Known to fans of Dr Who as Donna’s grandfather, he’s also responsible for, “Right, Said Fred”, my favourite silly song.?? You may also remember him from an episode of Faulty Towers in which he played the part of a spoon salesman whom Basil mistakes for a hotel inspector. –cpl
Astronomers have discovered a star that orbits the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy every four years. That’s the shortest orbit ever observed around a supermassive black hole.
The newly discovered star, called S4716, is about four times more massive than our Sun and twice as hot. It survives extraordinary conditions, orbiting this black hole at a distance as close as 100 astronomical units, less than three times the distance of Pluto from the Sun.
The discovery should help astrophysicists better understand conditions near this gravitational behemoth at the center of the Milky Way and to better calculate its mass and radius.
August 12-14 – When Words Collide & Canvention 42 –ONLINEOKThis year the festival is once again online and free to attend, including the Aurora Awards ceremony. Registration via Eventbrite is required.? https://www.whenwordscollide.org/
On Saturday, August 13, starting at 5pm MDT, we invite everyone to join us for the Aurora Awards ceremony. Our Master of Ceremonies, author Mark Leslie Lefebvre, will be live streaming the ceremony on both his YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkPw6Cu3P1c) and our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO7p4geRW6k). The event will also be streamed live on Facebook, with the URL becoming available here about one week prior to the event. This event is open to everyone and is free to watch.
About the Auroras and the Hall of Fame, from the When Words Collide website:
Each year a Canadian convention or festival hosts the floating convention known as Canvention. This year Canvention is being organized by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA), a national non-profit society along with a host convention. CSFFA’s mandate is to give out the Aurora awards and induct people into CSFFA’s Hall of the Fame.
There are twelve different Aurora awards. They are given out for both professional and volunteer (unpaid) work in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Works are nominated by members of CSFFA which all Canadians are welcome to join. The top nominated works are shortlisted for the Aurora ballot and voted on by CSFFA members. Through the generosity of the nominees and their publishers, CSFFA members also get to download electronic versions of almost all of the published nominated works.
The Hall of Fame inductees are determined by a jury of four experts and one coordinator from CSFFA.
The micrometeoroid that hit the James Webb Space Telescope in May caused significantly more damage than expected and will have a lasting impact on the telescope’s observations, according to a NASA report on the spacecraft’s performance. By contrast, other micrometeoroid impacts during the spacecraft’s first six months of operation have had a negligible effect.
The report contains an image showing the damage to one hexagonal segment of the observatory’s main mirror, called C3. “The single micrometeorite impact that occurred between 22—24 May 2022 exceeded prelaunch expectations of damage for a single micrometeoroid,” says the NASA report.
Spot the difference: infrared images of the James Webb Space Telescope before launch (left) and after the micrometeoroid strike (right). The damaged C3 segment is to the bottom right of the mirror.
“Characterization of JWST science performance from commissioning” (July 12, 2022); NASA/ESA/CSA
The performance of the main mirror is determined by how much it deforms incoming starlight and measured by a quantity called wavefront error rms (root mean square). At the beginning the mission, the C3 segment had a wavefront error of 56 nanometers rms, a level similar to the main mirror’s other 17 segments. The impact increased C3’s wavefront error to 258 nm rms.
Spacecraft engineers can change the position and curvature of each segment and in this way were able to reduce the error to 178 nm rms. This has a measurable effect on the error of the main mirror as a whole. “However, the effect was small at the full telescope level because only a small portion of the telescope area was affected,” says the report.
The JWST team say the impact increased the error associated with entire main mirror to about 59 nm rms. “About 5-10 nm rms above the previous best wavefront error rms values.” That’s well within the performance limits the team were hoping for.
Nevertheless, the impact raises questions about the nature of the space environment where the JWST operates. This is a point in space about a million kilometers from Earth where the gravitational fields of the Sun, Moon and Earth are in balance and so provide a relatively stable location.
When most people picture an astronomer, they think of a lone person sitting on top of a mountain, peering into a massive telescope. Of course, that image is out of date: Digital cameras have long since done away with the need to actually look though a telescope.
But now the face of astronomy is changing again. With the advent of more powerful computers and sky surveys that generate unimaginable quantities of data, artificial intelligence is the go-to tool for the keen researcher of space. But where is all of this data coming from? And how can computers help us learn about the universe?
