Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

The future Nemesis from space

From the American Astronomical Society meeting this week:

A team of astronomers, using the data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, calculated the galactic orbits of nearly 40,000 low mass stars. These stars are generally M dwarfs, cool, not very bright, and thus generally somewhat close to the Sun since if they are too far away we would not see them. You can read the abstract here, and download their full poster here [pdf].

For the astronomers, the data told them a great deal about the orbital properties of these stars. Though a majority are in circular orbits between 20 to 30 thousand light years from the galactic center, a small minority are in extremely eccentric orbits that travel far out into the galactic halo, as much 260,000 light years. A few others dive inward, getting within 6000 light years of the galactic center.

What made this poster stand out to me, however, was this quote from the abstract:

In addition, we have identified a number of stars that will pass very close to the Sun within the next [billion years]. These stars form the “Nemesis” family of orbits. Potential encounters with these stars could have a significant impact on orbits of Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt members as well as the planets. We comment on the probability of a catastrophic encounter within the next [billion years].

All told, they found that 18 low-mass cool M dwarf stars that will eventually pass close to the Sun. One star, SDSS J112612.07+152517.6, an M3 star that is about 2,300 light years away, is in an orbit that has it moving right towards us at about 90,000 miles per hour. Its mass is less than half that of the Sun, about 0.4 solar masses. This figure from the poster roughly illustrates the star’s position relative to our solar system over the next billion years:

Nemesis star

The star itself is shown in the inset. The red curve shows its calculated distance from the Sun over time, with the black area above and below showing the uncertainties of the calculation. As you can see, every hundred million years or so the distance between this star and the Sun shrinks, with the very very very rare possibility that the distance will sometimes shrink to zero!

With 18 stars each doing this every few 100 million years or so, the average time between close approaches is about 5 million years. These results suggest that another star passes close enough to our solar system frequently enough to not only disturb the comets in the Oort cloud, but also possibly affect the orbits of the planets in the outer solar system and Kuiper belt. One wonders, for example, if such an event had some influence on Pluto’s strange orbit.


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