STARSLAM ’17

Science!

FiveThirtyEight has a wonderful story about how August 17th was pretty much the biggest day in astronomy history.

On that day, astronomers bore witness to the titanic collision of two neutron stars, the densest things in the universe besides black holes. In the collision’s wake, astronomers answered multiple major questions that have dominated their field for a generation. They solved the origin of gamma-ray bursts, mysterious jets of hardcore radiation that could potentially roast Earth. They glimpsed the forging of heavy metals, like gold and platinum. They measured the rate at which the expansion of the universe is accelerating. They caught light at the same time as gravitational waves, confirmation that waves move at the speed of light.

That’s a big day!

Richard O’Shaughnessy, an astronomer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, describes the discovery as a “Rosetta stone for astronomy.” “What this has done is provide one event that unites all these different threads of astronomy at once,” he said. “Like, all our dreams have come true, and they came true now…”

“It’s a wonderful time, it’s a terrifying time,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I can’t really capture the wonder and the horror and glee and happiness.”

Coincidentally The Wonder and The Horror and Glee and Happiness would be what I’d call a barbershop quartet, if I were in one. Or they were still a thing.

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Sunday Roundup

Happy Sunday, folks!

Down in San Antonio, the winners of the 2017 World Fantasy Awards have been… well, awarded. Lovely to see Terry Brooks get a lifetime achievement nod. Shame I almost certainly won’t get around to reading many of these books for years, if ever.

In at #1 in the chart of movies I’m looking forward to that aren’t actually real: Black Panther vs. Wolverine!

That is probably the most lovingly created fan mashup trailer I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.

I haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok yet (probably will on Tuesday) but if it’s even half as funny as James Corden’s Thor: Ragnarok 4D, it’s going to be hilarious.

“She’s crushed your special hammer!”

“Nooo!”

(Mild spoilers, but nothing you can’t guess if you’ve seen the trailers.)

Meanwhile, Amazon are in talks to produce a live action Lord of the Rings TV show. Personally, I’d much rather they spent their billions producing an adaptation of a never-before-filmed series: how about a Bas-Lag series based on China Mieville’s novels, or a Malazan series based on Steven Erikson and Cam Esslemont’s world? Push the envelope, Bezos!

Finally, over at the Wertzone, or rather at one of his other blogs Atlas of Ice and Fire, Adam has completed another series of wildly ambitious maps of G. R. R. Martin’s SoIaF world. That’s dedication.

Have a good week!

Monday Morning Multiverse

Morning, gang. Let’s get those science synapses firing with some layman’s terms explanation of why ‘The Multiverse is Inevitable and We’re Living in It‘:

Imagine that the Universe we observe, from end-to-end, is just a drop in the cosmic ocean. That beyond what we can see, there’s more space, more stars, more galaxies, and more everything, for perhaps countless billions of light years farther than we’ll ever be able to access. And that as large as the unobservable Universe is, that there are again innumerably more Universes just like it — some larger and older, some smaller and younger — dotted throughout an even larger spacetime. As rapidly and inevitably as these Universes expand, the spacetime containing them expands even more quickly, driving them apart from one another, and ensuring that no two Universes will ever meet. It sounds like a fantasy picture: the scientific idea of a Multiverse. But if the science we accept today is correct, it’s not only a valid idea, it’s an unavoidable consequence of our fundamental laws.

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Basically:

…the Multiverse is a theoretical prediction that comes out of the laws of physics as they’re best understood today. It’s perhaps even an inevitable consequence of those laws: if you have an inflationary Universe governed by quantum physics, this is something you’re pretty much destined to wind up with.

Thus proving what I always knew: DC Comics were right all along!

The Universe Might Be Very WHIM-sical

What a terrible pun. Anyway, a quick one from the Guardian, ‘Astronomers find half of the missing matter in the universe’:

The distribution of galaxies in the universe follows a web-like pattern and scientists have speculated that the missing baryons could be floating in diffuse gaseous filaments and sheets linking the galaxy clusters in the cosmic web.

Theoretical calculations suggest these gaseous threads, known as the warm–hot intergalactic medium, or the Whim, ought to be around a million degrees celsius. A mist of gas at this temperature is too cold to emit X-rays that could be spotted by ordinary telescopes from the Earth – but not cold enough to absorb significant amounts of light passing through it.

This Whim stuff sounds a bit like aether to me. Very nineteenth-century.

Back in the Guardian:

The initial measurements still do not account for all the ordinary matter, and some believe the remaining portion could be made up by exotic unobserved objects such as black holes or dark stars. Cosmologists are also still yet to discover the nature of dark matter, which makes up even more of the universe.

