Sights.

What are you afraid of,
I know that you are
Keep it in your sights now
and don’t let it go far
 – London Grammar
 
It is approximately two years since I did any serious writing. It has been awful. Even by extensive procrastination periods, this has been a record breaker. It is like I have been in hibernation, a long hibernation which defies biology. Buried deep in the ground never daring to raise my head up.
So what have been doing all this time not writing. Well, I have designed. Beautiful websites and applications, learnt a new language (Python). Promptly dropped it. Old unlikable PHP still does wonders in legacy systems. Wandered around jobs. Kept wondering how I got here. Quit them, stayed home and gazed at the stars searching for Alpha Centauri and Betelgeuse. Never found them. Stocked my library, read new experiences. Got hooked to Charles Stross and Neal Stephenson. Had an existential crisis, got over it. After all we all heading to the big black. Why sweat it?
I have listened to less and less music. Later settling on two bands which seem to resonate with me on a level I can’t quite grasp. Of Monsters And Men and London Grammar. Give them a ear, they will not disappoint, oh, and Mayonde.
I usually don’t do(did) short posts. This is a new ground which I am not treading again. It has been hard to put up whatever sh*t I have churned out. I haven’t submitted anything to magazines too. Blame it on the crippling self doubt which I would like to imagine I am crushing it right now with a vice.
I am dusting several halfway done manuscripts and typing word after word until I am done. Every two weeks I am putting up something. I was born to do this, dammit!

Klexos

Klexosthe art of dwelling in the past.We think of memories as a work of art – and a work of art is never finished. Only abandoned.

Giant Bio mech squid

 

Down town Nairobi bustles with activity. It’s midnight but the absence of planetary light has rendered nights negligible. It is now about the bottom line. Keeping the city’s economy alive and making a mark in the archives lest you be forgotten like a gust of wind. The open air market is crazy as usual. Shouts, haggling, collisions and secretion of bodily fluids.  Something which has not changed for over ten thousand years, or so, the memory banks have this for a fact. Early 19th century had humans travel to market centres and trade. That has not changed at all. There is foot and air traffic as well as constant chings here and there. The city lords have banned mechanical traffic from some of the sections. They say it corrupts, fills an otherwise great trade with a background buzz or drone which is impossible to eradicate from the transaction. These include but not limited to hover cars, drone-suits, and jump bikes. One common denominator is that they are all the products of the past centuries. They have refused to die with time and instead adapted, one could say they have evolved.

They are being replaced by super squids. The semi biological fast moving, flying and swimming contraptions. They are even being used for orbital transfers. The diamond wisp stretching up to the moon is becoming old fashioned, and cheap.

Kora doesn’t like Nairobi. She doesn’t like her family too. It’s understandable she is at that stage of life. It is too crowded for her liking. The comm links in her hypothalamus keep chiming. Installed at birth, she can never get away. Unless she goes off world. The major one. Moving off system where solar noise is none existent.

To be continued

 

The Rain Ceased

My first attempt at poetry in more than three years. This is short.Be kind, and brutal.

The Rain Ceased

It no longer rains in my chair
I seem to have rescinded my share
The gods have requested for a hiatus
and it’s all gone, the care
I curse the wisps of the sun
the accompanying scorching heat
But my words, oh dear
I need a cursing megaphone
Or a new voice, the old is tiring
I am done, because the rain no longer rains upon my head.
My scalp is dry, sahara in harmattan looks better
I need some moisture, I can’t even lap on the dew

The Absence – Part 1

There was an eerie look around the village. Dusty paths Meadows filled with sand soil. In addition to making them difficult for transit, they gave it a rather rusty feel. Like it had seen the better days. A feeling that once upon a time prosperity had made this a home. Then came a time to move on. Leaving trails of dust and hopelessness. I  was seated alone in the back of the old struggling bus which managed to find extra energy after every few minutes to move ahead. I was aprehensive of everything. The weird quiet soundings which had an occasional hoot of a barn owl. We came upon a dry riverbed where the bus had more than it’s fair deal of the labourous journey. Passengers got out to give it a push, will it to expend any remaining energy and if like Jeremy says it has soul; find within it’s nooks and cranes for that extra will power to get through the sand. I did not disembark because my body was not willing to. Hours of hard bumping and slipping in and out of consciousness had worn me out.
 
