I ran across another webcomic set around the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*! It just started in September, and it's called (warning: there is some four-letter language) The Big Crunch. It's a comedy with all kinds of crazy aliens packed onto a doomed planet somehow circling the black hole; kind of makes me think of a combination of Scenes From A Multiverse and Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life, which are two pretty decent sci-fi comics in their own right. But they don't have the supermassive black hole A* in them, whereas The Big Crunch does, so maybe check that one out first.
And in fact--not that I'm biased or anything well okay maybe--the author of that comic sent me a link to this YouTube video showing a succession of space images zooming in from a full view of the Milky Way (as seen from Earth) to focus on the area right around A*:
I've seen other videos like that before but I couldn't find that I'd ever embedded one here, so there you go!
Oh yeah, since I've already mentioned a few other sci-fi webcomics, I'll also mention that I came across another one that was new to me: Space Base 8, a comedy featuring a crash test monkey, a space station, and wacky hi-jinks, illustrated in a loose and lively cartoon style.
And finally, over the weekend I noticed that A* was reviewed by Russians! Or the authors of some kind of blog in Russian, at least, as part of a sci-fi webcomic round-up. There are some other interesting comics in there I hadn't heard about before, although some of the most interesting ones are in kinda icky confusing or sound-playing Flash sites. :P Anyway I'm always excited when someone takes the time to review A*, so huzzah!
If you've been reading my posts in recent months, you know that comets fall into the Sun all the time--scientists have observed some 2000 comets taking their final fatal plunge sunward. Well, they've finally seen one take that plunge--and survive:
^ That's Comet Lovejoy escaping from the Sun on December 15th. It was only just discovered--by an amateur Australian astronomer--on December 2nd, diving toward the Sun. Tracked by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, it was seen plunging toward what was sure to be its fiery death
only, a little while later, it was spotted racing away on the other side
According to NASA's article, the class of comets to which Lovejoy is thought to have belonged--Kreutz Sungrazers, possibly the remains a single massive comet seen in 1106 AD--are usually about 10 meters across; Lovejoy looked about ten times that size when it was spotted, but now scientists are thinking that since it survived its solar flyby, it might have been significantly bigger--500 meters or so across. It'll have lost a lot of that mass in its close brush with the Sun, but boy, what a trooper.
I wanted to draw an old-school screw-opening hatch for this ship; for the most part I've used various types of sliding doors containment areas in A* to this point, which are easier to draw, but kind boring visually--also harder to show someone in the process of opening them. I suppose this is a secondary or inner hatch here. For some reason I'd been picturing it as an outward-opening hatch, but then I thought maybe I should check to see which way hatches usually go on space ships.
Apparently for space ships, hatch usually open out (and in for submarines). This seems unintuitive--which is why I looked it up--because if they opened the other way (in for a space ship, out for a submarine), pressure would help seal them shut--that kind of hatch is called a plug door. I'm not sure what set the precedent for submarines, but for space ships it was pretty definitely the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts in a launch pad systems test in 1967; their pure oxygen cabin atmosphere ignited, and even if they had been able to reach the escape hatch, they wouldn't have been able to get out, because the inward-swinging hatch couldn't have been opened until the cabin pressure had been vented to match the outside pressure; after that, the US space program switched definitively to outward-opening hatches (ironically, one of the reasons the Apollo 1 had an inward-opening hatch was because one of the astronauts killed, Gus Grissom, had come close to drowning when explosive bolts on his Liberty Bell 7 ship in the Mercury-Redstone 4 mission (the US's second manned space flight, in 1961) had blown the craft's outward-opening hatch off unexpectedly after the ship landed in the sea).
Here are some photos of the inner (inward-opening) and outer hatch of the "Block 1" design used in Apollo 1:
Man I'm getting a backlog of news tabs again, gotta run through some of these. Let's see... A while back I posted about a NASA sting operation where they caught someone trying to sell a Moon rock--brought back by the Apollo missions, they're classified as "national treasures" and are not legal to sell, although President Nixon gave them as gifts to all 50 states, and 136 countries. Well, this article talks about a recent report released by NASA's inspector general, admitting that out of 26,000 space material samples given out on loan, "more than 500 pieces of moon rocks, meteorites, comet chunks and other space material were stolen or have been missing since 1970"; apparently they just didn't really keep track of them very well--samples would be given out on loan to researchers or institutions, who would keep them for decades, even allowing employees to take them home upon retirement. Oh well, lots more where those came from, I suppose.
And then over the past few days there's been a flurry of articles about the Earth having a "second Moon," which is a pretty impressive overreaction to a recent paper claiming that studies of the Earth/Moon system's gravitational field show that at any given time, there is probably an asteroid on the order of 1-meter across orbiting the Earth--not quite "Moon"-sized. These rocks supposedly take three or so spins around the planet over the span of about ten months before their momentum carries them back out into space. One such rock was spotted by a sky survey in 2006 (due to its bright color it was at first mistaken for an old titanium white Saturn rocket stage, a number of which are in solar orbit close to the Earth), and stayed in Earth orbit until 2007. Asteroids that small--and usually not so bright--are pretty hard to spot, even in orbit around the Earth, but according to this theory there's probably one out there now, buzzing around the planet.
Just a couple days ago I was showing videos of Comet Lovejoy, the first sungrazing comet observed to survive its brush with the Sun. Since then it's been winging its way back out toward cooler parts of the solar system, and the commander of the International Space Station caught a great shot of it passing over the Earth's horizon:
More down to Earth but much more mysteriously, "authorities found in an Internet search" that several "space balls" "have dropped in southern Africa, Australia and Latin America in the past twenty years." The latest, just announced, landed in Namibia last month:
With a diameter of 35 centimetres (14 inches), the ball has a rough surface and appears to consist of "two halves welded together".
It was made of a "metal alloy known to man" and weighed six kilogrammes (13 pounds), said Ludik.
It was found 18 metres from its landing spot, a hole 33 centimetres deep and 3.8 meters wide.
Here's a shot of the mysterious space creature:
image by National Forensic Science Institute (source)
Test objects or targets left in orbit by an old space program? Nobody knows--or nobody's talking--yet!
image by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) (source)
^ Echoing the weightless curls of our anti-heroine's hair, the deranged arms of galaxy UGC 1810, seen twisting across this new composite Hubble image sampling the ultraviolet, blue, and red wavelengths, are thought to have been distorted from the usual spiral shape by a collision with the galaxy below it, UGC 1813. The galactic pair, collectively known as Arp 273, also display the type of brilliant starburst activity theorized to follow in the wake of such cosmic disruptions.
Have a lovely Christmas or whatever you like to call it! If you're looking for something more to look at after unstuffing your stocking, give the Masters of Ink interview series at optimumwound.com a perusal; those interested in the creation of comic art will be treated to some very talented and experienced professionals giving the gritty details of their tools and methods--particularly interesting to me as I was thinking maybe I should try one of those dip pen things, get some really hard lines--and everyone will, I think, enjoy at least some of the incredible art accompanying the technical details.
Comet Lovejoy just keeps getting more famous! Now it's on YouTube--this is the full sequence from the one photo I had of it last week, shot from the ISS; comet footage ends at about 30 seconds in:
and Vimeo--as seen from the Very Large Telescope array in the mountains of Chile:
Back in August I wrote a little about the impending launch of the GRAIL spacecraft: twin probes that will orbit the Moon, one a little behind the other, and measure the variation in their positions caused by the Moon's gravity, thus generating a detailed map of the Moon's gravitational field. Well, the twins are nearly ready to swing into action: according to this article, over the New Year weekend they'll be making their lunar orbit insertion, 24 hours apart; their course to the Moon over the preceding months has been so accurate that no course correction was necessary, which is fairly impressive.
If the orbital insertion goes okay, they'll spend the next two months swinging gradually downward toward the lunar surface, "until they are about 35 miles above the surface with an average separation of 124 miles," at which point they can begin mapping. They'll also get new names: currently known simply as GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B, names chosen from a contest of schoolchildren will be revealed once they're orbiting successfully.
Over the X-Mas weekend I found out about a new (to me) and amazing ink artist, Jeff Jones, who came to comic prominence in the '70's, forming an independent group, "The Studio," with friends and fellow comic artists Barry Windsor-Smith, Mike Kaluta, and Bernie Wrightson (all of whom I *had* heard of). Jones, sadly no longer with us, had a knack for short, strikingly offbeat stories illustrated in a signature high contrast but freely organic inked style, like Sleep, a far-out five page sci-fi story you can see there in all its scanned glory. Jones also did cool stuff in the way of paintings, colored ink illustrations, and ink wash.
