Hunting Asteroids

I rang in the new year by helping Robert McMillan, Jim Scotti, and Melissa Brucker from the University of Arizona hunt for potentially hazardous asteroids in our solar system at the Kitt Peak 4-meter telescope. This is important work since asteroid impacts are one of the few completely predictable and preventable natural disasters. Here I am at the telescope console.

As it turns out, this observing run was something of a bittersweet milestone. Bob, Jim, and Melissa are the last scheduled visiting observers on the 4-meter. At this point, we have about five more weeks of observing with a scheduled imaging survey program and then the telescope shuts down so it can be refitted with an instrument called the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, or DESI. DESI will measure the effect of dark energy on the expansion of the universe. It will obtain optical spectra for tens of millions of galaxies and quasars, constructing a 3-dimensional map spanning the nearby universe to 10 billion light years.

So, what about the asteroids? Well, the good news is that there are smaller telescopes on Kitt Peak devoted to the search. The reason Bob, Jim, and Melissa use the 4-meter is that it allows them to look for more distant asteroids on nights when the small telescopes are not as effective. In this case, we were attempting our observations during the full moon. Because the moon is so bright, it’s hard to see faint, distant objects with small telescopes because you need to expose on the sky for a long time. The 4-meter can take shorter exposures and still detect these faint objects without having the skylight swamp the exposures. In the meantime, Bob, Jim, and Melissa have applied for time on other telescopes around the world to do the work they were doing on the Kitt Peak 4-meter.

Often times when I’m involved in these runs, I’m asked if I’ll let people know if something is going to fall on us. Well, if I know, I’ll tell. However, what we often do is identify small objects a long ways away. It’ll usually take more than the observations we get to determine the object’s orbit and find out whether or not it presents a serious hazard.

So what actually happens if we discover an asteroid that might hit the Earth? I found this NASA video that gives a nice explanation. I notice there is also an image credit from my friend Mike Weasner, a talented amateur astronomer who is also a science fiction fan.

If you want to get more of a sense of what life is like behind the scenes at an astronomical observatory, be sure to read my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. You can learn more about the novel and get a sneak peak at http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

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A Look Ahead at 2018

Happy New Year! I hope your 2018 is off to a terrific start.

In my last post, I looked back at some of the highlights of my writing and publishing life from 2017. However, one of the truths of the publishing world is that books take time to write, edit, and publish. The upshot is that many of 2017’s books don’t actually represent work done in 2017. It’s this post, where I look ahead to 2018 that actually represents a lot of the actual work I’ve been doing the past few months.

I spent the last days of 2018 revising book four of my Clockwork Legion steampunk series, Owl Riders. Just a couple of days ago, my editor wrote to tell me he was happy with the latest draft and would give the book a copy edit and then turn it in to Sky Warrior Publishing. While I don’t have a formal release date, the tentative plan is for the novel to come out this spring. Set in 1885, Ramon Morales leaves his home and job in New Orleans to broker peace between the Apaches and white settlers in Southern Arizona. While he’s away, Fatemeh Morales’s past catches up with her and and her one-time betrothed kidnaps her to take her back to Persia.

Now that Owl Riders is moving into the final stages of production, I have my sights set on a couple of science fiction projects. One of those is finishing my collection of space pirate stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. For now, the project is live on Patreon where you can read the first story for free. For just $1.00 per month, you can see each story as they’re edited into their final form for the book. I say “for now” because Patreon recently announced a change to their fee structure and I know many authors and artists who have expressed their concerns about it. I’m also concerned, but have decided to wait and see how it actually impacts me and those who support me before taking action.

That said, we do have some exciting things planned for this project. Actor Eric Schumacher in Tucson is helping me produce a full-cast audiobook edition of the first Firebrandt’s Legacy story, “For a Job Well Done.” I can’t say much about the audiobook yet, but I’m really excited about some of the talent involved. Once this is finished, we’ll move on to the rest of the book and there will be opportunities for you to help and get some great rewards, so stay tuned!

