Sep 15 2013

Meteorite!

Published by Alastair under Astronomy

Exactly seven months ago today, on February 15, a large fireball exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The shockwave damaged buildings and injured as many as 1,200 people (mostly from falling/flying glass). Meteorite fragments showered the area, although the main mass may be at the bottom of a nearby lake. Thanks to KD Meteorites and the Colorado Coliseum Mineral and Fossil show, I now own one of those fragments.

picture of meteorite

It’s a small piece, 10.5 grams and about an inch across, with an almost complete fusion crust except for a small chip showing the interior. Under a magnifier, you can easily see the grains — including tiny grains of nickel-iron — that make up this chondrite.

Pretty cool.

What I think is _really_ cool, though, is this: a year ago this little piece of rock was in space somewhere out around the orbit of Mars. The track of the meteor (aside: the atmospheric phenomenon of a meteorid or asteroid burning up in the atmosphere is metor, when it’s still in space it’s either a meteorid (small) or asteroid (over 10 meters — at 18m Chelyabinsk was an asteroid), and any pieces that survive entry and hit the ground are called meteorites) was well recorded on many security cameras and dashboard cameras in the nearby town, as well as by an earth observation satellite. Projected backwards, it is highly likely that the Chelyabinsk asteroid was one of the Apollo group of Earth-crossing asteroids*. Meteorite orbit, from Wikimedia It was about 40 days past perihelion when it slammed into Russia. A year ago — five months before impact — it was roughly in the vicinity of Mars’s orbit. (I haven’t worked out where Mars itself was at the time, it could have been on the other side of the sun.)

This is not my first meteorite. Some years ago I was given a nice 87 gm (about 1/5 pound) fragment of the Canyon Diablo meteorite, which formed the famous Meteor Crater in Arizona, impacting some 40,000 years ago. It’s awesome to have a piece of what blew a mile-wide hole in the Arizona desert. It is awesome to own a piece of the meteorite which we saw a few months ago on TV, one of the largest in a century. It’s even more awesome to hold a rock in your hand and know that a year ago it was deeper in space than any one, and few robots, have been before.

I think I’ve found a new hobby.

*(The largest member of this group, 1866 Sisyphus, is estimated at 8.5 km diameter, 472 times the diameter of Chelyabinsk … or over 100 million times the mass. If — or when — it hits us, the impact would be equivalent to that of the Chicxulub dinosaur-killer. Nervous yet?)

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Jun 15 2013

Worldcon is coming…

Published by Alastair under Writing

LoneStarCon logo It’s just over 10 weeks now until Worlcon 71, the 71st annual World Science Fiction Convention. Also known as LoneStarCon 3, it’s coming up Aug 29 through Sept 2 in San Antonio, Texas. If you’re not already a member, sign up before the end of July to be able to vote for the Hugo awards. Eligible voters can download e-copies of most of the available works (obviously not the dramatic presentations) from the LoneStarCon web site. I just downloaded mine and am reading through what I’d missed; there’s definitely some award-worthy work in there.

I’m looking forward to the con, to seeing friends I haven’t seen since last con and meeting new ones. I don’t know if I’m on any panels yet, I got my volunteer info in kind of late, but I’ll be around. I think the last (only?) time I was in San Antonio was for an International Space Development Conference (many years ago!) and had a great time*.

*(Catch me in private sometime and ask about the hijinks surrounding the premiere of the made-for-TV movie Plymouth, about the first moon colony. Funny (in hindsight) story, including a future Deputy Administrator of NASA.)

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May 10 2013

The Reticuli Deception now in print!

Published by Alastair under T-Space, Writing

Cover: The Reticuli DeceptionMy latest, The Reticuli Deception is now available in trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others. The ISBN-13: is 978-0615-71102-7 if you want to support your local bookstore by ordering it through them. It can also be had in various e-book formats from the usual suspects.

This is a sequel to The Chara Talisman, and the latter has been reprinted with a few corrections and an added star map. Next up, and in progress, is a prequel to the T-Space series called Alpha Centauri, which covers the first landings.

