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

Curiosity in the Air (Above Mars)

Curiosity Landing on Mars


In case you've been living under a rock, or watching Olympics 24-7, yesterday the Mars Rover Curiosity/Mars Science Laboratory landed safely on the Red Planet, via an amazing 'sky-crane' manoeuvre from its host spacecraft. The photo above captures it parachuting towards the Martian surface, as imaged by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (and the HiRISE team now think they've also spotted the craft's discarded heat-shield falling in the same shot). Though this isn't the first time that HiRISE has captured such a stunning shot - a couple of years ago it did the same in this spectacular image of the Phoenix lander descending onto Mars.

And if that wasn't enough for you, the Curiosity team have now released time-lapse footage of the rover's landing, from its own perspective:

I'm looking forward to keeping a close eye on Curiosity's investigation of our neighbouring planet. You can too, via the official NASA Mars Science Laboratory website.

The Top Ten UFO Cases, as Voted By UFO Experts

Canadian film-maker Paul Kimball's feature Best Evidence: The Top 10 UFO Cases has been posted to YouTube by UFO-TV, who will also be releasing the documentary in DVD format in the near future. It's an excellent film, featuring some of the top names in the UFO field casting their votes for the strongest UFO cases, and explaining why (see my 2007 review of Best Evidence for a quick summary). Here's an embed of the entire documentary:

Among some of the names featured, you'll find Stan Friedman, Nick Redfern, Kevin Randall, and somewhat poignantly, Karl Pflock and Mac Tonnies.

If the film feels familiar, it may be because I posted a Vimeo version last year. Thought it worth mentioning the new YouTube posting though, for those who may have missed it or prefer watching video through that source.

The Scottish Roswell?


Picture the scene: A shepherd visiting a remote area stumbles upon strange wreckage strewn across the ground which could be the remains of a crashed spaceship. The debris consists of pieces of unusual metal and strange drawings. On reporting his find at the local police station, search teams and military personnel descend on the area. The wreckage disappears – no one knows where – and civilians are told to ‘keep quiet about it.’

You are probably thinking ‘Roswell, New Mexico, 1947’.

But no, this incident occurred in the Scottish Highlands one spring morning in 1962. It has uncanny links to its American cousin, even down to the ‘cover story’ used hide the true identity and purpose of the ‘crashed spaceship.’

On his blog, Dr David Clarke investigates a case from the UK's "UFO Files", citing an investigation by aviation historian Keith Bryers that suggests this "crashed UFO" in Scotland was in fact the payload of an American spy balloon similar to the Mogul balloons which was later claimed (by the USAF) to be the cause of the original Roswell incident.

It's a fascinating look back at the UFO topic during the height of the Cold War - the Cuban Missile Crisis had the entire world on edge, and both East and West were involved in numerous top-secret, high-tech surveillance operations. According to Clarke, in the years before the United States were able to use satellites for observations, the USAF used Scotland as a base for launching dozens of enormous, camera-carrying balloons designed to ride the jet stream to the Soviet Union and take photographs of military and nuclear facilities.

Read: "The Scottish Roswell"

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Oh Blimpic Kind of UFO

While the Olympic Games are usually infested with flying discs, most notably in the discus and trap shooting events, UFO researcher and pundit Nick Pope raised eyebrows a few weeks ago when he suggested that we should keep our eyes on the sky during the Olympic Games, because "if aliens have studied our psychology, they may choose to appear in our skies on a significant date – the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games is one date being widely circulated by conspiracy groups."

But some people at least heeded Pope's advice, because after the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics last week, there was suddenly a flurry of internet discussion about a UFO hovering over the event being caught on video footage. Some rational heads suggested it was simply the Goodyear blimp, used for coverage of many sporting events, but many people disagreed, saying that the object was not blimp-shaped, but was instead a disc with the classic flying saucer dome on top:

Personally, all I see is a blimp. It looks like a blimp in profile, with the bright spot at top probably caused by light reflecting from the Moon. This seems more a case of "you see what you want to see". And the blimp suggestion seems far more likely - Goodyear's twitter account acknowledged it was them with a cheeky tweet, and photos on their website and on their Facebook page seem to offer the final nail in the 'Olympic UFO' story.

One ironic note to finish though...one of the photos posted to Goodyear's Facebook page shows the video feed from the blimp looking down on the stadium. And y'know...it's kinda disc-shaped, and has a dome-looking thing in the middle (actually, it looks a bit Spielberg-UFOish)...

Olympic UFO on the Ground?

Adagio in Earth Minor

Another stunning timelapse film, created by Knate Myers from still shots taken on-board the International Space Station, and made even the more brilliant by the accompaniment of John Murphy's Adagio In D Minor from the wonderful soundtrack to the sci-fi film Sunshine. Full-screen the hell out of this, sit back, and pretend you're on your own personal spaceship flying past the Earth:

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UK UFO Files Part 9

The British Ministry of Defence has released the ninth instalment of the public dump of their 'UFO files', which can for a restricted period be freely downloaded from the UFO page at the National Archives. Along with the files you'll find a highlights guide as well as a briefing guide written by Dr David Clarke pointing out some of the more interesting material amongst the mass of documents. Here's Clarke discussing some material from the new release:

Opinions regarding the release of these files over the past couple of years has for the most part polarised into two camps of (a) true believers saying it's all disinformation and a front, and (b) skeptics saying "see, nothing of interest, the government don't care about this phenomenon". I find myself in the middle of these views - while I'm sure most sightings have prosaic explanations, and the release of information may not be a 'front', I personally very much doubt that any national/defence intelligence agency would be casually disregarding constant sightings of strange craft in the sky, both in terms of possible surveillance or armed threat (especially in the post-9/11 age, and now with the rise in use of unmanned drones), and also in terms of a mythos that could be manipulated to their own ends. Ironically, in newly released document DEFE-24-2080-1, one of the MoD's own mentions as much in applying for funds to study the phenomenon more closely:

Until we conduct some analysis of the files we will not have any idea what the many reports represent. If at any stage in the future UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) are shown to exist then there is the potential for severe embarrassment. We can justifiably be asked how we could receive so many reports and ignore them. If I had a suspicious nature I might assume that there is a high level remit on the DIS not to investigate UAPs for some reason!

The request for £80,000 of funding came on the back of frustration that although DI 55 had been tasked with the study of UFOs for 13 years (as of the submission in 1995), "during that time the many reports received have been filed and no analysis has ever been undertaken. No serious follow up has ever occurred to any incident". Does anyone seriously think intelligence agencies would not be following up at least some of these reports?

You can find more commentary on the latest release of the 'UK UFO Files' on Dr David Clarke's personal website.

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A Song of Martian Ice and Fire

The Mars HiRISE team at the University of Arizona have released an amazing image of an 800-meter-high vertical cliff of ice at the North Pole of Mars. I was immediately reminded of 'The Wall' from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, guarded by the Night's Watch. Would be amazing to see a shot of this structure from ground level:

The Wall on Mars

There is an ice sheet at the North Pole of Mars that is a few miles thick at its center. At some places (like in this image) it ends in steep cliffs that can be about 800 meters (2600 feet) high.

The slopes of these cliffs are almost vertical which causes slab-like blocks of ice to break off and crash down to the surrounding plains. Dense networks of cracks cover these icy cliff faces making it easier for these blocks to break free. We've seen new debris at the base of many of these cliffs appearing between successive HiRISE images, so we regularly monitor sites like this to check for new blocks that have fallen. Understanding how these cliffs are formed helps us understand the climatic record stored in the ice sheet itself.

You can view the image in larger sizes at the HiRISE website.

(h/t @UnlikelyWorlds)

Conscious Stars?

Centauri Dreams has a fascinating guest post by Dr. Gregory Matloff, co-author of The Starflight Handbook and Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel. Last year Matloff delivered a paper in London at the British Interplanetary Society’s conference on the work of Olaf Stapledon, the author of Star Maker. As one of the ideas that Stapledon explored was the hypothesis that stars might have a form of consciousness, Matloff presented a paper speculating on anomalous stellar velocities, notably the possibility that this problem might be solved by positing stellar consciousness. You can read the full paper, "Star Consciousness: An Alternative to Dark Matter", over at Centauri Dreams. Here's the abstract:

The Dark Matter hypothesis has been invoked as an explanation for the fact that stars revolve around the centers of their galaxies faster than can be accounted for by observable matter. After decades of failed experimental searches, dark matter has remained elusive. As an alternative to the Dark Matter hypothesis, a idea first presented by author Olaf Stapledon is developed in this paper. Stars are considered to be conscious entities maintaining their galactic position by their volition. It is shown that directed stellar radiation pressure and stellar winds are insufficient to account for this anomalous stellar velocity. Previous research rules out magnetism. A published theory of psychokinetic action that does not violate quantum mechanics is discussed, as is the suggestion that stellar consciousness could be produced by a Casimir effect operating on molecules in the stellar atmosphere. It is shown that a discontinuity in stellar velocities as a function of spectral class exists. Cooler red stars in the solar neighborhood move faster than hotter, blue stars, as would be expected if the presence of molecules in stars was a causative factor. Further research in experimentally validating the psychokinetic effect and demonstrating the role of the Casimir effect in consciousness is required to advance the concepts presented here beyond the hypothesis stage.

Love reading these sorts of highly speculative ideas (it immediately reminded me of Lem's Solaris, and also previous things I've read about consciousness as an emergent phenomenon in complex systems). Though Centauri Dreams is a properly sober, scientific website devoted to interstellar travel/exploration, so as you can imagine there's some fairly predictable reactions in the comment thread. But as Matloff himself says in the comments, he expected some heat for publishing the paper, but believes that such speculation is necessary for the progress of knowledge.

Venus Transit - Up Close and Personal

For those not able to watch the Venus transit, NASA have already released some up-close-and-personal video from the beginning of the 'eclipse' of our Sun by our sister planet, courtesyk of the Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Ancient Aliens - Such D-bags

Fair call:

Ancient Aliens

(via American Book of the Dead)