“You haven’t seen Sunshine? What kind of self-respecting sci-fi geek are you?” With those words my friend Shelby persuaded, nay cajoled, me into watching the moving Sunshine. I already had the movie on DVD, so I would have gotten around to it… eventually. (Now we’re talking the 2007 movie about a mission to “restart” our dying Sun, not the 1999 movie about three generations of a Hungarian family in the early 20th Century—though the latter featured Ralph Fiennes playing a triple role and was really very good.)
I will admit up front that I found Sunshine quite enjoyable, so put any of my nit-picking in that context. In the DVD commentary director Danny Boyle pointed out that, traditionally, in horror films the monsters attack from out of the darkness. His vision was to create a threat that attacks from out of the light instead. Very clever. At the same time, the movie was far from perfect. Having served as the Science Advisor on a TV series (or two), and having made the mistake of reading too many online fan comments about the shows on which I worked, it’s clear that people, in particular those with science backgrounds, tend to be particularly chagrined when they feel that it is their science that is being maligned or given improper respect. In this sense, apparently I’m no different.
When Harry Kloor won the grant from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in 1997 to make a film about the upcoming Cassini-Huygens mission, he knew it would be over a decade in the making: Cassini wouldn’t begin to send back data until 2008 at the earliest.
It’s been worth the wait.
Since the probes started sending data back to Earth, scientists from JPL have been helping Kloor’s team turn it into the most accurate visual renderings of first few planets of the solar system anyone has ever seen. These reputedly amazing visuals will form the bread and butter of Quantum Quest, an animated, science-fiction, large-format film film that’s now been 12 years in the making.
Each rendering will be founded on contours developed from radar data, and then surfaced over with visual data, all merged together through CGI. And although the plot will feature a crew of talking neutrinos and photons taking a “solar safari” from the sun to Saturn’s moon Titan, all the space visuals, Kloor swears, will be real.
But unlike the real solar system, in Quantum Quest, there will be sound in space.
SciNoFi guest-blogger Susan Karlin got a quick photo of this tattoo on the arm of Comic-Con treasurer (and creator of the Comic-Con iPhone app [link redirects to iTunes store]) Mark Yturralde. Yturralde is such a NASA fan that he has created a permanent shrine on his right arm to all the astronauts who gave their lives for the space program. (The astronauts are grouped into the three fatal American space missions: Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia.) He says, “I’m hoping there won’t be anymore deaths. So I purposely spaced out the names so there wouldn’t be enough room to add more.”
For any curious readers of the Loom, we’re already checking with Yturralde if he wouldn’t mind if we submit a pic of his tattoo to Carl’s Science Tattoo Emporium.
Forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong made science-fiction geeks out of everyone. Without waxing too poetic, it was the moment when decades—if not centuries—of dreams about going to new worlds became a reality. With all due respect to Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard, Armstrong’s step onto an actual extraterrestrial surface was the first real space travel, in the sense of going somewhere. For a short while, there actually was a man on the moon.
Given the awesomeness of science non-fiction that year, I might almost expect it to be a down year for science fiction. Not so. 1969 had some good sci-fi—maybe not as good as landing on the moon, but damn good nonetheless.
It was, for example, the year Billy Pilgrim came unstuck in time. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut challenged the idea that sci-fi wasn’t an appropriate genre for high-brow “literary-fiction” writers, tradition that has carried forward to become the “counter factual” fiction (sci-fi by any other name…) of writers like Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon. It was also the year Ursula K. LeGuin explored gender and identity in Left Hand of Darkness, and Michael Crichton scared the bejesus out of everyone with his mutated virus in The Andromeda Strain. Ray Bradbury published a collection of short stories in I Sing the Body Electric (the title story of which became The Electric Grandmother), and Isaac Asimov collected some of his best stories in Nightfall and other Stories.
Maybe it’s because nanoFET sounds like Boba Fett, but the name just screams “science fiction” to me. The device is still in very early stages of development, but it could theoretically propel spaceships into the vicinity of light speed. And getting close to light speed means going to other solar systems, and THAT means a science fiction-like reality. So work with me here.
If a nanoparticle field emission thruster (the aforementioned NanoFET) has been a subject of investigation for University of Michigan electrical engineer Brian Gilchrist for several years now. Gilchrist, joined by a team of scientists, has published and presented papers (pdf) at conferences (pdf) around the country, trying to show the theory of how electronically charged nanotubes could enable a spaceship to achieve astonishing speeds.
