmanned spacecraft to an asteroid called Prospector 1.

Deep Space Industries wants to one day mine asteroids. Note, this is a future concept, not Prospector 1. DSI


July NASAs next Mars rover, tentatively named the Mars 2020 rover, will launch to the Red Planet. It will aim to search for signs of past life on Mars. This, and the other Mars missions below, will arrive in early 2021.

July ESAs Exomars rover will launch to Mars, searching for signs of past or present life.

July The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will attempt to launch its first mission to Mars, an orbiter called Hope.

July India will launch its second mission to Mars, an orbiter called Mangalyaan 2. It may also include a lander and rover.

July SpaceX may launch its next unmanned mission to Mars.

July/August China plans to launch an orbiter, lander, and rover to Mars, its first mission to the Red Planet.

October The Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), a joint NASA-ESA mission to see how slamming a spacecraft into an asteroid changes its trajectory, will launch.

TBD Change 6, another Chinese mission to the Moon, will launch. Its not clear what this mission will do.

TBD The Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the worlds largest radio telescope array with a collecting area of one square kilometer (0.39 square miles), will switch on for the first time.

TBD Bigelow Aerospace hopes to start construction of the first space hotel with its B330 module.

TBD ESAs Euclid mission will launch. It will be tasked with studying the acceleration of the universe by measuring the redshift of distant galaxies, giving us a greater understanding of dark energy and dark matter.

AIM will attempt to alter the trajectory of an asteroid, with a view to one day use this technique to save Earth. NASA/ESA


October NASA will launch a spacecraft called Lucy to study Trojan asteroids in the asteroid belt and beyoned from August 2027 to March 2033.

TBD Earliest date for NASAs Orion spacecraft to launch with a crew for the first time on a mission to lunar orbit and back. The target is between 2021 and 2023 for this mission.

TBD India plans to launch its first manned mission.


TBD ESA will launch its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), a spacecraft to study the Jovian moons Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. It would enter orbit around Jupiter in 2030 and Ganymede in 2033.

TBD China will launch the first part of a new large space station, about one-seventh the size of the ISS. This first module will be called Tiangong-3.

TBD The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), an extremely large telescope that will be built in either Hawaii or the Canary Islands, will become operational.

TBD At some point in the mid-2020s, possibly 2022, NASA will launch its Europa Multiple-Flyby Mission. This spacecraft will perform repeated flybys of Jupiters moon Europa to study its subsurface ocean and ascertain its habitability, and may also include a lander.

TBD Japan may launch a mission to return a sample from the Martian moon Phobos.


October NASA will launch the Psyche mission, to study a metal-rich asteroid of the same name in 2030.


TBD SpaceX plans to launch the first manned Mars mission, part of its bold Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) project.

TBD ESA may launch a sample return mission to the Martian moon Phobos, called Phootprint.

TBD The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the worlds largest optical telescope, will become operational.

TBD The International Space Station (ISS) will be closed and later de-orbited. This date may be extended to 2028 or even later, though.

TBD ESAs Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars (PLATO) satellite is expected to launch, which will search for planetary systems beyond our own, with an emphasis on Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wants a million people to live on Mars by the end of the century. SpaceX


TBD At some point in the mid-2020s, NASA may launch a mission to return a sample of material from the surface of Mars.

TBD NASA will launch its Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope(WFIRST)in the mid-2020s, which will study dark energy and search for planetary systems like our own.


TBD Proposed year for the launch of NASAs Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which will see a crew in an Orion capsule visit a captured asteroid in lunar orbit. This may be combined with the previous Orion mission or scrapped entirely, though.

TBD Proposed launch date for the first crewed Mars One mission. Since its announcement in 2012, though, the chances of this ever happening have pretty much diminished.


TBD ESA will launch its Athena mission, a space telescope that will map the hot gas in the universe, and study supermassive black holes.

Early 2030s

TBD NASA may launch humans into orbit around Mars, possibly landing on the Martian moon Phobos and operating rovers on the surface of Mars. They are aiming for manned missions to the surface of Mars by the end of the 2030s.

TBD Around this time, China and Russia have tentative proposals to land people on the Moon.


