Dwarf planet Ceres has water vapour

Dwarf planet Ceres has water vapour

To break from the tradition of the last few posts, and back to my love of science and science fiction…

In news recently released, it turns out that scientists have observed two plumes of water vapour on Ceres – a moon in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

You can find out more here:

Dwarf planet Ceres has water vapour.

Ceres asteroid vents water vapour

Article in ‘Nature’

I find the possibilities of this pretty exciting. As the search for life seems to centre around a search for water – perhaps because we find to too hard to imagine life forms which aren’t carbon-based and organic – then this discovery has fascinating implications.

Not only does this add to the argument that water and life arrived on Earth via some sort of asteroid impact, but also raises the possibility of alien life really quite close to our own.

I’m sure there is a fascinating story just waiting to be written about it, once we consider all the implications of being in the asteroid belt, that far from our Sun….

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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?

Stargazers dazzled by ‘super moon’

I’ve always been fascinated by the moon, and it is one of the most important (although inanimate) characters in my book, ‘The Artemis Effect’.

So I thought I’d share these gorgeous pictures taken of the moon over the weekend here in Australia. Apparently the moon is especially close at this time of year.

I particularly like the ones with the bat and the wind turbines – how about you?

Stargazers dazzled by ‘super moon’.

UPDATE: Just discovered someone else has been taking lovely pictures of the moon recently, over at Simple Pleasures