News from Space: Planet Hunting Flower-Shaped Starshade

nasa-starshadeWith over 1800 extra-solar planets discovered in the past 30 years, the search for life beyond our Solar System has begun anew. Astronomers believe that every star in the galaxy has a planet, and that one fifth of these might harbor life. The greatest challenge, though, is in being able to spot these “Earth-like” exoplanets. Due to the fact that they emit very little light compared to their parent stars (usually less than one-millionth the level of radiance), direct imaging is extremely rare and difficult.

As such, astronomers rely predominantly on is what is known as Transit Detection – spotting the planet’s as they cross in front of the star’s disc. This too presents difficulties, because the transit method requires that part of the planet’s orbit intersect a line-of-sight between the host star and Earth. The probability that an exoplanet will be in a randomly oriented orbit that can allow for it be observed in front of its star is therefore somewhat small.

starshade-8Luckily, engineers and astronomers at NASA and other federal space agencies are considering the possibility of evening these odds with new technology and equipment. Once such effort comes from Princeton’s High Contrast Imaging Laboratory, where Jeremy Kasdin and his team are working on a revolutionary space-based observatory known as a “starshade” – a flower petal-shaped device that allows a telescope to photograph planets from 50,000 kilometers away.

Essentially, the starshade blocks light from distant stars that ordinarily outshine their dim planets, making a clear view impossible. When paired with a space telescope, the starshade adds a new and powerful instrument to NASA’s cosmic detection toolkit. The flower-shaped petals are part of what makes the starshade so effective. The starshade is also unique in that, unlike most space-based instruments, it’s one part of a two-spacecraft observation system.

starshade-foldedAs Dr. Stuasrt Shaklan, NASA Jet Propulsion Labratory’s lead engineer on the starshade project, explaned:

The shape of the petals, when seen from far away, creates a softer edge that causes less bending of light waves. Less light bending means that the starshade shadow is very dark, so the telescope can take images of the planets without being overwhelmed by starlight… We can use a pre-existing space telescope to take the pictures. The starshade has thrusters that will allow it to move around in order to block the light from different stars.

This process presents a number of engineering challenges that Shaklan and his team are working hard to unravel, from positioning the starshade precisely in space, to ensuring that it can be deployed accurately. To address these, his research group will create a smaller scale starshade at Princeton to verify that the design blocks the light as predicted by the computer simulations. Concurrently, the JPL team will test the deployment of a near-full scale starshade system in the lab to measure its accuracy.

starshade_petalsDespite these challenges, the starshade approach could offer planet-hunters many advantages, thanks in no small part to its simplicity. Light from the star never reaches the telescope because it’s blocked by the starshade, which allows the telescope system to be simpler. Another advantage of the starshade approach is that it can be used with a multi-purpose space telescope designed to make observations that could be useful to astronomers working in fields other than exoplanets.

As part of NASA’s New World’s Mission, the starshade engineers are optimistic that refining their technology could be the key to major exoplanet discoveries in the near future. And given that over 800 planets have been detected so far in 2014 – that’s almost half of the 1800 that have been detected in total – anything that can assist in their detection process at this point is likely to lead to an explosion in planetary discoveries.

And with one-fifth of these planets being a possible candidate for life… well, you don’t have to do the math to know that the outcome will be might exciting! In the meantime, enjoy this video from TED Talks, where Professor Jeremy Kasdin speaks about the starshade project:


Source:
ted.com, planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov, princeton.edu

News from SETI: We’re Going to Find Aliens This Century

aliens“We are going to find life in space in this century.” This was the bold prediction made by Dr. Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) at this year’s European Commission Innovation Convention. As part of the European Union’s strategy to create an innovation-friendly environment, the ECIC brings together the best scientific minds from around the world to discuss what the future holds and how we can make it happen.

And this year, Dr. Shostak and other representatives from SETI were quite emphatic about what they saw as humanity’s greatest discovery, and when it would be taking place. Sometime this century, they claim, the people of Earth will finally find the answer to the question “Are we alone in the universe?” Like many eminent scientists from around the world, Dr. Shostak believes its not a question of if, but when.

ECIC_2014As he went on to explain, given the sheer size of the universe and the statistical probabilities, the odds that humanity is far more unlikely than the reverse:

There are 150 billion galaxies other than our own, each with a few tens of billions of earth-like planets. If this is the only place in the universe where anything interesting happening then this is a miracle. And 500 years of astronomy has taught us that whenever you believe in a miracle, you’re probably wrong.

