What You Hold In Your Hand – an awesome Doctor Who fanfic

We Whovians are in a very long lull between seasons, and last season ended on such a melancholy, unsatisfying note . . . but not to worry!  The Unknown Companion is here to help.  Rori Stevens has written a wonderful story that I had the pleasure to beta read; it’s really unusual and interesting and ties things off beautifully.  Its also very nearly a crossover with Disney, except it’s all in the real-world sense — Disney World comes up in a few chapters, and is so richly textured as to be practically a character in its own right.  I’m a sucker for setting as character . . . .  Plus, it’s got Kate Stewart, UNIT, and, of course, the Osgoods!  I do love the Osgoods — even now that one of them is Bonnie.

Anyway, here are the first two chapters.  I’ll post notes as she posts more of them, to make sure you keep up with the story.  It’s really well worth it!

What You Hold In Your Hand, Chapter One

What You Hold In Your Hand, Chapter Two

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Jupiter, as never seen before: Juno completes its first orbit

Here is Jupiter, as no human eyes have ever seen it before:


What’s remarkable is the viewing angle: Jupiter’s north polar region dominates the image, with the Great Red Spot only barely visible near the limb at the bottom of the image.  (The Spot is in the southern mid-latitudes of Jupiter, so a north polar view will not easily see it.)  This image was returned today by the Juno spacecraft, presently orbiting Jupiter in a highly elliptical and highly inclined orbit that gives it a unique vantage point on the giant planet.  Among the other things Juno will be studying is the previously unobserved polar regions — just as Cassini is now making major strides forward by concentrating on Saturn’s equally mysterious (and completely different) polar regions.  Juno took this image at a distance of 437,000 miles (703,000 kilometers), which in terms of the Jupiter system is extremely close; it’s nearly twice the distance between Earth and Moon, but Jupiter is vastly bigger than Earth, and its radiation brutally intense.  For comparison, this is only slightly further from Jupiter than Io’s orbit.  Juno will be diving closer in on subsequent orbits; this was just the first of a planned 36 orbits, and it takes time to safely tweak an orbit around so massive a primary.

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FANFIC FRIDAY: the Shadow of the Daleks, Episode Eight

Captured by the Daleks, how are they going to get out of this one?

<< Back to Episode One . . .  < Back to Episode Seven . . .  Forward to Episode Nine (TBD) >

EPISODE EIGHT: Revelations

Methos was seriously annoyed. This was the third time he’d been imprisoned because of the Doctor. Fourth, if you counted the time he’d been locked inside of his own head by the Master. He shivered, remembering that serpentine presence. It was not pleasant.

He’d always been a survivor. His self-preservation instinct was so strong that he’d managed to dodge the Game for nearly two hundred years. But then that curiously magnetic fool MacLeod had walked into his life. Well, perhaps “walked into” was too strong a phrase. Methos had, after all, been keeping an eye on MacLeod for a few years, via Joe Dawson’ fastidious Watcher reports. He still wasn’t quite sure why he’d allowed MacLeod to find him.

No, that wasn’t true. He was sure. He’d wanted to meet the man so many believed to be the One. He’d steeled himself for disappointment, reminding himself that greatness is generally smaller in person than in legend, but he’d been surprised. MacLeod had been even larger in person. He’d understood immediately why Joe Dawson, one of the best Watchers ever, had felt compelled to reveal himself to MacLeod. The millenia of cynicism had caught up with Methos, and he had been overwhelmed.

And so, Methos had found himself attached to the impetuous Scot, following him headlong into dangers that he’d have happily run from not five years before. But this was different. The first time he’d met the Doctor, Methos had been shot, imprisoned, and very nearly beheaded. A few years later, weary from the turmoils MacLeod had dragged him into, Methos had gone to Minnesota to visit Terri Johnson, and wound up in even worse danger, becoming possessed by an insane Time Lord.