I, for one, have faith that our cosmologists will solve this mystery, as soon as they complete their 1960s Soviet-era spacewalks and come on home.

Wait, that’s cosmonauts.

Space, it turns out, is much like getting a beach-ready body while having it all at work and learning sizzling sex moves: dominated by Cosmo.

Sunday Roundup

Hey, did you know there’s a Justice League movie coming out soon? No? You didn’t?

I DON’T BELIEVE YOU.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. BvS: DoJ was pretty relentlessly grim and… whatever the opposite of uplifting is. Downdropping? But I’m hopeful that DC will have taken on board what made Wonder Woman so popular and leaned into the more positive themes that made the League so popular in the comics. Bringing Jos Whedon on board to captain the ship after Zack Snyder’s sad departure was a good choice, too.

Meanwhile, check out the Pacific Rim: Uprising trailer for HOT ROBOT VS. ROBOT NINJA SWORDFIGHTING ACTION:

Over at io9 they have news on Amazon’s upcoming series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams:

“I don’t like to call it episodes, I like to call it a series of 10 movies,” showrunner Michael Dinner said.

Dinner explained each episode has different writers and directors, and they were given creative freedom to take the short stories and interpret them in whatever way they saw fit. This is in addition to the rotating cast, which includes stars like Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston, Janelle Monae, and Liam Cunningham, the only actor who appeared at the panel. Executive producer (and Philip K. Dick’s daughter) Isa Dick Hackett said she felt this was the best way to approach Dick’s short stories, which she called “the gems of his ideas,” in a way that both honored his work but also made the messages relatable to a modern audience.

Aslo at io9, we discover Scott Snyder is working on a new Batman book:

Here’s how Snyder describes Last Knight:

Batman suddenly wakes up and he’s… young. But he wakes up in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, crawling out of the sand in this Gotham City that’s been ruined. He’s got the Joker’s head chained to his belt, but it’s alive and like, ‘You gotta move, kid!’ It’s got old Wonder Woman, Baby Superman—it’s like my Lone Wolf and Cub Batman story.

Cheerful!

The Atlantic has a very interesting–and somewhat worrying–piece on satellites, on Sputnik’s sixtieth anniversary.

Sputnik’s spectators could not have anticipated that this event—the launch of the first human-made satellite into space—would ignite a race to the stars between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nor could they have known that they were, all of them, standing at the precipice of a new era in human history of near-complete reliance on satellite technology. For them, Sputnik was a sudden flash of innovation, something at which to marvel briefly. For their children and grandchildren and generations after, satellites would become the quiet infrastructure that powered the technology that runs their world.

And what if they all fell out of the sky tomorrow?

Without operational communications satellites, most television would disappear. People in one country would be cut off from the news reports in another. The satellite phones used by people in remote areas, like at a research station in Antarctica or on a cargo ship in the Atlantic, would be useless. Space agencies would be unable to talk to the International Space Station, leaving six people effectively stranded in space. Militaries around the world would lose contact with troops in conflict zones. Air-traffic controllers couldn’t talk to pilots flying aircraft over oceans….

“Would it severely disrupt the way we live right now? Yes,” Collins said. “Would people be starving in the streets or would there be civil disobedience? That’s hard to say. Potentially.”

Fingers crossed for no, then.

Finally, in vaguely fantastical but mostly just hilarious TV news: you should be watching The Good Place.

When Eleanor Shellstrop finds herself in the afterlife, she’s both relieved and surprised that she’s made it into the Good Place. But it doesn’t take long for Eleanor to realize she’s there by mistake.

Oh my word is it funny. Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, sharp writing, great acting all around. Season one is on Netflix now. Check it out!

Our Whole Universe Was In a Hot, Dense State

A quick science read to get the brain moving in tandem with your morning coffee: over at Medium, The Big Bang Wasn’t The Beginning, After All.

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“Wait, what?”

Space, time, and all the matter and energy within began from a singular point, and then expanded and cooled, giving rise over billions of years to the atoms, stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies spread out across the billions of light years that make up our observable Universe. It’s a compelling, beautiful picture that explains so much of what we see, from the present large-scale structure of the Universe’s two trillion galaxies to the leftover glow of radiation permeating all of existence. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong, and scientists have known this for almost 40 years.

“Great, so this is another topic where my physics teachers were just lying to me throughout school. Thanks, childhood.”

Anyway, tell us more!

[However, some] specific things you would expect from the Big Bang didn’t happen. In particular:

  1. The Universe doesn’t have different temperatures in different directions, even though an area billions of light-years away in one direction never had time (since the Big Bang) to interact with or exchange information with an area billions of light-years in the opposite direction.
  2. The Universe doesn’t have a measurable spatial curvature that’s different from zero, even though a Universe that’s perfectly spatially flat requires a perfect balance between the initial expansion and the matter-and-radiation density.
  3. The Universe doesn’t have any leftover ultra-high-energy relics from the earliest times, even though the temperatures that would create these relics should have existed if the Universe were arbitrarily hot.

