Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Curse of Time

No, I'm not talking about lack thereof. That happens to us all.

I'm talking about how we measure time, according to our planet's circadian cycle, and the fact that we've colonised all 360º of it.

Recently I've been hanging out on Twitter for pitch parties and the such. Alas, most of the fun on Twitter happens when the US is awake. That's my middle of the night.

Eastern Standard Time is diametrically opposite Western Australian Standard Time.  Also, WA does not have Daylight Savings Time, because we're smart. See, we have a greater awareness of how time zones can affect others. Perth is the only major city within our time zone. When we need to conduct business with Adelaide, Sydney, Auckland, London or New York, we've got to deal with different time zones. Daylight Savings Time, that leftover dinosaur from a time when most people did not have electric lights and the Internet, is useless in the 21st Century. Spring Forward and Fall Back does no one any favours, and causes more problems than it solves.

But I'm not here to rant about DST. It's your own bad luck if you live in a DST Zone. DST can change. It can be legislated out of existence. Really.

I'm talking about things that governments can't change: science. Planet is round. You are on one side, I am on the other. If you're a diurnal creature like me, chances are we won't be awake at the same time. This bums me out.

This affects my professional life.  As an author, I spend half my time writing and the other half marketing/networking. My ideal work day would be to get up early, get about four hours' writing time done, then spend the warm afternoon in promo and socialising.

But I can't, because most of my audience is asleep during my afternoon. If I am to be social and interact with everyone, I've got to do it first thing, before everyone goes to bed.  Scheduling tweets and blogposts doesn't do me any good, because I'm not there to interact.

This is not an ideal schedule, as I'd much rather spend my more brain-awake hours working on great novels, not marvelling at the witty sayings of social media. Going nocturnal for the sake of my career isn't an option at this point, as I still have children at home.

I see lots of authors having great networking success because of Twitter. It's a shame I can't take full advantage of its power simply because I'm on the wrong side of the planet.

__________________________
Her Grace, in spite of geographical isolation, prefers the lifestyle of Perth and Australia. She gets paid a living wage and does not need to fear that one little medical issue could send her bankrupt.


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

PitchWars 2017 - Pimp My Bio (Heidi Kneale - Adult Fantasy Romance)

Prologue

I'm Australian. G'day mate. But I'm not completely dinky-di, as I was born in the US; howdy. Being a dual citizen has its advantages and disadvantages.

Chapter One

I'm Heidi Kneale and this is my bio.  Welcome to PitchWars and PimpMyBio.

Yep, I'm obnoxious.
I write Fantasy and Romance, usually blending the two. My previous works have been compared to Gail Carriger's and Mary Robinette Kowal's.  I'm currently published with a reputable small press (as you do when you're a Romance author) and have recently gone hybrid (as you do when you're a 21st Century author). Now's the time to take my game to the next level.

I've learned much along my publishing journey, enough to know I wanna join all my published mates from the OWW who've done rather well for themselves.


I have a fifty-year career plan. This includes getting an agent and getting published by some Random Penguins. PitchWars could be that one thing that helps me take that next step. So here I am, hoping to impress a mentor, then impress an agent.


Many faces of me?
In my life I have a wealth of ambidextrous polymath skills upon which I can call: (mezzosoprano-schoolteacher-braillereader-swimmer-greenbelt-composer-painter-astrobiologist-chorister-reliefsocietysister-itsupportofficer-webcontenteditor-director-conceptualastronomer-filmmaker-violinist-camper-seamstress-jeparlefrancais-mastercostumer-watercolourer-excellentcook-mother-soundengineer-driver-critter-gardener-womanofcourage-potter-pianist-idealist-driver-richardarmitagesgirlfriend-gamer-habloespanol-supportteam-problemsolver-letterwriter-catfeeder-worldtraveller-mormon-tlhInganHolvIjatlh-leader-volunteer-lawnmower-quilter-and-more).  I won't bother to go into them here in depth, because while this is my bio, it's really about me as an author.

Chapter Two

I write books. I've always wanted to write books, ever since I was eight.

Okay, I first wanted to be an opera singer (age 3), then an astronomer (age 6), then a teacher-astronomer (age 7), then a shuttle went boom (age 8), and I thought it might be better to remain on Earth. That said, I do spend a lot of time here as part of my MSci degree:

But yeah. I was a voracious reader from a very young age, and was impressed to learn that people wrote books, and could do that as a living! So at age 10 I wrote my first novel. Currently working on my 20-somethingth novel.

I've written a handful of books, some of which will never see the light of day and some that I believe will do well published, but the Of The Dark series must be my favourite three children.

I wuves 'em soooo much with much muchness!


Chapter Three

"Waitaminnute," you ask. "Didn't you sub that last year for PitchWars?"

Indeed I did. And I'm subbing it again this year because I love it with all the wuvs in the world and I don't have another novel that's sub-ready. I have done some revision. And I really hope I can find an agent who understands how much love and heart and soul and work and everything I've poured into this beautiful little tale, and that it really needs to be shared with the world.


Like Greek myths?  Of The Dark might be for you. It's based off the Adrasteia and Jupiter stories, but I've thrown in a whole bunch of other Greek myth elements, like Jupiter and Juno, Pluto and Proserpina, as well as a few others. If you're familiar with Greek mythology, you will recognise elements here and there.

But I've not set it in Ancient Greece. Instead, I based my secondary worldbuilding from a period of history I know very well: 19th Century America.

I've got a chthonic god and a bewildered maiden and some rather unfinished business. I have men of courage and women of devotion. I have people with secrets and people with agendas. I have a rich tapestry of a village where actions roll out ripples of consequences.

Chapter Four

Is it a sweet little Romance with a neat and tidy HEA?

No.

The vibe is more like this:

Yeah. There's a bit of darkness in the tale. It's not light and fluffy like all my other published stuff. There's coersion. There's death. There's the breakdown of a village. There's mass murder. There's invasions and battles and betrayals and all sorts of knots of woe. Comp authors: Dave Duncan and Emma Hamm. My regular bevy of Regency Romance with Magic fans may or may not enjoy it. My beta readers are going to wet themselves if I can't get this published. Unlike my other works, the two main characters are not kept apart by circumstances, but by each other.  Relationships are not easy. Sometime the biggest hurdle to a happily ever after is one's own self.

Chapter Five

And the plot. I looove the plot!  It's like this:



My beta readers were impressed. They were all...


Yes, you do. I am not afraid to kill off your favourite characters. And those are the ones who got off easy.

I don't Tweet much, having a life and all, but I'll do my best to keep up and make the occasional lame comment. I love the sense of community with PitchWars. 

Fortune smiled upon me when I got into #MenteesHelpingMentees where the lovely Maxym M. Martineau is helping me get my act together-er.  Even if I don't get in to PitchWars, I plan to pay forward this favour to someone.

End Book One


Book Two: Wherein Her Grace manages to finish her #MenteesHelpingMentees revisions, support and cheer her fellow future mentee potentials, and hopes to have something polished enough to win over hearts.

