A topic about outer-space and everything in it, from little green men to big spirally galaxies

NASA Discovers a Global Ocean Lies Beneath the Icy Crust of Saturn's Moon Enceladus


Ten years ago the Cassini space probe first discovered mysterious geysers of water erupting from the polar regions of one of Saturn's moons, the ice-covered Enceladus. After much analysis, last year NASA scientists said there was evidence that this water was coming from a sub-surface ocean beneath the pole. But today, they have revised that conclusion - and now believe that there is a global ocean beneath the icy crust of the Saturnian moon.

In a paper published online this week in the journal Icarus, the researchers outline how a very slight wobble in the movement of Enceladus can only be accounted for if the outer, visible ice shell is not frozen solid to the moon's core:

Previous analysis of Cassini data suggested the presence of a lens-shaped body of water, or sea, underlying the moon's south polar region. However, gravity data collected during the spacecraft's several close passes over the south polar region lent support to the possibility the sea might be global. The new results -- derived using an independent line of evidence based on Cassini's images -- confirm this to be the case.

"This was a hard problem that required years of observations, and calculations involving a diverse collection of disciplines, but we are confident we finally got it right," said Peter Thomas, a Cassini imaging team member at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the paper.

Cassini scientists analyzed more than seven years' worth of images of Enceladus taken by the spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since mid-2004. They carefully mapped the positions of features on Enceladus -- mostly craters -- across hundreds of images, in order to measure changes in the moon's rotation with extreme precision.

As a result, they found Enceladus has a tiny, but measurable wobble as it orbits Saturn. Because the icy moon is not perfectly spherical -- and because it goes slightly faster and slower during different portions of its orbit around Saturn -- the giant planet subtly rocks Enceladus back and forth as it rotates.

The team plugged their measurement of the wobble, called a libration, into different models for how Enceladus might be arranged on the inside, including ones in which the moon was frozen from surface to core.

"If the surface and core were rigidly connected, the core would provide so much dead weight the wobble would be far smaller than we observe it to be," said Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini participating scientist at the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California, and a co-author of the paper. "This proves that there must be a global layer of liquid separating the surface from the core."

Enceladus Ocean

The mystery that remains is how this ocean remains in liquid form, rather than freezing. The researchers think it's possibly due to heat from tidal forces generated by Saturn's massive presence nearby.

And the question that is posed by the discovery is: if there is a massive water ocean beneath the surface of Enceladus, could there be alien life living there, out of sight of our prying eyes?

Cassini will make a super-close flyby of Enceladus in late October, passing a mere 30 miles/50 km above the moon's surface through the icy plumes erupting from within.

Link: Cassini Finds Global Ocean in Saturn's Moon Enceladus

The Silver Screen Saucers Have Landed!

Good news everyone! Robbie Graham's long awaited book Silver Screen Saucers: Sorting Fract from Fantasy in Hollywood's UFO Movies is now available. What started out as Robbie's doctoral thesis eventually morphed and was abducted by Destiny itself --see what I did there?-- in order to become one of the most highly anticipated UFO books of this year.

More so than any other medium, cinema has shaped our expectations of potential alien life and visitation. From The Day the Earth Stood Still and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to Battleship, Prometheus, and beyond, our hopes and fears of alien contact have been fuelled by the silver screen. But what messages does Hollywood impart to us about our possible otherworldly neighbours, from where do UFO movies draw their inspiration, and what other factors – cultural or conspiratorial – might influence their production and content? Silver Screen Saucers is a timely and revealing examination of the interplay between Hollywood’s UFO movies and the UFO phenomenon itself, from 1950 to present day.
The book grants the reader a rare, close-up examination of the DNA that builds our perceptions of the UFO mystery. One strand of this DNA weaves real events, stories, and people from the historical record of UFOlogy, while the other spins and twists with the film and TV products they have inspired. With our alien dreams and nightmares now more fully visualized onscreen than ever before, Silver Screen Saucers asks the question: what does it all mean? Are all UFO stories just fever dreams from LA screenwriters, or are they sprung from something more tangible?
From interviews with screenwriters and directors whose visions have been shaped by their lifelong UFO obsessions; to Presidents talking UFOs with Hollywood heavyweights; to CIA and Pentagon manipulation of UFO-themed productions; to movie stars and producers being stalked by real Men in Black, Silver Screen Saucers provides fresh perspective on the frequently debated but little understood subject of UFOs & Hollywood.

