Space news weekly recap: ‘Signs of aliens’, cosmic cannibalism and much more

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China said it may have detected signs of alien civilisations

China said that its massive Giant Eye telescope may have picked up signs of alien civilisations, according to a report by the state-backed Science and Technology Daily. The publication later appeared to have deleted reports and posts about the discovery but not before it began trending on Weibo and got picked up by various news outlets.

Sky Eye detected narrow-band electromagnetic signals that differ from previous ones captured and the team is investigating them, according to Zhang Tonjie, chief scientist of an extraterrestrial civilization search team co-founded by Beijing Normal University, the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of California, Berkeley, who was cited by the daily.

NASA’s Perseverance rover finds a piece of foil on Mars

The Perseverance Mars rover captured an unexpected image with its left Mastcam-Z camera; a shiny piece of foil stuck on a rock on the neighbouring planet. The object was determined to be part of a thermal blanket that may have come from the descent stage of the rocket that landed the rover and the Ingenuity Mars helicopter on the planet.

That is a fairly satisfying explanation except for one caveat: the descent stage crashed about 2 kilometres away from where the piece of foil was spotted but scientists have no explanation for how it reached there. Further, they aren’t sure which part of the spacecraft it came from. Currently, it is theorised that the piece landed there during the descent of the spacecraft or was blown there by Martian winds.

Fastest-growing black hole

Astronomers from the Australian National University have discovered what appeared to be the fastest-growing black hole ever spotted in space. According to them, the black hole is growing so fast that it consumes the equivalent of one Earth’s mass per second. The black hole is 7,000 times brighter than all the light in our galaxy put together, making it visible to astronomers across the planet.

Scientists speculate that the massive black hole formed as the result of two big galaxies colliding with each other. Typically, black holes are formed when massive stars collapse upon themselves, causing a supernova. The remaining core of the star is crushed by gravity and becomes a black hole, trapping everything including light.

China’s Chang’E-5 lander finds native water evidence on the moon

Samples collected by China’s lunar lander Chang’E-5 have delivered the first real-time on-site definitive confirmation of the evidence of local origin water on the moon. Chang’E-5 collected samples from the Moon’s Oceanus Procellarum, which is an ancient basalt mare whose name means “Ocean of Storms”.

The first confirmation of water signal was given by an on-board spectral analysis in 2021 and this was later validated when the lander returned in 2021 with laboratory tests of the samples. The team later determined that the water originated from the moon itself, instead of being a consequence of solar wind or other external factors.

White dwarf star ripping up an entire planetary system in a case of “cosmic cannibalism”

A star’s death throes are so violent that the dead star left behind, called a white dwarf, is disrupting an entire planetary ecosystem by sucking in debris from both its inner and outer reaches. This phenomenon also marks the first time that a white dwarf star is consuming both rocky-metallic and icy material, both of which are “ingredients of planets”.

Scientists were able to diagnose this case of “cosmic cannibalism” using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA observatories. White dwarf stars are formed when low-mass stars like our sun exhaust most of their nuclear fuel. They are typically dense and about the size of a planet.

These findings are particularly interesting because the kind of icy objects pulled in by the dwarf star is credited for crashing into dry rocky planets in the solar system and “irrigating” them. Such comets and asteroids are believed to have delivered water to Earth billions of years ago, making life possible on the planet.

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