Man has wondered “Are we alone?” for many years. Astronomers and Hollywood have long portrayed aliens in many different forms — little green men from Mars and monsters from Outer Space being the favourites.
But it is life on Mars that has always captured the imagination — from HG Wells’ Victorian masterpiece “The War of the Worlds” to the 1996 film “Mars Attacks”, the idea of life on Mars has always intrigued man. Let’s take a look at the ideas helping scientists decide if can aliens exist and the part chromatography could play in deciding if there is life on Mars.
Alien Worlds With the launch of the Kepler space telescope in 2009 the search for habitable worlds and aliens has made massive strides forward. Kepler has now found over 1000 exoplanets and identified thousands of potential exoplanets.
Kepler has given scientists an accurate means of measuring the light curve from a distant star. By monitoring the light curve we can detect transiting exoplanets, a planet orbiting a star.
Even more exciting is that the amazing techniques used by astronomers has allowed us to identify Earth sized exoplanets occupying a star’s habitable zone — possible homes for alien life.
Habitable Zones and Life The habitable zone is the ring shaped area around a star where scientists think the conditions for life are just right — for example: water can exist, the temperature is just right and the planet is in a stable orbit. Luckily for us, Earth lies in the middle of the Sun’s habitable zone — which stretches from just outside Venus’ orbit to Mars, which lies at the edge of the zone. So could there be life on Mars?
Life on Mars If there were little green men running around Mars it is probable that we would have seen them by now — we have excellent hi-res images of the Martian surface. Some scientists think that the best chance of finding evidence of life on Mars will be in fossilized chemicals that could once have belonged to some form of life.
To help in this search a team from the University of Kansas has recently published research about a new technique designed to help identify just such a piece of evidence. In a University of Kansas press release, Craig Marshall, one of the article’s authors stated “If we’re going to identify life on Mars, it will likely be the fossil remnants of the chemicals once synthesized by life, and we hope our research helps strengthen the ability to evaluate the evidence collected on Mars”.
In an article titled ‘Raman spectroscopy as a screening tool for ancient life detection on Mars’ the team report on a technique which combines Raman spectroscopy with GC-MS. The authors say this gives the best chance of detecting biomarkers and conclusive evidence for life on Mars.
Chromatography has helped in the search for aliens in space before, as discussed in Analysing Space Dust for the Ingredients of Life Using Chromatography.
Here are some scientists who believe firmly there are aliens.
The fascinating bright spots on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres have come into sharper view.
What were initially thought to be just a couple of brilliant, closely spaced features at one location now turn out to be a clutch of many smaller dots.
The latest pictures were acquired by the US space agency’s Dawn spacecraft on its first full science orbit since arriving at Ceres on 6 March.
The spots were seen from a distance of 13,600km.
Researchers on the mission concede they still have much to learn about the dots’ true nature, but the new data is hardening their ideas.
“Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice,” said Chris Russell, who is the principal investigator on the mission.
With a diameter of 950km, Ceres is the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Dawn will spend the coming months studying its geology and surface chemistry with a suite of cameras and remote-sensing instruments.
The intention is to get some insights into the processes that have sculpted the dwarf since its formation with the rest of the Solar System some 4.5 billion years year ago.
Having completed its first science orbit, Dawn is now heading downwards to get even closer to the body.
This second mapping campaign, which will commence on 6 June, will see Dawn moving just 4,400km from the surface.
Here are some strange sounds from outer space.
The noise is caused by electromagnetic vibrations. The sounds have been recorded by various NASA space craft using Plasma Wave antenna to record the vibrations.
Russia Orders Obama: TELL THE WORLD ABOUT ALIENS, Or We Will.
February 11, 2015 – A stunning Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) report on Prime Minister Medvedev’s agenda at the World Economic Forum (WEF) this week states that Russia will warn President Obama that the “time has come” for the world to know the truth about aliens, and if the United States won’t participate in the announcement, the Kremlin will do so on its own.
The WEF (The Forum) is a Swiss non-profit foundation, based in Cologny, Geneva and describes itself as an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.