And now he was trapped in a laboratory with dozens of completely oblivious Immortals, the Doctor, two researchers, and another Immortal who was probably psychotic, knowing his luck. And outside the door were two alien creatures who clearly would have no qualms about killing him.

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Intelsat’s first double-launch, aboard Ariane V

The venerable and highly reliable Ariane V roared into space from Kourou, French Guiana yesterday, carrying two Intelsat payloads to geosynchronous transfer orbit.  Intelsat 33e and Intelsat 36 were released into the desired trajectories on the first double-launch for one of the world’s oldest commercial satellite operators.  These new satellites are in Intelsat’s “Epic” class and are intended to expand Intelsat’s market from traditional satellite users (a market they presently dominate in the Western Hemisphere) to mobile users (a market presently dominated by Inmarsat).  Epic spacecraft have cutting-edge capabilities for rapid adjustments in the bandwidth available depending on need, making them far more capable than their predecessors in the market.

As far as Arianespace is concerned, it was one more successful launch:

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It’s now confirmed: Proxima Centauri has a planet

Proxima Centauri has a planet.

The “Pale Red Dot” project, designed specifically to study Proxima Centauri (the closest known star to our own Sun, at a mere 4.2 light years) in search of planets, has paid off.  Using the European Southern Observatory in Chile’s high Atacama Desert, astronomers discovered the planet, designated Proxima b, and determined that it has a mass of at least 1.3 Earths, which means it is almost certainly a rocky planet, a “super-Earth”.

Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, a small, dim, cool, but very long-lived and common type of star. Since it’s so cool, the “goldilocks zone”, where a planet could theoretically host liquid surface water, is very close in.  Happily, Proxima b is within that zone — but since this is a red dwarf we’re talking about, that means it’s just seven million kilometers from its primary, with an orbital period of just 11.8 days.  (So it’s year is less than a fortnight!)  This close in, there’s a pretty good chance it’s tidally locked, forever turning the same face towards its sun, which would be bad news for habitability, except possibly in a thin zone around its day/night terminator, where libration would cause at least something approximating a day/night cycle.  (Libration is the apparent wobble of a tidally locked body in the sky of its primary.  Our own Moon does it, due to its orbit being elliptical — given enough time, you can actually get to see slightly more than half of the Moon thanks to libration.)  Or it could be in another resonance; the planet Mercury is in a 3:2 resonance, where it completes three rotations for each two orbits, and that would also be a long-term stable solution — but potentially almost as bad for life as the tide-locking.  Of course, even worse news is the fact that, like many other red dwarfs, Proxima Centauri is famous for its gigantic solar flares.  When Proxima flares up, its total x-ray output can equal that of our own Sun.  Which is fine at Earth’s distance, but would be lethal at a scant 7 million km.  Plus, it’s likely the solar wind picks up dramatically during these events, which could strip a close satellite of any atmosphere.  That said, if Proxima b has an ocean, or perhaps subterranean life, it could potentially survive and even be adapted to this hostile environment.

But the coolest part of all is that Proxima Centauri, unlike almost every other star mankind has studied besides our own Sun, is actually close enough to make a probe feasible with current technology.  It would still take decades, but within the span of a human lifetime.  Sure, the Voyagers would take over 60,000 years at their current speed, but we have the ability to make things go much faster, if we’re willing to seriously invest in this.  If the Voyagers could last 40 years, if the B-52s could be expected to each last for a century of service, if our ancestors could build cathedrals that took three generations of architects to complete, then surely we can build something that can do this — if we but have the will.

So how about it?  Wanna go to Proxima b?  ;-)

Of course, there’s still plenty to be learned about the Proxima system even without leaving Earth. Proxima b was discovered by the radial velocity shift method, where they look at Doppler shifts in a star’s radial velocity, which can tell them if it’s being tugged around by an unseen companion.  Equipment is now sensitive enough even to measure the tug of planets.  But there are unexplained deviations in the signal from Proxima Centauri; these are probably the weaker signatures of other planets, but it will time and a lot of careful computation to tease that out of the data.  And then there’s the fact that Proxima Centauri is very close compared to other stars.  There is a better chance of direct imaging of this planet than any other exoplanet yet discovered, purely because of its proximity.  So you can bet that astronomers worldwide are now clamoring for instrument time on the biggest and most sensitive telescopes, hoping to catch a glimpse of this strange new world.

