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Meteorite is ‘hard drive’ from space

Meteorite is ‘hard drive’ from space

By Simon Redfern
BBC Science writer

The Esquel meteorite consists of gem-quality crystals embedded in metal.

Researchers have decoded ancient recordings from fragments of an asteroid dating back billions of years to the start of the Solar System.

They found tiny “space magnets” in meteorites which retain a memory of the birth and death of the asteroid’s core.

Like the data recorded on the surface of a computer hard drive, the magnetic signals written in the space rock reveal how Earth’s own metallic core and magnetic field may one day die.

The work appears in Nature journal.

Using a giant X-ray microscope, called a synchrotron, the team was able to read the signals that formed more than four-and-a-half billion years ago, soon after the birth of the Solar System.

The meteorites are pieces of a parent asteroid that originally came from asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter.

They represents the left-over fragments of a planet that failed to form. The magnetic recording within it traps a signal of the precise moments when an iron-rich core formed in the asteroid as well as when it froze, killing its magnetic field.

The new picture of metallic core solidification in the asteroid provide clues about the magnetic field and iron-rich core of Earth.

Core values

“Ideas about how the Earth’s core evolved through [our planet’s] history are really changing at the moment,” lead researcher Dr Richard Harrison, from the University of Cambridge, told BBC News.

“We believe that Earth’s magnetic field is linked to core solidification. Earth’s solid inner core may have started to form at very interesting time in terms of the evolution of life on Earth.

“By studying an asteroid we get to see this in fast forward. We can see the start of core solidification in the magnetic records as well as its end, and start to think about how these processes work on Earth.”

Magnetic field The Earth’s magnetic field will likely die off when the core completely freezes

The meteorites studied by the team originally fell to Earth in Argentina, and are composed of gem-quality crystals enclosed in a metallic matrix of iron and nickel.

Tiny particles, smaller than one thousandth the width of a human hair, trapped within the metal have retained the magnetic signature of the parent asteroid from its birth in the early Solar System.

“We’re taking ancient magnetic field measurements in nano-scale materials to the highest ever resolution in order to piece together the magnetic history of asteroids – it’s like a cosmic archaeological mission,” said Dr James Bryson, the paper’s lead author.

“Since asteroids are much smaller than Earth, they cooled much more quickly, so these processes occur on a shorter timescales, enabling us to study the whole process of core solidification.”

Don’t panic
Prof Wyn William, from the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the study, commented: “To be able to get a time stamp on these recordings, to get a cooling rate and the time of solidification, is fantastic. It’s a very nice piece of work.”

The key to the long-lived stability of the recording is the atomic-scale structure of the iron-nickel particles that grew slowly in the asteroid core and survived in the meteorites.

Scientists have attempted to synthesise the same iron-nickel structures in the lab, without widespread success so far. But their remarkable magnetic properties rival those of rare earth magnets, a key component of wind turbines and electric cars.

They may yet prove a route to making cheap, strong magnets without the need for scarce rare earth metals.

Making a final comment on the results, Dr Harrison said: “In our meteorites we’ve been able to capture both the beginning and end of core freezing, which will help us understand how these processes affected the Earth in the past and provide a possible glimpse of what might happen in the future.”

The Earth’s magnetic field will likely die off when the core completely freezes, and Earth will no longer be protected from the Sun’s radiation.

“There’s no need to panic” said Dr Harrison. “The core won’t completely freeze for billions of years, and chances are, the Sun will get us first.”


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France has a team of official UFO hunters

 

France has a team of official UFO hunters

By BBC Reporter Chris Bockman
Toulouse, France

France has a team of UFO hunters.

Thousands of UFO sightings are reported every year but not many countries are willing to spend money investigating them – there is just one dedicated state-run team left in Europe. Is France onto something?

You don’t need a time machine when you visit the French Space Centre headquarters in Toulouse – it’s already a throwback to the 1970s. Green lawns sweep on to wide boulevards with stout long rectangular office blocks on either side.

It’s almost Soviet-style in the heart of southern France. There are few signs of life even though 1,500 people, most of them civil servants, work in boxy offices along narrow unappealing corridors.

France has the biggest space agency in Europe – the result of the 1960s space race and President Charles de Gaulle’s grand determination to keep France independent of the US by building its own satellites, rocket launchers and providing elite space research.

An offshoot of all that – France is the only country in Europe to maintain a full-time state-run UFO (unidentified flying objects) department. There used to be one in the UK and another in Denmark but they closed down years ago due to budget cuts.

France’s UFO unit consists of four staff, and about a dozen volunteers who get their expenses paid to go on site and look into reports of strange sightings in the skies.

A drawing from the files at the French UFO department

The team is called Geipan. That’s a French acronym for Study Group and Information on Non-Identified Aerospace Phenomenon.

