NASA funds ‘squid rover,’ 14 other far-out space tech ideas

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Artist’s rendering showing 2015 NIAC Phase I Fellow Mason Peck’s soft-robotic rover that could explore ocean-harboring moons such as Europa. It resembles a squid, with tentacle-like structures that harvest power from locally changing magnetic f (NASA/Cornell University/NSF)

NASA has funded 15 ambitious tech concepts in the hopes that one or more of them may have a huge impact on space science or exploration down the road.

The new ideas funded by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program include a squid-like amphibious rover that could explore icy, ocean-harboring moons such as the Jupiter satellite Europa; a proposal to mine water from asteroids using concentrated sunlight; and “WindBots” that would cruise through the skies of Jupiter and Saturn, drawing energy from the gas giants’ magnetic fields and powerful winds.

Another concept seeks to develop small, cheap “crawler,” “hopper” and ball-like robots that would work together to search for water and other volatile materials in permanently shadowed craters near the poles of the moon. Accessing these volatitles could be key to establishing a human presence on the moon, many researchers say. [How Humans Will Explore the Moon (Infographic)]

The 15 proposals were selected under Phase 1 of the NIAC program. The research teams will each get about $100,000 to perform initial analyses; they can then apply for a Phase 2 award, which is worth an additional $500,000 and funds two more years of development.

“Most of the 2015 NIAC Phase I final candidates were outstanding, and choosing only 15 of them proved to be a challenge,” NIAC program executive Jason Derleth said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing how each new study will push boundaries and explore new approaches — that’s what makes NIAC unique.”

The selected concepts, and their principal investigators, are:

  • Virtual Flight Demonstration of Stratospheric Dual-Aircraft Platform (William Engblom, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University)
  • Thirsty Walls: A New Paradigm for Air Revitalization in Life Support (John Graf, NASA’s Johnson Space Center)
  • A Tall Ship and a Star to Steer Her By (Michael Hecht, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Haystack Observatory)
  • In-Space Manufacture of Storable Propellants (John Lewis, Deep Space Industries)
  • DEEP IN Directed Energy Propulsion for Interstellar Exploration (Philip Lubin, University of California, Santa Barbara)
  • Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune’s Captured Kuiper Belt Object (Steven Oleson, COMPASS Conceptual Design Team)
  • Soft-Robotic Rover with Electrodynamic Power Scavenging (Mason Peck, Cornell University)
  • Seismic Exploration of Small Bodies (Jeffrey Plescia, Johns Hopkins University)
  • CRICKET: Cryogenic Reservoir Inventory by Cost-Effective Kinetically Enhanced Technology (Jeffrey Plescia, Johns Hopkins University)
  • APIS (Asteroid Provided In-Situ Supplies): 100MT Of Water from a Single Falcon 9 (Joel Sercel, ICS Associates Inc.)
  • WindBots: Persistent In-Situ Science Explorers for Gas Giants (Adrian Stoica, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
  • Thin-Film Broadband Large Area Imaging System (Nelson Tabirian, BEAM Engineering for Advanced Measurements Co.)
  • Aperture: A Precise Extremely large Reflective Telescope Using Re-configurable Elements (Melville Ulmer, Northwestern University)
  • CubeSat with Nanostructured Sensing Instrumentation for Planetary Exploration (Joseph Wang, University of Southern California)
  • Cryogenic Selective Surfaces (Robert Youngquist, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center)

You can learn more about the studies here: http://www.nasa.gov/feature/niac-2015-phase-i-selections

“The latest NIAC selections include a number of exciting concepts,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in the same statement. “We are working with American innovators to reimagine the future of aerospace and focus our investments on concepts to address challenges of current interests both in space and here on Earth.”

NIAC began in 1998 as the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts program, and operated in this form through 2007. Congress ordered the U.S. National Research Council to investigate NIAC’s effectiveness and importance in 2008; favorable reviews led to the program’s resurrection (albeit under a slightly different name) in 2011.

 

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Century-old ‘mini-supernova’ captured in gorgeous NASA photo

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The classical nova remnant GK Persei, as seen by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. (NASA)

A stunning new photo shows the expanding celestial fireworks created by a stellar explosion that first lit up Earth’s skies more than a century ago.

The image, taken by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, depicts GK Persei, a sort of mini-supernova that first appeared in the night sky in 1901. Scientists aimed Chandra at GK Persei in February 2000 and then again in November 2013, measuring the brightness and temperature of the expanding debris both times.

