M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

“Beaver Moon” lunar eclipse, if you can stay awake long enough…

November 25, 2020
MThomas

Visible from the Americas, Australia and Asia, the “Beaver Moon” will pass through Earth’s outer shadow (penumbra) at 07:32 Universal Time, causing a slight penumbral lunar eclipse that will see 83% of the Moon visibly darken at 9:42 Universal Time…

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2020/11/22/the-moon-meets-mars-and-the-seven-sister-stars-what-you-can-see-in-the-night-sky-this-week/?utm_medium=40digest.intl.carousel&utm_source=email&utm_content=&utm_campaign=campaign&sh=292a554e7c36

OK, I give up. “Universal Time”?

Continue Reading

Remember the Titan! Uh. The moon. Called Titan.

November 6, 2020
MThomas

Cyclopropenylidene is the second cyclic or closed-loop molecule detected at Titan; the first was benzene in 2003. Benzene is an organic chemical compound composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms…Cyclic molecules are crucial because they form the backbone rings for the nucleobases of DNA, according to NASA.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/10/28/world/titan-atmosphere-molecule-chemistry-scn-trnd/index.html

The only moon in the solar system that has an atmosphere…4 times denser than the Earth, actually.

Except it rains ethane and methane and is -270C. Not exactly a place to plan a vacation.

But the organic molecules may (BIG may) hint at life of some sort.

And we only have to wait until 2034 to find out!

(See more about the “Dragonfly” here: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/27/world/nasa-dragonfly-titan-mission-scn-trnd/index.html)

The Great Conjunction of 2020 is coming!

November 3, 2020
MThomas

On the the exact date of the winter solstice, Jupiter and Saturn appear closer together in the night sky that and at any point since July 16, 1623.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2020/11/02/this-week-jupiter-aligns-with-saturn-what-happens-next-will-be-a-once-in-a-lifetime-sky-event/?sh=639906404b72

Mars to the East, Jupiter to the South…hey, is that a Saturn?

Also, go over to https://www.theplanetstoday.com to see how Jupiter and Saturn are both currently in a heliocentric conjunction (i.e., lined up with the Sun) on November 2nd.

Bringer of Light Chapter 3: The Artemis (Part 2)

October 31, 2020
MThomas

(Part 1 ended with a brief confrontation, and a bad memory…)

Riss pushed the thought away. Not a time for reminiscing. Or for reminders of failure.

Upon reaching the command center, she turned on her boots with another touch to the wrist. She stepped up into the captain’s chair and touched the communications panel.

“Enoch, how’s it coming?”

“Ready here. Waiting for the ping from Zedra.”

Riss drummed her fingers on the chair’s arm. Zedra Point. She hated having to wait for telemetry from an outpost. As if some desk jockey knew more than her crew members.

“Riss. Sanvi here.”

“Go ahead.”

“Coop’s got more samples. Hydrocarbons, he says. Nothing much interesting.”

“Safe to drink?”

“He thinks so.”

“Well, he’s the geist. Get off the rock and bring the Hopper back.”

“Roger.”

Riss turned off communications as Enoch floated in from the corridor. Being born on Lunar Base, the navigator was even more at ease than she was in micro-grav. His bones probably were brittle enough to snap, thought Riss. He had little trouble on Ceres during their last visit, but he’d struggle on Mars if they had to stop by for any period of time. Certainly he’d never survive Earthside. Good thing they saved a few extra exoskeletons.

“That ping should come soon,” Enoch said. He grabbed his chair, settled down, and strapped in.

“Thrower ready?” Riss asked. She had already seen all the figures; she knew what they could handle.

“Yep. I’m positive we could get it all the way to the Ceres crusher in one shot.”

“Hang on,” Riss said, seeing a notification on her console. “Here comes the ping.”

She scanned the message. It was short, mostly filled with calculations that she had already computed herself.

“Cowards,” she blurted.

“What do they say?” Enoch asked.

“None of these inner system catchers have the balls to catch a 12-stopper,” Riss said in disgust. “First they say we need an intermediate catcher at Zedra. Then they say they want us to frac it into three pieces.”

Enoch snorted.

“Bastards probably want to keep one. They’ll pretend it didn’t arrive.”

Riss considered.

“Well, if we do ignore Zedra and send the entire rock on to Ceres, what are the chances some greenhorn catcher fucks it up and we get credit for nothing?”

“Imagine,” Enoch laughed, “five thousand tons of rubble strewn across space.”

He made an exploding noise while drawing his hands apart.

“Nice,” Riss said. Another notification on her console told her the Hopper was approaching.

“Check Airlock 1,” she told Enoch. “Hopper’s back.”

“Roger,” Enoch said casually, spinning his chair around once before handling the request. His fingers flew across his panel. “Check, check, and…check.”

