Monday, December 31, 2012

Dark Side

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a spectacular shot from our ambassador to Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft (still operating!!!). Saturn's rings from their "dark side".

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Maps

Quite possibly the most unrealistic fantasy setting of all, wouldn't you agree?

Addendum: Is there a New Zealand version of this? It would be more appropriate, from a (ahem) cinematic approach.
No Boom Today. Boom Tomorrow. There's Always a Boom Tomorrow.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows doomed star Eta Carinae. As far as we know, it hasn't gone "boom" yet, but it seems a candidate...today...tomorrow...or a million years from now.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hot Cup of Joe

It turns out they didn't want the xenomorphs for the bioweapons division after all.
Drop Test

Orion's parachutes undergo a drop test in this image.
Ion

Another picture from NASA's Large Image Gallery: NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster has operated over 43,000 hours in tests. Can't wait to see this one deployed in the future!
Composite

NASA's Large Image Gallery presents NGC 3627, a "stacked" image combining visible and x-ray shots to show how high-energy x-ray sources line up with what we can see with our eyes.
Runaways

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Zeta Ophiuchi, a massive star that is moving at a clip of 24 kilometers per second through the Milky Way. This results in the "bow shock" of gas seen in the image.

Fast moving star? Bow shock? Hmmm....Jack Williamson anyone? Or Gregory Benford?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Layers

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a beautiful shot of emission nebula (NGC 6188 and NGC 6164) in the southern constellation of Ara. Emission nebula have always been my favorite sights, especially for long-term exposure shots, ever since I first came across them. It is amazing to think of the beautiful (and blurry; and often only black-and-white) photographs of my misbegotten youth vs. the beautifully textured and detailed photographs of today.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Collected Shorts of Arthur C. Clarke

I first encountered Arthur C. Clarke pretty early on in reading books beyond the "Dick and Jane" stage. My first "big kid" book was not science fiction (it actually was a mystery adventure and I wish I could find it!), but the second was (Rocket to Limbo by Alan E. Nourse). Arthur C. Clarke was soon after with Islands in the Sky (part of the wonderful John C. Winston Books "juvenile science fiction series"), Sands of Mars and Dolphin Island. That was all there was in the children's section of the library in my town. Then a friend told me about a movie that was coming out, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how the book was written by Arthur C. Clarke. I went to the library and found it...in the adult section. There were science fiction books in the adult section? Off to the races!

His short stories were a pretty early encounter, mostly in the collections Tales from Ten Worlds and The Other Side of the Sky. Eventually, after moving, I found additional collections such as Expedition to Earth, Reach for Tomorrow, The Nine Billion Names of God, The Wind from the Sun and Tales from the 'White Hart'. Luckily, Clarke was pretty easy to find, given the popularity of 2001: A Space Odyssey (both the movie and the book), leading to a pretty steady series of reprints of all his fiction (and many of his non-fiction works).

With his death in 2008, his books fell out of print and became scarcer and scarcer in the bookstores. There had been some eBook editions, nowhere near a complete set, and even they were withdrawn as rights were lost and his estate seemed to retreat.

Luckily, that was only temporary. A few weeks ago came the announcement that his books were coming back into "print" as electronic editions. So far it appears to be only his fictional works (I hope that at least his essays come back into print as well!), including most (not quite all!) of his short work in a series of collections.

Most but not all, as I said above. There are a few later short works missing, but only a very few. On the plus side, several items that are rarely seen are included in these collections: the original shorter versions of Earthlight and The Deep Range and what became the first part of Childhood's End, as well as The Lion of Comarre, generally only found in a omnibus that the Science Fiction Book Club made extensive use of (containing also the similarly-themed Against the Fall of Night).

Volume 01: History Lesson (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795325045; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Introduction (author unknown); Foreword; Travel By Wire!; How We Went to Mars; Retreat from Earth; Reverie (not previously collected); The Awakening; Whacky; Loophole; Rescue Party; Technical Error; Castaway; The Fires Within; Inheritence; Nightfall; History Lesson; Transience; The Wall of Darkness; The Lion of Comarre (previously only available in a small omnibus of The Lion of Comarre/Against the Fall of Night); The Forgotten Enemy; Hide-and-Seek; Breaking Strain; Nemesis; Guardian Angel (later part of Childhood's End); Time's Arrow; A Walk in the Dark; Silence Please; Trouble with the Natives; The Road to the Sea.

