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October 21, 2011

A success story for Europe and Russia

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The beginning of Galileo geopositioning network...

Picture credit: Thilo Kranz

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August 6, 2011

Too much Google+ will kill Google+

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A few weeks ago, I found that my Google+ stream was principally filled with posts about Google+ and Google products. At the beginning I though it was normal because everyone wanted to know how to use G+. For a moment I thought it was my fault because there were many Google experts on my circles. So I enlarged my circles to more subjects and I waited a couple of weeks to see if new G+ users were able to modifying the current trend with most varied articles about music, science, literature, etc. The problem was that these new profiles posted also articles about G+ each time they learned about some feature or new functionality. Therefore, even if I have actually almost 25 circles among which only one is for Googlers (Google employees), I keep finding a lot of Google+ tips, Google announcements and a lot of information about social networks and how Facebook and Twitter must be afraid of G+, or why you must keep your Facebook and Twitter accounts, ... 

Yesterday I found a very interesting post of Alida Brandenburg that resumes very well the feelings of a large amount of G+ users about "too much G+" and she proposes a way to become more cultural, more social (for real). Hereafter I reproduce with permission her post and I hope you will find it very useful and instructive for your future G+ posts.

_______________________________________


Do you love Google+? Want it to succeed? You should probably stop posting about it then.

If you’re just joining Google+, you may not have noticed. In fact, if you did, you may have even appreciated it.

Studies show that 95% of posts on Google+ are about Google+.

Okay, okay, confession: I totally made that number up, but if you take a look at your stream, you’re likely to jump to a similar estimate.

Now, this is great for the first month or so that you’re on Google+ because these posts are chalked full of helpful tips that will assist you in getting your bearings in your new neighborhood. They are also often shares of pertinent information from users who are likewise useful to follow, so it’s a convenient, friendly introduction to your new neighbors. And really, come on- who hasn’t got caught up in the excitement of it all and wanted to do nothing but talk about this awesome new social community?

But now it’s your second month. You’ve settled into your new homepage and unpacked your box.netcontents. (Good thing you always backed up your Facebook photos on there!) You’ve become acquainted with your fellow Google+ residents and the all the usual characters (two crier, +Robert Scoble, Mayor +Natalie Villalobos … ). You’re feeling pretty jazzed about your move, so you venture out into your new ‘hood to explore further. But to your dismay, what you find resembles a track-housing, cookie-cutter community stamped out with nothing but more of the same- namely, posts about Google+. It’s stagnate. It’s starting to feel a little bit less like seven minutes in heaven and a little more like Fahrenheit 451. And it hits you: you just moved into a house of cards.

If Google+ continues to primarily offer Google+-related content, the site will get stale, established users will get turned off, and this house of cards will collapse. Reading about nothing but the way Google+ is or isn’t great, why or how it should be used, and how it’s going to impact the industry (and the world) is going to quickly become irrelevant. Without outside content to sustain users long-term, it’s simply not going to be great. Posts about how you should use Google+ are going to become empty if making said posts are the entirety of what users are using Google+ for. It will never have the opportunity to make an impact if all Google+ ends up being is a lot of smoke and funhouse mirrors reflecting back on itself. Pay no attention to the man behind the firewall.

So why am I saying all this? Because I do believe Google+ can be great. I do think there is an amazing plethora of reasons and ways Google+ should be used. I do think it has the potential to really serve as a game-changer and influence the world, and I’d like to see it reach that pinnacle.

So here’s my encouragement to all of you: if you share these sentiments, start branching out more. Post more unique, non-Google related content. Start sharing these non-Google/tech-related posts when you see them posted by other users so they can be disseminated to a wider audience, and likewise, think twice about sharing a Google+-related post “just because.” Build your stream up with people outside of the tech industry. Let’s not let this become a one-dimensional, Stepford-wives type community. Following the discouraging article that +Natalie Villalobos posted (https://plus.google.com/?tab=XX#109895887909967698705/posts/6rV72HNuXrD), let’s make this palatable and accessible on a global scale so it more accurately reflects our world population. Let’s focus on the plus, not the Google.


Why this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

Aside from noticing that most content on here is Google+-related, you may have also observed that the most-circled users fall into at least one of three categories:

1. Celebrities established prior to Google+
2. Google employees
3. People making Google+/tech-related posts

The first group is, of course, predictable, but the reason behind the second and third groups’ popularity is the biggest hurdle in overcoming the stagnation of content on here. Specifically, the people in the latter two groups rose to fame because their content or persona is Google+-related, and the posts that typically seem to get the highest number of shares, comments, and +’s are likewise Google+-related. This, again, is predictable, since this type of content is universally relevant to Google+ users, it’s accessible, and it’s still exciting and new to most. Compounding this advantage, these second- and third-category users then also become archived in a widely acknowledged database of “people to follow” list unofficially distributed to new users. This means that every time a new user joins, the elite status of the second and third groups is reestablished and further validated as more users follow them and distribute their posts. It’s amplification at its best. Suffice to say, posting G+-related content is not only easy, it’s also a tempting crutch to fall back on if you want to get a lot of followers.

Unfortunately, so long as people are rewarded by a high number of shares, comments and pluses on their Google+-related content, the positive reinforcement will continue and thus, so will the Google+ related content. People will continue to build notoriety on it and their egos will be fed. (See my previous post on this: https://plus.google.com/103765013042311928518/posts/F9bAU5K25Ec). This trend will keep up for a while until veteran users become frustrated with the redundancy and lack of substance on the site and an exodus will likely begin. The whole thing will potentially collapse.


How I plan to contribute.

Now, I realize the irony in all of this. First off, I’m encouraging others to expand their discussion points and stop relying so heavily on Google+ topics, while meanwhile making a post about Google+ myself. (Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors.) Not only that, but as a first-gen user active on the site when it initially launched, I’ve inadvertently built a bit of a following myself due to my own generated Google+-related content. (So yes, I can see your eyes rolling from here.) And this is not to say that I'm going to stop posting about Google+ all together. Obviously as the site continues to develop, there will me be more discuss. However, thus far I’ve also intentionally done my best to post on a variety of other topics with as much thoroughness as possible to help spur discussion and add depth to the content on Google+. Here’s how I’d like it to continue:


Topic Tuesdays

Every Tuesday I’ll post a question or topic to spark discussion and sharing. It can be as simple as asking you to tell the story of the first time you got in trouble with your parents, or it can be something more controversial, like asking whether or not prostitution should be legal. You can respond to my post directly, but I would also encourage you to create your own post around it and share it with your circles. Stir things up. Tell a story. Discover and explore. Get to know each other and connect with one another on the things that make us human- from the trivial and mundane to the profound and poignant. In summary? Stop focusing on the Google and start cultivating the plus.





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August 5, 2011

Ariane 5 : Flight V203

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The fourth Ariane 5 mission in 2011 will orbit two direct-to-home (DTH) television broadcast satellites : ASTRA 1N for the Luxembourg-based operator SES Astra, and BSAT-3c/JCSAT-110R for the American manufacturer Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems.

The launch window opportunity begins at 21:53 (UTC) on August 5, 2011.

Some key numbers :

- This will be the 59th Ariane 5 launch.
- The launcher will be carrying a total payload of 9095 kg.
- Injection orbit : Perigee altitude = 249.6 km, Apogee altitude = 35959 km at injection, Inclination = 2° deg.
- Thrust at launch : 13000 kN.


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July 21, 2011

Lego Cars: Promotional sets: Guido & Grem

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Today I found these two promotional sets of the Cars theme in magazine "Hors Série Cars Spécial Jeux" (France) :

30120 Guido (item #4625106)

30121 Grem (item #465107)

These sets have not been listed in Bricklink or Peeron. I will post more photos soon.

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July 8, 2011

History : STS-135 : The last one...

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The last space shuttle launch : Atlantis, on the way for the last mission...

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June 1, 2011

Mission STS-134 completed

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Endeavour landed at 2:35 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 1, 2011. That's the end of the STS-134 mission, that's the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour. Atlantis is waiting at launch pad and ready for the last mission.

Credits : Nasa / Bill Ingalls

More info @ NASA

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May 27, 2011

Une application iPhone pour le Salon du Bourget (Paris Air Show 2011)

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Aviation Week viens de lancer en partenariat avec Airbus une application iPhone pour vivre d'ores et déjà le 49e Salon International de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace. L'application vous permettra de ne plus vous perdre dans les différents halls et de repérer vos entreprises préférées. Vous avez également accès à la liste préliminaire des avions en exhibition, à un guide de Paris et aux actualités aérospatiales. A noter aussi le petit lien vers la météo du jour dans l'onglet 'Site Map' pour les démonstrations en vol. 





Site officiel du Salon : http://www.salon-du-bourget.fr/fr
Link pour l'application : http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/avweek-paris/id438193051?mt=8  (ou cherchez tout simplement 'Aviation Week' dans l'iTunes App Store).

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May 23, 2011

Superhero T-shirt

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I don't know if this is a joke or a really and serious warning. Anyway it made ​​me laugh.


Warning: Super-Heroes have super powers. It is not recommended to imitate, even if the purchase of this product (a t-shirt) might make you think you are invincible.

Mmmm, I really disappointed. I will request a refund.

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May 22, 2011

Lego Tumbler Batmobile

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I finally finished the Lego Tumbler Batmobile. Must thanks Brent Waller who released for free the full instructions for the black version of his LEGO Batman Tumbler in 2008.

Img_1687 Img_1692 Img_1686 Img_1688 Img_1689 Img_1693
You can download the instructions from Brent’s site (4.5 MB PDF) and view the parts list and page-by-page instructions in HTML.


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May 20, 2011

Wonder Woman : That's what you missed

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Ok, the costume is a little flashy and it's hard to imagine Linda Carter with tights blues.
Ok, we all had some concerns about David E. Kelly and canceled projects.
Ok, it was not easy to get used to the idea of ​​a Wonder Woman with a Ally McBeal's life.
Ok, the world is in economic recession and we need to save money everywhere.
Ok, the pilot episode did not seem to match the wishes of the NBC.

But look a little what you missed :

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May 10, 2011

"May the 4th be with you" Lego promotion : Shadow ARF Trooper

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Today I received my Lego order of the "May the Fourth be with you" promotion : The exclusive minifig of the "Shadow ARF Trooper" is just amazing and the poster is a limited edition (26 926 of 35 520) which presents all the ultimate Lego Star Wars sets from 2001 to this year. Check this link for more pics.

5704875012_a47f9b259a_b

5704879784_3f9f99cb38_b
Note : Headgear hair comes from another minifig.

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May 9, 2011

Free Comic Book Day : Ma sélection

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Samedi était le Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) aux USA. Cet évènement, pas très connu en France, est très attendu par les lecteurs américains des comics. Heureusement quelques locaux français ont participé et j'ai eu la joie de récupérer quelques comics. Je salue vivement Pulp's Comics qui fête le FCBD comme il se doit avec des vrais comics gratuits, et non comme d'autres magasins qui offrent les comics participants sous condition d'achat d'autres comics. D'ailleurs tous les comics ci-dessus présentés (sauf le tout dernier) proviennent de Pulp's (merci encore d'avoir permis à mes enfants de vous dévaliser de 4 comics supplémentaires !). Dommage néanmoins que je n'ai pas réussi à trouver la figurine Heroclix de Green Lantern. Il semblerait que celle-ci n'a pas été fournie aux magasins français...

Mon choix :




Le choix de mon aîné :




Le choix de la plus petite :


Dans un autre magasin :

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May 6, 2011

Black Hawk stealth helicopters seems to be used in Bin Laden's assault

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At least one of the helicopters used for reaching the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad was a modified stealth version of the Black Hawk. Military and intelligence US agencies have refused to comment about the use of stealth aircraft in this mission. But the photographs of the helicopter that navy seals blew up (after it was damaged in a hard landing ?), indicates modifications on the tail section which could improve the stealth properties of the helicopter (click on image for enlarge).


All image credits : The New York Times and Sikorsky

More @ The New York Times

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May 3, 2011

Probable Endeavour's final launch on May 10

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Photo comes from Florida Today.


The penultimate flight of Shuttle serie...

More info @ NASA

___________________________________

Update :

During the countdown last Friday, engineers detected a failure in one of two heater circuits associated with Auxiliary Power Unit (APU-1) (heaters are required to keep the APUs’ hydrazine from freezing on orbit).

The failure appears to be a power problem within the aft load control assembly-2 (ALCA-2), a box of switches controlling power feeds. This box will be replaced but action could take 2 days or more, then the new ALCA-2 should be tested. NASA presumes that Endeavour's launch will occur no earlier than May 10.

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Death Cab For Cutie - You are a tourist

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The first Live, scripted, one-take music video shoot. Ever.




Codes and Keys album available on May 31th.

More info @ Death Cab for Cutie

Thanks @MrcosBrito for the scoop. 

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May 1, 2011

Promo Lego Star Wars

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Pour célébrer le jour Star Wars (4 mai), shop.lego.com annonce des offres exclusives pour les journées du 3 et 4 mai.


Si cette promotion est identique à celle du site américain on peut s'atteindre aux offres suivantes (rumeurs vus dans FBTB.net) :

- Une minifigurine exclusive d'un Shadow ARF Trooper offerte pour un achat de Lego Star Wars supérieur à 75 USD (soit 50 euros environ).
- Des posters Lego Star Wars.
- Participation au tirage au sort d'un UCS Falcon Millennium.

D'après FBTB.net, pendant tout le mois de mai il pourrait avoir aussi les promotions suivantes dans le magasin en ligne LEGO Shop@Home :

- Pour l'achat de 2 porte-clés Star Wars, un porte-clés Star Wars gratuit.
- Un bac à glaçons en forme de minifigurine offert pour un achat de 75 USD ou plus.
- Doublement des points VIP lors de l'achat du set 7326 Rise of the Sphinx.

RDV donc sur shop.lego.com mardi et mercredi prochains et que la force soit avec vous !

_______________________________

Update du 03/05/2011 :

Finalement la participation au tirage au sort pour l'UCS Falcon Millennium n'est valable que pour le magasin shop.lego.com aux USA. Dommage !

Avis pour les collectionneurs : Les posters sont numérotés.

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April 11, 2011

Star disintegration : A massive interstellar explosion near a black hole

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Little stars, be careful with the massive black holes...


Blast detected 3.8 billion light-years away on the center of a galaxy cataloged GRB 110328A. Astronomers say that this unusual explosion mark the destruction of a massive star wandered too close to its galaxy's central black hole.

More @ NASA

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April 7, 2011

Serment du chasseur (Oath of the fighter pilot in french)

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Je jure par Dieu, ma Patrie, mon Roi, que je remplirai suivant mes forces et capacités et, s'il le faut au péril de ma vie l'engagement suivant :

Aviateur, si je me vois confier un fardeau il me deviendra plus sacré que ma propre existence.

Pilote, si je vois confier un appareil de guerre je me battrai à visage découvert portant haut emblème et cocardes.

Aviateur, quelle que soit la machine fabuleuse inventée par l'homme et quels que soient les dangers, affres et tourments que présentera l'entreprise d'aller nager les galaxies je répondrai présent.

Pilote, je n'oublierai jamais que la machine n'est rien sans l'homme qui la dirige.

Si je remplis ce serment, qu'il me soit donné de nombreuses heures de vol, de nombreux moments d'exaltation dans les nuages ou de peur dans la nuit, des aubes radieuses, des tempêtes et des effrois à vaincre. Qu'il me soit donné de jouir heureusement de la vie et de ma profession, honoré parmi les hommes.


Serment du chasseur - 5ème B.A.F.R.A.

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April 3, 2011

The future of radar systems : Quantum illumination

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Using entangled photons should be possible to improve considerably the data transmission. Raytheon BBN is studying new quantum concepts as quantum illumination for using in remote sensing applications. The development of such concepts would allow Radar, Laser Radar (LADAR), and other remote sensing systems to exceed the performance limits of today’s technology.

Actually traditional methods of data transmission, such as fibre optics or laser-based radar, require 100 photons to transmit a single bit of data. Using quantum illumination should be possible to sent 10 bits on a single photon. This discovery was announced theoretically by Seth Lloyd of the W.M. Keck Center for Extreme Quantum Information Processing (xQIT) 3 years ago. Here after the abstract of his paper Quantum Illumination :

Abstract: The use of entangled light to illuminate objects is shown to provide significant enhancements over unentangled light for detecting and imaging those objects in the presence of high levels of noise and loss. Each signal sent out is entangled with an ancilla, which is retained. Detection takes place via an entangling measurement on the returning signal together with the ancilla. Quantum illumination with e bits of entanglement increases the effective signal-to-noise ratio of detection and imaging by a factor of 2e, an exponential improvement over unentangled illumination.

It's all about entanglement. In this phenomenon when you have a pair of photons the quantum state of one photon is linked to that of another, regardless of how far apart they are. Quantum illumination begins with researchers passing a laser through filters that thin the beam into photons. The filters create identical photons that are linked to each other. Then they split the entangled photons and release one at a target, while the other is keeping near the transmitter. When a photon hits the target, it bounces back towards the source in a process that alters the photon. When it returns to the detector, the altered photon is no longer strictly entangled with its pair, then scientists compare the released photon’s reflection to its unaltered twin. This process is not very different from classical radar, where electromagnetic waves rebound off targets in order to create an image. However the smaller photon delivers far more data far more quickly and efficiently.

As said by researchers at Raytheon BBN, quantum illumination could be used to create hyper-long-distance communications systems where large amounts of information could be sent more quickly (almost instantaneously) and clearly. Some enthusiastic researchers suggest that quantum illumination could lead towards teleportation devices. That's right, but only for information. Star Trek's teleportation of people and objects remains on Science Fiction for the moment...



