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27 Oct

The Controversial Proposal of an Alien Megastructure

The space and science community was buzzing last week about of odd behavior of a star called KIC 8462852. More accurately, the news was about the odd behavior from something near or in transit around the star causing it to dim in irregular patterns and brightness. The buzz was about the theory whether this could be a megastructure or mass of structures created by aliens.

Science Channel will air a special news update about the theories being aired about this strange star: Alien Megastructures tonight at 9/8c. Before you tune-in or set your DVR, here's a little bit about why this odd star has scientists stumped and alien hunters guessing. Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 1.16.33 PM

The story about the The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy broke in The Atlantic on October 13, but as the story noted, the star’s behavior isn’t exactly breaking news. 

While going about its mission to find exoplanets Kepler Space Telescope found this star in 2009. Kepler does its job by observing far flung stars and tracking any dimming in their brightness, which could signify the presence of an exoplanet. When the dimness happens over a recognizable period and speed, it often signals there is an exoplanet and can even help astronomers estimate the size. In the case of KIC 8462852, the star had dips that followed no precise pattern and vary in intensity.

Kepler could very well be picking up some natural phenomenon such as dust rings or a debris field. After all, Kepler can pick up things other than exoplanets, like flares, said dust or debris, or perhaps even something created specifically to move around the star. Yes, created.

Watch DNews: We're Not Saying The Kepler Discovery Is Aliens, But...

Of course we expect some backlash at this point, and at least one of the meme with the wacky looking dude who has his hair standing up with the text “Aliens” on it. The comments claiming this is pseudo-science have come along with most posts and articles we've seen circulated on the topic. Some people do not believe there is alien life, and do not like mainstream science and cultural media outlets reporting on it.

Here’s why some of us are talking about it.

The source of this story and the follow up pieces are not the result of astronomers just grabbing at straws. The data on this star goes back to 2009 and has been carefully documented; a paper reporting on the data and all plausible theories was just submitted by a Yale post-doctorate researcher to the September 2015 edition of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The paper also includes the names and interpretation of several citizen scientists from The Planet Hunters, an expert group who regularly studies certain parts of the galaxy to help scientists wade through the massive amount of data the telescopes send back. The combined efforts of the lead at Yale, Tabetha Boyajian, and the Planet Hunters confirmed at least two basic things: the irregular data is NOT coming from flawed data or instrumental error and the behavior was notable, with dips “in flux down to below the 20 percent level.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 1.18.11 PM

Boyajian and the Planet Hunters offer up several theories, most of which raise additional questions given that none of them are an exact fit with the behavior being observed.

Read More: DNews Has Kepler Discovered an Alien Megastructure?

As Dr. Ian O’Neill notes in his DNews report on the story, Boyajian’s paper focuses only on “…natural and known possible causes of the mystery transit events around KIC 8462852. A second paper is currently being drafted to investigate a completely different transit scenario that focuses around the possibility of a mega-engineering project created by an advanced alien civilization.”

This does NOT mean anyone is immediately suggesting it IS an alien megastructure. What this second paper and some scientists believe is that every possible theory must be explored. Even if it the most remote chance it is something created by an advanced civilization, in the spirit of scientific exploration it must be explored and proven or dis-proven. So we’ll wait for the paper and see.

So what happens next? Well, the scientists at the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute are joining in the search for an explanation in a significant way. They’ve turned their Allen Telescope Array – a field of 42 smaller and highly targeted satellite dishes – off its normal schedule and have focused it on KIC 8462852. They will work day and night looking for transmissions that fall into a specific range of wavelengths.

According to Universe Today, the team is gathering results they hope to publish soon in a scientific journal.

The American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) has also joined in, issuing an alert to its members on October 20th to focus on KIC 8462852, with specific parameters to help target their observations. This continues to be a working investigation to find the cause of the erratic dips.

At Science Channel we believe in “questioning everything,” and we’re excited by the depth of research going into confirming a theory, regardless the side of the debate. We’ll be presenting the latest news about the story tonight in a special news report: Alien Megastructures at 9/8c. We hope you’ll join us in exploring the story of this strange signal and the science going into solving this mystery.


Interested in these kinds of space mysteries? You might enjoy these related videos:



9 Oct

Giant Lakes On Mars?

Imagine standing on the shore of Lake Michigan. You see nothing but a vast expanse of water, deep and alive with currents. Now imagine that isn’t Lake Michigan, but the shore of the Gale Crater on Mars. Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.01.15 PM

New pictures, taken by NASA's Curiosity Rover show thick slabs of dried sediment that look familiar to anyone who has seen a long dried up patch of water like a creek bed or a lake. Only this patch is on a massive scale. This is exciting to scientists who are looking forward to studying the sediment to find out just what happened to the water.

