M Thomas Apple Author Page

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

China doesn’t care about the rest of the world — except when the rest of the world criticizes it

May 4, 2021
MThomas

“When they did that design, they should have stopped and thought, ‘you know, that’s going to leave a big chunk of debris in orbit, we should change the design of the engine’,” McDowell says. “But they didn’t. This is real negligence.”

https://www.inverse.com/science/long-march-5b-uncontrolled-reentry

Four years ago, China’s first space station landed in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Chile, after an uncontrolled reentry. China didn’t care.

Last year, pieces from a Long March 5B rocket landed in Cote d’Ivoire. They damaged buildings in two villages. China didn’t care.

This launch of the same rocket design could land anywhere from New York to New Zealand, covering a wide range of habitation. China doesn’t care.

On the other hand, once somebody in their government reads about the criticism by the scientific community, they’ll petulantly whine that this often happened in the 1960s, so that makes it OK for them to ignore rocket safety designs known for the past 30 years.

Maybe it’s technology they haven’t yet stolen from other countries.

As the self-acknowledged center of the known universe, the Middle Kingdom only cares what others think of it. Like a spoiled child that thinks it knows everything but fears it does not, China only reacts to its own mistakes by lashing out at others and disclaiming responsibility.

If you want to be respected as a superpower, you need to learn how to respect other countries and stop dumping your trash on them. Respect is not given, it is earned. China has done little to earn any respect by the scientific community.

X-Rays from Uranus!

April 5, 2021
MThomas

Two-ringed and sideways gas giant

The gag practically writes itself…

…but seriously, this is neat. One source of the X-Rays is the Sun (it also bounces off of Jupiter and Saturn). But there may be yet another source…perhaps the rings of Uranus or the planet itself.

And no, it’s not really pink. That’s just a Chandra X-ray image.

Shame, really.

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/first-x-rays-from-uranus-discovered.html

“Potentially hazardous asteroid” approaching Earth

March 22, 2021
MThomas

This is how I’ll get a photo of 2001 F032 for its next pass in 2052.

Hazardous asteroid!? Call out Bruce Willis!

No worries. “Close to Earth” in this is 1.25 million miles. But it’s a great chance to find out more about the early solar system.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/potentially-hazardous-asteroid-come-closest-earth-sunday-n1261689

Bringer of Light, Chapter 15: The Sagittarius

February 27, 2021
MThomas

When we last left Gennaji, his ship was just about to fire or be fired upon. Somewhere near Encheladus…

Gennaji looked over at his crew at the rocket launcher. Karel and Andrzej both seemed tense.

No, he silently corrected himself, he was the one feeling tense. They looked…blank. Waiting. 

He shook his head.

“Ory, are they together or separate?”

“Looks like they plan to split up, heading around Encephalus. Opposite sides. Not quite in orbit yet.”

Gennaji cursed. Naturally. That’s what he would have done.

“Thrusters. Solid fuel only. Aim us at the Corvus. Shield us.”

“Aye, sir.”

He nodded at Karel and Andrzej. They strapped themselves down to the floor like cargo boxes, clamping suspender-like tethers wrapped around their waists to metal rings in the floor. Hurriedly he did the same, locking himself in front of the railgun console.

The Sagittarius began to peal starboard.

Starboard, he thought. Antiquated nautical term. Everything is starboard in space.

He shifted his weight and checked the railgun. All readings normal.

“Ory, position?”

“Corvus is closing…they’re firing!”

Firing?! Gennaji gritted his teeth. Hamno, the Corvus captain was insane, firing laser cannon from that distance. “Ory, evasive!”

The Sagittarius shuddered again, violently. His knee buckled and he slammed his right hip against a side wall. Shit, that hurts, he thought, refusing to cry out.

Karel apparently had no such compunction, judging by the sudden yelp. Gennaji glanced over. The big helmsman had fallen down sideways on one shoulder and was groggily getting to his knees. Andrzej seemed to have already crouched in anticipation and bounced up.

The tether was merely a brace after all, Gennaji thought. He grabbed the console corner and checked the readings again.

“Ory.”

