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Golden rock…

Another beautiful martian view, courtesy of Mars Science Laboratory… (click to enlarge)


Panorama stitched and processed by Stuart Atkinson, using original images Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

Philae found -just in time for Rosetta’s finale

There can be no doubt that the European Space Agency ROSETTA mission, to study Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (or “CG” as I’m going to call it from now on because I am not typing that out every time, sorry!), has been an astounding success. Since arriving at the comet on August 6th 2014 it has revolutionised our understanding of what comets are, how they behave and, of course, what they look like. It has sent back tens of thousands of stunningly detailed images, most of which (after a very shaky and controversial start by the OSIRIS team) have now been released for everyone to admire and study and drool over, and the many instruments on the orbiter have told us what the comet is made of and how it “works”. Thanks to ROSETTA we will never look at comets in the same way again. And no matter how many missions fly to comets in the future, ROSETTA’s place in history is assured: it was the first probe to rendezvous with a comet and study it as it rounded the Sun.

But the end is nigh. After more than two years studying Comet CG, ROSETTA’s historic mission will end on September 30th when the orbiter descends to the comet’s surface, either “landing” or “crashing”, depending on which way you want to look at it. As the dust settles on the surface of 67P, covering whatever’s left of the probe after impact, and the mission controllers confirm the final loss of signal, I’m sure the army of scientists who have worked on the mission all these years, and many of the reporters and jourtnalists who have followed it too, will be swept up in a tsunami of emotions: sadness that the mission has ended, relief that it was such a success, excitement at the prospect of all the data yet to study, and more. Many will feel a profound sense of loss, maybe enough to move them to tears, as a very significant chapter in their scientific careers comes to a very sudden and very public end.

I hope Monica Grady has bought a huge box of tissues, she’s going to need every one of them…

But not only scientists will feel moved on that day. Around the world many thousands of fans and supporters of the mission, who have faithfully followed the adventure all these months, will feel a real sense of loss too. Thanks to the tremendous and tireless efforts of the mission’s social media, education and outreach teams, ROSETTA has enjoyed probably the highest profile and most enthusiastic public  support of any ESA mission to date. Through their competitions, blogs and hugely-popular animated films they have brought ROSETTA to life in a way no other ESA mission has enjoyed. The stunning short SF  film “Ambition” must, by now, have been shown to the audiences of thousands of outreach events all over the world. (I have lost count of the number of times I’ve shown it as part of my Outreach work, and just for my own pleasure.) Let’s be frank here – ESA’s Outreach efforts used to suck. And I mean suck. They just didn’t seem to “get” how important it was for the public to feel involved with their missions, and to share the results of those missions – particularly the images taken by their spacecraft – with them. But now… now they definitely do Get It, and ROSETTA has been one of the most popular missions flown by any space agency.

Another reason why, when ROSETTA’s time orbiting CG ends, it will be a sad, sad day.

But, thanks to a picture taken by the probe on September 2nd, perhaps not as sad as we all thought it was going to be…

Because as successful as ROSETTA has been, one part of the mission didn’t go according to plan. When the little PHILAE lander descended from the orbiter on Nov 12th 2014 it was supposed to land on the comet’s surface, securing itself to the icy ground with harpoons, and then begin a programme of intensive science. Instead, its harpoons failed and the lander bounced off the comet, cartwheeling away from its landing site and heading off into the great unknown.

Measurements suggest that if it had bounced a little harder, and gone faster, PHILAE would have flown off into space altogether, and all its precious science would have been lost. But we now know that the lander bounced twice, like a stone skimming a pond, before finally coming to rest –

Well, that was the problem: we didn’t know where it eventually came to rest. We knew it had come down somewhere, because it sent back a handful of pictures soon after landing, frustrating images suggesting it was surrounded by cliffs of ice or stone. But as for where on the comet’s surface it had come down… no idea.

