Monday, June 30, 2008

Tufts Scientists to Develop Morphing "Chemical Robots"

Scientists at Tufts University have received a $3.3 million contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop chemical robots that will be so soft and squishy that they will be able to squeeze into spaces as tiny as 1 centimeter, then morph back into something 10 times larger, and ultimately biodegrade.

Today's rigid robots are unable to navigate complex environments with openings of arbitrary size and shape. They are stymied by, say, a building whose only access points may be a crack under a door or a conduit for an electrical cable.

The robot design is inspired by the team's findings on both the neuro-mechanical system of the Manduca sexta caterpillar. The Tufts chembots will copy some of the performance capability of Manduca, including its flexibility, climbing ability and scalability – from hatching to the end of its larval stage, the caterpillar grows 10,000 fold in mass using the same number of muscles and motor neurons.

According to Dr. Mitchell Zakin, Ph.D., DARPA program manager for the ChemBots program,

“DARPA’s ChemBots program represents the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics. It is an entirely new way of looking at robots and could someday yield great technological advantage for our armed forces.” Read full article

rats....sinkin are the signs

Well with the Shuttle missions winding down and the follow on program mostly pickup rides in a Soyuz, astronauts at NASA are starting to find ummm what's the term?... other gainful employment? NASA is reporting that veteran shuttle astronaut James Reilly has left NASA to accept a position in the private sector and Veteran space shuttle astronaut Barbara R. Morgan will leave NASA in August to become an educator at Idaho's Boise State University.

ain't sayin nuttin

<nasa story reilly>
<nasa story morgan>

Subterranean spring 2008 issue online now!

The Spring 2008 issue of Subterranean Press online magazine is now available.

Here is a list of the fiction available:
  • After the Siege by Cory Doctorow
  • Air and Angels by Beth Bernobich
  • By the Liter by Ekaterina Sedia
  • Connoisseurs: A Lucifer Jones story by Mike Resnick
  • Road Dogs by Norman Partridge
  • Stone Eggs by Adriana Campoy and James P. Blaylock
  • Your Collar by Elizabeth Bear

Thanks to SFScope for the heads up

Quantum Entanglement Photographs or Ghost Pics!

You gota love IO9, they can find the stories that have science fiction written all over them. Here is one that will make your goose-bumps have goose-bumps. Quantum Entanglement Photography. Oh yeah! Say what?! Quantum entanglement is a quantum mechanical phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects are linked together so that one object can no longer be adequately described without full mention of its counterpart — even though the individual objects may be spatially separated. got that? give ya a hint, Ansibles. What Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." You take 2 matched quarks, seperate them by distance X, change the state of quark a say down and quark b goes positive at the same time. What about X you say? I said SAME TIME. Ok, got that peice of weirdness eating away at the gray areas? You can use this like peice of crazy making to take photograhs of stuff that ain't there....yet. When you stop gibbering I will explain... ok now? As IO9 puts it "Within a few years, we'll be able to take clear pictures of objects through clouds, smoke, or fog. "

No, not radar or infrared or mass-spec - oh something oh so much weirder: Imagine you are trying to photograph a boat behind a bank of fog. You'll use two light-sensitive devices: aim one at a light source that's illuminating your fog-shrouded boat (such as the sun, or a searchlight); then aim the other where you think the boat is likely to be. Then you use a computer program to combine the patterns of photons you've received from the object and the light. Once the two patterns have been compared, you get a kind of black-and-white silhouette of the object you want to photograph. Scientists call this a "ghost photograph."

Did you get that kiddies? No where did it say point those light sensitive things at any boat - but a light source and another where you think its going to be - ummm your free to fumble and mumble for a bit.

<Here is the wiki on Quantum Entanglement>

<complete IO9 article>

Some more online audio resources

I was asking Vonda McIntyre about the possibility of reading some of her short stories on BMU
She is just getting up to speed on podcasting and she passed on some interesting information.
I haven't had much time yet to wade through all the material but it seems that these two sites are a wealth of information. worth looking at.

Your listeners might be interested in Ursula K. Le Guin's
"Read by the Author" section, in which she reads selections
from her work:

The pieces are available as both MP3s and with an online

Also, Science Fiction Conversations has several excellent interviews
with SF writers.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Quark Star?

And you thought a Neutron star was a strange beast. Or how about this.... Solar masses over 1.5 solar collapse into a singularity after going super-nova. Well if you held to that last theory, something just happened that could throw a monkey wrench into that one. Astronomers in Canada and at the California Institute of Technology's (Caltech) Palomar Observatory have been studying data from three explosions that are each 100 times brighter than the average super-nova. They feel they are witness to creation of a previously unobserved and new class of objects, quark stars. A quark star is a hypothetical type of star composed of ultra dense quark matter, the fundamental components of protons and neutrons, which make up the nucleus of atoms. In the formation of a quark star, an ultra-massive neutron star is still too massive to maintain it's structure and the neutrons undergo conversion into their constituent parts which liberates copious amounts of energy and creating material so dense as to be theoretical.

The problem in this whole scenario? Many scientists have a great deal of difficulty in conceptualizing neutron stars. Even more rail against the wholesale collapse into a black whole and instead give evidence that the neutron star is the end point of a star' collapse. As you can imagine both camps are going to have a hard time swallowing a structure that doesn't seem to fit into either of their models.

<to read more>

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tor's Newest Free E-book: Book: Battlestar Galactica by Jeffrey A. Carver

Thanks to SF Signal's for this update, I totally spaced it. Tor Books newest free ebook is

Battlestar Galactica by Jeffrey A. Carver. If your already signed up you can get the book in a variety of formats. (Available in HTML, MobiPocket, and PDF versions.) If you haven't signed up yet to be notified when the newest free book is available, you can go to and get a free account.

Asteroid-hunting Satellite A World First

NewScientist online is reporting that Canada is building the world's first space telescope designed to detect and track asteroids. Called NEOSSat (Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite), the new satellite will to detect and study asteroids that pose a collision hazard with Earth. What's more it does it small and cheap! Weighing a mere 65-kilograms, and costing about $12-million , shows off once again Canada's expertise in compact "microsatellite" design. NEOSSat will be the size of a large suitcase, and is cost-effective because of its small size and ability to "piggyback" on the launch of other spacecraft. Its main optics will be a telescope with a 15-centimetre mirror, smaller than many backyard telescopes used by amateur astronomers.

<More from NewScientist>
<More from Science Daily>

Thursday, June 26, 2008

American Solar Reactor Heads to Switzerland for Testing

Everyone may someday carry a pocketful of sunshine if the efforts of visiting researchers at a Swiss laboratory bear fruit.

