Subscribe to receive SETI Institute news weekly in your inbox.

SETI Institute in the news July 11 - July 17, 2019

SETI Institute in the news July 11 - July 17, 2019

New Girl Scout Badges released in 2019
Girl Scouts Announces New Space Science Badges

Girl Scouts of the USA has announced 42 new badges focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Two outlets, Romper and Good Morning America, covered the story following a GSUSA press release. Each noted that the three space science badges were developed by SETI Institute and funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.The new badges designed for Girl Scouts in grades 6-12, are part of the SETI Institute’s Reaching for the Stars: NASA Science for Girl Scouts program. Last year, the space science badges were released for girls in grades K-5. Each badge was a collaboration with GSUSA, Girl Scouts of Northern California, and SETI Institute’s subject expert partners from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, ARIES Scientific, and University of Arizona, with funding from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. In a SETI Institute statement, Pamela Harman, Director of Education at the SETI Institute, Principal Investigator on the Girl Scouts Stars program, and Girl Scout alum, said:

“With more than 1.7 million Girl Scouts in the U.S., these new space science badges will inspire the next generation of female researchers and explorers to pursue education and careers in space-related sciences.”

Reaching for the Stars provides Girl Scouts with opportunities to engage in space exploration and astronomy in exciting and accessible ways. Learn more at

Image of Saturn's rings taken by the spacecraft CassiniSaturn’s Rings Teach Us About How the Solar System Formed

Research on the images captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided fresh insights into Saturn’s renowned rings. Researchers previously believed that the varying brightness of bands in the rings was due to differences in the density of the particles. But a closer analysis made possible by ring-skimming surveys paints a different picture.

Matthew Tiscareno  is a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute and was lead author of a study describing the new observations.  He noted, “We found a number of things that are new—a number of structures that we’d never been close enough to see before,” in a recent Eos article.

The new data tells us more about how the rings were formed, but it also offers a chance for scientists to better understand how the solar system began:

“Rings are our only natural laboratory to understand disk processes more generally,” says Tiscareno. “And that goes to understanding baby solar systems, which are disk systems where you have massive objects that are embedded in the disk.”

Analysis reveals that Saturn’s moons sculpted the rings in a way that could offer insight into how the protoplanetary disk was shaped into the solar system we call home.

Image of a UFO in spaceInternet Memes and Area 51 and UFO’s, Oh My!

Area 51 has been the focal point of conspiracy theories going back decades. Recently it was in the news after a joke Facebook event that called on people to “storm” the air force base en masse went viral. The secrecy surrounding the base, which was first used for testing a spy plane in the 1950s, makes it an easy target for claims of government cover-ups of alien visitation by the conspiracy-minded. Longtime alien-hunter and Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, Seth Shostak, told NBC News MACH he finds such claims wanting:

“Area 51, as a rationale in support of visiting aliens, is an argument from ignorance,” Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, said in an email. “Yes, Virginia, there really are extraterrestrials, but they’re in a place where you can’t see them. That’s not very convincing.”

Writing for S.F. Gate, Shostak found that many within the UFO community insist the evidence for alien visitors is abundant. Yet indisputable proof is only available to secretive government entities:

If extraterrestrial craft are really strafing the stratosphere, and in numbers sufficient to cause roughly ten thousand citizen reports annually in the U.S. alone, then why must we throw up our hands and claim "only the government can prove it's true"? What about the hundreds of thousands of amateur astronomers who avidly observe the sky on clear nights, but don't seem to see any mysterious flying objects? … if this phenomenon can only be proven with "better equipment," then that's not only a suspiciously convenient argument, it also degrades any claim that the countless saucer photos offered to the public for the past seven decades should be taken seriously.

Shostak pulls no punches, saying, “That's both an unconvincing argument and a mentally lazy one.”

Big Picture Science

In last week’s episode, discover new ways to appreciate math in Math’s Paths. In our previous week’s episode, DNA is no longer a fait accompli in an encore episode of DNA Is Not Destiny.

Facebook Live

Last time on Facebook Live, the SETI Institute’s Director of Education, Pamela Harman, discussed the release of three new space science badges for the Girl Scouts as part of the Institute’s Reaching for the Stars: NASA Science for Girl Scouts program. Videos of all past Facebook Live events can be found on our Facebook page:

Recent Articles