And Now For Something Completely Different

Different indeed. Sky Lights is evolving. After 562 weekly posts I’ve pretty much answered all the basic astronomy questions, many submitted by readers. Do you have a question? Search here and I’m pretty sure you’ll find the answer. Back in 2004 when Sky Lights was born, the theme was “What’s Up Tonight?”. The central feature was a weekly sky chart. Not much beyond astronomy was covered.

By 2015 I could see this theme being picked up by numerous commercial websites, so I allowed Sky Lights to evolve. The theme became “If you can see it in the sky, we’ll talk about it.” And I started getting fewer astronomy-related questions and more about space travel, aeronautics, weather, and climate change. Page hits and subscriptions grew rapidly, validating reader interest in this broader theme. I still get (and answer) astronomy questions, but Sky Lights content is driven by readers, so expect to see more varied content in the future. I hope you all keep tuning in.

I’ve also reactivated Comments & Questions (as you can see below). I found what I hope will be a reasonably effective spam filter for WordPress, so I’m going to give it a try. When I shut down Comments three years ago readers complained. But as I explained then, I was wasting too much time dealing with bot-generated spam.

You need not be a subscriber to post, but you will have to enter your name and email. Your email is safe here, and used only for notifications of thread activity. Comments will only be active on the current post, but that still leaves 7 days for activity. Of course, I’ll continue responding to emails if you have feedback on an archived post.

I’ve been updating the website this week to reflect these changes. Meanwhile, I’m taking a week off from answering questions. Instead, I present here a composition written for an online contest. They asked for “science fiction short stories running no more than 100 words.” I rarely write fiction but figured 100 words would be easy. It wasn’t. My entry didn’t even place. For what it’s worth, here’s my story. And it runs exactly 100 words.

Selene’s telescope was barely visible in the dim light. Each bright star cast its separate shadow. The Moon looked somehow different tonight.

Carl stepped up and gazed into the eyepiece. He stared in silence for what seemed like hours. Finally he spoke.

“There’s so many craters. Hard to imagine it as it was.” “Yeah,” she added, “thousands of impacts were reported.” Carl sighed, “We were lucky to be here. That asteroid storm came from behind us, right out of Gemini. Here on Lunar Nearside we were shielded from the worst of it.”

“Too bad about the Earth though,” thought Selene.

I know it’s considered “bad form” to explain your plot, but I suspect the judges didn’t get the “hook” — it’s something only an astronomer would appreciate. Here’s what I think they missed …

Note the third sentence: “The Moon looked somehow different tonite“. That’s the hook. In the second-last sentence you discover the protagonists are on the Moon. So why did the Moon look different? Conventional telescopes are only used at night. If it’s night on the lunar Nearside, then Earth will be at or near its full phase. [See Far Side of the Moon and scroll down.]

Normally, a full Earth reflects a lot of light toward the Moon, producing what we call earthshine. If Earth were hit by a storm of large meteors, it would be shrouded in a cloud of steam and/or dust. This would change how much light Earth reflects, and the lunar Nearside (at night) would be brighter or darker than usual. The first paragraph suggests it is the latter — Earth is shrouded in a cloud of dust and hence appears darker.

It may seem like a bit of a stretch to pull all that astronomy out of a single sentence, but that’s what validates the hook. And on initial reading, that’s what tricks the reader into making wrong assumptions about where the protagonists are, and what they’re looking at.

If you’re curious about how Earth would (normally) appear from the Moon, see my Dec 12, 2011 post: What Earth Looks Like from the Moon. If you think the Full Moon looks impressive from here, check out the reverse view simulated in that post. I expect Moon dwellers will spend a lot of time Earth gazing.

We’ll be back to the “usual” Sky Lights content next week.

Next Week in Sky Lights ⇒ Nuking a Hurricane

Q&A: Nemesis
Nuking a Hurricane