May 28, 2020

July 2010: Life in the Astro-blogosphere.

(Editor’s Note: As of July 1st, we are ramping down our output and limiting ourselves to the AstroEvent & Review of the Week in our quest to wrap up our science teaching degree. Don’t worry; we’re still in new content mode, just throttling back a bit. You can also get up to date astro-news and musings via following us at @Astroguyz on Twitter!)

July holds several interesting astronomical events; although the Earth approaches aphelion this month, you’d never know it at Astroguyz HQ what with the sultry jungle-like conditions. What follows is a brief rundown of what you can expect to see this month at an Astroguyz blog near you;

Coming to a Sky Near You: Our home world (well, mine anyway) Earth starts off the month at aphelion, or its farthest point from the Sun on July 6th.  But the big ticket event is the total solar eclipse over the South Pacific on July 11th. This month, we’ll also show you how to sight Neptune in its original discovery position, as well as cover the occultations of the stars S Scorpii and E Arietis by the Moon on July 21st and 7th, respectively. In the realm of events of the strange and curious, the planet Saturn will be very near the galaxy NGC 4073 on the 25th and its moons will be in order on my birthday, the 31st.

This Month in Science: Probably the most anticipated event this month will be the Rosetta spacecraft’s flyby of asteroid Lutetia on July 10th. On this site we will also review of the Transits of Venus by William Sheehan & John Westfall… can you believe that we’re now less than one year out from the final transit of Venus in our lifetimes? Also, we take a look at Microsoft’s entry into online planetary software with the WWT Telescope. Also, we take a look at Astronomy Magazines, both newsstand and virtual.

This Month in Science Fiction: As reviewed here last month, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald comes out from Pyr Books on July 6th. In the retro-category we review 5o Science Fiction Short Stories… also expect a sneak peek at The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder out from Pyr books in September.

Launches in July: First up is a July 9th launch of the first satellite of the Space Based Surveillance System aboard a Minotaur 4 out of Vandenberg AFB. The next day on July 10th, EchoStar 15 launches out of Baikonur. This is followed by a July 27/28 Cartosat 2B out of Satish Dhawan Space Center in India, and the month ends with the July 30th launch of AEHF 1 aboard an Atlas V out of Cape Canaveral. Follow the latest launch changes and updates at SpaceFlightNow.

Astro Bloopers: A science related blooper came our way recently via the otherwise excellent forensic anthropology drama Bones, Season 1 Ep 9. The key case kept stating that the 1500 year old skeleton dated from the Iron Age… granted, the smelting of iron began in different cultures at different times, but the Iron Age for northern Europe generally predates the fall of the Roman Empire… this puts the idea of an Iron Age skeleton from circa 500 A.D. on very questionable ground.

This Month in Astro-History: July 26th, 1963: Sycom 2, the first geosynchronous satellite was launched; pay per view hasn’t been the same since.

Astro Quote of the Month: “It’s all coming together, and politicians are starting to notice. I call it a growing coalition between the tree huggers, the do-gooders, the sodbusters, the cheap hawks, the evangelicals, the utility share holders, the Mom and Pop drivers, and Willie Nelson.”

- R. James Woolsey, Former Director of the CIA on the new environmentalists.


Review: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald.

One of our fondest stations during our military years was Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.  Being at the cultural and temporal crossroads of Asia and Europe, Turkey stands between ancient and modern civilization. It seems that every conqueror and army has at one time or another marched across its jagged terrain. Heck, politics and war was what brought me there as a young buck sergeant. Incirlik is positioned just outside the city of Adana not far from where Alexander’s armies once passed and fought. In Turkey, 10th century meets the 20th, with American made F-16s screaming overhead as shepherds tend to their flocks as they have for millennia.

Thus is was with great fascination that I dug in to my advance reading copy of Ian McDonalds’ The Dervish House out from Pyr books next month. Long time fans of Mr. McDonald and this site will remember our review of Cyberabad Days, a collection of tales from a near futuristic Indian subcontinent. Newcomers will even recall last week’s review of Mr. McDonald’s Ares Express, by our ace Sci-Fi reviewer Sabrina… should we formally declare this to be Ian McDonald appreciation month?

Mr. McDonald has a knack for painting a near future world that is both convincing and compelling, a rarity worthy of Frank Herbert or J.R. Tolkien. You are totally drawn in as this Istanbul of the year 2027 unfolds in a saga worthy of the Blade Runner tradition of anti-utopia fame. But as it always is the case in Turkey, the ultra-modern must give way to the ancient undercurrent of superstition and tradition. The Dervish House follows the residents of a building complex as events unfold in the city that may have worldwide repercussions. The drama is layered in day- by-day chapters which cover a stretch of one Monday to Friday work week. Turkey has become even more vital as a center for commerce in a world that trades in everything from gas and petroleum to information and carbon credits. Mr. McDonald is also certainly steeped in ancient medieval culture and lore… ever hear of the legendary Mellified Man? It was certainly a new one on us, as this ancient mummy and the trail of its search becomes central to the plot line.

Although The Dervish House is science fiction in the broadest sense, one could easily approach it as a mystery thriller, that is, with robot drones and cybernetic implants. Mr. McDonald’s futuristic Istanbul reminds us of the complex underplay of European meets Middle Eastern politics, and why the term Byzantine entered our lexicon in the first place. You can almost feel the oppressive heat and smell the spice bazaars down those ancient narrow cobble stone streets… just watch out for that patrol drone whizzing by!

The Dervish House also does a wonderful job in capturing the paradoxes that make up modern (and future) Turkey. Mr. MacDonald is an expert wordsmith and raises the bar in the Sci-Fi genre to a whole new plateau. Either The Dervish House or Cyberabad Days would make for excellent and off-beat reading as one backpacked through the respective regions…

The very term dervish refers to the spinning mystics based out of Konya. The very concept of mysticism and modern technology is expertly woven into the tale, as jinni and spirits prowl to collective psyche of the characters in this high tech cyber thriller.

Do check out The Dervish House and be sure if you haven’t already to catch Cyberabad Days, which was given a Special Citation for this year’s Philip K. Dick Award. One story, Vishnu and the Cat Circus, was also nominated for a Hugo in the best novella category, and appeared in the 27th Annual Edition of The Year’s Best in Science Fiction. What’s next; a high-tech Thailand? Now, that I’d love to see…

June 2010: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere.

Summer is upon us, as most backyard astronomers begin to look forward to “crossing the hump” of the summer solstice. You won’t know it until fall, but the nighttime starts slooooowly creeping back into the northern hemisphere this month. What follows is a gathering of all things astronomical and what you can expect to see on the Astroguyz collective radar in the coming month;

[Read more...]