But It’s Shiny! (Thanks, NASA)

Artist’s concept of Psyche spacecraft, image courtesy of NASA

In tribute to small children and easily distracted people everywhere, NASA will go out of its way to check out a shiny object.

Squirrel! Or maybe Rudolph.

A small asteroid named Psyche appears much brighter than other known asteroids, and NASA/astronomers believe it may be composed mostly of metal. Some are conjecturing that Psyche may be the inner core of a small planetary body stripped down by various celestial forces, and they think that a closer look at the asteroid may teach us a great deal about the inner core of our very own Earth.

Psyche is a Massachusetts-sized, mostly spherical body hanging out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where NASA has already managed some wildly successful investigations (the Dawn Treader…er, Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres). Ceres itself handed them some surprises, most notably with the curious shiny patches on its surface that didn’t appear to correlate with anything known of planetary surfaces.

Let’s just declare the asteroid belt a cool place, m’kay? Because it is.

The mission was proposed and discussed back in 2015, and NASA selected it for further review and refining. The final decision on when the mission would proceed was announced this year. Looks like the Psyche mission is one of five exploratory ventures that NASA’s JPL will conduct from 2020-2030, in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU) and Space Systems Loral. 

The mission director, Dr. Lindy Elkins-Taunton (ASU), has led several other successful NASA explorations of the solar system. Check out an interview with her here.

Fingers crossed that they maintain the budget needed for this exploration.

#Shiny #Psyche

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Need Ideas for Alien Creatures?

If you need ideas for alien critters, look no further than Antarctica. Well, under Antarctica. Photo courtesy of footage provided by the Australian government, and the video linked above is worth checking out.

These structures are holding up under immense pressure and cold, even though they look lacy and delicate. If that’s possible on Earth, then what might grow on other celestial bodies with oceans under ice? What might grow in thick, soupy atmospheres?

The science on life forms is pretty limited by our current knowledge that limits it to carbon-based units. It’s entirely possible that everything in the Earth’s oceans is carbon-based, but maybe they’ll eventually find something that started from a different elemental unit.

All that aside, check out the colors and structures. Consider how those colors might be affected by the various elements present in atmospheres on other worlds. What structures would plant life need to flourish in a heavy sulphur-based atmosphere? Would they use photosynthesis? Would photosynthesis work if you altered the intake chemical? Instead of carbon dioxide, could plants process sulphur? If so, what would they emit?

I’m contemplating some large tree-like structures like this blue and white one, but I’m trying to fit it into the context of a new world. We’ll see how that goes.

 

Hello Blog, We Meet Again

I’m returning to you after a long absence. No whiny explanations or self-pity, this time. Just straight up acknowledgment that not posting was incredibly lame and I need to do better in the future – especially since I want to publish more work.

Moving on.

Lots of cool space stuff happening lately, especially with the reemergence of “Cosmos”, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Check out The Wire’s write-up of the most recent episode. Tyson doesn’t sound stoned like Sagan did, but he has a direct and calm delivery style that suits the subject matter and educational aspects of the show. The writing is excellent – two thumbs up from this semi-evolved primate.

And on that happy note…back to work!

Space News Updates

There’s an amazing amount of astronomical stuff to check out this week. First off, if you haven’t seen Cassini’s pictures of Earth from Saturn’s orbit, you need to look at them now. Our pale blue dot is stunning and incredibly delicate as seen from a billion miles away.

Earth as seen from Saturn’s orbit

Next up, have a look at the stunning eclipse of an extrasolar planet, as seen by astronomers at the Chandra Observatory:

Chandra Observatory shows view of extrasolar gas giant eclipse

NASA found a giant hole in our sun:

NASA’s SOHO finds giant hole in the Sun

And then NASA decided to catch a thief. Er…asteroid.

NASA plans to catch asteroid and tow it to the Moon

In other news, a Canadian company plans to begin streaming a live feed from two cameras on the International Space Station. There will be one fixed viewpoint camera offering a panoramic view as the station cruises around the planet, and there’ll be a second camera that people can use to zoom in on objects as small as one meter. However, you’ll have to pay for the privilege of zooming in on something in particular…

BC company plans live feed from the International Space Station

And finally, we have a bunch of cool stuff visible in the night sky over the next month:

Sky charts for August 2013 – Jupiter and Mercury and Mars, oh my!

Hope you enjoy everything. More flash fiction coming this week!

Flash Fiction: Space Ghosting

I flitted from one screen to another, not certain which moon to tackle first. Sheba and Herakles whizzed around their gas giant parent, their orbits traced out faintly against the stark background of space.

Their orbits overlapped, but their previous speeds had kept them distant enough from one another that they hadn’t collided. Until now. Sheba had taken a hit from a massive asteroid not long ago – enough to slow it and let Herakles begin overtaking it. The astrogation team told us the moons would collide within 42 hours.

Triton hovered menacingly above us, waiting to consume their remains. Its other moons seemed indifferent to the fate of their siblings.

