BAN #271: Prospect, Stained glass satellites

16 November 2020   Issue #271

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]

Subscribers are gold nuggets glittering in the river of the night.

I recommend

Something I think you’ll like

If you have Netflix, and you’re a fan of Firefly, then I strongly urge you to watch the 2018 movie “Prospect”, which just became available on the streaming service.

It’s a scifi flick presumably about a father and daughter team who go to various planets to prospect for valuable objects, but that’s really just the setup, and I don’t want to give anything away. Here’s the trailer:

It’s excellent. The world-building in it is extraordinarily well done, with things just shown to the viewer without much (or really even needing) explanation. For the most part you just absorb what’s going on in some scenes, without someone saying something obvious, like “Well, I guess this means we’re undocking and dropping down to the planet below now as you can see through the windows showing the station moving away from us!” They show, not tell.

The special effects are great where they’re used, but again that’s not the point of the movie. It’s shot in a tight, personal way that has a lot of impact, raising the tension. And the dialogue! Like I said, if you like Firefly you’ll like this movie.

SYFY Wire has an overview, which will give you a taste. I’ll note that my wife, who is not a scifi nerd, really liked it too. She also loves The Expanse, Firefly, and Battlestar, to give you an idea; for her the story and characters are what matters, not the genre. Me too, really, but if it has spaceships, then bonus.

So give it a watch, and leave a comment below with your opinion! I’ve opened them up to everybody for just this occasion.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[A magnetar is born! From Thursday’s article. Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Player (STScI)]

Monday 9 November, 2020: A view of Earth… from Mars

Tuesday 10 November, 2020: A blast of radiation reveals a nearby cold brown dwarf

Wednesday 11 November, 2020: Jupiter's moon Europa may glow due to salty irradiation

Thursday 12 November, 2020: Did astronomers just witness the explosive birth of a magnetar?

Friday 13 November, 2020: What you need to know for Spacex and NASA’s first official crewed launch

Pic o’ the Letter

A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it

Way back at the turn of the millennium I worked at Sonoma State University with a small group of scientists, programmers, and creative types (with significant overlap in those characteristics for everyone) to create educational materials for various high-energy NASA missions. We had funding from a variety of missions like Swift, GLAST (now Fermi), XMM-Newton, and more.

I worked there for about 7 or 8 years, but when I got my book deal for Death from the Skies! (affiliate link) I had to leave; there was no way I could work full time and write a book.

I recently saw something that reminded me of one of my friends/coworkers, the wonderfully talented artist Aurore Simonnet, so I sent her a quick note. We wound up catching up a bit, and she told me she’s been working on some new art based on the missions: Drawings that look like stained glass tiles!

[Two drawings representing the Fermi gamma-ray satellite (left), and a map of the sky it made showing where gamma rays are emitted (right). Credit: Aurore Simonnet / EdEon]

This is such a cool idea, and she’s so talented I had to ask her if these were photos or drawings. They’re drawings, but the idea is you can print them and arrange them the way you want. There are six she’s done for Fermi.

She also sent me one she just did for Swift*, a satellite which looks for gamma-ray bursts and which has been orbiting the Earth since 2004. The mission was initially two years long, but it’s still operating after all these years. Here’s the tile:

[Credit: Aurore Simonnet / EdEon]

Wow. She’s amazing. She came up with this idea for the tenth anniversary of Fermi; she wanted to do something different and always loved stained glass. So, there you go.

I always liked working with Aurore (and I love it when I can use her art for my blog articles). We worked closely on a lot of posters for the missions, since I knew the science and she did all the art. We had a great rapport, and it was one of those things where I could correct the science in her art and know she wouldn’t take it personally, and she knew she could speak up when the science part wasn’t working artistically. I’ve had to tiptoe around enough people when collaborating to know how wonderful it is when you don’t have to add that burden to every conversation.

There are many aspects of working with a team that I miss, but I feel like I didn’t really come into my own with writing until I struck out on my own. It just works better for me creatively and fits my lifestyle best.

But I do miss my friends.

* The full name is the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, named after the astronomer who was a driving force behind getting it built. I knew Neil and worked with him on many projects; he was a big supporter of education and loved helping out when he could. He was a terrific guy and had a great sense of humor. I’m glad they named the observatory after him as a tribute to his life in gamma ray astronomy.

Et alia

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