Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Making space for a space program

From the Department of the Sadly Obvious: "NASA officials admit Space Launch System is a rocket without a plan." This was, essentially, the content of an all-hands meeting last month at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. SLS, of course, is the heavy launch system being built to replace the cancelled Constellation heavy launch system, which was being built to replace the canceled-without-a-replacement-on-hand space shuttle.

All dressed up with nowhere to go?
Is this NASA's fault? Denying reality for so long is on them, but the reality itself originates in the highest levels of American government. Administrations routinely reset plans (most recently from the Bush 43 plan reliant upon the Constellation program to return to the Moon, to the SLS-centric vagueness [see below] with which the Obama administration replaced it). If there were interest at the top in a meaningful plan, what are the chances Congress would fund it?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Double jeopardy

Today's snailmail brought the April 2016 issue of Analog. Stranger things have happened than spotting my name on the zine's cover (*) -- although IIRC, the juxtaposition with a dinosaur is new. I'm quite certain that "Soap Opera," my novelette in this issue, is dinosaur-free.

(*) Don't take that to mean I'm blase about it. It's an honor.

But that's not the news ...

Over the years, Analog has hosted my fiction at every length, from the shortest of short stories through serialized novels. For the zine's nonfiction side, I've contributed science articles and guest editorials. And with this latest issue, I've staked out a bit of new territory: an "Alternate View" column. Call it a science article with attitude. "A certain uncertainty" is, at the least, worth a quantum of your contemplation :-)

And that, given the beastly cold I've been fighting this entire week, is apt to be all I'll have to say for awhile ...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Leggo my LIGO

Mind-blowingly awesome.

I can't get over my excitement at today's announcement by the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory) team. If, somehow, you've missed it: a century after gravitational waves were first predicted as a consequence of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, gravitational waves have been detected. Adding to the wondrousness of the announcement is that this particular detection also provides the first-ever direct confirmation that black holes -- another implication of General Relativity -- also exist.

Making waves
A paradigm-shifting theory a century young. An experimental quest begun way back in 1972. The sensitivity to detect ripples in space-time, each passing ripple momentarily changing an aspect of the measurement instrument by less than the width of a proton.

And let's not forget the source of those tiny ripples: a cataclysmic event that happened 1.3 billion light-years from us! Two colliding black holes that, in a trice, converted into energy the mass of three suns!

Monday, February 8, 2016

The write stuff? Of science, fiction, and language

Looking for some good SF to read? You might check out this compilation of scientists' preferences in the genre. Such lists pop up regularly; this latest example is from Down Under. See: "Australian Scientists Choose Their Favourite Science Fiction Books."

There's nothing to read, and precious little to view -- you do not want to get me started on "reality" TV -- without writers. On the subject of writers, here's something to make you think (at the least, to smile): "5 Things TV Writers Apparently Believe About Smart People." Some of those odd perceptions deal with scientists.

When "they" were plural ...
From writing, we'll segue to language, from the Department of The World Is Going to Hell in a Hand Basket: "Sorry, grammar nerds. The singular ‘they’ has been declared Word of the Year."

Alas, if I want my dictionary to include words like nanotechnology, I have to chance coming across abominations like singular "they." We live in perilous times.

Now I'm off to sling some words into my own book ... hopefully with few abominations among them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Getting physical (again)

I haven't posted physics news for weeks, and there is much to catch up on. This should give us a good start.

Now with hidden dimensions!
A battle is underway for the soul of physics. That battle rages over the proper balance and relationship between theory and experiment, and the extent to which the subjective beauty of the mathematics underpinning any particular theory matters.

Me? I'm all for bold theorizing -- it offers great grist for the SF-authorial mill -- but when wearing my physicist hat, I'm troubled when a theory, such as string theory (the umbrella term, as it happens, for many theories, not just one), not only hasn't been confirmed experimentally, but offers no hope, even (ahem) theoretically, for testability. For a longer discussion, see "Data vs Theory: The Mathematical Battle for the Soul of Physics."

Now we can all calm down :-)
A longstanding riddle about our understanding of the Universe -- aka, Big Bang theory -- involves the relative abundances of specific elements from the periodic table. In particular, the observed prevalence of lithium is simply way below Big Bang predictions. So is our overarching cosmological theory wrong?

Perhaps not. A recent study concludes all that lithium was produced and still exists, but much of it has disappeared down the maw of stars. Cool (or, er, hot) stuff. See one of Astronomy Magazine's top-ten stories of 2015:  "Solving the lithium mystery."