While concentrated solar storage is still in its infancy and the storage systems yet mammoth, like all good technology it will trickle down into a myriad of applications from residential and eveen personal light and heat providers to doubtless some weapons platform too crispily frightful to contemplate.

A research team from Valparaiso University’s College of Engineering in Indiana will take a solar reactor they’ve designed and built from scratch to Switzerland next month to begin a series of tests at one of the world’ premier solar energy research institutes. Valparaiso is a member of the Council on Undergraduate Research.

Dr. Robert Palumbo, Jenny professor of emerging technology and one of the world’s leading solar energy researchers, and three of his undergraduate students will spend four and a half weeks at the Paul Scherrer Institute as Valparaiso’s solar energy research program enters its third year. The program was launched in August 2006 with a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the industrial feasibility of high temperature solar electrolysis – a process that has the potential to make large-scale storage and transportation of the sun’s energy practical.

“We started with nothing other than theory to design our solar reactor, so it’s exciting to reach the point where we can begin testing,” said Dr. Palumbo, who formerly served as head of the Paul Scherrer Institute’s High Temperature Solar Technology Laboratory. “Our emphasis this summer will be validating that the reactor can perform under our desired operating conditions.”

During tests, sunlight will be collected, focused and directed into Valparaiso’s reactor – a cylindrical device about three-feet long where the electrolytic process will take place. Inside the reactor, a crucible containing the chemicals involved in the electrolytic process will be heated to between 1,700 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point electrolysis will begin and separate zinc oxide into oxygen and metallic zinc.

“It will take more than one month to complete our testing of the electrolysis process and determine whether we can indeed replace electricity with solar energy on an industrial scale,” Dr. Palumbo. “This summer is the initial step in testing that will continue over the next two summers.”

After the team returns to Valparaiso in August, Dr. Palumbo and his students will take the data they’ve collected and begin making improvements to the reactor.

“I expect our testing will show us a number of improvements we can make, so that next summer we’ll have a reactor that we’re really happy with,” he said. “Then, we can concentrate more on the science of solar electrolysis.” Read full article
Image courtesy Solar Technology Laboratory, Paul Scherrer Institute, Zurich.

NASA spacecraft document largest crater in Solar System

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor have provided detailed information to what seems to be the largest impact crater ever found in the solar system. Last March, I ran an article that spoke about the lack of symmetry between Mars' northern and southern hemispheres. At that time there was conjecture that this deformation might have been caused by an asteroid impact, however there was some skepticism because the formation in the northern area was not in the shape that one would expect from such an impact. However the new information from the orbiters is creating intense scientific interest in the huge crater. The northern crater takes the shape of a giant basin that covers about 40 percent of Mars' surface, sometimes called the Borealis basin, and is now almost certainly the remains of a colossal impact early in the solar system's formation. At 5,300 miles across, it is about four times wider than the next-biggest impact basin known, the Hellas basin on southern Mars. What's even more amazing is the impactor would have been in the order of 1,200 miles across, making it larger than Pluto! What's more huge object lowered Mars' northern hemisphere between 2 and 5 kilometers!

<NewScientist article>
<More from NASA>

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mars Air Once Had Moisture

A new analysis of Martian soil data suggests that there was once enough water in the planet's atmosphere for a light drizzle or dew to hit the ground, leaving tell-tale signs of its interaction with the planet's surface. The data for this conclusion, which is a dramatic departure from presently held theories that suggests Martian moisture came mostly from geological upwelling, comes from published measurements of soil from Mars that were taken by various NASA missions: Viking 1, Viking 2, Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity.

<more via>

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Non Profit to study "gravity tractor"

While Griff and his Bush Administration cronies dust off their tie-dye shirts, smoke a bowl and try to relive NASA's Apollo golden years with their mission back to the Moon, it's good to know someone's paying attention to the Asteroid threat." Who is the "someone" he mentions? That's Rusty Schweickart who is heading up the B612 Foundation. The non-profit is kicking $50,000 to a group of experts at Jet Propulsion Labs to study the "gravity tractor" method of deflecting Earth crossing objects or more accurately objects that are about to hit Earth.

The gravity tractor method is brilliant in its simplicity. Blowing up these objects is not an option. The only thing you change with that method is the difference of getting hit with a rifle bullet or a shotgun blast. Other methods rely on mounting engines on the objects. But this requires that you balance the engines exactly or fire the engines only when they are aligned properly. Also there are the size of the engines to consider. With our rocket tech at present, it would be like an ant pushing the QE2. So what makes the Gravity Tractor so attractive? Well in space you don't have to overcome friction only enertia. Also, no matter how big the mass differential, one mass will always atract another. So this is where the brilliant part kicks in. The idea is to build a fairly massive space craft. It could be build out of Lunar material or other small asteroids or whatever. It doesn't have to be unrealisticly huge, just as big as possible. The idea is to park this craft close to an incoming object. The masses will attract and what the tractor does is to keep the object at a constant distance with rockets or whatever. Its not mounted to the object at all. So the asteroid is allowed to spin and do whatever, but its never allowed to touch the tractor. Ever so slowly its pulled off its trajectory that would impact Earth. The real trick is that it has to be done early in its orbit. Because the attraction forces are light, it will take time to move the really massive objects. But once detected, setting the tractor up is the "easy" part.

< via IO9>

Image: B612 Foundation

Star Trek Tri-corders - new tech brings them even closer.

I was just reading an article on IO9 that describes new tech that brings us a few steps closer to that marvelous Star Trek device known as the "Tri-corder". The small, battery powered device small device uses a low-power ultra-violet laser beams to identify the building blocks of life. The device could sweep the lasers over rocks or soil, identifying identify organic substances. Scientists foresee this as a hand-held unit, but presently uses are aimed at future robotic missions.

<IO9 article>

Monday, June 23, 2008

2008 Science Fiction Hall of Fame Inductees

On Saturday, June 21, EMP|SFM held its 2008 Science Fiction Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Those honored this year are Betty and Ian Ballantine, William Gibson and Rod Serling among others. Science fiction author Connie Willis hosted the evening’s events. For a complete listing and more information go to

< via Boing Boing>

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Locus Award winners announced

Reading down through Boing Boing I see that Cory posted the Locus winners for this year.
The awards were given out 6/21.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Michael Chabon

Making Money, Terry Pratchett

Un Lun Dun, China MiƩville

Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill

"After the Siege", Cory Doctorow

"The Witch's Headstone", Neil Gaiman

"A Small Room in Koboldtown", Michael Swanwick

The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories, Connie Willis

ANTHOLOGY The New Space Opera,
Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan, eds.

