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A Chinese Telescope Did Not Find an Alien Signal. The Search Continues. – The New York Times

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China’s astronomers have been initiated into the search for extraterrestrial intelligence with the kind of false alarm that others in the field have experienced for decades.

It was a project that launched a thousand interstellar dreams.

Fifty years ago, NASA published a fat, 253-page book titled, “Project Cyclops.” It summarized the results of a NASA workshop on how to detect alien civilizations. What was needed, the assembled group of astronomers, engineers and biologists concluded, was Cyclops, a vast array of radio telescopes with as many as a thousand 100-meter-diameter antennas. At the time, the project would have cost $10 billion. It could, the astronomers said, detect alien signals from as far away as 1,000 light-years.

The report kicked off with a quotation from the astronomer Frank Drake, now an emeritus professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz:

At this very minute, with almost absolute certainty, radio waves sent forth by other intelligent civilizations are falling on the earth. A telescope can be built that, pointed in the right place and tuned to the right frequency, could discover these waves. Someday, from somewhere out among the stars, will come the answers to many of the oldest, most important and most exciting questions mankind has asked.

The Cyclops report, long out of print but available online, would become a bible for a generation of astronomers drawn to the dream that science could answer existential questions.

“For the very first time, we had technology where we could do an experiment instead of asking priests and philosophers,” Jill Tarter, who read the report when she was a graduate student and who has devoted her life to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, said in an interview a decade ago.

NASA

I was reminded of Cyclops and the work it inspired this week when word flashed around the world that Chinese astronomers had detected a radio signal that had the characteristics of being from an extraterrestrial civilization — namely, it had a very narrow bandwidth at a frequency of 140.604 MHz, a precision nature doesn’t usually achieve on its own.

They made the detection using a giant new telescope called the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, or FAST. The telescope was pointed in the direction of an exoplanet named Kepler 438 b, a rocky planet about 1.5 times the size of Earth that orbits in the so-called habitable zone of Kepler 438, a red dwarf star hundreds of light years from here, in the constellation Lyra. It has an estimated surface temperature of 37 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a candidate to harbor life.

Just as quickly, however, an article in the state-run newspaper “Science and Technology Daily” reporting the discovery vanished. And Chinese astronomers were pouring cold water on the result.

Zhang Tong-jie, the chief scientist of China ET Civilization Research Group, was quoted by Andrew Jones, a journalist who tracks Chinese space and astronomy developments, as saying, “The possibility that the suspicious signal is some kind of radio interference is also very high, and it needs to be further confirmed or ruled out. This may be a long process.”

Dan Werthimer, of the University of California, Berkeley, who is among the authors of a scientific paper on the signal, was more blunt.

Dr. Seth Shostak/Science Source

“These signals are from radio interference; they are due to radio pollution from earthlings, not from E.T.,” he wrote in an email.

This has become a familiar story. For half a century, SETI, or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has been a game of whack-a-mole, finding promising signals before tracking them down to orbiting satellites, microwave ovens and other earthly sources. Dr. Drake himself pointed a radio telescope at a pair of stars in 1960 and soon thought he had struck gold, only to find out the signal was a stray radar.

More recently, a signal that appeared to be coming from the direction of the sun’s closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, was tracked down to radio interference in Australia.

Just as NASA’s announcement last week that it would make a modest investment in the scientific study of unidentified flying objects was intended to bring rigor and practicality to what many criticized as wishful thinking, so, too, was the agency’s Cyclops workshop held at Stanford over three months in 1971. The conference was organized by John Billingham, an astrobiologist, and Bernard Oliver, who was the head of research for Hewlett-Packard. The men also edited the conference’s report.

In the introduction, Dr. Oliver wrote that if anything came of Cyclops he would consider this the most important year of his life.

