Let’s talk about UFOs — and 3 other space stories you may have missed this week
This week's roundup includes black holes and dark energy, a French meteor and a space laser mystery that has, perhaps, been solved.
Welcome to This Week in Outer Space, where you’ll find a roundup of the best space coverage from Yahoo News and our partners from the past week or so. Last week, we found out about some shady behavior on the sun and celebrated some major milestones for the future of spaceflight. This week, we’ve got black holes, a meteor over France, and a partially solved space laser mystery. But before we get into that, it’s time to address the elephant in the room:
Are these UFOs aliens, or what?
Over the last few weeks, a new strain of alien fever has swept the nation. It started with a giant orb spotted hovering over Billings, Mont., which turned out to be a giant Chinese balloon the U.S. government said was used for surveillance. There was a lot of back-and-forth over shooting it down, and once it had drifted off the coast of South Carolina, the military did just that.
The incident turned into a huge international fracas and the butt of a lot of jokes (and the center of more serious national security discussions). But no one was seriously suggesting any extraterrestrial involvement.
Then three unknown objects were discovered and also shot down. Without a clear explanation, these flying objects were “unidentified flying objects” or UFOs — a term that through decades of pop culture has become more or less interchangeable with flying saucers piloted by green extraterrestrials.
So that’s where the conversation headed. At a Pentagon briefing last Sunday, when asked if he could rule out alien origins, U.S. Air Force Gen. Glen D. Vanherck wasn’t ready to shoot the idea down. “I'll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven't ruled out anything at this point,” he told reporters.
But ducking the question isn’t the same as declaring that aliens had just visited earth.
The White House went into damage control mode. “I just wanted to make sure we addressed this from the White House. I know there have been questions and concerns about this, but there is no, again, no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at a press briefing on Monday.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby added, “I don't think the American people need to worry about aliens with respect to these craft, period. I don't think there's any more that needs to be said there."
By midweek, speculation was starting to get out of hand. On Thursday, President Biden held a special press conference to set the record straight on the mystery objects. In addition to providing more details about the first, Chinese-made balloon and the delicate political ramifications of shooting that down, Biden clarified that the other three objects “were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”
So, case closed. These UFOs weren’t aliens — although the U.S. government is still keeping its eyes open for that kind of thing.
Some breaking news about black holes
A team of physicists at the University of Michigan have observed evidence linking black holes to so-called dark energy, a theoretical form of energy that counteracts gravity and provides a possible answer for one of the remaining secrets of the universe.
To put it very simply, the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, and scientists don’t really know why. So, there must be some yet-to-be-proven force, or dark energy, out there to explain it — but where it comes from is another big mystery. These new findings suggest that black holes could be the source, although not everyone in the scientific community is convinced.
Mystery (perhaps) solved: Space lasers over Hawaii
Bright green lights seen over Hawaii by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in late January have turned out to be, you guessed it, space lasers. Initially, astronomers believed the lightshow came courtesy of a passing NASA satellite, but further study contradicted that theory. This week, a new leading theory points to Chinese satellites used to measure pollution. But several questions remain, including what the satellite was doing over Hawaii in the first place.
Bonjour, Madame Météorite
On Monday, at around 4 a.m. local time, a meteor was spotted shooting across the sky in northern France. Numerous videos from folks lucky enough to catch a glimpse have been shared on social media, including some from across the English Channel in the U.K. Unlike some of our other stories this week, there’s not much mystery here. The one-meter space rock was spotted by the European Space Agency hours before it entered Earth’s atmosphere. The only remaining unknown: Why were there so many people out at 4 a.m. on a Monday morning to see it?