Book Three: Wherein Her Grace gets into PitchWars, impresses a lot of people, and takes the next step in her career.  Or doesn't get into PitchWars and finds another path for the next step in her career. Regardless of what happens, stuff is going to happen, by gum! I simply prefer one path over another at the moment.

Potential follow-on series: Fail to find an agent with Of The Dark, go indie with it, finish this next Regency Romance with Magic book and query/pitch it next year. Sooner or later I shall woo an agent. It is really hard to have written nearly a million words and not get something right.

______________________________
Her Grace would like to reassure you that yes, that's how Aussies play footy. She still remembers a commentator's tossed out line of "It's only a broken jaw. He'll be fine," from the first game she ever watched.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

This week's Twitter Pitch Party: #SFFpit

I recently participated in #SFFpit, which is probably one of my favouritest of the TPPs (Twitter Pitch Parties). 

I like it for its simplicity, it's genre specificity, and the fact that there's no limit as to how many pitches an agent/publisher can like. Sure, the next step is to query as one normally would, but it's not a cold query. You're querying an agent who already thinks your Twitter pitch sounds like something they'd be interested in. Also, my odds of making progress seem to be better than the other TPPs or contests I've been subbing to.

During this latest #SFFpit I had an epiphany, possibly because I allowed myself some sleep. (PSA: sleep is one of the greatest tools for triggering the creative mind. Give it a try the next time you're stuck/blocked.)



Then I had another one, and then yet another one.

Epiphany #1: My old query letter was dull, but now I know how to make it better.  

I'd been trying for years to get my query letter for this particular project to work, with little success. When a few agents liked my #SFFpit pitches, I squee'd for a while, then, like any wise professional author, put the news aside and let things process. IOW, I had a weekend off work. Then, when I was doing something else, I thought back to the last project I sold. How did I pitch that, and why did it succeed? 

I realised what I had done right with that query letter, why it had worked, and realised how to apply those points to my new query letter. So I redrafted once more, and sent those off to the kind agents who wanted to see more of my work.

Will it work? Stay tuned.

Epiphany #2: My voice in my project could be tweaked a little more.  Let's wait and see what these agents say before I go tweaking 125K words.

Epiphany #3: Nobody cares how bad your book is if you've got VOICE.



I've been participating in these TPPs for a few years now, and something's been nagging at my spidey senses. I keep seeing people get into these contests that offer mentorships or other structured feedback. Often I'll follow along long after I failed to get in to see what it was people saw in these hopeful works. 

All too often I'd read blogs from both sides talking about how much work a book needed to bring it up to scratch before it was ready to go before an agent. They talk about how they needed to do global revisions on a plot, how the characters needed lots of work to round them out, and all sorts of stuff. They practically make it sound like these books, which they thought were far superior to the others in the contest, were nowhere near ready.

And I'm wondering, if these books needed so much work, why on earth did you think they were "ready" to be chosen? 

And I realised. They chose them because they had voice.  And that was it.

I'm wondering if that's entirely fair.

What I would like to see is a TPP where hopefuls can offer their submissions and the worst pitches are chosen through several rounds of traige, and the authors offered the help they so desperately need to lift their craft.  (No, I'm not going to run it because I don't have the time, the Name, or the connexions to make it successful.)

Epiphany #4:  My current publishing path is currently the correct one for my needs now.

As well as agents, a few small presses also liked my pitches. While I'm primarily looking for an agent at the moment, I thought it worth due diligence to research these small presses. Learned a lot.

TL;DR: there was nothing any of these pitched small presses could offer me that I couldn't do with indie publishing, except move the cost of production from my pocket to theirs.  

For some, that might be worth it. But as I've gone hybrid, I've seen both sides, and unless these small presses are able to give me the marketing support my current Romance small press offers me (and most of them didn't look like it), I'm not seeing much value in shifting production costs to them, for what I'm getting in return.

~*~

I'd  L O V E  for an agent to pick up this particular project. It's been near and dear to my heart and I want to see it get the best chance out in the world. Right now, I feel an agent would give it that best chance. If no one wants it, then I may consider self-publishing, for I (and my beta readers) do believe this is worth releasing on the world.

________________________________
Her Grace does learn much from these TPPs, even if she never gets selected.


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

When Writing Takes a Back Seat to Love

The last quilt I made.
For the past week, my writing word count has been exactly - 0 -.

That's right, a big old goose egg, and I'm not ashamed.

Instead I've been helping my daughter with a really big project. See, her best friend's turning sixteen next week, and having an absolutely big old blowout Sweet Sixteen Ball to celebrate. Best Friend is one of those lovely young ladies who's pretty, intelligent, thoughtful and creative--the sort of person you always want to know. I'm glad she's in my daughter's life.

Because her upcoming birthday is a Big Deal, I suggested to my daughter we give her something that said Love. I suggested we make her a quilt. Nothing says love more than spending hours hand-making something for someone, especially if much thought is put into the project.

If anyone ever gives you something handmade, like a crocheted afghan, a knitted scarf, a quilt, or anything that took them hours and days to make, recognise the time and love they put into the project, all the time thinking of you.

In one of my other lives, I quilt. Many creative people have more than one creative outlet. We're Creators. We can't help it. In the past my daughter has helped me make quilts. Now, I'm helping her.

She asked her Best Friend what kind of colours she liked, and then we went fabric shopping  until we found a fine Japanese Lawn that had the right feel to it. We considered different kinds of blocks, but settled on a Hexagon Kaleidoscope because they're easy and pretty. While I would  normally be writing, I've been helping her fussy-cut isosceles triangles, doing the initial layout and stitching together so many, many little triangular blocks. We don't have time to properly quilt the finished product, so we're going to tie it once we get it on the frames.

We have to be finished by Saturday. I've been documenting her process, so as soon as we are finished, I'll post pics and results.

_________________________________
Her Grace encourages anyone who feels a little sad to go make something. The act of creation lifts the human spirit.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Tuesday's Tale - Manspreading

Trains were quieter at 2pm, just after the lunch rush, but before students escaped from school for the day.  Two cars down held a mother with several noisy toddlers. Next car over had three commuters, engrossed in their phones.

This car, besides myself, enjoyed the silence of emptiness, until Aubin Grove cursed us with another passenger.

I did not care to know his name, nor desired any further acquaintance. Yet he insisted on sitting next to me--to me!--in the  middle of an empty train car. No decent person did that. The rule was that if you were not the only person in a public space, it was up to you and everyone else to fill up the space as evenly as possible. Strangers did not cluster together.

He was not a decent person. He even manspread, as if he'd forgotten to dry his balls completely this morning after his shower and had to let them air out, lest they develop a nasty condition.

I gave him The Look. You know the one. We all communicate with strangers with The Look. Dude, you're in my space, my eyes said.

He knew what I was saying. He glanced at me, then looked away, clearly dismissing me.