My reading of Michael Swanwicks story is available in episodes 101 & 102

<complete Boing Boing post>

Friday, June 20, 2008

Scientists photograph shortest ever "wave" of light!

What takes place in 2.5 billionth of a millionth of a second? Well among other things 2 complete waves of visible light! And now researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany have succeeded in capturing the shortest-ever flash of light.

<To read how they accomplished this groundbreaking feat, go to the New Scientist article>

(Thanks to Shaun A. Saunders for the post)

Tor's current free book is In the Midnight Hour by Patti O'Shea.

Tor reports that: Our current free book is In the Midnight Hour by Patti O'Shea.

Go to to sign up for the free book - They should send you one every week or so until their new site is up. They offer the book in HTML PDF and MOBI


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Charlie Jade after 2 gets sent to the minors....

Remember when I said that the Sci-Fi channel may be on the road to recovery? New shows coming on line with good time slots, stupid one sucking wind and circling the drain? There was hope remember with the advent of shows like Charlie Jade on Friday nights? Well guess what Friday nights doesn't have anymore....oh yeah.

From IO9: The Sci Fi Channel has decided its airings of the South African/Canadian Charlie Jade have been underperforming in the Friday 8 PM slot, before Doctor Who. So they're moving him to the Monday 3 AM slot instead, where he can safely compete with Golden Girls reruns. Because, of course, the Sci Fi Channel has so much great stuff to air during its precious prime time hours.

Wow, Sci-fi is back on daylight mental time for sure. It was bad enough when they were pasting Ghost-Hunter logos all over the screen during Battle-Star Galactica - now all you hear about is Scare Tactics. Everyone is asking what's wrong with Sci-fi......easy - new shipment of crack.

Richard over at Pop Critics had me gasping with this slice: I’m not going to take this opportunity to bash Ghost Hunters. If you enjoy watching retards chase moths and fluttering leaves, that’s fine by me. I am going to bash the SciFi promotions department for failing to advertise or promote Charlie Jade in any way. How many ads for Charlie Jade do you suppose SciFi showed during episodes of top-rated Ghost Hunters?

<IO9 more> <pop critics>

Large ‘Planet X’ may lurk beyond Pluto

Shaun Saunders sends in another good article from MSNBC. According to a new computer model created by team members from Kobe University in Japan: An unknown world might lurk in the distant reaches of our solar system beyond the orbit of Pluto. A planet much larger than Pluto, possibly as much a 70% the mass of Earth, and could be responsible for some unusual features of the Kuiper Belt.

Ok, I know, hardly new idea! A "planet X" has been the grist for many a science fiction writer, fired the imagination of fans for ages and been the bane for many astro-scientists. And of course now since the International Astronomical Union adopted a new definition recently, it would instead be the largest known "plutoid."

But all kidding aside, according to the article : The Kuiper Belt contains many peculiar features that can't be explained by standard solar system models. One is the highly irregular orbits of some of the belt's members. Some of the largest and most distant bodies in the Kupier belt, have orbits that are so unusual that it is very easy to speculate that a very massive object is responsible. The team members released their in a recent issue of Astrophysical Journal.

Shaun speculates that the situation may be a little more complicated than what is described in the article - there could be a brown dwarf solar twin much further out, with its own planets occasionally coming in closer...

I myself have harbored the notion that Earth's Sol could very well have a brown dwarf as a companion and that Sol was part of a binary pair. If we want to speculate further, Sol might have a singularity as a companion.

Truly we have only just scratched the surface so to speak of the outer reaches of the solar system. Mysteries still abound, and hence - science fiction will continue to have a healthy plot device!


How To Measure the Speed of Light... Using Chocolate!

I have been a fan of the instructables web site for like forever. They are a quirky "how to" page that is part mythbusters and part demented Mr. Science. (yeah I watch way to much cable tv) by that I mean they are always building neat stuff from crap hanging around and in the process you learn some neat science!

So this week I come across how to measure the speed of light using chocolate and a microwave. Sound like BS? Nope! You take the chocolate, start warming it in the microwave, when you see melty places you stop and measure how far between the melties. Now you have the wave length. Next you have to find out the frequency of the microwave. It might be on the unit, or you might be able to look it up on the internet, if not, the instructable gives you ball parks for the average unit. Now knowing that speed is a factor of frequency and wave length times two, you simply do the math and vola!

You thought you couldn't do real science! And you get to eat your experiment!

<check out the instructable>

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Review: Middle Men

So, how many of you watched the premiere of the ABCfamily channel's Middle Men? Well I passed on the first go round, but did log into ABCfamily to catch the episode online. The title alone gave me a heads up to expect something a bit off beat, and I was not disappointed. No sir, one hour of fast talking- wise cracking - fast come back repartee is what I got, mix in odd aliens, cheesy special effects and campy humor and we have a mix reminiscent of Get Smart, Batman (60s tv series) in some respects the Avengers and a host of other offbeat weird "comedy" series. Matt Keeslar and Natalie Morales seem to work together and for the life of me I can not put my finger on it, but it reminds me of a demented knockoff of the failed Bionic Woman interplay between the two. Its not Max and 99, no no, the humor teeters on mean spirited but all the while your saying....o0000h I got to remember that one..... No, MiddleMen is not great sci-fi, its more of MIB's vacation replacements. But I will bet Will Smith wishes he could have said some of these Yeah, give it a go. Here is a link to the season's opener.
<Watch Opener>

Meet the BMW "GINA"

We have been seeing many articles about the wildly different concept car from BMW called GINA, but other than descriptions and a few static images, we were left only guessing. Well let me treat you to a video of the car just sitting still and doing stuff that I swear you would drag your naked body over glass and hot coals just to drive around the block. Enjoy!

Phoenix Lander may have found ice

In an article from New Scientist that Shaun sent in The Mars polar lander Phoenix, while extending a trench, uncovered a bright white substance that could very well be ice. The other possibility is a form of salt, which in either case supports the theory that water was once very abundant on Mars. The lander's robotic arm uncovered the white substance after further excavating sites called Dodo and Baby Bear to create one large trench. Periodic photos will be taken of the area to document if the exposed layer changes. Evaporation or frost, of the white area, will be a strong indicator that liquid water once pooled in the trough between polygons and then froze.

