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Universe Today

UFO hearing brings a few answers and more questions

For the first time in more than half a century, Congress conducted a public hearing into the state of the Pentagon’s study of unidentified aerial phenomena — which is the new name for mysteries once known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, told a hearing organized by the House Intelligence subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and counterproliferation that military reports about UFOs — sorry, I mean UAPs — have been “frequent and continuing.”

Today’s hearing follows up on a Pentagon report that was issued last year and listed 144 UAP sightings that have been reported since 2004. The report pledged to take such sightings more seriously than in the past. “Since the release of that preliminary report, the UAP task force database has now grown to contain approximately 400 reports,” Bray said. “The stigma has been reduced.”

However, the hearing also made clear that the Department of Defense is still keeping mum about the detailed workings of its UAP detection and assessment process due to national security concerns. Bray and the hearing’s other witness — Ronald Moultrie, the under secretary of defense for intelligence and security — deferred some of lawmakers’ questions to the closed session that followed the open hearing.

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Universe Today

Rocket Lab catches (and releases) a rocket

Rocket Lab has just joined SpaceX in the club of space companies that can launch an orbital-class rocket booster and bring it back alive.

In a sense, the California-based company one-upped SpaceX by having a helicopter snag the first-stage booster of its Electron rocket with a cable and a hook as it floated past on the end of a parachute, 6,500 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

So what if the pilots of the customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter had to release the booster moments later, due to concerns about the way their load was behaving as it swung from the hook?

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Universe Today

Large Hadron Collider restarts at record energy levels

Europe’s Large Hadron Collider has started up its proton beams again at unprecedented energy levels after going through a three-year shutdown for maintenance and upgrades.

It only took a couple of days of tweaking for the pilot streams of protons to reach a record energy level of 6.8 tera electronvolts, or TeV. That exceeds the previous record of 6.5 TeV, which was set by the LHC in 2015 at the start of the particle collider’s second run.

The new level comes “very close to the design energy of the LHC, which is 7 TeV,” Jörg Wenninger, head of the LHC beam operation section and LHC machine coordinator at CERN, said today in a video announcing the milestone.

When the collider at the French-Swiss border resumes honest-to-goodness science operations, probably within a few months, the international LHC team plans to address mysteries that could send theories of physics in new directions.

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Universe Today

Axiom’s first astronauts end an extended space trip

Axiom Space’s first crew of private astronauts is back on Earth after a 17-day orbital trip that included a week of bonus time on the International Space Station.

The mission ended at 1:06 p.m. ET (10:06 a.m. PT) today when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria was the commander for the homeward trip, accompanied by three investors who each paid Axiom $55 million for their rides: Ohio real-estate and tech entrepreneur Larry Connor, who served as the mission pilot, plus Canada’s Mark Pathy and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe.

“Welcome back to planet Earth,” SpaceX’s mission control operator Sarah Gillis told the crew. “The Axiom-1 mission marks the beginning of a new paradigm for human spaceflight. We hope you enjoyed the extra few days in space.”

Axiom-1 began on April 8 with the Florida launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The trip was originally supposed to last about 10 days, but concerns about weather in the splashdown zone delayed the descent. Because of the way their fares were structured, Axiom’s customers didn’t have to pay extra for the extension.

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Universe Today

Get an inside look at a stratospheric lounge

Mood lighting, swanky seats, plants, a bar … and a restroom with an out-of-this-world view: Those are the sorts of perks you’d expect on a luxury cruise, but the cruise that Space Perspective plans to offer with those amenities will take you 100,000 feet up, lofted by a balloon.

The Florida-based venture has just unveiled the interior design for its Spaceship Neptune capsule, which is meant to carry up to eight passengers and a pilot into the stratosphere for a look at the curving Earth beneath the black sky of space.

Space Perspective says more than 600 customers have put in their reservations at a price of $125,000 for trips that are due to begin in 2024. And to whet your appetite for the adventure, the company is offering an interactive 3-D visualization of the capsule that you can wander through virtually.

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Universe Today

Hubble astronomers spot the farthest star ever seen

A star that sounds as if it came from “The Lord of the Rings” now marks one of the Hubble Space Telescope’s farthest frontiers: The fuzzy point of light, known as Earendel, has been dated to a mere 900 million years after the Big Bang and appears to represent the farthest-out individual star seen to date.

Based on its redshift value of 6.2, Earendel’s light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth, astronomers report in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. That distance mark outshines Hubble’s previous record-holder for a single star, which registered a redshift of 1.5 and is thought to have existed when the universe was 4 billion years old.