“All right,” Riss said. “While we wait for Sanvi and Coop to get up here, let’s go over our options.”

“Check.”

Riss held up a hand.

“Enough with the checking. Listen. We throw, they fracture anyway. We fracture, they keep one. Either way, we stand to lose part of the rock.”

Enoch nodded. “Rock’s too big to fit all of it in the hold.”

“Yeah,” Riss agreed. “So here’s what we do. Frac it. Take the most valuable section. Send the rest. Sell what we have when we get back.”

Enoch shrugged. “Most valuable on this rock? Coop says it’s a big dirty ice ball.”

“Water, Enoch,” Riss said. “Mars needs water. At least until they get their equipment working properly. Lunar Base probably won’t say no, either. Everybody needs hydrocarbon for fuel, and after the terraforming it takes a lot of agua to keep everyone breathing.”

The Artemis shuddered briefly. Riss glanced at her console.

“Hopper’s docked,” she said. “Right. Let’s get the system set to frac. Coop should be able to tell us which part to hang on to.”

“Thrower’s already set,” Enoch said. “I’ll have to recalibrate for a lighter load.”

She nodded, and called up the telemetry sent from Zedra. Now all she had to do was reply to the ping. By the time the intermediate way station got her message, they would already be throwing the rock. After that, it was a long way home.

A few moments later, Sanvi and Coop floated in. The geist held a box in his arms, presumably filled with samples, Riss guessed.

“You look none the worse for wear,” she said to the geologist. He swallowed but nodded, briefly. Riss took the box from him.

“Can I, uh—“

“Coop doesn’t enjoy floating,” Sanvi interrupted. Her eyes showed her amusement.

“Have a seat,” Riss said, gesturing to the console. Cooper grasped the back of the seat and hoisted himself into the harness. His face was still working, as if caught up in a desperate struggle. Riss felt a stab of sympathy. She had no memory of her life on Earth, before…before whatever had happened to jettison her into space. All that remained were vague impressions of floating…floating…

“Riss…” Sanvi’s voice came.

The box was floating above her head. Abruptly, Riss snatched it down.

“Ah,” she said, apologetically, “I must have accidentally let go.”

“So,” Sanvi said, sitting in the pilot’s chair. “What’s the plan?”

Riss briefly explained what she and Enoch had discussed.

“All we have to do is have Coop tell us which section to keep,” she said, looking over at the geologist.

He didn’t look much better than before. The geologist swallowed once, twice, then closed his eyes before speaking.

“I—I’ll send Enoch the coordinates of the largest source of clean hydrocarbons.”

“Coop, you okay?” Riss asked.

The geist nodded unconvincingly.

“Yeah. I’ll be fine.”

His hands unsteadily tapped out a pattern on his console.

“Got it,” Enoch said. Two more seconds of tapping. “Driller’s ready.”

“Shield us,” Riss said.

A barely discernible simmering cocoon enveloped the Artemis. The magnetized screen would protect them from microscopic particles they were about to create, but the power drain meant the shield lasted just long enough for the cutting and retrieval procedure.

“Chunk it.”

A thin stream of ionized particles shot out from underneath the ship, striking the Centaur. Plumes of steam rose, then dust. Tiny sparks here and there on the screen indicated the shield effectiveness.

After one or two minutes, the ion stream stopped. The Artemis crew waited. The rock slowly and silently split apart into three not-so-even sections. Dust and water vapor surrounded them. It would be dangerous for individual crew members to venture outside the ship now.

“Engage the thrower.”

The robotic retractor slowly unfolded and extended toward the nearest rock section. Over the next several hours, the Artemis crew worked nonstop. The smallest chunk was safely stored in the cargo hold for later use. Telemetry provided by Zedra, input into the thrower system. The two larger sections transported along the predetermined quantum path to Ceres. A ping sent to the catchers, a response obtained.

When the entire retrieval procedure had finished, Riss gave the signal. The Artemis got underway; once they had cleared the dust cloud left behind by their handiwork, the shield shut off and the crew breathed a sigh of relief.

“Time to get out of here,” Riss said. “Before the other hunters follow up on our ping location.”

“Course plotted for Zedra,” Enoch said, a trace of exhaustion in his voice.

“Confirmed,” Sanvi added. “ETA 14 days 4 hours. Autopilot…engaged.”

“Fourteen,” Cooper moaned. He slumped over the console in front of him. “That long to Triton?”

Riss mustered up the energy to laugh. “And another five to Ceres. If we take it easy during the refueling. Alignment of the planets.”

“Or not,” Enoch muttered.

Riss released her harness. Floating forward, she clapped the geist on a shoulder. “Good job, newbie.”

Sanvi and Enoch chimed in with congratulations as well. The geist gave a half-smile through sleepy eyes. He raised a hand to wipe away sweat from slightly clammy skin.

“OK, people,” Riss said, stretching her back. “The rocks are on their way. The autopilot is in control. Time to rest up and recuperate.”

None too soon, she thought. Time to send an encrypted vid message to Weng. If she could stay awake long enough.

Next: Chapter 4 – The Mars Colonies (November 7th)


Children of Pella: Bringer of Light synopsis

Psyche! Uh, no, sorry, that’s not really how “value” is determined…

October 30, 2020
MThomas

“Artist’s depiction” = “we don’t really know, actually, but isn’t this cool?”

Even more intriguing, the asteroid’s metal is worth an estimated $10,000 quadrillion (that’s 15 more zeroes), more than the entire economy of Earth.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/10/29/metal-asteroid-psyche-nasa-hubble-images/6069223002/

Leave it to USA Today—the paragon of journalistic integrity and unvarnished truth reporting—to grossly exaggerate “value.”

Imagine if someone dumped several hundred thousand tons of nickel and iron on the market?

It would immediately make nickel and iron worthless. Simple supply and demand. So it’s not monetary value that is important.

How do we create vehicles and domiciles for a space-faring future while avoiding the exorbitant cost of getting them into space in the first place? It’s the cost and weight of rocket fuel that’s the issue.

Solution: Build everything in space. No need to bring anything back to Earth.

Not needed now. Maybe someday.

Wishing our base away…water on the Moon?

October 26, 2020
MThomas

The new research is especially topical given that NASA plans to land humans on the Moon in the 2020s and use lunar resources as part of its Artemis program, prompting thorny discussions about legal and ethical extraction of materials on the Moon.

https://www.vice.com/en/article/k7aqpz/nasa-found-a-lot-of-water-on-the-moon-in-breakthrough-for-human-habitation

“Micro cold traps.” The equivalent of a 12-ounce bottle in a cubic meter of soil. But not everywhere, and primarily at the polar caps.

So…how will this help, exactly? 🤔

“I can’t believe we pulled this thing off.”

October 21, 2020
MThomas

“The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do.”

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/oct/21/nasa-osiris-rex-spacecraft-lands-on-asteroid-bennu-in-mission-to-collect-dust

Um. OK. That’s some confidence in your own project you got there, dude.

Now all we have to do is wait a couple of weeks to find out if it actually grabbed anything!

Hey, Bennu, gimme a “High-Five”!

October 20, 2020
MThomas

Why are 3D objects always compared to the Empire State Building?

Researchers understand it to be what they call a carbonaceous asteroid, meaning its rocks still retain a lot of the chemistry that was present when the Sun and the planets came into being more than 4.5 billion years ago. Hence the desire to bring some of its material home for analysis in sophisticated Earth laboratories.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54592163

If it’s a spinning top, I don’t see how showing it in comparison to the Eiffel Tower will help us understand how big it is…

Then again, usually media compare things like this to a football field (US) or a football pitch (UK). Or they say things like “as long as [insert type of moving vehicle here] end to end.”

Honestly, just say “510 m3” and leave it at that. All we care about is what the probe will do: Vacuum up and bring back at least 60g of materials from the beginning of the solar system.

Now how about THAT, Hayabusa-2?

OK, granted, this is not related to Bennu. And we’re not dragging an asteroid back “in the 2020s” just yet, Spectrum. But it’s still neat. https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/space-robots/heres-how-nasa-will-grab-an-asteroid

Bringer of Light – starting October 10th!

October 10, 2020
MThomas

I’ve decided to publish sections of my science fiction perptual-work-in-progress Bringer of Light starting Saturday, October 10th. Each week, I aim to post about 1200-1500 words at 7 p.m. Basically about one chapter, although some chapters are longer. But 4,000 words are too much to read on a web page, so I’ll “chunk” them into smaller segment — just like Riss and her crew “chunk” asteroids.

(Note that “Saturday October 10th” is EDT, since that’s where the server is based. I’m in Japan, 13 hours ahead. So when it’s posted in the future, it’ll be in my past. Time travel, woot!)

Check out the Prologue here, and check back later for a list of characters and the table of contents!

Get your telescopes out, the solar system’s largest volcano is here!

October 9, 2020
MThomas

The volcano is about the size of Arizona with a volume 100 times larger than that of Mauna Loa’s, Earth’s largest volcano, NASA says. “In fact, the entire chain of Hawaiian islands (from Kauai to Hawaii) would fit inside Olympus Mons!”

Brighter than Jupiter this October! And the closest Mars will be until 2035.

(The photo is from Forbes, but the information was better on The Telegraph.)

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