January 18, 2017

2017: A Return to the Eyepiece

Our trusty solar scope…

I planned to get a flu shot on return to the States, honest.

We alluded last week to our recent (and still lingering) ’bout with pneumonia. Yup. We caught the flu that was burning right through the expat community in Spain just before leaving, and despite our valiant efforts, it decided to migrate to our lungs on arrival to the U.S. I even went to Urgent Care, concerned that we might’ve cracked a rib from our incessant coughing (we didn’t). [Read more...]

Re-entry: Coming Home

Catching the first sunrise of 2017.

We’re back!

The last week of 2016 saw us successfully make the jump back across the big pond that is the Atlantic Ocean back to the United States. It also saw us contract a flu that was sweeping the Spanish expat community of Jimena de la Frontera just days before departure, a flu which, despite our best efforts, progressed to mild pneumonia upon arrival back. Hey, we fully planned to get our yearly flu shot on return, honest. Anyways, we’re now (finally!) regaining strength, and thought we’d reflect on the trip last year and our return while impressions are still fresh in our mind’s eye.

It’s always a bit surreal, coming back to the U.S. Here, gas is cheap, and goods are plentiful. It’s hard not to grab random people and try to explain to them just how good they have it, and just what real poverty looks like. I know that it’s all relative to what people have experienced in their own lives, but travel opens you up to just how huge the disparity exists between the haves and have-nots is worldwide. And yet, we experienced such generosity from those who had the least to give us. Back in the States, it seems like we’re once again stuck in our own little bubble, with an indifference to others.

But its not all bad. Here, the WiFi screams along as fast as my fingers and brain can move, and I’m not clinching my teeth with every mouse click. In the States, we can really get business done. Whereas abroad, finding batteries or a place to get a haircut feels like a daily victory, here everything is a Walmart stop or an Amazon click away.

We also realize what a precious and expensive commodity personal space is on return to the U.S. Here, secondary roads are wider than main highways abroad, and garages are bigger than many European apartments.

Still, we miss the quiet solitude of writing amid the Andalusian foothills with the goats and cows, and the pleasant winding drive through the mountains home vs the endless redlight stop-start traffic of Florida’s US 19.

We did prove to ourselves that we can travel and work online indefinitely from the road in 2016, and keep the cash outflow equal to the very modest inflow our current lifestyle affords.

Of course, the return to the new ‘Occupied America‘ was a bitter sweet one, though the current political polarization isn’t as oblivious in day to day life even here in purple state Florida as our online life would suggest. We just do our best to break that bubble, and reach out to friends of all stripes. And speaking of which, PBS Newshour has an excellent quiz (and we almost NEVER take online quizzes) to help you see if you’re doing the same.

Well, that’s it for now. Time to rest up get healthy, and be ready to outrun the government’s fleet of flying killer robots if needed. Hey there’s and eclipse in 2017, so its already a good year.

Oh, and speaking of the eclipse, I wrote a book whilst traveling as well. be sure to check out our 101 Astronomical events to watch out for in 2017. Here’s to another exciting year!

More Adventures in Space-A: Slight Return

On the flight…

We’re back! 48 hours and one military hop later, and we’re back in the US of A. From the wild hills of Andalusia Spain, we now once again find ourselves in the land of strip malls, and Ihops, all in time for the looming Christmas weekend. Unlike our outward leg earlier this year, this one went pretty quick. We actually got on the very first flight we tried for. [Read more...]

Catch the Launch of CYGNSS This Afternoon

Launch of a Pegasus XL rocket. Credit: NASA.

Wanna see a unique rocket launch? We’ve got one coming right up later today, when NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) takes to the skies.

But this isn’t any ordinary rocket launch; CYGNSS will deploy from the belly of a specially designed L-1011 aircraft Stargazer on an Orbital ATK Pegasus-XL rocket deployed off the shores of the Florida Space Coast this afternoon. [Read more...]