Chandra’s data have revealed something surprising: The gas in GK Persei — which lies 1,500 light-years from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Perseus — hardly cooled at all during the 13-year span, researchers said. [See a time-lapse video of the GK Persei explosion]

A hundred thousand years ago, GK Persei was a typical sunlike star on death row. It ran out of hydrogen fuel and shed its outer layers, transforming into a superdense stellar corpse called a white dwarf.

But GK Persei’s story was far from over. The white dwarf pulled hydrogen gas from the outer layers of an orbiting companion star, accumulating enough material to spur nuclear-fusion reactions. This eventually led to a huge explosion. The white dwarf’s outer layers were blown off, in an event known as a “classical nova.”

Such events can be thought of miniature versions of supernova explosions, which involve the death and complete destruction of stars much more massive than the sun, researchers said.

The light from GK Persei’s explosion first arrived at Earth in 1901 — 1,500 years after the star went boom. For a brief time, GK Persei was the brightest object in the night sky. It has faded over the decades, but the object can’t escape the peering eyes of Chandra and other powerful telescopes.

The new photo shows Chandra data in blue, optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope in yellow and radio data from the Very Large Array (VLA) in pink. Chandra’s X-ray observations reveal hot gas; Hubble’s show clumps that were ejected in the explosion, and the VLA data reveal emission from electrons, NASA officials said.

Chandra’s observations show that GK Persei’s debris expanded outward at about 700,000 mph between 2000 and 2013, moving about 90 billion miles during that time, researchers said.

The data also reveal that the temperature of gas in the nova remnant remained more or less constant from 2000 to 2013, a finding that was unexpected.

“As the shock wave expanded and heated an increasing amount of matter, the temperature behind the wave of energy should have decreased,” NASA officialswrote in a statement.

“The observed fading and constant temperature suggests that the wave of energy has swept up a negligible amount of gas in the environment around the star over the past 13 years,” they added. “This suggests that the wave must currently be expanding into a region of much lower density than before, giving clues to the stellar neighborhood in which GK Persei resides.”

The results were published in the March 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

 

 

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Spectacular space photos capture solar filament eruption

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     (SOHO, NASA/ESA)

NASA has released stunning images of a solar filament bursting out of the sun.  The “elongated solar filament,” extended almost half the sun’s visible hemisphere, according to NASA, and erupted into space on April 28 and 29 in a large burst of bright plasma.

Filaments are unstable strands of solar material suspended above the sun by magnetic forces. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, which is run by NASA and the European Space Agency, captured the eruption.

SOHO’s Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) telescopes use an “occulter disk” to block light directly from the sun and create an artificial eclipse within the instruments.

“Solar astronomers around the world had their eyes on this unusually large filament and kept track as it erupted,” said NASA, in a statement.

 

Study: Jupiter made our solar system weird

Study: Jupiter made our solar system weird

This image provided by NASA shows a montage of New Horizons images of Jupiter and its volcanic moon Io, taken during the spacecraft���s Jupiter flyby. (AP Photo/NASA)

As astronomers get a better look at the planets circling other stars, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that our solar system is pretty strange—and Jupiter seems to be the reason why.

Most other solar systems appear to have at least one large planet orbiting very close to the star, but the inner part of our solar system is missing, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers believe Jupiter’s orbit wandered during the early years of our solar system, with the giant planet’s gravity causing destruction by, as Discovery puts it, flinging proto-planets around and “creating a shooting arcade that could have easily destroyed planets in the region,” including the “super-Earths” that appear in the “default mode” of solar system formation.

The research is based on the “Grand Tack” theory, which holds that Jupiter migrated toward the sun and then back out again with the influence of Saturn.

The destruction allowed a second generation of planets, including ours, to form out of the debris, researchers say, but the theory could mean that planets capable of sustaining life as we know it may be rarer than the number of other planets spotted suggests.

“In the context of our hypothesis, Earth-mass planets should be very common,” researcher Greg Laughlin tells the Christian Science Monitor. “Truly Earth-like planets, however, with solid surfaces and atmospheric pressures similar to what we have here on Earth, would be expected to be rather rare. I would hazard a guess that the Earth will indeed turn out to be rather special.” (A vast ocean has beendetected inside Jupiter’s biggest moon.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Jupiter Made Our Solar System Weird

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Space station crew: Russia’s spinning supply ship total loss

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Russia’s robotic Progress 59 cargo spacecraft launches toward the International Space Station atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 28, 2015. (NASA TV)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A Russian supply capsule that went into an uncontrollable spin after launch was declared a total loss Wednesday, but the astronauts at the International Space Station said they will get by without the delivery of fresh food, water, clothes and equipment.