“You don’t need magic new science to understand the geology of Mars,” notes Janok Bhattacharya, a sedimentary geologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, as quoted in Science Magazine. Basically, geologists here on Earth can study the pictures and sample analysis sent back and make strong assumptions about the Martian climate based on how it matches up with what they’ve modeled here on Earth.

So far they do believe the water was in large bodies, with currents powerful enough to move the larger, more rounded rock sediment they've seen. They can also see how the sediment piled up over what could be millions of years, and possibly decipher what the layers meant about the changing climate on Mars’ surface and if there were different climates like here on Earth.

It goes without saying that scientists, geologists, and astronomy buffs are beyond excited about what the Curiosity Rover has been able to show us. This is big news and a big step in understanding other worlds. The geology discovery that lies ahead is going to be rich in data thanks to the Rover, and we can't wait to see what comes next!

As we ponder a now mostly dry planet and what it will tell us about life on Mars, or perhaps if we are seeing the future of our own planet, we should also stop and appreciate the tremendous feat of technology and engineering the is the Curiosity Mars Rover.

If you want to understand what an achievement it is to have these pictures and data coming back from Mars you won’t want to miss Red Planet Rover Tuesday night at 9P on Science Channel. You’ll get to follow the build and the journey to Mars from the eyes of the mission control team. This is their baby and they’ve invested their time, theories, and hope in this amazing spacecraft.

It’s all part of a night of intense space exploration. There is truly something for everyone who is wondering about the universe.

What’s On Tuesday:

8P - How the Universe Works: Forces of Mass Construction

9P – Red Planet Rover: See the Mars Curiosity Rover as You Never Have Before

10P – Space’s Darkest Secret: Can Scientists Crack the Mystery of Dark Matter?

Want to learn more about the geology of Mars? Turn to Science Magazine's in-depth feature.


29 Sep

Mars Mystery Solved: A Special Report

Tonight at 9p EST, Science Channel will be airing a special segment, including post-analysis from the confirmation there is liquid water on Mars. Mars: A Special Report discussing how they made the discovery and what it means for future Mars exploration.

I can’t wait to hear what the #NASA experts have to say. After viewing the NASA press conference and Q&A yesterday, it seems like at a basic level the mission is to keep moving forward and exploring just what liquid water on Mars means. In short, the discovery opens up more questions than there are answers.

The 900 lb. gorilla of a question in the room, on our website, and on our social media pages is: if there is water, is there life?

BlueMarsAliens. It seems to always comes back to that concept for many of us. My parents read comics about canals on Mars being made by a powerful civilization. I’m of the generation that has seen Hubble open up the vastness of the universe where the sheer odds point to the fact there must be some kind of life out there. Now scientists have done studies that show microbial life doesn’t always have to have oxygen and water to live. Still, if you’ve got water you are likely one step closer to finding something that could be defined as life.

That’s what had the scientists so excited about the future. Now they have been able to secure enough information to confirm the liquid water, they can focus on its composition, its activity, and how we might use it on future missions. There are just so many things to find out about our own life and planet as we start understanding Mars more. There are also new hopes of colonizing the planet in a different way than we might have before. Of course, even many scientists whoooped over the possibility of finding new life - even microbes to start!

I’m going to pump the brakes on speculating about the future for a minute and go back to the mystery and beauty of what we have just found out simply about the topography and nature of Mars.

They finally understand these dark streaks – called recurring slope lineae (RSL) – as being indicators of liquid water that drip down the sides of craters and slopes. This is something scientists had begun to observe and discuss for a few years with data from the Phoenix Lander and pictures from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showing the RSL over various sites.


Add the Curiosity Rover into the mix and you have the perfect scientific storm for confirmation of liquid water. As the pictures got clearer, and the Curiosity Rover could take soil samples the story started to take shape. The NASA team mineral mapped the site from the MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). This data revealed hydrated salts and that brings us to the press conference yesterday and the beautiful photos we have been seeing.

So for all of you who in our forums who have said we’ve known about water on Mars for years, you are right in some ways. We HAVE known about ancient frozen water – not liquid. It is also true NASA has also been studying this current phenomenon since 2010. The announcement was not held for any other reason than it is only now when the perfect mix of technology and research allowed the scientists to put the pieces together. They like being right. They're funny like that.

As I saw how the pieces came together for them I took a moment to look out my window into the sky. I am so incredibly proud of NASA and the science community. The collective work of hundreds of people (likely a lot more) went into to this discovery and a few of the others I picked up yesterday. This is the information that will one day allow the next generation to explore Mars and beyond.

  • There is a water cycle on Mars; it doesn’t rain but it does snow
  • Mars has seasons, just like Earth. The RSL change dependent on the seasons, which was another clue.
  • The water probably pretty shallow more like trickles and drips rather than rolling streams – but we don’t know that didn’t happen in the past or what is happening under the surface.

