Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ground-Based Galactic Panorama

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a dramatic view from Peak Terskol Observatory in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia. Dome, clouds and galactic structure, oh my!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Endorsed by Heinlein

I recently picked up The Pollinators of Eden by John Boyd. Boyd wrote The Last Starship from Earth, one of my favorites from long ago. I was amused to see on the jacket flap of Pollinators, the following endorsement of Last Starship:

This is the best anti-Utopia, the strongest satire on trends in our present culture, I have seen since 1984 appeared. I enjoyed its humor, its half-buried allusions. The puns, the almost-not-quite quotations, the thinly-veiled references to our 'real' world—all of these delighted me. It belongs up at the top, along with Brave New World and 1984.

The person doing the endorsement? Robert A. Heinlein.

Sheets of X-Rays

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows our home star shining in the light of an x-ray sky.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holding Up the Sky

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows light pillars in the skies of Latvia. Caused by reflections of light in ice crystals, they appear to be holding up the sky of Sigulda.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

In the Mouth of the Whale

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 1055 and Messier 77 in the constellation of Cetus. Two spiral galaxies with different facings, showing off the aspects of the spiral structure.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Winter Comet

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows C/2014 Q2, Comet Lovejoy, currently visible in winter skies in the region of Orion. Definitely a binocular object in suburban skies (naked eye under skies I can only dream of?). Now if only my skies will stay clear!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dirty Snowball

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the jagged surface of Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko as imaged by the ESA's Rosetta vehicle. Is that Bruce Willis at the base of the cliffs?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Better Solstice Sky

Happy Winter Solstice! Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a much cheerier solstice sky than the gloomy New Jersey sky that I'm living under!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day takes us into the 1970's, NGC 1977, NGC 1975, NGC 1973, deep in the heart of Orion.

While we're reflecting on the 1970's, how about reflecting on the NGC itself? Or the earlier catalog, the Messier?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

They're Back!

The Three Hoarsemen are back with their first episode featuring their first guest, a very special appearance by two-time Hugo Award winner Patrick Hester!*

*There's a joke here. You have to be in the know to know, you know?

It's A Big Universe

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 7331, a nice spiral galaxy in the constellation of Pegasus. "Just" beyond lie a number of galaxies that are probably roughly the same size as NGC 7331 (which is roughly the size of our home galaxy) but are ten times as far away.

Humans are generally incapable of understanding astronomical distances and geological time. Especially Hollywood executives and religious fundamentalists.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a meteor coming from the periodic meteor shower called the Geminids in the skies over Mount Balang, China.

This shower is called the Geminids because it seems to originate, or radiate, out from the constellation of Gemini. Meteor showers occur during set times of the year, and "peak" at one particular time. However, if you want to catch the Geminids (or another shower), you should observe before and after the peak—they just don't occur at that peak time! (Consult a decent observing guide for other hints, for example, the best time to observe is actually usually after midnight local time, not before!)

I stepped out Sunday night to walk our dog, well after the "peak" of the Geminids. As I looked up, I observed a very bright (maganitude 1 or better) Geminid falling from above Orion, through Orion, definitely radiating away from Gemini. So, there you go. Look up, look up around the peak, ot only at the peak, and you will be rewarded!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Brothers In Arms

An interesting look at the U.S. infantry...from the perspective of a French unit.

Arches of the Sky

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows star-forming regions in W5 (better known as IC 1845 and IC 1805) in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Download a high resolution copy of this and spend some time going ove the fine details!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Donald Moffitt

News is circulating that author Donald Moffitt has passed away. My first encounter with his work was The Jupiter Theft as a Del Rey original paperback in 1977. It was a rip-roaring Golden Age tale with strange aliens, planetary engineering and more. Following that were four more books, both linked duos: The Genesis Quest and Second Genesis; Crescent in the Sky and A Gathering of Stars.

I have many fond memories of The Jupiter Theft, possibly as it came in a period of relative scarcity for hard SF and a college career of many night shifts as a security guard (so I read and re-read the books I owned). Many thanks, Donald Moffitt.

The Nape of the Year

Another issue of Ansible from the flying fingers of Dave Langford to end the year!

Um, what?

Winnie-the-Pooh was considered as the patron of a playground in Tuszyn, Poland, but rejected by councillors outraged by the teddybear's lack of 'a complete wardrobe' (this being the mini-t-shirted Disney animation rather than the unclad original) and possibly hermaphroditic nature. 'The author was over 60 and cut [Pooh's] testicles off with a razor blade because he had a problem with his identity," expostulated councillor Hanna Jachimska. (Independent, 20 November)

Perfect Sphere

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a "gravity map" of our blue marble, popuarly known as the Potsdam Gravity Potato.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Black Cloud

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Barnard 68, a molecular black cloud in the constellation of Ophiuchus. A hole in space? No, a cloud of darkness leading eventually to light.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Red Andromeda

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Messier 31 in a combined image showing both the light frequencies we can see and cannot see. Ground-based and space-based equipment working together!

Friday, December 12, 2014


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day gives us a closeup of a rock. On Mars. Which shows evidence of crystals formed as a result of the evaporation of water that lay in...can we say it...Lake Sharp (?).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dogging It

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows moondogs shining as a result of a waning quarter Moon plus cloud-borne ice crystals.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the Vanceian Plane

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Messier 71, in the obscure constellation of Sagitta. "Mouseover" to have the image "corrected" for the amount of dust that lies between us and it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Winter Flames

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula in the constellation of Orion. Not as recognized as it's neighbor, Messier 42, a beautiful sight well worth the visit.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The House on the Borderland

From the Manuscript discovered in 1877 by Messrs. Tonnison and Berreggnog in the Ruins that lie to the South of the Village of Kraighten, in the West of Ireland. Set out here, with Notes.

In the current episode of the podcast I am one with Jeff Patterson and John Stevens (The Three Hoarsemen), we are joined by Karen Burnham, a real rocket scientist to discuss The House on the Borderland, a short novel by William Hope Hodgson.

Hodgson lived from 1877 to 1918 and wrote a number of works of horror and fantasy, mostly short stories, but also a few novels, of which this is one. Hodgson was an interesting character, he ran a physical training center that attracted the interests of other authors. He took up a challenge by Harry Houdini to trap Houdini. He traveled and even lived in France for a time. He joined the Army at the outbreak of the First World War, was injured and discharged, but recovered well enough to join again where he was killed (helping a group of his fellow soldiers escape while under fire, one report indicates).

Many of his stories were influenced by his experiences on the sea (From the Tideless Sea, The Boats of the 'Glen Carrig'). One of his most famous characters is that of Carnacki, an investigator of the supernatural who uses deduction, research and science to investigate (and defeat) the supernatural. Anybody who has ever played the roleplaying game The Call of Cthulhu will find enjoyment in these stories.