The space station’s one-year crew members, American Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko, told The Associated Press during an interview that flight controllers have given up trying to command the cargo carrier.

The unmanned Progress vessel, loaded with 3 tons of goods, began tumbling shortly after its launch Tuesday from Kazakhstan.

Kelly said the craft will fall out of orbit and re-enter the atmosphere sometime soon. He’s not sure exactly when.

The capsule is expected to burn up in the atmosphere, as is the case for all Progress carriers, once they have delivered their shipments and are filled with trash.

“We should be OK,” said Kelly, one month into a planned one-year mission, which will be a record for NASA. “The program plans for these kinds of things to happen. They’re very unfortunate when they do.”

He added: “The important thing is hardware can be replaced.”

Kornienko called it “a big concern.” But he expressed “100 percent confidence” that operations will continue as planned until the next shipment arrives. The private SpaceX company plans to send up a load of supplies in June.

This is the second cargo ship lost in the past half year.

In October, Orbital Sciences Corp. suffered a launch explosion in Virginia that destroyed a cargo ship that had been intended for the orbiting lab.

SpaceX is currently NASA’s sole supplier. The Japanese Space Agency also periodically sends up cargo; it is aiming for a summer shipment.

Six people are currently living on the space station: two Americans, one Italian and three Russians.

Hubble Space Telescope marks 25th anniversary in orbit this week

  • Hubbles 25th-1.jpg

    In this April 25, 1990 photograph provided by NASA, most of the giant Hubble Space Telescope can be seen as it is suspended in space by Discovery’s Remote Manipulator System (RMS) following the deployment of part of its solar panels and antennae. This was among the first photos NASA released on April 30 from the five-day STS-31 mission. The Hubble Space Telescope, one of NASA’S crowning glories, marks its 25th anniversary on Friday, April 24, 2015. With more than 1 million observations, including those of the farthest and oldest galaxies ever beholden by humanity, no man-made satellite has touched as many minds or hearts as Hubble. (NASA via AP) (The Associated Press)

One of NASA’s crowning glories, the Hubble Space Telescope, marks its 25th anniversary this week.

With 1 million-plus observations, including those of some of the farthest and oldest galaxies ever beheld by humanity, no man-made satellite has touched as many minds or hearts as Hubble.

NASA is celebrating Friday’s anniversary with ceremonies this week at the Smithsonian Institution and Newseum in Washington.

“Hubble has become part of our culture — very much,” said NASA’s science mission chief, John Grunsfeld, a former astronaut who flew on the final three Hubble repair missions.

A look at Hubble’s quarter-century in orbit about 350 miles above Earth:

A BLURRY START

A full decade in the making, Hubble rocketed into orbit on April 24, 1990, aboard space shuttle Discovery.

NASA wanted an observatory free of the atmosphere’s distortion and, in some cases, absorption of light. Stars, for example, do not appear to twinkle when seen from space. The telescope was named for American astronomer Edwin Hubble, who in the 1920s determined that the universe is expanding.

Sky-high excitement turned into bottomless agony when it quickly became apparent that the telescope’s primary mirror had been botched during manufacturing, resulting in blurry eyesight. Three years later, with NASA’s reputation and entire future on the line, a team of astronauts managed to restore Hubble’s promised vision with replacement parts.

OVERHAULS AND TUNEUPS

Shuttle astronauts visited Hubble five times, from 1993 to 2009, to make improvements and repairs to the 43-foot-long observatory, about the size of a school bus. That last mission almost didn’t happen: NASA canceled it for safety reasons in the wake of the 2003 shuttle Columbia disaster. But public uproar and changing NASA administration, along with detailed crew-rescue plans just in case, led to the flight’s reinstatement. By the time Atlantis blasted off on the last servicing mission, NASA put the investment in Hubble at $10 billion.

Three-time Hubble mechanic Grunsfeld was the last person to lay hands on the orbiting observatory. He recalls giving Hubble “a little pat and a salute,” and telling it, “Good travels, Hubble.”

