Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bubble Colony

Now that we’ve visited the moon a few times, nobody is talking about setting up a moonbase. Everybody seems to want to move on to colonizing Mars. But you know what? Venus is a lot closer.
Earth’s orbit is 93,000,000 miles from the sun. Mars’ orbit is 141,600,000 miles from the sun. The closest Mars and Earth can get is about 48,600,000 miles, while the furthest away they get is 234,600,000. Venus is 67,000,000 miles from the sun, so the closest Earth gets to it is 26,000,000, and the furthest away Venus gets is 160,000,000. So yes, it’s about half the distance to get to Venus as it is to get to Mars.
Why is nobody clamoring to colonize Venus?
At first glance, Venus does not seem very welcoming. Oh, sure, it has about the same amount of gravity as Earth, but that’s the only thing that might be called ‘welcoming’. Its atmosphere is carbon dioxide and nitrogen, with clouds of sulfuric acid droplets. There may be trace amounts of H2O and HO in the atmosphere, but don’t expect to go outside without a space suit. The corrosive atmosphere is so dense, no probe that landed on Venus lasted longer than a couple hours. If the acid doesn’t get you, the pressure will. That pressure is the same as being 1.5 miles deep in the ocean. And that’s assuming you don’t land in a volcano, because the surface is highly volcanic.
The atmosphere is the cause of runaway greenhouse effect, and the surface of Venus is about 900°F. Venus rotates backwards, so the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, but it rotates so slowly, a ‘day’ (single rotation) on Venus is 243 Earth days, while it only takes 225 Earth days to complete a circuit around the sun. That would take some getting used to. And despite Venus’ slow rotation, the top lay of clouds whip around it in about 4 Earth days, at speeds of 225 (or more) miles an hour.
Ready to make it your home yet?
There are people considering how it could be done. They don’t see a colony on Venus’ surface, however; they envision an enclosed ‘station’ that floats 30 miles above Venus’ surface, where the pressure is about the same as sea level on Earth. The temperature would be about 160°F, but that would be relatively easy to deal with. And being below that top layer of clouds, it might be pushed around the globe, but not at hurricane speeds.
That doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe they could devise a way to grow plants on the outside walls to change some of the carbon dioxide into oxygen. If enough of that happened, the greenhouse effect could start to calm down, the temperature might lower, and those racing high-level winds would slow down. Who knows, maybe it would be possible to establish a base on Venus’ surface... in a few millennia.

Ready to ship out yet? Or are you waiting for the ship to Europa?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Here There Be Dwarves

I’ve been looking into this ‘Dwarf Planet’ issue. I was not happy to have Pluto no longer be a ‘real planet’, but decided maybe it made sense to have another classification for those items in our system that did not quite fit the definition of ‘planet’. Of course, they devised that definition so that it would exclude Pluto, because another body they did not want to consider as a planet was roughly the same size as Pluto. Or so it seems.
Still, it works, as long as they use the definition of ‘dwarf planet’ consistently, right? But, are they?
Mercury is a planet (now called a Classic Planet). It’s about twice the size of Pluto, so... They had to put the dividing line somewhere, right?
Eris is further out than Pluto, and may or may not be as large. The diameters for these two said Pluto was slightly larger, but each had a margin of error. So, if Eris is larger than they think, and Pluto is smaller than they think, then they could be the same size, or Pluto could be slightly smaller. Ergo, if one is a dwarf planet, it makes sense that the other is also.
I had never heard of Makemake or Haumea until I started this research, but they have both been named dwarf planets. Their diameters are each a bit more than half of Pluto’s.
One rule of the definition of a dwarf planet is that it must have enough mass to pull itself into a roughly spheroid shape. It has been postulated that these bodies would need a diameter of at least 400 km before that was likely. I was surprised to read, then, that Haumea was not a sphere - its diameter through the equator is much longer than its diameter through the poles. The explanation (excuse?) was that Haumea rotates so fast, it has warped into a flattened shape.
So far, Ceres is the only asteroid to be named a dwarf planet. Its diameter is less than 1,000 km, but it is the largest asteroid. There are at least 3 other asteroids that are over that minimum diameter of 400 km, and so far as I have been able to discover, they are at least roughly spherical.
There are also 10 or more heavily bodies beyond the orbit of Pluto that are currently under consideration for being Dwarf Planets.
And that brings us to Charon. Long known as - and even now considered - Pluto’s moon, I suggest it be named a Dwarf Planet. Charon’s diameter is slightly less than half of Pluto’s, considerably larger than Ceres’. Yes, there are plenty of big moons in our system, but none of them are so large in relation to the planet they circle. And, technically, Charon does NOT revolve around Pluto. With this division of mass between them, both Charon and Pluto revolve around a point that is between them.
At least one astronomer has suggested that Pluto and Charon be considered a double Dwarf Planet. I definitely agree.
Diameter (km)
# Moons
2007 OR10




2002 MS4

2005 UQ513

2007 UK126








* NOT spherical

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What Takes so Long?

