Sunday, November 15, 2015

Port Of Call

My fellow adventurers,
on November 14th, 3301 AD the AGS Intrepid finally called port at Irkutsk Capitol in the Alliance system of Alioth. After having been out in the Orion Spur and Perseus Arm for five and a half months the first session in the station was spent in the 'Dubai Lounge & Bar'. The second was spent waiting patiently in a queue at the Stellar Cartographics Exploration Data ATM.

The Pilgrim's Path Mission was declared a success, its prime mission statement of traversing the Orion Spur Shallows well beyond NGC 3199 was fulfilled. Along the way, many known and previously unknown stellar phenomena could be visited and explored in various degrees. These were (in order of visitation date):
- HIP 63835 (The 'Explorer's Graveyard')
- The Coalsack Dark Nebula
- Open Cluster NGC 3532
- Open Cluster NGC 3114
- Open Cluster Collinder (Col) 240
- Open Cluster NGC 3590
- The Statue of Liberty Nebula (NGC 3576)
- Open Cluster Collinder (Col) 228
- Open Cluster NGC 3324 & the Eta Carinae Solar System
- Open Cluster NGC 3293
- The Eta Carina Nebula (NGC 3372)
- Open Clusters Trumpler (Tr) 14 & 16
- The Seven Sapphires Cluster (Smojo Sector)
- NGC 3199 Wolf-Rayet Nebula
- Traversing the Far Orion Spur Shallows
- The Vela Ultima Molecular Complex (Hyuedau/Preou Thua Sectors)
- The Hyon Cluster (Hyuedau Sector)
- The Gloomgown Association (Phreia Phoe/Gludgou Sectors)
- The Skull and Crossbones Nebula (NGC 2467)
- Open Clusters Haffner (Haf) 18 & 19
- The Hyperion Cluster (Hypio Phoea Sector)
- Open Cluster NGC 2384
- Open Cluster NGC 2367
- Open Cluster NGC 2374
- Thor's Helmet (NGC 2359)
- Open Cluster Collinder (Col) 132
- VY Canis Maioris Solar System
- Vela Dark Region

Some statistics:
Departure date: May 30th, 3301 AD
Return date: November 14th, 3301 AD
Hull Status on return: 67%
Systems visited: 2,917
Distance travelled: ~73,000 LY
Rank achievement: Pioneer
Highest payout: 480,011 Credits
Coffee consumed: 6.48 Metric Tons

Next steps:
'After the trip is before the trip' as they say. The AGS Intrepid is being overhauled at the moment and I am turning my eyes on a ship that can withstand the rigors of space even better while also providing ample space (and protection) for deep space equipment and maybe the capacity to drop a ground vehicle. Yes, I am planning to go out there again but what I have in mind is a light exploration cruiser. The Alliance uses some to great effect. The 'Long Arm Program' is headed by several Anaconda-class vessels, and even some T-9 Heavy's, kitted especially to serve in deep and unknown space.

I guess I have to stock up my wallet for this a bit, though. Those biggies do not come cheap and that goes especially for an explorer trying to squeeze out every bit of range. Let's see how this turns out.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Lighthouse

'The circle is now complete!' I recall this quote from some entertainment Holovid, can’t remember which, but it was definitely Sci-Fi. Well, I guess the same applies to me and the Pilgrim’s Path. The Perseus Arm is rich in exploratory marvels. It still holds enough gas and dust to give birth to all the different types of stars an explorer could hope to see and, well, explore. That's the cycle of stellar life and death as I have mentioned before. Out there in the deep Perseus Arm you come across a stretch of space that is so rich in the younger, hotter types of stars and you struggle to find a suitable name for it; at least one that supercedes such flashy sector names like Gludgou or Ouchorrs.  

And speaking about circles, my voyage also finally comes around full circle: Yesterday evening I once again crossed that invisible line I once defined as the border between contemporary and 'creative' astronomy. 'NGC-Land', here I come. Finding names and imprinting them forever on some galaxy map is a thing of the past now. With full speed ahead I am nearing what in ancient times was called the Known World. For explorers it’s what you might call a return home. For seafarers of old, your homely shores await: Your astrometric computer stops struggling with Gludgou’s, Flyiah Eohn’s, Hyuedau’s or Smojo’s. Where stellar cartography seemingly ended at NGC 3199 way up 'north', it begins anew here and now where The Perseus Arm kisses the Orion Spur. Sorry for that bit of poetry, I couldn’t resist. But the scenery is this: Open clusters, nebulae and dust clouds have their respective catalogue entries listed, you see NGC’s, Col’s and IC’s again. Civilisation, you have me back! 

