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Ron Patton | April 10, 2019
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C/2017 U1



The other day I was reading that NASA is still on the hunt for inhabitable planets. Even though the Kepler telescope died suddenly a new planet hunter called TESS took its place. It is odd, that even though NASA can be quite sardonic about astrophysicists making claims about life in space – they are undaunted in their search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

It is as if they wish to be the only agency to announce to the world that they have found microbial or alien life. They certainly want to be the agency that is giving the college try by sending out probes to analyze what Kepler did before it gave up the ghost.

TESS launched to Earth orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in April 2018. The spacecraft is searching for exoplanets around nearby stars by looking for tiny brightness dips caused when these worlds cross the faces of their host stars from TESS’s perspective.

NASA’s recently deceased Kepler space telescope used this same “transit method” to great effect: Kepler has found about 70 percent of the roughly 4,000 known exoplanets to date. And more discoveries are in the offing; nearly 3,000 Kepler “candidates” await confirmation by follow-up observations or analysis.

TESS, whose haul may ultimately exceed Kepler’s, is expected to observe about 400,000 stars during its two-year prime mission. Not all of those stars were created equal from the mission’s perspective, and that’s where the new catalog comes in.

Again we see that NASA is pushing forward in trying to find biological signatures that they can control biological signatures and other events have come and gone and while scientists have actually gone on the record declaring “life confirmed” – they are often ridiculed, questioned and even dismissed.

Gilbert Levin was the scientist who found that the Viking Missions produced evidence of life on Mars. NASA immediately dismissed it. In 1996, a researcher that was actually supported by NASA said he had found fossil bacteria in a meteorite that had been blasted off the surface of Mars. The report, which was published in the journal, Science, was featured on the cover of Time Magazine and was trumpeted by the White House.

Eventually, most scientists were saying “Nothing to see here” claiming that formations in the rock merely looked like alien fossils and weren’t the real deal. Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center claimed that he had found conclusive evidence of alien life. There were diagrammed pictures distributed that purported to show fossils of bacteria found in an extremely rare class of meteorite called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites. The pictures looked like some form of alien pasta embedded in the rock of the rare meteorites.

Hoover discovered the fossils by breaking apart the CI1 meteorite and analyzing the exposed rock with a scanning electron microscope and a field emission electron- scanning microscope, which allowed him to detect any fossil remains. What he found were fossils of micro-organisms, many of which he says are strikingly similar to those found on our own planet.

The “fossil found in the meteorite story” has often been announced by NASA scientists only to be shot down by other scientists who want to silence any and all talk about life out in space.

After Hoover’s report in the Journal of Cosmology, NASA didn’t surprise anyone by issuing a statement saying that it will distance itself from Hoover and his work.

Paul Hertz, the chief scientist of NASA’s science mission directorate, issued a statement saying, among other things, that “NASA cannot stand behind or support a scientific claim unless it has been peer-reviewed or thoroughly examined by other qualified experts. According to Hertz, NASA was unaware of the recent claims and the submission of the paper to the Journal of Cosmology or of the paper’s subsequent publication.”

Recently, we reported that researchers at the University of Southern California claimed that based on a new analysis, Mars likely harbors a “deep groundwater” system that probably extends far beyond the planet’s poles and bubbles to the surface through cracks in craters.

Also, scientists working with the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter reported that in the summer of 2013, the spacecraft detected methane within Gale Crater, a 96-mile-wide depression near the Martian equator.

That is noteworthy because NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring that region since 2011, and in the summer of 2013 it, too, measured a marked rise of methane in the air that lasted at least two months.

Again, this may indicate that there is life on Mars.

It was announced a few days ago that the Japanese space agency dropped a bomb on an asteroid which it has been following for several months.

The space agency, JAXA, used its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to destroy part of the Ryugu with a basketball-sized bomb. The spacecraft had to elevate highly after dropping the bomb as to avoid any spluttering debris, which could have put the mission in jeopardy.

The Japanese spacecraft released the impactor from 1,640ft. and then retreated behind Ryugu as the bullet created a cloud of debris.

JAXA then collected samples, which have been exposed by the demolition of the surface, to help explain the origins of the solar system. The bottom line is that the Hayabusa2 is looking for the building blocks for life.

If it is successful in doing so, it will be the first mission to collect samples from an asteroid, which will hopefully be returned to Earth.