The Forum is best known for its annual meeting in Davos, a mountain resort in Graubünden, in the eastern Alps region of Switzerland. The meeting brings together some 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, selected intellectuals and journalists to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world, including health and the environment.
Medvedev is scheduled to open this years Forum where as many as 50 heads of government, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron, will attend the five-day meeting that begins on 23 January.
Critical to note about this years Forum is that the WEF, in their 2013 Executive Summary, scheduled for debate and discussion a number of items under their X Factors from Nature category, and which includes the “discovery of alien life” of which they state: “Proof of life elsewhere in the universe could have profound psychological implications for human belief systems.”
Equally critical to note is that Medvedev, after completing a 7 December 2012 on-camera interview with reporters in Moscow, continued to respond to reporters and made some off-air comments without realizing that his microphone was still on. He was then asked by one reporter if “the president is handed secret files on aliens when he receives the briefcase needed to activate Russia’s nuclear arsenal,” Medvedev responded:
“Along with the briefcase with nuclear codes, the president of the country is given a special ‘top secret’ folder. This folder in its entirety contains information about aliens who visited our planet… Along with this, you are given a report of the absolutely secret special service that exercises control over aliens on the territory of our country… More detailed information on this topic you can get from a well-known movie called Men In Black… I will not tell you how many of them are among us because it may cause panic.”
Western news sources reporting on Medvedev’s shocking reply about aliens stated that he was “joking” as he mentioned the movie Men In Black, which they wrongly assumed was a reference to the 1997 American sci-fi adventure comedy about two top secret agents battling aliens in the US.
Medvedev, however, wasn’t referring to the American movie but was, instead, talking about the famous Russian movie documentary Men In Black which details many UFO and alien anomalies.
Where Western news sources quoted Medvedev as saying “More detailed information on this topic you can get from a well-known movie called ‘Men In Black,’” his actual answer was, “You can receive more detailed information having watched the documentary film of the same name.”
The reason(s) for Western propaganda news outlets deliberately distorting Medvedev’s words become apparent after his shocking statement, and as evidenced in just one example of their so called reporting on this disclosure of alien life already being on our planet where the title of one such article was “Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev makes a crack about aliens, and conspiracists promptly lose their minds.”
If anyone is “losing their minds” about aliens, it must be pointed out, it is certainly not Russia, but the Vatican, which in November 2009 announced it was “preparing for extraterrestrial disclosure”.
Equally, and apparently, “losing their minds” are US government officials themselves, such as former Pentagon consultant Timothy Good, and author of Above Top Secret: The Worldwide U.F.O. Cover-Up, who in February 2012 stated that former President Dwight Eisenhower had three secret meetings with aliens who were ‘Nordic’ in appearance and wherein a ‘Pact’ was signed to keep their agenda on Earth secret.
With the recent discovery in the Russian city of Vladivostok of a 300-million-year-old UFO tooth-wheel, and scientists, astronauts and YouTube users reporting increasingly strange happenings on the moon, the European Space agency reporting their discovery of a 1,000 ancient river on Mars, and UK and Sri Lanka scientists saying they now have “rock solid proof of alien life” after finding fossilized algae inside meteorite, the only ones who seem to be truly “losing their minds” are the Western, especially American, propagandists who for decades have covered up one of the most important stories in all of human history that “we are not alone.”
To if Medvedev will be able to convince the Obama regime to tell the truth about UFO and aliens at the WEF this week it is not in our knowing. What is in our knowing, though, is that with or without the US, the Kremlin will surely begin the process of telling the truth about that which we already know to be true.
Here’s some interviews with people who claim to have been abducted by aliens.
Dark matter ‘ghosts’ through galactic smash-ups
By Jonathan Webb
Science reporter, BBC News
By observing multiple collisions between huge clusters of galaxies, scientists have witnessed dark matter coasting straight through the turmoil.
Dark matter is the mysterious, invisible stuff that makes up 85% of the matter in the cosmos – and these results rule out several theoretical models put forward to explain it.
This is because it barely interacts with anything at all, including the dark matter in the oncoming galaxies.
The work appears in Science magazine.
To conduct their study, astrophysicists looked at 72 smash-ups between galactic clusters, using two space telescopes: visible light was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope, and X-rays by the Chandra Observatory.
