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Astronomer reveals there are no systems in place for a global response if alien contact is made

Multiple signals have been picked up in the recent past by researchers that have sparked excitement in the wider scientific community.
Multiple signals have been picked up in the recent past by researchers that have sparked excitement in the wider scientific community.

The question 'are we alone?' will earn you a few raised eyebrows and smirks at dinner parties, but it's one that international governments have invested billions of dollars into. However, a leading astronomer has revealed that despite the buckets of cash tipped into searching for aliens, there are currently no policies or reporting systems in place for experts to follow if they do make contact with intelligent life not of this world.

Professor Fred Watson AM, Australia's Astronomer at Large, told news.com.au that, despite a large checklist to authenticate any supposed contact, there was no "take me to your leader" policy in known existence. "There isn't anything in place ... there's a well-established chain of boxes that need to be ticked and it would go through a lot of analysis to ensure that what your talking about is a real phenomenon," Prof Watson said.

"However, once scientists identified what had happened, it'd then be up to the political leaders of the world to decide what to do about it, and as far as I'm aware, there's no plan in place. "It's a startling oversight by world governments which leaves all the responsibility in the hands of the often small research teams working on various contact projects. Multiple signals have been picked up in the recent past by researchers that have sparked excitement in the wider scientific community.

However, Prof Watson said the exhaustive authentication tests conducted by experts often ruled out the possibility of intelligent life almost instantly. "When you take into account all the actual phenomena that could be related to it - and that gets rid of pretty much everything," he said. "There was one case with the Breakthrough Listen Project - an initiative funded by a Russian Billionaire, Yuri Milner, at the level of $100 million, which uses two radio telescopes, one of which is in Parkes radio telescope - that received a signal that had similarities to ones we send out ourselves.

"It came from our nearest star Proxima Centauri which we know has one vaguely Earth-like planet, and its frequency drifted because of the Doppler effect, similar to human radio signals. "However, it was ruled out because other similar signals used by other radio sources around the telescope had exactly the same characteristics. "If scientists had a high level of confidence in the signal though, then it would have been publicised in the scientific world."With NASA recently ramping up their (public) research into UFOs, excitement has grown in some corners of the internet about the possibility of pending public admission of alien contact from The Pentagon.

However, Prof Watson said that, despite the odd exception, there was almost "universal" consensus in the scientific community that humans are nature's unexpected trophy. "The overwhelming opinion is that while microbial life might exist ... there's a gloomy outlook about there being intelligent life forms," he said. "Getting from a microbe to a single-celled organism to where we are now as humans requires an incredible amount of energy ... and that's before you even start the process of evolution.

"The common view is we are just a complete freak of nature - intelligent life is so rare and is such an unlikely event."Prof Watson acknowledged that the sheer amount of stars and planets in the known universe - "10 to the power of 23 stars with at least one planet" - meant that statistically, it was highly unlikely that there wouldn't be other forms of intelligent life (known as the Fermi Paradox).

"We haven't seen any signs of intelligent life though - and that's likely because there aren't any," he said. "If there is, it could be 2 billion light-years away, they might still be building with sticks because it's such a rarity." While aliens and other worlds spark the imagination of even the most jaded academic, Prof Watson said there were more immediate issues - and dangers - from on high that astronomers were busy with. "Our sun often emits solar flares, and that right there is a threat to our infrastructure," he said.

Solar flares are bursts of energy from the sun that direct a shower of magnetised particles in any direction. If the earth happens to be in that direction, the results to the global power grid can be devastating."The biggest one we know of was in 1859, known as the Carrington Event, and if that happened today it would cause mass blackouts and power failures around the world - even disrupting the internet," Prof Watson warned.

"The largest flare recently was in 1989, and it knocked out the power grid in Quebec for 12 hours because the magnetic fields tripped all the circuit breakers. Bill Clinton's sensational claim about aliens China 'discovers message from aliens' "So much of our infrastructure depends on satellites operating properly and they're at risk from the currents that could be let off by the sun that causes these issues.

"A Carrington event today would cause mass power failures and blackouts ... governments are aware of the potential of this, so they're building as much protection as they can, but something that big could overwhelm the protection."

China aims to bring Mars samples to Earth 2 years before NASA, ESA mission

China's Mars sample return mission aims to collect samples from the Red Planet and deliver them to Earth in 2031, or two years ahead of a NASA and ESA joint mission. 

If successful, it would deliver to Earth the first collected Martian samples
If successful, it would deliver to Earth the first collected Martian samples

China's Mars sample return mission aims to collect samples from the Red Planet and deliver them to Earth in 2031, or two years ahead of a NASA and ESA joint mission. Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and rover mission, presented a new mission profile for China's Mars sample return during a June 20 presentation in which he outlined plans for a two-launch profile, lifting off in late 2028 and delivering samples to Earth in July 2031.

The complex, multi-launch mission will have simpler architecture in comparison with the joint NASA-ESA project, with a single Mars landing and no rovers sampling different sites. However, if successful, it would deliver to Earth the first collected Martian samples; an objective widely noted as one the major scientific goals of space exploration.