The ghosting uplink let me control the monitor with a thought. I flicked the pod towards Herakles, aiming at the Vitrous mountains, the highest range on the moon. The moon’s surface was deserted – all that was left of the mining facilities that previously occupied its surface were heaps of scrap. All usable equipment and robotics were evacced when we received the alert on the incoming asteroid. Nix, we called it. It seemed appropriate.

From a comfortable stellar distance, the mining transit ship sent monitoring equipment back to observe the impending crash. Everything was automated; everything controlled from a distance by humans, who didn’t live long enough to make a trans-system trip. Months, years of planning…decades or centuries waiting for the massive ships to reach their destinations. Decades or centuries of patient work as we used their equipment to strip planets bare.

Our species had found a way to warp space for instantaneous communications, but had yet to defeat the speed of light. Perhaps one day we’d set foot on a surface outside our own solar system. For now, we ghosted through uplinks to control equipment at incomprehensible distances, and our robotic extensions mined and constructed human-habitable cities on multiple worlds. We’d already had homes we could use once we managed to launch ourselves beyond Sol’s grasp.

All this faded in my mind as I watched Sheba’s greenish irregular surface loom nearer, the monitor’s lens serving as my eye. I loathed this immaterial existence. No sense of touch, sound, or smell – I would never set foot on any surface beyond Saturn’s moons. Even these doomed moons had more substance than I.

Copyright 2013 – Christine Clukey Reece

Flash Science Fiction – “Patchwork”

Patchwork

“I thought the survey team said most of this planet was arable.”

African inland delta - surreal natural Medusan art.

With thanks to Commander Chris Hadfield aboard the ISS.

Commander Thaller frowned in concentration as she highlighted sections of the image. “We’d better hope it has potential for it, at least,” she muttered to her second-in-command. “Otherwise, we’ll get to come back and rescue these settlers and they’ll fight us every pico of the way.”

The Explorer-class vessel Delta Bonita was on hyperbolic transit through the system, following an arc that would aim it back toward  Pax Sector HQ. Thaller’s shuttle, the Foxtrot, had brought over the first load of settlers and their gear. The Dee-Bee‘s hyperbolic course meant limited time for them to either turn around or put everyone on the surface.

“All right, listen up!” she called out as she manoeuvred into the passenger compartment. “Here’s a new screencap of the surface near our intended landing zone. There’s a mix of land types across your chosen latitude – mostly river basin, desert, and rock. You’ve got two minutes to make the call on whether to start the landing process or turn around and try the next planet on the list.”

After handing the photo capture off to the settler’s leader, Arton, she headed toward the cargo area to double-check everything was ready to offload when they hit dirtside. The surface patchwork wouldn’t give the settlers much land to live on unless they chose to stay in flood zones, but these people were determined to found their own colony. She gave it 10-to-1 odds that they’d demand an immediate landing.

The would-be colonists hurriedly unstrapped and huddled together over the picture, their voices quiet but intent. The extent of the river basin area appeared liveable, but it looked like there were few arable zones and they were far distant from one another. Each area looked able to support a small group indefinitely, but not all of the settlers together. Not without the ability to travel easily between those zones. Arton looked at his wife, his thoughts evident on his face.

Thaller came back into the passenger area, resealing the door to the cargo bay. “What’s your choice, people? Drop or go?”

Arton came smoothly to his feet, gesturing with the screen cap. “Commander, this igneous rock appears able to bear the shuttle landings and takeoffs, and it’s close enough to the delta area that we won’t have much trouble ferrying gear over. We drop.”

She nodded, studying the faces of the other settlers. They looked excited and apprehensive, but not terribly concerned about the dangers inherent in the planet’s topography. It was their problem now. “Very well, get strapped back in and we’ll pass along the alert to the other shuttle crews. We’ll be on the ground in about 15 minutes.”

Thaller managed not to shake her head in disdain as she strapped back into the pilot’s seat. Every batch of settlers thought they were unique and capable, but their shared hatred of the United Planets government kept them from properly evaluating planetary hazards. She gave it three years, tops, before they’d call for rescue…and she hoped the UP placed a high price on that service.

Dee-Bee, this is the Foxtrot. We are go for drop. Out.”

Copyright 2013 – Christine Clukey Reece

Happy Birthday, J.R.R. Tolkien

You gave us hobbitses, Gollum, Middle Earth, Gandalf, and the Sackville-Bagginses. Yes, I love the Shire most of all – mostly due to my lack of height – but I happily chewed my way through tales of other far and distant lands, vivid images of stately elves and graceful architecture springing into my mind’s eye.

Google, however, failed us today. They came up with some glorious doodles last year, but they ignored Tolkien’s birthday. [They also ignored Isaac Asimov’s birthday on Jan. 2nd.] I’ve sent several tweets their way asking why they didn’t do anything interesting, but no response so far. #Fail

Here’s a few links to help you celebrate the professor’s birthday. The first is fairly self-explanatory and absolutely lovely:

Middle Earth as seen from Space

Middle Earth

Middle Earth

 

And the second link…well, it appeals to my sense of humour. Enjoy!

The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins