Interstellar Geographic — An Entertaining Parody of Space Exploration

Interstellar Geographic: Trifid Worlds

Interstellar Geographic logo with worlds near the Trifid nebula in the background.

For the longest time, I’ve thought about a parody of the exploration magazine National Geographic. I see on the internet that other people have been thinking along similar lines.

A new website takes up this idea and gives is my own unique spin. Of course, Interstellar Geographic has no relation to that seasoned and revered magazine of earthly exploration.

Why a new, online magazine about space? For one thing, no one has done quite what I had in mind. I wanted Interstellar Geographic to cover real star systems, but in a fictional format as if we already have star travel. I wanted the star travel to be relatively mature and almost commonplace.

We already have places like Star Wars and Star Trek to soak up similarly fictional formats, but they are usually about fictional star systems. Star Trek, for instance, was originated by Gene Roddenberry, who was not an astronomer by trade and frequently did not make his star systems entirely real. Of course, they didn’t need to be. His brand of entertainment relied on people more than science.

What Interstellar Geographic is All About

I recently finished and published a novel entitled, Touch the Stars: Diaspora, sequel to Touch the Stars: Emergence, written by John Dalmas and myself, and recently republished. The new website extends the “Touch the Stars” universe, giving real locations in our galaxy the blush of fictional reality. What if we could travel to Alpha Centauri, Rigel (Beta Orionis) or the Trifid Nebula?

Fourteen years ago, I created “Stars in the NeighborHood” software in order to better visualize our region of the Milky Way galaxy. I was in the middle of writing my novel and wanted to see the “lay of the land” for myself—the “interstellar geographic” landscape. Life sometimes gives us interesting detours, though, and after finishing the software, it took me awhile to finish the novel. But that’s now done.

If you have a few moments to take a look, please let me know what you think. Let me know if there’s anything you don’t like and also if there is anything you would like to see that isn’t yet there.

Scientific Armadillo — A Satirical Parody of Science

Scientific Armadillo, mascot of the new online magazine

The original Scientific Armadillo, science “Army” at Kennedy Space Center, USA. Photo: NASA (PD), via Wikipedia.org.

Scientific Armadillo is a new website I created to poke fun at science and scientists. As with all satire, it’s meant to illuminate. But unlike some satire, there is no intention of degrading persons or the field as a whole.

Scientific Armadillo—A Love of Science

I love science. I’ve known a number of scientists and they strike me as level-headed, caring individuals who are, at times, like little kids thrilled at the possibility of discovery. In a way, they are the geek’s geeks. They are concerned with deep subjects that require lots of knowledge and a disciplined mind.

Also, I am one of those scientists. I’ve been an amateur astronomer for most of my life. I’ve also been an intrepid nerd for an equally long period of time, digging into questions about life and the universe, from geo. I’m not that smart. I only have a 139 IQ, but I get by with it. It’s sufficient for my own needs. I’ve also been a computer scientist and engineer for over 20 years, exploring logic and algorithms for building software programs that help and illuminate.

Imperfect Scientists

It came as quite a shock the first time that I learned that scientists were mortal with human frailties. Some are not above fudging numbers, editing data or outright lying. Most scientists have an almost religious adherence to skepticism and that seems funny, especially when skepticism is steeped in bias—the potent bias of doubt. Why would this be a problem? Because scientific method warns against bias of any kind.

Restraint and humility could easily take the place of skepticism without the bias. They could easily keep a scientist from jumping to unfounded conclusions, and thankfully don’t support the darker side of skepticism that scientists too frequently seem to dive into—unsupported dismissiveness and self-indulgent ridicule.

Why “Scientific Armadillo?”

Armadillos are cute, in a prehistoric way. Also, the name “Scientific Armadillo” sounds a lot like “Scientific American,” which takes the brunt of this parody. But note, Scientific Armadillo has nothing to do with Scientific American, other than the intended parody.

Why target that prestigious magazine? For one, they are a symbol for all things science. And America has, for over half a century, been seen as being at the forefront of scientific advancement and more than a century as a leader in innovation.

A darker side of the parody comes from the use by that magazine of a skeptic who seems to have forgotten the meaning of the word. Michael Shermer can be skeptical of others, but seems to have little or no restraint against his own unfounded jumps to conclusions (what skepticism was meant to prevent).

If you have a few moments, jump on over to Scientific Armadillo, and see for yourself what may well lie underneath those freaky clean, white lab coats.

Let me know what you think and what you may want to see in its pages.

Happy Birthday, Gordon Roanhorse—Publishing Touch the Stars: Diaspora

Cover of Touch the Stars: Diaspora

Cover of Touch the Stars: Diaspora, by Carl Martin

This past Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May) was a birthday of mine. The party was nice. Having family nearby and happy was rewarding all by itself. I even indulged in a little birthday cake. Chief on my mind, though, was the nearing completion of a long-standing project—publishing Touch the Stars: Diaspora, sequel to Touch the Stars: Emergence.

The day-long festivities were enjoyable, but I kept sneaking away from them to push the final edit toward completion. Then I noticed that my main character, Gordon Roanhorse, was celebrating his own birthday away from family, doing what he loved—flying his starship to other star systems and planets. I also noticed that I had made Gordon’s birthday to match my own. Why? Because a part of me has long wanted a starship of my own and to be flying to other star systems and planets.

Since this all takes place in the future, I then wondered about this Gordon Roanhorse character. When was he born? A simple calculation pegged his birth at 2015:0505. That’s a year from now. So, it’s an early happy “birth” to Gordon Roanhorse. But also, it’s a different kind of birth. A novel which had taken me thirty years to produce was finally nearing its completion. Why so long? I’ve wondered that for some time. John Dalmas and I wrote the first of this series together, published August, 1983 by Tor Books, New York. I had gladly accepted his help on completing my first novel. I knew I had much to learn. My first solo attempt came with the heavy burden of knowing that I was venturing out of the nest. This first “baby” of my own received an inordinate amount of fussing. Even before finishing this book, I had published several others—two of fiction and a few of non-fiction under the pen name Rod Martin, Jr. For Diaspora, I was in no hurry.

Touch the Stars: Diaspora—Book 2

This new book is now available on Kindle at Amazon. I hope soon to have it available also in trade paperback and hardcover. This is Book 2 of a series which originally started out as a trilogy. The last title of the 3 is Touch the Stars: Resolution. I had started writing it several years ago and it seems destined to be a long book like Touch the Stars: Diaspora. In fact, Diaspora is nearly three times the length of Emergence. So, if you like a nice, long book, hopefully this will scratch that itch. If the book is a good one, the nice thing about greater length is getting to know the characters better, and getting to live with them for a longer period of time and to share more adventures with them.

The ‘Got it Solved’ Attitude of Touch the Stars: Diaspora

One of my personal favorite aspects of the new novel is the growth of its central character—Gordon Roanhorse. Jason, his father, is still a prominent figure, but Gordon takes center stage. He moves from childhood to maturity far faster than most, partly due to his positive surroundings, but also to the challenges given to him on a gradient which helps him to maintain an ever-expanding foundation of confidence and responsibility. One of the tools Gordon uses to maintain his edge is his “Got it Solved” attitude. If faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, he will simply snap his fingers with a rush of apparently unwarranted enthusiasm and say with unshakable conviction, “Got it solved.” Delusion? Quite the contrary. Results are what matter. And the solutions found by young Gordon Roanhorse are what make Touch the Stars: Diaspora worth more than one read.

Yes, I’m prejudiced about the book. After all, it’s my baby. I wrote it. But I get a thrill every time I read it. When I need that same “got it solved” attitude, I merely read Diaspora to see the master at work. Though Gordon Roanhorse does not yet exist in that other universe, I wish him an early “happy birthday.” And I hope his story is as inspiring to others as it has been to me.

Even though the story is my “baby,” I always welcome constructive criticism, even if critical—especially the critical stuff, because I learn from all input. If you get a chance to read the novel, let me know what you think.

You can find more information at the Touch the Stars: Diaspora page of Tharsis Highlands publishing.

Intelligence is More than IQ: The Future of Space Travel

Intelligence to see other worlds, like this illustration of Kepler 186f

Our scientific intelligence has allowed us to detect Kepler 186f, represented by this artist’s illustration, courtesy NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech.

Did you ever hear the story of the goose that laid the golden egg? That one goose could make anyone moderately rich forever. [Spoiler Alert!] But some idiot cut open the goose. Why? To get the source of the gold, but they found none. The flow of gold dried up with the death of the goose.