As for how we’ll find that life, Dr Shostak sees it as a ‘three-horse race’ which will probably be won over the next 25 years. Either we will find it nearby, in microbial form, on Mars or one of the moons of Jupiter; or we’ll find evidence for gases produced by living processes (for example photosynthesis) in the atmospheres of planets around other stars; or Dr Shostak and his team at SETI will pick up signals from intelligent life via huge antennas.

exoplanet_searchDr. Suzanne Aigrain – a lecturer in Astrophysics at Oxford University and who studies exoplanets – represents horse number two in the race. Dr. Aigrain and her research group have been using electromagnetic radiation (i.e. light) as their primary tool to look for planets around other stars. The life ‘biomarkers’ that she and her colleagues look for are trace gases in the atmospheres of the exoplanets that they think can only be there if they are being produced by a biological source like photosynthesis.

Speaking at the Convention, Dr Aigrain noted that, based on her studies, she would also bet that we are not alone:

We are very close to being able to say with a good degree of certainty that planets like the Earth, what we call habitable planets, are quite common [in the universe] … That’s why when asked if I believe there’s life on other planets, I raise my hand and I do so as a scientist because the balance of probability is overwhelmingly high.

fractal_dyson_sphere_by_eburacum45-d2yum16Dr. Shostak and SETI, meanwhile, seek evidence of life in the universe by looking for some signature of its technology. If his team does discover radio transmissions from space, Dr. Shostak is quite certain that they will be coming from a civilization more advanced than our own. This is part and parcel of searching for life that is capable of sending out transmissions, and assures that they will have a level of technology that is at least comparable to our own.

At the same time, it is entirely possible that an advanced species will have existed longer than our own. As the Kardashev Scale shows, the level of a race’s technical development can be measured in terms of the energy they utilize. Beginning with Type 0’s, which draw their energy, information, raw-materials from crude organic-based sources, the scale goes on to include levels of development that draw energy of fusion and anti-matter to our host star, or even stellar clusters and even galaxies.

halosphereConsidering that size of the universe, the realm of possibility – and the fact humanity itself is still making the transitions from Type 0 to Type I – the odds of us meeting an extra-terrestrial that is more advanced than us are quite good. As Shostak put it:

Why do I insist that if we find ET, he/she/it will be more advanced than we are? The answer is that you’re not going to hear the Neanderthals. The Neanderthal Klingons are not building radio transmitters that will allow you to get in touch.

“Neanderthal Klingons”… now that’s something I’d like to see! Of course, scientists have there reasons for making such bold predictions, namely that they have a vested interest in seeing their theories proven correct. But not surprisingly, they are hardly alone in holding up the numbers and insisting that its a numbers game, and that the numbers are stacked. Another such person is William Shatner, who in a recent interview with the Daily Mail offered his thoughts on the possibility of alien life.

william_shatnerAs he explained it, it all comes down to numbers, and the sheer amount of discoveries made in such a short space of time:

I don’t think there is any doubt there is life in the universe, yes. I don’t think there is any question. The mathematics involved — what have they just discovered, 730,000 new planets the other day? — mathematically it has to be.

He was a bit off on the number of planets, but he does have a point. Earlier this month, NASA announced the discovery of 715 new exoplanets thanks to a new statistical technique known as “verification by multiplicity”. By observing hundreds of stars and applying this basic technique, the Kepler space probe was able to discover more planets so far this year than in the past few combined. In fact, this one batch of discovered increased the total number of exoplanet candidates from 1000 to over 1700.

alien-worldAnd while the discovery of only four potentially habitable planets amongst those 715 (a mere 0.0056% of the total) may seem discouraging, each new discovery potentially represents hundreds more. And given how little of our galaxy we have mapped so far, and the fact that we’ve really only begun to explore deep space, we can expect that list to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years and decades.

Naturally, there are some fundamental questions that arise out of these predictions. For example, if we do find life on other planets or intercept a radio signal, what are the consequences? Finding a microbe that isn’t an earthly microbe will tell us a lot about biology, but there will also be huge philosophical consequences. Even more so if we are to meet a species that has developed advanced technology, space flight, and the means to come find us, rather than us finding them.

In Dr Shostak’s words, ‘It literally changes everything’. But that is the nature of

Sources: dvice.com, news.cnet.com, cordis.europa.eu

Latest Anthology Sample: Ember Storm!

exoplanet_hotThe past few months have been a busy and productive time for the people behind the Yuva anthology. Not only did we take on a host of new writers who adventurously volunteered to join us and share their passion for science fiction, they even managed to produce some solid first and even second drafts. In addition, several members that have been with the project from the beginning have managed to do some final drafts which merit sharing right now!

