Nasa's Unexplained Files (2012) s04e01 Episode Script

Plutos Stranger Things

NASA's mission is to explore the unknown.
What we know about the universe is a tiny fraction of what's actually out there.
In the search for answers, it launches its scientists into space, its craft beyond the limits of the solar system.
We have no idea what's out there.
There might be dangers lurking in the darkness.
We run across more mysteries than discoveries.
We don't know what it's going to throw at us next.
Alien megastructures that dwarf the imagination.
We could be dealing with the first example of an alien society out in space dancing lights defy explanation.
Oh, my goodness.
And unusual activity on our solar system's smallest world.
We travel four billion miles to pluto, and when we get there, it looks like there's something moving on the surface.
These are A NASA telescope discovers a massive object orbiting a distant star.
It's not like anything we've seen before.
Whatever this thing is, it's big.
It's bigger than any planet in our solar system.
It's beyond human scale.
Evidence points to an artificial structure.
This is truly amazing.
And if this structure is real, we're going where no one's gone before.
NASA's kepler space telescope is on a mission to find earthlike planets.
It stares at an area of space where there's thousands of stars, and we wait.
And we wait till one of those stars slightly dims, as a planet moves in front of it.
Then we know we have found a planet.
Planets orbit their parent star like clockwork.
As they pass between the star and the telescope, the light from the star dims.
When kepler's gaze turns upon tabby's star 1,500 light-years away in the cygnus constellation, astronomers notice something very unusual.
The star is crazy.
It's not behaving like anything we've ever seen.
Of the tens of thousands of stars that have been monitored by kepler, this is a complete one-off.
Whatever spectrum you view it in, the light from the star is behaving very strangely.
So, here's the odd thing about it.
The dimming is not regular It's irregular.
Sometimes it happens in five days, sometimes it happens in 100 days.
It shows erratic drops in brightness Sometimes small, sometimes large And we're really not sure what's going on.
It's like someone's playing with the dimmer switch on this star.
If the dimming was caused by planets orbiting the star, it would come at regular intervals.
The timing is wrong.
Something else is obscuring tabby's star, and the drop in light it causes is off the scales.
If a Jupiter-size planet The biggest planet in our solar system Were to pass in front of this star, it would only block about 1% of the light.
Whatever is blocking tabby's star's light is at least 20 times larger than the biggest planet in our solar system.
That would require too big of a planet.
It's just implausible to have something that big.
An object 20 times the size of Jupiter is simply too big to be a planet.
The forces of gravity would ignite its core, turning it into a protostar.
There's no possible way it could be a planet.
The mysterious dimming seems to defy all logic.
Something out there is so enormous it's blocking the light from tabby's star.
So, it makes you wonder If we have eliminated all the possible scientific answers, maybe this is something else.
One team at penn state university has a radical, new theory.
The behavior that we're seeing with this star matches what you would expect from something called a Dyson sphere, a megastructure built by an alien civilization around its star.
The Dyson sphere is a staple of science fiction.
Theoretically, a sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial civilization could harness the energy of a star directly by surrounding it with gargantuan solar panels.
This has all the hallmarks of what you would expect from a Dyson sphere, a megastructure so big, it was blocking the light from that star.
Now, that gets your attention.
The Dyson sphere is the brainchild of renowned astronomer and physicist Freeman Dyson.
It would almost look like a shell around the star.
Dyson theorized that the energy requirements of an advanced civilization would outstrip the resources of its planet.
Tapping directly into the power of a raging star solves the problem.
Energy coming from the sun could be bounced back down to your planet, and you would have so much energy, you wouldn't know what to do with it.
Until now, most scientists had viewed the Dyson sphere as an interesting possibility.
It could be real.
This is the first time that i actually see so many serious astronomers be really open to the possibility that this is something really strange that could actually be an alien society out there.
There is some evidence to suggest that the object near tabby's star is not a complete Dyson sphere.
It could be one under construction.
So, if these are alien structures that are being built, the light should be growing dimmer and dimmer and more irregular.
A nobel prize winning astronomer tests the theory and discovers that science fiction might be turning into science fact.
Bradley schaefer went into this historical archive of photographic plates and looked at the brightness measurements of this star, going back to 1890.
What he finds is that over the last century, the star has dimmed by 20%, which is completely unprecedented for this category of star.
All the evidence suggests that something very unusual is happening in the cygnus constellation.
There's no widely accepted natural explanation for the events around tabby's star.
If this is some kind of alien superstructure, of course that would be probably the most exciting discovery in astronomy for hundreds of years.
I mean, we could be dealing with the first example of an alien society out in space.
This would be the biggest story in space exploration period.
Coming up NASA astronauts see strange lights on the moon.
I mean, it was like fireworks in your eyeball.
It was spectacular.
And a deep-space probe detects unusual activity on a distant world.
So, has the new horizons spacecraft taken pictures of giant snails on pluto? The first humans to reach deep space see things they cannot explain.
It's like light flashing in my eyeballs.
I thought, "did i really see a flash?" Imagine what mission control was thinking "is Jack going nutso?" The astronauts of the Apollo program become the subjects of a bizarre experiment.
It was like a big box that i was to put on.
It looked like horse blinders that you put on a horse.
The first Apollo mission is the culmination of the most ambitious engineering project in human history.
Many of the dangers astronauts face are still unknown.
And i look up at this enormous saturn rocket.
And it's fully fueled.
And it seems like it's alive.
We're basically being put on a bomb that has an exhaust that allows us to go into space.
Several of the Apollo astronauts report seeing something strange as they approach the moon.
I saw a flash, and i thought, "did i really see a flash?" I'm having these light flashes, and I'm seeing It's like light flashing in my eyeballs.
They would see them when their eyes were open, when their eyes were shut.
I mean, it was like fireworks in your eyeball.
It was spectacular.
Astronauts from every lunar mission after Apollo 11 report the same thing Flashes appear to be dancing before their eyes.
Others sparkle outside the module.
Some even flash on the lunar surface.
Understanding the phenomenon becomes one of NASA's top priorities.
NASA scientists suspect at least some of the flashes are caused by cosmic rays A constant barrage of high-energy particles from the sun.
NASA began to think they may be dealing with something going on internally Lights that are caused by the interaction of radiation with the brain, the optic nerve.
NASA engineers design a sophisticated experimental rig to test whether cosmic rays are behind some of the episodes.
NASA scientists developed this really strange device A helmet that would go over the astronaut's head.
It was called the Apollo light flash moving emulsion detector The alfmed.
The alfmed is a black box that completely covers the astronaut's head.
Its interior is lined with a silver bromide film that can detect cosmic rays.
It almost looked like something, literally, out of a Sci-Fi movie that would clearly block their vision so that it was completely dark.
Charles Duke wears the helmet on his way to the moon.
It was like a big box that i was to put on.
It looked like horse blinders that you put on a horse.
So, the astronauts weren't necessarily thrilled about these experiments, mainly because here you are flying to the moon.
You're flying in deep space, and now you have to stick a box on your head? So i put this on.
And then i start to close my eyes and describe the light flashes that I'm seeing.
Alfmed's detectors record actual cosmic rays passing through the helmet.
If they coincide with Duke's flashes, it's a smoking gun.
Twice, Duke reports a flash at exactly the same time as a cosmic ray blasts through the helmet.
It seems NASA has solved the mystery.
Do cosmic rays explain most of these weird flashes? Probably.
But do they explain everything that these astronauts are seeing? That's harder to say.
But on mankind's final mission to the moon, Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt sees something Hey, i just saw a flash on the lunar surface.
Something that can't be explained by cosmic rays.
As Apollo 17 approaches the moon, commander gene cernan spots an object apparently hovering close to the horizon.
One of the astronauts looks out and he says, "wait a minute.
I can see something outside.
This is not internal.
I am looking at something outside the spacecraft.
" Hey, Bob, I'm looking at a bright object.