2016: A Survival Guide

An existential crisis of a year…

So, how did your year go? If your a member of humanity on planet Earth, 2016 might have been, well, a bit of a downer. Yeah, we’re talking about the major downturn of things for the worse, politically speaking.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Great, yet another pundit, blogging on just what they think on Trump and Brexit…”¯ believe me, we’re the last ones wanting to add our voice to the din. Plus, we tend not to be political in our public and professional life; call it a hold over from our days in the military, serving under leaders we did and more often than not, did not vote for. [Read more...]

By Jove: Our Review of the JoveMoons Jupiter Simulator App

A closeup screenshot of a double shadow transit in 2017.

What’s new under the Sun? There’s certainly no shortage of astronomy apps out there competing for your hard-earned cyber dollar. Increasingly, these pocket planetarium sky programs are also showing up at public star parties, as glowing mobile phones now punctuate the darkness, waving at the night sky.

One great observational tool that has come to our attention recently is JoveMoons Pro. Developed by Yeudy Blanco and TuanisApps and available both for Android and Iphone, this simple yet elegant application displays the current positions of the four major Jovian moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) as well as the orientation of the Great Red Spot.

We recently had a chance to put the App through its paces, and we liked what we saw. The App also simulates the view from different angles in space and time as well, displaying the Jovian system from 2014 up through 2020. This is a wise idea, as things not only get a bit chaotic over time, but the Great Red Spot also tends to drift a bit in terms of longitude. The GRS has been shrinking over recent years, appearing more pale-salmon than red. Still, many planetarium programs fail to incorporate the true rotational position of the GRS, a great added feature in JoveMoons Pro.

A wide view of the JoveMoons simulator app screen interface.

We also put the program through its paces as we edit our upcoming Guide to Astronomy for 2017. We’re always on the hunt for double shadow transit events for Jupiter’s moons, and can happily report that JoveMoons Pro jibes well with other big league programs such as Stellarium and Starry Night Pro. It even displays how the size and shape of each individual moons’ shadow differs.

JoveMoons Pro is not only a handy educational resource, but is a great tool to plan that next observing session of the largest planet in the solar system. One minor quibble: when zoomed in, the app gives the impression of hurdling through space, past the Jovian moons, complete with photo- realistic surface features… this is great, but (there’s always a ‘but’,) this doesn’t really represent the view at the eyepiece, with the moons as tiny unresolved dots. A minor fact, I know, but it’s hard to have a large disk of Jove zoomed in and see just what moon is casting a shadow at the same time.

Triple shadow transits of moons are rarer still, but JoveMoons Pro does indeed see the 2015 event as forcasted by Jean Meeus, another great test. Quadruple transits of Jupiter’s moons aren’t currently possible as seen from our Earthly vantage point in our current epoch… it should, however, be possible to simulate that ‘sweet spot’ vantage point in space to find out just where they can be seen from… plus, it’s just plain fun the see a ‘half quarter Jove,’ a view only witnessed by NASA spacecraft such as Galileo or Juno.

In fact, triple play transits need to involve outermost Callisto, the only moon that can miss on occasion. The innermost Galilean moons are in a 1:2:4 resonance. App developer Yeudy Blanco mentioned that one thing they learned while developing JoveMoons Pro was just how infrequent Callisto shadow transits are.

Be sure to add JoveMoons Pro to your astronomical toolkit of essential apps.

Review: Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper

On sale now!

Note: This week, we’re hearkening back to ‘Classic Astroguyz’ with a book review. We largely stopped doing reviews since we started traveling long term over this past year, as it’s tough to receive hard cover advance copies… but hey, we can still read pdf versions, and will still conduct reviews of electronic copies. [Read more...]

A Sneak Peek at Our Latest Eclipse Tale

On sale now!

Hey, we wrote another story!

This week, we thought we’d offer the first 1,000 words of our latest eclipse-fueled scifi tale Class Field Trip for our very favorite price: free. Like what you see? You can read the entire tale here. And we’ve got lots more science fiction tales at our Amazon author page… [Read more...]

Journey to Mars: Our Two Cents

Will this scene ever become reality?

Image credit: SpaceX

Would you go to Mars?

Last week, SpaceX’s Elon Musk made a seemly bold announcement, as  he outlined how humanity could colonize Mars.