Selfishness is blindness. Just ask the ghost of the goose. What does this have to do with space travel? The answer is complicated. A complicated tale needs room in which to breathe. So, please bear with the storyteller.

Patterns in Nature, Ripe for the Plucking by Intelligence

Intelligence to create intelligent machines like this microchip.

Microchip from the intelligence to take silicon from sand and to arrange it into intelligently doped layers. Photo: Epop (CC BY-SA 3.0)

There are patterns in nature. Scientists have done a remarkably good job of discerning those patterns, most of the time.

Scientists and engineers have become so clever that they have turned dirty sand into thinking machines. The silicon chips that run your computers (smart phones, laptops, notepads, car modules and more) have been doped with other elements like germanium. Basically they’ve taken the key ingredient of sand and adding a contaminant to change its properties. Very clever, indeed.

But cleverness is not always intelligence. Some scientists got together in New Mexico 70 years ago to find bigger and better ways to destroy. The lead scientist later realized that he had made a big mistake. Oops! Too late. Pandora’s box had been opened and spilled its madness upon the world.

Selfishness, otherwise known as “ego,” makes even scientists blind. It’s a selective blindness. If someone knows the patterns of selfishness, they can manipulate scientists (and citizens-at-large) to do things they might not otherwise do. Things like those of the scientists of the Manhattan Project and their development of the atomic bomb.

The Need for Humility in the Definition of Intelligence

Intelligence should also be measured by humility. If someone arrogantly thinks they have it all figured out, then they will not be open to evidence to the contrary.

Wasn’t skepticism supposed to handle this shortcoming? Perhaps it’s one indication of a scientist’s vulnerability that they have never seen the glaring bias in their most prized paradigm. Skepticism contains the potent bias of doubt. For many situations doubt actually seems to help, but that’s misleading. Doubt is still a counterbalancing bias against the bias of overconfidence.

But then skepticism becomes perverted with ego and scientists get rowdy. They frequently betray skepticism by jumping to unfounded conclusions, dismissing ideas without rigorous investigation. I call that “unsupported dismissiveness.”

But it gets worse. Some scientists get hot under the collar and descend into “self-indulgent ridicule.” We saw this with the “Clovis First” dogma. It also happened with the cold fusion discovery. It even happened with NASA scientists discovering arsenic-friendly microbes. Scientists can get downright nasty. This is the norm. Scientists learn that they need thick skins. But is this healthy? Is this logical? Not at all. And it’s not very intelligent, either.

A far better paradigm for science is one of restraint and humility. But where’s the fun in humility? Ego loves to trash the views of others. Ego loves to ruin careers of lesser minds. Too bad if they were not quick enough to prove their thesis. Too bad if they had something valuable. “My belief, or the highway, buster! I’m top dog in this science. To heck with evidence.”

Do scientists actually think such things? Yes, they do. One geoarchaeologist with a Texas university said of the Valsequillo, Mexico archaeological finds that he would never accept an ancient date for those artifacts no matter what the evidence. Ego rules over intelligence.

Intelligence to investigate 9/11 more deeply.

UA Flight 175 hits WTC south tower. Intelligence tells us there’s something fishy about the events of that day. TheMachineStops (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When government scientists tried to sell the American public on the notion that solid steel could ever offer zero resistance, they proved their corrupt nature. It was like they hung a sign around their necks that said, “I’m a prostitute for government propaganda. Science doesn’t matter to me.”

When did this happen? The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) report on the 9/11 World Trade Center 7 collapse finally admitted to free fall. But they tried to make it seem a natural consequence of office fires. Incredible. And dumb!

Scientists selling lies is only intelligent in the sense of selfishly holding onto a corrupt job. But if they love science, then they would quit their job in a flash. Could it be that they were scientists who weren’t making it in the real world? Could it be they had to sell their souls in order to get a job? Not exactly the height of intelligence, if this is the case.

Should Evil Intelligence Be Allowed into Space?

First Gulf War jet fighters. Intelligence gone haywire.

USAF F-16A, F-15C, F-15E, during Desert Storm. Intelligence begs us not to swallow the propaganda.

If there are other civilizations amongst the stars, I would not wish humans on them. Even if those civilizations are superior in technology and wisdom. Why? Because of the corrupting influence of ego.

The American government has all but thrown its Constitution out the window. Its presidents seem to be working by a far different script. They seem to be following a hidden agenda dictated from somewhere other than the founding fathers or the average citizen. In fact, the bulk of government seems to have been bought out by the criminals of Wall Street.

