I’ve just shared a new vlog about ‘Evil Eye – A Lissa Blackwood Thriller’ on YouTube – take a look at https://youtu.be/JnADVherxXg
In the vlog I talk about 2 large changes that I’m making to the story.
Firstly I’m removing the references to Brexit – the plot of this book isn’t driven by that and taking it out will give the trilogy more longevity.
Secondly, I’m restructuring the story to the 7-Step Novel Structure. I’m quite a way through this already, and these changes should be finished in 1-2 weeks, which is great because I really want to get back to writing Lissa Blackwood’s “book 2” – she has become a much darker character and I’m enjoying seeing where she is going!
I don’t often take the time to simply read a book, mostly because I’m usually after working at my day job or writing my own stories. I’m even less likely to be reading a ‘ghost story’ because they tend to lodge uncomfortably in my imagination. So it has been very pleasing to pass a couple of days reading Sarah Lotz‘s ghost story(?) called “Day Four”.
Lotz has a simple and crisp style of writing that I found easy to engage with. The story is well-paced and I often found myself turning the page at the end of a chapter to see what would happen next. Her writing reminded me of that everyday-yet-out-of-kilter style found in early Stephen King novels, while the plot line felt quite Ballardian with ‘High Rise’ overtones.
The basic premise is simple: a cruise ship becomes stranded in the open ocean after an engine fire and repairs take longer than anyone could expect. The Captain has locked himself away on the bridge and is never seen, whilst the passengers and crew are given meaningless updates over the ship’s loudspeaker system by Damien. The longer the ship is left drifting the more that normal social rules break down, with people grouping into factions, fighting and so on.
So far, so normal. Now add in a heavy dose of mysticism, speaking with the dead, spirits walking the ship, murders, drug addiction and the possible presence of the devil, and suddenly things are taking very different directions indeed.
A pleasure to read, albeit with an unsatisfying, enigmatic ending.
Well, that’s a divisive question!
I enjoy all aspects of the Star Trek universe from The Original Series (TOS), The Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine (DS9, which actually features one of my favourite episodes of all time, from any series of any program – “Duet” from series 1), Enterprise, The Animated Series, Voyager. Today I’m wondering which film starring the original crew is the best.
I’m not very keen on the recent TOS movie reboots, so I’m excluding those… sorry guys! I’m also excluding Star Trek Generations (1994) because, although it features Kirk, it’s really an introduction for TNG to the movie franchise. So that leaves:
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Here come my votes, in reverse order…
In 6th Place – Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. In my opinion this is simply a weakly plotted film.
The moment when Spock dies at the end of Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan was a sublime moment; the actors and director took their time to let this emotional moment play out properly, and the grief of Kirk seeing his friend die was wonderfully acted by Shatner. Who can forget their closing lines in that scene? …
SPOCK: “Ship …out of danger?”
SPOCK: “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many …outweigh…”
KIRK: “…the needs of the few.”
SPOCK: “Or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru test …until now. What do you think of my solution?”
Spock – falls to his knees, raises his hand on the glass separating him from Kirk.
SPOCK: “I have been …and always shall be …your friend. …Live long …and prosper.”
Spock – turns, sits and dies.
KIRK: “No!” <softly>
It seems to me that the intention here was to finish with just 2 films made. They would have been great films, ending on a great movie moment….
And then for some reason the movie franchise continued with Star Trek III. In this film Spock’s body is luckily/almost magically reincarnated by the effect of the Genesis weapon used by Khan at the end of Star Trek II. Fortunately McCoy is also carrying Spock’s “katra” (soul?) from the end of Star Trek II. Now all Kirk has to do is steal the enterprise from Space Dock, travel to the Genesis world, pick up Spock’s body, take him to Vulcan and get his soul reunited with his body! Simple, eh?
Come on, that is a beginner-level plot for resurrecting the series… making for a pretty dull interlude in the Trek universe.
In 5th Place – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Star Trek IV is the necessary step to get the crew back to Earth so that their adventures can continue. The tension of ‘will they be arrested for stealing the Enterprise’ feels shallow and much of the grand Space Opera that Trek is renowned for is instead replaced with what feels like an overly-long comedy sequence back in Earth’s recent history. What? Sorry? What’s happening there?
