Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

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Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

 Each week we find the most interesting and informative articles we can and along the way we uncover amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover 10 incredible photos and the stories behind them.

Nature or no:

An unsettling image of a very strange fish skeleton seems more suited to a conversation about demonology than one about marine biology.

[Full Story: ‘Demonic’ Fish Glows in Eerie Photo]


New images show the brain’s “helper cells” nibbling on synapses, the connections between neurons.

[Full Story: New Images Spot Elusive ‘Snacking’ Brain Cells]

Downsized animals?

Whales are giant beasts, but why aren’t even larger, supersize whales swimming around?

[Full Story: Why Aren’t There Any Supersize Whales?]

Frightening predator:

A truck-size dinosaur that sported sharp, long claws the length of bowling pins once tore across the South American landscape, terrorizing animals it hoped to eat about 85 million years ago, a new study finds.

[Full Story: This Truck-Size Dinosaur Terrorized Prey with Razor-Sharp ‘Meat Hooks’]

Something to see

Scientists expect that as the station burns up, it will generate huge fireballs visible from the ground.

[Full Story: Crashing Chinese Space Station Will Go Down Shooting — Fireballs]

Rare condition:

A New Jersey man’s “beer belly” turned out to be a 30-lb. (13.6 kilograms) tumor.

[Full Story: A Man’s ‘Beer Belly’ Was Actually a Massive Tumor]

Preserving history:

Mysterious brown spots on the ancient artwork of Tutankhamun’s tomb are not growing larger as previously feared.

[Full Story: Mysterious Brown Spots on King Tut’s Tomb Are ‘Dead’]


This will take the fun out of bathtime: Rubber ducky toys are teeming with bacteria and fungi, a new study finds.

[Full Story: Here’s What Growing Inside Your Rubber Ducky]

Inch by inch

Mount Etna’s entire bulk is moving.

[Full Story: Mount Etna Is Slip-Sliding Toward the Sea]

Facts About Hafnium

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Facts About Hafnium

Electrolytic hafnium, 22 grams. This piece is 1 x 2 x 3 cm.

Credit: Images of elements

Hafnium is a lustrous, silvery-gray transition metal. Discovered in 1923, it was the next-to-last element with stable nuclei to be added to the periodic table (the final one wasrhenium in 1925). Hafnium is named after the Latin word for Copenhagen: Hafnia. The element has some very important commercial applications, including its use in the nuclear power industry, electronic equipment, ceramics, light bulbs and in the making of super-alloys.

Hafnium is rarely found free in nature, and instead is present in most zirconium minerals at a concentration of up to 5 percent. In fact, hafnium is so chemically similar to zirconium that separating the two elements is extremely difficult. Most commercial hafnium is produced as a byproduct of zirconium refining.

Hafnium is the 45th most abundant element on Earth, comprising about 3.3 parts per million (ppm) of the Earth’s crust by weight, according toChemicool. Hafnium is quite resistant to corrosion because of the formation of an oxide film on exposed surfaces. In fact, it is unaffected by water, air and all alkalis and acids except for hydrogen fluoride.

Hafnium carbide (HfC) has the highest melting point of any known two-element compound at nearly 7,034 degrees Fahrenheit (3,890 degrees Celsius), according to Jefferson Lab. The compound hafnium nitride (HfN) also has a high melting point, around 5,981 degrees F (3,305 degrees C). Among compounds of three elements, the mixed carbide of tungsten and hafnium has the single highest melting point of any known compound at 7,457 degrees F (4,125 degrees C), according to Chemistry World. Some other hafnium compounds include hafnium fluoride (HfF4) hafnium chloride (HfCl4) and hafnium oxide (HfO2).

  • Atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus): 72
  • Atomic symbol (on the periodic table of the elements): Hf
  • Atomic weight (average mass of the atom): 178.49
  • Density: 13.3 grams per cubic centimeter
  • Phase at room temperature: Solid
  • Melting point: 4,051 degrees Fahrenheit (2,233 degrees Celsius)
  • Boiling point: 8,317 degrees F (4,603 degrees C)
  • Number of isotopes (atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons): 32 whose half-lives are known with mass numbers 154 to 185
  • Most common isotopes: Hf-174, Hf-176, Hf-177, Hf-178, Hf-179 and Hf-180.

Hafnium’s presence had been predicted decades before its discovery, according to Chemistry World. The element proved to be quite elusive, as it was nearly impossible to distinguish it chemically from the much more common zirconium.

Hafnium was still unknown when Russian chemist and inventor Dimitri Mendeleev developed the Periodic Law — a pre-modern version of theperiodic table of elements — in 1869. In his work, however, Mendeleev correctly predicted that there would be an element whose properties were similar to but heavier than zirconium and titanium.

In 1911, French chemist Georges Urbain, who had already discovered the rare earth element lutetium, believed he had finally discovered missing element 72 — which he proceeded to name celtium, according toChemicool. However, a few years later his discovery was shown to be a combination of already discovered lanthanides (the 15 metallic elements with atomic numbers 57 through 71 in the periodic table).

It was still unclear whether missing element 72 would be a transition metal or a rare earth metal since it fell at the boundary between these two types of elements in the table. The chemists who believed it would be a rare earth element conducted many fruitless searches among minerals containing rare earths, according to Chemistry World.

However, new evidence arising from both the field of chemistry and physics supported the idea that element 72 would be a transition element. For example, scientists knew that element 72 fell below titanium and zirconium in the periodic table and both of these were known transition elements. In addition, Danish physicist Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum theory, predicted that element 72 would be a transition metal based on his electronic configuration for the element, according to Chemistry World.

In 1921, Bohr encouraged Hungarian chemist Georg von Hevesy and Dutch physicist Dirk Costerto — two young researchers in his institute at the time — to search for element 72 in zirconium ore. Based on his quantum theory of atomic structure, Bohr knew that the new metal would have a similar chemical structure to zirconium, so there was a strong chance the two elements would be found in the same ores, according toChemicool.

Von Hevesy and Coster took Bohr’s advice and proceeded to study zirconium ore using X-ray spectroscopy. They used Bohr’s theory of how electrons fill shells and subshells within atoms to predict the differences between the two elements’ X-ray spectra, according to Chemical and Engineering News. This method ultimately led to the discovery of hafnium in 1923. The discovery was one of the only six then remaining gaps in the periodic table. They named the new element after Bohr’s hometown of Copenhagen (Hafniain Latin).

Hafnium is remarkably corrosion-resistant and an excellent absorber of neutrons, allowing its use in nuclear submarines and nuclear reactor control rods, a critical technology used to maintain fission reactions. Control rods keep the fission chain reaction active but also prevent it from accelerating beyond control.

Hafnium is used in electronic equipment such as cathodes and capacitors, as well as in ceramics, photography flash bulbs and light bulb filaments. It is used in vacuum tubes as a getter, a substance that combines with and removes trace gases from the tubes, according to Jefferson Lab. Hafnium is commonly alloyed with other metals such as titanium, iron, niobium and tantalum. For example, heat-resistant hafnium-nobium alloys are used in aerospace applications, such as space rocket engines.

The compound hafnium carbide has the highest melting point of any compound consisting of just two elements, allowing it to be used to line high-temperature furnaces and kilns, according to Chemicool.

