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  A sketch!Oct 31, 2014 9:59 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch I drew and mailed off to a reader recently as their reward for supporting the A* Patreon campaign in September:
Patreon is a web service that makes it easy to send your favorite creators a little money each month so they can keep on doing what they do. It's a big help! Thanks to everyone who's helping me out there. : )
  The Color PurpleOct 30, 2014 12:10 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Still working on this darker watercolor mode; I think I see now that I need to get back into using purple as the deepest shadows, since optically that's kind of how these blue and red watercolors I'm using work—the purple mix of the two easily goes the darkest. I've been trying to use pure blue or red for the shadows and they just don't really go as dark as I'd like; you can get them darker by layering multiple applications of them, which is what I've done in the past three pages, but layering tends to result in a somewhat dirty or muted look, especially if you layer different colors on top of each other as I did today (purple over blue and red in the background). So yeah! Gotta get in touch with my dark purples.
  Antares rocket explodes at launchOct 29, 2014 8:26 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Got to work out how to do "dark" in this unvarnished watercolor scheme, 'cause we're going into some pretty low-light areas in this episode.
I've been putting unused sketches for the past few A* pages up on my Instagram; some also get cross-posted to my Twitter and my tumblr.
The big space news today was Unmanned US rocket Antares explodes during launch (BBC); the Antares rockets are made by Orbital Sciences Corp., one of two private companies who won huge contracts from NASA as part of its process of commercializing the US space industry. Interestingly, though, the Antares uses refurbished engines from the Soviet N1 moon rocket program, which I guess means they were some of the 150 or so engines built by the Soviets in the late '60s as part of an effort to get a manned mission to the moon, competing with the American Saturn V moon rocket. If you're wondering why you haven't heard of the N1 program, it's because all four test launches failed, three ending in explosions—the second having the force of 7 kilotons of TNT, still the record for the most powerful non-nuclear man-made explosion—so perhaps this Antares launch explosion is not all that surprising; the N1 engines have very complex arrangements of fuel and oxidizer piping, which was seen as a weak point back in the old Space Race days.
UPDATE 10/30: A follow-up article mentions that the rocket's self-destruct was deliberately triggered by a ground controller after it was clear that "a major, yet-unidentified failure occurred 15 seconds into the flight."
  Where did I go wrongOct 28, 2014 7:39 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Oy, Mondays have been killer lately. Buuut I guess that means the rest of the week has to be better!
  Just go limp!Oct 25, 2014 12:47 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:The funding contributions people have signed up to send me each month through the A* Patreon campaign are a huge help while I work on the comic. Thank you very much, Patreon contributors! Here's a sketch I sent to one such reader semi-recently as the reward for their support through Patreon in September:
I thought this sketch came out undeservedly well; it was one of those cases where, not having to draw anything in particular, I kind of let my mind go blank and then my pencil did stuff and somehow I had this sort of uncanny face staring back at me...probably mirroring my own blank look as I was drawing it or something! Well I don't really know how that all works but I wish I could harness that for drawing specific scenes for the daily A* pages. Maybe that comes with time? : P Kinda reminds me of you know how some people say they can control their dreams; the older brother of a friend of mine told him that while the rest of us were having disquieting visions of finding we'd somehow accidentally gone to school without our clothes on (how does that even come up? there is no way that could ever happen, subconscious! =P), he was flying over the city and having all kinds of fun. Of course, we only had his word for it, but at the time it seemed kinda credible somehow. =p
I've been finding that I often get my best painting results when the scene happens to have the main light source behind the subject / in front of the camera, like the primary star in today's A* page. I don't consciously plan scenes out that way to set it up, but it seems to happen on its own pretty frequently—pages 100 and 105 at the end of the last episode worked out that way, for instance, just to mention a few. And when I particularly struggle with a painting, it seems to be usually because I don't have a handle on the lighting situation. So I really *should* plan lighting out more carefully when conceiving the scenes in an episode, yes I should.
  Tiny galaxy, big black holeOct 24, 2014 11:54 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Giant black hole in tiny galaxy confounds astronomers (BBC) talks about the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 1277, "220 million light years away in the constellation Perseus." Scientists studying the movements of the stars orbiting it have weighed NGC 1277's central supermassive black hole at about 17 billion solar masses—"4,000 times larger than the one at the Milky Way's centre [aka Sagittarius A*—which is mentioned in the article : )]." NGC 1277's black hole is so big that the event horizon is as large as our solar system, and accounts for 14 or 15% of its galaxy's total mass, which they say is 100 times larger than the usual ratio of supermassive black hole mass to total host galaxy mass—that's the other thing, that NGC 1277 is a somewhat small, old galaxy, so the current theories don't really explain how such a galaxy gets what may currently be the second largest known supermassive black hole inside of it.
I'm thinking galactic collisions, but who knows!
  A comic named after the wrong black holeOct 23, 2014 11:34 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:There's a new print comic kind of named after the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, Sagittarius A*! Or, it thought it was. As you can see in some really nice outer space illustrations by Frazer Irving in the second preview page of Annihilator #1 (click the "See what's inside" cover thumbnail in the upper right), that comic series takes its name from my own little webcomic's namesake, since, according to writer Grant Morrison, Sagittarius A* is also known as "The Great Annihilator."
Morrison is, however, mistaken. From what I find on Wikipedia, The Great Annihilator is not a name for the supermassive black hole A*, which is at the center of the galaxy, but for "a black hole of intermediate mass" "near" A*. This smaller black hole was spotted due to a highly energetic eruption almost exactly 14 years ago, according to one of their linked research papers, an article called (direct .pdf link) The Great Annihilator in the Central Region of the Galaxy by I.F. Mirabel, Service d'Astrophysique, CE-Saclay, France, which appeared in the December 1992 edition of the ESO's "Messenger" journal (hm, free subscription to a quarterly print publication—maybe I should subscribe! Then again, think of the trees); under the surprisingly poetic heading "1. The Sepulchral Silence of the Hypothetical Super-Massive Black Hole," Mirabel wrote

The French gamma-ray telescope SIGMA on board the Russian satellite GRANAT has recently found that the strongest source of 511 keV gammas is not at the dynamic centre of the Galaxy, but 50 arcminutes away from it. On October 13-14, 1990, SIGMA detected from this source a powerful annihilation burst, and we then realized that this object is the strongest compact annihilation source known in the Galaxy. Since it can fabricate 10 billion (1010) tons of positrons in just one second, it is now known under the name of the "Great Annihilator".

This wasn't where the term "the Great Annihilator" was first printed, though: Time had already used it in an article in their July 27, 1992 edition; hm, and a short article from the July 16, 1992 edition of Nature, by way of Physics Today, apparently read as follows:

THE GREAT ANNIHILATOR MAY BE A MICROQUASAR . The object 1E1740.7-2942 near the center of the Milky Way is an x-ray emitter and also the brightest source of positrons in the sky; the positrons reveal themselves through their collisions with electrons, resulting in the characteristic gamma radiation at 511 keV and hence the name Great Annihilator. A team of French astronomers, using the Very Large Array in New Mexico, has now studied the object at radio wavelengths and found that it exhibits radio-emitting jets whose behavior is synchronous with the variable gamma source. All of this suggests to the French astronomers that the core of 1E1740.7-2942 resembles a sort of mini-quasar. (Nature, 16 July 1992.)

Indeed, Mirabel—who I suppose was likely to have been one of those "French astronomers—in the afore-mentioned article that would appear that December, wrote, first describing A*

For two decades gamma-ray astronomers observing the galactic centre region with many balloon and satellite-borne instruments have been reporting intermittent radiation from the annihilation of positrons with electrons. Positrons are electrons of positive charge that annihilate when they meet ordinary matter, producing pairs of photons of 511 keV, the rest-mass energy of the annihilated particules. The sporadic appearance of this type of gamma radiation in the central region of our Galaxy indicated the existence of a compact object (or objects) capable of fabricating enormous quantities of positrons in short periods of time. The poor angular resolution of the detectors used until recently gave wide latitude to the belief that the mysterious compact source of positrons could be a black hole of several million solar masses residing at the dynamic centre of the Galaxy.

and then the Great Annihilator

The Great Annihilator may be a black hole of stellar mass. In its standard state, the X-ray spectrum resembles that of the stellar-mass black-hole candidate Cygnus X-i, both in shape and intrinsic luminosity. Furthermore, dynamic studies of sources detected by SIGMA beyond 100 keV show that they are likely to be binary systems with gravitationally collapsed objects having masses between 3 and a few tens of solar masses.

and would go on to hypothesize that

the unusual properties of the Great Annihilator are the result of two conditions, each of which has a small probability of being satisfied: first, that the object is located within a dense cloud, and second, that it has a relativeIy small velocity with respect to that cloud. Our calculations show that only one among the -40,000 massive remnants within 200 pc from the centre of the Galaxy would satisfy the conditions required to produce a substantial accretion luminosity without a binary companion. Therefore, it is not surprising that despite the large amount of compact objects in the central region of the Galaxy, there is only one Great Annihilator.

The Great Annihilator was also found to be emitting radioactive particle jets three light years long—there's a photo of that in the pdf of the article, along with an X-ray reading from the Great Annihilator, with A* marked (and silent) nearby.
So, in fact, the Great Annihilator could be somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 times or more less massive than A* (which has since been found to be closer to 4 million solar masses than Mirabel's proposed 2)—but it happened to be sucking its way through a dense cloud of material and thus emitting high energy gamma rays at the time, while A* wasn't. A*, perhaps, is on the scale of not needing any fancy title to enlarge itself. However, if you do for instance want to write a webcomic based around The Great Annihilator rather than around A*, I see that both the and domain names are available. : D
  Where's a Flowbee when you need one?Oct 22, 2014 9:22 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Still trying to work out how I want to watercolor well-lit faces. Shadowed faces I think I've got worked out as far as what I want to do with them, for the most part, but well-lit ones, there are all these questions that come into my head about how much white space to leave and whether to leave the lines or try to condense them into simple masses. I tried that condensation thing for today's drawing but I just couldn't seem to make it work out nicely so after hours of that I gave up and had to redraw the head—on the plus side, I think having to redraw it helped me come up with a more interesting face.
Also, I was reminded that my scanner doesn't pick up really light colors very well; you can see in the photo I took of the original page that there's a bit more light blue to the right of Selenis' head than came through in the scan:
Okay so it's a subtle difference... >_> Me being the weirdly picky sort, this is the kind of thing that's kept me up until morning worrying over; in the end I didn't think it was worth it to try to do another layer of blue in the background just for the sake of the scanner's foibles; this is just one more example of why the original art looks better and you should definitely click the blue and gold "original on ebay" link at its lower left corner and snap it up for a surprisingly affordable amount and then hang it somewhere so you can see those light blues in all their pale cerulean splendor. : D Ahem. Anyway I suppose I can't really complain about the scanner dropping light tones since it also conveniently turns the slight yellow of the watercolor paper to a nice even white (so the corrected white ink white of the scissors in the original matches the background exactly in the scanned version, for instance). And I should really stop worrying about the color so much and just...color, I suspect, and maybe that would also leave me more attention span to watch out for, say, slightly googly eyes. : P
Speaking of the scissors though, please don't try cutting your hair in your home microgravity unless you've got something on hand to stop those hairs from floating EVERYWHERE. : o
  A* episode 22 e-book available!Oct 21, 2014 4:02 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:The episode 22 e-book—105 full-color high-definition pages!—is now available for purchase on the episodes & e-books page for a nominal fee (ie whatever you feel it's worth); those super folks supporting the comic through the A* Patreon campaign at levels that qualify for e-book rewards will be getting a free download link to the e-book emailed to them at the beginning of next month. : )
  E-books and secret space planes!Oct 18, 2014 12:10 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Space plane: Mysterious US military plane returns to Earth (BBC) tells of an experimental unmanned US Air Force space plane, the X-37B, that just landed after nearly two years in Earth orbit, its top-secret mission "shrouded in mystery." "Resembling a miniature space shuttle," the X-37B is scheduled to take off on its fourth secret space mission in 2015. ... !!
