Cosmic phenomenon, or alien craft? Astronomers ponder the origin of powerful radio signals


Our Universe is full of weird and wonderful things.

A number of incredibly strong radio signals detected by Earth’s telescopes have baffled astronomers and researchers for some time.

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are powerful radio blasts lasting for a few milliseconds only, first noticed when reviewing long-range telemetry data from 2001. Since then, twelve more such signals have been picked up.

The peculiarity of FRBs is that they appear to be one-off events, originating in a single location. The vast energy of these events equals to roughly that of five hundred million suns.

One thing that astronomers do know is that the signals come from outer space, as far as 5.5 billion light years out. Local interference has been categorically ruled out. This is significant, as previously thought ‘alien messages’ turned out to be interference caused by a site’s microwave oven, for instance.

But so far, researchers have been unable to agree on the source of such signals. An existing theory is that they are emitted when super-dense objects like black holes or neutron stars collide.

Another, far more interesting theory, is that the signals are artificial and the energy released is being used to power gigantic alien space craft. This theory gains traction given the fact that FRBs are arranged in a very peculiar pattern that does not conform to current understandings of astrophysics.

Telescope equipment is now been fine-tuned to look further into the FRB phenomenon, as astronomers are keen to pinpoint its origin.

Expanding Earth’s horizons: NASA scientists propose the launch of a planet-wide magnetic field to restore Mars’ atmosphere and make the Red Planet habitable


The colonization of the Red Planet may be one step closer to reality today, after NASA scientists proposed the creation of a magnetic field around Mars that could potentially make the planet habitable for future human generations.

Today, Mars is a barren wasteland. No life has existed there for billions of years.

But it wasn’t always like that. Scientists believe that the planet once held vast and deep oceans teeming with living creatures.

All this paradise-like conditions ended when Mars lost its magnetic field, between 3.7 and 4.2 billions of years ago. This allowed high-energy particles to gradually strip away its protective atmosphere. Once the atmosphere became thin enough, all life on Mars’ surface became extinct.

But wayward NASA people now believe that Mars’ once thick atmosphere could be restored by ‘coating’ the planet with a gigantic magnetic field. This artificial magnetosphere would shield Mars from the damaging effects of solar winds and other high-energy particles, much like Earth’s own magnetosphere does.

Once protected, Mars’ natural processes would begin restoring the planet’s atmosphere over time. As the atmosphere thickened, surface temperatures would rise enough so that carbon dioxide ice from Mars’ northern polar cap would begin to melt. In turn, this would trigger a greenhouse effect and cause the planet’s now frozen water wastes to thaw. In just a few generations, Mars might just have flowing rivers and vast oceans once again.

Should all these things happen as predicted, the exploration and colonization of Mars may become a reality within a few hundred years.

The research team that postulated all this did admit that the concepts and ideas are purely hypothetical at this point in time, but that has not deterred them from following their vision of turning the Red Planet into an Earth-like Blue Planet.

Cosmic fury: Titanic struggles in deep space, as black holes consume stars more often than previously thought


New deep-space research has concluded that black holes are consuming stars at an alarming rate, way faster than astronomers previously thought.

A brand new study has found that supermassive black holes lurk in dark regions of space, always ready to trap nearby stars and slowly consume their matter, a la galactic Venus Flytrap.

This phenomenon was well known, but it is the frequency at which it happens that has stunned the research community at the University of Sheffield, the conductors of the study.

A black hole is an anomaly created when a celestial body, usually a star, runs out of fuel and collapses unto itself under the force of gravity. Eventually, gargantuan amounts of matter are compressed into a relatively small area of space, creating a super-dense region with such colossal gravitational pull that not even light can escape. It is because of this trait that black holes are only revealed through special equipment and by observing the surrounding space.

When a star wanders in the vicinity of one of these cosmic monsters, it becomes trapped in an inescapable gravitational pull, slowly dwindling away as the black hole swallows it whole.

In scientific terms, such predation is called a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE). Prior knowledge stated that one such event would happen once every 10,000 to 100,000 years per galaxy.

However, it has now transpired that TDEs occur about 100 times more often, particularly as galaxies collide with one another.

TDEs are exceptionally violent episodes of utter chaos at cosmic level, with devastating consequences. When galaxies collide, their structure warps, ripping stars out of their orbits, and often throwing them into the ravenous maws of lurking black holes. The outcome of such cataclysmic events is a single, enormous new galaxy risen from the remnants of the two colliding titans.