Scouring multiple views of the collisions, the researchers tracked the movement of the three main components of galaxies: stars, clouds of gas, and dark matter.
The violently swirling clouds of gas are hot enough to glow with X-rays, which Chandra detects. And stars can be seen in regular, visible-light images from Hubble.
Dark matter is more difficult to “see” – but not impossible. Although it does not emit or absorb light, it does have gravity, and so it bends the path of light passing nearby. This warps our view of anything on the other side of it, in an effect called “gravitational lensing”.
“Looking through dark matter is like looking through a bathroom window,” said Dr Richard Massey from Durham University, one of the study’s authors. “All the objects that you can see in the distance appear slightly distorted and warped.”
Images were used from the Hubble Space Telescope (illustrated here) and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory
Using this distortion allowed Dr Massey, with colleagues from the University of Edinburgh, University College London and Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), to “map” the dark matter in the clusters as they collided.
‘Smash it and see’
Galaxy clusters are vast and contain huge amounts of dark matter, so when they collide – over billions of years – it offers a unique glimpse of how the stuff behaves.
“We like these collisions because it’s exactly what we’d do in the lab,” Dr Massey told BBC News.
“If you want to figure out what something is made out of, you knock it, or you throw it across the room and see where the bits go.”
In this case, the bits went straight through each other.
Unlike the gas clouds, which grind to a turbulent halt, and the stars, which mostly glide past each other, the ubiquitous dark matter passes through everything and emerges unscathed, like a ghost.
“It seems not to interact with anything at all,” Dr Massey said.
Dr Tom Kitching, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory
Our new measurements of the self-interaction of dark matter are some of the best yet. But statistically speaking, the strongest result from this study is in fact the confirmation that dark matter really does exist in these galaxy clusters.
We measured three things: the position of stars, the position of mass, and the position of gas. If there was no dark matter, then all of the mass that isn’t accounted for by the stars would be associated with the gas.
But we found an offset, which confirms that there is something in the clusters that is not gas, has mass, but that we cannot see: a dark matter. This detection is statistically very significant – corresponding to a probability of better than 99.99999999999% that dark matter exists in these clusters.
Sometimes I think dark matter is a terrible name. It was originally coined because the phenomenon does not emit or absorb light. But light is everywhere in the dark matter we have observed, passing within it and around it. Indeed, the lensing effect that we employed in our study uses the light from distant galaxies that has passed through dark matter.
So perhaps “transparent matter” or “clear matter” are better names. My favourite alternative is “materia incognita” (the unknown material). Maps used to be labelled “terra incognita” in areas that were unknown, and in a similar way we could be explicit about the unknown nature of this phenomenon.
However, thanks to studies like this one – and much more work planned for the coming years – our ignorance will one day end. Then we can finally give this “something” a proper name.
Earlier observations of the “Bullet Cluster” – a bust-up between two particularly big groups of galaxies, now in its final stages – had already demonstrated dark matter’s weird lack of interactions, including with itself.
But this new, major survey was able to deliver much more precision, concluding that there was even less interaction than the previous work allowed for.
“If you bang your head against the wall, the electrostatic force between the molecules in your head and the ones in the wall cause a collision. This is what dark matter doesn’t seem to feel,” Dr Massey explained.
Dark matter does “feel” gravity; those interactions are the reason we know it is there, and the reason it is bound up in the galactic collisions to begin with. But the lack of almost any other interaction makes it even more mysterious than before.
The late-stage collision of the Bullet Cluster yielded previous observations of dark matter
“In all of these collisions that we’ve seen, it just seems to go straight through. And now we’ve seen loads more of them, we would have been able to detect any deceleration of this dark matter, if it had interacted in the ways that most theories predict,” Dr Massey said.
So although some theories remain, many can now be ruled out. This includes the idea that dark matter is some sort of “dark” version of ordinary matter, made of “dark atoms”. It must be more outlandish than that, Dr Massey said.
“Basically, we’re saying: Back to the drawing board! Let’s come up with some more ideas.”
Space has some really interesting stuff going on. Here’s a clip featuring some of the sounds of outer space.
