May 2010


Ah, the sweetness of certainty!  This spread appeared — appropriately enough! — on page X1 of the New York Times on Decmber 9,1906, when Lowell was — if not “recognised as the greatest authority” on the Red Planet, certainly the only one with his own Observatory from which to study it.

I just love the design of this piece (do check it out in full at the link above, it’s a gloriously giant PDF).  The Martian globe seems particularly evocative when seen from below:

and why not throw a shepherd in there, sure!

And as for the content…


Well, The New York Times has been wrong about bigger things, I guess.

That would be William Dufris, who’ll be the voice of Percival’s Planet in its audio book form for Tantor Media.  Dufris, as his bio gives us, “has been nominated nine times as a finalist for the APA’s Audie Award and has garnered twenty-one Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which also named him one of the Best Voices at the End of the Century, as well as one of the Best Voices of the Year in 2008 and 2009.”

Excellent! Have fun reading all those words! Certainly there are many of them!

Among Dufris’ many credits is the audio book version of Woken Furies, the third installment of the superb Takeshi Kovacs series by Richard K. Morgan.  The first in Morgan’s series, Altered Carbon, is so good it must be read to be believed; it’s the book I’m always urging on people as what you gotta pick up next. And those who are true and pure of heart, and who like a little 25th-century-Philip-Marlowe-from-space-reboot, always love it.

I’ll admit it, I grew up wanting to visit other worlds. I still do. But what with the severe motion sickness, and the fact that now that I’m officially older than Jack Benny, the odds would seem to be diminishing.  On the other hand, we have artists who can put us there — nearly — without the forty months of travel time or the awkwardness of being unfrozen from the cryo-cap (gel, gel, icky gel). This is the work of one Tobias Roetsch, also known as taenaron.  He’s 22.  He lives in Dresden.  He’s awesome.  This is via io9.com, Gawker’s excellent sci-fi-culture blog, of which I have no doubt you’re entirely aware.

Clyde here at least gets equal billing with Percival Lowell. Notice that in June 1930 astronomers are still puzzling out Pluto’s size. They’re getting closer — rather than being 1200 times the size of Earth, now it’s “judged to be the same size as earth.”  (Today we know its mean radius to be 0.18 of Earth.)  Estimates of Pluto’s size decreased over the course of the 20th century; in 1976, astronomers determined that Pluto’s surface featured methane ice, which meant that the planet’s albedo was higher than had been theretofore suspected — which, in turn, meant the planet was smaller than it appeared.

The discovery of Pluto’s moon, Charon, in 1978, allowed for very accurate measurements of Pluto’s mass — now determined to be about 0.2% of Earth’s.

Here’s the larger version of that iconic picture of Lowell at his 24″ Clark.  Notice the handsome chair.  As his descendents say, “Percy brought a lot of Yankee with him to Flagstaff.”

If you visit Lowell Observatory you can see this telescope still in operation — in fact, you can look through it!  Check out Lowell’s visiting hours and directions here.

Alan Boyle, author of The Case for Pluto, makes an eloquent and moving argument for the importance of thinking of Pluto — and its trans-Neptunian brethren — as full-fledged worlds in their own right.  Conceiving of them as worthy of the culturally-weighted term “planet” makes a difference in how we see our own position in the solar system:

“Never again can Pluto be the ninth planet. Or the littlest planet. Or the most distant planet. But does that make Pluto a non-planet? No way. Even before Pluto was discovered, the solar system was divided into two classes of planets: the rocky worlds like Earth, and the gas giants beyond. Pluto has pointed the way to the solar system’s third great class of planets, no less important than the other two…

“Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the New Horizons mission to Pluto, says there could be many thousands of icy worlds out on the solar system’s rim–and hundreds of them could well qualify as dwarf planets. Over the long run, that will almost certainly change the way we look at our own place in the universe. And what’s so bad about that?

“‘The original view, until 10 or 15 years ago, was that we had four Earth-like terrestrial planets, four gas giants, and the misfit Pluto. But the new view is four terrestrial planets, four gas giants, and hundreds of Plutos,'” Stern says. “‘It’s jarring, because Pluto’s no longer the misfit. It’s the Earth-like planets that are the misfits.'”

very solid!

It’s interesting to me how every review so far touches on something different — the Italian crew getting a nod here, for example.  I liked them, I liked writing them.  They were always hanging around, making remarks, then sort of drifting off when they were no longer really needed.

(Generally family-rated.)

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