****Update as of 6/20/08*****
I have been hearing a lot of conflicting data, but Shaun Saunders sends me an article from MSNBC. It seems that the white substance that was the center of some confusion is indeed some form of ice. That conclusion was reached when scientists viewed updates of the trench cut by the Phoenix's scoop. New pictures from the site show a marked decrease in the amount of whitish material that can be viewed in the frame. According to the new article: Initial chemical analysis was inconclusive, but scientists said they could tell by seeing if the material disappeared after exposure to the thin Martian atmosphere. When scientists compared Sunday's pictures with imagery captured early Thursday, dice-sized crumbs of the white material were clearly missing.

<View the before and after shots to see the difference>

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

50s Astro Boy getting a 21st century remake

Who remembers "Astro Boy"? I remember seeing Japan’s Osamu Tezuka's creation back in the late 50s early 60s on Saturday morning cartoons. Astro Boy, with his odd eyes and enviable abilities, captivated me like no other animation until I discovered anime. I recognized it immediately as an early form of anime. So you can understand my bemusement when I hear that AstroBoy is up for Anime treatment? Huh? True, it has been announced that Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Bill Nighy and Eugene Levy would be joining Freddie Highmore for the 2009 feature adaptation of Astro Boy. The new version (according to the article in 1 IO9) going to be a dark Pinocchio story - Astro Boy takes place in futuristic Metro City. A robotics scientist creates Astro Boy to replace his recently passed little boy, but Astro Boy's cold robot love isn't enough for the scientist. A.B. leaves to find a love of his own and ends up in a seedy robot underworld and back where he started, a little older and a lot wiser.

The "web" time forgot

I often rail against the common misconceptions used when describing the internet and the world wide web. Users do not often differentiate between the two but in truth they are two separate entities. The internet supports the web, the web could not survive without the internet but the internet could operate without the web. Think of the internet as the computer and the web an application running on it. Simplistic surely, but there is a distinction. Ok, that being said, Barry sends in this article from the New York Times describing visionary Paul Otlet's description of an interconnection of devices that would allow users to look up all manners of documents anywhere in the world. Not in the 80s or the 50s but In 1934, Otlet sketched out plans for a global network of computers (or “electric telescopes,” as he called them) that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. Although Otlet’s proto-Web relied on a patchwork of analog technologies like index cards and telegraph machines, it nonetheless anticipated the hyperlinked structure of today’s Web. Otlet’s vision hinged on the idea of a networked machine that joined documents using symbolic links. While that notion may seem obvious today, in 1934 it marked a conceptual breakthrough.

click the title to go to the complete article. There is a snippet of the film "The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World" that sounds like a manual for setting up the web in the 90s not the 30s. Facinating!

Monday, June 16, 2008

FedConUSA in Dallas reported as pure disaster

Ever been witness to something so terribly bad that you just can't look away? Well here is a perfect example. I was reading a post by Michael Hinman on SyFy Portal about the melt down of
FedConUSA in Dallas. Michael could have given us the short story "It Sux big time" but instead goes point by agonizing point of how the convention slowly imploded on itself. Wow if it was this painful to read, being there must have been wicked!

Read his article here

Howard Waldrop Hospitalized

SFScope reports that Howard Waldrop has been admitted to the Seton Medical Center in Austin and is in the ICU. According to SFScope Michael Swanwick said - He was having trouble breathing, which seems to have been pulmonary edema brought on by high blood-pressure. His heart catheterization showed that he has multiple blockages, and some heart damage from a prior heart attack that he didn't even know he'd had, what they call a "silent heart attack."

Howard will be undergoing bypass surgery Monday.

Breakthru shows that 1 in 3 solar type stars have planets!

From ScienceDaily : European astronomers have announced a remarkable breakthrough in the field of extra-solar planets. Using the HARPS instrument at the ESO La Silla Observatory, they have found a triple system of super-Earths around the star HD 40307. Moreover, looking at their entire sample studied with HARPS, the astronomers count a total of 45 candidate planets with a mass below 30 Earth masses and an orbital period shorter than 50 days. This implies that one solar-like star out of three harbors such planets. Since the discovery in 1995 of a planet around the star 51 Pegasi more than 270 exoplanets have been found. These planets were in the Jovian class like Saturn and Jupiter and about 1 in 14 stars had this class of planet. But now with better instrumentation, it's possible to spot planets 2 to 10 times the size of the Earth. This lends the question of just how many stars have planets. Up to this point, only short duration planets were being found (planets that orbit their primary very quickly). This new level of sensitivity will allow astronomers to look for longer duration planets which may ultimately show that virtually all solar class stars have planets.

Men could be from Mars - Women, even farther away!

A long time staple of science fiction is life on Earth being "salted" from extra-terrestrial sources. Finding what appeared to be ancient microbes in Mar's meteorites only served to foster the idea further. However according to recent research panspermia may be more than the fodder of the science fiction writer. Research on the Murchison meteor, which landed in Australia in 1969, found molecules in those meteorite fragments that confirmed some of the raw material for DNA and RNA did not contaminate the rock after it landed on Earth, but actually originated in space. Scientists figure that since the Murchison meteor fell to Earth bringing the molecules uracial and xanthine — precursors to DNA — there must have been a lot of this stuff pelting the planet billions of years ago. There are about 70 different amino acids in the Murchison meteorite. About six or so are the same kinds of amino acids associated with life on Earth. Though not conclusive, since these chemicals can also be synthesized on Earth, it does however show that the building blocks could very well have originated somewhere else entirely!

Nova Science Now story
IO9 Article

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fiction Liberation Front now offering Free Novels

Lew Shiner has taken a bold leap and extended the range of his website the fiction liberation front by adding free downloads of his novels. This is what he wrote:

Dear friends,

I've just expanded the range of Fiction Liberation Front to include free downloads of my novels, and I've kicked things off with my brand new thriller, BLACK & WHITE. My publisher, Subterranean, is fully supporting this move, and as we bring my other novels back into print we plan to release free PDF versions on the FLF site as well.

That URL is


Very exciting news from a very exciting writer. I have read a great deal of his work and have hosted a few of his stories here. His site has always been a wealth of information, this makes it doubly so.

AntipodeanSF # 121 is now available

The Editor of Antipodean has nailed down another excellent issue. Here is the note I just received concerning the contents of the latest:

AntipodeanSF Issue 121 (is now) available for your enjoyment at the usual web URL:


This month's issue features another ten fine stories from speculative fiction writers in the antipodes and podes, as follows:

"A Bride Beyond The Gate" by Jason Fischer

"Ghost-Hunter" by Steve Cartwright

"Prickly Green" by PS Cottier

"Gobstoppers" by Jan Napier

"To Lift A Finger, Not" by Shaun A. Saunders

"Mr Woe" by Shei Tanner

"The Chairman's Descent" by David G Jenkins

"How Things Fall" by Sean Monaghan

"Tsiligup" by Simon Petrie

"The Wardrobe Picklers" by Chris Broadribb

You'll also find our new review column "Going Critical" by Jan Napier, who this month takes her razor-sharp keyboard to the "now" Roman London of Sophia McDougall's "Romanitas". Similarly, Nuke takes revenge with Orna on the remote planet of Callespa in Chris Wooding's, "The Fade".