Counts as twenty-nine (29) entries in 2012: The Year in Shorts.

With this collection of the early works by Clarke, it is clear to see how much H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon, two author's who are often cited, influenced him. What is also clear is a name that is not often as mentioned: John W. Campbell, Jr., especially when he was writing under the pseudonym of Don A. Stuart. From Wells he got his style and from Stapledon he got his feeling for deep time. From "Stuart", I think he got a sense of loss, a feeling so clearly felt in stories

It's interesting here to see the genesis of some ideas that echo throughout his career. There are even some "retreads" of a sort: The Awakening and Nemesis both spring from the same root and even share the same passages at times, but have different endings. The same is true of Rescue Party and History Lesson, with the differences being wider. The stories that show the Stuart influence the most include the aforementioned The Lion of Comarre, The Wall of Darkness and Retreat from Earth. The earliest tales in the collection are the weakest (and only for a completist), but it is interesting to see how many stories that are known as Clarke's best were written so early on.

If there is one irritation in this collection (and the others that follow) it is that the person who wrote the introduction is not credited! What the heck, Rosetta?

Volume 02: The Sentinel (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795329050; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Introduction (author unknown); The Sentinel; Holiday on the Moon; Earthlight (original novelette version); Second Dawn; Superiority; "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth..."; All the Time in the World; The Nine Billion Names of God; The Possessed; The Parasite; Jupiter Five; Encounter in the Dawn; The Other Tiger; Publicity Campaign; Armaments Race; The Deep Range (original novelette version); No Morning After; Big Game Hunt; Patent Pending; Refugee.

Counts as twenty-one (21) entries in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

The quality of the stories improves in this collection, with only Holiday on the Moon being weak (probably the reason I never encountered it before). Clarke moves into Twilight Zone territory with a couple of these stories such as The Parasite, Publicity Campaign and Armaments Race. And we've got the genesis of two of my favorite novels by him: Earthlight and The Deep Range.

Volume 03: The Star (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795329081; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Introduction (author unknown); The Star; What Goes Up...; Venture to the Moon (made up of: The Starting Line, Robin Hood F.R.S., Green Fingers, All That Glitters, Watch This Space, A Question of Residence); The Pacifist; The Reluctant Orchid; Moving Spirit; The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch; The Ultimate Melody; The Next Tenants; Cold War; Sleeping Beauty; Security Check; The Man Who Ploughed the Sea; Critical Mass; The Other Side of the Sky (made up of: Special Delivery, Feathered Friend, Take a Deep Breath, Freedom of Space, Passer-By, The Call of the Stars); Let There Be Light; Out of the Sun; Cosmic Casanova; The Songs of Distant Earth (original short story version); A Slight Case of Sunstroke; Who's There?; Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Orbiting...; I Remember Babylon; Trouble With Time; Into the Comet; Summertime on Icarus; Saturn Rising; Death and the Senator.

Counts as twenty-nine (29) entries in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

The last of Clarke's pre-space age stories. Most of these are set in the White Hart, Clarke's fictional bar (much like Gavagan's Bar of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt or Lord Dunsany's tales told by Jorkens in the Billiards Club), where Harry Purvis spun tales which may or may not have been true to an audience that included various science and science fictional characters, including Clarke himself (both named and as "Charles Willis). Venture to the Moon and The Other Side of the Sky are a series of linked shorter works written for the popular (non SFnal) audience. Some of the best here include Out of the Sun (shows very clearly the effect of Olaf Stapledon on Clarke), The Songs of Distant Earth (which later was expanded into novel length), I Remember Babylon (marred in this edition by some very annoying typographical errors), Into the Comet and Saturn Rising. I especially recommend the later to those who say that Clarke never could write about a character or with emotion!

