August 23, 2017

Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2017

On pre-order sale now

(release date: May 16th, 2017)

Note: the 2017 Nebula Awards ceremony is held this year on May 20th in Pittsburgh, PA.

What’s up in sci-fi? Every year, all of science fiction-dom holds their collective breath for that most prestigious of Awards: the Nebulas. Along with the Hugo Awards, the Nebulas (Nebulae?) feature the very best of the best for the genre. First awarded in 1965, a historical list of the Nebula Awards reads like a Who’s Who of science fiction, and includes such now iconic classics as Larry Niven’s Ringworld (1970) and Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) as past winners. [Read more...]

Faint Fuzzies: Tales of Comet Tails

Avast: a great daytime comet.

Photo by author; from the Greenwich Observatory collection.

Turns out, finding fuzzballs isn’t easy. If you’re like us, you’ve been spending many a morning hunting for two faint periodic comets: 45P/Honda-Markov-Padukov and 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresk. Yes, they’re both making close passes in 2017 as many a website have exclaimed, but they’re also both tiny and faint binocular objects from dark sky sites at the very best. Still, everyone from our repair guy to our landlord to random folks on social media have asked us how to see these intrinsically faint comets. [Read more...]

Astro-Vid of the Week: An Amazing Grazing Occultation

Going, going…

Credit Stellarium

What a difference a few 100 meters can make. On the night of March 5th, 2017, the waxing crescent Moon occulted the bright star Aldebaran. This event was well placed for North American viewers… heck, it even occurred over the weekend on a Saturday night, to boot. We even managed to dodge social obligations to briefly duck outside with our trusty 15x 45 image-stablized binoculars to watch Aldebaran wink out behind the dark limb of the Moon. [Read more...]

Astro-Vid of the Week: Nuclear Test Films Made Public

Operation Teapot.

Credit: LLNL

It was the worst of times. If you’re over 40, you remember the good old/bad old days of the Cold War as a kid, and the sort of inevitable feeling that the world would end in a nuclear cataclysm. And though that existential threat still exists, the fear of the Evil Soviet Empire has largely been replaced with terrorism, climate change and an uneasy, unknown future.

We got a fascinating glimpse back into those early days of the Cold War recently, when physicists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory brought some of these old films of early atomic testing back to light. 210 atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted by the U.S. between 1945 and 1962, and about 10,000 films were made using high speed cameras shooting from various vantage points.

They’re both stark and eerie to watch. Researchers soon realized as they dug into the vaults and began digitizing these films that much of what was recorded was either misidentified or had never been scientifically analyzed. About 6,500 of the films have been located, 4,200 have been digitized and 750 have been declassified to date. The LLNL has begun posting them up to their YouTube website for public viewing.

The United States ceased nuclear testing in 1992. The films were beginning to degrade, and researchers realized that the window of opportunity to digitally archive these films for posterity was soon closing.

And as a new wave of nationalism seems to sweep the planet and we now sit just 2 minutes to midnight, its worth watching these films both as a reminder of the promise and peril that wielding the power of the atom provides to the fate a future of humanity.

Review: Spear of Light by Brenda Cooper

On sale now!

Get set for a romp into a trans-humanist future of epic proportions. We’re talking about this week’s review of Spear of Light by Brenda Cooper, out now from Pyr Books. The sequel to Edge of Dark and the second book in her Glittering Edge duology. Spear of Light brings the battle between humans and the terror world of AIs to an ultimate climax. [Read more...]

Astro-Vid of the Week: The First Airborne Observatory

Keck revisits the rings of Uranus.

Credit: NASA/JPL

I still remember the announcement, 40 years ago today.

Of course, news flowed lots slower in those days, so my eight year old self caught it days later, on one of those news shorts they would run between Saturday morning cartoons. Uranus, it turned out, has a ring system, the first planet other than Saturn known to possess such as feature. I dutifully went to the solar system chart I’d drawn in third grade, and spent the rest of the morning updating a lop-sided Uranus with a ring system all its own. [Read more...]

Humanity Was Here

Under ceaseless skies…

Photo by author.

Astronomy forces us to think big. And not just big in terms of gazillions of miles of distance, but also in terms of time. The stars in the Milky Way galaxy, for example, are swirling around the galactic core to the tune of one orbit every quarter of a billion years but the constellations you see from you backyard tonight looked pretty much the same on the day you were born, and won’t have changed much come the day that you die. [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...]

Watch the Launch of SpaceX’s Dragon on CRS10 Live

Enter the Dragon… Credit: NASA

Ready to catch a space launch? Don’t happen to live on the Florida Space Coast? We’ve got a shot coming right up tomorrow morning, with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket departing from the Kennedy Space Center tomorrow, February 18th with CRS-10 at 15:01 Universal Time (UT)/10:01 AM EST.

That’s not a typo; this is indeed launching from the Kennedy Space Center, not Cape Canaveral to the south. The is the first launch from the KSC since the end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011. Liftoff will occur from the historic launch pad 39A, the same pad that not only put shuttle orbiters into space, but sent humans to the Moon.