The plot is that the crew are returning home when a huge, mysterious cylindrical spacecraft arrives at Earth and starts beaming a message into the oceans for the whales. The trouble is that whales are now extinct in this timeline. What’s the solution? Why, “time warp” of course! Now all the crew have to do is fly their stolen Klingon ship very fast and pass very close to the Sun, which apparently means they can then travel back in time, recover some whales (and simultaneously save them from being hunted), time warp them back to the ‘present day’, drop the whales into the ocean and let them talk to the cylindrical probe. All’s well that ends well: Kirk is forgiven, sort of demoted to Captain, and given command of the Enterprise NCC-1701-A.
In 4th Place: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). Now the choosing is getting harder. This is a good film but over-shadowed by the Top 3.
After some (under-believable) male bonding between Kirk, McCoy and Spock in Yosemite National Park, the crew set off for Nimbus III in their new Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, in order to rescue the human, Klingon, and Romulan ambassadors who have been taken hostage.
When they arrive, the crew discover that Spock’s renegade half-brother, Sybok, has used the ambassadors as bait to lure a starship to Nimbus III. Sybok has embraced his emotions and learnt how to use a mind-meld technique to heal a person’s mental pains. Sybok captures the Enterprise, with only Kirk and Spock resisting him. He then takes them to what is presumed to be an impenetrable barrier at the center of the galaxy, beyond which lies a mythical planet called “Sha Ka Ree”.
Sybok manages to penetrate the barrier (of course) and they find a single blue planet. He travels down to the surface with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, where he expects to find God. When an entity eventually appears it wants to take control of the Enterprise. Kirk is attacked by it when he asks “What does God need with a starship?”, and Sybok comes to realise that this entity cannot be God. He mind-melds with the entity, allowing the others to escape.
There is also a small sub-plot involving another Klingon starship, but that adds little to the film, in my opinion.
Now we reach the Top 3!
In 3rd Place: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. This is a good film and I have often enjoyed re-watching it. The film begins with the destruction of the Klingon moon called Praxis, their main source of energy. Without Praxis the Klingon Empire can’t continue in its current state for more than about fifty years. The Klingons don’t have the resources to both solve their energy problems and remain hostile towards the United Federation of Planets, so they have started to sue for peace.
Before the Klingons revert to a more militaristic solution, and probably all die fighting, Starfleet sends Kirk to meet with the Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon, and escort him to negotiations on Earth. After their rendezvous, the humans and Klingons share a very tense (sometimes funny) dinner on board the Enterprise. Later that night the Enterprise appears to fire a pair of photon torpedoes at the Klingon ship, disabling its artificial gravity and enabling two figures in Starfleet spacesuits and gravity boots to beam aboard and grievously wound Gorkon.
In order to avoid conflict between their 2 ships, Kirk surrenders to the Klingons. He and McCoy beam aboard and McCoy unsuccessfully attempts to save Gorkon’s life. When the chancellor dies, Kirk and McCoy are found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at a frozen Klingon prison called “Rura Penthe”.
While Gorkon’s daughter, Azetbur, continues diplomatic negotiations, Kirk and McCoy eventually escape from the prison with the help of a shapeshifting alien called ‘Martia’. They evade a double-cross and are beamed up to the Enterprise by Spock.
A race is now on to get to at Camp Khitomer, where the latest Peace Conference is being held. Spock has learnt that some Sarfleet officers are afraid of the changes that peace might bring and have plotted to sabotage the peace talks. He also discovers that it was a cloaked Klingon starship that fired the torpedoes at Gorkon’s cruiser.
When they arrive above Camp Khitomer, the Enterprise (and Sulu’s Excelsior) have a skirmish with another Klingon warship, before they can eventually beam down and save the day.
The film closes with Starfleet ordering the Enterprise immediately back to Earth to be decommissioned. The crew decide to take their time travelling home and Kirk gives them the course of “Second Star to the right, and straight on til’ morning” (from Peter Pan).
