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February 23, 2023

This week, we’re featuring a cornucopia of fresh stories from across the span of cosmic space and time. From experiments that replicate conditions during the big bang’s first moments, to observations that may reveal new details of Earth’s inner core; and from new ways of looking for alien life—and for planet-threatening asteroids—to breakthroughs in the pursuit of practical quantum computers. Plus, the curious tale of how the Pentagon may have recently shot down a harmless ham-radio balloon in the volatile aftermath of an international scandal over Chinese spy balloons. There’s lots to read, watch, and hear—enjoy!

Lee Billings, Senior Editor, Space & Physics


Did the Pentagon Shoot Down a Harmless Ham-Radio Balloon?

Surging numbers of small research balloons increase the odds of airborne mistaken identity—and harsher regulations

By Leonard David


Chinese Spy Balloon Saga Shows UFOs Deserve Serious Investigations

By shunting pilot observations aside, the Pentagon likely fostered a UFO fad and overlooked Chinese intelligence technology entering U.S. airspace

By Mick West


Earth's Inner Core May Have an Inner Core

Echoes from earthquakes suggest that Earth’s solid inner core has its own core

By Stephanie Pappas


New Space Radar Will Hunt Planet-Threatening Asteroids

The new ngRADAR at the Green Bank Telescope offers unprecedented Earth-based views of the solar system

By Briley Lewis

Extraterrestrial Life

How Do We Find Aliens? Maybe Unlearn What We Know About 'Life' First

Science might be redefining what “life out there” really means.

By Clara Moskowitz,Sarah Scoles | 08:31

Particle Physics

This Particle Accelerator Makes a Substance That Has Not Existed in 13 Billion Years

By using one of the most complicated and powerful machines on the planet, scientists have found a way to glimpse back to the very beginning of time itself.

By Jason Drakeford,Clara Moskowitz,Jeffery DelViscio

Quantum Physics

Tiny Bubbles of Primordial Soup Re-create Early Universe

New experiments can re-create the young cosmos, when it was a mash of fundamental particles, more precisely than ever before

By Clara Moskowitz

Quantum Computing

Google's Quantum Computer Hits Key Milestone by Reducing Errors

Researchers demonstrate for the first time that using more qubits can lower the error rate of quantum calculations

By Davide Castelvecchi,Nature

Extraterrestrial Life

At Jupiter, JUICE and Clipper Will Work Together in Hunt for Life

A soon-to-launch European mission is the first of two spacecraft—with the other coming from NASA—that will hunt for signs of habitability on Jupiter’s icy moons

By Jonathan O'Callaghan


"These three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research."

U.S. President Joe Biden, on the nature of three mysterious objects recently shot down by fighter jets over North America.


Planetary Defense Is Good--but Is Planetary Offense Better?

A new approach could mitigate the most damaging effects of an imminent asteroid or comet strike—or ensure many threatening objects never get close to striking Earth in the first place


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