You also realize this when after months out in the deep, deep void you see a familiar shape unfold before the galactic horizon. Switch to infrared and you see mighty Barnard’s Loop. Switch to UV and you see bright young stars greeting you. 'Hey Barny', you think, 'I last saw you five months ago. How you’re doing old pal?' 
 I like to draw parallels to navigation and astronomy in ancient times. I have quite a few Holo Novels at home and even a few real paperback books. 'Barny’s Loop' is what must have been the beam of a lighthouse in familiar waters: Once you see it you know home is near. It’s a magnet, really. Inevitably it draws you nearer and nearer and in your guts (I already mentioned every explorer has his personal 'guts') you have this warm feeling that it’s a good thing. A welcoming light. Home, at least for a few days, before The Sea calls you again. 
It reminds me of some lines from an archaic poem, yet they are still true in the days of the Frame Shift Drive.

'They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
And eager faces, as the light unveils,
Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.'

And thus I give myself to my ship and my guts, and my nav courses bring me nearer and nearer home. And the lighthouse comes closer with every step.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Sail On The Horizon

I had just settled for the night. It's hard to remind oneself that in this forever blackness of space the Human mind is still dependent on cycles of day and night. There are those people that keep asking what the must-haves for an exploration vessel are. Some say heat sinks are a must-have, some say auto-maintenance units. I highly recommend buying an alarm clock in one of those 'Shepard’s Famous Shops' in any space station, one that shows you it’s three o’clock in the afternoon or two o'clock in the morning. Time for a nap. It helps not getting mad.

I was still within the boundaries of the Vela, the constellation of the Sail. The Orion Spur Shallows lay behind me (for which I was very thankful) and I was eager to find out what was out here. The galactic south - I had found out on many occasions - always held some wonders in store. In ancient times there was just the big Argo Navis constellation in this part of the Milky Way. It was also one of the most important ones, because all ocean-sailing navigation techniques depended on some of the Navis' brightest stars. But when cataloguing the heavens became more and more sophisticated astronomers of old split the ancient Navis into the three constellations we know today:Carina (The Keel), Puppis (The Stern Deck) and Vela (The Sail). 

So I was dreaming of credits and sails when the autolab raised an alarm and woke me up again. I had left the ship 'on auto' and prepared some simple analyses and statistical comparisons before I wanted to set off again. There were also some issues with copying the newly acquired exploration data so I took an extra day just to be sure. 

After completing all its analyses the autolab confirmed what I already had in my guts. Experienced explorers always have something in their guts. They just need scientific methods to tell them what it is. Here there was an increase of interstellar medium density by 1,736% with an increase alone in metals by 6,104%. Most of the time, you have 0.1 to 10 atoms of 'stuff' per cm³ in interstellar space. 
And metals? Well, 'metals' in astronomy just means anything but hydrogen and helium and a significant increase in metals shows you that you have entered a region where many stars exploded in the past, blowing their heavy elements in jets and clouds into space. Parts of the region were so dense that not even thermic infrared radiation could penetrate the dust layers. Everything lying within these dark molecular structures was subject to speculation. There are theories, however, that propose a stellar nursery of sorts. Where the material density within the cloud increases beyond a certain threshold these dust 'cores' begin to collapse under their own gravity, forming protostars eventually. These protostars (T Tauri stars mostly) then accrete the rest of the dust cloud making it more and more translucent. I ran an infrared imagery and was relieved to see this theory underlined by a group of T Tauri stars within and on the border of the dust cloud. 

It was worth being disturbed in one’s sleep. Additional astrometric checks and the first incoming results from spectroscopic scans were encouraging. There were some rather dense groups of young and hot stars within what must once have been a planetary nebula, now nearly extinct. All in all the Molecular Cloud was estimated to be at least 800 LY across and some 150 LY deep. Quite a thing. So I created a data set and named it the 'Vela Ultima Cloud Complex'. There was plenty of time to study it a bit further...

... but first there was a nap to take. My alarm clock showed 04:37 a.m.
So I programmed the autolab on coffee at 09:30 and unfolded the bunk again.

Time to 'nap on'.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Patience, Young Padawan!

During my days at the Tau Ceti Naval Academy our instructors would often interrupt their lessons with the one and only question: 'What are the true virtues of a Space Pilot?' Hell, some even woke us up in the middle of the night (which were short anyway!) and asked us that. Although the answer was what must have been one of the Navy's best guarded secrets we always thought of things like bravery, loyalty, integrity or truthfulness. We were so young...

Now, right here in my 'AGS Intrepid' some 20,000 light years away from Tau Ceti I finally found the answer in a lockbox that was securely stowed away in some corner of my mind for all these years. The true virtue of any Space Pilot is patience. It's that simple. You see, space generally is not the flashy funky place full of speedy spacecraft, burning thrusters and glittering lasers and all that 'Space PR' stuff. No, most of the time it's empty, it's without sound and it's soul-crushingly boring. There can be some rare exceptions to this...

...some routine duties...

...but it all gets down to a lot of uneventful hours at the helm.

So for the last 6,000 light years I made my way through what I cynically called the 'Carina Suburbs': Uniformly looking space just like those prefab homes in an endless row where one looks like the other. I can confirm now, that M type stars make up more than 90% of all stars in the galaxy. Well, maybe it's even 107%, I don't know... What I know is I can confirm zero nebulae, zero giant stars, zero O-types and zero stellar remnants along the way, except for a one-in-a-million Neutron Star. This puts the explorer's mind to a test. Those brave souls that have flown through the 'Smoju' or 'Blia Euq' Sectors know exactly what I mean. The reasons for this I already mentioned. These regions of space are very old, most young stars went nova long ago and all interstellar gas has long been used up so there is hardly any star formation left. This makes the regions so 'plain'.
Here comes your space virtue: In a vast stretch of space where there are no significant 'beacons' standing out from all these stellar suburbs your patience is being put to a serious test. When I decided to do a traverse across the Orion Spur Shallows towards the Perseus Spiral Arm I was tempted more than often to just speed things up and do what you might call a stellar drive-by. After all the density of stars becomes significantly lower in the Shallows and this alone keeps telling you to 'go faster' just in order to be rid of it. 

This is explainable from a psychological point of view, because – sure! – we seek the unknown, which has to be amazing and shiny, right? Wrong. It's wrong, because even within M type star systems there are some rare finds. But the thing truly is to stay determined and keep looking. If you do, you can discover tiny terraformalble planets in close embrace of their M star, you can discover gas giants that do the same (and are therefore called 'Hot Jupiters' or 'Hot Neptunes') and there are even some Water Worlds with indigenous life lying in wait for the not-so-bored explorer.

Should I ever return to Tau Ceti (or even the Federation) I will pay the Academy a visit and write it a hundred times across the Forum walls: 'A Space Pilot's virtue is patience!'

'nuff said, time to move on. I have a vast star formation cluster waiting for me at the end of the rainbow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The End Of The Rainbow

When you think the Eta Carina Nebula is a beautiful gem in space then the Wolf Rayet nebula of NGC 3199 plays in the same league. The nebula was once thought to be a ring nebula with a bright 'front' or 'shockwave' of gas, the result of intense stellar winds by a nearby Wolf Rayet star (HD 89358). Don't bother looking there, the star is at a completely different location for reasons unknown. It's not even in the line of sight from Sol. Sometimes I think 21st century astronomers were a drunken lot.

The nebula is not nearly as enormous as Eta Carina but it's still some good 80 light years wide. It also has considerably fewer massive stars around, suggesting that it's somewhat older in cosmic terms than the Carina. What is more interesting perhaps for the intrepid explorer is that when following the Orion Spur here, NGC 3199 seems to be the very last feature 21st century astronomers (yes, the drunken lot) could come up with. 

Beyond, the 'suburbs' begin again with seamingly monotonous space; or you head coreward from here and get the opportunity to see some spectacular star forming regions in the more dense Sagittarius Arm. However, once you fly through brilliantly named sectors like 'Bloo Dryiae' or 'Blia Euq' you get the picture.
The regions beyond NGC 3199 are also those where star density can become a problem at times. My good old Asp flies at 34 Light years and has so far laughed off any 'gaps' between stars but out here I find myself replotting courses or setting them manually more often. This is where I keep reminding me of the Mission Statement: Finding a traverse across the far Orion Spur Shallows and I think I'll get my work cut out for me.

Update: I left NGC 3199 well behind and finally found a system from where I will commence my traverse. I dubbed the system 'Hellsreach' because it boasts no less then nine celestial bodies with volcanic and/or magmatic activity that are nestled between a massive young B type star and its three orbiting protostars. I honestly don't know why I picked this system as my Waypoint Alpha. Maybe it's the desolate feeling of 'Don't go any further!' this system radiates.

Anyway, the primary is a scoopable so now it's time to plot courses for the great Far Orion Shallows Traverse. Time to move on. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Remarkably Unremarkable

Soooo, for the best part of last week I crisscrossed the regions beyond the Eta Carina Nebula.

I made it downwards to -270 LY, climbed again through the ever present 'red' layer of Brown Dwarfs and Protostars and upwards to some 250 LY above the galactic plane, ever pushing forward towards my next Milestone of NGC 3199. In a nutshell, what can be found here is unlike anything I saw in my prior travels, which were rich in phenomena such as giant stars, star clusters, young OB star associations, the occasional nebula and also multiple Neutron Stars and even some Black Holes.

I don't know how else I could describe the area beyond Eta Carina than being 'remarkably unremarkable'. With the huge and beautiful Eta Carina Nebula behind, all signs of ancient 20th century astronomy seem to end. There are no more 2MASS, CPD, HIP or HD denominations, no COL star clusters from the Collinder Catalogue. Beyond Eta Carina, it seems, astronomy once upon a time must have ended. From here, one could argue, astronomy blends with your own imagination and beliefs.

There is a scientific reason, of course, for this. The regions between the Spiral Arms of Sagittarius and Perseus are very old ones when you look at the stars' age. Here, between the bright Spiral Arms, most interstellar gas was used up long ago and thus no or barely any star formation takes place these days (astronomically speaking). Even B type stars and protostars are very rare out here. The lack of giant stars complements this as their far shorter lifespans compared to main sequence stars means they also died in the distant past. Essentially, all you see is vast stretches of K and M stars dotted with Fs, Gs and Ls. The result drawn on a map can be described as one of those homogenic metropolitan suburbs back home where one house looks like the other and where one lawn had the exact same dimensions and colours as the ones left and right. Hell, I was even tempted to call them the Carina Suburbs but in the end that might just have been a bit nasty, wouldn't it?

Still, there are sights to be seen; but you have to either look specifically for them or you just chance upon them in your travels. Older stars mean more room for terraformable planets and even some rare places where life already did evolve.

There is also one particular phenomenon I would like to present a bit closer: Nestled deep within the brilliantly named 'Smojo' sector and sitting right on top of the Brown Dwarf belt lies the 'core' of what might be an Open Star Cluster. At least, the presence of seven closely associated B stars with the exact same spectral class (B0 VZ) and some Protostars around might indicate that they formed in the same cloud complex (which is now extinct due to star formation and ionization). Admittedly, that's where imagination and astronomy blend together. But we are humans, right? We are always obsessed with 'seeing things' where science tells us there is nothing to be seen. Put a Smiley in here, HAL.

Now, I have dubbed the cluster the 'Seven Sapphires'. Of course, further investigations would be necessary to determine this Cluster's age and structure but at least there is something out of the ordinary to report home. Ah yes, the cluster is also a quite lively place as there are numerous Water Worlds and Gas Giants with ammonia- or water-based life around, so this might just be the 'stopover' for Space Trucker generations to come. Real estate investments, anybody?

2,000 and some LY  to go to NGC 3199. Time to move on!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Oh Carina!

Okay, I have a problem. When exploring the unknown and covering distances of thousands of light years you start to speak in superlatives of the things you see. I mean, Black Holes, Supergiants, Nebula after Nebula? Planets with indigenous life? Not long ago, this was the stuff of legends and no wonder you start to choose the highest categories of words that come into your mind.

And here I am, having reached the Eta Carina Nebula; and there are no more superlatives left. 

I have described other things as 'amazingly beautiful', 'awe inspiring' and 'truly magnificient'. What else is there now for this jewel in space? It is like an arrangement of red, orange and dark curtains falling down, thus revealing its intriguing interior, which seems to be a small cosmos of its own.Eta Carina Nebula is the heart of the Carina Molecular Complex. Well, in fact it is the 'last' of multiple structures in the Complex, whereas other clusters and nebulae lie 'in front' of it when approaching from Sol (or Alioth in my case). But it is also the climax, the beautiful crescendo of a galactic cloud some thousand light years wide.

The nebula itself was once thought to be (at least in part) the product of ejected planetary material from a Wolf-Rayet star. There is no WR in the nebula, however, so maybe it already died many years ago. The death of stars is a common sight in and around as there are some Neutron Stars and also a couple of Black Holes in the vicinity. These violent deaths in the past may (or rather must) have contributed to the nebula's immense gas columns. These columns, like I said, seem like curtains to me and astronomers of old attributed several flashy names to them, like the Keyhole Nebula (which is indeed a substructure of Eta Carina Nebula so to say), the Homunculus Nebula and even a 'Finger of God'. Speaking of fingers, when you look at it from a distance the nebula looks like a hand, don't you think? A hand that was somehow blown into its shape by cosmic winds from 'bottom to top'. 

Astronomy and imagination don't lie that much apart sometimes...

All right, hands and death aside, there is also star formation that can be observed in and around the Carina structure, too. There are many T Tauri stars lying closely together and the occasional massive O type star, including the supermassive Eta Carinae system itself, already foreshadow the next wave of deaths that will occurr here. This in turn will once again enrich the interstellar medium for new stellar births. It all comes full circle here.With all this to discover the Eta Carina Nebula is a definite 'must' for any explorer going in this direction. For me, it's 'Sayonara Carina!' as there are even more superlatives out there on my way. I hope I will find the right words for them. 

Time to move on!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Clusters and Molecules

Another week, another peek!

It's really hard not to give in to temptation and divert to that seemingly unique jewel you have spotted on your Galaxy Map. I did it a couple of times, going here, going there. Most of the time, it left me baffled about the beauty of the 'out here'. I remembered some of my Astrophysics lessons back at Tau Ceti and I realised that all these space phenomena are connected in a way. So even that far and remote place is just a puzzle piece of some greater thing. 
In my case, it's the so-called Carina Molecular Cloud (CMC) and it's known to be one of the biggest structures in the known galaxy, spanning hundreds of Lightyears in diameter. Although the Carina Nebula is still some 2,500 Light Years out, I am already moving through its associated complex, full of Open Star Clusters, younger regions of star formation (like the Carina OB1 and OB2 associations) and also some silent witnesses of stellar extinction, like the occasional Neutron Star or White Dwarf.

Speaking about Open Star Clusters, it is generally assumed that they all formed out of the CMC, although not all simultaneously. These clusters are generally some ten to fifty LY across and densely packed with stars, either in the form of a clump or more of a string. Some of their stars were so short-lived however, that they already ceased hydrogen fusion or even went supernova, explaining the occasional Neutron Star, Black Hole or even Wolf-Rayet star in those clusters. The Clusters' cores mainly consist of the more younger types of stars like O, B and also A types, and they can be easily spotted on the Galaxy Map by setting the star type filters accordingly. Here is an example of the larger Open Cluster of NGC 3590:

If ancient archives are to be believed, it took the 'Early Tech' astronomers of the 20th century quite some time to realise that most prominent nebulae are in fact only the 'hot spots' within the bigger Molecular Clouds. The Orion Nebula is a perfect example for this, and so is the Eta Carina Nebula. In ancient pre-spaceflight times, however, most nebulae were seen as separate entities. The bigger picture is, simply put, that Molecular Clouds are hard to detect, because they are cool and hence emitt barely any visible light. But when a star goes nova or supernova the ejected stellar material compresses the surrounding dark clouds, promoting star formation through gravitational collapse of the cloud. Young stars in turn emitt heavy energetic radiation that ionizes the interstellar medium and thus makes it 'shine' in different colours, depending on its chemical components. Ionized Hydrogen is most prominent, shedding the characteristic red light as can be seen in the region's magnificient Eta Carina and Statue of Liberty Nebulae (which can be seen below).

So for the non-poethic or non-aesthetic people, this beautiful nebula is just a relatively small patch of a Molecular Cloud made visible by some young stars' heavy radiation, much like an area of a green park lit by a lantern. The darker reaches remain obscure and, well, makes one itchy to redirect the Nav Computer and to go there and find out, what's there to be found. To honour this most endeavoring attitude, I have compiled a small collage of sights and places:

Now Eta Carinae is waiting. Time to get a close-up look at her beauty. Time to move on...

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The not so bad Badlands

Eastward Ho!

For the last two days I navigated a route towards the Galaxy's trailing direction and crossed the Orion Spur Badlands, which are not much more than a band of Brown Dwarfs and T Tauri-type stars stretching on for what must be forever. My first destination was the NGC 3532 Open Cluster in the Carina Complex (dubbed the 'Black Arrow Cluster' for some reason) but after having to re-route several times just in order to get to a stellar filling station I just switched my goal to 'Get the heck out of here!'

Yes! Red means no fuel...

The Badlands aren't just bad, however. There are many interesting places to see and quite some giant stars to bump into as well and NGC 3532 lies nestled in these supposedly bad lands as well. It is supposed to be one of the earliest star clusters that was observed with Earth's first and ancient spaceborne telescopes at all so I figured it might still be worth a visit, despite all those Brwon Dwarfs prowling on the way.

Ah! As an aside, I urgently suggest to use your 'View by Stellar Class' filter on the Galaxy Map from time to time, since it facilitates a general overview of your surroundings AND provides you with info on the more reclusive types of phenomena as well, like Wolf-Rayet Stars and White Dwarfs. Do it every 100 LY or somesuch and you'll get the picture.

Speaking about pictures, there's some info to be shared if you want to venture into that region; and what makes it better than having a peek preview of what's out there?

Beta Muscae – Explorers will find a Black Hole and a Neutron Star here.

HR 4499 – We have a G-type Supergiant with nearly 37 Solar radii being orbited by a companion star (which is not unusual). For those of you unfamiliar with stellar dimensions, just imagine Earth being here on its regular orbit and then take a look from an imagined El Capitan summit in Yosemite National Park. 

Amazing, is it not?

245 G. Carinae – A B-type subgiant, where apparently hydrogen fusion stopped already, and it's being orbited by a Neutron Star, bearing witness, that a star has died here in the past already. 'Soon' it will be the main star's turn...

HD 102773 – The most obvious thing here are two Black Holes, hungrily sucking the lifeblood from this star system. The strong gravitational lens effect of the Holes is very impressive and one might think there's only destructive hostility to be found here. However, there is life on the Gas Giant orbiting one of the numerous Y-type Brown Dwarfs. Considering these and the system's B-type main star one can only wonder what kind of water-based life can exist here. Due to the apparent heavy radiation and solar winds impairing the magnetic field of the Gas Giant it is to be suspected that it's some kind of radioplankton deriving its energy from molecular ionization rocesses. But I'm an Explorer, not a Xenobiologist...

HD 303310 – An M-type Supergiant at 33 Solar radii. The star can be viewed as one of the representatives of Giant-class stars in the NGC 3532 Cluster. Have a look around and you can glimpse quite a few of them!

Upsilon Carinae – Woops! Giant Star Madness! This system is awesome: Two A-type Supergiants in a close orbit of only 2,300 LS. Luckily, my approach vector didn't involve getting 'sandwiched' between the two. But still they are some heavy dudes, one having a radius of 77.5 Solar radii and the other even tops this at a whooping 218 Solar radii. You have to look from a viewpoint on an imagined Earth orbiting Sol at 500 LS to get the picture.

Right? Imagine the night skyline of New York or Dubai against the backdrop of these two stellar monsters...

HD 92072 – There are two Neutron Stars to be found here orbiting an F-type Bright Giant. Quite a prize, to be sure, but in picture terms pretty unremarkable, to be honest.

Passing HD 92072 we are approaching the rim of the NGC 3532 Open Cluster. Of course, it was not a thorough survey of the entire cluster. There are at least 150 stars directly associated with it and there may be more jewels on the left and right. But that will be another journey, someday.

Time to move on. There is still much distance to be covered and I plan to pay NGC 3114 a visit, another Open Cluster en route to the Eta Carinae Nebula.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Explorer's Graveyard

Speaking of the 'doorstep' of inhabited space, both Musca Dark Region and the Coalsack sport some very interesting places to see. As I came across several of these, I decided I might as well share them with you, so here we go.

First of all, there is HIP 63835. Granted, it's still in the Wregoe Sector but I'd like to include it anyway. Dubbed the 'Explorer's Graveyard', it's truly worthy of having an entry of its own. This system seems to have claimed many lives and you can virtually feel all the wrecks drifting aimlessly in some unidentified signal source throughout the system. Still, the Graveyard is a very popular magnet for Explorers, despite the dangers lurking within. And here is why:

The star system's central body is a very young O-type Main Sequence star with more than 74 Solar masses and 14.55 Solar radii. This alone makes an astonishing sight when dropping out of Hyper. But what is more impressive still is the first of the three (!) Black Holes orbiting the central star at a mere 55 Light Seconds (LS), which is only a tenth of the distance between Sol and Earth. It has 15.5 Solar masses and an orbital period of (only) 1.2 standard days. I guess orbiting a star with more than 14.55 Solar radii in not much more than a day makes the BH quite fast. Luckily my FSD Drive didn't drop me into the Hole's Accretion Disk or Event Horizon, because that would have made my trip real quick (and fatal).

But HIP 63835 madness doesn't stop there. No!

Orbiting the central star at a mere 680 LS (Earth orbits Sol at appr. 500 LS) are two more Black Holes (6.4 and 3.7 Solar masses), interlocked in a mutual orbit at an unbelievable 4 LS! That's less than four times the distance between Earth and Luna!
And dancing dangerously close around them are no fewer than four Brown Dwarfs and two Class III Gas Giants, waiting to be eventually sucked into the Holes' black, gaping maw.

Interestingly, there's even a mineral-rich planet suitable for Terraforming on the twin Holes' dinner platter. Its characteristics DO look a bit odd but I guess Terraformers are little miracle machines anyway. A house with a view of the night sky would be fine.

I hope the Sirius Corporation doesn't get any funny ideas about this...

To the crossroads, once more...

I returned three days ago from a two-months trip to the NGC 7822 Stellar Nursery area, mapping out YSOs, Black Holes and Neutron Stars. It took me two days of trading in a cramped T-7 to realize (again) that I don't belong here. Busy trade lanes full of traffic, comms chatter, wannabe pirates and the omnipresent systems' police. I got wanderlust... again. I sold my Beryllium (for the gazillionth time), gave the traffic warden some bucks for a mug of coffee and told him to mothball my Space Mule and went to the Stellar Cartographics Bulletin Board. It didn't take long to find a secondary entry, on behalf of a privately funded operation, asking for aid in mapping out the edges of some of the Milky Ways' spiral arms. What followed was a short comms exchange with the operation's Commander, and then things were set: It would take a decent amount of time but should be worth the stretch. StellCart would buy the exploration data as usual but would leave all other mapping rights to the operation. A more perfect stage couldn't be asked for...

So I went out in my 32 LY Asp Explorer and headed towards the Musca Dark Region and the Coalsack Dark Nebula. I like to see the Coalsack as a crossroads of sorts, because from there you can basically go further coreward, towards the Pipe Dark Nebula and, further on, the Lagoon Nebula; or you might go in the galaxy's trailing direction, where eventually you will find the Eta Carina Nebula and get to the rim of the Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way.

Both, Musca Dark Region and the Coalsack are ideal for novice Explorers as they basically lie at the doorstep of inhabited space and are easy to navigate and quite dense with stars. Musca is a place filled with many, many brown dwarfs (where you cannot scoop fuel) but also patches of main sequence stars with the occasional sub-giant or (super-)giant star. Ah yes, and quite a few of the very young O and B type stars, which are generally hunted for their Black Holes and Neutron Stars they might contain.

Approaching the Coalsack, the stretches of brown dwarfs get thinner and give way to the more 'regular' variety of stars. Star density is still more than enough to navigate here and quite a few stars have terrestial planets suitable for Terraforming or even boast an intact ecology already teeming with life. And then of course there is the Dark Nebula of the Coalsack itself. It's a dark and beautiful jewel, especially when viewed with the Milky Way as background. Make sure to shoot some pictures out here for a postcard for your loved ones at home!

All of this presents many opportunities for the up-and-coming Explorer to hone his navigational skills and get a grip on the different types of stars and stellar bodies (yes, there are quite a few of them): What's a TT-star and what's a T-star? What's an A1 III and what's a Y5 V? Where do I find habitable planets? Where do I find planets rich in minerals? After some time, you'll get the hang of it, I'm sure.

Time to move on...