The House on the Borderland is a relatively short novel. It's somewhat archaic in form for today's readers, but I urge you to persist and I think you will be rewarded. There is almost no development of character, little dialogue, even relatively little action. The story is mostly one long narration, and is very disjointed. It is almost as if the narration was intended for a serial (as Jeff Patterson suggested), as there are parts of many different stories here: exploration, an attack by supernatural beings, travels through time and space, visions of heaven and hell and more.

Many are the hours in which I have pondered upon the story that is set forth in the following pages. I trust that my instincts are not awry when they prompt me to leave the account, in simplicity, as it was handed to me.

The book is a nested story. We start off with Hodgson describing how the book came into his hands and the scene shifts to Tonnison and Berreggnog, the two men who found the manscript and sent it to Hodgson. They are spending some time in Ireland fishing. After several days of fishing in the river, they spend one day exploring. It is then that they find what appears to be a long-disused garden, a strange lake and what appears to be the ruins of a house. They also find a book, hand-written, under some debris from the house. They spend the next day reading the book.

And the MS. itself—You must picture me, when first it was given into my care, turning it over, curiously, and making a swift, jerky examination. A small book it is; but thick, and all, save the last few pages, filled with a quaint but legible handwriting, and writ very close. I have the queer, faint, pit-water smell of it in my nostrils now as I write, and my fingers have subconscious memories of the soft, "cloggy" feel of the long-damp pages.

The book tells the story of an unnamed narrator (sometimes called The Recluse by other people in talkign about the book) who lives in a castle with his sister, Mary and a dog, Pepper. The house, more a castle, is in a desolate, underpopulated section of Ireland. It had been unoccupied for many decades and he was able to purchase it very cheaply. He starts the journal in order to tell of hs odd experiences in the house, the first of which is an out-of-body journey to a place he calls "the plain of silence", where he sees an apparent duplicate of his house. The plain is surrounded by huge statues of various deities (Set and Kali are mentioned) and both the house and the narrator are menaced by a large being that has both the appearance of a swine and a human.

Silently, intently, I watched this horrible creature, and forgot my fear, momentarily, in my interest in its movements. It was making its way, cumbrously 'round the building, stopping as it came to each window to peer in and shake at the bars, with which—as in this house—they were protected; and whenever it came to a door, it would push at it, fingering the fastening stealthily. Evidently, it was searching for an ingress into the House.

He suddenly awakens back in his study. Shortly thereafter, he is exploring a pit near his house when he is attacked by beings that have both the characteristics of a swine and a human. The creatures take the house under siege and the narrator spends several sleepless nights repelling attacks as the swine beings try to get in.

Immediately after this, I heard a loud squeal, in the direction of the Pit. It was answered, a hundred times, from every part of the garden. This gave me some notion of the number of the creatures, and I began to feel that the whole affair was becoming even more serious than I had imagined.

The attacks stop and after some time, the narrator goes back out to the pit to see if he can detect them and finds that the landscape has changed: the pit is now a chasm that is being filled up with water. He explores a cave to the side of the chasm and finds that it seems to lead in the direction of his house but terminates in a large hole. As he tries to determine the size of the hole, water flows from the lake into the cave and into the hole and nearly drowns both him and his dog.

A short examination showed me that the water reached right across the passage, and was running at a tremendous rate. Already, even as I stood there, it had deepened. I could make only a guess at what had happened. Evidently, the water in the ravine had broken into the passage, by some means. If that were the case, it would go on increasing in volume, until I should find it impossible to leave the place. The thought was frightening. It was evident that I must make my exit as hurriedly as possible.

After recovering from this ordeal, narrator has another out-of-body experience where he seems to travel to a place called "the sea of sleep" where he is reunited by the spirit of his lost love.

I entered into the gulf that separates our system from the outer suns. As I sped across the dividing dark, I watched, steadily, the ever-growing brightness and size of our sun. Once, I glanced back to the stars, and saw them shift, as it were, in my wake, against the mighty background of night, so vast was the speed of my passing spirit.

The next-to-last experience in the book starts again in the study, where the narrator find times moving at a faster and faster rate. Pepper dies and crumbles into dust, the narrator himself dies, but his spirit goes on and observes the end of the Sun and the Solar System. He encounters other spirits, angels, and more before finding himself back in his study with no apparent time having passed; but Pepper is still dead.

Far below me, I saw the earth, with the burning house leaping into an ever growing mountain of flame, 'round about it, the ground appeared to be glowing; and, in places, heavy wreaths of yellow smoke ascended from the earth. It seemed as though the world were becoming ignited from that one plague-spot of fire. Faintly, I could see the Swine-things. They appeared quite unharmed. Then the ground seemed to cave in, suddenly, and the house, with its load of foul creatures, disappeared into the depths of the earth, sending a strange, blood colored cloud into the heights. I remembered the hell Pit under the house.

The final sequence of the book has the narrator being hunted by a more supernatural form of one of the swine creatures, perhaps the one that he first encountered at the duplicate of his house. The creature kills his sister's cat, kills a dog that replaced Pepper and has infected the narrator before coming for the narrator.

Pad, pad, pad—Something passed down the garden path, and a faint, mouldy odor seemed to come in through the open door, and mingle with the burnt smell.

The narration ends abruptly and we're back with Tonnison and Berreggog. They are both greatly affected by the story. When their driver returns to pick them up, they ask him to talk to the villagers about the house. They learn that a man and a woman moved there years before, the only person to visit was a man bringing supplies. Eventually the supplier came with the story that the house had disappeared and was replaced by a pit.

Sometimes, in my dreams, I see that enormous pit, surrounded, as it is, on all sides by wild trees and bushes. And the noise of the water rises upward, and blends—in my sleep—with other and lower noises; while, over all, hangs the eternal shroud of spray.

Little is written about where Hodgson got his ideas for the story or who he might have influenced. Many of the passages indicate that he was familiar with the scientific knowledge of the day. One inspiration, I think was H.G. Wells, specifically, The Time Machine (1895): Several time travel sequences that read as if they were the inspiration for the travels of Hodgson's narrator through time, especially as the Sun moves faster and faster until it travels in a continuous line across the sky. Also, the sequence at the end of the The Time Machine where the narrator jumps 30 million years into the future to see an Earth with a dying Sun definitely feels like several set pieces in the Hodgson work.

As for who was inspired by Hodgson, H.P. Lovecraft is specifically mentioned and one of his quotes about Hodgson often appears on the covers of various editions of The House on the Borderland, although slightly modified (much in the same way that a review of a movie is quoted out of context). However, while modified, it is clear that this work by Hodgson (and others) had a deep effect on Lovecraft.

