May 24, 2019

Review: 2010: The Year we Make Contact.

This week, we here at Astroguyz are going retro with our review. Way back in my pre-historic high school days (like, 1984), my friend and I went to see 2010: The Year We Make Contact in our local theater. At the time, the actual year seemed unimaginably distant, a far future that we would never actually, well, live in… Well, 2010 is now here. So jJust how well does the movie stack up to reality? Of course, 2010 was the hugely successful sequel to Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which dealt with space travel, artificial and alien intelligence, and the next step in human evolution. The concept was based loosely on the Clarke original short story The Sentinel, and the concept was that an alien intelligence played a hand in human evolution and had placed artifact(s) in the solar system that we would only discover when we were sophisticated enough to find them. Similar themes are further developed in Clarke’s outstanding Childhood’s End. In 2010, the film picks up nine years after the original mission of Discovery One, as a joint US and Soviet expedition is sent to salvage the site. The Jupiter system had yet to be reconnoitered by the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft when 2001 was made; 2010, however, incorporated images and data that by the 80’s were known.  The first movie also departed from the book, in that the final action sequence originally revolved around Saturn and its bizarre moon, Iapetus; the book 2010 centers, like the movie, around the Jovian system; the movie leaves out, however, the side plot of the Chinese landing on Europa.

The joint crew of the Alexei Leonov dock with Discovery, which is now coated with sulfur and spinning lazily above the surface of Io. 2010 is much more politically charged than 2001; it, like Ben Bova’s Millennium and Larry Niven’s Footfall are very much a product of the end of the Cold War era and seem somewhat dated by today’s standards. It’s as if the world expected the Cold War standoff to be a natural state of affairs, ad infinitum. A cool nod to Clarke and Kubrick to this effect can be briefly seen in the flick, as both are depicted on a Time magazine news cover!

Of course, we’ve yet to reach Jupiter via manned spaceflight, or get back out of Low Earth Orbit, for that matter. We do have a continuous manned presence in space via the International Space Station, but the now defunct TWA has yet to offer commercial flights to the Moon. Of course, some things have come to pass; the average IPad now dwarfs the intelligence of HAL9000, and nearly everything is made of plastic… in fact, it’s amusing to see the scene with Dr Heywood Floyd on the beach, with what looks to be a mini Apple IIE as what was envisioned as the ultimate in computing portability…. and of course, 2010, like most science fiction, totally missed cell phones, the Internet and the rise of Twitter which was just around the corner.  (Interesting side note: pay special close attention to the video monitors in both movies; 2001 made use of flat screen projection, while 2010 saw a reversion back to CRTs!)

Of course, both flicks predicted the rise of “video-phones” which we now have via webcams… like much technology; however, this didn’t take into account the human factor. People like the perceived anonymity that phones, cars, and comment boxes such as those that grace this site provide them; most only converse via teleconferencing when only absolutely necessary.

The film climaxes with an extraordinary event; the collapse of Jupiter to form a new sun in our solar system. Of course, whatever super-advanced intelligence performed this feat didn’t do it for our benefit, although it does avert a super power confrontation. As per consultations for 2001 with Dr Carl Sagan, alien intelligence is implied, but never seen. This saves both flicks from a perceived campiness that plagues much of Sci-Fi. “I was glad to see that some of my suggestions were taken to heart,” Carl was quoted in saying upon review of 2001. While stunning, just how a relatively low mass object such as Jupiter could sustain a fusion reaction even after ignition isn’t addressed, but I doubt the Europans care as they are now suddenly the mystery aliens’ favorite sons…

Do catch 2010 if you haven’t had an opportunity to do so; it’s currently up for instant viewing on Netflix. And to see how the drama ultimately plays out, be sure to read Clarke’s two additional novels in the saga, 2061 and the somewhat anti-climatic 3001. The future is may be now, as the calendar reads 2010… any Vegas odds on when we’ll make contact?

January 2010: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere.

Ahhhh…. Another decade is upon us. It’s hard to believe that only ten brief years ago, we had yet to land a probe on Titan, only a handful of exo-planets were known, cell phones were bricks, and a “Gig” was still the pinnacle of computing power. As 2010 is upon us, we realize that we have yet to travel in air locks or have phasers at ready on our hips. Of course, science has made some of our futuristic dreams come true; we now routinely don more computing power on our ears than sent man to the moon, and everything is made of plastic…

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22.10.09: Thank Relativity that We’re Here!