TBD Proposed launch for Russias Mercury-P spacecraft, which will perform the first ever landing on Mercury.

TBD Russia wants to perform its first manned lunar landing.


TBD Breakthrough Starshot, a bold initiative to send spacecraft to our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is expected to launch.

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What Are The Odds Of An Alien Megastructure Blocking Light From A Distant Star?

Right now the star KIC 8462852 is really hot and not just because it is a F-type star but because the Kepler space telescope has discovered that it flickers in a highly unusual way, as if something is obscuring it. These dips in the light are different to what you would expect from planets blocking the star.

Scientists are failing to come up with an explanation for the phenomenon based on natural astrophysical processes, so attention has turned to the potential of an alien megastructure blocking the light. But what would such a structure be exactly and how likely is it that Kepler has spotted one?

Many Possibilities

It is true that dips in the light from the star are odd, both in shape and timing. They are unlikely to be caused by a surrounding cloud of dust, as the star is too old to have such a planet-forming disk. But what about a storm of comets? They are actually not very good at obscuring stars, so it is not all that likely either. Fragments from a planetary collision might work, except that such events are so rare that we would not expect to see any with Kepler.

The lack of a simple explanation has made a lot of people quietly (or not so quietly) ask whether this could be an alien megastructure, known as a Dyson sphere.

Concept of a Dyson sphere. Kevin Gill/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The Dyson sphere was first described by Freeman Dyson in the 1960s, who argued that a technologically advanced alien civilisation would use more and more energy as it grew. As the biggest source of energy in any solar system is the star at its centre, it would make sense that the civilisation would build orbiting solar panels to try to capture it. Such structures would take up more and more space until they eventually covered the entire star like a sphere. However, a complete sphere would be invisible to Kepler as it would absorb all of the light from the star, so signs of this would have to come from something currently under construction.

Could this be the case? I doubt it. My basic argument is this: if a civilisation builds a Dyson sphere, the sphere is unlikely to remain small for a long period of time. Just as planetary collisions are so rare that we should not expect to see any with Kepler, the time it takes to make a Dyson sphere is also very short: seeing it during construction is very unlikely. Even if we knew a Dyson sphere would eventually be built in a solar system the chance of actually witnessing it happening is low.

How do we know this? To build a Dyson sphere, one would need to disassemble a nearby body, like a planet, to provide the material for the solar captors. In a recent paper written with a colleague, we calculated that disassembling Mercury to make a partial Dyson shell could be done in 31 years. One way of doing this would be to mechanically disassemble the planet, much like we do in our aluminium and steel industries. From these industries, we know a lot already about the energy cost of such work, so the trick is to use already mined material to build more mining equipment and solar collectors to power it, achieving an exponential feedback loop.

The time it would take to disassemble any terrestrial planets is not much longer than for Mercury, while the gas giants would take a few centuries. Our aim in the paper was to show that using a small fraction of the resources in the solar system it is possible to harness enough energy to launch a massive space colonisation effort (literally reaching every reachable galaxy, eventually each solar system), but the important point is that this kind of planetary engineering is fast on astronomical timescales.

Image showing the region Kepler can see, where the mysterious star is located. NASA

Over the history of an F5 star like KIC 8462852, even 1,000 years to build a sphere is not much. Given the estimated mass of the star as 1.46 solar masses, it will have a lifespan of 4.1 billion years. The chance of seeing it while being englobed by a Dyson sphere is one in 4.1m.

This is the probability assuming there will eventually be a sphere. Presumably only a few stars would have aliens and will be hidden this way, so the actual probability of seeing one in the process is much lower. Of the 150,000 stars Kepler watches we should not expect any of them to be in this state.

Junk Planet Or Laid-Back Aliens

Another possibility is that the structure is an abandoned, unmaintained Dyson shell. Such a structure would likely start gravitationally clumping together into streams of wreckage, which makes this sound like a promising explanation at first. But the timescale of coalescing into a junk planet is likely faster than natural planetary formation timescales (100,000 to a few million years) since the fragments involved would be in nearly identical orbits from the start. So the probability that we are looking at Dyson remains is still low.

But it is indeed several orders of magnitude more likely for us to see the decay of the shell than its construction. Like normal ruins, these often hang around far longer than the time it took to build the original structure.

What about if the aliens were building the sphere extremely slowly? This is in a sense what we are doing here on Earth (disassembling it to a tiny extent) by launching satellites one by one. So if an alien civilisation wanted to grow at a leisurely rate or just needed a bit of Dyson shell they could of course do it.

However, if you need something like 30 quintillion Watts (which could correspond to a 100,000km collector at 1 astronomical unit around the star) your demands are not modest. Dyson originally proposed the concept based on the observation that human energy needs were growing exponentially, and this was the logical endpoint. Even at 1% growth rate a civilisation quickly in a few millennia need most of the stars energy.

In order to get a reasonably high probability of seeing an incomplete shell we need to assume growth rates that are exceedingly small. While it is not impossible, it seems rather unlikely given how life and societies tend to grow.

Other Alien Structures?

Dyson shells are not the only megastructures that could cause intriguing transits. Research has suggested that an alien civilisation could, for example, sort asteroid material using light pressure, engineer climate using shades or mirrors, or travel using solar sails. Most of these tools are small compared to stars, but Kepler might notice them if there were enough of them.

Another study has calculated the possibility of detecting stellar engines gigantic mirror arrays for moving entire solar systems based on light curves. But unfortunately the calculated curves do not fit KIC 8462852 as far as I can tell.

In the end, we need more data. The stakes are high. If there is no intelligent life in space it means either that we are very lucky or that intelligent species die out fast. But if there is (or was) another technological civilisation it would be immensely reassuring: we would know intelligent life can survive for at least some sizeable time.

But in truth, I think we will instead learn that the ordinary processes of astrophysics can produce weird transit curves, perhaps due to strange objects (remember when we thought hot Jupiters were exotic?). The universe is full of strange things, which makes me happy I live in it. But it makes sense to watch the star, just in case.

Anders Sandberg, James Martin Research Fellow, Future of Humanity Institute & Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford

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Please, Donald Trump, Dont Send Climate Science Back To The Pre-Satellite Era

The Conversation

Bob Walker, an adviser to US President-elect Donald Trump, has set alarm bells ringing by recommending that NASAs climate monitoring programs be axed.

But his dismissal of the politicised science at NASAs Earth Science Division shows an ignorance of the breadth, role and significance of its contributions to society in the United States and worldwide.

Its unclear what exactly Walker means by his comment that future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies. Is the plan merely to shuffle the deckchairs same science, different badge or is it code for cutting the research observation and monitoring efforts altogether?

If the former, it is hard to see what it would achieve, beyond risking a loss of expertise as other agencies attempt to develop the same capabilities as NASA. But the latter is a frightening prospect, because it would effectively take us back to what climate scientists refer to as the pre-satellite era.

The global climate system is, well, global. There are places where there is no one around to take measurements, such as the vast expanses of our oceans, the central desert of Australia, and the Arctic and Antarctic regions. But what happens in these remote areas affects the climate elsewhere; the atmosphere has no boundary and the oceans are linked.

Before satellites, the patchiness of weather and climate observations for much of the globe made it hard to detect the patterns that govern rainfall, temperatures and winds.

Now we have a continuous global view of Earth, courtesy of NASAs Earth observation satellite program. Cutting this research and returning to the pre-satellite era would leave us ignorant not only of Earths climate processes, but also of whether or not our environmental policies are effective.

The value of satellites

For more than three decades in the early 20th century, the British meteorologist Sir Gilbert T. Walker searched the sparse climate records for patterns that could explain why the Indian monsoon failed in some years. After some laborious number-crunching, he put forward the concept of the Southern Oscillation, describing sea-level pressure differences between Darwin and Tahiti in the South Pacific. His Southern Oscillation Index is still used today.

When sea-level pressure is lower in Tahiti than Darwin, it causes wind patterns that bring drought to India and northeast Australia, Walker suggested. But the Southern Oscillation was only part of the story.

Almost half a century later, in the late 1960s, early NASA satellite data provided an unprecedented look at the patterns of clouds above the Pacific Ocean. This helped the meteorologist Jacob Bjerknes to link Walkers sea-level pressure oscillations with other variables such as wind, rainfall (clouds) and ocean temperature variations right across the tropical Pacific.

