Life on Mars

NASA scientists recently announced that life on Mars is possible.  At the very least, they’ve determined it’s not impossible.  We’re still a long way from finding actual Martian life, either in bacterial form or as some kind of prehistoric fossil, but this is a big step forward in Mars research.

Four View of Mars In Northern Summer

Source: Hubblesite.org

I happen to believe that anywhere in the universe that life can develop it inevitably will.  I don’t have much scientific evidence to back that up, other than the extremophile species here on Earth and the mold that keeps spontaneously evolving in my fridge.  But that’s okay.  I’m not a scientist.  I’m a science fiction writer.

The story I’m currently writing is about an ancient civilization on Mars.  This being the Tomorrow News Network series, you can bet something disastrous is about to happen to that ancient civilization.

And for the record, if NASA had announced that they’d proven life on Mars was impossible, I’d be writing this story anyway.  A good motto for any science fiction writer is, “Never let science get in the way of a good story.”

We’re Going to Mars!

Well everyone, I’m back after an unplanned, two-week hiatus, and I am once again hard at work on Tomorrow News Network short stories.  This month, we’re going to Mars, so I figured this is a good opportunity to talk about some of the latest news concerning the Red Planet.

Mars -- March 10, 1997

Source: Hubblesite.org

Several weeks ago, the Curiosity rover did something amazing: it dug a hole on Mars.  Okay, that doesn’t sound impressive, but Curiosity is searching for evidence that Mars could support life, either currently or at some point in the past.  We’ve never tested the soil beneath the surface layer.  It is possible that some form of bacteria live there, or maybe they don’t.  Either way, it’s a place we’ve never looked before.  So although digging a hole may not sound like much, it is a truly historic moment.  Click here to read more about it.  Click here to see a picture of Curiosity proudly standing over its work.

Also, a brand new non-profit organization called the Inspiration Mars Foundation has announced plans to send a married couple to Mars in 2018.  Sounds like the perfect, 501-day honeymoon to me.  Despite all the dangers (boredom, claustrophobia, radiation exposure and increased risk of cancer) it almost makes me want to run out and get married.  The Inspiration Mars crew will not get to land on the Red Planet.  They’ll just fly by, but another non-profit wants to send four colonists to Mars in 2023.  To read more about these Mars missions, click here.

The upcoming Tomorrow News Network story will focus on future colonial civilization on Mars and the relationship the colonists have with the Martian bacteria crawling around underground.  Of course this is not the first time the Tomorrow News Network has been to Mars.  In last year’s story “Death to History,” TNN reporter Talie Tappler covered a presidential assassination on Mars.  Some of the characters and concepts from “Death to History” will be back in the new story.

Click here to start reading “Death to History.”

Confession

Most of the science in Tomorrow News Network is based on factual science.  Time dilation in “The Orion War”: based on fact.  The planet Cancriph in “The Medusa Effect”: based on a real planet named 55 Cancri f.  The hyper intelligent dinosaurs in “Dinosaurs vs. Astronauts”: that’s loosely based on fact (emphasis on loosely).  But I have a confession to make.  Some of the science in Tomorrow News Network is totally made up.

Take a look at the most recent story, “Who Invented Time Travel?”  There’s some serious technobabble in there, but very little of it is real.  Here are some examples.

  • Fermionic condenser: as far as I know, there is no such thing.  If there were, though, we’d probably use it to make fermionic condensate, which is a real thing.
  • Iota particles: Again, as far as I know this is not a real thing.  Since the word iota means something very small, I’d guess iota particles are very small even for subatomic particles.
  • Sigma oscillation experiment: I have no clue what this is.  It just sounds cool.

So I made stuff up.  Some people would say that means Tomorrow News Network isn’t science fiction and I’m not a science fiction writer.  They’d demand more real science in their fiction, complete with detailed equations and Feynman diagrams.  To those people, I’m sorry.  I’m not a scientist.  I’m a science enthusiast and occasional science journalist.  I know a little more about science than the general public, but I’m no expert.

So how much science do you expect to find in your science fiction?  Does it bother you when science fiction writers make stuff up?

Obama and the Space Program

President Barack Obama has begun his second term.  Good luck to him.  He has a lot of problems to deal with.  But my primary interest and concern is science and space exploration.  Some would dismiss these things as expenses we can’t afford right now; I would point out that space has many untapped natural resources that could rejuvenate the global economy.  So what is the future of American space exploration?

The President’s second inaugural speech made no mention of the space program.  Other than a few words on renewable energy and the importance of teachers, he made no references to science at all.  Still, I have hope that in the next four years and in the decades that follow, American space exploration will grow rapidly.  In his first term, Mr. Obama changed the focus of US space exploration from government run organizations like NASA to private companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.  It was a surprising, free market solution that should have pleased Republicans.

