Science Fiction News & Recent
Science Review for the
Autumn 2020

This SF & science news page builds on the
seasonal science fiction news previously posted.

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Autumn 2020

Editorial

 

Our one-third of a century
We have passed our one-third of a century old mark
.  Yes, back in April we were 33 years old having launched, initially as a paper zine, at the 1987 British Eastercon, BECCON '87.  This means that we were 33-and-a-third years – a third of a century – old towards the end of August,  What with all the developments and change due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, our one-third-century landmark somehow got overlooked.
          This means our next landmark anniversary will be the half-century in April 2037.  If we ever get to make that then maybe the boat should be pushed out.  The last time some of us had anything like a substantive team physical get-together as at the 2014 British Worldcon, Loncon 3 (see below).


The Science Fact & Fiction Concatenation dinner at Loncon 3, the 72nd SF Worldcon.
(From centre going right: Cristina Macia (dinner fan GoH), Ian Watson (dinner author GoH),
Jonathan C. (news & reviews editor), Arthur Chappell (book reviewer), Mark Bilsborough (book reviewer),
Alan Boakes (webmaster), Sue Griffiths (book reviewer), Tony Bailey (stationery),
Dan Heidel (site registration and station maintenance), Peter Tyers (book reviewer and con reporter),
guest of Peter, Roberto Quaglia (past European liaison and articles).)

 

Slightly slimmer lockdown edition
You may have noticed, from the fewer news sub-sections, that this is a smaller news page than usual
.
  What with virus lock-down in the Britain Isles: publishers' PR departments have slowed down and so we have no forthcoming books listings; cinemas have closed and film shoots postponed, libraries have shut so there is no SF book-borrowing data; bookshops have closed and so – online retail notwithstanding – usual SF sales have been disrupted; and conventions have been cancelled.  We have, though, retained: the SF awards and other news subsection, and all the science sub-sections, as well as the obituaries in memory of those in the science and SF communities sadly lost.
          We hope to return to a full seasonal news page in April assuming that we have: a vaccine, that publishers produce catalogues for spring 2021 and normal bookshop sales and other publishing activities resume, in addition to film and TV shoots recommence.  (If not then we hope at least to continue with this type of streamlined news page.)
          If you want a handle on where we were before lockdown with the news subsections dropped this season, then see last season's:  SF filmtelevision  and  publishing news as well as that season's SF book releasesFantasy releases  and  SF non-fiction & popular science book releases.

 

Kindness
Good news in dark times
.  Despite living in the shadow of the virus, there have been some remarkable acts of community generosity and kindness.
          OK, so we don't normally cover non-SF and non-science (other than in the SF interface subsection) items but a nod to the positive side of human spirit is warranted in these times with just one story.  Now, most of our regulars living in Brit Cit will be well aware of this, but those of other nations likely not.  Former Captain Tom Moore – who fought in World War II in Burma – was nearing his 100th birthday in April, when he decided to do something for Britain's National Health Service (NHS, the free, state-run, healthcare system for UK subjects) and the sacrifices its staff have been making the past months.  So he decided to raise money for the NHS by walking 100 sponsored laps of his garden using his wheeled zimmer-frame.  He was already on the way to raising £1 million when the news went viral.  And so a few days after he completed his task he actually raised £12 million (US$15 million).
          He then went on to co-sing the hymn 'You'll never walk alone' with Michael Ball.  This came to the top of the top ten single charts so making Captain Tom the oldest person to have a number one record.  The previous record holder was Tom Jones who had a number one in his sixties, who said there was not a more worthy person to whom to hand on the record.
          When Captain Tom's 100th birthday came he had raised some £30 million (US$37m) and had received over 100,000 cards – the Royal Mail said that they had never before seen a single individual get that much mail in so short a time,  The Royal Air Force (RAF) flew a WWII Spitfire and a Hurricane over his home as a 'small gesture of thanks'.  Captain Tom noted that the last time he had seen a Spitfire fly, it had been flown in war and it was a pleasure to see it fly in a time of peace.  He also received a promotion to Honorary Colonel and a knighthood.
          Even in the most tying of times there are shards of light.

 

STAFF STUFF

As many of you have been most of us have either been in lockdown, community volunteering and a few trying to keep business afloat so as to have proper jobs to which to return.  Sadly, but perfectly understandably all Brit Cit, Cal Hab and Emerald Isle pubs were shut during British Isles lockdown, which never happened during our last zombie outbreak.
          Those in lockdown kept boredom at bay by catching up on the unread bookshelf, telephoning friends, not to mention watching television, and most had internet social media with chat groups (though, in common with a largely forgotten minority of the population, a couple of us with no internet or smartphone were also in digital isolation).  Some remote-worked from home and others indulged in pet projects.
          All of us have been touched in some way by this ghastly virus.  At the very least we have had neighbours who have lost family and at worst some of us have lost members of our own.  The national and global statistics do not entirely speak for themselves.  Every loss is someone's sister or brother, or father or mother, or son or daughter, and everyone was someone's close friend: they are not just a number or statistic, they are a personal tragedy.
          This makes the affects of the outbreak on our zine operations somewhat trite
          Even so, as our (now sole) extant, core editor has no home internet access (his next door library cybercafé shut for the duration), so our valiant book review panel members have been sending in their reviews by old-fashioned post on new-fangled USB memory sticks.  Also, much appreciation goes to Dave Langford who, totally unbidden, thought to send in paper copies of Ansible by post (a very pleasant and most welcome surprise).  N. Heath SF's Julie phoned in some news gleaned from the net as well as with brother Stephen provided a USB memory sticks loaded with news.  Simon kindly sent in Nature 'Futures' stories on USB sticks (last year Nature sadly excised the stories, their only regular arts feature, from the print edition) as well as PBS Space Time YouTube vids: sometimes it is good to start the day with a physics warm-up prior to work on serious bio- and geosciences.  And there's a shout out to Pat for uploading the site and John at SF Signal, Dave (again) of Ansible, Bill of e-Zines, Mike of File770 and Caroline Mullan for promotion.  All enabled this edition to be compiled, prior to actual posting, without any editorial internet access whatsoever.  (Which might answer the question some of you may have been asking, during lockdown what would we have done without the internet?  With a little help, getting by nicely.)
          So fret not that our current principal coordinator was in digital lockdown with zero internet access; there are always work-arounds.  Even the weekly pub quiz was enjoyed throughout lockdown. One of the pub-team members downloaded the questions and then six of us in four household connected by telephone and speakerphones using a combination of land-lines and mobile (cell) phones so all could hear each other.
          But do spare a thought for others who were in digital lockdown during the pandemic without internet access but who actually needed it (unlike our co-ordinator who does not).  For those of us in Eastercon and Worldcon fandom for whom travel and a four or five day stay in a four or five star hotel is regularly afforded, and who think little about expending the rare Earth metal and energy resources on smartphone connectivity, it is easy to forget those who do not have the internet to take for granted.  Among those are a good number school children who are missing out on remote classes via the net from their regular teachers.  In the UK alone the government estimated that some 700,000 were affected this way.  So do check and see if you know someone missing out who really needs connectivity.  May be you can help?  Even if you don't have an old computer gathering dust in the loft, if nothing else you might offer your neighbour access to your wi-fi?  Just a thought.

 

Meanwhile, e-mails sent us since 20th March 2020 will
be answered as soon as lockdown ends and
access to the office is regained.

Further details here.

 

Elsewhere this issue…
Aside from this seasonal news page, elsewhere this issue (vol. 30 (4) Autumn 2020) we have stand-alone items on:-
          How Eastercon and Worldcon fandom survived lockdown -- Caroline Mullan
          Loncon 3 - The 2014 UK SF Worldcon. -- Mark Bilsborough A retrospective in light
          of the new UK, Worldcon 2024 bid.
          Space exploration projects deploying in 2021 -- Ian Moss Forthcoming space missions.
          Keep Mars human free! - Jonathan Cowie  Keep Mars for the Martians.
          Ten years ago. One from the archives: Au Contraire - New Zealand's 2010
          national convention - With the CoNZealand's 2020 Worldcon virtually now over,
          a look back at an earlier NZ natcon in Wellington that saw this year's, 2020,
          Worldcon bid launched.
          'Infringement: Brought down to Earth' (1-page PDF short story) by Timothy J. Gawne
          A new story from the 'Best of...' Nature Futures series.  Do you have the right
          to exist? Is your Earth's copyright valid...?

          Plus fourteen SF/F/H standalone fiction book reviews but alas no this season non-fiction SF and popular science book reviews.  Hopefully something here for every science type who is into SF in this our 33rd year. For full details of the latest contents see our What's New page.

 

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Autumn 2020

Key SF News & SF Awards

 

The 2020 Hugo Awards were announced at this year's CoVID-19 virtual Worldcon.  Because this year's event – which in any case was to be a rare southern hemisphere manifestation – was virtual with lower than usual registration, we have lowered the bar to for what might be determined as the principal Hugo categories.  So for this year we have halved the number of nominations a category had to have received from 1,000 last year to just 500 this year. Any category having less than 500 bothering to nominate becomes, as SF encyclopaedist Peter Nicholls put it, more of a popularity contest among Worldcon regulars than a principal category of interest to the broader SF community beyond the Worldcon.
          The principal category Hugo wins this year therefore were:-
          Best Novel: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (SF) which back in January (2020) we cited as one of the best SF/F/H novels of 2019.
          Best Novella: This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
          Best Short Story: 'As the Last I May Know' by S.L. Huang.
          Best (Book) Series: The Expanse by James S. A. Corey
          Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form: Good Omens (TV mini-series) (Trailer here)
          Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form: The Good Place: 'The Answer'
          Other category (win information) (those categories with less than 500 nominating the works) can be found at thehugoawards.orgLast year's principal category Hugo winners here.

The Horror Writers' Association Bram Stoker Awards were announced online instead of at the World Horror Convention that was SARS-CoV-2 cancelled this year.  The awards are named in honour of the author of the seminal horror novel Dracula. The principal category wins were:-
          Novel: Coyote Rage by Owl Goingback
          Debut Novel: The Bone Weaver's Orchard by Sarah Read
          Graphic Novel: Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran
Full details of all the category wins can be found at
www.horror.org.  +++ Last year's principal category winners here.

The awards 2020 British SF Association (BSFA Awards) have been announced online given this year's Eastercon was cancelled due to SARS-CoV-2.  The winners were:-
          Novel: Children of Ruin (Tor) by Adrian Tchaikovsky
          Shorter Fiction: This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
          Non-Fiction: The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein by Farah Mendelsohn
          Artwork: Cover for Wourism (author Ian Whates) by Chris Baker
          The awards are presented annually by the BSFA, based on a vote of its members and on and off over the years – currently on – members of the British national science fiction convention Eastercon.

The Nebula Awards have been announced.  From the previously announced short-list, the principal category wins, as voted by SF Writers of America, were:-
          Novel: A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker
          Novella: This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
          Novelette: Carpe Glitter by Cat Rambo
Also presented was the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation the winner was Good Omens (trailer here)
This year's nebula for 'Best Novel' was a title we selected at the beginning of the year as one of the best SF/F books of 2018.  Details of all the category wins can be found at www.sfwa.org.  This year's full short list we reported last season.  +++ Last year's principal win Nebulas here.

The Locus Award winners have been announced.  The Locus Awards are run by the US Locus magazine and determined by a survey of readers in an open online poll.  The principal category wins for 2020 were:-
          Best SF Novel: The City in the Middle of the Night – Charlie Jane Anders
          Best Horror: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
          Novella: This Is How You Loose The Time War  by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
          Novelette: 'Omphalos' in Exhalation by Ted Chiang
          Best Collection: Exhalation by Ted Chiang
For details of all the many categories (always worth a look) check out the Locus on-line website www.locusmag.com.  +++ Last year's principal category winners here.