In March, NASA announced plans to delay the next phase of its Mars Sample Return campaign and split a lander mission into two separate spacecraft to reduce the overall risk of the program. 

Goodbye Voyager - NASA is slowly powering down the Voyager probes

Almost 45 years after their launch, Voyager 1 and 2 are still operating. But with power dwindling, the probes may soon reach the end of their scientific mission. 

Voyager 1 became the first human-made instrument to cross into interstellar space
Voyager 1 became the first human-made instrument to cross into interstellar space
Voyager 2 was the second, crossing the boundary in 2018
Voyager 2 was the second, crossing the boundary in 2018

 The Voyager probes are pioneers of science, making it further into space than any other man-made object. NASA originally sent the twin probes on a four-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn in 1977; they exceeded all expectations, and are still going 45 years later.

Amazing photos of the solar system are among the achievements they beamed back before NASA shut the cameras down. But now, they face a terminal problem: their power is running out, and NASA scientists are shutting down even more instruments on board to conserve energy. The Voyager probes were designed to visit Jupiter and Saturn.

The voyager probes wizzed through the solar system taking unprecedented pictures.  The Voyager mission included two probes - Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 - which NASA launched in 1977 within a few months of each other. The launches capitalized on a rare alignment of planets that allowed them to turbocharge their journeys into space.

NASA originally built the probes to last five years, but have exceeded that lifespan many times. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 reached Jupiter in 1979. They took about 50,000 pictures of the planet in total, which greatly exceeded the quality of the pictures scientists took from Earth, according to NASA. The pictures taught scientists important facts about the planet's atmosphere, magnetic forces, and geology that would have been difficult to decipher otherwise.

Though the probes are no longer sending pictures, they haven't stopped sending crucial information about space. In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first human-made instrument to cross into interstellar space by passing the heliopause, the boundary between our solar system and the rest of the universe. Voyager 2 was the second, crossing the boundary in 2018. It then revealed there was an extra boundary surrounding our solar bubble.

The probes keep sending back measurements from interstellar space, like weird hums likely coming from vibrations made by neighboring stars. Now NASA is planning to switch more off the probes' instruments with the hope of extending their life to the 2030s. But even after all instruments become quiet, the probes will still drift off carrying the golden record, which could provide crucial information about humanity should intelligent extraterrestrial life exist and should it come across the probes

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You will ascend from the spaceport early in the morning when the winds are calm
You will ascend from the spaceport early in the morning when the winds are calm
When you fly to the edge of space, you’ll spend several hours floating gently in the stratosphere soaking in every amazing sight
When you fly to the edge of space, you’ll spend several hours floating gently in the stratosphere soaking in every amazing sight

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We're elevating hopes and visions of a vibrant planet for generations to come. By making space tourism more attainable for as many people as possible, we can help inspire renewed respect for the home we all share. Take off from one of the world's wonders. Land in wonder at the world. We've created an opportunity to shift and evolve one's perspective about this extremely fragile earth we all live on. Start your edge-of-space flight from one of our spaceports located at each of the 7 Wonders of the World:

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Your Flight Plan: From takeoff to touchdown, we've designed our 6-8 hour stratospheric journeys to give you the ultimate in time, space and comfort to completely immerse yourself in the wonder of it all.

Wild solar weather is causing satellites to plummet from orbit. It's only going to get worse.

The change coincided with the onset of the new solar cycle, and experts think it might be the beginning of some difficult years. 

In late 2021, operators of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Swarm constellation noticed something worrying: The satellites, which measure the magnetic field around Earth, started sinking toward the atmosphere at an unusually fast rate - up to 10 times faster than before. The change coincided with the onset of the new solar cycle, and experts think it might be the beginning of some difficult years for spacecraft orbiting our planet.

"In the last five, six years, the satellites were sinking about two and a half kilometers [1.5 miles] a year," Anja Stromme, ESA's Swarm mission manager, told Space.com. "But since December last year, they have been virtually diving. The sink rate between December and April has been 20 kilometers [12 miles] per year."

Satellites orbiting close to Earth always face the drag of the residual atmosphere, which gradually slows the spacecraft and eventually makes them fall back to the planet. (They usually don't survive this so-called re-entry and burn up in the atmosphere.) This atmospheric drag forces the International Space Station's controllers to perform regular "reboost" maneuvers to maintain the station's orbit of 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

This drag also helps clean up the near-Earth environment from space junk. Scientists know that the intensity of this drag depends on solar activity - the amount of solar wind spewed by the sun, which varies depending on the 11-year solar cycle. The last cycle, which officially ended in December 2019, was rather sleepy, with a below-average number of monthly sunspots and a prolonged minimum of barely any activity. But since last fall, the star has been waking up, spewing more and more solar wind and generating sunspots, solar flares and coronal mass ejections at a growing rate.  

"There is a lot of complex physics that we still don't fully understand going on in the upper layers of the atmosphere where it interacts with the solar wind," Stromme said. "We know that this interaction causes an upwelling of the atmosphere. That means that the denser air shifts upwards to higher altitudes."

Denser air means higher drag for the satellites. Even though this density is still incredibly low 250 miles above Earth, the increase caused by the upwelling atmosphere is enough to virtually send some of the low-orbiting satellites plummeting. "It's almost like running with the wind against you," Stromme said. "It's harder, it's drag - so it slows the satellites down, and when they slow down, they sink."

How did Jupiter get so big? Astronomers now think it 'ate' chunks of other planets

A new scientific paper reckons the gas giant absorbed a number of "planetesimals" on its journey to become the biggest planet in the solar system. 

They don't call Jupiter "King of Planets" for nothing. It's massive, really heavy, and now scientists think it ate chunks of other planets to get as big as it is. That's right, the gas giant named after Greek and Roman gods is thought to have absorbed a series of small "planetesimals" en route to claiming its place as the biggest planet in the solar system.

The theory comes from an international team of astronomers led by Yamila Miguel from the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research. It follows news last year that NASA scientists are baffled by the discovery that the planet's Great Red Spot is accelerating. When NASA's Juno space mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016, scientists caught a glimpse of the remarkable beauty of the fifth planet from the sun.

Besides the famous Great Red Spot, Jupiter turns out to be littered with hurricanes, almost giving it the appearance and mystique of a Van Gogh painting. But what lay underneath the outer layer was not immediately clear. Juno was however able to measure variations in gravitational pull above different locations on the planet's surface, giving the astronomers information about what lay below.

What they found was not a homogenous and well-mixed composition, but instead a higher concentration of "metals" - elements heavier than hydrogen and helium - towards the centre of the planet. The team of astronomers says the most likely explanation is that Jupiter absorbed numbers of "planetesimals", getting bigger and bigger.

Planetesimals are one of a class of bodies that are believed to have coalesced to form Earth and the other planets after condensing from concentrations of diffuse matter early in the history of the solar system.

Building Blocks of Life Found on an Asteroid 300 Million Kilometers Away

This means amino acids can likely be found on other planets and natural satellites, indicating the possibility of life existing more widely in the universe than previously thought. In other words, this increases the odds of alien life evolving elsewhere in the universe.

A snapshot of the surface of the near-Earth carbonaceous asteroid Ryugu was taken by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft just before landing. Credit: JAXA / U. Tokyo /
A snapshot of the surface of the near-Earth carbonaceous asteroid Ryugu was taken by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft just before landing. Credit: JAXA / U. Tokyo /

Japanese researchers have revealed that over 20 kinds of amino acids have been detected in asteroid samples brought to Earth by the Hayabusa2 probe in late 2020, proving for the first time that organic compounds exist on asteroids in deep space. Amino acids are a required component of proteins, which are a key component of all living things. The discovery could help prove that the necessary ingredients for life can be found abundantly in outer space.

More than 5.4 grams of surface material were returned to Earth by Hayabusa2 in December 2020 following a six-year mission to the Ryugu asteroid located over 300 million kilometers away. Astronomers hoped to solve mysteries about the solar system's origin and life by studying asteroid fragments. Samples from these fragments had previously been found to have organic material and water.

Research institutes across Japan, including the University of Tokyo and Hiroshima University, conducted a full-scale investigation of the sample in 2021. Even though we don't know how amino acids arrived on ancient Earth, one theory suggests they came from meteorites, as amino acids have been detected in a meteorite found on Earth. Alternatively, they may also have been attached to the surface of ancient Earth.

After impacting the atmosphere, meteorites burn up and are quickly contaminated with terrestrial microorganisms. The Hayabusa2 mission was groundbreaking as it carried subsurface materials that were not weathered by sunlight or cosmic rays back to Earth, providing scientists with unprecedented alien material to work with.

Alien life, what are the odds? Yokohama National University's professor emeritus of astrobiology, Kensei Kobayashi, sees the discovery of multiple types of amino acids on an extraterrestrial body as a possible sign of life on other planets. "Proving amino acids exist in the subsurface of asteroids increases the likelihood that the compounds arrived on Earth from space," he said.

This means amino acids can likely be found on other planets and natural satellites, indicating the possibility of life existing more widely in the universe than previously thought, Kobayashi explained. After traveling 3.2 billion km on an elliptical orbit around the Sun for more than three years, Hayabusa2 reached its stationary position above Ryugu in June 2018. In the following year, the spacecraft touched down on the asteroid twice to collect the first-ever subsurface samples from an asteroid. 

The surface material collected from Ryugu is, according to experts, the most untouched alien material ever studied in the solar system. An analysis of samples retrieved by Japan's Hayabusa2 mission has shown that the asteroid Ryugu encompasses some of the most primal material studied in a laboratory on Earth, dating back only 5 million years after the birth of our star system. In other words, the material that makes up the asteroidal Ryugu is older than the material that makes up the planets.


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