One Neptunian year that is - one complete orbit around the Sun by the planet - which takes 164.79 Earth years. The planet was discovered on September 23, 1846, and today it is back in the same location with respect to the Sun for the first time.
Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun (now that Pluto has been taken out back and hit on the head), the fourth-largest planet (by diameter), and orbits the Sun at a distance 30 times that of Earth.
The image above was taken in 1989 by Voyager 2 as it flew past - the only (human-built!) spacecraft ever to visit Neptune.
A couple of months ago I reported that SETI's Allen Telescope Array had been shut down due to lack of financial resources. But the alien-seeking organisation isn't done with yet - they've now turned to crowd-funding to try and get the telescopes switched back on, via the new SETIstars project:
At the SETI Institute, we’ve made a name for ourselves exploring space. But it’s our community here on Earth — passionate, science-minded and creative — that truly defines us. That’s why we’re launching SETIstars, an initiative to connect us more closely than ever with the constellation of visionaries and supporters that make our work possible.
Priority one is getting the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) back online as soon as possible and once again fixing our gaze on the stars. The ATA is a powerful field of linked radio telescopes that enable countless avenues of astronomical study, chief among them the search for evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations and insight into the nature of our cosmic origins. In the wake of a recent funding shortfall, however, this invaluable tool lies dormant and our vision of the universe around us has gone dark. With your help, we can change that.
But like any worthwhile endeavor, the first challenge is unlikely to be the last. This is a journey that will last our lifetimes, as we continually strive to get closer to answering the kinds of questions that may one day change everything about our world. It won’t happen overnight, but with your support, it will happen.
We here at the SETI Institute are making an appeal to the power of human collaboration, and now is the time to get involved. Join us!
As of this writing, SETIstars has raised $31,111 of their $200,000 goal (with 37 days remaining). Supporters ('Stars') are listed on the website, or you can donate anonymously if you so desire - note too that donations in the U.S. are tax-deductible.
If you're feeling in a givin' mood, just remember to squirrel away a few dollars for TDG's upcoming annual crowd-funding drive as well!
You know how in sci-fi movies they have those scenes where a spacecraft docks with a space station? It also happens in real-life:
The above image is one of a whole set of photos showing Space Shuttle Endeavour docked to the International Space Station, released today by NASA (high-res versions available at the link). They were taken by yet another spacecraft, a Russian Soyuz mission that had just left the ISS.
For more on the images, see Alan Boyle's latest entry at Cosmic Log.
There's no shortage of conspiracy theories involving Ronald Reagan and alien life. There's his famous U.N. speech about how an alien threat would bring humanity together, and also the story about his personal screening of Steven Spielberg's E.T., and his alleged mention of how close to reality the story was. Spielberg recently spoke to Quint at Ain't It Cool, mainly on the topic of Jaws, but he also was asked about this latter rumour. Spielberg notes that he was actually there at the time, and, as an eye-witness, gave his thoughts on Reagan's comment: in short, he's pretty sure it was just a deadpan joke.
Quint: Now, I’ve heard a story that I wanted to run by you. I have no idea if it’s true, but an effects friend of mine told me about a special screening of E.T. for Ronald Reagan. Have you heard this story?
Steven Spielberg: I was there!
Quint: The story I heard is that when Reagan saw it he started talking about how close to reality it was and he was quickly ushered out of the room. Is that true?
Steven Spielberg: No, he wasn’t ushered out of the room. He was the President of the United States! Nobody could usher Ronald Reagan out of the room! It was in the White House screening room and Reagan got up to thank me for bringing the film to show the President, the First Lady and all of their guests, which included Sandra Day O’Connor in her first week of as a Justice of the Supreme Court, and it included some astronauts… I think Neil Armstrong was there, I’m not 100% certain, but it was an amazing, amazing evening.