New Zealand's Julius Vogel Awards for 2017 were announced at the 2020 NZ national convention which was incorporated into this year's Worldcon.  The category wins were:-
          Best Novel: The Dawnhounds by Sascha Stronach
          Best Youth Novel: The Clockill and the Thief by Gareth Ward
          Best Novella / Novelette: From A Shadow Grave by Andi C. Buchanan
          Best Short Story: 'A Shriek Across The Sky' by Casey Lucas
          Best Collected Work: Year's Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vol 1 edited by Marie Hodgkinson
          Best Artwork: Vivienne To – Cover of Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
          Best Dramatic Presentation -- Long: Dr Who 'The Elysian Blade'
          Best Professional Publication: Swords: The Webcomic by ,Matthew Wills
          New Talent: Sascha Stronach
          Best Fan Publication: Plant Life by Laya Rose
          Best Fan Writing: 'Sitrep' by Alex Lindsay
          Best Fan Art: 'Deet' by Laya Rose
          Services to SF/F/H: Melanie Harding-Shaw
          Services to Fandom: Grace Bridges
The Julius Vogel Award is given to citizens or permanent residents of New Zealand and is voted on by members of the New Zealand National Convention (including this year overseas attendees). The awards are administered by SFFANZ (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand). 

Australia's Aurealis awards have been presented. The Aurealis is a panel judged award that was established in 1995 by Chimaera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis Magazine. The principal category wins this year were:-
          Science Fiction Novel: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
          Science Fiction Novella: 'Scapes Made Diamond' by Shauna O’Meara
          Science Fiction Short Story: 'Wreck Diving' by Joanne Anderton
          Fantasy Novel: Angel Mage by Garth Nix
          Fantasy Novella: 'Scapes Made Diamond' by Shauna O’Meara
          Fantasy Short Story: 'Dragon by Subscription' by Tansy Rayner Roberts
          Horror Novel: The Rich Man’s House by Andrew McGahan
          Horror Novella: 'Into Bones Like Oil' by Kaaron Warren
          Horror Short Story: 'Vivienne and Agnes' by Chris Mason
  +++ The 2019 Aurealis principal category winners are here.

The Dragon Awards have been announced at this year's, virtual, DragonCon.  Over 8,000 participants voted. Out of numerous award categories, the key category wins were.
          Best Science Fiction Novel: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
          Best Fantasy Novel: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
          The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
Details of all the category wins at www.dragoncon.org.

GUFF 2020 has been won by Alison Scott (Great Britain).  GUFF, the Get Up-and-over Fan Fund or the Going Under Fan Fund, depending on which direction it’s running, exists to provide funds to enable well-known fans from Australasia and Europe to visit each other’s national (or other) conventions and get to know each other’s fandoms better.  Voters make a donation to subsidise the winner's trip and the winner makes a report on their trip.  Alison was one of the popular candidates likely to win and did so by a good margin, so no surprises there.  Nonetheless, all but one of the candidates was a serious contender: only one candidate failed to get double-figure votes.  Very roughly £1,000 was raised in various national currencies.

The Fanzine Activity Achievement (FAAn) Award misses Dave Langford.  This year's FAAn Awards did see Dave Langford's Ansible tie in the Whatchamacallit Zine category with Fred Lerner's Lofgeornost. However Dave missed out in the Online Achievement category to the (also worthy) fanac.org. 'Missed out', because 'TAFF eBooks' and 'Ansible Free Books' (though coming equal third) should arguably have had their votes combined: they are the same thing, available at taff.org.uk. (Them's the breaks.)

2000AD has had its 20th anniversary with Rebellion.  1st July 2000 AD- an appropriate year – saw the computer game firm Rebellion purchase 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine from Egmont. Egmont had a few years earlier bought it from IPC who had created the comic. But 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine did not sit well with Egmont's other (more Disney related) properties and the publications' budgets had been cut year-on-year.  Rebellion was owned by 2000AD Squaxx dek Thargo (fans) – brothers Jason and Chris Kinglsey, who interestingly from a SF² Concatenation perspective respectively have dungarees in zoology and chemistry – and they view themselves more as guardians than owners of the comics and their characters.  For this reason, despite regular approaches from Hollywood, they have not been tempted to let there be cinematic adaptations as they would not have had script control. Instead, they have set up their own studios and are making the forthcoming Mega-City One TV series along with a Rouge Trooper film.  Both these are currently on hold due SARS-CoV-2.  There are five other 2000AD related cinematic/TV projects also in pre-production.
          2000AD marked the 20th anniversary with Rebellion with a 100-page summer special that featured a number of strips that for the first time brought together old and standard characters/strips with newer ones from the Rebellion era.  There were also a couple of one-off story reprints from the Rebellion era together with an interview with owner guardian, Jason Kingsley.  Splundig.

The Judge Dredd Megazine having its 30th anniversary right now (Sept' 2020).  The three decades of the Megazine is being marked with a bumper 100-page edition featuring top strips including: Megatropolis, The Returners, The Dark Judges, Judge Anderson and, of course, old stony face himself Judge Dredd.  It can be ordered online from 2000AD.com.

Fantasy Magazine is to return in November after a gap of four years.  From publisher John Joseph Adams, it will join sister publications Lightspeed and Nightmare from the rebranded Adamant Press publishing house.  The re-launched Fantasy Magazine will be co-edited by Arley Sorg and Christie Yant.  Arley Sorg has been a staff member of Locus since 2014 and Christie Yant was on the staff of Lightspeed between 2010 and 2015.  Submissions to Fantasy Magazine should be made between the 1st and 7th of each month.

Apex Magazine is to return in 2021 following a lapse in the spring of 2019.  In its returned form there will be six issues a year. Each will feature half a dozen short fiction stories and a couple of non-fiction.

Three Anne McCaffrey classics to become audio books.  Dragonflight, Dragonquest and The White Dragon.  These are part of her 'Dragonriders of Pern' series which are arguably her best known works, and which tells the story of a distant planet and its inhabitants’ struggle against an ancient enemy.  Gollancz have acquired the audio rights from Anne McCaffrey's estate which said, “The Estate of Anne McCaffrey, and The Anne McCaffrey Literary Trust, is thrilled that Anne’s UK fans, and new “readers”, will now have access to these beloved works in an audio format.”  Anne McCaffrey was one of the world's leading science-fiction and fantasy writers and won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 2005 she was made SWFA Grand Master and in 2006 she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Anne's 1978 Novel, The White Dragon, was the first science fiction novel to make the New York Times hardcover bestseller list.

The Late Bob Shaw's 'Bushel' columns have been collected.  The Full Glass Bushel collection of SF author and fan, Bob Shaw, has been edited by David Langford and Rob Jackson.  It is available as a free e-book from the Transatlantic Fan Fund website (which would welcome donations) at taff.org.uk/ebooks.php?x=BushelAnsible reports another Bob Shaw collection will be forthcoming: The Slow Pint Glass.  Bob was a fan who could regularly be found in the convention bar. The collection's title is reference to this as well as an SF invention in one of his notable books, Other Days, Other Eyes (1972). This novel features glass, of a very high refractive index, that slows light down so that the glass can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, 12 hour slow glass can be used for street lighting and even longer-timed slow glass can be used for surveillance as a kind of CCTV recording.  His slow glass was also independently used in a number of comic strip stories.  Bob was well known at Novacons and British Eastercons of the 1970s through to the 1990s.  This volume complements the recently published, and funny, Bob Shaw British Eastercon speeches.

The Jonbar Point by Brian Aldiss is now out.  It consists of the late, great Brian Aldiss' two long essays from SF Horizons in the mid-1960s, with a new introduction by Chris Priest.  Available from Ansible Editions at ae.ansible.uk/?t=jonbar.  Trade paperback 9" x 6", 82pp. £7.50 or US$9.99 plus local postage from Lulu.com, E-book in the usual formats at £3.00.

Beyond the Outposts: Essays on SF and fantasy 1955-1996 by Algis Budrys, is now out.  Best known as an author whose novels include Rogue Moon (1960) – about a lethal alien-built, labyrinth on the Moon – and Michaelmas (1977) – concerning an AI aided executive combating aliens remotely manipulating mankind (remember this was written before the internet and cyber-warfare), Algis Budrys also wrote about the genre in non-fiction pieces and book and film reviews for magazines and semi-prozines.  These have now been collected by David Langford and published through Ansible Editions, US$22.50 plus postage and packing, trdpbk, 378pp, ISBN 978-0-244-56705-7. It is also available as an e-book (Epub, Kindle or Mobi formats) for £5.50p. Details at ae.ansible.uk/?t=budrys4.

The Science Fiction Writers of America is to allow writers of graphic novels and comics to join their ranks.  Over 95% of SFA members voted for the change.

Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore has been burned by vandals.  The Minneapolis, US, along with next door's Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore, suffered arson in June as black lives matter protests were taking place elsewhere in the city.  A GoFundMe campaign raised a six-figure sum to enable the business to survive, though whether it will as a brick-and-mortar bookshop remains to be seen.

Games Workshop shares reach record high with annual profits rising to £89.4 million (US$110 m)!  The figurine-based Warhammer games retailer is now worth £2.75 billion (US$3.4 b). Following the profits announcement, its shares rose £8.05p to £92.60p. Three-quarters of the company's sales are outside the UK.

Ecclestone to return to the TARDIS.  The 9th TV Doctor Who (so Pete Cushing, Rowan Atkinson et al excluded), Christopher Ecclestone, who re-booted the series in 2005, is to star in a series of audio adventures.  The 12-part Doctor Who audio series is being produced jointly by Big Finish and BBC Studios, and will be launched on CD, vinyl and as a download, from May next year (2021).

The 2020 Worldcon was held online.  It had been slated for Wellington. Indeed there had been organisational problems with continual lateness and the unfortunate (not the committee's problem) of the conference venue allowing the Worldcon to be gazumped which meant that it was held earlier (end-July) than usual in the Wellington winter. A later Worldcon in September would have been better with more clement weather allowing for participant tourism: there's much to see in Wellington. (Presumably the organisers had good reason for their decision: ours is not to question why.) Nonetheless, the Hugo Awards were presented online and other convention content can be found on the CoNZealand channel on YouTube.  Still, at least unlike last year there was no overcrowding nor the tedious, lengthy, snaking queues for programme items.  Do, though, visit Wellington if you get a chance. New Zealand's national convention is venued there at least once every three years.  ++++ See also the article on How Eastercon and Worldcon fandom survived lockdown which has a section on the CoNZealand Worldcon.

One of the 2021 Worldcon main hotels is facing closure.  The staff of the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington D.C. have been notified by its management of the hotel’s potential permanent closure.  The 2021 Worldcon, DisCon III, is using function space at the Omni Shoreham for its programming and this is unaffected by the Washington Marriott Wardman Park potential closure.  The closure threat seems to have come about as CoVID-19 lockdown overly stretched the Washington Marriott Wardman Park's economic viability.  There is a possibility of another hotel chain taking it over.  The con committee are keeping a close eye on things and options.  There are, of course, other hotels in Washington, but these will not be as close to the conference facilities.

The 2022 Worldcon will be held in the US.  An online vote by the 2020 Worldcon saw Chicago win over Saudi Arabia by 551 to 33 votes.  Apparently, Saudi Arabia is going to try to bid for 2026: call that optimism rather than discernment.  The Chicago Worldcon in 2022 will be called Chicon 8 and it will be the 80th Worldcon

Other future Worldcon bids include:-
  - 2023 with Memphis, US  and  China.  France has dropped out. (CoVID-9 is blamed for throwing the organisers' lives and livelihoods into chaos and also the re-elected Mayor of Nice who has threatened to tear down the venue building as part of his plan to turn the city into a garden city.)
  - 2024 Glasgow, UK
  - 2025 with Brisbane, Australia,  and  Seattle, WA, USA.

And finally, some videos that came out over the summer of possible interest.

Hugo Award winning author and scriptwriter, David Gerrold is interviewed  David Gerrold is arguably best known for scripting the 'Trouble with Tribbles' episode of Star Trek.  You can see him being interviewed by Troy Parkins here.

Everything I Need To Know To Survive Covid-19 I Learned By Watching Scifi & Horror Movies .  Does what it says on the can.  Video from YouTube available here.

Good Omens surviving SARS-CoV-2 / CoVID-19 lockdown.  In part to mark it being 30 years since the publication of Good Omens novel, a new Good Omens TV mini-series scene has been created.  You can see it here.  ++++ Related story from last year – Good Omens religious fundamentalist tantrum is a laugh.