A well-acted and exciting film, with good special effects and an excellent plot… which is beaten by the runner-up in this review of the best ‘Original Crew’ Star Trek movie by…
In 2nd Place: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Of course some of the special effects in this film can’t match the quality of those found in the later films, but that misses the point. This film brings back one of Kirk’s old enemies from the original TV series, Khan Noonien Singh, wonderfully played by Ricardo Montalban in both that series 1 episode “Space Seed” and this film.
Khan is a genetically-engineered uber-human from the late 20th-century Eugenics Wars. His belief in his own abilities, both physical and mental, is total: he believes he is the superior man. In the TOS episode Khan tries to steal the Enterprise from Kirk. He very nearly succeeds and Kirk eventually leaves him with his crew on Ceti Alpha V, a dangerous but habitable world.
Kirk believes that is end of the story with Khan. However, when the USS Reliant visits the Ceti Alpha system, Captain Terrell and Commander Pavel Chekov learn that they have visited Ceti Alpha V, not Ceti Alpha VI as they thought. They are captured by Khan who then takes control of their minds using some Ceti eels that wrap around their cerebral cortex, leaving them extremely susceptible to outside suggestion.
Khan captures the Reliant and a memorable battle follows when he ambushes the Enterprise, inflicting massive damage. Once the Enterprise is ‘dead in the water’ Khan reveals himself to Kirk. Khan says he will spare the crew of the Enterprise if Kirk beams aboard with data about the Genesis device. Kirk hatches a quick plan to send an override code in their data transmission about Genesis which will lower Reliant’s shields. This hasty plan works and the Enterprise is able to fire back, causing Khan to withdraw.
A small sub-plot then follows where we learn more about the Genesis device while the Enterprise is repaired and Khan steals the Genesis device.
We then come to the final action scenes in the Battle of Mutara Nebula, where Khan’s inexperience in space battles enables Kirk to disable the Reliant. In his final act of revenge, Khan activates the Genesis device and the Enterprise barely escapes in time. Of course this is also the moment that Spock dies, as we saw earlier, making for a downbeat ending to an otherwise exciting action flic.
And now we’ve reached the Top Spot, and my vote for the “Best Star Trek Movie Starring the Original Crew” goes to… Star Trek: The Motion Picture!
Part of me can’t believe that I’ve voted this way for the Top Spot. When I first saw “The Motion Picture” I mentally dubbed it as “Star Trek: The SLOW MOTION Picture”. It is a film that seems to take forever to get anywhere and spends much too long dwelling on very similar shots (especially the journey into V’Ger). However, over the years I have come to appreciate the time that is spent on these scenes. We are now very used to fast-paced films, driven by action and not dialogue, but the pace of this film reminds us that sometimes extraordinary things take time to work out.
In this film a massive energy cloud is detected moving toward Earth that is destroying everything in its path. The fear is that if it reaches Earth it will destroy that planet as well. The only starship in intercept range is the Enterprise-refit, and Admiral Kirk arranges to take command of it from Captain Decker. There is some obvious tension between Kirk and Decker, but the latter executes his roles of Science and First Officer well. Decker saves the ship when improperly calibrated engines nearly destroy it. Spock arrives a little later, having failed a Vulcan ritual to purge all of his emotions: he takes on the role of Science Officer, helps to fix the engines and explains that he has felt a consciousness emanating from the cloud.
When the Enterprise intercepts the energy cloud a probe appears on the bridge that abducts the navigator, Ilia, a former girlfriend of Decker’s. Ilia is later returned as a robotic probe, sent by V’Ger to study the crew. When Spock eventually takes a spacewalk further into V’Ger he attempts a mind meld and discovers that V’Ger is a living machine.
When the Enterprise reaches the centre of the energy cloud they discover that V’Ger is built around an Earth probe called Voyager 6, which had been believed lost in a black hole. Voyager 6 was repaired and upgraded by an alien race of living machines which interpreted its programming as instructions to “learn all that can be learned and return that information to its creator”.