Despite its “non optimal landing orientation”, PHILAE survived for three precious days, long enough to send back priceless data from most of its payload of instruments, before its energy reserves ran out and it went into hibernation. We watched that happen live, online, and it was both thrilling to watch the scientists squeezing every possible last drop of science out of the lander’s short life before its batteries drained, and heartbreaking to watch the traces on the power graph suddenly drop like a stone…

Since then PHILAE has been, effectively, Missing In Action. It called out forlornly a few times, like a cat trapped down a well, raising hopes that it could be roused from its slumber and commanded to do more science, but those hopes were dashed when, admitting defeat, ESA finally stopped listening for signals from the lander, accepting the need to concentrate their efforts on keeping the orbiter operating as efficiently as possible, doing as much science as possible, during the time it had left.

And that was hard for many people. It was bad enough that PHILAE’s mission had been cut so cruelly short in the first place, but not knowing where it even was felt like the comet was rubbing salt in our wound. Every time we looked at an image of the comet we wondered “Where are you?” Even when amazing detective work by ROSETTA scientists revealed that PHILAE had in fact landed on its side, with its legs sticking in the air, not knowing where the lander was felt… awful. At least when the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit “died” on Mars we knew where she was, because we could see her on HiRISE photos. And when Beagle 2 was spotted on more images of Mars taken from orbit, many of us let out a sigh of relief, as it told us that at least the probe had made it TO the surface, and hadn’t burned up in the atmosphere like a piece of bacon left under a grill too long, as we had feared.

But PHILAE was just missing. We put “Have You Seen This Lander?” flyers up on lamp posts, offered rewards, but nothing. There was no sign of her, and that was troubling; as they say on the TV news a lot now, because it’s very trendy and fashionable, there was no “closure” without a photo showing PHILAE at its final resting place.

And, you know, with no photo of its grave it was hard to believe PHILAE had actually…. well… gone

Then, on Monday, just three weeks before the ROSETTA mission is due to come to an end, we finally got that “closure”. ESA released an image, taken on September 2nd, showing a craggy, rugged area of the comet. The image showed what looked like a close-up photo of a spilled bag of muesli, or a sack of builders’ rubble emptied out on a tabletop  – a truly chaotic landscape, with a steep hillside, its slopes strewn with boulders, rocks and outcrops, and caves, caves as dark and foreboding as anything found in Tolkien’s books…

But there, over on the far right of the image, just visible in one of those caves, half hidden in shadow, half bathed in sunlight, was… something. Something clearly artificial, metallic. I’ve ringed it on the image below so you don’t spend the next two hours straining your eyes looking for it. Enlarging the image by clicking on it will make it easier to see…


( credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; context: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0 )

If you zoom in on that, this is what you see…


(Original image ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; context: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA,  IGO 3.0 Processing by Stuart Atkinson)

Look at that… There, in the dark shadow of that cave, beneath that huge, over-hanging boulder, is a machine of some sort.

Look even more closely, and you see this…


(Original image ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; context: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA,  IGO 3.0 Processing by Stuart Atkinson)

I looked at that and thought “Oh, you poor thing… look at you…look where, and how, you ended up…” Because there’s no mistaking it, is there? That’s it. That’s PHILAE.

As the ROSETTA mission enters its twilight phase, with just three weeks to go until the lander hits the comet and goes silent forever, they found PHILAE.

Here’s a link to the official announcement on the ESA ROSETTA page.

Make no mistake about it, this is an amazing technical achievement by ESA. PHILAE was basically the proverbial needle in the haystack, except a) this particular haystack was constantly turning and spinning and wobbling, b) the needle ESA was looking for was the Gold Medal winner in the Olympics “Hide and Seek” competition, and c) the camera itself was moving. It’s also hugely important scientifically too, because locating PHILAE means the scientists who worked on it, and got results from it, now have the most important thing they could hope for: context.

What do I mean? Well, now they know exactly where PHILAE finally came to rest those scientists will be able to make a lot more sense out of the readings it took and the measurements it made before it fell asleep, because they can now see the bigger picture – the terrain and features around the landing site, the type of ground it is on, how much dust there is around it, what processes are going on around it, etc. In geology – on any world, or body – context is king.

