Night Skies

Aloha – I wasn’t much of a Boy Scout when a child, but I was very active in helping my three sons participate in scouting.  In one case I went along as the camp cook.  We had nearly 30 scouts with us and it was a lot of work, but I got to do something I had always wanted to do…. learn the night sky.

Years have passed, and so has some of the knowledge, but I can still pick out bits and pieces from those nights sitting or lying on a blanket in the woods and learning the constellations.

I like the way this graphic works out by splitting the sky in half.  Seems easier to grasp.

Take a bright shiny evening and go out and learn the sky, if you don’t already know it.

Doc

When galaxies collide

This image shows NGC 6240. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage / STScI / AURA / Hubble Collaboration / A. Evans, University of Virginia / NRAO / Stony Brook University.

Aloha – What happens when two galaxies collide?  Well for starters we get a great picture :o)

Hubble and other massive intergalactic space searches have revealed not only great pictures but interesting stories as well.  One that I find particularly interesting in what happens when two galaxies bump into each other.  Theories abound that one galaxy grabs who sections of stars from the other, depending on relative strength of magnetic fields.  Others suggest that such collisions create massive black holes.

Either way, still a great picture.  Considering the millions of years it takes for the entire process to occur, I haven’t come up with a great sci-fi story to utilize these theories, but I’m still backed up several novels.

Doc

Finally, closer and better pictures of Ceres

It's Crater-palooza on Dwarf Planet Ceres (New Photo)

Aloha – Dawn space probe has been relatively quiet as it has settled into orbit around Ceres, a dwarf planet and/or the largest asteroid in the Asteroid Belt.

There has been a lot of interest this week in the quantity of obvious hits that Ceres has taken, which actually seems logical to me based on its location with a belt of asteroids.

The reflective spots are back up in discussion but no knew facts available.  As I consider the reflective lights of Ceres in comparison to the dwarf planet of Demeter, it could well be the reflection of interstellar space craft that crashed during one of the battles between the PerSian and Sagittarian contenders for control of Orion’s Spur.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MZFH8R6?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Chapter 4 of Arlo

Aloha – I just finished chapter 21, “Stormy Weather” in the first draft of Arlo.  As promised, I will continue to share earlier  chapters of the book as I proceed.  Chapters 1-3 are posted in earlier posts.  Chapter 4, Cibola is shared below.  Enjoy, Doc

Chapter 4  Cibola

“Why not something closer?” Arthur Salt looked away from the screen in the board room.  “I’ve seen the research.  Our own R&D team believes it will be a viable mining operation process in the next fifteen years within a few million miles of Earth.”

“Nominal profitability,” Marshall responded coolly.  “I know cost models as well as you do.  You drilled them into my head enough in high school,” he frowned.  “Sure Space Y can turn a profit in 15 years by snagging any of three or four asteroids.  But that is assuming that there is no time-value of money.  A ten percent return on a $20 billion investment sounds good, except that you have to up front the money, most of it five years in advance.”

Arthur smiled at his son.  If I could only have gotten him into the business he would have been invaluable.  “But you’re talking a half a million mile trip.”

“Actually a little under 400,000 miles, a little over two AUs each way.”

“AU?” Arthur hesitated.

“Astronomical Units.  One astronomical unit equals the average distance of the Earth from the Sun.”

Arthur Salt grimaced, “Fine 400,000 miles.  What about radiation?  What about what space does to the body?”

“Radiation was actually our biggest challenge.  Dr. Hilst…”

“Wait a minute!  Are you talking about that scrawny little kid you used to hang out with?  Brad?  Brent?

“Blake,” Marshall corrected, “one of the finest engineers in the country.  We are going to utilize a design using plastic; it is light weight and a much better barrier to radiation than aluminum that NASA uses.  He has designed an artificial electromagnetic field system that in theory will work better than the Earth’s field.”

“And your body?  What about my grandchildren?  You aren’t getting any younger and this certainly can’t help you there.  I saw the last landing of astronauts who had been in space for what?  Eight months?  They had to be wheeled off to a hospital.”