And it's obviously rotating because it's flashing.
It's way out in the distance, as i say, 'cause there are particles that are close by, and it's obviously not one of those.
Needless to say, this is extremely unnerving.
Any object outside the space capsule I mean, your first thought is, "what the heck is this thing?" Just as Apollo 17 prepares to land, astronaut Jack Schmitt sees something else on or near the moon's surface.
Hey, i just saw a flash on the lunar surface.
It was a bright, little flash, right out there near that crater.
Imagine what mission control was thinking "is Jack going nutso? Is he actually seeing something on the surface?" one astronaut seeing something could be explained as a hallucination.
Two strange sightings merits further investigation.
Cernan and Schmitt's report baffles experts for decades.
A photograph from the Apollo 17 archive could offer a clue to what cernan saw.
This image was taken during a lunar excursion, on Apollo 17.
And, in this image, you see a moonscape, but you see something else.
Up here in the corner is a really odd three-dot object.
We don't know what it is.
There's this cluster of three bluish-colored lights.
They're too bright and too blue to be a planet or constellation.
Could that be what cernan saw? Apollo astronaut Alfred worden has a theory for what the mysterious object could be.
On a previous mission, he released a miniature spacecraft to orbit the moon.
Just before we started our way back home, i release a small subsatellite.
And it goes out on a rail that twists it, and as it's twisting, long arms come out to stabilize it in its spin.
It's in lunar orbit, spinning, and the sun is reflecting off the arms as they go around.
And you can see the flashing of the arms.
My assumption is that that's what gene's seeing.
But i do not know if ours is still there.
It's impossible to be certain about what cernan saw.
Some speculate that Schmitt's sighting could be caused by meteors hitting the moon.
The moon, just like the earth, gets hit by impacts.
But the earth has an atmosphere, so we see meteors.
But the moon doesn't have much atmosphere, so when it gets hit, it forms a brief flash of light.
It can happen in less than a second.
To date, there is no official NASA explanation for the Apollo 17 sightings.
Even at this point in time, we don't know for certain what this is.
A NASA probe detects signs of movement on the surface of pluto.
Did we find some sort of creature on pluto? Something huge is shifting on the supposedly dead world.
So, has the new horizons spacecraft taken pictures of giant snails on pluto? After a 10-year journey, NASA's new horizons probe finally reaches the most mysterious world in the solar system pluto.
Pluto is so far away, even the most powerful telescopes only reveal a small, fuzzy disk.
No one knows what the new horizons probe will find.
I think expectations were that it could very well be just a dead, uninteresting lump of ice.
And, boy, were we wrong.
The images from new horizons astonish scientists.
They reveal mountain ranges of pure ice Volcanoes that erupt, not with boiling rock, but with icy nitrogen and ammonia.
Rather than a cold, uninteresting lump of ice, pluto is an alien world in its own right.
One shot captures the world's attention.
We travel four billion miles to pluto, and when we get there, it looks like there's something moving on the surface.
It looks unmistakably like some kind of trail.
What could possibly make that? NASA's new horizons probe has detected strange activity on pluto.
New horizons has shown us vistas of pluto that we have just never seen before Unprecedented images, including This one.
This image actually looks like a snail.
You can actually see what might be a shell and a head.
It's really strange.
And i have to admit, it looks like it's leaving a path.
So, do we see space snails on pluto? The image shows what looks like snails gliding across the icy plains.
The discovery sends the blogosphere into a frenzy.
When this thing was found, it blew the doors wide open.
The Internet was blazing with conspiracy theories.
Could this unexplored world be hiding the solar system's greatest secret? Everything we know about life suggests that nothing could survive in the freezing outer reaches of the solar system.
The surface temperature on pluto is minus-400 degrees fahrenheit.
Nobody is expecting to see life there.
The surface of pluto A horrible place for life.
I would say an impossible place for life.
Let's put it this way Everything in your body would freeze in a few seconds.
The extreme conditions make it unlikely the objects in the image are living creatures.