AI’s appetite for data
Chances are you’ve heard the terms “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” thrown around recently, and while they are often used together, they actually refer to different things. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a term used to describe any kind of computational behavior that mimics the way humans think and perform tasks. Machine learning (ML) is a little more specific: It’s a family of technologies that learn to make predictions and decisions based on vast quantities of historical data. Crucially, ML creates models which exhibit behavior that is not pre-programmed, but learned from the data used to train it.
The facial recognition in your smartphone, the spam filter in your emails, and the ability of digital assistants like Siri or Alexa to understand speech are all examples of machine learning being used in the real world. Many of these technologies are now being used by astronomers to investigate the mysteries of space and time. Astronomy and machine learning are a match made in the heavens, because if there’s one thing astronomers have too much of — and ML models can’t get enough of — it’s data.
We’re all familiar with megabytes (MB), gigabytes (GB), and terabytes (TB), but data at that scale is old news in astronomy. These days, we’re interested in petabytes (PB). A petabyte is about one thousand TB, a million GB, or a billion MB. It would take around 10 PB of storage to hold every single feature-length movie ever made in 4K resolution — and it would take over a hundred years to watch them all.
Shortly after noon on Saturday, June 18, some dozen MonSFFen gathered, physically, face-to-face in the lobby of the Exporail Museum, located in the town of St-Constant, across the river, just south of Montreal. This outing marked our long-awaited but tentative return to in-person gatherings.
MonSFFen will recall that the last time we gathered together in the same room for a club event was on the occasion of our March 7, 2020 club meeting at the downtown H?tel Espresso. Shortly after that meeting, the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared, lockdowns initiated, and all club events suspended until further notice! We soon opted to move our monthly get-togethers online for the duration of the pandemic, which, take note, is not yet entirely over, though considerably moderated. We continue to gather online every month, even as we prepare for an anticipated return to in-person monthly meetings very soon.
Exporail houses the nation’s largest collection of locomotives, rail coaches and cars, and railroad equipment and paraphernalia, representing Canada’s railway heritage, dating back to the early days of steam and streetcars. Steampunk fans will surely delight in this museum, strolling among the elegantly appointed passenger cars, and the massive nuts-and-bolts steam locomotives, their cabs replete with a plethora of pipes and valves and levers.
The museum also featured several exhibits devoted to the history of toy trains, and a sizable, operating HO-scale model-railroad layout, of particular interest to the collectors and scale-modellers in our group. Furthermore, we braved the day’s rain to walk about outside, where were parked on sidings additional engines and cars awaiting restoration. We both explored the museum on our own and benefitted from a guided tour of some of the notable trains in the collection, including a first-generation Montreal Metro car!
For the benefit of those who were unable to join us on this field trip, we present, here, a photo gallery of our visit to the Exporail museum. (All photos by Keith Braithwaite unless otherwise indicated.)
The main “Angus” pavilion was our starting point. From the lobby and leading into the cavernous primary exhibit area, a short passageway served to display an assortment of track-laying tools, uniform caps, signage, promotional models, toy trains, plaques, historical photographs, and other railroad accoutrements. Interpretive videos screened on television monitors, as well.
Within the exhibit area itself, numerous locomotives, coaches, and railroad cars were grouped together on sidings amongst which we were able to meander, effectively taking a stroll through Canadian railway history.
Street Cars, Montreal Metro
In one corner and belonging to the Montreal City Passenger Railway was an early stagecoach-like vehicle, which had been pulled through city streets by a team of horses, presaging rail transportation.
An open-air, sightseeing type was among several street cars on exhibit, including the “Rocket,” which we were able to board. Period advertising signage was reproduced as a detail of this car’s restoration.
Regrettably out of service on this day is an operating street car that carries patrons on a brief tour around the museum grounds outdoors. It was undergoing work in a maintenance garage adjacent the Angus building.
Familiar to Montrealers was a first-generation Metro car, its sky-blue colour and white trim easily recognized. A vintage map of the Metro system, circa mid-1960s, was among the details featured aboard this car—the Metro then was but a fraction of the circuit it is today.
Exporail’s collection includes a number of passenger coaches, from vintage to more modern, and we were able to view the interiors of some of these trains by way of an elevated platform.
Moreover, we were able to board a couple of the coaches for a closer look at the ornate decorative flourishes of a bygone era, and such features as fold-out upper and lower sleeping berths, a rather compact washroom, and a coal-fired stove positioned at one end of the coach, providing heat for the entire car. Passengers seated closest to the stove were charged more for their tickets!