[the image here is “V’Ger Cloud” by David Metlesits from startrekdesktopwallpaper.com]
By the time it had returned to Earth, V’Ger had gathered so much knowledge that it had become conscious. In the closing scenes of the film Decker and the Ilia merge, allowing V’Ger to convey its information to the Creator in person.
For me, the opening scenes of this film where Kirk sees the refit-Enterprise for the first time, when she leaves Space Dock, the Klingons’ attack on V’Ger, and the Enterprise’ slow progress into the energy cloud are wonderfully timeless moments, conveying the grand scale of everything that Star Trek means in its quest “to boldly go where no one has gone before”.
Fair Use Notice: The pictures used in this article have been taken from a number of internet sources and are included as ‘fair use’ of the images for the purposes of criticism, comment, teaching. No copyright is claimed and this content is shared for study, research and educational purposes. The images and other content on this page are offered publically and without profit, to the public users of the internet for comment and non-profit educational and informational purposes. Star Trek is copyright Paramount Pictures.
In the world of Dr Who, there are fixed points in Space-Time where events have such deep effects on the timeline of the Universe that they must not be altered, for fear of damaging reality itself. In our real-world lives I believe there are similar events that become fixed anchors in our personal timelines; these are the events that shape our lives and help to define who we are. On 2nd January 1978 one of those moments happened for me.
On that day I was 10 years and 8 months old, and about to have an imagination-defining experience. Yep, you can do the maths, that makes me 51 years and 3 months old as I write this article, and that event is still shaping my imagination today!
I’m so glad that it happened and I nearly missed it! I’d told my parents that a new programme was going to be broadcast on BBC1 at 6:00PM and I REALLY wanted to see it. That evening we had all been out in my Dad’s van while my Mum finished some work and it was a rush to get home inside to see it.
We made it just in time to hear that glorious theme music, which you can enjoy here: https://youtu.be/pnautWFuEnQ …
‘DAHHHH, D DAH DAH, DAH DAH, DAHDLY DAH, DAHDLY DAH, DAHDLY DAH, DAHDLY DAH!’
… and to see the opening credits which were promising everything:
- The zoom out from a domed city on Earth,
- The transition to a computer-generated, pixelated image of Blake screaming in pain, which then…
- Morphs onto the lens of a black security camera, before we see…
- A Federation Trooper in overalls and futuristic helmet who then fires his gun right at us!
All in the first 13 seconds!
The shot is clearly aimed at the pixelated Blake, whose face is now subtitled with one word: ELIMINATE, in computerised letters.
Blake’s face then melts into a planetary space scene before a very futuristic-looking spacecraft with a central hull and three pods on vanes bears down on us!
We then see that ship, the Liberator, moving directly away before it is replaced by the Federation logo overlain with the programme title: “Blake’s 7”
WOW! What an introduction… it had it all!
Futuristic cities, spaceships, technology, computers and computer graphics, good guys, bad guys, surveillance, the threat of violence and implied resistance – what more could the ten years old me have wanted? It was PERFECT and I was hooked, even before a single line had been spoken.
To understand the appeal and excellence of Blake’s 7 I think you have to understand a few things about science fiction fans in general, and the state of UK society in the late 1970s to early 1980s in particular.
It has been my experience that people who don’t like sci-fi, the kind that Douglas Adams might have labelled as ‘strags’ (non-hitchhikers, see chapter 3 of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’), are often very critical of B7:
- They say it had wobbly sets – they’re right, sometimes it did.
- They say it had funny costumes and silly aliens – sometimes it did.
- They say the special effects were very bad and unrealistic – sometimes they were.
- They say you could see the spaceship models hanging from strings, and some of those models looked very childish – you often could, and sometimes they were right.
All of those criticisms miss the point of sci-fi, which is about Big Ideas… and Blake’s 7 had some Huge Ideas right from the very start.
Fans will forgive any amount of technical problems with the presentation of a story as long as that story is exceptional, and with B7 Terry Nation had created an exceptional storyline.
Today, what is perhaps an even more modern-realistic telling of the Blake’s 7 story can be found in the re-imagined audio stories ‘Rebel’, ‘Traitor’ and ‘Liberator’ penned by Ben Aaronovitch. These stories remain true to the central ideas and ideals of Terry Nation’s TV creation, and in some ways enhance them. For example, Travis’ character has more depth, while the discovery and acquisition of the Liberator seem more realistic.