I knew that cut. Men did it all the time. It was an admonishment, that if I didn't like what he was doing, then I could move.

No way. I was here first.

I leaned over. "Dude, you're sitting in Mike's spot." I looked around as if afraid of being overheard.

That got me another glance and a sneer. With my finger I began counting invisible spots on his shirtsleeve. "Mike doesn't like people sitting in his spot. That's why I sat here, to the side."

Now I got his full attention.

Four, five, six, I silently mouthed as I counted my way up his sleeve. He pulled his arm away, but I kept counting. It wasn't until I got to twelve, that I paused. "See, Mike sits there, Barney is on the other side."  I pointed across the train. "Darren and Karen are over there, but they never argue, and Wilson keeps his own company over here." I gestured to my other side. "Anywhere else is safe to sit."

I resumed my counting of invisible dots on his sleeve. Even when he moved away, I leaned over until I reached twelve.  Then I started again at one.

Sure enough, he got up and moved, not to another seat, but out of the car completely.

That's right, dude. My brand of crazy outranks your brand of assholery.

_____________________________
Her Grace can now go back to working on her novel.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Didn't get into #pg70pit

Nope, didn't get into #pg70pit (aka #70pit17) either.



Surely my work isn't THAT bad, is it?

Could be.

Doesn't help when people attempt to "comfort" me by telling me Harry Potter was rejected twelve times before Bloomsbury picked up up.

Oh, only a mere twelve times? I've got a spreadsheet listing more than ten times that in rejection for Of The Dark, many of them form rejections. I do take a bit of professional reassurance that I don't have any of the scathing rejections that some authors get. Any personalised rejections I do get, especially from full requests, say nice things. I get a lot of "I like it, and you're really good at [x], but I'm afraid it's not quite right for my list."

This is the sort of feedback that drives an author to drink self-publish.

___________________________
Her Grace is considering the indie route with OTD, and possibly going straight to Victoria Arden for snagging an agent.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

A Clarification of Definitions

So I'm throwing my hat into a three-ring circus this month with all the pitch contests.  One consistent quality is that each entrant has to define their genre.  Always useful.

I'm pitching a Fantasy Romance, but not every contest has #FR as a category. Do I cringe and stick a #PR tag on it, or do I be true to the novel and double-tag it with #F and #R?  I've been doing the latter, because Of The Dark, despite it's magic, is definitely NOT a Paranormal Romance.

There is a difference between Paranormal Romance and Fantasy Romance.

  • Paranormal Romance is a real world with a layer of magic over it. 
  • Fantasy Romance is a fantasy world (sometimes a second world, alternate reality or otherworld) with magic in it.


If you take all the magical stuff out of your world, and left everything else behind, how would your Romance be categorised?  If you remove the vampires and the shifters et al., you'd be left with a contemporary Romance. Take magic out of a Fantasy Romance, you've still got a Fantasy Romance.

I can't call an otherworld Fantasy Romance a "Paranormal", because there's no "normal" to para.

______________________________
Her Grace finds these contests fun, but doesn't eschew the Original Contest of sending a query to an agent the old-fashioned way.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Today's Contest: #pg70pit

Yep, it's June, when the first half of the summer* contests take place. (The second half happens in August. Nothing happens in July, because nobody can be bothered.)

Today it's the Page 70 Pitch contest.  Take page 70 of your completed, polished ms, and see if it's got any voice. Tweet a seven-word desc of your MC and hope it has voice.

Hope the bonheure of the universe favours your entry being selected, and the lucky winners get their entries perused by agents who may make requests.

So my hat is in the ring, along with a secret code name I cannot reveal and the book I hope to reveal to the whole world.

Now that I've submitted my entry and tweeted my tweet, I am having serious doubts about my voice.

I will not give in to my whiny muse. I will finish my WIP before I attempt to fix OTD's voice. In fact, I might write another book, then have a look at OTD's voice.


___________________________________
*Summer... when Her Grace say "summer", she really means Cancerian summer, as experienced by the Northern Hemisphere (June, July, August).  For Her Grace, who lives Down Under, Capricornian summer (Birak and Bunuru) happens in December, January, February.

So yeah. Right now it's cold and miserable in her part of Australia. And dark.

Friday, 2 June 2017

After my word cloud yesterday, I saw this twitter thread and I pondered on a personalised rejection I received last week and I wondered if I was missing something in my first chapter.

I must be, though I cannot think what that is.

The rejection said that my first chapter didn't have a hook.

Really? Howzat?  The first chapter's all about the triggers and the inciting incident. The first trigger happens on the first page. My MC realises something, wonders if this new realisation will solve a problem she has, and it does. Just as she applies that solution, she's thrust into another, more dire situation, where this same solution solves this second problem. However, this solution has consequenses, which come visit her at the end of Chapter One, thus sending her life into snafu-land.

Then I wondered if the clues I'd dropped in weren't obvious enough, that my first chapter might have been too 'quiet', as they say.

A quiet book is not the same as a dull book. Everything you want is there, but it's subtle. Sometimes you've got to work for it, or maybe you'll be five chapters down the track before the penny drops, but the penny always drops.

You know how in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince he comes across a cabinet of stuff, and one of the items is a locket?  Of course not. Nobody really noticed the locket, as it was shown as setting. But then in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you learn it's a frickin' horcrux!  The introduction of the locket is quiet, but it becomes a significant McGuffin later on.

Readers like to be trusted, even if they might gloss over a clue, only to realise it later.  To beat them over the head with every plot point is like telling them they're too stupid to figure the plot out. They don't like that. They like to feel clever, and trusted, and to lose themselves in the world.

Our Heroine has always seen how everything in the world is connected together. Think of it as everything between string theory and galaxy filaments. She's seen them her whole life, and never thought that others might not see them. But her "ah-ha" moment is when she realises that not only can she see them, but she can touch them as well, move them, pull on them, and affect the universe like that. Cool trick.

Not less than five minutes later, she needs to help rescue someone from drowning. She realises this nifty new trick can save a life, and she does so without hesitation. However, such powers come with a price. Her actions attract the attention of a dark god, one who's been looking for her her whole life. Now that she's pretty much announced her presence, he's able to locate her. Inciting incident. Everything from here on out is fubar country.

Her "ah-ha" moment is subtle, though, and readers might not understand its significance until later on in the chapter. Is that what's working against my favour?

Does a hook have to have a barb?

So I'm wondering: what's not grabbing people with my first chapter... forget that, what's wrong with my first page?  I honestly cannot improve on where I've started the plot. It is the best place to start it. But if I can't hook a reader with the first "ah ha" moment, what am I doing wrong?


_____________________________
Her Grace is baffled.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Wordle of Alasograms

Based on a comment on this post, I made a word cloud of my last dozen query rejections for Of The Dark.

Anything in particular stand out to you?

