Nasa's Unexplained Files (2012) s04e06 Episode Script

Did Earth Have Two Moons

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 gonna throw at us next.
Is it possible that we humans are not from this world? It's not completely idiotic to say, "maybe we all come from Venus.
" A runaway satellite puts astronauts in danger.
They now have a rogue satellite in low earth orbit.
Then we all began to to worry.
And two moons in the sky foreshadow disaster.
The effects on earth would be devastating.
You'd have tsunamis.
You'd have giant tidal waves.
This is something that we do not want to see.
These are NASA's unexplained files.
Mysterious dark patches in the clouds of Venus spark a flurry of speculation.
Something's going on in the atmosphere of Venus.
And nothing can be ruled out.
It's entirely possible that there's an ecosystem in the clouds of Venus.
Could life here have started there? Are we aliens on our own planet? For centuries, astronomers thought that Venus was a garden of Eden.
Venus and earth are actually remarkably similar planets Both about the same size, about the same place in the solar system, made of basically the same stuff.
So it's reasonable to imagine early Venus as an ocean planet very much like the earth, warmer somewhat because it was closer to the sun.
But when a space probe arrives in the early '60s, it discovers a living hell.
If you were to set foot on Venus, you would die in so many ways so fast Sulfuric acid dripping out of the clouds, temperature hotter than your oven, crushing atmospheric pressure.
That's why the longest-lived spacecraft on the surface of Venus has only been 2 1/2 hours.
It is not a place for life.
Until, in 1979, a new mission changes everything.
NASA's pioneer orbiter sends back the most detailed images of Venus humans had ever seen.
Its advanced ultraviolet camera reveals strange, dark streaks within the clouds.
To the eye, Venus is a bland yellow ball.
But if we look only at the ultraviolet light that's coming back, we notice that there's gaps, there's dark areas.
Something unknown in the dark patches is absorbing uv light instead of reflecting it back.
So, something is going on in the atmosphere of Venus up in the cloud level.
Something that we do not understand.
Astronomers first look for a chemical explanation that could cause this kind of effect.
Venus is full of sulfur in different forms.
And one type of sulfur can really absorb well in the ultraviolet.
So perhaps what we're looking at is just a form of sulfur.
In fact, a pure form of sulfur that can create solid particles.
On earth, much of the sulfur in our atmosphere comes from industrial processes.
As far as we know, no one is building factories on Venus right now.
But another source of the sulfur compounds could be volcanic activity.
But the type of sulfur found in Venus' upper atmosphere is unlikely to be volcanic.
But when we go and look at the exact colors of the sulfur particles and compare it to the colors that we see on Venus images and spectra, we find that's not an exact match.
In fact, the match is a little bit off.
So it has us very concerned that there's something else going on.
The mystery deepens when NASA discovers traces of two incompatible elements in the atmosphere Hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide.
When you put these two chemicals together, they react.
They can't just exist side by side.
But somehow, in the venusian atmosphere, that's exactly what's happening.
So, how do you have both of these molecules coexisting at the same time on Venus? The only explanation is that something is continually producing the two gases.
So, that means we're seeing brand-new molecules all the time being created by some unknown phenomena in the atmosphere of Venus.
On earth, we know exactly what produces these chemicals.
But on Venus, their presence would be shocking.
When we find these chemicals on earth, they're usually being produced by living creatures.
So, could this mean that maybe there's life on Venus? Although conditions on the surface are brutal, could life in the clouds be possible? If you travel up in the atmosphere, high enough, there are zones in the atmosphere that are actually quite earth-like in many different ways.
And some scientists have theorized that maybe these are areas where there might be microbial life in Venus' atmosphere.
If they're right, the mysterious dark patches are blooms of venusian life-forms photosynthesizing energy from the sun.
It's entirely possible that there's a microbial ecosystem in the clouds of Venus harvesting sunlight, producing biomass, cycling that biomass, and happily living in cloud droplets.
That would be a fascinating find.
Early in the planet's history, venusian oceans had all the ingredients for life.
But as the sun got hotter, the oceans evaporated.
Being close to the sun, the ocean started boiling away, uh, turning into steam, which actually then created a runaway greenhouse effect.
