Hard SF for Connoisseurs "Real page turners in the footsteps of Clarke & Heinlein"      


Firstly, I just want to clarify an impression I might have given last week.

I might have indicated that there were no commercial passenger-carrying vessels apart from Soyuz. I didn't intend that. While the SLS system is designed for the deep space crew missions, the low-Earth orbit crews will be carried by three non-NASA vehicles. This continues NASA’s policy of being in at the beginning – the first time of doing things, but then handing it over to others.

Boeing StarlinerTowards the end of the year, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will begin taking some of the load currently handled exclusively by the Roscosmos Soyuz craft. (Thanks to Boeing for the artist’s impression of the Starliner docking with the ISS.)

I’m sure non-Russian crew will appreciate not having to learn Russian for Soyuz launches, just a little to communicate on the ISS. Did you know that every single astronaut who goes to the ISS must be reasonably fluent in Russian – spoken and written? It is the bane of Evelyn Slater, the protagonist in my THE VISITOR novel.

Anyway, I just wanted to clarify that crew flights to the ISS will soon be handled by commercial operators.


This week, a few words on the search for exoplanets.

Exoplanets are planets orbiting other stars. It is an amazing story of the improving sophistication of modern technology, much of which has occurred owing to space exploration. The search method seems almost impossible because even giant stars don’t show an appreciable disc – they are just single points of light. Hope you're as amazed as I am.


The idea is pretty simple and has been tried from ground-based telescopes. You continually watch a star and measure its brightness. Venus transiting the sunIf a planet crosses the face of the star the light will dim very slightly. When you consider how far away stars are and that the planets are tiny in comparison, the difficulty of getting a result is pretty obvious.

This image, by Thierry Legault, shows Venus transiting the sun. I think it is pretty obvious how little difference that makes to the total light of the sun. You will notice sunspots which also reduce the light level.

So, a transit must be observed several times in order for astronomers to be sure it is a planet and not some other natural effect like sun spots or the variable nature of the star itself.

Anyway, despite atmospheric problems (clouds, distortion and so on), observations from the surface of the Earth found hundreds of stars with planets, but because of those very problems, these were probably giant planets like Saturn or Jupiter, not small rocky planets like Mars or Earth. Also bear in mind that the orbital plain must be in line with our view or no transits would ever be seen with that star.

In 2009, Kepler was launched to make the same observations from space, where atmospheric distortions could be completely ruled out. There was one exoplanet which had been particularly well observed from Earth, so Kepler was set up to observe its next transit.

JPL/NASA graphic

This image (JPL/NASA), shows the graph of a star’s light dimming during a transit of an exoplanet. When Kepler saw the exoplanet mentioned above, not only did they see the dimming at exactly the time expected, but there was a second phenomenon. When the exoplanet was close to being occulted (passing behind its star), it was fully illuminated by the star and Kepler saw a rise in the light as the light from the planet and the star combined. This was a staggering and unexpected result, demonstrating that the Kepler mission was extremely well designed and working better than predicted.

It has continued to exceed its expectations as Kepler was planned to operate for 3.5 years, but is still going nine years after its launch, meaning it has actually overlapped with the new planet-hunter TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) which was launched in April this year. Currently, Kepler is running out of fuel and will soon be unable to point its antenna back to Earth to transmit its data.

Kepler found 2,300 exoplanets and many more are awaiting confirmation (by second and third transits). TESS is capable of examining an area 400 times larger. It will be concentrating on nearby stars (within 1,175,725,108,249,600 miles, and, yes, that really is nearby – 200 lightyears). TESS is far more sensitive than Kepler.

In fact, TESS would be capable of seeing the dimming of a car headlight, ten miles away, caused by a gnat flying across it! Lots of smaller, Earth-sized planets will be discovered. Its four cameras will be monitoring up to a quarter of a million nearby stars.

From Kepler's data, it is now estimated that, in the Milky Way galaxy alone, there are forty billion stars with planets in the habitable regions, potentially Earth-like in nature.

Dr. Weiss of the Kepler mission is developing methods of discovering which exoplanets might have life. She is doing this by analysing the light from the stars during the transits to see which part, if any, of the spectrum is changed during the transit. This holds great promise for the future. Imagine the difficulty of such an experiment. They are looking to measure how much the atmosphere of the transiting planet changes the spectrum of the star's light.

As I said in last week’s blog, much more is going on than the vast majority of people realise. We are living in a most exciting time and it makes me wish I were fifty years younger. At twenty I had a huge interest in astronomy and space. I wish I’d developed it, but then my life would have been completely different. Sadly, you only live once and your journey through it depends entirely on your own choices and events around you!


Last week I mentioned conspiracists. Little did I know that I was actually going to meet one a few days later. Unbelievably it was a health professional, and I must admit I was horrified to discover someone who uses technology developed as a result of the space industry, could believe the Apollo programme was faked.

Conspiracist CartoonShe told me, with utmost confidence, ‘Have you seen the equipment? How could they have got to the moon using that?’ She went on to say, ‘the TV pictures from the moon were a joke’ and ‘we can’t even get to the moon today, let alone in the seventies!’

My reaction was to ask her if she thought the hundreds of thousands of contractor and government employees were all lying about it and she said ‘yes, sworn to secrecy!’

