What happens when we find aliens? The Pentagon has a plan — and more space stories you may have missed

Starship’s 'rapid unscheduled disassembly,' a very cool eclipse in the South Pacific, and the space industry throws itself a party.

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 sat down with Space Foundation CEO Tom Zelibor to discuss why the U.S. should take space a bit more seriously. This week, we’ve got all the stories you may have missed while watching SpaceX’s Starship have a very expensive oopsie after liftoff: the first hybrid solar eclipse of the decade, the Pentagon talking UFOs to Congress, and the space industry coming together to talk shop. But first, a word on that “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”

Starship test flight follows long tradition of SpaceX explosions

The biggest news in outer space this week was the launch and subsequent explosion of SpaceX’s Starship Rocket. After a delay on Monday, the crew at Starbase in Boca Chica Beach, Texas, got the green light for ignition on Thursday morning. And for the first couple of minutes, things were going great. The booster rockets did their job and got Starship off the launch platform and soaring into the sky. Then things started going wrong, as Starship went into a “flip maneuver” to separate from its boosters.

According to the mission plan, the booster rockets should have separated, and then the Starship’s internal engines was supposed to kick in and take it on a journey around the planet. Instead, the boosters stayed attached, and the whole thing just kept flopping around until undergoing a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” — which is a nice way of saying it exploded.

Not exactly the result Musk and Co. would have hoped for but, to be fair, just getting the thing off the ground is a huge achievement. Fortunately, no one was hurt, although a minivan parked beneath the explosion wasn’t so lucky.

The Pentagon says it hasn’t found aliens — but it does have a plan, just in case

On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee met with the guy in charge of keeping track of UFOs for the Pentagon. Sean Kirkpatrick, head of the Department of Defense’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (ARRO), testified that, yes, there have indeed been numerous documented instances of unidentified aerial phenomena. At least so far, though, there’s no evidence that any of the encounters Kirkpatrick’s team has studied are in any way related to visitors from another planet.

“In our research, ARRO has found no credible evidence thus far of extraterrestrial activity, off-world technology or objects that defy the known laws of physics,” said Kirkpatrick. However, there is a plan in place if alien activity is ever discovered.

Kirkpatrick testified, “In the event sufficient scientific data were ever obtained that a UAP encountered can only be explained by extraterrestrial origin, we are committed to working with our interagency partners at NASA to appropriately inform the U.S. government's leadership of its findings.”

Now, does that mean the general public would find out? Your guess is as good as ours.

Reminder: Don’t look directly into the sun

A man, looking excited, uses cardboard eye protection to look up at the sun.
A man uses protective glasses to watch a hybrid solar eclipse in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday that also crossed over East Timor and remote parts of Australia. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)

This week also saw the first hybrid solar eclipse in nearly 10 years appear over the South Pacific. For a brief few moments, the moon passed directly in front of the sun, casting shadows over Indonesia, East Timor and Western Australia, before transitioning into a partial eclipse, with the sun’s rays peeking out from behind. While the ideal viewing spot for the eclipse was in the middle of the ocean, thousands of lucky folks equipped with special protective viewing devices were able to catch a glimpse of it. The next hybrid eclipse won’t happen until 2031, but if you happen to find yourself in a place where you can see it, don’t look directly at it.

The space industry’s most social time of the year

Finally, the Space Foundation held its annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., this week. During the four-day conference, an estimated 13,000 attendees and more than 200 exhibitors gathered to talk about the most pressing issues in the global space ecosystem. Between talks about things like the future of space warfare and networking mixers for young, up-and-coming space ingenues, the Space Foundation honored the best and brightest of the space world. The honors included a lifetime achievement award for Dan Goldin, the longest service NASA administrator, the Space Exploration award presented to the team behind the James Webb telescope, the Space Achievement award won by NASA’s DART Program and a public outreach award for the U.S. Postal Service.

Unfortunately, there’s no award for “best mostly-weekly space news roundup.” If there were, I’m sure it’d be an honor to be nominated.

Bonus round! Even more space news from our partners

Two images of a glowing ring against a dark backdrop, the first, marked EHT 2019, slightly thicker and more blurry, and the second marked Primo, more distinct.
A supermassive black hole, originally imaged in 2019, is seen on the left; a new image generated by the PRIMO algorithm using the same data set is seen on the right. (Medeiros et al. 2023/Handout via Reuters)

Remember that grainy photo of a black hole from 2019? It just got a major glow-up, thanks to AI, and Business Insider’s Aaron McDade has the full story.

What goes up must come down. Gizmodo’s Passant Rabie has the tale of a defunct NASA satellite that ended its retirement by disintegrating over Earth.

Space.com’s Tereza Pultarova has the details and photos of Airbus’s concept for a swanky new space station with artificial gravity. Our science fiction dreams of washing our hair in space without it being a huge hassle are now one step closer to reality.

Last but not least: Fox Weather offers an inside look at the launch of NASA’s very own giant balloon from New Zealand. The stigma surrounding giant balloons floating around the globe must have worn off.

(Cover illustration: Yahoo News Visuals/Photo: Getty Images)