He just stood up and he looked around the room, almost like he was doing a headcount, and he said, “I wanted to thank you for bringing E.T. to the White House. We really enjoyed your movie,” and then he looked around the room and said, “And there are a number of people in this room who know that everything on that screen is absolutely true.”
And he said it without smiling! But he said that and everybody laughed, by the way. The whole room laughed because he presented it like a joke, but he wasn’t smiling as he said it...
Quint: So, do you think he actually let something slip there?
Steven Spielberg: I don’t think he let something slip there, no. I think he delivered a joke without smiling, without a little bit of a twinkle behind the joke. I think the joke landed because everybody laughed, but because I’m a little bit of a Ufologist I was hoping that there was something more to the joke than met my eye. I’m sorry to say I think he was simply trying to tell a joke.
For the truly conspiracy-minded, you can also listen to an audio clip of the above exchange, just so you know exactly what Spielberg said...
Here's a wonderful 'fan-film' created by Chris Abbas from NASA images captured by the Cassini space probe, in orbit around Saturn. The vibe is completed beautifully by a musical piece from Nine Inch Nails:
You have to remind yourself that these are actual photos, not CG creations. For more eye candy, see these recent colour images of Saturn, its rings, and a few of its moons.
Nick Risinger traveled 60,000 miles and took thousands of photographs of the night sky to create one, single image that beggars belief - the entire sphere of space that surrounds our planet:
The Photopic Sky Survey is a 5,000 megapixel photograph of the entire night sky stitched together from 37,440 exposures. Large in size and scope, it portrays a world far beyond the one beneath our feet and reveals our familiar Milky Way with unfamiliar clarity. When we look upon this image, we are in fact peering back in time, as much of the light—having traveled such vast distances—predates civilization itself.
Seen at a depth thousands of times more faint than the dimmest visible star, tens of millions of other suns appear, still perhaps only a hundredth of one percent thought to exist in our galaxy alone. Our Milky Way galaxy is the dominant feature, its dusty arms sweeping through the frame, punctuated by red clouds of glowing hydrogen. To the lower right are our nearest neighbors, each small galaxies themselves with their own hundreds of millions of stars.
Click on the small piece of the image below to access the entire pan and zoom version:
Awe-some. And if that's not enough of a Total Perspective Vortex for you, try this one.
Here's an interesting paper posted at Arxiv.org, by pioneer of the theory of panspermia (with giant of astronomy, Sir Fred Hoyle), Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe. It details what he says has been the multi-decade censorship of his paradigm-busting hypothesis, along with those who have presented supporting evidence (up to the recent controversy about alleged alien bacteria found in a meteorite presented by NASA astrobiologist Richard Hooper), by a scientific orthodoxy trying to maintain the status quo:
After 1982, when evidence for cosmic life and panspermia acquired a status close to irrefutable, publication avenues that were hitherto readily available became suddenly closed. With the unexpected discovery that comets had an organic composition, with comet dust possessing infrared spectra consistent with biomaterial (Hoover et al, 1986; Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 1986a,b) attitudes hardened to a point that panspermia and related issues were decreed taboo by all respectable journals and institutions. The peer review system that was operated served not only to exclude poor quality research but also to deliberately filter publication of any work that challenged the standard theory of life’s origins.
Even though the general public revelled in ideas of extraterrestrial life, science was expected to shun this subject no matter how strong the evidence, albeit through a conspiracy of silence. It was an unwritten doctrine of science that extraterrestrial life could not exist in our immediate vicinity, or, that if such life did exist, it could not have a connection with Earth.
Needless to say, most scientists who have struggled to put forward new theories (whether right or wrong) would probably feel in some way that their work is being unfairly ignored or silenced. And Professor Wickramasinghe's recent loss of funding for his University department, and criticism over his support of Hoover's alien life claim, would only exacerbate those feelings I'm sure. Still, an interesting perspective and insight into the history of this particular topic.
Thanks to 'Red' for the heads-up.