I've been a fan (and a friend) of Robbie for quite a while. To say I can't wait to get my greasy palms on this book is an understatement as big as an ID4 mothership.

But wait, there's more! Robbie, along with his associates Bryce Zabel (producer of the cult TV series Dark Skies) and Ben Hansen (host of Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files) are right now in the middle of developing a TV adaptation of Silver Screen Saucers, and are currently pitching the series to the networks: Here's the sizzle reel:

Here's my 2 centavos, you guys: EFF the Jurassic networks! Pitch the show directly to Amazon. They already are the biggest retailer in the WORLD, so if they were to produce and distribute SSS as a free series, they could entice costumers to purchase those UFO/ET movies they *already* carry (along with the book itself). Win-win, y'all!

Silver Screen Saucers: The perfect stocking filler for any UFO buff/Sci-Fi fanboy this Xmas*! [Amazon US & UK]

(*)Reese's Pieces, smashed potatoes and Neuralizer sold separately

Glenn Campbell Reminisces with Area 51 'Cammo Dudes'

It's like 1995 all over again! Glenn Campbell, the self-proclaimed 'former Area 51 guy' who helped put the infamous secret base on the map thanks to his Groom Lake Desert Rat newsletter, had a recent mano a mano with the private security personnel known fondly as 'the cammo dudes', who are in charge of patrolling the roads and areas surrounding the facility, and are known to threaten those curious onlookers drawn by the Dreamland allure.

The Groom Lake Desert Rat (1994-1997) --to which I was subscribed waaay back when-- documented the legal battle between Lincoln county's residents and the Air Force, when the latter decided to expand the territory of the Nevada test site so curious onlookers would have a harder time snooping around in search of Bob Lazar's 'reverse-engineered' saucers. The newsletter also covered several of the fringe rumors which were sprouting back in those merry days of suspicion, beer nights at the Little A'Le'Inn, and X-Files conspiranoia, including the tale of J-Rod, the alias of an engineer who claimed to have worked in the development of flight simulators intended to train Air Force pilots operate the reverse-engineered flying saucers; the story expanded upon Robert Lazar's previous allegations, but got even more complicated since 'J-Rod' was also the name of one of the Gray aliens collaborating with US government's reverse engineering program --the human J-Rod claimed his alien counterpart was fond of wearing terrestrial shirts; he also said Hungarian was the human language which had the closes resemblance to the Gray's own language, something I'm sure would have flattered Zsa Zsa Gabor a lot...

It was later found J-Rod 2 (the human engineer) was a man by the name of Bill Uhouse, who kept telling his (unverifiable) tales of secret alliances between the government and visitors from Zeta Reticulli to anyone who would listen, until he passed away in 2009.

As for Glenn Campbell, while he had officially withdrawn from the UFO scene and Area 51, the mischievous smirk he gives at the end of his clip tells me he's willing to relive the good ole times!

(If you want to read more stories about the world's most famous secret base, be sure to read Blair MacKenzie Blake's recounting of his own trips to Dreamland, in the 7th volume of Darklore)

The USAF's New Fighter Jets Were Built Using Flying Saucer Technology

The Avrocar

The F-35 Lighting II is the latest addition to the USAF's fighter jet arsenal. At around $100million per plane, they don't come cheap (though the US government has ordered around 2500 of them...) - but in the modern world, air superiority is key in warfare, and a large fleet of cutting-edge fighter jets is one way to ensure your military might.

How cutting-edge? One of the new models, the F-35B, will be the first operational jet fighter to be supersonic in speed, able to avoid detection via stealth technologies, but also be capable of short take-offs and vertical landing (STOVL).

Interestingly, a new paper on arXiv ("Avrocar: a real flying saucer") points out that the STOVL capability of the F-35B has its origin in an experimental 'flying saucer' vehicle developed by the USAF more than 50 years ago, the 'Avrocar':

One of the most unusual military V/STOL aircraft programs was the Avro VZ-9 “Avrocar”. Designed to be a real flying saucer, the Avrocar was one of the few V/STOL to be developed in complete secrecy. Despite significant changes in the design, during flight tests, the Avrocar was unable to achieve its objectives, and the program was eventually canceled after an expenditure of 10 million US dollars between 1954 and 1961.