Crucially, he identified a low-rainfall zone in the central-eastern equatorial Pacific of which Walker, with his patchy data, had been completely unaware. The chain reaction between the atmosphere and ocean now known as the El Nio-Southern Oscillation emerged in part from NASA satellite imagery.


A visualisation of the strong El Nio that developed in 1997, using NASA sea-surface height data from the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite. NASA

Of course, the holy grail when it comes to El Nio is to forecast events ahead of time, because El Nio is a major factor in bringing droughts and floods to countries bordering the Pacific Oceans. This has huge consequences for millions of livelihoods. Australias Bureau of Meteorology uses NASA satellite and model data to forecast an impending El Nio three to six months ahead of time, while real-time observations help to assess the impacts once the event actually arrives.

This level of forecasting and monitoring was a pipe dream in the pre-satellite era. The same could be said about a host of other global phenomena from severe storms, to massive wildfires, to air pollution.

Verifying policy decisions

If President-elect Trump really needs yet more certainty that human-induced global warming is not a hoax and that the recently enacted Paris Agreement will have a meaningful impact, then one of the best ways to achieve this would be to boost NASAs Earth Science Division.

NASA satellites recently demonstrated the success of US and European environmental regulations in improving air quality over the past decade. NASA has also been central to monitoring the effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol, the global agreement to safeguard the ozone layer. By keeping a close watch on the size and extent of the ozone hole, NASA has helped to show that it is beginning to recover and that the policy is working.

Our advice to Trump

Gilbert T. Walker wrote in 1940:

I think that the relationships of world weather are so complex that our only chance of explaining them is to accumulate the facts empirically.

His present-day namesake and Trump adviser Bob Walker also says we need good science to tell us what the reality is. One of President-elect Trumps best chances of achieving this aim is to continue funding scientists to observe Earth from space.

So our advice to Trump is to look beyond the cheap talk about politicisation and appreciate the importance of the work done by NASAs Earth Science Division. This is not, as Bob Walker asserts, politically correct environmental monitoring (whatever that is), but essential data that are already being used to ensure societys health and wellbeing.

As for climate change science, the divisions reports on global temperatures are solely based on robust data. Whats being politicised here is not the science but the story that the science tells: that the planet is warming. Lets not shoot the messenger.

The ConversationHelen McGregor, ARC Future Fellow, University of Wollongong and Jenny Fisher, Lecturer in Atmospheric Chemistry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Cassini Snaps Best Ever Image Of Saturn’s Odd Moon Pandora

Saturn has more than 50 moons, so youd be forgiven for not remembering all of them. But one, Pandora, has just come into sharper view and it looks pretty odd.

New images of Pandora were captured by NASAs Cassini spacecraft, currently in orbit around Saturn. They are our best ever images of the small moon, revealing two odd craters on its surface.

The small moon is just 84 kilometers (52 miles) across, and orbits just outside Saturns narrow F ring. The images were taken while Cassini was at a distance of 40,500 kilometers (25,200 miles) from Pandora. The resolution of the image is 240 meters (787 feet) per pixel.

Previously, the best image of Pandora was taken in September 2005 by Cassini, showing about 300 meters (1,000 feet) per pixel. That image was taken from a more distant location of 52,000 kilometers (32,000 miles).

Cassini’s previous best view of Pandora, in 2005. NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The presence of the two large craters is particularly interesting, though, as they seem to take up quite a large portion of the moons surface. In a tweet, NASAs Cassini team said that Pandora would break apart if it was hit hard enough. Apparently, the impacts that made these craters were not powerful enough to do so.

Cassini snapped these image while in its ring-grazing orbits, a series of dives past Saturns rings to get new data and even samples. Cassini will be completing 20 orbits during this phase of the mission, continuing until April 22.

Next year, though, well be bidding farewell, as Cassini will end its mission with a dive into Saturns atmosphere on September 15. Therell be plenty more images like this before then, though.

