The Moon’s Black Eyes

Marianne Dyson, November 2016

The November full Moon is super-sized! Of course the Moon is not actually changing size: it only appears about 14 percent larger (and 30 percent brighter) because it is closer to Earth. Though the Moon passes this close (called perigee) every month, it doesn’t usually happen when the Moon is full. This alignment won’t happen again until 2034.  

While viewing the super Moon, notice that the “eyes” of the “man in the Moon” are black. Was the Moon in a fight at school? No, but it did get pretty banged up in its youth. This month’s science snack is about the science behind those black eyes.

The best time for Americans to see the super Moon is Monday morning about two hours before sunrise. If you’re not up that early, look east on Sunday or Monday night just after sunset. Connect the six dots of the Apollo landing sites to make a letter “N” for nose using my Animated Moon Map. Image from Inconstant Moon, John Walker, May 1997.
The best time for Americans to see the super Moon is Monday morning (Nov. 14)  about two hours before sunrise. If you’re not up that early, look east on Sunday or Monday night just after sunset. Connect the six dots of the Apollo landing sites to make a letter “N” for nose using my Animated Moon Map. Image from Inconstant Moon, John Walker, May 1997.

Let There Be White

Cooks know that heavier items in soups sink to the bottom of the pan, while bubbles of gas rise and escape as steam. This separation also occurs when planets form. Thus iron, which is the heaviest of the top five most abundant elements (oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium) on Earth, sunk to the hot core. Lightweight oxygen and silicon rose to the surface, combined into silicate rocks and formed a crust as Earth cooled.

Then along came the big bad Giant (impact) that formed the Moon. A bully a third to half the size of the juvenile Earth, struck Earth off center and left the world spinning. The Earth gobbled up most of giant, but spit a huge gob of molten mantle into space, forming a ring around the planet. About half the ring fell back to Earth and the rest (minus the water and gases that steamed away) collected into a ball that became the Moon.

The iron in the infant Moon sunk toward its core. Lightweight elements floated to the surface and cooled. Oxygen combined with silicon, aluminum, potassium, calcium, and sodium formed into silicate minerals such as quartz and feldspar that are basically white like beach sand. 

So the baby Moon had a smooth white face. 

Let There Be Dark

But the early solar system was a tough neighborhood. There was a lot of rock throwing going on. The Moon got pounded. The left (Sea of Rains) and right (Sea of Serenity) “eyes” were two of the biggest hits. An even bigger bruise on the far side (South Pole Aitkin Basin) raised rings of mountains higher than Mt. Everest.  

These impacts left deep craters and created shallow places in the crust. As the Moon’s gravity pulled it into a smaller ball, it wrinkled and cracked. Pressure pushed hot lava up through these cracks to spew onto the surface between 4.2 and 1.2 billion years ago. This lava had the consistency of motor oil. It flowed on top of the white “skin” and pooled in the low places formed by the impacts.

Because the lava was from the “bottom of the pan,” it contained iron which is black. These black pools of lava cooled and became the seas that make the “eyes” and other dark areas of the Moon.  

The Moon continued to be pummeled. Effects of unfiltered sunlight and impacts that kicked up dark dust turned all the white areas to gray. Some impacts punched through the layer of black lava to the original white surface underneath, shooting white rays across the surface. An example is Copernicus, a white-rayed crater below the Moon’s left eye (it makes a triangle with the Apollo 12 and 14 landing sites). Tycho’s rays are harder to see because they are white on gray. They show up best during a full Moon—especially a Super Moon!  

All the mountains on the Moon are rounded like Mt. Hadley (from Apollo 15) because they are buried under fallout kicked up by eons of impacts. Astronauts reported the upper layer of dust was as fine as flour and slippery enough to ski on. NASA image.
All the mountains on the Moon are rounded like Mt. Hadley (from Apollo 15) because they are buried under fallout kicked up by eons of impacts. Astronauts reported the upper layer of dust was as fine as flour and slippery enough to ski on. NASA image.

And call it… Super!

So the “eyes” of the Moon are black because they contain a lot of iron. The highlands are light because they contain a lot of feldspar, which is basically white.

The blackest of the Apollo landing sites is Apollo 15’s between the “eyes.” Rocks collected there averaged almost 20 percent iron. The whitest landing site is Apollo 16’s in the highlands. Rocks collected there averaged only 5 percent iron. [Reference permanent.com] But under the of dust at Apollo 17’s site, Harrison Schmitt found the remains of a fire fountain that produced colored beads coated with rare volcanic gases. And they were orange. I call that pretty darn super!

Writing about Space

To learn more about the Moon’s formation and how future lunar pioneers can use its resources to live and work there, please get your kids a copy of my book, Home on the Moon: Living on a Space Frontier, published by National Geographic and winner of the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award.

Speaking about Space 

Watch my website Contact Page for appearance updates & Twitter for photos.

Monday, November 14, 2016, 4-5:30 PM Central Time live (and archived for listening any time after), interview on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston to discuss the 35th anniversary of STS-2’s landing, experiences as one of the first female flight controllers, and current efforts to encourage young people to consider STEM careers.

January 13-14, 2017, speaking at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at Rice University.

The (Soft) Power of Space Policy

Marianne Dyson, October 2016

On October 3, I attended “Lost in Space: 2016” at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The program brought together seven space policy experts (see photo) who reviewed the status of NASA and offered their advice to the next Administration regarding the Agency’s future.

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Rice University’s Baker Institute hosted “Lost in Space: 2016” with space policy experts, L to R: George Abbey (moderator), Mark Albrecht, Leroy Chiao, Joan Johnson-Freese, Neal Lane, Michael Lembeck, Eugene Levy, John Logsdon. Photo by Marianne Dyson, 10-3-16.

The panelists agreed that the space program is inexorably tied in with our nation’s perception of itself and its reputation as a world leader. Several panelists stressed the benefits of exercising soft power (the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion) to reduce tensions and increase the security of the United States, specifically by cooperating in space with China.

Former astronaut Leroy Chiao noted that cooperating with Russia has not caused the security or technical transfer issues that people feared which should qualm fears of similar cooperation with China. Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College added that cooperating with China on the civilian side makes strategic sense through reducing tensions on the military side.

This discussion naturally begs the question of what space project might be selected by the next Administration that would exercise soft power and appeal to the international community?

My answer is: A Night’s Watch Telescope on the Moon!

Why a telescope? We’ve been lucky so far, but it only takes one asteroid to wipe out civilization. Even a small strike on a major city could cost tens of billions of dollars. Obviously, preventing a global catastrophe is far cheaper than dealing with the aftermath (assuming we survive!). But establishing a “Night’s Watch” (ala “Game of Thrones”) on the Far Side of the Moon may not only prevent catastrophe, but reap immediate soft power benefits as well as scientific discoveries and the first steps to human space settlement.

What I call the Night’s Watch Station and Telescope Array offers a clearly defined mission and use for the Space Launch System and Orion while providing opportunity to other nations to supply landers, modules, telescope arrays and computing facilities, rovers, crew, and scientific experiments. The lunar outpost and array could be assembled using a combination of human and robotic missions. Remote placement or operation of surface equipment might be conducted from Orion (or Soyuz? or Shenzou?) capsules in lunar orbit, good practice, technically and politically, for establishing a first base on Mars.

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Artist’s concept of radio telescope array being emplaced by human-controlled rover on the far side of the Moon. “How Robots Could Build a Radio Telescope on the Moon,” by Leonard David. Image by Joseph Lazio/JPL.

While building the telescope, scientists will have the opportunity to obtain samples and study the Moon’s far side mysteries up close. With the incentive of reducing logistical costs, engineers will develop ways to extract oxygen, water, and minerals from lunar soil. This capability will allow asteroid threats to be turned into resources—and help us prepare to live on Mars. Incrementally, a human-tended presence may become a permanent research base and testbed.

This project also offers a smooth transition and opportunity for growth to the nascent private space industry that has little time to establish its customer base between now and when the ISS is retired. If we lose the capability to launch crew and cargo into space again, who will save us when the asteroid looms?

Spinoffs in new technologies, astronomical discoveries that could rewrite our understanding of the universe, and savings in security costs by exercising soft power leadership, could payback much of the government’s investment in a Night’s Watch project. And saving the planet from an asteroid strike is, of course, priceless.

So, what’s next for NASA? Could it be the “sword in the darkness… that guards the realms of men”? If you like this idea, please share a link to my website blog page or invite me to come talk to your club, school, or library. To the stars!

Writing about Space

October 18-December 13, 4:30-5:30 PM, teaching an after-school 8-week course called “Write Now!” for ages 10 and up (parents and adults welcome). Through a series of exercises and critiques, students will learn how to craft a story and pursue publication. Course meets at St. Thomas the Apostle episcopal school in Nassau Bay. To register, contact the school and ask for the Enrichment Coordinator. Cost is $200.

Speaking about Space

Second Mondays. Houston Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers Meetup.

Fourth Tuesdays, 6:30 PM, The Black Labrador on Montrose (at Richmond), Houston Writers House.

Fourth Thursdays, 7 PM, Clear Lake Park, Bay Area Writers League (BAWL) monthly meeting.

Wednesday, October 19, presenting “Get READ-y for space?!” at Harvard Elementary School’s Literacy Night. Students will learn what it feels like to go into space and check out a scale model of the International Space Station.

Monday, November 14, 2016, 4-5:30 PM Central Time (and archived for viewing later). Guest on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston to discuss the 35th anniversary of STS-2’s landing, experiences as one of the first female flight controllers, and current efforts to encourage young people to consider STEM careers.

Night Sky on Mars

Marianne Dyson, September 2016

My Night Sky Observing at the Worldcon in Kansas City was rained out. I hope some of you had clear skies and observed Saturn, Mars, and Antares aligned in Scorpio (which is now a triangle), and used my Animated Moon Map to find the Apollo sites.

This month the autumnal equinox falls on September 22, and that got me wondering about what season it is on Mars, and what I might take people to see if I did a Night Sky program there. My brain liked this exercise, so I thought I’d share this “snack” with you.

An equinox is when the sun’s path crosses a planet’s equatorial plane. On the equinox, day and night are equal lengths. Like Earth, Mars is “tipped” on its axis, so it too has equinoxes. But because the north pole of Mars points to a different part of the sky, and the inclination is 25 (versus Earth’s 23.5) degrees, the constellations we associate with spring and fall equinoxes are different on Mars.

