May 27, 2019

Dutch UFO spotters freak out over satellites

Filed under: General,Weird by Orangemaster @ 8:58 pm


Dutch UFO reporting website was swamped with more than 150 sightings, with fervent UFO spotters describing a “bizarre train of stars or lights moving across the skies at constant speed”.

Instead of anything alien, it was a string of some 60 satellites launched by businessman Elon Musk’s SpaceX hours earlier as part of its ‘Starlink’ constellation. A lot of Dutch folks staring at the sky had no clue this was going to happen, so you can imagine the commotion it caused.

One of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida last Friday, and an hour later began releasing the satellites at an altitude of 450 kilometres. The satellites then had to separate and use their thrusters to take up their positions in a relatively low orbit of 550 kilometres. Starlink will become operational once 800 satellites have been activated, which will require a dozen more launches.

Dutch astronomer Marco Langbroek noted on his blog that he calculated where the satellites would be orbiting, and waited with his camera. The result is a spectacular one: a string of bright dots flying across the sky, prompting people to report UFOs.

Here is Langbroek video of the event:


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February 22, 2019

Dutch instrument could help search for extraterrestrial life

Filed under: Science,Weird by Orangemaster @ 12:41 pm

Dutch scientists have developed an instrument capable of detecting the presence of living plants kilometres away, which in the future could be used to help search for extraterrestrial life.

Lucas Patty of the VU Amsterdam has built the TreePol spectropolarimeter, a camera with special lenses and receptors able to detect the rotation of light that occurs when it is reflected by plants. His instrument is able to detect the difference between healthy and dying vegetation. Patty tried out his instrument on the roof of the university by pointing it at a nearby football pitch and didn’t get a signal: turns out the pitch was made from artificial grass.

Scientists are now investigating whether TreePol could be used to monitor agricultural crops from an aircraft or satellite, and maybe it could be used at even greater distances. “We’re also working on a version that could be used on the international space station or a moon lander,” explains astronomer and co-developer Frans Snik of Leiden University.

Over the last two decades, astronomers have discovered almost four thousand ‘exoplanets’, planets that orbit stars other than our own sun. Astrobiologists have often focused on the presence of water, oxygen and carbon, but these molecules and atoms don’t always show the presence of life and therefore involve the risk of a ‘false positive’. TreePol could finally eliminate that false positive, and that is all kinds of exciting.

Back in 2013 we wrote about the search for extraterrestrial life at Leiden University by detecting oxygen on far away planets using transit observations.

On an related note albeit not a Dutch one, if you want to listen to entertaining YouTubers talking about what they call ‘woo woo’ (UFOs, weird places on Earth, spooky stuff, etc.), then you absolutely need to listen to Gary and Diktor van Doomcock on the ExoZone on Nerdrotic and/or Overlord Diktor van Doomcock.

(Link:, Photo of an artist impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope by ESO/L. Calçada, some rights reserved)

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May 21, 2018

Dutch radio aboard Chinese space mission

Filed under: Dutch first,Technology by Orangemaster @ 9:40 pm


Today, the Chinese space agency launched a relay satellite to an orbit behind the Moon with a Dutch radio antenna on board, the first Dutch-made scientific instrument to be sent on a Chinese space mission, opening up a new chapter in radio astronomy.

The Netherlands Chinese Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE) is a radio antenna developed and built by engineers from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in Dwingeloo, the Radboud Radio Lab of Radboud University in Nijmegen, and the Delft-based company ISIS. The instrument will measure radio waves originating from the period right after the Big Bang, when the first stars and galaxies were formed.

“We cannot detect radio waves below 30 MHz, however, as these are blocked by our atmosphere. It is these frequencies in particular that contain information about the early universe, which is why we want to measure them,” explains Heino Falck, Professor of Astrophysics from Radboud University and ASTRON.


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May 12, 2018

Dutch stumble upon possible toddler planet

Filed under: Science by Orangemaster @ 10:32 am


During a look up in the sky, an international group of astronomers headed by Dutch researchers from Leiden University may have found a ‘growing’ planet.

The astronomers were examining the dust disc around the young double star CS Cha when they saw a small dot on the edge of their images, which turned out to be a small planet of only ‘a few million years young that moves along with the double star. CS Cha and its special companion are located some 600 light years away from earth in a star formation area in the southern constellation Chameleon.

In the future, the researchers want to examine the star and the companion in more detail using the international ALMA telescope on the Chajnantor plateau in the North Chilean Andes.


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February 15, 2013

Extraterrestrial life could be detected within 25 years

Filed under: Science by Branko Collin @ 7:04 pm

Astronomers of Leiden University have discovered a method of detecting life on planets outside our solar system.

