Celestial movement

I’ve been meaning to write a short piece about something I noticed while watching the recent lunar eclipse, but I wanted to wait until the furor of eclipse pics died down.

Where I live, the eclipse was already under way when the Moon rose. I also have a small mountain between me and the eastern horizon, so there was a pretty big bite missing by the time I saw it. I pointed my little telescope at it, and the family took turns at the eyepiece. Every so often, I would tilt the telescope farther up to compensate for the Moon’s movement across the sky as we rotated beneath it.

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Back cover text

One day, in the near future, children will be born on Mars. The environment they grow up in will be very different from yours. And yet, they will still be human children, just like you. They will have dreams and worries, just like you. They will go to school; they will play; they will cry; they will laugh: in so many ways just like you.

But their sky won’t be blue. They will never see an ocean. They will never go to an amusement park or go camping in a forest. They will never hear the sound of rain.

Instead, their sunsets will be blue. They will see the tallest volcano and the deepest canyon in the solar system. They will ride in rovers and rockets, and this will be normal for them. They will walk through rocky red landscapes that haven’t changed for billions of years. They will see, and be part of, the development of an entirely new branch of human existence.

And, once in a while, they will look up at a particularly blue evening star in the sky and know that on that planet so far away, there are billions of children, just like themselves, some of whom might, at that same instant, be looking up at a particularly red star in the sky.

Which will they call home?


illustration by Luis Peres (work in progress)

Whither terraforming?

Humans love the idea of a rebel. But only the idea. Take action too far outside the box of current experience and you begin to hear the Greek Chorus of naysayers heckling you, gleefully glomming onto anything that might pull you back within accepted norms.

Such has been the case recently regarding a paper in the journal Nature Astronomy, which reported that there does not appear to be enough CO2 on Mars to allow for terraforming. I can’t count the number of articles that have floated through my various feeds starting with the mocking phrase “Sorry Elon…” Google it yourself and see what I mean.

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At first, the moons of Mars seem somewhat underwhelming as moons go. Small and misshapen, they don’t seem worth our attention. Still, since humans will one day look up at them and call them their own, maybe we should take a closer look at what that view will be like. We might find that they are more interesting than we expect. Continue reading “Moons”

Hohmann Orbits and Sports Cars

I want to make this clear: SpaceX is not putting a Tesla into orbit around Mars. Not only would that be illegal by international treaty, but it would be technically impossible with the technology SpaceX currently possesses. What SpaceX is doing is putting a Tesla into a Hohmann Transfer Orbit between Earth and Mars that is very similar to the one we will likely use to get humans to that planet. Continue reading “Hohmann Orbits and Sports Cars”

The Color of the Sky

The color of the sky plays a central role in the first book of the series. This makes it important that I get it right. This it not as easy as one might expect. Obviously, no human eye has seen the Martian sky. We have imagery from our robotic probes on the surface. But what a camera sees is not what a human perceives. The truth is that we do not currently know what the Martian sky will look like to a person standing on the surface. We can, however, make an educated guess. Continue reading “The Color of the Sky”

Making oxygen

There is plenty of oxygen on Mars, just not in the nice O2 form that we need to breathe. Getting that requires some effort but will be worth it: oxygen is not the sort of thing we want to have to haul with us from Earth, particularly not for long-term colonization. The buzzphrase applied to technology that uses existing resources is In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), and this is what we are going to do, in one form or another. Continue reading “Making oxygen”