New Amy Pond Doctor Who scene created by former Who showrunner Steven Moffat.  An animation, it is a sort-of-prequel to 2010 episode 'The Eleventh Hour' which welcomed Matt Smith into the central role exactly a decade ago last April.  It sees Caitlin Blackwood reprise her role as the younger Amelia (Amy) Pond.  You can see it here.

Doctor Whos meet up.  Moderated by Terri Schwartz of IGN, HBO Max, in partnership with BBC America, presents the interview meeting of The Doctors: Jodie Whittaker, Matt Smith, and David Tennant.   You can see it here.

The Fifth Element gets the 'Honest Trailer' treatment.  You can see the Honest Trailer here

Blade Runner 2049 gets the 'Honest Trailer' treatment.  You can see the Honest Trailer here

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Autumn 2020

General Science News

 

We may have a new tool for ascertaining why the Universe has matter!  Why was there an excess of matter over anti-matter shortly after the Big Bang?  If the laws of nature were perfectly symmetrical there should have been an equal amount of both matter and anti-matter which would have annihilated each other leaving only photons and dark matter.  When in 1956 Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines discovered the neutrino (Cowan, C. et al (1956) Science, vol. 124, p103-4), they also wondered about the relationship between the neutrino and the anti-neutrino.  10 years later, the Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov mused that the symmetry between matter and antimatter might not have been perfect so allowing an excess of matter (Sakharov, A. (1967) Pis',ma Z. Eksp. Teor. Fiz. vol.5, p32-5).  Such a breaking of symmetry has been observed in meson decay but this effect is too small to explain the excess of matter.  New international research has now revealed a breaking of symmetry between neutrinos and antineutrinos.
          The Japanese particle physics experiment called Tokai to Kamioka (T2K).  Neutrinos – and separately antineutrinos – generated at Tokai travel to Kamioka 83 miles (295 km) away.  Neutrinos have the property of transforming themselves through three 'flavours' and antineutrinos should similarly transform themselves into counterpart anti-flavours.  The results of the experiment strongly suggest that they do not.
          The result is intriguing. However, statistically the research suggests a 95% probability (confidence) that there is a breaking of symmetry.  This is highly suggestive, but to properly satisfy physicists they would like 99.9999% confidence.  And here's the problem: neutrinos are small with very, very minute mass, interacting little with atoms and so are extremely hard to detect. It took the research team a decade's worth of detections to get enough for a 95% confidence.  There are forthcoming neutrino experiments such as the Hyper-Kamiokande detector (Japan) and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment – DUNE (Sanford, S. Dakota, US) on the drawing board with the latter already feasibility tested at Europe's CERN.  The next two decades will be interesting.  (See The T2K Collaboration (2020) Constraint on the matter-antimatter symmetry-violating phase in neutrino oscillations. Nature, vol. 580, p339-344,  Editorial (2020) Neutrinos might tell us why matter trumps antimatter in the Universe. Nature, vol. 580, p305,  and the review article  Pascoli, S. & Turner, J. (2020) Matter-antimatter symmetry violated. Nature, vol. 580, p323-4.)

Einstein proved right.  Again!  Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (that's physics taking place away from the Earth and not physics undertaken by extraterrestrials) and colleagues have used the European Southern Observatory to track a star called S2 as it orbits the large black hole at the centre of our galaxy.  Their work, presented in a paper in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, reveals that the star's orbit precesses: that is to say the elliptical orbit does not retrace itself but the whole orbit slowly moves incrementally around the star with each orbit to generate a flower-like pattern; under Newtonian motion the elliptical orbit should retrace the same ellipse time after time.  This precession is exactly what you would expect with Einsteinian warping of space time close to the black hole.  The researchers' findings also rule out there being other large, massive black holes at the heart of our galaxy.

Bose-Einstein condensates have now been created in orbit.  They were first created 25 years ago and are a dense cloud of ultra-cold atoms that have an equal number of protons and electrons (bosonic atoms) that have the lowest energy state. In quantum mechanics, every particle can be considered as a wave and Bose-Einstein condensates provide a tool for exploring this physics. However, they need to be contained and gravity impedes this so necessitating strong atomic traps. But in orbit (free-fall) shallow traps work fine: in the past tall drop-towers have been used.  A Bose-Einstein condensate of rubidium atoms has now been created on the International Space Station.  Now that this technique has been developed, there are already experiment proposals to exploit this being submitted for approval.  (Aveline, D. C., Williams, J. R., Elliott, E. R. et al (2020) Observation of Bose-Einstein condensates in an Earth-orbiting research lab. Nature, vol. 582, p193-7  and the review piece  Lachmann, M. D. & Rasel, E. M. (2020) Quantum matter orbits Earth. Nature, vol. 582, p186-7.)  ++++ Related news, items previously covered elsewhere on this site and involving Bose-Einstein condensates, include:-
  - Negative mass/energy discovery shows the way to a real stargate
  - Magnetic monopole analogue created
  - Another aspect to light's wave-particle duality observed
  - A new exotic 'element' has been created out of both matter and anti-matter particles

2019 was third hottest year according to UK and second hottest according to US climatologists.  2019 was half a degree centigrade warmer than the 1981-2010 average according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Meanwhile the UK (which uses a different dataset, ranks 2019 as the third hottest year after 2015 and 2016.  Meanwhile, irrespective of which dataset is used, the past six years have been the warmest on record.

500 years of Europe's historical flood records reveals climate change signature. European researchers have looked at historical records relating to 103 major European rivers between 1500 and 2016.  They identify nine flood-rich periods of which all but one coincided with cool periods. However the ninth flood-rich period (1990-2016) represents a period warmer than pre-industrial.  This suggests that the European climatic system has entered a new state.  (See Bloschl, G. et al (2020) Current European flood-rich period exceptional compared with past 500 years. Nature, vol. 583, p560-6  and a review piece  Luldlow, F McGovern, R. (2020) A flood history of Europe. Nature, vol. 583, p522-4.)

East Antarctic basin ice instability confirmed.  Researchers using uranium isotopes in the basin's sediments as a proxy for ice stability – uranium in dust accumulates on the ice which is released only when the ice shelf melts – and dating these to 400,000 years ago when there was a lengthy interglacial, have shown that its ice shelf melted.  The E. Antarctic basin is the Wilkes Basin which is large.  It had been though that E. Antarctic basins would be stable with 1 - 2°C warming, but this was the temperature of the basin during the interglacial 400,000 years ago.  Recent research has previously shown it was not stable.  Sea levels back then were thought to be 6 to 13 metres higher than today.  However if the basin's ice had disintegrated, then this by itself would have contributed to 3 to 4 metres of sea level rise. With warming, there would also be sea level rise contributions from melt from other Antarctic basins as well as Greenland.  This discovery has implications for likely sea level rise with current global warming.  The past decade some research has indicated that sea level rise with warming might be worse than the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) forecasts.  However, the IPCC forecasts deliberately (due to their uncertainty) ignore long-term feedback systems such as those associated with ice sheet stability.  (See Blackburn, T. et al (2020) Ice retreat in Wilkes Basin of East Antarctica during a warm interglacial. Nature, vol. 583, p554-9.)
++++  Related stories previously covered elsewhere on this site include: Antarctic ice melt increases.

Atmospheric sulphur hexafluoride concentrations rise despite Kyoto protocol (1997).  Sulphur hexafluoride is particularly used in electrical circuit breakers and transformers, but is controlled under the Kyoto Protocol as it is a powerful greenhouse gas, 23,500 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.  Peter Simmonds of Bristol University, Great Britain, and colleagues drew on data from global atmospheric monitoring sites and calculated that between 2008 and 2018 annual emissions increased by 24% to 9,000 tones a year.  (See  Atmospheric Chemistry Physics. Vol. 20, p7,271-7,290.)

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Autumn 2020

Natural Science News

 

The 2020 Brain Prize has been announced.  This year's prize is shared between Huda Zoghbi from the US and Sir Adrian Bird from Great Britain for their pioneering work on Rett syndrome.  The prize comes from Denmark's Grete Lundbeck European Brain Foundation and carries with it a cash award of €1 million (£730,000, US$1.1m).

Homing in on Pangolins as the likely SARS-CoV-2 intermediate host.  Since the dawn of the outbreak Pangolins were the prime suspect of being an intermediate host.  Over the summer a number of research teams have independently homed in on Pangolins.  Two and a half years ago it was discovered that bats were the source of the original SARS.  with regards to the present SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, there is a similar coronavirus – RaTG13 – in horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus affinis) in the south-western China province of Yuhan.  This shares 96% of its genome with SARS-CoV-2 and the 4% difference suggests both over a decade's worth of evolution and an intermediate host.  One team analysed a SARS-CoV-2 related virus found in a Malayan pangolin (Manis javanica) seized in anti-smuggling operations in southern China. A number of related SARS-type viruses were found including one that features a receptor-binding domain similar to that of SARS-CoV2.  Separately a collaboration from a number of research departments from institutes different to the first study, has found a virus in a Malayan pangolin which has four key proteins respectively 90.7%, 97.8%, 98.6% and 100% identical to their counterpart proteins in SARS-CoV-2, and that the receptor-binding domain is almost identical to that of SARS-CoV2.  Both research collaboration teams call for effective control of wildlife trade on public health grounds.  (See  Lam, T. T-Y., Jia, N., Zhang, Ya-Wei., et al (2020) Identifying SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins. Nature, vol. 583, p282-5  and  Xiao, K., Zhai, J., Feng, Y., et al (2020) Isolation of SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses from Malayan pangolins. Nature, vol. 583, p286-9.)  ++++  Similar stories previously covered elsewhere on this site include:-
  - New flu virus discovered in bats
  - Vampires are key to spreading rabies in the US.

CoVID-19 fatality risk factors confirmed.  The disease that can result from SARS-CoV-2 infection, CoVID-19, can be fatal.  Early on in the pandemic certain risk factors became associated with fatal outcomes.  This had been done before, but typically the largest of such studies, such as in China, only follow tens of thousands of patients: the US has a problem as its healthcare his highly fragmented and loaded with legal and insurance costs making it the most expensive and ineffective both on a dollar outcome, as well as dollar per year of longevity basis, and so studies there typically are of a few thousand each.
        Conversely, Britain has a National Health Service so biomedical researchers were able to analyse the records of over 23 million English subjects, 17 million of whom were adults, for whom detailed records were available (those very healthy who have not come into contact with the NHS for decades have incomplete records).  The research covered the period from first UK-infected case up to the 6th of May 2020: that is it included the period of the first, major peak of infection in the country.  The study confirms that age is the main risk factor with there being less than 0.01% chance of those aged 18-39 years who were infected with symptoms dying.  This rose to 0.67% and 0.44% in men and women respectively over 80 years.  The main secondary factors were obesity (high body mass index) and having diabetes.  Recently (less than year) being diagnosed with cancer was also a high, secondary risk factor. Another secondary factor was ethnicity with Asian and black patients having a little over 40% greater chance of mortality over white. This probability took into account weight and familial financial income.  (See  Williamson, E. J., Walker, A. J., Bhaskaran, K. et al (2020) Factors assovciated with CoVID-19-related death using OpenSAFELY. Nature, vol. 584, p430-6.)