And this time, it’s Amber Iver’s and Goran Zidar’s Ember Storm, which they just put the final touches on. In this story, we see are given front row seats to a crisis in progress – as told from the points of view of two down and out maintenance workers, and a small family unit caught in the thick of things. Here’s a sample from the beginning, hope you all enjoy! And remember, there’s more where this came from once the book is published:

_____

“Hey, Charlie, do you hear that?”

“Leave me alone, Rhina,” Charlie grunted and pulled his cap down over his face. “I’m trying to sleep here.”

“The environmental alarm’s going off.” Rhina moved over to the console and brought up the display.

“So?”

Rhina studied the screen for a moment. “So it looks like there’s a storm coming.”

“Good.”

“Good?”

“Yeah, it means I’ve got nothing else to do but kick back and study the inside of my eyelids.”

“Wake up idiot,” Rhina tossed a PAD at her colleague’s supine form.

“Hey! What was that for?”

“Strap in. I’m taking us back.”

Charlie let out a huge sigh as he got to his feet and stumbled across to Rhina. She could smell the alcohol on his breath as he loomed over her and tried to get his eyes to focus on the screen.

“You won’t make it.”

“What do you mean?”

Charlie stabbed a finger at a coloured line on the screen. “Front’s coming in fast, it’ll hit before we reach the colony. We might as well just wait it out here.”

“Well I’m gonna try anyway.” Rhina reached forward and touched the ignition. “I don’t relish the idea of spending the next few hours with just your drunk arse for company.”

“That’s harsh.” Charlie’s face twisted in mock disappointment. “I’ll just be asleep on the floor. You won’t even notice I’m here.”

“Even asleep you’re crap company. Now strap yourself in, we’re leaving.”

*                    *                     *

“Good morning, Miss Siera. It’s time to wake up.”

“Just ten more minutes, please,” Siera said, sleep making her words run into each other.

The room was suddenly bathed in sunlight.

“Hey!” Siera was forced to shield her eyes from the bright light.

“Your mother’s instructions were quite clear, miss.”

Siera squinted as she threw the covers aside and strode across the room, snatching the PAD from David’s loose grasp. “Leave my PAD alone.” Her fingers danced over the screen and soon the light in the room dimmed to a more manageable level. “Why do I need to be up? It’s the weekend.”

“Isn’t this the day you’re to make lunch for your father?”

Siera sucked a breath, her drowsiness banished.

“Oh, no. I forgot.”

“That’s why I am here, miss.”

Siera smiled and leaned forward to kiss David lightly on the cheek. “What would I do without you?”

David raised a hand to his face, the latex skin of his cheek still warm where Siera’s lips touched him. “You’re appreciation is welcome but not necessary, miss. I am simply doing what I have been programmed to do.”

“If you’re going to look like a human being, I’m going to treat you like one.” She said as she scooped a bundle of clothes from the floor then ran to the bathroom.

“I am not responsible for my appearance. It was your father who constructed me. I had no say in the matter at all.”

Siera called from the bathroom. “None of us do, David. You’ve got more in common with humans than you realise.”

David shrugged. “I must say I don’t really think about it.”

Siera emerged from the bathroom. “Well you should. You’re part of this family, you know. You’re like the big brother I never had.”

“Well this big brother needs you to go to the kitchen.”

“Hang on a minute, I need my wrist com.”

Siera looked around the room quickly but couldn’t see the wearable communication device anywhere. She moved to the bedside table and rummaged through the drawer to no avail.

“Don’t just stand there. Help me find it,” she said, as she started tearing the sheets off her bed.

“When was the last time you saw it?”

Siera raised an eyebrow as she looked at David. “Are you kidding me?”

“You asked me to help.”

“How is that helping? Just look for it.”

David walked to the bathroom and returned a few seconds later holding the wrist com. “Here you go, miss.”

Siera ran up to him and enveloped him in a firm embrace. “Thank you, David. You’re a life saver.”

“As I said before, your thanks are not necessary.”

Siera clipped the device onto her wrist then looked at the mess she’d created in her room. “Oops … Mum’s going to kill me.”

“Don’t worry, miss. You go to the kitchen; I’ll stay and clean this up for you.”

Siera opened her mouth to say thank you, but David placed a finger on her lips. “Go. Your mother is waiting for you.”

Siera gave her untidy room one last glance then sped down the hall to the kitchen. The sound of pots and pans clanking told her that her mum and sister had started without her, and she hoped that she hadn’t missed too much of the preparation. Cooking with fresh ingredients, on an actual stove, like they did on Earth in the old days was a real treat, and one that didn’t happen very often.

Her mum, Tara, looked up as Siera entered the kitchen. “Good, you’re finally up. You can start by cleaning up Meghan’s mess.”

Her four year old sister, Meghan, sat with a broad grin as she stirred a bowl of dark coloured sauce. With each turn of the spoon, more of the sticky substance spilled on the bench and dripped onto the floor.

“Give the bowl to Siera, sweetie,” Tara said. “Then go wash your hands before we start on the next part.”

Meghan did as she was told, and Siera was left standing with a sticky mess to clean up. “I probably should have gotten up earlier, eh?”

Her mum glanced up. “I didn’t say a word.”

Siera set to cleaning the mess her sister created. “What’re we making?”

“It’s called Mongolian barbeque. The protein sequencer has replicated a few different kinds of meat, and I was able to pick up some garlic and onions from the market as well as something that tastes a bit like plum.”

“The sauce smells good.”

“Try some,” her mother suggested.

Siera dipped a finger in the sauce and placed it in her mouth. The sweet, spicy flavour of the fruit combined with the garlic and other ingredients exploded in her mouth.

“Oh my god, that’s amazing.”

Tara smiled. “Much better than synth food isn’t it?”

“I’ll say. Pity we can’t eat like this all the time.”

“It wouldn’t be special if we did it every day.”

“I suppose.” Siera took another taste.

“Enough of that, we’ve got a lot to do before your father and Joey get here.”

Siera placed the bowl of delicious sauce down on the bench and finished wiping the floor while her mother used a knife to cut the replicated meat into strips. When Tara was done she took the meat and placed it into the bowl of sauce using her fingers to knead the mixture together.

“What can I do now?” Siera asked.

“Can you ground some pepper in here while I do this? There should be some in the pantry.”

Siera opened the pantry door and hunted around for the pepper grinder. She picked it up and shook it. “I think we’re out of pepper, mum.”

“You’re sure?”

Siera rolled her eyes. “Yes, mum, I’m sure. Can we do without it?”

“It won’t be the same without pepper. I need you to run up to the market and get some.”

“Can’t David do it?”

Tara gave Siera a serious look. “I thought you wanted to help.”

“I do but–”

“Well this is helping. Take my chit and go to the market. Don’t worry; there’ll still be lots to do when you get back.”

Siera left their home, and walked along the open streets of the colony to the market. It was a clear day, and Yuva’s orange sun bathed the habitat with light and warmth, but this close to the light side of the planet, warmth was rarely an issue.

Their colony was built in the new style; a new style for Yuva.

The market and other amenities were located at the center of the colony, with the residential population surrounding it. It was a civic model that dated back to ancient times. No matter how far humanity had come, some things would never change.

People here lived and worked in detached buildings, with streets and walkways linking them together beneath a massive plasteel dome that shielded them from radiation and the elements. The terraformers had been able to make the air of Yuva breathable, but the planet’s ozone layer remained weak.

It was possible for a person to go outside the dome, but unless they wore a suit their skin would suffer from dangerous levels of ultra violet radiation.

Siera’s wrist com buzzed as she crested a rise in the street.

“Now what’s she forgotten?” she muttered as she checked the device.

LEVEL 5 STORM WARNING

Environment hazard protocols in place

Her heart raced and she lifted her gaze to look out past the colony’s dome. A thin line of grey marked the horizon. The storm was still a long way off, but she’d lived here long enough to know that it would be here in no time at all.

News from Space: First Earth-Sized Exoplanet Found!

kepler78bFor the past three and a half years, the Kepler space telescope has been hurtling through space and searching the Milky Way for signs of of other planets orbiting distant stars. In that time, Kepler has identified many Earth-like exoplanets, many of which reside within our own stellar neighborhood. However, it has found only one planet in recent months that is Earth-sized.

That planet is known as Kepler-78b, the existence of of which was recently verified by NASA scientists at Cape Canaveral. Of all the planets discovered beyond our Solar System, this one is both rocky in composition and weighs in at roughly 1.2 times Earth’s mass. Beyond that, however, the similarities between this planet and our own end.

kepler78b2In addition to having an orbital period of 8.5 hours, the planet also rotates around its parent star at a distance of about 1.5 million kilometers (approx. 93205 miles). Basically, this means that Kepler-78b is thirty to forty-five times closer to its Sun than Mercury is to ours, and experiences a full year in under nine days. This makes Kepler 78b an extremely hostile environment, unsuitable for life as we know it.

Andrew Howard, of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Institute for Astronomy and the lead author on one of two papers published in Nature magazine about the discovery of the new planet, said in recent webcast:

We’ve been hearing about the sungrazing Comet ISON that will go very close to the Sun next month. Comet ISON will approach the Sun about the same distance that Kepler-78b orbits its star, so this planet spends its entire life as a sungrazer.

Kepler78b1A handful of planets the size or mass of Earth have been discovered, but Kepler-78b is the first to have both a measured mass and size. At 1.2 times the size of Earth with a diameter of 14,800 km (9,200 miles), astronomers say it has a density similar to Earth’s, which suggests an Earth-like composition of iron and rock. Its star is slightly smaller and less massive than the sun and is located about 400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

Verification of the planet’s existence and characteristics was made by two independent research teams that used ground-based telescopes for follow-up observations. The team led by Howard used the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The other team led by Francesco Pepe from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, did their ground-based work at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands.

exoplanet_hotAnd while the discovery is exciting, the close proximity of Kepler-78b to its star poses a challenge to theorists. According to current theories of planet formation, it couldn’t have formed so close to its star, nor could it have moved there. Given that its star would have surely been larger when the system was in formation, Kepler-78b’s orbit would have put in inside the swollen star. Hence, the planet’s existence is an enigma.

To make matters worse, Kepler-78b is a doomed world. Gravitational tides will continue to pull Kepler-78b even closer to its star, and eventually it will move so close that the star’s gravity will rip the world apart. Theorists predict that the planet will vanish within three billion years. And while this may sounds like an eternity to us, in astronomical terms it represents a life cut short.

Source: universetoday.com, nature.com

Tweeting Aliens: The Lone Signal Array

gliese-581-eIn what could be called a case of serious repurposing – beating swords into plowshares and so forth – or something out of science-fiction, a crowdfunded project has sought to turn a Cold War era dish into a deep-space communications array. This array will send messages to that’s relatively near to us, and potentially inhabited. And assuming anything sufficiently advanced lives there, we could be talking to them soon enough.

dishantennaThe project is known as Lone Signal, a crowdfunded effort to send a continuous stream of messages to the folks at Gliese 526, a red dwarf star 17.6 light-years away in the constellation of Bootes (aka Wolf 498). And the dish with which they intend to do this is known as the Jamesburg Earth Station, a nuke-proof satellite relay station in California that dates from the 1960s and even helped broadcast images of Neil Armstrong on the moon.

Long Signal, it should be noted, is the brainchild of The Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, non-profit virtual research institute that networks scientists from across the globe and multiple disciplines for the purpose of expanding the boundaries of knowledge, science and astronomy and promoting an open dialogue on the subject of exploration and settlement.Towards this end, they arranged for a 30-year lease on the Cold War-era dish (for a cool $3 million) and set up a project that will allow participants who contribute money to send a personalized message into space.

exoplanetsUltimately, they plan to direct two beams at Gliese 526: a continuous wave with fundamental physics laws and basic information about Earth, and another consisting of crowdsourced greetings. The project is open to anyone and a series of initial short message (the equivalent of a 144-character tweet) will be available free of charge. Subsequent messages, images, and longer greetings, however, will cost money (about $1 for four texts) that will help the project fund itself.

The project’s website also lets participants track their messages and share them via social media, dedicate messages to others, and view signal stats. In an interview with Universe Today, Lone Signal co-founder Pierre Fabre, told people:

Our scientific goals are to discover sentient beings outside of our solar system. But an important part of this project is to get people to look beyond themselves and their differences by thinking about what they would say to a different civilization. Lone Signal will allow people to do that.

Indeed. Nothing like the prospect of facing another life form, a potential space invader even, to make people forget about all their petty bickering!

Gliese_581_-_2010As our knowledge of the universe expands, we are becoming aware of the existence of more and more exoplanets. Many of these exist within the Habitable Zones of their parent star, which means two things. On the one hand, they may be candidates for potential settlement in the future. On the other, they may already be home to sentient life. If said life is sufficiently advanced, its entirely possible they could be looking back at us.

For some time, the human race has been contemplating First Contact with potential extra-terrestrial life, which was the very purpose behind the creation of NASA’s SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) program in 1961. The Pioneer space probes were another attempt at making contact, both of which carried small metal plaques identifying their time and place of origin for the benefit of any other spacefarers that might find them in the distant future.

SETIFollowing in that tradition, Voyager 1 and 2 space probes contained even more ambitious messages, otherwise known as the Golden Record. These phonograph records – two 12-inch gold-plated copper disks – contained both sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth that would give any civilization that found them a good idea of what the people of Earth were capable of.

The contents of the records were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, and consisted of 115 images and a variety of natural sounds – surf, wind, thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from then-President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim.

golden_record_cover_smIn this respect, Lone Signal represents the latest step in promoting contact and communication with other life forms. And in keeping with the trend of modern space exploration, it is being opened to the public via crowdfunding and personalized messages. But unlike SETI, which lost its government funding in 1995 and had to turn to private supporters, crowdfunded space exploration is something directly accessible by all citizens, not just corporate financiers.

Update: The Lone Signal project is now operational and on 9:00 PM EDT Monday, June 17 at a press event in New York, the team announced the transmission of the first interstellar message. The message was sent by none other than Ray Kurzweil, noted Futurist and science guru. That message was then read during his welcome talk to the Singularity University class of 2013, from the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California:

Greetings to Gliese 526 from Singularity University. As you receive this, our computers have made us smarter, the better to understand you and the wisdom of the universe.

What he means by this is that by the time the message is recieved – roughly 18 years from now, assuming it ever is – humanity is likely to have taken the first steps towards merging our brains with computers via biotech, artificial intelligence, or other means of computer-assisted brain augmentation. At least, that’s what guys like Kurzweil hope for.

Other “alpha beamers” — including Dan Aykroyd, Alicia Keys, and Jason Silva — also sent beams Monday night. And for the time being, anyone can send a “crowdsourced” 144-character beam and pic. Better get on it before they start charging. If texting and phone rates are any indication, the price is likely to go up as the plan improves!

And be sure to enjoy this promotional video from Lone Signal:


And also check out this time-lapse video of the Jamesburg Earth Station in operation:

Sources: cnet.news.com, universetoday.com, voyager.jpl.nasa.gov, bmsis.org, kurzweil.net

New Anthology Sample!

gliese 581Boy, its been awhile since I posted anything from my group’s anthology. But, since it is something I am committed to do doing on my site, I always feel the need to post sample updates whenever they become available. And here is the latest from one of my own contributions to the anthology (titled “Yuva”), the fourth installment to be exact. I imagine there will be two more like it before the story has reached fruition and “The Torch”, as it is called, will be complete.

Hope you all enjoy it, and I really hope people will come on out to support Yuva once it too is completed and available for purchase/download. I’m hoping to make it available in both paperbacks and ebook format, and of course, there will be promotional discounts. But that’s another day and we still need more contributors before it can happen. If you’re an indie, there are still a few spots open…

*               *               *

The door slid open, admitting the faint light of the room’s nighttime bioluminescent units. Muktari stumbled in, his eyes set on the desk at the far side of the room, where his satchel and compad rested It was a bit of an effort to make it there without knocking anything over, and yet he found his way to his chair within a few minutes.

Muktari had been drunk exactly three times in his life. The first two occurred in university while studying abroad. Being in the company of some many young men who were either not members of the faith, or who had turned their backs on its more rigorous elements long ago, had sufficed to get him to indulge then. But after discovering there was little in inebriation, he had quickly put a stop to that.

The third time was tonight. After the first drink with Mazzini, he had quickly found his way back to the front where the company shuttle was awaiting him. After hopping in the back and ordering the automated driver to take him home, he had indulged heavily in the private stock that was kept in the back. There was no trace of the whiskey Mazzini had coaxed him into drinking, but he found plenty of another generic variety to sip on. No soda water was needed, as he wanted the full, punishing effect of it.

It was somewhere between the old opera house and his hotel he realized the true purpose of such poison. The use was to be found in its abuse. The infliction of pain and torture upon oneself, not to alleviate pain or worry, but to punctuate and drive it home. He had to admit, it was genius, in a bleak and sardonic sort of way.

But were human beings if not lovers of irony and masochism?

Setting his eyes on his satchel, he pulled out his compad and flexed it a few times to activate its bio cell. The light came on and the image of its welcome screen was projected into his visual field.

Meşale, he typed on the virtual keyboard, and was rewarded with a desktop. He called up all his files on his presentation and eyed them despondently. The images of the five planets arrayed from left to right suddenly seemed like a terribly lost cause, a fool’s hope that he made the unfortunate mistake of sharing with others. Running his hand over the screen, he took the entire file in hand and began drifting it towards the icon of the trash in the lower right corner. It hovered directly above the icon, darkening it… and there it waited.

He wanted so badly to destroy it all, to remove all traces of the proposal and all the difficulty such ideas was bringing him. He wanted to forget about everything that had happened in the last week, to start fresh and stop feeling like a fool who was shouting at the rain. He was so tired of staking everything – his life, his job, his reputation, his future – on gambits that got him nowhere.

Really, what made him think that Zimmerman, or anyone for that matter, would have taken it seriously? Could it have been the fact that after years of doing the same thing, over and over, that he was beginning to suspect there was no future to be had here at home? Was it that deep down inside, all empirical evidence pointed towards the same outcome and all attempts to defer or delay it seemed futile? Was it really so absurd, with all he saw happening around him on daily basis, to plan for the worst? And who could fault him for looking further, given the audacious but still limited plans for Solar Colonies?

In business school, they still taught young academics that ambition and initiative were the keys to the success. Was it so wrong to think that that still applied? Would he be calling them tomorrow and demanding that they revise the curriculum to teach conformity and affability instead?

His nerve faltered and he pulled the file away from the trash. Taking a deep breath, he did his best to get his head together and proceeded to the lavatory. Some cold water on his face, and some mineral water in his belly, and he was sure to feel better. He also needed to get out his night clothes, as they were ruffled and beginning to stink of self-pity.

The door chimed. His head snapped around in a hurry and he felt his heart leap. Between the fatigue and alcohol, he was in no shape to be startled. Sighing, he proceeded to the room’s common area and approached the front door. It chimed again…

“Who’s there?” he asked irately.

“An interested party,” came a female voice through the comm. Muktari frowned. What could possibly the meaning of this, he wondered.

When he reached the door, several possible answers came to mind. It slid open to reveal the woman from earlier, the one he had left Mazzini with at the afterparty. At the time, he had suspected her of being an industrial spy, or possibly a professional. He now suspected the former, as there was little chance she had passed on Mazzini in order to seek him out. Mazzini was not known to turn his nose up at a fine lady who would deign to ask for money before performing an act he held so dear.

“Magid Muktari?” she said.

“Yes,” he replied, putting his arm to door frame, blocking her entry. “How may I help you?”

“Actually, I was thinking it was I who could help you.”

“I’m not sure what you’re selling, but I can tell you I’m not interested.”

She smiled at that, exposing to perfectly ordered rows of white teeth. Another very impressive and pretty feature she boasted. It was little wonder she was sent out to deliver messages.

“I can assure you, I’m not here to solicit anything. I’m just here to relay a proposal.” She looked past him into the common area. “May I come in?”

Muktari looked behind him to the couch and considered his options. He could slide the door shut, leaving the lovely lady out in the corridor. Or he could invite her in, hear her out. Aside from being rude, the former option seemed downright needless seeing as how he had nothing else planned. And an offer might be just what he needed, given his prospects.

Stepping out of her way, he ushered her in and made his way over to the dispenser in the far corner of the room. “Can I offer you something? Coffee? Tea? Mineral Water? Perhaps some poison?”

“You look like you’ve had your fair share yourself,” she said, sitting on the couch and getting comfortable. Muktari shook his head, began filling two glasses with mineral water and some ice cubes.

“So… what’s so important that you chose to bother me at this late hour? Was my friend not entertaining enough for you?”

That made her smile again. He had to admit, she had a very pretty smile, and the way she was seated right now showed just enough leg to intrigue him. Perhaps it was the alcohol thinking for him. He offered her a glass and sipped from his own.

“Oh, Mazzini is quite charming. But I didn’t come to this city to enlist him. It was your presentation that I wanted to hear.”

“You mean the lecture on Oceanic Enhancement?” he said, shrugging and taking a sip from his glass. “Not my work, specifically. I merely presented the relevant findings, based on the company’s ongoing efforts.”

“Not that one,” she said. “I was referring to the one you presented to your boss, Mr. Zimmerman, less than a week ago.”

Muktari stopped in the midst of sip. He was worried he might choke. He stared over the edge of his glass for a few seconds and carefully lowered it. The lady smiled again and placed her glass down on the table in front of her.

“Ah, I see you I have your attention now. I can imagine you’re also wondering how I knew about it?”

 Muktari cleared his throat. “The thought crossed my mind.”

“Our sources are very good. And company gossip has always been a prime source of intel. One scarcely needs sources at all when people speak so freely.”

Muktari wasn’t sure how to respond. He shuffled awkwardly and cleared his throat.

“What was not being spoken of so freely was the fact that you are also scheduled to be transferred to Oslo. That information came at a price, but it was a good investment, in my employer’s opinion.”

Muktari saw where this was going now and saw an opportunity to respond.

“And who is this employer, pray tell?”

She reached into a small fold in her dress, invisible to the naked eye, and pulled out a card. She laid it down on the table carefully and slid it in his direction. Muktari snatched it up in his left hand and held it up, depressing one corner to activate the display chip within.

A small presentation video began, colorful graphics dancing around and showing a name.

Harding International, it said. Muktari’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open a few centimeters. When he looked back at the lady before him, he glared intently at her, a frown forming on his face.

“Who are you?”

Again, that smile. “Seriously, you don’t recognize me? Don’t you read the trade pages?”

He frowned harder. It was a rhetorical question largely, just about everyone was familiar with the Harding family and their holdings. And aside from the slight tan she had picked up, it was not hard to see the resemblance to her father.

“Not that ones that deal exclusively in global capital and investment,” he said firmly. “Why would your father be interested in exoplanet colonization?”

She spread her hands before her. “He likes to think he sees things in people, in ideas. It’s what built our family empire after all. And he also liked to enlist people who can do the same, who see potential in things down the road.”

She let that linger in the air for a moment, during which time, Muktari could think of nothing to say. He was hit by a wave of self-satisfaction and found he couldn’t speak. Naturally, he did his best not to show it, but knowing that a corporate headhunter was interested in his work could not help but inspire a certain sense of self-satisfaction. He had to wonder if Zimmerman had sources of his own implanted in Harding, whether or not they would get wind of this and wonder if it was an indication to start taking his proposals more seriously…

But alas, such feelings were tempered by the fact that he knew nothing about what Harding or his people had in mind here. What’s more, he knew enough not to trust any offer at face value. Regardless of how bleak his future looked with Zimmer and Associates, he still needed to proceed as if he were in a position of strength, unwilling to settle too quickly or easily.

“So what does your… father want of me?” he asked firmly. “Is this to be a matter of intellectual property, buying up and patenting an idea so it can be turned into cash once it becomes profitable?”

She didn’t smile this time. Instead, she rose to her feet and extended her hand to him.

“Nothing so crass. But if you’re interested in making your proposal again, to someone who is genuinely interested and willing to listen, then I’ll arrange a meeting?” She looked to her hand, back at Muktari. “Sound fair?”

Muktari looked at her hand as well, cautiously, and then took it in his. “Alright. I will meet with him. But no guarantees. I hear Oslo is very nice this time of year.”

“It is,” she said, smiling very broadly. He was almost dazzled by her two rows of impeccable teeth.

A Diamond Bigger Than Earth

Some interesting news from space these days, and for once didn’t have to do with Mars. For many years, scientists at NASA and other space agencies have known about 55 Cancri e, an extrasolar planet that orbits the Sun-like star 55 Cancri A that is approximately 41 years from our system. Up until recently, it was believed that this planet was a “Super-Earth”, a planet many times the mass of Earth composed of granite.

Recently, however, scientists have announced that the planet may in fact be composed of carbon. That means, in essence, that the surface is composed of graphite and diamond. These findings come as part of a study that was released by the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in Toulouse, France. Nikku Madhusudhan, a Yale researcher who was part of the project, estimates that at least a third of the planet’s mass, the equivalent of about three Earth masses, could be diamond.

Imagine that, three entire Earth’s worth of diamonds! The mind reels at the staggering amount of wealth and opulence that this planet could produce, if only human mining teams were able to access it. However, surface conditions might complicate that a little. According to that same report, the planet is incredibly hot, with temperatures on its surface reaching 1,648 Celsius (3,900 degrees Fahrenheit). Not exactly cozy, by Earth standards.

Speaking of which, this is another aspect of the discovery which is proving exciting. According to Madhusudhan, “This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” adding that the discovery of the carbon-rich planet meant distant rocky planets could no longer be assumed to have chemical constituents, interiors, atmospheres, or biologies similar to Earth. And he’s not alone is suspecting that discoveries like this are just the tip of the iceberg, as we work our way further out into the universe and discover more examples of strange and exotic exoplanets.

Source: Yahoo News.ca