Its boss is Xavier Passot. Surrounded by dozens of books on UFOs, and stacks of documents, he tells me his mission is to be as transparent as possible about strange sightings and to follow up on each one that his team receives.

They publish their results on their website which gets 30,000 hits a month. The team receives, on average, two UFO sightings a day. The department insists an 11-page form is filled out for each one. The idea is to provide details including photographs where possible but also weed out jokers and time-wasters.

If someone claims to have seen strange lights in the skies, the UFO team might go online to see whether the observation took place on a flight path – it can trace commercial air traffic going back more than a week.

The team also has access to military flight paths and is in touch with the air force and air traffic controllers.

Sometimes if its staff are really intrigued by photos they have seen or if there have been several witnesses to the same sighting, they will call the local police to ask whether they can be considered credible.

They might even check with neighbours to see whether they were out drinking that night or perhaps smoking something other than cigarettes.

Passot says many of the people who get in touch are smokers, puffing away outside bars or their own homes at night, gazing at the stars.

One of the boxy offices houses yellowing archives going back to the 1950s. The papers I look at contain eerie accounts of strange things encountered in the skies by fighter pilots on routine reconnaissance missions.

For what it’s worth and for those who suspect there’s conspiracy afoot, Passot tells me he has never covered up a UFO sighting.

I take a look at some amazing photos of strange lights and circular forms caught on camera. One, taken by a motorist, of a white ring shape above Marseille is particularly grabbing (the image at the top of this page). But the team figured that one out – it wasn’t invaders from Mars, just the reflection of a small interior overhead light in the car.

In fact, the department can explain away nearly all these phenomena and, believe it or not, the most common culprits are Chinese lanterns sent up at night during parties. The investigators often telephone the local town hall to ask if, perhaps, there had been a wedding going on at the time.

Balloons and kites floating in the skies also get mistaken for alien craft, and space debris and falling meteorites giving off strange lights are more common than one might think.

But there are around 400 UFO sightings going back to the 1970s that the French team cannot explain. One, an alleged flying saucer landing near Aix-en-Provence in 1981, they take very seriously – there were landing marks and multiple witnesses.

So are there really little green men? Well, the jury’s out on the colour but there are many working here, as well as others around the world, who are convinced there is some life out there.

And does the use of French taxpayers’ money on UFO research make sense, particularly in these times of budgetary constraint?

That probably depends on whether you just saw an alien and, in the words of those Ghostbusters, who you gonna call?

Do you believe in UFO’s and Aliens?

Here’s a clip that interviews 2 people who claim to have been abducted by Alines.

Here’s some more people who believe aliens exist.


India’s Mars satellite ‘Mangalyaan’ sends first images

India’s Mars satellite ‘Mangalyaan’ sends first images

 

The first image of Mars taken by the Indian orbiter

India’s space agency has released its first picture of Mars, taken by its satellite which entered orbit around the Red Planet.

“The view is nice up here,” tweeted @isro. A handful of images have been sent by the Mangalyaan probe so far.

Part of its mission is to study the Martian atmosphere for signs of life.

It is the first time a maiden voyage to Mars has entered orbit successfully and it is the cheapest. Nasa’s latest Maven mission cost almost 10 times as much.

Media in India have hailed the venture as a “historic achievement”.

The Hindu newspaper reported that the probe had “beamed back about 10 pictures of the Red Planet’s surface which show some craters”.

Officials were quoted by the newspaper as saying the pictures were of “good quality”.

line
Analysis – Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent
India’s space programme has succeeded at the first attempt where others have failed – by sending an operational mission to Mars.

It is, without doubt, a considerable achievement. This is a mission that has been budgeted at 4.5bn rupees ($74m), which, by Western standards, is staggeringly cheap.

The American Maven orbiter that arrived at the Red Planet on Monday is costing almost 10 times as much.

Back in June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi even quipped that India’s real-life Martian adventure was costing less than the make-believe Hollywood film Gravity.

Why India’s Mars mission is so cheap – and thrilling

Applause broke in the control room out as the news came through that the probe had entered Mars’s orbit

Reports said the camera was the first of the instruments being carried by the satellite to be switched on, a few hours after it entered into orbit.

India’s 1,350kg (2,970lb) robotic spacecraft, which undertook a 10-month-long 200-million-km journey, is equipped with five instruments.

They include a thermal imaging spectrometer to map the surface and mineral wealth of the planet, and a sensor to track methane – a possible sign of life – and other components of the atmosphere.

India has become the fourth nation or geo-bloc to put a satellite into orbit around Mars, and the first from Asia.

Only the US, Russia and Europe have previously sent missions to Mars.

Here’s a series of clips about the universe and what it looks like through some of the world’s biggest telescopes….