SARS-CoV-2 can be spread by aerosols.  Biomedical scientists from Hong Kong University have found that lab golden Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) can spread SARS-CoV-2 by aerosols and not just droplets.  Golden hamsters – as also humans do – have angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors in their cell membranes which the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein uses to gain access to cells. Golden hamsters are therefore considered a good model for SARS coronavirus research (but not MERS which uses DPP4 receptor).  The hamsters had the virus in their nasal cavities just one day after inoculation with peak viral loads at three days after inoculation.  They continued to shed infectious virus for six days.
          Aerosol transmission was demonstrated by placing a unaffected hamsters in a separate wire cage adjacent to hamsters infected the day before. (They were not in direct physical contact.) They were kept in proximity for eight hours.  Hamsters remained infectious for no longer than six days.  Aerosol transmission can occur over a longer distance than droplet transmission.  So take social distancing seriously, and always use masks in public indoor spaces including transport.  See also the next item below.  (See Sia, S. F., Yan, L-M., Chin, A. W. H. et al (2020) Pathogenesis and transmission of SARS-CoV2 in golden hamsters. Nature, vol. 583, p834-8.)
++++  Related stories previously covered elsewhere on this site include:-
  - A new, highly pathogenic, coronavirus has emerged in China
  - Cruise ship SARS-CoV-2 containment informs on the virus
  - The free market has failed to lay the groundwork for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

Review concludes that masks are necessary to reduce spread of SARS-CoV-2 and hence the incidence of CoVID-19.  The review in the journal Science notes that the spread of coronavirus disease appears to be occurring through airborne transmission of aerosols produced by asymptomatic individuals during breathing and speaking (see previous item above).  Humans produce respiratory droplets ranging from 0.1 to 1,000μm (micrometres). A competition between droplet size, inertia, gravity, and evaporation determines how far emitted droplets and aerosols will travel in air. Larger respiratory droplets will undergo gravitational settling faster than they evaporate, contaminating surfaces and leading to contact transmission.  Smaller droplets and aerosols will evaporate faster than they can settle, are buoyant, and thus can be affected by air currents, which can transport them over longer distances.  In outdoor environments, numerous factors will determine the concentrations and distance travelled, and whether respiratory viruses remain infectious in aerosols.  Breezes and winds often occur and can transport infectious droplets and aerosols long distances.  Yet Viral concentrations will be more rapidly diluted outdoors.  Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 can be inactivated by ultraviolet radiation in sunlight.  Given how little is known about the production and airborne behaviour of infectious respiratory droplets, it is difficult to define a safe distance for social distancing.  Assuming SARS-CoV-2 virions are contained in submicron aerosols, as is the case for influenza virus, a good comparison is exhaled cigarette smoke, which also contains submicron particles and will likely follow comparable flows and dilution patterns.  The distance from a smoker at which one smells cigarette smoke indicates the distance in those surroundings at which one could inhale infectious aerosols. In an enclosed room with asymptomatic individuals, infectious aerosol concentrations can increase over time.  Overall, the probability of becoming infected indoors will depend on the total amount of SARS-CoV-2 inhaled.  Ultimately, the amount of ventilation, number of people, how long one visits an indoor facility, and activities that affect airflow will all modulate viral transmission pathways and exposure.  For these reasons, it is important to wear properly fitted masks indoors even when 6 feet apart.  (See Prather, K. A., Chia C. Wang, C. C. & Schooley, R. T. (2020) Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Science, Vol. 368, p1,422-4.)

Social distancing and school closures are key to lowering the spread of CoVID-19.  Research looking at how early on the epidemic spread in Wuhan and Shanghai has shown that that social distancing alone, as implemented in China during the outbreak, is sufficient to control CoVID-19.  Although proactive school closures cannot interrupt transmission on their own, they can reduce peak incidence by 40 to 60% and delay the epidemic the researchers conclude.  (See Zhang, J., Litvinova, M., Yuxia Liang, Y. et al (2020) Changes in contact patterns shape the dynamics of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Science, Vol. 368, p1,481–1,486.)

Genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 reveals how the epidemic spread in New York, US.  The SARS-CoV-2 mutates slightly as it passes from human to human. On average, the coronavirus accumulates about two changes per month in its 30,000 lettered genome.  This has enabled biologists undertaking genomic sequencing of the virus to see how the New York epidemic spread.  Analysis of 84 distinct SARS-CoV-2 genomes indicates multiple, independent, but isolated introductions mainly from Europe and other parts of the United States.  Moreover, they found evidence for community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 as suggested by clusters of related viruses found in patients living in different neighbourhoods of the city.  Manhattan saw the highest number of initial cases and the majority of these were of a strain circulating in Europe. The highest number of cases of the virus from elsewhere in N. America were in the Bronx and Brooklyn, though these were much less than the European strain.  Cases rose markedly from the second week in March, though there were cases from the beginning of that month.  Given an incubation period, this means that there were infections taking place in late February.  USA nationwide travel restrictions, were put in place to curtail SARS-CoV-2 introductions into the continental United States from outbreak hotspots in China (2nd February 2020), Iran (2nd March 2020), mainland European countries (13th March 2020), and the British Isles (16 March 2020).  (See Gonzalez-Reiche, A. S., Matthew M. Hernandez, M. M., Sullivan, M. J. (2020) Introductions and early spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the New York City area. Science, Vol. 369, p297–301.)  Given the ease of air travel, an announcement of an air travel lockdown with four days notice on 2nd February (so as to allow passengers to return home), may well have prevented many cases and resulting deaths in New York.

New swine flu strain can infect humans.  Since 2011, Chinese researchers have isolated 19 strains of porcine flu (influenza) in pigs. Their work has revealed that one of these, G4, has the potential to infect human lungs; they infected ferret lungs and ferrets are used as a model for human lungs.  Further, they found that 10% of 338 pig farmers tested had antibodies against the virus. This means that it is highly likely that G4 can infect humans. The researchers conclude, in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the necessity for on-going detailed viral monitoring of pig farms.  ++++  Similar stories previously covered elsewhere on this site include:-
  - Swine flu pandemic worries World – Move over avian flu
  - H1N1 global pandemic over. It's official says World Health Organization

DNA and RNA may have formed together before life got going, a new chemical pathway suggests.  A team of British and Polish based researchers have elucidated a chemical pathway that would have been possible on the primordial Earth in hot springs or shallow marine thermal vents bathed in ultraviolet light. This joint DNA and RNA primordial world is more likely than the RNA world hypothesis put forward back in 1986. The new synthesis not only uses chemicals likely found on the early Earth (conversely the RNA world synthesis relies on pure-handed sugars) to generate precursor-RNA and precursor-DNA, but it explains the 'handedness' of the organic molecules life uses. The handedness comes about by the preferential destruction of one handed molecules of another by ultraviolet.  Further, because ultraviolet is required, it seems likely that life got going in either hot springs or shallow marine geothermal vents, and not deep sea vents.  (See Xu. J., Chmela, V., Green. N. J., et al (2020) Selective prebiotic formation of RNA pyrimidine and DNA purine synthesis. Nature, vol. 582, p60-6  and  Le Vay, K. & Mutschler, H. (2020) A plausible route to the first genetic alphabet. Nature, vol. 582, p33-4.).  ++++  Similar stories previously covered elsewhere on this site include:-
  - Life's key metabolic pathway molecules could form on the early lifeless Earth
  - First life could have begun between 3.77and 4.280 billion years ago
  - Life could have begun before 3.7 billion years ago
  - Life could have begun before 3.2 billion years ago
  - What was the first species of life like?.
  - Support uncovered for new theory for the evolution of eukaryotic cells

The early dinosaurs laid soft eggs.  The evolutionary development of the (amniotic) egg was a major development for vertebrates.  They are used by lizards and snakes.  Another was the development of the hard egg shell as this helped the vertebrates colonise land and are used by reptiles and birds.  Since 1859 hard dinosaur eggs have been found across much of the world: hard shelled eggs easily preserve in the fossil record.  Yet the number of groups of species of dinosaur known to lay eggs is limited and most discoveries are more recent than the older dinosaur times.  Now two teams of researchers have independently reported the discovery of soft shelled dinosaur eggs.  It could be that hard-shelled eggs evolved separately a number of times.  (See  Norell, M. A. et al The first dinosaur egg was soft. Nature, vol583, p406-410  and  Legendre, L. J. et al (2020) A giant soft-shelled egg from the Late Cretaceous of Antarctica. Nature, vol583, p411-4  and the review piece  Lindgren, L. & Kear, B. P. (2020 ) Hard evidence from soft fossil eggs. Nature, vol583, p365-6.)
++++  Previous vaguely related news covered elsewhere by SF² Concatenation includes:-
  - Dinosaur's genetic evolution outlined from modern descendent species' genomes
  - Dinosaurs saw temperate rainforests near the South Pole
  - All modern birds are descendants of ground birds, dinosaur impact study concludes
  - Dinosaur extinction featured several years of a largely frozen Earth

Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA found in modern Icelander genomes.  Icelandic researchers together with colleagues from Denmark and Germany analysed the genome of 27,566 Icelanders. All had Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA. It is not known whether Denisovan and Neanderthal bred first before breeding with anatomically modern humans, or whether modern humans bred separately with Denisovans and Neanderthals, but the researchers estimate the last interbreeding episode occurred 50 to 60 thousand years ago.  (See Skov, L. Macia, M. C., Sveinbjornsson, G., et al The nature of Neanderthal introgression revealed by 27,566 Icelandic genomes. Nature, vol. 582, p78-83.)  ++++  Similar stories previously covered elsewhere on this site include:-
  - Neanderthals buried their dead
  - 175,000 year-old discovery confirms that Neanderthals were responsible for some of the earliest constructions
  - Neanderthal diets have been inferred from dental plaque DNA
  - Modern humans had seΧ with Neanderthals 100,000 years ago
  - Homo floresiensis may be descended from Homo erectus
  - Earliest Homo sapiens found to date from between 254,000 - 350,000 years ago

Jewellery and remains show modern humans were in Europe 43,000 years ago.  The jewellery from cave bear teeth, and remains that include a human tooth, from the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria show that anatomically modern humans were in Europe in the depth of the last glacial and that they culturally interacted with Neanderthals: the cave bear necklace is similar to ones worn by Neanderthals in western Europe.  The scenario supports the suggestions that multiple waves of anatomically modern humans arrived in Europe and coming into contact with declining Neanderthals.  (See Hublin, J-J, et al. (2020) Initial Upper Palaeolithic Homo Sapiens from Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria. Nature, vol. 581, p299-302.)  ++++  Similar stories previously covered elsewhere on this site include:-
  - New Denisovan fossil indicates early humans were more widespread
  - Modern humans left Africa 80,000 years earlier than thought
  - Modern humans diverged from primitive humans between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago
  - 175,000 year-old discovery confirms that Neanderthals were responsible for some of the earliest constructions made by hominins
  - Homo naledi is a new (cousin) species of early human
  - Earliest Homo sapiens found to date from between 254,000 - 350,000 years ago
  - Modern humans on Flores exhibit dwarfing genes
  - First stone age tools now 71,000 years not 40,000 years ago
  - First humans in Australia arrived 10,000 years earlier than thought

The age humans first reached America doubles!  The past decade has seen a number of key discoveries as to when the first Americans arrived.  In 2011 was discovered that humans were in N. America 15,500 years ago, before Clovis culture.  Then in 2015 it was discovered that humans reached South America between 14,500 and 18,500 years ago.  Now two pieces of research point to a far earlier arrival of humans in America.
          The first is from the Chiquihuite cave in central Mexico in the Astillero Mountains.  1,900 stone tools were discovered that date from over 26,000 years ago.  However, if humans were there at that time then the question arises as to what happened to them as there had been no convincing genetic evidence or physical evidence before 15,000 years ago.
          The second is an analysis comes from two of the researchers involved with the afore Chiquihuite cave archaeology.  They looked at previous research from 42 N. American archaeological sites, dating their occupation and mapping these with palaeoclimate conditions at the time.  The researchers also draw on genetic analysis of local native populations.  They conclude that humans first arrived in N. America before the last glacial maximum (the peak of the last 'ice age) some 24,000 years ago or even earlier: they could have arrived 30,000 years ago.
          Both these works suggesting a far earlier colonisation of N. America solves a mystery.  A number of species of large American fauna (including mammoths) went extinct before humans were thought to have arrived and their extinction was attributable to climate change. However this did not sit well with some climate change biologists as if that were the case then why did not previous glacial cycles drive these animals to extinction? Only with the last glacial maximum was there the possibility of human involvement. (Cowie, J. (2007) Climate Change: Biological and human aspects. Cambridge University Press.). Now we know humans did arrive earlier, the extinction mystery is officially resolved. (See  Ardelean, C. F., Becerra-Valdivia, L., Winther-Pedersen, M. et al (2020) Evidence of human occupation in Mexico around the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature, vol. 584, p87-92  and  Becerra-Valdivia, L., & Higham, T. (2020) The timing and effect of the earliest human arrivals in North America. Nature, vol. 584, p93-7  as well as two review pieces  Barras, C. (2020) When did people reach the Americas? Cave tools stoke debate. Nature, vol. 583, p670-1  and  Gruhn, R. (2020) Evidence grows for early peopling of the Americas. Nature, vol. 583, p47-8.)
++++  Related news previously reported elsewhere in this site includes:-
Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans
Origins of first Americans elucidated by Clovis genome

Artificial islands of crops in west Amazon date from 10,850 years ago.  This time was a few centuries after the end of the last glacial (ice age) and the global climate was a little different then than today.  At that time the western Amazon was not rain forest but treeless savannah that was seasonally flooded by rivers.  The earliest human settlers built walled islands of raised earth to protect them from the floods and enhance the soil. Researchers have examined 83 such islands out of 6,643 in the Llanos de Moxos region that all told have a combined area of 24 square kilometres.  (See Lombardo, U. et al (2020) Early Holocene crop cultivation and landscape modification in Amazonia. Nature, 581, p190-3.)
          Related news previously covered elsewhere on this site includes:-
  - How humans eat meat before fire has now been revealed
  - When did humans first eat cooked vegetables?
  - The origins of chocolate
  - Early booze
  - Which came first, beer or wine?
  - The creation of bread preceded the start of agriculture
  - Rice became a domesticated crop multiple times over 9,000 years ago
  - The earliest domesticators of the horse were descended from hunter-gatherers
  - Cat domestication
  - Dog domestication
  - Dogs domesticated twice
  - Asian lions came from Africa (not the other way around)
  - Flu virus evolution.