In addition to Firebrandt’s Legacy, I’ll be releasing a new edition of my novel, The Solar Sea, which tells the story of humanity’s first voyage through the solar system in a solar sail spacecraft. I already have a fantastic cover by Laura Givens and will show that off soon as I finalize plans for the re-release.

If all goes according to plan, these projects will be released, or at least in their final stages, by the middle of the year. What about the second half of the year, you ask? Well, I would like to move on to the second book in my Wilderness of the Dead series, and I’m considering reading for another anthology.

I also have several events planned. I’ll be at Arizona’s Wild Wild West Con and the Tucson Festival of Books this March. I’ll be at El Paso Comic Con in April. In May, I plan to do a signing at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans.

In the world of astronomy, the DESI spectrograph will be installed at the Mayall 4-meter telescope. This instrument will be used to map the dark energy distribution of the universe. The NEID spectrograph will be installed at the WIYN telescope and that will be used to support NASA’s extrasolar planetary research.

All in all, 2018 promises to be an exciting year. Of course, I hope it’s exciting in good ways. I hope the world at large finds a little more sanity and our leaders seek peace and work for a world that’s better for all, and not just a select few. As a mid-term election year, I hope the people of the United States will hold the leaders accountable for their actions. In short, I hope we leave this planet better at the end of 2018 than we find it at the beginning. All best wishes for the year ahead.

Smashwords End of Year Sale

The e-book retailer Smashwords has started an End of Year Sale, which runs from today through January 1. Did you get a new ereader fo the holidays? Are you looking for a fun way to spend some time during the dark nights of winter? Why not pick up some great books from Hadrosaur Productions. Five of Hadrosaur’s titles are available for 50% off their retail price as part of this global event. All you have to do is enter the code SEY50 at checkout. Smashwords presents their ebooks in a variety of formats including mobi (which work on Kindles), epub (which work on Nooks), and PDF (which work on just about anything).


A Kepler’s Dozen

A Kepler's Dozen A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. I edited this anthology along with Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, these exoplanet stories will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/325583


Kepler’s Cowboys

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered thousands of new planets.
Visiting, much less settling, those worlds will provide innumerable challenges.
The men and women who make the journey will be those who don’t fear the odds.
They’ll be Kepler’s Cowboys.

Saddle up and take an unforgettable journey to distant star systems. Meet new life forms—some willing to be your friend and others who will see you as the invader. Fight for justice in a lawless frontier. Go on a quest for a few dollars more. David Lee Summers, author of the popular Clockwork Legion novels, and Steve B. Howell, head of the Space Sciences and Astrobiology Division at NASA Ames Research Center, have edited this exciting, fun, and rollicking anthology of fourteen stories and five poems by such authors as Patrick Thomas, Jaleta Clegg, Anthony R. Cardno, L.J. Bonham, and many more!

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/698694


Revolution of Air and Rust

Revolution of Air and Rust This is my tale of Pancho Villa in an alternate Steampunk reality. Set in 1915, Teddy Roosevelt is building an empire. Pancho Villa is the only man who stands in his way!

The American Expeditionary Force under the command of General “Black Jack” Pershing has invaded Northern Mexico. Pancho Villa leads his revolutionary army in a desperate raid against the American force only to be outflanked. Just as Pershing’s airships prepare to deliver the death blow, Pancho Villa is transported to a parallel Earth where he finds an unexpected ally and the technology that might just turn defeat into victory.

Revolution of Air and Rust is a stand-alone novella set in the Empires of Steam and Rust world created by Robert E. Vardeman and Stephen D. Sullivan. A story filled with military action, espionage and gadgetry that’s sure to satisfy fans of steampunk and alternate history.

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/254622


Sugar Time

Sugar Time

Her name is Sugar. Sugar Sweet. But never EVER call her “Sweetie.”