“Well, if we used current technologies it would not be a viable trip,” Marshal acknowledged.  But we aren’t going to be cramped into a cabin that’s smaller than your office.  I already showed you the design.  The living space and corridors provide an exercise track of over a quarter mile.  Living space is not deluxe, but it is not cramped.  We’ll be spinning at eighty percent normal gravity, and can increase it to 1.2 times Earth normal if we want to.  Bone mass loss for the duration will be under five percent; we actually are anticipating less than three percent.”

“So you’re trying to get me to build you a palace in outer space?”  Arthur baited.

“You can’t have it both ways, Arthur.  Either you’re concerned about our health or you aren’t,” Marshall’s voice rose in pitch.

Arthur smiled, “If I were concerned about your health I wouldn’t even consider such a venture.  I’ll be dead of old age before this is viable.”

“We should launch in three years!” Marshall snapped.  “You’ll never die anyway, there’s no profit in it.”

Arthur looked back at the screen again, “Take me to the cost model on this exploit.  How much does it cost?”

Marshall’s throat went dry, “The original cost estimates were over $100 billion, but with redesigns and modifications we can cut the cost of launch to a little under $60 billion… we downsized the scope and duration of the project.  It narrows the margins substantially, but I think the ROI is satisfactory.”

Arthur smiled again; I love it when he talks in financial terms.    “$60 billion?  Are you out of your mind?  According to Forbes you’re talking almost my entire net worth.”

“We could go to Koshou if you’re not interested,” Marshall countered.

“The owner of Kajima Electronics?  Why would that old devil be interested in a mining operation?” Arthur Salt scoffed.

“Actually, he came to us,” Marshall responded casually.  “His research grant helped fund Blake’s development of the artificial electromagnetic field system.”

Arthur Salt snorted, “You gave away the farm for a bowl of porridge?  Why didn’t you come to me?”

Marshall glared at his father, “Because you would have taken the farm, the bowl, and the porridge… Actually we’re not stupid.  We have the patents and some critical elements are black boxed.  He can’t reverse engineer it.”

“Black box?” Arthur’s brow rose.

“We’ve patented key components that have value unto themselves.  The system design all leads to Blake’s black box components that we’re leaving just.  Even the U.S. Patent Office doesn’t have the design.  I’ll credit you with embedding paranoia into my DNA.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear you acknowledge that I taught you something,” Arthur Salt paused.  “So what do I get for $60 billion?

“Sixty percent of all refined metals returned to Earth,” Marshall tested.

“Sixty percent of what?  Sixty percent of nothing is still nothing.”

Marshall turned back to the screen, “I know that you know that when I talk mineral deposits I know what I’m talking about.  Here is the composition of what we’re referring to M-Class Asteroid Cibola de Coronado.”

“A bit dramatic don’t you think, comparing this to Coronado and the Seven Cities of Gold?” Arthur teased.

“Actually I thought you’d like it.  It seemed to be the right naming convention for you,” Marshall deadpanned.

“But Coronado never discovered the Seven Cities of Gold,” Arthur argued.

“Well we have discovered it, we just need to get there and back again,” Marshall cut off his father.  “You’ll see that from my assessment this asteroid, less than ten miles in diameter and shaped a bit like a figure eight has over four trillion dollars in mineral deposits.  Our target is platinum and gold, but some of the rare minerals could account for upwards of another $500 billion that we have not accounted for.”

“So you capture the asteroid and bring it back to Earth?” Arthur quizzed.

“No.  Look at the design of the craft.  Notice the 360 nodules? Each nodule contains a drill and vacuum system that extrudes and separates the materials by spectral code.  We will excavate the asteroid on site.  It should take less than thirty days to turn the figure eight into a spheroid half the original size.  Obviously if we spent $100 billion up front, we could mine the entire asteroid and return with between eight and nine trillion dollars’ worth of refined ore.”

Arthur Salt paused, and then leaned back in his chair, “You know, about thirty years ago I bought a mine in Peru.  Great little deal, with unusually high amounts of a rare metal.  I overlooked two important considerations in the purchase and used it as a life lesson.  The first, the mining operation itself was inexpensive to run, but the cost of transportation to market was significantly more expensive and challenging than I had originally considered.  Second, I increased the supply of that rare metal my over a hundred percent.  Based on the supply now available, the price dropped by thirty percent.  How do you think the markets will react to such an influx of platinum? Or Gold for that matter?”