Today we present a very special installment of the Codex Futurius, Science Not Fiction’s look at the big scientific ideas in sci-fi: Kevin Grazier—JPL physicist and friend of SNF—gives an insider’s peek at the workings of and discussion around the Orion antimatter drive used to propel the Phaeton starship in Ron D. Moore’s recent TV movie, Virtuality. Grazier was a science adviser for the movie (which was intended to be the pilot for an ongoing show), so he was right in the middle of these discussions. The screenshot further down in this post shows the actual spreadsheet used in the production to see what stars would be reachable with the Orion drive. Without further ado, here’s some sci in your sci-fi:
DISCOVER: What kind of realistic technology could we use to get to nearby stars? Which stars would be feasibly reachable by such technologies?
Kevin Grazier: It’s a saying plastered on T-shirts and bumper stickers—the kind sold at both science-fiction conventions and physics departments nationwide:
186,000 miles per second:
It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.
The speed of light, of all electromagnetic energy, in a vacuum is the ultimate speed limit in the universe. Nothing that has mass or carries information can travel faster.
This universal speed limit is a direct fallout from Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Special relativity implies that the speed of light in a vacuum is a universal constant, but values that we tend to think of as constant in our daily experience—mass, length, and the rate of the passage of time—are not. Depending upon the relative velocity of two observers, these values will “adjust” so that both observers see the speed of light as a constant. Two observers travelling at high speeds relative to each other will find themselves in strong disagreement about measurements like the length of each other’s spacecraft and the rate of the passage of time.
Another consequence of special relativity is that, as an object travels increasingly faster, it behaves as if it has increasingly more mass. Therefore the amount of thrust it takes for an incremental change in velocity (known in the space program as a delta-V) is vastly greater at high speeds than at low. This effect is also highly nonlinear: It takes almost an order of magnitude more thrust to accelerate from .9c (nine-tenths of the speed of light) to .99c than it does to accelerate from .5c to .7c. An object travelling at the speed of light would act as if it had an infinite amount of mass and it would, therefore, require an infinite amount of energy (read: an infinite amount of thrust/fuel) to attain it.
This is, of course, a shame for civilizations (like ours) who want to explore planetary systems around other stars first hand. The distances involved are, well, astronomical. Just within the Solar System, it typically takes NASA probes 6 months to a year to reach Mars; it took Cassini 6 years, 9 months to reach Saturn. The (currently) fastest object created by humankind, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, will take 40,000 years, give or take a few thousand years, before it makes its closest encounter with its first star: AC+79 3888—currently located in the constellation Ursa Minor. At that speed few Time Lords, and even fewer humans, would survive the journey to even “nearby” star systems.
Recently released scenes of the upcoming remake of V combine two of our favorite things: creepy aliens and Party of Five! [via thrfeed]
On this day in 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey was released (watch the original trailer). Even though not everyone might agree (Phil, I’m looking at you), 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time, both for it’s ambitious story and its groundbreaking visuals. Even after four decades the special effects are holding their own (mostly — there are a few obvious cardboard cut-outs in orbit), and the movie still sets the bar for its realistic depiction of space hardware, and life in space.
Alas, the year 2001 has come and gone without moon bases, or privately operated orbital shuttles, but we’re getting there — the International Space Station may not have a Hilton, or rotate to provide artificial gravity, but at least it did just get its last major array of solar panels in place. And although PanAm Airways doesn’t exist any more, let alone the Orion III Space Clipper, private spaceflight did take a step forward recently with successful test flights of WhiteKnight Two, the launch vehicle for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo private suborbital spacecraft.
2001: A Space Odyssey‘s influence on later science fiction is impossible to underestimate, and the balletic spacecraft scenes set to sweeping classical music, the tarantula-soft tones of HAL 9000, and the ultimate alien artifact, the Monolith, have all become enduring cultural icons in their own right. Still, for those barbarians who find the measured pace of the masterpiece a little slow, check out this awesome one minute version of the movie. In Lego.
Earlier this week in New York, Battlestar Galactica‘s co-creators David Eick and Ron Moore, along with cast members Mary McDonnell (President Roslin) and Edward James Olmos (Admiral Adama), sat down with the press for a Q&A session following a screening of the last episode. We were just as brimming with questions as you are about the finale, and here are some of the answers we got. Needless to say, what follows below the jump contains MASSIVE SPOILERS if you haven’t already seen tonight’s show, so don’t say you weren’t warned!
The voyager space probe took a year to get to Saturn and four to get to Jupiter. If I’m planning a trip to those two planets, I jsut don’t have enough reading material (or video games and movies ) to keep me entertained for that long. But nothing makes a flight go faster than sleeping through it, right? So how about finding away to spend most of that in some kind of hibernation, instead of rereading the Sky Mall for the 10,000th time. This is probably why a recent episode of Eleventh Hour (last night was a rerun, so I’m talking about “Flesh” in this article) had our crime fighters chasing down a NASA-developed germ that put it’s victims into a state of hibernation (it also was sexually transmitted and flesh-eating, but more on that another time).