And the anatomy of snails makes it impossible for them to reach such a huge size.
You better put a skeleton in it.
Otherwise, it's just going to collapse in an unappetizing heap.
Many planetary scientists consider a geological explanation for the snails to be more likely.
One potential clue to the mystery comes from images of a vast ice sheet where the snails are found.
This flat surface area on pluto, called sputnik planum, is host to these strange markings that we find on the surface of pluto.
Sputnik planum is approximately the size of the Hudson bay.
Beneath its still frozen surface, it is churning with activity.
Many people believed it was a dead world Nothing was changing, nothing was happening But that's not true.
Pluto is an active geological world.
Under the incredible pressures of pluto's interior, a sea of frozen nitrogen is gradually deforming, making it behave like a thick fluid.
The result A constant churn of ice.
Think of a lava lamp, with a blob slowly coming up from the bottom of the lamp.
This is exactly the same thing that's happening on pluto.
Over thousands of years, geological plates of frozen nitrogen push up to the surface of pluto, where their edges cool and begin to crack.
These lines are none other than the edges of convection zones, where warm material has come up in the center, and then cold material, now cooling, drops down along the edges.
The convection theory explains the trails as partially frozen cracks, but it doesn't explain the movement of the giant snails across glaciers of nitrogen.
These giant snails are probably water ice.
Pluto is so cold, water freezes into rock-hard mountains of ice, taller than the alps, which cluster around the edges of the nitrogen plains.
Frozen water is less dense than frozen nitrogen, so it floats above it.
Water ice is going to be rock-hard and might form a large iceberg.
It would sit on top of the nitrogen ice.
That's what we're seeing on the surface of sputnik planum.
We're seeing icebergs floating in a sea of frozen nitrogen.
The snails are not living creatures, but their very existence may offer new hope for life on this inhospitable world.
If the temperature below the surface is warm enough to produce glacial activity, then pluto could potentially host new forms of life.
We think of life as being on the surface of a world.
It's conceivable that if you dug a deep hole on pluto, you might find some sort of microbial life way, way down there.
80% of the life on our planet is actually underground.
There's more life down there than there is up here.
In the few brief months since it flew past pluto, new horizons is revealing that even 3.
5 billion miles from the sun, life may find a way.
There may be life on pluto.
I mean, you can't rule that out altogether.
But it's not going to be on the surface, and it's not going to be big.
The Soviet union shoots down a NASA research aircraft.
This was not electronic spying.
This was not photographic experimentation.
This was science.
For decades, conspiracy theorists accuse NASA of covering for secret military operations.
The problem with the cover story is that it's baloney.
And the Russians know it.
Now declassified documents prove that NASA was framed.
It's very unlikely that NASA's being told exactly what's going on.
Even people within the U.
government don't know about these missions.
NASA announces to the world that a research aircraft conducting high-altitude weather experiments over Turkey has disappeared.
The pilot is presumed dead.
Atmospheric and weather sampling are a key part of NASA's mission.
But there's something unusual about this operation.
Why is NASA conducting high-altitude research in Turkey? What's going on? NASA maintains that its aircraft accidentally drifted off course.
Unfortunately, a weather-observation plane has flown over the Soviet union, blown off course by bad winds and stuff, and we've lost the plane and the pilot.
Isn't that a shame? The Russians claim the aircraft is a spy plane.
The leader of the Soviet union, nikita khruschchev, appears before the Soviet parliament and says that the ussr has shot down an American spy plane that trespassed into Soviet territory.
NASA releases a photo of the craft with their logo on the tail.
NASA, of course, is outraged.
This is innocent scientific research, there was a malfunction, the plane flew on autopilot.
If it strayed into anybody else's airspace, it was an accident and nothing more.
But the Soviets have an ace up their sleeve.
The Russians wait until the U.
is fully committed to the cover story before they release that they have information, that the story is false.
They have the pilot.
He's alive.
He's confessed to being a spy.
They have the plane.
They have the wreckage.
And they have his equipment.
The problem with the cover story is that it's baloney.
