Burning metal

The astronaut tugged at the lever but she couldn’t move it.  The servos that were built into the fabric of her space suit to help with heavy lifting had failed over ten minutes ago.  Rather than return to safety inside the craft she had chosen to stay outside and try to fix the parasol.  She knew that without the parasol she would only be safe inside the craft for an hour before the heat started to breach its integrity.  The blisters on the outside surfaces were already creeping towards her.  She looked up.  Her polarising visor was not enough to turn her attention away from the boiling surface of the Sun.  The slow moving eruptions played a mesmerising dance across her field of vision.  Each cell of heat and light growing before folding into its neighbouring cells.  An alarm sounded inside her helmet and she turned her attention back to the broken parasol deployment mechanism.

EAS, the European Space Agency, has selected Astrium to lead the build of a new Solar Orbiter.  It will pass closer to the Sun than Mercury and will contain a range of scientific equipment.  Its 3-year orbital insertion trip will see it use the gravitational wells of both the Earth and Mercury to adjust its trajectory.  It is scheduled to spend 7 years orbiting the Sun and will be launched in 2017.  See a press release here: http://www.astrium.eads.net/node.php?articleid=8611 See a video here: http://videos-en.astrium.eads.net/#/video/36f387af2e2s  Visit the mission page here: http://sci.esa.int/solarorbiter

James.

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Harvesting the richness of space

The dim solar light flickered as the cloud of dust rose from the surface of the asteroid.  Three suited figure stood gripping tethers to hold them down against the gentle spin.  Gravity was weak.  As the dust cleared one of the figures crouched next to the excavation.  A suited hand brushed aside the dust that had settled and revealed metallic crystals that glinted in the light.  Glints that meant riches beyond imagine.

A group of technology innovators and NASA experts have teamed up to found and fund a company, Planetary Resources, to explore and commercialise the resources available on asteroids and other non-Earth territories.  An announcement and update to the website is scheduled for tomorrow, 24 April.  Visit the website here: http://www.planetaryresources.com/ See the wiki page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_Resources

James.

The beast under salmon skies

The creature rose to its hind feet, looked upwards at the salmon-coloured skies and roared.  The rocks nearby started to shake and dust drifted from the widening cracks.  It was unchallenged as the dominant creature of the dominant species on the planet and it would assert this as often as possible.  It saw a metallic streak puncture the atmosphere and plunge towards the surface.  Calculating its impact point the creature returned to all-fours and galloped to meet the craft.  It hadn’t tasted metal before and was keen to see if there was anything edible inside.

Scientists working on the HARPS project at the ESO have announced that there are far more Earth-sized planets in the universe than previously thought.  Many within the habitable zone that could give rise to life.  They estimate that there about 100 potentially habitable planets orbiting red dwarfs within 30 light-years of Earth.  See the press release here: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1214/

James.

Riding the fury of Dione

He flicked closed the filter on his helmet, unbound the tether that was holding him to the spacecraft and pushed off.  It took several hours before the moon below started to grow in size.  He spent the time checking his equipment, listening to an eclectic mix of music on his helmet media system.  As the surface of the moon rushed towards him he started to feel the thrill – maybe he had miscalculated – he no longer had enough fuel left to halt his drop to the surface. Then he felt the turbulance and looked down.  He saw a white-out.  The ice volcano below had started to erupt.  With a whoop he unclipped the board on his back, attached it securely to his boots and prepared to ride the Dione eruption back into orbit.

Dr Bonnie Buratti, of NASA JPL, has announced that the surface of Dione, an ice moon of Saturn, has features that suggest it is still undergoing geological activity.  Banding and areas with a low level of impact crater disturbance point towards geological activity similar to sister moon Enceladus.  See a news article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17440136  Visit the NASA Cassini mission here: www.nasa.gov/cassini

James.

The dance of the satellites

The surveillance craft turned as it continued its silent orbit of the Moon.  Its sensors focussed on the surface, ready to track any movement below.  Following in its orbit, invisible to the sensors of the first spacecraft, a second angular shape slowly gained ground.  As it approached it readied a concentrated burst of electromagnetic energy.

NASA has announced that the twin GRAIL Moon satellites have started their science mission.  They will track the distance between the two craft as they pass over sections of the Moon that may be more or less dense.  This will give scientists data to model the internal structure of the Moon, and hence refine theories as to its origin and evolution.  Read the press release here:  http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/mar/HQ_12-070_GRAIL_Science_Begins.html

James.

The world drifting through darkness

A circle of darkness obscures the starfield beyond.  It moves slowly and silently through the cold reaches of deep space.  As it approaches, a hint of light can be seen glittering from its surface, then suddenly it coalesces into the shape of a planet.  Alone, far from the system that gave birth to it, the planet wanders between the stars.  The surface has cooled long ago, but beneath that surface the heat from the center of the world provides a dwindling source of energy.

Researchers predict that nomad planets, which do not orbit any star, are far more common than previously thought.  They can be ejected from their original systems for a variety of reasons, including the most spectacular celestial event, a super nova.  If models are correct, then these planets far-outnumber the stars in the sky.  Read an article here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/02/120224-rogue-nomad-planets-stars-black-holes-space-science/

James.

Sci-fi spy thriller ‘Agencies’ now available worldwide in paperback and ebook.

‘Agencies’ by James Aston is now available worldwide in both paperback and ebook.  Some international links:

Paperback:

Paperback and ebook:

Ebook:

Agencies is a fast-paced sci-fi novel set in the near future covering Moon exploration, spys and espionage, an escalating series of conflicts between two well equipped security agencies and a man on a mission to recover information before it falls into the wrong hands.

Also available at other excellent bookshops.

James.

Agencies now available in paperback from Amazon.com

The paperback version of Agencies is now available in paperback from Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Agencies-James-Aston/dp/1466374829/

Agencies is a fast-paced sci-fi novel set in the near future covering Moon exploration, spys and espionage, an escalating series of conflicts between two well equipped security agencies and a man on a mission to recover information before it falls into the wrong hands.

Also available on Kindle from all Amazon sites, it will also soon be available in paperback from other Amazon sites and excellent bookshops.

James.