And the bad news is that our very own galactic home, the Milky Way, is on an inexorable collision course with Andromeda, the closest spiral galaxy. This end-of-days event will happen in about 5 billion years though, so don’t go making plans for your TDE blaze of glory just yet.

Come fly with me, to the Moon! SpaceX will fly two daring tourists around Earth’s satellite in 2018


While most Irish people are just happy to pop down to Lanzarote or Santa Ponsa for the summer, others have their sights set much higher than that in the holiday sweepstakes.

SpaceX, the company owned by entrepeneur Elon Musk, have confirmed that they will fly two tourists around the Moon in 2018.

The two pioneers -who have reportedly paid a handsome deposit for the privilege- will be flown around the Moon but will not actually land.

The week-long holiday is not without its risks, however. At least, the aforementioned Lanzarote and Santa Ponsa are tried and tested summer haunts. Outer space is another kettle of fish altogether.

SpaceX will use an as-of-yet untested Heavy Falcon-class rocket to propel an also untested craft, dubbed Crew Dragon. The company will test the rocket for the first time this summer.

SpaceX have achieved great accolades thus far, but have also suffered serious setbacks. A Falcon 9-class rocket exploded while being fueled last September, for instance, destroying over $200m worth of equipment and months of development in the process.

The tourists, whose deposits are presumably non-refundable, are said to have been briefed on the risks that the trip carries.

While no dates have yet been fixed for this historic event, SpaceX expects to kickstart the Moon tourism business next year.

Any volunteers?

Galactic maws: Two gigantic black holes discovered in neighboring galaxies


Two black holes, some of the most enigmatic space-time anomalies in existence in the Universe, have been discovered lurking behind enormous clouds of gas in nearby galaxies.

The objects were detected by NASA’s orbiting observatory NuSTAR, which picked up X-ray radiation emitted by light as it becomes trapped in the inescapable pull of the black hole.

These aberrations of time and space were concealed behind enormous clouds of gas, like monsters lurking behind a curtain.

A black hole is an anomaly created when a celestial body, usually a star, runs out of fuel and collapses unto itself under the force of gravity. Eventually, gargantuan amounts of matter are compressed into a relatively small area of space, which creates a super-dense region of space with such colossal gravitational pull that not even light can escape. It is because of this trait that black holes are only revealed through special equipment and by observing the surrounding space.

At the center of the black hole lies a singularity, a region of space where things become really weird.

The outermost area of a black hole is called the event horizon. A good analogy is those slip road signs that say ‘Wrong way: Turn back now.’ If you drive past that sign, you’re facing oncoming traffic. If you move past the event horizon, you will never leave.

To an outside observer, a person crossing the event horizon would appear to slowly elongate and become dimmer. If this person was transmitting, pauses between transmissions would beome longer and longer as time dilation occurs. Eventually, the person moving towards the center of the black hole -the singularity- would appear dimmer and redder, until it could no longer be seen.

However -and this is where things become really interesting-, the person inside the hole would see no difference. This interstellar pioneer would now be trapped in an area of space where the curvature of time becomes infinite. Here, space and time as we know it does no longer apply. What really happens there, though, nobody really knows.

Luckily however, the two newest black holes discovered are unlikely to ever bother us.

The first was discovered in galaxy NGC 1448, which is 38 million light years away from the Milky Way.

The other is in the farthest reaches of space, in galaxy IC 3639, which is 170 million light years away.

Stargazers rejoice: Spectacular supermoon will light up the night sky on Monday


The biggest and brightest supermoon in almost seven decades will soar across the night skies on Monday, November 14.

The Moon’s orbit follows an elliptical path around the Earth. When our satellite is full at the perigee of this orbit, it is known as Supermoon.

A lot of celestial bodies affect the eccentricity of the Moon’s orbit through gravity. The Sun, for sure, but also Jupiter, and many others. This eccentricity ‘extends’ the elliptical path and causes the Moon to pass closer to Earth.

And Earth’s heavenly partner will be at its closest to our planet since 1948. On Monday, the Moon will be just 221,524 miles away from us. Some NASA scientists have deemed it ‘extra-supermoon’, due to this unusual proximity. The Moon will not be that close to Earth until 2034.

At its perigee, the Moon will look 14pc larger than normal. And it will appear a whole lot brighter than normal, too, as Earth’s journey through space takes it near the Sun at this time of year, and the Moon’s radiance will shine about 30pc more luminosity on Earth’s surface.

So go and watch the skies, as this supermoon will be one not to miss!

NASA locates wreckage of Schiaparelli EDM lander on Mars


NASA instrumentation has located the final resting place of the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Schiaparelli probe. The spacecraft crashed into Mars’ surface on October 19 last, after a suspected malfunction on its final approach. Contact with the probe was lost about one minute from the Martian ground.