Bright spotlight on Dawn mission to Ceres
By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent
The bright spots inside a 92km-wide crater have been the big surprise of the encounter so far
Scientists say they are hugely excited to learn the origin of two bright spots on the surface of Ceres.
The US space agency’s Dawn probe is bearing down on the dwarf planet and on Friday will be captured by its gravity.
That will allow the satellite to spiral down in altitude in the coming months, to take ever sharper images of the spots, which sit inside a wide crater.
The striking features could be where an impact has dug out surface deposits and exposed the dwarf’s interior layers.
But deputy project scientist Dr Carol Raymond cautioned that the resolution of Dawn’s imagery was not good enough at the moment to make any definitive statements.
“These spots were extremely surprising and they have been puzzling to everyone who has seen them,” the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher told reporters.
“They show up in a 92km-wide crater that’s about 19 degrees North latitude. The spot in the centre is about twice as bright as the spot on the side of the crater, and as yet it has not been resolved, meaning it is smaller than the 4km pixel size [of the images].
“But its apparent brightness is already off-scale; it’s consistent with high reflective materials.”
Intriguingly, the European Space Agency’s Herschel telescope reported last year seeing water vapour coming from two sectors on Ceres. One of these sectors includes the location of the spots. That could be very significant, Dr Raymond said.
“The association with the impact crater may indicate that impact heating resulted in exposure of underlying ice [and] its vaporisation; and perhaps we’re seeing a deposit left behind which is rich in material like salts.”
Dawn will spend 14 months studying the 950km-diameter dwarf planet, which is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
An artist’s impression of Dawn firing its ion engine on approach to Ceres
The satellite has turned up at Ceres having previously visited the asteroid Vesta. This 530km-wide rock had the look of a punctured football, the result of a colossal collision sometime in its past that ripped a big chunk out of its southern polar region.
Ceres, on the other hand, is big enough for gravity to have pulled it into a more spherical shape.
Scientists think both bodies are fledglings that never quite made it to the planetary big time.
In the case of Vesta, it underwent a lot of the same processes that transformed the early Earth, such as differentiating its insides to include an iron core.
In contrast, Ceres’s bid to reach the major planet league probably stalled quite quickly.
Researchers believe its interior is dominated by a rocky core topped by ice that is then insulated by rocky lag deposits at the surface.
The surface of Ceres is covered with craters of many shapes and sizes
A big question the mission hopes to answer is whether there is a liquid ocean of water at depth. Some models suggest there could well be.
The evidence may well be found in Ceres’ craters which have a very muted look about them. That is, the soft interior of the dwarf has undoubtedly had the effect of relaxing their original hard outline.
“One of the prime motivations of the Dawn mission is to examine these building blocks of the planets, Vesta and Ceres, which are two intact proto-planets from the very dawn of the Solar System. They’re literally fossils that we can investigate to really understand the processes that were going on at that time,” Dr Raymond said.
At capture, the satellite will be at a separation of about 40,000km. Controllers at Earth will work in the next few weeks to reshape the orbit to get it ready for science.
One issue is that Dawn approached the dwarf from its Sun-lit side. The probe has now gone over to the dark side, and it will not come back around again to take images until late April.
But then onwards, the pictures will just get better and better as the orbit is progressively lowered.
“We’ll get to our final orbit in December of this year at just [380km] from the surface, which for context is just a little bit lower than the International Space Station orbits around the Earth. From this vantage point, Dawn will acquire its highest detail and highest resolution images of the surface,” said Nasa project manager Robert Mase.
Discovered in 1801 by the Sicilian astronomer Father Giuseppe Piazzi, Ceres is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture and harvests.
Craters on Ceres will follow a similar theme and will be named after gods and goddesses of agriculture and vegetation from mythology. Other features on the dwarf will be named after agricultural festivals.
The soft outline of the big basin suggests that the surface has relaxed over time
US actor Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr Spock in the cult sci-fi series Star Trek, has died at the age of 83 in Los Angeles, his family has said.
His son, Adam, said he died of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on Friday morning.
Nimoy had a long career as both an actor and director.
