M Thomas Apple Author Page

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

When planets align! Eh. Again.

April 24, 2022
MThomas

https://www.nj.com/news/2022/04/parade-of-planets-4-planets-to-line-up-in-sky-this-weekend-joined-by-moon-next-week.html

(Note: You won’t be able to see the planets actually looking like these photoshopped images…unless you happen to have a really powerful telescope in your backyard.)

Not sure why I first got this info from a site based in New Jersey. The info about what time of day and in what part of the sky is only relevant to people living in the NJ_NYC area.

Still, it’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs once every few years…

2005. 2016. 2020. And 2022. Not exactly a regular pattern, it seems.

And, no, there is no “spiritual significance” to a planetary alignment. It’s an illusion, an imaginary lining up of the solar system that doesn’t affect you personally. Sorry.

But it’s still fun to watch. Er, if you enjoy getting up before dawn (I don’t).

According to nj.com, “The planetary parade of sorts will occur when Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn all appear to be lined up in a row above the horizon during the pre-dawn hours — starting Saturday morning, April 23. The alignment will also be visible during the next few mornings, and April’s crescent moon will soon join the parade, according to experts from LiveScience and AccuWeather.”

Yeah, lots of web sites are covering this. At least the one I linked above doesn’t have automated videos, flashing ad gifs, and other random pop-ups that drain your smartphone battery.

Click here for more info about the next great alignment (not as impressive as the so-called “Great Conjunction” a couple years ago, but we’ll see more planets in June and July): https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/04/17/planets-align-april-venus-mars-jupiter-saturn/7351117001/

Bringer of Light, Chapter 35: United Mars Colonies (pt 1)

April 24, 2022
MThomas

It’s been over two months since we last saw (Ret.) Captain Sergey struck down and partially paralyzed while fleeing the Lunar Base coup with the clone Elodie Gagnon, who sought to protect him from United Americas forces. Meanwhile, Clarissa Kragen has reunited with Sam Weng (or has she?) at Ceres and are bound for Mars. Where Martin Velasquez, currently the head administrator of the newly-proclaimed United Mars Colonies is in for a short, sharp shock…


Alarms had erupted throughout the Mars Colonies. Incoming ships had been detected, but no contact had yet been made.

They were in for it now, Martin thought, stepping into his excursion suit. The UA and Greater Indian Empire at open hostility. All ships banned from the ISS. Contact between Indian settlers and UA settlers forbidden. Lunar Base experiencing an uprising of some sort. All contact with Ceres cut off. UA Allied Forces already on the way to secure their ice factories.

Martin Velasquez called up his rickety console and examined the data feed. Somebody was approaching. Rapidly. Very rapidly.

Weng? Not possible. Surely…

The comm beeped. Grabbing the helmet from a closet, he toggled the comm system on his desk for what seemed like the hundredth time during the past two days.

“Overseer, two ships have suddenly entered orbit. They are nearing the geostationary transit station and will reach normal communication range in five minutes.”

“Yes, yes, I can see that. UA forces?”

“Negative.”

“What?”

Who else could be? Central African Alliance was normally fastidious in their relays. The Chinese wouldn’t dare, not after the UN debacle. Slavic Confederacy? European? Who?

Well, he thought wryly, at least by the time the refugees arrived, they would have nobody to contest their arrival. Even two ships filled with marines might be enough. Depending on how many of the MCSF were still compos mentis.

He checked the UV shield and comm system command strip on his right wrist. Old, but functional. He hoped he wouldn’t need the shield. He was no fighter.

Continue Reading

Introducing the “Oreometer”!

April 21, 2022
MThomas

“‘The understanding gained from the properties of Oreo cream could potentially be applied to the design of other complex fluid materials. My 3D printing fluids are in the same class of materials as Oreo cream,’ she says. ‘So, this new understanding can help me better design ink when I’m trying to print flexible electronics from a slurry of carbon nanotubes, because they deform in almost exactly the same way.'”

https://news.mit.edu/2022/oreometer-cream-0419

This is bound to get nominated for an Ignoble Award. But it’s kind of neat in a weird fuzzy snackaholic way.

And at least now we know why all the cream sticks to one wafer!

Thanks, MIT. No, seriously. Now I have the munchies all of a sudden…

Largest comet ever seen barreling through the solar system

April 18, 2022
MThomas

C/2014 UN271 on the far right has a nucleus 50 larger than the average comet.

“Its size, which NASA noted is larger than the state of Rhode Island, is an estimation because the comet is still too far away for Hubble to tell for certain.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/largest-comet-ever-seen-barreling-toward-inner-solar-system-nasa-2022-4

Note that the original title was “…toward the Inner Solar System”…and yet the article goes on to explain that it won’t come any closer than a billion miles from the Sun, “‘slightly farther than the distance of the planet Saturn,’ NASA said in a statement.

Uh. The inner solar system is *no where near* Saturn. Try again, fear-mongers.

Sigh.

Anyway, it really is the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” since this was seen with Hubble, and we have yet to see just what the new James Webb telescope can do. The Oort Cloud is a big place. There must be millions upon millions comets just waiting to be discovered.

Why do all the planets orbit the sun in the same direction?

April 16, 2022
MThomas

Note: not to scale (duh). Thanks, Getty. Uh, is this really the best way to show the solar system? (There…are…NINE..planets!)

Think of pizza dough flattening into an enlarging disk as it’s tossed. Because the cloud had an initial rotation, this same direction of spin has persisted…

https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/solar-system/a39729213/why-do-all-the-planets-orbit-in-the-same-direction/

So basically the answer is simply that that’s the way they all started out.

Some moons, however, do have retrograde orbits. I.e., they orbit in the opposite direction around their respective planets. Some small asteroids and comets also have retrograde orbits due to their small mass being easily affected by larger cosmic objects.

But Ibet now you’re all thinking of pizza… 🍕

Let’s make rocket fuel with E. Coli!

April 12, 2022
MThomas

In short, the algae will use sunlight to transform CO2 into sugars that are then enhanced by bio-engineered E.coli into 2,3-butanediol. Interestingly, 2,3-BDO is not entirely conceptual as it currently exists and is mainly used to produce rubber components. It has just never been thought of as fuel before.

https://www.universal-sci.com/article/producing-rocket-fuel-on-mars-using-microbes?utm_campaign=Universal-Sci%20Weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter

Neat. So all the astronauts have to do is bring, uh, how much algae we talking here?

The article doesn’t say, but it does mention a by-product of the process: Oxygen!

That would seem rather helpful. Mars or bust?

The “new year” blues…

April 2, 2022
MThomas

Well, looks like once again I got way behind schedule on my science fiction posts.

And my science posts.

And basically any of my posts.

Sorry.

The school year in Japan ends in March and then starts up again little more than three weeks later in April. And with two elementary school age kids (one soon to be middle school aged!) things were quite hectic.

And during the “break” (more like a breather than a real break) they always had friends over, or wanted to do something that required attention.

Anyway, I should be able to start regular posting in a few days once I figure out how to do more than two things at once. Apologies to you all for the “break” in the action!

Meet the man who was Shatner’s eye

March 28, 2022
MThomas

www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2022/03/22/star-trek-movie-shatners-eyeball/

The iconic “retina scan” scene in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan was not Shatner’s own eye.

It was an “eye double” software engineer.

(As the man himself says, your iPhone can take a more detailed picture these days, but it was high tech for 1982…)

How do you do it without gravity?

March 18, 2022
MThomas

Or, as I’m sure was unintentionally titled, ”Nasa probing people having sex in space.” 🤦

Ya know, I’m pretty sure we need to figure out “this whole food-air deal” first (to quote comedian Bill Hicks).

“The US space agency confirmed that there were currently no plans for a field or project office to explore the topic in any detail but that could change as we get closer to putting humans on Mars.“

Uh-huh.

Priorities…

Psyche! It might not be as heavy as we thought

March 4, 2022
MThomas

A new study suggests that 16 Psyche, one of the most intriguing and most valuable asteroids we know of, could be covered in iron-spewing volcanoes.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2022/02/24/the-iron-giant-asteroid-worth-more-than-our-global-economy-may-have-an-explosive-secret-say-scientists

Psyche is an asteroid that was probably once the heart of a planet in the early system, one that didn’t survive the violent process of planet formation.

Yep — that “worth more than the global economy” rock in space.

But we’ll have to wait a few years to find out if it’s “less metal and more hard rock” — the Psyche Mission rockets off in August 2022 and the probe won’t arrive for four more years.

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