No, NASA hasn’t found aliens

By Phil Plait | May 12, 2008 9:52 pm

The web is abuzz about a NASA announcement of "the discovery of an object in our Galaxy astronomers have been hunting for more than 50 years".

There’s speculation running rampant, that they’ve found aliens, or an asteroid that will wipe out the Earth, or whatever.

Folks, think. If NASA had that news, would they make a pre-announcement stating they found something they’ve been looking for for five decades? No, they wouldn’t. They would gather professionals, work on how to release the news, then talk to members of the press, probably just a few, and keep extremely tight wraps on it.

They wouldn’t bellow, "We found something, and it’s really cool, and we’re not talking until next week lalalalalala!"

Without doubt this is some very interesting astronomical discovery, but not something that will wipe out life, or change our view of humanity in the Universe forever. It just wouldn’t be released this way. Bear in mind that the press pre-release mentions the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which is essentially blind to incoming asteroids, and wouldn’t be the right instrument to use to see them. Obviously, whatever this discovery is it involves X-rays, and those only come from a handful of sources. But they’re very interesting objects astronomically, so whatever this thing is I’m sure it will still be really cool. Just not aliens-invading cool.

So stay tuned. I’m signed up for the telecon, and I’ll report on this as soon as I have any real information.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Debunking, NASA, Science, Skepticism

Comments (92)

  1. Ari

    Hmmm. 50 years seems a little too late for something black hole related, but I guess that’s where I’ll put my money. Given how you can only infer a black hole’s existance, and given we already infer black holes’ existances, I shrug on this one. Some new kind of non-gravity based observation?

  2. jmd

    MACHO? Or something else related to dark matter?

  3. Sili

    Could you please supply some reasonable rampant spec? What do you think it is?

  4. Superstring

    HAlton Arp is finally vindicated?

    The Big Bang theory is history!

    .

  5. Dan

    They found a teapot, didn’t they?

  6. autumn

    Dan wins the thread.

  7. Gilles

    An Earth-type planet orbiting around a yellow sun, with water, trees and birds.
     

  8. My first thought was the missing neutron star from Cassiopeia A.

  9. Dark matter, or else jets in the Milky Way.

  10. And just ignore my previous post.

  11. Dave Hall

    Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa operating a Bed and Breakfast on Mars?

  12. johnny0
  13. Stripe

    Bertrand Russels teapot!

  14. Michael Lonergan

    I welcome our X-Ray Overlords.

  15. Hugo

    Maybe it’s Glen Miller…

    Rimmer: “They’re probably going to return Glen Miller. That’s all we need. Glen Miller on board, boring us to death with “Pennsylvania 6-5000…”

  16. Diego

    They are making it look too exciting. I just hope that whatever it is it lives up to the hype, I’d love to imagine what it is but I’m afraid I’d be disappointed whenever i hear the real news anyway. Who knows, we will see if this is really something cool.

  17. Dan2

    Dan really did win it. Hah

  18. riki

    NASA was established in 1958 (ie: 50 years ago)

  19. The search for dark matter is fairly young, so I wouldn’t put my money there.

    I’m guessing they found the TARDIS.

  20. riki

    Nothing current in the Press Releases http://chandra.harvard.edu/press/press_release.html

    and the Status Reports don’t mean much to me.
    http://chandra.harvard.edu/press/chandraStatus.html?id=239

  21. From my amateur interpretation of the Chandra status logs, it was scheduled to be spending quite a lot of time looking at the Galactic Center over the last few days.

    So my money’s on observing a black hole directly.

    – Colin

  22. Dunc

    Just not aliens-invading cool.

    You have a weird idea of what’s cool. Aliens, sure – cool. Invading aliens, not so much…

  23. J_w23

    Maybe they discovered that after 50 years of trying, objects that don’t emit x-rays neither reflect them [b]aren’t[b] visible through the eyes of Chandra as well!?

  24. Lao Tzu

    How about… intelligent life in Washington D.C.?
    Nope. That’s impossible.

    They probably found Slartibartfast’s signature on a nearby planet.

  25. Yep, Dan nailed it there. A sad day for us atheists, seing our religion revealed and going up in smoke like this.

    Damnit, I had hoped they wouldn’t find it for another fifty-odd years.