However he was best known for his portrayal of the half-human, half-Vulcan character in both the TV franchise and series of films.
Last year, the actor revealed he was suffering chronic lung disease COPD, despite stopping smoking 30 years ago.
It was reported earlier this week he had been taken to hospital on 19 February after suffering from chest pains.
He later tweeted: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”
He signed off what was to be his final tweet with “LLAP” – a reference to his character’s famous catchphrase, “Live long and prosper”.
The same Twitter account was used by his granddaughter to confirm that he died at home on Friday in Bel-Air, California.
Dani Nimoy said her grandfather was an “extraordinary man, husband, grandfather, brother, actor, author – the list goes on – and friend.”
She added that special merchandise was being added to Nimoy’s website, with all proceeds going to the COPD foundation.
George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek and was a friend of Nimoy’s, paid tribute to the actor.
“The word extraordinary is often overused but I think it’s really appropriate for Leonard”, Mr Takei told US broadcaster MSNBC.
“He was an extraordinarily talented man but he was also a very decent human being.”
Among the torrent of tributes on Twitter was a message from Nasa crediting Nimoy and Star Trek as an inspiration.
Thousands took to Twitter to pay tribute after Nimoy’s death was announced, including Star Trek actors past and present.
William Shatner, who as Captain Kirk acted alongside Nimoy for years in Star Trek, said he loved the actor “like a brother”.
“We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love,” Mr Shatner said on Twitter.
Leonard Nimoy often gave Spock’s famous salute
Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, said: “We stood on your shoulders, and wouldn’t have had a galaxy to explore if you hadn’t been there, first. Thank you, Leonard, Rest in peace.”
More than a Vulcan
It was Nimoy’s casting as Spock in 1966 that made him in a star and, in many ways, defined his acting career.
He played the character in all three of the original series of the programme and later in several big-screen spin offs.
Nimoy had an ambivalent relationship with Spock, seeming to both cherish and resent his close association with the role.
His two volumes of autobiography – “I Am Not Spock” in 1975 and “I Am Spock” two decades later – seemed to epitomise his mixed feelings.
Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015 83 when he died
1965 appeared in rejected Star Trek pilot The Cage
1966-69 played Spock in original Star Trek series
4 Emmy award nominations, 3 for his character Spock
2013 appeared in Star Trek Into Darkness – his last film
Nimoy did have success outside of his Spock costume, in both acting and directing, and he pursued music, painting, and photography.
After the end of Star Trek’s initial run, he played master of disguise Paris in the hit adventure series Mission Impossible.
Later he directed two of the Star Trek films, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, and in 1987 helmed the hit comedy Three Men and a Baby, one of the highest-grossing films of that year.
Nimoy announced that he was suffering from COPD last year, writing: “I quit smoking 30 years ago. Not soon enough. Grandpa says, quit now!!”
COPD is an umbrella term for several lung diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and some forms of bronchiectasis.
Sufferers experience increasing breathlessness during the advanced stages of the disease but it can be symptomless for a long time as it develops.
Shocking or intriguing NASA challenges physics to build faster than light spaceship warp drive
by Vandita from We Are Anonymous anahq.com
NASA scientist Harold White has stunned the world with his announcement that he and his team has begun work on the development of a faster-than-light Warp Drive spaceship that can move faster than the speed of light defying Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. Warp Drive, which is all set to challenge the light speed barrier, could result in speeds that could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a only two weeks even though the system is 4.3 light-years away! The idea sounds fascinating but disobeys the laws of physics.
In his 1994 paper titled The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity physicist Miguel Alcubierre had suggested a mechanism by which space-time could be “warped” both in front of and behind a spacecraft. The idea immediately caught White’s attention.
“Remember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed. However, space-time is really stiff, so to create the expansion and contraction effect in a useful manner in order for us to reach interstellar destinations in reasonable time periods would require a lot of energy,” White told io9.
Alcubierre Warp Drive
The Theory of Special Relativity does not allow objects to move faster than the speed of light within space-time. To increase the speed of moving objects to match the speed of light, it would need infinite amount of energy. White in a way suggested horrific amounts of energy —equal to the mass-energy of planet Jupiter (which is 1.9 × 1027 kilograms or 317 Earth masses). As a result, the idea was brushed aside as being far too impractical.
