Doctor Who’s On First, with Stephen Colbert

This is great.  :-D  An actual *novel* twist on the the Who’s On First gag:

And after enjoying that, here’s something a bit more in depth:

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Awesome 360 video of the Falcon 9 drone ship landing!

Alas, this isn’t as high res as some of the other cool 360 videos posted recently, but I’ll take it.  It’s pretty sweet.  ;-)  It has sound too, so you can hear the engine roar as Falcon approaches!  Make sure to look up, and watch for the landing legs deploying!

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FANFIC FRIDAY: The Resurrection of Evil, Episode One

If you enjoyed “The Masque of the Baron“, it gets better.  I learned from the experience of writing that one and did another, following straight after “Minnehaha Falls“.  I wrote this probably in 1998 – I remember for sure I was a senior in college, anyway.  I’ve made some minor corrections in this first episode, because it contained some rather significant historical errors.  (That’s what I got for going off memory when I first wrote it!)  I will not make any further correctiosn, however, so the rest is as it is — warts and all!

Twin Citians may be amused also to notice how much of the Mall of America (which forms much of the setting) has changed — I think absolutely none of the stores and restaurants which appear in the story have remained in business.  They were all real and extant at the time I wrote it, but not any more.  The nightclub promenade on the fourth floor almost completely collapsed (financially, not literally) about five years after I wrote this, and now it’s only just recovered.  Even the movie theater and amusement park have changed hands, although they do still exist and are doing respectable business still.

Continuity note: this takes place immediately after the 1996 Dr Who telemovie starring Paul McGann, and therefore features the Eighth Doctor.  Expanded universe materials such as the New Adventures, awesome as they are, are ignored.  On the Highlander side, this would fall somewhere in the first half of Series Five (prior to the mid-season shift across the Atlantic).  As far as the Highlander movies, only one Highlander movie exists.  The other things of that name are figments of your imagination and as far as I’m concerned do not exist.  ;-)

The Resurrection of Evil

Episode One: The Birth

“I don’t wanna live here no more,

I don’t wanna stay

Ain’t gonna spend the rest of my life,

Quietly fading away”

— “Games People Play,” the Alan Parsons Project

The darkness surrounds you, enfolds you in its silence. You cannot see, you cannot touch, you cannot hear, you cannot taste. You are nothing here. This is the eternal void.

You are not alone in the blackness, and you are constantly reminded of this by the soundless cries of the beasts crawling through the perpetual murk. Although you can touch nothing, there is some sensation here; there is a vague feeling every time one of the worms slips soundlessly by. And there is pain whenever one sinks its fangs into your — we shall call it living — essence.

You scream, but it does no good.

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Vostochny is in business! Also, India’s IRNSS is complete

Two launches this morning on the other side of the world!

First, in Russia’s remote Amur region in eastern Siberia, their new Vostochny Cosmodrome has beaten the scandals and delays and the many years of debate about where to put it and how to fund it, and has received its first baptism of fire, placing a trio of civilian satellites into orbit aboard a Soyuz 2.1a.  The three payloads include Mikhailo Lomonosov, a gamma-ray observatory operated by the Lomonosov Moscow State University; Aist-2D, an earth-observing satellite operated by Samara State Aerospace University, and a CubeSat named SamSat 218 built and operated by Samara State Aerospace University students.

Then, to the southeast of Vostochny, at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, the workhorse PSLV rocket racked up another success by placing the final element of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) into orbit.  With this final element in place, the constellation has been officially named “Navic”.  IRNSS-1G is not yet in service; like all satellites, it will undergo a period of on-orbit testing before commissioning.  Navic is only a seven-element constellation, but as India only aims to supply regional navigation services, this is sufficient.  By contrast, systems such as GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo are intended to be used globally.