Individually, rejections don't bother me. A few hundred start to nag, though. Mostly, I am baffled as to why several hundred agents fail to recognise the brilliant work I've sent them. *shrug*

_________________________
Her Grace shall continue to query until she runs out of reputable agents. By then, the next book will be polished and she can start all over again.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Alas, no #QueryKombat for me

Sad to say I didn't get into QueryKombat this year.



Oh well. Over three hundred fifty of us entered for a chance of 64 spots to battle for the attention of an agent.

Even though I didn't get in, I'm going to keep following, as I want to see what everyone else's queries look like.  If I am to be beaten, I want to be beaten by the best.

Meanwhile, I'll keep querying, because that's what you do until you run out of agents.


________________________________________
Her Grace's week hasn't been all losses.  Her Astronomy project "Wet Mars, Dry Mars, White Mars..." receieved an HD (that's an A for those of you who don't know what a High Distinction is).

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Going in to Battle with Query Kombat

Since I haven't participated in a query contest since... oh, last year, I thought I'd give Query Kombat a go.

There's three hosts this year:  Laura, Michelle and Michael.  I'm familiar with Michelle from QueryWars.

So I had a look through the list of agents participating and am not sure if I should be delighted or worried that I am familiar with most of their names.  I've queried many of them in the past, only to get form rejections. I wonder if my query sucks?

There's also a Proboards Forum with all sorts of nifty helpfulness.  Hoping I can get some feedback on my query before I go into battle.

I love the OWW and have been on it for years decades, but they don't have a category for getting feedback on your query letters.


__________________________
Her Grace is ignoring her Astronomy final exam for the nonce to get some Query Kombat stuff done.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Tuesday's Tale - Taking Advantage

Not all disasters were the same. Some were slow and take time to develop. Others, like today's, were quick and sudden. Nobody knew it was coming. Dust and panicked screams filled the air, blocking Sadie's understanding of what happened. She couldn't see the other side of the street, and didn't know if she wanted to cross. The tall buildings of the city loomed over her. Of course, she looked up, in case something nine-eleventy was happening. 

Only the rising of smoke, no falling debris. A businesswoman clitter-clattered past her, too frightened to think to kick off her heels before fleeing. Other people dashed about, while some clustered together on the ground; first aiders tending to the wounded.

What was it? Bomb? Accident? Runaway car? She needed to know. Sadie moved forward, her hands clutched in front of her. Her boss would ask, her friends would ask.... he would demand. She needed--

Her feet slowed. So many people lying about, especially closer to the building that... what? exploded? was attacked?  Who knew? Probably no one would know, at least, not for some time.

No one would know. A newswoman's voice spoke in the back of her head: "The death toll rose today as emergency workers struggled to find any more survivors of today's disaster..."

Some disasters were quick, and needed immediate action.  Others, like her marriage, were slow, and required planning.

She'd planned. Dani had helped her, had even volunteered to keep Sadie's Safe Bag in her bike locker under her apartment building. Dani had put a combination lock on there, so Sadie would never have a key confiscated from her.

He'd driven her into work, dropped her off right at the front door, then drove away after she'd gone inside. Sadie had come out at lunchtime, for she'd once found five dollars in the lobby. Instead of adding it to the FU Fund, she'd kept it for a time when she needed reminding that life could be so much more than the brown paper bag lunch he watched her make that morning. Sheer coincidence she was outside when a sudden disaster struck. Her coworkers would innocently explain this to the police, who would then explain it to him.

And what could he do?  Nothing. He would never know she'd taken advantage of a sudden disaster to escape a slow one. Perhaps he would have no reason to consider finding her.

Dani would know, when she discovered the locker empty. As tempted as she was, Sadie left no note.

She had to leave quickly. Everyone's focus would be on the disaster for the next day or so. Public transport out of town, to the farthest suburb, then maybe a bus to somewhere else.  Jersey? Too close. Arizona? Dunno.  Maybe up to Canada on her way to Alaska? Work a few cash-only jobs, then head off overseas.

No rush. By the time someone thought to inquire after her, she'd be well and truly away.

And this was how the rest of her life would play out:  Identity theft.

Dani came up with this one. Sadie didn't ask how, but Dani acquired an identity for her, birth certificate, passport, and more. These she'd hold on to for later.

Several months after fleeing, Sadie would get several credit cards in her original name, rack up ridiculous bills, get "caught", let them discover her "original identity", and get prosecuted for it. If she balanced it right, a misdemeanor, with some jail time.  (He couldn't get her while she was in jail.) Released on good behaviour, tap into the system for help in rehabilitation back into society, then attempt to live out the rest of her life under her new identity as some waitress in some small city.

Sadie coughed through the cloud of dust. The sounds of sirens pierced through the dust.  Help had arrived.  Police officers pushed her back, telling her to get off the street, to go inside.

She would never return to her office, daily haven that it was. 26-33-19. That was the combination of Dani's lock. New clothes, new papers, new life awaited her.



_______________________________
Her Grace would like you to know that any connection between this story and any recent disasters is purely coincidental. She wrote this story many months ago and scheduled it for today, as the time was too sensitive to post this earlier. Be well.

Monday, 8 May 2017

A to Z Challenge Reflection

(Apologies for the long post. I learned a lot.)

I learn new things whenever I do the A to Z challenge. I employed the lessons I learned last time, and it made for a better go-around this year.

What I Learned

  1. Pre-planning. I pre-planned my theme and populated my alphabet. I then did my posts ahead of time (when I could, on my own time) and scheduled them to post on the correct day. This pre-planning really helped A LOT. Most of my posts were done by the end of March.
  2. Audience. I thought about what audience I wanted to cater to, and this helped me focus my posts and have a consistency throughout. I wanted to make my posts interesting to an audience with varying levels of education. I tried to design them so people who didn't know much about astronomy could understand my concepts, yet be intricate enough to push those who had a bit more knowledge about the subject.
  3. Consistency. I wanted a certain level of quality control, so you pretty much knew what you'd get from post to post. Again, I was able to pull this off through pre-planning.

    That said... the topic I chose is completely not relevant to my usual blog. My blog's about writing books generally and Romance specifically. So what topic did I choose?  Astronomy!! The two rarely cross paths (except in a novel of mine that's coming out next year). Why did I choose my topic?
  4. Stand out. I wanted to stand out and offer something unique that the other AtoZers weren't offering. And while there were a few who tackled the same subject, none of them approached it in the same way I did, and that was good. I didn't feel I was duplicating anyone else's efforts. I thought if I blogged about writing,  I'd get lost in the crowd. Probably was right, as there were quite a few writers writing about writing. However, I might go back to that next year and pull a Frain.


A to Z Changes

Part of the A to Z Challenge involves reading others' blogs. This year the Challenge ran a few things differently--no Linky List! This was a boon and a bane.

Boon: No long list of people who'd signed up, then never bothered to blog. You only heard about the people who were being active, and could go straight to their posts.