We were on the road again in no time and for some reason my eyes were fixed on the left window staring far in to the distant hills. In between I could see huts which had smoke billowing. A notification that it was already lunchtime and I had had few scraps for the last 36 hours. A few of the huts had white flags on the roofs. A common protective feature for a community which had completely refused to move with times and adopt imported religions. Shrines where the gods resided where hallowed ground and it would be an anathema if an outsider like me got to peek in to one.
 
The drone of the bus, occasioned by the constant scuffles as it hit massive potholes was hypnotizing. The drone was a cue to get asleep, bumps woke me up with a start or sometimes they didn’t. The last bump made me bite my tongue, for the umpteenth time. With the trend going on I could be devoid of speech functions in the next few hours.
 
I was running in the beach barefooted. Hazy and dreamy filled with love. A scenario I witness in romantic movies when couples are watching the beautiful orange tropical sun set. I was doing the same thing, only this time the sun was not setting in-font of me. Up in the sky were rockets and space-ships constantly breaking out of earth’s atmosphere and transforming in to fiery fireballs albeit for few seconds. They created a spectacular aurora which was amplified by the dying streaks from the sun. It was a beautiful sight. I realised I had a camera in my hands and I went on a photography rampage. This went on for so long until I realised there was no end to the rockets departing. A thought dawned. None of them was coming back. All around me now was sand, dunes and more sand. Then there were numerous ground space stations where the ships were being launched from. The noise emanating from the anti-matter engines was deafening. I covered my ears but it would not stop. Then there was a whizzing sound for a few seconds, my ear drums burst. I was back on the beach, seated on the cool sand and watching the sky. The lights now were much less than before. I saw one burn and burn, then instead of dissapearing in to the outer space it plummeted back to the surface. It streaked like a shooting star but only growing bigger and brighter. It hit the ocean at some point and fizzled out. My thoughts formed, a sort of eureka moment which was a little too late.Every living soul was vacating earth, vacating the solar system. The sun was dying and with it support for  any life here. Billions of humans left to search for habitable planets far away. In multi generational ships for journeys which would take centuries and if the luck was still a bitch, millenniums.
They ships engineered for the purpose. I had briefly worked on Kano both on the Indian ocean and the low earth orbit. 
I was the only soul left on earth, freezing…I bit my tongue again really hard and woke up.
 
Maybe I will get my teeth clipped when I am back in the city. I did not know how long I had been asleep and dreaming but the landscape had not changed a bit and the bus drone was still disturbing.
‘Tell me about it’. I turned to my right to find an old lady holding a kyondo of apples staring at me apprehensively. Apples which made me salivate and had my stomach rumbling and squeaking in all sorts of funny noises ‘uh?’ I stared back at her blankly. ‘Tell me about your dream young man, in exchange of  some apples’. She said. ‘Was I mumbling in my sleep? I am sorry for that’ I said. ‘Nothing of the sort young human, I can tell you were dreaming, tell me about it’.Her eyes lay deep in their sockets, bright and constantly searching my face. I thought, what the hell. It was just a stupid dream and I would murder for some of those apples so here it comes old lady. I told her about my dream without leaving any detail. What surprised me was that I was able to remember everything about it with vivid clarity whilst I  always have problems recalling my dreams even the ones I really struggle to remember. She listened and nodded and in between she offered me an apple which fuelled the story. If I could really sell my dreams at a price then maybe I wouldn’t be so distraught and broke like I was. When the story was over I guess she was disappointed just as I was. If I could stretch it to several hours maybe I could end up with the whole basket. It was a disappointment. Was I willing myself to fall asleep and dream just for an apple? 
 
This was eerily weired. Who was this old hag anyway? Her complexion was dark and for some reason her face seemed cloudy. Her nose was long and her eyes were the only clearly discernible feature of the wrinkled face. When she spoke her voice was crisp clear, strong and commanding. She had a musky, old smell which should have been disturbing, but it wasn’t. Where had she come from? I couldn’t remember her embarking in to the bus when the journey commenced and sure as hell she did not get on at one of the numerous stops. I could have seen that. 
 
I had set out for this journey as a soul searching mission. A washed up journalist who was in and out jobs making enemies with editors on nearly daily basis. The journey which was now on it’s second month had fleeced my accounts and now I was traveling on a shoestring budget. Food had become a luxury and my stomach was constantly rumbling. The hag couldn’t have been here at a better time.
 
I don’t remember when I fell asleep again but I woke up with a shudder after we hit a rather massive pothole. This was an empty piece of sleep. No dreams at all and no memory of how it was. This did strike me as odd but who was I going to lodge a complain to? The old lady who was staring at me uncomfortably? I said hello once again. ‘Sorry ma, no dreams’ I said with a shy smile. “I know”. The reply. 

Ruining the country high.

Once in a while I lift myself right out the sand, shake my head and drop the grains as I walk to the village podium to know what’s up. This time is the hell hole which has been opened by Uhuru and co and systematic fuckery happening to our dear beloved economy.
Uhuru is a swell guy, neatly pressed suits and the stoic of a gentleman. He is the sort of chap you would request for a president anytime. If your idea of a country was a small fishing island deep in Lake Victoria. Sure, you would lose many catches to his goons, but the country’s population would be so negligible that your cache would seep back to you sooner or later. I think he keeps discovering new ways of running and ruining this country every waking moment. It doesn’t help matters that he is so stuck up that a million Gastroenterologists  could not pull his face out in time to save it from reverse digestion.
anne-waiguru-corruption-scandal
He has a well oiled publicity machinery made up of chaps who seem to have donated their conscience and souls to deep sea mantis shrimp. Once in a while they dive in to check that care is being administered but they leave them there. This explains the zeal and gusto they defend the machine with once it is implicated in yet another scandal. They have become experts in feeding the wrong information in carefully calculated timely manner. If the blatant ignorance displayed in the social media is anything to go by, they have a 101% success rate.
One chap running for a republican nomination in the U.S, Ben Carson, wants to implement a taxation plan based on  biblical tithing. Basically take economic lessons from a country whose entire G.D.P was one golden calf. This is wrong on so many levels without even going in to details. We seem to have picked a worse policy than that in the past few years. In Biblical Carson’s policy, you give ten percent and forget about it. No questions asked. Here we are giving blood, tears and sweat then spectating as our offering is mixed with dirt and blasted in to swiss accounts space.
The absurdity of it all seems to go unnoticed by the powers that be. This is is because they are the same people owning the shell corps which are being paid in billions for ghost services and products.
I could go on complaining but I am too old for this shit. I have gone back to my burrow for a snooze in the hope that I slipped in to a alternate universe and any second now I will wake up in the real Kenya.

Tokyo bar

The crackling neon sign said Tokyo bar, I assumed the owner was a depressed Wombats fan who couldn’t make it to Japan. Just like I couldn’t. There was a point of our connection. The air was humid and the usual ‘helper’ robot was guarding the entrance. Helper security robots. Made by TransIndianOcean Robotics (T.IO.R). The marketing guys there had come up with a very stupid slogan. Helper robots, A.I so good they can smell your blood. This was a fat lie. They were specifically made to disable skull guns. Skull guns were a fad among the hipsters and misguided teens.