“Captain, the shot missed by a wide margin. Looks like they forgot to compensate for the gravity well effect.”

Gennaji grinned. He figured that old hunter trick would work on a young crew like the Corvus. Now they had to wait to recharge.

“Range?”

“In range now.”

“Perfect. Ory, manuever us so we can get a good angle from the cargo hold.”

“Aye, sir.”

Gennaji felt the Sagittarius shudder as the thrusters moved them into position. He checked the console again before giving the order.

“Set.”

Karel depressed a switch. The sound echoed through the cargo hold.

“Fire.”

Andrzej yanked down with both hands on the firing lever. The rocket made a little popping noise as the railgun launched it through the port into space. Like a champagne bottle, Gennaji thought.

But with much more pop.

“Ory, get us away as fast as you can. Hard right.”

“Aye. The other ship is coming into range as well.”

Gennaji glanced at the railgun. His crew were resetting the launch mechanism, but they might not have time for another shot.

“Ory, I may need to use the ballbuster after all.”

“Captain…”

There was a pause, then static.

“Ory!”

The Sagittarius suddenly slipped sideways. Gennaji fell to his knees again as the gravity seemed to increase.

Shit. They must be tumbling. The centrifugal force might damage the hull if they couldn’t stabilize the ship.

“Karel!” he barked. “Helm! We have to…”

The intercom crackled to life again.

“…not responding to pings, looks dead in space.”

“Ory? What happened?”

“Corvus…hit, dead in…All…down.”

Gennaji struggled to his feet, grabbing the console for support. His body still felt abnormally heavy.

“Are we spinning?” he asked. Karel held a tether hook in one hand, unsure whether he should complete his Captain’s last order.

“Aye, sir. We…close to…emp charge, so our com…not 100%. Hang on…”

The ship shuddered again. Gennaji bared his teeth. Had the other ship also fired a railgun? The gravity seemed to lessen.

At least they had stopped spinning, he thought. Probably drifting, though.

“Ory?”

No response.

Gennaji swore. He unstrapped the tether and motioned for Karel to do the same.

“Andy, stay here and see if we can get off another…”

The com crackled to life. But it wasn’t their navigator.

“Sagittarius. This is Pleaides. We’re boarding you. Let’s talk.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 16: The Artemis (Coming Saturday March 13, 2021)

Still, they persevered!

February 18, 2021
MThomas

Great job, NASA! Landing on Mars is always a tricky business.

Now all Perseverance has to do is find traces of life, save it without contamination, and then wait for another rocket, another rover, and a satellite to get in orbit so the samples can be sent back to Earth.

Piece of cake, right?

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56119931

Sorry, there’s no “Planet X”

February 16, 2021
MThomas

This doesn’t exist, but it’s a cool drawing.

Critics of the Planet Nine claim said the apparent clustering of the discovered TNOs might only be because that’s where telescopes were looking or were most sensitive.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/02/claim-giant-planet-nine-solar-systems-edge-takes-hit

If you are looking to find evidence to prove your theory, it’s much easier to find what you’re looking for.

You should instead try to find evidence to disprove your theory, and then ask at least two more people you don’t know (or even better, generally disagree with) to try to find evidence to support your theory.

“Seek and ye shall find” is a terrible way to support a claim. Have the courage to challenge your beliefs.

Also, it’s Planet X, not 9. Pluto is a planet. So there, Neil deGrasse Tyson. :-p

Bringer of Light, Chapter 13: The Artemis

February 6, 2021
MThomas

While Gennaji prepares to defend himself after having revealed the Sagittarius’s location to fellow asteroid hunters, Riss discovers that trying to forget painful memories has consequences.

Riss fairly staggered out of the exercise room, more exhausted by the two-hour workout than she had expected. Increased gravity from their acceleration, plus extra weight from the rock? Or something else? Her legs felt like pieces of taffy left out in the sun too long. And there was that strange headache she couldn’t seem to shake. Maybe she was just dehydrated.

She shuffled down the corridor to her room, holding herself upright with a hand against the wall. She probably ought to go to the command center, check on the rock, talk to the crew. But first she desperately needed a rest. 

She reached her sleeping cabin and pushed the door. It seemed lighter than usual. No, not lighter. Less…dense. She shook her head and crossed the threshold. 

“Artemis. Lights.”

The sudden illumination hurt her eyes for some reason. She covered them.

“Lights at fifty percent.”

Her vision returned to normal as the lights dimmed.

No, not quite normal. Even with half-illumination, it was as if she could see perfectly. Better than perfect. The door closed behind her and she walked slowly toward her desk. The pad still plugged into the wall port seemed to hum. She gently touched its edge. Somehow it felt…transparent. Translucent. Like the pad wasn’t entirely there.

Or maybe she wasn’t?

Sighing, she slumped into the chair. Maybe it was a virus. She supposed that would explain the headache and sensitivity to brightness. But there was something different about the room. The ship. Herself.

She glanced at the motanka. 

No face. She always wondered about that.

“This doll is special. It is a protector of children,” Sergey said. “As you grow, she will grow, too.

“You mean motanka will get bigger?” she asked, eight-year-old eyes wide.

Sergey laughed. “No, dytyna. She will grow in other ways. Don’t worry. You will see.”

Riss examined the doll. Except for the cross on its face, it looked like any other doll. Two legs, two arms, long skirt. Less lifelike than the one she got from her real parents.

She picked up the doll and frowned.

Her real parents. She thought she had no memories of them. None?

No, wait. She could see something.

Her father. He gave her a doll. Once. Before they had to leave.

She squeezed her eyes shut.

Before they disappeared.

She opened her eyes again. No, she just couldn’t remember.

And looked at the doll. It had changed color.

She turned the doll around, then upside down.

Yes, it had changed color. Yellow hair, check. Black dress.

No, it was green. With light blue flowers…no, checkered red, yellow, and white patterns all over it.

That could’t be. The face was the same. The no-face.

She set the doll on her desk and flopped face-first on her bunk. What on earth was going on? Was space sickness making her lose her mind?

Weng. She needed to talk to him. Should have vidmessed him. Mars and Ceres refused their pings. Should have tried Luna.

Should have.

Magboots still on, Riss fell into a deep sleep.

Walking along the sea. Dark, artificial blue sky. Beyond that she knew lay endless darkness and empty space. Almost as empty as…

A pressure on her left hand. Weng. Holding it firmly, then gently. A squeeze followed by a caress. Like he wanted to say something to her. Like he wanted her to say something to him.

“I love the way your face looks,” Weng began.

“Stop, stop,” Riss interrupted, shaking her head.

“The blue of the Cantic Ocean,” he continued. “The blue of the sky. The constant breeze that wafts…”

Riss sighed.

“I love the way your face looks, framed by the waves of brown locks, blown by an ocean breeze.”

He smiled, then laughed.

“Hopeless romantic,” she said. “You’re just a hopeless romantic. You do know that?”

“I’m supposed to say stuff like that,” he returned. “I’m an artist. It’s what we do.”

“Oh?” she replied.

He just smiled his enigmatic smile. They fell silent.

Something was bothering him. She could tell. He’d never ask for help. Not openly. Not from her. She squeezed his hand. He sighed.

“It doesn’t look like you’ve had much time for artistry lately,” she tried.

Weng made a face. “You’re right, I haven’t.”

“So…”

He said nothing. Just coughed.

Riss looked at him as they walked, hand in hand. He stared into space. What was he thinking? She wondered. What was it he was looking for?

“I guess,” he said finally, after a long pause. “I guess you’ll be heading out again soon.”

She nodded. “You heard.”

He smiled again, looking up, above the sky.

“Sergey mentioned something about a lottery. A special asteroid of some sort.”

“Yes. A centaur. We won the rights to capture it.”

Weng shook his head. “I can’t pretend I understand how you asteroid hunters operate, but can’t you just, you know, negotiate?”

She laughed. “We did. Sort of. It’s complicated.”

She looked at him again. Her artist. Touchingly naive, stubborn and set in his ways. But that didn’t matter. He was faithful to her. Loyal to her adopted father. He had always supported her, regardless of whatever foolish thing she had said or done.

“You will come back to me, yes?” he said.

She squeezed his hand again. “If all goes well, this will be the last trip I have to make out there,” she said.

“Promise?”

“No, of course not!” she said, laughing. “No promises. No guarantees.”

“No returns,” he said. “All sales are final. Let the buyer beware!”

They giggled together. It felt good, sharing a moment with someone she could be completely honest with. Completely open.

Completely. No. She suddenly stopped and let go of his hand. They stood still.

She looked into his eyes. He was still smiling, but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. His face fell. It was as if, for a moment, she could see who he really was. His real face. Like a cross…

“I’m sorry,” she started.

“What?” he said. “What is it?”

“This…this isn’t…”

She looked up again. The blue sky was gone. Darkness everywhere. 

The ground fell away. Weng disappeared from her sight, his outstretched hands waving uselessly in the lunar wind. No cry escaped her lips. She stared wide-eyed at the stars. The emptiness rushed down. She rushed up to meet it.

With a start, Riss realized she was floating. Outside the ship, free floating in space. No suit. No helmet. In a panic she put her hands over her mouth. But there was no breath. No sound. Silence, only silence.

She looked down. She wasn’t wearing any clothes, none whatsoever.

This must be another dream, she thought, calming herself. Well, then, let’s see where it takes me.

Ahead lay a vortex. She smiled. A vortex, in space. Drawing her closer. She felt like putting her arms in front and swimming, as if it would make any difference.

To her surprise, it did. She felt the vortex pull at her, call her, gently coax her toward its amorphous black center. Faint clouds of burgundy and crimson whisked away as she neared. With a start she found that the vortex was not a hole at all. She reached out with both hands…

And brought a small object back to her.

A small ball. Cottony.

She cupped it. The ball dissolved into a cloud and flowed up her arms, across her entire body, dissipating in the space behind her.

Sensation returned. Gravity wells appeared before her eyes. Patterns revealed themselves. Orbits of planetary objects, trajectories of comets and asteroids. Space dust. Black matter.

She suddenly knew where she was. The happy hunting ground stretched like an enormous mine field before her, blocking her view of the inner system.

Concentrating, she willed an asteroid to approach. It was small, no more than a few meters across. She floated near it, ran her hands over its rough surface. The edges, points, indents. Mostly iron ore, with other trace minerals.

With a wave of a hand, she pulled the trace minerals out, leaving nothing but a ball of pure iron. A deft thrust into the ball; it stretched and twisted like taffy. 

Into a mask.

She held it in her hands. Looked down at it.

The mask looked back at her. She tried it on and saw herself.

Her face. 

The face of the motanka. With a cross on it. 

She screamed.


Next: The game’s afoot…Bringer of Light, Chapter 14: Mars Colonies (Coming February 13, 2021, 7 PM EST)

Sorry, Venus is just a lot of gas

February 4, 2021
MThomas

There’s a reason I didn’t post a while ago about the supposed “there’s life in the clouds of Venus” finding.

It was just a big load of gas.

Sorry, folks. Venus is a big rotten egg. 🥚

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/signs-life-venus-might-just-be-ordinary-sulfur-gas-n1256739

Magnetic reconnection plasma thruster: Not too fast, not too slow, juuuust right

February 4, 2021
MThomas

A crewed mission to Mars may be more practical thanks to a new rocket concept developed by Fatima Ebrahimi, a physicist at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), that uses magnetic fields to generate thrust.

https://newatlas.com/space/magnetic-reconnection-rocket-thruster-concept-spaceflight-mars/

Looks good so far…

…although it’s just a computer simulation right now and the magnetic thruster model hasn’t even been built yet.

Ah, well, just repurpose an existing ion thruster, right?

Hmm. I’m not a rocket scientist, but.. 🚀

All-civilian space flight? Uh. Don’t sign me up.

February 1, 2021
MThomas

The CEO of an online payment company is the perfect leader for an emergency in outer space.

OK, hands up who thinks this is a really super dumb and risky idea but isn’t terribly surprised by the super dumb and risky things Musk continually blurts out? 🤷‍♂️

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/spacex-announces-first-mission-space-all-civilian-crew-n1256390

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