An author that I feel was inspired by Hodgson (and one reason for inviting Karen Burnham onto the podcast) was Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men (1930), Last Men in London (1932) and Star Maker (1937): A somewhat linked set (thematically if not actually) of books where an unnamed narrator travels forward in time on an increasing scale (all of Last and First Men could fit into one chapter of Star Maker and Last Men in London could fit into one chapter of Last and First Men). The scale of the travels through space and time, the nameless (and almost devoid of characteristics) narrator, who travels outside his body (in Star Maker) are also very reminiscent of Hodgson.

There are differences in philosophy: Stapledon was an atheist or agnostic (depending on who you read), whereas Hodgson was the son of an Anglican priest and had, at the very least, a religious upbringing if not an ongoing religious practice. But both write of cosmic intelligences (indifferent and malign), a "modern" view of the cosmos (modern for the time), vast expanses of time and space, disembodied travel, etc. Whether it is a spiritual journey or a journey propelled by cosmic intelligence, it seems to be the case that Stapledon was influenced by Hodgson (even though I can't find specific evidence!).

I read, and, in reading, lifted the Curtains of the Impossible that blind the mind, and looked out into the unknown. Amid stiff, abrupt sentences I wandered; and, presently, I had no fault to charge against their abrupt tellings; for, better far than my own ambitious phrasing, is this mutilated story capable of bringing home all that the old Recluse, of the vanished house, had striven to tell.

Of the simple, stiffly given account of weird and extraordinary matters, I will say little. It lies before you. The inner story must be uncovered, personally, by each reader, according to ability and desire. And even should any fail to see, as now I see, the shadowed picture and conception of that to which one may well give the accepted titles of Heaven and Hell; yet can I promise certain thrills, merely taking the story as a story.

I hope that you enjoyed this description of the novel and that you enjoy our podcast discussion. If you give The House on the Borderland a try, please leave a comment here or at the podcast episode page!


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is the short video Wanderers. Shall we go explore?

"...listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go..."

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the shimmer of the aurora over Norway. While the camera was capturing the activity, it also caught a meteor!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Weird Worlds of Klarkashton

This year, as part of my attempt to read more short fiction (I think I over succeeded) and to clear out some backlog off of Mount Toberead, I tackled this collection from Night Shade Books (available, by the way, in paper, electronic and audio—and I read these using all three methods!).

Smith was a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft, corresponded with Lovecraft and other members of the "Lovecraft Circle" and even dabbled in the Cthulhu Mythos that Lovecraft is probably best known for. This is both a positive and a negative: a positive in that this probably helped Smith's works stay in print, but a negative in that everybody associated with Lovecraft is in the shadow of Lovecraft and seems not be be able to exist independently.

While I sometimes jokingly say that Smith never met a two syllable word that he wouldn't toss out of the story in order to use a four to six syllable word, in many ways Smith was a better writer than Lovecraft. I think his series work (see the Averoigne cycle as an example) hangs together better in terms of background, plotting and the like. However, since he has been associated with Lovecraft, people, I think, haven't appreciated this.

This series should go a long way towards correcting this. Night Shade has gathered together all the stories: seek out the poetry (available in several print and electronic editions) and seek out his early novels (only in paper, as far as I know) plus the famous Black Book if you want the rest. Honestly, if you try these you'll probably have more than enough of a taste of his style.

Erudite, yes. But some good stories, some nice mythologies and your vocabulary will grow!

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith 01: The End of the Story (made up of Introduction by Ramsey Campbell; A Note on the Texts by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger; To the Daemon; The Abominations of Yondo; Sadastor; The Ninth Skeleton; The Last Incantation; The End of the Story; The Phantoms of the Fire; A Night in Malneant; The Resurrection of the Rattlesnake; Thirteen Phantasms; The Venus of Azombeii; The Tale of Satampra Zeiros; The Monster of the Prophecy; The Metamorphosis of the World; The Epiphany of Death; A Murder in the Fourth Dimension; The Devotee of Evil; The Satyr; The Planet of the Dead; The Uncharted Isle; Marooned in Andromeda; The Root of Ampoi; The Necromantic Tale; The Immeasurable Horror; A Voyage to Sfanomoe; Story Notes by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger; Alternate Conclusion to 'The Satyr'; From the Crypts of Memory; Bibliography by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger.)

Counts as thirty (30) entries in 2014: The Year in Shorts.

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith 02: The Door to Saturn (made up of Introduction by Tim Powers; A Note on the Texts by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger; The Door to Saturn; The Red World of Polaris; Told in the Desert; The Willow Landscape; A Rendezvous in Averoigne; The Gorgon; An Offering to the Moon; The Kiss of Zoraida; The Face of the River; The Ghoul; The Kingdom of the Worm; An Adventure in Futurity; The Justice of the Elephant; The Return of the Sorcerer; The City of the Singing Flame; A Good Embalmer; The Testament of Athammaus; A Captivity in Serpens; The Letter from Mohaun Los; The Hunters from Beyond; Story Notes by Ron Hilger and Scott Connors; Alternate Ending to "The Return of the Sorcerer"; Bibliography by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger; About the Editors.)

Counts as twenty-five (25) entries in 2014: The Year in Shorts.

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith 03: A Vintage from Atlantis (made up of Introduction by Michael Dirda; A Note on the Texts by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger; The Holiness of Azedarac; The Maker of Gargoyles; Beyond the Singing Flame; The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis; The Eternal World; The Demon of the Flower; The Nameless Offspring; A Vintage from Atlantis; The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan; The Invisible City; The Immortals of Mercury; The Empire of the Necromancers; The Seed from the Sepulcher; The Second Interment; Ubbo-Sathla; The Double Shadow; The Plutonian Drug; The Supernumerary Corpse; The Colossus of Ylourgne; The God of the Asteroid; Story Notes by Ron Hilger and Scott Connors; The Flower-Devil; Bibliography by Ron Hilger and Scott Connors.)

Counts as twenty-three (23) entries in 2014: The Year in Shorts.

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith 04: The Maze of the Enchanter (made up of Introduction by Gahan Wilson; A Note on the Texts by Ron Hilger and Scott Connors; The Mandrakes; The Beast of Averoigne; A Star-Change; The Disinterment of Venus; The White Sybil; The Ice-Demon; The Isle of the Torturers; The Dimension of Chance; The Dweller in the Gulf; The Maze of the Enchanter; The Third Episode of Vathek—The Story of Princess Zulkais and the Prince of Kalilah by William Beckford and Clark Ashton Smith; Genius Loci; The Secret of the Cairn; The Charnel God; The Dark Eidolon; The Voyage of King Euvoran; Vulthoom; The Weaver in the Vault; The Flower-Women; Story Notes by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger; Alternate Ending to "The White Sybil"; The Muse of Hyberborea; The Dweller in the Gulf—Added Material; Bibliography by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger.)