The hidden weapons could tear a large chunk of flesh from your face as well as roast it to professional chef acceptable levels. If the chef was in to that sort of thing. The robot scanned me and let me in. Few tense minutes. I was testing the new tech of hiding the guns and I had already been in to several bars without any detection. Tokyo was smoky and disorganized. A lone stripper was on the pole dancing melancholically. I couldn’t tell if she was human or a bot from my position but who cares? All of them were the same save for the sometimes overzealous bots who could rip your head off. Bachelor parties had become something of a risk. The lighting in the smoky interior wasn’t helping matters. I think a good minute or so went by before my eyes could become accustomed. It was sparsely populated and most of the patrons looked moderately drunk. They were on the phase where you are trying to keep your dignity tucked on yourself while your drunk self is threatening to kill it. Kind of a bad struggle.

I chose an empty table near a window so that I could get a view of what was happening in the street below. I had to be careful, T.IO.R might be already on the hunt. A floating bot with a naked torso wheezed towards me balancing a drinks tray on one hand. Its legs were absent so instead of projecting the sexy appeal it was intended for it was just outright creepy. The guys at T.IO.R were outdoing themselves every waking moment. The waiter alone was capable of giving a several decades before time traveler a massive heart attack if they dared show up at this era. I chose my usual poison, whisky on the rocks. You can never go wrong with it. The reason I was relaxed enough to drink is that I was done being an alpha tester. It was a shitty job where I was working odd hours and getting paid peanuts for all the risk I went through. Tomorrow I was going to tender my resignation to the MENA Intelligence Consortium human resources office and get done with it. Life was short to spend it in fear of being ripped apart by robots and I did not have enough bit coins to go on a deep space mission and cheat time in the process.

I let the liquid flow and daze my mind, I was loving it. The bar was getting louder and the occasional bottle or chair was smashing the walls at irregular intervals. That is why I was prepared when one came flying my way, I ducked and held my drink tightly. It smashed  the window leaving very little damage. I looked for the culprit. Damn MENA IC, after all I was leaving. It couldn’t hurt to hurt some few idiots who thought the skinny guy was somebody to be toyed with. I saw him. The Mohawk, tattooed arms and face, muscles tearing the clothes away and the scar on the back of his neck which signified he was a member of one of the numerous Nairobi underground gangs. He had thrown off the stripper from the lone pole available on the bar and he was drunkenly dancing. I picked him out and with a precision of the sniper who took out JFK those many years ago. I fired my gun……

Sense8 and the Failure of Global Imagination

Couldn’t have put it better.

The Nerds of Color

How do you imagine a life you could never live? Though not really a theme, this problem is at the heart of Netflix’s new original series Sense8, created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, and heavily influenced by Tom Tykwer. Like many fantastical or science fictional premises, Sense8’s premise is a wish fulfillment: not — as is typical of this genre and the Wachowskis’ earlier work — the wish fulfillment of the disempowered middle school nerd stuffed into a locker, but rather the Mary Sue desire of a mature, white American writer/auteur who has discovered that an entire world is “out there,” one that the maker doesn’t know how to imagine.

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The Book Of Phoenix – A masterpiece by Nnedi Okorafor

You will be inclined to shelve Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix between The X-Menand Frankenstein. A companion to Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, which won the World Fantasy Award in 2011, The Book of Phoenix tells the story of Phoenix, one of the mutant “speciMen” a future government has created for nefarious purposes. SpeciMen—invariably of African descent— are experiments, medical curiosities, living farms for donor organs, or freaks of nature imprisoned in specially designed cells, but Phoenix is different. Phoenix is a weapon. An “accelerated organism” who looks 40 despite being only two years old, she was created in a lab for the purposes of destruction.

It spoils nothing to reveal that Phoenix soon turns her destructive powers against her captors. The Book of Phoenix is the latest in a long tradition of stories about escaped monsters who take revenge on the society that created them, and Phoenix’s journey follows a pattern readers of these stories will recognize. After demolishing her prison, Tower 7, in a spectacular scene reminiscent of the wrath of Dionysus—trees and vines, spurred into bizarre growth by the powerful radiation she emits, overpower the skyscraper and tear it to pieces—Phoenix attempts to live a normal human life, or as normal a life as one can have when one has suddenly sprouted wings. She goes out for Ethiopian food, flies to Africa, and settles in a small village in northern Ghana, where she falls in love. Phoenix’s trip to Ghana is ostensibly motivated by the alien seed she discovers in the wreckage of Tower 7, but this section of the book also functions as an idyll, a brief chance for Phoenix to experience “real life.” The fact that the seed wills her to carry it there and plant it in Ghanian soil only literalizes what would otherwise be a metaphorical attempt to put down roots.

This fusion between the literal and the metaphorical is a defining feature of The Book of Phoenix, which is divided into two parts: the primary plot, an expressionistic fable that more than once relies on mystical explanations, and a frame narrative set even further in the future, when Phoenix’s story is finally discovered. The former is a work of pure, oral storytelling; it is extracted from Phoenix’s own memories and told in her own voice. To quibble about the elements which don’t make sense, or make too much sense—Phoenix, for example, is named not only for the city in Arizona where her surrogate mother lived, but for her ability to emit massive quantities of heat and light; that she also coincidentally sprouts wings in a development which catches everyone by surprise—is to misunderstand the genre of the tale being told. Phoenix’s story operates at the level of myth; here, poetic logic reigns supreme.

When the organization that created Phoenix—a group whose panoptic influence is underscored by their name, “The Big Eye”—catches up to her and murders the man she loves (well, one of them), her Ghanian sojourn is cut short and the novel’s revenge plot kicks into gear. Reunited with two other speciMen from Tower 7, Saeed, who can only digest substances like rust and ashes (imagine the lovechild of Rappaccini’s daughter and Matter-Eater Lad), and Mmuo, who can walk through walls, Phoenix sets out to bring down the Towers.

Her journey brings her to the Library of Congress, to the prison where her mother is dying from the cancer she contracted as a result of carrying Phoenix, and to the Tower where speciMen children are raised for their organs. It’s here that Okorafor makes what may be the book’s boldest move by incorporating a character heavily influenced by the story of Henrietta Lacks, a kind of vampire’s victim who is herself immortal. The suggestion is that Lacks, whose cancer cells were posthumously harvested for scientific research, exists on a continuum with the speciMen, and that the events of The Book of Phoenix are the culmination of centuries of exploitative research practices.

This is a story of vengeance, a fantastic epic battle between good and evil; written as a fable for the future, it doesn’t leave much room for moral complexity. That comes in the frame narrative, in which Sunuteel, an old man in a post-apocalyptic desert, discovers Phoenix’s “book”—the audio file containing her narrated history—in a cave of discarded computers. What Sunuteel does to Phoenix’s monologic narrative fundamentally changes its meaning, and, in the process, shifts the focus of the novel. Is this a book about Phoenix, or is it a book about books?

Okorafor is deeply concerned with what stories can and cannot do. Phoenix is a voracious reader, one who, in the Tower, consumed books at an accelerated rate to match her accelerated growth. Her adventure hinges on a trip to the library; of course some of its most compelling passages would turn out to be meditations on writing and storytelling. The tension between Phoenix’s memories and the book Sunuteel makes of them adds an extra layer of interest to this inventive dystopia.

Here’s the Most Complete 3D Map of Our Expanding Universe

The universe is expanding and will continue to do so until it is a cold and seemingly empty void. As best as we can tell, this is the destination of all existence—the “where.” But the “why” and the “how” are still somewhat of a mystery to cosmologists, and a new 3D map of the known universe spanning nearly two billion light years could help solve these puzzles.

Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding in 1929 based on redshift observations of distant stars—the further away a star is, the wavelength of light changes. Holding everything else constant, redshift observations painted a picture of a steadily expanding universe. In the 90s, Hubble’s theory was forwarded by better redshift observations that suggested a universe that was expanding faster and faster.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/125921623″>SG Scan 1000kms smoothing</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user4925102″>Guilhem Lavaux</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

But the story doesn’t end there. New observations have suggested that the universe isn’t as uniform as we thought, and that it’s expanding more slowly than once calculated. These deviations from the “Hubble flow” are called peculiar velocities, and we’re just beginning to investigate them. To that end, astrophysicists at the University of Waterloo constructed a comprehensive 3D map of the universe using predictions from the 2M++ redshift catalogue.