Volume 04: A Meeting With Medusa (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795329111; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Introduction (author unknown); Before Eden; Hate; Love That Universe; Dog Star; Maelstrom II; An Ape Around the House; The Shining Ones; The Secret; Dial F for Frankenstein; The Wind from the Sun; The Food of the Gods; The Last Command; Light of Darkness; The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told; Playback; The Cruel Sky; Herbert George Morley Robert Wells, Esq.; Crusade; Neutron Tide; Reunion; Transit of Earth; A Meeting with Medusa; Quarantine; siseneG; The Steam-Powered Word Processor); Old Golden Seas; The Hammer of God (original short story version); The Wire Continuum (w/Stephen Baxter); Improving the Neighborhood.

And with this volume, except for a few scattered stories (one, for example, included in an out-of-print collection of otherwise non-fiction essays), we come to the final installment of Clarke's shorter work. This volume was a real mixed bag of the good and the bad. Stories like The Wind from the Sun, The Cruel Sky, Transit of Earth and A Meeting with Medusa show Clarke at the height of his abilities as a author of short works. On the other hand, during this period he received a lot of requests for short stories and would often dash off bits of "humour" that have not really stood the test of tme (The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told). More than worth it for those gems, though.

Counts as thirty (30) entries in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

Addendum: In addition to these new collections, a couple of Clarke's older collections came back into (electronic) print. I'm not sure why these were published and not others (or not all others), but here they are. I'll be reading only the introductory materials (if any) for these collections, given they are all part of the other (newer) collections).

Expedition to Earth (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795325373; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Second Dawn; "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth..."; Breaking Strain; History Lesson; Superiority; Exile of the Eons; Hide and Seek; Expedition to Earth; Loophole; Inheritance; The Sentinel.

Reach for Tomorrow (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795325731; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Preface; Rescue Party; A Walk in the Dark; The Forgotten Enemy; Techical Error; The Parasite; The Fires Within; The Awakening; Trouble with the Natives; The Curse; Time's Arrow; Jupiter Five; The Possessed

Counts as one (01) entry in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

Tales from the "White Hart" (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795325885; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Preface; Silence Please; Big Game Hunt; Patent Pending; Armaments Race; Critical Mass; The Ultimate Melody; The Pacifist; The Next Tenants; Moving Spirit; The Man Who Ploughed the Sea; The Reluctant Orchid; Cold War; What Goes Up; Sleeping Beauty; The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch.

Counts as one (01) entry in 2013: The Year in Shorts.
In the Nest

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a self-portrait of the newest visitor to the Red Planet Mars: MSL Curiosity, taking a drive along a "sandy beach".

Addendum: NASA's "large image" gallery has also posted this.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Borderlands

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a hypothetical view of Makemake, one of many Kuiper Belt objects at the borders of our Solar System.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Oh Wintry Night

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a wonderful night shot of Yosemite in winter. Merry Christmas, one and all!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Horns of the Bull

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of the Hyades star cluster, probably better known as the horns of Taurus the Bull. "Mouseover" the image to get a constellation outline and guide to what else is visible.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Speaking in Tongues

Can a language be invented?

Well, sure, we do it all the time. Every language that we speak was invented, out of earlier fragments. Computer languages are invented all the time as well, but I don't know too many people that "speak" them.

Can a language be manufactured from scratch?

Sure, why not. I think it'd be hard to come up with one that did not have at least some baggage from previous languages. Then you've got the problem of creep, how would you keep other languages from "contaminating" the manufactured language?

Can a manufactured language succeed?

Aye, there's the rub. We've had invented languages in the past. Esperanto, for one. Some felt that if the world would speak Esperanto, we'd have peace as we'd all really understand each other. Today how many people have heard of Esperanto (let alone speak it)?

Can an artificial language lead to utopia? I don't think so, but people who try this are worthy of attention.
Giving Head

David F. Dufty; How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick's Robotic Resurrection (Henry Holt; 2012; eISBN 978-0-8050-9557-9; cover artist not indicated).

This slim tome is an account of the project to build a android replica of famous genre author Philip K. Dick as a means to explore artificial intelligence and methods of making androids. I've written about this in the past, the story of the android head and how it went astray is pretty well-known at this point.