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SCRUB: First Vostochny launch, “Mikhailo Lomonosov” and Aist 2D aboard Soyuz 2

Soyuz is an immensely reliable rocket with a remarkable legacy going back to the R-7 missile of the 1960s.  It seems inconceivable that this week we’ve seen two scrubs due to technical faults with Soyuz, but we have.  One was the Sentinel 1B launch from Kourou, which replaced a faulty component, recycled the countdown, and successfully flew yesterday morning.  The other stands ready to baptize the new Vostochny Cosmodrome with fire.  Liftoff was expected today, but a fault of some sort was detected by the onboard computers, which commanded the abort in the final phase of the countdown.  Now, this isn’t actually the same model as the one in Kourou; this is the most modern of the Soyuz family, Soyuz 2.1a, with a Volga upper stage.  It is almost certainly coincidence.  For most rockets, this would not be surprising; it is a testament to the reliability of the Soyuz system that this is worth noting.

In any case, the Mikhailo Lomosonov gamma-ray observatory, the Aist 2D earth-observing satellite, and a student-built Cubesat await a new launch attempt, hopefully as early as tomorrow.  Cross your fingers!

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Sentinel-1B and Microsope launched aboard Soyuz

After a rare Soyuz scrub due to a rocket issue (quickly resolved), the Soyuz 2 operated by Arianespace rocket blasted off from Kourou, French Guiana carrying Sentinel 1B, an Earth observing satellite for the hugely ambitious Copernicus constellation that will continuously observe Earth in unprecedented detail, and Microscope, a physics satellite that will test Einstein’s equivalence principle, as well as several ESA-sponsored student CubeSats.  As an Arianespace flight, this gets the extra treat of rocketcam footage, not customarily provided by the Russians, but provided as a matter of course by Arianespace because it’s awesome.  ;-)

Oh, one other fun thing to notice: they report the third stage (Fregat) lighting before the second (core) stage is seen to fall away.  This is not an error; Soyuz is unusual in that it lights its upper stage before dropping the core stage.  The interstage structure is just a series of struts so that the exhaust can get out before the lower stage drops away.  I’m not sure why it does this, but this aspect of the design goes all the way back to the original R-7 ICBM that became the Soyuz family.

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A newly discovered ancient observation, of Supernova SN1006

Supernovas are big, impressive events, but rare enough that they are seldom observed without the aid of a telescope.  The brightest one in living memory was SN1987A, which occurred in the Large Magellanic Cloud and was visible from the Southern Hemisphere in February of 1987.  It got as bright as magnitude 2.9, which puts it a bit dimmer than Polaris but easily visible to the naked eye.  There have been much brighter ones, though.  The most famous is probably SN1054, which created the Crab Nebula and is well documented as having been visible in daylight, likely reaching magnitude -6 and persisting for weeks.

But the brightest on record was SN1006.  Believed to have been a Type 1a supernova (where a white dwarf explodes after robbing a companion star of enough material to pull itself over the Chandrasekhar Limit) at a distance of just 7,200 light years, this is estimated to have had a peak magnitude of -7.5, which is brighter than a crescent moon, and bright enough to cast shadows if you look closely.  Certainly bright enough to be plainly visible in daylight, and many observers recorded it, saying it persisted for months in the sky and appeared large, not just a point of light, perhaps a quarter the size of the Moon.  The Egyptian Ali ibn Ridwan recorded that it exceeded “the light of the Moon when one-quarter illuminated” and appeared low on the southern horizon.  Chinese records mention the new star in May and again in December in the constellation Di, which is between the Western constellations of Lupus and Centaurus.  Monks at the Abbey of St Gall in Switzerland recorded the event as well, writing that its apparent size varied, that it was below the plane of the ecliptic, and was visible for at least three months.  Someone controversially, there is also a Hohokam petroglyph in Arizona which may depict it.  And a Yemeni report was uncovered last year also describing the event.

And now we have another!  A new translation of work by the medieval Persian scholar Ibn-Sīnā (also transliterated as Avicenna; you may have heard that name before) has revealed another observation.  Ibn-Sīnā’s “Book of Healing”, one of many books he wrote on medicine and philosophy, surprisingly contains a description of the 1006 supernova.  Like the Swiss monks, he described it as persisting for about three months, and changing in size and shape.  It’s unclear whether it was actually changing in appearance, by the way, but it is possible that it was close enough for observers to make out light echoes in a surrounding nebula.  Absent a time machine, this is of course the best we’re going to get.  But we can also look and see what it’s like now.  Here’s SN1006, a thousand years later:

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