The evils of 9/11, perpetrated and covered-up by government and corporate America is only one front in the war between good and evil. The 9/11 event was used as an excuse to go to war. This is a very lucrative war for the military-industrial complex. That same group also owns and operates the news and entertainment industries.

The events of 9/11 were also used as an excuse to shred the Constitution. This is an ongoing process which threatens to eliminate the founding document altogether.

Beyond 9/11 and its fallout, the government is conducting tests in the atmosphere that are detrimental to the health of its citizens. Chemtrails are a controversial subject. The typical contrails that jets leave high in the atmosphere have never lasted that long, until the 1990s. Chemical dumps of powdered aluminum, barium and other substances last far longer. One environmental specialist formerly with the Air Force, Kristen Meghan, has blown the whistle on the military stockpiling of these substances and loading them onto planes for unspecified (secret) missions.

If you pay attention only to the Military-Industrial-Complex-run Corporate Party Mainstream Media, then you’re not going to learn anything other than what they want you to know. Fair enough. So, it doesn’t take much intelligence to figure out that you need to get your information from elsewhere. Oh, but those clever Corporate Party thugs have poisoned the well. They’ve done this by insinuating that any other source is full of “conspiracy theories.” Oooo-o-o! Scary! As if there have never been any legitimate conspiracies in the history of humanity. Good luck with that delusion. But it seems to be working. Most Americans seem to be sheep, sound asleep. (So, wake up, if you haven’t already.)

Globalists (Rockefellers, Rothschilds and their ilk) would love nothing better than to have every government in the world pay Trillions of dollars in carbon taxes because of global warming. But oops! Global warming stopped 17 years ago. It has been cooling since then. So, they change the terminology to “climate change.” They try to ignore their misstep. They hope people don’t wake up to their international shell game.

NASA scientists are even in on this con job. Many former NASA scientists, astronauts and engineers decried the agency’s unscientific support of man-made climate change. But those who still work for the agency, work for a now increasingly corrupt government. Selfishness keeps them dishonest. If they want to keep their high-paying jobs, they have to lie to the government propaganda tune.

The Primary Factor in Discovery is Not Intelligence

Intelligence to launch rockets.

Intelligence to launch a rocket into space isn’t all there is to the subject. Ares I-X launch 15. Photo: NASA

Humility is the key to discovery. You have to be ready to receive answers. The selfishness of wanting to keep a corrupt job blinds scientists, engineers and administrators to the damage they’re helping to create. Intentional blindness, including normalcy bias, help to cover up crimes and lies.

Intelligence is a good tool. But like any tool, it can be misused, abused and even dulled into unusability. Space travel implemented on a corrupt foundation of lies and selfishness can only harm the universe around us. No thanks!

As much as I love space travel, humanity doesn’t deserve it—yet. As long as there is ego (the heart of selfishness), humanity will never have enough intelligence to overcome the inevitable corruption.

A very wise man once said that the “first” (egotistical) shall be last (left out in the cold). He also said that the “last” (humble) shall be first (given every reward possible).

What are your thoughts on how we can instill more humility in humanity? Where is a good place to start?

The Star Nearest Earth — Alpha Centauri has a Planet

The Star Nearest Earth: night sky view of Alpha, Beta and Proxima Centauri

A photograph of the night sky showing Alpha Centauri A&B (top left), Beta Centauri (mid-right), and Proxima Centauri (within red circle). Photo: Skatebiker (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikipedia.org.

The star nearest Earth? Alpha Centauri? I can hear it now. Someone is getting “literal” on me and declaring that the star “nearest” Earth is our own sun. Okay, they’re right, but only in one sense. Our sun is literally a star, certainly. But in the vernacular, “star” usually refers to those tiny points of light in the night sky—not the daytime. So, even though the star nearest to the Earth is our sun, literally, it is not so in the everyday sense of common language.

Other purists will likely complain that Proxima Centauri is closer than “Alpha Centauri.” They would also be right, but only in a sense. Proxima is not a star that we can see in the night sky. Okay, I’m quibbling. But Proxima is also a part of the Alpha Centauri system. So, you see, in one sense Alpha Centauri really is the star nearest Earth. And it’s actually 3 stars.