This AP story tells the only-just-declassified story of the highly trained men and women gathered in the shuttered buildings of the Perkin-Elmer Corp. of Danbury, Connecticut, where from 1966 to at least 1987 up to 1,000 of them at once worked away at the government's top secret Project Hexagon,
considered the most successful space spy satellite program of the Cold War era. From 1971 to 1986 a total of 20 satellites were launched, each containing 60 miles of film and sophisticated cameras that orbited the earth snapping vast, panoramic photographs of the Soviet Union, China and other potential foes. The film was shot back through the earth's atmosphere in buckets that parachuted over the Pacific Ocean, where C-130 Air Force planes snagged them with grappling hooks.
The scale, ambition and sheer ingenuity of Hexagon KH-9 was breathtaking. The fact that 19 out of 20 launches were successful (the final mission blew up because the booster rockets failed) is astonishing.
Even though the program ended decades ago, the secret was faithfully kept until the government officially declassified Hexagon this past September--project members weren't even allowed to speak of Hexagon to their spouses or children, who all this time thought they had merely worked often long hours making some sort of generic "widgets." Those "widgets" were in fact 60-foot-long satellites weighing "30,000 pounds and supplying film at speeds of 200 inches per second"; they could capture images of a resolution capable of showing features as small as a private swimming pool, or a Soviet battalion in training exercises.
Tue Dec 27, 2011 8:00 am
Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2009 4:18 pm Posts: 2884
I just discovered that Photoshop (4 :p) hasn't actually been anti-aliasing my A* subtitles when I enter them over the scanned art at 1200 dpi. :P Not that you can tell when they're all shrunk down for the web--and heck it probably wouldn't even really be visible in even the sharpest print form--but just knowing it isn't doing it keeps me awake. So now I have an even more convoluted method of doing the subtitles that does the AA at 1200 dpi. Huzzah and hooray. I suppose some day if I get really verklempt about it I'll have to go back and redo all the subtitles since the painted ones started in episode 13...buuuut I don't think that's gonna keep me awake for now.
So really the net effect is that from this page onward the subtitles will take me a few seconds longer to make, and will be imperceptibly blurrier. =p
Tue Dec 27, 2011 9:38 am
Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2009 4:18 pm Posts: 2884
I know it's awfully late notice, but nonetheless a show of my art opens the Friday after this one--that'd be Friday the 6th of January, 2012--at Frame Up Studios in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood (3515 Fremont Ave. N, specifically), with a little party from 6:00 to 9:00 pm that is open to all; I have to be there for it so I hope you'll come visit me!
The studio is kindly providing some refreshments; that date is also the Fremont First Friday art walk, so other galleries in the neighborhood will be having shindigs of their own at the same time--although if you just need to buy something ultimately delicious to eat, may I suggest the simply yet accurately named "pie" right next door.
My stuff will be on display at Frame Up through the end of January, and includes a selection of my very latest traditional ink wash paintings, along with sharp, framed prints of the drawings I make in odd ways on computers; art from these pieces appears in my Supermassive Black Hole A* and Princess and the Giant comic series.
One thing that definitely won't be at the show are the pencils for today's A* page, since I paint over / erase them in the inking and washing stage. But they kinda looked nice in their graphitey way, so I took a photo before obliterating them:
Just before Christmas, NASA rather nonchalantly posted what is far and away the coolest image of a pulsar that I've ever seen. A pulsar is a spinning neutron star--what's left behind by the supernova explosion of a star that wasn't massive enough to collapse into a black hole. It's also this:
image by NASA/CXC/Univ. of Potsdam/L. Oskinova et al. (source)
In this composite image, X-rays from Chandra and XMM-Newton have been colored blue and optical data from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile are colored red and green. The pulsar, known as SXP 1062, is the bright white source located on the right-hand side of the image in the middle of the diffuse blue emission inside a red shell. The diffuse X-rays and optical shell are both evidence of a supernova remnant surrounding the pulsar. The optical data also displays spectacular formations of gas and dust in a star-forming region on the left side of the image.
SXP 1062 interests astronomers because the Chandra and XMM-Newton data show that it is rotating unusually slowly -- about once every 18 minutes. (In contrast, some pulsars are found to revolve multiple times per second, including most newly born pulsars.) This relatively leisurely pace of SXP 1062 makes it one of the slowest rotating X-ray pulsars in the SMC.
Scientists have estimated that the supernova remnant around SXP 1062 is between 10,000 and 40,000 years old, as it appears in the image. This means that the pulsar is very young [...]