Chance to Watch Coverage of InSight’s Mars Landing

On Monday, November 26, 2018, NASA Television is bringing coverage of InSight’s Mars landing to a website or social media near you!

NASA JPL-Caltech Simulated InSight Landing on Mars

From NASA’s press release:

“NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet at approximately 3 p.m. EST Nov. 26, and viewers everywhere can watch coverage of the event live on NASA Television, the agency’s website and social media platforms.”

There are a few pre-landing broadcasts, and on the landing day, coverage will start early in the morning. The landing itself is expected to take place from 2 to 3:30 p.m. EST, with post-landing news conference to wrap up the event.

Wow, sounds incredible. Even though the cameras are “only” inside JPL Mission Control and the mission itself will be covered by audio “only”, it’s the closest I can get to experiencing touching down on another celestial object. I will have to make time for this!

Found via File 770.

Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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Stockholm University: Research Reveals Half of Viking Age Sigtuna Residents Were Immigrants

I’ve been meaning to share this for a while now, but something or other was always supposedly more important or interesting. No more! 🙂

The Viking Age Sigtuna, Sweden, was formally founded around 980 AD, and it was a much more cosmopolitan city than thought before. According to new DNA analysis, approximately half of city’s population were immigrants.

Flickr Guillen Perez Sigtuna Viking Rune Stone

The study looked at the remnants of 38 individuals who lived and died in Sigtuna between the 900s and 1100s CE, and included other scientific approaches as well (like analysing the strontium isotope contents of the residents’ teeth).

Roughly half of the population grew up in the near-by region Mälardalen (the Mälaren Valley, or Stockholm-Mälaren Region). The other half arrived either from southern Scandinavia (including Norway and Denmark) or further away. The long-distance immigrants came from the British Isles, Ukraine, Lithuania, northern Germany, and other parts of central Europe, and were more likely to be women than men (approx. 70 percent of women vs. 44 percent of the men).

Read more on the Stockholm University research news page: article in Swedish / article in English.

I guess I’m by far not the first woman to fall in love with a Viking and to move far away with him. 🙂

Found via Yle uutiset.

Image: section of a Viking rune stone from Sigtuna by Guillén Pérez on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Cheddar Man: A European Mesolithic Male with Blue Eyes and Brown Skin

I saw these headers go by earlier this spring, but didn’t really have time to really dive into it until now. Well, better late than never, as they wisely say. 🙂

Despite the name, the Cheddar Man isn’t some silly cheese ad bloke. Instead, he has opened doors to very intriguing discoveries about European population during the later Stone Age.

The remains of an anatomically modern human male from about 10,000 years ago were found near Bristol in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England in 1903. Recent DNA analysis of the skeleton—Britain’s oldest (almost) complete one—suggests that he had blue eyes, dark curly or wavy hair, and dark brown to black skin.

Natural History Museum Tom Barnes Cheddar Man Bust Closeup

They also found that the Cheddar Man belonged to the same population as Mesolithic individuals whose bones were recovered from Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary, usually referred to as western European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers or European early modern humans.

Hannah Devlin at The Guardian writes most aptly:

“The discovery shows that the genes for lighter skin became widespread in European populations far later than originally thought – and that skin colour was not always a proxy for geographic origin in the way it is often seen to be today.

“Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, said: ‘It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions, that really are not applicable to the past at all.’”

A new bust model of Cheddar Man was made by Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions. (See a photo of the previous model made by a team at the University of Manchester here.) They took measurements of the skeleton, scanned the skull, and 3D printed a base for their model. Then they applied certain conventions to shape the face.

I fully confess I’m having a hard time keeping track of the exact timespans and geographical limits of the various Stone Age eras in Eurasia and Africa—what’s paleolithic, mesolithic, or neolithic and where and at what time. But it is so fascinating (and delightful!) that we continue to develop new methods of finding more about our past, and that so many different disciplines seek to understand where we came from and what makes us tick.

Image: closeup of the model of Cheddar Man by Tom Barnes / Channel 4 via Natural History Museum, London

National Museums Scotland Online

National Museums Scotland have made their collections available online.

First, you can tour the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh through Google street view. Around 20,000 objects on display at the permanent galleries can be seen this way.

Google Arts National Museums Scotland Screencap

In addition, over 1,000 objects from the National Museums have been added to the Google Arts & Culture online collection. They are arranged in groups that work much like online photo albums. Clicking on an image opens a detailed view of that item with additional information.

Four separate museums form the National Museums Scotland: in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland and the National War Museum, plus the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian and the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride.

This is so great! I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit the National Museum of Scotland in person, but that was years ago and I couldn’t get to everything I wanted to see. Now I can patch those holes in my not-quite-a-bucket-list. 🙂

Image: screencap from National Museums Scotland Google Arts & Culture webpage

Black Panther Is Coming to the Smithsonian African American Museum

Earlier this year, the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture screened the superhero movie Black Panther as part of their programming.

Smithsonian African American Museum Black Panther Hero Suit

Now the museum has plans to incorporate the movie into their collections in a larger way:

“The museum acquired several objects from Disney’s record-breaking film Black Panther, including the hero costume worn by actor Chadwick Boseman; a shooting script signed by Ryan Coogler (co-writer; director), Kevin Feige (producer, president of Marvel Studios), Nate Moore (executive producer) and Joe Robert Cole (co-writer; producer); two pages of spec script; and 24 high-resolution production photographs. Plans for display of the objects are under consideration by the museum.” […]

Black Panther is the first superhero of African descent to appear in mainstream American comics, and the film itself is the first major cinematic production based on the character. Black Panther illustrates the progression of blacks in film, an industry that in the past has overlooked blacks, or regulated them to flat, one-dimensional and marginalized figures. The film, like the museum, provides a fuller story of black culture and identity.”

Interesting! “Plans for display … are under consideration” definitely sounds like museum speak for planning a permanent exhibit. 🙂 In the meanwhile, the collection spotlight blog post, “Wakanda to Smithsonian”, includes a few images of the Black Panther hero costume (armor) on the premises.

Found via File 770.

Image by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

R.I.P. Ursula Le Guin

Author Ursula Le Guin is no longer with us.

Eileen Gunn Ursula-39-small

One of the most poignant remembrances I’ve yet seen is by author Catherynne Valente on Twitter:

I’m most fond of Le Guin’s Earthsea stories, some of which I’ve read and re-read in Finnish and in English over the years. I’ve only managed one of her science fiction books so far, though. Time to rectify that.

Forever read, Ms. Le Guin. Your intellect, inner fire, and vision will be deeply missed.

(Hat tip to Nnedi Okorafor for the phrase “forever read” in lieu of “rest in peace”.)

Image by Eileen Gunn via Ursula K. Le Guin website

The Hobbit’s 80th Anniversary

On this day in September, many years ago, there finally was The Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty book, though, filled with beetle-holes and a musty smell, but a Hobbit book, and that means comfort…

Tolkien Gateway Bilbo Comes to Huts of Raft-elves

In other words: J.R.R. Tolkien’s most famousest of novels The Hobbit was first published September 21, 1937, by Allen & Unwin.

Happy 80th Birthday!

Alas, 80 years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable readers—we therefore wish you many more!

Image: Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves via Tolkien Gateway (1937; color drawing; J.R.R. Tolkien)

A Miss Fisher Movie on Kickstarter

Every Cloud Productions has launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears onto the big screen worldwide.

Kickstarter Miss Fisher Crypt of Tears Pledge Now

The project overview states:

“Every Cloud Productions is proposing to produce a feature film building on the successful Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries television series, and is undertaking this Kickstarter campaign to raise a portion of the production budget for the film.

“Set in the late 1920’s, Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears honors the heightened exoticisms of the murder mystery genre as the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, lady detective, escapes the small screen and takes off on a global adventure – via romantic wayside stops in the Far East, glamorous sojourns in the mansions of London, and a battle to survive the rolling sands of the Arabian Desert long enough to find the missing treasure, solve numerous murders and break all aviation records as she wings her way home again!”

The stand-alone script is currently being finalized, with the same team who created the series set to work on the film. Production is preliminarily planned to start in mid-2018. The feature would be set for release in Australia in mid-2019, with other countries to follow as soon as possible.

And the campaign is going splendidly! Fans were so eager to see Phryne and Jack in the theaters that it reached its first goal in one day.

Kickstarter Miss Fisher Crypt of Tears Day 1

At this writing, two three stretch goals and more rewards have been added. It looks like the project will reach the latest stretch goal within days, too.

The tv series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is based on the novels of Australian author Kerry Greenwood. The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher solves crimes with assistance from Detective Inspector Jack Robinson of Melbourne police. Every Cloud Productions is an independent, Australian production company producing distinctive, high-quality television drama for domestic and international markets.

The project will be running on Kickstarter until Saturday, October 14, 2017 (8:39 p.m. EST).

Images via Miss Fisher the Movie Kickstarter campaign

Octavia Butler to Be Adapted for TV

I missed this when it was first announced, but here it is nevertheless: Octavia Butler’s novel Dawn is to be adapted for tv!

Dawn (originally published in 1987) opens the Xenogenesis trilogy (also known as Lilith’s Brood), where the Earth is mostly uninhabitable and humanity almost extinct until the alien Oankali intervene. Writer / producer / director Ava DuVernay and Charles D. King (Macro Ventures) are slated for executive producer posts, and writer / director Victoria Mahoney for the adaptation itself.

I first read the trilogy in the early 1990s in Finnish translation. The books have stayed with me, although over the years it became clear I’d forgotten quite a bit. Some 20 years later, I got my own omnibus in English to (re)read, and the trilogy was just as excellent as I remembered.

Looking forward to seeing what the team makes of Dawn! (Also, note to self: read more Butler!)

Amatka Book Talks by Karin Tidbeck in BOS, NYC, and San Diego

Swedish fantasy and weird author Karin Tidbeck is giving book talks on her debut novel Amatka in the United States.

Karin Tidbeck Amatka

Amatka was originally released in Swedish in 2012. It was first published in English a few weeks ago, at the end of June 2017. The publisher describes the novel as follows:

“A surreal debut novel set in a world shaped by language in the tradition of Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin.

“Vanja, an information assistant, is sent from her home city of Essre to the austere, wintry colony of Amatka with an assignment to collect intelligence for the government. Immediately she feels that something strange is going on: people act oddly in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion.

“Intending to stay just a short while, Vanja falls in love with her housemate, Nina, and prolongs her visit. But when she stumbles on evidence of a growing threat to the colony, and a cover-up by its administration, she embarks on an investigation that puts her at tremendous risk.”

In connection with the book birthday, Tidbeck will do a short publicity tour in the U.S. First, she’ll appear at Readercon 28 in Quincy, south of Boston, on July 13-16, 2017. (No further details at this writing.)

There’ll be a second book talk at New York City’s Scandinavia House on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, at 7 p.m. (free entry).

Finally, Tidbeck will be at Comic-Con in San Diego on July 20-23, 2017. (No further details at this writing.)

I haven’t read Tidbeck before, but Amatka sounds intriguing. She describes the birth of the novel in a blog post like this:

“I had spent some years collecting dream notes, and I found myself wondering if they could be mapped. What did my dream country look like? I found that some places showed up again and again, although the geography, events and people shifted. I ended up ordering the notes according to an imagined compass: north, south, east and west, and finally, a central city. […]

“Vanja, a somewhat reluctant protagonist, agreed to be my guide. But what was the world? Dreams, as I thought of them, are ruled by language. What would Vanja’s life be like? What would a society be like in a world where language ruled over matter? The story of Amatka began to unfold. It broke loose from my dream continent and became a world of its own.”

On the surface it sounds a bit like Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and Emmi Itäranta’s The Weaver. The way Tidbeck talks of language ruling over matter also reminds me of the way mathematics rules over reality in Yoon Ha Lee’s The Ninefox Gambit. As a linguist, I’m doubly intrigued and excited to read Amatka!

This post has been edited to correct a spelling error.