The Star Nearest Earth: artist rendition of new Alpha Centauri planet

Artist’s rendition of the Alpha Centauri system with the newly discovered planet. In the background is our own sun as a bright star in their night sky. Image: ESO, L. Calçada, N. Risinger (CC BY 3.0), via planetary.org

The star nearest Earth now has a known planet

The Star Nearest Earth: photo of Alpha Centauri

Photograph of Alpha Centauri with more distant stars of the Milky Way in the background. The one glaring dot holds both Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B. Photo: ESO (CC BY 3.0), via Wikipedia.org.

October 17, 2012, NASA announced the discovery of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, the second brightest star in the trinary (ternary or 3-component) system. In that announcement, they congratulated the European Southern Observatory (ESO) team (Xavier Dumusque, et al) for their discovery.

That world is far too near to its sun to allow life as we know it, but the mass of that world is close to that of our own home planet. We don’t know the exact mass, because we don’t know the tilt of the planet’s orbit. But the minimum mass is approximately 1.13 ± 0.09 times the mass of Earth. If the orbit is perfectly edge-on, then this minimum mass would be the actual mass. The greater the orbital tilt, the greater the actual mass.

The Star Nearest Earth: Earth from above Pacific Ocean

The dream of finding an Earth-like world orbiting the star nearest Earth is a strong one. Will it look like this? Earth above the Pacific Ocean. Photo: NASA.

But the orbital period of this world is a brisk 3.24 days. That means that its year is less than half of our week. This also means that the planet is so close to its sun that it likely remains scorched on one side and frozen on the other. It is doubtful that it even has an atmosphere. The intense heat of being so close to its sun surely has stripped the world of any but the thinnest veil of gas.

And yet, if the mass is considerably more than that of Earth (high orbital tilt), then the planet might retain an atmosphere by the shear brute force of gravity. But the heat would still be unbearable. That heat would likely be transferred by winds all around the world, in a way much like that on Venus.

The prospect of finding other worlds in this nearest star to Earth

The Star Nearest Earth: will it have a world with jungles and mountains?

Jungles and mountains. Will our first Earth-like world have these? Photo: Micky07, licensed through Morguefile.com (62860).

Each of the 3 stars of Alpha Centauri might have planets. What interests us most are the brighter two. Proxima is little more than a hot planet itself, with violent flares from time-to-time.

Could an Earth-like world exist in the habitable zone. Could such a world remain unperturbed by the elliptical orbits of Alpha Centauri A and B about one another? The prospect is exciting. To find a world just like Earth in the star system next door is a dream come true for those of us who have had many dreams of such things. What would that world be like? Would it have jungles like our own world? Would it be completely desert? Or would it contain only oceans and perhaps a few islands?

Traveling to the star nearest Earth has long been a passion of mine. To see the worlds of that ancient star system would be like waking up at Christmas with lots of presents. And Alpha Centauri is indeed ancient—at least a billion years older than our star system. If it developed life and civilization on a timetable similar to that in our own system, its civilization would’ve been a billion years old when ours just started.

The star nearest Earth in 3D

The image, below, is from the “Stars in the NeighborHood” software.

The Star Nearest Earth: showing in software the location of Alpha Centauri

Screen shot of “Stars in the NeighborHood” software, showing the location of Alpha Centauri, on the left. The blue “Viewing Cube” (left) is represented as the blue wireframe within the “Locator Cube” (right). (Not full size)

The Viewing Cube on the left shows Alpha Centauri selected with the green “focus” marker. Just above the Alpha Centauri system, the similar yellow dot represents our own sun. The distance between them is a mere 1.33 parsecs (4.33 light years).

The Star Nearest Earth: Alpha Centauri in "Stars in the Hood" sky view

This “Stars in the Hood” sky view shows alternately the natural view and distance view. Here, Beta Centauri has the green “focus” marker.
(Not full size)

On the right in the screen shot above, the Locator Cube shows the blue Viewing Cube’s location within our galactic vicinity. The yellow dot within marks the position of our sun.

To the right, this second screen shot (from “Stars in the Hood” software) shows alternately the night sky looking toward Alpha and Beta Centauri and the “Distance View” of the same portion of sky.

Here, the more distant, Beta Centauri is selected with the green “focus” marker. Alpha Centauri is just to the left. In the “Distance View,” the size of the stars is an indication of how far away they are.

