What’s Out There? NASA Sets Up Independent Study on UFOs

Apollo 16 image of strange object
This image from the Apollo 16 mission to the moon shows what may look like a flying saucer. In 2004, NASA said it was the spacewalk floodlight/boom that was attached to the Apollo spacecraft. (NASA Photo)

NASA has dipped into the debate over UFOs for decades, but today the space agency said it’s commissioning an independent study team to survey a wide range of what are now known as unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs.

“The most exciting things in science are things we don’t understand, and my starting point — I think all our starting points for this — is that there are phenomena that we don’t understand,” astrophysicist David Spergel, who’ll lead the study team, told reporters. “How do we start to make progress? We have a very limited set of observations right now with these UAPs. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions. So we start by trying to figure out what data is out there. We’re going to be working with government, nonprofits, companies, civilians, and try to identify what data is already there, then start to think about what data should we collect in the future.”

NASA’s independent study will start early in the fall and run in parallel to the Pentagon-led effort to analyze UAP reports from aviators, which was the focus of a congressional hearing last month.

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NASA Will Rent Future Spacesuits From Longtime Supplier and Newcomer

Moonwalker wearing Collins Aerospace spacesuit
An artist's conception shows the spacesuit made by the Collins Aerospace team. (Collins Photo)

NASA has struck deals with two commercial teams to provide the spacesuits destined for use when astronauts return to the moon by as early as 2025 — and there’s an extra twist that might have sounded alien to the Apollo moonwalkers a half-century ago. This time, NASA won’t own the suits.

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Congressional UFO Hearing Brings a Few Answers and More Questions

Glowing green triangle
Lead image: Pentagon officials say they’ve figured out what caused a flashing night-vision triangle sighted by the U.S. Navy. Source: Department of Defense via YouTube.

For the first time in more than half a century, Congress conducted a public hearing into the state of the Pentagon’s study of unidentified aerial phenomena — which is the new name for mysteries once known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, told a hearing organized by the House Intelligence subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and counterproliferation that military reports about UFOs — sorry, I mean UAPs — have been “frequent and continuing.”

Today’s hearing follows up on a Pentagon report that was issued last year and listed 144 UAP sightings that have been reported since 2004. The report pledged to take such sightings more seriously than in the past. “Since the release of that preliminary report, the UAP task force database has now grown to contain approximately 400 reports,” Bray said. “The stigma has been reduced.”

However, the hearing also made clear that the Department of Defense is still keeping mum about the detailed workings of its UAP detection and assessment process due to national security concerns. Bray and the hearing’s other witness — Ronald Moultrie, the under secretary of defense for intelligence and security — deferred a fair number of lawmakers’ questions to the closed session that followed the open hearing.

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Why Believing in the Multiverse Isn’t Madness

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness"
Doctor Strange is portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." (Marvel Entertainment)

What is the multiverse? The idea that the universe we inhabit is just one of many parallel universes gets a superhero shout-out in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the latest movie based on Marvel comic-book characters.

And in the opinion of Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist at Columbia University, giving some screen time to the multiverse isn’t such a bad thing — even if the plot has some horror-movie twists.

“I think it’s really good if some of these ideas are brought out in a variety of different ways,” Greene says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast, which focuses on the realm where science and technology intersect with fiction and popular culture.

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They Did It! Rocket Lab Uses Copter to Catch (and Release) a Rocket

Rocket Lab Electron launch
Rocket Lab's Electron rocket rises from its New Zealand launch pad. Credit: Rocket Lab via Twitter

Rocket Lab has just joined SpaceX in the club of space companies that can launch an orbital-class rocket booster and bring it back alive.

In a sense, the California-based company one-upped SpaceX by having a helicopter snag the first-stage booster of its Electron rocket with a cable and a hook as it floated past on the end of a parachute, 6,500 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

So what if the pilots of the customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter had to release the booster moments later, due to concerns about the way their load was behaving as it swung from the hook?

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Large Hadron Collider Restarts, Shooting Protons at Record Energy Levels

LHC tunnel
A ring of magnets runs through the Large Hadron Collider's 17-mile-round (27-kilometer-round) tunnel. (CERN Photo / Samuel Joseph Herzog)

Europe’s Large Hadron Collider has started up its proton beams again at unprecedented energy levels after going through a three-year shutdown for maintenance and upgrades.

It only took a couple of days of tweaking for the pilot streams of protons to reach a record energy level of 6.8 tera electronvolts, or TeV. That exceeds the previous record of 6.5 TeV, which was set by the LHC in 2015 at the start of the particle collider’s second run.