Polaris is our north star because it is “above” the spin axis of Earth. All the other stars (and their constellations) appear to rotate around it in a big circle every 24 hours.

The Martian north pole points to a spot without any bright star about 28 degrees from Polaris in the direction of Capricorn (RA 20.5 hours). This pole is about halfway between Alderamin in Cepheus and Deneb in Cygnus a.k.a. the Northern Cross. (Reference: Byrd, Deborah, “Does Mars have a North Star,” EarthSky, 6-16-16) Since Cepheus and Cygnus are on opposite sides of the pole, and rotate around it every Martian sol (24 hours 39 minutes), they can be used to tell time and month on Mars like the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia on Earth.

Mars does not have a pole star. But Deneb and Sadr in constellation Cygnus, can be used as “pointer” stars to locate the pole in the direction of Alderamin in Cepheus. The constellations Cepheus and Cygnus rotate around the pole and can be used like a clock to tell time.
Mars does not have a pole star. But Deneb and Sadr in constellation Cygnus, can be used as “pointer” stars to locate the pole in the direction of Alderamin in Cepheus. The constellations Cepheus and Cygnus rotate around the pole and can be used like a clock to tell time. (Image by Tomruen via Wikimedia Commons with labels modified by Marianne Dyson)

Equinoxes occur twice a year as the sun passes north (spring), then south (fall), of the equator. On Mars they are the first sol of Months 1 and 7 of a 12-month year where a month is the time it takes Mars to pass through 30 degrees of its orbit. Because the orbit is elliptical, instead of each month being 56 sols (668 sols /year divided by 12), the northern fall and winter months average 50 days and the spring and summer months last about 62 days.

The months of fall (gray) and winter (red) are shorter than the months of spring (green) and summer (orange) because Mars moves faster at perihelion than aphelion. (Image from Kuuke’s Strerrenbeelden.)
The months of fall (gray) and winter (red) are shorter than the months of spring (green) and summer (orange) because Mars moves faster at perihelion than aphelion. (Image from Kuuke’s Strerrenbeelden.)

The Martian fall equinox was July 4, 2016. Fall lasts until the winter solstice which is November 28 on Mars and December 21 on Earth. So this October, it will be fall on both Earth and Mars. We will be admiring Cassiopeia (the “W”) and Cepheus to the north, Cygnus overhead, and Perseus (the square) to the south.

For the Martians, the sun is moving toward Leo and then into Virgo at their winter solstice. Cassiopeia and Cygnus are high up for them, too. But because their pole is shifted toward Capricorn, they also have a good view of the Sagittarius teapot and should also see some of Earth’s southern hemisphere constellations, Indus and Piscus Austrinus.  

Like us, Martians will see Venus as an evening star in October, while Earth and the Moon will be visible in the morning. And the Milky Way should be spectacular without any light pollution or buildings to spoil the view. It will also look different because the atmosphere of Mars is too thin to make stars twinkle. 

If we had the Worldcon on Mars, we’d never have to cancel because of rain. I’ll volunteer to do Night Sky Observing, and then lead a discussion about why we should build a Martian Stonehenge to help us view the vernal equinox in Mars Year 42 (Earth date 5-22-32). I hope you’ll join me!

Writing about Space

I’m teaching short story writing in an after-school enrichment program at St. Thomas the Apostle school in Nassau Bay (across from JSC) that may be expanded to include members of the community if there is interest. If your student in 4th grade and up likes creating stories, and would like a published mentor to help them develop their skills, please call the St. Thomas and ask for the Director of Enrichment.

I offer technical and content editing for adult writers, as well as workshops for groups of five or more on writing memoirs and publishing them. See my Resources for Writers page for more information.

Speaking about Space

Watch my website Contact page for updates & Twitter for photos.

Monday, September 12, Houston Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers MeetUp.

Saturday, September 17, 6-9:30 pm. 35th Anniversary of STS-1 & 2 at Space Center Houston. (Tickets no longer available.)

Monday, November 14, 2016, 4-5:30 pm Central Time. I’ll be a guest on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston. Listen live & see list of upcoming shows

Terraforming Mars

Marianne Dyson,  August 2016

The 47th World Science Fiction Convention (where they give the Hugo Awards) is in Kansas City, Missouri August 17-21. I’m moderating a panel called “The Real Martians” on Friday at 4 pm. One of the topics we will address is terraforming Mars. Could we? Should we?

The term terraforming, which means to transform a world to support human life, was coined by science fiction writer Jack Williamson in 1942. According to BestScienceFictionBooks.com, the concept dates back to H.G. Wells’ 1898 book, The War of the Worlds, where the invading Martians planned to reverse-terraform (?marsaform) Earth.

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Caption: Red (1992), Green (1993), Blue Mars (1996) trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson is considered one of the best and most complete treatment of terraforming in fiction.

While the idea of terraforming Mars has been around a long time, only in recent decades have we obtained the knowledge and ability to actually try it. The answer to the “Could we?” question is a qualified “Yes.”

I say qualified because Mars will always be different from Earth in ways that aren’t feasible to change. Mars is smaller, farther from the sun, and lacks a magnetic field (which helps, but is not essential to protect Earth from radiation). So terraforming Mars really means changing the temperature and atmosphere to make living there easier.

The key to warming Mars is to thaw the carbon dioxide (dry ice) at the south pole. Unlike water ice, dry ice changes directly from a solid to a gas when heated.

