The Martian Cloud That Wouldn’t Move

Did you know that there are volcanoes on Mars? Arsia Mons, one of the Martian volcanoes, has been getting a lot of attention from scientists. Is it about to erupt? The volcano has been dormant for millions of years, but something very strange has formed on top of it.

950 mile long cloud

On one side of Arsia Mons, a cloud formed that was so long, 950 miles long to be exact, that it could be seen by satellites. As if being incredibly long wasn’t noteworthy enough, the cloud also gained the attention of scientist because it wouldn’t move. Clouds on Mars can get much larger than clouds on Earth, but 950 miles is large even for Martian standards, and they usually disappear after a short amount of time.

From far away, this huge cloud looked like a streak, or even a comet, flying across the surface of Mars. What could have caused such a humongous cloud?

Dustorm of a lifetime

Mars, which is about half the size of Earth, has some extremely different weather patterns. Since the planet is so much smaller than Earth, not to mention it has less water and a completely different gravitational pull, weather patterns can impact all of Mars at one time. Scientists have linked this record-breaking cloud to a dust storm that covered all of Mars.

Mars is very, very dusty, so sustained winds cause dust storms worthy of nightmares. If these types of storms happened on Earth, they would likely cause every living thing in its path to suffocate. In a particularly ferocious planetwide dust storm, a big mass of dust and partially melted ice got trapped inside each other. As the ice attempted to melt and responded to other weather forces, this snowball of sorts got suspended in the air as a cloud.

Why wouldn’t the cloud move?

If you’ve ever looked at the sky for a long time, you’ll notice that clouds on Earth move around. Sometimes they move fast and sometimes slow. Wind moves the clouds in any direction, which is why thunderstorms and hurricanes don’t keep pounding on the same spot forever. Since wind is what created this huge, Martian dust ball of a cloud, why didn’t the wind make it move as well?

This cloud was made of a constantly changing blend of water and ice. The dust on Mars can get so thick at times that it blocks out the sunlight, and that’s what happened in this case.

Credit: ESA/GCP/UPV/EHU Bilbao

The temperatures on Mars are usually far below freezing with sunlight, so a lack of sunlight only makes it even colder. The cloud started out as dust and ice. Alternating cycles of cold and humid air caused the moisture in the cloud to freeze and then to melt. This cycle repeated itself several times, which is what caused the cloud to stay put.

NEXT: The intrepid InSight Lander recently touched down on Mars and got right to work studying the Red Planet in hopes that one day, we might travel there ourselves.

InSight Lander Touches Down on Mars, Gets to Work

If just getting to Mars was fun, imagine the discovery the InSight lander has yet ahead.

The $814 million two-year NASA mission, after traveling through space for more than six months and crossing 300 million miles, survived its soft landing on the red planet on Nov. 26. The robotic probe was traveling at 13,200 mph through Mars’ thin atmosphere in its final dramatic moments before touchdown.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has already had seven successful Mars landings, but only 40 percent of missions to the planet have succeeded. So to say just making the journey there takes planning, precision and, yes, hope is an understatement.

“Our accuracy is comparable to shooting a basketball from Staples Center in downtown L.A. and hitting nothing but net in a basketball hoop in New York City that is moving about two feet per second and is spinning on its access,” Fernando Abilleira, navigator in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said during the NASA live stream on touchdown day Nov. 26. He added that the target location for landing – some 300 million miles at the end of its journey after launching in May 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California – was about seven-and-a-half miles in size.

The Atlas V rocket which carried the InSight lander to Mars is seen at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California before launch on May 15, 2018

Now that InSight is on the surface, the next mission’s next phase – and fun – begins.

InSight will map out the deep structure of Mars, including its core, crust, and mantle. Whereas previous missions have studied the planet’s surface, InSight is going into the interior.

“We know a lot about the surface of Mars; we know a lot about its atmosphere and even about its ionosphere. But we don’t know very much about what goes on a mile below the surface much less 2,000 miles below the surface down to the center,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator, explained from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

After burrowing an instrument five meters into the Mars ground, InSight will measure the planet’s temperature. Another experiment will eventually determine how Mars wobbles on its axis.

The mission will provide new answers into the structure of Mars to reveal why among other things the planet is uninhabitable. Seismic probes aboard InSight will examine ‘marsquakes’ beneath the planet’s surface in much the same way scientists measure earthquakes back home.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Previous missions to the red planet have literally only scratched the surface on Martian knowledge – and its history. InSight will go beneath the surface for the first time, with the knowledge gained leading to better understandings of Earth, Venus, Mercury, our own Moon, as well as exoplanets around other stars.

“InSight is a mission to Mars, but it’s much, much more than a Mars mission,” Banerdt said. “In some senses, it’s like a time machine. It’s measuring the structure of Mars that was put in place four-and-a-half billion years ago.”

The lander itself is almost 20 feet long, about five feet wide, and weighs nearly 800 pounds. Two solar panels will provide its electrical power, and science instruments on board include a seismometer, heat probe and a radio science experiment.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

“InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport … (will) give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago,” NASA states.

In other words, now that engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have successfully sweated out this week’s touchdown, they’ll wait next for scientific results to start pouring in as the mission continues.

“In comparison to the other terrestrial planets, Mars is neither too big nor too small. This means that it preserves the record of its formation and can give us insight into how the terrestrial planets formed,” NASA notes. “It is the perfect laboratory from which to study the formation and evolution of rocky planets. Scientists know that Mars has low levels of geological activity. But a lander like InSight can also reveal just how active Mars really is.”

More on Mars: NASA is investigating ways to put future space travelers into cryosleep for the months-long journey to the Red Planet 

The Parker Solar Probe is Set to Break the Record for Nearest Sun Approach

A NASA satellite just made history. Parker Solar Probe has placed itself in the record books after it became the closest to approach to the sun. Parker Solar Probe surpassed German-American Helios 2 on the list. German-American Helios 2 floated 26.55 miles from the sun in 1976.

COURTESY OF NASA: NAVAL RESEARCH LABORATORY: PARKER SOLAR PROBE

The Parker Probe is also set to surpass Helios 2 for fastest speed relative to the sun. Helios 2 currently holds the record for fastest speed relative to the sun since it reached 153,454 mph. Right now, Juno Jupiter spacecraft holds the record for top speed relative to Earth. Juno Jupiter reached 165,000 mph in 2016 when it arrived at Jupiter.

This is the first of many record breakers for Parker Solar Probe. The probe will examine the star for the next seven years, and it will only get closer. Parker Probe is scheduled for 24 more flybys. The $1.5 billion project took off on Aug. 12 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The satellite is scheduled for a 2025 flyby that will approach the sun from 3.83 million miles. The closer the probe reaches the sun, the faster it goes. Our giant star’s massive gravity pull will accelerate Parker Probe to nearly 430,000 mph. Parker Solar Probe will already smash its own distance record on November 5.

“It’s been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we’ve now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history,” said John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in a statement. “It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on Oct. 31.”

Parker Solar Probe wields a unique carbon-composite shield. The shield protects the probe and its instruments from extreme heat and radiation while it executes its close flybys. The tools are set to record numerous measurements during the encounters.

The objective of the probe is to better understand the giant star’s structure, composition, and activity. The data will assist answer long-standing questions. Why is the sun’s corona (outer atmosphere) significantly hotter than the surface? What accelerates the charged particles of the solar wind to such amazing velocity?  

3.83 million miles from the sun is a little too close for comfort, but space tourism is becoming very real. Read more here.

4 Ways Space Tourism is Closer Than You Think

We know you’re just too busy to keep up with space tourism. Plus, when it comes to vacation, you’re keen enough to plot that simple road trip to the coast.

We’ve got you covered, with four space tourism expeditions coming to a travel agency near you. Spoiler alert: Prepare for price tag sticker shock.

4. Axiom

Axiom Space, a Houston, Texas USA-based private company is all set to take over low-Earth orbit duties from the government-run International Space Station, which is due to retire in 2024. And Axiom is open for tourism business in the meantime.

You might want to hit up Groupon, though. The fee is a cool $55 million.

Axiom Station (Axiom Space)

Used for research at the moment, the ISS will all but hand over its functions to Axiom, which is working to build the first commercial space station. It will literally be attached to the ISS before eventually taking its own flight when the ISS goes dark and transfers the multi-billion dollar space market over to the private sector.