So what was the UK like in 1979?
Computers were only just penetrating mainstream society. These machines had previously been exclusively technical constructs, used for such edifying purposes as helping to put a man on the moon, business data processing, weather prediction and aircraft and ship designing, to more questionable activities like cryptographic analysis (espionage, security) and nuclear weapons designs. Things were changing and this technology was soon to permeate right down to individual homes.
1977 had just seen Tandy release the TRS-80 Micro Computer System, a desktop microcomputer with a QWERTY keyboard, a 64-character per line monitor, the new Zilog Z80 processor, 4 KB of RAM and an implementation of the BASIC programming language. Costing the equivalent of about US$2500, it was a forerunner of what was coming. In the same year Apple demonstrated the Apple II, offering colour graphics and an audio cassette drive for storage. Computer technology was NEW, and it was exciting to think that we could be programming machines to do our bidding! Little did we appreciate the profound impact they would have on employment though… but that’s another story.
The ubiquity of computers in the Blake’s 7 universe, their computational power (Zen, Orac), their ability to process massive datasets (the children’s records in the Domed City in Episode 1, for example), their huge screens and voice control, was unprecedented in mainstream public experience, and as a schoolboy I found the idea of it very exciting.
By the early 1980s I was learning to program using Z80-based, RML-380Z computers built by ‘Research Machines’ in Oxford. These machines are now rare to find in good working order and sell for around £500 – £1,000 depending on their condition. The ones in my school had 56k of RAM, 5¼” or 8″ floppy disk drives and high-resolution graphics boards. I learnt to program in Assembly Language, BASIC, COBOL, some Pascal and Fortran, and those skills have kept me in good stead (and steady employment) for the next 30+ years, so some good came from it all!
Technology also manifested in the form of CCTV cameras that appeared during the late 1970s. These looked a lot like the camera in the show’s opening titles; they were big, clunky, robotic looking things that really intruded into the public spaces where they were deployed. Suddenly there was a new terrible feeling of being watched and followed wherever you went. These cameras were increasingly seen as an assault on individual’s liberal rights to privacy and personal freedom. Spin forward just a few years and we see the introduction of smaller devices, night-vision / infrared capable sensors and pan-tilting mounts. CCTV spread like a rash and today the UK is the most surveilled nation on Earth, with circa 6 million cameras in use (2016 estimate). This is the surveillance culture that Terry Nation tapped into during the opening scenes of Episode 1 – who can forget those black cameras pivoting to watch the Dome City’s inhabitants as they moved around?
What Terry Nation could not have predicted was how deeply the internet embedded itself in society, enabling governments and global tech-giants to know who we are, what we are reading, what we are watching, who we are talking to, where we eat, where we travel, our health details, biometric details, our phone calls, text messages… it goes on and on and on. It still surprises me that a nation which traditionally put such a high value on Privacy and Personal Freedoms allowed this situation to develop, but I think it happened a bit like eating a salami, one slice at a time. Today’s reality is much worse than Terry Nation predicted with B7 and just an ideological step away from the Far Right state predicted by Orwell in ‘1984’ – Travis would love this modern world, finding and eliminating Blake would have been simple.
Our understanding of the Social-Political-Economic backdrop for Blake’s 7 is completed with the election of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party to power after five years of Labour Party governance under Harold Wilson (’74 – ’76) and James Callaghan (’76 – ’79). Callaghan had a tiny majority in Parliament and faced rampant Trade Union strikes that came to a head in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ (Winter ’78-’79). Public employees were walking out leaving food and fuel undelivered, rubbish uncollected, and bodies unburied. What government can survive when it can’t feed its people or bury the dead? Callaghan’s didn’t, and on 3rd May 1979 he was ousted in the polls by Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher was a completely different kind of political animal. She exuded a confident, indomitable spirit and would not accept weakness anywhere, in herself, her cabinet or the wider Central/Local government. Dubbed “the Iron Lady” by the media, Thatcher broke the Trade Unions’ hold over the country and re-made the UK economy with a new approach that was dubbed ‘Thatcherism’. Out went Keynesianism, belief in the welfare state ‘looking after’ the population, deeply nationalised industry and close regulation of the British economy. In came a belief that through entrepreneurialism people could quiet ably look after themselves, that success came to those who worked for it, monetarism with a priority on controlling inflation over unemployment, social conservatism over liberalism. It was a time of great opportunity for those who could reach higher into the new technological age and look after themselves. It was also a time of great suffering for those who couldn’t, and their scars still run deep in UK society today. How much of the character of Servalan was influenced by Thatcher and Thatcherism, I wonder?
