Sonntag, 31. Dezember 2017 - 17:00 Uhr

Raumfahrt - China: Kuaizhou-11, sendet sechs Satelliten in den Weltraum


Kuaizhou-11 to send six satellites into space 

WUHAN, China's Kuaizhou-11 solid-fuelled carrier rocket will send six satellites into space in its first mission, according to the rocket's developer and producer China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC).

The company announced the news Wednesday at the Third China (International) Commercial Aerospace Forum in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province.

The Kuaizhou-11 rocket will be launched via a mobile launch vehicle. With a lift-off mass of 78 tonnes, the rocket was designed to launch low-Earth and Sun- synchronous orbit satellites.

Kuaizhou, which is Chinese for fast ship, is a low-cost solid-fuelled carrier rocket with high reliability and a short preparation period.

Globally, the launch cost of small commercial carrier rockets usually ranges from 25,000 to 40,000 U.S. dollars per kilogram of payload, according to a CASIC spokesperson.

The spokesperson said Kuaizhou rockets are price competitive. The launch cost of the Kuaizhou-1A was less than 20,000 U.S. dollars per kg of payload, while Kuaizhou-11 rocket is less than 10,000 U.S. dollars.

In January, the Kuaizhou-1A rocket sent three satellites into space in its first commercial mission.

Quelle: Xinhua


Update: 31.12.2017


China's Kuaizhou-11 rocket scheduled to launch in first half of 2018


China's Kuaizhou-11 solid-fuelled carrier rocket is scheduled to launch for the first time, in the first half of 2018, according to the rocket's developer and producer China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC).

The preparation work for the launch has been completed, and the rocket will send six satellites into space in its first mission, said Zhang Di, an official with CASIC.

Kuaizhou, which is Chinese for fast ship, is a low-cost solid-fuelled carrier rocket with high reliability and a short preparation period.

The launch cost of the Kuaizhou rockets has been reduced to 5,000 U.S. dollars per kg of payload, which is considerably lower than its international competitors, according to Zhang.

With a lift-off mass of 78 tonnes, the rocket was designed to launch low-Earth and Sun-synchronous orbit satellites.

In January, the Kuaizhou-1A rocket sent three satellites into space in its first commercial mission.

Quelle: Xinhua

Tags: Raumfahrt - China: Kuaizhou-11, sendet sechs Satelliten in den Weltraum  


Sonntag, 31. Dezember 2017 - 12:00 Uhr

Planet Erde - Silvester - Fire in the Sky 2017/2018


Ein gesundes und erfolgreiches Jahr 2018 wünscht das CENAP-Team seinen Besuchern und Freunden


A healthy and successful year 2018 wishes the CENAP team to its visitors and friends














Fotos: ©-hjkc




Sonntag, 31. Dezember 2017 - 10:30 Uhr

UFO-Forschung - The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program -Update-11


Weiteren Background von Mick West/Metabunk zur F-18-FLIR-Video-Aufnahme der NYT-Story:


NYT: GIMBAL Video of U.S. Navy Jet Encounter with Unknown Object


Some great info on the program and its finding that we will unlikely ever see, but adds to the story
It also says more specifics will be made public "including specifics on what was learned during the study, and which UFO incidents were the most unusual." which I can't seem to find, possibly it is being delayed to be released with the full 5 minute footage of the Nimitz event in a new Times article?


I-Team: UFO study focused on U.S. military encounters



LAS VEGAS - A once-secret Pentagon study of UFOs may be finished, but according to published reports, the U.S. government is still collecting information about encounters between unknown aircraft and our military.

So far, the government has not released official reports or findings from the study that was headquartered in southern Nevada, but the man who authorized that study knows a bit about the content.

Former Nevada Senator Harry Reid gave the I-Team and exclusive interview.

One critic of the UFO study said on Cable news Tuesday night that of course, we should study unknowns that are encountered by military pilots, but we shouldn't study those UFOs.

The study conducted here had input from the best and brightest trained pilots and other observers, back up by radar returns, instrumentation and -- sometimes -- physical evidence. One account came from a bomber pilot who later became a U.S. senator.

"I was flying and there was an object next to me. I couldn't get rid of it, I slowed up, it was there. I sped up, it was there. I would dive, it would be there. I called. Nothing on radar," Reid said. 


The story told to Harry Reid came from Republican Senator Ted Stevens, whose experience as a World War II bomber pilot was shared during a closed door meeting at the U.S. capitol. Reid says that meeting in 2007 led to funding for a clandestine study of UFOs.

Reid had been approached by an unnamed intelligence official who felt the topic deserved study because of decades of spooky encounters between the U.S. military and unknown aerial objects, like one off the California coast in 2004.

UFOs as big as airliners played cat and mouse with the USS Nimitz carrier group several times over a three week period. An object shaped like a gigantic Tic Tac performed seemingly impossible maneuvers.  


Another video recorded by military pilots caught glimpses of what the aviators  said was a fleet of unknown aircraft.

"They are outmatched by a technology they've never seen. Clearly this is not an experimental aircraft, but whose is it?" said Chris Mellon, former intelligence official, To The Stars Event. 


News of the encounter was first unveiled back in October during the launch of a public benefit corporation called To The Stars Academy, the bigger story was missed, namely that the video had been analyzed in the study initiated by Senator Reid. Results from the study have not been made public. Reid says the program cast a wide net, and included incidents with clear national security implications, such as chilling reports in which UFOs hovered over American nuclear missiles bases, as portrayed in a documentary UFOs and Nukes.

"It's in the documents. Scores and scores of men come out, look up wondering what that is. They wouldn't leave. Communications in the missile defense system was shut down. It didn't happen just once. It happened more than once," Reid said.

He adds, the study investigated reports of USO, unidentified submerged objects, and it incorporated the UFO files collected by other nations which have been more open about the issue.

One aim of the study was to find out the origin of the craft. Intelligence officials ruled out the Russians or Chinese but Reid says our adversaries are likely ahead of us in trying to duplicate a far-superior technology.

Reporter George Knapp: "Are there indications that Russia and China are studying it?

Harry Reid: "The answer is yes." 

Las Vegas businessman Robert Bigelow, whose aerospace facility housed the UFO study team, says he signed a strict non-disclosure agreement and cannot discuss the findings. Reid says the study produced voluminous reports but was canceled because of fears within the intelligence community, fear not only that the story would leak out, but fear based on religious beliefs who felt that UFOs might be satanic.

Reporter George Knapp: "Did you hear that, that it's evil?

Harry Reid: "Yes. I think there are a lot of people who don't like it for a number of reasons and religious views. It didn't fit with what they wanted to spend money on."

Persons familiar with the five year study told the I-Team the effort resulted in three dozen thick reports, some of them several hundred pages in length, as well as another three dozen or so technical reports which projected how this kind of exotic technology might usher in a new era of aviation, and what that might mean.