Please visit, read, and don't forget to vote for your favourite story.

Ooroo for now,

Nuke (Editor).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sarah Connor Has Failed -- the British Just Built Skynet

Skynet just went online. No lie! Remember a few weeks ago I reported that the British were deploying a military satellite program that beyond all comprehension they named Skynet? Well guess what.... The final satellite in the system was launched this week, and will allow high-bandwidth telecommunications between British forces located anywhere in the world. In addition to voice communications, it will allow data transfer and the remote control of robot airplanes, one of which is called "The Reaper." One of the manufacturers was quoted by BBC News as saying:

So, computers can talk directly to computers.

Hey if your feeling a discomfort in your abdomen right now - that's your bowels letting go.....

complete IO9 article

NASA awards contract for new suits!

NASA has awarded a contract to Oceaneering International Inc. of Houston, for the design, development and production of a new spacesuit system. The Constellation Program mission requires two spacesuit system configurations to meet the requirements of Orion missions to the space station and to the moon. Configuration One will support dynamic events such as launch and landing operations; contingency intravehicular activity (IVA) during critical mission events; off-nominal events such as loss of pressurization of the Orion crew compartment; and microgravity. Configuration Two will build upon Configuration One and will support lunar surface operations. While preparing to walk on the moon, the astronauts will construct Configuration Two by replacing elements of Configuration One with elements specialized for surface operations.

Image Credits: NASA.

How would Christian react to aliens?

ooooooooooweeeeeee does Shaun know how to drop a bomb in the middle of a blog! Dr. Saunders sends in an article from that asks the question of how the religious community would react to visitors from another world. The Vatican's chief astronomer says the Catholic Church would welcome them as brothers. hummmmmmm.... isn't this the same church that imprisoned Galileo for saying that the Earth revolves around the sun?

In the article: many observers assert that aliens would be bad for believers. Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research, once wrote that finding intelligent other-worldly life "will be inconsistent with the existence of God or at least organized religions." Now that sentiment is fairly common of those outside Christianity.

Theologians respond: Since God created the universe, he would have created aliens, too. And far from being weakened by contact, Christianity would adapt. Its doctrines would be interpreted anew, the aliens greeted with open arms.

The article is an honest look at how Christians might view alien visitors and how their religion might adapt. Excellent questions are brought up like, how does Christ himself fit into the picture? What is the meaning of this visit to our race at that time?

The article is heady and thought provoking if nothing else. Worth a read.

Click here for the complete article

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is the Sun Dead?

The Daily Galaxy blog sports an article concerning a disquieting lack of activity on the surface of the sun. Sunspots are a well documented phenomena in the upper atmosphere of Sol. Periods of inactivity are common. What isn't common is the amount of time that has passed since a spot was last seen. As Daily Galaxy puts it: ...they are all gone. Not even solar physicists know why it’s happening and what this odd solar silence might be indicating for our future. Although periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, this current period has gone on much longer than usual and scientists are starting to worry—at least a little bit. Today's sun is as inactive as it was two years ago, and solar physicists don’t have a clue as to why.

Dana Longcope, a solar physicist at MSU, said the sun usually operates on an 11-year cycle with maximum activity occurring in the middle of the cycle. The last cycle reached its peak in 2001 and is believed to be just ending now, Longcope said. The next cycle is just beginning and is expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. But so far nothing is happening. In the past, scientists observed that the sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots. That period coincided with a little ice age on Earth that lasted from 1650 to 1700. Evidence for abrupt climate change is readily found in ice cores taken from Greenland and Antarctica. One of the best known examples of such an event is the Younger Dryas cooling, which occurred about 12,000 years ago, named after the arctic wildflower found in northern European sediments. This event began and ended rather abruptly, and for its entire 1000 year duration the North Atlantic region was about 5°C colder.

As some have pointed out the Younger Dryas cooling happened when the Earth should have been WARMING up instead of experiencing a mini iceage.

School of robofish provides basis for teams of underwater robots

While most ocean robots require periodic communication with scientist or satellite intermediaries to share information, Kristi Morgansen, a University of Washington assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, has built three Robofish that communicate with one another underwater.

Recently at the International Federation of Automatic Control's Workshop on Navigation, Guidance and Control of Underwater Vehicles she presented results showing that the robots had successfully completed their first major test. The robots were programmed to either all swim in one direction or all swim in different directions, basic tasks that can provide the building blocks for coordinated group movement. Image courtesy University of Washington

"Underwater robots don't need oxygen. The only reason they come up to the surface right now is for communication," Morgansen said. Her robots do not need to come to the surface until their task is complete. Images are posted with this release at More information on the research is at

Would an antimatter apple fall up?

Shaun Saunders sends in an article with some real meat on it! An article in New Scientist online ask the seemingly innocent question: How would antimatter react in a gravity field? As the article points out: Physicists have studied antimatter, the mirror version of ordinary matter, for decades. They know, for example, that antiparticles have the same mass as ordinary particles, but opposite charge. But no one knows what effect gravity will have on such particles.

Now several groups want to measure exactly how the Earth will pull on antimatter. The tests would create a horizontal beam of anti-particles and measure how much gravity deflects it.

The test may show no difference between the way matter and antimatter fall. But some researhers are holding out hope that they may see something completely unexpected, which could point the way to new gravity-like forces, or perhaps even anti-gravity.

Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse more than just a viral vid?

Now here is a just plain weird way that the web is influencing "real" life. Pals Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with actor Jay Baruchel and director Jason Stone, put together a trailer for a fake movie called Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse and threw it online. It's funny stuff and as thing go, it gathered a following. Some studio execs saw the trailer and decided it would make a great big screen film! The premise of the short film is: two guys holed up in a seedy apartment, getting on each other's nerves while the rest of the world gets torn up by ravenous monsters. Kinda like the Odd Couple at the end of the world. The weirdness enters when execs from Mandate Pictures give the go ahead for a full-length feature version. The trailer is funny enough, funny enough for a big screen though? You decide. Oh NSFW because of language.