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Tiny Drone Can Autonomously Paint Dot Murals

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Dr Paul Kry wanted to decorate the stairways at McGill Universitys School of Computer Science in Montreal, Canada, but computer scientists being computer scientists, he didnt want to justuse a paintbrush.

I thought it would be great to have drones paint portraits of famous computer scientists on them, herecalled in a statement.

Together with some of his masters students, Kry developed a palm-sized aerial drone with an ink-soaked sponge. Using a complex algorithm, you can plug in a design and let the drone do the work. Its able to hover like a hummingbird near the wall surface, while internal sensors and a motion-capture system help work out where to place the perfect dot.

It can account for errors, caused by a gust of wind for example, by dynamically updating the information on where the next dots should be placed.

The first incarnation of the drone needed regular stops torefuel ink and change batteries. Now, the team isexperimenting with thin power cord tethers so thatthe drone can work nonstop. They’ve also tried to updatethe programming sothe drone can find the location of a wall-mounted ink pad, allowing it to refill autonomously.

So far, theyve already made portraits of computer science pioneer Alan Turing and actress Grace Kelly. They hope to soon begin creating larger murals with bigger drones as they continue to get to grips with the technique.

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People Shout Aliens! After Mistaking An Image Of The Sun For A UFO

Since the invention of photography, any weird enough artifact in animage has been claimed as proof of aliens, yetis, and ghosts. Obviously, mundane explanations seldom make posts go viral, so a series of corrupted images taken by NASAs twin STEREO spacecraftlast week have been claimed to show a UFO orbiting Earth and the Sun.

The culprit for the incriminating pictures is the Heliospheric Imager 1 (HI1), which is part of the Sun-Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (SECCHI) on STEREO. SECCHI studies the space between our star and our planet to map coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun in 3D.

The images show two bright spots (Venus and Earth based on the current location of STEREO), and several times throughout the day an image of the Sun is superimposed on it. By simply looking at the different cameras STEREO has on board, you would see that it is simply a series of corrupted images.

The other explanation, as reported by UFOMania and many news outlets, is thatlast week a large semi-transparent UFO appeared in the Solar System, got photographed by STEREO a few times, disappeared, and reappeared again, all without anyone else on Earth seeing it.

On the left, the image of the “semi-transparent UFO” in front of two planets, and on the right a completely unrelated image of the Sun taken 6 minutes later. NASA/STEREO

In reality, the images by SECCHI are susceptible to corruption. The images are processed directly on board and not by scientists on Earth, so onrare occasions when the processors becomeoverloaded, images from different instruments are merged into one.

Because the images from the Heliospheric Imager (HI) telescopes are built up from a large number of exposures added together, this sometimes results in ‘double exposures’, where data from several telescopes appear in the same image, reads the NASAs STEREO Learning Center page.

Although STEREO might not have discovered aliens, it does incredible work monitoring the Sun. Itsconstant observations have provided us witha better understanding of our stars and the dangers that our Sunposes to humanity when its very active.

“The twin STEREO spacecraft have been a stunning window for us on the Solar System: theyve let us track solar storms from the Sun to the Earth. The mission has really changed the way we think about the Solar System, so now were preparing to launch the Solar Orbiter mission in 2 years time, which will get a much closer look at the Sun and its wind from inside the sizzling orbit of Mercury,” Dr. David Williams, solar scientists at ESA told IFLScience.

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These Virtual Reality Headsets Make Farmed Chickens Believe They Roam Free

“Who wants a virtual reality headset?” “Cluck cluck.” “… I’ll take that as a resounding yes.”

In recent years, people have started to take animal welfare very seriously and slowly we are starting to see a change in the way that animals are treated. But what first springs to mind as a feasible idea to improve the lives of animals destined for human consumption? Bigger roaming areas? Free range? The Matrix? Wait… What?

An assistant professor in design at Iowa State University, Austin Stewart, has released ideas for a project named “Second Livestock” which involves tricking chickens into thinking that they are free range, while they are actually contained within small enclosures. This would be achieved by strapping virtual reality headsets onto farmed chickens (stop laughing). These “Cockulus Rift” headsets would therefore make the chickens believe that they are in a nicer, less stressful environment (really, try to stop laughing).

