M Thomas Apple Author Page

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

“Green comet” buzzing Earth “Wednesday”

February 1, 2023
MThomas

A comet from the outer solar system is set to buzz Earth on Wednesday and skywatchers have a chance to glimpse the celestial object as it journeys through our cosmic neighborhood for the first time in 50,000 years.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/green-comet-approach-flyby-earth-rcna65202

If by “Wednesday” you mean “Wednesday in North America. There is no “on Wednesday” worldwide, thanks.

Observers in the Northern Hemisphere should look northeast just after the Moon sets and before dawn. You should be able to see it with a good pair of binoculars.

The last time Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) made a visit, Homo sapiens still had Neanderthal neighbors, so this is your one and only! ☄️

“Don’t worry,” they said, “the size of a truck,” they said…

January 26, 2023
MThomas

An asteroid is on its way to Earth, but don’t worry – the end is here Not here. The asteroid, named 2023 BU, is about the size of a van and is expected to miss our planet during Thursday’s flyby. However, according to a NASA scientist, it will be “one of the closest approaches of a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

https://newsbeezer.com/germanyeng/a-truck-sized-asteroid-will-come-extraordinarily-close-to-earth-tomorrow/

This thing is coming closer than even some satellites, but it’s still small enough for most of it to burn up in the atmosphere.

Most of it.

Yikes.

Webb finds rocky Earth-sized planet

January 13, 2023
MThomas

The finding demonstrates how the observatory could be used to search for potentially habitable planets in the cosmos and examine the chemical makeup of their atmospheres.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/james-webb-telescope-finds-first-exoplanet-rcna65374

LHS 475b is 41 light years away, orbiting a red dwarf star in the Octans constellation (one of a few “modern” constellations only seen in the deep southern hemisphere).

Webb can even detect the presence of atmospheres, though given LHS475b has an orbit of two days and is a “few hundred degrees warmer than Earth,” it’s unlikely it’ll find much with this exoplanet.

Still, it’s a first. The first of many, I hope.

The 2022 Year of Space Exploration

January 2, 2023
MThomas

Lots and lots and lots of space stories occurred in 2022.

From DART to Landsat, Sagittarius A* black hole to CAPSTONE, the Korean Pathfinder to SpaceX, and to the ISS, Moon, and Mars, here’s a summary of major space exploration projects last year.

Looking forward to 2023 and beyond!

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

December 11, 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 I bet now you’re all thinking of pizza… 🍕

Volcanos, Venus, and Earth 🌋 Hellscape unveiled

November 25, 2022
MThomas

A new study shows that massive volcanic eruptions over an extended period of time may be responsible for changing the planet into what it is today. If there was simple life on ancient Venus, volcanism was its doom. The study also shows how powerful volcanic activity has played a role in shaping Earth’s habitability and how Earth only narrowly avoided the same fate as Venus.

https://www.universetoday.com/158696/volcanoes-are-the-worst-theyve-caused-extinctions-on-earth-and-probably-killed-venus/#more-158696

Venus is hot enough to melt lead, which is why no spaceship has ever survived to land on the surface.

And, no, there is nothing alive floating around in its toxic atmosphere.

But this is a neat article. Three future missions are planned for Venus (two by NASA – VERITAS and DAVINCI – and one by ESA – EnVision, which sounds more like a song and dance competition than a scientific probe).

Venus or bust!

Astronomers found a black hole in our cosmic backyard!

November 9, 2022
MThomas

Only 1600 light years away!

And it’s a binary system. Very odd.

It’s also “dormant.” Even stranger.

Ten times the size of our Sun, as far away from its companion star as the Earth is from the Sun.

Announced just in time for Halloween…

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/05/science/astronomy-black-hole.html

DART did it! 🎯

October 12, 2022
MThomas

“For the first time ever, humanity has changed the orbit of a planetary body,” said NASA planetary science division director Lori Glaze.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/dart-mission-deflected-asteroid-for-planetary-defense

A change of 32 minutes in orbit — but only 4% of the total orbital period. To deflect an asteroid away from Earth, it’d better be done several years in advance. 🌏

Still, it can be done. An amazing first.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 36: Transit, Luna to Ceres

September 23, 2022
MThomas

What has gone on before: The Artemis asteroid mining ship crew and Weng, architect turned water reclamation plant engineer and part-time politician, have arrived to train the afflicted United Mars Colonies residents how to cope with their condition. Meanwhile, retired Captain Sergey Bardish suffered a stroke as he and Elodie Gagnon fled the fighting on Luna Base. But someone has now caught up to them…

They couldn’t possibly outrun the hunter ship. Sergey couldn’t identify the vessel, not from his prone position, certainly not in his physical condition. But he knew from experience that any hunter ship could run faster than them, even if the lunar skiff had more maneuverability. And he had a strong suspicion who it was, anyway. Someone he probably should have dealt with in the past.

Music was playing now. He caught just a few refrains. Piano. Ah. Moonlight Sonata. A bit melodramatic, he thought, but appropriate.

He returned his thoughts to this Elodie person who had chosen his adopted daughter’s favorite composer. He still had no idea why she had rescued him from Lunar Base. Or even why he needed rescuing in the first place.

Somebody wanted him. Badly. But why?

In the end, it mattered not to him. All that he wanted was what he had always wanted.

To remain free and independent. Owned by and beholden to no one.

Not even his rescuer, no matter her taste in music.

“El-Elo-die,” he croaked. “W-what now?”

There was no sound from the front of the little ship. He tried again, a bit louder. Still nothing. The music swelled.

He closed his eyes, making a fist with his good hand. No, he wouldn’t die like this. Lying down and useless.

With every ounce of willpower he could muster, Sergey struggled to his feet. Foot, he corrected himself, grabbing onto anything he could to get upright. It took considerably longer than he thought. After a few excruciatingly long moments he found an arm looped round him, assisting him the length of the ship. He was helped into the navigator’s chair, next to the pilot’s chair.

No captain needed on a two-person ship. He would’ve smiled with chagrin, if he could still smile.

“I guess you just aren’t the kind of person who is willing to stay still,” Elodie said. She had sat next to him, almost as if by magic, without his noticing.

He flickered his eyes at the console.

“Where is the approaching ship?” she guessed. He tried to nod his head, but it hurt too much. But at least he could still grunt.

She called up the flight and intercept trajectories and overlaid them so that he could clearly see them. 

“No ship registered ID. Most likely hunters. Perhaps pirate.”

He examined the readout, then tried to shake his head, slowly. It came out looking more like a twitch to the right.

“No? Do you know who it is?”

He grunted.

“Captain, before you tell me what you’re thinking, I want to tell you something.”

He continued to gaze at the trajectories in front of them. The dot representing the hunter ship slowly closing in.

“I received a transmission from Ceres. The mining council was briefly taken over by a hunter captain named Ildico. I think you know her.”

He blinked his eyes to show that he did. And waited.

“Ultimately she was unsuccessful. The Artemis showed up. Helped depose her. Now it’s on its way to Mars. The Sundering has begun. We will no longer bow to the whims of the old order, no longer be their mining slaves. No longer be powerless, controlled by—”

He sighed, waved his hand. Enough with the speeches and politics, he thought. It had nothing to do with him. At least he knew that Riss was safely away from whatever coup, whatever powerplay had occurred. She had chosen independence, as did he. He was satisfied.

Only one thing left to do now.

“Captain,” Elodie said forcefully. “You must come with me to Ceres. The remaining hunter ships will listen to you. They respect you.”

He tilted his head to the side, waving his hand again. Then gestured at the screen in front of them.

“Yes, I am not sure how to evade this ship, if it proves hostile. The message I received did not talk about any kind of rescue ship coming. I think the mining council still believes I am on Luna, safe and soundly hidden. But somehow, somehow—”

He gestured with his right hand. “Pen. Pen.”

She complied, setting down a pad and stylus for him. Sergey tried in vain to write a few letters, managing only to scrawl indecipherable scribbles. He seemed on the verge of tossing the pen when Elodie said, “Captain. Don’t write. Draw.”

He stopped, then began to draw images. Two ships. One small, one large. Lines between them. An even smaller, tubelike ship. An asterisk, covering the tubelike ship.

He pointed to the asterisk, then to himself. Then from the small ship to Elodie. Then drew a circle and added stick figures around it. He made one hold what looked like a pad or some similar device. He then drew a line from the small ship to the circle again pointed to Elodie.

“You want me to go to the circle? Is this Ceres?”

He blinked.

“You want to stay in the small ship. This one we are in?”

He tilted his head to the side.

“No? Then, you want to go to the big ship?”

He tilted his head again and closed his eyes.

She suddenly grasped his design.

“Captain, I can’t let you do that. My duty is to prevent your capture and escort you safely to—”

He grabbed her arm with his good hand and held it firmly. Looked her in the eyes. Then said as clearly as possible, “Elo. Dee. Give. Mess. Age. All. Hear.”

He kicked his right foot on the floor and pointed at it. She looked down at it, then up again at him. He gestured again and grunted. Carefully, she removed his boot.

Bardish couldn’t see her remove the chip from an inner pocket in the back of the boot, but he was sure she would find it with little trouble. An old hunter tradition. A final, farewell message. He had always carried it with him, occasionally re-recording it before he thought he might meet his fate. He couldn’t remember when he had last done so. Probably well before the attempted coup. Possibly before Riss had left to track down her rock.

It was just as well. His mind hadn’t changed about many things. Especially since the trial.

The trial that had never should have happened.

Elodie showed him the transponder capsule, with the chip inside.

“Captain, do you want me to broadcast this?”

He blinked, grunted, and pointed at the image of the tubelike ship.

“I understand,” she replied. She held his good hand with both of hers. “You are a legend, Sergey. To all of us. I will make sure that everyone will hear.”

He smiled. Only half his mouth moved, making it appear more like a grimace.

“Well, at least those who care to hear, at any rate.”

He grunted, then looked at the console. Their pursuer had gained considerable ground on them. Most likely would demand to board them. For what purpose, he did not know. But at least this way he would stay free.

If only he knew where Riss was. And that good-for-nothing fiancé of hers.

As the clone pilot assisted his entry into the pod, he prayed for their success. For Riss and Weng. Not for himself. He cared not whether the stratagem worked. This clone, Elodie, she was capable enough of defending herself. 

He lay in the tiny pod, hands clasped together in prayer. He only wanted to sleep. Sleep, and to face the darkness on his own terms.

Elodie paused.

“Farewell.”

He nodded in response.

The door above his head closed. The music stopped. The pod launched.

Sergey closed his eyes.

Green grass, flowing light blue banners and red rising spires floated before them.

The dirge began.

Beside his old horse a soldier is lying

Beside the soldier his mother is crying…

Above them in circles the bird is flying…

My body pale white, like seeds of poppy–

wounded sore in desperate flight.

O mother mine, do not sorrow so

To see your son in such plight…

Search for a doctor, a carpenter, as well.

The doctor cannot help but

The carpenter a small house will make…

When all is lost and all is finished,

My builder and my war, farewell and good-bye.

O mother mine, cease all your weeping,

Because your poor son is going…


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 37: Transit, Ceres to Luna. Gennaji and Karel finally come to an agreement, and things do not go well.

Spectacular image of Jupiter’s auroras and moons

August 23, 2022
MThomas

Courtesy NASA. Note that the blue, white, green, yellow, and orange colors are artificial, only added to make features revealed by infrared stand out for human eyes. You can see the planet’s rings, aurora, and two “tiny” moons (at left; they’re not really that tiny!).

“We’ve never seen Jupiter like this. It’s all quite incredible,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, of the University of California, Berkeley, who helped lead the observations.

“We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” she added in a statement.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/james-webb-space-telescope-shows-jupiters-auroras-tiny-moons

The above is supposed to be in “quote” format, but WP really messed up this feature when they switched to so-called “block” mode (which I can’t stand).

Anyway, the image is fairly spectacular, from the new James Webb Space Telescope which is positioned 1 million miles away from Earth (i.e., in the second LaGrange point, or L2).

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