Mysterious radio signal from space seems to have suddenly vanished

The Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope is scanning the skies

Strange radio signals from space are still baffling astronomers with their odd behaviour. Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are powerful blasts of radio waves that last just a few milliseconds. Some of these bursts have been seen to repeat, flickering on and off many times from the same point in space. They carry a huge amount of energy, but we don’t know what causes them.

The first repeating FRB, called FRB 121102 or R1, was discovered in 2012 and later traced to its host galaxy, a dwarf galaxy about three billion light years away. The second, nicknamed R2, wasn’t found until 2018.

Leon Oostrum at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy and his colleagues used the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT) in the Netherlands to watch R1 and R2 for 130 and 300 hours respectively, looking for more bursts that might help characterise them better and find R2’s host galaxy.

While they detected 30 bursts from R1, they didn’t see any from R2. The simplest explanation is that R2 isn’t detectable in the wavelengths at which WSRT observes, which are different from those used by the telescope which discovered it. It would be as if this FRB emits relatively red light, but WSRT can only see blue.

The other possible explanation Oostrum and his colleagues suggest is that R2 could have stopped emitting bursts. However, it is more likely that the telescope can’t detect the FRB’s wavelengths or that any bursts it emitted while Oostrum and his colleagues were observing were just too dim to see, says Jason Hessels, who is also at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy but wasn’t involved in this work. “Just because you don’t see anything at this time with this telescope doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see,” he says.

Regardless, it shows R1 and R2 are very different from one another. “If the two were similar, we should have seen that second repeater easily, and we didn’t,” says Oostrum. “They could be very different in how bright they are, how often they repeat, and basically any other parameters as well.”

They could also be in very different galaxies, as evidenced by new findings from a separate group led by Hessels. It traced a different repeating FRB called FRB 180916.J0158+65 to its host galaxy, only the fifth time any FRB has been tracked back and only the second repeater to be pinned down in this way.

Its galaxy is completely different from R1’s galaxy. It is a spiral more like our Milky Way instead of an irregularly-shaped dwarf galaxy. Its environment is also far less extreme, making some of the explanations for FRBs that came from analysis of R1 seem less likely.

“We’re in the situation where either a successful theory has to explain that diversity or we have to start thinking seriously about there being multiple different types of sources for FRBs,” says Hessels. If FRBs aren’t all the same but instead result from a variety of different types of events, that could explain why they all seem so different.

FRB 180916.J0158+65 is about six times closer to Earth than R1, so we will be able to observe it in more detail, and the next generation of huge telescopes should help explain FRBs too. “The main goal in the end is to find out what these things are, but for now, the more information we have, the more questions we have,” says Oostrum.

Really Cool Spacewalk

On February 7, 1984, Bruce McCandless became the first human to float free from any earthly anchor when he stepped out of the space shuttle Challenger and flew away from the ship. In a still-startling NASA image from that mission, untethered McCandless hangs 320 feet from Challenger, suspended above our impossibly blue planet and appearing paradoxically powerful and fragile against the yawning vastness of the cosmos.


But McCandless’s most memorable spacewalks, immortalized by a photo taken later during the mission, took place on his very first spaceflight. He’d been asked to test a new 300-pound Manned Maneuvering Unit, or MMU, which is basically a nitrogen-powered jetpack that allows astronauts to twist and turn through space as George Clooney’s character did in the movie Gravity. But this was no feature film, and to say that people were nervous about an unrecoverable malfunction is no overstatement.

Crappy Days in the International Space Station

All toilets at ISS Break Down, astronauts forced to use ‘diapers’

None of the toilets at the International Space Station (ISS) are working, astronauts have to use “diapers”, a NASA translation suggested Wednesday.

There are two toilets at the ISS, both Russian-made – one in the US module and another one in the Russian one.

In addition, there are toilets in Soyuz ships docked at the station but they are used when the ship is in flight and only rarely when it is docked.

According to ISS commander Luca Parmitano, the toilet in the US section constantly signals that it is not working, while the one in the Russian module is filled to the maximum.

