Come with me, Cupcake

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2013 has already been an exciting year for those with an interest in all things SPACE.  

On February 15, the Russians were dazzled by an epic superbolide meteor, which rather ironically coincided with the day on which the people of Earth heaved a mighty sigh of relief as they watched asteroid DA14,  a.k.a, a “global killer”passing uncomfortably close between their planet and their moon, thus narrowly avoiding a cataclysmic impact.  Later in the year, Ison, a sun-grazing comet, promises to be a shooting-star spectacular, visible to the naked eye by the end of November, assuming it survives its journey towards the Sun, that is!

The final frontier

The concept of space as our final frontier has also been at the forefront of scientific discourse this week, as veteran astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, proclaimed (in a rather Kennedy-esq mission statement): “I believe this nation should commit itself, within two decades, to commencing American permanence on the planet Mars.” This declaration has been made at a time where enthusiasm for exploration beyond our planet continues to ebb, and NASA’s abandonment of the shuttle programme, along with the mounting criticism of the $multi-billion cost of maintaining the scientific endeavours on board the International Space Station have done little to appease public apathy towards such pursuits.

Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who hitched a ride home from the ISS on a Soyuz rocket last night, shares Aldrin’s aspirations for future interplanetary travel, by asserting that “we will go to the Moon and we will go to Mars…and to see what asteroids and comets are made of”. But Hadfield is at odds with Aldrin in so far as the former pointedly reminds us that “we’re not going to do it tomorrow and we’re not going to do it because it titillates the nerve endings. We’re going to do it because it’s a natural human progression.”

Hadfield and the other astronauts on the Space Station are tasked with developing a greater understanding of life’s ability to sustain itself in the hostile environment of space, without which, we would not even survive a trip to Mars, yet alone presuming to permanently settle there.

The political and ideological motivations driving the extraordinary technological advancement witnessed during the 1960s were unprecedented, and never again are we likely to witness such a frenzied obsession with space travel.   However, Cmdr Hadfield has sought to re-kindle mankind’s fascination with space by embracing the social media revolution to reach out to a brand new generation of space enthusiasts.  By taking daily tweet-sized steps to share his experience of life in space with us, he has become the most recognisable astronaut since the Apollo days.

To boldly go

The movie industry has also played its part in supporting Aldrin and Hadfield’s ambitions, with Thursday’s release of Star Trek’s 12th instalment (or 2nd, depending on whether you choose to ignore the pre 2009 chronicles) having been eagerly anticipated by fans, and non-fans alike, after the 11th (or 1st) cemented J.J.Abrahms’ reputation as a tired franchise resurrection master.  Into Darkness’ opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the picture, as we observe Kirk finding himself at odds with the Federation’s sacrosanct Prime Directive.  The scene ends as the iconic USS Enterprise blasts off above a neutralised volcano, leaving a primitive alien tribe in awe of Starfleet’s flagship vessel.

As was the case with the 2009 release, the audience is treated to non-stop, over-the-top, and breathtaking action sequences, all illuminated by Abrahm’s signature use of delightful lens glare, once again assuring us that the future may not be so dark after all. But Cumberbatch’s Harrison does all that he can to extinguish the optimism introduced in the last movie, and is undoubtedly an improvement on Nero: An unnerving villain, whose indiscriminate acts of violence on London and San Francisco capture the fears of a post 9/11 society.   The references to the autonomous intelligence agency, Section 31 (first introduced into the Star Trek canon by Deep Space Nine) highlights the disquietude brewing within the seemingly harmonised Starfleet high command, and seeks to further underpin the movie’s emphasis on how, in certain instances, acting outside of the normal constraints of ethical protocols is necessary to preserve and protect civilised society.

Despite its brooding undercurrents, Into Darkness captures the essence of the space opera genre by continuing to replicate the original’s charm: it wouldn’t be Star Trek without the delectable Kirk/Spock bromance, and the old school wittiness of the classic once liners of sci-fi’s most recognised crew.  A reprocessed Khan it may be, but there is no question that Into Darkness has taken the Star Trek franchise to a new level, and we can only hope that the brief visit to Kronos, and the ruckus that takes place there, is a sign of things to come.

To explore strange new worlds

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Inspired by the Star Trek end-credit sequence, I decided to create a cup-cake solar-system for my father in-law’s 60th birthday/retirement party that was held on the Isle of Wight this weekend.  As a published physicist, this seemed like a fitting contribution to the celebrations.
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The cupcakes were made using the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cupcake recipe, and these were topped with a nebula of chocolate, vanilla and cream cheese frosting, sprinkled with dark matter space dust.
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The celestial bodies were formed using marzipan, and represent the main features of our solar system from the Sun, all the way out to Pluto and the forgotten dwarf planets.
 
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DSC_9844You will see that Ison makes a special guest appearance as it passes Jupiter!
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To Nick and Sue – wishing you all the best as you boldly go into that strange new world called retirement!
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