I’d love for people to leave reviews of this — or any of my works — on Amazon, B&N, or any of the various review sites. I’m not asking for five-star reviews, just honest appraisals that will help new readers decide if my work might be for them or not (no author can please everyone). And feel free to drop feedback here too, of course. The more feedback I get, the more I write ;-)

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Apr 19 2013

Cybersquatted

Published by Alastair under Uncategorized

It seems Register.Com took too long to sort out the issue with my domain name, and let some cybersquatter jump on it. Said squatter wants over $1000 for it. Ain’t going to happen. Since what they did is contrary to the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (nobody on the planet, but me, has any use for the ‘alastairmayer.com’ domain), I can get it back. I’m even willing to pay a lawyer if I have to (“millions for defense, not a penny for tribute”). But all that takes time and hassle, so it won’t be in the immediate future. Grrr.

Meanwhile, I’m changing all the on-line references I can find to this one, alastairmayer.org.

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Mar 26 2013

Domain issues

Published by Alastair under Uncategorized

If you’re reading this, then you’ve followed a working link or otherwise found out that the site is now at www.alastairmayer.org, not at www.alastairmayer.com.

Through a combination of unfortunate events, some my own stupid fault, some my original domain registrar’s, my domain “alastairmayer.com” expired and I didn’t find out about that until renewal became problematic. (It’s complicated; somehow I managed to end up paying twice for renewal and still not getting it renewed. We’re still working on sorting that out.)

Anyway, I bought “alastairmayer.org” (and a couple of others) from a different registrar, and moved what I could of the site here. I’ll sync back up when I get the domain issue resolved. Meanwhile I need to recover some of the recent posts…I don’t have immediate access to the latest backup (that also is being worked out).

“Sorry about this little snag, fellows.”

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Oct 19 2012

MileHiCon44

Published by Alastair under Uncategorized

The 44th annual MileHiCon, Denver and the Front Range’s regional sf/f convention, starts today at the usual location: the Hyatt-Regency Tech Center in south east Denver.

I’ll be on a couple of panels and readings:

- “Long-Lasting Short Story” at 4:00pm today (Friday)

- “Higgs-Boson & Faster Than Light Neutrinos” at 3:00pm Saturday

- Reading at 5:00pm Saturday.

The usual locals — Connie Willis, Carrie Vaughn, Mario Acevedo, Jeanne Stein, Paolo Bacigalupi, among others (sorry guys, I’d love to mention you all but MileHiCon has its own web site for that) — will be there, along with guests Steve Brust and Cherie Priest. Come on by!

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Aug 25 2012

New story in November Analog

Published by Alastair under Writing

The November issue of Analog has arrived (yes, I know it’s only August, that’s the magazine business for you), featuring stories by several friends of mine, including relative newcomers Gray Rinehart and Patty Jansen.
Cover, November Analog
More exciting for me personally is the appearance of “Strobe Effect”, a collaboration between me and my good friend Brad Torgersen. (May it be the first of many.) Brad was nominated for a Nebula earlier this year, and is up for a Hugo and the Campbell awards at Worldcon.

This story is based on a draft I did a long time ago, using as its gimmick something I used to joke about: if we ever discover anything that goes faster than light, it will be at some computer chip lab trying to make the things go faster. (Seriously. Light travels less than three inches in one cycle of a 4 GHz processor.) It’s nice to see it finally in print, and much improved over the original. (Part of that is unquestionably Brad’s influence, but I’ve learned a bit myself since then.)

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Aug 07 2012

Congratulations to the Curiosity lander team

Published by Alastair under Mars

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that the Mars rover Curiosity successfully landed in Gale crater last night. This is quite a feat, not least because of the rather Rube-Goldberg sequence to successfully land the rover without contaminating it or the surface too much with backsplash from the landing jets. That’s been thoroughly discussed elsewhere, no need to go over it here, except to congratulate all those involved: the dang thing worked!.

With the landing accomplished, it’s now in the hands of the science teams and drivers. I wish them team all success, and hope we see Curiosity crawling around Mars for years to come. With any luck we’ll see data that pins down some of the ambiguous information we’ve been getting from previous probes.
I like to joke that the Vikinglanders, which landed on Mars back in 1976, were designed to answer the question: “Is there life on Mars?”. They landed, took their soil samples, ran their experiments, and beamed back: “Could you repeat the question?”.

The majority scientific opinion is that the Vikings discovered some very unusual soil chemistry, not life. The thing is, the results from the Labeled Release Experiment (basically, put soil on a nutrient medium labeled (chemically tagged) with isotopes and see if you detect labeled metabolic products) returned results which pre-launch criteria stated would indicate life. They changed the criteria later because of odd results from the other experiments: taken together, they didn’t indicate what the scientists believed would indicate life.

Later some of those same experiments would be repeated in relatively barren places on Earth, such as the ultra-dry Atacama Desert in Chile. They didn’t detect life on Earth, either. (More sensitive equipment will detect microbial life even in the Atacama.)

Do I believe there’s life on Mars? I have no data. I believe there could be, and that there almost certainly was once. We know (or are pretty sure) that Mars was once once wet, with a thicker atmosphere. We know that large meteorite impacts with Earth can knock off rocks which will eventually reach Mars, and, much more so, vice versa. We have strong evidence that some microbes could survive such a blasting into space, millenia long voyage, and entry into another planet’s atmosphere. In other words, it’s entirely possible that Mars was cross-contaminated from Earth (or vice versa!) in the early days of the solar system.

I feel pretty safe in predicting that Curiosity won’t answer all these questions either, but it will answer some. And I’m pretty sure it will raise a few more.

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Apr 29 2012

Conspiracy theories

Published by Alastair under Astronomy, T-Space, Writing

Readers of The Chara Talisman (and there are a bunch of you out there, thank you!) already know that the sequel, The Reticuli Deception (working title) touches on mysteries in addition to those of the millions of years ago Terraformers and the more recent Spacefarers. Namely, whether there was anything to some of the UFO contacts reported in the 1960s. Since these books are set 150 years after that, there’s some question as to whether the original Blue Book files can still be located, and they do try, although that’s a side story to the main plot. In particular, they’re curious about the Betty Hill incident, and the star map she drew. Hill star map

Sometimes, though, truth can be stranger than fiction. I’d heard that the Project Blue Book files were all transferred to the National Archives when the project was shut down in 1969 (or 1970, depending on which report you read). It’s not quite that simple. They were first transfered to the Air Force Archives at Maxwell AFB in Alabama, where they resided for about five years, although nominally available to the public. It was in 1975 that they were transferred to the National Archives, but only after redacting witness names and similar personal information. The Air Force kept a microfilm copy (also censored) for their own use.

It turns out, though, that uncensored microfilms also exist, discovered in the National Archives in 1998, and that “these rolls also contain some pages that are not on the NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] rolls” (– bluebookarchive.org). Curiouser and curiouser.

Eagerly I began to browse through Blue Book Archive’s list of microfilms. These are on line. Fantastic! I’d love to read the actual Betty Hill files. Pages one through four of their listings cover the pre-Blue Book projects, Sign and Grudge, as well as all the Blue Books up to 1954. The Hill contact was in 1961, I’m getting close. Page five … begins in mid-1968. Wait, what?.

So I dig a little deeper. Flip back and forth through various rolls. Search for “Betty Hill”, and find nothing relevant. Search for “Pease Air Base” (where they supposedly reported the incident) and find many interesting reports … from 1965. Ah, but what’s this? One of the first rolls has an index to all the cases. Great! Skip ahead 25 pages at a time: 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960… I’m getting close, slow down. Page 498, 16-30 April, 1960. Page 499, 1-15 May, 1962. Nineteen sixty two? What the…?