Bane: Having to post EVERY SINGLE DAY to the AtoZ blog to let people know you had stuff up. I don't get online every day, so this became quite a pain. I wish one could schedule comments the way one schedules blog posts. Since most of my entries were completed ahead of time, it would have been nice not to have to get online every single day to promote my blog. Also, if I came across an interesting blog, and forgot to Favourite it, I'd have to trawl through the blog comments to find it again.

I'd love to see a combination of the old Linky List with the new Blog Comment format. Bring back the Linky List, but you can only get on the Linky List if you've posted an entry. Then, post a weekly Linky List blog post where, if we posted entries that week, we can list them. The pre-registering is probably too much

I was amazed at how many bloggers there were who couldn't figure out how to make a simple anchor tag work, even when shown how.

Also, the absolutely best way to make me scroll past a comment on the A-to-Z daily letter blog post? Posting this:

 . Here is my blog.
 . LINK

Nothing is more boring than that. At the very least post your theme. No, not your name, or even your blog's name, but your theme.  That's what I'm looking for.  Roslyn Core announced how she was cross stitching a Buffy the Vampire Slayer alphabet.  You bet your sweet bippy that got my attention! (No, I'm not a Buffy fan, or a cross stitch fan. But what a juxtaposition!)

What Worked and What Didn't from This Reader's Perspective

What worked for me was a blog that was regular-ish, that had a clearly defined theme or topic, and provided interesting content.

Regular posts is good, because nothing is more disappointing than to come back day after day to find nothing new. That's a good way to lose me.

A clearly defined topic is necessary. It lets me know what to expect on a blog. Now, some topics simply didn't catch my interest because I wasn't their target audience. But the few posts I read were well put together and if I was interested in that, I would have definitely stuck around to read more.

What definitely turned me off were the "personal" or "inspirational" blogs that chronicles someone's inner journey. A lot of people did these, and frankly, I found them very boring. Topics like these are excellent for an audience of one. For the rest of us, "You" are not a sufficiently interesting topic. I'm sorry. Blog entries like "Gratitude" or "Spirituality" only have impact for you.

I noticed there were quite a few story blogs as well, writers posting fiction. Author J R Vicente had a clever "choose your own adventure" style, where the commenters got to choose what the blog post would be for the next day. She gets points for that.

Most of the fiction blogs couldn't hold my attention because the voice wasn't compelling enough. Sometimes I'm not your audience, and sometimes your writing's not as good as you think it is. Fortunately, the more you write, the better you get. I would never tell someone to stop writing simply because they weren't good.

And then there were some story blogs that completely blew me out of the water. John Frain. John Frickin' Manuscript Frain. If you didn't read any of his AtoZ this April, go back and read it. If you've read NOTHING ELSE this month, go back and read John Frain.

Frain wrote a flash fiction story a day, with him as a character that got killed. Every. Single. Time. (or did he?)

I don't think I will forget that one for a long time to come.

Blogs I Enjoyed

It's always fun going through the different blogs and see what others have posted. Some of the more memorable blogs this year were:

I read one blogger, who was rather new to blogging, never mind the A to Z Challenge. No, she didn't post every day, and that was understandable. She wrote about being a single parent to a high-needs child after a bitter divorce. Hers was a deep story about a hard life and I'm glad I got to read it. But can I find it again? No. I want to know how her story ends.

There were a few others I popped in from time to time.  Overall, there were plenty of great blogs to read.

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Her Grace will now be crawling back under a rock, as May is a very busy month for her in the Real World.

Monday, 1 May 2017

A to Z - I'm done!


And that's all, folks!

Thanks for coming on a tour of the universe with me. I hope you learned something about astronomy and weren't too overwhelmed by the hardcore science.

The skies above us are a fascinating place, one I've loved for nearly half a century. I encourage you to go out and look up tonight. What can you identify that you couldn't a month ago?  Any new celestial favourites?

While this blog is mostly for me to ramble on about Romance and writing and reviews and my own books (Buy my books!), it's also a place to post about what I love. For the month of April, that was astronomy.

Never be afraid to look beyond the world you know and try something new.


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Her Grace shall always love the stars.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Z is for Zodiac

This isn't about telling your horoscope, but knowing where the Sun is at any particular time of the year. (Those born under the sign of Ophiuchus the Snake-bearer know that Astrology is not a science because nobody has been able to prove its reasoning through the scientific method.)

In Astronomy, there are thirteen constellations that reside along the ecliptic (the path the Sun takes through the sky year-round). This means as the Sun moves through the sky from month to month, it will be found within the boundaries of certain constellations.

Astrologically, the sky is divided into twelve "houses" of 30° each. In astronomy, the constellations of the astronomical zodiac is not so evenly divided, and we've thrown in one more constellation because the Sun does spend some time in one corner of it. The planets and the Moon also move within the ecliptic.

Because the Earth is tilted, the ecliptic doesn't match up with the equator except on equinoxes twice a year.

The red line is the path the Sun takes. The green line is the equator.

When it comes to measuring where stuff is in the sky, there's two axes of celestial coordinates: declination (DEC) and right ascension (RA).

Declination measures north/south in degrees: North (90°) to Equator (0°) to South (-90°).
Right ascension measures eastward from a point of origin (the vernal/spring equinox) in hours, with there being 24 hours in a full circle, due to the rotation of the Earth. This is because astronomers measure right ascension by timing when an object passes through the highest point in the sky, or the meridian. Each hour is about 15° in width.

Anything anywhere in the sky can be given a set of coordinates.

Looking at the star of Betelgeuse:  DEC +07° 24′, RA 05h 55m

This means Betelgeuse sits about seven degrees north of the equator, and on the spring equinox (21 March), it takes about five hours and fifty-five minutes before it reaches the meridian of the sky.

Let's look at the Zodiac astronomically.

Here's the actual map:


As you can see, the constellations take up different areas of real estate. Sometimes the Sun will spend as little as a few days in some constellations and several weeks in others.

Right ascension starts on the spring equinox and is also called the "First Point in Aries"... however, due to precession, the spring equinox actually lies in Pisces today!  Here's how much it's shifted over the past seven thousand years:


(A brief word about something called precession: the Earth wobbles on a long-term cycle of about 26,000 years, where her north pole points to different parts of the sky. (Polaris isn't always going to be the North Star.) Because of this, the constellations have shifted from where they were originally observed a few thousand years ago, and don't line up with the calendar we know and love today. Your astrological zodiac sign no longer corresponds with the constellation of the same name. Sorry.)

We'll start on the vernal equinox and have a look at all the Zodiac constellations.