Iηcest abounds among Neolithic Irish ruling classes genomic research reveals.  In Ireland the Mesolithic more hunter-gatherer societies transitioned to the Neolithic more settled farming way of life around 6,000 years ago.  One of the notable Irish Neolithic constructions are the passage tombs where by light only shines down the entirety of the passage for a few minutes dawn of the shortest day of the year. (Knowing the end of one year and the beginning of another is crucial for agrarian societies.)  One famous example is Newgrange constructed between 5,200 and 5,000 years ago.  Biologists and archaeologists from Britain and Ireland sequenced the genome of 44 human remains found in Newgrange and over a dozen other Neolithic sites over the period 1,500 years from when Newgrange was constructed.  Their research reveals that one individual was the product of a first degree iηcestuous pair: either of siblings or a parent and offspring. Others from other tombs showed parentage from fourth degree family relatives.  Isotopic data of the remains in these passage tombs reveal that those individuals lived on a richer meat diet compared to contemporaries buried elsewhere. This led the researchers to contemplate whether the iηcest was a way of maintaining a dynastic ruling bloodline. (Such strategies are known to have taken place elsewhere including ancient Egypt, the Inca empire and ancient Hawaii.)  Finally, the researchers compared these genomes with those of others in Britain and mainland Europe other researchers previously sequenced.  From the genetic similarities and differences, it seems that humans arrived in France from Eastern Europe and then colonised Great Britain. The genetic similarity of these groups suggests easy access from what is now mainland Europe to Britain presumably due to the Doggerland land-bridge.  It seems that humans then migrated north to Scotland from where, 10,000 years ago Ireland was colonised. However, traversing the water to Ireland was harder than walking the European land-bridge and so Ireland became comparatively genetically isolated.  (See Cassidy, L. M. et al (2020) A dynastic elite in monumental Neolithic society. Nature, vol. 582, p384-8  and  a review piece  Sheridan A., (2020) Iηcest uncovered at elite prehistoric Irish burial site. Nature, vol. 582, p347-9.)
++++  Related news, previously covered elsewhere on this site, includes:-
  - The earliest domesticators of the horse were descended from hunter-gatherers
  - Neolithic women had hugely bulging biceps
  - Neolithic backflow from Europe and Asia to Africa
  - Wheat was consumed in Britain some 2,000 years before it was grown there
  - Genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans
  - First stone age tools now 71,000 years not 40,000 years ago
  - How humans eat meat before fire has now been revealed
  - Modern humans had seΧ with Neanderthals 100,000 years ago

South Americans reached Polynesia 800 years ago, contrary to previously accepted theories. In 1947 the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl set out to demonstrate that South Americans could have colonised the Pacific Islands of Polynesia rather than humans migrating down through Asia and into the Western Pacific. He did this by sailing his Kon-Tiki raft from Peru, S. America, 4,350 miles (7,000 km) to Polynesia. He therefore demonstrated that S. Americans could have brought the sweet potato from S. America to Polynesia: the then-till-now accepted view was that Polynesian traders reached S. America and returned; Thor Heyerdahl's theories never gained traction.  Genetic research by an international team of North and South American with British and Norwegian researchers have analysed the genome of 807 individuals from 17 island populations and 15 native American Pacific coast populations. They found that while migration from Asia to western Polynesia took place around 1500-800 BC, gene flow from S. America entered eastern Polynesia around 1150 AD and then round to Easter Island by 1380 AD.  The researchers, however, cannot discount an alternative theory that Polynesians travelled to S. America and returned with S. Americans to Polynesia. Either way, S. American genes entered the Polynesian gene pool in the 12th century.  (See Ioannidis, A. G., et al (2020) Native American gene flow into Polynesia predating Easter Island settlement. Nature, vol.583, p572-7. and the review piece  Wallin, P. (2020) Native South Americans reached Polynesia early. Nature, vol.583, p524-5.)
++++  Related news previously covered elsewhere on the site includes The Great Auks were doing fine, only humans caused their extinction

A couple of years following the assassination of Julius Caeser (44BC) saw famine and strife in the Mediterranean region. A cause has just been unearthed.  The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BC triggered a power struggle that ultimately ended the Roman Republic and, eventually, the Ptolemaic Kingdom, leading to the rise of the Roman Empire.  Climate proxies and written documents indicate that this struggle occurred during a period of unusually inclement weather, famine, and disease in the Mediterranean region.  Historians have previously speculated that a large volcanic eruption of unknown origin was the most likely cause.  Researchers have now found, using well-dated volcanic fallout records in six Arctic ice cores, that one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the past 2,500 years occurred in early 43BC.  They cite the Okmok volcano in Alaska as the source.  Climate proxy records show that 43 and 42BC were among the coldest years of recent millennia in the Northern Hemisphere at the start of one of the coldest decades.  Climate models show that Mediterranean regions were likely as much as 7°C below normal and saw unusually wet conditions during the two-year period following the eruption.  While it is difficult to establish direct causal linkages to thinly documented historical events, the wet and very cold conditions from this massive eruption on the opposite side of Earth probably resulted in crop failures, famine, and disease, exacerbating social unrest and contributing to political realignments throughout the Mediterranean region.  (See McConnell, J. R., Sigl, M., Plunkett, G. et al. (2020) Extreme climate after massive eruption of Alaska’s Okmok volcano in 43 BCE and effects on the late Roman Republic and Ptolemaic Kingdom. Science, Vol. 117 (27), p1,5443-1,5449.)

Further evidence of declining habitability of a globally warming world.  Human populations have resided in the same narrow part of the climatic envelope available on the globe, mainly around 11°C to 15°C mean annual temperature (MAT).  With warming under the IPCC business-as-usual projections, researchers have shown that one third of the global population is projected to experience a MAT >29 °C currently found in only 0.8% of the Earth’s land surface, mostly concentrated in the Sahara.  South America, Africa and SE Asia are areas that will become less suitable for humans. Other areas include northern Australia. (See Xu, C., Kohlerb, T. A., Lenton, T. M. (2020) Future of the human climate niche. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 117 (21), p1,1350–1,1355.).  This corroborates previous research including that global warming will make where a fifth of the population live almost uninhabitable without air conditioning.

Species assemblages – not just single species – could regionally, suddenly go extinct with climate change.  It is well understood that individual species are likely to go extinct as the planet globally warms.  However, what is the pattern of regional extinction?  Will it be gradual or abrupt?  Will few or many species in a region go extinct over a long period of time or more together in a short period of time?  A small research team based in S. Africa, Great Britain and the USA have conducted a remarkable analysis.
          They looked at the temperature tolerances of 30,000 species (including mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, corals, marine invertebrates and sea grasses) noting the warmest temperature at which they sustainably thrived.  They then divided the Earth into a grid of cells 100 kilometres square (100 km by 100 km) and using climate models noted when a cell exceeded each species warmest tolerance for a minimum of five years.
          Their results show that with global warming cells tend to see assemblages (over half of land and 90% of marine) of species in a cell abruptly go extinct more or less simultaneously.  Much depends on the warming.  There is comparatively little extinction in cells by 2100AD with just 2.6°C warming and these nearly all in the tropics.  Conversely, under high emission, business-as-usual warming scenarios (RCP 8.5) Extinctions spread from the tropics into temperate latitudes.  Worryingly, under high emission scenarios abrupt extinction events begin in the ocean from 2030AD and tropical forests by 2050.  This is worrying because this is only a few decades away and we are currently on a high emission trajectory (we have not shifted to a low emission trajectory as necessitated by the 2015 COP21 Paris Accord).  Conversely, if warming is kept to below 2°C then less than 2% of species assemblages go extinct losing 20% of their cell's species (and as mentioned these are largely confined to the tropics) by 2100AD.  True, some species – while going extinct in a cell – will migrate to higher latitudes, more towards the poles, but this is harder for plants to do and even some animal species will not make it.  Either way, there will be substantive ecological disruption.  It is therefore crucially important that the putative goals of the 2015 Paris Accord (that have yet to be adopted by World leaders) are met.  (See Trisos, C. H., Merow, C. & Pigot, A. L. (2020) The projected timing of abrupt ecological disruption from climate change. Nature, vol. 580, p496-501,  and the review piece Sunday, J. M. (2020) The pace of biodiversity in a warming world. Nature, vol. 580, p460-1.)
  -         ++++ Previous related news items elsewhere on this site includes:-
  - The Earth is warming faster, Arctic summer ice melting more extensively
  - More drastic cuts if we are to stabilise climate change
  - Australia sees over six million hectares burn in wildfires
  - The Earth is losing ice faster than ever before on record
  - The Earth is warming faster, Arctic summer ice melting more extensively, sea level rise is accelerating, and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing more..
  - Recent growth in methane greenhouse gas large
  - US rain storms to become more intense with global warming
  - 2017 record greenhouse gas high
  - We must totally de-carbonise global energy by mid-century
  - Past Antarctic ice loss indicates future sea level rise
  - Global warming is forecast to intensify more than usual between 2018-2022AD
  - Hurricanes are moving slower, dumping more water
  - Global warming forecasts may need revising upwards
  - Warming will make where a fifth of population live uninhabitable
  - Hurricane record in the 2017 late summer
  - More super-hot summers ahead
  - Marine heatwaves more common
  - Reducing climate goal 0.5°C will save a quarter of a billion sea-level refugees
  - Antarctic melt increases
  - Surge in emissions while ability of Earth system to absorb carbon declines
  - Southwest USA 70-99% chance of a megadrought by 2100
  - We may be committed to 5°C warming
  - UK set to miss 202 renewables target in three years time
  - Sea-level rise estimates from Antarctica needs to be revised upwards
  - UN Climate Change Panel (IPCC) releases 2014 impact assessment
  - IPCC releases 2013 science assessment (AR5)

Why are women of a certain age likely to have non-identical twins?  Researchers Wade Hazel and Joseph Tompkins have a hypothesis published in Nature Ecology & Evolution that proposes it is due to evolution trying to maximise fecundity (successful reproduction) during a woman's fertile (high potential reproduction) lifespan.  Young middle-aged women are more likely to have fraternal non-identical twins than those either early in their fertile lifespan or late.  It is known that fetal survival rate declines with age. Their hypothesis is that the chance of double ovulation has evolved to increase with age as a kind of evolutionary reproductive insurance policy.  With this in mind they constructed a mathematical fraternal frequency model.  They then compared its output with real-life data of the frequency of twins with age of mother in the populations of nine countries.  Their model seems to fit the pattern observed in real life.  What is happening is that as women age so the likelihood of double ovulation increase but midway through their fertile lifespan fetal survival rate has not declined sufficiently to offset this evolutionary insurance policy and so the likelihood of non-identical twins is higher.

Cholesterol now a SE Asia and African problem.  In 2017 some 3.9 million people died of high cholesterol. Now, a coalition of cholesterol researchers have brought together over a thousand population studies looking at over a hundred million adults worldwide in 980 and 2018.  Statin use and diet improvement seems to have lowered cholesterol issues in western Europe, N. America and Australasia. The low statin use in Africa and an increase in processed food and trans fat consumption in S E Asia (including China) has increased health risks from cholesterol.  (See NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (2020) repositioning of the global epicentre of non-optimal cholesterol. Nature, vol. 582, p73-7.)

The genetic mechanism resulting in Alzheimer's has been elucidated.  It has been known that those with a variant of the apolipoprotein E (APOE4) gene are more prone to Alzheimer's, developing the syndrome earlier than those without this variant.  Using imaging techniques, the researchers have found that those with this APOE4 gene variant have a more leaky blood-brain barrier.  Further, they discovered that this leaky blood-brain barrier occurs in people before Alzheimer symptoms become manifest.  In addition they found that those with this gene had more of a protein, sPDGFRβ (platelet-derived-growth-factor-receptor-β) in their cerebrospinal fluid – it had crossed the blood-brain barrier.  Their work also implicates an inflammatory response to blood-brain barrier damage.  Finally, their work suggests diagnostics for Alzheimer's as elevated sPDGFRβ and blood-brain barrier damage can be seen before mis-folded amyloid and tau protein build-up in the brains of those expressing severe Alzheimer symptoms.  (see Montagne. A. et al. (2020) APOE4  leads to blood-brain barrier dysfunction predicting cognitive decline. Nature, vol. 581, p71-6 and a review piece Ishii, M. & Iadecola, C. (2020) Lipid carrier breaks barrier in Alzheimer's disease. Nature, vol. 581, p31-2.)
++++  Related stories elsewhere on this site include:  People's brain's age can now be determined by imaging  and  Terry Pratchett tragically announces that he has Alzheimer's.

A precise mitochondrial DNA editor has been created.  From a bacterial toxin, the editor is a cytidine deaminase enzyme called DddA.  This development could help treat mitochondrial disease. (See Mok, B. Y. et al (2020) A bacterial cytidine deaminase toxin enables CRISP-free mitochondrial base editing. Nature, vol. 583, p631-7  review piece  Aushev, M. Herbert, M. (2020) Mitochondrial genome editing gets precise. Nature, vol. 583, p521-2.)

Cure for baldness is close with human hair-bearing skin grown.  Back in 2004 researchers managed to generate hair follicles on mice with stem cells.  Now a collaboration if USA-based researchers have generated self organising human tissue similar to scalp tissue from pluripotent stem cells. After 70 days, hair follicles began to appear and 140 days before it was possible to graft them. However, before the technique can be used in clinics the hairs will have to be bigger which means that the culture cocktail will need to be refined. Also it will need to be shown that tumours do not form (as tumours are an often found side-effect of pluripotent stem cell use).  (See Lee, J. et al (2020) Hair-bearing human skin generated entirely from pluripotent stem cells. Nature, vol. 582, p399-404  and the review piece  Wang, L. L. & Cotsarelis, G. (2020) Hear-bearing skin grown in a dish. Nature, vol. 582, p343-4.)

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Autumn 2020

Astronomy & Space Science News

 

TOP STORY OF THE SEASON
Signs of life on Venus found.  This news just broke just hours before this seasonal edition of SF² Concatenation went to bed.  A British team have detected phosphine molecules in the atmosphere of Venus.  Atmospheric chemistry energetics cannot account for this as it appears to be in quantities over a thousand of times greater than is expected.  Further, it should be destroyed fairly quickly.  The only other explainable source of phosphine to account for this is life.  On Earth some anaerobic (living without oxygen) microbes do produce phosphine, including bacteria living in the guts of penguins.  Conditions on Venus are not suitable for life but there is a temperate zone in the atmosphere at an altitude of 30 miles (50 km).
          The working hypothesis is this.  Early in the Solar System's history, the Sun was some 30% less luminous than today.  It is therefore possible that for hundreds of millions of years there were oceans on Venus.  As life likely arose very early in Earth's history so it could have on Venus (and indeed Mars).  However, Venus is closer to the Sun and so soon entered into a runaway greenhouse state.  This would have taken many millions of years to run its course, even if it was completed billions of years ago.  This would have given time for the microbes to migrate and slowly acclimatise to the increasing chemically-harsh atmospheric conditions.  Venus's thicker atmosphere would have facilitated microbe buoyancy.
          As the news has only just been released, we have not had time to read the primary research let alone the key supporting references it draws upon.  Exciting as this news is, it is unexpected and needs to be viewed with caution.  We will have more coverage next season.

The beginnings of a galaxy have been detected 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang.  Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALAMA) in northern Chile, researchers detected a rotating gas cloud, the cold precursor to a large galaxy.  Up to now, models of similar-sized, rotating galaxy formation predict that they would not begin to dominate the universe until 4 to 6 billion years after the Big Bang.  (See Neelman, M., Prochaska, X., Kanekar, N. & Rafelski, M. (2020) A cold, massive, rotating disk galaxy 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang. Nature, vol. 581, p269-272  and  the review piece Tiley, A. (2020) An early start for galactic disks. Nature, vol. 581, p267-8.)  ++++  Similar stories previously covered elsewhere on this site include:-
  - Ancient stars inferred by Europe's Planck satellite
  - The first stars got going just 180 million years after the Big Bang
  - Ancient galaxies lack dark matter
  - Ancient galaxy cluster observation affirms inference of early stars

Ancient globular cluster remains elucidated in the Galactic halo beneath the Galaxy.  An international team of astronomers belonging to the Southern Stellar Streams Spectroscopic Survey has been looking at the spectra of stars in the Phoenix Stream that was only discovered in 2016. It lies 62,000 light years from the Galactic Centre beneath the Galactic plane in which the spiral arms reside.  It is thought to be the tidally stretched remains of a globular cluster. (Globular clusters are clusters of about 10,000 gravitationally, loosely bound stars packed into a volume about 30 light years in diameter. Many globular clusters are in a sphere surrounding our galaxy as they do other galaxies.)
          What the researchers have found from the star spectra is that the Phoenix Stream stars have a low metallicity (elements heavier than helium). Given that heavy elements such as iron are formed in supernova, younger galaxies have stars with heavy elements whereas older ones do not. This suggests that the globular cluster that became the Phoenix Stream was originally associated with a galaxy that formed early on in the Universe. Such galaxies, with a high red-shit, might possibly be seen by the James Webb Space Telescope being launched next year (2021).  (See Whan, Z. et al (2020) The tidal remnant of an unusually metal-poor globular cluster. Nature, vol. 583, p768-774  and a review piece  Kruijssen, J. M. D. (2020) The scattered ashes of an ancient star cluster. Nature, vol. 583, p687-8.)

First fast radio burst (FRB) observed in our galaxy.  FRBs are mysterious, millisecond radio sources that have been detected in recent years, first in 2007, but so far all have been outside our Milky Way galaxy with the closest being 490 million light years from the Earth.  Most seem to be one-off events but some are repeaters. Their cause is unknown with over two score theories. However now we might be getting a handle on them.  On 27th April (2020) NASA's Neils Gehrels Swift Observatory detected γ-rays from SGR 1935+2154 which is one of 30 known magnetars.  Magnetars are the fast spinning remains of a supernova wrapped in a magnetic field. (So they are sort of related to pulsars which don't have a magnetic field but are fast-spinning neutron stars left behind after a super nova.)  The following day the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) radio telescope detected a radio flash from SGR 1935+2154.  Then the STARE-2 radio telescope – which had been looking for FBRs in our galaxy – picked it up.  (See Witze. E. (2020) Astronomers spot first fast radio burst in the Milky Way. Nature, Vol. 582, p322-3.)
          This comes as a paper by CHIME researchers was published on an FBR with an odd period.  Observing it from September 2018 to February 2020 showed bursts with a long period of a little over 16 days wit a concentrated window of bursts in a half-day window. Such FBRs cannot be pulsars as the period is too long. (Pulsars are the collapsed remains of a supernova into a neutron and just as a spinning ice skater draws their arms in, conserving angular momentum, they spin faster.)  The researchers have therefore come up with two theories. The first is that a companion to the pulsar periodically gravitationally lenses or emits solar wind that the neutron star then lenses, and the period relates to the period of the orbit of companion and neutron star (the binary pair). The second theory is that the neuron star is not purely spherical but deformed and so precesses much like a toy gyroscope's axis traces out a circular path. Here the period of the FBR is the period of precession. (CHIME/FRB Collaboration (2020) Periodic activity from a fast radio burst source. Nature, Vol. 582, p351-5  and a review piece  Zhang, B. (2020) A fast radio burst with an unexpected period. Nature, Vol. 582, p344-5.)
++++   Related stories previously covered in SF² Concatenation include:-
  - Repeating fast radio burst (FRB) detected
  - Fast radio burst enables Universe weighing
  - Fast Radio Bursts could be alien civilisation light sail boosters.

Quiet star holds out prospect for life near Earth.  GJ887 is a bright red dwarf and is the brightest red dwarf visible from Earth. Red dwarfs are cool and small, but stars come in a gradient of sizes with classes of stars merging into neighbouring classes. (Our Sun is a larger and brighter star than red dwarfs.) The smaller red dwarfs – which most are – are also variable occasionally releasing bursts of particles and radiation. GJ887 is different being more inactive without the occasional flares of energy that could make any exoplanets it might have less hospitable to putative life. Being only 10.7 light years from Earth it has been ripe for study, and now two planets, just a little larger than Earth, have been discovered orbiting it.  The work was conducted by an international collaboration of astronomers led by two Brits and a German.  The hope now is that these planets will transit (cross the disc) of their star so that we can do a spectral analysis of their atmospheres.  (See Jeffers, S. V., Dreizler, S., Barnes, J. R. et al (2020) A multiplanet system of super-Earths orbiting the brightest red dwarf star GJ 887. Science, vol. 368, p1,477-1,481.)
++++  Related news previously covered elsewhere on this site includes:
  - European Space Agency's CHEOPS launched to study exoplanets
  - NASA's TESS finds exoplanet in habitable zone
  - NASA's TESS finds its first planet orbiting two suns
  - Two more twin sun planetary systems found
  - Rocky planets with the composition similar to Earth and Mars are common in the Galaxy a new type of analysis reveals
  - Water detected on an exo-planet large analogue of Earth
  - 2019 and the number of exoplanets discovered tops 4,000!
  - A new technique probes atmosphere of exoplanet
  - European satellite observatory mission to study exoplanet atmospheres
  - The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to launch
  - Seven near Earth-sized planets found in one system
  - Most Earth-like planets may be water worlds
  - Earth's fate glimpsed
  - An Earth-like exo-planet has been detected
  - Exoplanet reflected light elucidated
  - Kepler has now detected over 1,000 exoplanets and one could be an Earth twin
  - and Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a cool star.
  - Winston Churchill wrote about the possibility of alien life: documents found

New Horizon's space probe snaps pic of Proxima Centauri and heralds a new development in astronomy.  In 2015 New Horizons wow-ed us with its visit to Pluto and Charon before moving on to fly-by the small body Ultima Thule, six light hours away, in 2018.  New Horizons is now 45 AU away (1 AU being the distance from the Earth to the Sun).  It has now taken a picture of Proxima Centauri, the star closest to the Sun at 4.26 light years away.  The picture is not brilliant as New Horizons was not designed to do stellar astronomy and so you might be forgiven for thinking, 'big deal'.  Yet this really is an important development. Using the parallax method it is possible to determine the distance to nearby stars. (Stick your thumb out at arms lengths and then close one eye before switching to the other. Your thumb will seem to move against more distant background objects and the amount of this movement is determined by how outstretched you arm is.)  ESA's Gaia space probe uses this method to map our galaxy.  However Gaia's base line (equivalent to the distance between your two eyes) is 2AU: the distance between the Earth on one side of the Sun and six months later. This base line is small to accurately measure stars in the Galaxy not so close to us and so Gaia takes several measurements.  Yet the picture New Horizons has taken of Proxima very clearly depicts a marked parallax effect compared with the view against the distant background of stars seen on Earth.  If we could have a Gaia-type space observatory as far out as New Horizons is now, then we could more accurately map our quadrant of the Galaxy.  The one problem is the distance involved, hence time: New Horizons blasted off 14 years ago to get where it is now.  To get something out that far with enough propellant to then slow it again to enter a circular orbit about the Sun could take three or four (or more) decades: it would take a few orbits of the Sun to slowly nudge it into a circular orbit.  That's quite a challenge.