Thursday, Senator Reid talks about whether we need Congressional hearings on UFOs.

Quelle: 8 Las Vegas Now


Seem like that's more about glare on a HUD (Head Up Display) not on a camera image.


Found another way to get a lens flare to rotate relative to (a) the viewing video frame and (b) the scene in which its source exists...

One stationary camera records a second camera rotating while facing an LED flashlight. If I posted a video of only footage from the rotating camera, the flare would remain static in the video frame while the scene rotated. But viewing the rotating camera produces a result that's essentially what we see in the footage below, wherein the flare rotates relative to both viewing frame and scene, except the screen data here are locked to the output frame.


Yesterday I read but can't at the moment locate a description of tracking pods on jets that said what the camera actually sees is processed to make sense to the pilot, to correspond to her orientation. So there's complex re-framing that takes place from the raw camera output to the final pilot-screen output. It could be that the two-camera demo above roughly models that and the Gimbal rotation is actually the rotation of the gimbal camera.

That has to make you wonder if the filename for the footage was 'Gimbal' because that was already figured out.
Yeah that's what I meant, above:
Here's a schematic of the two-camera demo (above) as a hypothetical rough model for how the tracking system might produce the footage in question. I put the second 'camera' in quotes to note that what it simulates is surely not a second camera in the tracking system but rather some secondary image-processing mechanism that may do comparably what the second camera does in the demo. 

"surely not a second camera"? But perhaps a second gimbal system? As suggested by @Tom Churchill

[Note, you can click on the little arrow after "said: " in a quote to take you to the original post in the thread.
The Raytheon video actually has a useful image that I'd missed:
I made that clip into an animation...


The yellow path seems to be the complex path of input thermal data before being output to the pilot's monitor. It's easy to lose sight of the yellow path where it overlaps the blue path, but in fact the yellow path runs from the front to the back of this array of components. This animation sure could imply there are de facto two cameras in the system!

I hoped the nifty term "continuous auto-boresight alignment" would find the source of that cool animation, but at least not right away. It seems to refer to a synchronous co-alignment of sensors (presumably FLIR) with the laser, almost certainly reflected where we see the two paths overlap:

“Because its sensors and laser share a common optical path with continuous auto-boresight alignment, only ATFLIR assures pinpoint targeting accuracy that minimizes collateral damage.” source

"The U.S. Navy's targeting pod of record, ATFLIR has been fully integrated and flight-tested on all F/A-18 aircraft models. ATFLIR offers a common optical path and continuous auto-boresight technology that generates the most precise target coordinates available, allowing the warfighter to respond quickly to enemy threats." source

On @Tom Churchill's point, it's true that the F18's monitor doesn't keep the horizon level and so doesn't have 5th-axis stabilization, but it is keeping the horizon user-oriented, and I'd think that would be the ideal output. To a pilot left banking, their spine (ie, their vertical alignment) is tilting to the left relative to the horizon. The tilt of the clouds in the Gimbal footage reflects that, and so is exactly what the pilot should expect to see wrt the horizon. I'm not disagreeing with anything, just underscoring that there's reason to believe there is a user-orientation function taking place prior to the output monitor image, which is key to the two-camera modeling I propose above.
Thanks to one & all for keeping at the video and associated kit like a swarm of terriers. Fascinating and informative. But I have some questions about the audio on this bit of 'film' that bug me...

1. Is it usual, normal, common practice or what to marry crew conversations with FLIR, radar or TV footage? If it's not (and it's signally missing fro FLIR-1) then how are we to know that it's not lifted from some other event?

2. One of the crew mentions either "LoS" or "L&S", which I interpret as "line of sight" or "lock & steering". Which is more likely or, perhaps more critical, more pertinent as a query from one to the other? My own vague uncomfortable feeling about this, as the radar and FLIR are clearly not synced, is that something odd is going on. Does the question refer to an eyeball sighting? And/or is it a clue that this is a test of the Raytheon kit?

All very frustrating, and partly unanswerable as yet, but a few knowledgable flyboys round here may be able to assist. Some such may also be able to comment on a remark I read somewhere else from a former Signal Corpsman that this exchange sounds remarkably unprofessional for military fliers.
Bit of a long one. I went through most comments...

Certainly interested in this idea that the rotation of the object as seen in the clip could simply be due to the window of the AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR. It has been a good read.

It's irrelevant to debunking the Gimbal (or Nimitz) clip. The Gimbal clip isn't made any less credible with Kean reporting on it, is it. All this means is that Kean is gullible and possibly gambles with her reputation when acronyms and titles get large enough. That and the CEFAA did a poor job not congruent with their positions.

The DoD confirmed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program which Elizondo managed didn't they? Sen. Harry Reid has confirmed that he got the funding together for it at least and put a contract out to tender which Bigelow won.

Does anybody have a link to the chain-of-custody documentation regarding these clips? I've seen this referenced on TTSA website under heading 'Implications', but no actual links to PDF's are provided to verify the authenticity of the footage. Exact same issue for Nimitz. A written report is not chain-of-custody documentation for either clip, either.


BA was a contractor. DOD owns the material.


Hi all, 

I too have a question regarding the audio. 

Firstly I want to fess up to being nothing more than an interested observer here, but seeing as some folks here seem to have true knowledge/experience with this topic, I am curious: 

The camera rotation/glass/glare optics explanation is compelling, and I am willing to concede that as a plausible scenario here. My lingering doubt however has to do with the pilot/crew speaking as they witness this event. (I Peter B suggested the audio could have been edited etc, but assuming the audio is authentic...) Would the pilots have been watching this object through the IR Camera live (as we are when we watch this video?) Or is it possible that they were actually seeing the object with the naked eye when making these comments? The obvious implication being that in the former, the pilots are also susceptible to the explanation put forth in this thread, but if the latter, then there is an additional data point that requires some consideration here... (ie: they are seeing the physical object rotate, thus their commentary cannot be explained by the Camera Rotation). 

I think it unlikely that an object of this size would be visible at a distance of >10 miles, but as discussed, I don't pretend to be an expert! 

Thank you for any thoughts/answers.


It's too small to see rotation with the naked eye. See:

See earlier post. 
The clouds moving simply means they are behind the object.

is it possible that these 2 pilots are looking at SA monitors set a different range - magnification? one pilots might be seeing 4 jets engine FLIR and the other the single blur ?
This little clip from the Raytheon video shows the type of rotation I'm talking about. There's an axial rotation of the entire "tube", then a panning rotation using just the "ball". The axial rotation would be corrected for internally, so the glass is essentially rotating in front of the non-rotating camera.


I agree with everybody else that all the pieces of your FLIR pod window glare hypothesis answer the questions of the Gimbal video elegantly. Chapeau, Mr. West!

Now if we can just figure out how we can monetize your debunking expertise, we could beat TTS AAS at their own game!

I'm thinking a Myth Busters type deal on Discovery Science where you and Robert Sheaffer debunk 70 years worth of UFO hooey in bi-weekly episodes.