Given that Dick wrote about (among many things) artificial intelligence and what it means to be "human", and has attracted a pretty wide following, it is not surprising that the team that put together the android chose him as their subject. The book does a fairly good job of outlining the (sometimes pretty haphazard and crazy) process of designing, building and showing the android to the public.

Dufty's writing doesn't really come alive, alas, except for a few places. In one, Dick's children "meet" the android. In another, a little girl and her father ask the android some questions. The android's operating system coughs a bit, but manages to answer in an almost creepily alive fashion.

The book seems unfocused at times, going from technical to popular. Perhaps more of a steady course would have resulted in a better overall work.
The Eternal Quest

Nevin Martell; Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip (The Continuum International Publishing Group; 2009; ISBN 978-0-82642-984-1; cover artist not indicated).

While I am still not much of a comic book reader, I have had a long love of comic strips, starting with Prince Valiant and Peanuts and Dick Tracy (my grandfather worked for The (New York) Daily News, and would bring home the Sunday comics for us ahead of the print run). In college, Doonesbury was all the rage. Far Side adorned my desk calendar and my coffee mug for a time.

And then there was Calvin & Hobbes. The ongoing adventures of a small boy and his stuffed pet tiger (who, depending on your point of view, was either alive or still a toy) as they battle against the forces of education, parents, neighborhood kids and more. For years, it was one of the first things I turned to. I bought the collections (now firmly in the hands of my daughter, as big a fan as I ever was), clipped strips and laughed.

Then the strip paused...for a sabbatical. It came back and then...retired.

What happened? Why did Watterson, at the top of the syndicated world, leave?

These same questions bothered Nevin Martell and he set out to try to figure out what had happened. His quest led him throughout dusty archives of newspapers where Watterson had his start, to people Watterson had worked with and the syndicate that distributed the strip. Over the course of the quest he tried (on multiple occasions) to get an interview with Watterson himself, both to learn the reasons behind the departure and to show that people out there still missed the strip.

Martell learns a lot on his way and the quest is an interesting one. Without giving it all away, spoilers, sweetie, he mostly succeeds but is left with as many questions (in some respects) as he started with.

Will Calvin & Hobbes ever appear again? Martell's picture of Watterson paints the picture of a creator who just wanted to create...exist in a bubble, isolated from the public. Too bad he could not find a balance!

Recommended.
The Longest Night

Jeff Patterson; The Solstice Chronicles (Bad Day Studios; 2011; ASIN B007TXXLD4; cover by Jeff Patterson.

Caveat emptor: Jeff and I have known each other, electronically, for many years. I have been a visitor to his website Gravity Lens (part of the Bad Day Studio empire) for far longer than I can remember (10 years?). He and I appear on the SF Signal podcast, where we fill the roles of Statler and Waldorf, sitting up in the balcony and being cranky to the other participants. (It is often hinted that if a third SF Signal Irregular, John H. Stevens, were to appear on the podcast when we both were on it would be the equivalent of crossing the streams and the universe would go poof.)

Jeff has had the habit of issuing a short story each year themed around the holiday "season" (Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Black Friday, take your pick or insert your own!). They are all somewhat to extremely fantastic in nature (fantasy or science fiction elements abound), sometimes sad, usually funny. Particular favorites here are The Snowman's Tale (what happens when you build a snowman on a moon of Jupiter), Eating at Joe's (food in space and the ultimate evil), Snowbane (Crom!), and Trajectories (might be my favorite in the collection). Jeff shows his deep reading of several genres and his obsessive immersion in news, science, "futurism" and more, working elements he picks up into the stories. Short tales...lots of ideas, a great mix for the longest night of the year.

Recommended!

Made up of: Foreword: 'Tis the Season; In the Valley of Years; In the Orchard of the Ancients; In the Citadel of the Solstice; In the City of Winter's Reign; In the Last Days of the Age; World Without Holidays; Thrilling Holiday Tales; One of the Family; Coin of the Realm; The Snowman's Tale; Eating at Joe's Snowbane; The Harbinger of All Things Glorious; Trajectories; On This Longest Night; Roadside Ephiphanies; Candle Gardens; Notes.