It was exhilarating stuff, for sure. Elon’s the closest thing we have to a real-life Tony Stark, one of the new generation of civilization-conscious billionaires, a guy we’d actually like to have a beer with. [Read more...]

The End of the Nation State?

A thing of the past?

What does the near future of human civilization have in store? If there’s one thing we’re terrible at as a species, it’s predicting change. Looking at predictions of the past is an instructive exercise in the folly of attempting to prognosticate. The biggest hazard appears to be the mere projection of current culture, and imagining that such a linear progression will go on forever. While everyone imagined we’d have flying cars and robotic servants by now, everybody completely missed the rise of Twitter, Ebay and Paypal. [Read more...]

12 Surprising Things I Learned in the United Kingdom

Charming lane, or major thoroughfare?

And here, we thought we knew all there was of US vs UK culture. Sure, we knew a truck is a lorry, a boot was a trunk, and the whole fries-are-chips, chips-are-crisps thing. We’d accidentally avoided long stays in the UK in our 20+ plus years in the U.S. Air Force, as the Britain was usually a 24 hour stop off en route to Africa or the Middle East. Anyhow, as we near our final 72 hours in the United Kingdom, here are 12 differences large and small that we noticed in our two months in the British Isles: [Read more...]

The Universe: Fine-Tuned, or Just Fine Without Us?

Probing the universe… or is it the other way around?

It’s a chicken and egg question that comes around every so often in cosmology.

Were we created to live in the Universe, or was the cosmos fine-tuned for us? That is, was everything we see arranged just so we had to arise?

We’re currently reading Beyond Biocentrism, a book posing this very idea, repackaged in a slightly new way. This is known as the anthropic principle, an idea that rears its ugly head every so often. [Read more...]

I’m Writing a Book – ‘I’m Writing a Book?’

My view for the next few months…

There. I said it.

One sure way to carry through with an intended goal,  is to announce it to the world. Tell no one, and you always have a viable way out. In a way, keeping something under wraps can doom a project to failure. Hey, I finally quit smoking this way, way back in 1995. tell the world, and they’ll immediately know if you didn’t carry through.

Haven’t we written several science fiction books already? Yup… but the forthcoming project is something much larger in scope: our very first adventure into non-fiction.

Long time readers might recall our yearly roundup of astronomical events to watch out for in the coming year. This started way back when in 2009 on this blog, and migrated over to Universe Today in 2014.

It has grown in size and scope, and now, we’re taking it to the next logical step. We’re expanding this into The Top 101 Astronomical Events for 2017. Each event will get a one to two page entry, and the guide will be interspersed with factoids, tidbits, and tales of astronomical lore. This will be released first as an e-guide from Universe Today, and then as a download available from Amazon.

This, of course, is an experiment. If the demand reaches a certain threshold, this may become a yearly thing. I actually started doing this sort of list for myself, as a sort of outline on upcoming astronomy events to write about in the coming year. We also noticed that, while there are some amazing guides to, and almanacs for the coming year out there, none of them have really made the transition to digital. All this info is indeed out there on ye ole web, it’s just in disparate places. Most online guides we’ve come across on blogs and websites tend to treat astronomy in the coming year very superficially, in a standard ‘Top 10′ listicle format.

We’re looking to tie all of the ‘best of the best’ in one deep-diving handbook. Expect astronomical weirdness, and facts galore. What we don’t want to write is a simple basic learners book, nor will this be a laundry list of Moon phases in a standard almanac style. We’re aiming to make this something special, something in between. We’re incorporating tips, comments and suggestions from previous years, and we have some ideas for expansion (especially in the graphics department) if there proves to be a demand for this guide.

In previous years, we’ve even manged to include the list in Ical/Google Calendar format, and we’re hoping to do so again this year. Hopefully, this will be a resource you can download to your Ipad, smartphone, or viewing device of choice for use in the field.

It’ll be an eye-crosser to construct, for sure, but we hope to chronicle the creation process here over the next few months. And hey… we’re putting this all together whilst on the road traveling, using our 13.5” screen laptop.