Ten times more lightening on Jupiter than thought.  Lightening has been observed within the Jovian atmosphere by a number of visiting and fly-by probes including Voyager and Galileo.  These flashes correspond to super-bolts on Earth with energies of 1010 joules. These occurred at depths where the pressure was about 5 (Earth) atmospheres where ther are water clouds.  New research on images from the Juno probe, which arrived at Jupiter in 2016.  Its cameras are more sensitive.  These have detected lightening flashes with energies of about 105 to 108 and this means it is seeing over ten times the number of flashes.  The surprising thing is that these appear to be taking place higher in the atmosphere (around the 2 atmosphere level). It could be that these are occurring in hydrated ammonia clouds or updrafts of water vapour from below. Another alternative might be that water vapour is not needed at all as are some super-high 16 mile (10 km) high lightening occasionally seen on Earth.  (Becker, H. N., Alexander, J. W., Atreya, S. K. et al (2020) Small lightening flashes from shallow electrical storms on Jupiter. Nature, vol. 584, p55-8.)

Lift off for the United Arab Emirates' Hope orbiter to Mars.  Built by the UAE with US partners, it was launched from Japan on a Misubishi H-IIA rocket.  Its 306 million miles (493 million km) journey will see it enter Mars orbit in February (2021). It will elliptically orbit the planet in a way so as to monitor the entire planet's weather every few days across the seasons.  Further details here.

Lift off for the China's Tianwen-1 lander to Mars.  Tianwen-1 (which translates as 'quest for heavenly truth') will look for underground water on Mars as well as possible signs of life.  It took off from Hainan Island.  If China successfully places a functioning lander on Mars then it will be the first nation other than the USA to do so. Lander missions to Mars are risky. China's previous attempt at Mars failed in 2011.  Further details here.

Lift off for NASA's Perseverance to Mars.  The mission costs US$2.7 billion (£2.2 b) and will deliver a 1,025 kilogram, plutonium powered rover to Mars where it will operate for a Martian year (two Earth years) exploring an ancient river estuary looking for signs of life.  Further details here.

Europe and the US agree plan to bring Martian rocks to Earth.  ESA and NASA have devised a plan to return Martian geological samples to Earth.  Following NASA Perseverance rover mission, ESA and NASA will then launch a pair of craft to Mars in 2026.  The first would land in Jezero crater and a small rover will make its way to Perseverance and collect sample tubes before returning them to a Mars ascent vehicle.  This would then take off and enter Mars orbit.  From there, the second craft would rendezvous, collect the tubes and return to Earth.
  -         ++++ Previous related news items elsewhere on this site includes:-
  - SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is impacting on space missions
  - Another way Mars loses its water has been observed
  - Mystery oxygen in Martian atmosphere
  - Curiosity launched
  - Curiosity Mars rover touches down
  - Evidence has been found for an ancient lake on Mars
  - Organic matter preserved in 3-billion-year-old mudstones at Gale crater
  - At least 66% of Mars' atmosphere has been lost since it was formed
  - Methane spike detected in Martian atmosphere: it could have come from a plume
  - A past flood on Mars has been deduced from geology
  - ESA's Mars Express has detected geological activity over the past billion years
  - ESA's Mars Express methane detection may indicate life
  - Mars' south pole has far more water than previously thought
  - Mars Express discovers a reservoir of water on Mars

Space-X's Crew Dragon capsule successfully takes two astronauts to the International Space Station and back.  This was the first private-company-built, manned rocket mission and the first time for seven years US astronauts have been launched into space from home soil following the closure of NASA's space shuttle programme. It was also the US's first splashdown return since July 1974 (since then the US had the Space Shuttle).  During the return, the capsule had to slow from 17,500mph to 350mph, with a peak deceleration of 5g before main parachute deployment further reduced the speed to 15mph.

Britain's first spaceport approved.  The proposal for the spaceport at the A'Mhoine Peninsula in Sutherland, northern Scotland, has been approved for 12 launches a year. Developing the site will cost £17.3 million (US$21m).

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Autumn 2020

Science & Science Fiction Interface

Real life news of SF-like tropes and SF impacts on society

 

Jedi challenge against SARS-CoV2 to combat CoVID-19.  OK, so this is not the Star Wars Jedi but the Joint European Disruptive Initiative.  JEDI is challenging researchers to look at a billion biomolecules that could combat the CoVID-9 disease that results from the SARS-CoV2 virus.  The winning research teams could receive grants of up to 2 million euros.  The social media hash-tag is #JEDICovid19Challenge.  ++++ Previous related news items elsewhere in this site include: SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) origins found.

World leaders tout fake science cures for CoVID-19.  Some leading politicians are backing fictional science treatments for SARS-CoV-2 and CoVID-19.  China's government has been promoting 'traditional Chinese medicines' to combat this novel virus despite there being no evidence from trials proving efficacy. China has even been sending these 'cures' to other countries such as Italy and Iran in the form of international aid.  Meanwhile, in the USA, its president has been trumpeting purported benefits of hydroxochloroquine, an anti-malarial drug with side-effects. (Folk might wonder if the President had an interest in the company that make that pharmaceutical? Perish the thought.)  And over in Madagascar, its President Andry Rajoelina has claimed that a herbal drink can cure CoVID-19.  Scientists in the US and Madagascar have criticised their respective presidents' claims.  But in China, where the spirit of Orwell is alive and well, scientists have been reluctant to criticise its leaders for fear if incurring displeasure and punishment from the state.

SARS-CoV-2 and CoVID-19 denier throws family party to demonstrate the pandemic is a fiction.  Then his guests get infected!  The news was reported in the Dallas Voice of Tony Green, 43 from Dallas, Texas, US, believed that SARS-CoV-2 and CoVID-19 was a hoax, a 'scamdemic' created by those against President Trump to undermine his forthcoming election campaign.  So he decided to hold a party to celebrate a birth in the family, on 13th June, at which there was no social distancing between various household bubbles.  Subsequently, 14 relatives became infected and his partner's mother died with the father in intensive care.  He is reported as saying, "You cannot imagine my guilt at having been a denier, carelessly shuffling through this pandemic, making fun of those wearing masks and social distancing… For those who deny that the virus exists or downplay its severity let me assure you: its very real and extremely contagious!" (Metro, 30th July, p5, col. 4.)

Britain too has its SARS-CoV-2 and CoVID-19 deniers.  A couple of hundred ignored CoVID-19 precautions attending the Crown Anchor pub in Staffordshire over the weekend of 16th-18th July.  At times the queue at the bar was five-deep, with no social distancing and, of course, no masks.  Nor did the pub keep a record of customers' contact details.  A few days later and 10 CoVID-19cases were confirmed. The local authorities set up a mobile testing centre outside the pub which has since closed.  A local was reported as saying that "If we do have to go into local lockdown then the pub has a lot to answer for." (Metro, 30th July, p5, cols. 1-3.)

Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling offers a year's pay to UK civil servant who Tweeted criticisms of UK government.  When the Prime Minister and some of his Cabinet supported the Prime Minister's senior political advisor, Dominic Cummings, for changing residence across hundreds of miles and then non-essential driving around during UK, one civil servant voiced criticism of the flouting of CoVID safety rules.  Using the official UK Civil Service Twitter account, they Tweeted: "Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters."  The Tweet was live for nine minutes and was re-Tweeted 30,000 times before being taken down.  If whoever Tweeted this is found out, it is likely they will lose their job, in which case Rowling's offer would likely be very welcome. Rowling herself Tweeted: "When you find out who it was, let us know. I want to give them a year's salary."  She is reported as saying: "I can't remember a clearer demonstration of contempt for the people from a sitting Prime Minister. Johnson might as well have shambled into shot, given us all the finger and then walked off again."

We could be heading for a 'March of the Morons' future with rising atmospheric carbon dioxide.  Cyril M. Kornbluth's 1951 short story, 'The March of the Morons', sees its protagonist awake from suspended animation into a future where the vast majority of the population is moronic with just a few average bright people struggling to keep everything going.  While the cause of this lowering of intelligence was different in Kornbluth's story, we could nonetheless be really heading towards a moronic future as new research indicates.
          As carbon dioxide levels rise, so human cognition declines.  This is well established.  What Kristopher Karnauskas and colleagues at the University of Colorado at Boulder, US, have shown in the GeoHealth journal, is the likely future level of carbon dioxide in crowded places such as school classrooms.  Currently, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are 410 parts per million (ppm) (bursting the 400 ppm mark just four years ago), but could be 930 ppm by 2100AD with continued unabated greenhouse gas emissions.  All well and good, but in 2100AD levels in crowded places – classrooms, cinemas, parliaments etc -- could reach 1,400 ppm.  At that level scores on a test of basic decision-making could be 25% lower than today and more complicated strategic thinking could be 50% lower!  Cutting greenhouse gas emissions are the best way to avoid such a moronic future.

Small 'dinosaur' trapped in amber is actually a lizard.  A bit like in Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, part of the creature – its 'bird-like' skull – was trapped and preserved in amber.  We reported the news last season. However, it now seems that the researchers misidentified the animal which is now believed to be a lizard: they have retracted their paper.  This means that the creature does not belong to a precursor species to birds.

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Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Autumn 2020

Rest In Peace

The last season saw the science and science fiction communities sadly lose…

 

Philip Anderson, the US physicist, has died aged 96.  Six have been credited with hypothesising the now discovered Higgs boson that was detected by Europe's CERN, though only two received a Nobel for the related question as to the origin of mass in subatomic particles.  One of these six is Philip Anderson whose work on superconductors led him in 1962 to propose the way force carriers between subatomic particles acquire mass: the Anderson-Higgs mechanism.  Higgs seminal 1964 paper predicting what came to be known as the Higgs boson drew heavily on, and of course cited, Anderson's work.  Anderson himself co-won a Nobel in 1977 for his discovery of electron localisation whereby disordered metals become insulators.

G-J Arnaud, the French SF author, has died aged 91.  Arguably best known for his 'Ice Company' sequence of novels.

Pip Baker, the British screenstory writer, had died age 91.  Pip Baker, along with his wife and writing partner Jane, was one of the best-known writers from the mid 80’s era of Doctor Who, writing eleven episodes for the series. Together they created the Rani, a female Time Lord scientist who was brought to life so vividly by the late Kate O’Mara, as well a creating the companion Mel.  Their other SFnal credits include episodes of Space 1999 and the films The Night of the Big Heat and Captain Nemo and the Underwater City.

John Bangsund, the Australian SF fan, has died aged 81 from CoVID-19.  He was one of the instigators for the bid for Australia's first Worldcon (1975) in Melbourne and was its fan GoH.  His fanzine was Australian Science Fiction Review which ran from 1966 to 1969 and which was twice nominated for a Hugo. It also won a Ditmar Award (1969). He won the A. Bertram Chandler Memorial Award for outstanding achievement in Australian SF in 2001, given by Australian SF Foundation, and a FAAn Lifetime Achievement Award from Corflu, a fanzine fans convention, in 2016.

Tom Barber, the US fan, has died aged 70 from CoVID-19.  He was a member of Michigan fandom who helped out at conventions.  He was a past chair of one of the Confusion as well as one of the Conclave conventions.  He was Fan GoH at the 2001 Confusion.

Milena Benini, the Croatian author and SF fan, has died aged 53. She also translated SF into Croatian including a number of Michael Moorcock's works.

Merv Binns, the Australian SF fan, has died aged 85.  He is best known for being one of the founding stalwarts of Melbourne Science Fiction in the early 1950s.  In 1971,he co-established Space Age Books in the centre of Melbourne.  He also published Australian Science Fiction News, which was both a valuable newszine and a marketing tool for the pace Age Books shop. The shop closed in 1985. He remained an active fan almost to the end.

Frank Bolle, the US comics artist has died. The titles he worked on included Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Tarzan.

Pat Brymer, the US puppeteer, has died aged 70. The films he worked on included My Stepmother is an Alien, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Team America.

John Conway, the British borne mathematician, has died aged 82.  He is best known to the public as the creator of 'Game of Life', that demonstrates how complex behaviour in mathematical systems could emerge from simple rules.