  • Hafnium is pyrophoric (ignites spontaneously) in powder form.
  • English chemist Henry Moseley was the scientist who realized that Georges Urbain’s element “celtium” was not the true element located under zirconium. Unfortunately, World War I interrupted this young scientist’s important research. Moseley dutifully enlisted in the Royal Engineers of the British Army and was killed by a sniper in 1915. His death led England to establish a new policy prohibiting prominent scientists from engaging in combat.
  • In 1925, Dutch chemists Anton Eduard van Arkel and Jan Hendrik de Boer came up with a method for producing high-purity hafnium. To do this, the scientists decomposed hafnium tetraiodide on a hot tungsten wire resulting in a crystal bar of pure hafnium, according to Chemicool.This method is called the crystal bar process.
  • The nuclear isomer of hafnium has long been debated as a potential weapon. In the Hafnium Controversy, scientists debate whether the element is capable of triggering a rapid release of energy.
  • Although zirconium is chemically very similar to hafnium, it is unlike hafnium in that it is very poor at absorbing neutrons. Therefore zirconium is used in the outer layer of fuel rods where it is important that neutrons can travel easily.

In a recent study, an international team of researchers was able to confirm that Earth’s first crust formed around 4.5 billion years ago, thanks to their chemical analysis of hafnium in a rare meteorite. The researchers believe the meteorite originated from the asteroid Vesta, following a large impact that sent rock fragments to Earth, according to the study press release inScience Daily. According to the researchers, meteorites are pieces of the original materials that formed all planets. For the study, they measured the ratio of the isotopes hafnium-176 and hafnium-177 in the meteorite. This gave them a starting point for Earth’s composition. They compared the results with the oldest rocks on Earth, essentially confirming that a crust had already formed on the surface of the Earth around 4.5 billion years ago. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

These Ancient Stars May Be the Oldest Ever Seen in the Milky Way

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These Ancient Stars May Be the Oldest Ever Seen in the Milky Way

 These Ancient Stars May Be the Oldest Ever Seen in the Milky Way
An artist’s illustration of a hypernova, a star explosion 10 times more powerful than a regular supernova. The first stars to ignite would have died in explosions like these, scientists say.

Credit: European Southern Observatory

Astronomers have found what may be the oldest stars in the Milky Way. The stars, discovered in the galaxy’s bulge, reveal that extraordinarily powerful explosions known as hypernovas might have dominated the Milky Way during its youth, researchers say.

The oldest stars in the universe are poor in what astronomers call “metals” — elements heavier than helium. When these stars died in giant outbursts known as supernovas, they released these metals into the cosmos, and each succeeding generation of stars is generally more metal-rich than the last.

Previous research suggested the first stars formed about 13.6 billion years ago, within 200 million years of the Big Bang, initiating what scientists call the cosmic dawn. Astronomers have not yet discovered a first star, but extremely metal-poor stars that were probably immediate successors of the first stars have been seen in the outer regions, or “halo,” of the Milky Way. [Watch: The Universe’s Oldest Stars May Be Close to Us]

Still, prior studies indicated that extremely metal-poor stars should mostly be found not in the halos of galaxies, but in their central regions, or “bulges.” Galactic bulges are loaded with gas and dust — the building blocks from which stars are born.

The bulge of our Milky Way galaxy is packed with stars and dust as seen in this image taken by the SkyMapper telescopes at Australia's Siding Spring Observatory during the EMBLA astronomical survey.

The bulge of our Milky Way galaxy is packed with stars and dust as seen in this image taken by the SkyMapper telescopes at Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory during the EMBLA astronomical survey.

Credit: Christopher Owen

Until now, astronomers had not detected any extremely metal-poor stars in the Milky Way’s bulge, in part because Earth is located in the Milky Way’s halo, and the bulge is very far away, with a lot of intervening dust obscuring Earth’s view of the bulge.

In addition, the vast majority of the stars in the Milky Way’s bulge are metal-rich. Because the bulge is dense with gas and dust, star formation happened quickly there, and when the galaxy’s early stars died, they enriched their surroundings with heavier elements within the first 1 billion to 2 billion years of the universe. This makes finding extremely metal-poor stars in the Milky Way’s bulge “like searching for a needle in a haystack,” said study lead author Louise Howes, an astronomer now at Lund University in Sweden, who carried out this research while at Australian National University in Canberra.

Now, Howes and her colleagues have, for the first time, identified stars from the cosmic dawn in the Milky Way’s bulge.

“These are the oldest stars that have ever been found in the Milky Way,” Howes told

The researchers used the Australian National University’s SkyMapper telescope to scan about 5 million stars in the Milky Way’s bulge. They focused on the fingerprints of elements in the stars, which appear as distinct lines in the spectrum of their light.

This photo shows the SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia, which scientists used to observe more than 5 million stars in a survey that found evidence of the oldest stars in the Milky Way.
This photo shows the SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia, which scientists used to observe more than 5 million stars in a survey that found evidence of the oldest stars in the Milky Way.

Credit: James Gilbert

After using SkyMapper to discover more than 14,000 potential extremely metal-poor stars, the scientists used the Australian Astronomical Observatory’s Anglo-Australian Telescope to confirm that more than 500 of these stars were extremely metal-poor, each possessing less than one-hundredth the amount of iron seen in the sun. As expected, most of the extremely metal-poor stars that astronomers now know about are found in the galaxy’s bulge instead of its center.

Using the Magellan Clay telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, the astronomers closely analyzed 23 of the most metal-poor bulge stars to determine their chemical composition. Oddly, the researchers found that these bulge stars were as poor in carbon as they were in iron. In contrast, metal-poor stars in the galaxy’s halo are often rich in carbon, possessing as much as the sun does.

“That’s surprising — it’s goes against what was predicted,” Howes said.

These findings suggest that the earliest stars might not have died in normal supernovas, but in titanic explosions known as hypernovas, which are 10 times more powerful than regular supernovas.

“This work really changes our ideas of what the first stars would have looked like, and how they would have developed and died, and how the galaxy would have evolved, and also sheds light on the formation of all the elements in the universe,” Howes said.

This research analyzed only one-third of the part of the sky that the Milky Way’s bulge covers. Future research could analyze the rest of the bulge that astronomers can see, so they can learn more about the metal-poor stars there, Howes said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Nov. 11 in the journal Nature.

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Image of the Day

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Image of the Day

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Great Pyramids Seen From Space

Credit: ESA

Gas Giants: Facts About the Outer Planets

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Gas Giants: Facts About the Outer Planets

The planets of the solar system as depicted by a NASA computer illustration. Orbits and sizes are not shown to scale.

Credit: NASA

A gas giant is a large planet composed mostly of gases, such as hydrogen and helium, with a relatively small rocky core. The gas giants of our solar system are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. These four large planets, also called jovian planets after Jupiter, reside in the outer part of the solar system past the orbits of Mars and the asteroid belt. Jupiter and Saturn are substantially larger than Uranus and Neptune, and each pair of planets has a somewhat different composition.

Although there are only four large planets in our solar system, astronomers have discovered thousands outside of it, particularly using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. These exoplanets (as they are called) are being examined to learn more about how our solar system came to be.

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. It has a radius almost 11 times the size of Earth. It has 50 known moons and 17 waiting to be confirmed,according to NASA. The planet is mostly made of hydrogen and helium surrounding a dense core of rocks and ice, with most of its bulk likely made up of liquid metallic hydrogen, which creates a huge magnetic field. Jupiter is visible with the naked eye and was known by the ancients. Its atmosphere consists mostly of hydrogen, helium, ammonia and methane. [Related: Planet Jupiter: Facts About Its Size, Moons and Red Spot]

Saturn is about nine times Earth’s radius and is characterized by large rings; how they formed is unknown. It has 53 known moons and nine more awaiting confirmation, according to NASA. Like Jupiter, it is mostly made up of hydrogen and helium that surround a dense core and was also tracked by ancient cultures. Its atmosphere is similar to Jupiter’s. [Related: Planet Saturn: Facts About Saturn’s Rings, Moons & Size]

Uranus has a radius about four times that of Earth’s. It is the only planet tilted on its side, and it also rotates backward relative to every planet but Venus, implying a huge collision disrupted it long ago. The planet has 27 moons, and its atmosphere is made up of hydrogen, helium and methane, according to NASA. It was discovered by William Herschel in 1781. [Related: Planet Uranus: Facts About Its Name, Moons & Orbit]

Neptune also has a radius about four times that of Earth’s. Like Uranus, its atmosphere is mostly made up of hydrogen, helium and methane. It has 13 confirmed moons and an additional one awaiting confirmation, according to NASA. It was discovered by several people in 1846. [Related: Planet Neptune: Facts About Its Orbit, Moons & Rings]

Super-Earths: Scientists have found a multitude of “super-Earths” (planets between the size of Earth and Neptune) in other solar systems. There are no known super-Earths in our own solar system, although some scientists speculate there may be a “Planet Nine” lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Scientists are studying this category of planets to learn whether super-Earths are more like small giant planets or big terrestrial planets.

Astronomers think the giants first formed as rocky and icy planets similar toterrestrial planets. However, the size of the cores allowed these planets (particularly Jupiter and Saturn) to grab hydrogen and helium out of the gas cloud from which the sun was condensing, before the sun formed and blew most of the gas away.

Since Uranus and Neptune are smaller and have bigger orbits, it was harder for them to collect hydrogen and helium as efficiently as Jupiter and Saturn. This likely explains why they are smaller than those two planets. On a percentage basis, their atmospheres are more “polluted” with heavier elements such as methane and ammonia because they are so much smaller.

Scientists have discovered thousands of exoplanets. Many of these happen to be “hot Jupiters,” or massive gas giants that are extremely close to their parent stars. (Rocky worlds are more abundant in the universe, according to estimates from Kepler.) Scientists speculate that large planets may have moved back and forth in their orbits before settling into their current configuration. But how much they moved is still a subject of debate.

There are dozens of moons around the giant planets. Many formed at the same time as their parent planets, which is implied if the planets rotate in the same direction as the planet close to the equator (such as the huge Jovian moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.) But there are exceptions.

One moon of Neptune, Triton, orbits the planet opposite to the direction Neptune spins — implying that Triton was captured, perhaps by Neptune’s once larger atmosphere, as it passed by. And there are many tiny moons in the solar system that rotate far from the equator of their planets, implying that they were also snagged by the immense gravitational pull.

Jupiter: NASA’s Juno spacecraft arrived at the planet in 2016 and has already made several discoveries. It studied the planet’s rings, which is difficult to achieve since they are far subtler than Saturn’s. Juno discovered that the particles influencing the auroras of Jupiter are different than those on Earth. It also revealed insights about the atmosphere, such as finding snow emanating from high-altitude clouds. Meanwhile, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have made detailed studies of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, watching it shrink and intensify in color.

Saturn: The Cassini spacecraft wrapped up more than a dozen years of observation at Saturn in 2017. But the science Cassini performed is still very much in progress, as scientists analyze work from its many years at Saturn. In its latter months, the mission examined Saturn’s gravity and magnetic fields, looked at the rings from a different angle than before, and plunged into the atmosphere deliberately (a move that will reveal more about the structure of the atmosphere.)

Uranus: The storms of Uranus are a frequent target for both professional telescopes and amateur astronomers, who monitor how they evolve and change over time. Scientists are also interested in learning about the structure of its rings, and what its atmosphere is made of. Uranus may also have several Trojan asteroids (asteroids in the same orbit as the planet); the first was found in 2013.

Neptune: Storms on Neptune are also a popular observing target, and in 2018 those observations again bore fruit; work from the Hubble Space Telescope showed that a long-standing storm is now shrinking. The researchers noted the storm is dissipating differently than what their models expected, which shows that our understanding of Neptune’s atmosphere still requires refinement.

Exoplanets: Many ground telescopes search for exoplanets. There are also several active space missions performing exoplanet research, including Kepler, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. A flurry of new missions is also planned: the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in 2018, the NASA James Webb Space Telescope in 2020, the European Space Agency’s PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) in 2026 and ESA’s Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey mission (Ariel) in 2028.

Chinese Space Station Is Tumbling Toward an Easter Sunday Crash

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Chinese Space Station Is Tumbling Toward an Easter Sunday Crash

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ARLINGTON, Va. – The falling Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is tumbling in orbit and may crash back to Earth early Easter Sunday (April 1), experts say.Estimates for the crash of Tiangong-1 range sometime between March 31 and April 1, with a focus of 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) on April 1, according to Aerospace Corp., which is tracking the space lab’s fall. That April 1 target comes with an error of 16 hours, so the spacecraft could potentially begin its fiery death dive anytime between Saturday and Sunday afternoon. An analysis by the European Space Agency also supports that re-entry estimate. [China’s Falling Tiangong-1: What You Need to Know]

An artist's illustration of China's Tiangong-1 space station as it breaks apart and burns up in Earth's atmosphere.

An artist’s illustration of China’s Tiangong-1 space station as it breaks apart and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Credit: Aerospace Corporation

But scientists and engineers still cannot pinpoint exactly where and when the 9.4-ton (8.5 metric tons) space station will fall. Partly that is because the school bus-size Tiangong-1 is tumbling as it falls, which makes it hard to predict how atmospheric drag will affect the spacecraft’s re-entry time and path, Aerospace Corp. engineers said Wednesday (March 28).

“It is tumbling,” Roger Thompson, a senior engineering specialist with Aerospace Corp., told reporters at the company’s office here Wednesday. “We have been able to confirm that there is a tumble, we just can’t tell the orientation.”

Aerospace Corp. confirmed using U.S. Air Force radar data and telescope observations, Thompson said.

This map by the European Space Agency shows the area in which China's Tiangong-1 space station could fall (shown in green) around April 1, 2018.

This map by the European Space Agency shows the area in which China’s Tiangong-1 space station could fall (shown in green) around April 1, 2018.

Credit: European Space Agency

Tiangong-1 launched in September 2011 to test docking systems and other technology needed for an even larger, multi-module space station to be built in the 2020s. The station was visited by China’s uncrewed Shenzhou-8 spacecraft in November 2011 and two crewed missions, one each in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

In March 2016, Tiangong-1 stopped communicating with its mission control center in Beijing, leading the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) to declare its mission over. Tiangong-1 has been space junk ever since.

Currently, Tiangong-1 is expected to fall to Earth somewhere between the latitudes of 42.7 degrees north and 42.7 degrees south, a range that spans the border of South Dakota and Nebraska in the north and Tasmania in the south.

As re-entry day nears for Tiangong-1, satellite trackers will be able to make more refined predictions for where and when it will crash. In a statement today (March 29), CMSEO officials said the public should not fear being hit by debris from Tiangong-1.

“There is no need for people to worry about its re-entry into the atmosphere. It won’t crash to the Earth fiercely, as in sci-fi movie scenarios, but will look more like a shower of meteors,” the statement said according to the state-run Xinhua news service.

You can still see the Tiangong-1 space station in the night sky, if you know when and where to look and have good weather.

In fact, the chances of being struck by debris from Tiangong-1 are less than 1 in a trillion, according to a fact sheet from Aerospace Corp.

If you are able to see the Tiangong-1 re-entry, you can report your sighting to Aerospace Corp.’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies through the CORDS website here.

Email Tariq Malik at or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

2 Pilots in Different Planes Saw the Same UFO. The FAA Can’t Explain It.

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2 Pilots in Different Planes Saw the Same UFO. The FAA Can’t Explain It.

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2 Pilots in Different Planes Saw the Same UFO. The FAA Can't Explain It.
Two separate flights reported seeing the same ‘UFO’ in the Arizona desert in February.

Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

Two airline pilots spotted a mysterious, reflective object hovering some 40,000 feet (12,000 meters) over southern Arizona last month, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is stumped.

According to radio transmissions between the befuddled pilots and air traffic controllers (which you can listen to in full, thanks to an FAA recording recently released to the Phoenix New Times), the sighting occurred around 3:30 p.m. local time on Feb. 24, somewhere over the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix.