“I’ve consider it.  Eventually asteroid mining will flood the market with platinum.  But as you say, that’s fifteen years from start.  Thirty years from now, technology will have to improve substantially, even beyond what we’ve designed to offer a cost benefit like this does.  Platinum demand will only increase.  My model suggests that platinum will take a 20 percent hit in value but recover within two years.  There is a lot more gold around than platinum.  So for what we’re projecting we would only suffer a ten to fifteen percent loss in value, but it could take years to recover,” Marshall stood up, “But…. we accounted for that in the valuation model.”

An awkward silence fell, as Arthur Salt ran calculations in his head.  Finally he replied, “90 percent would be the minimum position I’d take in a venture with this much risk…  I’ll think about it.”

“I’ll give you a week, and then I’m contacting Koshou,” Marshall responded as he rose to leave.

“How about lunch,” his father offered.

“No thank you,” Marshall ‘s chill voice returned.

As Marshall Salt left the board room Arthur sat down in his chair leaning back.  Little that Marshall had shared was new.  He had followed the project of the three ivory tower savants as he referred to them privately.  He had studied the blond little nerd, Blake’s designs and had his engineers try to find holes in the design.  He had three new pieces of information now, the proximity of the target, the value of the assets, and the scope of the project.  He had hoped to see the designs for the black box, but he was not surprised that Marshall didn’t share that information.  He would have made a great CEO, Arthur Salt thought proudly.

Chapter 3 of Arlo

Aloha – If this is your first visit, I am sharing drafts of Arlo, a Sci Fi thriller as I’m writing it.  We’re still introducing characters and bits of the plot at this stage.  You can catch the first two chapters in earlier blog updates.  Doc

Chapter 3  Naomi Katsuki

Naomi Katsuki was twenty-seven years old, although her birth certificate indicated that she was twenty-four.  She was raised in Gardena, California, although her honseki was identified as Nagano.  She had spent several summers in Nagano-ken as her grandparents lived there, but it wasn’t really home.  She had enrolled at UCLA in the Japanese Studies program two months before she got her driver’s license.  Her plan had been to earn a PhD in Japanese History and become a university professor, but John Smith had interviewed her on the recommendation of her mentor at the beginning of her senior year of studies.

In October of that year she had skipped class for the first time ever to fly back to Virginia.  She was interviewed and tested by several people, and had taken a polygraph test.  She was so nervous when she took the polygraph that it read that she had committed every crime that they brought up.  That led to an extra day at Langley where she had to talk through her issues with a psychologist, who apparently passed her.  She knew that the psychologist must have passed her because in November the CIA offered her a job predicated upon a successful background check.

In December John Smith contacted her again, in person, and asked if she were ready to go to work.  She negotiated a May start as she had no intention of dropping out of college half way through her senior year.  Mr. Smith agreed, and suggested some adjustments to her Spring schedule.

Naomi held a black belt in Shotokan karate, but she was a bit out of practice.  Her new schedule included a refresher course in karate, a second course in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, and a course not on the schedule in Aikido.  She was encouraged to sign up for rock wall climbing, and cross country running.  She was surprised on the first day of class, that each of these courses had exactly one student, and one instructor… Staff.  By the end of the third day she wondered if she would survive.

After she graduated from UCLA she was immediately inducted into an intense training program in Virginia.  She spent exactly three days at Langley.  The curriculum of the next three months made college feel like a breeze.  She had to internalize her new identify, Naomi Matsumoto; she had classes in cryptography, computer hacking, rappelling, shooting small arms, dirty knife fighting, and her favorite…. Lock Picking.  She did learn how to pick a lock, but the devices she was introduced to for high security circumvention was fascinating, and made her feel like a real spy.  Then came her assignment, and the reason she now was sitting in an office in Ichigaya in eastern Shinjuku, the commercial district of Tokyo.