The next time you’re studying the Lorentz equation or are forced to account for Relativity on your Buzzard Ramjet trip to Sirius, thank Einstein that we’re here at all! Scientists Jacques Laskar and Mickael Gastineau at the Paris Observatory have been modeling orbital dynamics in our solar system and have come up with some “disturbing” results. It has long been known that Jupiter has a shepherding effect on the inner solar system, smoothing out planetary orbits while ejecting or sweeping up incoming debris. However, if you model the planetary orbits taking into account only classic Newtonian motion, the odds that Mercury goes out of whack in the Sun’s 10 billion year odd life span are about 60%. Throw in Einstein, and the effect shrinks to less than 1%. A careening Mercury would be a bad thing; if it impacted Venus, we would get showered with debris over a million year span, and if it hit us, well, it would just be a bad day. The best thing it could do is harmlessly impact the Sun. Even a near miss with the Earth could drastically alter our orbit, not to mention tinker with our stabilizing Moon. Fortunately, the tiny tweak that the Sun’s gravitational well gives Mercury’s eccentric orbit via General Relativity assures that a resonance keyhole with Jupiter’s orbit probably won’t happen. Keep in mind, we’re talking tiny effects that pile up over billions of years… every time an asteroid whizzes by, we launch a Space Shuttle, or LeBron performs a slam dunk, the Earth gets a tiny push. Over billions of years, tiny forces do add up (ever heard of the Butterfly Effect?) This is why astronomers cannot predict the positions of planets more than a million or so years into the future. Incidentally, the precession of Mercury’s orbit still stands as one of the great observational proofs of Relativity. One also wonders if such a perturbation might have been the fate of Theia, the Mars sized impactor that has been hypothesized to have struck a prehistoric Earth and created our Moon. So the next time you see gravity bend light at relativistic speeds, thank Einstein for protecting our home planet Earth!

Review: The Quiet War by Paul McAuley.

One all-pervasive theme that waxes and wanes in the sci-fi genre more than warrior-maidens’ hemlines is the role of warfare in the future of humanity. This concept swings from the space war operas spawned in the pulp era of the 30-40s to the doctrine of a “shinny happy future” as an antidote to the Cold War era. War seems to be on the upswing again, perhaps as an extension of the human condition and the impact of the current Global War on Terrorism on the popular psyche. The Quiet War by Paul McAuley and out this month by Pyr Books takes the concept of warfare out into the Solar System of the semi- near future. [Read more...]

3.8.9: Jupiter Occults a Bright Star.

Lots has been afoot in the Jovian system as of late. As you train that 10” Dobsonian on the ever evolving black spot gracing Jupiter’s cloud tops, I turn your attention to another unique event about to occur tonight; the occultation of a bright star by the large gas giant. The star is 45 Capricorni, which is currently crossing our line of sight with Jupiter. At about sixth magnitude, it will masquerade as a Galilean satellite over the coming days.The actual occultation begins at 23:00 Universal Time (UT) on August 3rd and lasts until 1:00 UT on the 4th. Europe, Africa, the Canadian Maritimes and extreme northern New England will be well placed to see this rare occultation; the remainder of the Americas will see 45 Cap rise with Jupiter at about 9 P.M. local. An occultation of a bright star by a planet is rare because planets are intrinsically small targets in terms of visual diameter, and stars that they can occult are constrained to those along the path of the ecliptic. Speaking of which, the four large moons of Jupiter are also currently under going a fascinating series of mutual eclipses as we transit their respective orbital planes; check out the link above for more info, and watch the occultation of 45 Cap if you get a chance. Some things to watch out for; does the star “wink in, wink out” in a step wise fashion, or fade gradually in and out? You could be seeing evidence of Jupiter’s atmosphere refracting the starlight; or perhaps this is glimpse 45 Cap’s binary companion! Also known as HIP 107302, this star is also listed as a close spectroscopic double. This will also be the brightest star that Jupiter has occulted since 1952.

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27.07.9: What Ails Jupiter?

Something has slapped the largest planet in our solar system as of late. A large black spot has emerged in Jupiter’s southern polar region, reminiscent of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision of 15 years ago. Initially discovered by Anthony Wesley of Australia utilizing a 14.5” reflector early last week, the discovery was backed up mid-week by NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Looking similar to a Galilean satellite shadow, it has all the hallmarks of an impact. Will it evolve and develop over the coming weeks and months? By the time this goes to (word)press, we hope to get a glimpse of it here at Florida Astroguyz HQ. [Read more...]

AstroEvent of the Week: 04.20.09: A Morning of Moons and Meteors!

There are two reasons to set your alarm this week; one is the annual Lyrid meteor shower, and the second is the lunar/planetary action in the dawn sky. First, the shower. The Lyrids break the lull we’ve had in meteor showers for a few months; this showers’ radiant is located in the constellation Lyra near the star Vega (of Contact fame!) and can be expected to produce about 10 meteors per hour around the mornings of April 22nd.

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January 2009: News & Notes.

Resuming the LHC: The Large Hadron Collider is set to resume start up tests early in the spring of 2009. This will come after its winter maintenance cycle, as well as investigation into a helium leak believed to have been caused by a faulty electrical connection during the otherwise successful September 10th startup.

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Astro-Event of the Week: 1st-7th December, 2008: A dusk tri-conjunction.

This week’s astro-event requires absolutely no gear to observe, just a clear sky. Look westward into the dusk, just after sunset the evening of Monday, December 1st. Venus and Jupiter will be joined by a thin, waxing crescent Moon for a spectacular tri-conjunction . [Read more...]

Astro-event of the Week: July 15-21st 2008

Comets are the great surprise packages of the solar system. Often appearing out of nowhere, they can brighten up with surprising rapidity, or unexpectedly fizzle, like Kahoutek did in the 1970s. Hence, astronomers are very reluctant to cry “comet of the century” unless they are very certain.

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Planetary Imaging with an Off-the-Shelf Web Cam.

A few years ago, I came across an article in Sky & Telescope about an emerging technology. Apparently, some intrepid sky enthusiasts (I hate the word amateur… to me it denotes bottlecap collecting or trainspotting and other space filling activities) were creating their own planetary webcams.

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