Later on, an engineer of Space Center Houston told ISS Commander Luca Parmitano that a toilet in the US module was operational again.

Space Cookie Oven and Rodents Launch to Space on Powerful Antares Rocket

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — A space cookie oven launched with rodents to space today (Nov. 2) aboard the most powerful Antares rocket ever built.

At 9:59 a.m. EDT (1359 GMT) this morning, the Cygnus NG-12 spacecraft successfully launched to the International Space Station from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The launch carried about 8,200 lbs. (3,700 kilograms) of scientific experiments, hardware and supplies to the space station, where it will arrive on Monday (Nov. 4) to be grappled by NASA astronaut Jessica Meir who will be supported by fellow astronaut Christina Koch.

With nearly perfect weather, including brilliant blue skies and comfortably crisp air, the launch went off without a hitch. “This never gets trivial … the people that I work with day in and day out are all excited and look forward to this every time we get to do this,” Kirk Shireman, the deputy manager of the space station, said during a pre-launch press conference. This was the first launch as part of the second phase of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) flights. NASA awarded the contract for this second phase in 2016.

Aboard the Cygnus spacecraft is both equipment to support and sustain existing experiments on the space station as well as new investigations that will be introduced to the six astronauts currently on station.

Of the new investigations headed to space, there are a few that have particularly caught the public’s attention.

One of these experiments will bring the smell of fresh-baked cookies to the space station. A joint collaboration between Zero G Kitchen and NanoRacks has developed and built the first-ever oven designed to work in the microgravity environment on the space station. The astronauts on the station will conduct the first experiment with the oven by baking chocolate chip cookies. While food on the space station now is primarily reheated or heated with the addition of hot water, this will be the first instance of baking in space.

Another investigation, Microgravity as a Disruptor Of The 12-hour Circatidal Clock (Rodent Research-14) will use rodent models to study how phases of light and dark can affect liver health.

Mysterious Air Force Space Plane Finishes Record-Breaking Flight

A mysterious space plane belonging to the United States Air Force reportedly returned to Earth on Sunday following a record-breaking 780 days in orbit. Known as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the curious craft was launched via a Space X Falcon 9 booster back on September 7th, 2017. This particular flight was the fifth such mission for the space plane and, a few months ago, it smashed the previous endurance record for the vessel which stood at 718 days in orbit.

Resembling the iconic Space Shuttle, but measuring a mere 29 feet long, the solar-powered reusable craft has long been the subject of speculation since its mission and payloads are highly classified. Additionally, it’s origin as a project developed by NASA, but then taken over by DARPA before becoming the responsibility of the US Air Force has also spawned all manner of suggestions as to what its purpose might be. Some conspiracy theorists have posited that perhaps it is some kind of spy plane, while more fantastic researchers have put forward the idea that the X-27B is somehow connected to the UFO phenomenon.

Alas, an Air Force press release announcing the completion of the X-37B’s latest mission provided little in the way of solid answers and just enough vague hints to maintain the craft’s cryptic reputation. To that end, the statement declared that “this mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.” What, exactly, was being done aboard the space plane as well as the nature of the satellites it deployed were unfortunately not revealed to the public. Be that as it may, it would seem that the return to Earth is merely a brief respite for the craft as it is set to be launched back into space next year for what one assumes will be another mysterious marathon mission.

The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 landed at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017. Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.

A Trip Across the Solar System

The Atlantic

Alan Taylor

Right at this moment, robotic probes launched by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and others are gathering information all across the solar system. We currently have spacecraft in orbit around the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Saturn. Several others are on their way to smaller bodies, and a few are heading out of the solar system entirely. Although the Space Shuttle no longer flies, astronauts are still at work aboard the International Space Station, performing experiments and sending back amazing photos. With all these eyes in the sky, I’d like to take another opportunity to put together a recent photo album of our solar system — a set of family portraits, of sorts — as seen by our astronauts and mechanical emissaries. This time, we have some closer views of the asteroid Vesta, a visit to the durable (if dusty) Mars rover Opportunity, some glimpses of Saturn’s moons, and lovely images of our home, planet Earth.