White later collaborated with Mark Rademaker, an artist, to create a new, more realistic design of what such a ship might actually look like. The updated model is more compact and chunkier and includes a sleek ship nestled at the center of two massive rings of negative energy which will create the warp bubble.
Mark Rademaker’s design of what such a ship might actually look like.
At the 100 Year Starship Conference in Atlanta, he said that the Warp Drive could be powered by a mass that’s even less than that of the Voyager 1 spacecraft. The reduction in mass from a Jupiter-sized planet to an object that weighs a mere 1,600 pounds completely reset White’s sense of plausibility — and NASA’s.
Warp Drive for FTL travel is at the level of speculation since NASA also considers that FTL travel is impossible. FTL results in time travel and time travel is considered far more impossible than light travel. Dr White too admits his research is still small-scale and is light years away from any type of engine that could be constructed into a spaceship like the USS Enterprise.
The story so far. Here are a number of clips from the BBC Explorations series that looks at what we have achieved so far in space travel.
Alien star system buzzed the Sun
By Paul Rincon
Science editor, BBC News website
Scholz’s star – shown in this artist’s impression – is currently 20 light-years away. But it once came much closer
An alien star passed through our Solar System just 70,000 years ago, astronomers have discovered.
No other star is known to have approached this close to us.
An international team of researchers says it came five times closer than our current nearest neighbour – Proxima Centauri.
The object, a red dwarf known as Scholz’s star, cruised through the outer reaches of the Solar System – a region known as the Oort Cloud.
Scholz’s star was not alone; it was accompanied on its travels by an object known as a brown dwarf. These are essentially failed stars that lacked the necessary mass to get fusion going in their cores.
The findings are published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Observations of the dim star’s trajectory suggest that 70,000 years ago this cosmic infiltrator passed within 0.8 light years of the Sun. By comparison, Proxima Centauri is 4.2 light years away.
In the paper, astronomers led by Eric Mamajek at the University of Rochester, New York, say they are 98% certain that Scholz’s star travelled through what is known as the “outer Oort Cloud” – a region at the edge of the Solar System filled with trillions of comets a mile or more across.
This region is like a spherical shell around the Solar System and may extend out to as much as 100,000 Astronomical Units, or AU (one AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun).
The Oort Cloud is thought to give rise to long-period comets that can swing past the Sun when their orbits are disturbed.
The Oort Cloud in perspective: 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) represents the distance from the Earth to the Sun
To determine the trajectory of the star, the researchers needed two pieces of information: the change in distance from the Sun to the star (its radial velocity) and the star’s motion across the sky (its tangential velocity).
Scholz’s star currently lies 20 light years away – making it a fairly nearby system. But it showed very slow tangential motion for a star this close. This indicated that it was either moving away from us or towards a future close encounter with the Solar System.
The radial velocity measurements confirmed that the binary star system was actually speeding away from us. By tracing its movements back in time, they found its close shave with the Sun occurred some 70,000 years ago.
Grand theft Oort-o?
A star passing through the Oort Cloud could potentially play gravitational havoc with the orbits of comets there, sending them on trajectories into the inner Solar System. But Dr Mamajek believes the effects of Scholz’s star on our cosmic neighbourhood were “negligible”.
“There are trillions of comets in the Oort cloud and likely some of them were perturbed by this object,” he told BBC News.
“But so far it seems unlikely that this star actually triggered a significant ‘comet shower’.”
The effect of a passing star on the Oort Cloud is a function of the star’s mass, speed and proximity. The worst case scenario for stirring up comets would be a slow-moving, massive star that came close to the Sun.
Scholz’s star came relatively close, but the binary system (the red dwarf and its brown dwarf companion) has a low mass and it was speeding by. These factors conspired to make its effect on the Oort Cloud very small.
While this is the closest flyby detected so far, Dr Mamajek thinks it’s not uncommon for alien stars to buzz the Sun. He says a star probably passes through the Oort Cloud every 100,000 years, or so.