The newly reported record comes with caveats. First of all, we’re talking here about a single star rather than star clusters or galaxies. Hubble has seen agglomerations of stars that go back farther in time.

“Normally at these distances, entire galaxies look like small smudges, with the light from millions of stars blending together,” lead author Brian Welch, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University, said today in a news release. “The galaxy hosting this star has been magnified and distorted by gravitational lensing into a long crescent that we named the Sunrise Arc.”

A close look at the arc turned up several bright spots, but the characteristics of the light coming from Earendel pointed to a high redshift, which translates into extreme distance. The higher the redshift, the faster the source of the light is receding from us in an ever-more-quickly expanding universe.

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Universe Today

Elon Musk lays out his Plan A and Plan B for Starship

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk delivered a long-awaited, live-streamed update on his plans for launching the world’s most powerful rocket, with the spotlighted backdrop of a freshly stacked Starship and Super Heavy booster standing on the launch pad at the company’s Starbase facility in South Texas.

The Starship project is key to Musk’s plans to send thousands of settlers to Mars and make humanity a multiplanet species. It’s also key to his plans to put thousands of satellites in Earth orbit for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network, which is supposed to bring in the money needed for Mars missions.

And as if all that’s not enough, Musk expects Starship to revolutionize space travel and society in ways that can’t be foreseen. “When you have an utterly profound breakthrough, the use cases will be hard to imagine,” he told hundreds of attendees during tonight’s presentation at the Boca Chica base.

Musk exhibited his trademark optimism about the launch system’s development schedule, saying that the Federal Aviation Administration could give its go-ahead for the first Starship orbital launch from Texas as soon as next month. But he said there was a Plan B in case that approval didn’t come soon.

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NASA details its plans for space station’s doom in 2031

NASA says it plans to plunge the vestiges of the International Space Station into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo in early 2031, after passing the baton to commercial space stations.

In an updated transition report just delivered to Congress, the space agency detailed the endgame for the space station, which has been hosting international crews continuously since the year 2000 — and hinted at what its astronauts would be doing in low Earth orbit after its fiery destruction.

“The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth-orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance,” Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial space, said in a news release. “We look forward to sharing our lessons learned and operations experience with the private sector to help them develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective destinations in space.”

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Tom Cruise movie’s producers plan space studio

The production company that’s playing a key role in a space movie project involving Tom Cruise says it’s working with Axiom Space to add a sports and entertainment facility to the International Space Station by the end of 2024.

The inflatable module, known as SEE-1, would be built by Axiom for Space Entertainment Enterprise and attached to the commercial complex that Axiom is already planning to put on the space station, SEE said today in a news release.

The facility would provide a studio for film, TV and music production as well as a space for performances and sports events. “SEE-1 is an incredible opportunity for humanity to move into a different realm and start an exciting new chapter in space,” said SEE’s co-founders, Dmitry and Elena Lesnevsky.

Dmitry Lesnevsky made his name in Russia as a film/TV producer, publisher and a co-founder of REN TV, but SEE is based in London. The Lesnevskys are listed among the producers of the unnamed Tom Cruise space film project, which has the support of SpaceX and NASA. (SpaceX founder Elon Musk is listed as a producer as well.)

Axiom Space, which has struck a deal with SpaceX to send its first customers on a visit to space station later this year, is expected to facilitate the Tom Cruise project, but the timing for that project has not been announced. It’s not yet clear whether the Tom Cruise project would make use of SEE-1.

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Universe Today

Billionaire finishes up space trip with online flourishes

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and two crewmates have returned to Earth after an 11-day mission to the International Space Station that was marked by online innovations including an NFT drop and a lottery giveaway.

Maezawa, his production assistant Yozo Hirano, and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin took a 3.5-hour ride from the station on a Soyuz craft, climaxing in a touchdown amid the steppes of Kazakhstan around the appointed time of 9:13 a.m. local time Dec. 20 (7:13 p.m. PT Dec. 19).

After the landing, the three spacefliers were helped out of the capsule and given medical checks.

The short-duration stay was the first private astronaut trip to the space station brokered by Virginia-based Space Adventures in 12 years. In an interview with The Associated Press, Maezawa said reports that he paid more than $80 million for the adventure were “pretty much” accurate.

“Once you are in space, you realize how much it is worth it by having this amazing experience,” he told AP. “And I believe that this amazing experience will lead to something else.”