The new level comes “very close to the design energy of the LHC, which is 7 TeV,” Jörg Wenninger, head of the LHC beam operation section and LHC machine coordinator at CERN, said today in a video announcing the milestone.

When the collider at the French-Swiss border resumes honest-to-goodness science operations, probably within a few months, the international LHC team plans to address mysteries that could send theories of physics in new directions.

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Axiom’s First Astronauts Return From International Space Station

Dragon splashdown with parachutes
SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean, bringing Axiom Space's first crew of private astronauts back from the International Space Station. (SpaceX Photo)

Axiom Space’s first crew of private astronauts is back on Earth after a 17-day orbital trip that included a week of bonus time on the International Space Station. The mission ended at 1:06 p.m. ET (5:06 p.m. GMT) today when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria was the commander for the homeward trip, accompanied by three investors who each paid Axiom $55 million for their rides: Ohio real-estate and tech entrepreneur Larry Connor, who served as the mission pilot, plus Canada’s Mark Pathy and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe.

“Welcome back to planet Earth,” SpaceX’s mission control operator Sarah Gillis told the crew. “The Axiom-1 mission marks the beginning of a new paradigm for human spaceflight. We hope you enjoyed the extra few days in space.”

Axiom-1 began on April 8 with the Florida launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The trip was originally supposed to last about 10 days, but concerns about weather in the splashdown zone delayed the descent. Because of the way their fares were structured, Axiom’s customers didn’t have to pay extra for the extension.

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Get an Inside Look at Space Perspective’s Stratospheric Lounge (With Bar)

Interior design for Spaceship Neptune
A high-angle overview shows the interior design for Space Perspective's Spaceship Neptune passenger capsule. (Space Perspective

Mood lighting, swanky seats, plants, a bar … and a restroom with an out-of-this-world view: Those are the sorts of perks you’d expect on a luxury cruise, but the cruise that Space Perspective plans to offer with those amenities will take you 100,000 feet up, lofted by a balloon.

The Florida-based venture has just unveiled the interior design for its Spaceship Neptune capsule, which is meant to carry up to eight passengers and a pilot into the stratosphere for a look at the curving Earth beneath the black sky of space.

Space Perspective says more than 600 customers have put in their reservations at a price of $125,000 for trips that are due to begin in 2024. And to whet your appetite for the adventure, the company is offering an interactive 3-D visualization of the capsule that you can wander through virtually.

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Weird! Measurement of W Boson Doesn’t Match Standard Model of Physics

CDF at Fermilab
The Collider Detector at Fermilab recorded high-energy particle collisions from 1985 to 2011. (Fermilab Photo)

A decade ago, physicists wondered whether the discovery of the Higgs boson at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider would point to a new frontier beyond the Standard Model of subatomic particles. So far, that’s not been the case — but a new measurement of a different kind of boson at a different particle collider might do the trick.

That’s the upshot of fresh findings from the Collider Detector at Fermilab, or CDF, one of the main experiments that made use of the Tevatron particle collider at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab in Illinois. It’s not yet time to throw out the physics textbooks, but scientists around the world are scratching their heads over the CDF team’s newly reported value for the mass of the W boson.

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A New Record! Hubble Detects an Individual Star From a Time When the Universe Was Less Than a Billion Years Old

Gravitationally lensed image of Earendel
The star nicknamed Earendel, indicated by the white arrow, is positioned along a ripple in spacetime toat gives the image extreme magnification. Credit: NASA / ESA / Brian Welch (JHU) / Dan Coe (STScI) / Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

A star that sounds as if it came from “The Lord of the Rings” now marks one of the Hubble Space Telescope’s farthest frontiers: The fuzzy point of light, known as Earendel, has been dated to a mere 900 million years after the Big Bang and appears to represent the farthest-out individual star seen to date.

Based on its redshift value of 6.2, Earendel’s light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth, astronomers report in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. That distance mark outshines Hubble’s previous record-holder for a single star, which registered a redshift of 1.5 and is thought to have existed when the universe was 4 billion years old.

The newly reported record comes with caveats. First of all, we’re talking here about a single star rather than star clusters or galaxies. Hubble has seen agglomerations of stars that go back farther in time.

“Normally at these distances, entire galaxies look like small smudges, with the light from millions of stars blending together,” lead author Brian Welch, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University, said today in a news release. “The galaxy hosting this star has been magnified and distorted by gravitational lensing into a long crescent that we named the Sunrise Arc.”

A close look at the arc turned up several bright spots, but the characteristics of the light coming from Earendel pointed to a high redshift, which translates into extreme distance. The higher the redshift, the faster the source of the light is receding from us in an ever-more-quickly expanding universe.

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