Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cool Stuff From Kepler For Science Fiction Writers

A couple of days ago, I found a link to an interesting article on  The article/slide show focuses on the strangest alien planets found by the Kepler spacecraft/telescope.  Some of the worlds discovered could be particularly interesting for science fiction writers who want to include real science to add to the story credibility.  Here are a few examples of worlds from the slide show and how they could be used. 

  • Closest planet:  Epsilon Eridani b orbits an orange sun-like star only 10.5 light years away.  Whether your story uses faster-than-light (FTL) travel, near-light-speed, or stasis, you could reference such a world as a staging area for sending ships deeper into space.  A space station or planet-side outpost coule be used.  It could also be a staging area for an aggressive species planning to invade Earth.
  • A planet in Globular Cluster M4 is referenced as the oldest planet found - an estimated 8 billion years before Earth.  If you want to discuss more advanced races, an older planet is a good place to start, that way you don't have to get into debates on the speed of the evolutionary process.  They had a head start.
  • Fastest planet:  at only 740,000 miles from its sun, this planet makes its orbit every 10 hours.  I honestly couldn't say how to use it, but it just seemed too interesting not to mention.
  • Waterworld:  A hyperspace-hop, slipstream-skip, and warp-jump away at only 40 light years lies GJ 1214b.  Researchers believe that this planet (about 3X the size of Earth and over 6X as massive) is most likely a water world.  I shouldn't have to give the obvious suggestion that humans move to this world for the water.  It could be a good place to bring up aquatic alien life (sentient or otherwise).  But another possiblity is another staging area.  Load up on more water for consumption and/or splitting water atoms to take oxygen for life support and hydrogen for fuel.
  • Dying world:  WASP-18 is another world with a fast orbit - less than one Earth day and scientists theorize it could be orbiting closer to its star and impending doom.  This could be tied to lost civilization, planetary evacuation types of stories.  Encountering ships from the survivors.
  • Most Habitable:  Gliese 581 d.  Only about 20 light-years away this is apparently the world with the greatest possibility for being habitable.  It's about 8X as massive as Earth.  I googled for a bit more since I'd heard of Gliese 581 before and found similar stories about the Gliese 581 c possibly being habitable.  Note that 581c also has a quick orbit  - 13 days.  Again, obvious story-lines one could use include staging area for deeper space travel, colonization...  Consider the potential difficulty of colonizing a world with a short orbit.

Keep in mind that Kepler's mission is to search for Earth-sized/like worlds.  Some of these don't fit that description, but they're interesting nonetheless.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Researchers Grow Brain Cells.

According to an article I read through the Fox News web site, researchers have reported success in growing brain cells.  That's right, brain cells.  The cells in are called astrocytes and can play an important role in diseases like dementia and others effecting the central nervous system (astrocytes are found in the brain and spinal cord).

Naturally I'm sharing this for what it could mean to writers of science fiction.  Technology to regrow brain cells could eventually lead to curing many brain-related illnesses, correcting brain damage suffered from accidents...

On another note, this article shows how quickly things we see as possible only in science fiction can quickly make the sci-fi technology obsolete.  Fans of Star Trek:  The Original Series will no doubt remember the episode "Spock's Brain" where Spock's brain is stolen and used to run an underground complex.  McCoy, with the help of an alien teaching device eventually puts Spock's brain back.  But with this technology, perhaps it would be possible in 200-300 years to regrow the brain.  Perhaps they could just download the consciousness. 

Another Star Trek reference is the Next Generation episode when Worf's spine is broken and an experimental treatment is used to regrow his spine.  In about 300 years, that could be more common than shown.

Okay, Worf and Spock aren't human, but that's not relevant.  In both shows, it was indicated that the situation would have been as dire for humans (or worse).  Who knows.  By the time those dates really come around, such repairs could be as routine as an appendectomy is now. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Zombie Brain

I recently stumbled across this cool article on the zombie brain - how sci fi teaches science.  Some interesting components include references to child psychiatrist, Dr. Steven Schlozman's new novel "The Zombie Autopsies."  While I'm not a big reader of zombie novels (although I love AMC's Walking Dead), I'm always interested in the perspective of experts turning up the science fiction in their fields or related fields.  Schlozman's novel seems to use a one-part resident evil, one part cold virus in that the virus was deliberately engineered but can be passed without taking a bite out of helpless victims.

Inserting some facts, the virus would have to completely destroy the frontal lobes to take away higher reasoning and logic functions.  If you've watched Walking Dead, you may remember a scene in the secret CDC bunker where the scientist was experimenting with zombie blood and had actually scanned his own wife's brain as she deteriorated, died, and turned zombie.  The scene showed the scan of her brain as it shut down and then only a small part started working again.

The article goes on to discuss how such a virus would be made, how we'd probably fight back, and even ties it to actual infectious diseases we face today.

Overall, and interesting article and a promising premise for the book.  If the book is half as intriguing as this article, it should be a great read.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

50th Anniversary

As Cinco De Mayo comes to an end, let us take a moment to remember an important historical event - one especially relevant for sci-fi and space fans.  It was 50 years ago today that Alan B. Shepard Jr. climbed into the Freedom 7 capsule and, in a 15 minute sub-orbital flight, became the first American in space.

Thank you Mr. Shepard.