As you can see, the star nearest Earth, Alpha Centauri, is very large (close) while Beta Centauri is very small (distant). This is despite the fact that they appear to have very similar brightness in our night sky.

Below, the software image shows the location of Beta Centauri. This is nowhere near our own Solar neighborhood. This brings into sharp contrast the closeness of Alpha Centauri—the star nearest Earth.

In all of our gargantuan galaxy, the relatively tiny distance to Alpha Centauri seems small indeed. It’s somewhat comforting to know that there are planets next door.

For more details, check out the Alpha Centauri Stellar Closeup.

What if we someday find a planet like our own in our next-door neighbor system? What are your thoughts on finding an Earth-like planet so close?

The Star Nearest Earth: software focus on Beta Centauri

This software view of Beta Centauri shows that, even though Alpha and Beta are near each other in the sky, and nearly the same brightness, they are separated by a great distance. The blue wireframe cube on the right is centered on the location of Beta Centauri, far from our sun.
(Not full size)

Closest Planets and Guide to Our Corner of the Galaxy

Like the closest planets, this island of the Caribbean sits amongst many neighbors (Grenada Island, West Indies)

Like the closest planets, this island of the Caribbean sits amongst many neighbors. Grenada Island, West Indies (Caribbean). Photo by Varun Kapoor (CC BY 3.0), via Wikipedia.org.

I’ve long had a fantasy of hopping the closest planets, like pirates hopped the islands of the Caribbean centuries ago. That dream started more than a year before Sputnik.

Nearly ten years ago, I wrote 3D astronomy space software, Stars in the NeighborHood. Back then, it was merely a passion, and that’s not a bad thing. The idea was to see if there were any tight clusters of stars with nearby planets making such world hopping easy.

This article is a “biased” review of this software. Why biased? Simple. I wrote the software (programmed it, wrote the text and help files, and did the artwork).

Since moving overseas, I’ve had more time to promote the software and sales are picking up. Maybe I’ll never get rich with the software sales, but sharing these stunning views of our universe is a reward all by itself. Not only does the software show the location of the closest planets in other star systems, it shows what the night skies look like from those alien worlds.

I’ve added YouTube videos to my space software website, to help visitors get a better idea what the software is like in action. And I guess it’s the science geek in me—or perhaps the adventurer—but I still get a kick out of exploring our neck of the galactic woods with Stars in the Hood. A simple click and drag of the mouse turns countless trillions of cubic miles of space, letting you see our neighborhood of stars in colorful 3D.

The Closest Planets and Stars

Looking at our night sky, it’s hard for some to get the sense of depth of space. With Stars in the NeighborHood, you can open up the “sky view map,” click on a star, and in the “viewing cube,” see which stars are really close to the one you’ve selected out of our night sky. But that’s not all. Right in the “sky map closeup,” you can select the “distance” viewing mode and instantly all of the stars are varying sizes representing distance instead of brightness.

Closest stars are larger in Distance Viewing Mode

Closest stars are larger in the Distance Viewing Mode. The large red star is Proxima Centauri as seen from Alpha Centauri. The largest, pale green star is Sirius. Behind Sirius, the tiny (distant) stars make up the constellation of Orion.

This “distance viewing mode” allows you to tell at a glance which stars are close and which are far away. Why is this an issue? Without such a tool, you can’t tell which stars are close and which are far away, because individual stars are not all the same brightness. The closest star, Proxima Centauri, is too dim to see without a powerful telescope. Rigel (Beta Orionis), on the other hand, is one of the brighter stars in our night sky, but it stands an estimated 870 light years away. In fact, Rigel can be seen throughout most of this half of the galaxy.

The “Star” of the Movie

Click another checkbox, “Show Alien Skies,” and the “sky map” shows not our own night sky views, but those of the star you’ve selected. Looking at those alien skies gives me the thrill of actually being there—having traveled through space to a new star system. Even for nearby Alpha Centauri (our next-door neighbor, and “star” of the James Cameron movie, Avatar), there are interesting differences in otherwise familiar constellations.

Alien Sky View: what it might look like from one of the closest planets in the Proxima Centauri system.

Alien Sky View: what it might look like from one of the closest planets in the Proxima Centauri system, looking at nearby Alpha Centauri (Sky Map Closeup, on the right). The orange star below is first magnitude, Antares. The Viewing Cube (left) shows Proxima Centauri (with green focus marker), nearby Alpha Centauri, and our Solar system far above.