What takes so long from an editor accepting a manuscript for publication and the book appearing in book stores? The process can take months or even years with a ‘Big Boy’ publisher.
Yet, there are exceptions: Books about some political scandal can appear days after the scandal comes to light; Biographies of a celebrity can be bought within a week of their death. So it can be done faster. Why isn’t it?
Small press and self-publishing don’t take that much time. How do they do it?
Editing. Every manuscript needs an editor. It may be the rare exception that only needs one comma added and one numeral (like 9) spelled out (into nine), but no publisher knows that until an edit is done. With the Big Boys, sometimes the editor who decides which manuscript to purchase is also expected to edit those manuscripts. Obviously, an established author’s manuscript will be edited before those by new authors. Small presses don’t publish as many books, and often use free lance editors, who fit their assignment into their schedule in order to meet their deadline. In my case, I ask for a month (and occasionally wish I had two).
Cover Art. This is, apparently, the next step for the Big Boys, because nothing else can happen without the pretty picture for the front. Of course this takes time, from concept through several renditions until it is ‘just right’. And then, it’s sent to somebody else to put the type (title, author, etc.) on it, and that may take several attempts before it is deemed ‘acceptable’. Remember, the Big Boys have many of these being done at the same time. Small presses, again, may work with free lance artists, who may even put the type on. Or they might use a stock photo, which takes even less time.
Reviews. I never paid attention to these myself, so I was surprised at how much emphasis is placed on getting them. In the past, reviewers expected to receive a printed book, complete with cover art, that they could read. This would be months before the book was officially published. Some still want it done this way, but others accept e-files of the book. Some small presses don’t get reviews early enough to quote them on the back of the book, so that cuts some time off the process.
Sales Materials. This seems to be a long, drawn-out ordeal for the Big Boys. Each book must get added to their catalog, the sales teams must be trained in how to best pitch it to the book stores... Many small presses don’t pitch to book stores, because the book stores won’t carry them. Therefore, their efforts for one book are simply added to the marketing of all the others they have available. Add it to their catalog and website, mention it in the newsletter and their social media comments. They might create fliers to send to gatherings of likely readers.
A typical Big Boy book stays on the shelf about 6 weeks. A small press may never ‘discontinue’ a book.

Is being published by a Big Boy worth wasting all that time? What do you think?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Thoughts on Electric Cars

A power company in Missouri will be installing close to 100 vehicle power-up plugs in Northwest Missouri and the Kansas City area. “That’s nice,” was my thought. “Now, if I had an electric car, my home charge would (probably) get me to Kansas City, and that charge would get me close to St Louis. But there’s still a long distance between St Louis and Florida. I wonder if any other power companies will do the same? St Louis? Paducah? Nashville? And so on? And how far out of my way would I need to go for one of these power-ups?”
As an author, I’m an ideas person. I have to be. I have to come up with ideas about characters, plot, scenes, everything. When I write science fiction, I don’t know exactly how thing works, I just have to be convincing.
Why has everybody been designing electric cars that are good for running around your home town, but not for traveling? I like to travel. If I could do both in an electric car, I would be scrounging up pennies to get one. Instead, I had to opt for a car that got decent gas mileage on the hiway.
I keep hearing about ‘tweaks’ some car company has made - like when you apply the brakes, a slight charge is trickled back into your battery.
Why stop there?
Here’s some ideas I wish SOMEbody would incorporate into an electric car. 
1. Solar panels. They’re being put everywhere else, why not on the car’s roof, trunk lid, hood... even the fenders, doors, sides and bumpers! They don’t have to be big and clunky; they can be small and flexible. (I’m not in favor of alternating colors into a checkerboard, but maybe that’s just me.) Trickle that power into a spare or already-discharged battery, and you’ll get further before you have to pause and charge up all the batteries.
2. Wind power. Windmills are good enough to put in the fields, why not put some tiny ones on the car? A few unobtrusive intake slots, and again, you’ve got some electricity to trickle into the batteries. Just moving down the street, a vehicle has air sliding past it, why not use it?
3. Human power. For those times when the sun isn’t out, or you find yourself way out in the middle of nowhere with dead batteries, this would be your backup. Open up a panel - perhaps in the dash in front of the passenger seat - and out pops cycle pedals. If you could change the position of the pedals, you could either use your legs or your arms. Just pedal away to charge your batteries so you can get further down the road.
I actually use these ideas in some stories set in the not-too-distant future.

Okay, talk to me. What improvement would you like made to today’s electric cars?