In a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal of 20 February (and also at Ignas Snellen and his colleagues explain how current technology can be used to detect oxygen on far away planets using transit observations—observations performed when a planet crosses the line of sight between the observatory and the planet’s star.

Until now detecting oxygen from Earth was considered problematic because the oxygen in our own atmosphere would interfere with the observations. Snellen and his team propose to use “the enormous potential of high-dispersion spectroscopy to separate the extraterrestrial and telluric signals making use of the Doppler shift of the planet”—meaning that because the Earth moves, detected oxygen of the far away planet will show up slightly different every time it is measured.

The astronomers expect oxygen could be detected in as little as ‘a few dozen’ transits. Oxygen is too eager to form molecules with other elements to remain a free agent for long in an atmosphere and an abundance of oxygen suggests it is being replenished by life forms (the way plants do on our planet).

Snellen told Space Daily: “With an array of such flux collectors covering a few football fields one could perform a statistical study of extraterrestrial life in the solar neighbourhood. Although there is still a long way to go, this should be possible within the next 25 years.”

A telescope in space could also do the work, but currently there are no plans to build such a telescope and the cost would be high.

(Photo of an artist impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope, because the images of flux collectors I could find didn’t seem to look very telescope-like, by ESO/L. Calçada, some rights reserved)

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August 1, 2012

Vampire stars suck the life out of bright stars

Filed under: Science by Orangemaster @ 10:58 am

Hugues Sana of the University of Amsterdam explains that the brightest stars in the universe are getting the life sucked out of them by vampire stars, also called O stars. According to researchers, a third of the vampire-victim pairs are eventually expected to merge and become one.

“These stars are absolute behemoths,” said Sana, lead author of this study. “They have 15 or more times the mass of our Sun and can be up to a million times brighter. These stars are so hot that they shine with a brilliant blue-white light and have surface temperatures over 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit.”


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January 2, 2009

2009 International Year of Astronomy

Filed under: Science by Eric @ 2:13 pm

IYA2009 official logo

Yesterday, the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) started. Launched by UNESCO and IAU, 135 countries are participating in this initiative to bring the universe and astronomy closer to the people, using the slogan the Universe: Yours to discover. The official opening event will take place in Paris, on 15-16 January. The Dutch opening ceremony is scheduled for 21 January. Throughout the year, you can expect symposiums, exhibitions and other cultural events related to astronomy taking place in a universe near you! More information on what will take place when and where can be found on the Dutch IYA2009 site.

Hang on, you’re waiting for the Dutch angle on this international news? To be honest, there is none in particular, apart from my hope that the Dutch will again do some remarkable astronomical discoveries this year, like Hanny’s Voorwerp or the giant exo-planet (Dutch).

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August 9, 2008

Hanny’s Voorwerp new cosmic object

Filed under: Science by Branko Collin @ 8:12 am

Amateur astronomer by night and primary school teacher by day Hanny van Arkel discovered this little green man-cloud in the sky, and promptly got it named after herself: Hanny’s Voorwerp (voorwerp = “object”). When I say little, I mean huge.

Van Arkel, who hails from Heerlen in Limburg, made her discovery as part of a distributed computing project called Galaxy Zoo, in which volunteer participants are asked to classify images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey according to a list of known celestial objects. The Voorwerp wasn’t on that list.

A guess of what the object could be comes from astronomer Bill Keel. Quoting the Galaxy Zoo blog:

A hundred thousand years ago, a quasar blazed behind the stars which would have already looked recognizably like the constellation Leo Minor. Barely 700 million light-years away, it would have been the nearest bright quasar, shining (had anyone had a telescope to look) around 13th magnitude, several times brighter than the light of the surrounding galaxy. This galaxy, much later cataloged as IC 2497, is a massive spiral galaxy which was in the process of tidally shredding a dwarf galaxy rich in gas – gas which absorbed the intense ultraviolet and X-ray output of the quasar and in turn glowed as it cooled. But something happened to the quasar. Whether it turned off, dropped to a barely simmering level of activity as its massive black hole became starved for gas to feed its accretion, or it was quickly shrouded in gas and dust, we don’t see it anymore.

But we see its echo.

Astronomers are apparently lining up to get a shufty at the Voorwerp through the Hubble Telescope, which is currently awaiting repair by a Space Shuttle crew.

Via Sargasso (Dutch). I re-coloured the original photo, because people pointed out that the blob is more likely to be green than blue. CP/IMH: “The chances of anything coming from Mars / Are a million to one, he said / The chances of anythiiiing coming from Mars / Are a million to one … and still, they come.”

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