Below our own sun in the “viewing cube,” the brighter star, Delta Pavonis, is famous in the fictional realm of Frank Herbert’s award-winning work, Dune—the sun of planet Caladan, long held by the family Atriedes. In the galactic “locator cube,” you can see that the sun of Arrakis, Canopus, is just outside the Solar neighborhood. With the XYZ controls, you can scroll down and over to it to get a closer look in the “viewing cube.”

Many Ways to View Our Galactic Neighborhood

For any interesting stars you find, you can add a color tag, visible in the “viewing cube,” and you can even add notes on your thoughts and observations.

The galactic “locator cube” also helps you home in on some of the nearby star clusters like, Ursa Major (the “Big Dipper”), the Hyades and the Pleiades (in Taurus), the Coma (Coma Berenices), and the Praesepe or “Beehive” (in Cancer and “twin” to the Hyades).

Closest planets outside the Solar system as shown in Stars in the Hood software

Closest planets outside the Solar system as shown in Stars in the Hood software. In the Viewing Cube (left), the red ellipses indicate stars with known planets near Earth. The green focus marker shows the location of our sun and Earth. The Locator Cube (right) shows the location and size of the Viewing Cube within our galactic vicinity.

Perhaps my favorite part of the software is the “Zoom Out Universe” feature. This allows you to zoom out from Earth all the way to the scale of the local group of galaxies. Go to zoom level 3 (the 1,000 parsec scale), and you see how the Solar neighborhood “viewing cube” and galactic vicinity “locator cube” relate to the disk of the Milky Way galaxy (our home city of stars). Be sure and turn on the “Increase Visibility” checkbox to get a clearer view of all those stars! Some of the more famous stars, like Rigel, Betelgeuse, Antares and Polaris, are outside the Solar vicinity, and this lets you see just where they are in 3D space.

There’s a free gift that comes with the software that helps you understand what you’re looking at. This “Space Poster Guidebook” not only gives you labeled views of the software, but full-color space art of alien worlds.

If you have a chance to stop by www.SpaceSoftware.Net, let me know what you think. And if you happen to purchase the software, I’d like to know what you think of that, too. User comments have helped to make the software better and better.

What are your dreams about space? What excites you when you look up at the night sky?

“Closest Planets” Originally published as “Guide to Our Corner of the Galaxy,” 2010:0405–19:27:43 at blog.ancientsuns.com

Space the Final Frontier — Rebirth of a Blog

Space the Final Frontier: Real space shuttle Enterprise with TV crew of fictional Starship Enterprise

Space the Final Frontier: Real space shuttle Enterprise with TV crew of the fictional Starship Enterprise. Photo courtesy NASA (PD), via Wikipedia.org.

When I first heard the words, “space the final frontier,” I felt right at home. For the last 58 years, I’ve been contemplating the stars and their planets. I dreamed of being an astronaut before Sputnik. Yes, I was even a Star Trek junkie during the original series on television.

As an artist, I painted what I called “spacescapes.” These once illustrated the halls of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. I’ve even held one-person art shows at places like the Bonaventure, downtown. My art even graced the silver screen. This allowed me to work with a number of celebrities. This included two-time Academy Award winning designer, Saul Bass.  I also worked with world renowned writer, Ray Bradbury, and Star Wars special effects wizard, George Mather.

I went on to write my own 3D astronomy space software, “Stars in the NeighborHood.” As a writer, I co-authored with John Dalmas, Touch the Stars: Emergence, published by Tor Books, New York. Recently, I expanded and republished, available as a Kindle e-book on Amazon.

I had lived and breathed “space the final frontier” in my art, my software creations and in my writing.

New Direction for the Blog Based on “Space the Final Frontier”

When I originally created this blog, I opened it up for anything in the universe. I wrote a dozen articles and then moved the blog to a new web host. Something broke in the move and I never got around to fixing it.

But now, I’ve decided to dedicate this blog to space: astronomy, planets, space travel, science and related topics. This blog will now emphasize “space the final frontier.”

All other subjects are being moved to other blogs. If you’ve read any of the older articles here, you will soon be able to find them in their respective new homes:

In the meantime, I will be carving out a new niche, here. The focus will be on stars, planets and all that fun stuff out there—space the final frontier.

As always, I’m open to suggestions. What would you like to talk about?