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Alpha Centauri Sunrise

If the title of this piece conjures up exotic images, that’s all to the good. In fact, I’m surprised that “Alpha Centauri Sunrise” hasn’t been the title of a science fiction story somewhere along the line, but a quick check shows no such reference. Thus when Robert Kennedy (The Ultimax Group) created a drink called the Alpha Centauri Sunrise at our recent conclave in Huntsville, he was breaking new ground. And maybe images of a double sunrise also came to mind, the view from an as yet undiscovered world where Centauri A is a bright flare in the morning sky while a still closer Centauri B begins to nudge up over the hills, flooding the scene with orange light.

And what happened to Proxima Centauri? It would not be a factor in a scene like that, its light so dim that it would not stand out from other stars in a completely dark sky. Only its proper motion would alert local astronomers to how close it was (roughly 15000 AU). But let’s drink to Proxima anyway. I promised the recipe for the Alpha Centauri Sunrise two weeks ago and it’s time to deliver, as a number of readers have reminded me. Here we have it, from the pen (or keyboard) of Robert Kennedy himself:

The Alpha Centauri Sunrise

Best served in a martini glass or a champagne flute to accentuate the color gradient.


1 jigger Tennessee moonshine;
2 jiggers Red Bull (different cognate but Centauri sorta suggests a bull, plus one of the stars is reddish);
4-6 oz. orange juice;
½ tsp. grenadine (to make the red-to-yellow color gradient);
three little red berries (to represent the three suns of the triple star system: α Centauri A, α Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri.

If, after all these puns, your customer still doesn’t crack a smile, then instead of three little red berries, give him a big raspberry (literally or figuratively).


With an Alpha Centauri Sunrise in hand, you might want to recall some of the great science fiction venues where drinks like this might be served. Callahan’s Place is the creation of Spider Robinson (it’s immortalized in Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon), a place where time travelers make the occasional appearance and aliens from a variety of worlds might wander in at any time. Robinson devotees will recognize ‘Callahan’s Law’: “Shared pain is lessened, shared joy, increased – thus do we refute entropy.” And I would say that refuting entropy is a task worth accomplishing.

Callahan’s, of course, had forerunners, among them Gavagan’s Bar, which was the work of Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp, depicted in a series of tall tales (most of them, I believe, written for John Campbell’s Unknown) and collected into a 1953 book. The one that comes most readily to my mind, though, is Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart, a 1957 collection that brought science fiction and pub culture to a triumphant peak. These stories are still lively today, and recall a time when the members of the British Interplanetary Society and science fiction fans met regularly at such venues.

Image: Alpha Centauri Sunrise creator Robert Kennedy with the finished product.

Of course there are wonderful movie and TV bars in science fiction, from the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine (Star Wars) to Star Trek’s Ten Forward, which is where I would have spent my time on the Enterprise whenever possible. But Britain’s pub culture gave birth not only to Clarke’s Harry Purvis, the raconteur who spun his tales, but also to the British Interplanetary Society’s later work on Project Daedalus, the fusion starship design. Much of their work took place in a pub called the Mason’s Arms, where propulsion concepts and target stars offered just as magical a look at reality as anything in the White Hart. Thus it’s written SF and the White Hart I come back to when thinking of starships and bars.

Harry Purvis could hardly have had better companions than I had in Huntsville. Looking toward next week, I’ll be tapping the ideas of one of these, Ken Roy (The Ultimax Group), whose thoughts on colonizing outer system and deep space objects dovetail beautifully into my own thinking on gradual expansion into the Oort Cloud. Ken is a frequent contributor with colleagues Robert Kennedy and David Fields in venues like JBIS and Acta Astronautica. We’ll soon be looking at an unusual take on terraforming and how it might transform human expansion.


Image: Robert Kennedy’s co-author Ken Roy (left) and ‘neighbor/fellow habitué of the Friday Night Dinner Club’ John Preston, with Alpha Centauri Sunrises in hand.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Thomas Hackney February 15, 2013, 11:24

    I want one.

  • Greg February 15, 2013, 15:09

    Very nice, I’m thinking of a double for after work.

  • Mike February 15, 2013, 15:14

    Douglas Adams’ “restaurant at the end of the universe” looked pretty fun too. A Pan-galactic gargleblaster mixer perhaps?

  • Mark Stacey February 15, 2013, 16:53

    You missed Draco’s tavern! One of my favourite bars in science fiction.

  • Greg February 15, 2013, 17:52

    Mark, good read for a set of short stories!

  • Kelvin F. Long February 15, 2013, 19:21

    Hi Paul and all,
    I can confirm that Robert Kennedy’s drink is very nice and he made it for me. My comment was a dash more Moonrise was required to liven it up, and then it was wonderful.

    Regarding the Daedalus team, some clarification here Paul. Firstly, yes the Masons Arms is still there in Maddox Street, London, not far from Bond Street station. Actually, that was one of the pubs that Arthur C Clarke and others used to visit most of the time post war. I think the Daedalus team might have gone there only a couple of times.

    The main pub of choice (due to convenience) for their calculations was The Rising Sun pub at Aston Clinton, just north of London, which I believe now is an Indian take-away. Thats where the world’s first and only Starship was design people (more on this claim in a later blog article).

    Bob Parkinson discusses Daedalus and the pub this in his wonderful book “Interplanetary – A History of the British Interplanetary Society”, which is available from the BIS web site:


    Its well worth a read and goes right back to 1933. And in case people haven’t twigged, we are now in the 80th anniversary year of the BIS. Please raise a glass of the Alpha Centauri Sunrise on the BIS behalf. It surely needs it.

    Thanks all
    Best wishes

  • Karen Anderson February 16, 2013, 1:04

    From my recipe book. WSFA is the Washington Science Fiction Association, which I joined in 1952:

    Nuclear Fizz, from http://fancyclopedia.wikidot.com/nuclear-fizz, reprinted from Fancyclopedia 2 ca. 1959

    (Bob Pavlat) The fannish mixed drink. “Here’s what a Fizz is, and how it came about. It is: 1½ shot gin, 1 shot cointreau, 1 shot lemon or lime juice (and a lemon-lime mixture is better yet), 2 shots soda, 2 or 3 drops bitters. If you like them sweet, add more cointreau, and vary the amount of soda to suit your taste.

    “And here’s how it came about. At the PhilCon I, Chick Derry and I (Bob Pavlat) were drinking with Tom Hadley of the Buffalo Book Company… we liked the looks of Hadley’s drink, and ordered one from the bartender. Hadley gave the bartender the formula… the Nuclear Fizz formula. I don’t know where Hadley got the drink, but fandom obtained it from Hadley,

    “As to its popularization: Derry and I remembered our drink (it was ours by right of discovery, if not invention)… shortly after the CinVention, Boggs wrote that Kerkhof and I had saved his life at the con by dragging him into the bar and feeding him a drink. I don’t remember whether he used the name Nuclear Fizz [yes — ed.] but that’s what it was, and if he did that was the first appearance of the name in the fan press. The occasion of the drinking was the first time any fan other than Derry or I had silped a Fizz, Boggs and Kerkhof being introduced to it simultaneously.

    “The drink was introduced to the rest of WSFA after our return from the CinVention… and various WSFA members had a small Fizz party during the 1952 PhilCo.” From this, and the propagandizing of WSFAns, the Nuclear Fizz spread over fandom. “Two final facts: as far as I can recall, the name Nuclear Fizz is my creation. Silping was the invention of Lee Jacobs, who perfected and named the art.” — Bob Pavlat in Spacewarp.

    Tho not a needful part of the drink, Karen Anderson’s custom of putting vegetable coloring in it as a warning measure is well advised. Variations include vodka instead of gin, making a Nuclear Fuze; vodka and gin, a Nuclear Fuss.

  • Peter Raymond February 16, 2013, 8:30

    I definitely think the Restaurant at the End of the Universe is a top quality establishment that we would all love to visit – regularly Douglas Adams did not make it seem an unlikely prospect, merely a rather expensive one. The drinks, food and show would all be worth experiencing.

    I also wonder about the Hilton Hotel in Earth orbit shown in 2001: A Space Odyssey, surely the bar there would have views from “out of this world”.

  • Sean M. Brooks February 17, 2013, 1:03

    I’m glad to see mention, among others, of Sir Arthur Clarke’s fictional pub or inn, “The White Hart.” But Mrs. Anderson might enjoy me mentioning how Poul Anderson also created a very intriguing inn, “The Old Phoenix,” which can be found in stories like “House Rule” and novels like A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST.

    Sean M. Brooks

  • Dmitri February 18, 2013, 9:05

    “In fact, I’m surprised that “Alpha Centauri Sunrise” hasn’t been the title of a science fiction story somewhere along the line, but a quick check shows no such reference.”

    Tangerine Dream made in 1971 an album Alpha Centauri (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_Centauri_(album)) where they have pieces “Sunrise in the Third System” and “Alpha Centauri”. Sunrise is actually my favorit piece. No sci-fi story? One just have to come up w/ a suitable script.

    Never heard befor that cocktails are made by star’s name but always good to learn new things.

    Tangerin Dream “Sunrise In The Third System” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5SMyYj0D2o

  • ljk February 20, 2013, 13:40

    20 February 2013

    ** Contacts are listed below. **

    Text & Images:



    ESA’s Herschel space observatory has detected a cool layer in the atmosphere of Alpha Centauri A, the first time this has been seen in a star beyond our own Sun. The finding is not only important for understanding the Sun’s activity, but could also help in the quest to discover proto-planetary systems around other stars.

    The Sun’s nearest neighbors are the three stars of the Alpha Centauri system. The faint red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, is nearest at just 4.24 light-years, with the tight double star, Alpha Centauri AB, slightly further away at 4.37 light-years.

    Alpha Centauri B has recently been in the news after the discovery of an Earth-mass planet in orbit around it. But Alpha Centauri A is also very important to astronomers: almost a twin to the Sun in mass, temperature, chemical composition and age, it provides an ideal natural laboratory to compare other characteristics of the two stars.

    One of the great curiosities in solar science is that the Sun’s wispy outer atmosphere — the corona — is heated to millions of degrees while the visible surface of the Sun is ‘only’ about 6000 degrees C. Even stranger, there is a temperature minimum of about 4000 degrees C between the two layers, just a few hundred kilometers above the visible surface in the part of Sun’s atmosphere called the chromosphere.

    Both layers can be seen during a total solar eclipse, when the Moon briefly blocks the bright face of the Sun: the chromosphere is a pink-red ring around the Sun, while the ghostly white plasma streamers of the corona extend out millions of kilometers.

    The heating of the Sun’s atmosphere has been a conundrum for many years, but is likely to be related to the twisting and snapping of magnetic field lines sending energy rippling through the atmosphere and out into space — possibly in the direction of Earth — as solar storms. Why there is a temperature minimum has also long been of interest to solar scientists.

    Now, by observing Alpha Centauri A in far-infrared light with Herschel and comparing the results with computer models of stellar atmospheres, scientists have made the first discovery of an equivalent cool layer in the atmosphere of another star.

    “The study of these structures has been limited to the Sun until now, but we clearly see the signature of a similar temperature inversion layer at Alpha Centauri A,” says Renï¿œ Liseau of the Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden, and lead author of the paper presenting the results.

    “Detailed observations of this kind for a variety of stars might help us decipher the origin of such layers and the overall atmospheric heating puzzle.”

    Understanding the temperature structure of stellar atmospheres may also help to determine the presence of dusty planet-forming discs around other stars like the Sun.

    “Although it is likely only a small effect, a temperature minimum region in other stars could result in us underestimating the amount of dust present in a cold debris disc surrounding it,” says Dr. Liseau.

    “But armed with a more detailed picture of how Alpha Centauri A shines, we can hope to make more accurate detections of the dust in potential planet-bearing systems around other Sun-like stars.”

    “These observations are an exciting example of how Herschel can be used to learn more about processes in our own Sun, as well as in other Sun-like stars and the dusty discs that may exist around them,” says Gï¿œran Pilbratt, ESA’s Herschel Project Scientist.

    Media Contact:

    Markus Bauer
    ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communication Officer
    +31 71 565 6799, cell: +31 61 594 3 954

    Science Contacts:

    Renᅵ Liseau
    Chalmers University of Technology, Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden
    +46 31 772 55 05

    Gï¿œran Pilbratt
    ESA Herschel Project Scientist
    +31 71 565 3621

    “Alpha Centauri A in the far infrared. First measurement of the temperature minimum of a star other than the Sun,” by R. Liseau et al. is published in Astronomy & Astrophysics 549, L7 (2013):


    The survey was conducted as part of the DUNES (Dust around Nearby Stars) Herschel Key Program. Data were collected by the PACS instrument at 100 microns and 160 microns for the DUNES survey, and PACS 70 microns and 160microns and SPIRE 250 microns, 350 microns and 500 microns data obtained as part of the Hi-GAL program were also analyzed. Additional space- and ground-based infrared data were also included.

    Herschel is an ESA space observatory with science instruments provided by European-led Principal Investigator consortia and with important participation from NASA.