[However] the concept of ground effect produced by a fan at takeoff and landing did not die with the Avrocar. In 1963, Bell Aerospace initiated studies of a landing system for air mattress (ACLS), which was later patented. These studies were directed by the former head of Avrocar project, Desmond T. Conde. The Avrocar also ended up producing the prototype Boeing YC-14 and McDonnell Douglas YC-15. The latter was adopted and evolved into the Boeing C-17 transport, which went into series production. This concept lives today as a key component of Lockheed X-35 Joint Strike Fighter contender.

Here's some video of the Avrocar in action:

What inspired the USAF to explore the 'flying saucer' design of the Avrocar? Did it arise out of the flying saucer craze that was at its height in the 1950s? Or was the design more to do with the circular nature of the fan system?

In any case, we can at least now proudly take off our tin-foil hats, and safely state that the U.S. military's latest jet fighters rely on flying saucer technology...

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Red Lasers & Posthuman Blues

I love this cartoon for several reasons: It's funny and pleasing to look at, and once you stop giggling it inadvertently coaxes you to think.

But I also like it because its anonymous author may or may not have been influenced by the musings of one of the best thinkers to arrive in the UFO field in the last 25 years or so: The late Mac Tonnies (20 August 1975 – 22 October 2009).

To say Mac was ahead of his time is an understatement. 10 years before most of the UFO community even knew who Ray Kurzweil was, he was already pondering whether Transhumanism and the Singularity were plausible tools by which to observe the UFO phenomenon from a new, fresh angle. He shared his ideas of UFOs as the potential manifestation of a post-biological intelligence through his blog Posthuman Blues; and after his untimely passing at the age of 34, he was able to reach a larger audience with the posthumous publication of his book The Cryptoterrestrials [Amazon US & UK], which should be required reading to anyone interested in this phenomenon.

[Mac also contributed to the Darklore anthology series with his essay "The Ancients Are Watching", featured on Volume II]

On Friday, September 29th, 2009, Mac published the following post on his blog:

Every few nights I get out my laser pointer and indulge my cats in a frenetic game of "chase." Cats are natural hunters, and they're effectively incapable of not looking at the quickly moving red dot that I project onto the carpet, walls, or any piece of furniture that happens to be in its path.

To my cats, the red dot possesses its own vitality. It exists as a distinct entity. While they may see me holding the pointer, they can't (or won't) be distracted by such things once the button is pressed and the living room is suddenly alive with luminous vermin. So they chase it. And chase it. And, if they get close enough, even take swipes at it -- in which case I make the dot "flee" or disappear in what seems like a concession of defeat (which, of course, only further arouses the cats' predatory curiosity).

All the while I'm controlling the red dot, I'm taking pains to make it behave like something intelligible. Just waving the pointer around the room wouldn't be any fun. So I make it "climb," "jump" and scuttle when cornered -- even though the laser's impervious to obstructions.

This sense of physicality seems to be the element that makes chasing the laser so engaging -- both for the cats and for me.

I can't help but be reminded of our continuing search for assumed extraterrestrial vehicles. UFO sightings demonstrate many of the same aspects of a typical feline laser hunt: mysterious disappearances, "impossible" maneuvers and a predilection for trickery -- the apparent desire to be seen despite (or because of) a technology presumed to be far in advance of our own. More than one UFO researcher has noted that UFOs behave more like projections or holograms than nuts-and-bolts craft . . . an observation that begs the nature of the intelligence doing the projecting.

According to astrophysicist Jacques Vallee, UFOs are part of a psychosocial conditioning system by which perceived "rewards" are doled out to reconcile for the dearth of irrefutable physical evidence. The phenomenon -- whatever its ultimate nature -- obstinately denies itself, thus enabling the very game it's intent on playing with us.

We see that sudden spark of red light; we pounce. This time we'll catch it for sure.

A couple of days ago, when I found the cartoon online --with Spanish subtitles, actually!-- I immediately sent it to Mike Clelland, for I knew he of all people would appreciate it. Not only was Mike a good friend of Mac Tonnies' (and ended up illustrating The Cryptoterrestrials as a final favor to him) but he himself wrote a very similar post as a way to inaugurate his own blog, Hidden Experience; the major difference between both writings being that Mike used a piece of string as a metaphor for the UFO, while Mac --ever the tecnophile-- opted for the more sophisticated laser pointer to play with his cats Ebe and Spooky --the best names for a UFOlogist's pet as far as I'm concerned.