Counts as twenty-five (25) entries in 2014: The Year in Shorts.

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith 05: The Last Hieroglyph (made up of Introduction by Richard A. Lupoff; A Note on the Texts by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger; The Dark Age; The Death of Malygris; The Tomb-Spawn; The Witchcraft of Ulua; The Coming of the White Worm, Being Chapter IX of the Book of Eibon; The Seven Geases; The Chain of Aforgomon; The Primal City; Xeethra; The Last Hieroglyph; Necromancy in Naat; The Treader of the Dust; The Black Abbot of Puthuum; The Death of Ilalotha; Mother of Toads; The Garden of Adompha; The Great God Awto; Strange Shadows; The Enchantress of Sylaire; Double Cosmos; Nemesis of the Unfinished; The Master of the Crabs; Morthylla; Schizoid Creator; Monsters in the Night; Phoenix; The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles; Symposium of the Gorgon; The Dart of Rasasfa; Story Notes by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger; Variation Temptation Scenes from "The Witchcraft of Ulua"; The Traveler; Material Removed from "The Black Abbot of Puthuum"; Alternate Ending to "I Am Your Shadow"; Alternate Ending to "Nemesis of the Unfinished"; Bibliography by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger.)

Counts as thirty-eight (38) entries in 2014: The Year in Shorts.

The Miscellaneous Writings of Clark Ashton Smith (made up of Foreword by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger; The Sorcerer Departs by Donald Sidney-Fryer; The Animated Sword; The Red Turban; Prince Alcouz and the Magician; The Malay Krise; The Ghost of Mohammed Din; The Mahout; The Rajah and the Tiger; Something New; The Flirt; The Perfect Woman; A Platonic Entanglement; The Expert Lover; The Parrot; A Copy of Burns; Checkmate; The Infernal Star; Dawn of Discord; House of Monoceros; The Death Will Cuckold You—A Drama in Six Scenes; The Hashish Eater—or—The Apocalypse of Evil; Bibliography; O Amor Atque Realitas!—Clark Ashton Smith's First Adult Fiction by Donald Sidney-Fryer.)

Counts as twenty-four (24) entries in 2014: The Year in Shorts.

Flight of the Fireflies

Can a tiny start up company in Texas bring more access to space? "Once you're in orbit, you're halfway to anywhere" is what Robert A. Heinlein said (and a lot of people have grabbed on to that phrase). Cheap access to space + cheap powered habitats (inflatable modules plus ion engines) = a solar system wide civilization?

Fingers crossed. It's a long way from a Texas field to the asteroid belt...

That's No Moon...

...that's Moon Valley on our blue marble! Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day brings us to Valle de la Luna in the Atacama Desert of Chile. Spreading overhead is the amazing southern hemisphere Milky Way.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


On the latest episode of The Three Hoarsemen, Jeff Patterson, John Stevens and I go guestless and discuss (among other things): the World Fantasy Convention, Schlock Mercenary, The Three-Body Problem, Ursula K. LeGuin and more!

The Greater Black Lake

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day concentrates on the crater Plato near Mare Imbrium on the Moon. Plato has been an area of mystery for observers, mostly due to it's color and apparent smoothness. It's located near some spectactular mountain peaks, Pico and Piton and has been the scene for multiple science fiction stories, Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke and the early installments of Hugh Walters' Chris Godfrey of UNEXA series.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Frames of Boom

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows several frames (over time) of the odd star Eta Carinae and the expanding "Homunculus Nebula". The unchanging sky, indeed.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Depths of Creation

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is courtesy of the hard-working Hubble Space Telescope and processing by Francesco Antonucci. Stellar creation underway amongst the dust and gas clouds of NGC 7822 in the constellation of Cepheus.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014


Here's a look at the 3D printer which was recently installed on the International Space Station (this is a pre-launch image). Vital for any long-duration crewed spaceflight, where it can be used (hopefully) to print spare parts, the first thing that the printer did on the ISS was to print a piece of itself.

Frosted Chaos

The ESA's Mars Express caught a glimpse into the crazed nature of the Hellas Basin (including one 3D image).


A supercomputer is used to model the effect of magnetic fields on the solar wind.

Phoebe the Visitor

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows Saturn's icy moon Phoebe (detailed view here). Phoebe orbits opposite other moons in Saturn's system and appears to be composed differently from the rest of the icy moons around Saturn, leading to the possibility that it is a visitor from another part of the Solar System.

Ink Stain

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a nice image (courtesy of Martin Pugh) of NGC 281 and IC 1590 in the constellation of Cassiopeia.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

That's No Moon...

...that's a dwarf planet! Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is a painting by Mark A. Gartick speculating what the surface of dwarf planet Pluto's moon, Charon, might look like. Pluto hangs large in the sky above.

Lunar Dance

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows two of Jupiter's Galilean moons, Io and Callisto, as they pass each other in the same orbital plane, providing lucky observers from earth, with a chance to see a rare occultation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows how Dr. Henry Throop celebrated the launch of New Horizons. I was a tad more...restrained...

Red Lagoon

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of Messier 8 and Messier 20 in the constellation of Sagittarius. What is lurking in the lagoon? "Mouseover" the image to get a clue!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Star Stuff

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the disc containing names of 434,738 people who are "going" to Pluto.

Digital Overflight

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video showing a simulated flyover of Titan's surface, compiled from images from various Cassini flybys of that moon of Saturn.

Next time you complain about your lack of a jetpack, think about that. We've been in the Saturn system long enough and flown by Titan so many times that we can digitally recreate a model of much of the surface.

Launch Day

Here's a time-lapse image of the Soyuz TMA-15M rocket taking Expedition 42 to the International Space Station.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Godel Escher Bach on Film

Borges, Escher and Brazil, oh my! Interstellar (the film) sounds interesting in so many ways (but fails in so many other ways). Now for a film based on Godel Escher Bach?

What's It Really Like Out There?

This article is going into the notebook for that eventual Hot Cup of Coffee Revolution short story I keep thinking about.

Lost Future

Two quotes that came to mind when thinking today of how good my Samsung Galaxy Tab is...but how far short it falls from some of the gadgets of science fiction. Then a second that came to me when I contemplated how many times I've been tossed out of a job vs. the potential that we have.

There was plenty to occupy his time, even if he did nothing but sit and read. When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug his foolscap-size Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important ones by heart , and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad. Switching to the display unit’s shortterm memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. Each had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-size rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he had finished, he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination.

Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications. Here he was , far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word “ newspaper,” of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour ; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the everchanging flow of information from the news satellites.

It was hard to imagine how the system could be improved or made more convenient. But sooner or later, Floyd guessed, it would pass away, to be replaced by something as unimaginable as the Newspad itself would have been to Caxton or Gutenberg. 


Bowman had been a student for more than half his life; he would continue to be one until he retired. Thanks to the twentieth-century revolutions in training and information-handling techniques, he already possessed the equivalent of two or three college educations—and, what was more, he could remember 90 percent of what he had learned.

Fifty years ago, he would have been considered a specialist in applied astronomy, cybernetics, and space propulsion systems —yet he was prone to deny, with genuine indignation, that he was a specialist at all. Bowman had never found it possible to focus his interest exclusively on any subject; despite the dark warnings of his instructors, he had insisted on taking his Master’s degree in General Astronautics— a course with a vague and woolly syllabus, designed for those whose IQs were in the low 130s and who would never reach the top ranks of their profession.

His decision had been right; that very refusal to specialize had made him uniquely qualified for his present task. In much the same way Frank Poole—who sometimes disparagingly called himself “General Practitioner in space biology”—had been an ideal choice as his deputy. The two of them, with, if necessary, help from Hal’s vast stores of information, could cope with any problems likely to arise during the voyage—as long as they kept their minds alert and receptive, and continually reen-graved old patterns of memory.

(Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey)

We live in a time of vast potential. We have a global information network that is constantly being crippled by governmental, non-governmental and corporate interests and concerns. Our education system is watered-down and over-priced. Our employment is constantly phased-our of existence or downgraded.

Never mind the jetpacks and flying cars. I want my free flow of information and endless chance to better myself.

No Pot of Gold

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day seemingly shows a tornado traveling down a rainbow.

Flight Infrastructure

The launch vehicle for Expedition 42 to the International Space Station makes the first steps on it's journey.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Nice Eyewear

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the Student Dust Counter instrument on the New Horizons vehicle before installation. Members of the SDC team are rocking their protective eyewear (and outerwear) here.

Weather Eye

The International Space Station quietly passes near Hurricane Gonzalo in this image.

Overflight Image

Operation Icebridge is five years old! An ongoing effort by NASA to track how we're melting the poles, this image shows how the western ice sheets at the south pole are reaching the point of collapse.

Work Day Prep

Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman and Barry Wilmore prepare for an outdoor excursion on the International Space Station. As an exercise for the student, research spacesuits on the ISS, airlocks on the ISS, how spacewalks are divided up, and credits/debits for same.

The Dark of the Fall

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a view of a dark nebula (dust and cold unlit gas, star-forming regions not yet well-lit by young stars) in the constellation of Cygnus, LDN 988. A nice mixture of dense starfields and dark regions for Fall viewing in the northern hemisphere!

Click on the image get a version that includes labels for objects in the image.

How Social Is Your Media?

A while ago I came across a podcast called Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff (pretty early on in it's run, if I'm right), hosted by Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws. It was a gaming podcast, mostly talking about their stuff. They were funny. They spoke well. They liked each other. They were knowledgeable about many subjects.

They were very good.

At that point I had been out of gaming for over a decade due to people moving away, work, family and such. My involvement in gaming was the occasional purchase of a "oh, shiny" book or miniature.

But these guys got me interested again. As a result, I eventually started running a game again (Call of Cthulhu) and have been in a few sessions of a game they were involved with (Ashen Stars).

I've also, as a direct result of the podcast, started buying (mostly digital, but also some physical) games that they've been involved in. Namely: Ashen Stars, Gaen Reach, Trail of Cthulhu, The Dying Earth. I've also bought games from their company (Pelgrane Press) or that they've mentioned on the podcast: Feng Shui 2, Dracula Dossier (for Night's Black Agents), Paranoia and TimeWatch (I may have missed a few, but you get the idea!).

That's what an effective and engaging "social media" strategy will do for you. Wish more companies would be better at it, rather than spamming me with promoted tweets or buying Twitter "trending" subjects.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pure Vacuum

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is a computer simulation of how the dust in our solar system might be distributed. It gets in your eyes, you know.

Endless Mirrors

The reflections of the Big Bang echo even to this day.

Hands Across the Frequency

Do you see a hand stretching across the sky in this image from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory?

Deep Freeze

Way up there in the sky the James Webb Space Telescope will be exposed to temperatures that make this fine morning feel balmy by comparison. In this image the Integrated Science Instrument Module finishes 116 days of testing under temperatures of 40 degrees Kelvin. Brrrr!!!


The October 2014 partial solar eclipse is captured by the Hinode vehicle in X-rays. Hinode is a orbiting solar observatory in it's eight year of operation.

Engineering as Art

The YF-12 undergoes testing at the equivalent of Mach-3 and produces (in this image) some funky looking art.


The venerable (and still functioning!!!) Hubble Space Telescope brings us detail of one of our satellite galaxies, specifically the region known as the Tarantula Nebula.

Solar Flare

A nice view of our home star in a different light. Extreme ultraviolet frequencies reveals a lot of nice detail as well as one heck of a flare.

Bearing on a Spiral

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day brings us Messier 81 in Ursa Major. Just down the block from us (11.8 million light years down the block).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

KBO Finders

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows members of the KBO search team which found an object to angle the New Horizons towards once Pluto has been encountered. The mission will (knock on wood) continue!

Frog Spawn

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows stars spawning in IC 410, The Tadpole Nebula, in the constellation of Auriga.

Kick It Up a Notch

The dynamic home star! It's been a good year for aurora for those in the northern latitudes.


We're inching closer to the flight test for Orion. Here's a view of the flight capsule being readied. And here's a view of the journey to the launch pad.

Morning in New Jersey

This is what it feels like outside right now. Polar vortex!

Titanian Sunglint

The hard-working Cassini orbiter has spotted "sunglint" off the seas of Titan. Think about that for a few seconds. A multi-year mission to Saturn, a ringed gas giant in our system has seen sun glinting through the thick organic-chemical clouds of a very cold Earth-analogue.

Sometimes we are just a tad blase about the times we live in.

Fifteen Years

Not as well known to the public as it's more famous "brother observatory" (the Hubble Space Telescope), the Chandra X-Ray Orbital Observatory has been space for fifteen years.


Dawn as seen from the International Space Station.

We Almost Lost Detroit

Can the lessons of warfare and counterinsurgency be applied to failing American cities?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Target Lock

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the three possible post-Pluto KBO targets that New Horizons may target.

Reading Matters

Chief military snarker Doctrine Man talks about reading. Nothing like a good book to tide you over while you're waiting on the range.

Clearing the Lanes

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is an artist depiction of what might be happening around HD 95086. New worlds forming!


Bolides (small asteroids that disintegrated in our atmosphere) mapped from 1994 to 2013. If they had been bigger, we might be communing with the dinosaurs.

Surface Features

A closeup (including part of the vehicle) of Philae's view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.


