Update on Curiosity

More news from Mars! It seems that after a full month of being on Mars, running routine checks on its equipment and snapping some breathtaking photos, Curiosity is ready to begin the first leg of its study mission. This consisted of finding a Martian rock, the first sample in Curiosity’s extensive contact surveys.

And, after a week of searching, the NASA team piloting the rover found a pyramid shaped rock that they feel will be perfect for their surface analysis. The rock is described as a pyramid-shaped hunk, likely composed of basalt, which they nicknamed “Jake Matijevic” after one of the rover engineers who died back in August.

The sample was located just three meters from Curiosity’s landing zone, now known as the “Bradbury Landing” in honor of the late, great Ray Bradbury, author of the Martian Chronicles. On Saturday, it will extend its arm, take possession of the rock, and begin chemical analysis to determine the rock’s primary mineral and precise composition.

Another important aspect of Curiosity’s mission began this week, as the rover set it’s camera eyes to the skies and captured photos of Phobos making a Solar transit. To be fair, this was not the first time a Martian eclipse was captured on camera. In fact, the Opportunity and Spirit rovers both snapped similar images back in December of 2010 and 2005. However, the images taken by Curiosity were of such high resolution that experts will be able to estimate the consistency of the interior of Mars itself for the first time.

Apparently, this is done by measuring the tidal forces these moons exert on Mars, examining how the planet changes shape ever so slightly as a the moons orbit about it. By measuring this “deformation bulge”, along  with the precise spatial orientation provided by Curiosity’s photos, experts at NASA and abroad will be able to conjecture what the core of Mars is made of based on how much the planet deforms. I always wondered how scientists were able to guess what lay at a planet’s core. Now I know, go figure!

Stay tuned for more news from the Curiosity and the Red Planet!

Source: Popular Mechanics

The Vacay Is Over!

Yes folks, tomorrow I got home and resume a normal life, which will consist of getting ready to go back to work at the local school and driving my sweetheart to work every morning. I have to say, and my wife agreed with me on this, we need a vacation after this vacation. Somehow, romping through the bush and thinking you might die of dehydration, followed by a week of house sitting a 92 year old woman and nine cats, just doesn’t seem conducive to relaxation.

On the plus side, I didn’t accomplish half of what I hoped to when it came to my reading and writing goals either. So at least there’s symmetry. If I recall correctly, my list looked something like this:

  • Finish editing Data Miners already!
  • Finish my contribution to the Yuva Anthology (Winston Agonistes)
  • Get more chapters done for Whiskey Delta
  • Write up a new chapter for Crashland (still need people to vote on that one!)
  • Proofread new submissions for Yuva (Amber, that’d be your story)
  • Get some TKD training in with the Comox Valley people
  • Sit around the deck drinking GandTs and using the Hot Tub

Well, item one was a total bust. Didn’t get one page of DM editing and ready for print. I fared slightly better one item two, finishing Winston Agonistes for the Yuva Anthology. In fact, a few thousand more words, and it should be complete. Man, I totally busted my self-imposed word limit of 5000 (it was 11, 161 last I checked)!

Third item, writing more chapters of Whiskey Delta, I totally did! In fact, I published chapters nine, ten and eleven of my zombie tale while here. As for Crashland, which only I wanted to do one chapter for? Not so much… Item five, I actually did twice, meaning two submissions were sent by the erstwhile Amber and I managed to read them both and offer some comments. Item six I managed to take care of this morning, and item seven I did like gangbusters!

As for my reading list… that went even less well. If I’m mistaken, I planned to finish Mona Lisa Overdrive, finish Second Foundation, get into We, and finish Martian Chronicles and A Feast For Crows if there was time. My progress? Almost finished Mona Lisa, made a little progress on Crows, and nix on the rest! Damn, I guess I’ll be carrying a heavy reading burden back with me to Victoria. And I hoped to do some reviews on these since I’ve been promising them for awhile now.