A view of the Sun seen in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Looping lines reveal solar plasma that is rising and falling along magnetic field lines in the solar atmosphere, or corona. The brighter prominence at upper left is named solar active region 1429, which has already released several large solar flares, some accompanied by large explosions of solar plasma known as coronal mass ejections.



A partial solar eclipse, as seen from space when the Moon moved in between NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite and the Sun.

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, in orbit around the planet Mercury, sent back this image of the central peaks of Eminescu Crater. Eminescu crater is 125 kilometers (78 miles) in diameter, and was only recently named – in honor of Mihai Eminescu, an accomplished and influential poet who is still considered the national poet of Romania.



The International Space Station (top left) flies past the moon, as seen from Houston, Texas. The station was flying in an orbit at 390 km (242 miles) with six astronauts aboard.



On the Moon, the Apollo 15 landing site, imaged from an altitude of 25 km by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Apollo 15 was the ninth manned mission in the Apollo space program, and the fourth to land on the Moon on July 30, 1971. Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin spent three days on the Moon, including lots of time in LRV-1, the first Lunar Rover, which they drove across 17.25 miles (27.76 km) of lunar surface. In this image, the descent stage of Apollo 15 is just right of center, the white spot with a surrounding shadow. Dark tracks to the right lead to the LRV-1, left parked on the moon. The trail of astronaut footprints at center-left surround the ALSEP experiments package. If you look closely at the left edge, you can see rover tracks leading off toward Hadley Rille, some 2km beyond.



European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers, Expedition 30 flight engineer, enjoys the view of Earth from the windows in the Cupola of the International Space Station.



Russian support personnel arrive to help meet the Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft shortly after the capsule landed with International Space Station Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum, and Flight Engineers Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa outside of the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, on November 22, 2011. Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa were returning from more than five months aboard the ISS.



Russian support personnel work to help get Expedition 29 crew members out of the Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft shortly after the capsule landed outside of the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, on November 22, 2011.



A Delta II rocket launches with the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft payload from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base outside of Lompoc, California. NPP is the first NASA satellite mission to address the challenge of acquiring a wide range of land, ocean, and atmospheric measurements for Earth system science while simultaneously preparing to address operational requirements for weather forecasting.



An unpiloted ISS Progress resupply vehicle approaches the International Space Station, carrying 2,050 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 2,778 pounds of spare parts and experiment hardware for a total of 2.9 tons of food, fuel and equipment for the residents of the space station.


A swirling cloud formation and the lights of the Aurora Borealis, seen from the International Space Station, high above the Gulf of Alaska.



Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, Expedition 30 flight engineer, participates in a session of extravehicular activity (EVA) to continue outfitting the International Space Station. During the six-hour, 15-minute spacewalk, Shkaplerov and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko (out of frame), flight engineer, moved the Strela-1 crane from the Pirs Docking Compartment to begin preparing the Pirs for its replacement next year with a new laboratory and docking module. Both spacewalkers wore Russian Orlan spacesuits bearing blue stripes and equipped with NASA helmet cameras.



The surface of Mars, in an enhanced-color image provided by NASA. The image shows sand dunes trapped in an impact crater in Noachis Terra. The area covered in the image is about six-tenths of a mile (1 kilometer) across.



What eight dusty years on Mars will do to a rover. This pair of self-portaits from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows dust accumulation on the rover’s solar panels as the mission approaches its fifth Martian winter. The dust reduces the rover’s power supply, and the rover’s mobility is limited until the winter is over or wind cleans the panels. The photo on the left side was taken in February of 2005, when Opportunity had only been on the planet for 322 Martian days (sols). The right side was taken in December of 2011, after some 2,800 sols. Total distance driven by Opportunity to date: 34.36 km (21.35 miles).



Saturn’s fourth-largest moon, Dione, can be seen through the haze of the planet’s largest moon, Titan, in this color view of the two posing before the planet and its rings from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.