Jennifer Clack, the British palaeontologist, has died aged 72.  She is best known for her work on how animals with backbones transitioned from an aquatic to terrestrial life.  She collected several hundred tetrapod fossils from the Devonian (419 to 359 million years ago) and Carboniferous (359 to 299 mya) periods, many from Scotland and some from Greenland. These looked a bit like salamanders or small crocodiles but retaining some fish-like features such as tail fins.  She also showed that two early tetrapods, Ichthyostega and Acanthostega, had respectively seven and eight toes as opposed to the now canonical pentadactyl limb of five.  Her text book Gaining Ground (2002, revised 2012) remains the standard text on the origin of tetrapods.

Allen Daviau, the US cinematographer, has died of CoVID-9 aged 77.  In 1968, he teamed up with Steven Spielberg for the short film 'Amblin'. They went on to make 1980’s films including: the J. G. Ballard related Empire of the Sun; The Color Purple; and E.T. the Extra–Terrestrial.

William C. Dement, the US neurophysiologist, has died aged 91.  He was one of the founders of sleep science and medicine.  His ground-breaking work, which included the discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, affected countless lives.  He published Sleep, the first science journal devoted to the field.  He was the founding president of the American Sleep Disorders Association (now the American Academy of Sleep Medicine).  Earlier, while stationed in Japan as a journalist for the army after World War II, he performed professionally as a jazz musician along with the likes of young musicians such as Ray Charles and Quincy Jones.  Later he would say that he realised he could “make a better living as a mediocre physician than as a mediocre musician.”

Susan Ellison , then UK fan and Harlan Ellison's widow, has died. They married in 1986 and were together until Harlan's own passing.

William English, the US electrical engineer, has died aged 91.  He is noted for co-inventing – with Doug Engelbart – the computer mouse in 1963. The concept was Engelbart's which English made reality.  The first version was a wooden block with a single button – and underneath, two rolling wheels at 90-degree angles that would record vertical and sideways movement. The idea was to facilitate text editing, being able to select words.

Henry Ferrell, the US editor, has died aged 66 following a heart attack.  He was worked for the glossy SF and technology cum lifestyle magazine Omni and ultimately became its Editor-in-Chief.

Al Fitzpatrick, the UK born, Australian then US, fan has died of CoVID-19.

Bruce Jay Fiedman, the US writer, has died aged90. In addition to SF short stories, he co-scripted the film Splash.

John D. Gearhart , the US geneticist, developmental and cellular biologist, has died aged 77.  He was the first to derived human pluripotent stem cells from primordial germ cells, rather he contemporaneously achieved this as so independently did James Thomson.  This was a revolutionary discovery with ethical implications (cloning etc) and Gerhart did not shirk from speaking with the public, politicians (with over a hundred trips to Washington), and the media.  In 1998, he led the team that successfully developed human embryonic germ cells.

Juan Giménez, the Argentine comics artist has died of CoVID-19.  His work included that on Metal Hurlant and relatedly the film, Heavy Metal (1981). He also wrote a series of time travel shorts.

Milton Glaser, the US graphic designer, has died aged 91.  In addition to designing many SF book covers, he designed DC Comics' bullet logo and is famous for the 'I ♥ NY' logo. Regarding this last, alas he did not make any money from it despite its common use by New York's tourist trade.

Hilary Heath, the British actress, has died aged 74 from CoVID-19.  Her roles included appearing in The Witchfinder General with Vincent Price with whom she also appeared in The Oblong Box (1969) and Cry of the Banshee (1970), the latter two being based on Edgar Allan Poe stories.  Other SFnal work included appearances in The Avengers and Space:1999.

James S. Henerson, the US screenwriter and producer has died aged 84. He wrote many episodes of I Dream of Jeannie (1967-'70) and was executive producer of the film spin-off series Starman (1986-'87).

Sir Ian Holm, the British actor, has died aged 95.  His many genre credits included, among others: Alien (1979), Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), eXistenZ (1999). The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2003) and The Hobbit (2012, 2014).

John Houghton, the British physicist, has died aged 88.  His early work was on using satellites to study the Earth's atmosphere. He then went on to help devise early computer climate models. This led him to becoming Director General of the UK's Meteorological Office (Met Office). During his tenure, in 1987, the remnants of a hurricane hit south Britain. Here, the possibility of a remnant of the hurricane persisting only existed in just a minority of the ensemble of computer model projections drawn upon to make the daily weather forecast and so was not included in the official forecast the preceding day. As a result, John reorganised the way the Met Office formulated its forecasts.  In 1988, following the United Nations seeking a robust view from the academic community as to the likelihood, impact and mitigation of human-induced climate change, two UN agencies – the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme – established the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  In one of its first acts, John Houghton was made Chairman of its Working Group I that was tasked with making the scientific assessment.  Its report was published in 1990.  This report – albeit a little more broad-brushed – was a third of the page count, less than half the word count, and much more clear than the latest Assessment in 2013.  This 1990 IPCC Assessment went on to share a Nobel Prize with the US politician Al Gore, and so John Houghton was ipso facto a joint Nobel Prize winner.  Outside of science, John was a committed Christian and notably 'converted' a number of US evangelists as to the seriousness of human-induced climate change.  He also, as a scientist, believed in Darwinian evolution noting that as a Christian it was possible for a powerful god to employ a Darwinian evolution mechanism in creation.

Graham Kennedy, the British SF fan, has died aged 5. He created and wrote the Star Trek website 'Daystrom Institute Technical Library' ditl.org

Colin Manlove, the Scottish genre academic, has died aged 78. He wrote 10 non-fiction genre books including on J. K. Rowling.

Robert May, the Australian born chemical engineer turned physicist turned ecologist, has died age 84. Jumping between disciplines was arguably one factor in his career's success. His physics PhD was on superconductivity but he moved to the US to undermine the then prevailing view that increased biodiversity conferred increased ecosystem stability. He mathematically showed that this was not the case unless different species accessed resources differently, such as plants accessing nutrients at different soil depths. This was the basis for his book Stability and Complexity in Model Ecosystems (1973). In 1988 he came to Oxford in Britain also working at Imperial in London. He was among the first to work on chaos theory in ecology. Then with epidemiologist Roy Anderson he created models that connected the disease transmission rate Ro with immunity (be it acquired through natural herd or vaccination) so calculating the need for the proportion of the population needing to be vaccinated (see their book Infectious Diseases of Humans: Dynamics and Control (1991) which is most relevant to the current SARS-CoV-2 outbreak and prevention of CoVID-19).  In the 1990s he served as a term as president of the British Ecological Society. Between 2000 and 2005 he was the UK government's Chief Scientific Advisor for Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair. This saw him confront issues such as GM crops, homeopathy, animal experimentation and BSE. He then went on to become president of the Royal Society.  His final role of note in his early semi-retirement was on the UK Committee on Climate Change.  Of SFnal interest He claimed that his favourite film was the Australian classic Mad Max.  (A slightly more detailed obit can be found on Jonathan's personal site.)

Jerrold Mundis, the US author, has died of CoVID-9 aged 79.  His work notably appeared in the 1960s New Worlds.

Ro Nagey, the US fan, has died in her late-sixties. A software writer and technical author in real life, she led the organisation of the 1975 Confusion SF convention. In 2003 she moved to Wales in the UK.  She had not been well for some time.

Barry Newton, the US fan, has died aged 70.  In addition to helping run a few Worldcons, he was an SFWA member and a Past President of the Washington SF Association.

Martin Pask, the Canadian comics writer, has died aged 65.  He worked for DC including on Superman and Wonder Woman) and Marvel (including Swamp Thing and Star Trek).

Roberta Pournelle, Jerry Pournelle's widow, has died aged 85.

Carl Reiner, the multiple Emmy-winning US comedy actor and film maker, has died aged 93. His involvement with genre works include Oh, God! (1977), The Man With Two Brains (1983), All of Me (1984) The 2,000 Year Old Man (co-written with Mel Brooks in 1983) and Toy Story 4 (2019).

Dame Diana Rigg, the British actress, has died aged 82.  She had a long career that included her working for the Royal Shakespeare Company through to being a 'Bond' girl as James Bond's newly married wife in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and starring as Cleopatra.  However she is arguably best known for her co-starring role in the 1960s as agent John Steed's (Patrick Macnee) colleague in Brian Clemens much loved TV series The Avengers as Emma Peel.  This role is said to have become somewhat iconic in the Britain's 1960s social change with women's liberalisation: Emma Peel could hold her own against the villains just as well as Steed.  Her other genre work ranged from the Theatre of Blood to the recent Game of Thrones.

Julian Robinson, the chemist, has died aged 78. His career focussed on developing international conventions against chemical and biological weapons with much of it in Britain where he also went into semi-retirement. As part of his work, he called for strengthening surveillance and other heath measures to respond to natural disease outbreaks as this would help establish a culture against biological weapons. For this to happen, clear communication of the science to the public was required. It is therefore ironic that his demise was due to CoVID-19.

D. J. Rowe, the SF fan, has died aged 83.  He was the co-founder of the 'Nomads of the Time Stream' Michael Moorcock fan club and co-editor of its fanzine, The Time Centre Times.

Ken Rowand, the US fan, has died aged 71.  He was a Los Angles SF Association member.

Charles Saunders, African-American author and journalist, had died aged 73. His genre works include Imaro and Dossouye.

Joe Sinnott, the US comics artist, has died aged 93.  Titles he worked on included The Fantastic Four and Spiderman.

Monica Stephens, the US fan, has died aged 59.  She was Steve Jackson and worked for Steve Jackson Games. Her fanac included editing the 1988 Worldcon daily newsletters.

Marshall B. Tymn, the US genre academic, has died aged 82.  His books include A Research Guide to Science Fiction Studies (with L. W. Currey Roger C. Schlobin) and Science Fiction, Fantasy weird Fiction Magazines (with Mike Ashley). He garnered the 1990 Pilgrim Award for 'Lifetime Achievement'.

Brian Varely, the longstanding British SF fan, has died of CoVID-9.  His activities included working on the 1965 London Worldcon.

Tim White, the British SF & fantasy artist, has died aged 67.  His professional SF illustrative career began in the mid-1970s and had a super-realist style often with unusual perspectives.  Many of his illustrations had either much sky or grass which meant that they were ideal as book covers.  Some 111 paintings were collected in The Science Fiction and Fantasy World of Tim White (1981) nearly all of which were book covers.  He was nominated six consecutive times for the British Science Fiction Association Award (BSFA) for Best Artist, winning it in 1983.

Carlos Ruis Zafón, the Spanish author, has died 55. Arguably best known for the Gothic mystery La Sombra del Viento [The Shadow of the Wind] (2001) as well as supernatural horror stories.

Season's Editorial & Staff Stuff Key SF News & Awards
General Science News Natural Science News Astronomy & Space News
Science & SF Interface Rest In Peace End Bits

Autumn 2020

End Bits & Thanks

 

More science and SF news will be summarised in our Spring 2021 upload in January
plus there will also be loads of stand-alone book reviews.

Thanks for information, pointers and news for this seasonal page goes to: Ansible, File770, various members of N. Heath SF especially Julie Perry (and brother Stephen for downloading four months worth of File770), Peter Wyndham together with background from the Clute/Nicholls SF Encyclopaedia, Brian Ameringen, Caroline Mullan, Tony Bailey and Mark Cowling for checking online news responding to phone queries, and not least the very many representatives of SF groups and few professional companies' PR/marketing folk not in complete work lockdown, who sent in news. These last have their own ventures promoted on this page.   If you feel that your news, or SF news that interests you, should be here then you need to let us know (as we cannot report what we are not told). :-)

News for the next seasonal upload – that covers the Spring 2021 period – needs to be in before the 2nd week in December. News is especially sought concerns SF author news as well as that relating to national SF conventions: size, number of those attending, prizes and any special happenings.

To contact us see here and try to put something clearly science fictional in the subject line in case your message ends up being spam-filtered and needs rescuing. Also note our principal editor has no home internet and so e-mail response may be sporadic depending in the degree of UK CoVID-19 lockdown. Nonetheless, be assured, all e-mails will be checked (eventually).

Be positive – Help spread SF news to fellow enthusiasts -- Bookmark as appropriate below:

Very many thanks. Meanwhile feel free to browse the rest of the site; key links below.


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