Counts as nineteen (19) entries in 2012: The Year in Shorts.
Another Great Comet?

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. Even from my light-soaked skies, I could see this comet (for part of the viewing cycle, as I walked home from the bus from New York City in the evening...and for the other part of the viewing cycle, as I walked to the bus in the early morning—who says you can't do astronomy anywhere?)

Out in the deeper regions of our Solar System, another new comet has been seen that will pass "close" to us. Will 2013 be the year of another "Great Comet"?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ornament

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Saturn from it's night side. Wouldn't that be a nice ornament for your tree? Courtesy of the (still operating!!!) Cassini orbiter.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Orion in the End Days

Is this it? Is this the end times? Are we all shuffling off the mortal coil? In today's Astronomy Picture of the Day...not so much.

See you tomorrow!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Howdy, Neighbor!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of M33, the Pinwheel Galaxy or Triangulum Galaxy. One of our nearest galactic neighbors, at a mere 50,000 light years distance, it is thought to be a "satellite" of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Material Outflow

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a Hubble Space Telescope image of planetary nebula NGC 5189 (located in Musca, The Fly Constellation). Beautiful plumage!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pillar

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a sun pillar (ice crystals reflecting sunlight, to create a column) in Sweden. Ahhh, ligonberries...

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review: Jeff Foust reviews Last Launch, a look at the final shuttle flights. Michael Listner looks at liability and space debris (second part, first part found here). Dwayne Day looks at the best of times, the worst of times: are our efforts to explore on the decline, the rise or doing just fine? Jeff Foust looks at NASA's role in the 21st century (if any).
Collisional Galaxy

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 922 in the constellation of Fornax. NGC 922 has been distorted as the result of a collision with another galaxy; this image is a combination of a visible light shot (taken by the Hubble Space Telescope) and an x-ray shot (taken by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory) that shows the "shocking" resulting from the merger.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Hip to be Square

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the so-called Red Square Nebula (the reason for the name is clear!). Almost as interesting as the shape is what might be...are we seeing a star that will someday go supernova?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Cat Came Back

Patrick Hester; Conversations With My Cat (2012; ASIN B00AEV29Q8; cover artist unknown).

Caveat 01: I work with Patrick, on occasion, on the SF Signal podcast. Caveat 02: I was always amused by the postings he made on his blog about his cat, so I would have bought the book anyway even if I didn't work with him on the podcast!

Patrick owns two cats. Or...is it the other way around? Most cat owners would assert that the cat owns you and there is certainly plenty of evidence to that effect in here. Plus humor. G-rated, PG-rated, but humor. If you are looking for a chuckle (or five, hence my Amazon rating), I recommend picking this up.

Now, I'm back to my magnum opus, Conversations With My Dog...
Radiants

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a nice depiction of the so-called "radiant" during a meteor shower. Showers (swarms) follow set paths (orbits) around the Solar System, ticking away on their Newtonian-derived tracks. When we intersect those paths on our journey, we seem to encounter the meteors coming from the same constellations (hence, Geminids, Taurids, etc.). Meteors will fall from "around" that constellation, from a central point or radiant. A time-lapse photograph like this is a nice demonstration.

As for me, I only spotted three Geminids. Damn light-polluted skies.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Small World

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a group of people gathered to observe the recent Australian solar eclipse. The picture was done using the "little planet projection" method, resulting in a large crowd...on a small planet.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Taurus-Littrow Red-Green

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a 3D image from the window of LM Challenger as it orbited the Moon during the Apollo 17 mission. If you look carefully, you can see CM America in the distance.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gnashing of Teeth

Christopher Tolkien is back again, ahead of the opening of The Hobbit (first of three...ummm...really?). Having beat this dead horse into the ground with the original movies, he kicks it again. Literary defense or bitter tears that his father sold so many rights years ago?
Java Junkie

Momma said there'd be days like this.