So, we now have “closure” (awful word I know, sorry!) of a sort. We know where PHILAE “landed” after it decided its planned landing site was too boring and it took off like an inquisitive, restless hobbit in search of somewhere more interesting and exciting. That turned out to be a crevice or a cave in a mountainside, starved of sunlight, about as bad a choice of landing site for a fragile, solar-powered lander as it was possible to find. And rather than landing elegantly on its feet, like a cat jumping off a sofa, PHILAE landed on its side, lying up against the rock, with its slim legs sticking out and no hope of righting itself.

And that’s where it will stay.

But maybe not forever..?

Maybe one day, in the far future, astronauts will reach Comet CG and land on it, on a daring science mission inspired by ROSETTA’s. It would make sense to choose CG as a target for such a mission, which is surely inevitable; ROSETTA’s cameras have photographed CG in such astonishing detail that future explorers would be able to take maps of its surface with them, guiding them to the most interesting features and places. And once they’re there, surely those explorers would feel moved to go to PHILAE’s cave and pay their respects, photographing it for the sake of history, just as future lunar explorers will no doubt travel to the Apollo landing sites and pay their respects there.

And who knows, maybe they won’t stop there. Perhaps their mission will have another objective – to bring PHILAE home.

Imagine… it’s 2069… Halley’s Comet is returning to the inner solar system, and to mark its return it is decided to send people to CG, to follow-up ROSETTA’s studies and bring PHILAE back to Earth, to study how it has been affected by all its years on the comet before cleaning it and putting it on display. Imagine watching live footage from the astronauts’ cameras as they make their way down that slope, weaving through that field of boulders, towards the cave… suddenly, there, up ahead, a glint of metallic silvery light shining in the darkness beneath a huge boulder… they walk on, getting closer, and closer, until their prize comes into view: PHILAE, now covered with a mixture of dust and ice, but still recognisable from the way its spindly legs stick out from its side…  walking up to the lander the explorers slowly sweep their cameras across it, showing the millions watching back on Earth what they have travelled so far to see… one of the explorers reaches out with a shaking, gloved hand and gently wipes some of the dust away, revealing the shining blue solar panels beneath… Then, a long pause for photographs, the lander imaged from every possible angle, for context, before the explorers position themselves around it – and lift it, so, so carefully, off its side and set it back on its feet, as it should have been in the first place at a landing site so, so far away over the horizon… more photos as the lander is brushed and dusted clean, and then the watching millions see it lifted up from the ground and carried away from the cave which has been its grave for so many years… PHILAE is coming home…

A ridiculously sentimental and unrealistic idea, I know! But wouldn’t that be amazing? Wouldn’t that be a wonderfully inspiring thing to do, and watch?

Whatever happens in the future, whatever PHILAE’s eventual fate is, at least we know where it is now. And when the ROSETTA orbiter sets down on the comet in three weeks’ time it will be reunited with its partner in exploration.

I can’t wait to see the “reunion” animation ESA’s brilliant Outreach team creates to mark the end of the mission.

And I’ve already got my hankies ready.


Boulders, rocks and stones, oh my…

The Mars Science Laboratory is driving through some drop dead gorgeous terrain at the moment, carefully wending her way between tall buttes of crumbling martian stone. The latest photos to come back show a really steep butte, with its sides literally covered in boulders, rocks and stones, left there by the erosion of the butte over who knows how many millennia. I’ve spent some time today stitching them together into a single image and then processing that image into a single – I hope! – killer portrait of this beautiful region of Barsoom. I hope you’ll click on it to enlarge it, and then just spend some time scrolling around it, taking in the bewildering number and variety of rocks here, marvelling at all the different shapes and forms – the jagged, sharp blades, the tall stacks of razor-thin stone, the brittle spikes and spires, all carved by the soft but relentless winds of Mars over many millions of years.


Original images Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

NOT “Earth 2” – But Fascinating…

Today could be a rather exciting and important day for astronomers, professional and amateur alike, and anyone “into” space. Later today there will be a press conference by astronomers from the European Southern Observatory which will, if the rumours are true, be used to announce the discovery of a planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri.