And the Russians know it.
The NASA research mission is actually one of the most disastrous spy missions in U.
On the first of may, 1960, a U.
spy plane labeled article 360 takes off on a top-secret mission, codenamed "operation grand slam.
" The plane is lockheed u-2c.
The pilot's name is Gary powers.
The u-2 is a remarkable aircraft, capable of flying at fantastic heights and taking incredible high-resolution pictures that will enable the Americans to determine the true level of Soviet military capabilities.
Gary powers is one of a handful of highly trained, elite pilots at the cutting edge of this entire program.
The u-2 operates at an altitude of 70,000 feet, far higher than any Soviet fighter plane can reach at that time.
They thought at the time that the u-2 was not vulnerable to attack because it flew at such high altitude, it could not be shot down.
As it turns out, that's a dangerous and false assumption.
The Soviets know that the Americans are overflying their territory at high altitudes, and they've developed systems to counter it.
For the past three years, the Soviet military has been rolling out the new s-75 dvina surface-to-air missile.
The dvina can reach higher than any previous Soviet anti-aircraft weapon.
As Gary powers approaches his first target, there's an impact.
There's an explosion.
The aircraft has been hit.
Gary powers managed to eject successfully from the aircraft and parachuted to the ground, where he was subsequently arrested by the Soviet authorities.
Now the Russians have the wreckage of a top-secret U.
spy plane and the pilot who flew it.
For a pilot who's been captured and behind enemy lines and under interrogation, this would be a very, very stressful moment, because you're thinking about all kinds of things What you can say, what you can't say And just a great deal of stress and, of course, intimidation, as well.
For the Soviets, this is a win-win situation.
They parade powers in a show trial to expose America's lies to the world.
The Russians are saying that the pilot gave them a confession.
But even without a confession, they have the airplane and the equipment.
It's pretty clear what he was doing up there.
The Soviets have been doing this sort of thing successfully for decades.
They know how to play this.
I think the Soviets were far more concerned about using this as a propaganda issue than any kind of information they were going to glean from him.
To the watching world, it looks like NASA is complicit in a military-intelligence program to spy on the Soviet union.
This is something of a black eye to NASA, which had prided itself on being a civilian aeronautical and space program.
And now their name has been used to cover for an obvious spy program.
For decades, conspiracy theorists used the incident as evidence that NASA operations are a front for secret military projects.
The role of NASA, with regard to military activities, is a gray area about which we know very little.
They do plenty of classified work because the technology of many things is classified.
But recently declassified documents reveal that at the time of the operation, NASA knew nothing about the mission.
It's very unlikely that NASA's being told exactly what's going on.
Even people within the U.
government don't know about these missions.
They're one of the most secret programs the Americans have at this moment.
NASA is ordered by the eisenhower administration to release the cover story that one of their aircraft has gone off course and crashed during a research mission.
They were coerced into doing that, and they weren't really very happy about it.
Available records make it clear NASA was not involved in operation grand slam.
But parts of the story are still shrouded in mystery.
Although some official files on this incident have been released, some of the NSA files remain under lock and key to this day.
So there may be parts of the story that we'll never know.
Up next Dancing lights in the Indiana sky defy explanation.
If you saw this in the sky, you would wonder if the end of the world was coming.
Oh, my goodness.
Terrifying lights appear in the skies above Indiana.
It looks like a giant beam of lightning is just frozen in the sky.
It's like nothing I've ever seen before.
It's so bright and so straight, it doesn't look natural.
A local cyclist sees something so shocking he stops to record it.
What you are about to see is the footage he records.
The voice you hear is his.
A huge beam of light dances high in the clouds.
What's so crazy about this is how orderly the light looks.
It looks like a giant spotlight is shining between clouds.
It's kind of waving back and forth.
It's a burning spear of light pointing almost vertical.
It just doesn't look natural.
The light is bright enough to be sunlight, but the sun can clearly be seen behind a nearby cloud.
That is weird.
What the is that? Whatever it is, it's completely silent.