When Sugar’s Uncle Max falls ill and his collaborators disappear, she investigates the old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds the collaborators—or what’s left of them—along with an angry Neanderthal. She also finds her uncle’s research project, a working time machine. Sugar must act quickly to unlock the secret of time travel so she can set things right and protect her uncle’s research.

Sugar Time collects all four of Joy V. Smith’s Sugar Sweet stories into one volume. I had tremendous fun editing this volume. If you enjoy a good time travel romp, this might just be the book to put at the top of your summer reading list.

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/567992


Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys brings you two weird western adventures by authors David B. Riley and Laura Givens. Their heroes ride boldly out of the Far East to find their way in a mythic land of danger, romance, and adventure.

In “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” by David B. Riley, a wandering businessman encounters a Mayan god, crooked enterprises and Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, when all he really wants is to open a gun store. Ling Fung is not any ordinary Chinese entrepreneur–he’s highly skilled in Kung Fu and he can shoot good, too. While his heart is set on business, providence seems to have other plans for him.

Laura Givens brings wily acrobat Chin Song Ping to the Wild West in search of adventure and fortune. He finds little fortune, but plenty of adventure. Chin Song Ping is a scoundrel, a gambler and a trouble magnet. His heart of gold lands him in schemes to outwit would-be gods, cannibal ghosts, insane robots, Voodoo despots and the ultimate evil–bureaucrats. But he is a romantic, and the love of his life is the true treasure he seeks. The odds are always against him but if he survives he will become the Western legend he always was in his own mind.

The Wild West just got a lot wilder!

Get the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/751811

Thanksgiving at Kitt Peak

For the most part, astronomy doesn’t stop for holidays. At Kitt Peak National Observatory, the only nights we don’t open to observe are Christmas Eve and Christmas. Even then, members of my team are on hand to tend instruments and keep watch over the site so things are ready to go the day after the holiday. This year, my shift happened to fall across the entire Thanksgiving weekend. Fortunately, my wife and daughter were able to come up and spend the holiday with me.

At this time of year, I work long nights. My “day” starts around 3:30pm and I work until about 7am the following morning. On Thanksgiving Day, I walked into work to discover my workstation occupied. If you’ve seen the trailer for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt you might recognize this as something of a recurring theme in my work life! Al Cabone (the skeleton in the chair) showed up at the telescope a little over a year ago at Halloween time and has become something of a mascot.

We start in the afternoon to allow observers an opportunity to calibrate their data. This Thanksgiving, the early start allowed me a chance to bring my daughter to the telescope. She has a definite interest in the sciences with some thoughts of pursuing astronomy. So, this proved a great opportunity to give her taste of what professional astronomy is like.

During afternoon calibrations, I let her have the operator’s chair to enter some commands and try her hand at moving a 3.5-meter telescope.

After calibrations, we were able to take a break for Thanksgiving dinner. At this time of year, dinner is by necessity brief. We finished calibrations at 4:30pm. I needed to be back before the 5:25pm sunset so we could finish getting the telescope ready for the night. Fortunately, we have a kitchen staff at Kitt Peak and they prepare food for us. So my daughter and I joined my wife at the mountain cafeteria for Thanksgiving dinner.

When I speak to people about my work at the telescope, I sense that people imagine that I get to see numerous awe-inspiring sights in the night sky. In fact, some nights I do. However, some nights, the beauty comes from gaining a deeper understanding than what you see in the usual pretty pictures. On Thanksgiving, our job was to measure the spectra of stars in a couple of clusters to understand their chemical abundances. Now spectra can be very pretty, like this one of the star Arcturus, taken with the Coudé Feed telescope at Kitt Peak.

N.A.Sharp, NOAO/AURA/NSF

In that image, the interesting science is contained in the pattern of dark lines scattered among the rainbow colors. Those dark lines, or absorption lines, serve as a kind of fingerprint that tells us about the composition of the star’s atmosphere. We were using a multi-object spectrograph, which allows us to get up to 100 objects at a time. That sounds awesome, and it is. That said, this is what the raw spectra look like when we take them.

