Archive for January 2015

The Real Event of the Week   Leave a comment

While all eyes were on the nonevent taking place in the Hudson Valley of New York (and elsewhere), there was quite the show taking place above that taunting canopy of clouds.

That’s right, I’m talking about the flyby of Asteroid 2004 BL86.

This little world blasted past our very own Earth and if you were lucky and had the right viewing opportunities, you could see it.  I’d been hoping for a clear sky, as I’d been itching to take the new Celestron out behind the garage and see what I could see.  Alas, it wasn’t to be – clouds with a tiny sprinkling of snow dropping from them – but that hasn’t stopped my fascination with BL86.

Take a look at the NASA/JPL film I’ve enclosed with this blog, as well as this excellent link from the same source.  BL86 is a round asteroid with its own munchkin moon, which I find utterly charming.   That moon isn’t much larger than our back yard, and here it is, making a name for itself while partnering with BL86 as it graces our solar system.  True, it came within 745,000 miles/1.2 million kilometers of the Earth.  That only means it stayed far away enough to mind its own business yet close enough to give us a good flirt and a wink.

Can you imagine if you were one of the inhabitants of that tiny world?  How your view changes as the days whirr past while zipping through the solar system.  It’s almost as if it’s shouting “wheee!” as it goes on its tilted orbit around the sun, waving hello every now and again.

If you have enough patience to wait until 2027, there might be a second opportunity to see yet another asteroid, 1999 AN10, grace our planet with its near presence.  It, too, is expected to pass rather close…and raising the inevitable alarms that it has the potential to blast us out of existence.

Ah well.

Until then, keep your eyes to the skies, and always continue to be surprised!

 

Posted January 29, 2015 by seleneymoon in Nature, Planets, The Universe

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Ignored by Science Fiction   Leave a comment

primordial_soup

As one who pays attention to these things, there are always topics and trends that crop up in science fiction that capture imaginations and remain hot for years.

For starters, let’s say anything to do with computers – a perennial favorite.

It seems the moment someone figured out how to put information into a machine and expected a result from doing so launched an endless parade of stories.  You got hacking films (take, for example, “Sneakers” to “Blackhat”), unfortunate, misleading games turning out to anything but innocent fun for kids with big ideas and little life experience (“War Games,” “Enders Game”), and even computer-generated lives influencing mortal ones (how can anyone forget “Max Headroom”?).

I’m guessing computers/computing kind of puts you in charge of the story, in a way.  As a writer, all one has to do is invent a directive without actually writing one for real.  So of course your story can have the main character develop a fantastic method of convincing every single stock broker in America to hand over 25% of profits and deposit the money in a Geneva bank, without question, just by writing a simple, foolproof code.  Then the main character goes off and gives all the money to charity instead of living high of the hog.  Now that, folks, would be real science fiction, because nothing like that ever happens in real life!

Other perennial favorites sci-fi topics (but not limited to) include:

  • Aliens attacking the Earth
  • Attractive aliens seducing Earthlings and making them do things (good and bad)
  • Human-looking people cavorting with otherworldly beings (and what category do they fit in?)
  • Nuclear accidents and other holocausts
  • Earth going bye-bye
  • Interplanetary hijinks and death battles
  • Every sort of space station on every kind of planet, moon and subspecies of galactic existence having issues of some sort
  • Weather (Earth and elsewhere) having a mind of its own
  • Time/space travel and its consequences (good and bad)
  • Beings simply not getting along and the often unfortunate circumstances that arise from said conflict
  • Brains – you name it

The mind has a reputation for possessing a fertile imagination.  I’d like to think I’m pretty good at dreaming up stuff.  I’ve had this blog for nearly a year and I kind of pinch myself when I notice how much I’ve managed to spew out.  And yeah, some of you might notice I started two chapters of a book on this site and left it alone for ages – sorry, had other things going on – but I’m not done there, so don’t worry.  So I’m putting together a list of topics I really haven’t seen any serious sci-fi author tackle yet.  Yes, I might be mistaken, and maybe I haven’t read the right books yet (and there is an endless supply of those, too), but here’s kind of a wish list for topics I’d like to either read or write about someday:

  • Brussel Sprouts and Liver – Moms terrorize children the planet over, forcing them to eat food they hate (vegan/vegetarian options welcome)
  • The Anti-Text – A 17-year-old girl has to live a full hour without her cell phone…and survive
  • Game Over – Professional gamers have to make do with “Pong”
  • XT/AT – Present-day programmers scramble to get work done with only 10/20K of memory and have to use Sideways to print their spreadsheets
  • Ink Link – Tats jump off of everyone who has one and take over the world, with both disastrous and comical results
  • We Get It – Men and women understand each other perfectly and respond to each other’s needs and wishes without fighting over who’s right or needier
  • Nice Day – The confusing, unfortunate results of continued pleasant weather, good-mannered people, well-paying jobs and general happiness
  • Netscape – People discover this is the only browser available and have only the “Surprise” button to use, and so experience wacky, madcap misadventures
  • Wait for No One – Serving staff goes on strike, coffee ceases to exist, coffee isn’t served anymore and the populace winds up jittery, angry and bitter
  • Misidentified Fruit – People mistakenly ingest innocent-looking but suspicious-behaving fruit and wind up encased in rock-heavy cakes everyone rejects when served up during the holidays

Anyway, I could go on.

What would you add?

Underserved topics of sci-fi, unite!

 

 

Analemma Dilemma   Leave a comment

Analemma_fishburn

Afternoon analemma photo taken in 1998-1999 by Jack Fishburn in Murray Hill, NJ.  Bell Laboratories building in foreground

Have you ever noticed in the mornings, from about mid-December to around mid-January that the sun rises the same time every day?  Even though the time of the setting sun changes, the dawn keeps breaking at 7:21 am (or whatever time your sun happens to rise, depending upon where in the world you live).  It’s as if it’s stuck, needing an extra nudge to get it moving.    Once again, from about mid-June to mid-July, the same thing happens with the sun once more.

As illustrated in the photo above, this phenomena is called an analemma.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as, “a plot or graph of the position of the sun in the sky at a certain time of day (as noon) at one locale measured throughout the year that has the shape of a figure 8; also  :  a scale (as on a globe or sundial) based on such a plot that shows the sun’s position for each day of the year or that allows local mean time to be determined.”

So, if one were to take a picture of the sun at the same time every day, from exactly the same position, you’d more or less wind up with a figure 8.  It’s proof that the Earth’s axis is tilted at 23.439°.  However, the angle at which it’s seen changes wherever one is located on Earth.  The above was taken at roughly 40° north.  Here is a picture taken at Veszprem, Hungary, which is latitude 47°:

analemma2010_ladanyi_c

Image Credit & CopyrightTamas Ladanyi – Analemma 2011 – taken at 9:00 am 

So at 47°, the sun’s angle’s a bit sharper.

Here’s an excellent link from the Washington Post that illustrates how the sun moves in the sky through the months.

And who can forget the moon?  Since it rises and sets, it too creates its own analemma.  However, the moon rises 51 minutes later every day, so in order to successfully photograph it, one has to take that into account.  Understanding that means the moon returns to the same position 51 minutes later, in accordance to its rising.  Still, with patience, one can create an excellent example of what the moon can do, although one has to also remember it has phases.  That creates a wonderful variety of shapes.  Here’s an example:

LunarAnalemma_richins_c72

Credit & Copyright: Rich Richins

Earth isn’t the only place where the analemma occurs.  Any planet where the sun shines also shares this perspective, although it’s teardrop shaped on Mars:

MarsAnalemma_Mammana720c

Digital Illustration Credit & Copyright: Dennis Mammana (Skyscapes)

Why the different shape?  Here’s the explanation from NASA:

“On planet Earth, an analemma is the figure-8 loop you get when you mark the position of the Sun at the same time each day throughout the year. But similarly marking the position of the Sun in the Martian sky would produce the simpler, stretched pear shape in this digital illustration, based on the Mars Pathfinder project’s famous Presidential Panorama view from the surface. The simulation shows the late afternoon Sun that would have been seen from the Sagan Memorial Station once every 30 Martian days (sols) beginning on Pathfinder’s Sol 24 (July 29, 1997). Slightly less bright, the simulated Sun is only about two thirds the size as seen from Earth, while the Martian dust, responsible for the reddish sky of Mars, also scatters some blue light around the solar disk.”

Each planet, given its north-south axis tilt and shape of its orbit, has its own analemma shape:

  • Mercury – nearly straight line
  • Venus – ellipse
  • Mars – teardrop (as illustrated above)
  • Jupiter – ellipse
  • Saturn – figure 8, but with tight northern loop
  • Uranus – figure 8
  • Neptune – figure 8

Let me add that you don’t necessarily need a camera to record the sun’s analemma.  Think back to the movie “Cast Away” wherein Tom Hanks marks on stone where the sun travels throughout the year.  You can make note by just looking out the window and the same time each day, seeing where the sun happens to be at the same time each day.  It’s pretty cool.  Try it!