I'd buy shares in that enterprise! ;¬)
Watching the Raytheon footage it seems possible, or perhaps most likely, that the housing window and camera (and thus camera lens) move together. If the window is panning say left to right, surely that's because the camera is panning left to right. And this may hold for circular rotations as well. In that case the window does not rotate relative to the camera lens directly behind it. However, either way, rotations of the housing window or any lens along the LoS of the 'first camera' could produce a flare that rotates independently of the scene by way of 'second-camera processing'.


Not sure if someone mentioned this already, but when the large glass window is pointing straight forward it must rotate a lot in order to align the side to side motion of the glass with the motion of the object/aircraft. And if you look at the video, the apparent rotation happens when it is pointing approximately straight forward, i.e. the same time you would expect the glass to rotate the most.


I'm not sure you can really say that, as the rotation of the inner camera is somewhat independent of the outer housing. However the outer housing clearly has to rotate at some points. The computer's decision to rotate the outer housing may be based on a number of factors - for example it might try to avoid it when doing fine tracking of a target. So you'd expect to see rotations more around the time of loss of target lock when the system takes the opportunity to move the outer housing so the inner camera has a wider range of motion.
Actually, that was me. I'm the loud, hairy American dude over in the badufos comments ;¬) I served in the U.S. Army's 7th Signal Brigade a few years ago. I don't know about the Navy and Air Force. But you'd be seriously reprimanded in the Army if you'd talked on the radio like you were "still back on the block" (as they say in the Army).

There's a certain standard way of communication that I expect to hear from real life U.S. Navy pilots communicating on radio.

There would be the standard, recurring use of "Roger" throughout the comms. Also, I would expect the pilots to use words like, "Bogies", "starboard", "port" in their vocabulary. Things you just don't hear in the everyday civilian conversation.

Professional military people are trained to speak with a certain cadence when communicating over radio. The term "official-sounding" is a good description. They're also trained to speak clearly and to repeat stuff twice or three times in a row, to make sure the other person understood what you said. We've all heard that very distinguishable military-speak I'm talking about.

So it's suspicious to me that all those tell-tale "military-speak" features are absent from the Gimbal video audio. Also suspicious in the Gimbal video dialog is they use the word "drone". If there's one thing I know about the way all military people communicate, they never miss an opportunity to use a code word or an obfuscating acronym for stuff. A real military person would have used, something like "UAV" (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) or maybe "UAS" (Unmanned Aerial System). But not "drone".

So in my opinion either the Gimbal video was overdubbed by civilian voice actors with zero real military experience, or the voices are from newbie "recruits" with absolutely zero comms training and zero experience with military jargon. 

Whether they're real Navy pilots fresh outta boot camp or civilian voice actors hired by TTS AAS, either way they're clearly very young and very immature. In my opinion, that might be another clue that would support the Gimbal vid likely being recorded during a training flight.

I wouldn't be surprised if, in DeLonge's official capacity as "award-winning storyteller" for TTS AAS, he's allowed to embellish mundane artifacts to make them more woo-tastic for the sake of a good story. As Paul Weller of The Jam would put it, That's entertainment!"
I don't think they even say "drone". That clip sounds more like " going on bro"
Could be. To be honest, personally I can't make out what is actually being said myself. My comment on the use of "drone" was based on believing these two things from the NYT vid...


Could it be an intercom between the pilot and the weapon systems operator? Maybe that would be less professional sounding?
In the Raytheon ATFLIR pod video, from about 0:55 to 1:01, there is an animation that shows the outer pod housing rotating completely 180 degrees as it negotiates the limits of it's range of motion.

This seems most likely to occur mostly when the lens is aiming forward, and small rotational adjustments would be made to maintain any slight angular shift away from the previous axial position. (I am not a scientist!)

Another thing I noticed is that the pod aperture (or lens) appears to be elliptical, and I'm wondering if that could explain the roughly elliptical shape of the glare/flare/bloom effect.
I don't think so, it's essentially a window through which both the IR and Visible light cameras are pointed.
Quelle: Mick West / Metabunk


Tags: UFO-Forschung - The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program -Update-11 


Samstag, 30. Dezember 2017 - 14:20 Uhr

Raumfahrt - Startvorbereitung von Atlas V mit USAF GPS-III-Satelliten 2018


U.S. Air Force Declares First Lockheed Martin GPS III Satellite "Available for Launch"
GPS III Space Vehicle 01 (GPS III SV01) expected to launch in 2018

DENVEROct. 10, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Ushering in a new era of advanced Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, the U.S. Air Force declared the first Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT)-built GPS III satellite "Available for Launch."

The Air Force's "AFL" declaration is the final acceptance of Lockheed Martin's first GPS III Space Vehicle (GPS III SV01) prior to its expected 2018 launch. GPS III SV01 will bring new capabilities to U.S. and allied military forces, and a new civil signal that will improve future connectivity worldwide for commercial and civilian users.

GPS III SV01 now awaits a call up to begin pre-launch preparations. In the meantime, the advanced satellite is stored in an environmentally-controlled clean room, where engineers can perform maintenance and continue to service the satellite.

New GPS Capabilities:
GPS III SV01 is the first space vehicle of an entirely new satellite design. GPS III is a next generation technology and capability leap over any of the 31 GPS Block II satellites that currently populate today's operational GPS constellation.

  • Better Accuracy: For military forces, precision is essential. GPS III signals will provide them three times more accuracy than any current GPS satellites. How accurate is that?  We cannot get specific, but stretch your arms out, we are within that range now.
  • Improved Anti-Jam: It is no secret that future adversaries will try to nullify tools like GPS that give our military an edge in conflicts. GPS III's powerful new signals have eight times improved anti-jamming capability, and the satellites' nearly 70 percent digital payload will provide the Air Force with greater operational flexibility.
  • Stronger Design: Space is a tough neighborhood and GPS III is built tough. GPS III comes with a more resilient design and a design life which can expand its operational life to 15 years. That's 25 percent longer than the newest GPS satellites on-orbit today.
  • New Civil Signal: GPS III will be the first GPS satellite broadcasting L1C, a new, common signal being adopted by other international Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), like Europe's Galileo. In the future, users of civilian GPS receivers will be able to connect to L1C from multiple GNSS constellations, allowing for greater connectivity.

Designed for the Future:
One of the keys to Lockheed Martin's GPS III is it was designed for today's mission with an eye on tomorrow's needs. 

"As we designed GPS III, we knew that mission needs would change in the future and that new technology will become available. We wanted the satellite to be flexible to adapt to those changes," said Mark Stewart, vice president of Lockheed Martin's Navigation Systems mission area. "To do that, we intentionally developed GPS III with a modular design. This allows us to easily insert new technology into our production line."