Nasa ‘flying saucer’ tests Mars tech

By Mike Wall, Senior Writer www.space.com

This artist’s concept shows the test vehicle for NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), designed to test landing technologies for future Mars missions. A balloon will lift the vehicle to high altitudes, where a rocket will take it even higher, to the top of the stratosphere, at several times the speed of sound.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A saucer-shaped vehicle that could help NASA land big payloads on the surface of Mars is about to take to the skies for the first time.

NASA hopes to launch its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle — which the agency has dubbed its own “flying saucer” — Thursday (June 5) from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. The balloon-aided liftoff was originally scheduled for today (June 3), but the weather did not cooperate.

“After years of imagination, engineering and hard work, we soon will get to see our Keiki o ka honua, our ‘boy from Earth,’ show us its stuff,” LDSD project manager Mark Adler, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. [NASA’s Inflatable Flying Saucer for Mars Landings (Photos)]

 

Mapping Earth’s Magnetic Fields

By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

A field snapshot in June. Reds are strong; blues are weak. The view is dominated by the core contribution

Europe’s Swarm space mission has begun making maps of Earth’s magnetic field. Data just released shows how the field generated in the planet’s liquid outer core varies in strength over the course of a few months. Swarm’s early assessment appears to support the prevailing view that this magnetic cloak in general is weakening. Many experts believe it heralds a flip in the poles, where north becomes south and vice versa, although it would take thousands of years to complete. The European Space Agency’s Swarm mission was launched last November. It comprises three satellites that are equipped with a variety of instruments – the key ones being state-of-the-art magnetometers that measure field strength and direction. They fly in a configuration that offsets one platform from the other two. The intention is that this should provide a three-dimensional view of the field, and make it easier to tease apart its various components. In the release this week from Esa, we get a view that is dominated by the contribution (95%) from the core. But eventually, Swarm will have the sensitivity to describe magnetism from other, more subtle sources, including that generated by the movement of our salt-water oceans.

Change in the field since January. Reds are a strengthening; blues are a weakening

The maps on this page use the magnetic unit of a nanoTesla. Earth’s field typically has a full strength of some 50,000nT. The maps illustrate a snapshot (in June) and the change that occurs through time (January to June). In the latter, field strength is seen to drop over the western hemisphere but rise in other areas, such as the southern Indian Ocean. Earth’s magnetic field is worthy of study because it is the vital shield that protects the planet from all the charged particles streaming off the Sun. Without it, those particles would strip away the atmosphere, just as they have done at Mars. Investigating the magnetic field also has direct practical benefits, such as improving the reliability of satellite navigation systems which can be affected by magnetic and electrical conditions high in the atmosphere. “I started my career in magnetometry and the accuracy we had then in the laboratories was less than what we can fly in space now,” explained Prof Volker Liebig, the director of Earth observation at Esa. “So what we have on Swarm is fantastic, but we need long time series to understand fully the Earth’s magnetic field, and we will get that from this mission,” he told BBC News.

The Swarm fly high above the Earth in a configuration that offsets one satellite from a pair of spacecraft

Has the Earth already been mapped by Aliens? Do Aliens even exist? Some people say yes, others no. Here’s an interesting perspective from one of NASA’s astronauts including Story Musgrave and SETI’s Seth Shostack. http://youtu.be/MBK6eHWbwNc

 

Fire missiles at Mars to find deeply buried life

From NewScientist

07 May 2014 by Jacob Aron
Magazine issue 2968. Subscribe and save

Mars

IN THE hunt for life on Mars, it’s time to pull out the heavy artillery. A non-profit group has proposed a mission that involves showering Mars with bunker-busting missiles that would penetrate deep into the ground but deliver probes, not warheads.

On Mars, preserved traces of microbes could lurk in deep subsurface ice, where they would be shielded from harsh cosmic radiation. NASA’s Curiosity rover has a drill, but it only penetrates a few centimetres. “Curiosity doesn’t go very deep – it is literally scratching the surface,” says Chris Carberry, executive director of the non-profit group Explore Mars, based in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Future missions will go deeper but will have limited capabilities. NASA’s InSight lander mission, set for 2016, features a “mole” designed to dig down 5 metres, but it won’t be searching for life. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover, due to launch in 2018, will drill down 2 metres in search of traces of life, but it can only explore a single Martian region.

That’s why Explore Mars last week appealed for funds for a project called Exolance, which would scatter small, lightweight projectiles across the Red Planet. Each missile would carry scientific instruments and would keep in radio contact with Earth.

The full article can be read here at NewScientist.com

Here’s a clip from Animal X Natural Mystery Unit talking to a scientist about bio-inpiration for vehicles to be used on Mars.

Here’s another clip that also looks at bio inspiration only this time it’s about making a suit that will let you walk on the ceiling!


Do you believe in aliens? Here’s some people that do…

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