Though NASA’s role in space exploration has diminished, they are not irrelevant yet.  Their latest Mars rover, Curiosity, has been a huge success, providing soil sample analyses in unprecedented detail, giving us new clues about whether or not Mars could support life.  There are also rumors that, following the President’s reelection, NASA might announce new plans to send humans to the Moon.  Click here for more on that.

So President Obama has officially begun his second term, and he still has to deal with a Republican controlled House of Representatives.  I expect things will continue to be messy in Washington, and at times I’ll probably do a face-palm and feel embarrassed for my country.  But I remain excited for the future of space exploration.  How about you?

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

Recently, the Templeton Foundation asked Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Does the universe have a purpose?”  Here is his answer, as illustrated by Minute Physics.


For those of you who don’t feel like watching the video, his answer is basically, “Probably not.”

Now I could engage in some character assassination here.  For example, when Dr. Tyson made a guest appearance on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me! he got all his questions wrong, so how smart can he really be?  Also, this is the [expletive deleted] who decided Pluto’s not a planet.  But I won’t go there.  In fact, I have a lot of admiration and respect for Dr. Tyson; I just disagree with him about this one issue.  And also Pluto.

I happen to be a religious man.  I go to church (almost) every Sunday.  My prayers and meditation have brought me a greater sense of peace in my life, but I can’t say they’ve enlightened me as to the purpose of the universe.  And yet whenever I stand outside gazing up at the stars, I know the universe is big and complicated and beautiful beyond words, and I feel it deep in my thumping heart, in the strength of my bones, in the very chemistry of my body that there is a purpose.  That all this couldn’t be for nothing.

The real question to me is not, “Does the universe have a purpose?” but, “What is that purpose?”  That I do not know.  Science can’t give me that answer, and I’m not sure religion can either.  I expect I’ll live my entire life never finding the answer, yet I remain convinced the answer does exist.

How about you?  Do you think the universe has a purpose?  What do you think it might be?

Gravity Weapons

Laser guns are fine, but I like to invent new futuristic weapons from time to time.  So in the most recent edition of Tomorrow News Network, the bad guys (a race of microscopic robots known as the Swarm) use their own gravity as a weapon.  Specifically gravitational waves.  The attack is so strange and surprising that Earth’s mighty Space Force doesn’t even know what’s happening at first.

1.10 The Wrong Future

The Swarm descends on Earth.

Gravitational waves are real things predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.  Massive objects like planets and stars bend the space around them.  We call this gravity.  If two massive objects (a pair of black holes, for example) orbit each other rapidly enough, Einstein predicted they’d create waves of gravity, their total gravitational force sometimes doubling and sometimes canceling out.  It would be like two fat guys frolicking in a swimming pool: together, they’d make huge waves unlike anything you’d seen in a swimming pool before.

According to the MIT Technology Review, scientists are racing to find evidence of gravitational waves.  New research suggests these waves may be stronger than previously thought, meaning current technology may be enough to detect them.

Of course, naturally occurring gravitational waves are nowhere near strong enough to be used as weapons, but I’ve taken some creative license.  It’s not hard to imagine that, with the right technology, someone could make artificial gravitational waves.  Those waves could do a lot of damage to enemy fleets or planets.

Alpha Centauri Has a Planet!

As you may have heard by now, scientists have discovered a planet in the Alpha Centauri star system.  I wrote a brief update on it for my old blog, Planet Pailly (click here).  But this is the Tomorrow News Network.  This website is all about news from the future.  So here are some future discoveries in the Alpha Centauri star system.

Soon, scientists will find that Alpha Centauri has many planets.  Because Alpha Centauri is a binary star (in fact, it’s a trinary star if you include Proxima Centauri), the orbits of its many planets will be a bit more complicated than those in our own Solar System.  Some will orbit Alpha Centauri A.  Some will orbit Alpha Centauri B (like the one we just discovered).  A few cold, icy worlds will have wide orbits around them both, and even the tiny dwarf star of Proxima Centauri will have a few planets of its own.  In total, the Alpha Centauri System will have more planets than our own Solar System.

At least one planet (or possibly a moon) will be capable of supporting life.  We know this because one day we’ll send colonists there.  We’ve seen way too many Science Fiction stories set in Alpha Centauri to believe otherwise.  In fact, given that Alpha Centauri has three stars, the odds of finding a habitable planet should be three times better than finding a one in this Solar System.

Of course, the first human colony in Alpha Centauri will be a paradise… that is until the colonists discover the evil, alien intelligence which has lain dormant there for millions of years.

These are my predictions for future discoveries in Alpha Centauri.  What do you think we’ll find out there?