“The galaxy distribution isn’t uniform and has no pattern,” said Michael Hudson, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo, in a statement. “It has peaks and valleys much like a mountain range.”

Tracking the uneven expansion of celestial bodies will be key for investigating not just peculiar velocities, but also the location and amount of dark matter in the universe. Dark matter is thought to make up 26.8 percent of our universe, and yet we can’t see it. It doesn’t interact with normal matter, and so we can only observe it based on its interactions with other objects that we can detect. A comprehensive model of the universe would allow researchers to better predict where dark matter lies in the void.

But, if you’re not an astrophysicist, you can always just enjoy a peek at what the universe would look like if it was sliced in half like a melon.

Mercury’s MESSENGER mission comes to a crashing climax

More than a decade after it left Earth, the space probe MESSENGER is in the dying days of its exploration of the planet Mercury.

The spacecraft is about to run out of fuel, and after a planned final manoeuvre on April 30, it will plummet into the surface of Mercury out of view of watchers on Earth but will remain in contact until 10 to 15 minutes prior to its demise.

Mercury is the smallest of the eight current solar system planets and the one nearest to our star. (Pluto was relegated to being a mere dwarf planet in 2006.)

Unlike the other well studied and photographed planets, Mercury has until recent times remained mostly unexplored.

The planet – just 57.9 million km from the sun – was first visited by NASA’s Mariner 10 probe which undertook three flybys of Mercury between March 1974 and March 1975.

The planet had to wait for more than 30 years before MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) completed its first flyby in January 2008.

Today you can even study its craters and other surface features using the Google Earth interface.

The MESSENGER spacecraft

MESSENGER was launched on August 3, 2004, weighing 507.9kg, 1.42m tall, 1.85m wide, and 1.27m deep. It is powered by two body-mounted gallium arsenide solar panels and a nickel-hydrogen battery.

The probe carries a number of science instruments to map the surface of the planet and its magnetic field, detect atmospheric gases and various elements of Mercury’s crust, and much more.

After its launch, the spacecraft flew by Earth once (in 2005), Venus twice (in 2006 and 2007) and Mercury three times (twice in 2008 and once in 2009).

This multi-flyby process greatly reduced the amount of fuel needed to decelerate, although at the cost of increasing both travel time and distance.

Planets such as Venus and Mars have atmospheres that enable the minimisation of fuel by utilising atmospheric friction to enter orbit.

But Mercury’s atmosphere is far too thin for such manoeuvres. Using gravity assist manoeuvres at Earth, Venus and Mercury provided the necessary reduction in velocity enabling it to use its rocket engine when entering its elliptical orbit around Mercury.

Interplanetary trajectory of the MESSENGER orbiter. NASA
Click to enlarge

The insertion into a highly elliptical orbit minimised the amount of fuel necessary and allowed time for the probe to cool down after passing between the planet and the sun.

It also allowed measurement of the effects of solar wind and Mercury’s magnetic field at varying distances, as well as capturing close-up measurements and photographs of the surface and exosphere.

After travelling 7.9 billion km and orbiting the sun 15 times MESSENGER entered Mercury’s orbit on March 18, 2011. The science instruments were reactivated on March 24 and the first photo from orbit was returned to Earth a few days later on March 29.

By the numbers: MESSENGER’s ten years in space (2014). NASA
Click to enlarge

Discoveries and science

The MESSENGER flybys of Mercury in 2008 and 2009 were able to confirm the earlier Mariner 10 results that Mercury had an internal magnetic field and also to show that its magnetic dipole – which is just like a large bar magnet – is aligned to within 5° of the planet’s spin axis.