THE JAVA MONKEY! Aiiii!!!!!
Archway

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a beautiful shot of the Milky Way, reaching over the quiver trees of southern Namibia.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nursery Crymes

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is an image from the venerable Hubble Space Telescope. Our gaze is fixed on NGC 604, a dense star-forming region found in M33, one of our "nearby" neighbor galaxies.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review, a couple of items of interest: NASA announces another Mars rover and Pat Nealon speculates as to the reasons. Jeff Foust looks at Golden Spike and their efforts to go back to the Moon. Jason Catanzariti interviews Harrison ("Jack") Schmitt about training for Apollo.
Shadow Walk

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video showing the sweep of the lunar shadow across the landscape during the recent solar eclipse in Australia.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sir Patrick

News is trickling in that Sir Patrick Moore has died during the night. Long known in the United Kingdom as the host of The Sky at Night television show, he was an active amateur astronomer, promoter of the hobby, holder of controversial views about the Moon and an endless enthusiast.

Some of my earliest reading on astronomy were his books such as Guide to the Moon, his books on equipment and techniques and his books about the planets. He was one of the people that got me started in a life-long interest. He later headed up a series of books on techniques that continued to get people interested in the field and was the author of the so-called "Caldwell Catalog", designed as a observing project to interest people in deep-sky objects.
Capture!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows astronaut Dale A. Gardner flying free of space shuttle Discovery in order to capture the malfunctioning Westar 6 Communications Satellite. A great potential use of the space shuttles, not really used effectively as the cost of the shuttle never dropped to "operational" levels. We still haven't reached the point of sending up the Toybox in order to clear our skies of garbage.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Moonlapse

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a timelapse shot showing the full Moon rising.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Boom Today?

Possible meteor (or pretty big space junk) fall reported in Texas. Interesting map graphic here.

'Ware pods.
Back to the Future

Visions of Lagrange Points dance in my head. Slate hauls out the paintings by Don Davis of proposed O'Neil cylinder colonies.
Last to the Moon

A spectacular shot of the night launch of Apollo 17, which carried the last (to date!) humans to the Moon. I remember staying up to watch it. The launch was delayed, so I stayed up later until it lit the sky up. The first mission to carry a scientist, the longest stay on the Moon, some of the most spectacular vistas (but Apollo 15 and 16 both landed in amazing areas).

I even made an audio recording of the launch. But, like many a sad tale of a baseball card collection, it was tossed while I was away at college.
Our Crowded Skies

Every wonder why you see fewer and fewer stars at night? Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows you why: look at all the photons we pump UP to the skies, scattering hither and yon, and washing out those few photons that are sent down.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Head Shots

Every zombie. Every weapon. Broken down by every character. As The Walking Dead takes it's mid-season break, a breakdown of zombie kills.
A Good Walk Ruined

This is a pretty interesting story. What would you take with you if you were going on a walking journey expected to last for seven years and 22,000 miles?
Cluster (Still No Eno)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a wonderful "amateur" shot of 47 Tuc, in the region of the Small Magellanic Cloud. 47 Tuc is a wonderful example of a globular cluster.

Richard Feynman once said in response to a picture of Messier 2, another globular cluster:

"He who cannot see gravity at work here has no soul."

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Starship Dimensions

This wonderful site is back! Thanks to Winchell Chung for sending me the link. How big is big (especially in science fiction)? Take a look at how your favorite vessels compare to each other.
The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review, we find: Dwayne Day looking at the "egolauncher", or Stratolaunch. Too big...has failed? Jeff Foust looks at the quiet cancellation of NASA's nanosat competition. Derek Webber talks about the "s word". No, not the one you're thinking of. And Jeff Foust discusses the "overview effect", the change in perception of our home sphere if viewed from space.
Cover Story

Images of cover art for the non-fiction books published by Pelican Books from the 1930's to the 1980's. I had a few of those on my shelves!
Bullet Time!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows plasma jets shooting from galaxy Hercules A out into intergalactic space. The result of a central black hole? Or something more sinister? The Medusae? The Boskonians? Or worse????

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

More Androids. More Dreams.

More adaptions of the work of Philip K. Dick are heading to the screen. How faithful will the films (if they are made) of The Man in the High Castle or Ubik be (the other titles are much more minor works)?

And let's hope that Ridley Scott's ramblings about connecting the Alien-verse with the Bladerunner-verse do not come to pass!

Addendum: Ramblings on Bladerunner. New issue of PKD Otaku out now. That damn movie has been out for THIRTY years?
Pies Are Square

I like pie? Do you like pie?
SSTO

The Sabre engine for the proposed Skylon space plane has passed its latest series of tests. The ESA is backing this proposed vehicle.
Typhoon

A view of Super Typhoon Bopha as seen from the ISS.
Assumptions

Kerry Packer decide to give himself a winning edge by hiring three experts to come up with a guaranteed strategy for gambling on horse racing.

The first expert is a Nobel Prize winner in physiology. After three months he reports in: "I'm sorry Mr Packer, I've studied everything relevant in the fields of genetics, biochemistry and horse physiology, and I'm afraid there's just no way to be certain which horse will win a given race." Disappointed, Kerry Packer has one of his editors throw the physiologist into the street.

After six months the next expert, a Fields Medal-winning mathematician, contacts Kerry Packer. "I'm sorry, Mr Packer, I worked our supercomputer around the clock performing statistical analyses, I employed fractal metapermutational series in n-dimensional hypermatrices, I applied every possible arcane technique... there's just no mathematical way to pick the winning horse." Enraged, Kerry Packer has another one of his editors rough up the mathematician and throw him into the street.

The great man has all but given up on his dream, but after twelve he is told that the third expert, an esteemed physicist, has found the solution and is ready to report the secret.

"So after a year, you've found the winning formula," says Mr Packer.

"I have," replies the physicist. "Actually, I had the answer after a few weeks. I've just been working through some interesting ramifications of the theory."

"But it's absolutely certain," says Mr Packer, "100% guaranteed? You can pick the winning horse every time?"

"Oh yes," says the physicist. "The theory is absolutely solid."

"You bloody beauty!" says Packer. "What's the formula?"

"Well, first we assume that the horses are perfectly spherical and moving in a vacuum at the speed of light..."

(For this joke it helps to know that Kerry Packer was a billionaire media
mogul who loved to gamble but hated to lose.)
Tarot Roots

A 400-year-old deck of gilded playing cards. Figures depicted as classical Romans. Passed from collector to collector. Potentially had poisoned its maker. Sounds like the basis for a Tim Powers or Edward Whittemore novel!
MegaStorm

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us a mega-storm. Not Hurricane Sandy; no, this is a storm that is located at the north pole (as it were) of Saturn. This enormous storm is dwarfed by others, for example, The Great Red Spot on Saturn's neighbor, Jupiter.

Monday, December 03, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Month

Settle down around the crackling fire and crack open the newest issue of Dave Langford's Ansible! What wonders will you behold?

Robert McCrum enjoyed himself by bashing every genre he could think of, each described as some kind of 'lit' (chick lit, ghost lit, gran lit, erotic lit etc; naturally only lit lit gets a free pass) except for ours: 'Science fiction is the cockroach in the house of books: it survives on scraps and never goes away. Occasionally, as in the work of HG Wells and JG Ballard, it becomes sublime.' (Guardian, 19 November) [AMB]

Spung in a Cold Climate Dept. 'His nipples were standing so erect they looked like little pink pencil erasers.' 'I looked down and noticed my own chest made it look like I was trying to smuggle candy corn out of the country, two at a time.' (Nancy A. Collins, Right Hand Magic, 2010) [CH]
A Complete Set

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows not just one, but four rings around the full Moon. The rings are caused by ice particles in the atmosphere; I've sometimes seen two rings, but never four!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Shine

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the gegenschein ("counter glow") over the skies of Chile. Contrary to what you'd expect, the sky is not darkest opposite the Sun; dust that collects in the solar system reflects light back and under good conditions (not in New Jersey!) you can bask in the reflected glory.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Our Wet Solar System

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a Mercury MESSENGER view of the north pole of Mercury. Where we appear to have found water. Water. On Mercury. The place where lead will melt and flow! Water!

Our solar system continues to amaze and surprise us!