Astronaut Reid Wiseman, recently resident on the International Space Station, snapped this image of Yellowstone from his vantage point.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Into the Swan

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day gives us another view of one of the northern hemisphere sky this time of year. Buried in Cygnus the Swan is Sh2-101, a complex mixture of gas and dust known as The Tulip Nebula.

At the Edge of the Dark

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is a depiction of what the New Horizons encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) might look like. New Horizons hopefully will encounter one (or more) KBO's once it has finished with it's flyby of Pluto and Charon.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Leonids above an observation tower in Spain. We're in the middle of the Leonid meteor shower, which means, of course, I'm clouded over!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Eclipsing Active Moon

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows Jupiter's moon Io in eclipse. As imaged by the New Horizons vehicle on it's way to Pluto, cameras using various light frequencies captured the active geology of that tortured moon.

Friday, November 14, 2014

On the Surface

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows one (hopefully of many!) picture from the surface of Comet C67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko! Well done, Philae!

Radio Silence

Sorry for the radio silence, folks. A convergence of many things over the past few weeks. Will start retro-posting APOD's to catch us up, update The Year In Books, The Year In Shorts, etc.


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows our best views of Pluto...before our actual flyby with New Horizons.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Down Down Down Down

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a picture snapped by the Philae lander (dropped by the ESA's Rosetta probe) as it approached the surface of C67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Watch out for that first step!


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is the mission logo for New Horizons.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Processing by Gendler

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows molecular clouds in the constellation of Orion. Processing by Gendler: Robert Gendler is one of the most amazing "amateurs" working in the field today.

Turn Turn Turn!

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the plutonian year. Oh, to be on Pluto at the height of the summer tourist season!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Crazy Years

Ansible is back! Chock-full of wackiness! Vindictive bees! Dancing (or is that doxxing) gamers! And more! All hail Dave Langford for his efforts to lasso all of this.

As Others See Us. Saving Grace Dept: from a review of Michael Faber's The Book of Strange New Things. 'While the bulk of the book takes place on another planet—a vividly drawn environment with green water, no moon and frequent, spiraling rainstorms—it doesn't read like science fiction, or like any genre.' (New York Times, 26 October) [CB]


Formation Mark

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a protoplanetary disk around HL Tauri. Solar system creation underway!

Crescent Moon

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows a crescent Triton as seen by Voyager 2 in 1989.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Coming of the Cosmic Cat

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us NGC 6543, a planetary nebula in the constellation of  Draco. Take a look at this previous APOD for a look at the structure of this object.


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows interior models for the various moons and dwarf planets of our Solar System. Interesting how many of these have been shown (or are theorized) to contain liquid water (as well as water ice). How big will the "habitable zone" become?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In the Guts of the Fish

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 660, the Polar Ring Galaxy, in the constellation of Pisces. A "irregular" galaxy, rather than the more familiar spiral or ellipitcal type, the shape was probably caused by a collison with another galaxy. See also: Arp's Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies for a whole catalog of strange shapes. What mad universe?

Time Shift

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows changes in the structure of Jupiter's atmosphere as imaged by the New Horizons vehicle as it used the gas giant for a speed boost.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Closeup: More New Worlds

With our first ambassadors out into the Solar System, the Mariners, Pioneers and Voyagers, we started to get views of the blurry dots that our telescopes could see and suddenly Mars Was a Place, etc. With the Gaileo and Cassini missions, not only have Jupiter and Saturn become Places, but so to their myriad of moons, ranging from asteroidal chunks to spheres that rival our own Moon.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day brings Saturn's moon Dione into the Realm of the Places: a map of it's surface. It is amazing to live in such times when discoveries are made every day!


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day focuses on the Radio Science Experiment mounted in the "dish" of the New Horizons vehicle.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

In the Cave of the Night

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows nebula Sh2-155 in the constellation of Cepheus. More popularly known as the Dave Nebula, the region is an active area of star formation and complex molecules.


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is a artist conception of the flyby of Pluto by New Horizons. Radio signals will be shifted by Pluto's atmosphere, allowing for a study of the planet's atmosphere.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows frozen nitrogen. Pluto could be covered in this.

Different Face

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a "face" of the Moon that humans have not diretly observed since 1972. Courtesy of China's Chang'e 5-T1, which recently completed it's mission and returned to the blue marble in the upper left-hand corner of the image.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Baked Alaska

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is a look at the creamy interior goodness of both Pluto and Charon!

Balancing Act

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day seemingly has one of Saturn's smaller moons, Epimetheus, balancing on the Rings. Beyond the circus act, engigmatic Titan.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Escape Velocity

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is a diagram (including Lagrange points!) of the plutonian system depicting how atmosphere from Pluto might escape and spread throughout the area.

Sliding Past Mars

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows an (overexposed) Mars having survived a close encounter with Comet Sliding Spring (can you spot it?). All orbiting (and ground-based) Terran vehicles also survived this close encounter with the outer system visitor.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ralph and Leesa

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows more images (from LEISA and Ralph—if that's an acronym, I haven't been able to find what it means!) of the New Horizons gravity assist flyby of Jupiter in 2007.

Spooky Sky

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a (Halloween) Fall sky over the Devil's Tower. "Mouseover" the image for a constellation guide...and more...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Active Surface

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is an artist depiction of the surface of Neptune's moon Triton. Amazing how complicated "dead" moons are turning out to be.

Ghost in the Veil

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a portion of The Veil Nebula, one of the spectacular (if subtle to find!) sights in the constellation of Cygnus.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

One-Time View

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is of Triton as imaged by Voyager 2 during it's 1989 flyby. There are currently no plans to revisit either Neptune or Uranus and their moons.

Glow Worm

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows an iridescent cloud edge over Colorado (bonus: during a partial solar eclipse!).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Eccentric Eris

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows a diagram of the orbit followed by Trans-Neptunian Object Eris.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day gives you a nice view of why the planets drove the ancient astronomers nuts: images of Mars, taken over a period of time, are stacked to show you the progress of the planet through the sky. It loops! How to explain this? Gears? "Mouseover" the image to get a constellation guide.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Eris Discovery Image

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows Eris, a Trans-Neptunian Object discovered by Professor Mike Brown and his team at Palomar Observatory.

The Horror...The Horror...

In the latest episode of The Three Hoarsemen, David Annandale (author of dark space operas, fan of cheesy movies and teacher of young minds) joins us for a discussion of horror in many forms.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us the near and the far. The Sun heads toward setting, partially-eclipsed. Sunspot Group AR 2192 appears as a blotch across the face. Closer in, clouds partially eclipse the eclipse and a small airplane crosses the Sun "near" the sunspots.