Why would that be a big deal? Because Proxima is the closest star to the Sun, “just” 4.3 light years away, so any planets found orbiting it will become the targets of research projects and intense study for years to come – and, without doubt, the target destinations for the first interstellar probes we make and despatch, sometime in the more distant future. And yes, looking even further ahead than that, it might seem like science fiction to even think about it, but any planet found whirling around Proxima Centauri will probably be the world the first human beings to journey to another star see through a spacecraft window – and then land on and walk on, if it has the right conditions to allow them to do that. It really could be that important.

If you’re into this kind of thing you’ll know that there is already a lot of excitement – and, it has to be said, hype – about this announcement and discovery. Again, yet again, an extra-solar planet is being labelled “Earth-like” (even before its discovery is officially announced!) just because (if the rumours, whispers and gossip prove accurate) of its size and where it is in that star’s solar system. That’s what astronomers looking for exo-planets mean by “Earth-like” when they describe a planet like that. The problem is, other people, like non-astronomers and the media, think “Earth-like” means actually “like Earth”, as in physically and visually – a world the same size as our own, a beautiful blue and white planet with surging oceans kissing warm sandy beaches, billowing clouds blown by soft summer winds, and life, life everywhere – in the sky, under the water, and in the fields. A truly Earth-like world would have seasons of sunshine and snow, rivers gurgling and tumbling down mountains, and kittens sleeping by crackling fires. That’s what people – and I know this for a fact, because I meet and talk to a lot of them in the course of my Outreach work – think a planet is like when they hear it described as “Earth-like”; not just a rocky-ish planet orbiting a star at roughly the Earth-equivalent distance from it.


Personally, this really winds me up, and others too, I know. I think the exo-planet community has to stop referring to planets as “Earth-like” when they’re really not, when they’re actually just “Earth-sized” or just in a star’s habitable zone. Why? two reasons. Firstly, I think at best it’s lazy science communication, and at worst misleading, even deceptive. But more importantly it will dilute the impact of the CONFIRMED discovery – and even imaging – of the first truly “Earth-like” planet: a world that is the same size as Earth (or a bit bigger or smaller), at the right distance from its star for terrestrial conditions to exist on its surface, and with the tell-tale chemical signatures of life detected on its surface or in its atmosphere. We’re a long, long way from making a discovery like that – but it will come, one day. But when it does, many people will just raise an eyebrow and say “Really? I thought we’d found lots of planets like Earth already?”

Already there has been a lot of speculation about the nature of the planet found orbiting Proxima, but we won’t know anything for certain until the big announcement later today. So what do we know?

Well, Proxima Centauri is a star in the southern celestial hemisphere, and is so far south that it is never visible from the UK. If you want to know where it is, here’s a finder chart – basically, on the next clear night, look for Mars and Saturn, shining low in the south west, then drop your gaze so you’re looking into the ground beneath them – that’s where Proxima is in the sky…


Proxima is a red dwarf star, much smaller than our Sun (only 1/7 its diameter in fact) and is too faint to be seen with the naked eye. It’s also a “flare star”, meaning it undergoes repeated violent burst of activity, which has led to many exo-planet hunters suggesting that would result in an unsuitable environment to support life on any planet orbiting it. Basically, Proxima itself is nothing like our own Sun, so calling any planet orbiting it “Earth-like” is a bit of a stretch from the very start, I think.

Having said that…

If a planet has been detected around it, it’s possible it MIGHT be a vaguely Earth-like planet, in the sense that it is the same size as our own, or roughly the same size, and is in Proxima’s habitable zone, meaning it’s not too hot or too cold for liquid water to exist on its surface. If that’s the news then I’ll personally shout out (in my head, not literally!) YESS!!! and celebrate, because it will be exciting and have real consequences for both the future of astronomy and the future of space exploration, because we’ll finally, finally have a potential destination for future un-crewed probes and, eventually, crewed expeditions. Yes, that will definitely be a big deal.