Theorists thinking about these problems started thinking of alternatives to a “singularity” to the Big Bang, and rather of what could recreate that hot, dense, expanding, cooling state while avoiding these problems. In December of 1979, Alan Guth hit upon a solution.

1979? Six years before I was born, we knew about this. I’m outraged. I won’t spoil the reveal, but go read the full article–it’s fascinating, slightly head-scratching stuff.

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Image credit: NASA / CXC / M.Weiss.

I’ll never watch The Big Bang Theory in the same light again.

Sunday Roundup

A series of varying regularity, wherein I point at things I’ve read on the internet. Some sci, some fi, some fantasy, some very random.

Elon Musk continues to be entirely serious about colonizing Mars. And now he’s pretty sure he can make money doing it, and business being what it is, that makes the whole endeavor a lot more likely to succeed. From NYT:

Speaking on Friday at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Mr. Musk said he had figured out a workable business plan, although his presentation lacked financial figures to back up his assertions.

Mr. Musk has long talked about his dreams of colonizing Mars, and at the same conference last year, he finally provided engineering details: a humongous reusable rocket called the Interplanetary Transport System.

But he did not convincingly explain then how SpaceX, still a company of modest size and revenues, could finance such an ambitious project.

“Now we think we have a better way to do it,” he said Friday.

The new rocket and spaceship would replace everything that SpaceX is currently launching or plans to launch in the near future. “That’s really fundamental,” Mr. Musk said.

 

Mars City Opposite of Earth. Dawn and dusk sky are blue on Mars and day sky is red.

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

While we’re on the topic, if you haven’t already read Tim Urban’s incredibly in-depth post on Space X and Musk’s plan for a Martian colony, you really should set aside a while and dive in. It’s truly fascinating stuff. In fact, do yourself a favor and read his entire series on Musk and his businesses: you may not be as big a fan as Urban is (and, full disclosure, I am) but it’s worth your time to understand the man and what he’s aiming to do. He’s one of a few individuals, along with Bezos and Zuckerberg, who have the ambition, finances and staggering arrogance to fully believe they can change the world for the better–and who knows, might even be right.

Elsewhere, Luc Besson has written a script for a sequel to Lucy:

I’m a bit surprised simply because the original, which starred Scarlett Johansson as the eponymous Lucy, who gains super thinking powers after a weird run in with some superdrugs, didn’t leave much room in its ending for a sequel.

I thoroughly enjoyed the slightly trashy original, so I’d certainly give a sequel a look. Interested to see what direction he’s gone with it. ScarJo as God? With Luc Besson, you really never know.

Justice League meets Power Rangers! Friendship ensues! Aww.

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The British Fantasy Awards happened, which means there are even more books I should read that I won’t get to for ages.

And finally, Amazon continue to be a TV production company with some potentially mouth-watering SF adaptations:

It will adapt Neal Stephenson classic, neo-quasi-cyberpunk novel which introduces us to pizza deliveryman/hacker Hiro Protagonist, his business partner YT, and their adventures in a future divided between life in a grim corprocracy and in the Metaverse, a virtual reality that is being threatened by a terrifying virus.

I’d particularly like to see Snow Crash on TV, just to see a group of actors attempt to say ‘Hiro Protagonist’ with a straight face.

Have a good week, folks.

P.S. 2,100 words of the WIP written today!

Sunday Roundup

The first in a series of varying regularity, wherein I point at things I’ve read on the internet. Some sci, some fi, some fantasy, some very random.

First up, the wonderfully titled ‘Middle-earth Cage Match: Bill the Pony vs. Shadowfax‘ over at Tor.com. The author has really put some work in to first articulate what in the heck the difference between a horse and a pony really is, anyway, and then who would win in a cross-discipline matchup between sturdy Bill and coiffed glamour boy Shadowfax.

Pound for pound, too, a pony can be stronger than a horse. Shetlands can carry a grown man with ease, though his feet may drag on the ground. Horses will lose weight-bearing capability as they get larger; a very large horse is challenged enough to carry his own weight around without also carrying a heavy rider. A really big horse is not what you want to carry your very heavy rider, especially if he’s in armor. You want a cob, a stocky, sturdily built animal in the mid rage between pony and horse—14.2 to 15.2 hands. The Welsh Cob is a great example, as is the Lipizzaner. Forlong the Fat, in my head, is riding a largeish Welsh Cob, and the Cob is rocking it.