Naomi almost quit when they told her what she was going to be doing.  She was going undercover as a college freshman at a women’s college in Tokyo.  She would spend four years attending classes, wearing heavy ankle length blue skirts with a white blouse, and being differential to all of her instructors.  She was to be near the top of her class, but not too conspicuous; bright enough that she would be recruited by a major Japanese corporation.  When she asked which Japanese corporation, John Smith just laughed, “We don’t know yet.  Three or four come to mind, but we’ll have to see which one, if any of those is our best candidate in four years.

Four years.  Classes had been boring, although she still struggled with some of the nuances of street talk when she would socialize with some Tokyo-kos, or classmates who had grown up in Tokyo.  She learned patience, as she was frequently pinched or groped by men on trains.  It was all she could do not to use some of the special defense skills she had learned.  She had slipped only once, and that on a train ride leaving Tokyo for Nikko Park on a short weekend trip alone.  She was certain she had heard a rib snap when she turned and delivered the blow mid-chest of the middle aged pervert.

She had kept herself busy studying and developing intelligence skills in her new profession.  But even there she had to be careful not to attract attention.

Four months before graduation she was interviewed by several major Japanese corporations.  She knew that their main motivation for hiring at a women’s college was to find likely brides for young managers who were too busy at work, to do much socializing outside of work.  Three of the companies she interviewed with still had mandatory retirement for female employees at age thirty.  In other words, marry one of our future middle managers or go work in the fish market the rest of your life.  She realized how lucky she was that her parents had emigrated to the United States years ago.

Kenji Tanaka contacted her during the interview process.  She couldn’t help but snicker when he met her at Shinjuku Koen.  Tanaka was the Japanese equivalent of Smith.  “Don’t any of you have real names?” she spluttered.

“Shhh… and keep walking,” he said in English with an East Coast accent.  “We’ve arranged for you to be hired by Kajima Electronics.”

“Contacts?” she lowered her voice.

“None that you need to be aware of,” Kenji replied coldly.  “Right now all you need to do is aim at an Administrative Assistant position in the R&D group.  Then just keep your head low, and develop trust.  You won’t hear from me again for some time.”

That was it.  Naomi didn’t even know what she was supposed to do.  Now, eighteen months later, she had a job to do.  Kenji had reconnected.  After nearly six years, all the deep cover efforts were about to pay off.  Her first task was to access the R&D groups coded passwords.  That had not been difficult.  Her boss had the codebook in his office.  He often left with most of the department to go drinking.  She would sometimes be invited, but often often was left behind to finish up filing.  Six years for this, she muttered under her breath.  But that wasn’t the end.

Kenji reconnected just two weeks later.  “We have a problem,” he confided.

“You’re telling me!” Naomi grimaced, “My supervisor is pushing for me to marry a rising star in the department.  He wants to start an omiyai negotiation with my parents in Nagano.  By the way, I haven’t met my parents in Nagano, who are they?” she smirked.

Kenji ignored her comment, “We need you to break into the secure computer system.  It does not have outside connectivity, so we cannot get outside access.”  He handed her a thumb drive, “This is what we need.”

Naomi waited.  Monday night her supervisor not only invited her, but insisted she join the department for drinks to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday.  Tuesday, half the department was so hung over that people were late working on catching up projects they couldn’t focus on earlier in the day.  Thursday night her boss was again insistent that she join the department.  This time she had managed to delay enough filing that she was legitimately able to excuse herself.

She was stopped by security at eight o’clock when she checked to see who was still in the R&D department.  Two people were obviously working late she observed as she returned to her office.  She watched the main entrance from her own department’s windows on the front of the building for the two programmers to leave.  At 10:15 the programmers left together.

She waited for security to make their rounds, and then slipped quietly down the halls, taking the stairs up to the eighteenth floor where R&D resided.  Rather than using her key card, she by-passed the stair access lock to gain access to the lab.  She was nervous.  Practice made this look easy, but her heart was racing by this time, as she quietly stepped silently down the hall, hugging the wall to avoid the security camera.  The processing of the computers provided just enough noise to make her jump every time a system altered its processing assignment.  How will I hear security if they’re making a round? She worried.