And if that is the discovery then we need to get serious about this planet. We need to give it a name, and a good name, quickly, because that will allow us in the astronomy community, especially those of us involved in outreach and education, to start thinking of it as a real place, a real destination “out there”, and to tell people about it and make it real for them, too.

There are already lots of exo-planets with names, thanks to the much- (and, it has to be said, sometimes fairly- ) maligned IAU. You can read about them here. But very few people outside of the astronomical community know any of them – in fact, I wonder how many people IN the astronomical community know them? Some are brilliant and sound suitably planetary and epic (“Arkas”, “Musica”) while others somehow don’t seem right at all (“Lich”, “Poltergeist”) but that’s just my opinion, others may love them. All have their own stories, so I’m sure each one has its own fans.

But I really think there’s a case for giving this planet orbiting Proxima a suitably historic and inspiring name, just because it will play an important part in our future. If it’s real, it will be studied by telescopes and astronomical instruments more than any other exoplanet. If it’s real, it is so tantalisingly close – in astronomical terms – that it has to be the destination for our first interstellar probes, even though a journey there would take a horrendously long time? If it’s real surely, surely it will be the destination for the first crewed starship to leave Earth, whenever that is built and launched, in some faraway science fiction future?

If/when people do eventually travel to Proxima Centauri, if it has any planets or not, they will see a starry sky remarkably similar to Earth’s. Using the Sky Safari app on my phone I was able to fly to Proxima and found that it is so close to the Sun that the relative positions of the more distant stars won’t appear to shift very much, so most of the constellations we see from here on Earth will look pretty much the same from Proxima. Of course, there are a couple of noteworthy exceptions. If you were to look at Orion, either from orbit around Proxima itself or from the surface of any planets it has, you’d see the famous Hunter’s familiar hourglass shape, with the belt tight across his waist, but you’d notice a bright blue-white star very close to Betelgeuse that definitely isn’t there from Earth: Sirius…


And if you looked towards Cassiopeia you’d see an unfamiliar golden star close to it… Our own Sun, over 4 light years away…


Anyway, let’s see what the announcement (or a leak of its contents sometime during the day, which is very possible) brings, shall we? I’m sure the science will be fascinating, whatever it is – but I’m also sure that if they use the term “Earth-like” too much during their press conference, without a very detailed clarification of what they actually mean when they use it, while astro-aware reporters will (hopefully!) cover the story accurately, the scientifically inaccurate mainstream media will go into feeding frenzy, as journalists latch on to the term “Earth-like” and think that means the new world is actually “like Earth”, writing about it in their subsequent papers and on their websites as if it is a shining blue-and-green world, complete with blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and unicorns drinking cool water from crystal ponds, in faerie glens deep in enchanted forests.

And aliens, maybe. Don’t forget the aliens. They’ll HAVE to speculate that the new planet has aliens on it: It’s the Law. -)


Beautiful Mars…

The Mars Science Laboratory rover CURIOSITY is seeing some literally jaw-dropping scenery at the moment, as she trundles through a landscape littered with buttes, boulders and scree slopes. Here’s an image I’ve made by stitching together lots of single MSL images and then processing it to bring out details and structures. Please click on it to enlarge it, then just enjoy wandering around..!


Original images Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech



WARNING!!!!! *** Lots of Spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! ***

So… I went to see STAR TREK: BEYOND last night, at the Brewery Arts Centre here in Kendal. Having seen all the trailers… many times… I had a pretty good idea what to expect from a Star Trek film directed by the same guy behind the Fast and Furious franchise: not a brain-meltingly complicated or subtly plotted modern 2001, but a high-energy, wham-bam crowd-pleasing Star Trek for 2016. And I wasn’t wrong, or disappointed. The film was all those things and more… but I came out feeling a mixture of things: satisfied by some parts but frustrated by others; full of admiration for some parts, full of meh for others. It was a good film, but not a great one. It was a good Star Trek film, but not a great one. Out of the three “JJ” Star Trek films it was probably my least favourite, to be honest, and I’m not sure it was the fitting tribute to half a century of Star Trek the anniversary deserved. But it was an enjoyable night out.