All you can hear are the terrified comments of the cyclist.
Oh, my goodness.
What the hell? I'm flipping out, dude.
If you saw this in the sky, you would wonder if the end of the world was coming.
Some observers point to the fact that the beam is dancing between storm clouds as a possible clue to its nature.
Could it be a strange form of lightning? There's no way that this could be lightning.
It's a shorter pillar.
It continues to move.
Lightning is a very quick flash.
One of the most popular theories is that the light could be reflecting off a passing airplane.
But that aircraft would have to be sitting still in the sky.
And aircraft, generally, are making a path through the sky.
They don't sit still.
5, 4 Many remark that it looks like the launch trail of a spacecraft.
It pretty much does look like a rocket launch.
When a rocket-exhaust trail hits a cloud, it creates a bright light that extends straight up into the sky.
But the nearest launch pad is over 500 miles away on the north Atlantic coast.
As far as we're aware, there are no rockets that are launched in Indiana.
Some local witnesses to the phenomenon suspect high-tech government research programs could be responsible.
There are loads of big, very expensive, highly classified programs for developing a new weapon system, a new way to kill people, a new way to explode things, to destroy stuff.
One of the theories that was floating around was that maybe this was a test of the haarp system.
Haarp is the high frequency active auroral research program.
Officially, it conducts high-altitude weather experiments by firing electromagnetic waves high up into the atmosphere.
But parts of this government-funded program are classified, leaving skeptics to believe that the work may be a cover for weapons research.
There's certainly some military applications involved.
What's going on in the classified portions? We don't know, and they're not talking.
Haarp does openly blast energy beams high into the ionosphere, but some suspect their motives.
Some have suggested this is related to affecting climate change directly or trying to knock satellites out of the atmosphere or, perhaps, heating the atmosphere to the point where the atmosphere itself is glowing, as a result of some of the radiation that's being poured forth.
But the science does not support the haarp theory.
So, the haarp array does shoot powerful beams of energy into the sky, but they're not going to be visible as beams of light.
The haarp facility is in Alaska.
Even if its ion rays were visible to the human eye, witnesses at ground level more than 1,000 miles away would not be able to see them.
People have been blaming haarp for all kinds of crazy stuff.
I don't think it's haarp.
Some have attempted to explain the strange dancing light as a meteorological phenomenon.
With the intensity of the light, the way that it's so bright, one possible theory is that it could be a jumping sun dog.
A sun dog is an atmospheric trick of the light that appears when the sun's rays are deflected by high-altitude ice crystals.
Much like a mirror, the crystals reflect the sun's rays, creating a shimmering beam of light.
In certain rare conditions, the crystals can shift, making the sun dog appear to jump.
A thunder cloud could release electricity into the atmosphere from a lightning strike, and it could alter the ice crystals and make them change so it would appear that the light being reflected actually jumps.
So, in the presence of, say, a thunderstorm, then the sun dog might actually leap around the sky, just like we see here.
For lightning to produce a jumping sun dog on the scale visible in footage, it would have to be sustained and powerful.
Multiple lightning strikes changing the electrical makeup of the atmosphere would be needed in order to make it continually jump the way that it does in the video.
The video shows no sign of lightning at all.
So in the absence of any rational explanation, the phenomenon in this footage remains unexplained.
NASA's exploration of the cosmos continues to confront us with things we do not understand.
You look at the hubble telescopes and scenes that we see of the exploding stars, the formation of stars, the expanding of the universe, it's in a constant state of change.
The voyages of the first pioneers still pose mysteries.
Do cosmic rays explain most of these weird flashes? Probably.
But do they explain everything that these astronauts are seeing? That's harder to say.
New missions redefine our ideas of where life can exist.
There may be life on pluto, but it's not going to be on the surface, and it's not going to be big.
Ideas become reality.
This is the first time that i actually see so many serious astronomers be really open to the possibility that this could actually be an alien society out there.
The unknown awaits.
Let's see.
Let's discover these unknowns.
And to me, that's a challenge.
We want to see what's out there.