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STEREO-B is back!!!

The twin solar observing spacecraft STEREO-A (“Ahead”) and STEREO-B (“Behind) were launched into heliocentric orbit in 2006, in carefully planned orbits that would cause them both to gradually recede from the Earth, one falling behind and one moving ahead, until eventually both would cross paths on the other side of the Sun, with the objective of achieving stereoscopic observations of coronal mass ejections, and 360 imagery of the solar surface.

On January 24, 2009, they reached quadrature — 90 degrees separation.  Over the course of that year, they passed through the Sun-Earth L4 and L5 points, becoming the first spacecraft to do so; in addition to their normal duties, they spent time looking for Lagrangian companions of Earth, finding none.   On February 6, 2011, they reached 180 degrees separation — each spacecraft was looking at the opposite hemisphere of the Sun, with the Sun blocking any view of one another (not that they could see one another anyway, being so tiny and so distant from one another).  From that point on, we had 360 imagery of the Sun, and NASA launched their 3D Sun app so that the general public could hold nearly-live 360 imagery of the Sun in the palm of their hands.

Then, on October 4, 2014, NASA lost contact with STEREO-B.  It was expected to go into solar conjunction shortly, and controllers were testing a procedure to help it recover if it lost contact during conjunction.  (The twin STEREO spacecraft wouldn’t actually be *directly* behind the Sun as seen from Earth, but close enough for tremendous radio interference.)  It was believed that it had gone into a spin, which would tend to be a deadly condition since it would be difficult to recover before it had drained its batteries or its propellant reserves attempting to correct this condition.  However, that may not be what happened.  Mission controllers never gave up on STEREO B, and since the mission was still funded in order to continue working with STEREO A, they kept trying to contact STEREO B.  They sent commands blindly in its direction, hoping it would eventually receive and respond, uplinking commands that, if executed, would at least help it to conserve its batteries and propellant until mission controllers could sort things out, searching for its carrier signal as the spacecraft’s position was no longer known with sufficient precision.

At 6:27 PM EDT yesterday, mission controllers’ long patience finally paid off.  After nearly two years, the DSN achieved a lock on the signal.  STEREO-B has been found, and it is still alive!  The team will now concentrate on conserving its resources and evaluating its health before deciding what to do next.

Positions of the twin STEREO spacecraft relative to Earth as of August, 2016.

Positions of the twin STEREO spacecraft relative to Earth as of August, 2016.


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The Falcons come home to roost

Outside SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, the company has started its very own rocketpark with the installation of their first recovered Falcon 9 booster as a vertical static display.  They had to get permission from the FAA due to proximity to Hawthorne Municipal Airport, but the rocket will now go on permanent display, visible to anyone passing by.  It’s been thoroughly scrubbed of exhaust, restoring it to as near to its original pristine white as possible, although the Merlin engine bells are not particularly pristine looking anymore, and a few extras have been added, such as spikes to discourage birds from roosting on its waffle-like grid fins.

Aug 20,2016. Hawthorn CA. SpaceX first  Falcon 9 rocket  that launch and return back home on a drone ship after itÕs launch in Dec-2015 it put up at a trophy in front of the SpaceX QH Saturday . The Rocket  is 156 ft tall at 50,000 pounds and  was lifted with 2 cranes and put in front it's building at Crenshaw Blvd. and Jack Northrop Ave.   Photo by Gene Blevins/LA DailyNews

For a full set of images of the installation, check out the article at SpaceflightNow.

And the most recent recovered booster has just returned to shore; the booster from the JCSAT-16 launch arrived at Port Canaveral over the weekend:


It’s rather exciting to see this all becoming routine, is it not?

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