    Well, it’s time to find a new religion then. What about zen buddhism? They’ve got cool koans.

  26. riki

    Not sure if it has anything to do with this?

    Piece of Missing Cosmic Matter Found
    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/080512-mm-matter-found.html

  27. Kevin

    Planet X? Nah, Duck Dodgers knows where it is.

    Counter-Earth? (think the movie Journey to the Far Side of the Sun)

  28. Ampersand

    @Lars:
    Probably inscribed in a fjord somewhere.

  29. Grand Lunar

    How about an alien civilzation’s dental x-ray equipment?
    :)

    I do wonder what mysteries have been sought for 50 years.
    I hope the results live up to the suspense.

  30. Truth

    1. Discovery of Earth like planet
    2. CERN with the LHC creates wormholes
    3 CERN discovers the use the LHC to harness wormholes for travel
    4. Humans use CERN wormholes to populate new Earth-like planet
    5. ?????
    6. PROFIT!

  31. Truth

    1. Discovery of Earth-like planet
    2. CERN with the LHC creates wormholes
    3 CERN discovers they can use the LHC to harness wormholes for travel
    4. Humans use CERN wormholes to populate new Earth-like planet
    5. ?????
    6. PROFIT!

  32. They just figgered out “Arc to Arcturus and spike to Spica”!

  33. Okay, being serious, finding aliens would be more of a government announcement rather than NASA.

  34. “Drink Pensacola Dry!”

    Emblazoned on the approach to the eastern-most sprial arm?

    (The relevant Planning Permits were posted in CafeOrion simply ages ago.)

    :-|
    ed.

  35. Daniel

    Use your heads guys.

    If it involves the Chandra, and we know what the Chandra has been looking at for the last few weeks, I think its pretty safe to say we got a very good look at our galactic center, and perhaps even a way of physically seeing a black hole.

    An alien announcement would not come through Nasa. Nor would and an asteroid impact announcement.

    I’d put a little money on having directly observed an earth just to satisfy my inner Fox Mulder.

  36. Daniel

    whoops typo, “I mean another earth like planet.” not, “an earth.”

  37. I shall have an annoying nagging feeling in the back of my head until tomorrow now, fantastic!

    Clearly they’ve found a giant intergalactic deathray pointed at earth, thats my bet.

    In any case, pretty much anything found at x-ray wavelengths is more or less gauranteed to be cool, so I await with baited breath and the aforementioned nagging feeling.

  38. Dan D

    If it turns out to be black hole related, that pretty much means they directly observed the massive one at the center of our galaxy, no? So, my question is, have they even been searching for Black Holes for 50 years? Let alone this specific one?

  39. Also betting on some direct observation of the black hole at the center of our galaxy!!!

    Yupee : ))

  40. Hoonser

    I’m betting they found some sort of stupid particle. Or maybe a wavelength of some sort. Something nobody really cares about anyhow.

  41. Brett Wood

    Black Hole does seem like the safest bet. And since it hasn’t been 50 years since 2001: A Space Oddessy, we can rule out the Monolith.

  42. Daffy

    Maybe they finally looked far enough and saw the backs of their own heads?

  43. aiabx

    If you take a bunch of the stars in Sagittarius, it makes a teapot shape!

  44. Kate has ways of making them talk. ;)

    Here’s what they found.

    Don’t tell anyone.

    Kisses

  45. Dammit. Why does Phil have to rain on our parade? Why?

  46. Charles

    I would have guessed the original Apollo 11 videotapes, but they have only been lost 39 years.

  47. Kevin
  48. Timothy

    “If it turns out to be black hole related, that pretty much means they directly observed the massive one at the center of our galaxy, no? So, my question is, have they even been searching for Black Holes for 50 years? Let alone this specific one?”

    Galactic center supermassive black holes were first postulated around 1974.

    Chandra has already detected x-ray emissions from the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. That is as close to “directly observing” as you can get for a black hole at a distance.

    The discovery is probably something of great interest to a specific subset of the astronomical community, but something the general public has never heard of.

  49. Please let it be my keys, please let it be my keys….

  50. John Phillips, FCD

    @JanieBell LOL, I like it. But I didn’t realise Phil was that old, or did he get the Doctor to help him out :)

  51. ThomasJeffersonJr

    I just found out what it is.

    Trust me when I say that Timothy got it right in his last paragraph.

    I am a very enthusiastic amateur astronomer and though I assumed
    the announcement was nothing as exotic as aliens or the like, I had
    hoped – like many of you – that it was at least something exciting.

    A particular branch of the astronomical community might be smoking
    a cigarette from this discovery, but for the rest of us, the reaction
    will range from Oh, that’s nice, to So what?

    Quite honestly, I don’t know why NASA is making such a big deal
    out of this event. More interesting things have been found in
    recent months that did not warrant all this pre-announcement
    hype. I would go so far as to say that it might even turn off
    some of the public to space once they find out what it is.

    In a perfect world, I suppose we would and should be thrilled
    about their discovery, but it just isn’t there.

    Personally I was hoping for a direct image of the black hole at
    the Galactic Center, but it isn’t even that good.

  52. Kevin

    If it’s an “object in our Galaxy astronomers have been hunting for more than 50 years,” it’s got to be something that piqued the scientific interest in early to middle part of the last century (wow, last century. heh).

    I doubt it’s about the galactic black hole, because that’s too recent.

    Dark Matter could be it, since Zwicky postulated it in 1933.

    It could be the detection of the absolute limit (if there is one) of our solar system.

    It could be almost anything. It is a big galaxy, you know. :)

  53. Blizno

    I’m coughing from laughing too much.
    Dan’s “They found a teapot, didn’t they?” was short and absurd, my favorite kind of humor. Perfect.
    Dennis’s “Please let it be my keys, please let it be my keys….” tipped me over the edge into laugh-induced choking.

  54. ThomasJeffersonJr

    It has nothing to do with either dark matter (or energy) or
    our solar system.

  55. Blizno

    Here’s my unfounded guess. Perhaps direct evidence of Hawking radiation from the central black hole.

  56. Ian Kemmish

    50 years would be about right for Laika’s charred and blackened remains. But I guess not _many_ people have been looking for those….

  57. A “Great Attractor” – the object towards which Sol is hurtling faster than it should be if the metric was as near-flat as stellar counting suggests, hereabouts?

  58. bob

    could it be another planet it our solar system? A horrible thing like “planet x” or maybe one that isn t that treatening?

  59. My first guess was an intermediate-mass black hole, but according to wikipedia, those have already been found before. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intermediate_mass_black_hole).

    Whenever people see stuff like this, it’s always a lot of “what would be the most exciting discovery? I bet it’s that!” For all of those people that think they’ve found an earth-like planet… you’ve got to think higher energy. X-rays are only really created en-masse when gas gets squeezed a whole bunch (and thus really, really hot), such as around neutron stars or black holes. For instance, they could have found evidence of a jet coming from the milky way’s black hole, or something like that. Actually, I think I’ll make that my official “new guess” :-).

    Either that, or they’ve found that I have a cavity on my lower left molar. Ouch.

  60. Kevin

    Orion Slave Girls?

  61. bob

    so it couldn t be a planet?

  62. bob

    Jesus I m so scared, what if it is planet x, like a brown dwarf or something, something that might kill us all, please, anyone care to explain if this is or isn t possible?

  63. bob

    what kind of things could this discovery be?

  64. s1mplex

    Direct observation of Gravitational waves?

  65. Timothy

    Chill, bob.

    The publishers of “Death From The Skies!” have arranged that no planet-devastating events will occur before the October publication date, so as to not cut into book sales.

    It’ll be something faint, esoteric, highly specialized (e.g., x-ray emissions from a sub-solar mass non-spinning neutron star), and is almost assuredly going to make the general public furrow its collective brow and go “huh? a whazziz?”

    Nothing to get your knickers in a twist over.

  66. AcesHigh

    hahaha, TRUTH beat me about NASA discovering a black hole in the middle of CERN´s LHC! :)

  67. StevoR

    My guess :

    They’ve finally found the “missing” neutron star / black hole at the centre of SN 1987 A ….

    Fifty years … twenty~ish years same diff! ;-)

    D’oh!

    Hmm … okay I’ll wait.

    X-rays, 50 years, big announcement … Hmmm …

    …. Superman! ;-)

  68. PeterF

    Try to say “long galactic hunt” ten times fast!

  69. StevoR

    # Ian Kemmish on 13 May 2008 at 2:02 pm

    50 years would be about right for Laika’s charred and blackened remains. But I guess not _many_ people have been looking for those….

    Well Lakia’s bones would be visible by using X-rays – but I doubt they’d be emitting them & thus detectable to Chandra. Plus, of course, you’d have to X-ray through whatever metal her Sputnik sat (sputnik II was it?) is made from.

    Or that finding them would really be news since well we kinda already know about it.

    Plus wouldn’t they have re-entered the atmosphere & burnt up a while ago anyhow …?

    Poor doggy … :-(

  70. ARP1234

    It’s the youngest supernova remnant yet known.

    Yawn.

  71. Any leaks of this info yet?

  72. supernova fan

    VLA and Chandra found a 140 year old supernova remant at G1.9+0.3

  73. Kevin

    Man, I was hoping for something really cool, that we could trot out to the general public and get them all excited.

    What a letdown.

    Not that the news isn’t interesting, but still. C’mon NASA, if you’re going to tease us with something “big,” make it something big.

    Heck, a previously unknown companion star to ours. People have been wondering about that for decades.

    Oh well, back to my editing chores…

  74. I Think they might have really found something only cause “the vatican announces its ok to believe in aliens”?????

  75. Fud

    They found the FSM. And it’s hungry for human brains.

  76. I’d have to say it most likely is not grafitti on the back wall of Milliway’s saying Slartibartfast was here. I’d expect that to be written on the rocky Fjords of the Gulf of Mexico or on the hot, sandy beaches of Antartica. (This is the back-up Earth MkIII I assume) Maybe they found a constellation of 42. Or Maybe it’s an oncomming Vogan fleet. Actually, I think the cosmic matter article posted by Riki seems most plausable, with the direct observation of a neutron star comming in at second place. (oh, BTW Timothy, it would be an impossibility for there to be a non-spinning neutron star)

  77. StevoR

    Drat! I almost had it with the supernova 1987 neutron star… ;-)

    Supernovae ..Tick
    Remmnants .. Tick
    Actual discovery .. Bzzzt! Wrong ‘un.

    It is, as stated, the youngest supernova remnant found in our Galaxy – forma star too dust shrouded for us tosee it go BOOM! when it went back around the US Civil War Time – or in non-US speak … ???

    That is an awesome finding! 8)
    Although not perhaps quite up to the pre-announcement hype … :-(

  78. StevoR

    Well if this works then here’s a Bad Astronomy link to what this is all about :

    http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2008/05/14/youngest-galactic-supernova-not-aliens-found/

    The page I’m linking here also links back to this page (via Buzz hypertext) so folks may be able to go in circles now. ;- )

    (If stuck click the BA blog home or something else to avoid the metaphorical roundabout!)

    Hope this is all okay netiquette -wise! Apologies if not ..

  79. StevoR

    CORRECTED & ENHANCED POST – SINCE I CAN”T EDIT THE OLD ONE! ;-)

    ——————————————————-
    Drat! I almost had it with my supernova 1987 neutron star guess …

    Supernovae ..Tick
    Remmnants .. Tick
    Actual discovery .. Bzzzt! Wrong ‘un.

    It is, as stated, the youngest supernova remnant found in our Galaxy – from a star too dust shrouded for us to see it go BOOM! when its light reached us back around the US Civil War Time – or in non-US speak : 1868.

    (During reign of Queen Victoria or Victorian era for the English. Mind you since she ruled 1837-1901 that’s not tying it down too much! ;-) In China during the Manchu or Chi’ing dynasty (1644-1911), for the Japanese it was just the year after the Tokugawa Shogunate was abolished, etc .. )

    Interestingly enough, Eta Carinae was the second brightest star in the 1840’s too I gather ..

    That is an awesome finding! 8)

    Although not perhaps quite up to the pre-announcement hype … :-(

  80. unnuagedecole

    This reaally made my day
    With a special thanks to

    Lao Tseu’s
    ‘How about… intelligent life in Washington D.C.?’

    Plus Brett Wood’s
    ‘Black Hole does seem like the safest bet. And since it hasn’t been 50 years since 2001: A Space Oddessy, we can rule out the Monolith.’

    Unnuage
    Time travelling to some other page and not remembering which in the 1st place ^^

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