Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Space: constellations, signals, and ignition for steampunk spacepilots!!

Those who have visited this little corner of the aethernet prviously will know my passion for retro-future, and space in general. Recently, I have been bitterly disappointed, so, given that President Obama has decided to effectively shelve his predecessor's (admittedly half-hearted) commitment to return to the moon, and, subsequently, to place humanity on Mars for the foreseeable future, I thought I'd bring some cheer in the wake of the decision to cancel the Constellation programme.

First, news (albeit a little belated), that a signal may have been heard from the stars. Whilst not in the league of the famous WOW signal of 1977, intruiging news that Dr Ragbir Bhathal, of University of Western Sydney Macarthur appears to have 'heard' something back in December 2008. Bhathal, as part of the SETI project, sweeps the sky searching for repeating, regular, laser pulses, rather than radio signals. As a true scientist, he is reticent, and is checking his equipment and other explanations, and sweeping for a repeat pattern in the same area of space, before being able to put his proposals forward for peer-review, and then, perhaps, be able to state that the source is of intelligent alien origin. However, when seen in conjuction with other news, the possibility becomes more intruiging.

The area of sky from which Bhathal spotted the pulse is that of Gliese 581e, only 20.5 light-years away in the constellation Libra. Wow, I hear you say - not Gliese 581e! Surely not! Well, sarcasm will get you nowhere...

According to the European Southern Observatory,

Well-known exoplanet researcher Michel Mayor today (21 April 2009) announced the discovery of the lightest exoplanet found so far. The planet, “e”, in the famous [see!] system Gliese 581, is only about twice the mass of our Earth. The team also refined the orbit of the planet Gliese 581 d, first discovered in 2007, placing it well within the habitable zone, where liquid water oceans could exist.


With the discovery of Gliese 581 e, the planetary system now has four known planets, with masses of about 1.9 (planet e), 16 (planet b), 5 (planet c), and 7 Earth-masses (planet d). The planet furthest out, Gliese 581 d, orbits its host star in 66.8 days. “Gliese 581 d is probably too massive to be made only of rocky material, but we can speculate that it is an icy planet that has migrated closer to the star,” says team member Stephane Udry. The new observations have revealed that this planet is in the habitable zone, where liquid water could exist. “‘d’ could even be covered by a large and deep ocean — it is the first serious 'water world' candidate,” continued Udry.

Whilst this seems all very coincidental - a possible laser pulse in an area of space with a solar system and planets within the 'Goldilocks' zone - a short flight through known space may help you put this in perspective...

From the American Museum of Natural History:



And, back in the steampunk universe, Warren Ellis's new production is hot off the presses!

You may remember, from my other blog Strange Dreams, that Ellis is the author of the rather spiffing Freakangels. He previously authored the excellent Ministry of Space, which chronicles the push of the British Empire into space following the end of the Second World War.

Now, with artist Gianluca Pagliarani, he brings us his the new miniseries Ignition City. Pop over to Strange Dreams to discover more.