M Thomas Apple Author Page

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

Nuclear power plants in space!

November 30, 2020
MThomas

The proposal is for a fission surface power system, and the goal is to have a flight system, lander and reactor ready to launch by 2026.

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/15/why-nasa-wants-to-put-a-nuclear-power-plant-on-the-moon.html

The goal, apparently, is to generate 10 Kw, or about enough to power “five to eight large households.”

Um. That’s not really enough for an actual lunar base. Try again?

“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

Bringer of Light, Chapter 5: Riss

November 21, 2020
MThomas

(When last we left the crew of the Artemis, they had just fracked an asteroid, keeping part for their drinking water and sending the rest to Ceres.)

“…Love you. End transmission.”

Riss extended a hand to touch the computer panel, then leaned back in her sleeping cabin chair. Another vid message finished. The ping would probably take several days to reach Weng on Luna. She sighed. She hoped she hadn’t looked as tired as she felt.

Flying over to the Centaur had made her more anxious than she cared to admit to the Artemis crew. Her first capture of a potentially extra-solar object, one that might have originated from the Kuiper Belt. The whole way over she kept thinking of Sergey and the ditrium rock he caught. The one that made the Moon terraforming possible. The one that made him famous.

She desperately wanted the rock to be different. Needed it to be different.

She looked to her right. Barren, boring desktop space. Compared to her crew’s quarters, hers was spartan. Where they had objects that reminded them of home — photos of family, books given by relatives and friends, even freeze-dried flowers — she had practically nothing.

No family. Save Sergey. But he disliked photos, especially of himself.

So instead of a photo, she had a doll, a motanka. Given to her on her sixth birthday, to protect her. Sergey promised to find her parents. Or at least find out what happened to her parents. She couldn’t remember if she’d had dolls when her parents were still…when she was living Earthside.

At any rate, they never found out what had happened. She barely had memories of them, let alone whatever dolls they may have given her.

She stretched out a hand and picked up the doll. Slender blond tresses, tied at the end with red ribbons. A black dress and white shirt decorated with bands of bright orange and light blue. Crown of yellow flowers. 

A cross for a face.

Somehow, she couldn’t picture a German father giving her the same doll. Her Russian mother might have given her a…what was it called? A babushka. No, a matryoshka. Wooden nesting dolls. Different colors, too. Probably.

What kind of people were they, she wondered. She remembered waking up in the lifepod, in the Sagittarius’s cargo hold. Frightened by the large bearded man with the sad eyes who looked like her father but didn’t sound like him.

The woman next to him who looked nothing like her mother but would later treat her like one.

Lena

Riss sighed and put the doll back, gently, on the desk. She kicked off her magboots, lay back on her bed.

“Artemis.”

The desk chimed.

“Play Beethoven.”

“Specify.”

“Für Elise. Medium volume, slower tempo version. In the style of Rachmaninoff.”

The well-known melody did not really soothe her. But it did remind her of Sergey. And she never could decide between German and Russian composers.

Her body began to float above her bunk. It was dangerous to sleep without being strapped in, but it felt relaxing, for the moment. She lay on her back, in the air, looking at her hands. Stretching them in front of her, slowly. Henna-brown hair drifted. Ought to get a cut, she thought absently. The music swelled, repeated the main refrain.

“Artemis. Stop. Play Holst. The Planets, regular volume.”

“Specify movement.”

“Start with the second, then skip to the sixth.”

No Mars or Jupiter, she thought. Even though most of her life, she’d been in the happy hunting grounds. A lifestyle inherited from her foster father Sergey. Chasing rocks around the inner solar system, an independent operator living on the fringes of civilized space. Part of the fun of the job was that each rock was different, but really they were all the same. All variations on a theme.

Like the doll, she thought, with a smirk. Maybe.

She thought back to her last conversation with Weng, before the Artemis left for Transneptune.

“The Luna Council doesn’t want original and beautiful works of architecture,” Weng told her, as they walked along the Lunar Sea, arm in arm. “They want inhabitable cities. Ugly, soulless blocks of metal and concrete, as fast as they can be 3D printed.”

She hadn’t responded. Just stared into the cold night sky. Why argue when the stars were so beautiful?

Maybe the Council was wrong, she thought now. Maybe simply living and working wasn’t enough. Even for adventurous types like Sergey.

No, Riss decided. Maybe she was wrong. too. Maybe she wasn’t an adventurous space captain, after all. Maybe she was just a scavenger, catching ice and throwing it at Ceres, like all the other scavengers with their junky ships.

“The magician” began. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to float higher. Spread her arms out. Tilting back and forth ever so slightly. The hum of the engines below the crew bunk area reverberated.

She was so sure that this rock would be different. No doubt that had added to her getting seriously annoyed at Gennaji. At least twenty-five Earth years older than her, but he acted like sixty. And getting worse with age.

But she felt time slipping away, as well. She had wanted some time on the rock. Alone. To really get to know this one, see if it had something to tell her. To see if she had chosen the right kind of life.

Just another ice rock. Nothing different. No ditrium, no special metals. More ice.

At least the landing and recovery operations went smoothly. At least she got some sense of satisfaction out of a job well done. With a competent crew.

Well, competent, if a little dysfunctional. Sanvi’s skill as a pilot was still developing, but her martial arts talents were always beneficial. The incident in the hold a recent example. The woman occasionally bothered her, challenging her decisions. Questioning her past.

Lena. Sanvi was too much like Lena. Different ethnicity, same personality.

Was that it?

Poor Lena, I’m sorry. I…

Riss opened her eyes. She was looking down at her bunk, her back pressed against the ceiling of her quarters. Reaching back with a hand, she gave a little nudge and began to float downward.

Coming out to Transneptune always bore some risks. She supposed she should be happy they had scored anything at all. A pretty amazing catch, all things considered.

Millions of miles from civilization with an ordinary ice rock in the hold to keep them company. She sighed. 

“Artemis, stop music.”

Back on the bunk, face down, she stretched out a hand and retrieved her boots. While the crew was in rest and relaxation mode, she might as well check their reserves. It’d be a while before they reached Zedra.

She wondered how the rest were coping.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter Six: Brady

Similarities between the human brain and galaxies

November 19, 2020
MThomas

…the team’s results suggest that, while the physical processes that drive the structure of the Universe and the structure of the human brain are extremely different, they can result in similar levels of complexity and self-organisation…

https://www.sciencealert.com/wildly-fun-new-paper-compares-the-human-brain-to-the-structure-of-the-universe?fbclid=IwAR1YjxGSpnNrJbgqRMs6_XNrRjiuloJ792UjzfT3L5NmVEEYxljyVcS4TQ8

As above, so below…

And you thought living on Earth in 2020 was bad…

November 7, 2020
MThomas

On the scorching hot planet, hundreds of light-years away, oceans are made of molten lava, winds reach supersonic speeds and rain is made of rocks. Scientists have referred to the bizarre, hellish exoplanet as one of the most “extreme” ever discovered. 

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/astronomers-discover-hell-planet-k2-141b-rock-rain-lava-oceans/?ftag=CNM-00-10aab6a&linkId=103730808&fbclid=IwAR2W9JqL9gjnrBTJeZ4bMbV4XsnqO_1kScgP0GLq7eYbq__0bDtmqcbH4BM

I think we may have seen this kind of planet before…

Yep, that’s it.

Hey, WordPress, why did you delete my post’s headline?

November 6, 2020
MThomas

According to NASA estimates there are at least 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, of which about 4 billion are sunlike. If only 7 percent of those stars have habitable planets — a seriously conservative estimate — there could be as many as 300 million potentially habitable Earths out there in the whole Milky Way alone.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/05/science/astronomy-exoplanets-kepler.html

It takes a while to collect, sort through, analyze, write up, endure peer review, and publish data from scientific projects.

That’s why finally we’re seeing this, 11 years after Kepler was launched to scour the galaxy for exoplanets.

Now the real challenge will be figuring out how to get there…

It’s time to move on the next factor in the Drake equation for extraterrestrial civilizations: the fraction of these worlds on which life emerges. The search for even a single slime mold on some alien rock would revolutionize biology, and it is a worthy agenda for the next half-century as humans continue the climb out of ourselves and into the universe in the endless quest to end our cosmic loneliness.

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.

Scientists discover Mars-sized rogue planet wandering the galaxy

November 2, 2020
MThomas

It’s possible our galaxy is filled to the brim with these rogue planets, but this one is particularly unusual for one special reason: it is the smallest found to date — even smaller than Earth — with a mass similar to Mars. 

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rogue-planet-exoplanet-floating-through-space-discovery-milky-way/

And the video at the top of the page linked above has NOTHING to do with rogue planets.

Sigh.

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.

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