Space Adventures Charters Entire Russian Spacecraft

Can you believe this?! Yep, seems it is true! According to a recent article in To celebrated its ten-year anniversary Space Adventures, (the group that brokered the first tourist flights to space) announced that it had negotiated a deal with the Russian Federal Space Agency to buy an entire flight to the International Space Station. That's right, not just one seat, but the entire flight will be taken up by space tourists. A professional Russian cosmonaut will command the flight for two ticket-paying passengers some time in late 2011. (Soyuz as you know can only carry three people) From then on, Space Adventures plans to fly one charter flight to the International Space Station a year through the station's operational life. RKA will add new spaceships to its manifest rather than bumping existing flights. (you got to think about this for a second....this puts the vaunted NASA on the same level as Space Adventures, basicly buying seats from the Russians. *sigh*) Indications are that a tourist space walk and trip to the moon are in the planning stages - flown by the Russian Federal Space Agency and brokered by Space Adventures. (I hate to even think this, but with exciting stuff like this happening, NASA appears to be dead and to stupid to lay down. NASA is doing some great science, but leaving this huge gap in their manned program shows that they are event driven, advancing in spirts. The Russians have been steady throughout the last 40 plus years. Simplistic yes, but who is buying seats from whom? )

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award Finalists

The finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short science fiction for 2008.
The Award is presented during the Campbell Conference Awards Banquet at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. Here is this year's finalists in alphabetical order:

Barron, Laird "The Forest" Inferno, Dec, Tor
Bear, Elizabeth "Tideline" Asimov's, March
Chiang, Ted "The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate" F&SF, Sept
Ford, Jeffrey "The Dreaming Wind" Coyote Road, Viking Juvenile, July
Fowler, Karen Joy "Always" Asimov's, Apr/May
Johnson, Kij "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs Of North Park After the Change"

NOTE: Johnson, a juror, removed story from consideration.

Coyote Road, Viking Juvenile, July
Jones, Gwyneth "The Tomb Wife" F&SF, August
Kessel, John "The Last American" Foundation 100, August
McLeod, Ian R. "The Master Miller's Wife" F&SF, May
Moles, David "Finisterra" F&SF, Dec
Sinisalo, Johanna "Baby Doll" SFWA European Hall of Fame, Tor, June
Wolfe, Gene "Memorare" F&SF, April

Listeners will remember Karen Joy Fowler's "Always" that was read in episode #103

Thanks to Science Fiction Award Watch for the heads up

'Plutoid' Chosen As Name For Dwarf Planets Like Pluto

Almost two years after the International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly introduced the category of dwarf planets,The IAU has decided on the term plutoid as a name for dwarf planets like Pluto. This category is for solar system objects called trans-neptunian which are celestial bodies in orbit around the Sun at a distance greater than that of Neptune that have sufficient mass for their self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that they assume a hydrostatic equilibrium (near-spherical) shape, and that have not cleared the neighbourhood around their orbit. The two known and named plutoids are Pluto and Eris. The dwarf planet Ceres is not a plutoid as it is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

A Parasite that Induces Love in its Host

I love it when weird science just screams science fiction. IO9 has a story of a truly odd host/parasite life cycle. One where the parasite induces the host to protect the parasite above all else. A Brazilian wasp has evolved a very peculiar way to reproduce - in which it changes the host's behavior to the point where that after emerging from the host's body, the host will continue to protect the wasp pupa, forgoing all other functions, like eating! Upon emerging the caterpillar host covers the pupa with silk and then stands guard until they emerge as adult wasp. In fact the caterpillar refuses to eat or leave until the wasps hatch. The caterpillar dies soon after the adults emerge from their pupae, so there can be no benefit whatsoever for the caterpillars.

complete PLoS ONE article

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pentagon watchdog group worried about possible new terrorist abilities

Shaun Saunders points us towards a Wired 'Danger Room' blog entry concerning a Pentagon advisory committee that is worried that terrorist organizations may be raising the threat level by gaining new abilities. The Pentagon's most prestigious scientific advisory panel, JASON, are the ones worried about the enemy's activities in sleep research, neuro-pharmaceutical performance enhancement, and "brain-computer interfaces." They are also concerned about our adversaries' ability "to exploit advances in Human Performance Modification, and thus create a threat to national security." (it's true, idiotic paranoia is not the exclusive play ground of "military intelligence" pac)

Secrecy News unearthed a recent report by the JASONs who are recommending that the American military speed up its own research -- and monitor foreign studies -- to make sure that the U.S.' enemies don't suddenly become smarter, faster, or better able to endure the harsh realities of war than American troops.

click the article title to go to the complete wired really is stranger than you expect...

New Drug Uses Immune System To Fight Cancer

Wired is running a story about an experimental drug that coaxes the immune system to destroy cancer cells. Micromet announced that its experimental drug, MT103, had impressive results in a test upon seven Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma patients - all of whom had failed conventional treatments.

The drug uses BiTE antibodies, or bispecific T cell engagers, which are highly-engineered biological molecules with sticky ends. One side can cling to CD19, a protein found on cancerous B cells, and the other half can grab onto CD3, which is found on cytotoxic T cells. By momentarily drawing those cells together, the drug can coax the cytotoxic T cells into fighting the disease.

Training the immune system to fight cancer may be one of the best ways to keep it from coming back after several rounds of standard treatment.

Phoenix Lander may have to sprinkle

As has been reported, Phoenix's earlier soil samples would not pass through the screens, above the small testing ovens, because the soil was much more "clumpy" than researchers had anticipated.

The analyzer vibrated the screen for 20 minutes on Sunday but detected only a few particles getting through the screen, not enough to fill the tiny oven below. William Boynton of the University of Arizona, who is the lead scientist on the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Anaylzer, or TEGA, designed to bake and sniff samples to identify some key ingredients, said that they would shake the screen one more time, "and if that doesn't work, it is likely we will use our new, revised delivery method on another thermal analyzer cell,". The revised delivery method will hold the scoop at an angle above the delivery target and sprinkle out a small amount of the sample by vibrating the scoop. The vibration comes from running a motorized rasp on the bottom of the scoop.

click article title for complete story in Science Daily

Monday, June 09, 2008

Worst Squirtgun I have EVER SEEN!

According to a posting on SFSignals This has to be the worst Batman squirt toy ever.

Is it science fiction? Well Batman has some really cool stuff, but this is just funny and just so WRONG!

Click for I am not going to put it up here!

RIP: Algis Budrys

Steven Silver Via SfSignal blog is reporting that sf author Algis Budrys passed away June 9, 2008. Lithuanian-born Budrys was also known under the pen name Frank Mason.

Budrys is perhaps best known for his works Who? (1958), Rogue Moon (1960), and Michaelmas (1977).

Check out the Wikipedia listing

Earth & Moon as seen from Mars

Just how amazed were you when you first saw Earth-rise from the Moon during the Apollo mission? One of the most fantastic photographs I can think of. Just to think, on that little blue globe, I am somewhere watching tv of the Apollo and they are taking my picture....So very strange to see just how really small we were. So here is a shot of the Earth AND the Moon from Mars taken by NASA's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera - operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson. Do I need to say anything more?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Dreams With Sharp Teeth

In Andrew O'Hehir's blog Beyond The Multiplex there is a really fascinating interview with writer Harlan Ellison. The main topic of which is Eric Nelson's new film Dreams With Sharp Teeth, a film about Ellison that just premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Andrew sat down with Ellison in Austin the day after the film's premiere. He described him "as unfailingly gracious and polite, answering the awkward questions about his relative obscurity and his relationship to posterity alongside the softballs." However O'Hehir mentions that Ellison often managed to twist the interview around to such a degree that Andrew was often finding himself answering personal questions about himself.

The post transcribes much of the interview but also links to an audio of the interview itself.

Harlan Ellison interview in Beyond the Multiplex

Dream with Sharp Teeth trailer

Thanks to Nelson Cole for the post

'Green' website tells when you should die!

Calculator reveals when your share of Earth's resources fully consumed!

Oh brave new world huh? I can see a Logan's Runerish type of story here! Shaun sends in this piece that I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a movie idea here as well! Here are the details from the World Net Daily site.

The Australian Broadcasting Company has created a "green" website that tells you when you should die, based on your usage of Earth's resources. The PlanetSlayer site, (is described as) the "first irreverent environmental website," includes "Professor Schpinkee's greenhouse calculator," which tells a user when he or she should die, based on their lifestyle and consumption of resources. The user goes through a series of questions about how much one drives, is the vehicle fuel efficient, (plus) how many miles the person flew. Those responses are added to answers to questions about the size of your home, how many people live there, how big the utility bills are and does any of the energy come from a renewable resource. Then you click on a skull-and-crossbones button to find out that you should die at 23.4 years, or 9.3, or 5.2, depending on your answers. With the click on the skull-and-crossbones button, a pig representing the survey-taker, explodes.

Tongue in cheekiness aside, there is a scary central idea here lets go writers! lol

planet slayer web page

Friday, June 06, 2008

Oh where oh where did my white dwarf go?

The more I study astronomy (playing fast and loose with that term, study, better to say avid reader I suspect) the more I am aware that there are stranger things in the universe than conceived in my own solar system. (oh yeah, goin to literary hell for that. yep yep). So what even participated this astronomical epiphany? An article in Science Daily concerning a white dwarf that should be present in the core of a planetary nebula and isn't to be found. What can be observed at the core is a pair of tightly bound stars that whirl around each other every five days, neither one of which is a white dwarf. (wait for it) Both stars also appear to be rotating more slowly than expected; they would be expected to always be facing the same sides toward each other, but they do not. The remaing two stars were born as a family of three, with the A stars circling each other tightly and a more massive star orbiting further out. This allowed room for the massive star to evolve to become a red giant, which only then engulfed the pair of A stars. Trapped inside the red giant in what astronomers call a "common envelope,"

Can you imagine that? Three stars close enough to orbit each other, so close in fact that when the most massive one goes off main sequence, the remaining stars are inside its' atmosphere!

The Science Daily article goes on to explain how this dynamic may have ejected the more massive star when it collapsed into a white dwarf, that in itself is every bit as interesting. Click here for complete article

Review: Charlie Jade - Fridays at 8 on Sci-fi

Oh my, I might find myself in a very uncomfortable position! One that would force me to say that the Sci-fi channel may have done something right.

The Wikipedia describes Charlie Jade as a science fiction television program filmed mainly in Cape Town South Africa. It stars Jeffrey Pierce in the title role, as a detective who finds himself trapped in a parallel universe. The show started in 2004 and was aired on the Canadian Space Channel. It premiered on the Space Channel April 16 2005 (which show us all just how the "original programming" bs line that programming big wigs at the Sci-fi channel tried to force down our collective throats when asked why they would not consider adding Moonlight to the schedule)

Politics aside, I had a chance to check out the premiere of Charlie Jade. The show starts off in a truly Bladerunnerish dystopia right down to a rough edged, worn out detective. Weirdness soon begins when Jade is run over by a train that really isn't there. Jade suffers from "visions" of things that can not or have never exsisted. In the mix we have an evil all powerful corporate entity that would appear hell bent on an experiment that reminded me of the 60s "Time Tunnel" I won't ruin it for those who have not caught the program yet, but it would seem that Jade's visions are more than they seem and in the end Charlie may have been thrown into another parallel universe due to a failed experiment. The program is good enough that I am gong to look for the next installment Friday's at 8 on the Sci-fi channel.

When We Left the Earth

Sunday at 9 PM the Discovery Channel asks, is this the end of the United States' space program? Or more to the point Will we continue to fund the space program? Gary Sinise narrates the Discovery Channel's miniseries "When We Left the Earth" and deals with some very real and vexing questions and problems with the United States space effort. When We Left Earth traces the 50-year history of the Space Age in the United States, and is packed with footage from NASA's archives that is getting its first public showing. Reporters who have seen the series already say that the over-riding message of the series: Human space exploration is worthwhile, even necessary. At the same time dealing with critics of the manned space program (who) argue that robots outstrip the abilities of humans for less cost and risk. (which in part is true, but one has to only look at Hubble and as one reporter said, "without a manned presence, Hubble would be a floating piece of junk.)

From the IO9 story: NASA is now in the process of winding down the shuttle program; no flights are scheduled after 2010. What comes next, a new generation of spacecraft known as Constellation, will not be flying until 2015 at best. In the middle is a gap that will be filled by buying seats to the space station aboard the Russian Soyuz capsules. That period to come will test the nation’s commitment to spending the billions of dollars it takes to send humans into space and keep them safe from start to finish. It will test the notion that we need to send people into space at all.

The IO9 article

The Discovery Channel's Miniseries page

monochrom's "Kiki and Bubu and The Privilege"

OMG are you ready to laugh so hard you might break something? Let's experience monochrom's Kiki and Bubu. This little piece of sock puppet animation is brilliant. In a little over 5 minutes these chain stitched loonies deconstruct Orwell's 1984. Right from the start Bubu states that "These liberals gave me a book to read, and threaten to beat me up if I didn't!" to speculation of the chances of the Internet containing instances of sexuality and being attacked by porn monsters.... and finally a logic trail that concludes that surveillance is a privilege of a class society and the liberals that foisted the book on Bubu might not be aware of this being too much like the people in the book. Oh my, I think I separated a rib or two.

Orphans of Chaos by John Wright - Tor books newest free E-book

Tor's current free e-book is Orphans of Chaos by John Wright.

I got a nice bit from Roses are Read page where they listed the dust jacket blurb for the book. It reads:

From DJ: "What if your teachers taught you everything - except who you really are? For Amelia and her friends, the strict English boarding school they live in is all they have ever known. The sprawling estate, bordered by unknown territory on all four sides, is both orphanage, academy, and prison. The school has a large staff, but only five students, none of whom know their real names or even how old they are. Precocious and rebellious, all five teenagers are more than just prodigies. Amelia can see in four dimensions. Victor can control the molecular arrangement of matter. Vanity can find secret passageways where none existed before. Colin is a psychic. Quentin is a warlock. And, as time goes by, they're starting to suspect that none of them are entirely human .... John C. Wright's previous fantasy novels, the epic Chronicles of Everness, were lavishly praised by both readers and reviewers. Now he embarks on an ambitious new saga that explores the overlapping boundaries of science, mythology, and the imagination."

If you haven't signed up yet, go to and sign to receive your notice of free e-books!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hollywood to redo Capricorn 1

During the 60s I was wildly interested in the space program. I never quite "got" Sputnik, but by the time Mercury / Redstone flew, I was up and running. I lived for Apollo right to the end. So when the movie Capricorn 1 came out I really felt betrayed by the movies. You know... How could they get it all so wrong? This is so stupid! That kind of thing. I just could not fathom the entertainment value is something I perceived as mean spirited. So when I see that director John Moore and writer Peter Buchman are seriously thinking that it's time for a remake, I am again well, floored! I couldn't think of a worse timed movie remake either. NASA is basically on a role, oh and I am not so naive to think that NASA can not rise above bad movies, but if I were a serious producer I would want to jump on the bandwagon with with something upbeat...I don't know. Oh but I do know, right off the bat, this won't be one of the movies on my list, whenever it comes out! lol

Read IO9's take on the redux

Ulysses, ends a 17 year mission

After more than 17 years exploring the effects of solar activity, the Ulysses mission is now approaching its end. Ulysses, a ESA/NASA mission, was launched in October 1990. Its' mission was to explore the regions above and below the Sun’s poles - and study our star’s sphere of influence, or heliosphere. Originally designed for a lifetime of five years, the mission has surpassed all expectations. Scientists will be studying the reams of data Ulysses has returned for years to come.

Wikipedia info onUlysses

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Pictures From Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 2

From Just Jared via Scifirama we get some pics of season 2 of The Sarah Connors Chronicles. All I can say is Summer is hot even with GSWs

Click here for more pics

Scientists devise method of studying extremely distant black holes

From ScienceDaily:

Astronomers now have a new, simple method to study black holes up to eight billion light years away – thousands of times farther away than black holes can be measured today. researchers have concluded that the larger the black hole at the center of a spiral galaxy, the tighter the galaxy’s arms wrap around itself. If correct, the simple relationship would give astronomers an easy way to determine the size of the masses of super-massive black holes at the centers of galaxies at extreme distances. Since super-massive black holes were discovered in nearby galaxies, researchers have been determining their masses by looking at how fast the stars were moving in the very central regions of those galaxies. But that method only works for relatively nearby galaxies. One of the important reasons to learn about the every distant black holes is, when you are looking at galaxies very far away, you are looking at them as they were in the past, so you can learn about how masses of black holes grow over time.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Tiniest extrasolar planet found

Astronomers have sighted the smallest extrasolar planet yet orbiting a normal star just three times the size of our own. The planet orbits a star which is itself of such low mass it may in fact be a "failed star", or brown dwarf. The planet, called MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb, is about 3.3 times the size of Earth. Astronomers found the new world using a technique called gravitational microlensing. This takes advantage of the fact that light is bent as the rays pass close to a massive object, like a star. Discoveries like this bring astronomers closer to discovering micro-planets, around the mass of the Earth, which might harbor life.

Thanks to Shaun Saunders for the article from BBC News

Phoenix Lander digs in....

From msnbc online I read that Phoenix did a few test digs this past weekend. Here is a real interesting photo taken of soil inside the scoop. Initial tests will ascertain whether or not the white patches in the upper right are water, CO2 or some form of salt. The actual digs are expected to start later this week, where the 8 foot arm will make a series of trenches looking for water and organic compounds that could be the building blocks of life.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Review: Fantasy & Science Fiction July 2008

I would like to start by saying that I have been a fan of F&SF for better than 30 years. In that time I would hard pressed to find a story that I didn't like let alone any one particular issue. So when I received the July 2008 review issue, I was truly looking forward to some quality fiction. F&SF, because I suspect of its' wider editorial content or style needs, often has something for everyone. This issue certainly did not disappoint in that department. The book reviews and movie commentary was interesting and the stories again diverse. That being said, my only complaint is more a comment on what I like and don't like to read. I find alternate history tales taxing. To be honest, I don't consider them science fiction or fantasy (though in the loosest sense of the term I guess it is someone's fantasy...) speculative fiction surely, but little in the way of “science”. Next, Nazis and torture, two more plot devices that I can do without. Combine all three and you have a recipe that, for me at least, is going to be hard to get through. So that being said A. Cowdrey Poison Victory was not my cup of tea. On the flip side Michael Blumlein The Roberts is a wonderful answer to the question, “What do you get the person who has everything?”. The images in the novelette are almost cyberpunk in nature and at times wildly original. The other novelette FulBrim's Findings has the makings of a religious quest perhaps or maybe like last year's Hugo nominated story The Last Reef or maybe Tk Tk Tk from a couple of seasons ago. A searching for the underlying answers. And you know the feeling you get after reading one of these stories if they are really well done. You know, “There was an answer, but not the one the hero needed” and you are really drawn in and melancholy all at the same time. The short stories, in which I think F&SF really shine are top notch. Lisa Goldstein puts a fantasy twist on the many worlds idea with her short, Reader's Guide - or even better example of the style: The House Beyond Your Sky by Ben Rosenbaum, that feeling of a world just above or beyond ours and I think she really pulls it off. James L. Cambias is not a writer that I had been familiar with before, but I will look forward to anything new in the future. His The Dinosaur Train is a very normal Circus with one extra twist which could have gone the way you would consider and done well, but James does something very courageous and takes us on a coming of age yarn. Bravo! So, I would say that the July 2008 issue is well worth a look. The further beauty is that is available from, Fictionwise and Audible! SWEET!