The good things about it first – and there were many…

This film confirms just how well the roles were cast in the first place. Kirk, Bones and Spock are all very well established, rounded and believable, with lots of funny banter and thoughtful exchanges between them, especially Bones and Spock. Sulu has a lot more depth this time, and gets to step up to be a hero in his own right, and Chekov is… well, he’s there too, and what little he has to do is effective enough.

The opening scene is simply brilliant and hilarious, a real “twist in the tail” sequence which had everyone (I say everyone… the studio was barely half full, oddly for opening night…) laughing out-loud and was a great way of opening the film and showing just how much Kirk has matured since the end of the last film. After that there was one of my favourite parts of the film – a look at how Kirk and his crew have adapted to being in deep space and away from home for three years, how relationships have developed, how frustrated – and bored? – Kirk himself is by then… There’s a great “heart to heart” scene with Kirk and Bones that was strangely moving, too.

Another highlight: when the Enterprise arrives at “Yorktown”, a  deep space space base which looks a lot like – as Bones observes – “a goddamned snow-globe in space”. It’s huge, and I mean huge; a space base as big as a city, with its own districts, railways, parks etc. Basically a deep space colony or habitat, you get the idea. And the arrival of the Enterprise at Yorktown was one of the highlights of the whole film for me, it just looked absolutely, jaw-droppingly beautiful. Seeing the Enterprise gliding through a series of transport tunnels, like some enormous ship sailing down an enclosed river or canal, was simply gorgeous. When I get the DVD I’ll be replaying that sequence a lot, I’m sure.

One of the greatest delights in the film is the “other” main character, the alien Jaylah, who ends up fighting alongside Kirk et al. In contrast to almost-invisible Uhura, Jaylah is an honest to god, wheel-kicking, baddie-punching kick-ass heroine. She steals every scene she’s in, and dominates the screen with her charisma and physicality.


Other highlights… the way they handle the death of Leonard Nimoy is simply exquisite, with Spock taking delivery of and opening a package of “Spock Prime’s”things. Opening a small box he finds a photo… but not just any photo, it’s a photo of the ORIGINAL series crew, which instantly links the modern JJ verse to the original series one, and as Spock looked at that photo, showing the original Enterprise crew in their bright red uniforms, I will admit I found myself filling up a bit…

Ok, things I didn’t like so much…

The story is weak. After arriving at Yorktown our heroes and heroine are called away, in true Star Trek style, to solve a mystery and save the day, but the plot is a tortuous and twisted one that really makes no sense, and it’s once the crew start facing up to the film’s baddie (Idris Elba, phoning in a sneering villain part) that the film “Beyond” could have been gets buried beneath the film the studios wanted.

There are too many twisty-turny special effects sequences that do nothing for the story but just give the audience a migraine and show how amazing CGI is nowadays, at the same time as proving that it’s easier to fill the screen with swooping spaceships and massive explosions than it is to plot out a good, deep story and give your characters meaningful dialogue. Don’t get me wrong; the space battle sequences are all stunningly shot, but there are sooooo many of them, and they go on for sooooo long, and there are sooooo many explosions in them that they just lose their impact. Comparing this to “Wrath Of Khan” with its legendary Hornblower shoot-out between the Enterprise and Khan’s hijacked “Reliant” is like comparing a choir-girl singing a beautiful solo in a cathedral to a thrash metal band playing a stadium gig.

…and the Enterprise, oh my poor, beautiful Grey Lady. The trailers gave it away from the start that the old ’01 gets mortally damaged in “Beyond” but it’s so much worse. She gets the living **** kicked out of her by the baddies’ ships, and doesn’t make it out of the film alive. Now, I could have accepted that if it had been done properly and respectfully – taking the crew out of the ship and making them fend for themselves was a great idea – but I really hated how disposable the ship was in the film. There’s no soul-searching by its Kirk like there was by the original Kirk in “Search For Spock”, no swirling, orchestral send-off, no lingering, loving shots of the great ship dying; just a long, long, wow-look-at-THAT! BANG! BANG! BANG! series of increasingly savage ass-kickings that wrecks her. At one point it’s obvious that the ship is doomed, and that was when the music should have rushed in, grabbed our heartstrings and plucked them like Katniss going crazy with her bow in a firefight… but nothing. NOTHING. Kirk just looks out the window as the saucer section falls towards its doom, and accepts it. Not good enough, sorry.