Organisms are going to move with the water and into the atmosphere.
And they're gonna take up life in the clouds.
They're not gonna be on the surface anymore.
And that opens up a fascinating possibility.
If life originated on Venus, is it possible that it found its way to earth and kick-started life on our own planet? Are we originally from earth? I know that sounds like a weird question.
But scientists are actually considering that possibility.
Intriguing evidence indicates that rocks may have carried living creatures between the planets.
Planets trade materials back and forth over the history of our solar system.
Asteroids and comets smash into the surface, throwing a huge amount of material up into the atmosphere, some of it escaping, traveling around and impacting other planets.
So, perhaps an asteroid blasted away some of the surface, and maybe some of those single-cell life-forms actually then traveled to earth.
Until very recently, Venus was believed to be one of the most unlikely places in the solar system to harbor life.
Could it be that this hellish world was life's nursery? Could we really be venusians? It's not completely idiotic to say, "maybe we all come from Venus.
" Venus may have been the warm incubator in the cold, early solar system.
Coming up, a mysterious satellite malfunction puts NASA's astronauts in danger.
It's bad enough that they missed retrieving the satellite.
But the problem's worse.
They now have a rogue satellite in low earth orbit.
A satellite in orbit suffers an unexplained malfunction, forcing NASA to make a life-or-death decision.
You're always weighing, "it's a valuable piece of gear," versus, "how much risk is there to it causing a catastrophe with the crew?" Can NASA pull off the most audacious rescue mission in the history of shuttle flight? We weren't sure we were going to be able to do this.
November 1997.
Columbia space shuttle flight sts-87 launches from cape canaveral, Florida.
And lift-off of space shuttle Columbia.
We're pushed back into the seat, three times our body weight and watching the mach tapes.
We're goin' faster than mach 2, mach 5, mach 6.
We went from zero to 17,500 miles per hour in only 8 1/2 minutes.
Countdown pause will resume on my mark.
Columbia's mission To launch a $10-million satellite, code named spartan, that will study solar flares.
The mission's success will rely on the steady hand of the shuttle's robot-arm operator.
Every shuttle has a 50-foot robot arm on it.
And what it allows us to do is to move large devices, uh, from the space-shuttle payload bay out into orbit.
Rookie astronaut mission specialist kalpana chawla takes control of the remote deployment.
It is a proud moment for the first indo-American in space.
She lifts it up out of the bay.
It looks good.
We're all there at the windows, watching.
And as she released it, uh, we noticed that the satellite was supposed to perform a rotation, which we call the pirouette maneuver.
Well, spartan didn't pirouette.
And then we all begin to to worry.
For some unknown reason, the satellite is dead in space.
The only thing they can do now is recover it.
And as our arm operator began to drive the robot arm in, she stopped and paused for a moment.
And what caught my attention was the arm.
The end of the arm bounced up and down a little bit.
The bouncing caused her to miss the grapple.
Retrieving a satellite from space with a robotic arm is not an easy task.
You only have one shot.
And on chawla's one shot, unfortunately, she bumps it into a spin.
So, you got to picture this, now.
This is a 3,000-pound satellite about the size of a small car very slowly turning in space.
Losing a multimillion-dollar satellite would be a disaster.
So the crew do all they can to get it back.
For the next hour, the crew valiantly tries to retrieve the satellite.
They don't have enough fuel aboard to chase it for long.
The more fuel they burn, the greater the chance they're gonna be stuck in orbit.
[ Radio chatter ] The astronauts consider the possibility of catching the satellite by hand.
But it's an option that is fraught with danger.
Space walk has, you know, natural inherent risks.
They have more danger than when you're sittin' back inside the spacecraft.
But on the other hand, spartan is worth $10 million.
Recovering something like that, you're always weighing, "it's a valuable piece of gear.
We want to bring it back," versus, "how much risk is there to it hitting the space shuttle or to it causing a catastrophe with the crew?" It's hard to quantify the length of time that goes into building something like a satellite.
It takes years, decades, sometimes whole careers.
And here, in an instant, this one is potentially slipping away.
170 miles above the earth, Winston Scott and his colleague takeo doi prepare for their last-ditch rescue mission.