That's what wowed little old me; what wowed you?

As you'd expect, we were all smiles here at Science Channel yesterday during the live broadcast because we loved seeing the scientists be able to share this breakthrough, and we loved being a part of sharing it. We can't resist sharing the faces of of those who produce such exciting live events and those who stand watch in our broadcast center to make sure everything is beautiful on our air!   Image1

We also love being able to bring you the update at 9P, will explain more about how they found the water, why is is so important to the future, what are they going to do next?

It’s also exciting we could share this experience with our colleagues around the globe. We have video from our colleagues at Discovery News. We’ve seen people in our worldwide divisions talk about it on social media. Here are a few posts for you to enjoy, and we hope to see you for a night of Mars programming, with our special update at 9P.

Discovery News Video

Discovery Networks International:

Discovery Science France:



Discovery Channel Turkey:


Discovery Channel South Africa: Photos

Discovery Channel Arabia: Photos


28 Sep

TestTube: Definitive Signs of Liquid Water Found on Mars

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.41.19 AMOur colleagues from TestTube hit the nail on the head in their blog when they commented it might be the best marketing promotion ever dreamed up if this announcement from NASA was to promote The Martian. We were saying the same thing as the #NASA panel slowly built up to the big reveal: there is evidence of flowing water on Mars. It wasn't a movie; it's what #NASA has been searching for for years, finally confirmed after careful study of the surface geology and samples from the #CuriosityRover.

Get the full TestTube blog, and stick with us as we will be checking in with them throughout the day for more of their thoughts and perhaps some video.


TestTube on Facebook

TestTube on Twitter

TestTube on YouTube



8 Apr

Finding Alien Life by 2025

Watereventfeature20150407_mainNASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan thinks so. "I think  within a decade, we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years," she said Tuesday during a panel event on water in the universe.

That’s a thought provoking statement! Why would she make this announcement during a panel on water? NASA has long been searching for the evidence of water in the universe and is announcing new missions to discover and understand how water is distributed in the universe. With this announcement, it is no surprise the topic turns to finding life beyond Earth. The discovery of water on other planets and exoplanets is one strong indicator that alien life could be found there, as in many cases it is a building block for known life forms.

Stofan isn’t the only one who believes the pace at which we are unlocking new understanding about the universe will reveal alien life.

"It's definitely not an if, it's a when," said Jeffery Newmark, NASA's interim director of heliophysics.

Information coming back from NASA missions has shown the atmospheres and interiors of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are thought to contain enormous quantities of water. Even the five icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn show evidence of there may be oceans beneath their icy surfaces. As we probe further in the universe we are finding more evidence of the water and the elements of water, hydrogen and oxygen everywhere and in many forms.

Scientists are quick to point out that finding alien life doesn’t necessarily mean meeting little green men, or the kind of semi-human sentient beings we think of from Star Trek or Star Wars. The likelihood is our first encounter may be microbes, perhaps similar to those that evolve and change on our own Earth over time.

More: Will Aliens Have Bodies?

As much as the headline of yesterday’s panel focused on water as a barometer of finding alien life, the study of water and how it behaves in the universe is also helpful in understanding how our own solar system evolved and why some planets have water and why some who may have had water have dried up.

By being able to observe other planetary systems as they form helps paint the picture of how our own solar system developed, and water is a big part of that story. NASA reports the Spitzer Space Telescope has observed signs of a hail of water-rich comets raining down on a young solar system, much like the kind of bombardment planets in our solar system would have endured in their youth. This could very well be how our own Earth became populated with water.

Many of NASA’s existing missions like Kepler and its successor K2 are laying the groundwork now. NASA is also launching the TESS mission will search nearby, bright stars in the solar neighborhood for Earth sized exoplanets in conjunction with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

More: The Quest For Life: Water

Watching another distant solar system that could be like ours is a powerful concept to wrap one’s head around. The oceans we swim and sail in, the rivers we see, and the water we drink may well have come from a cosmic event that is just in the offing for other planets in other solar systems.

With that in mind, when we look to the skies, and consider the idea of alien life forms being found it’s hard not to wonder if there are other life forms on distant planets who are going through the process of developing into life forms we might recognize.

With its targeted missions to understand deeper space better in the pipeline, NASA is in the unique position to be able to make that bold prediction that we may find some form of life within the next 20 – 30 years.

 All we can say is wow!  For more of where water has been discovered, explore NASA's infographic below.



















































Sources: NASA, Huffington Post

10 Sep

Jupiter Moon Europa Could Have Plate Tectonics Like Earth

New research reveals Jupiter moon Europa may have plate tectonics similar to those on Earth, giving new hope to the search for extraterrestrial life.