Constellation:Coordinates:Sun enters/exits:Time in constellation:
Pisces RA: 1h DEC: 5°12 March – 18 April38 days
Aries RA: 2h DEC: 15° 19 April - 13 May25 days
Taurus RA: 4h DEC: 15° 14 May - 19 June37 days
Gemini RA: 7h DEC: 20° 20 June - 20 July31 days
Cancer RA: 9h DEC: 20° 21 July - 9 Aug20 days
Leo RA: 11h DEC: 15° 10 Aug - 15 Sept37 days
Virgo RA:13h DEC:0° 16 Sept - 30 Oct45 days
Libra RA: 15h DEC: -15° 31 Oct - 22 Nov23 days
Scorpio RA: 17h DEC: -30° 23 Nov - 29 Nov7 days
Ophiuchus RA: 17h DEC:-30° 30 Nov - 17 Dec18 days
Sagittarius RA: 19h DEC: -25° 18 Dec - 18 Jan32 days
Capricorn RA: 21h DEC: -20° 19 Jan - 15 Feb28 days
Aquarius RA: 22h DEC: -10° 16 Feb - 11 March24 days

Which is your favourite zodiac constellation?

What is your astrological zodiac sign, and what is your astronomical zodiac constellation (based on your birthday)?

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Her Grace is fond of Scorpius, because it really does look like a scorpion.


If you wish to explore more Astrological applications of the Zodiac, check out Chris Votey's "Madness of a Modern writer" A to Z challenge where he's been combining the Greek and Chinese Zodiacs to create character profiles.  It's been fun for me, from a writer's point of view.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Y is for Year

Happy Birthday to you, if you happen to have a birthday this year. (Sorry, Leap Year Babies. No birthday cake for you.)

Essentially, a year is the time it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun. So yes, Venus has a Venusian year (0.6a) and Mars has a Martian year (1.88a). But for the purpose of today, I'm going to talk about how the Year is a standard unit of measurement.

Astronomers need a way of measuring things. Since there's no standard galactic measuring stick for, well, everything, we've taken what's most familiar and made that our basis. For example, the mass of planets is measured by the mass of the Earth (M) and the mass of stars is measured by the mass of the Sun (M). Short distances are measured by Astronomical Units (AU), which is the mean distance from the Earth to the Sun and long distances are measured by lightyears (ly) (the distance it takes for light to travel a year).

In astronomy, one measurement of time is the Julian year (symbol: a), which is exactly 86,400 seconds (as seconds are the base unit of time in SI). This equates to about 365.25 days, if that makes your brain hurt less. That's a very familiar number, with our calendar years being 365 days, except for every four years, when we add up the .25 of a day, and tack on an extra Leap day, so our days can sync up with our years. Our current Gregorian Calendar is based off this cycle.

While we've known about this extra quarter-day for a few thousand years, we didn't realise exactly how precise we'd not calculated it, so our earlier calendars had a bit of drift going on, and occasionally needed serious correction. That's why the ten days of Oct 5-15 1582 AD (CE) don't actually exist. Also why Ramadan appears to drift in relation to our civil calendars. And if you were born in Sweden in February 30, 1712, I am very, very sorry for you. Here's three hundred years' worth of birthday cake to make up for that double-leap day.

Let's put calendars aside and talk astronomy.

Julian years are used to measure duration. For example, how long would it take light to reach us from Alpha Centauri? About 4.6 years. (A Julian year is what they use to calculate a lightyear.)

How long does it take for Jupiter to go around the Sun (aka a Jovian year)?  11.8618 (Julian) years.

There's other types of years such as the sidereal, tropical and draconic years, used to measure stuff in relation to Earth but for general astronomical purposes in measuring duration in the rest of the Universe, we prefer the Julian year. Feel free to go hardcore if you wish regarding the other year types.

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Her Grace does not mind collecting years as she goes along. Old age is a privilege denied to many.

Friday, 28 April 2017

X is for X-ray


Finally, an AtoZ blog entry where I don't have to stretch to find an entry.

We've talked a bit about the electromagnetic spectrum during the A to Z--RadioInfrared, Visible (Optical) and Ultraviolet--because light is primarily the only tool we have to explore the universe.

While other bloggers are really pushing it to find something for the letter X, here's something that comes naturally to astronomers: X-rays

We all know about X-rays for their medical uses: broken a bone or been to the dentist, chances are you had an X-ray photograph taken.

X-rays are cool because they can penetrate certain types of matter and show us other types. This is because they're highly energetic. Naturally, this is a good thing for astronomers. We like looking at high-energy things.

X-rays were discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Röntgen. Here's his original paper: German,  English Translation

"Hand mit ringen," Will said.
His wife said, "I have seen my death!"  Drama queen.
In fact, X-rays are often called Röntgen rays. What did Wilhelm Röntgen call them?  X-rays, with X standing for "mysterious", because he really wasn't sure what they were at first. Eventually he and a few scientists figured it out.  A few early articles about Röntgen's mysterious X-rays.

And, like any other scientist that thought science stuff was nifty, he played around with it, and even freaked his wife out by using her hand as a guinea pig by taking the first X-ray photograph.

This was fascinating, as it's really the image of an X-ray shadow, as the minerals of the bones block out the X-rays. Lead is also good for blocking out X-rays.

So, what makes X-rays so useful for astronomy?

Remember how stars come in different colours, depending on how hot they are?  If you boost the temperature of an object in outer space to waaay hot (more than a million Kelvin), its peak colour goes on beyond blue all the way up into X-rays.

This makes X-rays really useful for detecting high-energy events and objects.  Neutron stars and accreting black holes emit X-rays. Supernovae emit X-rays. (Stars emit X-rays, as they emit through the whole EM spectrum, though not to the same degree the Really Powerful Stuff, like active galactic nuclei, does.) Want to know where all the moving and shaking is happening in the universe?  Look for the bright X-ray spots.

Now, X-rays are absorbed by our atmosphere (thankfully), so any X-ray observatories need to be in orbit, like the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Here's some cool pictures taken in X-ray:

Looks very different from the hand mit ringen, as these are not images of the shadows of X-rays, but rather the emissions of X-rays. That's why they're so bright.

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Her Grace once calculated how much X-rays she emitted. Answer: not much.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

W is for Wobble

Lots of things wobble. This is due to gravitational influence by something else.

Mass has gravity, and gravity is a very social thing. Two bits of mass spy each other across the room (or the universe) and try to get closer. If they get close enough, they end up in an orbit around each other, possibly in a spiral until they collapse together, though this doesn't always happen if the escape velocity is sufficient to keep them from falling into each other.  (That's what most orbits are: falling, but failing to hit the ground.)

The centre of gravity about which these object spiral about is called the barycenter.

Looks like this:
Do-si-do.  The barycenter is the red cross in the middle.
When the objects are of a similar size, the barycenter will be somewhere in between the two objects, as is the case with Pluto and Charon:

Pluto and Charon and their barycenter, the cross in the middle.
Pluto has a small orbit around the barycenter while Charon has a larger one. So they kind of wobble like an uneven barbell.  Because the barycenter is outside of Pluto, some people would like to call Pluto/Charon a double planet, rather than a planet and a satellite. I'm cool with that.

When one object is distinctly more massive than the other, the barycenter will be located within the larger object, such as the Earth and the Moon:

This gives the Earth a little bit of a wobble, instead of a full-on do-si-do.