Light the Candle

At dawn on Sunday, the latest Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares launch vehicle, topped with the Cygnus cargo orbiter stands at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Launch is scheduled for 1845 Eastern, tonight. Fingers crossed, if there are no clouds, I'll get to see it on the flight (including, based on previous launches, staging).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Still No Hair

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day gives us a view that many would rather not see: how light is bent as you get closer and closer to a singularity (black hole or frozen star).

Forever in Committee

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the (still) proposed stamp celebrating the New Horizons mission. Still awaiting approval!

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the Hubble Space Telescope during the STS-125 servicing and upgrade mission. The Hubble has been key in many aspects of the New Horizons mission.

Slice and Spots

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows this week's partial solar eclipse and sunspot group AR 2192 (plus several other smaller sunspots). Goodness, it's big!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Little Red

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the Little Red Spot imaged during the New Horizons flyby of Jupiter and combined with a image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows sunspot group AR 2192. The Sun has been smeared!

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows light curves of Kuiper Belt Object 2001 QG298 taken over several time periods. What shape do the curves suggest?

Wild Horses

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a deep look into the constellation of Pegasus. Stephan's Quintet (star of screen and wide field), NGC 7331, wisps of nebulosity and more. The Fall sky is full of wonders, if you are patient.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hypothetical Structure

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows us what we think Pluto is structured like.

What's Up, Hong Kong?

Urban explorers penetrate building, explore roof, hack into a electronic sign and use a drone to film the whole thing. It could be a William Gibson story. It's actually Hong Kong.

Quiet Sun

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video showing AR 2192, a sunspot group on our home star. If you've been lucky (as I have!), you've managed to see some of the auroral activity that the Sun has been producing for us this year. No, knock on wood, Carrington Event (yet).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Flight Model

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the New Horizons vehicle undergoing flight preparation and checkout prior to being mounted on the launch vehicle.

Still Life of Wobble

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is brought to us courtesy of the venerable (and still working, long may it do so!) Cassini orbiter around Saturn. Pictured here is Saturn's icy moon Mimas, almost like the Death Star with Herschel Crater dominating the landscape. Mimas has a bit of a wobble, leading to the possibility of a liquid center "ocean".

Monday, October 20, 2014

With Thanks to Venetia Burney

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day talks about the links between the symbol for Pluto and the man who helped start us on the final road to discovering Pluto. With thanks to Venetia Burney!

Siding Spring (02)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a nice image (courtesy of the ever amazing Damian Peach) of Comet C/2013 A1, Siding Spring, as it approached Mars. This presented us with a nice chance to study the comet as Mars happens to be orbited by five active spacecraft (and has two active rovers on its surface). I can't wait to see what the orbiters and the rovers saw!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Southern Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Comet McNaught over the spectacular skies of New Zealand (featuring, in addition to a wonderful comet, the Milky Way and one satellite galaxy). What will the fleet of space-and-ground-based observers have seen from Mars during today's flyby of Comet Siding Spring?


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows us Kuiper Belt Object 2001 KX75, or Ixion.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Into the Heart

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day takes us inside IC 1805, The Heart Nebula (in Cassiopeia, a wonderful constellation to observe this time of year in the northern hemisphere) to Melotte 15, a star cluster of young stars born among the gas and dust of the larger nebula.

Spectrum is Green

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the SpeX spectrograph that is part of the instrument package on New Horizons.

Friday, October 17, 2014

How Big?

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows us how big a potential post-Pluto target for New Horizons is compared to a few more familiar landmarks.

Siding Spring (01)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) passing Messier 6. It's appropriate that we have a comet passing a Messier object here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Grid Squares

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day explains some of the search procedures used to locate follow-on targets for New Horizons once it finishes the Pluto encounter.

World War I

Photos from the War to End All Wars. That didn't stick, did it?

Bees Do It, Birds Do It

Apparently even wide-ranging interplanetary probes do it! We've had numerous "selfies" from rovers on the red planet and other locations, even astronauts have been doing it since the 1960's. Now, in today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, the ESA's Rosetta probe, only 16 kilometers from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, takes time out from preparing to detach the Philae lander, to snap a selfie.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Changing Landscape

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows changes on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan. What's going on down there?

“Damn,” said the geologist who had been handling the sled with such effortless skill. “I was afraid of that. Something tells me I’m never going to catch a worm on the run.”

Only a few kilometers away, coming out of the mist that always enveloped the flanks of Mount Shackelton, was a thin white line, like a piece of rope laid across the landscape. It stretched away downhill until it disappeared over the horizon, and the driver swung the sled around to follow its track. But Duncan already knew that they were too late to achieve their main objective; they were much too close to World’s End. Minutes later, they were there, and the sled came to a stop at a respectful distance.

(Arthur C. Clarke, Imperial Earth)


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows Jupiter's active moon Io's Tvashtar volcano. Yes, like any tourist, New Horizons had to take some pictures on the way to it's actual vacation spot.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the light curve which was generated when Pluto occultated a star. The shape of the curve suggests that the atmosphere is primarily that of nitrogen.

Dance of the Sprites

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video showing sprite lightning. Lightning bombs, feelers and streamers!

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is not of Pluto, but of Neptune and it's moon Triton as captured by instruments on the New Horizons vehicle as it had a "close encounter" with that gas giant.

Walled City

It could be science fiction. It could be the setting of a new movie based on a young adult dystopian trilogy. But it was real.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 7293, a planetary nebula in the constellation of Aquarius. Imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in space and the four-meter wide (!) ground-based Blanco Telescope, we're starting to see the layers and layers of detail in this "mere" gas bubble.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is actually a short movie about the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on the New Horizons vehicle.

Lunar Streak

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a time-exposure of the recent lunar eclipse. In China, we went from totality at moonrise to an uneclipsed Moon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

How's That Reception?

In today's Pluto Picture of the Day, we see the main antenna being mounted on to the New Horizons vehicle.

Retina Ansible

All the news that can be crammed in a few bytes from all the sub-genres that fit via the keyboard of the ever-tireless Dave Langford!

David Mitchell's novelistic success, most recently with The Bone Clocks, is explained by UK academic Sarah Dillon (editor of a book of essays on his writing): 'This is why his work is so addictive – he's creating his own universe.' (New York Times, 24 August) [DR] If only some science fiction or fantasy author had thought of that!

Research check in aisle one, please!!!

As Others Research Us. Morten Tyldum is to direct Pattern Recognition: 'Based on the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson, it centres on [thumbnail synopsis of Gibson's novel Pattern Recognition follows] ...' (Independent, 13 September)

On urban-dystopia sf: 'We see a similar portrait of the urban future in John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, about an overcrowded off-world colony.' (Slate, September; since amended) [AL] Did Zanzibar seem an exotic off-world name?