All space walks are risky.
But this one is even more dangerous than usual.
We were improvising, uh, on the fly.
We didn't know how long it was going to take.
To catch the satellite, the astronauts need both hands.
They are forced to try an incredibly hazardous maneuver.
We can't anchor ourselves with our hands.
We need our hands free to catch the satellite.
So we anchor our boots into foot restraints on the side of the shuttle.
one mistake, and the rogue satellite could knock Scott or doi tumbling into space.
Flight commander Kevin kregel edges the shuttle slowly towards the satellite.
I can recall calling out to Kevin, "okay, the satellite is aft about 5 feet.
" He would fire the jets and move us back a little bit.
" Kregel inches the shuttle alongside spartan.
It is now within touching distance.
I then gave takeo the cues that we had practiced.
Instantly, you can feel all of that mass.
I knew i had a hand full of 3,000 pounds' worth of structure.
Scott and doi may have hold of the satellite, but it is far from under control.
But now we have to change our hand position so that we can manipulate this satellite to the one orientation that would allow us to lock it into the bay, because 3,000 pounds of mass could easily go out of control on you.
Inch by inch, they rotate it into place.
It takes three hours before it is secure inside the payload bay.
We could have very easily shied away from it.
But that wasn't his nature.
That's not my nature.
That's not the nature of astronauts.
A post-flight investigation exonerates rookie astronaut kalpana chawla of any blame.
It was a software glitch.
There was nothing that chawla could have done.
Spartan eventually returns to space, where it continues to keep watch on our sun.
Up next, terrified Roman soldiers report seeing two moons in the sky.
Obviously, that's impossible.
So, what are these guys looking at? Was it a portent to apocalypse, or did earth really once have two moons? 217 b.
The Roman republic is in the midst of a bloody war with carthage.
Witnesses at the Roman city of capena report seeing something that defies belief.
There's reports of eyewitnesses observing two moons rising in the sky.
If you see two moons in the sky appear all of a sudden, um, you're gonna be pretty shocked.
The romans take the sightings as a portent of doom.
Can you imagine as a soldier marching into battle and seeing two moons rising in the sky? That's a terrible omen.
It could easily spell disaster.
Shortly after, the romans suffer their worst defeat of the war as two legions are ambushed and drowned on the banks of lake trasimene.
It looks like the omen came true.
But that's impossible.
Today, with modern science, we know it's not possible to have had two moons at that time.
So, what was going on? So, the question is, what were they seeing? Modern scientists know the ancient romans could not have seen a second moon in the sky.
But could they have seen a different celestial body, one linked to omens throughout history? Well, one idea is, it could have been a comet.
Before we understood their nature, comets were portents of doom because they came and went unexpectedly.
The characteristics of comets make them a promising candidate.
Comets are very bright.
They show up during daytime.
And they can get very large.
As a comet gets closer and closer to the sun, the radiation pressure from the sun heats it up and makes it essentially glow.
It gets brighter and brighter and brighter.
They also can stick around for many days.
Although comets have a distinctive tail, if observed from the right angle, they would be invisible.
If you see that from the front, you don't see the tail.
What you see is maybe the nucleus and the gases surrounding it.
So, to a Roman soldier out in the field, he could look up in the sky, and during daytime, and see the real moon, and then see this other object up there.
And it could look like a moon to him.
But that would mean that the comet was on a collision course with earth.
And none of the reports mention a cataclysmic impact.
So could the mysterious moon actually be a larger object but further away? Could it have been a planet? Well, we know that there are other planets visible at various points in time in the evening sky.
Could Mars look large enough to appear to be a second moon? In August 2003, Mars made its closest approach to the earth for nearly 60,000 years.
People expected to go out and see Mars in the sky almost the size of the full moon.
But sorry.
It was nothing like that.
Mars did look bigger than it ever had done before.
But it was still just a tiny speck of light.
Nobody would ever mistake that for a second moon.
No planet in our solar system could ever look large enough to be mistaken for a moon, even by superstitious romans.
But the earth once having a second moon is far from ridiculous.
The idea of having more than one moon in the sky is only odd on earth.
Many planets have multiple moons.