Axiom in June 2018 announced that it’s accepting tourists for a 10-day mission aboard the ISS. The $55 million, reported by Mike wall of Space.com, covers the orbital stay transportation to and from the ISS, and a two-week astronaut-training program. Axiom Space looks to launch its first customers in 2020.

3. Blue Origin

Things continue to go well with the Jeff Bezos-backed spaceflight services company.

The rocket dubbed “New Shepard” in July 2018 flew for a ninth time, with the latest test focusing (in fact, “pushed hard” Blue Origin notes) on safety and applying stressors.

Twitter – Blue Origin

“Reusability allows us to fly the system again and again,” Blue Origin’s website states. “With each flight, we’ll continuously improve the affordability of space exploration and research, opening space for all.”

The payoff eventually will have tourists sitting atop a 60-foot tall rocket in a capsule designed for six people to climb through the atmosphere. Accelerating at more than 3 Gs to faster than Mach 3, passengers will reach an altitude of over 62 miles from which to stargaze.

Twitter – Blue Origin

The capsule’s panoramic views during ascent and in orbit are punctuated by the largest windows in spaceflight history. At almost three times the size of standard airplane windows, astronaut tourists will get the green-light to unbuckle their harnesses at the highest altitude and experience floating freely with weightless somersaults.

With passengers buckled back in, New Shepard will descend at the speed of sound, slowing the booster to just five mph for landing.

2. Orion Span

Planning to simply launch tourists into space? Pffft. That is so 2017.

Orion Span is thinking bigger than that. The California-based startup aerospace company is already one giant leap ahead of the competition when it comes to exactly what to do with Earthlings once they’re in orbit.

“We are launching the first-ever affordable luxury space hotel,” Orion Span founder and CEO Frank Bunger said in April 2018 at the Aurora Space Station concept unveiling during the Space 2.0 Summit in San Jose, California, USA.

Orion Span

The private commercial space station will, in theory, orbit 200 miles above the Earth’s surface. And oh boy, is your itinerary already set. Going aboard Aurora Station gets you a 12-day adventure to experience the thrill of zero gravity, watch the aurora borealis, grow food in space, or dive into the holodeck. Orion calls the touristy mission “the world’s only authentic astronaut experience.”

“Every 90 minutes we complete an orbit, meaning you’ll see day and night over Earth hundreds of times during your 12-day stay,” Orion states, “with ample opportunity to photograph your hometown from space.

Orion Span

Pricing starts at $9.5 million per person, which includes an $80,000 deposit. The cost is all-inclusive and includes the price of launch to get to Aurora Station. In-person training at the company’s facility in Houston starts three months prior to launch.
Aurora Station says it will launch in late 2021 and host its first guests in 2022. The waitlist is now open.
How close is this to reality? Ask travel agents. Orion announced in September 2018 that travel professionals booking clients for a future stay will be eligible to receive a flat-rate $50,000 commission.

“The first six months of reservations are already sold out, and much of the interest we’ve seen since our launch has been from travel professionals with interested clients,” Bunger said.

1. Virgin Galactic

In the race to commercial space tourism, the safest bet to get there first might be Virgin Galactic.

In addition to its rapid scientific innovations, the company — Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline – is already pioneering not just how to get in orbit, but how quickly flights can turn around, and even precisely from where to launch tourists first.

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (a “space plane”; get used to that term) will fly humans three times faster than the speed of sound on a regular basis, according to the Virgin Galactic official website, on its quest to establish a “global culture” of space flight.

“By the end of this century, I hope that hundreds of thousands of people will have the chance at becoming astronauts,” Virgin founder and all-around mojo master Sir Richard Branson said.

In May of 2018, The Spaceship Company successfully welcomed back to Earth its second supersonic, rocket-powered test flight. The second flight came less than two months after its first rocket-powered flight. That’s critical, because, once in commercial service, Virgin Galactic’s flights are designed to be turned around at a high frequency to meet consumer demand that will, for sure, be out of this world.

Virgin Galactic

The sequel flight saw the rocket’s motor burn for the planned 31 seconds and propel Unity to a speed of Mach 1.9 and an altitude of 114,500 feet.

Things are moving fast on the ground as well.

Less than two months later (although, in reality, after two years of business discussions, government regulatory analysis, studies on potential operations and market assessment) the company signed a preliminary agreement to bring Virgin Galactic spaceflights to Italy, with the eventual goal to build an Italian spaceport to service future suborbital flights.

Virgin already has the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport (in New Mexico, USA).

There’s a reason things are moving this fast. Virgin reports that the number of customers who have paid to reserve places to fly on SpaceShipTwo is already higher than the total number of humans who have ever been to space throughout history.

Can a Moon Really Have its Own Moon?

It’s not often that a scientific paper breaks the internet. In truth, there’s very little exciting that goes on in scientific publications. The closest things we get are climate reports, but those usually end up terrifying people, not exciting them.

Enter a recent paper draft entitled “Can moons have moons?” Two scientists, Juna A. Kollmeier and Sean N. Raymond, attempted to answer the question. In their paper, though they acknowledge that there are no known moons that have satellites, “the absence of submoons around known moons and exomoons where submoons can survive provides important clues to the formation mechanisms and histories of these systems.” The authors pose that further study is needed to either confirm or deny the existence of such satellites.

While the concept of “submoons” is interesting enough, what really set the internet on fire, is the alternative name for satellites belonging to moons. In a paper discussing the newly discovered “Neptune size satellite” orbiting planet Kepler-16s5b, Duncan Forgan offers up the much more light-hearted and meme-worthy name, “moon-moon.”

Forgan writes, “I find that the candidate exomoon, Kepler-1625b-i, does not currently reside within the exomoon habitable zone, but may have done so when Kepler-1625 occupied the main sequence. If it were to possess its own moon (a “moon-moon”) that was Earthlike, this could potentially have been a habitable world.”

As the Twitterverse caught wind of this new phenomenon, users couldn’t help but tweet about it:

While the jury is still out on whether or not moons can have moons of their own, “moon-moons” (which is really fun to say), this is a well worthwhile topic to study. As Kollmeier and Raymond conclude, further exploration into the existence of submoons can yield fruitful information regarding the origins and formation of planets and moons.

Despite the lack of any observed moon-moons in our solar system, Kollmeier and Raymond pose that it is possible given the right variables that Jupiter and Earth could both potentially play host to moon-moons orbiting their moons, “based solely on its orbital separation and inferred mass and size.”

Beyond spurring a flock of memes, this could potentially launch a whole new flurry of papers investigating the origins of moons and lead to some bold discoveries.

Up Next: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Moon

Best Skywatching? Try 10,000ft Above the Pacific Ocean

October is a great time to be in Hawai’i. Sure the weather cools off from a warm summer, and the humidity goes down. And statistically, it’s one of the least visited months for tourists, which means fewer crowds and cheaper rates.

That’s all well and good, but we’re talking to skywatcher geeks out there. Skywatchers have looked up to the sky to chart the heavens, establish our place in the universe, to navigate our own Earth, or even to predict the future.

The top tips are pretty simple: get high, get dark. (High, as in getting yourself up to an elevated location off the ground. What were you thinking??) And the darkest sky possible is best for stargazing, although watching the sky during the day is cool, too. More on that in a minute.

Perhaps THE best place on Earth for skywatching is Haleakalā National Park, in Makawao, Maui County.

Let’s look at those top two variables. First, let’s get high.
The summit of Haleakalā volcano reaches 10,023 feet after the park area starts out at 7,000. Stargazers driving up from sea level should be prepared for cold temperatures and effects of higher altitude, but it’s worth it to get that kind of elevation.

Then, there’s the darkness.

Consider that the Haleakalā summit places wide-eyed visitors on a 10,000-foot mountain top in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“Today, at least 80 percent of people living in the United States and Europe are so inundated with light pollution that they can’t even see our own Milky Way, let alone our neighboring galaxies like Andromeda,” the Sierra Club writes. They also list nearby Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, among the world’s most impressive designated dark-sky spots, where light pollution remains at a minimum and still offers an unblemished night sky.

Haleakalā has the added touch of being gorgeous in itself when skywatchers return their gaze back down to earth. Getting there is half the adventure, so plan on arriving at the summit to see an epic sunset before taking in all the nighttime blackness. Native plants and animals, and the honey-sweet scent of ‘āhinahina silversword blossoms highlight 35 miles of wilderness area hiking trails through subalpine shrubland, cloud forest, and cinder desert.

The visual horizon in many places in the summit area is up to 115 miles out to sea. Even cloudy skies can offer gems like rainbows, moonbows, and halos seen around your shadow.

Early birds can enjoy the same experiences at sunrise, too. The park is open to visitors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

But let’s be real, the nighttime stars are the stars here.

“Already impressive in the light of day, the summit takes on a new dimension at night when the darkness reveals the brilliant night sky,” the National Park Service boasts.

There are a lot of celestial events in October 2018.

The absence of moonlight during the new moon phase October 8/9 will make it easier to see Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Also on October 9, the Draconid meteor shower will peak before dawn.

The conjunction of the moon and Jupiter will be visible October 11, when the thin, waxing crescent moon will pass about 4 degrees north of Jupiter. On October 14, Saturn will be less than 2 degrees away from the moon.

The Orionid meteor shower peaks October 21-22. And, maybe most cool, Uranus will be visible to the naked eye October 23 when the distant planet will be at its biggest and brightest, as it will be directly opposite the sun. Uranus will also make its closest approach to Earth around the same time.

The Maui Stargazing Club can hook you up for 5-6 hour round-trip stargazing tours to the Haleakalā summit for a science-based, 60- to 90-minute guided telescope tour of the cosmos. See the visible planets and deep-sky objects of the Milky Way, including nebulae, star clusters, and the galaxies beyond through a 12-inch aperture Dobsonian telescope.

5 Awesome Science Experiments Aboard the ISS

The International Space Station has plenty of coolness on the outside. It orbits 220 miles over our heads all day and night, not to mention cruises around Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, or about five miles per second.

That means the ISS orbits Earth (and therefore sees a sunrise) once every 90 minutes.

There’s plenty of cool on the inside, too. Scientific research is a regular part of the habitable artificial satellite, which launched in 1998, and the data are every bit as vital to the future of space exploration as life back on Earth.

Here are five engaging experiments going on in the skies above.

1.  Experiments that need cold temperatures have their best home aboard the ISS.

The Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) on the ISS, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is designed to study ultra-cold quantum gases in the space station’s microgravity environment. How cold is ultra-cold? Chilled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero – even colder than the average temperature of deep space – the atoms allow researchers to explore this strange domain, unlocking the potential to observe new quantum phenomena.

CAL successfully launched to the ISS in May 2018.

Interestingly, once installed, there will be no further astronaut involvement; the instrument is operated remotely from the ground via sequence control. The CAL operations team will develop test sequences in conjunction with Principal Investigators (P.I.’s). The Phase I mission will last up to 36 months dedicated to flight P.I.-led research.

2. As Melissa Gaskill, with the International Space Station’s Program Science Office, wrote in September 2018, “Thanks to research in space, scientists are that much closer to mending broken hearts.”

No, literally.

It’s a tissue issue, as in tissue repair.

“Researchers cultured human stem cells, or cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs), in the microgravity environment of the space station,” NASA reported.

The research paper, published in July 2018, points out that the heart and its cellular components are profoundly altered by missions to space, not to mention by injury back on Earth. While noting that further research is needed to characterize the molecular substrates of such changes, neonatal and adult human CPCs were cultured aboard the ISS.

The findings revealed that efforts to recapitulate the effects of spaceflight on Earth by regulating processes might be a promising avenue for cardiac repair, not only for astronauts in orbit during long-duration spaceflight but also for folks back on Earth living their everyday lives.

“As humans prepare to expand our presence in space, it is imperative to deepen our understanding of the nature of cellular adaptation to spaceflight so that we may develop mechanisms by which these molecular changes in cardiac cell types can be countered,” the paper’s authors wrote. “Meanwhile, on Earth, we can further explore the therapeutic potential of these adaptations for cardiac repair.”

3. Fruit flies can yield such important data in orbit that the little buggers even have their own lab aboard the ISS.

There are many reasons why fruit flies are so beneficial, says NASA. About 75 percent of human disease genes have similar genes in the fruit fly, so studying them can teach plenty about human biology, too. Fruit flies are also well suited for space biology research because maintaining a large population requires few resources and little equipment. And, NASA adds, their short life cycle allows scientists to study several generations in a single month. As for needing the space environment, studying the effects of spaceflight on cardiac disease and function will provide insight into the effects of spaceflight on the cardiovascular system.

Experiments taking place in the reduced-gravity of the ISS have already increased understanding of the human immune system and heart function.