She arrived at the work station she had targeted on a casual pass on Monday.  She was lucky, she didn’t even need to run a by-pass on the system for the password, it was written clearly on the base of the monitor.  Insert thumb drive, copy, wait.  That was all there was to it.  But it was a huge file, and she knew she would have to wait several minutes to download the set of files.  She focused on bringing her breathing under control.  Twice she kneeled behind the desk, as she heard footsteps in the hallway.  The second time she stayed on the floor until the copying was complete.  That wasn’t so bad, she thought as she removed the thumb drive.

“Password”, she heard the computer demand sharply as Naomi slide the thumb drive into her backpack.  She typed in the password she had used to access the system.  “Password,” the computer demanded again.  I typed it correctly, I know I did, she thought as she typed it in again slowly even as her hands shook.  “Password,” the system demanded again.  She quickly searched the monitor for a second password.  Damn, she thought.  There was something scrawled below the first password, but it had obviously had something spilled on it.

Alarms began to ring, “Damn,” she exclaimed out loud.

She could hear footsteps running down the hallway.  She raced to the emergency exit on the other side of the building.  More footsteps were racing up the stairs.

I knew I should have worn pants for this, she exhaled as she raced to the windows at the front of the R&D room that ran the length of the back side of the Noritomi building.  As she reached the windows she again paused to take three deep breaths.  Naomi then pulled and placed a very small C-4 charge on the front window, set the charge, and turned her back to the charge as she began pulling equipment from her small backpack.  She had barely set up her rappelling equipment, attached to a large computer unit when a security guard flashed a light on her.  D

“Naomi?  Naomi Watanabe?  Nan desu ka?

He would have to know me, she frowned.  Her roundhouse kick knocked him to the ground.  She should kill him.  She knew she should, she must.  But he was stunned.

The window blew.  Most of the glass blew outward as planned, but there were shards that nicked her left cheek.  The guard wasn’t so lucky.  It looked like a bead from the shattered glass must have penetrated his femoral artery.  She bent to staunch the bleeding, but heard more voices approaching at the run.  Maybe they’ll save him; she gave a silent prayer as she jumped out the window and quickly worked her way to the ground level.  Pulling her skirt back down to where it belonged, she ran to the corner of the building, then immediately slowed her pace to the brisk walk of a person rushing to get home.  But home was out now.  She would have to go to the safe house near Senzoku Ike, and wait.

Two days later she was at Yokoska Naval Base, south of Yokohama dressed as a naval lieutenant.  The following day she was on her way back to Virginia aboard a transport plane, mission accomplished.

The security guard died.

Night Lights of Ceres

Dawn Probe Gets Closest Look Yet at Ceres' Bright Spots

Aloha – This has been a point of curiosity for months now, the reflective? lights of Ceres.  These are new and improved looks at the region via the Dawn space probe that is now orbiting Ceres.

Is it ice reflecting from the Sun over two AUs away, or could it be a huge shopping center?  Rumor has it that Donald Trump has already claimed that it is his latest, greatest casino and is now taking reservations.  This may explain why he regularly goes bankrupt.

It could be a signal light requesting rescue from a long lost Cosmonaut.

The crater does vaguely resemble a nest, so another possibility is that it is the home of the Roc, who apparently is related to crows, in putting bright shiny objects in it’s nest.

The Dawn Mission is in the early stages of the scientific investigation of Ceres so we may learn more, or it may remain a mystery to encourage young (and old) sci fi writers to speculate.

Doc

Free Memorial Day Weekend Read

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OKMZ5TK

Aloha – I’ve already posted to facebook (which means this will show up twice :o)  This weekend, through Monday, we are making Return to Demeter available to science fiction fans for free.

What’s it about?

All is quiet, or is it? What looks to be a large PerSian invasion fleet is on the edge of Demeter space and the Saggitarian Armada that is supposed to defend Demeter leaves port. This leaves Ryder and his team in a struggle to find a way of defending Demeter with the scraps left behind by the armada.
Meanwhile a secret lurks in the inner tunnels of Demeter that could either save or destroy the planet, and explain the attempts on the team’s lives. Will the team be able to find the answers it needs and resources in time to save Demeter from complete Destruction?

Try it out…. we know you’ll like it.