A religious experience, courtesy of science: the "most astounding fact" known to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, accompanied by striking visuals and a great soundtrack. In short: that we are all made of star stuff.
For a wonderful exploration of the scientific history behind this most astounding fact, I highly recommend Marcus Chown's The Magic Furnace.
Did SETI hear from aliens back in 1977? For three and a half decades, the 'Wow!' signal - detected via a large radio telescope in Ohio - has tantalised alien hunters, but it has never been rediscovered or duplicated in searches since. But it certainly has now become somewhat of a touchstone, inspiring those questing after alien contact in the 21st century.
Late one night in the summer of 1977, a large radio telescope outside Delaware, Ohio intercepted a radio signal that seemed for a brief time like it might change the course of human history. The telescope was searching the sky on behalf of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and the signal, though it lasted only seventy-two seconds, fit the profile of a message beamed from another world. Despite its potential import, several days went by before Jerry Ehman, a project scientist for SETI, noticed the data. He was flipping through the computer printouts generated by the telescope when he noticed a string of letters within a long sequence of low numbers---ones, twos, threes and fours. The low numbers represent background noise, the low hum of an ordinary signal. As the telescope swept across the sky, it momentarily landed on something quite extraordinary, causing the signal to surge and the computer to shift from numbers to letters and then keep climbing all the way up to "U," which represented a signal thirty times higher than the background noise level. Seeing the consecutive letters, the mark of something strange or even alien, Ehman circled them in red ink and wrote "Wow!" thus christening the most famous and tantalizing signal of SETI's short history: The "Wow!" signal.
Despite several decades of searching, by amateur and professional astronomers alike, the "Wow!" signal has never again been found. In his new book, The Elusive Wow, amateur astronomer Robert Gray tells the story of the "Wow!" signal, and of astronomy's quest to solve the puzzle of its origin. It's a story he is well-positioned to tell. That's because Gray has been the "Wow!" signal's most devoted seeker and chronicler, having traveled to the very ends of the earth in search of it. Gray has even co-authored several scientific articles about the "Wow!" signal, including a paper detailing his use of the Very Large Array Radio Observatory in New Mexico to search for it.
If you ever wonder at the diversity of forms that alien life might take, just cast your eyes down and perhaps squint a little...because some of the creatures running around under our noses are tres bizarre:
Make sure you check out Thomas Shahan's entire gallery of amazing macro-photography over at Flickr. Absolutely wonderful imagery, and amazing considering that he produces most of his shots with relatively inexpensive, and sometimes home-brewed equipment:
Considering he's also got astronomy shots like this in his gallery, Shahan sure does cover the full range of sizes in his photography...
UFO researchers Richard Dolan and Bryce Zabel have created an official White House petition asking the government to "Investigate Unidentified Aerial Phenomena as Reported by Citizens, Police, Astronauts, Pilots and the Military":
Searching for microbes on Mars and radio signals from space is not enough. We must explain Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAP, right here on Earth.
For six decades worldwide, credible witnesses (including Presidents Carter and Reagan) have consistently described objects with flight capabilities beyond our technology. UAP are often verified by radar and even seen at nuclear sites by military officers.
Given the national security implications, the United States should conduct an independent investigation. This inquiry must transparently review the key unsolved UAP reports with access to classified documents. It must have the power to call witnesses and grant immunity.
The findings should be publicly presented.
I have to say though that I don't see a petition doing much to further UFO research, and right now is probably not the best timing given all the other 'real-world' things that people would like to see from government at the moment (maybe an 'Occupy Roswell' would be more hip?). But certainly go add your name to the list if you agree with the petition - they're looking for 25,000 signatures before the end of December.
Update: Richard Dolan explains the petition (thanks RPJ):
In September I posted a wonderful video of an animated orbit of the Earth, created from series of 600 photographs taken from the International Space Station, and available online at NASA's Gateway to Astronaut Photography of the Earth. Then, last month I posted a similarly created, quite otherworldly video which showed the aurorae as seen from space.
And now, this one is the grand-daddy of them all. Five minutes of pure, uncut wow, mainlined through your eyeballs:
I recommend doing the full-screen thingy. Unless you are allergic to teh awesome.
Back in the early 1970s, the Pioneer space probes were launched into space to study Jupiter, Saturn, and the farthest reaches of the Solar System. Attached to the probes are the 'Pioneer Plaques', gold-anodized aluminium plates containing symbolism which is designed to provide information about the origin of the spacecraft, 'just in case' another civilization ever came across them. Designed by SETI pioneer Frank Drake and Carl and Linda Sagan, the plates portray two human beings of either sex, as well as other pertinent information:
In recent years however, many scientists have expressed their concern about the possible danger in 'reaching out to aliens' via projects such as Active SETI. Just last year Stephen Hawking speculated opinion that advanced aliens might well use up all the resources of their home planet, and "become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”
With that in mind, here's a revisioned plaque for any future space probes. Head to the link to check out the plaque in all its awesomeness, but to give you a hint, it contains this:
I feel like Nadir’s drawing is the sort of Pioneer Disc that Stephen Hawking would send out—and what a great movie that would make. Picture this: A galactic federation receives threatening boasts of superiority from probes sent out from across the galaxy, and prepares for the worst. At the climax of the film, they find out that a scared man in a wheelchair was behind it all. That’s Twilight Zone shit right there. I want movie rights!
Whoah! Check out this magical timelapse created from still-shots taken on-board the International Space Station on September 17, which are all available at The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of the Earth (ISS029, Roll E, Frames 5865 to 6210, for those that don't believe this could be real). As one commenter on YouTube says, you almost expect unicorns to start flying around in shot - truly otherworldly.
Had to update my "Ten Amazing Timelapse Videos feature with the new addition. So now it's not ten, it's twelve...though I don't think anybody will be complaining.
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There are few people who can inspire with their words like the late Carl Sagan. Here he is on the search for alien life:
The video is part of 'The Sagan Series', a project by Reid Gower to pay tribute to the celebrated science educator. Well worth taking the time to work your way through all the videos - a moving and inspirational combination of words and images.
Care to fly around the Earth, as seen from the International Space Station?
This short timelapse video was created by science educator James Drake from a series of 600 photographs available online at NASA's Gateway to Astronaut Photography of the Earth, and features spectacular views of city lights at night, lightning from storms, the thin line of Earth's ionosphere, and sunrise from space. Wow.
Note that, despite the title of this post, this is not a 'normal speed' view from the International Space Station. Even at its velocity of approximately 28,000km/hr, the ISS takes roughly 90 minutes to do a full orbit of the Earth (around 43,000km at its orbital height).
By the way, if you want to surprise yourself, find a globe and measure 350km on the ground, then stand it up vertically. That's the height the ISS orbits at...you'll find it's barely what you'd call 'space', it really just skims the globe.
(h/t Universe Today)
Oh Cassini, you've done it again (click image for larger version):
A quintet of Saturn's moons come together in Cassini's field of view for this portrait.
Janus (179 kilometers, 111 miles across) is on the far left. Pandora (81 kilometers, 50 miles across) orbits between the A ring and the thin F ring near the middle of the image. Brightly reflective Enceladus (504 kilometers, 313 miles across) appears above the center of the image. Saturn's second largest moon, Rhea (1528 kilometers, 949 miles across), is bisected by the right edge of the image. The smaller moon Mimas (396 kilometers, 246 miles across) can be seen beyond Rhea also on the right side of the image.
This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ringplane. Rhea is closest to Cassini here. The rings are beyond Rhea and Mimas. Enceladus is beyond the rings.
The image was taken in visible green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 29, 2011. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.1 million kilometers (684,000 miles) from Rhea and 1.8 million kilometers (1.1 million miles) from Enceladus.