Future satellites – already with a robust, production-ready design -- also would benefit from the inherent risk-reductions already proven out in GPS III, like compatibility with OCX and the existing GPS constellation. Significant work has already been completed on future requirements like an accuracy-improving Laser Retro-reflector Array and a Search and Rescue payload.

For Lockheed Martin, the completion of GPS III SV01 is a major milestone on a challenging development program to design and build the most powerful GPS satellites ever envisioned.  With all major development risks behind them, the company is now in full production on ten GPS III satellites at its GPS III Processing Facility near Denver.

"Lockheed Martin's GPS III team owes much of its success to the Air Force's Back to Basics program," Stewart added. "We are proud to partner with the Air Force on this important program and look forward to launching the first GPS III satellite in 2018".

The GPS III team is led by the Global Positioning Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Air Force Space Command's 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2SOPS), based at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civil and military users.

Global Positioning System (GPS III)

Ushering in a new era of advanced Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, the U.S. Air Force declared the first Lockheed Martin-built GPS III satellite "Available for Launch."

The Air Force's "AFL" declaration is the final acceptance of Lockheed Martin's first GPS III Space Vehicle prior to its expected 2018 launch. GPS III SV01 will bring new capabilities to U.S. and allied military forces, and a new civil signal that will improve future connectivity worldwide for commercial and civilian users.

Lockheed Martin’s GPS III satellites will have three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities. Spacecraft life will extend to 15 years, 25 percent longer than the newest GPS satellites on-orbit today. GPS III’s new L1C civil signal also will make it the first GPS satellite broadcasting a compatible signal with other international global navigation satellite systems, like Galileo, improving connectivity for civilian users. 

GPS Production

Today, Lockheed Martin is contracted for and is assembling 10 GPS III satellites at the company’s nearly 40,000 sq. ft. GPS III Processing Facility near Denver, Colorado. The $128 million, state-of-the-art, manufacturing factory was designed in a virtual reality environment to maximize production effectiveness and efficiency. Opened in 2011, the GPF includes a specialized cleanroom and test chambers designed to streamline satellite production.

Lockheed Martin is focused on providing the Air Force an affordable, resilient, low-risk GPS III solution.


As new technology emerges, or as the Air Force’s mission needs change, Lockheed Martin’s unique GPS III satellite was designed with a flexible, modular architecture to allow for the straight-forward, low-risk insertion of new capabilities.

The satellite’s design already incorporates the Air Force’s next GPS III satellite acquisition requirement for a Laser Retro-reflector Array and Search & Rescue payloads. Both of these were proven to preliminary design levels in 2013 and significant strides have already been made for Regional Military Protection (RMP). 

Additionally, all future Lockheed Martin GPS III satellites have validated compatibility with the next generation Operational Control System (OCX) and the existing GPS constellation, significantly mitigating risks from adding GPS III to the constellation.

Today about 60 percent of the current GPS constellation is made up of Lockheed Martin-designed and built GPS IIR satellites, which began launching in 1997, and the first M-Code capable GPS satellites, the GPS IIR-M, which began launching in 2005.

GPS Graphic

Lockheed Martin is proud to be a part of the Air Force’s GPS III team. More than 250 aerospace industry companies from 29 states support us on GPS III. 

The GPS III team is led by the Global Positioning Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2SOPS), based at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civil and military users.

Quelle: Lockheed Martin



Update: 30.12.2017


Rocket and satellite preps on track for next Atlas 5 launch


File photo of an Atlas 5 first stage booster being raised at the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad. Credit: ULA

Final assembly of the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket slated to blast off Jan. 18 with a U.S. Air Force surveillance satellite designed to detect missile attacks has begun at the booster’s Cape Canaveral launch pad.

The Atlas 5’s first stage was stacked on top of a mobile platform inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad early last week. It was to be followed by the hoisting of the Atlas 5’s Centaur upper stage and a single strap-on solid rocket booster.

The first Atlas 5 launch of 2018, and the 75th overall, will propel the Air Force’s fourth Space Based Infrared System satellite toward a perch in geostationary orbit approximately 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) over the equator.

Liftoff Jan. 18 is set for approximately 7:40 p.m. EST (0040 GMT on Jan. 19) at the opening of a 40-minute launch window.

The SBIRS GEO Flight 4 satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, will join three others launched since 2011 to provide early warning of missile launches heading for the United States and its allies, including those potentially carrying nuclear weapons.

The launch will complete the deployment of the initial SBIRS fleet, comprising four geostationary satellites with scanning and staring infrared sensors providing global coverage, and four piggyback infrared telescopes carried by classified National Reconnaissance Office spy satellites in oval-shaped orbits suited to detect missiles flying over the North Pole.


The Air Force’s SBIRS GEO Flight 4 satellite pictured at its Lockheed Martin factory in Sunnyvale, California. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Air Force has ordered two additional SBIRS geostationary spacecraft from Lockheed Martin for launch in the early 2020s.

The SBIRS early warning network follows the Air Force’s Defense Support Program satellites, which began supplying missile detection services to the U.S. military in the 1970s.

The SBIRS satellites can also register other bright infrared emissions coming from wildfires, meteors, satellite re-entries nuclear detonations.

“The delivery, launch, and successful operation of GEO Flight 4 will mark the fulfillment of the original SBIRS baseline constellation and reaffirm our commitment to provide our country, warfighters, and senior leaders with timely, reliable, and accurate missile warning and infrared surveillance information.” said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force program executive officer for space.

The SBIRS GEO Flight 4 satellite arrived at Cape Canaveral on Oct. 31 after a cross-country flight aboard an Air Force C-5 Galaxy cargo plane from its Lockheed Martin factory in Sunnyvale, California.

After completing post-shipment tests and other customary checks on the satellite, officials gave the go-ahead earlier this month to begin fueling the spacecraft with maneuvering propellant. The on-board fuel is required for the satellite to climb into its final circular geostationary orbit after a drop-off by the Atlas 5 rocket in an elliptical transfer orbit, then to keep the spacecraft operational throughout its 12-year design lifetime.

Once technicians finish fueling the satellite, it will be fixed to the Atlas 5’s payload adapter and enclosed inside its nose cone, then transported to the Complex 41 launch pad for attachment to the rocket.

The three previous SBIRS geostationary satellites launched in 2011, 2013 and in January aboard the basic “401” version of ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket, which does not use any solid rocket boosters. SBIRS GEO Flight 4 will launch with the Atlas 5-411 configuration, with a single solid rocket booster and a four-meter-diameter (13.1-foot) payload fairing.

The change will allow the Centaur upper stage to make a controlled de-orbit and re-entry after it releases the SBIRS GEO Flight 4 satellite, a measure to prevent the flight from adding to space debris in Earth orbit.