You can watch all the action here on NASA’s shinny new YouTube live feed, which is much more stable in our opinion than many other secondary feeds, especially when using spurious internet and spotty WiFi connections:

It’s also worth following SpaceX’s dedicated feed as well, as they’ll try to once again land the Falcon stage one booster back on land, shortly after launch.

This is a historic first from the KSC, for both the site and SpaceX. NASA will hold a pre-launch news conference today at 20:00 UT/3:00 PM EST, and the webcast for tomorrow’s launch begins 90 minutes prior to liftoff at 13:30 UT/8:30 AM EST. Dragon will spend two days chasing down the International Space Station, for a grapple and berthing set for Monday, February 20th, at 14:00 UT/ 9:00 AM EST. That webcast will also go live on NASA TV just 90 minutes prior.

And keep an eye out for the Dragon, as it chases down the ISS. We’ll be watching for Dragon on CRS-10 once it’s in orbit, and we’ll publish sighting ops worldwide on our Twitter feed under @Astroguyz.

Don’t miss it!

Review: True Genius by Joel Shurkin

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Chances are, you’ve never heard of one of the great minds of the 20th century. Physicist Richard Garwin was behind some of the major turning points of the past half century, though we’ll have to admit, we’d never heard of him, either. 88 years old now, Garwin was not only at the inception of the hydrogen bomb, but technology used in Vietnam, the Star Wars missile defense initiative, and lots more.

We just finished reading True Genius: The Life of Richard Garwin The Most Influential Scientist You’ve Never Heard of by Joel Shurkin from Prometheus Books. True Genius not only takes you back to the early days of Las Alamos and the good old bad old days of the early Cold War, but shows science at its best, as researchers race to solve problems in the name of national security.

True Genius gets you right down into the nuts and bolts of some of the problems faced by post-Manhattan Project-era scientists, the few remaining of which won’t be with us very much longer. While the creation of the first atomic bomb during World War II is well documented, the later struggle to complete the first hydrogen bomb — utilizing a fission weapon to create a brief but powerful fusion reaction — has been largely untold. And this story is applicable with today’s news as well, as the first hydrogen bomb detonation by the United States marked the closest the Bulletin of Atomic scientists has ever moved the Doomsday Clock at 2 minutes to midnight, an asymptote we’re know just half a minute away from this year.

The book also uncovers some fascinating strange but true stories of intrigue, such as plans to use nukes in Vietnam and some of the the other crazy ideas of the Cold War (James Van Allen’s biography, The First 8 Billion Miles also talks about ideas such as a continuous ‘nuke shield’ over the U.S. which was, thankfully, never implemented.) We won the siege of Khe Sanh during the Tet offensive largely because of technology and microphones dropped around the base that allowed Marines to snoop on Viet Cong encroaching on the surrounding hills, all tech that Garwin had a hand in.

Garwin was also a member of the JASON Defense Advisory Group, a think tank group composed of some of the greatest minds of our time that has advised presidents on technical and scientific issues since 1966 right up through the recent Obama administration.

Garwin was the real deal, a truly curious mind always eager to discover just how things work. Personal anecdotes dot the narrative of the book, such as the time he disassembled and repaired a photocopier, on the spot. Garwin laments of the proliferation of so-called modern day “experts” who often suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect, commentary on how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Like many scientists who worked on the bomb, Garwin was also a key advocate for nuclear non-proliferation in later years, a cause he’s still active in today.

Be sure to check out True Genius for a look at a fascinating lifetime journey through 20th century science, and a look at the life of a man who guided America’s path through troubling times.

Next week: we finish up our science fiction duology review with Brenda Khan’s Spear of Light, the sequel to The Edge of Dark.

In For the Long Haul, Fixing the Future

In our natural habitat.

So, how are YOU holding up? Today marks two weeks since the inauguration/coronation of El Presidente, and like many, it’s tough to keep the old nose to the grindstone and focus on writing. This isn’t the usual distraction of kids/TV/yard guys around the house that’s easily shut out with ear defenders (yes, we occasional type with 105 Db proof-rated ear defenders on. Sometimes, I even wear a back brace, too) or a good blast of death metal music. [Read more...]

Doomsday Clock Announcement Set for Thursday

The Castle Bravo nuclear blast from 1954.

Credit: The United States Department of Energy.

How close are you to an existential crisis? In the case of humanity, we might just reach a tipping point this week. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will make their yearly ‘Doomsday Clock’ announcement this coming Thursday live at 10:00 AM EST/15:00 Universal Time (UT). [Read more...]

Review: Department Zero by Paul Crilley

On sale now!

Ever wondered why this reality is as strange as it is? Certainly, the multi-verse idea is one very possible solution, especially in light of the worldwide political wackiness we’ve experienced in 2016.

And former Los Angeles detective Harry Priest (Atticus Pope, or at least, that’s who he thinks he was before the world went strange on him) is about to join the ranks of those who attempt to keep order across multiple dimensions. [Read more...]

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...]