HG Wells, Attenborough, Martians and Tasmanian genocide


BRITISH MADE GENOCIDE: The last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right

This photo shows the last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Friday, December 6, 2019

Alien invasions and meetings with Stalin

The BBC TV adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds has finished. PETER FROST reminds us what a great socialist the author was

LAST SUNDAY saw the screening of the third and final episode of the BBC’s magnificent, if controversial, adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds.

Wells’s classic tale of Martians invading Earth has long been a favourite of mine. It is a beautifully ironic analogy of British imperialism’s invasions of foreign lands. Gun in one hand, a bible in the other the British invaded so many places in order to colour the globe pink.

Soldiers and missionaries carried a whole arsenal of fatal secret weapons. Viruses and bacteria of diseases like influenza and even the common cold. These were endemic back home but unknown and deadly among folk who had never built up immunities to them.

By coincidence before I watched the first episode of War of the Worlds I watched David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet documentary on the animals of Australia.

Attenborough focussed on two Tasmanian species. The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial. Once widespread, today it is fighting hard in just a few Tasmanian locations to avoid total extinction.

He also showed amazing black and white footage of the very last Tasmanian tiger, or Tasmanian wolf. The Thylacine, (Thylacinus cynocephalus), was a marsupial wolf and the largest carnivorous marsupial of recent times. That film showed the very last survivor in a private Hobart zoo before the species became totally extinct in 1936.

The documentary however didn’t mention another Tasmanian species that was wiped out by the arrival of the white man. They were the indigenous people of the island — the Tasmanians — a population of Aboriginal people known as the Palawa.

It was the tragic fate of the Palawa that inspired HG Wells to write War of the Worlds. Wells told his brother Frank about the catastrophic effect of the British invasion on indigenous Tasmanians. What would happen, he wondered, if Martians did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians?

So what of the BBC adaptation? I’ll leave most of that to TV reviewers more erudite than me. One widespread complaint was that the BBC adapters had added — horror of horrors — a woman hero.

The series opened with a hero, a journalist called George having left his wife, his cousin, to live with a woman called Amy in a small cottage called Lyndon near Woking, Surrey. Not one fact of the above can be found anywhere in the original book.

However H George Wells, a journalist, did marry his cousin and left her to live with a woman called Amy in a cottage called Lynton in Woking, Surrey.

It was at Lynton that Wells wrote the book and set the start of the Martian invasion in the countryside around the cottage.

What I want to do here is to remind readers what an incredible man HG Wells was. He always described himself as a committed socialist and wrote a wide variety of political writings — pamphlets, political books, newspaper and magazine articles — as well as novels and stories.

He was never afraid to use his novels and stories to advance his political opinions. Wells saw that socialism would abolish class barriers and foster equality of opportunity. Other writers such as Virginia Woolf berated him for using the novel as a vehicle for delivering his political ideas.

His novels took up diverse individual political issues. For instance The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) examined the fierce debates over vivisection. Ann Veronica (1909) deals with the struggle of the suffragettes for the vote for women.

In his Experiment in Autobiography (1934), he explained his political thinking was motivated by an awareness of the “incompatibility of the great world order foreshadowed by scientific and industrial progress with the existing political and social structures.”

For him the question was: how could politics and society catch up with the advances of science and technology? How could social and political institutions become more scientific, more efficient, more ordered?

As early as 1905 he described his ideal socialist society in his book A Modern Utopia. In it he paints a picture of a highly regulated world state where all property is state-owned, and where sexes are equal.

The Fabian Society were keen to have Wells on board. Despite some earlier differences with George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice and Sidney Webb he accepted an invitation to join the Fabians in 1903.

It would not be a happy time for the Fabians. They quickly realised that Wells could be a loose cannon. Openly criticising the Fabians from the beginning, in 1906 he shocked them with a paper called, unambiguously, The Faults of the Fabian.

In the paper Wells called the Fabian Society a talking shop for middle-class socialists, which lacked the appetite for real change. He argued Fabians should aim for mass membership and more radical reforms.

Wells’s love life and his reputed advocacy of free love didn’t go down well either. When In 1908 he advocated a wage for all mothers and the Fabians refused to adopt this as a policy, he left.

What Wells wanted was a single, socialist world state, a great world order, and it was no doubt to study this kind of development that he visited and championed the young Soviet Union repeatedly.

Wells visited Russia in 1914, 1920 and 1934. During his second visit his old friend and fellow writer Maxim Gorky arranged for him to meet and talk with Vladimir Lenin.

In July 1934, on his third visit to what had become the Soviet Union, he interviewed Joseph Stalin for the New Statesman. The interview lasted three hours.

He told Stalin how he had seen “the happy faces of healthy people” in contrast with his previous visit to Moscow in 1920 but he also raised some serious criticisms. Stalin, we are told, enjoyed the conversation.

During the second world war, Wells drafted a Universal Rights of Man that was published in the Times. This document and the advocacy he did around it led to the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Wells was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times but never won.

He suffered for much of his life from diabetes and in 1934 co-founded the charity The Diabetic Association known today as Diabetes UK.

Winston Churchill was an avid reader of his books, and after they first met in 1902 they kept in touch until Wells died in 1946. Prime minister Churchill famously described the rise of Nazi Germany as “the gathering storm”. He actually took the phrase from War of the Worlds.

War of the Worlds has never been out of print since its original publication in 1897. Films, radio dramas, comic-books, video games, and many television series have been based on it.

The most famous, or infamous, adaptation is the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles. Presented as a live, realistic set of news bulletins interrupting normal programming, supposedly terrified listeners had heart attacks and even committed suicide, though recent scholarship has suggested this is an urban myth.

Perhaps the greatest and most surprising tribute to the author and the book is that of Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry. Goddard says his interest in rockets and space travel was first inspired by reading War of the Worlds aged sixteen.

Goddard would invent both liquid fuelled and multi-stage rockets that put men on the Moon and sent robotic probes to Mars — HG Wells would have wanted no finer tribute.

Ultimate Thule minor planet renamed Arrokoth


Arrokoth appears as a ruddy deformed snowman in this composite image acquired by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it sped past on January 1, 2019. NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research

By Christopher Crockett, 13 November 2019:

NASA gave Ultima Thule a new official name

The far-flung solar system body is now Arrokoth, the Powhatan word for ‘sky’

Ultima Thule is no more. The remote solar system body visited in January by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft now has a proper name: Arrokoth.

The word means “sky” in the language of the Powhatan people, a Native American tribe indigenous to Maryland. The state is home to New Horizons mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.

“We wanted to honor Maryland as our mission epicenter, and the idea of using a Native American language from there just bubbled up,” says Alan Stern, head of the New Horizons mission and a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. “Tying it to our mission by using the word ‘sky’ completed the trifecta.”

NASA announced the name change on November 12, with the consent of Powhatan tribal elders and the International Astronomical Union, the organization of astronomers who, in part, oversee celestial naming conventions.

Arrokoth (pronounced AR-uh-koth), a flattened two-lobed body in the Kuiper Belt of icy worlds beyond Neptune, has been through a couple of names already. Up until now, its official designation had been 2014 MU69. In March 2018, the team landed on the nickname Ultima Thule, a Latin phrase that signifies a place beyond the known world.

“[Ultima Thule] was, as we said, always a placeholder we would discard once we did the flyby,” Stern says. That moniker came under almost immediate criticism after Newsweek noted that the phrase had also been appropriated by the Nazis as the mythical homeland of the Aryan race.

The New Horizons spacecraft — originally sent to check out Pluto and its retinue of moons (SN: 7/26/15) — is still transmitting data from its January 1 flyby of Arrokoth (SN: 1/2/19) and will continue to do so for at least another year, Stern says. By then, the team will have begun hunting for a possible third target, a search they can’t start until Earth gets to the other side of the sun next summer and New Horizons once again becomes visible at night to telescopes.

Hygiea, a new dwarf planet?


This 28 October 2019 video says about itself:

A computer simulation shows how a head-on collision between two objects in the asteroid belt more than 2 billon years ago could have formed Hygiea, along with thousands of much smaller companion asteroids. After the impact initially obliterated Hygiea’s parent body, most of the fragments clumped back together into Hygiea, and the strength of their collective gravity molded them into the nearly round dwarf planet seen today.

By Maria Temming in Science News, October 28, 2019, at 12:00 pm:

The solar system may have a new smallest dwarf planet: Hygiea

New images reveal the wee world is round, a final criterion for dwarf planet status

The asteroid belt object known as Hygiea may be the new baby of the dwarf planet family.

Hygiea, currently classified as an asteroid, already met three of four requirements for dwarf planet status: It orbits the sun. It isn’t a moon. And it hasn’t swept its orbital path clear of other space rocks, the way fully-fledged planets are able to. Now, new telescope images reveal that Hygiea is nearly spherical, which checks the last box to qualify as a dwarf planet.

If officially reclassified by the International Astronomical Union, Hygiea would join the handful of dwarf planets, including Pluto, in our solar system (SN: 5/25/18). About 430 kilometers across, Hygiea would unseat Ceres, with its 950-kilometer diameter, as the smallest dwarf planet discovered in our solar system, researchers report online October 28 in Nature Astronomy.

High-resolution images from the Very Large Telescope in Chile confirmed that Hygiea is about as round as Ceres — and that its surface isn’t marred by a huge impact basin. That was a surprise for the researchers, led by astronomer Pierre Vernazza of the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille in France. They had expected to see an enormous crater from a collision billions of years ago that formed Hygiea’s entourage of over 6,800 small asteroids. By comparison, the asteroid Vesta sports a huge scar from the formation of its own, smaller asteroid swarm.

Computer simulations run by Vernazza’s team offer a possible explanation: More than 2 billion years ago, a space rock about 100 kilometers across completely shattered Hygiea’s parent body. When most of the remnants clumped back together into the space rock now known as Hygiea, they formed the smooth, spherical body seen today. By contrast, Vesta — about three times as massive as Hygiea and struck by 65-kilometer object — merely had some of its material carved out, leaving behind a big divot.

Spacecraft helps finding beached whales


This 10 February 2017 video says about itself:

New Zealand volunteers formed a human chain in the water at a remote beach on Friday as they raced to save dozens of whales after more than 400 of the creatures beached themselves.

From the British Antarctic Survey:

Stranded whales detected from space

October 17, 2019

A new technique for analysing satellite images may help scientists detect and count stranded whales from space. Researchers tested a new detection method using Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images from Maxar Technologies of the biggest mass stranding of baleen whales yet recorded. It is hoped that in the future the technique will lead to real-time information as stranding events happen.

The study, published this week in the journal PLoS ONE by scientists from British Antarctic Survey and four Chilean research institutes, could revolutionise how stranded whales, that are dead in the water or beached, are detected in remote places.

In 2015, over 340 whales, most of them sei whales, were involved in a mass-stranding in a remote region of Chilean Patagonia. The stranding was not discovered for several weeks owing to the remoteness of the region. Aerial and boat surveys assessed the extent of the mortality several months after discovery.

The researchers studied satellite images covering thousands of kilometres of coastline, which provided an early insight into the extent of the mortality. They could identify the shape, size and colour of the whales, especially after several weeks when the animals turned pink and orange as they decomposed. A greater number of whales were counted in the images captured soon after the stranding event than from the local surveys.

Many coastal nations have mammal stranding networks recognising that this is a crucial means to monitor the health of the local environment, especially for providing first notice of potential marine contamination and harmful algal blooms.

Author and whale biologist Dr Jennifer Jackson at British Antarctic Survey says:

“The causes of marine mammal strandings are poorly understood and therefore information gathered helps understand how these events may be influenced by overall health, diet, environmental pollution, regional oceanography, social structures and climate change.

“As this new technology develops, we hope it will become a useful tool for obtaining real-time information. This will allow local authorities to intervene earlier and possibly help with conservation efforts.”

Lead author, remote sensing specialist Dr Peter Fretwell at British Antarctic Survey says:

“This is an exciting development in monitoring whales from space. Now we have a higher resolution ‘window’ on our planet, satellite imagery may be a fast and cost-effective alternative to aerial surveys allowing us to assess the extent of mass whale stranding events, especially in remote and inaccessible areas.”

Planet Saturn, 20 new moons discovered


This 7 October 2019 video says about itself:

20 New Moons JUST Discovered Orbiting Saturn

A team led by Carnegie [Carnegie Institution for Science]’s Scott S. Sheppard has found 20 new moons orbiting Saturn. This brings the ringed planet’s total number of moons to 82, surpassing Jupiter, which has 79.

The discovery was announced Monday (Oct. 7th) by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

Music credit: YouTube Audio Library
Immortality – Aakash Gandhi

New moons of Saturn

This illustration is courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Saturn image is courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. Starry background courtesy of Paolo Sartorio/Shutterstock.

From the Carnegie Institution for Science in the USA:

Help Name 20 Newly Discovered Moons of Saturn!

Carnegie’s Scott Sheppard has just announced the discovery of 20 new moons orbiting Saturn, bringing its total to 82 and moving it ahead of Jupiter, which has 79. All hail the new king of moons!

Earlier this year we held a contest to name five Jovian moons discovered by Sheppard last July. We loved the enthusiasm everyone showed for this contest so much that we’re doing it again. Please help us name all 20 Saturnian moons!

Contest Launch Date:

October 7, 2019

Contest End Date:

December 6, 2019

How to Submit:

Tweet your suggested moon name to @SaturnLunacy and tell us why you picked it. Photos, artwork, and videos are strongly encouraged. Don’t forget to include the hashtag #NameSaturnsMoons.

