Tucson Festival of Books 2018

This weekend, I’m having fun at Wild Wild West Con at Old Tucson Studios in Tucson, Arizona. If you’re in town, I hope you’ll drop by and join the fun. You can find more information at: https://www.wildwestcon.com/.

Next weekend is the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona. It’s a free event running from March 10-11. There are vendors and exhibits spread across the University of Arizona mall. There are also presentations about the craft of writing by many of the top writers working today in the lecture halls near the mall. Among the featured writers are Amy Tan, Dave Berry, J.A. Jance, and Douglas Preston.

I’ll be involved in two presentations at the festival.

Saturday, March 10 – 10am to 11am – Scientists Who Write Science Fiction – Integrated Learning Center Room 141. Jim Doty and I, who are both real-live practicing scientists who use our knowledge to write science fiction, will talk about our process.

Saturday, March 10 – 4pm-5pm – Magical History – Student Union Santa Rita. I’ll be moderating this panel in which Gail Carriger, Beth Cato and Mindy Tarquini, authors of novels filled with magic and mystery will discuss alternative earth histories where magic, the paranormal or time travel are real.

In both cases, I’ll have my books along and can sell and sign them after each of the events. One thing that’s especially exciting about the Magical History panel, is that Beth Cato is a long-time contributor to Tales of the Talisman magazine, so I’ve long followed her work.

As it turns out, I also know Gail Carriger after we did several panels together at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego. Here we are on one of the panels at Gaslight Gathering.

One of the big events the festival is touting is a concert by the group called The Rock Bottom Remainders. They’ll perform on March 10, immediately following the festival’s close. This is a band formed by several bestselling authors. Those members at the festival are Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Gary Iles, Mary Karr, Ridley Pearson, Amy Tan, and Scott Turow. The outdoor concert will be at Jefferson Field. There will be food trucks, a cash bar, and plenty of space to dance!

If you’re in Tucson next weekend, I hope to see you at the Tucson Festival of Books. You can get more information by visiting https://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/


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