I was absolutely gobsmacked at such naivety. Literally shocked and horrified.

What she said, of course, was through total ignorance of the space programme, but it is always difficult to counter such emphatic convictions, especially when you are taken by surprise.

The PTS expedition, proposed for 2023-5, is planning a rover on the moon which, they say, will actually approach and photograph the Apollo 17 lunar rover, taking due care not to disturb the historic site. I guess many will say that is another hoax. We’ll see.

Lunar Orbiter view of Apollo 17 site.This image of the Apollo 17 site - taken by NASA’s Lunar Orbiter – conspiracists claim was faked using photoshop, despite there being views of it in several lighting conditions during the phases of the moon. Click on it to see a larger version. The letters LRV show the location of the Lunar Rover which is on the far right of the site.

Imagine you are a youngster and you want to know about the moon landings. Try this – type “moon landings” into Google and, within the top ten results you will find a number which mention the conspiracies. The further you scroll down the more the conspiracists' misinformation grows and how our own media Top of Google pagepresents this stuff is part of the problem – the images show the first ten listings on the page.

Which would attract a young rebellious person’s attention? The conspiracies, of course!

Next five entries

Click the second image to see a large version where you can read the small print which gives a clue as to the emphasis the media takes and the way it is slanted to appeal. Look at the Daily Express's headline. Shocking!

Is this happening to our young people? Are they getting their ‘knowledge’ about the moon landings from the thousands of conspiracy websites and YouTube videos which present the flimsiest ‘evidence’ in the most sensational manner? It is really quite frightening.

The Internet abounds with fake history, from the Holocaust to Kennedy’s assassination and even the American government blowing up the World Trade Center to provide an excuse to invade Afghanistan. Believers in a flat Earth are growing in influence as are the moon conspiracists and now there are more people denying we ever went into space and that the ISS isn’t real. How worrying is that? You can see it fly over, yet they believe it is empty, a cardboard cut out, or not there at all!

It set me wondering how space is taught in modern schools. Isn’t landing on the moon humankind’s greatest technological and exploratory achievement? Yet is it even taught at all in schools, and, if so, how well? The growing number of conspiracists shows that the Internet, with its vast number of spurious websites promoting all manner of conspiracies, must be the cause in the growth of the conspiracists. The only way to counter this is for the true story to be part of school curricula. Would any teachers reading this please give me an indication of what is being taught? Many thanks, I’d love to know.

17th June 2018


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Comment on THE VISITOR

5.0 out of 5 stars Space is full of wonders and this book portrays a possibility.

Format: Kindle Edition

Spent part of my spring break reading this book. I couldn't put it down. It's an exciting story, with characters I've connected to the past few days. The ending is sad, but there's a sort of happy ending if you have an open mind about life.

C.L. Trujillo

Latest comment on GREEN DOOR

Wonder, you created wonder. Congratulations.

Loch Ness Understood email:

"Well done, Tony, an absolutely fantastic read... felt compelled to leave a review on Amazon.

"One of the final chapters about you having a stroke is much scarier than any monster...hope you are keeping well. Anyway... my review:

"Always been fascinated with the unexplained...ghosts,ufo,s,loch Ness monsters etc etc. Tony begins his story just like me as a sort of believer then digs deeper into the world of fakery,hoaxers and scientific study, and ends up involved and embroiled in the industry that basically keeps the monster a reality... a fantastic insight into Tony and Adrian Shine's life covering all the history of the loch from ice ages, to dodgy business deals, the photographs to sonar scans... also Tony describing the humble beginnings of the loch Ness visitor centre to what it is today.a major tourist attraction... if you believe or if you don't believe, the monster's legend will never go away and this is a fantastic book that adds reality to the fantasy..."

THE VISITOR comment: Jessicaf5377

Omg I LOVED it!!!!!! Please please write their adventures! I wanna see the cool stuff you come up with in the other worlds!

Sidenote: I'm so embarrassed to say that I guarantee that's how our world would act and come across to them if an alien did come! Makes me sad and disappointed. Maybe that's why we HAVEN'T been visited publicly, if there is such a thing. They know we couldn't handle it and we would just take advantage of the technology and never grow emotionally and mentally. :-(

LOCH NESS UNDEFRSTOOD comment: Angela Young

Read many books on the mystery of loch Ness. This is by far one of the best and also one of the most well written and an honest and incisive true account...fantastic read

THE VISITOR comment: "A fast paced scientifically accurate plot that is thought provoking and predictive of technological development based on todays devices. An enjoyable read that I highly recommend."

21st April 2018

Stunning day at Loch Ness. Brilliant blue sky and temperature's building.

However, agents seem to be spring-cleaning their slush pile of manuscripts. Two rejections within twenty-four hours. This is the second one, which is also the quickest rejection I've had:

"Thank you very much for your enclosures and letter of the 9th April. I have looked at these and found them very well done. I am afraid though, I am being very very cautious as to what I take on and I just don’t feel able to take this further. But I do wish you every success elsewhere and my position is more a reflection of the market-place than the material itself.

"Thank you again for thinking of me.

"My best,

"Peter §§§§§§"

Got to get back up and send some more off.

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