Carbon dioxide absorbs heat from the sun that would otherwise be radiated back into space, like the glass of a greenhouse traps the warm air inside. The “greenhouse effect” of increased carbon dioxide will thus spur the thawing of more dry ice and water ice that is now frozen in the dirt. A thicker atmosphere would block radiation harmful to life and allow water to circulate. Some plants and animals could then survive on the surface in about 100 years, though there wouldn’t be enough oxygen for humans to breathe for a thousand years or more.

To thaw the south pole, more sunlight could be directed there via giant reflectors in orbit. Covering the white ice with black dust would increase absorption. If we need more gas to jumpstart greenhouse warming, we might divert some comets containing ammonia to Mars.

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Caption: To thaw the southern ice cap on Mars, we can blacken the ice and reflect sun from orbit. See for yourself: freeze two bottles of water. Wrap one with black paper and the other with white and sit both in the sun. Pour out and measure the water from each after 20 minutes—which one melted more? Use “mirrors” of aluminum foil (wrapped picture frames) to speed up melting. (Photo by Marianne Dyson)

The question of “Should we?” terraform Mars is addressed in a paper, “Planetary Ecosynthesis on Mars,” by NASA planetary scientist Chris McKay. He points out that even if we are successful, the same geologic processes that robbed Mars of its early atmosphere will do so again in 10 to 100 million years. So why bother?

McKay argues that warming Mars “could be of great utilitarian value for humans in terms of the knowledge derived ranging from basic biology to global ecology.” He also notes that any life on Mars today is at risk of extinction if we do NOT thicken the atmosphere.

I therefore answer the “Should we?” warm Mars with a “Yes.” Once we are on Mars, the expense to terraform will be minimal in comparison. And the knowledge gained by “controlling” another biosphere may be the ultimate space spinoff by showing us how to keep Earth habitable and also how to adapt to live elsewhere when the sun brightens and toasts the Earth in about 500 million years.

What do you think? Come and share your thoughts with “The Real Martians” at Worldcon!

Writing about Space

Bring your copy of Welcome to Mars or any of my other books to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) table in the Exhibit Hall at Worldcon on Friday, August 19 from 1-2 pm to get them signed or just to chat with me about space topics. I’m not allowed to sell books at the SFWA table, so order them ahead of time from Amazon or via my website.

Speaking about Space

Watch my website Contact page for updates & Twitter for photos.

August 17-21, MidAmeriCon II, the 74th Science Fiction Worldcon, Kansas City, MO. Friday: signing at the SFWA table in the Exhibit Hall, 1-2 pm. “The Real Martians” panel at is in room 2201 at 4 pm. At 9 pm, join me in room 2502B where we will gather to then go outside (weather permitting) for night sky observing (with my 70mm binoculars). Saturday I’ll be at the SFWA business meeting 10 to noon and volunteering in the SFWA suite 2-4 pm. Sunday I’m on the “Next Year at 100k” panel about commercial space at 11-am. My MidAmeriCon schedule.

(Not) Freezing in Space

July 2016

Author Marianne Dyson‘s Science Snacks Newsletter

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Caption: In March 1965, Russian Alexei Leonov (1934–) nearly died during the first ever spacewalk. (Image from “The Moon,” original Russian title ЛУНА, 1965)

(Not) Freezing in Space

A young man who attended my presentation “Your Future Space” at the Tyler Junior College Planetarium June 25 asked if astronauts are in danger of freezing during spacewalks.

The temperature in space is about 250 degrees F (121 C) in the sun, and about -250 degrees F (-157 C) in the “shade.” But the real danger of freezing is not from the cold. A body exposed to vacuum, in the sun or shade, will freeze-dry as all the air and liquids boil away.

However, astronauts are much more likely to overheat than freeze because spacesuits and space vehicles are insulated and sealed to prevent exposure to vacuum. (See NASA’s “Staying Cool on the ISS.”)

In fact, the first spacewalker, Russian Alexei Leonov, almost died of heatstroke. Like a sealed snack bag taken on up an airplane, his spacesuit ballooned out. Bending fingers, arms or legs against this pressure requires tremendous strength. Leonov had to release air from the suit to bend enough to get through the hatch and then close it.

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Caption: At 11.500 feet in our Cessna 182 (see altimeter), the air trapped in the potato chip bag expands outward because the air in the cockpit presses on the bag about 35 percent less than at sea level. This ballooning effect is even more pronounced in the vacuum of space. (Photo by Marianne Dyson.)

Leonov perspired so much that once on the ground, “his sweat was now sloshing around in the suit, up to his knees.” (See BBC’s “The First Spacewalk.”)

Modern-day spacesuits use a lower pressure and don’t balloon out as much as Leonov’s did, and they fit through the hatches just fine. But astronauts still work up a sweat. As Scott Parazynski noted in an interview, “It takes quite a bit of effort [to move] … When you’re moving a spacesuit that is fully loaded with tools, and your own personal bodyweight, and the things you have in your backpack, it’s about 630 pounds’ worth of mass.” (Gwynne Watkins, “An Astronaut Fact-checks Gravity.”)

To stay cool, spacewalkers wear special long underwear filled with about 300 feet (91 m) of water-filled tubes. Astronauts can stop the flow if they get too cold. (Space Station Science, page 81).

People and equipment produce a lot of waste heat that builds up inside spacecraft as well. To keep spacecraft from overheating, fans blow hot air over cold tubes of water in what is called a heat exchanger. The water tubes are then cooled by ammonia in another heat exchanger. (Because ammonia is toxic, heat is not transferred directly from the air to the ammonia.) The giant white radiator panels on the International Space Station are filled with tubes of ammonia that radiate their heat into space.

So though there is a danger of freezing in space because of the vacuum. But spacesuits and spacecraft are designed to keep the air, and astronauts, comfortably cool.

Writing about Space

My story, “Fireworks in Orbit,” is about what might have happened if the space shuttle’s cooling system failed during a spacewalk. Originally published in Analog, it is reprinted in Fly Me to the Moon and Other Stories, available via CreateSpace or as an eBook via Amazon. For autographed copies, visit my website or find me at one of the events below.

Speaking about Space

Look for me at the following events. Watch my website Contact page for updates & Twitter for photos.

Friday, July 15, 5 pm to closing. Signing A Passion for Space, Welcome to Mars, & Home on the Moon at Barnes & Noble Westheimer Crossing, 7626 Westheimer (Galleria), Houston, TX 77063.

August 17-21, MidAmeriCon II, the 74th Science Fiction Worldcon, Kansas City, MO. I’m moderating “The Real Martians” panel at 4 pm Friday.

Will Space Make You Sick?

June 2016

Author Marianne Dyson’s Science Snacks Newsletter

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My experience with space sickness is documented in Science Fiction versus the Real Thing: What I learned on NASA’s “Vomit Comet,” available from Amazon for $1.79.

Will Space Make You Sick?

Astronauts don’t like to talk about it. Space tourist companies downplay it if they mention it at all. But about half of all people who go into space throw up. Some remain nauseous for days. Senator Jake Garn famously was space sick during his entire space shuttle flight in 1985.

Why do even fighter pilots get space sick? The answer is in the official name: Space Adaptation Syndrome.

Though I haven’t (yet) been into space, I have been space sick compliments of NASA’s aircraft, the “Vomit Comet.” I can assure you it is aptly named!

In 1999, students from the University of Illinois asked me to write about their participation in a NASA program (which is no longer funded) for Ad Astra, the magazine of the National Space Society. I happily agreed, got my flight physical, attended classes, and then flew 42 parabolas with them.

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Caption: NASA’s “Vomit Comet” is like a roller coaster in the air, providing up to 25 seconds of freefall or acceleration equal to lunar or Martian gravity during each parabola.

When you go into freefall (see November 2015 Science Snacks for why I don’t say “zero g”), it’s like pushing on a door that suddenly opens. Blood and water go flying toward the head. Eyelids get puffy and noses get stuffy. The fluid in your inner ears, that tells your brain which way is down, floats. Yet your eyes still see the floor as down. This mismatch causes motion sickness in some people.

Also, the heart pumps blood “uphill” to the brain. Muscles in the blood vessels prevent the blood from falling back down too fast. When a person jumps off a high dive, or falls inside a spacecraft, the blood returning from the brain floats instead of falling. So like a bathtub with a small drain, blood accumulates in the head, putting pressure on the brain.

The brain quickly tries to reduce pressure by getting rid of water. Thus your body temperature rises and you break out in a sweat. You need to pee. And you might throw up. I sure did!

To feel the effects, stand up and bend over at the waist. Look at your face in a mirror. It will turn red, and your eyes will get squinty (but some wrinkles will disappear!). Your nose will feel stuffy (which is why astronauts sound like they have a cold and prefer spicy foods in space). You may start sweating (bend over to warm up if you’re ever chilly). After a few minutes, straighten up. As the blood rushes back down, you’ll feel lightheaded. This is how it feels to return from space (and why you might faint after landing).

Will you get space sick? Probably. But the good news is that repeat fliers report shorter adaptations. The brain “remembers” to ignore the ears. And most astronauts feel fine by the second day. This is why I’m not anxious to go on a suborbital flight, but I’d consider a two-week vacation in space, preferably including a swing around the Moon! And I’m not sorry I flew on the “Vomit Comet.” The sickness didn’t keep me from having fun testing my telekinetic “Jedi” powers on a floating Yoda! (Read the eBook to learn more.)

So this summer, if you want to prepare for your future flight into space, head for the high dive, the roller coasters, and maybe do some sky diving.

Writing about Space

Looking for some space-related nonfiction or science fiction to read this summer? Check out the hundreds of recommended books on National Space Society’s Reading Space. I’m happy to say that Trajectories, an anthology containing a new Mars story of mine, is included on the list. I hope you’ll check it out!

Speaking about Space

Look for me at the following events. Watch my website Contact page for updates & Twitter for photos.

Saturday, June 18, panels 1-2 pm (Business 101 for Writers) and 4-5 pm (Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Literature). Comicpalooza, GRB Convention Center, Houston.

Saturday, June 25, Mars talk & teacher workshops, Center for Earth and Space Science Education, Tyler Junior College.

August 17-21, MidAmeriCon II, the 74th Science Fiction Worldcon, Kansas City, MO.

Convincing the Skeptics

May 2016 Science Snacks

Author Marianne Dyson’s Science Snacks Newsletter

Howdy, and a special welcome to those of you who subscribed via the Rice/Ride Family STEM Festival, the Texas Library Association conference, or the Ohioana Book Festival in April. I hope you enjoy your first science “snack.”

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Caption: At the Ohioana Book Festival Panel on Nonfiction for Young Readers, all the authors agreed that it is critical to get experts to check the facts before publishing. Left to Right: Nancy Roe Pimm, Marianne Dyson (standing), Julie Rubini, Carmella Van Vleet, Kerrie Logan. Photo © Marianne Dyson.

Convincing the Skeptics

How might a future Martian prove to skeptics back on Earth that she is really on Mars?

This question is addressed in my story, “Dropping the Martian Ball” included in The Callahan Kids: Tales of Life on Mars anthology. The main character, eleven-year-old Mariah, is challenged by a “celebrity teen” on Earth to prove that her recording of a trip to visit the Viking 1 lander is not actually being faked from Utah.

Mariah performs a demonstration similar to the hammer and the feather drop done by the Apollo 15 astronauts (Scott and Irwin) on the Moon in 1971. Because gravity pulls on all objects equally, they fall at the same rate and impact the surface at the same time—unless there is a layer of air to slow them down, in which case the shape becomes very important! The Moon has no air, and so a feather and a hammer, or anything else dropped from the same height, fall and hit the dust at the same time. (Watch the Apollo video.)

Mariah drops a ball and feather and challenges someone to try this in Utah and compare their results.

Want to try it, but don’t have a feather? You can use paper to demonstrate air’s effects on falling objects. First, drop two sheets of paper, holding them horizontally. Observe how they flutter to the floor, arriving at the same time. Then crunch one up (changing its shape) and drop both sheets again. Guess which one hits the floor first?

Even though this demonstration proves that the shape/area and not the weight is what slows the feather, some people hold on to the misconception that heavier objects fall faster. To further convince them, drop two identical tubs with lids. Then place a heavy object like a battery in one while leaving the other empty. Drop both again. (Note that the more massive one impacts the surface with more force and may leave a dent because Force=Mass times Acceleration.)

Mariah uses the sublimation of water into the thin atmosphere as additional proof that she’s on Mars. Her brother shows how far he can hit a baseball in the lower gravity—with almost disastrous consequences. The different brightness/size of the sun, the lack of a global magnetic field, the curvature of the horizon, the change in temperature with height, or the passage from west to east of the moon Phobos might also have been used to demonstrate their presence on Mars.

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Get 10 percent off print copies of The Callahan Kids anthology containing my story “Dropping the Martian Ball,” using a code on www.mDyson.com/4mars.

As Mariah discovers, some people will never be convinced of the truth no matter what evidence is offered as proof. But you can decide for yourself what to believe by doing experiments, checking facts using multiple sources that include peer-reviewed references and bibliographies, and asking questions of experts associated with academic or government institutions.

So though Mariah’s story is fiction, I hope you’ll try her experiments on Earth so you’ll be ready to respond to the skeptics when you visit Viking on the real Chryse Planitia. Be sure to check for the letter “B” that Astronomer Carl Sagan noticed on a nearby rock. Do you think it was carved by aliens?

Writing about Space

As a special promotion for my recent appearances, Springer is offering a 20 percent discount on print (regular price $39.99) or eBook (regular price $29.99) copies of my memoir, A Passion for Space, until May 19. Go to the springer.com website page for the book and enter the following code: xykH7xQj9MGQTx5.

Speaking about Space

Look for me at the following events. Watch my website Contact page for updates.

Saturday, May 7, 6:30 pm. NASA Enthusiasts, Chelsea Wine Bar, 4106 Nasa Pkwy, El Lago, TX 77586. Free, open to public.

Friday, May 20, Author visit, Woodridge Forest Middle School, Porter, TX. Speaking to 8th graders about their Future Space.

Saturday, May 28. Speaking at Gulf Coast Mensa Regional Gathering, Crowne Plaza Northwest-Brookhollow, 12801 Northwest Freeway, Houston. Open to public.

Saturday, June 18, panels 10-11 am and 1-2 pm. Comicpalooza, GRB Convention Center, Houston.

Saturday, June 25, Mars talk & teacher workshops, Center for Earth and Space Science Education, Tyler Junior College.

STS-1 Mission Control

April 2016

Author Marianne Dyson’s Science Snacks Newsletter

Hello, and a special welcome to those of you who subscribed after my visits to the University of Florida’s Society of Women Engineers in Gainesville and the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas in March. This month’s science “snack” celebrates the 35th anniversary of the first Space Shuttle flight.

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Caption: New Women Flight Controllers exhibit at the International Women in Aviation and Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, includes my donated STS-1 FAO console copies of Ascent and Entry Checklists, my pink STS-1 badge, and a copy of my memoir, A Passion for Space, that details early shuttle flight operations. Thanks to Museum Board Member Marcy Frumker and Executive Director Heather Alexander for creating this exhibit to help inspire the next generation of flight controllers. Photo by IWASM, 2016.

STS-1 Mission Control

April 12, 2016 is the 35th anniversary of the first Space Shuttle launch. My husband (Thor) and I were privileged to be part of the Mission Control team at Johnson Space Center. Thor, training to become a Guidance Officer, served as Winds. I was Timeline, training to become a Flight Activities Officer. What was it like to be flight controllers?

My memoir, A Passion for Space, has a detailed account, but the short answer is, “Cool!” For a pair of physicists who like solving mysteries and learning new things, it was the best job in the world.

A favorite memory from STS-1 was the first TV download of the payload bay. Violent shaking during launch had dislodged wayward bolts and washers that floated out. (Remember from my November 2015 Science Snacks: things float in space because of freefall, not because there isn’t any gravity!) Also visible were dark areas on the engine pods where thermal tiles had shaken off.

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Caption: The first television broadcast from the Space Shuttle (during its second orbit) showed a majestic view of Earth from space after the successful launch and opening of the payload bay doors, but also the dark squares of tiles missing off the orbital maneuvering pods on either side of the tail. (White dot is reflection in window.) NASA image, 1981.

I reacted to this transmission in typical flight controller fashion, with both awe and concern. Awe that the world’s first winged spaceship and its crew (John Young and Robert Crippen) had survived a never-before-tested launch on top of a giant fuel tank with boosters strapped to either side, and then proceeded to successfully open its ungainly doors to provide cooling and access to space. Amazing!

The concern was for what we didn’t know. The missing tiles were not in a critical area, but as we’d learn tragically in 2003, a hole in the wings or underside could cause Columbia to burn up during entry.

We didn’t yet have an arm to peer over the side, so management worked with the military to scan the underbelly of the orbiter. Flight controllers helped determine timing to get the lighting, orientation, and ground track just right for telescopes. Unfortunately, clouds interfered with data collection.

Thus flight controllers anxiously watched for signs of equipment overheating during the entry on April 14, 1981. With no relay satellites (first deployed on STS-6 in 1983), they endured 20 minutes of communications blackout during entry through the upper atmosphere.

We all breathed a sigh of relief when data resumed and showed them “perfectly nominal.” Young and Crippen landed safely in California. They returned to Houston later that day, and Thor and I joined the crowd to welcome our heroes home.

To learn more about the historic Space Shuttle Program, I encourage you to read books and visit exhibits at museums and NASA centers. (Or ask me questions at one of the events below!) And if you like solving mysteries and learning new things, you might try becoming a flight controller. It’s definitely a cool job!

Writing about Space

The anthology, Trajectories that contains my story, “The Breath of Mars” is now available. If you order after using the link from my website, I get a credit from Amazon and you get a big THANK YOU!

Speaking about Space

Look for me at the following events. Watch my website Contact page for updates.

Saturday, April 9, 11 am to 4:15 pm. Selling/signing books at Reach for the Stars STEM Festival, Rice University. Free, but preregistration required.

April 19-20. Staffing booth #2242 “Houston Authors,” Texas Library Association Annual Conference, GRB Convention Center, Houston.

Saturday, April 23, 10 am to 4:30 pm, Festival Author signing at Table 56 in Ballroom, panel on NF at 12:45 Room B, Ohioana Book Festival, Columbus, Ohio.

Saturday, May 7, 6:30 pm. NASA Enthusiasts, Chelsea Wine Bar, 4106 Nasa Pkwy, El Lago, TX 77586. Free, open to public.

Friday, May 20, Author visit, Woodridge Forest Middle School, Porter, TX. Speaking to 8th graders about their Future Space.

Saturday, May 28. Speaking at Gulf Coast Mensa Regional Gathering, Crowne Plaza Northwest-Brookhollow, 12801 Northwest Freeway, Houston. Open to public.

Saturday, June 18, panels 10-11 am and 1-2 pm. Comicpalooza, GRB Convention Center, Houston.

Saturday, June 25, Mars talk & teacher workshops, Center for Earth and Space Science Education, Tyler Junior College.

The Gravity Question

March 2016

Author Marianne Dyson’s Science Snacks Newsletter

Hello, and a special welcome to those of you who subscribed after my visits to NASA Glenn’s AIAA section and the International Women in Aviation & Space Museum in Ohio in February. I look forward to sharing space stories with you, and seeing some of you again at upcoming appearances (listed below). I hope your brain enjoys its science “snack” this month!

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Caption: I played Tour Guide for the American Engineering Geologists’ visit to Space Center Houston February 13.

The Gravity Question

Later this month, I’ll be doing the activity on pages 60-61 in Welcome to Mars (coauthored with Buzz Aldrin) comparing Earth with Mars with 60 girls attending a spring break STEM camp at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas. The activity compares the two worlds by diameter, volume, and mass. Considering Mars is one half as wide, one sixth as big, and one tenth as massive, why then does a person on the surface weight about one third as much as on Earth?

The answer is because weight is a measure of gravity’s downward pull, and gravity depends on two things: mass and (the square of) the distance from the center of mass. To avoid any messy math, I suggest using “Earth” units. In other words, the radius of Mars is simply half the radius of Earth versus 4,221 miles; and the mass is simply one tenth that of Earth versus 7 followed by 20 zeroes in tons!

Fortunately, calculating gravity does not require any fancy equations, just multiplication and division. Gravity equals a constant (G) times the mass (M) of the world divided by the square of the distance (R)(R) from the center of mass. Gravity of Earth=GM/R². So gravity of Mars in Earth units equals G (0.1M)/(0.5R)(0.5R). If we then divide that by Earth’s gravity, the G, M’s, and R’s all cancel out to 1, and we’re left with 0.1/(0.5)(0.5)=0.4. The actual value (in the “The Facts” table on page 61) is 0.37 which is most often rounded to one third.

Note that the gravity of the Moon (which is one hundredth the mass and a quarter of the radius) is (0.01M)/(0.25R)(0.25R) which is 0.16, about one sixth of Earth.

To feel how much something weighs on Earth versus on Mars or the Moon, fill three plastic bags or Easter eggs with 100 pennies or nickels for Earth, 37 for Mars, and 16 for the Moon. I wonder if shoes would last three times longer on Mars? Or would we just decide to go barefoot?

Writing about Space

The anthology, Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion that contains my story, “The Right of Interference” is now available in paperback. If you order after using the link from my website, I get a credit from Amazon and you get a big THANK YOU!

Speaking about Space

Look for me at the following events. Watch my website Contact page for updates and local (Houston) events.

Monday, March 7, 6:15 pm, Reitz Union Room 2365. Speaking to the UF. Society of Women Engineers, Gainesville, FL.

Tuesday, March 15. Welcome to Mars workshops as part of Spring Break Camp for Girls, Frontiers of Flight Museum, Dallas Love Field.

Saturday, April 9, 11 am to 4:15 pm. Selling/signing books at Reach for the Stars STEM Festival, Rice University. Free, but preregistration required.

April 19-21. Staffing booth of Houston Authors, Texas Library Association Annual Conference, GRB Convention Center, Houston.

Saturday, April 23. Featured Author, Ohioana Book Festival, Columbus, Ohio.

Saturday, May 28. Speaking at Gulf Coast Mensa Regional Gathering, Crowne Plaza Northwest-Brookhollow, 12801 Northwest Freeway, Houston. Open to public.

Saturday, June 18, panels 10-11 am and 1-2 pm. Comicpalooza, GRB Convention Center, Houston.

The Colorful Martian Sky

February 2016

Author Marianne Dyson’s Science Snacks Newsletter

Hello, and thanks for subscribing to my monthly Science Snacks newsletter. I hope to see some of you at my upcoming appearances (listed below) and share space stories with you!  

The Colorful Martian Sky

In the January Science Snacks, I discussed the recent discovery of liquid water on Mars and that several pages of Welcome to Mars (coauthored with Buzz Aldrin) are being updated to reflect the discovery. The changes (to pages 12 and 70) weren’t ready in time to be included in the second print run.

But the second printing (on right in image) does include rotation of the robots on the cover flap, and a change to the Martian Home art on pages 80-81.

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Caption: The Martian Home art depicts a scene from a future settlement where kids enjoy Buzz’s favorite coconut ice cream (note the goat and a coconut palm!) at his Ice Cream Parlor while adults dine at my Pasta Palace. The question is, should the sky above be pink or blue?

The “true” color of the Martian sky has been debated since the first spacecraft sent back images from the surface. Most NASA images show a pink or butterscotch sky. This color results from dust suspended in the atmosphere, similar to dusty or smoggy skies on Earth. But dust also scatters blue light, as seen in sunset photos taken by the rover Spirit. And under some conditions, such as when ice clouds form, the sky may appear violet (see images).

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Caption: This sunset seen by Spirit in March 2014 appears blue near the sun and pink farther away. The sun is also about two thirds the diameter and less bright on Mars than it appears from Earth. (MER, Texas A&M, Cornell, JPL, NASA photo)

The scene depicted in the Martian Home art may be from a buried habitat with an artificial sky. (As noted on page 75, “Under 16 feet of dirt, we’ll get the same amount of radiation we get on the surface of Earth.”) Or the art might reflect the sky after terraforming has thickened the atmosphere as shown in the Green Mars art on pages 88-89.

However, to be consistent with the cover illustration showing a future Mars city under a dome (that protects from radiation via coatings or clear gel of some kind) with a lovely pink sky in the background, we decided to recolor the illustration on pages 80-81.

While researching this topic, I answered another question about the sky on Mars—do the stars twinkle there at night? The answer: no, the air is too thin. (“Why do stars twinkle, and do they twinkle on Mars?” by Whitehead, Hizinga, and Mossman, American Journal of Physics, 2012) But, if you observe from inside the Mars Home dome, would they twinkle? Let’s build one and find out!

Writing about Space

The anthology, Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion that contains my story, “The Right of Interference” is out via Kindle and will be available in paperback March 1. If you order after using the link from my website, I get a credit from Amazon.

Speaking about Space

I’ll be speaking at the following events. Watch my website Contact page for updates and local (Houston) events.

Thursday, February 18, 5:30 pm. AIAA Distinguished Lecturer. Ohio Space Institute, 22800 Cedar Point Road, Cleveland, OH 44142. Free, open to the public.

Friday, February 19, speaker for “Dinner with a Slice of History.” International Women in Air & Space Museum, Burke Lakefront Airport, 1501 North Marginal Road, Cleveland, OH 44114. Open to the public. Tickets $15-17. Proceeds benefit museum.

Monday, March 7, after 4 pm. Guest speaker. University of Florida Society of Women Engineers. Gainesville, Florida. “Mission Control: Solving Problems in Realtime.”

Saturday, April 23, Ohioana Book Festival, Featured Author. Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capitol Square, 75 E. State St., Columbus, OH 43215.