Quelle: SN

Tags: Raumfahrt - Startvorbereitung von Atlas V mit USAF GPS-III-Satelliten 2018 Raumfahrt - Startvorbereitung von USAF GPS-III-Satelliten 2018 


Samstag, 30. Dezember 2017 - 14:10 Uhr

Astronomie - Habitable planets around pulsars theoretically possible



It is theoretically possible that habitable planets exist around pulsars. Such planets must have an enormous atmosphere that convert the deadly X-rays and high energy particles of the pulsar into heat. That is stated in a scientific paper by astronomers Alessandro Patruno and Mihkel Kama, working in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The paper appears today in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Pulsars are known for their extreme conditions. They are neutron stars of only 10 to 30 kilometers in diameter. They have enormous magnetic fields, they accrete matter and they regularly burst out large amounts of X-rays and other energetic particles. Nevertheless, Alessandro Patruno (Leiden University and ASTRON) and Mihkel Kama (Leiden University and Cambridge University) suggest that there could be life in the vicinity of these stars.

It is the first time that astronomers try to calculate so-called habitable zones near neutron stars. The calculations show that the habitable zone around a neutron star can be as large as the distance from our Earth to our Sun. An important premise is that the planet must be a super-Earth with a mass between one and ten times of our Earth. A smaller planet will lose its atmosphere within a few thousand years. Furthermore, the atmosphere must be a million times as thick as that of the Earth. The conditions on the pulsar planet surface might resemble those of the deep sea at Earth.

The astronomers studied the pulsar PSR B1257+12 about 2300 light-years away in the constellation Virgo. They used the Chandra space telescope that is specially made to observe X-rays. Three planets orbit the pulsar. Two of them are super-Earths with a mass of four to five times our Earth. The planets orbit close enough around the pulsar to warm up. Patruno: "According to our calculations, the temperature of the planets might be suitable for the presence of liquid water on their surface. Though, we don't know yet if the two super-Earths have the right, extremely dense atmosphere."

In the future, the astronomers would love to observe the pulsar in more detail and compare it with other pulsars. The ALMA telescope of the European Southern Observatory would be able to show dust discs around neutron stars. Such disks are good predictors of planets.

Probably our Milky Way contains about 1 billion neutron stars of which about 200,000 pulsars. So far, 3000 pulsars have been studied and only 5 pulsar planets have been found. PSR B1257+12 is a much-studied pulsar. In 1992, the first exoplanets ever were discovered around this object.


Tags: Astronomie - Habitable planets around pulsars theoretically possible 


Samstag, 30. Dezember 2017 - 14:00 Uhr

Astronomie - The Halloween asteroid 2015 TB145 prepares to return in 2018


There is one year to go until asteroid 2015 TB145 approaches Earth once again, just as it did in 2015 around the night of Halloween, an occasion which astronomers did not pass up to study its characteristics. This dark object measures between 625 and 700 metres, its rotation period is around three hours and, in certain lighting conditions, it resembles a human skull.


Artist´s impression of the Halloween asteroid 2015 TB145, which resembles a human skull in certain light conditions. / J. A. Peñas/SINC 

An asteroid zipped past on 31 October 2015, relatively close to us, just 486,000 km away, 1.3 times the distance separating us from the Moon. The object is called 2015 TB145 and was discovered a few days earlier -on 10 October- from Hawaii using the Pan-STARRS telescope, however, the fact that it came closest to our planet on Halloween also helped it become known as the Halloween asteroid.

Different teams of astronomers pointed their instruments towards 2015 TB145, including NASA, which captured it using the Green Bank (West Virginia, USA) and Arecibo (Puerto Rico) radio telescopes. In some of the images registered by the latter, the rotating asteroid was seen at times to resemble a human skull due to the lighting conditions at particular moments during its rotation.

European scientists, including the researcher Pablo Santos-Sanz from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC), also organised observing campaigns of the Halloween asteroid to discover its characteristics. The results have been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.


This image of asteroid 2015 TB145 was generated using radar data collected by the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. / NAIC-Arecibo/NSF

“It is an Apollo-type near-Earth asteroid (NEA),” Santos-Sanz explains to SINC. “The proximity of this small object meant greater brightness, so we decided to study it using various observation techniques: on the one hand, we used optical telescopes from the Sierra Nevada Observatory in Granada, the Calar Alto Observatory in Almería and the La Hita Observatory in Toledo; and on the other, we analysed it in the mid-infrared using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) VISIR instrument at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Cerro Paranal, Chile”.

“From the observations from Spain, we discovered that this object’s most likely rotation period is 2.94 hours, in other words, this is the approximate length of its day, although we cannot rule out another possibility: 4.78 hours, another solution which is consistent with our optical data,” the expert points out.

Thanks to the observations in the mid-infrared made from the VLT, the authors were able to detect the thermal emission of the object. Using this information and a thermophysical model, various properties of 2015 TB145could be discerned.

Santos-Sanz mentions a few of these: “The object measures between 625 m and 700 m, its shape is a slightly flattened ellipsoid, and its rotation axis was roughly perpendicular to the Earth at the time of its closest proximity. Furthermore, its thermal inertia (the amount of heat which it retains and the speed at which it absorbs or transfers heat) is consistent with that of similar sized asteroids.”

The reflectivity or albedo of the surface of this asteroid is around 5 or 6%, which means that it reflects approximately 5 to 6% of sunlight. “This means that it is very dark, only slightly more reflective than charcoal,” the Spanish astrophysicist explains.

Next approach:  November 2018

Researchers are confident of obtaining more data on 2015 TB145 the next time it approaches our planet, which will happen in November 2018, although this time it will zip past much further away than the last, at a distance 105 times the average Lunar distance. “Although this approach shall not be so favourable, we will be able to obtain new data which could help improve our knowledge of this mass and other similar masses that come close to our planet,” Santos-Sanz says.

“It is currently 3.7 astronomical units away from Earth, that is 3.7 times the average distance from the Earth to the Sun,” he points out. “It has a magnitude of 26.5, which means it is only visible from Earth using very large telescopes or space telescopes.”

Halloween asteroid could in fact be an extinct comet which lost its volatile compounds after orbiting the Sun numerous times

Thomas G. Müller, researcher from the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik (Germany) and co-author of the study, adds: “The next slightly more exciting encounter will be around Halloween's day in the year 2088, when the object approaches Earth to a distance of about 20 lunar distances. The encounter on Halloween's day 2015 was the closest approach of an object of that size since 2006, and the next known similar event is the passage of 137108 (1999 AN10) on August 7, 2027. Later, 99942 Apophis will follow on April 13, 2029 with an Earth passage at approximately 0.1 lunar distances."

This study has received funding from the 'Small Bodies: Near and Far' (SBNAF) European project. "We formed a team of expert astronomers from Poland, Hungary, Spain, and Germany –Müller explains–. The goal of the project is to characterise small objects at various distances from the Sun, including near-Earth asteroids like the Halloween asteroid. 2015 TB145 was one of our first targets where we combined different observations, modelling techniques, and concepts for the scientific interpretation. It is going to be interesting to compare our results with future findings and to apply our techniques to many more potentially hazardous objects.”

Scientists think that the Halloween asteroid could in fact be an extinct comet which lost its volatile compounds after orbiting the Sun numerous times. In general, asteroids and comets are distinguished by their composition (the former being more rocky and metallic, while the latter have a higher proportion of ice and rock) and type of orbit around the Sun, but at times it is not easy to tell them apart. The boundaries between them are becoming increasingly diffuse. In any case, both were formed and witnessed the first stages of our solar system, which was born around 4,600 million years ago.


Orbit diagram of 2015 TB145 and current position. / JPL-NASA


T. G. Müller, A. Marciniak, M. Butkiewicz-Bąk, R. Duffard, D. Oszkiewicz, H. U. Käufl, R. Szakáts, T. Santana-Ros, C. Kiss and P. Santos-Sanz. “Large Halloween Asteroid at Lunar Distance”. Astronomy&Astrophysics 598- A63, 2017.

Quelle: sinc

Tags: Astronomie - The Halloween asteroid 2015 TB145 prepares to return in 2018 


Samstag, 30. Dezember 2017 - 11:30 Uhr

UFO-Forschung - The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program -Update-10


Weiteren Background zur F-18-FLIR-Video-Aufnahme der NYT-Story von NYT selbst, rudert man da ein wenig zurück und kommt auf den Boden der Tatsachen?:


NYT: GIMBAL Video of U.S. Navy Jet Encounter with Unknown Object


U.F.O.s: Is This All There Is?


A U.F.O. in New Mexico in 1957. For astronomers, the biggest problem with alien visitation is not the occasional claim of mysterious light in the sky, but the fact that we’re not constantly overwhelmed with them. CreditBettmann, via Getty Images 
(Ist aber auch nur eine Wolke, d.R. CENAP)

Hey, Mr. Spaceman,

Won’t you please take me along?

I won’t do anything wrong.

Hey, Mr. Spaceman,

Won’t you please take me along for a ride?

So sang the Byrds in 1966, after strange radio bursts from distant galaxies called quasars had excited people about the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence.

I recalled those words recently when reading the account of a pair of Navy pilots who were outmaneuvered and outrun by a U.F.O. off the coast of San Diego back in 2004. Cmdr. David Fravor said later that he had no idea what he had seen.

“But,” he added, “I want to fly one.”

His story was part of a bundle of material released recently about a supersecret $22 million Pentagon project called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, aimed at investigating U.F.O.s. The project was officially killed in 2012, but now it’s being resurrected as a nonprofit organization.

Disgruntled that the government wasn’t taking the possibility of alien visitors seriously, a group of former defense officials, aerospace engineers and other space fans have set up their own group, To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science. One of its founders is Tom DeLonge, a former punk musician, record producer and entrepreneur, who is also the head of the group’s entertainment division.

For a minimum of $200, you can join and help finance their research into how U.F.O.s do whatever it is they do, as well as telepathy and “a point-to-point transportation craft that will erase the current travel limits of distance and time” by using a drive that “alters the space-time metric” — that is, a warp drive going faster than the speed of light, Einstein’s old cosmic speed limit.

“We believe there are transformative discoveries within our reach that will revolutionize the human experience, but they can only be accomplished through the unrestricted support of breakthrough research, discovery and innovation,” says the group’s website


A U.F.O. spotted by Navy pilots near San Diego in 2004. CreditDepartment of Defense 

I’m not holding my breath waiting for progress on telepathy or warp drive, but I agree with at least one thing that one official with the group said. That was Steve Justice, a former engineer at Lockheed Martin’s famous Skunk Works, where advanced aircraft like the SR-71 high-altitude super-fast spy plane were designed.

“How dare we think that the physics we have today is all that there is,” he said in an interview published recently in HuffPost.

I could hardly agree more, having spent my professional life in the company of physicists and astronomers trying to poke out of the cocoon of present knowledge into the unknown, to overturn Einstein and what passes for contemporary science. Lately, they haven’t gotten anywhere.

The last time physicists had to deal with faster-than-light travel was six years ago, when a group of Italy-based physicists announced that they had seen the subatomic particles known as neutrinos going faster than light. It turned out they had wired up their equipment wrong.

So far Einstein is still the champ. But surely there is so much more to learn. A lot of surprises lie ahead, but many of the most popular ideas on how to transcend Einstein and his peers are on the verge of being ruled out. Transforming science is harder than it looks.

While there is a lot we don’t know, there is also a lot we do know. We know how to turn on our computers and let gadgets in our pocket navigate the world. We know that when physical objects zig and zag through a medium like air, as U.F.O.s are said to do, they produce turbulence and shock waves. NASA engineers predicted to the minute when the Cassini spacecraft would dwindle to a wisp of smoke in Saturn’s atmosphere last fall.

In moments like this, I take comfort in what the great Russian physicist and cosmologist Yakov Zeldovich, one of the fathers of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, once told me. “What science has already taken, it will not give back,” he said.

Scientists are not the killjoys in all this.

In the astronomical world, the border between science fact and science fiction can be very permeable, perhaps because many scientists grew up reading science fiction. And astronomers forever have their noses pressed up against the window of the unknown. They want to believe more than anybody, and I count myself among them.


Since the asteroid named Oumuamua was first noticed flying through our solar system in October, researchers have been monitoring for alien signals, so far to no avail.CreditM. Kornmesser/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 

But they are also trained to look at nature with ruthless rigor and skepticism. For astronomers, the biggest problem with E.T. is not the occasional claim of a mysterious light in the sky, but the fact that we are not constantly overwhelmed with them.

Half a century ago, the legendary physicist Enrico Fermi concluded from a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation that even without warp drive, a single civilization could visit and colonize all the planets in the galaxy in a fraction of the 10-billion-year age of the Milky Way.

“Where are they?” he asked.

Proponents of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, have been debating ever since. One answer I like is the “zoo hypothesis,” according to which we have been placed off-limits, a cosmic wildlife refuge.

Another answer came from Jill Tarter, formerly the director of research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “We haven’t looked hard enough,” she said when I asked her recently.

If there was an iPhone sitting under a rock on the Moon or Mars, for example, we would not have found it yet. Our own latest ideas for interstellar exploration involve launching probes the size of postage stamps to Alpha Centauri.

In the next generation, they might be the size of mosquitoes. By contrast, the dreams of some U.F.O. enthusiasts are stuck in 1950s technology.

Still, we keep trying.

Last fall when a strange object — an interstellar asteroid now named Oumuamua — was found cruising through the solar system, astronomers’ thoughts raced to the Arthur C. Clarke novel “Rendezvous With Rama,” in which the object was an alien spaceship. Two groups have been monitoring Oumuamua for alien radio signals, so far to no avail.

Meanwhile, some astronomers have speculated that the erratic dimming of a star known as “Boyajian’s star” or “Tabby’s star,” after the astronomer Tabetha Boyajian, could be caused by some gigantic construction project orbiting the star. So far that has not worked out, but none of the other explanations — dust or a fleet of comets — have, either.

A pair of Harvard astronomers suggested last spring that mysterious sporadic flashes of energy known as fast radio bursts coming from far far away are alien transmitters powering interstellar spacecraft carrying light sails. “Science isn’t a matter of belief, it’s a matter of evidence,” the astronomer Avi Loeb said in a news release from Harvard. “Deciding what’s likely ahead of time limits the possibilities. It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge.”

U.F.O. investigations are nothing new. The most famous was the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, which ran from 1952 to 1970 and examined more than 12,000 sightings.

Most U.F.O. sightings turn out to be swamp gas and other atmospheric anomalies, Venus, weird reflections or just plain hoaxes. But there is a stubborn residue, a few percent that resist easy explication, including now Commander Fravor’s story. But that’s a far cry from proving they are alien or interstellar.

I don’t know what to think about these stories, often told by sober, respected and professional observers — police officers, pilots, military officials — in indelible detail. I always wish I could have been there to see it for myself.

Then I wonder how much good it would do to see it anyway.

Recently I ran into my friend Mark Mitton, a professional magician, in a restaurant. He came over to the table and started doing tricks. At one point he fanned the card deck, asked my daughter to pick one, and then asked her to shuffle the deck, which she did expertly.

Mr. Mitton grabbed the deck and sprayed the cards in the air. There was my daughter’s card stuck to a mirror about five feet away. How did it get there? Not by any new physics. Seeing didn’t really help.

As modern psychology and neuroscience have established, the senses are an unreliable portal to reality, whatever that is.

Something might be happening, but we don’t know what it is. E.T., if you’re reading this, I’m still waiting to take my ride.

Quelle: New York Times

Tags: UFO-Forschung - The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program -Update-10 


Samstag, 30. Dezember 2017 - 10:50 Uhr

Astronomie - Scientists describe how solar system could have formed in bubble around giant star



This simulation shows how bubbles form over the course of 4.7 million years from the intense stellar winds off a massive star. UChicago scientists postulated how our own solar system could have formed in the dense shell of such a bubble.


Despite the many impressive discoveries humans have made about the universe, scientists are still unsure about the birth story of our solar system.

Scientists with the University of Chicago have laid out a comprehensive theory for how our solar system could have formed in the wind-blown bubbles around a giant, long-dead star. Published Dec. 22 in the Astrophysical Journal, the study addresses a nagging cosmic mystery about the abundance of two elements in our solar system compared to the rest of the galaxy.

The general prevailing theory is that our solar system formed billions of years ago near a supernova. But the new scenario instead begins with a giant type of star called a Wolf-Rayet star, which is more than 40 to 50 times the size of our own sun. They burn the hottest of all stars, producing tons of elements which are flung off the surface in an intense stellar wind. As the Wolf-Rayet star sheds its mass, the stellar wind plows through the material that was around it, forming a bubble structure with a dense shell.

A simulation shows how stellar winds carry mass from a giant star over the course of millions of years, forming bubbles around it—which could have served as the origins of our solar system. Simulation by V. Dwarkadas/D. Rosenberg. Click here for more info.

“The shell of such a bubble is a good place to produce stars,” because dust and gas become trapped inside where they can condense into stars, said coauthor Nicolas Dauphas, professor in the Department of Geophysical Sciences. The authors estimate that 1 percent to 16 percent of all sun-like stars could be formed in such stellar nurseries.

This setup differs from the supernova hypothesis in order to make sense of two isotopes that occur in strange proportions in the early solar system, compared to the rest of the galaxy. Meteorites left over from the early solar system tell us there was a lot of aluminium-26. In addition, studies, including a 2015 one by Dauphas and a former student, increasingly suggest we had less of the isotope iron-60.

This brings scientists up short, because supernovae produce both isotopes. “It begs the question of why one was injected into the solar system and the other was not,” said coauthor Vikram Dwarkadas, a research associate professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

This brought them to Wolf-Rayet stars, which release lots of aluminium-26, but no iron-60.

“The idea is that aluminum-26 flung from the Wolf-Rayet star is carried outwards on grains of dust formed around the star. These grains have enough momentum to punch through one side of the shell, where they are mostly destroyed—trapping the aluminum inside the shell,” Dwarkadas said. Eventually, part of the shell collapses inward due to gravity, forming our solar system.

As for the fate of the giant Wolf-Rayet star that sheltered us: Its life ended long ago, likely in a supernova explosion or a direct collapse to a black hole. A direct collapse to a black hole would produce little iron-60; if it was a supernova, the iron-60 created in the explosion may not have penetrated the bubble walls, or was distributed unequally.

Other authors on the paper included UChicago undergraduate student Peter Boyajian and Michael Bojazi and Brad Meyer of Clemson University.

Citation: “Triggered star formation inside the shell of a Wolf-Rayet bubble as the origin of the solar system.” The Astrophysical Journal, Dec. 22, 2017. DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aa992e

Quelle: The University of Chicago


Tags: Astronomie - Scientists describe how solar system could have formed in bubble around giant star 


Samstag, 30. Dezember 2017 - 10:40 Uhr

Raumfahrt - Startvorbereitung von Ariane-V mit Südkorea GK2B Satelliten 2019


Airbus delivered GOCI-II instrument to the Korean space agency


GOCI-II sensor unit, inside on-ground supporting structure, with electronics


Example of GOCI images for monitoring of turbidity. GOCI-II is planned to be launched in 2019 and will continue GOCI mission


Toulouse/Daejeon, After four months at the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) test facilities in Daejeon, South Korea, during which intensive testing was performed by a joint team of KARI and Airbus Defence and Space, the GOCI-II ocean colour imaging instrument has been delivered to the customer.

GOCI-II will be mounted on the GK2B satellite and will be launched in 2019 from Kourou on an Ariane 5. From its geostationary orbit, GOCI-II will analyse the colour of the ocean around the Korean peninsula, in order to detect, monitor, quantify and predict short-term variations in the characteristics of the coastal regions, for scientific and industrial purposes.

GOCI-II offers greater functional, geometrical and radiometric performance than its predecessor, launched in 2010 on the COMS satellite. It will acquire images of the Earth in 12 spectral bands between 380 nm and 865 nm, with resolution of about 250 m at Nadir. It will also be able to provide images of the Earth’s entire disk as well as the Moon and stars for calibration.

Quelle: Airbus


Tags: Raumfahrt - Startvorbereitung von Ariane-V mit Südkorea GK2B Satelliten 2019 


Samstag, 30. Dezember 2017 - 08:15 Uhr

Astronomie - Searching for the (Star) Light at the Vatican Observatory



Brother Guy Consolmagno, the director of the Vatican Observatory, looking through the “Carte du Ciel” telescope.


ALBANO LAZIALE, Italy — Some 2,000 years ago, a celestial phenomenon is believed to have lit up the sky. Guiding the wise men of New Testament lore to the birthplace of Jesus, the star of Bethlehem has since become a planetarium and Christmas carol favorite.

What that star might have been — a comet, supernova, or the conjunction of planets, let alone whether it ever existed — is one of the recurring questions that Brother Guy Consolmagno is called on to answer even though, he noted dryly, “it has nothing to do with our work as scientists at the Vatican Observatory.”

“Too often people get distracted by the Star and forget to look at the Child! And yet I also have to admit I feel a certain joy in the story, and a joy that this story has been so popular for so many people over the centuries,” said Brother Consolmagno, since 2015, the director of La Specola Vaticana (which translates as Vatican Observatory). “Of course, we have no idea what Matthew was writing about. It doesn’t matter!”

The observatory is the only Vatican institution that does scientific research, and Brother Consolmagno, a former physics professor and later-in-life Jesuit, is the public face of an institution whose work “is to show the world that the church supports science.”

He sees it as a multifaceted mission: convincing the world that faith and science coexist and complement each other; dispelling the notion that the church has sought to muzzle scientific advancement, perpetuated by some high-profile historic cases like the travails of Galileo and Giordano Bruno at the hands of the Inquisition; and being part of the conversation within the global scientific community.

“We have to do the science, otherwise there is no point to it,” Brother Consolmagno said. “If we didn’t do science then all the P.R. work we do would be pointless, it would be empty.”

When it comes to science, the Vatican — supporters say — is a victim of historical fake news.

How many people know that the Vatican built its first observatory in the 16th century to study astronomy for the reform of the Gregorian calendar? Or that a 19th century Jesuit priest, Angelo Secchi, is considered a pioneer of astronomical spectroscopy, “the beginning of astrophysics,” as Brother Consolmagno said? Or that 90 years ago a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaître, put forth a theory on the expanding universe that became what is known today as the Big Bang?

The observatory has a unique advantage. The Vatican’s unconditional support of the institute means it is able to engage in long-term astronomical research, freed from the constraints of goal-oriented funding and grants.

“The work we do here can take 10 or even 20 years before it bears fruit and the Vatican is happy to bear it,” Brother Consolmagno said. “It means we can do the kind of useful but not very glamorous work that the rest of the field needs but that no one can afford to do.” For example, measuring the physical properties of meteorites, data that is widely used, “but will never win a Nobel Prize,” he said.

A Detroit native, he first thought about following in his father’s footsteps and studying journalism. So he majored in history at Boston College, before transferring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue science “Originally I had the idea of being a science journalist, but the science itself was too much fun to pass up,” he said.

When he completed his Ph.D. studies in planetary sciences at the University of Arizona he said he had a “crisis of faith, not in my religion but in my science,” he said, adding: “I thought, Why am I doing science, writing papers that five people will read, when there are people starving around the world?’”

He quit academia and joined the Peace Corps, moving to Kenya in 1983 to teach first high school in rural areas and then university. He returned from the Peace Corps “filled with this passion to teach astronomy” and began working at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. “I was never as happy as I was there, teaching at a small college and I realized this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he recalled.

At that point, nearing 40, he decided to join the Jesuits. “I’ve always been in love with my faith, I enjoy being a Catholic, and so I thought about becoming a brother, living with the Jesuits in community,” he said. Eventually, he was called to the observatory.

The Vatican had in-house observatories until the 1930s when light pollution in the Italian capital began interfering with sky watching, so they transferred the institute to the papal palace and gardens at Castel Gandolfo, where popes have summered for centuries. In 2009 the observatory decamped for new lodgings in a remodeled monastery on the Albano Laziale side of the papal gardens, just next to the working farm that provides the pope with vegetable and dairy products.


Clockwise from top left: a collection of meteor samples in the labs at the Vatican Observatory; replicas of the earth and the moon encased in a museum; a bust of Pope Pius XII in the ground floor of the Carte du Ciel Telescope dome; books on display as part of a permanent installation at the Vatican Observatory.


“There are three vows that even Jesuit brothers take: poverty, chastity and obedience,” said Brother Consolmagno. “And the running joke is, if this is poverty, show me chastity,” he laughed.

The new digs have made it easier to host visiting scholars as well as the students that every two years participate in a monthlong summer school taught by leading astronomy luminaries. Its alumni are ensconced in dozens of universities and institutes.

There are four telescopes under domes at Castel Gandolfo, and on a chilly morning Brother Consolmagno draped rather awkwardly on a reclinable chair, peered gingerly into the viewfinder of one: a 19th century model used when the Vatican was one of 20 observatories to participate in the Carte du Ciel astronomical project to map millions of stars on photographic plates.

“In our history, we’ve done some fundamental things that we will be remembered for,” and that was one of them, he said.

Next year, the Observatory and the Vatican Museums hope to allow paying visitors to experience nighttime sky watching through this telescope, situated in a dome where Pope Paul VI watched the moon landing and gave a short address to the astronauts.

On Oct. 26, Pope Francis had a much longer conversation with the astronauts on the International Space Station.

“Astronomy makes us contemplate the universe’s boundless horizons and prompts questions such as ‘Where do we come from, where are we going?’” the pope said.

Which leads to another question Brother Consolmagno gets asked on regular basis: “Is there intelligent life out there?”

His short answer is: “I don’t have any data.”

A longer answer included the bemused rejection of tabloid mediasuspicions that the Vatican has been hiding proof of the existence of alien life.

In terms of real research, however, none of the observatory’s Italian telescopes are suitable, so for the past three decades the observatory has also operated a modern telescope in partnership with the University of Arizona on Mount Graham, with a logistical base in Tucson. The staff of the observatory travel back and forth between the two sites, often gathering data in Arizona and studying the results and planning new observations in Lazio. “We’re migratory birds,” said Brother Consolmagno.

Brother Consolmagno’ spends about a third of his year on the road. “I come cheap and I tell funny stories,” he joked.

“I’ve been to every continent and encountered people of every culture who love looking at the sky,” he added. “It just reminds you that we all live under the same sky and we all have stories to share about it.”

He is also a tireless communicator, through books, articles and blogs. He has a monthly column in the Catholic magazine, The Tablet, writes regularly for the Vatican house organ, the Osservatore Romano, and manages the Vatican Observatory’s blog The Catholic Astronomer.

Brother Consolmagno counts himself as lucky. “The glorious thing to me of being a Jesuit brother, it’s the one place that allowed me to use all the things I love to do,” he said, contemplating the way the universe works. “It’s not only logical, which is amazing in itself, but in its logic it is beautiful,” he said. And it is a constant sign of God’s presence.

“God wants us to be happy, God wants us to be joyful, and we are hoping we can communicate some of the reasons we find joy in the stuff we do,” he said.

Quelle: The New York Times

Tags: Astronomie - Searching for the (Star) Light at the Vatican Observatory 


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