Monday, February 13, 2017

This (maybe) is how the world ends ...

SF writers enjoy wreaking (fictitious!) mass destruction, and I'm no exception. In Dark Secret, for example, I pretty much sterilized the solar system with a gamma ray burst. (That's not a spoiler ... you find this out early in the novel. The story is all about what comes after the discovery of that imminent danger.)(*)

Amazon link
(*) I know what you're thinking: gamma rays travel at light speed -- because they are (high-frequency) light. If the arrival of gamma rays is the first you know about a GRB in the galactic neighborhood? Well, you're toast. That said, one of the mechanisms that can produce a GRB emits "I'm going to blow" indications before the actual blast (warnings which you won't detect without a gravitational-wave observatory, such as, but more sensitive than, LIGO).

How else, at a global or grander level, might things go Really Bad? I haven't done a death-by-asteroid novel (yet), but rocks from the sky are popular among my peers. (Though not so much with dinosaurs. Just sayin'.) A recent study suggests that asteroids may pose a bigger risk to us homo saps than formerly supposed. See "Fresh craters point to constant 'churning' of moon's surface." The takeaway: More than 200 new craters popped up on the moon over the past seven years – a third more than expected.

And the moon, after all, is quite nearby ...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The universe never ceases to amaze

A few wonders (some still at the speculation stage, admittedly) to ponder:

Light's not only pushy, it can be a drag. "Sun's own light may be slowing its surface spin."

A little light music ...

One of the key parameters in modern cosmological thinking is Hubble's Constant -- and we may not yet know its value. "HOLiCOW! Astronomers measuring the expansion of the universe confirm that we still don’t understand everything."

Pulsars are very power emitters of energy in radio frequencies. Pulsars pulse with metronomic regularity -- except, apparently, not all of them. "Astronomers discover two pulsars with an 'off' switch: Now you see them, now you don’t." (Shades of the "on-off star" in Vernor Vinge's excellent A Deepness in the Sky.)

Rock of ages ...

And again close to home, "The solar system’s weirdest asteroid has frozen water on its surface: 16 Psyche, a metallic relic of the early solar system, just got weirder." (Does 16 Psyche ring a bell? Well it might. Just last month NASA picked it as the target for a future asteroid mission: "NASA Selects Two Missions to Explore the Early Solar System.")
 
And perhaps that's enough weird for one post ...

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Yippee ki-yay

A roundup from the fringes of physics ...

Do magnetic monopoles exist? (Think of a magnetic monopole as a tiny north pole without a matching south pole, or vice versa -- even though bisecting a bar magnet always produces two smaller bar magnets, each with a north and a south pole.) No magnetic monopole has ever been detected, but some post-Standard Model (hence, speculative) theories of particle physics allow for magnetic monopoles. Here's one more notion about how -- if magnetic monopoles are real -- we might detect them: "Can corkscrewing lasers solve an enduring particle physics mystery?"

Part of ITER, under construction
Will we ever have fusion reactors? It seems like controlled fusion technology has been twenty years into our future for at least fifty years. The latest forecast for international science's premier fusion project (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, aka ITER) is again forecasting success in about twenty years (2035, to be precise). See "ITER Council endorses updated project schedule."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

About the status quo ...

No, this isn't a political rumination. I don't do those (and you're welcome).

The world as we know it ...
The standard model of particle physics has endured every challenge for more than half a century (see, for example, "LHC's Newest Data: A Victory For The Standard Model, Defeat For New Physics"). General relativity has withstood every challenge for a full century. And yet clearly our understanding of the universe is incomplete ...

Consider "Five Independent Signs Of New Physics In The Universe." If physics interests you, all five issues are worth a look -- but the item of most interest to me is dark matter. Bottom line: the behavior of such large objects as galaxies and galactic clusters doesn't fit with our understanding of gravity absent lots of unseen matter. If we do understand gravity -- the heart of general relativity -- then there must be lots of dark matter out there. But the standard model has no place for a dark-matter particle(s), and no search for dark-matter particles -- or for any particle physics beyond the standard model(*) -- has yet borne fruit.

(*) For example, super-symmetry or string theory.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Short stuff

If you haven't run across 'em, two of my short stories saw print (and electrons) this month.

In Analog, the January/February issue has "Paradise Regained." (And if you've lost track, I have another short story and a novelette in their queue.)

In Galaxy's Edge, the January issue also offers a short story of mine. The zine posts some of each issue, a subset which in this instance includes my contribution. Check it out: "The Torchman's Tale." (I have another short story in the queue there, as well.)

In related news, I completed the secret-history novella discussed in my last short-fiction roundup (aka, Short fiction. Shorter updates.). Then I knocked out a short story that came out of nowhere, demanding to be written. More news about both (and others?) as it happens.

With the holidays and the novella behind me, I really do need to get back to the latest, half-written novel ...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The news is astronomical!

Happy 2017, everyone! To kick off the new year, I thought I'd share some fascinating (to me, anyway) year-end 2016 astronomy news.

Dry as a bone?
Mars is super-dry, right? Well, yes and no. The surface certainly appears to be, but, as Phys.org reports,"Mars ice deposit holds as much water as Lake Superior." That should make eventual colonization easier. (Hey, the year is young. Permit me a bit of optimism.)

What lurks behind?
You'd think entire galactic clusters would be difficult to overlook. In general you'd be right. Even so, Cosmos reports that "Galactic supercluster found hiding behind Milky Way." (One of the many pluses of the new astronomical sub-specialty of gravitational observation is: gravitational waves pass through pesky obstacles like dust clouds and galaxies -- though that's not how this lurker was finally detected.)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Biological bits

My academic background, first/pre-writing career, and typical surfing all involve(d) physics and computer science -- but I nonetheless sometimes run across interesting biological topics. And so, herewith, one in an occasional series of looks at news from the biological, including the exo-biological, frontier...

Johnny Bee Goode?
I read a lot of alarmist mentions of "colony collapse disorder" affecting bees. Here's a more upbeat look: "Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine." The takeaway:
You've probably heard the bad news by now that bees were recently added to the endangered species list for the first time. But if you're part of the 60 percent of people who share stories without actually reading them, you might have missed an important detail: namely, that the newly endangered bees are a handful of relatively obscure species who live only in Hawaii.
The bees you're more familiar with — the ones that buzz around your yard dipping into flowers, making honey, pollinating crops and generally keeping the world's food supply from collapsing? Those bees are doing just fine, according to data released by the USDA this year.

Mechanical and biological approaches to design seem disjoint. True, such approaches often differ -- but disjoint is a higher standard, disprovable by a single counterexample. As in this one: "Functioning 'mechanical gears' seen in nature for the first time." Said gears are found in the jumping mechanism of an insect. (Cool, no?)