IMPRESSIVE STATS

Hubble has traveled 3.4 billion miles, circling Earth nearly 137,000 times and making more than 1.2 million observations of more than 38,000 celestial objects, according to the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The most distant objects spotted by Hubble — primitive galaxies — are some 13 billion light-years away and date to within 400 million or so years of the universe’s origin, known as the Big Bang.

Hubble provides an average of 829 gigabytes of archival data every month, according to the institute. Altogether, Hubble has produced more than 100 terabytes of data.

DISCOVERIES

Early on, Hubble proved the existence of super-massive black holes — and found they’re located at the center of most galaxies. It also helped to pinpoint the age of the universe at 13.8 billion years old, by determining the current rate of expansion of the universe with an uncertainty of just 3 percent, according to the Mario Livio, an astrophysicist at the space telescope institute.

Thanks to Hubble, he noted this week, astronomers now know that cosmic expansion is accelerating because of mysterious dark energy.

The space telescope has shown that the birth rate of stars hit a peak in the universe about 10 billion years ago and has been declining ever since, Livio said.

Astronomers have published 12,800 scientific papers based on data from Hubble. Some of the research on supernovas, or exploding stars, contributed to a Nobel Prize in physics in 2011.

FUTURE

NASA’s Grunsfeld said “there’s pretty high probability” that Hubble will keep working until at least 2020. Gravity is slowly lowering the telescope’s approximately 350-mile-high orbit, but the good news is that low solar activity is keeping the atmosphere thinner, which in turn should keep Hubble up until the 2030s.

On the last Hubble mission in 2009, Grunsfeld installed a docking adaptor on the bottom of the telescope. The plan was — and still is — to one day launch an unmanned rocket to Hubble so a motor can be installed to guide the telescope toward a Pacific re-entry.

The 8-foot primary mirror is the main concern: It’s expected to survive the atmospheric plunge. That’s why NASA does not want Hubble coming down, uncontrolled, over populated areas.

SUCCESSOR

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is due to be launched in 2018 to a vantage point 1 million miles away.

The Webb will specialize in the infrared wavelength, allowing it to peer into some of the faintest, most distant recesses of the universe. This should enable the telescope — named after the late NASA administrator who guided the Mercury and Gemini programs, and set the stage for the Apollo moon landings — to look back even farther in time than Hubble and detect galaxies formed a mere 200 million years following the Big Bang.

By 2019, Webb should be up and running with the Hubble still in action and powerful, new ground telescopes pointing skyward.

“It will just be absolutely the most capability we will have ever had to look at the cosmos and try and understand it,” Grunsfeld said. “I’m convinced there are going to be some big discoveries.”

___

Online:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble

Space Telescope Science Institute: http://www.stsci.edu/portal/

Newfound alien planet is one of the farthest ever detected

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    NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope co-discovered an exoplanet more than 13,000 light-years from Earth, far from where most known exoplanets are. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A NASA telescope has co-discovered one of the most distant planets ever identified: a gas giant about 13,000 light-years away from Earth.

The technique used by the Spitzer Space Telescope, called microlensing, is so new that it has only yielded about 30 planet discoveries so far. But the telescope’s potential for finding far-away worlds is vast, NASA said in a statement. And as astronomers begin to chart the location of these distant bodies, it will provide a sense of where planets are distributed in Earth’s Milky Way galaxy.

“We don’t know if planets are more common in our galaxy’s central bulge or the disk of the galaxy, which is why these observations are so important,” Jennifer Yee, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a NASA statement. Yee is the lead author on one of three new papers describing the discovery. [The Strangest Alien Planets (Gallery)]

Magnified starlight

Microlensing happens when one star travels in front of another from the perspective of an observer (in this case, on Earth). When this happens, the gravity of the star in front magnifies the light of the star behind it, acting like a lens. Should the star in front have a planet, that planet would create a “blip” during the magnification, NASA said in the statement.

The challenge, however, is pinning down how far away the closer star (and its planet) is from Earth. Microlensing tends to magnify the star behind, but usually the star in front is invisible to observers. That’s why about half of the 30 or so planets found with microlensing (including a few Tatooine-like planets) are at unknown distances from Earth.

To overcome the distance problem, astronomers used the Spitzer telescope in concert with the Polish Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) Warsaw Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. OGLE routinely does microlensing investigations, but for Spitzer, this was the first time the long-running telescope had successfully used the technique to find a planet.