Posted January 14, 2015 by seleneymoon in Moon, Nature, Planets, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Sun

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Best. Present. Ever.   Leave a comment

Celestron

Andrew’s wonderful Christmas present to me…

have to trumpet the best present I’ve ever longed for and received – a brand spankin’ new telescope!  And not just any telescope, my own Celestron NexStar 130SLT! I’ve always lusted after one of these, and now, I OWN ONE. Just in time to see Comet Lovejoy!  I’d like to take it outside tonight, as it’s nearest to the earth, but we’ve had some snow and I don’t know if the sky’s going to clear in time.  That, and it’s WELL below freezing tonight.  Still, that’s the optimal time to gaze at the heavens, because there won’t be any of that nasty haze interfering with the brilliance of the winter nighttime sky.

For those of you who own or have access to telescopes, the best thing about them is how it changes your perspective on what’s up there in the nighttime sky.  I had my first one at 12, but then it fell off the roof when I was trying to focus in on Comet Kohoutek.  That ended that.  Over the years I’ve belonged to astronomy clubs and peeked through fellow amateur astronomers.  Now, for the first time in years, I have one that’s powerful enough for me to zoom in on not just the planets, but Messier objects, novas, galaxies, double stars – the works!

My husband used to look up at the evening stars with his father back in his native England.  Their back garden in Launceston, Cornwall offered a terrific view, since it was near the top of a hill, without much to obscure the stars.  After life at 40.7127° N, 74.0059° W for years, I had a chance to see things at 50.6350° N, 4.3540° W.  My eyes, formerly trained to look at my favorite celestial objects at a lower latitude now had to focus somewhere else.  That only took a moment, but it also meant that I couldn’t see a few constellations I’d grown used to seeing skirting the horizon at my latitude.

It’s fair to say Andrew’s into this scope just as much as I am.  He’s a photographer and this Celestron has the capability for nighttime picture taking.  I personally can’t wait to get the thing outside and pointed upwards.  Truth be told, I don’t care where I look.  There’s sure to be something wonderful when I peer into the eyepiece, and I can’t imagine being disappointed at what I’ll see.

 

 

Mind Matters   Leave a comment

harvey_cushing_drawing_brain

Harvey Cushing Brain Drawing

So I’m back after a bit of a holiday, spent at the New Jersey shore and elsewhere.  Alas, it’s time to begin the new year with something I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time.

You can say it’s been on my mind.

Did you ever notice how much of science fiction has to do with all the stuff rattling around in the brain?  Quick, close your eyes and in ten seconds, name as many cranial control films as you can.  What’s your number?  Three? Seven?  Zero?

Aw, c’mon.  There’s so many out there!

All right.  Here’s a list.

Why exactly does the mind intrigue us so?

Generally speaking, a human’s interior organs are fairly cut-and-try.  The heart pumps blood, the liver cleanses it, the lungs keep you breathing and all the other bits and pieces keep you going.  The brain, however, is smarter than them.  Whereas all the other body parts have one or two functions, the brain governs them all.  And if we were to stop there, it’d still be a pretty remarkable job description.

Trouble is, the brain’s so much more.  It’s who we are.

While the brain is churning the engines, it’s threading stories through its cells, directing proper ones to safe storage, to be retrieved when our bodies recline to rest, popping alive as dreams.  It helps us remember the good, the bad, to make decisions, to weep, laugh and smile.  Why is it that some brains are healthy and others are weak, or the soul that inhabits the body deserts the brain to resort to evil?  How come we can sit and simper one moment, jump up and cheer three seconds later then show disgust immediately following?  Or why can it remember thousands of books read over a lifetime, yet recalling the location of keys becomes impossible?

Perhaps it’s mystery that draws us in.  Venturing into one’s consciousness is a journey into the unknown.  Wondering why she said that.  Guessing what he really means.  Why do one thing and say another?  How can you live with yourself; what were you thinking?

It’s no wonder mind control is such fodder for science fiction.  It’s the ultimate revenge tactic.  How else to get back at that girl you liked and she blew you off?  Create a plot line about a high-maintenance chick that stood you up who suddenly discovers she can only do makeup and hair standing au naturel in Times Square.  Or the guy who butted in front of you and stole your seat?  From now on, in your story his brain dictates him to sing, “I’m a little teapot” (as well as act out the song) during any and all sports events.

Controlling the mind is engaging the recipient to do one’s bidding.  Now the brain manipulator orchestrates an army of individuals (say, The Borg) to become a collective.  Imagine what can be accomplished with millions of minions.  I mean, why stop at one mind, when you can dominate the world?

Think about it…

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