We also boarded a mail car and learned about the pick-up/delivery system employed to move mail across the vast expanses of this country, in a time when carrying the mail was an important function of Canada’s railways.
The Age of Steam
A highlight of our visit was the opportunity to view the many mighty steam locomotives in the collection, from smaller—relatively speaking—workhorse engines to formidable, giant powerhouses and streamlined behemoths, some of which we were able to board for a close-up look at the crew compartments. Given the enormous size of these locomotives, their cabs were a surprisingly cramped space to work for engineer and crew!
We were able, as well, to descend into a pit and have a gander at the undercarriage of one huge locomotive, and view, in a secondary pavilion, a couple of European-made engines, the showcase example of which was the beautiful, aerodynamic, A4-class “Dominion of Canada.”
Built in 1937 for British Railways’ London-Edinburgh line and originally dubbed “Woodcock,” this locomotive was cutting-edge railroad technology in its day. Renamed “Dominion of Canada,” it was rescued from the scrap heap in 1965 after having been put out of service, restored by British Railways, and shipped to Canada just in time for this country’s Centennial Celebrations in 1967.
Also on view in this secondary pavilion was the exquisitely reconditioned “John Molson.”
The age of steam gave way to diesel-electric power, and Exporail’s inventory includes a number of fine examples of these more contemporary locomotives.
There were on site a couple of boxcars, too, and this being Canada, special snow-removal equipment.
Model Railroading and Toy Trains
The Angus pavilion also featured several anterooms dedicated to model railroading and toy trains. A large, finely detailed model of Canadian National’s number 5606, locomotive and tender, marked the entrance to these rooms, and within was spotlighted a toaster-sized model of an engine imported from England for service on Canada’s first railroad, the Champlain and St. Lawrence, running between La Prairie and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu beginning in 1836.
A few wonderfully intricate model railroad layouts were on exhibit, including a pintsized set-up enclosed within a suitcase! Glass display cases showcased a variety of miniature locomotives and railcars, the most popular and common scale among model railroaders being HO, or 1:87.
A big, impressive HO layout occupied most of one large room, with operating trains snaking through miniature forest and mountain, tiny, lifelike town and city.
Toy trains and accessories were featured as well, from simple wooden models to metal and plastic replicas of varying sizes and levels of detail. Several of the famous and very collectible Lionel electric trains were included, here.
As the rain let up a little, we made our way outside to explore the many trains parked in the railyard—locomotives, passenger coaches, boxcars, flatcars, maintenance vehicles, all awaiting refurbishment.
Recreated were a couple of passenger train stations and platforms, one of which harkened back to an era when passengers were segregated by gender as they awaited their train, the women in one waiting room, which was heated by a coal-burning stove, the men in the other, without any source of heat! The station’s ticket office was positioned between the two, with service wickets on either side. Luggage carts, and the office’s furniture and antiquated equipment completed the recreation.
As the time came to put a caboose on our field trip, we made one last stop before departing: the gift shop! We left having enjoyed a most pleasant afternoon exploring a most interesting museum.
Make your favourite sandwich or prepare a tasty snack, pour yourself a cool, refreshing drink, and join us for an hour or two, or for the?whole afternoon?as we get together online to chat via ZOOM and enjoy each other’s company!
With the seventh wave now upon us and COVID numbers climbing locally, we’ve postponed our in-person club BBQ-in-the-Park until Sunday, August 28, by which time, we are told by authorities, the seventh wave should have dissipated.
So, in the meantime, we’ll be getting together for a casual video-chat?this afternoon! No presentations, just light, informal programming, and the chance to catch up, discuss the latest in sci-fi entertainment, or share with the group thoughts on recent books read or screen sci-fi enjoyed. If you’re working on any nifty SF/F-related crafting or other projects, or perhaps recently visited a fun and interesting vacation destination, tell us all about it, and share any photos you snapped with the group!
Do?join us for an afternoon of conversation and camaraderie right here, right now!
If you’re not fully equipped to ZOOM, you can also join in by phone (voice only); in the Montreal area, the toll-free number to call is: 1-438-809-7799. If you’re from out of town, find your ZOOM call-in number here: Call-In Numbers
Also, have this information on hand as you may be asked to enter it: