Journey Far – New Wallpaper

Extraterrestrials, as portrayed by popular media, typically either want to eat our brains or strip the natural resources from our planet.  But, what if we are the technologically advanced civilization visiting a world that is just starting to be explored by its natives.  Will we be intelligent or civilized enough not to interfere with the planet’s inhabitants natural development?

The wallpaper Journey Far depicts explorers on distant planet leaving the shelter of their harbors and homes to discover the wonders their planet holds in store for them.

Wallpaper – Journey Far


Till next time,

RC Davison


Asteroid 2004 BL86 Flyby on January 26, 2015 -Watch Out!

We will have a celestial visitor to our neighborhood on the 26th of January as asteroid 2004 BL86 passes by the Earth at a distance of about 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers). This is about three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, so we don’t have anything to worry about—this time.

Asteroid 2004 BL86 Flyby – Image courtesy of NASA/JPL

But, what if it wasn’t missing us? What if it had a direct bead on Earth? What would we be doing today? Would Putin still be fanning the flames in the Ukraine? Would ISIL still be executing innocent people in their quest of world domination? Unfortunately, I think that the answer to these questions is probably yes – unless there was no doubt about 2004 BL86 landing in their back yard.

So, what would be the consequences of this asteroid hitting Earth?

First off, it’s not moving that fast—relatively speaking—56,520 km/h (35,120 mph), so it’s energy upon impact at about 6000 Megatons of TNT or 300,000 times the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan (20 Kilotons of TNT). It could be a lot higher. (That’s a scary thought in its own right!)

The crater that would be left would be 4.7 miles (7.6 km) in diameter and have a depth of 1780 feet (544 meters) covering an area of (17.3 sq miles/45 sq km). The size of the crater alone would wipe out any major city on the planet, but the devastation would extend well beyond that from the fireball generated by the impact, high pressure atmospheric shockwave and seismic shock extending out to a distance of almost 60 miles (100 km). We are talking about tens of millions of people that will no longer exist in instant and millions more that will suffer from the after effects. (The numbers used here come from the calculator: Impact Earth.)

Remember, this is a small chunk of rock!

If it hit in the ocean, say a 100 miles (161 km) off a coastline in about 1000 feet of water, the tsunami waves generated could be between 29.2 feet (8.9 meters) and 58.4 feet (17.8 meters) high and would affect other coastlines around the world to a lesser degree. The size of the wave will change depending on where the asteroid hits the ocean relative to its depth and proximity to the coastlines.

The impact of 2004 BL86 wouldn’t end the world by any means, but it could kill many people and have global impact on international businesses and economies for years to come. The money that each country spends today on defense is money that should be spent on defending this planet from an impact that is surely to come sometime in the future—near or far. We are able to identify many of these objects as to the risks they pose to our planet, but we have not put forth a unified effort on preventing an impact should one be found coming our way. That technology is at hand but needs to be developed and refined.

Please note that the purpose of this exercise isn’t to scare people but to point out that Mother Nature has powers at her disposal that make our most formidable weapons pale in comparison, and the battles we fight on this spec of dust in the cosmos are insignificant. We’ve spent way too much time plotting against each other instead of planning a course of action that will benefit us all. Time marches on and we may be just running out of time to put up a good defense.

So, enjoy asteroid 2004 BL86 as it passes by—there will be plenty of media coverage—and be glad it’s not coming to stay permanently!

Till next time,

RC Davison

Eclipses – A New Wall Paper Available

Check out the latest wallpaper, “Eclipses”.  Click on the image to go to the gallery.

A gas giant system experiences multiple eclipses.

A gas giant system experiences multiple eclipses.


With one moon and one star our eclipses are relatively simple, but consider a multi-star system or a planet with many moons and you will need a score card to keep track.

We will have two solar eclipses in 2015: a total eclipse on March 20th, and a partial eclipse on September 13th.  Since solar eclipses are followed shortly thereafter by lunar eclipses, there will also be two lunar eclipses in 2015: April 4th and September 28th. Check out NASA’s Eclipse website for more information on these celestial events.


Till next time,

RC Davison

Planet Rise – New Wallpaper Added to the Gallery

The current estimate of potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way galaxy is on the order of tens of billions – we aren’t even considering the moons that might be orbiting these planets and may have water and atmospheres conducive for life.  Planet Rise shows a gas giant rising over an ocean teaming with life on one of its moons. We haven’t found it yet, but I have every confidence that it is out there, somewhere in the vast cosmos.