“Cyclops was, indeed, a milestone, largely in pulling together a coherent SETI strategy, and the clear calculations and engineering design that followed,” said Paul Horowitz, an emeritus professor of physics at Harvard who went on to design and start his own listening campaign called Project Meta, funded by the Planetary Society. The movie director Steven Spielberg (“E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) attended the official opening in 1985 at the Harvard-Smithsonian Agassiz Station in Harvard, Mass.

“SETI was for real!” Dr. Horowitz added.

But what Dr. Oliver initially received was only a “Golden Fleece” award from Senator William Proxmire, Democrat of Wisconsin, who crusaded against what he considered government waste.

“In my view, this project should be postponed for a few million light years,” he said.

On Columbus Day in 1992, NASA did initiate a limited search; a year later, Congress canceled it at the behest of Senator Richard Bryan, Democrat of Nevada. Denied federal support ever since, the SETI endeavor has limped along, supported by donations to a nonprofit organization, the SETI Institute, in Mountain View, Calif. Recently, through a $100 million grant, the Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner set up a new effort called Breakthrough Listen. Dr. Horowitz and others have expanded the search to what they call “Optical SETI,” monitoring the sky for laser flashes from distant civilizations.

Cyclops was never built, which is just as well, Dr. Horowitz said, “because, by today’s standards, it would have been an expensive hulking monster.” Technological developments like radio receivers that can listen to billions of radio frequencies at once have changed the game.

Xinhua News Agency / Contributor

China’s big new FAST telescope, also nicknamed “Sky Eye,” was built in 2016 partly with SETI in mind. Its antenna occupies a sinkhole in Guizhou in Southwest China. The size of the antenna eclipses what was the iconic Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which collapsed ignominiously in December 2020.

Now FAST and its observers have experienced their own trial by false alarm. There will be many more, SETI astronomers say.

The generation of astronomers who were inspired by the Cyclops report is getting old. Dr. Billingham died in 2013. Dr. Oliver died in 1995. Dr. Tarter retired from the SETI Institute in 2012, proud that she had never sounded a false alarm.

Those who endure profess not to be discouraged by the Great Silence, as it is called, from out there. They’ve always been in the search for the long run, they say.

“The Great Silence is hardly unexpected,” said Dr. Horowitz, including because only a fraction of a percent of the 200 million stars in the Milky Way have been surveyed. Nobody ever said that detecting that rain of alien radio signals would be easy.

“It might not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen,” Dr. Werthimer said.

“All of the signals detected by SETI researchers so far are made by our own civilization, not another civilization,” Dr. Werthimer grumbled in a series of emails and telephone conversations. Earthlings, he said, might have to build a telescope on the backside of the moon to escape the growing radio pollution on Earth and the interference from constellations of satellites in orbit.

The present time, he said, might be a unique window in which to pursue SETI from Earth.

“One hundred years ago, the sky was clear, but we didn’t know what to do,” he said. “One hundred years from now, there will be no sky left.”

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2022-06-29 | NDAQ:RKLB | Press Release | Rocket Lab USA Inc. – Stockhouse

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Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, today announced its Lunar Photon spacecraft has successfully completed the third of seven planned orbit raising maneuvers, bringing the CAPSTONE spacecraft closer to the Moon.

This press release features multimedia. View the full release here: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220629005956/en/

The CAPSTONE satellite integrated onto Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon spacecraft before launch on the Electron rocket. (Photo: Business Wire)

Owned and operated by Advanced Space on behalf of NASA, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) CubeSat will be the first spacecraft to test the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. This is the same orbit intended for NASA’s Gateway, a multipurpose Moon-orbiting station that will provide essential support for long-term astronaut lunar missions as part of the Artemis program.

The orbit raising maneuvers come after Rocket Lab successfully launched CAPSTONE to an initial parking orbit on June 28 with an Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. With Electron’s role in the mission now complete, Lunar Photon has taken over the reins, providing power, communications and in-space transportation to CAPSTONE for the next five-day mission phase.