One of the A*-related tasks I've got over the weekend is getting the e-book version of the just-completed episode 22 published; it will be becoming available for highly affordable digital purchase on the episodes & e-books page; the wonderful folks who happen to be supporting the comic on a monthly basis through the A* Patreon campaign at the e-book reward levels will be getting direct download links for the e-book at the start of next month!
  A reader w/ nice camera took a photo for you!Oct 17, 2014 11:27 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:I was so excited to mail off the last two sketches for August—the ones I draw and send to folks who are supporting the comic through my Patreon campaign—that I forgot to take photos of them first so I could show them to the rest of you! But I asked one of the recipients if they could maybe take a photo of their sketch for me when they got it, and not only did they, they took a really nice photo (note to self: always get people with nice cameras and photography skills to take photos for you : o) so THANK YOU lovely sketch recipients <3<3<3 and you might want to thank them too, um I guess in a general talking-to-yourself way, because now I can show you one of those sketches!
This was what made me try doing some of the pages just before the end of the last episode in a slightly different way, with some pools of pre-mixed purples in my palette, because when I painted this and the other sketch, I just took whatever colors were left in my palette from working on previous day's A* page, rather than mixing fresh blue and magenta together as needed, and it actually worked out pretty well! Like, I think it kind of forced me to be a bit more playful and "well I guess we'll just try this here!" with the colors or something. And while I probably won't do *too* much of that for A*—it got a little messy ; )—it did teach me that I can make really nice big smooth gradients by throwing down a couple prepared colors and blending them on the paper with a big brush, like I did for the rectangular background areas of the final page of the last episode, so that was very useful.
Anyway if you enjoy this comic and you'd like to see it keep going then do think about maybe dropping me a buck or two a month the automatic and easy way through my afore-linked Patreon campaign, it is a *huge* help! HUGE! I won't abuse HTML tags by rolling in a larger font but yeah, it's important! And B-I-G thanks to everyone who is already helping me out there, thank you, thank you, thank you!
  New episode, new way to go art crazyOct 16, 2014 11:36 AM PDT | url
Added 2 new A* pages:Ah yes, it's been ages since we had a talk with Mother, hasn't it? This one will be brief but! hopefully full of pith.
In a more regular A* tradition, I get an episode off to a somewhat rough art start once again. ^_^ But! It actually got *so* rough that it forced me to take drastic action to the precious feathered pencils I'd noodled away at all day
and erase them, leaving just the watercolor I'd put over them—and *that* of course had condensed the profusion of lines into big solid masses, which is something I've been telling myself to do but haven't had the guts to for quite some time now. Granted, it's all a bit cattywampus because it wasn't exactly planned to go that way (actually it had deviated from the nice neat easy plan I'd had in my head the second watercolor hit the paper >_>), and what I *really* should be doing is gathering those masses up in the pencil phase, so then I have nice neat outlines to go into with the watercolor so I can hit them with all sorts of fun color blends and so forth, and also so I don't have to do much erasing across the dried watercolor, which can fade it a bit (in today's page I went back and repainted the whole thing after penciling in the outlines around the initial watercolors : P).
Sooo yeah that is what I have to make myself do! I always start each new episode thinking "okay now I've got my method down, this will be a nice, artistically consistent episode from start to finish!" aaaand it has never worked out that way, at least not since I switched to doing the art traditionally. And at this point I don't expect it ever will because I'm always changing my mind about how I want to draw. Well, what are ya gonna do, at least I'm gettin' out there and tryin' new things, right? : o It's anybody's guess how I'll be doing things by the end of episode 23!
  Last ep. 22 page, plus one you never sawOct 15, 2014 5:00 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Final page of episode 22! Episode 23 starts tomorrow! It's an undersea adventure, but we'll start off with a brief conversation with a certain master (mistress?) computer we haven't spoken to in a while...
Blast from episode 22's past that I never showed you! This is what's left of the original version of page 48:
It was going along pretty well—I think I had something with the colors there—but when I got to trying to color the mouth I started having trouble, and realized the whole structure of that lower part of the head and neck was just off; white ink couldn't salvage it, so there was nothing for it but to set it aside and start over. : P
Fortunately, today's page went better than that. I stuck to treating the surfaces as flat rather than curved when coloring—I seem to get much more vibrant results that way when using watercolor. Have I said this before? Hopefully this time I'll remember. ; ) Think I'll also stick with mixing custom purples on the fly rather than trying to use a couple pre-mixed purples as I was experimenting with for the past four pages; it's a little too easy to get lazy and just stick with a narrow range of mixes that way, and then to try to adjust them on the paper by washing or layering, which can mute or muddle the result—it can give the effect of a worn or faded dusty atmosphere, but that isn't always called for (I also like the layered look it gave Selenis' cloak in page 101, and the faded shadows on her face...have to remember *that*, too!).
  How d'you like your waffles?Oct 14, 2014 5:51 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Whew! This coloring is getting out of hand. : P I'm sort of waffling between two or three different approaches but eh hm maybe today's painting helped clarify the choices a bit for me.
Anyway, just one more page, with one more word of dialogue, and then it's on to episode 23! : oo
  I draw an inky face!Oct 11, 2014 9:15 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch I sent off to a reader this week as the reward for their support of the A* Patreon campaign in August:
I was pretty happy with how that face turned out! Like, a lot of the time when I just kind of noodle with the brush over small facial details like that, it turns into a big mess, but that one didn't! Hm!
Patreon makes it easy to send your favorite creator a buck or two a month, and it's really saving my buns as I work on this comic, so I really appreciate everyone who's helping me out there!!
  I bought a comic! : oOct 10, 2014 8:12 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:I bought an actual comic book today! I... Maybe I haven't done that since my youthful collecting days ended back in the early '90s. : o A single issue, I mean. It was Detective Comics (The New 52) #35, and I generally don't buy comics these days, because I can't afford them : P, but I wanted this one for the art (you can see the cover and three preview pages at that Comixology link there); the artist, John Paul Leon, has a really nifty illustrative ink style, but doesn't do that much comic work—he's probably still best known for the 14-issue Earth X series he did for Marvel back in 1999. The colorist they paired him with on this Detective Comics issue, Dave Stewart, is really good, too. And it's just a two-issue story, which is unusual in these days where almost every comic written is at least part of a four-to-six-issue "arc," since that way the comic companies can gather them up and sell them again later in a collected "trade paperback" graphic novel thingy.
So I traipsed down to my local comic shop (rather than getting a digital version online...I guess I still prefer my print comics in print)—there still is one!—which is also conveniently next to the supermarket I had to go to to get food. A 24-page (not counting ads) comic book is $3.99 these days! It comes on this ridiculously nice glossy paper! They could put it on regular paper and probably cut the price in half. ; P And I was reminded of the perilously slim profit margins comic shops live on these days when I tried to pay for it with my credit card and the store owner indicated that for sub-$5 sales he really really really prefers to get cash, to save the credit card company fee. Man. Hard times.
Comics these days are funny! I guess they're even having trouble selling advertising space these days: there are 13 non-comic pages in this comic, and of those, 8 are ads for the publisher, DC's, own stuff. Yikes. And the first ad page, inside the front cover, is an ad for a Disney product—Disney, owner of Marvel Comics, DC's direct competitor! Ouch. : o And one of the DC ads, for the upcoming "Flash" TV show, has additional ads of other companies' logos slyly tucked up on buildings in the ad image's background. : P Hard times indeed!
The writing is funny! About four things happen in this comic, two of which are spoiled right on the cover so I don't mind telling you about them, and I'll be vague about the other two: 1) a plane crash-lands, 2) Batman climbs aboard
where he 3) makes a snap deduction, and finally 4) a message about the plane appears, telling us the origin of the problem—no detective work needed!—and repeating the thing Batman just deduced. That's the comic! The crash-landing part alone—all seen from outside the plane—takes over half the issue. : o I'm curious to see how they'll manage to wrap this one up in just two issues, since barely anything has happened yet and we're already half-way through. : o But this is nice because now I'm less worried about the pace I manage in my own comic: I only get 20 panels done a month, rather than 20-some mostly multi-panel pages like in a print comic, but you know, if most other modern comics go as slow as this Detective Comics one, I guess I'm just about keeping up!
The writing is also funny because the writer—Benjamin Percy—doesn't seem to trust the art to show what's going on all the time, so for instance, as Batman stands in a dramatic double-page splash of the interior of the plane, where we see everyone's dead and mummified looking like we already knew from the cover, he's explaining to the single police officer who felt like coming aboard that "They're dead. They're ALL dead. And they look like they've been that way for a long time." Doesn't exactly take a Sherlock Holmes, does it? ^_^ And he repeats this, using slightly different words, when he gets to the cockpit and finds more mummified people. It's good we have him along to explain things! I heard on a podcast—hm and Wikipedia bears this out—that the writer's experience is in regular books and short stories rather than comics, so I guess it isn't surprising he isn't quite used to the visual narrative of comic books. And maybe the pacing.
On the plus side, the writer has at least set up a mystery, rather than a punch-guys-in-the-face type of thing, so that's nice. And the art is indeed good; it'll be nice to have standing by on my bookshelf in case I need some instant art inspiration.
This all made me think of one of the I think two other Batman comics I ever had, I think—not Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which is quite possibly my favorite comic ever, but rather a single issue that hm either my dad found somewhere and gave to my brother and I, or maybe a friend had it or something...anyway googling "kryptonite snow" reveals it to have been World's Finest Comics #303 from 1984, featuring a 23-page story, "Plague," in which Batman AND Superman are involved, a hideous plague of green, kryptonite-irradiated snow strikes Metropolis, and Batman (and maybe Superman?) solves the problem and saves the day, all in one little comic issue! How about that. : ) So I guess what this is telling me is that—rare John Paul Leon issues aside—I should probably spend my shekels on Batman comics from ye olde days, if it's Batman stories I want.
Oh that reminds me, the other nice thing about buying comics these days is that for all their super-gloss, you know that there's no chance they'll ever be worth more than what you paid for them, so you can just toss 'em around and not worry about them, rather than having to handle them like the fragile investments we used to think they were. ; )
Boy, today's A* page really diverged from the nice simple pencil scheme:
I think I've been looking at too much Alex Ross. : P Which was because I was re-reading his old Marvels mini-series from 1994—that was after I'd stopped collecting, but my brother picked it up and I think I read it when I came home on break from school. And I got to the point late last night after looking at his web site that gosh he did this fantastically smooth, sharp, detailed "watercolor" art on Strathmore 500 Bristol paper, maybe I should get some of that, it could revolutionize my whole method on A*, only to realize after a while that he and others were playing fast and loose with the term "watercolor," and actually meant "gouache," which yes is water-based paint but is thick and pasty and really nothing like working with traditional watercolors: I think I like watercolors because their wet-mixing, flowing, but quick-drying nature encourages working on the fly, rather than slowly and carefully dabbing a painting together bit by bit, which is kinda what gouache seemed to want me to do when I was experimenting with it.
I'm trying to get kinda more gestural and uh dang I had the right word for this when I was thinking about it earlier but anyway more on-the-flying with the watercolors, too; I seem to go through cycles of starting some art method off pretty loosely, then gradually tightening up, which is sometimes good in some ways, sometimes bad in others. Coloring a couple sketches a day or two ago—I'll show those to you next week after they've been mailed to their recipients, I think—they came out pretty well, and it seemed like part of that was because I just recycled the dried dregs of my watercolor palette from the previous day's A* page, so it already had various purples mixed from my red and blue, and I could just kind of dash them on here and there as the mood struck me, rather than having to whip up a new color mix for each spot I wanted to hit. So for the past two days I've pre-prepared my palette not just with mixes of light and dark blue and red, but also a blueish purple and a reddish purple, and I've also been lightening and darkening those on my brush simply by pre-wetting it more or less and dipping it more or less into the watercolor, which has turned out to work quite well—rather than, again, having to stop and mix up a concoction of a particular concentration of pigment. So that's been fun. I guess it leads to kinda unplanned things happening, which can be frustrating, and take up well a lot more time than otherwise, but when I look back, what comes out of those "mistakes" in watercolor is often the most interesting part.
  Rosetta & Philae's nifty photosOct 09, 2014 5:15 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Rosetta takes 'selfie' ahead of landing site selection (BBC) has a really gorgeous photo taken from the Rosetta spacecraft, or more specifically the Philae lander on-board Rosetta, with one of Rosetta's 14m solar panels extending before it, and Comet 67P in the background, 50 km away. The article also has a much more detailed photo of the surface of Comet 67P, showing the incredibly rugged terrain on which Philae will try to land; the landing attempt is currently scheduled for November 12th. An illustration showing the configuration of docked Philae, Rosetta, and the solar panels can be seen here.
Ooh and here's a composite photo taken by Rosetta at a distance of 16 miles from the comet, showing jets shooting out of the comet's surface.
  Sketch sketch sketchOct 08, 2014 2:54 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch I mailed to a reader a few weeks back as the reward for their support of the A* Patreon campaign in August:
Thank you!!
  White dwarf carbon core fusion confirmedOct 07, 2014 2:15 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Dead stars 'can re-ignite' and explode (BBC) talks about how thanks to the study of a Type Ia supernova whose gamma rays were detected reaching Earth from nearby galaxy M82 starting on January 21st of this year, scientists finally obtained proof, by spectrographic analysis of the elements in the explosion, that a white dwarf star, usually kind of the end of a star's evolution, can, if it somehow collects enough mass to pass the Chandrasekhar limit of ~1.39 solar masses, begin nuclear fusion of the carbon at its core, starting a reaction that suddenly tears the star apart. These Type Ia supernovae, because they occur specifically at that ~1.39 solar masses star size, are quite handy for determining distances to neighboring galaxies or star clusters, because, since the mass of the exploding star is always the same, and brightness diminishes with a simple formula based on distance, measuring the brightness of the explosion tells you precisely how far away the supernova and its neighboring stars must be.
Type Ia supernovae are also the sources of the iron we have here on Earth: in the reaction, the white dwarf's carbon and oxygen fuse into radioactive nickel, which decays into radioactive cobalt, which decays into iron. And that's why our blood is red! Sorta.
One interesting note from the observations of that Jan. 21st supernova was that by 50 to 100 days after the explosion, "the white dwarf has already expanded to a size larger than our solar system."
  Keep away from heat and moisture : oOct 04, 2014 9:33 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch I mailed off a few weeks ago to a lovely reader as thanks for their support of the A* Patreon campaign in August:
Patreon makes it easy to send your favorite creators a little dough each month to help them out while they work on making stuff for you! And I get to send people things like A* e-books and sketches in return. : ) I super-duper appreciate those kind souls who've jumped on board to help me out there;' these funds go directly to keeping me alive and equipped with art supplies so I can keep bringing A* to you every day. ^_^
^ I used that sketch as an opportunity to get in some costume design for the next episode—it'll be underwater, so Selenis will need a diving helmet, and I had tried several crummy designs that looked more like awful scuba gear (I don't think I am going to show those to anyone >_<) before that one sort of magically came out early one morning. Whew! Also, there will be ice pirates! Or, pirates beneath some ice, at least! Other than Selenis, even! Whee! We've got just one final scene on episode 21's desert planet before we move on to a decidedly colder and wetter world, so make sure to keep your wetsuit handy. : D
  "Stargazers" A* art auction listing correctedOct 03, 2014 8:56 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Auctions of the original art for the daily A* pages have been going really well lately, thanks to everyone who's been bidding! You've all been great. ^_^ I, on the other hand, made a bit of a boo-boo: instead of making a new auction for "Stargazers" (page 95), I instead accidentally edited the previous page's auction ("What Do You See," page 94) *into* an auction for Stargazers. Hey, the links for that are right next to each other on eBay and the UI looks pretty much identical and...well, I'll have to be more careful about that in the future. : o
Fortunately, everyone else was smarter than me, and resisted bidding on the goofed-up auction listing. I've restored the "What Do You See" auction to its correct title, description, and photos, and I made a new, separate auction for "Stargazers," so it should be all straightened out now, except that the Stargazer auction will run an extra day past that page's comic publishing date (the auctions, which are always accessible via the blue and gold "original on eBay" link at the lower left corner of the comic image, usually run for just one week after their respective comic page has gone up). Sorry for the confusion, and thanks for bidding on my paintings!!
  The original massive starsOct 02, 2014 6:10 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Hints of elusive early stars found (BBC) discusses results from recent research that scanned sky survey data looking for "low-metallicity" stars—stars "with 1,000 times less iron than that found in our Sun." The idea is that among these should be stars that are the direct descendents of the very first stars: stars that formed a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, when there was nothing around but hydrogen and helium—so they were able to grow very large, over 100 times as massive as our Sun; there are some modern stars that big, but in general, the metals that the first and succeeding stars formed limits the size to which modern stars are able to grow, according to the article. Stars that massive (or more specifically, from 130 to 250 solar masses) only live for about 3 million years (our tiny Sun, on the other hand, is a little more than halfway through its expected 8 billion year lifespan), and don't leave remnants like black holes when they go supernova; instead, they undergo a pair-instability supernova, in which gamma rays being generated in the intense heat and pressure of the star's core first cause it to expand, but, as they become more abundant and more powerful, their energy instead goes into creating electron-positron matter-antimatter particle pairs, which annihilate each other: the gamma rays and particles disappear, there is no longer sufficient energy to hold the star up against its own gravity, and it collapses suddenly, rebounding in a particularly violent supernova that blows it apart completely. In theory. So far the findings bear out the theory about the first stars, but since that first generation of stars died fairly soon after the Big Bang, it will take a very powerful telescope, such as perhaps NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, to be able to pick up their extremely distant/old/faint light.
Here's one of a number of rejected heads I started drawing for today's page:
As I was doing them I posted 'em on my tumblr/Twitter/Instagram. There were more but I started getting a little flustered. ; ) Problem is I generally start out drawing the eyes, then the head, then the body attached to it (this is probably a bad habit : P), so if I then go back and find that I have to redo the head (the original one and many of the later ones I tried were too small : ppp), it's a lot trickier than drawing it to start with. Darn heads! : P
  That's a scowlin'!Oct 01, 2014 2:58 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch I mailed off to a reader a little ways back as the reward for their support of the A* Patreon campaign in August:
Patreon is a service that makes it easy to send a buck or two to your favorite creators to support their work each month and I super-appreciate everyone who's helping me out!!
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