Image Credit: Second Livestock. Technical rendering of chicken-computer interface.

Is this a big joke? Well, kind of, but not necessarily a futile one. Stewart created this project in order to spur people into talking about animal welfare, and also as a kind of experiment to look at our relationship with technology, and of course to see how many people would actually believe that researchers intend on doing this. That being said, he told Techcrunch that he would be willing to work with anyone who is willing to offer their services to make it happen.

“In my presentations I try to present the project with an earnestness that makes the audience question whether or not it’s real,” Stewart told journalist Liz Dwyer. “Most people are on the ‘this is fake’ side of the fence until I announce that they will be able to try out the technology behind Second Livestock in a few minutes. It is pretty great to watch the faces of the audience at this moment.”

So- any takers? 

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Magnetic Fields Around Red Dwarf Planets Might Not Be Strong Enough To Support Life

Low-mass stars create a hostile environment for planets that orbit them, probably stripping their atmospheres and preventing life, new modeling of stellar outbursts suggests. This possibility has been raised before, but further evidence has been presented. The findings mean the recent findings of Earth-like planets around nearby red dwarfs might not be as exciting as we thought.

Most stars are M-type, also known as red dwarfs. Consequently, they illuminate the majority of the planets where we might look for life. In our own galactic neighborhood, we have found abundant planets in the so-called habitable zone around red dwarfs within about 40 light-years. Existing telescopes can’t get a good view of these, but the next generation, being built at this moment, might well be able to detect atmospheres around these worlds.

Nevertheless, there has been one fly in the ointment exoplanet cornucopia: The fear that coronal mass ejections (CME), to which M-type stars are particularly prone, could strip the atmospheres from planets orbiting close enough to these dim stars not to freeze. Without an atmosphere, liquid water can’t be sustained ice sublimes directly to water vapor, which gets blown away by the next CME.

Planetary magnetic fields provide protection, as Earth’s does for us, but astronomers have been troubled by the question of how strong a field would need to be to make life possible around a typical red dwarf. Too strong, according to Boston University PhD student Christina Kay.

Kay picked V374 Pegasi, an M-type star 29 light-years away, and not much more than half as hot. It’s magnetic field, flares and CMEs have been particularly heavily studied, but Kay told the UK National Astronomy Meeting she’d found something new.

“We figured that the CMEs would be more powerful and more frequent than solar CMEs, but what was unexpected was where the CMEs ended up,” Kay said in a statement. She found CMEs get pushed into an area known as the Astrospheric Current Sheet, roughly equivalent to the plane of the solar equator and where most planets orbit.

Kay reported in the Astrophysical Journalsuch regular CME exposure would blast the atmospheres from nearby planets with magnetic fields similar to Earth’s. Unless a planet orbited so far out it would be covered in ice anyway, it would need a magnetic field at least 10, and often several thousand, times as strong as the Earth’s to hold onto its air.

Without exceptionally strong magnetic fields, planets like Proxima b, and the multiple members of the TRAPPIST-1 system, are likely to be blasted wastelands. Efforts to find life elsewhere might need to go back to focusing on rarer mid-mass stars, where CMEs are rarer, and not focussed into the planetary plane.

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This Drone Has Learned How To Dodge Swords

As graceful as drone video footage can look, drones themselves can look pretty clumsy when paired with something designed to take them down. However, a team of developers at Stanford Universitys Department of Aeronautics and Astronauticshas designed a drone with thedodging and ducking skills of Muhammad Ali.

In theirresearch paper, they explain how the drones abilities come from an application of machine learning. The drone is fitted with motion-capture sensors that send real-time data about its surrounding environment. Some rather daunting-looking algorithms then quickly workout whether a changein its surroundings is a threat,andif so, calculates an appropriate moveto dodge it.

The drone is designed to face all kinds of obstacles, andyou can see how it fares against a fencing sword in the video below.

The drone’sskills are pretty impressive as it is, but the team hopes to make its reactions even sharper in the future by using a whole range of visual, laser, and ultrasonic sensors. Additionally, they reckon this technology could someday be applied to spacecraft, self-driving cars, robotics, and even for use in the military.

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