A definition for quantum illumination which comes from paper Quantum Illumination by Seth Lloyd :

Quantum illumination is a potentially powerful technique for performing detection and imaging, in which signal is entangled with an ancilla, and entangling measurements are made at the detector. Entanglement enhances the effective signal to noise ratio because a noise photon has a d times harder time masquerading as an entangled signal photon, compared with a noise photon masquerading as an unentangled signal photon.
The enhancement of sensitivity and effective signal-to-noise ratio that quantum illumination provides is exponential in the number of bits of initial entanglement, and persists even in the presence of large amounts of noise and loss, when no entanglement survives at the receiver.

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April 1, 2011

Batmobile (1989)

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Custom 1989 Batmobile
Design by Brickstruct

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March 16, 2011

A new more precisely measurement of the Hubble Constant

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Adam G. Riess and his team published their latest work where a new more precise measurement of the Hubble constant seems to confirm the fact that the expansion acceleration of the universe is due to Dark Energy. Indeed, the latest measure proposed by Riess and team, Ho = 73.8 ± 2.4 km s–1 Mpc–1, is completely inconsistent with the inhomogeneous matter models invoked to explain the apparent acceleration of the universe without Dark Energy.

The observation of this galaxy NGC 4258 was used to improve the accuracy of the Hubble Constant  - © NASA

New measures should be performed to confirm the Riess's results but already the measure proposed here has only a 3.3% of uncertainty.

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March 9, 2011

Bounty Hunters : No (Lego) disintegrations !

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03: You are free to use any methods necessary, but...

A couple of months ago I bought on eBay the customs Lego minifigs of 4-LOM and Zuckuss. Finally the picture is complete with all the bounty hunters from Empire Strikes Back.


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February 26, 2011

How to recycling your virtual reputation

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Improving or recycling your virtual reputation is only some steps away. Click to enlarge following image from New Scientist.

Protecting your virtual virtue - ©New Scientist

Full article : Keeping up e-ppearances: How to bury your digital dirt

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February 25, 2011

Goodbye Discovery : Last flight

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After 39 missions, Discovery shuttle will be retired... All good (best) things come to an end...

Space shuttle Discovery lifts off for the last time, February 24, 2011 - © NASA TV

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February 24, 2011

Increasing the overall VASIMR® system efficiency

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Ad Astra Rocket Company has published recently a new paper concerning the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR®). An ambipolar ion acceleration has been identified on the helicon plasma stage in the VASIMR® VX-200i prototype device, that is an ambipolar electric field produced by an electron pressure gradient, resulting in a local axial ion speed of Mach 4 downstream of the magnetic nozzle. This ambipolar ion acceleration would provide added increase in ion velocity during all phases of VASIMR® operation. This result allows to improve more efficient VASIMR® protypes, especially in the high thrust–low Isp operating range.

VASIMR® VX-200i prototype - ©Ad Astra Rocket Company

Paper is available @Ad Adstra Rocket Company

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February 20, 2011

Experiment by Fredric Brown

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A very short story published on Galaxy Science Fiction magazine on February 1954. Time paradoxes works even for a tiny time machine.

Illustration by STONE

"The first time machine, gentlemen," Professor Johnson proudly informed his two colleagues. "True, it is a small-scale experimental model. It will operate only on objects weighing less than three pounds, five ounces and for distances into the past and future of twelve minutes or less. But it works."

The small-scale model looked like a small scale—a postage scale—except for two dials in the part under the platform.

Professor Johnson held up a small metal cube. "Our experimental object," he said, "is a brass cube weighing one pound, two point three ounces. First, I shall send it five minutes into the future."

He leaned forward and set one of the dials on the time machine. "Look at your watches," he said.

They looked at their watches. Professor Johnson placed the cube gently on the machine's platform. It vanished.

Five minutes later, to the second, it reappeared.

Professor Johnson picked it up. "Now five minutes into the past." He set the other dial. Holding the cube in his hand he looked at his watch. "It is six minutes before three o'clock. I shall now activate the mechanism—by placing the cube on the platform—at exactly three o'clock. Therefore, the cube should, at five minutes before three, vanish from my hand and appear on the platform, five minutes before I place it there."

"How can you place it there, then?" asked one of his colleagues.

"It will, as my hand approaches, vanish from the platform and appear in my hand to be placed there. Three o'clock. Notice, please."

The cube vanished from his hand.

It appeared on the platform of the time machine.

"See? Five minutes before I shall place it there, it is there!"

His other colleague frowned at the cube. "But," he said, "what if, now that it has already appeared five minutes before you place it there, you should change your mind about doing so and not place it there at three o'clock? Wouldn't there be a paradox of some sort involved?"

"An interesting idea," Professor Johnson said. "I had not thought of it, and it will be interesting to try. Very well, I shall not ..."

There was no paradox at all. The cube remained.

But the entire rest of the Universe, professors and all, vanished.


This story is available for free at Project Gutenberg.

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February 18, 2011

Last Contact by Stephen Baxter (part 3 of 3)

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Dark energy (defined as a property of space, a new dynamic fluid, or a new theory of gravity) permeates all of space and tends to increase the rate of expansion of the universe. Dark energy it's like an antigravity field pulling the universe apart. What if the effective force of dark energy continues growing until it dominates all other forces in the universe ? What if the dark energy would ultimately tear apart all gravitationally bound structures, including galaxies, solar systems, and eventually overcome the electrical and nuclear forces to tear apart atoms themselves, ending the universe in a "Big Rip" ?

Part 1/3
Part 2/3

October 14th

That morning Maureen got up early. She was pleased that it was a bright morning, after the rain of the last few days. It was a lovely autumn day. She had breakfast listening to the last-ever episode of The Archers, but her radio battery failed before the end.

She went to work in the garden, hoping to get everything done before the light went. There was plenty of work, leaves to rake up, the roses and the clematis to prune. She had decided to plant a row of daffodil bulbs around the base of the new pergola. She noticed a little band of goldfinches, plundering a clump of Michaelmas daisies for seed. She sat back on her heels to watch. The colorful little birds had always been her favorites.

Then the light went, just like that, darkening as if somebody was throwing a dimmer switch. Maureen looked up. The sun was rushing away, and sucking all the light out of the sky with it. It was a remarkable sight, and she wished she had a camera. As the light turned gray, and then charcoal, and then utterly black, she heard the goldfinches fly off in a clatter, confused. It had only taken a few minutes.

Maureen was prepared. She dug a little torch out of the pocket of her old quilted coat. She had been hoarding the batteries; you hadn’t been able to buy them for weeks. The torch got her as far as the pergola, where she lit some rush torches that she’d fixed to canes.

Then she sat in the pergola, in the dark, with her garden lit up by her rush torches, and waited. She wished she had thought to bring out her book. She didn’t suppose there would be time to finish it now. Anyhow, the flickering firelight would be bad for her eyes.

“Mum?”

The soft voice made her jump. It was Caitlin, threading her way across the garden with a torch of her own.

“I’m in here, love.”

Caitlin joined her mother in the pergola, and they sat on the wooden benches, on the thin cushions Maureen had been able to buy. Caitlin shut down her torch to conserve the battery.

Maureen said, “The sun went, right on cue.”

“Oh, it’s all working out, bang on time.”

Somewhere there was shouting, whooping, a tinkle of broken glass.

“Someone’s having fun,” Maureen said.

“It’s a bit like an eclipse,” Caitlin said. “Like in Cornwall, do you remember? The sky was cloudy, and we couldn’t see a bit of the eclipse. But at that moment when the sky went dark, everybody got excited. Something primeval, I suppose.”

“Would you like a drink? I’ve got a flask of tea. The milk’s a bit off, I’m afraid.”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“I got up early and managed to get my bulbs in. I didn’t have time to trim that clematis, though. I got it all ready for the winter, I think.”

“I’m glad.”

“I’d rather be out here than indoors, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, yes.”

“I thought about bringing blankets. I didn’t know if it would get cold.”

“Not much. The air will keep its heat for a bit. There won’t be time to get very cold.”

“I was going to fix up some electric lights out here. But the power’s been off for days.”

“The rushes are better, anyway. I would have been here earlier. There was a jam by the church. All the churches are packed, I imagine. And then I ran out of petrol a couple of miles back. We haven’t been able to fill up for weeks.”

“It’s all right. I’m glad to see you. I didn’t expect you at all. I couldn’t ring.” Even the phone networks had been down for days. In the end everything had slowly broken down, as people simply gave up their jobs and went home. Maureen asked carefully, “So how’s Bill and the kids?”

“We had an early Christmas,” Caitlin said. “They’ll both miss their birthdays, but we didn’t think they should be cheated out of Christmas too. We did it all this morning. Stockings, a tree, the decorations and the lights down from the loft, presents, the lot. And then we had a big lunch. I couldn’t find a turkey but I’d been saving a chicken. After lunch the kids went for their nap. Bill put their pills in their lemonade.”

Maureen knew she meant the little blue pills the NHS had given out to every household.

“Bill lay down with them. He said he was going to wait with them until he was sure—you know. That they wouldn’t wake up, and be distressed. Then he was going to take his own pill.”

Maureen took her hand. “You didn’t stay with them?”

“I didn’t want to take the pill.” There was some bitterness in her voice. “I always wanted to see it through to the end. I suppose it’s the scientist in me. We argued about it. We fought, I suppose. In the end we decided this way was the best.”

Maureen thought that on some level Caitlin couldn’t really believe her children were gone, or she couldn’t keep functioning like this. “Well, I’m glad you’re here with me. And I never fancied those pills either. Although—will it hurt?”

“Only briefly. When the Earth’s crust gives way. It will be like sitting on top of an erupting volcano.”

“You had an early Christmas. Now we’re going to have an early Bonfire Night.”

“It looks like it. I wanted to see it through,” Caitlin said again. “After all I was in at the start—those supernova studies.”

“You mustn’t think it’s somehow your fault.”

“I do, a bit,” Caitlin confessed. “Stupid, isn’t it?”

“But you decided not to go to the shelter in Oxford with the others?”

“I’d rather be here. With you. Oh, but I brought this.” She dug into her coat pocket and produced a sphere, about the size of a tennis ball.

Maureen took it. It was heavy, with a smooth black surface.

Caitlin said, “It’s the stuff they make space shuttle heatshield tiles out of. It can soak up a lot of heat.”

“So it will survive the Earth breaking up.”

“That’s the idea.”

“Are there instruments inside?”

“Yes. It should keep working, keep recording until the expansion gets down to the centimeter scale, and the Rip cracks the sphere open. Then it will release a cloud of even finer sensor units, motes we call them. It’s nanotechnology, Mum, machines the size of molecules. They will keep gathering data until the expansion reaches molecular scales.”

“How long will that take after the big sphere breaks up?”

“Oh, a microsecond or so. There’s nothing we could come up with that could keep data-gathering after that.”

Maureen hefted the little device. “What a wonderful little gadget. It’s a shame nobody will be able to use its data.”

“Well, you never know,” Caitlin said. “Some of the cosmologists say this is just a transition, rather than an end. The universe has passed through transitions before, for instance from an age dominated by radiation to one dominated by matter—our age. Maybe there will be life of some kind in a new era dominated by the dark energy.”

“But nothing like us.”

“I’m afraid not.”

Maureen stood and put the sphere down in the middle of the lawn. The grass was just faintly moist, with dew, as the air cooled.

“Will it be all right here?”

“I should think so.”

The ground shuddered, and there was a sound like a door slamming, deep in the ground. Alarms went off, from cars and houses, distant wails. Maureen hurried back to the pergola. She sat with Caitlin, and they wrapped their arms around each other. Caitlin raised her wrist to peer at her watch, then gave it up. “I don’t suppose we need a countdown.”

The ground shook more violently, and there was an odd sound, like waves rushing over pebbles on a beach. Maureen peered out of the pergola. Remarkably, one wall of her house had given way, just like that, and the bricks had tumbled into a heap.

“You’ll never get a builder out now,” Caitlin said, but her voice was edgy.

“We’d better get out of here.”

“All right.”

They got out of the pergola and stood side by side on the lawn, over the little sphere of instruments, holding onto each other. There was another tremor, and Maureen’s roof tiles slid to the ground, smashing and tinkling.

“Mum, there’s one thing.”

“Yes, love.”

“You said you didn’t think all those alien signals needed to be decoded.”

“Why, no. I always thought it was obvious what all the signals were saying.”

“What?”

Maureen tried to reply.

The ground burst open. The scrap of dewy lawn flung itself into the air, and Maureen was thrown down, her face pressed against the grass. She glimpsed houses and trees and people, all flying in the air, underlit by a furnace-red glow from beneath.

But she was still holding Caitlin. Caitlin’s eyes were squeezed tight shut. “Goodbye,” Maureen yelled. “They were just saying goodbye.” But she couldn’t tell if Caitlin could hear.



Copyright © Stephen Baxter 2007, first published in 2007 by Solaris Books in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, edited by George Mann.


Full text of Last Contact is available here.

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February 17, 2011

Last Contact by Stephen Baxter (part 2 of 3)

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Dark energy (defined as a property of space, a new dynamic fluid, or a new theory of gravity) permeates all of space and tends to increase the rate of expansion of the universe. Dark energy it's like an antigravity field pulling the universe apart. What if the effective force of dark energy continues growing until it dominates all other forces in the universe ? What if the dark energy would ultimately tear apart all gravitationally bound structures, including galaxies, solar systems, and eventually overcome the electrical and nuclear forces to tear apart atoms themselves, ending the universe in a "Big Rip" ?

Part 1/3.

June 5th

It was about lunchtime when Caitlin arrived from the garden center with the pieces of the pergola. Maureen helped her unload them from the back of a white van, and carry them through the gate from the drive. They were mostly just prefabricated wooden panels and beams that they could manage between the two of them, though the big iron spikes that would be driven into the ground to support the uprights were heavier. They got the pieces stacked upon the lawn.

“I should be able to set it up myself,” Maureen said. “Joe next door said he’d lay the concrete base for me, and help me lift on the roof section. There’s some nailing to be done, and creosoting, but I can do all that.”

“Joe, eh?” Caitlin grinned.

“Oh, shut up, he’s just a neighbor. Where did you get the van? Did you have to hire it?”

“No, the garden center loaned it to me. They can’t deliver. They are still getting stock in, but they can’t rely on the staff.

They just quit, without any notice. In the end it sort of gets to you, I suppose.”

“Well, you can’t blame people for wanting to be at home.”

“No. Actually Bill’s packed it in. I meant to tell you. He didn’t even finish his induction at Webster’s. But the project he was working on would never have got finished anyway.”

“I’m sure the kids are glad to have him home.”

“Well, they’re finishing the school year. At least I think they will, the teachers still seem keen to carry on.”

“It’s probably best for them.”

“Yes. We can always decide what to do after the summer, if the schools open again.”

Maureen had prepared some sandwiches, and some iced elderflower cordial. They sat in the shade of the house and ate their lunch and looked out over the garden.

Caitlin said, “Your lawn’s looking good.”

“It’s come up quite well. I’m still thinking of relaying that patch over there.”

“And you put in a lot of vegetables in the end,” Caitlin said.

“I thought I should. I’ve planted courgettes and French beans and carrots, and a few outdoor tomatoes. I could do with a greenhouse, but I haven’t really room for one. It seemed a good idea, rather than flowers, this year.”

“Yes. You can’t rely on the shops.”

Things had kept working, mostly, as people stuck to their jobs. But there were always gaps on the supermarket shelves, as supply chains broke down. There was talk of rationing some essentials, and there were already coupons for petrol.

“I don’t approve of how tatty the streets are getting in town,” Maureen said sternly.

Caitlin sighed. “I suppose you can’t blame people for packing in a job like street-sweeping. It is a bit tricky getting around town though. We need some work done on the roof, we’re missing a couple of tiles. It’s just as well we won’t have to get through another winter,” she said, a bit darkly. “But you can’t get a builder for love or money.”

“Well, you never could.”

They both laughed.

Maureen said, “I told you people would cope. People do just get on with things.”

“We haven’t got to the end game yet,” Caitlin said. “I went into London the other day. That isn’t too friendly, Mum. It’s not all like this, you know.”

Maureen’s phone pinged, and she checked the screen. “Four or five a day now,” she said. “New contacts, lighting up all over the sky.”

“But that’s down from the peak, isn’t it?”

“Oh, we had a dozen a day at one time. But now we’ve lost half the stars, haven’t we?”

“Well, that’s true, now the Rip has folded down into the galaxy. I haven’t really been following it, Mum. Nobody’s been able to decode any of the signals, have they?”

“But some of them aren’t the sort of signal you can decode anyhow. In one case somebody picked up an artificial element in the spectrum of a star. Something that was manufactured, and then just chucked in to burn up, like a flare.”

Caitlin considered. “That can’t say anything but ‘here we are,’ I suppose.”

“Maybe that’s enough.”

“Yes.”

It had really been Harry who had been interested in wild speculations about alien life and so forth. Joining the phone network of home observers of ET, helping to analyze possible signals from the stars in a network of millions of others, had been Harry’s hobby, not Maureen’s. It was one of Harry’s things she had kept up after he had died, like his weather monitoring and his football pools. It would have felt odd just to have stopped it all.

But she did understand how remarkable it was that the sky had suddenly lit up with messages like a Christmas tree, after more than half a century of dogged, fruitless, frustrating listening. Harry would have loved to see it.

“Caitlin, I don’t really understand how all these signals can be arriving just now. I mean, it takes years for light to travel between the stars, doesn’t it? We only knew about the phantom energy a few months ago.”

“But others might have detected it long before, with better technology than we’ve got. That would give you time to send something. Maybe the signals have been timed to get here, just before the end, aimed just at us.”

“That’s a nice thought.”

“Some of us hoped that there would be an answer to the dark energy in all those messages.”

“What answer could there be?”

Caitlin shrugged. “If we can’t decode the messages we’ll never know. And I suppose if there was anything to be done, it would have been done by now.”

“I don’t think the messages need decoding,” Maureen said.

Caitlin looked at her curiously, but didn’t pursue it. “Listen, Mum. Some of us are going to try to do something. You understand that the Rip works down the scales, so that larger structures break up first. The galaxy, then the solar system, then planets like Earth. And then the human body.”

Maureen considered. “So people will outlive the Earth.”

“Well, they could. For maybe about thirty minutes, until atomic structures get pulled apart. There’s talk of establishing a sort of shelter in Oxford that could survive the end of the Earth. Like a submarine, I suppose. And if you wore a pressure suit you might last a bit longer even than that. The design goal is to make it through to the last microsecond. You could gather another thirty minutes of data that way. They’ve asked me to go in there.”

“Will you?”

“I haven’t decided. It will depend on how we feel about the kids, and—you know.”

Maureen considered. “You must do what makes you happy, I suppose.”

“Yes. But it’s hard to know what that is, isn’t it?” Caitlin looked up at the sky. “It’s going to be a hot day.”

“Yes. And a long one. I think I’m glad about that. The night sky looks odd now the Milky Way has gone.”

“And the stars are flying off one by one,” Caitlin murmured. “I suppose the constellations will look funny by the autumn.”

“Do you want some more sandwiches?”

“I’ll have a bit more of that cordial. It’s very good, Mum.”

“It’s elderflower. I collect the blossoms from that bush down the road. I’ll give you the recipe if you like.”

“Shall we see if your Joe fancies laying a bit of concrete this afternoon? I could do with meeting your new beau.”

“Oh, shut up,” Maureen said, and she went inside to make a fresh jug of cordial.


Part 3/3.

Copyright © Stephen Baxter 2007, first published in 2007 by Solaris Books in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, edited by George Mann.


Full text of Last Contact is available here.

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The upcoming Wonder Woman : Adrianne Palicki

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In general I'm not interested on business TV shows but when an iconic superhero like Wonder Woman seems to be reused for a TV show I cannot just ignore the information because I grow up with the Linda Carter's Wonder Woman of the 70's and I wonder how the Warner Bros will raise the challenge of a new Wonder Woman. They (the Warner Bros) recently announced that actress Adriannne Palicki won the titular role in David E. Kelly's series pilot for NBC's "Wonder Woman".

First at all the actress : Adriannne Palicki. She's not stranger to the superhero genre because she played the Kryptonian Kara on "Smallville" (Convent, episode 22, saison 3) before Laura Vandervoort stepped in to play the real Supergirl. She also played on the TV movie Aquaman as the evil supervillain Siren. With a height of 1.80 m and a beautiful body she seems a really Amazon. The choice of this "beauté" seems a very good choice.


About the screenwriter and television producer David E. Kelly I have some concerns. Last 10 years, several Kelly's TV projects have been canceled (Snoops, Ally, Girls club, The Brotherhood of Poland: New Hampshire, The Law Firm, The Wedding Bells) and I really don't see a superhero profile on Kelly's creations...

In fact, the series pilot should be an adaptation of the DC Comics title in which Wonder Woman – a.k.a. Diana Prince – is a vigilante crimefighter on the streets of Los Angeles but also a successful corporate executive and a modern woman trying to balance all of the elements of her extraordinary life.

Some questions should be answered very soon : She'll adopt the new costume that DC created last year for the comic-book Diana Prince ? Will the pilot get picked up for a full-season order ? I just hope that the superhero element should be more important than the modern woman corporate executive profile... I really don't want to see another Ally McBeal with super powers !

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February 16, 2011

Last Contact by Stephen Baxter (part 1 of 3)

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Dark energy (defined as a property of space, a new dynamic fluid, or a new theory of gravity) permeates all of space and tends to increase the rate of expansion of the universe. Dark energy it's like an antigravity field pulling the universe apart. What if the effective force of dark energy continues growing until it dominates all other forces in the universe ? What if the dark energy would ultimately tear apart all gravitationally bound structures, including galaxies, solar systems, and eventually overcome the electrical and nuclear forces to tear apart atoms themselves, ending the universe in a "Big Rip" ?

March 15th

Caitlin walked into the garden through the little gate from the drive. Maureen was working on the lawn.

Just at that moment Maureen’s phone pinged. She took off her gardening gloves, dug the phone out of the deep pocket of her old quilted coat and looked at the screen. “Another contact,” she called to her daughter.

Caitlin looked cold in her thin jacket; she wrapped her arms around her body. “Another super-civilization discovered, off in space. We live in strange times, Mum.”

“That’s the fifteenth this year. And I did my bit to help discover it. Good for me,” Maureen said, smiling. “Hello, love.” She leaned forward for a kiss on the cheek.

She knew why Caitlin was here, of course. Caitlin had always hinted she would come and deliver the news about the Big Rip in person, one way or the other. Maureen guessed what that news was from her daughter’s hollow, stressed eyes. But Caitlin was looking around the garden, and Maureen decided to let her tell it all in her own time.

She asked, “How’re the kids?”

“Fine. At school. Bill’s at home, baking bread.” Caitlin smiled. “Why do stay-at-home fathers always bake bread? But he’s starting at Webster’s next month.”

“That’s the engineers in Oxford?”

“That’s right. Not that it makes much difference now. We won’t run out of money before, well, before it doesn’t matter.” Caitlin considered the garden. It was just a scrap of lawn really, with a quite nicely stocked border, behind a cottage that was a little more than a hundred years old, in this village on the outskirts of Oxford. “It’s the first time I’ve seen this properly.”

“Well, it’s the first bright day we’ve had. My first spring here.” They walked around the lawn. “It’s not bad. It’s been let to run to seed a bit by Mrs. Murdoch. Who was another lonely old widow,” Maureen said.

“You mustn’t think like that.”

“Well, it’s true. This little house is fine for someone on their own, like me, or her. I suppose I’d pass it on to somebody else in the same boat, when I’m done.”

Caitlin was silent at that, silent at the mention of the future.

Maureen showed her patches where the lawn had dried out last summer and would need reseeding. And there was a little brass plaque fixed to the wall of the house to show the level reached by the Thames floods of two years ago. “The lawn is all right. I do like this time of year when you sort of wake it up from the winter. The grass needs raking and scarifying, of course. I’ll reseed bits of it, and see how it grows during the summer. I might think about getting some of it relaid. Now the weather’s so different, the drainage might not be right anymore.”

“You’re enjoying getting back in the saddle, aren’t you, Mum?”

Maureen shrugged. “Well, the last couple of years weren’t much fun. Nursing your dad, and then getting rid of the house. It’s nice to get this old thing back on again.” She raised her arms and looked down at her quilted gardening coat.

Caitlin wrinkled her nose. “I always hated that stupid old coat. You really should get yourself something better, Mum. These modern fabrics are very good.”

“This will see me out,” Maureen said firmly.

They walked around the verge, looking at the plants, the weeds, the autumn leaves that hadn’t been swept up and were now rotting in place.

Caitlin said, “I’m going to be on the radio later. BBC Radio 4. There’s to be a government statement on the Rip, and I’ll be in the follow-up discussion. It starts at nine, and I should be on about nine-thirty.”

“I’ll listen to it. Do you want me to tape it for you?”

“No. Bill will get it. Besides, you can listen to all these things on the websites these days.”

Maureen said carefully, “I take it the news is what you expected, then.”

“Pretty much. The Hawaii observatories confirmed it. I’ve seen the new Hubble images, deep sky fields. Empty, save for the foreground objects. All the galaxies beyond the local group have gone. Eerie, really, seeing your predictions come true like that. That’s couch grass, isn’t it?”

“Yes. I stuck a fork in it. Nothing but root mass underneath. It will be a devil to get up. I’ll have a go, and then put down some bin liners for a few weeks, and see if that kills it off. Then there are these roses that should have been pruned by now. I think I’ll plant some gladioli in this corner—”

“Mum, it’s October.” Caitlin blurted that out. She looked thin, pale, and tense, a real office worker, but then Maureen had always thought that about her daughter, that she worked too hard. Now she was thirty-five, and her moderately pretty face was lined at the eyes and around her mouth, the first wistful signs of age. “October 14th, at about four in the afternoon. I say ‘about.’ I could give you the time down to the attosecond if you wanted.”

Maureen took her hands. “It’s all right, love. It’s about when you thought it would be, isn’t it?”

“Not that it does us any good, knowing. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

They walked on. They came to a corner on the south side of the little garden. “This ought to catch the sun,” Maureen said. “I’m thinking of putting in a seat here. A pergola maybe. Somewhere to sit. I’ll see how the sun goes around later in the year.”

“Dad would have liked a pergola,” Caitlin said. “He always did say a garden was a place to sit in, not to work.”

“Yes. It does feel odd that your father died, so soon before all this. I’d have liked him to see it out. It seems a waste somehow.”

Caitlin looked up at the sky. “Funny thing, Mum. It’s all quite invisible to the naked eye still. You can see the Andromeda Galaxy, just, but that’s bound to the Milky Way by gravity. So the expansion hasn’t reached down to the scale of the visible, not yet. It’s still all instruments, telescopes. But it’s real all right.”

“I suppose you’ll have to explain it all on Radio 4.”

“That’s why I’m there. We’ll probably have to keep saying it over and over, trying to find ways of saying it that people can understand. You know, don’t you, Mum? It’s all to do with dark energy. It’s like an antigravity field that permeates the universe. Just as gravity pulls everything together, the dark energy is pulling the universe apart, taking more and more of it so far away that its light can’t reach us anymore. It started at the level of the largest structures in the universe, superclusters of galaxies. But in the end it will fold down to the smallest scales. Every bound structure will be pulled apart. Even atoms, even subatomic particles. The Big Rip.

“We’ve known about this stuff for years. What we didn’t expect was that the expansion would accelerate as it has. We thought we had trillions of years. Then the forecast was billions. And now—”

“Yes.”

“It’s funny for me being involved in this stuff, Mum. Being on the radio. I’ve never been a people person. I became an astrophysicist, for God’s sake. I always thought that what I studied would have absolutely no effect on anybody’s life. How wrong I was. Actually there’s been a lot of debate about whether to announce it or not.”

“I think people will behave pretty well,” Maureen said. “They usually do. It might get trickier toward the end, I suppose. But people have a right to know, don’t you think?”

“They’re putting it on after nine, so people can decide what to tell their kids.”

“After the watershed! Well, that’s considerate. Will you tell your two?”

“I think we’ll have to. Everybody at school will know. They’ll probably get bullied about it if they don’t know. Imagine that. Besides, the little beggars will probably have googled it on their mobiles by one minute past nine.”

Maureen laughed. “There is that.”

“It will be like when I told them Dad had died,” Caitlin said. “Or like when Billy started asking hard questions about Santa Claus.”

“No more Christmases,” Maureen said suddenly. “If it’s all over in October.”

“No more birthdays for my two either,” Caitlin said.

“November and January.”

“Yes. It’s funny, in the lab, when the date came up, that was the first thing I thought of.”

Maureen’s phone pinged again. “Another signal. Quite different in nature from the last, according to this.”

“I wonder if we’ll get any of those signals decoded in time.”

Maureen waggled her phone. “It won’t be for want of trying, me and a billion other search-for-ET-at-home enthusiasts. Would you like some tea, love?”

“It’s all right. I’ll let you get on. I told Bill I’d get the shopping in, before I have to go back to the studios in Oxford this evening.”

They walked toward the back door into the house, strolling, inspecting the plants and the scrappy lawn.


Continued on part 2/3.

Copyright © Stephen Baxter 2007, first published in 2007 by Solaris Books in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, edited by George Mann.


Full text of Last Contact is available here.

Read more...

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