We noticed our Sun has a bit of a wobble, due to the gravitational influence of the planets about it. In fact, the Sun's wobbled quite a bit:
Notice how sometimes the barycenter's inside the sun and sometimes its not?

Yeah, not surprising, considering what we know about gravity. Then some clever soul thought, if our Sun wobbles due to planets pulling on it, wouldn't other stars wobble for the same reason?

Whoa! Mind blown! So we started looking at nearby stars with this Wobble Method (also called Radial Velocity or Doppler Spectroscopy Methods) to see if they had a wobble.

Ohmigosh, they did! Thus, we discovered exoplanets.  And we said, "That's so cool!!!" (Then we felt slightly stupid because we hadn't figured something so simple out until now.)

Gamma Cephei Ab was the first exoplanet detected in 1989 (confirmed in 2002), and since then, we've uncovered evidence for thousands of exoplanets.

Nice to know we're not alone.

Now, there's lots of other methods for detecting exoplanets, but it all started with noticing how gravity made things wobble.

Wobbling isn't just for detecting exoplanets. Lots of other discoveries are due to the observation of wobbliness.  Go hardcore and check out wobbliness from asteroids with moons to entire galaxy clusters.  Even browsing through the list of titles is fascinating. Never be afraid to read an abstract. Save your freaking out for the paper itself.

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Her Grace believes that love makes the world go round, but gravity rules the universe.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

V is for Visible Spectrum

Until the past century, pretty much all astronomical work took place with the observance of the visible spectrum. MK-1 Eyeball (the naked eye) was how observation took place.

The visible spectrum isn't terribly big--only 390 to 700 nm--considering just how wide the electromagnetic spectrum is. Yet within that short range, we've been able to accomplish some magnificent astronomy.

Before we discovered calorific rays (infrared) or chemical rays (ultraviolet), we were playing with the visible spectrum. Spectroscopy allowed us to divide up light into its different wavelengths and observe the universe. You can tell a lot about the composition of something by the frequency and amplitude of the light it emits.

Early scientists (like Herschel), noticed that certain spectra had dark lines. These are absorption lines, when atoms (like hydrogen) absorb certain light frequency.

Johann Balmer noticed that hydrogen absorbed certain frequencies. This helped us discover just how much hydrogen was out there, and also determine the nature of the hydrogen atom itself. (Hardcore: the absorption lines happen when a hydrogen electron absorbs that photon's energy, thus causing it to jump or transition to the next electron shell.)

All elements exhibit absorption lines. While some are seen only "off-stage" (ie, in the infrared or ultrviolet or beyond, especially if red-shifted), many can be seen in the visible spectrum.

Here's the visible spectrum of the Sun. As you can see, there's plenty of dirty metals lurking within our nearest and dearest star. (Can you find sodium?  Hint: it's orange.)
http://www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/sun.jpg
Click here to embiggen.

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Her Grace is best viewed in the visible spectrum.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

U is for Ultraviolet

Yesterday we talked about lightbuckets and the light we can capture in them. Today we'll talk about one of those frequencies, Ultraviolet.  Most people know about ultraviolet from sunscreen commercials, and good old Slip Slop Slap campaigns.

In 1800 Herschel discovered Infrared (he called them Caloric Rays because they felt warm). Like any good scientist, he wondered if something similar could be found on the violet end of the spectrum. Alas, when he set up his thermometer on beyond violet, he didn't detect any heat. Oh well, he said, and focused on what he knew.

Then in 1801 Johann Wilhelm Ritter refused to be daunted by the violet end of the spectrum. See, he'd read Herschel's paper, and thought that Herschel hadn't gone far enough in his investigations. As a chemist he was familiar with the photosensitivity of certain chemicals. He knew that silver chloride turned dark when exposed to sunlight, reacting stronger to blue light, rather than red.

When he exposed a piece of paper coated with silver chloride to a spectrum, he discovered the strongest reaction was in the “invisible” side of violet light. Because of the chemical reaction, he named this invisible band of light “deoxidizing rays” or “chemical rays”. Essentially, he was one of the first to create a "photo-graph", or a literal recording of light.

He'd discovered Ultraviolet.

But what he also discovered was ionising radiation.

The electromagnetic band is divided into two different kinds of radiation: non-ionising waves, like radio waves, and ionising radiation, like X-rays.

Ionising radiation is radiation that's strong enough to knock electrons off an atom or molecule. The ability to cause a reaction in a chemical such as silver chloride is due to ionisation. It's the scary stuff that can potentially damage DNA and cause cancer.

Fortunately, most of the harmful ionising radiation (from UV on up to gamma rays) gets filtered out by our atmosphere. Still, visible light and some near UV get through. These are the frequencies that start to chemically affect stuff. (This is also why you don't store your beer in sunlight.)

Non-ionising radiation like radio waves can pass through our atmosphere, but doesn't pose a threat to us. (FYI, the radio wavelengths that mobile phones use is safely in the radio waves range. Mobile Phones do not cause cancer. Feel free to carry them in your bra.)

Ah, so what's the benefit of the ultraviolet spectrum in astronomy? It's good for detecting hotter objects. UV is very good for detecting chemical composition, very old stars or very young stars, and for identifying star-forming regions, which denotes active galaxies.

This UV images of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) shows it's active star-forming areas:


When the variable star Mira was imaged in UV by GALEX in 2006, scientists were amazed to discover it had a tail. Mira moves through space rather quickly for a star (130km/s), so fast, it even has a bit of bow shock in the interstellar medium (ISM) and a tail of matter streaming behind it for thirteen lightyears:


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Her Grace likes to think of UV as the "hot and bothered" frequency.

Monday, 24 April 2017

T is for Telescope

The Universe is full of light. Therefore, if we want to know more about the Universe, we need to sample some of that light for analysis. One of the best ways to capture that light is in a lightbucket called a telescope.

For thousands of years astronomers only had one method of capturing light--MK-1 Eyeball, aka the naked eye. Look up in the sky, what do you see?

Lots of stars, most of the major planets and a few other fuzzy objects were easily observable with the naked eye. It had its limitations, as it only detected wavelength between 390 to 700 nm. Also, it was limited in its resolution and the number of photons it could capture.

For a few thousand years humans knew that carving glass into certain shapes could bend light, focusing it, bringing more photons to the human eyeball. Then really recently, in the early 1600's, a few bright sparks put a couple of lenses in a tube, looked through and yelped, "Wow! I can see far! Tele-scope!" The first refracting telescope was born. Thomas Harriot thought it would be nifty to look at the sky through this thing. He was right. To him, the Moon looked awesome. He could see such detail!

Galileo and his refractor.
About the same time, Galileo built his own and looked upwards. To his amazement, he found four moons orbiting Jupiter. These details were not visible previously. The ability of the telescope to capture more photos and resolve very distant objects was totally amazing.

Newton's reflecting telescope.
Humans are lots of fun because they'll take an idea and run with it, seeing if they can improve on the original design. Another bright spark (some guy named Newton) wondered if a parabolic mirror could serve just as well for focusing the light. Sure enough, it worked wonders.

