Archive for the star blaze Category

4. The Sun

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , on December 29, 2009 by keithmansfield

“A bloated star was in its death throes, having finally run out of usable fuel to keep shining … The commentary told Johnny he was watching Earth’s own Sun, somehow altered.” p. 24

Credit: EIT/SOHO Consortium, ESA/NASA

We’re a third of the way through the twelve days of Johnny Mackintosh and hitting the meat of the story – far more appetizing than those cold turkey sandwiches you’ve been eating. When my editor suggested “star blaze” to me for a title, this is the image that instantly sprang to mind. For me it simply oozes astonishing power and energy. Even though space is a vacuum that sound wave can’t cross, when I look at this I imagine a deep rumble that hasn’t stopped for five billion years and won’t for another five billion – all being well.

This raging furnace is our Sun. There’s a huge solar flare shooting out from the bottom left-hand corner. The Sun has an eleven year heartbeat, that we don’t understand but which means that the magnetic activity on its surface goes through eleven year cycles. In two to three years we’ll reach a maximum where big flares such as this will be more common, the aurora (the Northern and Southern Lights) will be become more spectacular and visible to more people and there may be times when your mobile phone stops working because of the effect on satellites in orbit. What this picture reminds me of is the incredible power of nature – of the awesome star blaze.

Tomorrow we’re taking several steps further out…

3. International Space Station

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , on December 28, 2009 by keithmansfield

“Three hundred and forty kilometres above Earth, they passed the space station windows so close that they could see the astronauts inside.” p. 9

Credit: ESA/NASA

It’s the third day of Johnny Mackintosh. If I had countless millions of pounds, I would spend around £15m of them on a trip to the International Space Station.

Several people have done this and Charles Simonyi has even been twice. He donated money to Oxford University where I work so we could have a Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. For a while this was Rickard Dawkins who wrote The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. Nowadays it’s the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy. I went to his inaugural lecture in November and we chatted about football and space afterwards, making me think that Marcus would probably like Johnny Mackintosh.

The ISS is in what we call low Earth orbit, at an altitude of around 340 km (that’s just over 200 miles). When I was growing up, for a while the Americans had Skylab and then the Russians broke all sorts of records with Mir. From space, Earth has no borders and it’s great that a cooperative, international approach is being taken to much space exploration. If you want to see the space station, as it crosses the night sky, it’s easy. NASA have an applet at their Human Space Flight website which will tell you when the ISS will be visible, wherever you are in the world.

Tomorrow we’re off to the very heart of the solar system.

2. London Gherkin/Spirit of London

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , on December 27, 2009 by keithmansfield

“When on Earth, Johnny’s ship took the place of the real Gherkin and stood at the heart of London’s financial district”, p. 3

Welcome to the second day of Johnny Mackintosh. I took this shot with a disposable camera flying into London City Airport. Even though the photo doesn’t do it justice, I’ve cropped it to include the Bishopsgate Tower (a new skyscraper at the very top of the picture) which, from many vantage points on the ground, looks curiously two-dimensional.

When I was writing Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, I’d often work long into the night, say until three or four in the morning. Bishopsgate Tower was being built at the time and glancing up from my notebook I’d see the lights from welder’s torches sparkling in different places through the dark.

Of course the best thing about the photo is the great view of the Spirit of London (I made sure I snapped this when Johnny and Clara were here on Earth, so the original London Gherkin has been folded away into hyperspace and what you’re seeing is Johnny’s actual spaceship). She is magnificent and doesn’t look out of place anywhere in the galaxy.

Now we’re two days after Christmas I’d suggest getting to work on those thank you letters so you’ve plenty of time for reading once Star Blaze comes out. Tomorrow, we’ve back in space but very, very nearby.

1. Saturn

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Space, star blaze with tags , , , on December 26, 2009 by keithmansfield

“he was staring at the huge planet Saturn … for Johnny was not standing in any room on Earth. He was on the bridge of his very own spaceship”, pp. 1–2

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Happy Christmas to fans of Johnny Mackintosh everywhere! I hope you had a great time.

For the next twelve days, leading up to publication, I’m going to be posting images that give what I hope is a tantalizing taste of Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, showing places Johnny visits, but not giving the story away. Today’s first image shows the planet Saturn.

If I had a spaceship, the first place I would visit would be Saturn. End of. Ever since I was young it’s the sight I’ve most dreamed of seeing close at hand with the naked eye. Perhaps, in a couple of hundred years’ time, there’ll be a thriving tourist industry and plenty of space hotels in orbit.

All four of the gas giant planets in the solar system turn out to have ring systems but the others pale when compared with the mighty Saturn, whose rings can sometimes be seen through small telescopes from Earth. We don’t know for certain how and why they formed and how long they’ll last. A few years ago opinion among astronomers was that they were a temporary phenomenon. Nowadays, it’s thought more likely the rings are stable and could even last as long as Saturn or the rest of the solar system.

As Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze begins, the Spirit of London is close to Saturn. This picture was taken by the Cassini spacecraft, and this particular shot is of an equinox, where the planet is exactly half in light and half in shadow. We’re used to the myriad satellites orbiting Earth, for instance giving us TV, mobile phones and weather forecasting, but it’s amazing to think that nowadays we have satellites in orbit around other bodies. There are three around Mars and it’s a tremendous achievement for Cassini to have been positioned around Saturn as it has.

I’m very excited about tomorrow’s picture as it’s one I took myself…