D.I.Y. solar system

Long live Coursera!

For those of you who haven’t stumbled upon it yet, it’s a series of on-line courses offered by Universities throughout the world. The courses run from about 6 to 12 weeks, generally, and you can view the video lectures and do the homework at any time you choose. This is great for me at the moment, as sometimes I need to do them at 3.30am. The courses are not for dummies – this is real education, by respectable institutions. Best of all, it’s free! I am currently doing a course called ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue’, which I’ll discuss in a later post. However, my partner has been putting his brain through the wringer with ‘Introduction to Astronomy’. It’s a tough course, but so far rewarding.

screenshot solar

One of the most interesting parts has been some of the on-line astronomy tools which they point you towards. This one, called My Solar System, simulates the different orbits that you can achieve with a different setup of planets, moon and comets. I encourage you to follow the link and have a play for yourselves. You can vary the size, positions and velocity of each body, and watch as the orbits play themselves out. I should warn you, it is rather addictive – it should perhaps be subtitled the ‘Timewaster 2000’. The graphics are quite simple, but achieving a highly elliptical orbit, or managing to slam a comet into the sun is pretty cool.

It strikes me that this is potentially a terrific inspirational or planning tool for those people who like to write hard sci-fi. Asimov would have absolutely adored it. It just oozes  story possibilities. Think, for example, about being a civilisation on one of those planets, as it slowly circles the sun, and then suddenly coming into the influence of one of the other bodies, especially a highly unpredictable one. How would the seasons, the harvests, and weather be affected? Seasons may be longer, or more intense. Alternatively, picture a planet which is slowly being dragged towards the sun by the orbit of its own moon. It gets even crazier when you think about being on a planet within a binary system.

I find science like this quite fascinating, and I wish that I could incorporate more of it into my stories, although they tend more towards the quirky than the purely scientific. 😉

How about you? What inspires you? Would a tool like this be useful in thinking about new stories?


One thought on “D.I.Y. solar system

  1. All of this sounds really cool and I’ll have to take a look – thank you – it’s always fun to play with the universe! 🙂 I love science too and find it full of inspiration. Documentaries on the universe also help to get an overview of these kinds of things and can inspire fun new stories.

Please let me know your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s