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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The most comprehensive search for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe has come up short so far, despite generating more than 1 petabyte of data. But such efforts are just getting started.
The big picture: The project — known as Breakthrough Listen — observed more than 1,300 relatively nearby stars over the course of 3 years, listening for any signs of radio waves that would signal the presence of technologically advanced aliens.
Where it stands: The $100 million Breakthrough Listen project, founded by Israeli-Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, launched in 2015.
The catch: Scanning the skies for radio signals from out there isn't easy. In order to pick up on whatever relatively faint signals might be emitted, scientists need to use sensitive radio telescopes on Earth to hear them.
Meanwhile, it's not a sure thing that we have the capability to hear the calls of an advanced alien civilization.
Background: It's also possible — in fact more likely — that scientists will find life in another way that has nothing to do with hunting for technosignatures.
What's next: There is an increase in SETI efforts around the U.S. and internationally.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Milner's dual Israeli-Russian citizenship.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket takes flight on June 25. Photo: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images
While most of us were sleeping early Tuesday morning, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket roared to life on its third-ever flight and most ambitious mission yet, bringing 24 satellites to orbit for a variety of government and research customers.
The big picture: The launch itself was a technical challenge that Elon Musk called the "most difficult launch ever" for the company. The Falcon Heavy's upper stage had to relight multiple times in order to deposit the 2 dozen satellites into 3 different orbits over the course of several hours.
Where it stands: One of the more fun spacecraft that flew aboard the Falcon Heavy was the Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 solar sail. Once deployed from its carrier spacecraft Prox-1 in July, the craft’s solar sail is expected to unfurl and surf sunlight.
Separately, NOAA’s COSMIC-2 mission — which also launched last night — is aimed at improving the accuracy of weather forecasts, particularly on short timescales.
Comet 67P in deep space. Photo: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam
A newly selected European Space Agency mission expected to launch in 2028 is designed to get up close and personal with a comet.
Why it matters: If all goes according to plan, the new mission — named the Comet Interceptor — will give us an unprecedented look at a pristine comet that has never visited the inner solar system before and hasn’t been altered by the heat of the Sun.
The big picture: Comets like these are thought to be preserved leftovers from the dawn of the solar system and could help unlock how Earth got its water.
Details: Comet Interceptor is designed to lie in wait in space until a pristine comet is spotted as it moves into the heart of the solar system.
One fun thing: Because of the mission design, it’s also possible that the spacecraft could intercept a visitor from outside the solar system.
Background: This won’t be ESA’s first mission to a comet. The space agency also studied Comet 67P from close range with its Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander. That comet, however, is far from pristine, having flown toward the Sun many times.
Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl 747 in flight. Photo: Virgin Orbit
Virgin Orbit is moving ever closer to launching a rocket to space for the first time.
Why it matters: The company is one of a number of private spaceflight companies aiming to capitalize on what it sees as a boom in demand for small spacecraft launches.
Driving the news: On Sunday, Virgin Orbit — which was spun off from Richard Branson’s human spaceflight-focused Virgin Galactic — conducted another test flight of its "Cosmic Girl" plane. The company also flew another test flight last Thursday, and it’s gearing up for more.
What’s next: For now, Virgin Orbit is staying mum on when it's planning to fly the first full test flight.
Yes, but: While some experts have raised the concern that something of a “rocket bubble” is forming, Virgin Orbit is usually cited as a promising company in this space for its innovative launch mechanism.
NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Titan would make a great vacation spot (Marina Koren, The Atlantic)
3 space station crew members return to Earth (Bill Harwood, CBS News)
Boeing to move space headquarters to Florida (Jeff Foust, Space News)
NASA's Curiosity finds more methane on Mars (Axios)
Scientists find two nearby, Earth-sized planets (Axios)
Uranus' rings glowing. Photo: Edward M. Molter and Imke de Pater, UC Berkeley
Uranus is something of an oddball. A new study finds even the planet’s rings are unusual by comparison to those found in the rest of our solar system.
Why it matters: By learning more about Uranus' rings, scientists should be able to start piecing together how they formed.
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