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A* Episode 31 
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Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2009 4:18 pm
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Here's a funky sketch I sent to a reader for supporting the comic through the A* Patreon campaign : ) :

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Thank you very much! : D


Sat Apr 08, 2017 4:32 pm
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A couple recent, interesting science articles from the BBC!

Violent end as young stars dramatically collide - Two baby stars in the constellation Orion collided 500 years ago, and their spectacular fireworks are reaching Earth telescopes

Rules of memory 'beautifully' rewritten - In 1953, 27-year-old Henry Molaison's (wikipedia.com) hippocampi were largely destroyed during experimental brain surgery intended to cure the severe epileptic seizures he had suffered since a childhood accident. Afterward, it was found that he could no longer form new memories: you could bring him a second dinner (nytimes.com) after the first, and he would eat it, because he no longer remembered having eaten the first; and each day that he met Suzanne Corkin, the scientist who studied him for 46 years (Molaison died in 2009), was, for Henry, the first day that he had met her. When asked in 1986 what the last president he remembered was, after some pondering he answered "Ike"--who was inaugurated in '53. His understanding of the passage of time was hazy: in his later years, when shown his elderly face in a mirror, he would become confused, and finally realize "I'm not a boy."

Before Corkin's research into Henry's impairment, it was through that memory simply happened equally throughout the brain, but her studies of Henry showed that memory formation actually depended upon functioning hippocampi: small organs inside the brain. It also showed that long-term memories resided elsewhere; Molaison actually could remember new information, through a memory trick: "For post-1953 information he was able to modify old memories with new information. For instance, he could add a memory about Jonas Salk by modifying his memory of polio."

The long-term memories were thought to be taken from the hippocampus and moved into the cortex. Now, just recently, scientists using light beams to turn on and off individual neurons in mouse brains found that their memories form simultaneously in the hippocampus AND the cortex--it's just that the ones in the cortex are dormant for several days, and require communication with the hippocampus to "mature." (Perhaps this explains further phenomena found in Molaison's recall; he could, for instance, recall Corkin hazily when prompted, but the best he could guess was that she was "like a senator.") They could turn off the neurons in the hippocampus and the mice would forget a new traumatic event, for instance, but then the mice could remember it several days after the event, using the memory stored in the cortex.


Mon Apr 10, 2017 9:16 pm
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Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2009 4:18 pm
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Here's a sketch I sent to a reader for supporting the comic through my Patreon campaign : ) :

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Thanks everyone who's pitching in, it's a huge help! ^_^


Tue Apr 11, 2017 8:56 pm
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Wednesday original A* art archive auction time! : D Today's item is one of just *four* remaining original page illustrations (and one of them I'm not putting on sale : P) from A* episode 13, the episode in which I switched to making pages traditionally rather than digitally--and it's exactly the moment where Selenis (spoilers!) takes out her target: page 152. It's on a big 17" x 11" sheet of Bristol paper (bigger than the 16" x 6.75" borderless mode I work at in watercolor now--although if you look closely you can see the 16" x 6.75" border penciled in), it's all in ink (with white ink stars!), and is up for auction for a week starting at a special low price, right here. The auction listing has high res images, but here are some low res ones to get you started:

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So yep, one of just *three* big ink pieces from A*'s original original art episode that I'm gonna put up for auction; don't miss out if you want one of these pieces of A* history! : D


Wed Apr 12, 2017 9:44 pm
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Readers keeps this little comic going in a big way through the A* Patreon campaign, and one reader contributing as little as $1 a month makes a big difference to me! : D Contributors can get themselves some cool A* stuff, too, like this ink sketch I mailed to one of 'em for their super support:

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Thank you oh so much! = )


Thu Apr 13, 2017 8:55 pm
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Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2009 4:18 pm
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Here's a sketch I sent to a reader for supporting the comic through my Patreon campaign : ) :

Image

Thank you very much! : D


Sat Apr 15, 2017 6:06 pm
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Last month I posted about some close-up new photos the Cassini probe had taken of Saturn's tiny moon Pan, and now we've got even closer-up (within 7,000 miles, whereas it only got within 15,000 of Pan) photos of another small Saturnian moon, Atlas (some confusion as to its size, though: Wikipedia says Pan is 35 km across; it says Atlas is 40 km across, but NASA's article with the photos says Atlas is just "19 miles, or 30 kilometers across"). Like Pan, Atlas has a relatively huge equatorial ridge, probably consisting of material falling onto it from Saturn's rings; Atlas' ridge is smoother than Pan's, though, leaving it more blobby than saucer-like:

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photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Them crazy moons! : o


Mon Apr 17, 2017 9:05 pm
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There was a lot of news last week about potential habitable (or previously habitable) water worlds in our solar system; I *think* this was spurred by NASA finally concluding that the Cassini probe did detect molecular hydrogen in a plume of ice it flew through from Saturn's moon Enceladus in late 2015--that's what the BBC's article is about, anyway.

On Earth, hydrogen molecules can get into seawater like so: "At the mid-ocean ridges on our planet, seawater is drawn through, and reacts with, hot upwelling rocks that are rich in iron and magnesium. As the minerals in these rocks incorporate H2O molecules into their crystal structure, they release hydrogen..." So, detecting hydrogen in the geysers thought to be spewing upward from Enceladus' subsurface oceans *could* mean that those oceans have hot underwater vent areas that could support life; at any rate, the food source those vent areas have is definitely present in Enceladus: on Earth, microorganisms classed as "methanogens" use released hydrogen as food--they "make methane as they react the hydrogen with carbon dioxide."

The article mentions that to detect the presence of actual tiny life forms, or their unmistakable traces, in the ice plumes shooting out of Enceladus, you would need a different kind of spectrometer than Cassini is equipped with, and that "a proposal is being put together to fly them in 2026."

It ends with an informative biochemistry quote from Cassini scientist Dr. Hunter Waite: "For life, you need liquid water, organics, and the CHNOPS elements (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulphur). OK, we haven't yet measured phosphorus and sulphur at Enceladus. But you also need some kind of metabolic energy source, and the new Cassini results are an important contribution in that regard."


Tue Apr 18, 2017 10:13 pm
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Wednesday is A* original art archive auction time, where I pull out a nifty page of original A* art from my files and put it on eBay at a special low price. And we're continuing the theme of selling the oldest A* pages I have left--today's *is* the oldest, and again it is from the first episode for which I made the art traditionally, episode 13, it is all in ink and ink wash, and I made it on 17" x 11" paper, even though I only used about a 16" x 6.75" visible area for the comic, because I didn't know better. I'm only going to put ONE MORE of these big episode 13 original pages up for auction after this one! (And there are only three left, total, now.) This one is up for auction for one week, right here.

The lucky winner will get way more image than the rest of us get in the comic itself. The page is episode 13, page 145--a significant page as Selenis moves in for a final rendezvous with a certain someone--and you can see in this little comparison of my fresh scan of the page compared with, below it, the version that actually appears in the comic, that I had to cut out a lot of the image just to fit it into the comic page--Selenis' heel had to be left out, for instance, and I could barely even get the conspicuously vacant and slightly askew knife rack on top of the counter (you noticed that as you read that episode, right? : D) into the picture:

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Because of the cropping agonies I went through on a daily basis with these oversized pages, starting with the next episode I made them much closer to the visible comic size, and THESE days I make them almost exactly the comic-visible size, with just the barest of oversize area at the edges to avoid paper corners creeping into the scans. Anyhoo there's some historical A* trivia for you (episode 13 came out way back in 2011!), and if you dig that sort of thing maybe think about bidding on this oldest of A* remaining pages before it is gone for good! : )


Wed Apr 19, 2017 10:03 pm
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NASA just posted a new article, about landslides on the dwarf planet Ceres: not only has the Dawn spacecraft photographed evidence of far more landslides than scientists would have anticipated--"20 to 30 percent of craters greater than 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide have some type of landslide associated with them"--but those landslides, since they're thought to be a mix of water ice and rocks, or even in one type associated with large craters, a muddy slushy mix of water (melted by the impact that created the crater) and rocks, also suggest that Ceres has far more water content near its surface--and especially near the poles--than expected: "the ice in the upper few tens of meters of Ceres may range from 10 percent to 50 percent by volume."


Thu Apr 20, 2017 8:05 pm
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