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Dr. Kirtland C Peterson

The Ghosts’ High Noon!

I plop my just-delivered CD in, hit “play,” and get back to work, nose to the grindstone. A few songs go by and then:

“The ghosts’ high noon”? What a great phrase! What great fantasy lyrics!

I immediately drop my pressing work to track down this howling of wind, moonlit bats, funeral shrouds, black dogs, and spectres on holiday!

(I wonder, could Neil Gaiman have turned his marvelous turn-of-phrases genius to lyric writing?)

[In search of the ghosts’ high noon…]

War God Feeling Blue

Gorgeous New Images from Mars Orbiter

Newly released observations from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) astonish, especially those presented in false color, which aids in distinguishing among surface materials and textures. Blue is the new red!

The HiRISE aboard the MRO investigates deposits and landforms. By combining very high resolution and signal-to-noise ratio with a large swath width allows imaging on a variety of scales down to 1 meter. Below the fold: a sampling of images. To see many, many more, head over to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab: go to Multimedia, select Images.

[Blue Moon Mars]

A Farewell to Atlantis: Spacewalks & Touchdown

“Three spacewalks were conducted while Atlantis was docked to the orbiting laboratory…” STS-132 Mission Information.

“After seven days of docked operations, Atlantis undocked… With the final inspection of Atlantis’ heatshield complete, STS-132 was cleared for landing in Florida on May 26, 2010 at 8:48 a.m. EDT. This was the 34th space shuttle mission to the International Space Station.”

Farewell Atlantis: Part 2 (of 2).

[More great NASA pix. Spectacular… and sad…]

The Sorceress Armida!

Of Diabolic Forests, Orgiastic Palaces, Ecstatic Gardens, Transformations & Bewilderments

Ah! To be seduced by Armida, to be transported to her magical, fantastic realms, to her diabolic forests, orgiastic palaces, ecstatic gardens!

May the sorceress be forever vengeful! May she forever blot out mortal lovers who dare betray her! May she forever conjure fearful storms and rip tsunami from the sea! Long live Armida!

I met her, this Armida, just the other night, as summoned by Rossini and channeled unfiltered through Renee Fleming. I inhaled her, the powerful, seductive sorceress. She is—fantastic. She is—fantasy.

More, she feeds the fires of fantasy—she keeps fantasy alive!

Yes, I’m in love.

But you may wondering, Who is this Armida?

[Beyond here there be fabulous photos]

His Dark Materials & The Assault on Sociopathic Organizations

We know SF can “predict” the future. Star Trek TOS’s sliding doors, originally powered by stagehands left and right, now guard the entrance to every supermarket in America. My Motorola Droid doubles as a ST “communicator” and then some: mine includes a star chart, earthquake detector, and detailed map of the planet.

But what about fantasy?

I believe fantasy can predict the future.

[Beyond here there be daemons]

The Good Man Jesus & The Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

A Story About Stories & Story Telling, Storytellers & More

Before looking at Philip Pullman’s just-published novel, a little back story…

Confession: At a tender age I was tossed out of Bible Reading. No more evening tea and biscuits. No more getting out of supervised evening “prep” (i.e., homework) on a Wednesday evening.

It was the work of a scoundrel.

True, I was complicit, but it took a scoundrel.

[ Beyond here there be scoundrels ]

Reincarnated as a Space Yacht: IKAROS Flies/Sails Again

Ikaros (the Latin form of Icarus), newly fitted with wings of feathers and wax by his father Daedulus, flew too close to the sun and plunged into the sea, the sea that now bears his name. Ikaros: the poster child for hubris.

Yet even in Hellenistic times, some writers doubted Daedulus invented wings for the escape from Crete; they believed he invented sails and his poor son Ikaros never winked at Apollo, but merely fell overboard and drowned. It seems the Japanese tilt strongly towards the “sails not wings” hypothesis.

At JAXA—the Japanese Aeospace Exploration Agengy—IKAROS may be an inelegant acronym, but it represents an exciting step in extra-terrestrial propulsion. IKAROS stands for “Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun.” IKAROS is a kite, or a sail, or a “space yacht.” (DS9 fans will likely go for “space yacht.”)

On May 18th Japanese IKAROS leaps skyward from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan never—JAXA hopes—to fall to earth again.

(Prefer video to text? Great IKAROS Mission Overview on YouTube—visuals are great but it is in Japanese. Video also at AKATSUKI Special Site.)