Okay, flip back and forth some more. Ha! Page 497 of the index is also 1962, page 498 must have been misfiled. Not a good sign (and at this point all the microfilm images are very faint, it’s near impossible to make out the text), but I’ll keep looking. Page 489 looks like it might be August, 1961, but the typewritten text is ghostly, and there’s an ominous hand-scrawled “missing” beside several of the cases listed. The next few pages are even less legible. (For example.)

I incline toward the sentiment “never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence,” and that’s probably what’s going on here (not, let me hasten to add, on the part of Blue Book Archive, who are doing an admirable job, but on the part of whatever bored Airman or clerk was microfilming this stuff in the first place, and other clerks who may have misfiled things). On the other hand, as Ian Fleming supposedly said, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” I wonder.

For the record, I don’t really think Betty and Barney Hill were abducted by aliens. On the subject of UFOs as alien spacecraft overall, I’m a skeptical agnostic. I’ve seen enough strange things in the sky that I couldn’t identify at the time to have no doubt that plenty of people see unidentified flying objects. I think that to immediately identify them as alien spacecraft is silly. Some might indeed be, but the burden of proof is pretty high as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s also silly to say flat out that alien spacecraft are impossible. We just don’t know enough.

As far as research for The Reticuli Deception goes, I may not be learning anything new about the Hill incident or the supposed Zeta Reticuli starchart, but I am gaining a good insight as to how my characters feel when they’re looking for this stuff: frustrated.

Readers know that none of my characters take frustration well, and they tend to come up with creative solutions to it. This is gonna be fun.

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Mar 15 2012

The Ides of March

Published by Alastair under Mars, Uncategorized

So, on this day 2055 years ago (give or take a few days for calendar reform) Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a bunch of senators (politics was more hands-on in those days) to prevent the Republic from turning into a dictator-led Empire. That worked well. Of somewhat more relevance, the Ides of March was a festival day for Mars, although for the god, not the planet.

Me, I’m in the middle of a major crunch in the day job, counting down to the cutover to a major reimplementation of our business software in a couple of weeks. By day (and sometimes night) I’m a senior analyst/developer for a major provider of satellite-delivered entertainment. This cutover is as complex as any satellite launch, except that we do that every year or two.

Which is by way of explaining my absence here lately, and for the next few weeks to come. (And by the time the dust has settled, it’ll be tax time. Oh joy.) More sometime in April, unless something exciting happens in the meantime.

Cheers.

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  • Books & Magazines

    The Reticuli Deception the second novel of T-Space and sequel to The Chara Talisman, is now available in ebook from Smashwords and Amazon and will shortly be available in trade paper. Cover image, The Reticuli Deception

     

    The Chara Talisman, the first full novel of T-Space, is available in e-book and trade paperback from Amazon and some of the other usual places, with more coming. What if Indiana Jones had had a starship? Cover image, The Chara Talisman

     

    The October 2011 issue of Analog features both my story "The Sock Problem" as the Probability Zero piece, and Brad Torgersen's "The Bullfrog Radio Astronomy Project". When Brad and I first met at one of Kris'n'Dean's workshops a couple of years ago (we'd met online prior), we joked about both being in the same issue of Analog one day. Two years later, here we are! Cover. October 2011 Analog

     

    My story "Stone Age" is in the June 2011 Analog (on the stands April 5). My first Analog T-Space story! Cover. June 2011 Analog

     

    The Probability Zero story in Analog Science Fiction & Fact for April 2011 is "Small Penalties", my modest suggestion for dealing with spammers. Cover. April 2011 Analog

     

    Full Throttle Space Tales #4, Space Horrors leads with my science-fictional homage to the master, "Poetic Justice"
    Space Horrors cover

     

    A collection of some of my short fiction, Starfire & Snowball is available from Amazon for Kindle.
    Starfire & Snowball cover

     

    The June 2010 Analog Science Fiction & Fact contains my short story "Light Conversation" Cover. June 2010 Analog

     

    My story "Snowball" is in the anthology Footprints, now out from Hadley Rille Books
    Cover. Footprints

     

    Here are a couple of books I've had non-fiction papers published in.
    Cover: Space Manufacturing 8

     

    Cover: Space 92
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