Accepting Extra Walking: The Natural History Museum

A look at the Natural History Museum and possible alternatives to a straight to/from South Kensington, plus a related twitter thread. Note that the ideas around the museum are strictly for thinking about for the future.

To start a brief warning: the main attraction at the heart of this post is closed at the time of writing and even if things go according to Johnson’s ‘road map out of lockdown’ it will be some while before it reopens and before travelling for leisure is again safe. By all means note the things I write about here down for future reference but please do not attempt to put plans into practice just yet.

This post was inspired by a thread posted on twitter by the Natural History Museum earlier today, which I shall be saying more about later.

POSSIBLE ADDITIONS TO AN NHM VISIT

The Natural History Museum is served along with a number of other attractions by South Kensington Station (Circle, District and Piccadilly lines, subject of two station posts on my other site – here and here) and you can choose whether to use the underground passage that links the station to the museums or walk at surface level, where you will see some fine wrought ironwork.

Once you have enjoyed the museum, the logical next step is to visit Hyde Park, and there are stations all around that park that you could use as the station from which to begin your journey home. You could also head into London’s West End, where after Marble Arch you could choose Bond Street, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus by walking along Regent Street, or go a little north to Baker Street, home to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Madame Tussaud’s. Also you could extend your walk in a westerly direction, aiming for Notting Hill Gate. For those interested in a longer walk you could continue beyond Baker Street and take in Regent’s Park. Here are a few map pictures of various kinds to conclude this section:

THE TWITTER THREAD

The Natural History Museum today put out a superb 13 tweet thread about a very recent meteorite strike (a tiny meteorite which did no serious damage – it’s journey through the earth’s atmosphere lit up the skies on the night of February 28) and about that object’s journey, a story four billion years or so in the making and yet 13 tweets in the telling. A screenshot of the start of the thread is below, and you can read it in full by clicking here.

For more about these sorts of objects I recommend the book “Comet”, by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan:

PHOTOGRAPHS

A very brief usual sign off – I have been unable to get out today since I am waiting for someone to examine an issue with my drains – they should have been and gone by now…

Beyond The Ice Limit (Book Review)

A review of Douglas preston and Lincoln Child’s “Beyond The Ice Limit” – an example of the best kind of science fiction.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to my review of this recent book by the team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. As so often with books reviewed here I found it courtesy of a library (in this case Fakenham library, which is a couple of minutes walk from where I work).

PUTTING THE BOOK IN CONTEXT

Beyond The Ice Limit is a sequel to the The Ice Limit, and also an addition to the Gideon Crew series, but has also been carefully crafted by its authors to work as a stand alone novel. 

The phrase ‘ice limit’ refers to those latitudes in which there is sea ice all year round (at least until climate change renders it meaningless).

As this story starts, an alien life form has been slowly developing on the floor of the Southern Ocean for a period of five years, and Eli Glinn, who was inadvertently resonsible for the alien life form taking root, is now leading a mission to kill it before it can destroy the world. One of those who he ropes in is Gideon Crew, who has only a few months left to live. 

Glinn and his team head south on a huge research vessel with a two-part plan – first find out whatever they can about the alien life form, and then use that knowledge to destroy it. The reason for this approach is because the ‘seed’ from which this alien emerged was actually a huge meteorite, weighing 25,000 tons, and there is only one such ‘seeds’ could be dispersed into space – by the destruction of the host planet (yes, this alien is the ultimate parasite). 

Among their equipment are the components for a nuclear weapon (the explanation for how they have acquired such is that in certain former satellite states anything is for sale if you have sufficient money). 

Since the creature is living two miles below the surface of the sea they also have four DSVs (Deep Sea Vehicles – more sophisticated versions of the bathyscaphe) for carrying out research. These for DSVs are painted yellow on the outside, and hence have been named George, Paul, John and Ringo.

Eventually they discover that the alien, dubbed The Baobab, has no brain of its own, but instead commandeers the brains of others (the first clue comes when they decode messages put out in the form of blue whale calls, which translate as “kill me” – a message that the current brain being used by the Baobab manages to put out). They also discover that deep below the sea floor are six egg-like structures which at their centers appear to have human brains. Five of these they can account for, because three headless bodies were discovered in the wreck of the Rolvaag, the ship that was carrying the meteorite when it broke open, and two of their own people have been taken by the Baobab, and an autopsy of one revealed that her brain had been extracted. 

Gideon Crew gets launched on what he fully expects to be a suicide mission, to trigger the nuclear device directly above the Rolvaag in order to cause enough of an explosion to destroy the Baobab in its entirety, just before infected crew members (the Baobab sends out parasitic worms which take up residence in the brains of those they infect, causing them work for the Baobab) seize control of the ship. 

Unfortunately another infected crew member is in the only intact DSV other than the one Gideon is piloting, and so Gideon prevented from carrying out his intended plan, but the nuclear device ends up on the Rolvaag, and the explosion is (apparently) sufficient to kill the Baobab.

With the Baobab dead, the parasitic worms also die, and the brain of the alien that it had commandeered is finally released, and sends a thank you message to the people of who have released it before it too dies.

SPECULATIONS

While the manner of its arrival and emergence makes it clear that the Baobab is a product of a process that has destroyed at least one planet already (by breaking it up so the ‘seeds’ can be dispersed) there is a question of whether this parasitic system has accounted for even more planets (either because the planet from one of whose inhabitants the Baobab commandeered a brain was not the first to have been subjected to this process, or because some of other ‘seeds’ from that occasion did hatch and destroy their new host planets). The second part of the question is clearly unanswerable, but I would incline to the Baobab being a ‘second generation’ of its type because there are a couple of things that would have made it even better at what it seeks to do than it is:

  1. Although it is somehow able to commandeer brains to make up for its own lack of such it is not able to completely subdue said brains to its requirements – remember the message that the alien brain manages to get to the team.
  2. Although the worms work perfectly in terms of getting everyone they infect to act on behalf of the Baobab they have no capacity for identifying the significance of those they infect – had their first victims been Eli Glinn and Gideon Crew then the mission would almost certainly have been doomed to failure.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This book represents the very best of science fiction: there is nothing that definitely flouts any laws of science, and none of the events are impossible to believe. The story is never less than compelling (I have actually read it twice in the space of a week, and the second reading was at least as satisfying as the first, and with a memory like mine there could have been nothing new in that second reading), and the actual scientific theories that come for discussion are well and interestingly presented. I believe that given its component parts this book could not have been improved on, and hence were I permitted to review in the place where reviews carry a star rating (I am not because the copy I read was not purchased through them) I would unquestionably give it the full five stars.

Beyond The Ice Limit

 

Early Meteorite Bits Reveal Clues About Solar System’s Evolution

From livescience.com (please note that as this is a post I am sharing from elsewhere rather than one of my own comments are closed)

By sifting through minuscule remnants of ancient solar-system crashes, called micrometeorites, researchers found that the most common types of meteorites today used to be quite rare — and the rarest ones used to be common.

Source: Early Meteorite Bits Reveal Clues About Solar System’s Evolution

Lights Out: Asteroid Triggered Freezing Darkness That Killed Dinos

An excellent piece about the extinction of the dinosaurs (except the feathered variety that we now call birds)…

It was the airborne sulfate molecules that led to the years of darkness and cold 66 million years ago after the asteroid slammed into Earth.

Source: Lights Out: Asteroid Triggered Freezing Darkness That Killed Dinos