Ah well, as they say “The Best Laid Plans…” etc, etc. At least we had an adventure, not to mention the fact that we’ll be home, in our own beds, and not have to look forward to cats coming and going into our room all night long, demanding food, to be let out, or trying to use the damn litter box. I’m seriously reconsidering my love of cats, I tell ya! And I do have a surprise or two to look forward to when I get home so I’ll be pleased to push off tomorrow. It was also real nice to spend some time with my grandma, and she tells me she had fun too. So it’s sure to be a bittersweet goodbye 🙂

Hope everyone’s had a great summer and catch you real soon! I know, it goes so fast, but at least we can make some memories that we’ll be able to hold on to. And just think, the fall will be bringing many new and wonderful things. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin beer, ripe apples, our favorite tv shows, new movies, new friends, and new opportunities to witness new and exciting things. I look forward to it all…

What’s On…

If you’re like me, and suffer from what I assume is a form of literary ADD – where you can’t seem to commit to reading, or writing, one thing at a time – then it helps to take stock once in a while and make a list. At other times, its disconcerting, like whenever I check out my Goodreads account and see that a book I cracked over a year ago is still on my “Currently Reading” list.

But today I thought I’d combine that list with my list of upcoming reviews. As I’m sure I mentioned in a previous post or two, this vacay has been pretty good for scoring new books. I got some long 0verdue ones and managed to find at least one that has come highly recommended. To ensure that they don’t wind up in my pile, partially read and collecting dust, I thought I’d make a definitive list. That oughta help my ADD!

Editor’s Note: The author of this article is not a physician or psychiatrist and has no medical credentials whatsoever. He is thus in no position to diagnose, either in himself or others, any form of ADD or its hyperactive cousin, ADHD.

  1. Mona Lisa Overdrive – the final book in the Sprawl Trilogy by William Gibson. Due to diversions in reading The Hunger Games, Second Foundation and a slew of others, this book has remained opened far longer than it had to have been. I hope to finish it this or next week.
  2. Second Foundation – the third installment in the Foundation series, which I have been meaning to read for some time. As the (sort of) conclusion to the Foundation saga, and after reviewing the first two, it was only fitting that I find and tackle the third book. I say sort of because decades after finishing this third novel in the series, Asimov would finally cave to demands that he return to the series with three more books. Fans and publishers, what can you do?
  3. Martian Chronicles – this book I just picked up last week. After years of hearing great things and wanting to get into it, I finally procured a copy and began devouring it. I got half way through before the wife and I got back to civilization and it was forced to take its place in the queue. It’s a testament to Bradbury’s old school, accessible, yet still high-minded style that you can read through his works quickly and still feel like you’ve digested a lot. I look forward to finishing this one and borrowing freely from it 😉
  4. A Feast for Crows – my reading of this fourth installment in the Game of Thrones series has stalled for a few reasons. One, I got a little tired after the first three books, especially since all the main characters keep dying! Second, after three books of excitement and climactic battles, George RR Martin seemed to think that was needed was a book that contained all the scraps. Not a bad read by any measure, but it’s kind of like a serving of leftovers after three sumptuous banquets.
  5. We – the classic of classic by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Again, I cracked this book a long time ago and haven’t been able to get into it due to the myriad of books that have entered and left my reading pile in the interim.  I want nothing more than to finish it and give it its long overdue due! For crying out loud, this man practically invented the dystopian satire and inspired my heroes – Orwell and Huxley. If that doesn’t warrant a read, I don’t know what does!
  6. The Giver – here’s a book that my wife has been recommending for ages! Considered to be a classic of YA fiction, this novel is certainly a must-read for those looking to stay current on the genre. Having found a copy at my local Coles, right next to City of Ember, I decided it was time to have a looky-loo so that I knew what I was talking about next time I chose to include it in a review of current utopian/dystopian lit.
  7. Red Mars – holy crap has this one been on my shelf for a long time! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked it up and put it down. Which is really too bad. It’s definitely one of the more profound sci-fi books that I’ve ever read, but somehow, the style lends itself to a certain inaccessibility for me. I do enjoy reading it, but find that it doesn’t quite happen easily or organically. In that respect, Kim Stanley Robinson is not unlike William Gibson for me. I know I want to hear from them, and I do get through their books, but not with the ease and grace that I would something by Bradbury or Asimov.
  8. Ready Player One – this one I bought alongside The Giver because I thought it was time to invest in something new. I tend to be reserved about buying the works of new authors, mainly because I don’t invest time and money in something which might prove to be disappointing or a flavor of the month kind of thing. However, I said ‘screw it’ this time around and picked this one up. And lo and behold, I discovered that it is actually a quite famous read, with the entire back of the dust jacket dedicated to the heaps of accolades that have been piled on it. Not only was it a manager’s pick at the Coles, it also comes recommended by my peeps over Io9.com. Them folks know their sci-fi, so I’m glad I went with my gut and checked this one out!
  9. Starfire – this hard sci-fi novel, by Charles Sheffield, is actually one I picked up in a laundry room at the park where my wife and I were staying in Lund. We had just returned from camping, were in the process of returning to civility (with showers and other amenities) and realized we still didn’t have anything to read! So I took a gander at this one, and after seeing that it was endorsed by Kim Stanley Robinson, I gave it a chance. I only got about 70 pages in before we had to leave and I chose not to take it (having nothing to exchange), but I was wrapped up enough in the plot that I decided I’d get a copy as soon as I could. Still looking, might have to go Amazon or Kindle on this bad boy, but I don’t intend to let it slip. The plot, which involves the creation of a massive orbital shield after A/B Centauri goes supernova, is quite interesting, and constructed using the latest in astronomical data. Check it out if you can!