Quick telescope work

Prominent telescopes like Spitzer are usually fully booked with other astronomical observations. This makes it difficult to respond quickly when the astronomical community is alerted about a microlensing event, which lasts only 40 days on average. Spitzer officials, however, have worked to do these observations as early as three days after an event is announced.

The new planet’s microlensing event was quite long, roughly 150 days.

Spitzer orbits the sun from a position behind Earth (about 128 million miles away from its home planet, further than the Earth-sun distance). This vast distance from its home planet means the telescope sees microlensing events occur at a slightly different time than do telescopes on Earth.

Spitzer spotted the “blip” in the magnification about 20 days before OGLE did. By comparing the delay between what Spitzer and OGLE saw, astronomers could calculate the planet’s distance from Earth. Once they knew that measure, they were able to estimate the planet’s mass, which is roughly half that of Jupiter.

This is the first time Spitzer found a planet using microlensing, but it comes after 22 previous attempts with OGLE and other telescopes on the ground. Astronomers forecast Spitzer will examine 120 more microlensing events this summer.

So far, microlensing has helped astronomers find 30 planets at distances as far as 25,000 light-years away from Earth. That’s in addition to the more than 1,000 closer worlds discovered by the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope and ground-based observatories using other techniques. Astronomers are using the microlensing events to seek out planets in the central “bulge” of the Milky Way, a spot where stars are more densely packed and tend to cross more often.

Meteorites help date the violent birth of Earth’s moon

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    Earth’s moon probably formed during a cataclysmic impact between Earth and a Mars-size object that scientists call Theia. A study of meteorites suggests that this collision may have occurred 4.47 billion years ago, scientists say. (NASA)

The cataclysmic collision between Earth and a Mars-size object that forged the moon may have occurred about 4.47 billion years ago, suggests a study of meteorites with ancient fragments from that cosmic impact.

This finding suggests that, one day, it may be possible to find samples of what the primordial Earth was like before the giant impact that formed the moon, or to uncover bits of the impacting rock itself.

Earth was born about 4.5 billion years ago, and scientists think the moon formed shortly afterward. The leading explanation for the moon’s origin, known as the giant impact hypothesis, suggests that the moon resulted from the collision of two protoplanets, or embryonic worlds. One of those was the young Earth, and the other was a potentially Mars-size object called Theia. The moon then coalesced from the rubble. [How Earth’s Moon Was Made (A Photo Timeline)]

“By understanding the moon, we can tell the story of the early bombardment of Earth,” study lead author William Bottke, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, told Space.com.

However, the precise timeline of this giant impact event is under dispute. The ages of the most ancient lunar samples the Apollo astronauts brought back are still debated, since these samples have typically been battered and heated by subsequent cosmic impacts.

“To understand the formation and evolution of our world as well as those in the inner solar system, we need to understand the timing of major events during the planet-formation era,” Bottke said.

To find out more about this giant impact, scientists developed a computer model of the event. They found that the impact not only created a disk of debris near Earth that formed the moon, but it also ejected huge amounts of rubble — as much as several percent of Earth’s mass — away from Earth and the moon.

The simulations found that numerous fragments from the moon-forming impact — hundreds of millions of which were at least a mile long — blasted the asteroid belt, striking asteroids there at speeds of more than 22,370 mph, more than twice as fast as typical crashes in the belt. These collisions from the moon-forming impact would have generated superheated material, the researchers said.

“In an explosion, there is often collateral damage, where nearby buildings and innocent bystanders are affected,” Bottke said. “Investigators can learn about the explosive device and the explosion itself by studying what happened to people, infrastructure, and whether trace amounts of the explosive device can be found among the blast damage. Here, the ‘innocent bystanders’ were the main-belt asteroids.”

Collisions against these asteroids in more recent times returned these remnants to Earth in stony meteorites, which the scientists now have analyzed and used to date the age of the impact.

“In a sense, the asteroid belt has been an eyewitness to multiple ‘drive-by shootings’ from the earliest time in solar system history,” Bottke said. “By reading the traces left behind, we can use asteroid samples to tell us who did it, when they did it and how they did it.”

The researchers deduced that the moon-forming impact occurred about 4.47 billion years ago, in agreement with many previous estimates.

“We can now use asteroids, for the first time, to tell us about many of the major events that took place in the inner solar system during the planet-formation era,” Bottke said. “This gives us a new window on a time period which has been virtually unknown up to now.”

This research “raises the intriguing possibility that trace amounts of the primordial Earth or moon-forming impactor called Theia may still be found on asteroids today, or possibly within some of our meteorites,” Bottke said. “It may be simply a matter of looking and asking the right questions. Finding these materials would be one of the Holy Grails of geology — we have no rocks older than 4 billion years old on Earth, and no one knows the exact nature of the original building blocks of our planet.”

If future research can uncover examples of this impact in asteroid samples, “possibly by getting them from an asteroid sample return mission like OSIRIS-REx, we would have one of the key pieces of the puzzle explaining why our world is the way it is, and what has changed since its infancy,” Bottke said.

The scientists detailed their findings in the April 17 issue of the journal Science.

Radio bursts from space reveal strange mathematical pattern

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ET1.jpg

Eleven fast radio bursts from space seem to follow a strange mathematical pattern, according to a new study – and it has researchers scratching their heads.

According to study co–authors Michael Hippke of the Institute of Data Analysis in Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany, and John Learned of the University of Hawaii in Manoa, the bursts– which were first detected in 2001 – all had dispersion measures that were integer multiples of the same number: 187.5. “The astronomers that found [the bursts] have not seen such things before and do not understand them,” Learned told FoxNews.com.

Nobody knows what causes fast radio bursts, known as FRBs. They only last a few milliseconds, and only one so far has been captured live (by the Parkes Telescope in Australia last year). Though the bursts release just as much energy in a few milliseconds as the sun does in a month, their brevity indicates that the source must be small, with estimates being several hundred miles across at most.

Researchers use dispersion measures, which records how much “space gunk” the burst has passed through, to estimate the distance an FRB has travelled. For instance, a low frequency FRB will have more gunk on it, indicating a longer trip, whereas a high frequency FRB will be cleaner, indicating it came from closer to Earth.

The fact that all of the FRBs’ dispersion measures are integer multiples of 187.5 has, according to Hippke and Learned’s team’s calculations, a 5 in 10,000 chance of being coincidental. The dispersion measures also indicate that their origin is relatively close to Earth, but unlikely from within our own galaxy.

There are numerous theories on where these bursts came from, including speculation that the messages are from extraterrestrial intelligence. To the scientific community, however, this theory doesn’t really hold water, and is seen as more of a last resort only after all other avenues have been exhausted.

“We think these are likely from some very energetic process, like a burst from a high magnetic field neutron star or energy released [when] two neutron stars merge,” Professor Maura McLaughlin of the West Virginia University Center for Astrophysics explained. “The thing that made people think they were possibly from ETs was a recent paper that showed that one fundamental property is quantized in a way that wouldn’t be expected if the signals were naturally occurring. However, I imagine that correlation will totally go away once more are discovered.”

Learned himself is dubious of an alien source as well, noting that he and Hippke only noted the dispersion measures’ “peculiar” pattern, and that they may even be coming from Earth. “We are now leaning more towards a terrestrial, anthropogenic interpretation,” he said. “At this point I would place my money on some sort of governmental satellite, not a natural phenomena, but I would not bet much. More data, which reportedly [is] being analyzed but which we have no insider information about yet, will be most interesting and refute or confirm our hypotheses.” He also noted that he’d only look to an ETI interpretation once all other possibilities have been eliminated.

As for McLaughlin, she believes there’s no way the FRBs could be messages from aliens, as the signals are very broadband and emitted over a wide range of radio frequencies. “It would take a LOT of energy for an alien civilization to produce these bursts – they’d need to harness the energy of many, many suns – and there’s no real advantage for communication to send a signal over such a large bandwidth.”

NASA tests Mars ‘flying saucer’

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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. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has given the world another glimpse of its revolutionary flying saucer technology, which will play a crucial role in future Mars missions.

The 15-foot wide, 7,000-pound test vehicle underwent a “spin test” on a table at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. during a live broadcast Tuesday, ABC News reports.

The flying saucer is part of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project, which aims to develop landing vehicles for future missions.

NASA says the project tests “breakthrough technologies that will enable large payloads to be safely landed on the surface of Mars, or other planetary bodies with atmospheres, including Earth.” According to the space agency, the technologies will also offer access to more of the red planet’s surface by enabling landings at higher-altitude sites.

As part of its LDSD research, NASA will fly a rocket-powered saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space from the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii, in June.

Last year an LDSD test in Hawaii was deemed a success by engineers, despite the vehicle’s huge parachute apparently failing to deploy properly, according toSpace.com.