4. You know it’s cool when research involves a Bone Densitometer.

This time of year that may sound more like a Halloween prop, but in orbit aboard the ISS, it’s way better than that. The device inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory measures the mass per unit volume (density) of minerals in bone using Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry.

What that means, according to NASA, is it takes quantitative measures of bone loss in mice, during orbital space flight, and those measures are necessary for the development of countermeasures for human crew members, as well as for bone-loss syndromes on Earth.

5. Cancer therapy in space is win-win-win all around.

The ISS’s Destiny laboratory module houses the Angiex Cancer Therapy experiment, where astronauts grow and examine endothelial cells, which are key in the human body’s blood supply system. The hope is to learn if space-grown cells can improve testing methods for drugs, which are aimed at choking off blood supply to cancerous tumors in the body.

As for why the tests are best done in orbit, NASA reports that ground-based microgravity mimics don’t reproduce the phenotype achieved under microgravity.

In the meantime, Angiex has created an extraordinarily effective cancer therapy: Angiex’s drug commonly achieves long-lasting (3-month) regressions of tumors from a single treatment in mouse models.

Results may create a system to design safer drugs targeting cancer tumors. That’s great for cancer patients, and the model may also enable the development of curative therapies for these diseases while saving Angiex tens of millions of dollars and years of animal testing.

The FBI Shut Down This Solar Observatory and Nobody Knows Why

Grab some tin-foil, start twisting, and plop those hunks of aluminum sheets on your skull, folks because they’re here. No, but seriously, why has the FBI shut down this Solar Observatory and why is EVERYBODY involved staying quiet about it?

The Sunspot Observatory in Sunspot, NM was temporarily closed down due to an unknown security issue. The observatory is located 17 miles south of Cloudcroft (estimated population of 688) in the Sacramento Mountains of Southern New Mexico.

The Sunspot Observatory itself almost looks like it belongs in outer space.

“The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) who manages the facility is addressing a security issue at this time,” spokeswoman Shari Lifson said. “We have decided to vacate the facility at this time as a precautionary measure. It was our decision to evacuate the facility.” Lifton added that she cannot comment on the specifics of the issue.

She said the facility is closed to the public as well as Sunspot employees. “We don’t know that yet (when the facility will open again),” Lifson said. “We are working with the proper authorities on this issue. The local authorities do know and are aware of the situation. I don’t know when the facility was vacated but it was within the last day. It’s a temporary evacuation of the facility. We will open it up as soon as possible.” She declined to comment on whether the FBI was involved in the situation.

Otero County Sheriff Benny House said that his office was asked to standby, and he has a lot of unanswered questions. “The FBI is refusing to tell us what’s going on,” House said. “We’ve got people up there (at Sunspot) that requested us to standby while they evacuate it. Nobody would really elaborate on any of the circumstances as to why.” He added that “the FBI was up there. What their purpose was, nobody will say.”

“But for the FBI to get involved that quick and be so secretive about it, there was a lot of stuff going on up there,” House said. “There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas, and work crews on towers but nobody would tell us anything.”

What left House even more flabbergasted was that, to his knowledge, nobody at the observatory was a federal employee. “These guys are regular workers that work for this company. I don’t know why the FBI would get involved so quickly and not tell us anything,” he told the Daily News.

An FBI public affairs officer, Frank Fisher, said it will refer all inquiries to AURA. A dispatcher at the Otero County Sheriff’s office said the matter is still a mystery. “We don’t know what’s going on. We haven’t had any updates. We haven’t gotten any information at all,” he said. “There’s not much we can do about it. We’ve decided to respect their wishes. We’re not going to make any inquiries and they’re not telling us.”

A TV news report featured interviews with locals. One local said, “nothing really happens here very much and since nobody knows, it could be almost anything.”

Whatever is happening, the observatory’s proximity to Roswell as well as the site of the Trinity nuclear test is definitely helping to fuel the flames of conspiracy theories. But, we’ll just let you decide.

Both Roswell and the Trinity Nuclear Test Site are within 100 miles of Sunspot, NM. (Image via Google Maps)

Evidence Builds for a New Kind of Neutrino

Do you ever look in the sky and wonder about all the things seen and unseen?

Physicists spend their whole lives attempting to explain the mysteries of the world around us. They think beyond the problems and issues of a layman.