Each one of the gray stripes in the image is the spectrum of a different star in the cluster. They don’t look much like that. They’re more interesting when you use a graphics program to plot them.

That plot may not look much like the rainbow image above, but it actually contains as much information. Plotted left to right, this shows the spectrum of a star from blue to red. The downward spikes correspond to the dark lines in the rainbow images. The depth of the lines gives you information about abundances. The position of the lines relative to the light frequency can tell you such information as how fast the star is rotating, how far away it is, or even whether it has planets, all depending on the specific measurements you take.

So, the pictures we take aren’t always like those you see in the press releases on the web. Nevertheless, they do inspire dreams of faraway places and allow us to ferret out hidden information in the night sky. I’m not certain whether my daughter will ultimately choose a career in astronomy, but I am pretty sure we’ve given her something to dream about.

The Astronomer’s Crypt: Get Out!

I’m proud to announce the release of the book trailer for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. As you’ll see, we took a somewhat different approach from the usual book trailer and dramatized a scene from the novel, making it almost a short film in its own right. Enjoy!

It’s been a thrilling experience working with such a talented team to bring this scene from the novel to life. Our goal was to take the idea of the book trailer to a new level and give you a real sample of what the book is like.

Eric Schumacher, my co-executive producer and director who plays Mike, is an experienced actor and filmmaker living in Tucson. He’s appeared in the Fox series Legends & Lies: The Real West and the movie Tombstone Rashomon. He pulled together the talent who made this sound and look good. Sara Mirasola who played Claire has been in the films Date of the Dead and Thirst. I’m the voice of Professor Burroughs on the phone.

We had a terrific debut for the trailer at TusCon in Tucson, Arizona last week. Eric was on hand along with Assistant Director Elisa Cota-Francis and Cinematographer R.S. Francis. As Eric explained during the discussion, the assistant director isn’t the person who gets the director coffee, instead they’re the on-set supervisor. R.S., or Bobby as I know him, not only shot the film, but handled the special effects in the trailer as well.

After the trailer played, reader Lisa Garland said, “The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I knew I was creeped out.”

If you dare to open The Astronomer’s Crypt, you can find copies at:

Treat Yourself to a Scary Read

This week, my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt is Lachesis Publishing’s Book of the Week.

In my novel, astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. You might ask why a professional astronomer who operates telescopes would set a horror novel at an observatory. There are actually several reasons I chose to present this as a venue for a scary tale.

First, one of the scariest movies from my teen years was Ridley Scott’s movie Alien. Part of the reason the movie was so effective was that I was a big Star Trek and Star Wars fan growing up. Alien allowed haunted house horror to encroach on the “safe place” of science fictional optimism and action. Sure, Star Trek and Star Wars had their scary moments, but those moments were soon relieved by the heroes escaping the scary situation, a logical scientific explanation, or even humor. In Alien, the scary moments never let up. What’s more, the space ship was dark, dank, and full of shadows, not like the bright and colorful ships of those other science fictional franchises. For me, having a monster on the loose in an astronomical observatory is very much a call back to Alien.

Setting a horror story at an observatory is also something of an homage to one of the masters of twentieth century horror, H.P. Lovecraft. He was fascinated by astronomy and actually wrote scientific articles. Of course, he imagined ancient creatures from the depths of space to be among his horrors that tormented those people who dared to look in dark places.

Arguably one of the most important reasons for setting a horror story at an observatory relates to the adage, “write what you know.” I’ve worked at observatories for twenty-two of the last thirty years. Ironically, I feel comfortable and even safe working at observatories. However, some of the scariest stories happen in places where we don’t expect horrific things to occur. It’s one of the reasons Ray Bradbury could scare people with a story set at a fun carnival, and why Stephen King could scare us so effectively with a resort hotel in the Rockies. If you watch science shows, you’ve undoubtedly seen an astronomer speaking about the mysteries of the universe. You don’t expect something horrible in that situation.