Well, that about does it for me. Nine books in the reading list, not so bad. I could think of some more but… seriously, who the hell wants that kind of responsibility 😉

Upcoming Mars Landing

I recently came across this story on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, a science show dealing with all things science and tech related. Somehow, with the recent passing of Bradbury, Canada’s 145th birthday, and my obsession with colonization, this story just spoke to me on so many levels. For those who’ve been monitoring the news or NASA’s regular updates on their website, the Curiosity rover is on its way to Mars and is schedules to land on August 5th.This Martian rover is slated to roam the surface for years, looking for signs of life. And it just so happens that this vehicle carries a special Canadian instrument.

Curiosity’s position and distance to Mars as of July 4th, 2012 (NASA)

The Curiosity spacecraft, artists rendition (NASA)

Once it arrives, the Curiosity, the largest rover ever sent to Mars, will execute the most complicated powered landing, in the roughest area, that a robotic lander has ever attempted on Mars. The landing site is the Gale Crater, 155 kilometres across, with a mountain rising 5 km from its centre. Curiosity is aiming for a pinpoint landing on the crater floor, right at the base of the mountain. Once there, it will begin by exploring the lower slopes of the mountain (named Mt. Sharp after a NASA geologist) and spend the next two years looking for signs of ancient water activity and possible Martian life.

The Gale Crater, the landing point indicated with a black oval (NASA)

Here’s where the Canadian technology comes in. In the course of conducting its analyses of the surface, one of the instruments that it will use is a an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer. This device was built by a team of scientists at the University of Guelph, Ontario, with Dr.Ralf Gellert acting as the principle investigator. With the help of this an other instruments and on-board mini-laboratory, the Curiosity will analyze soil samples to look for chemical signatures of past or present life.

As many people know, this elusive search has been ongoing, ever since astronomers first looked at Mars through telescopes and thought they saw artificial canals. Those hopes were quickly dashed when more detailed analyses indicated that the planet was sterile and the atmosphere too thin to support life as we know it. But once rovers began to be sent and soil samples examined, the hope of finding life once again became a matter of hard science. Though there might not be little green men dwelling on the surface, or in underground facilities, life of a sort does appear to exist within the Red Planet’s oxidized soil.

On top of all that, this information will prove useful in helping scientists to determine whether or not Mars could be terraformed to suit human needs. If that should prove to be the case, then Mars may very well become our home away from home in the not too distant future. Bradbury certainly thought as much, and look how popular he became 😉

The landing, and results it produces over the next two years, are sure to be exciting! In the meantime, check out this computer-simulation of Curiosity’s landing, as produced by NASA:

Space Anthology!

My apologies to all those expecting a post about zombies or post-apocalyptic stories. You see, my group and I are busy designing an entire world for our new anthology and we needed some mock-ups to help speed our imaginations to their goal. That’s been my obsession these last few days, that and visiting family. But alas, I have no idea how to post a PDF file to a Shaw Photo Share account, so I came here to do it instead. Behold… Our new Colony Ship!

The overall design is built around the concepts of a generation ship and a sleeper-ship, with the habitation module and the cryo-stasis bays in the center with the engine and shuttle bays at the rear and the command module at the front. And of course, for the people in the center area, the concept of an O’Neil Cylinder comes into play – a ship that utilizes a rotating section to generate gravity. And I think a long spine connecting it all together, which requires a cart since the gravity is at its lowest in the center, would also be cool.