Their main concern is how things happen on earth the way they do. Many of their research often prove to be hypothetical assumptions that hang by a thread.

Yet, they still get excited about the smallest sub-atomic particles and their odd behaviors. One such discovery is the neutrino that has been scrutinized quite a lot.

What is neutrino?

Image via Quanta Magazine

Neutrino is a minuscule sub-atomic particle that was discovered in the mid-90s. It is assumed to have been formed along with the universe and is present in the center of stars and other celestial bodies. Some believe that they travel at light speed all around us.

Maybe one hit you on your way to work today? Who knows?

The particles are unseen to the naked eye and were presumed to be weightless until the end of 20th century.

What do we know?

Image via The T2K Experiment

There has been extensive research done on these tiny particles.

Results show that they appear in three flavors:

  • Electron neutrinos
  • Muon neutrinos
  • Tau neutrinos

All three types can transform into each other through a reaction that emits flashes of light.

Although they are fundamental particles that build the universe and yet there hasn’t been a definite definition of their essence or function.

This is why the smallest fluctuation becomes the talk of the town!

The elusive sterile neutrino

Image via Las Cruces Sun News

Latest research shows evidence that there might be another flavor of neutrino out there.

These ghostly particles were discovered when during two famous neutrino based experiments, ‘The Mini Booster Neutrino Experiment (MiniBooNE)’ and the ‘Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND)’. Both pieces of researches joined together to form a hypothesis based on 15 years of hard work.

In the LSND, scientists observed the neutrino particles misbehaving in the sense that the oscillating particles started out as a certain number of muon neutrinos but converted into a much larger number of electron neutrinos by the end of the experiment.

This was considered an anomaly until years later the MiniBooNE showed a similar behavior.

What did this increased amount imply?

According to the researchers, the only rational reasoning behind this could be that there as a fourth flavor present in the experiment tube. It was ghostly in nature, remained unseen but transformed into the electron form just like its sibling the muon neutrinos.

These sterile neutrinos are said to react by weak gravitational force and not follow the standard model of interactions or physicality previously associated with the other three flavors.

The verdict

Image via Quanta Magazine

While many cosmologists rejoice in this discovery pertaining that this may be the particle that composes the mysterious dark matter in the universe. Like always, the commotion was brought down by naysayers who believe this is a fluke.

Do believe that scientists could be on to something?

Could this be a step towards solving the mystery of the universe?

 

7 Facts About The Moon You Probably Didn’t Know

The Moon rotates on its axis in the same amount of time it takes to make one trip around Earth, so we only ever see one side of the Moon. The only way to see the far side of the Moon is to actually go up into space and around to the other side.

The image of the Moon on the left is the near side, which is the side we see every night. The image on the right is the far side of the Moon, which is impossible to see from Earth.

The Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun, but also 400 times closer to earth. That means that during a solar eclipse, where the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, the Sun’s surface is perfectly blocked by the Moon so that you can only see the Sun’s atmosphere or corona. This stellar coincidence gives us some pretty amazing solar eclipses.

NASA’s Apollo Mission astronauts were the first humans to have ever stepped foot on the Moon. The missions, which lasted from 1969-1972, are still the only times people have ever visited the surface of the Moon. If you’re reading this on your phone, you are holding more computing power in the palm of your hand than the computers had which were used for the Apollo lunar landing.

The Moon has no atmosphere, so there is no weather to cause erosion. This means that the Moon’s surface shows a pretty good history of what happened there, whether that be craters from asteroid impacts or cooled lava flows, called maria. The lack of atmosphere also causes the Moon to go through huge temperature changes between -260°F during lunar nights and 280°F underneath the scorching sun.

The Moon’s gravity is what causes the tides in the ocean. Sea levels both facing the moon and directly opposite the moon will rise and fall twice daily as the planet spins.

The Moon is moving away from us at 3.8 centimeters a year. Scientists estimate when the Moon first formed, it was only about 14,000 miles from Earth. Now, the Moon is an average of 239,000 miles away, and getting further every day. If you could drive in space at a speed of 60mph, it would take you 6 months to drive to the Moon.

If you were standing on the surface of the near side of the Moon, the Earth’s position in the sky would never move. It would, however, go through phases exactly like the Moon only in the opposite direction.

 

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