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Apollo Planetary Historical Preserve

One of my favourite space heritage scenes from science fiction: Tranquility Base is by far the biggest tourist attraction on Luna, and the reason is its historical significance, since it is the spot where a human foot first trod another planet. Right? If you thought that, maybe I could interest you in some prime real estate on Ganymede with a great view of the volcano. The real draw at Tranquility is just over the horizon and goes by the name of Armstrong Park. Since the park is within the boundaries of Apollo Planetary Historical Preserve, the Lunar Chamber of Commerce can boast that X million people visit the site of the first Lunar landing every year, but the ads feature the roller coaster, not the LEM. A good number of those tourists … Read entire article »

Filed under: Fiction

Review: Prometheus

Space archaeology movies don’t come along often, so I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. This review is basically me venting my deep disappointment. There are spoilers. Two archaeologists – the believer ‘Shaw’ and the skeptic ‘Holloway’ – are excavating on the Isle of Skye, Scotland (I just had the awful thought that the site was chosen because it’s a homophone of ‘sky’.) In a cave they discover paleolithic art depicting an ancient alien and a star map. It’s clear that this painting is what the archaeologists were searching for. Think about how they designed that expedition: “Let’s dig randomly all over the world until we find examples of this design to support the ancient astronaut hypothesis.” That is a terrible plan. It wouldn’t take much to fix this … Read entire article »

Filed under: Reviews

Stellar Demolition

I love the bathos of this extract from the Red Dwarf novels: Sipping her champagne Kirsty Fantori, the star demolition engineer, started programming the nebulon missile. It had to explode at just the right moment to trigger off the reaction in the star’s core which would push it into supernova stage. A star in supernova would light up the entire galaxy for over a month, giving off more energy than the Earth’s sun could in ten billion years. It would be a hell of a bang. One undetected bug in Fantozi’s programming could ruin everything. Not only did she have to push the star into supernova, she had to time it so the light from the explosion would reach Earth at exactly the right moment. The right moment was the same … Read entire article »

Filed under: Uncategorized

The Dark Side of the Sun

In Terry Pratchett’s science fiction novel The Dark Side of the Sun a search for the enigmatic galactic forerunner race the Jokers hinges on the meaning of that phrase. In the end (and this isn’t a spoiler – the novel was published 35 years ago) the “dark side of the sun” is revealed to refer to the Jokers’ return to a non-sapient state to await the evolution of other, different, minds with new perspectives. I was recently reading the science fiction encyclopedia entry on Devolution. It’s one of those words (like deceleration) which a pedant might chide you for using – it implies an inherent direction in evolution. There’s a strong subset of science fiction concerned with more highly advanced or highly evolved species than our own, or our own transcendence. But … Read entire article »

Filed under: Miscellaneous

The First Words on Mars: A List from Science Fiction

There was some discussion on Twitter about the first words that should be spoken on Mars. I’m preserving some examples I found here and will add to it periodically. “Welcome to Mars!” – Roy Rockwood (1910) Through Space to Mars. “Well, shall we go out and claim the planet in the name of Brooklyn?” – The Angry Red Planet (1959) [spoken inside the lander]. “We’re on Mars!” – Frederik Pohl (1976) Man Plus [also spoken from inside the lander]. “Christopher Columbus, you should be here.” – Philip Jose Farmer (1979) Jesus on Mars. “Well, here we are.” – Kim Stanley Robinson (1992) Red Mars. “Ya’aa’tey” (Navajo for “it is good”) – Ben Bova (1992) Mars. “… the first human feet to step on the Red Planet, the world of ancient canals and our new dreams. We are … Read entire article »

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Review: ‘Footprints of alien technology’, by Paul Davies

Since the search for extraterrestrial intelligence began, astronomers have been trying to answer the question “Are we alone in the universe?” in two ways: by listening for deliberate messages, and by looking for physical evidence – the products and byproducts – arising as a consequence of extraterrestrial civilization. The latter search, called xenoarchaeology on this site, has explored a number of strategies such as hunting for orbiting probes, artificial structures on planetary surfaces, and astroengineering projects such as Dyson spheres. Paul Davies of the Beyond Center at Arizona State University has just published a paper in Acta Astronautica promoting the search for more subtle traces of nonhuman civilization, and asking that the entire scientific community be on the lookout. His paper covers a number of astrobiological issues such as the need to refine the … Read entire article »

Filed under: Reviews

Day of the Amoeba: Mass Hysteria in Charlotte, NC, 1965

4 August, 1965. Panic sweeps the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, when local radio station WIST broadcasts a news flash: ”An amoeba is loose somewhere on the outskirts of the city!” Terrified children tried to get home to their parents, who were jamming phone lines to the police in desperate attempts to find their children. The panic was described as “one of the worst disturbances in the city’s history”. A city of 80,000 in an uproar over an amoeba – a creature smaller than a millimeter across. A year later the Federal Communications Commission officially censured the radio station for alarming the scientifically illiterate population of Charlotte. Police phone lines were tied up for three hours, and “three times” the number of telephonists were put on duty to handle the calls. I came across this story … Read entire article »

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Review: ‘Response to Ben McGee’ by Linda Billings

Linda Billings states bluntly that Ben McGee’s “call for proactive xenoarchaeological guidelines” is not “a productive contribution to the scientific search for evidence of extraterrestrial life or efforts to communicate clearly about it.” Much of her criticism is of terminological imprecision. I agree with her about the way the term “astrobiology” is used by McGee: at different times referring broadly to extraterrestrial life, and narrowly to intelligent extraterrestrial life. On the other hand, her apparent dismissal of the term “xenoarchaeology” for not appearing in dictionaries fails for several reasons: McGee had himself defined the term in his initial paper; such a prescriptive approach would stymie neologisms of all kinds; the use of the prefix xeno- to refer to extraterrestrial specialisations is uncontroversial – Billings would surely be aware of the term xenobiology, a less common … Read entire article »

Filed under: Reviews

Review: ‘A call for proactive xenoarchaeological guidelines’, by Ben W. McGee

A call for proactive xenoarchaeological guidelines – Scientific, policy and socio-political considerations Space Policy, Volume 26, Issue 4, November 2010, Pages 209-213. Ben McGee’s paper in Space Policy calling for the development of guidelines for use in the event of the discovery of extraterrestrial artefacts seems uncontroversial to me. The SETI mainstream has its Declaration of Principles Concerning Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence after all. However from reading his blog I know that he received a strongly negative response from Linda Billings. I’ll discuss my own thoughts about McGee’s paper in this post, and get around to the response in the next few days. My first impression is of some imprecision in terminology, particularly in use of the word “astrobiology”. Instead of  ”artifacts of astrobiological activity” for instance, I would refer to artefacts of … Read entire article »

Filed under: Reviews

10 Space Archaeology Stories You Must Read

Following on from my popular post, 10 Space Archaeology Novels You Must Read, here’s a list of ten great space archaeological short stories. Where the prior post approached a “top ten”, this list can only be taken as a number of stories that I recommend, based on my limited reading. There are literally generations of magazines and anthologies that I haven’t read and which might contain brilliant space archaeological stories. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that a few stories here would count among the best, such as ‘The Red One’, ‘The Sentinel’, ‘Lungfish’ and ‘Omnilingual’. ‘The Red One’ (1918), by Jack London Set in the Solomon Islands, this astonishing tale is decades ahead of its time in its science fictional concepts, while simultaneously being appallingly of its time in its depiction of the … Read entire article »

Filed under: Fiction