“Was anybody above us that passed us like 30 seconds ago?” the first pilot asked while flying a Learjet west toward California. [7 Things Most Often Mistaken for UFOs]

“Negative,” an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Albuquerque Air Traffic Center in New Mexico answered.

“OK,” the pilot responded. “Something did.”

The object, whatever it was, was flying high — at least a few thousand feet above the jet, which was cruising at an altitude of around 37,000 feet (11,000 m), the New Times reported. A few minutes later, the FAA asked another nearby flight — an American Airlines Airbus traveling in the same direction — to keep an eye out for anything “passing over” it in the desert.

The confused pilot agreed. And sure enough, within a few minutes, the Airbus crew saw the same mystery object fly over their plane.

“Yeah, something just passed over us,” the Airbus pilot reported. “I couldn’t make it out, whether it was a balloon or what … but it had a big reflection on it and it was several thousand feet above us, going the opposite direction.”

Several weeks later, authorities are still stumped as to the object’s origin. Beyond these two pilot reports, the FAA couldn’t verify that any other aircraft were around. It likely wasn’t a “Google balloon,” the FAA reported, nor a weather balloon or a military craft.

“We have a close working relationship with a number of other agencies and safely handle military aircraft and civilian aircraft of all types in that area every day, including high-altitude weather balloons,” an FAA representative told the New Times.

In other words, whatever the UFO was, the FAA should have known about it. But it didn’t.

This report comes just a few months after a former Pentagon official revealed that the government has been quietly running an official UFO detection program since 2007. An investigation into the program by The New York Times turned up striking footage taken by two Navy fighter pilots, who appear to encounter a mysterious glowing object midair.

Reports like these may be more common than you imagine. According to the National UFO Reporting Center — an online database of alleged UFO sightings in America — there have been nearly 650 UFO sightings reported so far in 2018. However, the website advises, “Many of the new reports have been submitted by individuals who elect to remain anonymous… we encourage visitors to our website to be discriminating in what they accept as accurate and reliable.”

Originally published on Live Science.

Space Image of the Day Gallery

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Space Image of the Day Gallery

Image of the Day Archives

Credit: NASA, ESA and Orsola De Marco (Macquarie University)

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission to Touch the Sun Explained (Infographic)

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission to Touch the Sun Explained (Infographic)

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NASA's Parker Solar Probe Mission to Touch the Sun Explained (Infographic)

NASA aims to launch its sun-studying Parker Solar Probe in July 2018.

Credit: Jef Castro/

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission, which is scheduled to launch in July 2018, will come within 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kilometers) of the sun — seven times closer than any other spacecraft ever has.

The specially shielded Parker Solar Probe will have to endure temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) and solar radiation intensities 475 times higher than we’re used to here on Earth.

If all goes according to plan, the Parker Solar Probe will zoom close to the sun 24 times between 2018 and 2025, gathering a variety of data about the sun’s structure and magnetic and electric fields, as well as the energetic particles cruising near and away from Earth’s star. This information could help researchers solve two longstanding mysteries: How the solar wind is accelerated and why the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, is so much hotter than the solar surface, NASA officials have said.

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1st American in Orbit: How John Glenn (And NASA) Made History (Infographic)

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1st American in Orbit: How John Glenn (And NASA) Made History (Infographic)

 1st American in Orbit: How John Glenn (And NASA) Made History (Infographic)
John Glenn’s Mercury mission was the first American space flight around the world.

Credit: Karl Tate, Contributor

When NASA launched astronaut John Glenn into orbit on Feb. 20, 1962, the U.S. joined the realm of orbital spaceflight and never looked back. Seven years later, the first Americans would land on the moon. See how NASA made the leap into orbital spaceflight with Glenn’s historic Friendship 7 spaceflight in the inforgrahic above.

 John Glenn died on Dec. 8, 2016 at age 95. Read our full obituary here.