Great stuff.

Also at Tor, a lovely retrospective on Gattaca, and why it ranks high in the sci-fi movie pantheon Worth a rewatch–it’s not on Netflix, unfortunately, but you can rent it HD from Amazon Video for a few dollars.

At io9, Tom Hiddlestone is surprised Loki hasn’t been offed yet. I’m not, given he’s the best character in the MCU in my humble opinion. As the author points out:

He manages to bring a dashing chaos to Loki, like James Bond doing a Joker impression.

(Time to dust off those Hiddlestone-replaces-Craig-as-Bond rumors, too.)

Oh my word. Adam at The Wertzone appears to have written at least a hundred thousands words ‘summarizing’ the history of Middle-earth in ten parts so far. Impressive, albeit intimidating. Warm up, stretch and hydrate before attempting.

Back in the MCU (kind of – MTU?), the trailer for the upcoming Punisher Netflix show dropped. And Frank… well, Frank is angry.

I’m very excited to see this, as John Bernthal is fantastic and his Frank Castle was the best part of a… let’s say uneven season two of Daredevil. I’ve a little catching up to do first though, as I’ve yet to finish Luke Cage (excellent), Iron Fist (slog) or even start The Defenders. Of the latter, I’ve heard good things, but apparently people aren’t watching it–perhaps more viewers than just me are struggling to keep up with all the other good TV on. (We’ve only just started Stranger Things and season two starts next month!)

Apparently there’s a TV adaption of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series in the works. The writers have decent resumes:

Writers David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman will be transforming the novels for the small screen. Goyer’s credits include Ghost Rider and Blade, while Friedman’s projects include the War of the worlds remake and Terminator: the Sarah Connor chronicles.

I’ve read all of the Foundation novels, and as well as being wonderful science fiction novels they’re all to an extent treatises on philosophy, psychology, sociology and politics. Whether that depth can be adequately transferred to a TV version is debatable–but I’m sure plenty of A Song of Ice and Fire fans were convinced that was unadaptable too.

Finally, in natural science news, ‘Sexual rivals can influence the size of a duck’s penis‘:

As study author Patricia Brennan, a visiting lecturer of biological sciences at the institution, told National Geographic earlier this week, she didn’t even realize until near the end of her graduate school work that birds could even have penises. In fact, 97% of them do not, she explained.

Male ducks are one of the exceptions, and unlike most species, they grow a new one each year. Most of the time, they are hidden, but you can convince a duck into showing you his by turning him over onto his back and applying pressure to his belly, Brennan noted. “If you know exactly where to press, you can pop the penis out. They’re quite cooperative.”

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‘They grow a new one each year.’

Have a good week, folks.

Scientists Thought They’d Proved Einstein Wrong, Hadn’t

Over at Gizmodo:

[Researchers] found instances where moving (but not stationary) atoms spitting out packets of light energy would bring into existence a tiny force that acted like friction, and published research on it earlier this year. A force that exists when an object is moving, but not when it is stationary, violates the core principles of Einstein’s (and Galileo’s) laws of relativity—there isn’t anything special about the laws of physics when something is moving at constant velocity versus when it’s at rest. So, had they accidentally spotted a tiny hole in the most well-accepted theories of physics?

Nah.

But the researchers thought, well, what if they redo all of the physics of this situation, but allow the mass of the atom to change, too?

This, it turns out, resolves the paradox—the moving atom loses a tiny amount of mass through the emission of energy, eliminating the requirement for a velocity-dependent frictional force. Essentially, they came across Einstein’s most famous equation, E=mc^2, demonstrating that energy and mass are proportional using the basic laws of physics.

Einstein: still the undisputed champ at all levels of mass or energy.

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‘Nice try.’

Jumbo Extended Captain America Trailer: Banter, Fighting, Scarlett Johansson’s Bum

Looking good. And in a trailer otherwise full of quick jump cuts between action scenes, it’s nice to see they took the time to spend a full four seconds on Black Widow walking away from the camera. As if the average guy in the 18-35 demo wasn’t already going to see the movie.

Meanwhile, Tor are disappointed that the upcoming Terminator reboot is going to, well, be a reboot, which doesn’t fit with the ontological paradox set up in the existing canon. I might also care about this, but it’s the end of a long week and half way through reading the article I decided to have a beer instead. (Of caring. I did finish the article. And now I need to go and research what a Nokikov self-consistency principle is.)

Surprising no-one, 300: Rise of an Empire may not be great, based on the scathingly sarcastic review over at io9.

Arrows and dead men and ship parts float past his head, in the gooey slow motion style that elevates the 300 franchise from mere war porn to aesthetically rich political statement.

Ha.