//Plant face on palm. Repeat as necessary.//


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day brings us the eclipsed Moon of earlier this week. Near the Moon was a much further member of our system, Uranus. "Mouseover" the image to be guided not only to Uranus, but to three of that gas giant's own moons.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the terrain of Neptune's moon Triton, as imaged by Voyager 2 in 1989.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the total lunar eclipse that graced the skies yesterday morning. I was lucky enough to catch it from waning crescent to totality while walking Miss Mocha and it was "streamed" by NASA as well. A beautiful sight for naked eye and telescope!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows an artist conception of asteroid Chariklo and it's recently discovered rings.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day takes us to the constellation of Vulpecula and open cluster NGC 6823 and emission nebula NGC 6820. You are made of the same stuff.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Arch Supports

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the arch of the Milky Way seemingly supported by the rock formations known as the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon. "Mouseover" the image for a constellation guide.


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is the launch of New Horizons. This Atlas V vehicle took New Horizons from the Earth to the Moon in a matter of a few hours (not three days).

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Closer Look

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a view of the International Space Station (including docked multiple spacecraft), focusing on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. What explains the "excess" positrons that the AMS has been detecting?


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows a size comparison between Earth and Pluto. Pluto's estimated size has shrunk over the years as observational abilities increased.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is an artist conception of how our Moon came to be. It is theorized that Charon was formed from Pluto during a similiar event.

Evening Stars

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day captures two evening stars (but not the Evening Star), the Moon and Antares (in the constellation of Scorpius) at dusk.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dish Farm

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the Canberra Deep Space Communication Center, Australia.

Bubbles Within Bubbles

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day brings us to NGC 7635 in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Popularly known as the Bubble Nebula, subtle detail teased out of this image shows a series of bubbles as the nebula's central star pushes against the nebular gas. Cassiopeia is a wonderful target for low power/rich-field telescopes or binoculars during fall and winter.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In a Different Light

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day are three images taken during the New Horizons gravity assist fly-by of Jupiter. Ganymede is imaged by LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) and LEISA (Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array).

NGC 6302

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a fantastic shot from the (still working!) Hubble Space Telescope of NGC 6302 (in the constellation of Scorpius). Can you figure out the popular name for this nebula?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

Neighborhood Map

Today's Pluto Picture of the Day shows the structure of our "local" area. Still a lot of guesses there. (Does Alpha Centauria have a similar structure of an Oort Cloud, and if so, does it overlap with us?)

Collecting Rocks

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows some of the rocks that Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity is finding as it makes its way towards Aeolis Mons (popularly known as Mount Sharp). Spherical rocks? Crystal spiders? Mars is a place.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Shall We Dance?

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows two supermassive black holes locked in a death dance at the center of active galaxy 3C 75. When they merge, it will not be gentle, but a heck of a bang.


Today's Pluto Picture of the Day is an artist conception of the view sunward from the surface of Pluto. Alas, no landing on the New Horizons mission!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Arisia and Eddore

Two thousand million or so years ago two galaxies were colliding; or, rather, were passing through each other. A couple of hundreds of millions of years either way do not matter, since at least that much time was required for the inter-passage. At about that same time—within the same plus-or-minus ten percent margin of error, it is believed—practically all of the suns of both those galaxies became possessed of planets.

There is much evidence to support the belief that it was not merely a coincidence that so many planets came into being at about the same time as the galactic inter-passage. Another school of thought holds that it was pure coincidence; that all suns have planets as naturally and as inevitably as cats have kittens.

Be that as it may, Arisian records are clear upon the point that before the two galaxies began to coalesce, there were never more than three solar systems present in either; and usually only one. Thus, when the sun of the planet upon which their race originated grew old and cool, the Arisians were hard put to it to preserve their culture, since they had to work against time in solving the engineering problems associated with moving a planet from an older to a younger sun.

Since nothing material was destroyed when the Eddorians were forced into the next plane of existence, their historical records also have become available. Those records—folios and tapes and playable discs of platinum alloy, resistant indefinitely even to Eddore's noxious atmosphere—agree with those of the Arisians upon this point. Immediately before the Coalescence began there was one, and only one, planetary solar system in the Second Galaxy; and, until the advent of Eddore, the Second Galaxy was entirely devoid of intelligent life.

Thus for millions upon untold millions of years the two races, each the sole intelligent life of a galaxy, perhaps of an entire space-time continuum, remained completely in ignorance of each other. Both were already ancient at the time of the Coalescence. The only other respect in which the two were similar, however, was in the possession of minds of power.

Since Arisia was Earth-like in composition, atmosphere, and climate, the Arisians were at that time distinctly humanoid. The Eddorians were not. Eddore was and is large and dense; its liquid a poisonous, sludgy syrup; its atmosphere a foul and corrosive fog. Eddore was and is unique; so different from any other world of either galaxy that its very existence was inexplicable until its own records revealed the fact that it did not originate in normal space-time at all, but came to our universe from some alien and horribly different other.

As differed the planets, so differed the peoples. The Arisians went through the usual stages of savagery and barbarism on the way to Civilization. The Age of Stone. The Ages of Bronze, of Iron, of Steel, and of Electricity. Indeed, it is probable that it is because the Arisians went through these various stages that all subsequent Civilizations have done so, since the spores which burgeoned into life upon the cooling surfaces of all the planets of the commingling galaxies were Arisian, not Eddorian, in origin. Eddorian spores, while undoubtedly present, must have been so alien that they could not develop in any one of the environments, widely variant although they are, existing naturally or coming naturally into being in normal space and time.

The Arisians—especially after atomic energy freed them from physical labor—devoted themselves more and ever more intensively to the exploration of the limitless possibilities of the mind.

Even before the Coalescence, then, the Arisians had need neither of space-ships nor of telescopes. By power of mind alone they watched the lenticular aggregation of stars which was much later to be known to Tellurian astronomers as Lundmark's Nebula approach their own galaxy. They observed attentively and minutely and with high elation the occurrence of mathematical impossibility; for the chance of two galaxies ever meeting in direct, central, equatorial-plane impact and of passing completely through each other is an infinitesimal of such a high order as to be, even mathematically, practically indistinguishable from zero.

They observed the birth of numberless planets, recording minutely in their perfect memories every detail of everything that happened; in the hope that, as ages passed, either they or their descendants would be able to develop a symbology and a methodology capable of explaining the then inexplicable phenomenon. Carefree, busy, absorbedly intent, the Arisian mentalities roamed throughout space—until one of them struck an Eddorian mind.

[E.E. "Doc" Smith, Triplanetary (the novel version, not the original serial version)]

Arc of the Diver

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the launch of the Falcon IX and Dragon X capsule to the International Space Station earlier this week. From first stage to second, with a view of the "soft splash" of the first stage into the ocean.