Even more interesting still, it seems there was only a month of difference between Mac's 'laser pointer' post on Posthuman Blues, and Mike's 'cat string' post on Hidden Experience; which should make anyone wonder whether this 'crypto-intelligence' which likes to interact with us from time to time through flashy aerial manifestations, also employs other 'toys' to get our attention --like synchronicities for example.

Which brings us back to the cartoon: Was the author aware of Mac's work? Did he listen to some of his interviews available online? Or was he 'inspired' to come up with the laser pointer gag through other channels? How can be so sure that our thoughts are exclusively our own?

Whichever the case, I hope Mac managed to get a good chuckle out of this, wherever he is right now.

Mac stepping Outside. Artwork by Mike Clelland.

Your Daily Dose of Awe: The Milky Way Over Uluru

Milky Way over Uluru, by Babak Tafreshi

Here's your daily dose of awe: the centre of the Milky Way hanging over Uluru, in Central Australia.

Image taken a couple of weeks ago by Babak Tefreshi, and posted as NASA's Astronomy Pic of the Day on July 30.

The central regions of our Milky Way Galaxy rise above Uluru/Ayers Rock in this striking night skyscape. Recorded on July 13, a faint airglow along the horizon shows off central Australia's most recognizable landform in silhouette. Of course the Milky Way's own cosmic dust clouds appear in silhouette too, dark rifts along the galaxy's faint congeries of stars. Above the central bulge, rivers of cosmic dust converge on a bright yellowish supergiant star Antares. Left of Antares, wandering Saturn shines in the night.

Click to embiggen!

1959 Comic Featured 'The Face on Mars' - 17 Years Before a NASA Probe's Famous Photo

'The Face on Mars' in a 1959 Comic Book

Here's your daily dose of weird: Almost four decades ago a strange photograph was taken of Mars by the Viking 1 space probe, which appeared to show a massive humanoid-looking face carved into the Red Planet's landscape, staring back at the orbiter's lens. The so-called 'Face on Mars' would go on to become a fixture in theories about extraterrestrial alien life, though later more high-resolution photographs of the region had NASA dashing thoughts of it being an artificial creation.

Interestingly though, the idea of a 'Face on Mars' was already present in popular culture, through a 1959 comic book illustrated by the great Jack Kirby - 17 years before the Viking photograph. And the weirdness doesn't end there - see this fun article at the Secret Sun blog to go right down the rabbit hole...

Read more fascinating articles like this one by liking The Daily Grail on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter.


A History of Aliens on Film

Digg has put together a super-cut of some of the most well-known movie extraterrestrials in 'The History of Aliens on Film', with Radiohead's "Subterranean Homesick Alien" as the soundtrack:

From their earliest cinematic appearance in Georges Méliès's "A Trip to the Moon" in 1902, our conception of life beyond Earth has changed to reflect our hopes and fears, the technology we've mastered, and our growing knowledge of the universe. Watch our depictions of extraterrestrial life change over nearly 100 films and 112 years.

Would have been nice if some of the cuts were a bit longer...bit hard to keep up at times. Any of your favourites not in there?

I enjoyed noting that some of the depictions matched reasonably closely with this half-facetious 'History of Science Fiction' graphic (posted by @neverjessie):

History of Science Fiction

"UFOlogy Has No Ontology": Jacques Vallee at the CAIPAN Workshop 2014

Last year, back when a few reporters took a look at the sorry state of UFO conventions in the United States, and wondered whether UFOlogy as a field had finally come to an end, some of the best minds in the world were meeting behind close doors on the other side of the Atlantic, having serious discussions about a subject which is still regarded as a form of deranged entertainment by the majority of mainstream media.

Those who were invited to participate didn't have to waste time convincing the audience about the reality of the phenomenon; nor was this a reunion of 'true believers' spinning yarns of contact with benevolent Space Brothers or malevolent alien invaders (and they were certainly NO Kodachrome slides of child mummies displayed on cheap glass showcases!). The multinational team of scientists and members of the military gathered at the CAIPAN workshop, sponsored by the French space agency CNES, were gathered in the city of Paris on the second weekend of July of 2014, because they were already convinced UFOs are more than fodder for the supermarket tabloids. But more than that, they were keenly aware of an utterly embarrassing realization for those who claim to be 'professional UFOlogists': That almost 70 years after Kenneth's Arnold seminal sighting in June of 1947, we still don't know $#!t about what UFOs *are*.

Which was precisely the point of Jacques Vallee's participation during the CAIPAN workshop. "Suppose the so-called Disclosure happened tomorrow," Vallee proposes at the beginning of his presentation titled A Strategy for Research; were that to occur, and the press actually began to take the subject seriously and ask UFOlogists for information about the phenomenon, "we would be unable to answer a number of very basic questions."

By getting back to basics, Vallee is setting forth a number of very straightforward and logical questions highlighting our monumental ignorance about the phenomenon:

  • Are there global patterns in the data?
  • What are the physical facts of the phenomenon?
  • Are there special locations where it manifests?
  • What are the social and cultural factors?
  • What is the impact on humans?
  • What methodology is applicable?

The most shocking aspect of the strategy proposed by Vallee, is the fact that ALL those issues can be researched today with the tools available to modern Science. UFOlogy does not require a 'Moon-shot' approach in which we have to patiently wait for the development of new technologies, in hope of one day starting to catch up with the elusive phenomenon. Parsing the databases already gathered by the few civilian groups conducting research --or the files left behind by defunct organizations, like APRO-- could begin to throw some light about patterns observed by UFOs throughout history.

So why are we not doing it?

"UFOlogy has no Ontology" says Vallee, as a phrase meant to encapsulate the stagnation of a field which is already suffering from rheumatism, even though it has barely given its first few steps. With UFOs we try to study cases by exclusion alone --"it wasn't a plane, or a balloon, or Venus, or a meteor, ergo it's an unknown"-- and until we come up with a useful methodology devoid of ideology, with which we can go beyond what UFOs aren't and start to describe what UFOs are, another 70 more years will come and go, and our children's children will still be wondering about those pesky lights in the sky.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Just Got Real

Radio Telescope Scans the Sky

Today marks 46 years since Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on extraterrestrial ground, when the Apollo 11 mission successfully landed on the Moon. Russian billionaire Yuri Milner certainly has a sense of occasion, because he chose this auspicious date to announce what may be the next big step in learning about our universe: a $100 million project to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

SETI has fought for decades to secure a decent amount of funding to conduct a thorough search of the skies, although until recently they were also hamstrung by the technology available to do so. Both of those problems have suddenly been solved through the wallet of Milner, who made his fortune through a number of smart investments, including being an early funder of Facebook.

Milner announced his 'Breakthrough Initiatives' today, flanked by the likes of Stephen Hawking, SETI pioneer Frank Drake, and exoplanet hunter extraordinaire Geoff Marcy:

  1. 'Breakthrough Listen' will conduct the most comprehensive search for signals from alien civilisations ever, using the best technology available. Included is a large amount of observation time on two of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes: Green Bank Telescope in the United States, and Parkes Telescope in Australia. Previously only allowed a day or two per year on these big telescopes, SETI researchers will now have thousands of hours of listening time.
  2. 'Breakthrough Message' is the complementary project to send a message back to listening aliens, “to describe ourselves and our planet in language that other minds can understand", according to Milner. This will involve a million dollar prize pool for a competition to create the message, as well as some debate as to whether sending a message is in fact a smart move (ie. should we broadcast our existence in case there are nasty aliens out there).

Stephen Hawking voiced his support for the project in the following statement:

To understand the Universe, you must know about atoms. About the forces that bind them.

The contours of space and time. The birth and death of stars, the dance of galaxies. The secrets of black holes.

But that is not enough. These ideas cannot explain everything. They can explain the light of stars. But not the lights that shine from planet Earth.

To understand these lights, you must know about life. About minds.

We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth. So in an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life. Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean.

Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos. Unseen beacons, announcing that here, on one rock, the Universe discovered its existence.

Either way, there is no bigger question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer - to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough Initiatives are making that commitment.

We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.

The data from the Breakthrough Listen project will be open, allowing anyone to search through and process it, and will be integrated with SETI@home, allowing volunteers to contribute time on their home computers to sift through the SETI data deluge.

For more information, see the Breakthrough Initiatives website, and as always, science writer Alan Boyle is doing a great job keeping us all up to date with the latest happenings.