Jupiter and saturn have 60 moons.
In fact, it is possible that the sphere so familiar in our night sky started out as two separate moons.
The data suggests that in the ancient past, the earth was hit with an object the size of Mars.
And debris was thrown up around the earth that later coalesced to form the moon.
But it may have not coalesced into one object all at once.
What if it coalesced into two objects? Some scientists believe that two moons into one explains why one side of the moon is flat while the other bulges outwards.
We think that we ended up with a moon that's two objects that have now become one.
And that's why the crust on one side of the moon is very different from the crust on the other side.
But if earth did once have two moons, it was a very long time before the Roman sightings.
This process took place 4 billion years ago Millions and millions of years before the existence of the Roman republic.
There's no way that those soldiers saw any of this.
And that is just as well because if the moon had an identical twin, the combined gravitational forces would have horrifying consequences.
The effects on earth would be devastating.
You'd have tsunamis.
You'd have giant tidal waves.
The rotation of the earth would change.
You'd have atmospheric effects, huge storms.
This is something that we do not want to see.
But the romans are not alone.
Throughout history, there have been numerous reports of two moons.
No single explanation has been able to account for these dramatic sightings.
The mystery remains unexplained.
Coming up, a bomb explodes at the Atlanta Olympics.
We've got two people dead.
We've got over 100 injured.
We need to know who's responsible.
All police have to go on is a blurred video.
The footage, it was so poor quality, they couldn't match it up.
It's really hard to see what's going on.
But this evidence is key to the investigation.
Could NASA help catch the killer? July 1996.
And centennial park, Atlanta, is buzzing.
Summer Olympics were being held in Atlanta.
big event, as the Olympics are anytime.
[ Explosion ] An explosion rips through the crowd.
[ Sirens wailing ] The aftermath is devastating.
We've got two people dead.
We've got over 100 injured.
We need to know who's responsible.
The FBI is desperate to catch the murderer.
The eyes of the world were watching the Olympics in Atlanta.
This turned into one of the biggest manhunts in the FBI's history.
But the case is cracked by NASA's solar-imaging team.
FBI investigators are trying to track down the bomber who attacked the Atlanta Olympics.
But they have little to go on.
Just two short, shaky, handheld videos recorded by tourists at the scene before the disaster.
The full 13-second video remains under legal embargo.
But certain frames of the footage can still be shown.
In one clip, they spot a man on a bench with what looks like a backpack.
In another, they see a backpack abandoned under the bench.
But are the two packs one and the same? And if it is, is the backpack carrying the bomb? Two of the clips contain something really interesting.
But neither of the clips are clear.
The quality of the images were so poor, they couldn't match them up.
The FBI tries to clean up the pictures.
But its equipment just can't handle the poor image quality.
The bureau will have forensic capability.
And that includes trying to make the most of video evidence.
But they'd taken it as far as they could go.
It's enormously frustrating, from an investigative standpoint, to have video evidence that you can't use.
The FBI approaches NASA.
Perhaps their advanced imaging technology can succeed where the FBI has failed.
NASA's in the business of creating something from nothing.
They can look at the smallest bit of light coming from a distant galaxy and tease information out of that that helps us learn new science.
Investigators contact NASA astrophysicist David hathaway.
He's a solar astronomer who has spent 30 years using technology to improve images of solar activity on the sun.
We felt it was our duty.
Uh, but we also felt that we were doing something significant.
People died here.
And so we thought this was our chance to help justice be served.
The poor quality of the shaky footage pushes even NASA's technology to the limit.
We had 13 seconds of video, 400 frames of very dark, noisy, grainy video.
They enhance the image quality by isolating each frame.
Then they transform the 400 frames into one.
We knew from astronomy that the way you do this is to add them together.
You average the way hubble does when it looks at a distant galaxy.
It adds images together over days and days.
So we wanted to average them together.
And that would clean it up.
But the hubble space telescope is large, stable, and locked on to its target with pinpoint accuracy.
The problem with this video is that the cameraman was moving around.
He was zooming in and And shifting the camera around.
And so we had to take out all of those motions before we could add the images together.
David realizes that the task is beyond existing technology.
So he asked his colleagues to create new software to solve the problem.