And yet, it’s never far from the back of my mind that horrific things can happen. We’re at a remote site with wild animals. Observatories have big industrial equipment that come with their own safety issues. We work in the dark, in big, windowless buildings. When the power goes out, it can be really and truly dark. I’ve made the mistake of going into rooms without a flashlight and having doors close behind me and becoming quickly disoriented. There are access hatches that open into big, open areas. Those of us who work at observatories have to be ever vigilant to make sure accidents don’t happen.

I’ve also spoken at some length about how some observatories have literal crypts in or near their structures. James Lick is buried in the pier of the 36-inch telescope and Percival Lowell is interred in a mausoleum just outside the 24-inch telescope where he observed the features he thought were Martian canals.

In The Astronomer’s Crypt, I dared to take a place I loved and then scared myself by imagining the worst possible things happening. This Halloween, I dare you to come along with me and peer into the dark places behind the scenes at an observatory.

Lachesis Publishing has sweetened the deal making this a great Halloween treat. They’ve reduced the ebook from $4.99 to 99 cents for the rest of October at:

Firebrandt’s Legacy at Patreon

I’m releasing chapter two of Firebrandt’s Legacy for patrons to read at my Patreon page today. Firebrandt’s Legacy is a book that collects my short stories about space pirate Ellison Firebrandt and his crew in one volume. These short stories have been released in several anthologies over the years published by several different publishers. I suspect it’s unlikely anyone besides me and my wife have read them all! Even if I’m wrong about that, I do plan to add some new short stories to the mix. What’s more, each of the short stories is being completely re-edited for this volume and I’m also doing “Behind the Scenes” posts for each story to give patrons a glimpse into the history and my inspirations for each story.

Ellison Firebrandt fights the good fight for Earth. Under a letter of marque, he raids the ships of Earth’s opponents, slowing down their progress and ability to compete with the home system. On the planet Epsilon Indi 2, he rescues a woman named Suki Mori from a drug lord, only to find she isn’t so happy about living a pirate’s life. However, when the captain finds a new engine that will make him the most successful pirate of all, Suki is the only one who can make it work. Now Firebrandt must find a way to keep his crew fed and his ship supplied while relying on a woman who barely trusts him and while every government in the galaxy hunts him to get the engine back!

I have unlocked the first story at my Patreon page. Without paying anything, you can check out Laura Givens’ beautiful cover in full resolution and read the first story to decide if you want to support this project. Once this project is complete, I plan to continue with the other three books in the Space Pirates’ Legacy series, so you’ll find good stuff there for a while.

It would be fair to ask why you should support this effort on Patreon. After all, I have a good job operating telescopes and I make income from my other books. Can’t I just assemble this book and sell it like the others? My goal here is two-fold. First of all, this isn’t the only project I’m working on. I’m also finishing off edits on my steampunk novel Owl Riders and I need to start work on my second Wilderness of the Dead novel. Knowing that I have patrons who expect to see at least one story from me each month is a great motivator for me to actually make sure I keep this project moving forward while I work on those other projects. What’s more, my “day” job’s salary is paid through government agencies whose budgets are set by congress each year. People in my position can and have been laid off with minimal notice in times of budget shortfalls. While my job is quite compatible with my writing and I have little desire to leave, I never know when I might find myself unemployed. While I have no complaints about my salary, it’s hardly extravagant. Money from my books and sources such as Patreon are necessary for me to afford travel to conventions and give presentations about writing and even astronomy.

Also, getting money through Patreon allows me to pay other artists, such as Laura Givens, who did the wonderful cover for Firebrandt’s Legacy. I’m also hoping to put together a full-cast audiobook of Firebrandt’s Legacy and support on Patreon helps me pay actors a fair wage to do that. In other words, lots of fun things can happen through your support. I’m honored by those who’ve already decided to support me and I hope others will join them.

Click the button below to visit my page, read the first chapter, see the high resolution cover and decide if you’re brave enough to join the crew of the Legacy on its voyage of adventure.