March 19, 2018

Dating Artemis: An Astronomical Sci-Fi Mystery Solved?

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I love it when a hard science fiction book presents an astronomical mystery.

I came across just such a mystery reading Artemis, the latest science fiction novel out late last year from Andy Weir.

Artemis presents the story of Jasmine Bashara, a young girl trying to make her way in the first settlement on the Moon. Artemis is a thriving town, built around Earth tourism at the Apollo 11 Sea of Tranquility landing site.

We won’t introduce any spoilers here; suffice to say, if you like some hard science blended into your fiction, you’ll love Artemis. Like The Martian, Artemis also seems to be near-future science fiction, both culturally and technologically. We say “near” as in something that’s plausible over the next half-century or so. Also like The Martian, Artemis doesn’t peg the exact date when the events transpire… or does it? As an amateur astronomer and avid sky watcher, I noticed a few clues that just might pin down the exact future date of the tale.

Dating the Martian

Weir puts lots of research into his novels. With The Martian, he states that if you can work out the Hohmann transfer windows between the Earth and Mars needed for the Ares III mission to rescue and return Mark Watney back to Earth, then you could pin down the date in the 2030s when the events in The Martian transpired.

Is there a similar puzzle in Artemis? Well, I think there could be, based on you key celestial sights mentioned in the book.

Artemis runs on Kenya Time, as missions headed to the Moon depart from the equatorial country, taking advantage of its maximum rotational boost eastward and its favorable laws encouraging space companies to set up shop there. Kenya Time is Universal Time, +3 hours.

The most conspicuous objects in the sky as seen from the Apollo 11 landing site are the Sun and the Earth. “Daytime” on the Moon lasts about two weeks from sunrise to sunset… but the Moon is locked with one hemisphere turned perpetually Earthward, so the Earth would never set. Instead, Earth would go through phases like the Moon does as seen from the Earth, as it slowly circles a spot high in the sky due to the rocking nutation and libration motion of the Moon.

Earthrise as seen from Apollo 8 in orbit around the Moon. Credit: NASA

The phases you see from the surface of the Moon, however, are opposite to what you see on the Earth. This means when the Moon is Full from the Earth, Earth is at New as seen from the Moon. Likewise, waxing versus waning phases are reversed.

Artemis gets these phases right where it makes mention of them. On their own, however, one cycle of phases is pretty much like another… even making mention of something like an eclipse wouldn’t really pin the date down, as several lunar and solar eclipses happen, every year.

We get a possible lead, however, from the following passage when the protagonist checks her Earth-phase watch:

”Lene checked her wristwatch. ‘Ten thirteen a.m…and there’s currently a half-Earth, by the way. It’s waxing.’”

Now, that’s a little more specific… converting 10:13 AM Kenya Time to 7:13 Universal Time we just need to reverse the phase, and find when there’s a waning Last Quarter (half) Moon seen from the Earth around the same time.

Combing through the Astro-Pixels listing of Moon phases for the 21st century for Last Quarter Moons that will fall on 7:13 UT plus or minus one minute , I came up with the following possibilities:

August 30th, 2021 (it’s not likely that there’ll be a lunar outpost in just over three years!)

August 9th, 2099 (more likely).

Earth on August 9th, 2099 as seen from the surface of the Moon. Credit: Stellarium.

Of course, a few caveats are in order. Phases such as New, Full and Quarter are only instants in time. You could look up at the Moon (or the Earth, from the surface of the Moon) several hours one either side of Quarter phase and it would still appear pretty much half-illuminated. I own a Casio watch that shows the current phase of the Moon, for example… but it would be hard to pin down the exact moment of the Full or Last Quarter Moon with just the watch display alone.

Our very own “Moon phase watch…” photo by author.

Is the passage a true “tell” planted by the author? Maybe, maybe not. There are other methods the author could’ve used that are even more exact. Transits of Mercury and Venus across the face of the Sun, for example, are also visible from the surface of the Moon. On November 12th, 2190, for example, Mercury will transit the Sun, just hours from a solar eclipse… and if you’re visiting the Apollo landing site on November 13th, 2236, you can see Mercury transit the face of the Sun, during an eclipse:

Perhaps, future celestial phenomena will make their way into an Artemis sequel?

Read more original hard science-fueled tales by Dave Dickinson.


Review: Blockbuster Science by David Siegel Bernstein

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So. The future is now. Is it what you expected? As a child of the 1970s, 2017 seemed like an imaginably far off date. Heck, 2000 seemed impossibly remote, a year straight out of science fiction. And while we’re not vacationing on Phobos and traveling via teleporter just yet, we are all carrying computers in our pocket, and everything is finally made of plastic. [Read more...]

Review: The Forgotten Genius of Oliver Heaviside

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Quick: who was the father of modern electrical theory? Talk about the early age of electricity and names such as Thomas Edison, James Maxwell and Nikola Tesla come to mind… all of these pioneers deserve their due, sure, but chances are, you have never heard of Oliver Heaviside.

The Forgotten Genius of Oliver Heaviside: A Maverick of Electrical Science by Basil Mahon seeks to change that, and presents the life story of the man who’s life work gave birth to modern electrical engineering. [Read more...]

Review: Being in the Shadow by Dr. Kate Russo

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Headed to the August 21st total solar eclipse? You could do well to listen to those who have stood in the shadow of the Moon before. Like many other umbraphiles (those who chase after eclipses), we’ll be headed northward to greet the Moon’s shadow two short lunations from now as it races across the contiguous United States from coast-to-coast for the first time in nearly a century.

This will be the first total solar eclipse for us, and the celestial spectacle is sure to mint a whole new generation of eclipse chasers… but what is totality really like? Dr. Kate Russo’s Being in the Shadow gives us a glimpse of how the November 13th, 2012 eclipse unfolded through the testimonies of several individuals who share their experiences leading up to, during and after the eclipse. These aren’t astronomers, scientists or even veteran eclipse chasers: rather, these are all eclipse neophytes who, for one reason or another, decided to witness the event. These testimonies offer a unique perspective on the eclipse. They also give you a sense of what so many other eclipse chasers reiterate: it’s hard to describe the eclipse experience, a “false dawn” at midday where reality turns on its head.

These stories also underscore two key facets of a total solar eclipse that are sure to come into play this August: 1. getting into the path of totality is a must for the true experience. We saw the 1994 annular solar eclipse from the shores of Lake Erie, and can attest that a 99% eclipsed Sun is still pretty darned bright. And 2. While all safety precautions need to be undertaken during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, you can indeed look at totality (the solar corona is about twice as bright as a Full Moon). Often, the public gets bombarded with “don’t look at the Sun” messages leading up to an eclipse, to the point that people hide inside and shutter their windows. But if you fail to see the ethereal glow of totality, you’re missing the key climax of a total solar eclipse.

Being in the Shadow is an essential read leading up to the Great American Eclipse. I’d also recommend Dr. Russo’s Total Addiction. And us? We’ll be waiting for the shadow of the Moon in Columbia, South Carolina on August 21st, a fine display of hubris owing the the possibility of clouds on a summer afternoon, we know… hey, we’ll have our trusty Fiat handy, ready to dash down (or up) the path as needed on eclipse day. And then just seven short years later April 8th, 2024, the United States gets another total solar eclipse crossing from the southwest to the northeast, right over my hometown of Presque Isle, Maine… where will you be?

- Also: Read our free e-book 101 Astronomical Events for 2017, for a tale of eclipses, Edison’s Chickens and more.

- Check out 12 Great Eclipses in History via

- Eclipse… science fiction? Check out our original tales: Exeligmos, The Syzygy Gambit and Peak Season.

Review: Quantum Fuzz

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Feeling lost in the world of quantum physics? It has been said that only a few human brains on the planet truly understand the bizarre world on the quantum scale. It is true that it involves a fair amount of “mathiness” to even grasp much more than the basic predictions of quantum physics. [Read more...]

Review: Starlight Nights by Leslie Peltier

An astronomy classic!

Did you know that there are oodles of books out on the web for free? And no, we’re not talking about Amazon Prime, but sites such as Project Gutenberg where stuff that’s long since been in the public domain is free to download as a pdf for off-line perusal on ye ole smart phone. [Read more...]

Review- The 2015 Rhysling Anthology edited by Rich Ristow

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Did you know: science fiction poetry is a thing? We’ll make the confession that we barely knew that the sub-genre (and the sub-sub genres within) existed before we got into the reviewing and writing game of the modern web. [Read more...]

Review: Kepler and the Universe by David Love

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One of the greatest and most tragic tales in the history of astronomy is the life of Johannes Kepler. And though many are familiar with the 16th-17th century scientist, mostly due to his laws of planetary motion, few know the story of Kepler the man. [Read more...]