So lots of gentleman scientists played with this new tele-scope technology, improving it in size and quality, and peered into the heavens with it. At first, it was mostly planets they stared at, and various nebulae, as the stars were too far away to resolve to anything but points of light.

That didn't stop them from having fun with the light they captured. Prisms were notorious for breaking plain light up into pretty rainbows called spectra (singular: spectrum). When that happened, they then discovered things like absorption lines, infrared,  and ultraviolet.

You can go really big with radio telescopes,
like they did in Arecibo.
The infrared and ultraviolet discoveries really sparked some imagination. Could there really be "invisible" light beyond the visible spectrum? If so, could we capture it?

Sure.

With lower frequencies such as radio waves, they discovered they could be captured with antennas. Later, radio dishes (very similar in shape to the parabolic mirrors used to capture light) helped focus radio waves onto the receiving antenna, instead of just trying to pick up any old radio wave that happened to bounce by, like the aerials on our rooftops.

X-ray telescopes, same thing. A large parabolic mirror focuses X-ray wavelengths onto an X-ray detector. Problem with X-ray telescopes is that they're rather useless on Earth, as our atmosphere blocks out most stellar X-rays. So if we wanna gather X-rays, we've got to put our light buckets into orbit.
X-ray telescopes, like the Athena X-ray Observatory, can have lots of fun capturing the emissions of X-ray sources from orbit.

By the end of the 20th Century, humankind had come up with all kinds of telescopes to observe different kinds of electromagnetism. We're very good at capturing photons of all wavelengths, studying them, and thus, through sheer observation alone, we know about our Universe.

Do you have a telescope? If not, have you had a chance to look through one? If you haven't, see if you can find a local star party. Many planetariums and astronomical clubs hold them regularly. I recommend waiting a few months for Saturn to rise, for that is one spectacular planet to look at through a telescope.


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Her Grace observes through a Celestron Nexstar 130SLT 5" reflector.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

S is for Star

S is for Star, and really, you cannot talk about astronomy without mentioning stars. Impossible.

Anyone who's ever expressed the slightest interest in astronomy does so because of stars.  You look up in the sky, see the stars, and go, "Cool!" Stars are what get us interested in space.

Here's an earworm to annoy you for the rest of the day, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (the astronomically correct version):


Stars are the most obvious part of the universe because they shine so brightly along all the electromagnetic spectrum. I consider them a key component of the cosmos. They are the movers and the shakers. They are responsible for all the "metals" (ie elements heavier than H and He) out there. E V E R Y T H I N G out there that's not Hydrogen/Helium, is because of stars.

As you know, hydrogen makes up a good three-quarters of the universe. When that hydrogen (usually in a nebula) gets enough gravity to collapse together, fusion starts and you get a star.


Vital Stats of Stars

Size

Stars range in weight (measured in solar masses or M) from about approximately 0.2 M  to humongous beasts pushing 150 M. Now, that might not seem like a very big range, seeing that one solar mass (M) equals the weight of our Sun at 1.98855 × 1030 kg. But if you look at the radii of these stars, the smallest is about 20% wider than Jupiter, but the biggest is a whopping 1500 times as wide as our Sun. Frickin' huge.

Here's a size comparison:


Also, the bigger a star, the faster it burns through its hydrogen. Really, really big hypergiants have been known to live for the brief moments of a few million years. Living fast, dying young, they leave a really impressive supernova/hypernova before letting its corpse collapse into a neutron star or even a black hole.

Smaller stars last a lot longer. Our own Sun will live about 10 billion years, whereas some red dwarfs could possibly live for trillions of years.

OGLE-TR-122b is the smallest main sequence star we've discovered so far that's still fusing hydrogen. If it got any smaller, it wouldn't have enough gravity to ignite fusion. Unless you're fusing, you ain't a star.

Colour

Stars range in colour, which also correlates with temperature.

Stars are classified according to colour(temperature), with blue stars being the hottest and red stars being the coolest.


O B A F G K M
The spectra of star types. See how the spectra peak in certain colour ranges? That's why stars appear coloured.

Blue O-type stars tend to be 30-40,000 Kelvin.
Blue-white B-types are 20,000 K,
White A and F stars are about 8-10,000 K
G-type stars, like our yellow Sun, are about 6000 K
Red K and M-type stars can be as cool as 3000 K  (For reference, you are around 310 K).

Look up in the night sky and see if you can tell what colour a star is? While most of them appear "white", compare nearby stars to see if you can detect a faint bluish cast or reddish cast.  Betelgeuse in Orion is distinctively red, as is Antares in Scorpio. Rigel in Orion is rather blue.

Why aren't there any green stars?

Actually, there are. Any "white" star is actually radiating in the green part of the visible (optical) spectrum. Green happens to be right in the middle of the spectrum, so when a star is emitting green, it also emits red and blue. Combine all these together (additive colours), and they look white. Our Sun, a G2-type star is generally classified as Yellow-White. But if white is really green, that makes our Sun a yellow-green star. (Consider how much green light gets reflected by plants on Earth. That light's gotta come from somewhere.)

Birth and Death of a Star


So, a star is born from the gas of a nebula. After it gets over its initial teething phase, it settles into the Main Sequence, happily fusing its hydrogen into helium. It'll spend about 90% of its life like this.

Once it runs out of hydrogen, they move off the main sequence, do a few interesting things (like helium flashes, variable pulsing, puffing up like balloons), then die.

When it comes to the death of stars, the manner of its demise depends on its mass.  For smaller mass stars, like our Sun, it'll inflate into a red giant, then with a gentle poof, shed its outer layers, leaving the cooling cinder of a white dwarf.

But if it's a massive star, especially of the live-fast-die-young category, it starts fusing everything into onion layers of elements until it reaches iron. Once that happens, fusion stop, the pressure keeping the star puffy ceases, the star collapses in on itself, rebounds, and dies most violently B A N G!! in a  spectacular supernova.



Don't let the gentle spread of this light echo fool you. This time-lapse covers a period of four years. The light echo is about six light years across. We're talking some serious velocities here.

The energy released in this explosion is enough to start a new wave of nuclear reactions that fuses iron into the higher elements like gold and uranium and blowing them out into the universe.

Whatever is left over gets fused into neutrons and collapses down into either a neutron star or a black hole in the middle of a brand new nebula.

Meanwhile, the shockwave of a supernova can extend for several parsecs, rolling through any neighbourhood nebular clouds of hydrogen, possibly triggering some of it to collapse into new stars.

And thus, the cycle begins again.

Some people just like looking up in the skies. And that's okay. Do you have any favourite stars?  What make them your favourites?  I'm fond of Betelgeuse and Canopus.

No hardcore stuff today, unless you want to investigate more about V838 Mon which occurred in 2002.

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Her Grace is sometimes content just to stare up at the stars with MK-1 eyeballs.