We developed a computer program, a process for stabilizing and registering the images.
It did it by taking a key frame.
So, we decide, "all right, we want everything to match what we have in this one image in the middle.
" And it goes to each image and see how parts of the image are moved from one image to the next.
And from that, we can figure out mathematically how the image has gotten bigger or smaller, how it's rotated, how it's shifted.
They painstakingly adjust each image for size, position, and rotation to match the key image.
Frame by frame, they inch towards a clearer picture.
After spending months trying to develop this, when it finally worked and we get out this clean image, it was exhilarating.
Buried within the impenetrable shadows emerges something that looks suspiciously like a bomb.
NASA scientist David hathaway and his team have successfully cleaned up an image from the Atlanta bombing.
They hope it will help the FBI in its investigation.
The image was good enough that the FBI can now not only identify that it was a backpack, but that it was a military Alice pack used by branches of the military.
Crucially, they can see what's inside.
They were able to show that the backpack was actually an open-top backpack with thick wires coming out that actually turned out to be part of the bomb.
The bag is holding a 40-pound pipe bomb filled with nails.
Now NASA applies the same technique to the second piece of footage that links the backpack to its shadowy owner.
After we ran our process on this video, uh, you could make out that, in fact, yes, it's a figure sitting on the bench, backpack on his back, up against this wall.
Looks like he was wearing military gear, that he had a khaki shirt.
It looks like he's wearing a red beret.
Got dark shoes on.
And we could even figure out what his height was, estimate his weight, and even his shoe size.
The information we provided about the backpack were enough that the FBI could later identify who he was, found that he was associated with other bombings, and ultimately led to his arrest and incarceration.
The FBI arrest serial bomber Eric Rudolph.
Technology created to explore the solar system has brought a dangerous man to justice.
Hathaway and his team call it visar Video image stabilization and registration.
Visar was included on video-imaging work stations that were sold to hundreds of law-enforcement agencies across the U.
and around the world.
Visar will become a valuable tool against serious crime.
A photo taken on a NASA mission reveals something truly mystifying.
What kind of an object would look like that? We don't know.
It's extremely peculiar.
Could NASA be conducting a secret experiment? And here it is on NASA's own photograph Five disc-shaped craft.
And if it's not NASA, what else could be out there? What on earth could these things be? April 2001.
NASA astronauts traveling to the iss photograph our planet from a vantage point high in the earth's orbit.
People often ask us what we do in our spare time.
And not that we have that much spare time, but it's always We're always at the windows, looking out and taking photographs.
I took 10,000 photos myself.
And I've got some fantastic shots that i still look at.
one of the images shows an anomaly that defies explanation.
It sparks intense interest online.
one of the astronauts on board the shuttle snapped this photograph.
And it shows a very strange, exotic-looking object.
When the image is suddenly taken down from NASA's website, the blogosphere goes into meltdown.
The ufo community and conspiracy theorists often say that NASA hides evidence of an extraterrestrial presence.
When it disappeared, people asked the question, "what have you got to hide?" The photo reappears, but in a different section.
Perhaps these unidentified objects are part of an ongoing NASA project.
NASA are experimenting with inflatable, segmented habitation units for the iss.
Could that be what we're seeing? NASA has recently tested the bigelow expandable activity module, a new kind of habitat in space.
This isn't a case of, "someday we'll have designs that look sort of like this.
" We actually have modules floating in the sky right now.
In fact, the shape of the objects in the image bear a striking resemblance to NASA-style modules used in cutting-edge spaceship design.
When you link a few of these modules together and you get just the right picture with just the right light conditions, well, it begins to look like this.
Yet when the exact details behind the experiment are scrutinized, the inflatable habitat theory deflates.
This technology does not explain what we're seeing in this picture.
The picture shows five modules connected together.
We only actually have one in orbit.
Mark d'Antonio studies the image more closely.
It opens a new line of investigation.
If we go over to the object, we can see something amazing.
The light is wrong.
It's not right.
This may not be something in orbit.
Mark has noticed that the shadows are in the wrong place to be cast by light from the sun.
Perhaps the strange objects are a lot closer to the shuttle than anyone had realized.
I think that what we're looking at is very likely something on the window.
Now, what could that something be? The answer has terrifying implications.
Well, if that was actually from a micrometeorite or a piece of debris in space hitting the window at a very shallow angle, it might have skipped across the window like skipping stone skips across the water, leaving a little series of little pits.
This is a piece of debris that's no bigger than a grain of salt.
But when things are going that fast, they don't have to be very big in order to deliver a fatal blow to your equipment.
In low earth orbit, you're traveling at a speed of around 17,500 miles an hour, or about 25,000 kilometers an hour.
And so, you know, what you worry about are the crossing pieces that come and hit you.
It's an interesting theory.
But no one is sure if it's the answer.
Given the difficulties of assessing the true nature of objects in space, judging sizes and distance, and given that NASA haven't commented officially on this, the incident remains unexplained.
Up next, when the planet hunter telescope suddenly goes offline Kepler's not talking to anybody.
For all intents and purposes, it might as well be dead.
Could foul play be to blame? Could there be someone that didn't like kepler peeking in on them? March 2009.
NASA launches the $600-million kepler telescope to search for new, distant worlds.
It was designed to find out how many planets out there, around stars like the sun, are planets sort of like the earth? Nicknamed the "planet hunter," kepler discovers nearly 5,000 worlds in an unexplored section of the milky way.
It's finding planets that are about the size of the earth and at a temperature where you could have liquid oceans, maybe an atmosphere.
But in April 2016, the planet hunter does something completely unexpected.
All hell breaks loose.
Kepler is in emergency mode.
Kepler has never gone into emergency mode.
And it's just doing all it can do just to maintain communication.
When you get that emergency signal at mission control, it's like a black cloud has descended over it.
This is the news nobody wants to hear.
Why has NASA's planet hunter gone down? Stuck in emergency mode, NASA's kepler telescope starts to burn through its hydrazine fuel supply at an alarming rate.
It's running on reserve power.
That's not gonna last very long.
The clock is ticking, and we must solve this problem.
With time running out, NASA commandeers the deep space network.
Can this cluster of powerful satellites help regain contact with kepler? Deep space network is based in the mojave desert in California, where NASA has one of the largest radio telescopes in the world.
It's a 70-meter dish.
And it can communicate with kepler where nothing else can.
Finally, the planet hunter answers.
But hope is short-lived.
Kepler refuses to budge from emergency mode.
And NASA doesn't know why.
Are sinister forces at work? There have been several attempts to interfere and hack into NASA spacecraft.
Just as other nations can hack the U.
power grid or our companies, you can also hack satellites.
Did somebody hack kepler? Did a unfriendly foreign nation try to break into it? What happened that put kepler into the position that it's in now? Some suspect that the new space race to Mars has inspired the return to old cold-war tactics.
In 2011, when the Russian Mars probe fobos-grunt spun out of control, Russian space chief Vladimir popovkin accused America of remotely reprogramming the probe.
But NASA analysts are unconvinced the kepler fault is the result of any terrestrial saboteur.
Why would anybody want to interfere with kepler? It's looking deep, deep, deep into space at faraway stars.
It's not like it's a military satellite.
Kepler is designed to find alien planets.
Could there be someone that didn't like kepler peeking in on them? Given that kepler has found thousands of planet candidates, it could have found an inhabited one.
We don't know.
Burning fuel and drifting deeper into space, the planet hunter is rapidly slipping away.
If mission engineers can't get kepler out of emergency mode, k2 is over.
Kepler is dead.
The engineers have one last chance.
As kepler's antennae spin to face the earth, they send the abort code and order kepler to purge its telemetry data.
Then they begin to upload a new command sequence.
After days of hard work by mission engineers at NASA, ball aerospace, and the university of Colorado, kepler is brought back online.
As mysteriously as it went dead, kepler comes back to life.
And no one knows why.
Mission engineers try to find out what happened to kepler that knocked it into emergency mode.
Even after studying its mission logs, NASA is unable to discover what went wrong with the satellite.
To this day, kepler's breakdown remains a mystery.
But at least the planet hunter is back online and finding new worlds.
Kepler is still out there, still hunting for planets.
With any luck, it'll be doing that for years to come.