The General Rules:

We hope you know a lot about giants, because that’s the key to playing the name game for Saturnian moons.

  • Two of the newly discovered prograde moons fit into a group of outer moons with inclinations of about 46 degrees called the Inuit group. All name submissions for this group must be giants from Inuit mythology.
  • Seventeen of the newly discovered moons are retrograde moons in the Norse group. All name submissions for this group must be giants from Norse mythology.
  • One of the newly discovered moons orbits in the prograde direction and has an inclination near 36 degrees, which is similar to those in the Gallic group, although it is much farther away from Saturn than any other prograde moons. It must e named after a giant from Gallic mythology.

Learn More:

Further details about how the International Astronomical Union names astronomical objects can be found here.

Make Sure Your Proposed Name Is Not Already in Use:

Current names can be checked at the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center here or here.

Check out this video about the moon-naming process:

With 20 new moons, Saturn now has the most of any solar system planet. The discovery brings the planet’s total to 82. The previous record-holder, Jupiter, has 79: here.

Physics Nobel awarded for discoveries about the universe’s evolution and exoplanets. Three scientists win for revealing the cosmic makeup and finding a planet orbiting a sunlike star: here.

Hubble telescope’s water discovery on exoplanet


This 11 September 2019 video from NASA in the USA says about itself:

With data from the Hubble Space Telescope, water vapor has been detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet within the habitable zone of its host star.

K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of Earth, is the only planet orbiting a star outside the solar system (or “exoplanet”) within the habitable zone.

This may be the first known exoplanet with rain and clouds of water droplets. Two teams have detected signs that K2 18b has a damp atmosphere: here.

See also here.

Researchers have described a new, lower size limit for planets to maintain surface liquid water for long periods of time, extending the so-called Habitable or ‘Goldilocks’ Zone for small, low-gravity planets. This research expands the search area for life in the universe and sheds light on the important process of atmospheric evolution on small planets: here.

Why just being in the habitable zone doesn’t make exoplanets livable. Debate over what makes a planet habitable highlights the trickiness in searching for alien life: here.

Newly discovered Jupiter moons get names


This 20 August 2019 video says about itself:

Exploring The Icy Moons of Jupiter. NASA’s Europa Clipper and ESA’s JUICE

Mars is the place that most of our spacecraft, landers and rovers are studying, searching for any evidence that life ever existed somewhere else in the Solar System.

But talk to planetary scientists, and they’re just as excited about the ocean worlds of the Solar System; the moons, asteroids, dwarf planets and Kuiper Belt objects where there could be vast oceans of liquid water under thick shells of ice.

The perfect environment for life to thrive.

We’ve only had tantalizing hints that these oceans are there, but NASA is building a spacecraft that will study one of these worlds in detail: the Europa Clipper. And they’re not the only ones. The European Space Agency is building their own mission, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer.

By Lisa Grossman today:

5 of Jupiter’s newly discovered moons received names in a public contest

The monikers come from Greek and Roman mythology, keeping with tradition

Meet the new moons of Jupiter. After a public contest, five newly discovered Jovian satellites now have official astronomical names, the International Astronomical Union announced August 26.

Planetary scientist Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., reported the discovery of the moons in July 2018 (SN: 7/17/18), along with seven others. He and his colleagues spotted the moons while searching for a theoretical Planet Nine orbiting beyond Neptune (SN: 7/5/16).

The team solicited name suggestions for the moons on Twitter. There were some rules, most notably that Jupiter’s 79 known moons must all be named for descendants or consorts of the god Jupiter from Roman mythology, or Zeus in Greek myths. But that didn’t stop people from suggesting the names of beloved pets or, perhaps inevitably, Moony McMoonface.

Here are the winners:

Pandia: A daughter of Zeus and the moon goddess Selene, Pandia is the goddess of the full moon. One of the groups to enter this name in the contest was the astronomy club of the Lanivet Community Primary School in Bodmin, England, whose mascot is a panda.

Ersa: Sister of Pandia, Ersa is the goddess of dew. Several people suggested this name, including 4-year-old moon expert Walter, who got the judges’ attention with a song listing the largest moons of the solar system in size order.

Eirene: The goddess of peace, Eirene is the daughter of Zeus and Themis, a Greek Titaness who personifies divine order, justice and law.

Philophrosyne: A granddaughter of Zeus, Philophrosyne is the spirit of welcome and kindness.

Eupheme: Sister of Philophrosyne, Eupheme is the spirit of praise and good omen.