In an early flyby in 2008 there was a totally unexpected discovery that there were large amounts of water present in Mercury’s thin atmosphere. Visual evidence of past volcanic activity on the surface of Mercury and evidence for a liquid iron planetary core added to the incredible discoveries.

in November 2012, NASA announced, evidence of water iceand carbon-containing tar-like organic compounds molecules at both of Mercury’s poles. In these areas the deepest parts of the craters are always in shadow with temperatures reaching as low as -200C.

This discovery lends weight to the idea that Mercury, like the Earth, was bombarded by water-laden comets and mineral rich asteroids during the early years of the solar system.

Kandinsky crater lies near Mercury’s north pole, and may have hosted water ice. MESSENGER spacecraft’s Wide Angle Camera broadband image appears at left, outlined in yellow, and superimposed on an MDIS polar mosaic. The view on the right shows the same image but with the brightness and contrast adjusted to show details of the crater’s shadowed floor. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Click to enlarge

Mission extended

The original mission was initially for a year and then extended to allow for observations of the predicted 2012 solar maximum.

The solar maximum is the period during the normal 11 year solar-cycle where the number of sunspots, solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections are the highest. These are the major indicators of solar activity and MESSENGER was in a prime position to get information about the effects of increased solar activity.

In November 2013, Messenger was one of a number of spacecraft used to observe and photograph both Comet Encke (2P/Encke) and Comet ISON (C/2012 S1).

A second extended mission was scheduled to last through to March this year and has taken advantage of the probe’s orbital decay to obtain highly detailed close-up photographs of ice-filled craters and other landforms at Mercury’s north pole.

And so after a mission lasting almost 11 years the tiny robotic probe MESSENGER will end its mission on 30 April by crashing into the surface of the planet. Even then data will be gathered: the new man made crater the probe crash makes will hopefully provide new information for the NASA scientists. On its final orbit the probe will be only around 250 – 500 m above the surface at around 14,500km/hr.

NASA scientists will continue to gather data from MESSENGER until it finally succumbs to Mercury’s gravity.

A question of ethics?

This raises a question: just as comet and asteroid impactors may have delivered organic matter to their targets, what possible contaminants will this human-made visitor introduce?

Since 1958, with the increasing potential of discovering extraterrestrial life, there have been groups of scientists such as Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) examining the foundational ethical principles involved in the exploration of space.

In 2010, a workshop was convened to consider whether planetary protection measures and practices should be extended to protect planetary environments within an ethical framework that goes beyond “science protection”.

Previous planetary protection policy had been aimed at avoiding the contamination of planetary environments by biological contaminants or terrestrial microbes that could compromise current or future scientific investigations, particularly those searching for indigenous life.

Spacecraft have been crashed into a number of planets as well as our moon. So as we continue to send probes to the very edge of our solar system, perhaps we are seeding these worlds with the basic volatile elements that could in a distant future lead to the evolution of more advanced life forming.

Or perhaps as early settlers to foreign shores on Earth introduced diseases with devastating consequences, what effect could any nasty little hitchhikers have on the destiny of whatever life may already exist.

Mercury – so much known yet so much to learn!

We now have detailed high-resolution maps of Mercury created from the hundreds of thousands of images taken by MESSENGER.

The globe on the left was created from the MDIS monochrome surface morphology base map campaign. The globe on the right was produced from the MDIS colour base map campaign. Each map is composed of thousands of images, and the colour view was created by using three of the eight colour filters acquired. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Click to enlarge

The launch of the European Space Agency’s BepiColomboplanned mission to Mercury is planned to take place during a one-month long window from January 27, 2017.

This is a joint mission with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and should enter Mercury orbit in January 2024 carrying two separate orbiters, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) operated by ESA and the JAXA designed Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) carried by the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM).

One of its tasks will be to observe the 16m crater made by MESSENGER when it impacts at around 3.9 km/s (about 14,040 km/h). Scientists will be monitoring this fresh crater in order to identify the process of space weathering—the erosive effect of radiation and tiny meteorite strikes—in action.