Oh, and I should mention that we’ve selected a location for our story and done some additional mapping to give the setting a truly realistic feel. As already noted, the star system in question is Gliese 581, and the planet is 581 g, a real exoplanet that scientists believe could host life. And here is what it looks like, for our purposes anyway:

It’s called Yuva, a Turkish word which translates to “Home”. All the continents are named in honor of the scientists who helped discover Gliese 581’s planetary system. The rest, well, that’s all us baby! The polar continent, named New Gondwana, is named after the super-continent of Earth’s Precambrian period. And the vast stretches of sea are just tentative names that I thought seemed appropriate, given their position between the major landmasses. Note the color, which denotes levels of fertility, green being lush, grey being glacial, and yellow and light green being desert of savanna land.

Another G5N Anthology in the works!

Don’t you just love it when things come together, and by things I mean talented people and a good concept? Well that seems to be happening once again. A few months back, I joined Writer’s Worth over at Goodreads, a writer’s group dedicated to promoting new talent and aspiring authors. We have since morphed into Grim5Next, an online community with its own site and members all over the world. Our first anthology, World’s Undone, is coming together nicely and should be finished in a few months.

But more recently, a couple of Grim5Next people got together and decided we wanted to get to work on another anthology. Maybe we’re all a little driven, but somehow, we just couldn’t wait for the first to be released. And with the departure of the master-singer of sci-fi, Ray Bradbury, and the news of the Venus transit, we felt ourselves inspired. In fact, it all began with a single conversation between Mrs. Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali and myself:

Khaal­i­dah: Four nerds verg­ing on geeks live in my house, of which I am one. One of our nerdi­est but fun con­ver­sa­tions cen­tered around the ques­tion “Would you rather go to space or the bot­tom of the ocean?” Hands down the answer was space. I once dreamed that my son, now 21, would one day go to space and walk on Mars. He is no longer a child who dreams of space, although it still intrigues, and space seems a dis­tant child­hood dream of his. But even for myself, at the ripe old age of 41, the idea of going to space is a bright hope, even though I know it is unat­tain­able and unre­al­is­tic. But, given the chance, I would go. This post reminds me of the awe­some­ness of our great uni­verse, of the chaotic ran­dom­ness, of the beauty of this world and the things we have to be grate­ful for, and of how utterly minus­cule we peo­ple really are in the grand scheme of things.

Me: Okay, you need to write this down. I fore­see you doing a story where a fam­ily does go into space. Ho boy, I smell another anthology here!

Khaalidah: An anthol­ogy about space, going to space or any­thing related sounds awe­some. I vote for you to be the edi­tor. What do we need to do to get started?

That’s how it all got started. After some initial brainstorming, we plotted out what we wanted this all to be about. Space and Colonization! In the near future, such endeavors might just become a reality. In fact, they might have to be if we want to survive as a species. And inspired by the dearly departed Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, I thought we ought to tackle some of the same issues he did, taking into account some more recent historical developments. Like Bradbury’s chronicles, it will be a series of interlinked stories, but told from different points of view in different time frames.

After some astrological research, your humble editor selected a location. 61 Cygni, the star system that sits roughly 11 and a half light years away from Earth. Though there’s no hard evidence to support the theory, it has been ventured that there may be a system of planets in the system, including three small objects, two gas giants, and one mega-planet. At right, you will see the little map I prepared for our, and your, viewing pleasure.

And in time, we picked up some more dedicated souls, William J Joel and Goran Zidar, who you may remember from Story Time fame (he’s the inventor). Already, these two have signed up for slots in the opening part of the anthology. Divided into four stories, Part I will tell the tale of how colonization is getting underway here at Earth in the not too distant future. And before it ends, it will address the issues of converting the new world over to human needs, and how the local flora and fauna are not too happy about it!

And of course, I got a few more people who’ve volunteered to help just as soon as they have the time. Courtney, Jinn and Doremy, I’m looking in your direction. You’re initiative is most appreciated and there’s still plenty of stories to be written and slots to be filled. And of course, Parts II and III are still in development, and slots remain open for more writers. Though it’s still in development, I know it’s going to be inspired, thanks to the people we got working on it. I also know we are going to have fun doing it.