An ESA spokesperson said that they have not yet discerned the nature of the malfunction, but believe that a software glitch was the root cause of the failure. Telemetry data shows that the parachute designed to slow down the craft’s descent deployed too early, and that the reverse thrusters cut off too soon. According to the spokesperson, data proves that the thrusters did operate briefly, but not long enough to enable a safe landing, as the computer may have interpreted that the craft was closer to the ground than it really was. ESA Mission Control believes that the probe hit the Martian surface at terminal velocity, shattering on impact.

The crash site is located about 33mi away from where NASA Mars rover Opportunity was operating at the time.

Schiaparelli’s main mission was to test new technology for future landings on Mars.

Destination Mars: Billionaire entrepeneur Elon Musk unveils his plans to colonize the Red Planet, but admits there’s a very high chance the first colonists will die fast


Every great cause requires a few martyrs, they say. And no matter how one looks at it, the colonization of Mars is indeed a great cause.

Fourth rock from the Sun, and second smallest planet in the Solar System, Mars remains as hostile and inhospitable to human life as the bottom of the Atlantic. Featuring low gravity, an almost total lack of protection against solar radiation, and an unbreathable atmosphere consisting mostly of carbon dioxide, life on the Mars we know would be brief indeed.

Much has been written and postulated about whether or not the Red Planet will ever play host to human life. Even if mankind does set foot on the planet’s reddish and unforgiving surface, the challenges ahead would be great, and deadly.

Enter billionaire entrepeneur Elon Musk. Speaking at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Tuesday, Musk unveiled ambitious plans to not only ferry people to Mars, but actually colonise the planet.

Mr. Musk said he will strive to establish the first human settlement on Mars by the year 2022. Through his company, SpaceX, the entrepeneur plans to build a massive 400ft-tall booster rocket dubbed ‘Interplanetary Transport System’ (ITS), upon which would sit a spaceship transporting the wayward passengers. Propelled by rocket fuel made out of a mix of methane and oxygen, Lusk estimates that the flight time would be about 80 days. And you could go on the ‘cheap’, too. Lusk predicts he could eventually cut the cost of an average one-way ticket down to about $100k per person.

He did speak frankly about the unlikely survival of the first pioneers, however.

He said “I think the first journey to Mars is going to be very dangerous. It’d basically be, ‘Are you prepared to die?’”

‘If you are, OK, you’re a candidate for going. This is less about who goes first. … It’s about making a self-sustainable civilisation on Mars as fast as possible.”

Mars road trip: NASA’s Curiosity rover vehicle beams new pictures of Mars down to Earth, and they look amazing


In yet another display of great human ingenuity, NASA’s Curiosity vehicle has beamed down some amazing new pictures of the Red Planet, taken in the Murray Buttes mesa.

The Martian buttes and mesas rise above the planet’s surface. They are the eroded remnants of ancient sandstone formations that were created by sand deposited by winds.

Curiosity landed on Mars on August 6, 2012. The landing site, a plain between the northern wall of Gale Crater and the northern slopes of Aeolis Mons, was named Bradbury Landing after well known sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, who had passed away shortly before Curiosity’s touchdown on Mars.

The vehicle, which is equipped with a plethora of cameras, sensors, and other scientific equipment, has been driving around the planet ever since. Its primary mission is to research the Martian climate and geology, and to ascertain whether conditions around the Gale Crater were ever able to sustain microbial or other type of life.

Gale is an impace crater estimated to be 3.5-3.8bn years old, so Curiosity will be able to pick up samples that will provide great insight into Martian ancient history.

NASA dispatches probe to asteroid that may impact on Earth in about 150 years


NASA has initiated the OSIRIS-REx mission, launching an unmanned probe on a seven-year journey across space to rendezvous with asteroid Bennu and return to Earth with samples gathered from the rock.

The probe successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:05 p.m. EDT (2305 GMT) on Sept. 8. If everything goes as scheduled, the probe will reach Bennu in August 2018, take some soil samples from its surface, and return to Earth in September 2023.

Scientists chose Bennu out of thousands of other potential targets primarily because of its size, orbit, composition, and more importantly, its age. The rock is a sort of time-capsule that holds material dating back to the origins of the Solar System. The science team behind the mission hopes to acquire further knowledge about the formation of planets and the Solar System itself.

Bennu’s indeed cataloged as a hazardous object, as its orbit may take it into a direct collision course with Earth late in the 22nd century.