And when she’s crashed, and lying in bits, no-one who survived seems bothered! Not even Scotty! There seems to be no attachment to the ship at all… which is very practical and all, but it made the ship seem like just a machine, instead of a character in its own right, as it always was in the TV series and in the other movies. JJ did such a great job of making us (well, some of us; there are may people who hate, loathe and despise the reboot 01 with an absolute passion!) fall in love with the new ship in the first film, first with that glorious shot of her being built in the desert and then with the graceful orbital fly-around which followed) that I was really surprised he was so happy to just slash her to bits and throw those bits away in this film.

But maybe that was just me being too sensitive and Enterprise-huggy… I do have models of several different Enterprises lined up on top of my computer over there as I write this, after all…

…and all the scenes back on Yorktown at the end were pretty dumb, to be honest.

…and then there’s Scotty… Sorry, but as much as I love his other roles, and his writing, I really find Simon Pegg jarring as Scotty. I just don’t see it. And as for that mute, walnut-faced,  whatever-the-****-it-is Jar Jar Binks dwarf sidekick of his, I can’t see the point of it AT ALL, and every time it comes on screen I just want it to be gone.

…and as for Uhura… jeez, what a wasted character this time. It’s as if the writers forgot she was actually a member of the crew…

BUT I don’t want to be too negative! There is lots to enjoy in BEYOND. In places it is genuinely funny, with some laugh out-loud dialogue and exchanges, and moving too. Jaylah is a fantastic character. There is now a real spark between Bones and Spock, like in the good old days. The resurrection of the old Federation starship was a stroke of genius, particularly the way it is “jump started” by dropping it off a cliff. Loved that.🙂

Is BEYOND the film we all wanted to adore so desperately – the epic, inspiring film that paid a fitting tribute to the epic story of Kirk, his crew and his ship, and made us all come out of the cinema besotted with Star Trek all over again? No. No, it’s not. It really is, in places, “Fast and Furious IN SPACE”. But it is very entertaining, and funny, and in places surprisingly deep and emotional. It has flashes of the sheer joy of Star Trek, scenes of utter head-shaking beauty, and in several places takes us by the hand and leads us back to the original series, and crew, and lets us dive into our precious memories of journeying to the stars with them. I enjoyed it but didn’t love it. But I don’t love Star Trek any less for it. Obviously I’ll buy the DVD and watch it again, and again. It’s a Star Trek film, come on… !

Should you go and see BEYOND (if this review hasn’t ruined it for you! If it has, why did you read it?? I said there would be spoilers!!!)? Of course! It’s a Star Trek film! And after all, you might like the bits I didn’t, films are such personal things. Go, make up your own minds, I’m just offering my own personal observations here.

There will be another film, we already know that. At the end of Beyond we see a new Enterprise A being built (in rather jarring speeded-up style… ugh….) which some JJ-haters are already pouring their disgust and hatred onto, and press releases have already said that it will feature Kirk meeting his father, so we have that to look forward to. A new Star Trek TV series is in the works, and the franchise shows no signs of dying yet. Not sure there’s another 50 years in it, but it’s safe to say Star Trek is going nowhere for a while.

Which is fine by me.🙂








Viking 1 +40

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Viking 1 landing on Mars, here’s a mosaic I’ve made from hot-off-the-press images taken by the Curiosity rover, exploring Gusev Crater on the Red Planet…


I was hoping/expecting we’d be watching astronauts bounding across this landscape by this anniversary, but sadly we seem as far away from that as were were back in 1976…

UPDATE: another couple of mosaics here…