Filed under: Amazon, Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Connections, Emergency, Failure, General Musings, Government, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, movies, NASA, Nuclear weapons, Phil Plait, Predictions, Preparedness, Promotion, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, tech, YouTube | Tags: Amazon, asteroid, Bad Astronomy, blogging, Chelyabinsk, Command and Control, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, Dr. Strangelove, Eric Schlosser, free, Herman Kahn., humor, jim downey, Kindle, movies, NASA, nuclear weapons, Phil Plait, predictions, promotion, science, Science Fiction, space, technology, The New Yorker, USSR, video, www youtube
Next Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic film “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” It’s long been one of my favorite movies, even as a kid. Yeah, I was a strange kid. Don’t act like you’re surprised.
A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.
“Detecting nuclear detonations” … hmm, where have I heard that phrase recently? Oh, yeah:
On the second day of 2014, a small asteroid blew up high in Earth’s atmosphere. It was relatively harmless—the rock was only a couple of meters across, far too small to hit the ground or do any real damage—and it disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean anyway.
What’s cool is that now we know for sure this is the case: Infrasound detectors designed to listen for nuclear bomb detonations actually heard the explosion from the impact and were able to pinpoint the location of the event to a few hundred kilometers east off the coast of Venezuela.
NASA put together a nice informative video explaining it:
Gee, it sure is a good thing nothing like that has ever hit the territory of the old USSR … er, oops.
And now that I’ve given you a nice dose of fright, let me make it up to you with a reminder that you can download Communion of Dreams (which has it all … game theory, nuclear exchanges, and more than a little of my old strangeness) for free today and tomorrow!
*The title of one of Herman Kahn‘s books about nuclear war/deterrence, and where I think I was first exposed to the concepts behind game theory. I’ve got Schlosser’s book Command and Control on my to-read list when the Kindle price comes down a bit.
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Another item that would likely help get this book moving is a different cover. I understand the imagery now that I’ve read the book, but definitely think it will keep hard-core sci-fi fans from buying a copy (and people do judge books by their covers).
Like I said, every so often a comment to this effect will pop up in a review. And I don’t spend much time thinking about it (and I’m not going to change the cover image at this point), but now and then I wonder just what kind of a cover would appeal to ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’ and still make any kind of sense in relation to the story. Maybe some nice images of Saturn or Titan from the Cassini mission? A depiction of some of the spacecraft (which aren’t described in much detail in the book), or perhaps the Titan Prime space station? Go with a charming post-apocalyptic montage of ruined cities and microphotographs of viruses? To me, none of these would fairly represent the story, and to a certain extent would unnecessarily limit the appeal to only ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’.
But I’m curious what others think. So feel free to post a comment here or over on FB. Over even on Amazon, as a comment on an extant review or in new review of your own. In a week or so I’ll go through all the various comments I can find, and pick someone to get a jar of my latest hot sauce (or something else if they don’t want that).
PS: there’s another new short review up on Amazon you might want to take a look at as well.
Filed under: Art, Astronomy, Augmented Reality, movies, Music, NASA, Science, Space, tech, YouTube | Tags: art, astronomy, blogging, Jewel Box Sun, jim downey, music, NASA, science, Sol, Solar Dynamics Observatory, space, Sun, technology, www youtube
If you haven’t seen this, you should:
Explanation from the source: Jewel Box Sun
Filed under: Astronomy, BoingBoing, Connections, Fireworks, Galaxy Zoo, Humor, Religion, Saturn, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: astronomy, beer, black holes, BoingBoing, brewing, corvids, crows, explosions, Galaxy Zoo, humor, jim downey, Saturn, science, Science Fiction, space, St. Cybi's Well, video, wine, writing, www youtube
Some quick links, none of which really warrant a full blog post.
Wanna be a black-hole hunter? Sure you do! The Galaxy Zoo folks have just launched a new project you should check out:
Black holes are found at the center of most, if not all, galaxies. The bigger the galaxy, the bigger the black hole and the more sensational the effect it can have on the host galaxy. These supermassive black holes drag in nearby material, growing to billions of times the mass of our sun and occasionally producing spectacular jets of material traveling nearly as fast as the speed of light. These jets often can’t be detected in visible light, but are seen using radio telescopes. Astronomers need your help to find these jets and match them to the galaxy that hosts them.
We live in the glorious future, where beer concentrate is a real, practical thing!
For fans of craft beer, enjoying a decent brew while hiking or camping away from the car usually involves lugging around heavy cans of beer, which can turn a lovely trek into a grueling slog through the woods.
But now the folks at Pat’s Backcountry Beverages have created a solution – their new Brew Concentrates come in featherweight 50ml packets and can be reconstituted with carbonated water (courtesy of their trail-ready 16-ounce carbonator bottle).
Well, actually, the past wasn’t so bad in some ways, either …
When you think of illicit substances that are shipped in brick form, wine probably doesn’t come to mind first. And no, boxed wine doesn’t count. During Prohibition, however, drinkers got around laws that banned alcohol by dissolving bricks of grape concentrate in water and fermenting them into wine.
Of course, conscientious makers of grape bricks didn’t want to contribute to bad behavior, and responsibly warned buyers that, “After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine.” The makers of the Vino Sano Grape Brick even dutifully indicated what flavors one’s careless handling of grape bricks would result in: burgundy, sherry, port, claret, riesling, etc.
And a friend had to share this:
Via BoingBoing, this vid of a crow using a jar lid as a snowboard.
And also via BoingBoing, a bit of explosive seasonal fun:
Filed under: Art, Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Cassini, NASA, Phil Plait, Saturn, Science, Science Fiction, Space | Tags: art, Bad Astronomy, Cassini, Communion of Dreams, jim downey, NASA, Phil Plait, Saturn, science, Science Fiction, space
Via Phil Plait, had to share this:
Saturn, obviously. But from a new perspective, as Plait explains:
But dominating this jaw-dropping scene are Saturn’s magnificent rings, seen here far more circular than usual. Cassini’s mission has been to observe Saturn and its moons, which means it tends to stay near the planet’s equator. But now scientists are playing with the orbit more, to do more interesting science. The spacecraft is swinging well out of the equatorial plane, so here we see the rings at a much steeper angle, and they are less affected by perspective.
And here’s the link to the full-size image, which is definitely worth a look.
Filed under: Astronomy, Connections, Religion, Science, Science Fiction, Space, Writing stuff | Tags: astronomy, Communion of Dreams, exoplanets, Gliese 1214 b, jim downey, Norio Narita, science, Science Fiction, space, Space.com, St. Cybi's Well, writing
From the article at the link:
A nearby alien planet six times the size of the Earth is covered with a water-rich atmosphere that includes a strange “plasma form” of water, scientists say.
Astronomers have determined that the atmosphere of super-Earth Gliese 1214 b is likely water-rich. However, this exoplanet is no Earth twin. The high temperature and density of the planet give it an atmosphere that differs dramatically from Earth.
“As the temperature and pressure are so high, water is not in a usual form (vapor, liquid, or solid), but in an ionic or plasma form at the bottom the atmosphere — namely the interior — of Gliese 1214 b,” principle investigator Norio Narita of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan told SPACE.com by email.
You should read the whole thing, it’s pretty cool.
And yes, there is a reason why the prequel to Communion of Dreams is based around visits to holy wells in Wales …
Filed under: Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Brave New World, Fermi's Paradox, NASA, Phil Plait, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, SETI, Space, tech | Tags: Adam Becker, Bad Astronomy, Communion of Dreams, Drake Equation, Fermi's Paradox, jim downey, Kepler mission, NASA, New Scientitst, Phil Plait, predictions, science, Science Fiction, space
How many Earth-like planets are there in our galaxy? Ones which are reasonably like ours, in terms of size, density, and location relative to their sun’s ‘habitable zone’? That’s one of the basic components of the Drake Equation, and until fairly recently all estimates were little more than speculation.
Expanding our view from Kepler’s corner of the galaxy to show more of the Milky Way, the sky fills with billions of potentially life-bearing worlds. If we showed them all, the sky would be a mass of green. So now the green dots illustrate stars that might host such planets, visible with a good pair of binoculars on a dark night here on Earth.
From this perspective, the chances that we’re alone in the cosmos seem very slim, indeed.
The final answer? 15 – 30 billion Earth-like planets.
Of course, that doesn’t include the rest of the Drake equation values. Such as: what percentage of planets which could potentially develop life actually do so? Then what percentage of those planets develop intelligent, technologically sophisticated life? Then what percentage of such intelligent species develop interstellar communication capabilities? Then how long will such a civilization survive, out of the billions of years of history?
The last time I played with the numbers, the best guess from Phil Plait was that there were some 2.5 billion potentially habitable planets. Kepler indicates that number was too conservative, by something on the order of a factor of 10. Running the rest of the equation is largely just an experiment in gut feelings (since we don’t yet have any real data), but what is impressive is that at each stage as solid data has become available, we’ve had to adjust our “best guesstimate” numbers *upwards*. Meaning that the the total number of technologically sophisticated civilizations capable of interstellar communications out there at this point in time also goes up.
From Chapter 4 of Communion of Dreams:
“But in any event, as Arthur Bailey said this morning ‘where are they?’ Where are the aliens? That’s what’s bothering me.”
Where, indeed? I came up with my own answer, explained in Communion.
But I wonder what the real answer will be.
Filed under: Astronomy, BoingBoing, NASA, Science, Space, YouTube | Tags: BoingBoing, jim downey, Lunar Reconissance Orbiter, Moon, NASA, science, space, technology, www youtube
Via BoingBoing, an interesting animation using images from the Lunar Reconissance Orbiter: