2016_Z(Alternative words: zettahertz.)

Today’s question for Dr. Science is, “What’s the biggest optical telescope in the Empire? How far can it see?”

Over the years, a great many different telescopes have held that particular title: from the Great Eye at the Starspike (Eliéra’s oldest observatory, dating to the pre-Imperial era), through the first orbital telescopes, the large refractor at Farside Observatory, Seléné, and the Deep Orbit Oculus in far Súnáris orbit.

All, however, were rapidly outclassed by the discovery of very-long-baseline interferometry, which uses a technique referred to as aperture synthesis to correlate signals from a set of telescopes to produce images having the same angular resolution as an instrument the diameter of the entire set. Some limited use was made of these techniques with ground-based and orbital instruments, restricted by the difficulty in accurately quantifying optical-range photons for software processing, but once these difficulties were solved, construction began on much larger interferometric telescopes. Three particular examples of these held the title of largest optical telescope in turn, and while the others have been upgraded and remain in use, it is the last of these retains it today.

The first of these, the Barrascán Array, was constructed in the Meryn System, consisting of an array of millions of statites (produced by self-replicating, autoindustrial techniques) 48 light hours in diameter. Intended for general observation, the array possesses an angular resolution of 1.12 x 10-20 radians, enabling it to resolve objects 20 cm across at 2,250 light-years (i.e., the current fringe of the Associated Worlds, which was then unknown space).

The second, intended to carry out both exploration surveys and long-range observations of the galactic core, was the Very Long Baseline Observer, which made use of smaller arrays of deep-orbit telescopes located in systems across the width of the Empire, each reporting via the interstellar dataweave to the Exploratory Service’s headquarters in Almeä System. This gave it an effective diameter of 164 light-years, and thus an angular resolution of 3.74 x 10-25 radians, giving it the capability of resolving with micrometer resolution objects throughout the Starfall Arc, should its view be unobstructed. Indeed, if not for intervening objects, planetary rotation, local weather, and other such obstructions, it would be capable of reading a book over the shoulder of a sophont on any world in the galaxy — were one to pass within its view, since as you can imagine, an array of array of telescopes 164 light-years across is somewhat unwieldy to maneuver.

The apex of this technology is the Super-Size Synthetic Aperture, intended for in-depth studies of the deep universe. The SSSA takes the general concept of the VLBO even further by extending the array – by means of various treaty arrangements and leases – across much of the width of the Associated Worlds, reporting data back over tangle channels. Its effective diameter is no less than 1,825 light-years, giving it a theoretical angular resolution of 3.36 x 10-26 radians – which is to say, it can resolve a 33 m object at the rim of the observable universe.

The SSSA, however, is limited by the larger gaps between its elements, which are themselves limited to a single mobile telescope per system, and thus in turn by the amount of light collectable by each of these individual telescopes. It is also, unfortunately, constrained by the difficulty of maneuvering and recalibrating such a massive device, and by the political difficulties of passing through many different polities during reorientation, which tends to cause lengthy delays, increased costs, and where no permission can be obtained, gaps in array coverage. For most practical purposes, therefore, the VLBO can be considered the largest general-purpose optical telescope available to the Empire.

Dr. Science

– from Children’s Science Corner magazine



2016_H(Alternate words: hammer, hardware, hatred.)

It was in the fourteenth year of the reign of the Third Citrine Triarchs that the new star appeared, a blue pinpoint in the Fourth House, above the beak of the Ram.

No ancient writings spoke of this. None predicted its appearance. As is customary, the Royal Astronomers were beheaded for their failure.

Fifty-seven years later, during the sixth year of the reign of the Fourth Citrine Triarchs, the star swelled in brightness, until even the commonality of the fields could see it with bare eyes. The Triarchs demanded an omen, and made it known throughout the land, that this was the Perfect’s blessing upon their lands and reign.

When three years later the Triarchs were assassinated by one of the star cults that grew up throughout the lands, as is customary, the Royal Astronomers were strangled for their failure.

It is now one hundred and fourteen years since the star appeared in our skies, in the reign of the Second Lapis Triarchs, and this very night when it passed behind the moon, it vanished as if it had never been. Only darkness surmounts the Ram’s beak. The surviving star cults openly proclaim it a harbinger of doom. The commonality, the stadtmen, even the armigers surround the Perfect’s temples. Fear grips the cities, and the palace guards no longer hold to their posts.

I myself have sealed the passages and brought down the stairs to my observatory. If all else fails, the door is sturdy, and should hold for many hours – against whichever doom comes.

– Journal of the 374th Royal Astronomer-Superior,
from Naolh (Nesthin Abyss),
in the Periphery


Christmas Quiet Period & KSP-Related Thoughts

So, we have entered the unofficial Christmas Quiet Period here at the Eldraeverse, in which I am running around doing not-working things for Christmas, leading to a shortage of peaceful writing time, and in which so is everyone else, leading to a noticeable drop-off in reading, by the statistics.

So, it’s going to be a little quieter around here for the next few days, on the grounds that Isif and her candle deserve more writing time and more readers than they’re otherwise going to get, and normal service will be resumed after the CQP.

In other thoughts, today’s quasi-lunatic impulse – as discussed on Google+ here – was the notion of putting together a Kerbal Space Program mod using Kopernicus to build a nice 1/6.4x scale model of the Lumenna-Súnáris System, with its two suns and seventeen planets and assorted asteroid belts, not to mention the moons, and thus let people download one of the Orion mods and play “Spaceflight Initiative – The Game” to their heart’s content.

Then I decided that it wasn’t practical, because it seemed very hard to get to perform decently even with 1.1 and 64-bit coming, and I don’t have the artistic skill to make planet textures, and there’s the obvious problem that Eliéra technically ain’t a planet, it’s a flat – well, convex – disk-shaped BDO and how the heck do you mod that in, and all of this would eat lots of valuable writing time, and…

…so, yeah.

But, of course, not practical for me is not the same thing as not practical for anyone.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to take some of my available but restricted-creativity time over this Christmas season and write up a big description of the planets and moons and so forth of the Lumenna-Súnáris System, including their orbits and masses and types and atmospheres and appearances and little bits of surface detail that are going to need to go on their textures/biome maps, and throw them out here.

This should entertain those of you reading who are serious astronomy geeks, serve as a handy reference, and also makes it available for anyone who has time and capacity and enthusiasm enough to actually build said KSP mod, or something similar, as a fan-work.

(Up for grabs is the Imperial Star of Canonical Awesomeness, which cobbled-together image you can stick on your download page, or on your refrigerator, or have tattooed somewhere embarrassing, or whatever else you feel like doing with the official recognition that the author has looked upon your works and found them good, yea, even unto canonicity.)




Author’s Note: Where’s Where in the Galaxy

For those following along with the worldbuilding at home, the Starfall Arc, the home galaxy of the Associated Worlds is, yes, the Milky Way seen from another perspective.  The “prominent satellite galaxies” identified as the Greater and Lesser Ancíël Whirls are those which we call the Large and Small Magellanic clouds, and the galactic arms are those we know as the Norma Arm (Arilíäza), the Scutum-Centaurus Arm (Vierníäza), the Carina-Sagittarius Arm – home of the Associated Worlds – (Lethíäza), the Orion-Cygnus Spur (Sulíäza) – in which Sol and Earth are located – and the Perseus Arm (Dúraníäza).

The placement of the Associated Worlds in the outer part of the Carina-Sagittarius Arm makes them roughly 5,000-6,000 light years coreward of us, and thus conveniently out of the way, in a galactic neighborhood about whose location I don’t plan on being too specific in order not to get angry letters from astronomers because I’ve mislocated a bunch of stellar objects for literary convenience.  (Which is also to say: please don’t try and locate it from my textual references; given the distance and the knowledge gap, I’m just making the details of local space up for literary convenience, ‘kay?)

Where’s Where in the Galaxy (1)

To begin at the beginning, the galaxy in which we dwell, the Starfall Arc, is a barred spiral galaxy, possessing four major spiral arms, and attended by a number of satellite galaxies, most prominent among which are the Greater and Lesser Ancíël Whirls.  These arms, from innermost to outermost, are Arilíäza, Vierníäza, Lethíäza (with its outer spur Sulíäza), and Dúraníäza.  The Associated Worlds are to be found near the outer edge of the Lethíäza arm.

The most important part of the Starfall Arc for us, as sophonts, is the middle third, encompassing Vierníäza, Lethíäza, and Sulíäza; those stars further from the galactic core than one-third of the galaxy’s radius, the Inner Third Ring, and so far enough away to avoid the high radiation, prevalence of supernovae, and other hazards of the core, and yet still close enough to for carbon and heavier elements to be prevalent in quantities sufficient to support the evolution of life.  The pulsar Tehelmír, the galactographic reference point closest to the center of the Associated Worlds, sits almost precisely in the center of this third, close to the galactic plane.

The Associated Worlds themselves make up a small fraction of one piece of this described life-friendly region. In theory, the Associated Worlds are composed of six nested spherical regions similar to a palel-fruit, from innermost to outermost:

The Imperial Core, the heartland of the Empire, containing the eldrae homeworld, the Thirteen Colonies, and other tightly-linked purely Imperial worlds;

The Imperial Fringe, a half-dozen highly Imperialized – but not exclusively Imperial – constellations close to the Imperial Core;

The Associated Worlds, the majority of the developed constellations of the Worlds, and what might be considered “civilized space”;

The Expansion Regions, the areas of the Periphery near the developed Worlds, currently targeted for colonization or other development by various polities of the Worlds, but not yet “fully civilized”.  The busy transitional zone between the worlds, and;

The Periphery, the furthest reaches of the stargate plexus, containing few if any colonies, and still being fully mapped and explored by the Grand Survey and other astrographic organizations.

The Outback, that area of space which, while unconnected to the stargate plexus, has still been reached by lighthuggers or starwisp probes, manned or unmanned, and so known to the Worlds in some terms not purely astronomical.  Everything beyond the Outback, space which has never been visited and is known only by astronomy, is simply the Beyond.

This simple theoretical picture, of course, is a nonsense.  The boundaries of the stargate plexus sprawl thousands of light years wide, and the galactic disk is not so thick; and colonization has not proceeded equally in all directions, but has proceeded more vigorously to coreward than to rimward.  Thus, the true shape of the Worlds resembles more a flattened egg, its point towards the galactic core; and to acme and nadir, the Expansion Regions are thin and the Periphery nonexistent, squeezed out by the edge of the useful galaxy.

Also, along its spinward edge, the stargate plexus of the Associated Worlds has intermingled, along a line three constellations in size, with that of the Voniensa Republic, another galactic civilization of nearly equal scope, again flattening the spinward side of the Worlds.  The area of the Expansion Regions closest to the Republic, the Crimson Expanse, Csell Buffer, and Vanguard Reaches, is informally known as the Seam.  The Expansion Regions and Periphery are thin here to spinward, as there has been little expansion of the plexus in areas which would be actively contested by the Republic.

And finally, as you might expect, these terms are themselves broadly disputed.  Few outside the Empire use the terms Imperial Core or Imperial Fringe, preferring not to escalate any polity of the Worlds above the others, galactographically speaking, or at least choosing their own to so escalate.  The term Associated Worlds, therefore, commonly refers to all of the developed systems within the Expansion Regions, including both the Core and the Fringe.  The use of the term Expansion Regions, too, is often controversial in its application to any given constellation both by Peripherals who dislike creeping colonization, and by those worlds which wish to consider themselves part of the metropolitan, and thus developed, Worlds.

Also unmentioned is the so-called Inner Periphery.  While the web of constellations incorporates many of the stars technically within the outer boundary of the stargate plexus, many remain unconnected, and accessible only by lighthugger.  While most of these have been visited, at least by unmanned probes, they are not considered part of their containing galactic region, due to their inaccessibility, forming a backwater region intermingled with the heart of civilized space.

Having defined these principal astrographic divisions of the space we inhabit, we can now discuss the economic, cultural, and less formal divisions of the Worlds.

And Yet They Move

That there is Order within the Celestial Vault, and Law that governs their Motions, cannot be denied by any Natural Philosopher.  We of the Celestial Circle have long used and imitated the orderly motions of this most Perfect of Clocks in the tracking of the march of the Cycles and the Seasons, of the turning of the Years, of the coming of Deep Winter, and the accurate recording of Time.

But while we can watch the skies and map the motions of the Wandering Stars, as yet we understand little of their true nature; as within our own order the dispute between those who favor the Centrism of Ilani Corrével, who argues for Eliéra’s place at the Center of the Celestial Vault, since the new lenses of Recent Years have shown us the ever-changing-and-repeating, yet always-circular faces of the Wandering Stars that show these to be Spheres, yet we know Eliéra Herself to be Flat, as the Shadow-watcher showed in the Age of Wood; and the Solarism of Arventel Kalyn, who observes the Companions of the Sun, and their never-departing from His side, as the Faint Wanderers that accompany some of the Wandering Stars, and argues that their Rotation could be as that of the Far Wanderers, were the Fixed Realm to instead Rotate between them and the other Wandering Stars; now thrown into new Confusion by Calria Lirendocius’s discovery of new Companions which accompany the Shining One and accompany Him as the Companions of the Sun do the Light-Giver, in Accordance with Neither.

And yet this day I may add only More Confusion to our understanding of the Skies, for since Observations began at the Starspike, it has been recorded that when the Shining One is square to the Light-Giver, red Alqerach shall be seen centered in Taran’s Loop by a Watcher stationed at the Eye.  Colleagues, be it known that over the centuries of our Watching, Alqerach is there No Longer; and others of the Fixed Stars too show this Drift, but in ways that Differ, and so cannot be Explained by the movement of Our World, or by the Fixed Stars as a Single Vault or Sphere.  I enclose Copies of our Observations at the Starspike for your Attention.

Colleagues, the Fixed Stars move!

– ancient records recently recovered at the Starspike