Planet Rise - A gas giant's moon teams with life.

Planet Rise – A gas giant’s moon teams with life.

Check out the main gallery page for more images.

Till next time,

RC Davison



NOT the End of Space Tourism!

On October 25th Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket, destined to bring cargo to the International Space Station, exploded on takeoff. Three days later, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight, resulting in the death of the copilot and severely injuring the pilot. It was not a good week for commercial space endeavors.

In the weeks that have followed I’ve noticed a trend on a lot of the media and space-related websites harping that these two events spell the demise of commercial space flight and tourism.  They can’t be more wrong!

Firstly: I have to question why anyone in this day and time would think that space flight—be it by NASA, ESA or any other federally sponsored space agency or any commercial company—is routine? Hopping on a commercial airline from New York to London is routine, but launching a rocket or spaceplane into or approaching the boundary of space is anything but routine, as it has been for the last sixty years.

Secondly: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo was on a test flight. They were not carrying passengers, nor have they in any of their previous flights of the craft. They are developing the vehicles and systems to provide that “routine” experience in the near future and that requires careful evaluation of the hardware, software and people involved in the process.

When you are testing a new system, you put forth a major effort to minimize the risks to people and equipment, but you will never be able to completely eliminate all the risks encountered. You will also not be able to anticipate everything that will happen, especially when you have a human in the loop.

The bottom line is: there will always be the chance of something going wrong, no matter how hard you try to contain the risks. This will not, and it should not stop Virgin Galactic or any other commercial company trying to develop the technology to leave the surly bond of Earth. It is a learning process, and as we all know, sometimes learning can be painful.

The most important thing that will come out of this is an understanding of what happened on SpaceShipTwo and Antares and how to prevent a similar event from occurring in the future. If they are lucky, they will find some other things they might have overlooked along the way and correct them before they create a problem. Any company involved in high risk work should take this opportunity to review their programs for any thing that they may be overlooking with regard to safety and complacency. Orbital Sciences and Virgin Galactic will go through this process. They will pick up the pieces, dissect the accident and take measures to prevent it from happening again in the future.

If one looks at the path humans have taken to get into space you will see it littered with the wreckage of equipment and in some cases, the loss of life from many failed attempts to push into space. The US and Russia/Soviet Union have both lost people and equipment in the struggle to move into space. No one is immune. We have to accept that traveling into space is inherently risky and understand that those that are the forefront of the technology don’t approach it haphazardly, but use all the tools at hand to maximize their chances of success.

The return on investment is too great for these companies to stop their pursuit of the technology to gain a foothold on space. Those that can do it reliably, safely and economically will reap the benefits of the yet untapped market of space tourism and scientific research, which will take full advantage of a cheap ride into space.

Popular media will tend to exploit the drama of these events for their ratings, but we should not succumb to the hype that this is a mature, routine technology. Someday your trip to the Moon or Mars will be as routine as taking an international flight is today. Until then, we will have to be patient with the stuttering baby steps we are taking.

Until next time,

RC Davison

Wormhole to Destinations Unknown – New Image

Wormholes – those curious portals to the other side of the galaxy or universe.  More formerly known as an Einstein-Rosen bridge, they theoretically join two regions of space allowing one to traverse great distances instead of moving along the fabric of space.

The illustrations below shows this very well. Traveling from A to B in the conventional sense will get you there in time…

Traveling from planet A to planet B via flat space.

Traveling from planet A to planet B via flat space.

But, fold space by using a wormhole and you now have a much shorter path to cross to go from A to B.

Traveling from A to B via a wormhole is quicker.

Traveling from A to B via a wormhole is quicker.

The new wallpaper shows the mouth of an active wormhole from the point of view of a gas giant and its habitable moon in a nearby solar system.

Wallpaper - WormholeMore wallpapers here!


RC Davison

The Cost of Cassini at Saturn

On June 30, 2014 NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), celebrated ten years of unprecedented scientific discoveries of the planet Saturn and its moons by the Cassini-Huygens probe.

Saturn by Cassini showing the prominent hexagonal formation at the north pole. 8-18-14 Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The probe has returned well over 350,000 images of the ringed system; discovered seven new moons orbiting the planet, successfully landed the Huygens probe on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan; over four thousand research papers have been written based on Cassini’s findings; “tasted” the water from Enceladus’ geysers and will continue to send back data until 2017 when it will be intentionally flown into Saturn’s atmosphere.

When we look at all that Cassini has delivered, one can ask – is it worth the $3.27 billion dollars the mission has cost? That’s a whole lot of money!

Titan and Rhea, Saturn’s largest two moons. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

But, when you consider that the mission actually started development in 1990, the cost turns out to be about $130.8 million per year over the last 25 years. Still a lot of money. But, the cost per person in the United States is about $0.42 per person per year (based on an average populate of the US from 1990 to 2014).

The $3.27 billion is the total mission cost to date, but the United State’s contribution was actually $2.6 billion, the balance being supplied by ESA and the Italian space agency, so the per person cost for the US is actually more like 33 cents per person. The per person contribution gets even smaller when you divide the cost by the populations of the ESA supporting countries.

Yes, $3.27 billion is a lot of money, but when you look at it from the perspective of real cost over time it’s not even the cost of a pack of gum per person per year! The flip side of this expense is that the mission development and support employed over 5000 people. That is money that went back into the economy; it put food on the table, paid bills, stimulated local businesses and economies, new technology development, advanced our

Saturn’s amazing rings! Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

understanding of the Solar System and of the Saturnian system immensely. The most important contribution (albeit the hardest to quantify) was to excite and encourage a new generation of young people to pursue careers in science and technology.  This one item is so very important in today’s competitive world economy. The return-on-investment is still paying off and will so for many years to come.

As a point of reference, the US Defense Department budget for just 1989 was $389 billion dollars!  For 2014 it is $752 billion.  That works out to $2350 per person today!  $3.27 billion over 25 years doesn’t sound quite so big does it?

Saturn back-lit by the Sun with Mars, Venus and Earth. Image credit: -Caltech/SSI

Take a few moments and check out NASA and ESA’s sites for Cassini and take a look at the amazing images that have been sent back by this enduring probe.  After all, you paid for it!

Check out this video for what to expect for the rest of Cassini’s mission at Saturn.

Till next time,

RC Davison

Temple of the Sun – New Wallpaper Available

Orbital Maneuvers Wallpaper: Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun
Who knows what may be found on a planet in the habitable zone around a not too distant star.  Blue sky, blue water, a temple paying homage to the local star that provides the energy for life on this planet.  A place we could call home.  It’s out there–somewhere, waiting for us to find it…

Click here for the main wallpaper page.

Till next time,

RC Davison

B612 Foundation: Searching for the Asteroid Threat


The B612 Foundation is an organization founded by Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart and Shuttle astronaut Ed Lu to identify asteroids that may be a threat to our planet Earth and develop the technology to prevent an impact. Pronounced: B – 6 – 12, the foundation is named after the planet in the story, THE LITTLE PRINCE, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

In ORBITAL MANEUVERS, the asteroid that impacts Earth was a rogue, passing through our solar system and escaping detection by the underfunded systems which were in place to find such objects. Part of the reason for writing the book was to bring to people’s attention the reality that we are not seeing everything that is out there and the consequences of that can be devastating to all life on this planet.

Meteor over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Credit: Nasha Gazeta newspaper

We had a close call on February 15, 2013. While we were watching asteroid 2012 DA14, a 150 foot (45 meter) hunk of rock fly by the Earth, a smaller asteroid (about 60 feet or 20 meters) blazed through the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Fortunately it only injured about 1200 people and caused about $33 million in damages—it could have been a lot worse! What if it exploded at a lower altitude or impacted in a city…or was bigger?

The B612 Foundation looked at data that the military collected from 2000 to 2013 while monitoring for nuclear explosions and found 26 events that ranged in magnitude from 1 to 600 kilotons of TNT. These were not nuclear events but asteroids detonating in the atmosphere around the globe. The atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima at the end of World War II was 15 kilotons…the event over Chelyabinsk was about 600 kilotons. The most significant data gathered from this study is that asteroids large enough to destroy a city enter Earth’s atmosphere at a rate 3 to 10 times higher than were previously thought. The impact from a city-killer asteroid potentially can happen every 100 years. It could happen in 99 years; it could happen in the next minute.

This should be unsettling to anyone reading this. And, even more unsettling is the fact that we have technologies that we can use to prevent these impacts—as long as we have enough advanced warning—but this is not being aggressively pursued by the major governments on this planet. There are organizations like B612 with their Sentinel Mission to find and track asteroids and the Planetary Society’s Laser Bees, which will deflect threatening asteroids.

Check out the video and the B612 Foundation and the Planetary Society’s website for more information. If the major governments of the world aren’t interested in addressing this problem seriously, we can at least provide grassroots support to those groups that are taking on this responsibility.

Till next time,

RC Davison