Onward towards 2017, and another great year in astronomy.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

The humans were here. (Photo by author)

Are we actually living in a new geological era?

Last month, the Anthropocene Working Group met in Oslo, Norway and made the tentative recommendation that we are now living in the Anthropocene Era, an age where humans are the predominant drivers of change on the planet. [Read more...]

Planes, Trains and Chicken Trucks

Waiting on the train…

How do you get from point A to B? This past weekend, we turned in our rental car and made the transition from dangerous foreign driver in a strange land, to being a wandering, car-dodging tourist on foot in urban London. [Read more...]

Meet the Neighbors- Probing Proxima Centauri B

An artist’s conception of the strange surface of Proxima Centauri B.

Image credit: ESO

By now, you’ve heard the news.

Yesterday, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory made the formal announcement that we expected was forthcoming: our nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, hosts an exoplanet.

And of course, the SEO-hungry media quickly morphed the announcement from ‘Planet Found Around Nearest Star,” to “Earth’s Twin Discovered Next Door!” [Read more...]

KIC Dreams: Thoughts on Tabby’s Star

Time to contemplate the cosmos…

All right. I know that, by now, much good ink (real and cyber) has been spilled over KIC 8462852. I also know that I’m probably not the very last science writer to turn our attention towards this strange star, drudged up in the Kepler Space Telescope data. And things have only gotten stranger, as search back through glass-plate archives has revealed that KIC 8462852 has gotten continuously fainter over the past century. [Read more...]

The Politics of Time Travel

Passing the time in Cardiff, Wales.

Seriously, can we just move on to 2017 already?

There’s a great scene in the British comedy series Misfits where a time traveler accidentally botches a plan to kill Hitler and drops his mobile phone during the attempt. You’d think the Fuhrer would’ve built a concentration camp just for all of the would-be time traveling assassins that kept showing up at his door. Anyhow, the Nazis back-engineer the future technology from the device, creating an alternate future timeline where the Reich won the war and occupies England.

But is time travel even possible? Certainly Einstein showed us one way to move forward faster than the normal 1:1 flow of time via Relativity and time dilation, though you have to get moving at pretty fast sustained speeds to really notice. Moving backwards in time, however, isn’t so clear, as everything in modern physics hints at a reality where the flow of time is, in fact a one way trip.

So much for a time traveling DeLorean, give us the ability to move backwards and forwards at will. A real study carried out in 2014 actually scoured social media, looking for time travelers who might have prescient knowledge about future events that had since come to pass.

Of course, this study was only tentative, and looked at two events that were very narrow in scope. We’re already saying ‘comet who?’ when it comes to the fizzle that was ISON, and the election of Pope Francis will soon fade into historical memory as well, unless maybe he wins an Academy award or something. How many popes from a century ago can YOU name? And would you be moved enough to go back in time and chat about them on the ye ‘ole equivalent version of social media with that newly invented time machine?

But perhaps, we’ll need to rerun that experiment again soon. The current U.S. political season is upon us, making us wonder just where the modern time travelers are, set on averting the reality of a President Trump.

Sure, it’s hard to be a dystopian science fiction writer these days. Between Brexit and the bizarre U.S. election cycle, truth really is stranger than fiction this year.

But would a President Trump prove or disprove the possibility of time travel? Here’s some of the possibilities:

  1. Trump will not become President, and time travelers already know this historical fact from their own era. Time travel is better spent going back and teasing Hitler, witnessing the Crucifixion, becoming your own grandparent, etc.

  2. Time travel backwards is impossible, or time is deterministic or continually branching off into multiple realities, which explains the strange universe we have before us today.

  3. Time travel is possible, but the election of a President Trump will, in fact end human civilization before it’s invented.

  4. The rise of President Trump is the result of the meddling of time travelers to prevent another unseen crisis, unknown to us. Perhaps Bill Cosby was meant to be President?

In any event, it seems that time travelers simply won’t save us from ourselves. But the good news is, YOU can be the hero of this dystopian future by getting out there and voting this November. With all of the complex issues of social injustice, poverty and racism confronting the world today, a President Trump at the head of the most powerful country in the world is the very last thing we need.