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Sat, 02 Jul 2022
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Strange Skies


Surprise solar storm with 'disruptive potential' slams into Earth

Experts were initially unsure what caused the freak geomagnetic event.

Solar Storm
© Shutterstock
A stream of supercharged particles from the sun recently crashed into Earth with no prior warning.
Scientists were recently left scratching their heads after a "potentially disruptive" solar storm smashed into Earth without warning.

The surprise solar storm hit Earth just before midnight UTC June 25 and continued throughout most of June 26, according to Spaceweather.com. Scientists classified it as a G1-class storm, which means it was strong enough to create weak power grid fluctuations, cause minor impacts to satellite operation, disrupt the navigational abilities of some migrating animals, and cause unusually strong auroras.

The unexpected solar storm coincided with the peak of an extremely rare five-planet alignment, where Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn lined up in the sky in order of their proximity to the sun (which hasn't happened since 1864). Amateur astronomers in the northern hemisphere were able to capture images of the surprise auroras as they photobombed the neatly aligned planets.

Photographer Harlan Thomas captured an image of bright auroras in Calgary, Canada, which flashed across the dawn sky in front of the planetary alignment on June 26.

"Wow, talk about surprises," Thomas told Spaceweather.com. "The aurora became [visible to the] naked eye with beautiful pillars," and lasted for around 5 minutes, Thomas said.


Did supernovae help form Barnard's loop?

A new view begins to piece together the 3D puzzle of Orion and how Barnard's Loop may have formed.
Barnard's Loop

Cambridge, MA - Astronomers studying the structure of the Milky Way galaxy have released the highest-resolution 3D view of the Orion star-forming region. The image and interactive figure were presented today at a press conference hosted by the American Astronomical Society.

Led by researchers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, the work connects 3D data on young stars and interstellar gas around the Orion complex of star-forming regions. Analysis of the 2D and 3D images, alongside theoretical modeling, shows that supernova explosions within the last 4 million years produced large cavities in the interstellar material associated with Orion.

One particular cavity the team discovered may help explain the origin of Barnard's Loop, a famous and mysterious semi-circle in the night sky first observed in 1894.

Grey Alien

China says it may have received signals from aliens

Scientists have yet to rule out human radio interference as the signals' source.

FAST Telescope
The signals were detected by the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) located in southwest China's Guizhou Province.
China is claiming that its enormous "Sky Eye" telescope may have picked up trace signals from a distant alien civilization, according to a recently posted and subsequently deleted report by Chinese scientists.

Astronomers at Beijing Normal University have discovered "several cases of possible technological traces and extraterrestrial civilizations from outside the Earth," according to a report published Tuesday (June 14) in Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China's Ministry of Science and Technology.

The signals were picked up by China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), nicknamed "Sky Eye," which is the largest radio telescope in the world. Sky Eye was put to work scanning deep space for radio signals that could indicate extraterrestrial life in 2019; sifting through that data in 2020, the researchers said they spotted two suspicious narrow-band, potentially artificial radio signals. Then, in 2022, a targeted survey of known exoplanets found another strange narrow-band radio signal, bringing the tally up to three.


Weird star produced the fastest nova on record

Polar System
© Mark Garlick
This illustration shows an intermediate polar system, a type of two-star system that the research team thinks V1674 Hercules belongs to. A flow of gas from the large companion star impacts an accretion disk before flowing along magnetic field lines onto the white dwarf.
Astronomers are buzzing after observing the fastest nova ever recorded. The unusual event drew scientists' attention to an even more unusual star. As they study it, they may find answers to not only the nova's many baffling traits, but to larger questions about the chemistry of our solar system, the death of stars and the evolution of the universe.

The research team, led by Arizona State University Regents Professor Sumner Starrfield, Professor Charles Woodward from University of Minnesota and Research Scientist Mark Wagner from The Ohio State University, co-authored a report published today in the Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society.

