Monday, July 8, 2013

A New Mission

The newly launched Swift satellite floats above Earth in a silent orbit, going about its mission to detect deep space Gamma Ray Bursts. Without warning, its sensors are inundated with massive amounts of energy coming from a direction it isn't even pointed, the surge traveling right through the body of the craft to saturate its sensors with 2.5 million photons per second.

The Solar-observation satellite RHESSI also records the event, as does INTEGRAL, a satellite designed to detect gamma rays emitting from distant massive black holes. The ground-based VLA antennas and almost a dozen other satellites also detect it and see its reflection on the Moon. Some are blinded by the pulse.

The intense wave of energy continues, colliding with the Earth's upper atmosphere, ionizing parts of it. Some scientists hear the Earth's magnetic field chime like a bell.

The pulses continue every 7.56 seconds--the length of a single rotation of the object spinning off the energy blast, an object only a dozen miles across but with the mass of the sun. Its fastball pitch of potential destruction has arrived from a distance of 50,000 light years, or 300 quadrillion miles out in the cosmos. The event is caused by a monster lurking half-way across the Milky Way Galaxy in the constellation Sagittarius.

And we never see it coming until it's already gone.

This isn't Science Fiction. It's a description of an astronomical event that occurred on December 27, 2008, resulting in the brightest cosmic explosion in recorded history from beyond our own solar system.  There had been two known giant flares in the 35 years prior, but this one was 100 times more powerful. Had it been closer it could have caused devastating damage to our atmosphere and even triggered a mass extinction event.

What caused it?

SGR 1806-20. A magnetar: A type of neutron star. Or to be more precise, a starquake on the face of that particular neutron star.

This starquake--hypothetically measured at 32 on the Richter scale--resulted in an ultraviolet blast which caused a terrifying trigger of subatomic particles and the release of X-ray energy from the star.

Magnetars are not only very dense--just a thimblefull of material weighing in at about 100 million tons--they are the most magnetic objects in the universe. Making them the kind of cosmic beasts you don't want to be near. If a magnetar approached Earth, it would destroy information on the magnetic strips of credit cards from a distance of 125,000 miles, then it would begin attracting metallic objects from the surface, and finally it would stop your heart by disrupting the magnetic impulses within your body before literally ripping your atoms apart.

Since the December 27, 2008 event, other magnetars been discovered much closer than we first thought, and there could be magnetars lurking as near of 5,000 light years away.

The good news is that a magnetar would probably have to be within 10 light years of Earth to create a mass extinction event or strip away our atmosphere.

Probably.

Space has a thousand ways to kill us, and it's all great fodder for SFR writers.

Putting the Science in SFR: Our Support Mission

Did the opening to my blog sound like the start of a short SF story? Did the premise intrigue you or maybe even give you goosebumps? Great! That was the intent.

I stumbled on this info while doing one of my recon missions for ideas. I love perusing science sites to catch some of the latest ideas, read up on new discoveries or learn about things I didn't know.

I like my SFR work to have a basis in science to balance out the soft romantic interludes. To write SFR, an author doesn't need to be an astrobiology major, or have a PhD in chemical physics (though I know one who does), we only need do a little bit of research and apply a liberal amount of imagination. I'm not talking about creating technical manuals of course (boooring), just weaving in some sound innovation and imagination to be all wrapped with a romantic bow.

But ideas don't only come from science end of the spectrum. Politics can throw any budding romance into a quandry. Societal influences can cause conflict. Even military culture can build seemingly insurmountable walls between a couple who are hopelessly attracted to one another (The Outback Stars, anyone?). There's a lot of territory to inspire ideas out yonder on the wild blue internet.

And just where do we start to look for these ideas?

How about right here?

It just so happens we've compiled a list of links to a number of muse-inspiring sites on a new page called RESEARCH LOUNGE. (See tab at the top of the blog.) Check a few of them out and you're sure to find something that catches your muse's eye and might even make the basis for a great story.

We have a GENERAL RESEARCH section with links to some fantastic sites like Hubble.com and NASA, but it's not only about space. You can find links to info on ancient empires, forms of government, pyramids, quantum levitation, and a guide to US Military enlisted and officers ranks and insignia. There are also some great sites like Science Daily and Discovery News that cover the gamut of Earth-bound science, theory and breakthrough news on all fronts.

There's also a link list under STARSHIP DESIGN. Having a general knowledge of the components and theory of how a starship works could help add realism to a space-based story. Thanks to co-blogger Pippa Jay, there's also a list of IMAGE SITES if you'd like to do some graphics browsing.

Another source: Scroll down near the bottom of this blog and you'll see three "feed" boxes:

NEWS FEED
Science Fiction Romance News
VIDEO FEED

Watch the headlines scroll through and click on any that intrigues you, or click on the image and title of a video clip that catches your fancy.

Many moon orbits ago, this blog was created around the idea of becoming a one-stop shopping source for SF/R writers looking for inspiration. I'm dedicated to renewing that mission.

So what sort of gems can you find in this collection of cool research sites? Here's just a few hits from a 10 minute surf session done on July 4th:

Paypal Begins Work on an Off-World Monetary System

Human Origins: A Chimp-Pig Hybrid?

June Month in Space Slide Show
(A rolling stone...on Mars. What's Manhattanhenge?)

How Human Brains Could be Hacked

So this is where we ask for your help, advice and input. Do you have any favorite research sites that you don't see listed? Have any favorite YouTube videos or channels that you find inspiring or mind-blowing? We'd love to add your favorite links to our list. Just post the link in comments below and your name, user name or pen name as you'd like it to appear. We'll credit you with the addition.

So pull up a hoverchair and have a Billins on us while you hang out in our shiny new Research Lounge and create your next SF/R masterpiece. We'll be waiting to read it.

~~~ * ~~~

5 comments:

  1. Great idea! Here are a few of my favs that I use all the time. (I scanned your section but if I've got duplicates just ignore):

    Popular Science http://www.popsci.com/

    Science Magazine http://www.sciencemag.org/

    Scientific American http://www.scientificamerican.com/

    SETI Institute http://www.seti.org/?pid=1366

    MIT Technology Review http://www.technologyreview.com/

    The Planetary Society http://planetary.org/ (this one might be member-limited)

    Cosmos Magazine http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/

    Don't worry about siting me. These are all on my blog's sidebar and for everyone.

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  2. Love this site. I concur with AR Norris about adding those links. They are incubators for new ideas of stories for me.

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  3. Much thanks, AR. We've added your gallery of links to our listing. Love seeing the library grow.

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  4. A great list of resources!

    I'm subscribed to a couple of science pages on facebook (Space.com, I f*&^% love science, and a few others.) I find it a really convenient way to pick up new developments I might otherwise miss.

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  5. I second Rinelle's choices - I follow both of those. What about my book reviewers list, Laurie?

    http://www.pippajay.blogspot.co.uk/p/book-reviewers-list.html

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