But he suggests an approach as close – or closer – than that made by Scholz’s star is somewhat rarer. Dr Mamajek said mathematical simulations show such an event occurs on average about once every nine million years.
“So it is a bit of a strange coincidence that we happen to have caught one that passed so close within the past 100,000 years or so,” he said.
Project Blue Book: US Air Force UFO documents revealed
By Debbie Siegelbaum
BBC News, Chicago
Evidence of Martian attacks is not a part of the Air Force UFO documents
Amateur historian John Greenewald has spent nearly two decades requesting declassified information from the US government regarding UFOs.
Recently, he posted more than 100,000 pages of documents on the US Air Force’s internal UFO investigations to the internet. Here are the top five things to know from the open files of Project Blue Book.
1. Project Blue Book had a sizeable mission
The origins of the ambitious project can be traced to June 1947, UFO researcher Alejandro Rojas tells the BBC.
The editor of Open Minds magazine says a well-respected businessman and pilot, Kenneth Arnold, was flying over Washington state when he witnessed several unidentified flying objects.
Arnold later described the crafts as “skipping like saucers”, which the media adopted and took to calling flying saucers.
This high-profile incident – along with several others, including a rumoured UFO landing in Roswell, New Mexico, the same year – led the Air Force to launch an investigative body.
The Air Force says this wreckage, recovered near Roswell, New Mexico, came from a radar target
Named Project Blue Book and headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the programme was reportedly comprising only a handful of staff.
Nonetheless the group investigated 12,618 UFO sightings in a two-decade period.
2. Project Blue Book was created in a time of public unease
Formed in the years immediately following World War Two, Project Blue Book was intended to stop the spread of public unease about a growing number of reported UFO sightings, including over such landmarks as the White House and US Capitol.
“There was a lot of hysteria with the public, and that to the military and government at the time was a big threat in itself,” Greenewald says. “It didn’t matter if UFOs were alien or not, they were causing a panic, so [the government] had to settle everybody’s nerves.”
Though frequently met with derision today, UFO sightings are said to have been discussed at the top levels of government in the 1940s and 1950s.
“It was taken very seriously back then,” Rojas says, with Central Intelligence Agency chiefs publicly claiming it was a real phenomenon and even then-Congressman Gerald Ford warning it needed to be investigated.
In 1966 a separate Air Force committee was set up to further delve into some of the cases within Project Blue Book. That group later released a report finding no evidence of UFO activity.
Project Blue Book was officially shuttered in 1969.
3. Many of the Project Blue Book cases appear open-and-shut
Though many credible sources, from Navy admirals to military and civilian pilots, reported seeing UFOs, most of the cases investigated by Project Blue Book were deemed caused by weather balloons, swamp gases, meteorological events or even temperature inversions.
In Seattle, Washington, in April 1956, a witness described seeing a “round, white object, one-half the size of the moon … [and] going round and round”, according to documents.
Investigators later concluded it was a meteor and closed the case.
Amateur UFO investigators believe the truth is still out there
In January 1961 in Newark, New Jersey, a witness reported viewing a dark grey object “about the size of a jet with no wings”.
That object was later deemed a jet aircraft flying in the area.
4. Some Project Blue Book cases aren’t so easily explained
According to Greenewald and Rojas, more than 700 Project Blue Book entries could not ultimately be explained by investigators. Many such cases cited insufficient data or evidence.
But even some of the closed cases raise more questions than answers for UFO researchers.
In one such example, a police officer in 1964 in Socorro, New Mexico, halted vehicular pursuit of a suspect after he saw a strange aircraft overhead.
The officer followed the craft – which he described as bearing a strange red insignia – and saw it land and two child-sized beings exit.
It later took off, leaving scorch marks and trace evidence on the ground.
“[Project] Blue Book labelled it unexplained; even after all these decades they still can’t explain it,” Greenewald says.
5. There is still information to be uncovered about UFO activity
Though Greenewald has amassed a stockpile of government documents, he says there are still many he – and the public – has not yet accessed.
One request to the National Security Agency yielded hundreds of pages, but they were so redacted only a few words were readable on each page, he says.
Other US government entities – including the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency – also conducted UFO investigations that have not been publicly released, Greenewald notes.
“I think Project Bluebook … is simply the tip of the iceberg,” he says, adding he will continue to request more information from the US government.
“There are secrets after conspiracies after scandals that continue to come out,” Greenewald concludes. “There’s always something to go after.”
Here’s a series of clips of interviews with people who claim to have been abducted by aliens.
When it gets to Pluto, the New Horizons probe will have a packed schedule of observations
A Nasa probe is to start photographing the icy world of Pluto, to prepare itself for a historic encounter in July.
The New Horizons spacecraft has travelled 5bn km (3bn miles) over nine years to get near the dwarf planet.
And with 200m km still to go, its images of Pluto will show only a speck of light against the stars.
But the data will be critical in helping to align the probe properly for what will be just a fleeting fly-by.
Pluto will be photographed repeatedly during the approach, to determine the probe’s position relative to the dwarf planet, explained Mark Holdridge, from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Baltimore.
“We then perform a number of correction manoeuvres to realign our trajectory with the reference trajectory, thus ensuring we hit our aim point to travel through the Pluto system,” he said.
Any initial correction is likely to be made in March.
The Pluto system has five known moons. Others may be discovered in the coming months
When New Horizons arrives at Pluto it will be moving so fast – at almost 14km/s – that going into orbit around the distant world is impossible; it must barrel straight through instead.
One complication is that the seven different instruments aboard the spacecraft need to work at different distances to get their data, and so the team has constructed a very elaborate observation schedule for them all.
But what this means is that very precise timing will be required to make sure the flyby runs smoothly.
The closest approach to Pluto is set for around 11:50 GMT on 14 July – at a miss distance of roughly 13,695km from the surface.
Mission planners want the exact timings nailed to within 100 seconds. New Horizons will know then where and when to point the instruments.
Dwarf Planet Pluto – Demoted but undiminished
Synthetic view Hubble’s best is a synthetic composite of multiple views. What are those shapes?
Discovered by Clyde Tombaugh on 18 February 1930
It is named after the Roman god of the underworld
An average of 5.9bn km from Sun and orbits every 248 years
Measuring its diameter is difficult but roughly 2,300km
It has a thin nitrogen atmosphere that comes and goes
The Pluto mission is being billed as the last great encounter in planetary exploration.
For people who grew up with the idea that there were “nine planets”, this is the moment they get to complete the set.
Robotic probes have been to all the others, even the distant Uranus and Neptune. Pluto is the last of the “classical nine” to receive a visit.
Of course, this 2,300km-wide ice-covered rock was demoted in 2006 to the status of mere “dwarf planet”, but scientists say that should not dull our enthusiasm.
The dwarfs are the most numerous planetary class in the Solar System, and Nasa’s New Horizons probe is one of the first opportunities to study an example up close.
The first set of navigation pictures may not be anything special, but by May, the probe will be returning views of Pluto that are better than anything from Hubble. Come July, the view should be spectacular, said Andy Cheng, the principal investigator on the probe’s main camera, which is called LORRI.
As Rebecca Morelle reports, even the Hubble Space Telescope could only capture blurry images of Pluto “The most recent surprise we had was with the Rosetta mission. Hubble had made a ‘shape model’ of Comet 67P but no-one expected it to look like a rubber duckie,” he told BBC News. “I am more than hopeful that we will get similar surprises with New Horizons – it’s what we should expect.”
Those surprises could include yet more moons (five are currently known) and possibly even rings like those seen around some of the bigger planets.
Pluto is currently 5bn km from Earth. It has taken New Horizons more than nine years to get to the dwarf’s doorstep.
Once the flyby is complete, the probe will be targeted at an even more distant object in the Kuiper Belt – the name given to the icy domain beyond the main planets. Scientists think this region of space, and beyond, may contain many thousands of Pluto-like objects. Some even speculate there are far-flung worlds that rival Mars and Earth in size.
The first optical navigation images should be back on Earth by Tuesday at the latest. They will show Pluto with its largest moon, Charon.
The clip below is an interesting look at humanities probing of the stars. From the BBC series Explorations