Over these days, Lunar Photon’s HyperCurie engine will perform a series of orbit raising maneuvers by igniting periodically to increase Photon’s velocity, stretching its orbit into a prominent ellipse around Earth. Six days after launch, HyperCurie will ignite one final time, accelerating Photon Lunar to 24,500 mph (39,500 km/h) and setting it on a ballistic lunar transfer. Within 20 minutes of this final burn, Photon will release CAPSTONE into space for the first leg of the CubeSat’s solo flight. CAPSTONE’s journey to NRHO is expected to take around four months from this point. Assisted by the Sun’s gravity, CAPSTONE will reach a distance of 963,000 miles from Earth – more than three times the distance between Earth and the Moon – before being pulled back towards the Earth-Moon system.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said the launch of the CAPSTONE mission was the culmination of two and a half years of work and it pushed the Electron launch vehicle to the limit. “Electron lifted its heaviest payload yet at 300 kg – the combined mass of Lunar Photon and CAPSTONE. We pushed the Rutherford engines harder than we ever have before and deployed Lunar Photon and CAPSTONE exactly where they needed to go to begin the next mission phase. Now it’s Lunar Photon’s show and we’re immensely proud of its performance so far. We’re really pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for interplanetary smallsat missions with CAPSTONE and it’s exciting to think about the possibilities it opens up for more cost-effective missions to Mars, Venus and beyond.”

+ Images & Video Content

https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzPrHL

+ About Rocket Lab

Founded in 2006, Rocket Lab is an end-to-end space company with an established track record of mission success. We deliver reliable launch services, satellite manufacture, spacecraft components, and on-orbit management solutions that make it faster, easier and more affordable to access space. Headquartered in Long Beach, California, Rocket Lab designs and manufactures the Electron small orbital launch vehicle and the Photon satellite platform and is developing the Neutron 8-ton payload class launch vehicle. Since its first orbital launch in January 2018, Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle has become the second most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually and has delivered 147 satellites to orbit for private and public sector organizations, enabling operations in national security, scientific research, space debris mitigation, Earth observation, climate monitoring, and communications. Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft platform has been selected to support NASA missions to the Moon and Mars, as well as the first private commercial mission to Venus. Rocket Lab has three launch pads at two launch sites, including two launch pads at a private orbital launch site located in New Zealand and a second launch site in Virginia, USA which is expected to become operational in 2022. To learn more, visit www.rocketlabusa.com.

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Get hype for the first images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope – Yahoo Movies Canada

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Very soon, humanity will get to view the deepest images of the universe that have ever been captured. In two weeks, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) — NASA’s super expensive, super powerful deep space optical imager — will release its first full-color images, and agency officials today suggested that they could just be the beginning.

“This is farther than humanity has ever looked before,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a media briefing Wednesday (he was calling in, as he had tested positive for COVID-19 the night before). “We’re only beginning to understand what Webb can and will do.”

NASA launched James Webb last December; ever since, it’s been conducting a specialized startup process that involves delicately tuning all 18 of its huge mirror segments. A few months ago, NASA shared a “selfie” marking the successful operations of the IR camera and primary mirrors. Earlier this month, the agency said the telescope’s first images will be ready for public debut at 10:30 AM ET on July 12.

One aspect of the universe that JWST will unveil is exoplanets, or planets outside our Solar System — specifically, their atmospheres. This is key to understanding whether there are other planets similar to ours in the universe, or if life can be found on planets under atmospheric conditions that differ from those found on Earth. And Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, confirmed that images of an exoplanet’s atmospheric spectrum will be shared with the public on July 12.

Essentially, James Webb’s extraordinary capacity to capture the infrared spectrum means that it will be able to detect small molecules like carbon dioxide. This will enable scientists to actually examine whether and how atmospheric compositions shape the capacity for life to emerge and develop on a planet.

NASA officials also shared more good news: The agency’s estimates of the excess fuel capability of the telescope were spot on, and JWST will be able to capture images of space for around 20 years.

“Not only will those 20 years allow us to go deeper into history and time, but we will go deeper into science because we will have the opportunity to learn and grow and make new observations,” NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy said.

JWST has not had an easy ride to deep space. The entire project came very close to not happening at all, Nelson said, after it started running out of money and Congress considered canceling it entirely. It also faced numerous delays due to technical issues. Then, when it reached space, it was promptly pinged by a micrometeoroid, an event that surely made every NASA official shudder.

But overall, “it’s been an amazing six months,” Webb project manager Bill Ochs confirmed.

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The Rings of Uranus and Neptune Could Help map Their Interiors – Universe Today

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Mapping the interior of the ice giants is difficult, to say the least. Not only are they far away and therefore harder to observe, but their constant ice cover makes it extremely hard to detect what lies underneath. So scientists must devise more ingenious ways to see what’s inside them. A team from the University of Idaho, Cal Tech, Reed College, and the University of Arizona think they might have come up with a way – to look at the structure of Neptunes’ and Uranus’ rings.

This isn’t the first technique scientists have used, though. Previous efforts have attempted to use the common technique of photometry to detect oscillations on the planet’s surface. Those oscillations can then be correlated to the density of particular parts of the planet’s interior. While the technique worked well for Jupiter, the photometry data we have of the ice giants so far have proved insufficient to determine the same density profiles. 

An alternative is using gravitational oscillations within the planet’s surface. In particular, there is a type of oscillation pattern known as a “normal mode.” This oscillation pattern happens when all parts of a system begin oscillating with the same sinusoidal frequency. And the gravitational effects of normal mode oscillations in the planet’s interior can be felt outside and reflected in the rings themselves.

[embedded content]
UT video discussing planetary rings in the solar system

It also isn’t the first time patterns in a planet’s rings have been used to calculate its internal density. Saturn has a better-understood ring system than Uranus or Neptune, the two ice giants with known ring systems. Scientists have been performing seismological analyses on the Saturnian ring system for years using data from Voyager and Cassini. The result is a better understanding of some of the normal modes of the planet’s interior and, therefore, an estimate of the makeup of the planet’s core and the rotation rate of the bulk of its material.

Neptune and Uranus each have a series of different rings, though they are not as well studied as Saturn’s. Some of those rings of which are corralled by shepherd moons. But according to the new paper, the same density reflections of resonance waves evident in Saturn’s rings are likely present in the ice giant’s ring systems as well.

What’s more, the inner shepherd moons themselves might be affected by the same resonances. Some of the moons can even create their own resonances, such as one known as a Lindblad resonance. More typically seen on the scale of galaxies, Lindblad resonances are known for driving spiral density waves, which cause the “arms” that can be seen in many spiral galaxies. But at a much smaller scale, the same effect happens on planetary ring systems, including Saturn’s, and most likely, Neptune’s and Uranus’.  

[embedded content]
UT video describing the Trident mission, which would return to Neptune.

The problem with using these resonances reflected in the rings is one that often faces science – there’s not enough data. So far, no probe has stayed long enough to map out the details needed to see the full scope of the ring system. The paper’s authors and plenty of other researchers suggest that it’s time to send a probe to the ice giants to effectively map the ring systems, moons, and myriad other recently discovered objects that are so hard to observe from the Earth. But for now, that mission is still on the drawing board, so we’ll have to wait to fully understand the interiors and ring system of these cold, barren worlds. At least when we finally do send a probe out that way, we’ll have the mathematical framework to help shed light on these dark places.

Learn More:
A’Hearn et al – Ring Seismology of the Ice Giants Uranus and Neptune
UT – The Rings of Neptune
UT – Which Planets Have Rings?
UT – How Many Rings Does Uranus Have?

Lead Image:
Artist impression of Uranus and its rings.
Credit – NRAO / AUI / NSF / S. Dagnello

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