Our friends at DNews report:

"During studies of photographs taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft that orbited the gas giant from 1995 to 2003, planetary geologists have found it hard to explain why most of the crust was relatively new ice (on average, the icy surface is 40-90 million years old) and yet there was little evidence of old ice that had been crushed up on the surface to make way for the new material.


Their conclusion is that, like Earth’s rocky crust, there must be subduction zones where old material is pushed against plate boundaries, making the ice sink into the subsurface ocean, where it melts and gets cycled."

"Europa may be more Earth-like than we imagined, if it has a global plate tectonic system," planetary geologists Simon Kattenhorn said in a statement. "Not only does this discovery make it one of the most geologically interesting bodies in the solar system, it also implies two-way communication between the exterior and interior -- a way to move material from the surface into the ocean -- a process which has significant implications for Europa's potential as a habitable world."

Earlier in 2014, NASA put out a call for proposals to hunt for alien life on Europa, which is believed to have a deep underground ocean that could be capable of sustaining life.

Want to learn more? Get to know Europa:

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13 Aug

Commercial Spacecraft Prepare to Mine the Moon

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

-President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

More than 50 years after President Kennedy's famous moon speech, his words continue to inspire. Now a new generation prepares to heed the president's call and aim for the lunar surface, not for human exploration but to mine the moon for its precious minerals.

Among the rare earth elements found on the moon are titanium, magnesium and iron; there's also helium-3, which "could provide safer nuclear energy in a fusion reactor, since it is not radioactive and would not produce dangerous waste products."

Silicon Valley titans like Google are looking toward the lunar surface and offering scientists prizes "designed to inspire pioneers to do robotic space transport on a budget."

Is this the start of a new space race?

Tonight at 10/9c, Science Channel's three-part special Man vs. The Universe looks at commercial spacecraft preparing to mine the moon and the benefits these groups hope to reap. Here's a sneak peek:

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23 Jul

NASA Seeks Proposals To Hunt For Alien Life On Jupiter Moon Europa

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 11.58.25 AMIf there's life out there, will we find it on Jupiter's icy moon Europa?

NASA recently put out a call for proposals for science instruments to "address fundamental questions about the icy moon and the search for life beyond Earth."

"The possibility of life on Europa is a motivating force for scientists and engineers around the world," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. "This solicitation will select instruments which may provide a big leap in our search to answer the question: are we alone in the universe?"

It's believed that Europa has a deep underground ocean that could be capable of sustaining life; a mission to Europa is planned for the 2020s and could cost $1 billion.

About 20 proposals will be selected in April 2015 and $25 million divided among their creators for development.

Tonight, How the Universe Works delves deep into Jupiter's core and in one segment, examines Galileo and the first time NASA dropped a probe into Jupiter's atmosphere:

Watch How the Universe Works TONIGHT at 9/8c on Science Channel

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27 May

'Alien Encounters' Explores What Happens When the Aliens Arrive

The aliens are here -- now what?

That's the question probed by Alien Encounters, which returns tonight on Science Channel for season three of a series that explores how arriving aliens would affect humanity.

Dramatizations of the action are interspersed with real-life science and commentary from experts, including astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi and SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak.

In this sneak peek from tonight's premiere episode, learn how engineers are using science to track the effects of space trash. What would happen if a piece of flying junk connected with an object here on Earth?

Tune in to the premiere of Alien Encounters tonight at 10/9c, and keep watching Science Channel on Tuesday nights to see how the story unfolds.

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4 Apr

Hidden Ocean On Saturn Moon Enceladus Could Support Life

Pia18071_enceladus-interiorIt was just last month that waves were detected on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Now comes news that NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected signs of a sea beneath Enceladus, another Saturn moon, "furthering scientific interest in the moon as a potential home to extraterrestrial microbes."

The findings were published in the journal Science on April 4.

"The main implication is that there are potentially habitable environments in the solar system in places which are completely unexpected," said Luciano Iess, one of the study's authors, in a video. "Enceladus has a surface temperature of about minus 180 degrees Celsius, but under that surface there exists liquid water." says the discovery "confirms suspicions many researchers have had about Enceladus since 2005, when NASA's Cassini spacecraft first spotted ice and water vapor spewing from fractures near the moon's south pole."

The six-mile-deep ocean is hidden beneath Enceladus' ice exterior, which may be as much as 19 to 25 miles thick and, according to NASA, makes Saturn's icy moon one of the "most likely places in our solar system to host microbial life."

"Material from Enceladus’ south polar jets contains salty water and organic molecules, the basic chemical ingredients for life," said Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker in a statement. "Their discovery expanded our view of the 'habitable zone' within our solar system and in planetary systems of other stars. This new validation that an ocean of water underlies the jets furthers understanding about this intriguing environment." 

Mars remains an intriguing candidate for life as evidence emerges that the red planet was once covered in water. It could have even had life before Earth did:

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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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