A nova is a sudden explosion of bright light from a two-star system. Every nova is created by a white dwarf — the very dense leftover core of a star — and a nearby companion star. Over time, the white dwarf draws matter from its companion, which falls onto the white dwarf. The white dwarf heats this material, causing an uncontrolled reaction that releases a burst of energy. The explosion shoots the matter away at high speeds, which we observe as visible light.

The bright nova usually fades over a couple of weeks or longer. On June 12, 2021, the nova V1674 Hercules burst so bright that it was visible to the naked eye — but in just over one day, it was faint once more. It was like someone flicked a flashlight on and off.

Nova events at this level of speed are rare, making this nova a precious study subject.

Grey Alien

Russian space chief speaks out on UFOs

Aliens might study humans from afar like "bacteria," the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said.

UFO Russian
© Illustration Getty Images / ktsimage
The chief of the Russian space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, has said that he believes in the existence of extraterrestrial life that might be more intelligent and technologically advanced than humanity. Aliens might also be studying the civilizations of Earth while staying unnoticed, he told Russia's Rossiya 24 broadcaster on Saturday.

Thousands of factors could have contributed to the emergence of life anywhere in the universe, Rogozin said, adding that humanity's ability to study space remain limited. "We know the 'Big Bang' theory but what if this 'Big Bang' took place only within a certain part of the universe that is visible to us?" the Roscosmos chief asked, adding that "there might be other worlds ... as well as innumerable factors that could contribute to the emergence of life, including an intelligent one."

The Russian Academy of Sciences has been conducting studies and "collecting facts" related to extraterrestrial life and UFOs in particular, Rogozin stated, adding, though, that 99.9% of all such cases reviewed by the Russian specialists have turned out to be "atmospheric and other physical phenomena" that have nothing to do with any extraterrestrial intelligent life hypotheses.


Ground-breaking number of brown dwarfs discovered

Brown Dwarfs
© University of Bern
Brown dwarfs, mysterious objects that straddle the line between stars and planets, are essential to our understanding of both stellar and planetary populations. However, only 40 brown dwarfs could be imaged around stars in almost three decades of searches. An international team led by researchers from the Open University and the University of Bern directly imaged a remarkable four new brown dwarfs thanks to a new innovative search method.

Brown dwarfs are mysterious astronomical objects that fill the gap between the heaviest planets and the lightest stars, with a mix of stellar and planetary characteristics. Due to this hybrid nature, these puzzling objects are crucial to improve our understanding of both stars and giant planets. Brown dwarfs orbiting a parent star from sufficiently far away are particularly valuable as they can be directly photographed - unlike those that are too close to their star and are thus hidden by its brightness. This provides scientists with a unique opportunity to study the details of the cold, planet-like atmospheres of brown dwarf companions.

However, despite remarkable efforts in the development of new observing technologies and image processing techniques, direct detections of brown dwarf companions to stars have remained rather sparse, with only around 40 systems imaged in almost three decades of searches. Researchers led by Mariangela Bonavita from the Open University and Clémence Fontanive from the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) and the NCCR PlanetS at the University of Bern directly imaged four new brown dwarfs as they report in a study that has just been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society MNRAS. This is the first time that multiple new systems with brown dwarf companions on wide orbital separations have been announced at the same time.


Discovery of second repeating fast radio burst raises new questions

Fast Radio Burst
© Di Li/NAOC
The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST, below) and the Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA, middle) under the night sky.
An international team of astronomers have discovered a second persistently active fast radio burst, posing questions about the nature of the mysterious phenomena.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are intense, brief flashes of radio-frequency emissions, lasting on the order of milliseconds. The phenomenon was discovered in 2007, by graduate student David Narkevic and his supervisor Duncan Lorimer. The source of these highly energetic events is a mystery, but clues as to their nature are being gradually collected.

The new source, Fast radio burst 20190520B, was detected with the Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in Guizhou, China, on May 20, 2019 and found in data in November that year, a new study reports.

Follow-up observations by the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) program led by Caltech found weaker, constant radio emissions associated with the FRB, also allowing the Subaru telescope in Hawaii to localize the source to be within the fringes of a dwarf galaxy nearly 3 billion light-years from Earth.

Notably it is the second discovered repeating FRB to be associated with a persistent radio source (PRS), following the localization of FRB 121102 in 2012.

"The big surprise for me was realizing that the new FRB seems to be such a perfect 'twin' to an earlier discovery," Casey Law, an astronomer at Caltech and a co-author who led the VLA program, told Space.com.

"Perhaps some would have preferred to say that the first such association [between an FRB and radio source] was a coincidence, because it was hard to explain. Now the second example shows that this is a real and critical part of the life of an FRB."


New Comet C/2022 F2 (NEOWISE)

CBET 5113 & MPEC 2022-G83, issued on 2022, April 06, announce the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~17) in infrared exposures obtained during Mar. 30-Apr. 1 UT with the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (or NEOWISE; formerly the WISE earth-orbiting satellite). The new comet has been designated C/2022 F2 (NEOWISE).

Stacking of 60 unfiltered exposures, 30 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2022, April 3.3 from X02 (Telescope Live, Chile) through a 0.61-m f/6.5 astrograph + CCD, shows that this object is a comet with a central condensation inside a coma of diameter 19" and a hint of a broad tail 13" long in p.a. 283 degrees, with magnitude of 17.5-17.7 in an aperture of radius 5".5 (Observers E. Bryssinck, M. Rocchetto, E. Guido, M. Fulle, G. Milani, G. Savini, A. Valvasori).

Our confirmation image (click on the images for a bigger version)
C/2022 F2
© Remanzacco Blogspot


Astronomers detect a new radio source of unknown origin

Unknown Source FRB
© Balzan et al., 2022.
Three-color HST image of NGC 2082 overlaid with ASKAP and ATCA contours. The inset image in the bottom-left provides a zoom in of J054149.24–641813.7, showing the absence of any optical counterpart.
During radio continuum observations of a spiral galaxy known as NGC 2082, Australian astronomers have discovered a mysterious bright and compact radio source, which received designation J054149.24-641813.7. The origin and nature of this source is unknown and requires further investigation. The finding is reported in a paper published May 23 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

In general, radio sources are various objects in the universe that emit relatively large amounts of radio waves. Among the strongest sources of such emission are pulsars, certain nebulas, quasars, and radio galaxies.

Now, a team of astronomers led by Joel Balzan of Western Sydney University in Australia, report the finding of a new radio source, whose true nature is still uncertain. While observing NGC 2082 using Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) and Parkes radio telescope, they identified a strong point radio source positioned 20 arcseconds from the galaxy center. NGC 2082 is a G-type spiral galaxy in the Dorado constellation, located some 60 million light years away from the Earth, with a diameter of approximately 33,000 light years.

"We present radio continuum observations of NGC 2082 using ASKAP, ATCA and Parkes telescopes from 888 MHz to 9,000 MHz. Some 20 arcsec from the center of this nearby spiral galaxy, we discovered a bright and compact radio source, J054149.24-641813.7, of unknown origin," the researchers wrote in the paper.


DARPA launches 'Ouija' project to study radio signals in Earth's atmosphere with satellites

Timelapse view of the ionosphere
A timelapse view of the ionosphere as seen from the International Space Station, with city lights shining below.
The U.S. military plans to launch satellites to learn more about how radio signals behave in part of the Earth's atmosphere.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has set up a new program, called Ouija, which will use sensors on "low-orbiting satellites" to track high-frequency radio waves in the ionosphere. DARPA has a solicitation for proposals available now for one part of the proposal and plans to release a second solicitation at another date.

The ionosphere is best known as the atmospheric zone where auroras roam, depending upon solar activity and the Earth's magnetic field. The Ouija program will focus on a region of the ionosphere roughly 125 miles to 185 miles (300 to 400 kilometers) in altitude — well below the orbit of the International Space Station, which zooms around our planet at an average height of 250 miles (400 km).

Characterizing how radio waves behave in this space will be crucial to help future warfighters work effectively, DARPA officials said in an April 22 statement. Signal propagation in the ionosphere is notoriously unpredictable, due to the high density of charged particles (mainly electrons) that can alter the path of radio signals.