[ Will IKAROS fly to close too the sun? ]

Dark Matter Update (March 2010)

•

If there was no dark matter, we wouldn’t be here.
— Professor Wolfgang Rau (Kingston, Canada)

Re-reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy never fails to drive me to my “Tor/Dark matter” e-folder.

And there’s a lot up with dark matter these days…

The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search

Sounds like the title of a creepy SF novel: we just know the search for dark matter will end badly for our likable protagonist, so diligent and courageous.

A little background to recent dark-matter reports is always useful:

The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) is a series of experiments designed to directly detect particle dark matter in the form of WIMPs [weakly interacting massive particles].

Using an array of semiconductor detectors at millikelvin temperatures, CDMS has set the most sensitive limits to date on the interactions of WIMP dark matter with terrestrial materials.

The first experiment, CDMSI, was run in a tunnel under the Stanford University campus. The current experiment, CDMSII, is located deep underground in the Soudan Mine in Minnesota.

I grew up only a few miles from the Sand Hill entrance to the Stanford Linear Accelerator. I thrill to know the SLAC, among other projects, plays host to the dark-matter, early-universe probing GLAST project.

[ Into the dark… ]

“It’s Like Pandora—Only Better”

You’ve heard of PW—Pandora Withdrawal—the syndrome that gripped significant numbers of Avatar fans, a syndrome marked by the blues, obsession, outright depression, even suicidal thoughts and feelings.

You may also have heard Joe Letteri’s Oscar’s acceptance speech following Avatar’s Visual Effects win in which he said:

“…just remember the world we live in is just as amazing as the one we created for you.”

For those who would miss Pandora, the good news is that Joe Letteri is 100% correct.

Even better news: you can walk on Pandora. If you’re a U.S. citizen you don’t even need a passport to get there. (We got there in a Boeing 737 and a crimson Toyota Yaris.)

The best news of all? Pandora can be bested—sights, sounds, blindness and night terrors, sheer awe. You can even go back, again and again.

[Pandora]

Putting It On The Line, Putting Her Money Where Her Mouth Is—and Speaking Up/Out

I have a theory about why Margaret Atwood wrote Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood, and may—if certain rumors be true—be at work on a third novel in the series.

But first, let me address the hisses and catcalls from the back. Yes you, over there.

Many of my hardcore SF friends dismissed Oryx & Crake, and never read The Year of the Flood, on principle. Their objections were along the lines of, “That’s all been done before by real SF writers. Oh—and it’s been done better. Much better.” Some have been blunt: “She’s a rip-off artist.”

To my hardcore SF friends and those who agree wholeheartedly with them let me say, You may be right. And—here—in this post—I’d like to explore another issue and present a theory that transcends Margaret the author and these two novels. I’m hoping you’ll stick around to hear it.

[I agree to give M.A. a break, for a just a few minutes]

Around the Solar System in 39 Days (Well, at least to Mars)

Earth to Mars in a little over a month. Yes, you heard that right. Not the one-and-a-half-years there, one-and-a-half-years back, but around the Earth-Mars block in less than 80 days. (Credit: NASA/AdAstra)

How? By using a propulsion system orders-of-magnitude greater than current systems.

Meet VASIMR, the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket.

[Meet the future]

A “Fantasy Matters” Follow-Up: How “Real” is Hogwarts?

In Fantasy Matters, I noted Ursula K. Le Guin’s admonition—to fantasy/SF readers and writers alike— to “Know Thy Fantasy Literature.” To understand where, say, the Harry Potter stories “fit” into the sweep of fantasy literature, it is important to know the “school” corpus. J.K. Rowling did not create Hogwarts out of thin air, nor did she hang Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s school experiences on hooks entirely of her own invention.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, a number of readers were interested in this thought strand. I received several e-mails—all from the lower forty-eight, all interested in my parenthetical comment that I’d attended British boarding schools—wondering how “real” Hogwarts was, that is, how like a bona fide British boarding school Hogwarts might be.

With seven years of British boarding schools under my belt—ages 10-12 at one school, 12-17 at another—Hogwarts had always struck me as familiar, but I’d never thought much about the parallels: how many, how deep, how meaningful, how instructive?

Now I have.

Without writing a dissertation on The Reality of Hogwarts, a few thoughts about magical trains, inspiring architecture and secret passageways, Headmasters, quirky teachers (“masters”), quidditch, exams, and great friends.

These reflections also led to a startling realization: Hogwarts misses a thing or two. In the end, I wondered if J.K. Rowling had attended boarding school, or whether she just knew about it, as all Brits do—it’s part of the culture. Regardless, she certainly knew the “school” stories that preceded hers.

[Magical Trains, Secret Passageways, & More]