I have always wondered about why we are seeing the sudden rush to space – the sudden missions to find biosignatures and SETI’S newfound mission to redefine themselves as a group that is searching the cosmos for technosignatures rather than trying to get a signal from some distant planet.

Last month, Vice President Mike Pence said that by 2024 mankind should be making yet another giant leap to the moon and then to Mars.

Pence warned that if NASA can’t put astronauts on the moon by 2024, “we need to change the organization, not the mission.” He cautioned that the space agency needed to transform into a more efficient organization, or else it would be replaced by private industry.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine assured Pence that NASA would work hard to meet the deadline, expressing confidence that the SLS, or Space Launch System, would be ready for the job.

Planetary scientist Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute said 2024 is feasible provided the accelerated effort is funded properly and commercial space systems are fully embraced.

But outside experts were skeptical that the goal could be achieved. Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said he would be “astonished” if it’s pulled off, noting that a lunar lander still needs to be designed, built and tested.

Former NASA official Scott Hubbard pointed out that both Bush administration’s proposed similar far-reaching exploration efforts that “didn’t go anywhere and collapsed of their own significant financial weight.”

I am always in awe of how nearly 50 years ago we went to the moon without a hitch and with less technology than you have in a cell phone, and yet we get resistance and negativity.

And people wonder why we question the 1969 moon landing and with the doublethink that NASA has about aliens and signs of life – is it any wonder that people question the existence of any life outside the confines of earth?

Some are still waiting for a sigh, a hint or a clue and yet depending on what you read and who you trust, the signs are obvious and I believe that the new found interest of life in space began when an unknown interstellar object came unannounced in our solar system.

For many years Astronomers had predicted that an interstellar object would someday stumble into our view, but they had expected it to be a comet. Since our comets reside toward the edge of the solar system, significant disturbances—like the violent movements of young planets swirling into shape out of gas and dust—could send them flying out into the universe.

When the event arrived, scientists were shocked at what they were looking at. It was red, long like a needle and if you blinked it resembled a space ship that was covered in space dust.

The automated Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, which is primarily intended to scan the sky for potentially hazardous, Earth-approaching asteroids, detected an unusual object. It was originally regarded as a possible comet, cataloged as C/2017 U1. After about a month astronomers could clearly see that it was something much more remarkable.

First, the so-called ‘comet’ had no fuzz or icy tail; Astronomers then decided that it was clearly not a comet but perhaps a rather a fast-moving asteroid. It got a new designation, A/2017 U1 (A for Asteroid). Much more intriguing, though, was its orbit. It was moving past the sun on a hyperbolic path, a trajectory indicating that it originated from beyond our solar system. It got another new designation, introducing a naming scheme never used before: 1I/2017 U1 (I was for Interstellar.)

The Pan-STARRS team quickly picked a more appropriate name for such an important object. They called it `Oumuamua,’ a Hawaiian word that translates roughly as “messenger or scout from the distant past.”

Giving it such a name had many people curious as to whether or not the object was something more than a mere comet or asteroid.

Before its official name was decided upon, the name Rama was put forward – a reference to the alien spacecraft discovered under similar circumstances in Arthur C. Clarke’s 1973 science fiction novel, Rendezvous with Rama.

The discovery raised the consciousness level to that of more study and a redefining of the sciences that focus on exobiology and astrophysics.

After the sighting of Rama or “the messenger” SETI investigators Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak conducted a study investigating whether there are any radio signals being emitted from Oumuamua.

President Trump was notified that scientists were following this craft and that rumor has it that this event came close to being a disclosure event. After hearing about the remote possibility of this elongated object was an alien spacecraft, he started pushing harder for the establishment of the “Space Force.”

After we were informed that the Pentagon was investigating the threat assessment of Unidentified flying objects a meeting was called by the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. The meeting was held at the University of California, Irvine.

It was at this meeting that Astrophysicist Jill Tarter, one of the world’s best-known leaders in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, stated that the so-called SETI program will have to be renamed.

Tarter explained that the phrase “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” generates an incorrect perception of what scientists in this field of study were actually doing. A more appropriate title for the field, she said, would be “the search for technosignatures,” or signs of technology created by intelligent alien civilizations.

To me, this meant that secretly, these scientists who scan space for space signals from extraterrestrial civilizations may have stumbled on something that may be a signal from extraterrestrial technology rather than direct conversations between biological entities.

Eavesdropping on a conversation between alien civilizations would be fascinating, but detecting an alien signal with a technological signal may be forthcoming; however, there would have to be a staff put in place that would be capable of interpreting the signal and its signature.

If a technological signal was detected who would be there to detect or learn the nuances of what the signal means?

NASA immediately hosted a conference dedicated to rethinking their quest: NASA apparently challenged scientists to evaluate how far the search for technosignatures has come and what the most promising possibilities for the future are.

The discussions included different types of technosignatures, how different types of technology can pick them up and what other developments like the rise of big data offer to the field. The workshop included many speakers who have been leading the search for extraterrestrial intelligence for decades.

Doesn’t it seem odd that after the original sighting of Oumuamua—there were emergency meetings with NASA and SETI as to how to handle something this strange, I am sure there were many authorities explaining what would be prudent to reveal about this interstellar anomaly.

Even though there was no official evidence of contact, it was assumed that perhaps Oumuamua did send a technosignature and that this anomaly is still being assessed for a possible direct hit.

We didn’t get much of a chance to study it, unfortunately. By the time Oumuamua was discovered, it was already past the sun, on its way back to the stars and off into the darkness.

Astronomers at the world’s major observatories rushed to see what they could learn from it. They began amazing, rapid-fire studies. What they found was peculiar. Not only did it not behave like a typical asteroid or comet – it did not look natural and thus there was talk that this object was artificial.

Many speculated, could this be a dead, abandoned spaceship? Could it perhaps be instrumented but not actively powered?

While Occam’s Razor would say that it’s unlikely that the very first object we ever see from interstellar space just happens to be a spaceship the talk of the object being an inert spaceship hurtling through space would not die.

As Oumuamua barreled away, scientists reviewed their data. The object was unlike any asteroids and comets they knew. It was rusty red, shaped like a cigar, and tumbling uncontrollably. The asteroids and comets in our solar system formed when the system was young, alongside the planets. Asteroids are mostly rocky because they formed closer to the sun, where the heat melted away any ice. Comets are mostly made of ice because they formed farther out, safe from the glare.

Now, if Omuamua was a spaceship we would have to consider that it is an alien artifact that has been floating through space for millions of years and has been heavily altered by radiation and micrometeorites. That would explain why the thing looks unnatural and rocky in some areas.

Oumuamua lacked signs of a distinctly cometary phenomenon. When comets get close to a star, the heat boils some of their ice. The reaction causes dust to fly off the comet and trail behind it, producing a glowing, whitetail called a coma. Oumuamua didn’t have a coma.

Then came some more strangeness, the Hubble Space Telescope, continued to track Oumuamua after it faded from view from even the most powerful ground-based telescopes. The sun’s power gravity bent Oumuamua’s trajectory, acting like a slingshot. But “the path was not behaving as it would if it were just merely controlled by the sun’s gravity. It was as if it powered up an accelerated.

Astronomers used computer modeling to explore possible explanations for the mysterious acceleration, including potential effects of solar radiation, drag-like forces, and interaction with solar wind, the charged particles emitted by the sun. None of them fit.

Oumuamua hurdled through our solar system at 58,000 mph when it was discovered on Oct. 19, 2017. The object was then propelled by the Sun’s gravity, causing it to blast off on a hyperbolic trajectory out of our solar system at a rate of 196,000 mph.

Without hesitation, the astronomers theorized that the reason it accelerated was because of something called outgassing. Outgassing occurs when an icy object gets too close to the warmth of a star and starts releasing gases that propel it forward, scattering dust off its surface as it goes.

However, there were two Harvard scientists that saw the object as something more exciting.

Shmuel Bialy and Avi Loeb of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics were very vocal in exploring exciting possibilities as to what this strange anomaly was. They provided a more exotic scenario that Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.

Unfortunately, it’s now way too late for us to send a probe to Oumuamua or even to photograph it so that it could be studied properly, simply due to its sheer speed and the distance it’s already traveled from Earth. Instead, Bialy and Loeb suggest we keep our eyes out for similar objects careening through our local celestial neighborhood.

I am sure this will not be the only time we will see something like this observing us from space.

Written by Ron Patton

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