On July 19, the Cassini space probe - in orbit around Saturn - use its wide angle camera to capture a spectacular view of our own planet as a speck in the distance, past the looming view of the ringed giant. Taken from the 'dark side' of Saturn, the photo shows a distant Earth, (898 million miles/1.44 billion km away) as a blue dot at center right - our Moon can just barely be seen as a fainter protrusion off the Earth's right side (this narrow angle shot shows the two more clearly).
And just in case you only glanced at it quickly before moving on to more pictures of cats and gossip about the royal baby, some perspective from Carl Sagan (written in 1994 regarding the original 'pale blue dot' image taken by Voyager 1):
Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
Over at Scientific American, science writer @LeeBillings has an excellent article about a newly discovered astronomical anomaly, 'Fast Radio Bursts' (FRBs), that in the words of one scientist will herald "the birth of an entirely new area of research":
Every now and then things go "bump!" in the cosmic night, releasing torrents of energy that astronomers can't easily explain. Not that they mind: most times an energetic riddle flares up in their view of the sky, major epoch-setting discoveries are sure to follow. This was the pattern for pulsars—rapidly spinning city-size stellar remnants that steadily chirp in radio. It was also the pattern for gamma-ray bursts—extreme explosions at the outskirts of the observable universe thought to be caused by stellar mergers and collapsing massive stars. Now the pattern is playing out again, with last week's announcement that an international team of researchers has detected brief, bright bursts of radio waves washing over Earth from mysterious sources that may be billions of light-years away. The findings, reported in the July 5 Science, could open an entirely new window on the universe by allowing scientists to measure the composition and dynamics of the intergalactic medium—the cold, diffuse plasma that lies between galaxies.
Using a year's worth of data gathered from some 10 percent of the sky by the 64-meter Parkes radio telescope in Australia, the team detected four bursts from far outside the galactic plane, each occurring only once and lasting a few thousandths of a second. According to Dan Thornton, a PhD candidate at the University of Manchester in England who led the study, the results suggest that these "fast radio bursts," or FRBs, probably occur as often as every 10 seconds or so, nearly 10,000 times a day. "If we had radio telescopes watching the entire sky, that's how many we think we'd see each day," Thornton says. "We haven't seen more of these until now only because we've been looking at small regions of the sky for small amounts of time."
The final instalment of the UK Ministry of Defence's UFO files has been posted to the UFO page at the British National Archives, and can be freely downloaded by anyone interested in the topic. This latest release brings to a close the 'disclosure' of what has been labeled "Britain's X-Files":
The final tranche of UFO files released by The National Archives contain a wide range of UFO-related documents, drawings, letters, and photos and parliamentary questions covering the final two years of the Ministry of Defence's UFO Desk (from late 2007 until November 2009).
Discover the reasons behind the closure of the UFO desk, the handling of the largest number of UFO sighting reports received in 30 years and the disclosure campaign for ‘the truth’, which was sparked by the closure of the UFO Desk.
Start by reading our highlights guide (PDF, 363kb) to help navigate your way through the files.
As mentioned above, many of the files are taken up with the matter of the UFO desk's closure, but you'll also find a number of other things covered, from a mass of Chinese Lantern sightings through to interesting cases involving things like (what seems to be) ball lightning. Dr David Clarke has a good summary in the video above, and also check out the highlights guide (PDF) for pointers on where to find certain cases. Note that there is also now an app available for exploring the files on Apple devices.
With this final release being the 10th instalment of UFO files made available, I've added links below to our coverage of previous releases so that this post can be a definitive reference point for Grailers:
- The British X-Files (Release #1)
- More MoD UFO Files (Release #2)
- UK UFO Files Part Three (Release #3)
- UK UFO Files Part Four (Release #4)
- UK UFO Files Part Five (Release #5)
- UK UFO Files Part Six (Release #6)
- UK UFO Files Part Seven (Release #7)
- UK UFO Files Part Eight (Release #8)
- UK UFO Files Part Nine (Release #9)
- UK UFO Files Part Ten (Release #10, this post)
For those that like to take in a vista of galactic proportions: a photo I took last weekend of the centre of our galaxy, as seen from the dark skies of northern Australia (camera was a Canon 6D). Sharp-eyed folk will be able to see the constellation Scorpius among the throng of stars in the middle of the image (hint, look for the red giant Antares).
You can click the image for a larger version. I consider the pic to be public domain, so feel free to use it in any way you want.
Half-way through watching Mirage Men, a new documentary on how U.S. Intelligence agencies have deliberately sabotaged research into the UFO topic, I literally shook my head, saying to myself with a laugh "it's a hall of mirrors". By the end of the documentary, my statement had been echoed and expanded upon by one of the interviewees, Linda Moulton Howe, who described the entire story as "a fractured hall of mirrors with a quicksand floor". Howe should know: in 1983, while researching a documentary on the subject of UFOs for HBO, she was engaged by Richard 'Rick' Doty, an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), initially with the promise of helping her investigate an alleged UFO landing near Ellsworth Air Force Base. But Howe's meeting with Doty took an unexpected turn when the AFOSI agent suddenly produced a manila folder, saying she could take a look at it but, not remove it from the office or make notes. Within it was a document titled "Briefing Paper for the President of the United States of America on the Subject of Unidentified Aerial Vehicles", which listed a number of alleged UFO crash retrievals by the government, as well as paragraphs that became "emblazoned" on Howe's mind concerning how they had discovered that Homo sapiens was a species created by extraterrestrials through genetic manipulation of primates. Amazed by the information fed to her by the government agency at the time, in Mirage Men Howe looks back with three decades of perspective and wonders at the the amount of effort that must have gone into the deception: "they must have had meetings about 'how do we stop a persistent and dogged reporter who has already demonstrated that she's going to go after a really difficult subject?'." The question that comes to mind, and which runs throughout this entire film, is 'WHY?'.
This was not the first time that AFOSI agent Doty had willingly mislead investigators of the UFO subject, and it would not be the last. As such, he serves as the focal character in the documentary; it begins with the deception he helped orchestrate on Albuquerque businessman Paul Bennewitz, goes on to discuss the Linda Moulton Howe case, the infamous Majestic-12 documents (described in the film by another AFOSI agent, Walter Bosley, as the "perfect Perception Management Device", though Doty denies any involvement with it) and extends forward to the more recent controversy over the 'Project Serpo' hoax.
And Doty is no doubt a worthy candidate for the film to revolve around. Coming to the documentary with a fair amount of knowledge about Doty's deceptions over the years – with consequences (direct and otherwise) ranging from the wasting of UFO investigators' time through to the mental disintegration, eventual hospitalisation and death of Paul Bennewitz – I already had a dislike for the man, and was ready to truly despise him. But one of the things that catches you off guard is how harmless and genial he seems - the man is sitting before the camera, telling you how he has deceived people, and yet you feel that he seems to be a nice guy that you'd happily chat with at a neighbourhood barbeque. Though as Bill Ryan, who was initially taken in by the Serpo deception, points out, that's what makes him so effective: "Rick's great strength is he's a wonderful story-teller", says Ryan. "He's a very friendly guy [and] builds relationships easily". ... Read More »
Who needs science fiction for terrifying and bizarre alien species? The sea's strangest square mile shows that Earth is an alien planet.
"Hey Ugg, where did you say you found these mushrooms?" h/t CyberPipeSmoker.
Via Lauren Davis at io9, here's a terrific piece by artist Chris Rallis, depicting first contact between ancient humans & extraterrestrial visitors. It'd look fantastic on the wall of the Grail Cave; maybe Chris can add psilocybin mushrooms for a special print. I get a Plato's cave vibe from the piece. What do you think?
Over at his blog, UFO researcher David Clarke says "the death of ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher has deprived UFOlogists of an answer to an enduring question: what did she really know about Britain’s Roswell incident?"
Thatcher, who died on 8 April aged 87, was 19 months into her first term as Prime Minister in 1980 when US airmen at the nuclear-armed twin airbase RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge reported ‘unexplained lights’ (UFOs) hovering above Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk.
The ‘Rendlesham Forest’ incident happened at the height of the Cold War when tensions in Poland – then behind the Iron Curtain -were reaching crisis point. In the years that followed, the Ministry of Defence drew up secret plans to base US cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common and US airbases in eastern England and was keen to avoid drawing attention to a persistent story about a UFO landing near one of them.
...Georgina Bruni revealed that she had quizzed Thatcher face-to-face about her knowledge of UFOs and Rendlesham.
The bizarre conversation took place in London at a charity cocktail party during 1997, shortly after the former Prime Minister had returned from an engagement in Washington DC. At the time Bruni was working on a book that she hoped would expose ‘the truth’ about Britain’s Roswell.
Seizing the opportunity, Bruni asked her opinion on UFOs and claims that world leaders knew about the existence of alien technology. She received this response:
Head to David Clarke's blog to find out what Lady Thatcher said, and how people have attempted to explain it.
Poets and space opera writers take note: tears don't fall in space.