Not exactly an optimistic time, and perhaps that is part of the reason why Blake’s 7 resonated with so many viewers?
This Social-Political-Economic backdrop must have helped to shape the series’ characters:
Blake – a former dissident who was brainwashed into betraying his friends and then believing that his murdered-by-the-State family were still alive. When he eventually learns some of the truth he starts to fight back. Whatever happens he will be ‘everyman’ with a unique claim on the show’s moral high ground.
Avon – a convicted computer fraudster – an obvious choice.
Villa – a master thief, drinker, gambler, sometimes lazy coward. With those credentials he might be hard to empathise with, but Michael Keating portrayed him with a transparent working class honesty that was quite appealing. Perhaps Villa represents the fortunes of the working classes, similar to…
Gan – convicted of killing a Federation officer who had killed his girlfriend. He was big, strong, not highly educated but often the calm voice of common sense.
Jenna – a powerful, alpha-class female character. A top spaceship pilot and rather cynical smuggler. Perhaps she represents the social dialogue about self-reliance that would come with Thatcherism?
Cally – a telepath from the planet Auron. She had been helping freedom fighters on the planet Saurian Major resist the Federation. When the Federation killed all the rebels by releasing “poison from the sky”, she decided to stay and fight, to “destroy until I am destroyed”. Cally is perhaps a purer expression of the resistance that we understand Blake was leading. Not a convicted criminal, she is initially almost fanatical about fighting the Federation before developing more into the ‘moral conscience’ of Blake’s team. In her earlier episodes she perhaps expresses the solid determination that many people wished they had to stand up against the changing world.
Cally reminds me a lot of my character ‘Lissa Blackwood’ in my thriller novel ‘Evil Eye’. Lissa Blackwood describes herself as a ‘fierce, woman warrior’. She also is a soldier with a solid moral core who will persist in the face of any challenge to get the job done and keep the UK safe. I hope I have portrayed her with as much integrity as Jan Chappell played Cally in the TV series.
It seems to me that the UK’s problems in 1978-1981, when the 4 seasons of Blake’s 7 were originally broadcast, are still present today. If anything the divide between social classes has widened and the privileged security of the elites has only increased. In the meantime the continued development of new technologies continues to leave large swathes of society unemployable, or living in fear of unemployment, while State monitoring of citizens only ever seems to expand and ‘the system’ remains as cold-hearted as in Thatcher’s days.
What in 1978 was perhaps a warning about the direction that a right-of-centre (Conservative) government could take the UK, seems more like reality each day. Maybe Blake’s 7 remains a useful prompt for future generations of imaginations, reminding us that the status quo is there to be questioned, challenged, and sometimes resisted.
Fair Use Notice: The pictures used in this article have been taken from a number of internet sources and are included as ‘fair use’ of the images for the purposes of criticism, comment, teaching. No copyright is claimed and this content is shared for study, research and educational purposes. The images and other content on this page are offered publically and without profit, to the public users of the internet for comment and non-profit educational and informational purposes. Blake’s 7 is copyright BBC television.
I just posted a new vlog about ‘Evil Eye – A Lissa Blackwood Thriller’ on my YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/NJZKVxQbRls
In this vlog I talk a bit about the Political-Economic-Social background to the story, share some of my inspirations for Lissa Blackwood and my hopes for finding an agent to help sell the series of books to a traditional publisher.
I’m really excited to announce that the first draft of “Evil Eye – A Lissa Blackwood Thriller”, the opening book in my new series of post-Brexit Conspiracy Thrillers, has been completed.