Free Fiction Friday: A Standard of Deviation Part 7

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Ready to jump back in to our latest saga? Then without further fanfare, here’s chapter 7 of our latest sci-fi tale. Remember, if you’re new to the tale, to start back with chapter 1, and you can read A Standard of Deviation and other tales like it in its entirety online.

A Standard of Deviation


David Dickinson

Chapter 7

But such wanton fantasies were to be quickly abandoned in favor of the present. I was wakened early by the sergeant at arms to flashes beyond the port bay window.

“Ma’am,” he called out as he shook me in a calm manner that hid the urgency of the situation. “You’re going to have to depart, immediately. The Scrappers have found the station.” [Read more...]

Review: A Ray of Light in a Sea of Dark Matter

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What is it?

It’s an amazing revelation of modern cosmology to realize that we’re comprised of the rare exceptions of the universe. Baryonic matter, the stuff that you, your Iphone and radio telescopes are made up of, is the left over minority in the cosmos.

It turns out that it’s all dark, at least to our limited primate eyes.  A Ray of Light in a Sea of Dark Matter by Charles Keeton is a short work which narrows in on the subject, looking at the discovery and history of the hunt for dark matter and where the research and the field of cosmology might be headed. Part of the Pinpoints series out from Rutgers University Press, A Ray of Light looks to address a modern question of science in a simple and concise way. [Read more...]

Review: Explore the Cosmos Like Neil DeGrasse Tyson

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Ever want to explore the universe through an astronomer’s eyes?

The reboot of the Cosmos television series has cemented Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s place in the universe as the successor to the late great Carl Sagan. But before he was a science celebrity and a household name, Tyson was a research astrophysicist as well as a tireless science popularizer and the director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium. [Read more...]

Mathematical Curiosities by Alfred S. Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann

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Today, we’ll delve into the exciting and exhilarating world of mathematics. Wait, wait, come back…

This week we’ll be looking at Mathematical Curiosities: A Treasure Trove of Unexpected Entertainments out from Prometheus Books by Alfred S. Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann. [Read more...]

Review: The Cosmic Cocktail by Katherine Freese

A stellar recipe!

It’s the hottest topic in modern astrophysics. What exactly is dark matter and dark energy? It is kind of amazing to think that astrophysicists do not yet completely understand just what most of the universe is made of. [Read more...]

Review: Faraday, Maxwell and the Electromagnetic Field by Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon

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Quick, what was the most pivotal breakthrough of the 19th century? And no, it wasn’t “steampunk”… it was our understanding of electromagnetism, a breakthrough that fundamentally altered our civilization. Electric lights, refrigerators, hi-fis and blogging wouldn’t exist without it. This week’s review looks at the lives and times of two inventors and scientists whose insights made the modern miracle of electricity possible. [Read more...]

Review: Five Billion Years of Solitude by Lee Billings

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Where did we come from as a species, and where is the party headed? What’s the expiration date for life on Earth, and just how common — or rare — are we? Those are the big questions in modern day science. This week’s review tackles the latest thinking concerning all of these weighty subjects and more. Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by science journalist Lee Billings is a fascinating look at the state of the field. We’re talking astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial life and intelligence, a truly interdisciplinary endeavor that encompasses all of modern science from physics and astronomy to biology and psychology. [Read more...]

Review: A History of the World in 12 Maps by Jerry Brotton

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So, you think you know maps? Author and historian Jerry Brotton will show you otherwise. This week’s review takes us through a fascinating trip back through history from an unusual perspective. A History of the World in 12 Maps looks at how we’ve perceived the surface of this planet we inhabit throughout the ages, and how we’ve grappled with depicting it over the millenia. [Read more...]

Review: Mission to Mars by Buzz Aldrin

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America’s premier space pioneer has a vision for space exploration.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin has been there. A veteran of Gemini 12 and Apollo 11, Aldrin was the second man to walk on the Moon after Neil Armstrong and has since been a vocal proponent of manned space exploration.

And it shows, in his breathtaking new proposal for man in space entitled Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration. [Read more...]

Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield

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By now, you’ve seen the video.

Last year, astronaut Chris Hadfield’s cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity went viral on YouTube. This capped a hugely successful stint for Hadfield aboard the International Space Station for the Canadian Space Agency astronaut, and a great ad hoc publicity campaign via social media. [Read more...]