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The sad truth, as illustrated by XKCD...
And I had such high hopes as a five-year-old in 1976...
In 2007 film-maker Paul Kimball debuted his excellent documentary Best Evidence: Top Ten UFO Sightings, and earlier this year he generously posted the entire thing online, free for anyone to watch. Paul's now looking to create a follow-up, Beyond Best Evidence, and he's asking for your help - he wants to partly crowd-source the financing for the new documentary, and has created an IndieGoGo campaign with a number of packages of varying levels available to reward those who contribute:
Best Evidence was just the first part of a two part series. It was meant to establish the foundation from which one could ask the most important question. As my old friend, the late Mac Tonnies, stated at the end of Best Evidence: "what does it all mean?"
Beyond Best Evidence: The UFO Enigma is a feature-length documentary that will take the cases shown in Best Evidence, as well as a couple of new ones that highlight what appear to be some of the more "high strangeness" aspects of the phenomenon, and explore with the three key possible explanations with world's leading experts on the subject, as follows:
1. Extraterrestrial Hypothesis - This explanation maintains that UFO sightings represent proof of visitation to Earth by advanced extraterrestrials from another world, most likely within what proponents term of "local galactic neighbourhood."
2. Interdimensional Hypothesis - This explanation maintains that UFO sightings involve visitations from other "realities" or "dimensions" that co-exist alongside our own. It also holds that UFOs are a modern manifestation of a phenomenon that has occurred throughout recorded human history, which in prior ages were ascribed to mythological or supernatural forces and creatures.
3. Psychosocial hypothesis - This explanation maintains that UFO Sightings can be explained by psychological or social means, examples of which include wishful thinking, hallucinations, hoaxes, and misidentification of prosaic objects, such as satellites, aircraft, or natural phenomena.
Beyond Best Evidence is a feature length documentary that is being made independent of the mainstream broadcast system, so that we'll have the editorial freedom to explore any and possibilities about the UFO phenomenon without having to conform to network requirements to create "reality-based TV", which never has anything to do with actual reality.
The film is being financed using a combination of funding sources - community fundraising, Redstar Film's own production and post-production resources, federal and provincial film tax credits here in Canada, and private investment. Every dollar raised will be going directly into the production of the film.
It's also worth noting that all net profit received from the sale of Beyond Best Evidence will be donated to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada, a charitable cause near and dear to producer/director Paul Kimball. So definitely a fun and worthy cause to contribute at least a few dollars to: head on over to the IndieGoGo page for more information.
For the past few years there has been plenty of debate about the possible dangers of 'Active SETI' - that is, transmitting messages out to aliens, bringing attention to us (also known as METI - "Message to ET Intelligence"), rather than passively listening out for others (traditional SETI). However, I think there's an obvious solution...just get Alan Moore to send the message. Which is exactly what BBC Radio 6 did late last year. What self-respecting alien civilisation could respond aggressively to Alan inviting them over for a cuppa?
Yeah, Hello? Uh, if you're there pick up, okay listen it's Alan calling, Alan from Earth. You probably don't remember, it's over in the western spiral of the Milky Way although obviously you might have named it after a completely different brand of chocolate. Basically just find the Oort Cloud and ask for directions from there. Anyway just calling to catch up. We're doing alright with the carbon base lifeform thing. Kids are diversifying nicely, going through a bit of a fad for spines and brains at the minute but it's probably the same where you are. Well, that's about it really, we just hadn't heard from you in a while, like when we killed Michael Rennie or Klaatu, as you knew him in The Day The Earth Stood Still. So if you received this, get in touch, but actually thinking about it, don't bother calling after about, what, 2150, because I'm not expecting anyone to be in. Oh and I'm sending this song along it's called God Song by Robert Wyatt. I hope you like it. And that you don't communicate through perfume or minor variatrions in your sense of balance or something. Okay, you take care and I'll talk to you soon. Love you, Bye.