Research for this book began towards the end of 2016, planning lasted until about May 2017, and this draft was completed today!
I’m loving writing in this genre and enjoying the adventures that these wonderful characters are having.
Book 2 should be completed more quickly as much of the initial preparation for the series is already in place. In the meantime I’m looking for beta readers for ‘Evil Eye’ and starting to think about seeking an agent to help me sell the books… exciting times!
image: “#EB Photo January challenge” by Lee Roberts – Creative Commons – http://flickr.com
One of the interesting questions in Astronomy is where does the Solar System end and inter-stellar space begin? There’s a nice result being shared by NASA from the ALICE instrument on the ‘New Horizons’ spacecraft that is helping with that question and confirming observations from the Voyager spacecraft.
‘New Horizons’ is the spacecraft that flew past Pluto on 14th July 2015 and was then sent onwards towards the Kuiper belt object (486958) 2014 MU69 (nicknamed ‘Ultima Thule’ by the New Horizons team), which it should reach on 1st Jan 2019.
‘Voyager’ was actually two probes, launched in 1977 to study the outer Solar System.
So, where does the solar system end? It depends… Based on the standard structural model (see below) we’d say somewhere near 50,000 to 200,000AU, at the far edge of the Oort Cloud. Based on the distribution of solar system hydrogen (see below), and taking Voyager 1’s results to be correct (more below), we’d say it was around 121AU, with the result to be further verified by Voyager 2 and ongoing measurements from ALICE.
In the Standard Model of the Solar System the part we are most familiar with is the inner-most region containing the Sun and the eight major planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. There is a gap between Mars and Jupiter where a planet should be which actually contains the ‘asteroid belt’, an area of rocky asteroids that are probably material that never managed to accrete into a planet. This inner-most region extends out to around 4.5 billion km (or 30AU, as astronomers term it) from the Sun.
The next area beyond that, extending to about 50AU is the Kuiper Belt, which contains left-over material from the formation of the inner solar system, predominantly frozen volatiles like methane, ammonia and water. That is not to say that the objects in the Kuiper Belt are all ‘small’ as it contains three officially recognized dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea and Makemake. Overlapping the Kuiper Belt and extending beyond 100AU is the Scattered Disk, which is sparsely populated with small icy bodies like asteroids and comets. But the solar system doesn’t end there… There is then also the Oort Cloud lying at around 50,000 to 200,000AU, which is believed to contain icy planetesimals and be the source region for some comets.
So somewhere beyond the region around 200,000AU we should no longer find any solid constituents of our solar system, and that would denote one boundary to our solar system. Anything beyond that point will not be bound by our Sun’s gravity.
But what about gas? The main gas found in stars and the inter-stellar medium is hydrogen. Within our solar system these hydrogen atoms are pushed outwards by radiation pressure from solar photons. There will also be a radiation pressure applying inwards from the interstellar wind, and at some point those pressures will balance, causing solar system hydrogen atoms to bunch up in a ‘wall’ – this ‘heliosphere’ will also mark another boundary to our solar system… and this is where the latest results from the ultraviolet spectrometer ALICE (named after the Alice Kramden in ‘The Honeymooners’) on New Horizons comes in.
NASA has already reported that Voyager 1 was about 121AU from the Sun when it passed through the heliopause (outer boundary of the heliosphere) on 25th August 2012 and entered inter-stellar space. Voyager 2 has a different trajectory and has not yet crossed that boundary.
Long‐term observations made with ALICE have confirmed measurements made by the Voyager spacecraft. NASA scientists are reporting that both sets of data are best explained if the observed ultraviolet light results from BOTH the scattering of sunlight by hydrogen atoms within the solar system, AND a substantial contribution from a distant source, which could be the ‘wall of hydrogen’ at the heliosphere.
It could also be that the additional source of UV light is more distant, and more twice-yearly observations are being planned for New Horizons/ALICE. — here is a link to the abstract for NASA’s paper, which is due to be published in the journal ‘Geophysical Research Letters’.
All pictures from NASA.gov