Behold the mighty sky-squid

June 10, 2009

Is it coincidence that this upper-atmosphere lightening (called a “sprite“) resembles a mighty sky-squid? Or is fearsome Cthulhu sending us a sign? YOU DECIDE.

Thanks, Christi!

Free astronomically-correct science fiction

February 18, 2009

Are you annoyed by faster-than-light travel and sound in space? Check out Diamonds in the Sky, a free anthology of astronomically-correct science fiction stories.

Diamonds in the Sky is a collection of astronomy-based science fiction stories edited by Mike Brotherton and funded under his National Science Foundation grant AST 05-07781.  The purpose of the anthology is to provide stories with ample and accurate astronomy spanning a range of topics covered in introductory courses…Contributions include both original stories and reprints from some of the top science fiction writers working today.

Best Broader Impacts idea ever! I’m downloading it right now, and will report back on whether they’re actually good stories.

Now how about some ecologically plausible alien worlds? They can be both an ice planet AND a jungle planet! Or how about psychic dolphins (my personal sci-fi bugaboo) that behave just like real dolphins and ravage a space station Aliens style?

Via Boing Boing

Science fiction in science

November 19, 2008

Consider my nerd quotient dialed to 11. I will be attending the Science Online 2009 conference this January, and one of the perks will be the panel on using science fiction as a tool for science communication. The moderators asked for input and to “start an online conversation between science fiction writers and science bloggers.”

Well, I want to talk to science fiction writers! And since so many TOG readers are nerdy nerd nerds (and frequently educators of various kinds) I figured you all might want to weigh in, too. Here are my answers to the “Questions for Science Bloggers.”

What is your relationship to science fiction? Do you read it? Watch it? What/who do you like and why?

I love science fiction, though I think probably most of what I read falls more into the fantasy camp. I suppose I’m kind of sterotypically girly in that I care a lot about character development and less about speculative technology, though I do love me some space fights. Though I read all kinds of tripe in my callow youth, I now no longer enjoy books without decent female characters. (Though I don’t mind if they’re sexbots as long as they have a personality and actual humanoid motivations – I thought Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children was tons of fun.)

My favorite scifi author is Ray Bradbury. I’m going to count China Mieville in there too, since he kind of writes about speculative (albeit dystopian) biotechnology. I listen to several scifi podcasts, mainly Escape Pod. My favorite scifi show is Battlestar Galactica, particularly the first and second seasons, with their optimal combination of space fights, daring rescues, and interesting, flawed characters. (Please, gentle readers, DO NOT spoil the fourth season. I watch it on DVD so I haven’t seen it yet!) I still pine for Firefly. I found Heroes tedious and derivative, and could never bear any of the Stargate series.

What do you see as science fiction’s role in promoting science, if any? Can it do more than make people excited about science? Can it harm the cause of science?

Right now, I don’t see scifi as having much to do with real science. Most of the science in science fiction is so bad that it is either neutral (not associated with real science at all) or harmful to science. I stopped watching Farscape over some nonsense about Aeryn Sun being cold-blooded and how that meant she couldn’t get hot. Hadn’t anyone in LA been to the desert and seen all the lizards scuttling around?

Besides, the science portrayed is so far away from what is possible now. For example, somebody who became a computer programmer to be like Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash would be sadly disappointed.

Have you used science fiction as a starting point to talk about science? Is it easier to talk about people doing it right or getting it wrong?

I really haven’t. This is probably because I’m a marine ecologist and not too much science fiction is about that type of thing. (Except for the horrible abundance of “dolphins with mystical knowledge” books. I would never use these book as examples because a) people do not need to be encouraged to harass poor cetaceans for Mystical Truths; and b) they are BAD books.)

Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

The science blogs I read are listed in my blog roll. I don’t regularly read any scifi blogs, but if I did, I’d read Io9 and Discovery Magazine’s Science Not Fiction. (Full disclosure: Co-blogger and cohabitator Eric blogs for Science Not Fiction, but that’s only 47% of the reason I’m promoting it.)


October 23, 2008

The Beagle Project, which is going to rebuild Darwin’s ship and sail it around the world, is now partners with NASA! From the press release (DOC):

Scientists, teachers and students sailing aboard the 90-foot ship will collaborate with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to investigate the biology of plankton blooms, coral reefs and other ocean surface and terrestrial ecosystems as the new Beagle circles the world recreating Darwin’s 1831-36 voyage aboard HMS Beagle, which he called “the most important event” in his life and which led to his later discovery of a mechanism for evolution.

This means that the Beagle will be able to do really high-quality science. Satellite images and photos taken from space can provide a large-scale perspective that’s hard to get from the ground, such as sea surface temperatures across whole ocean basins. But space images can’t provide details of what’s happening on the ground, such how ocean temperature affect plankton species. The Beagle’s partnership with NASA means that they’ll be able to have it all – large scale mapping AND detailed sampling. Darwin would plotz!

To celebrate, astronaut Mike Barrett, who brought about the partnership from the NASA side, is taking a tiny model Beagle with him into space this March. The Beagle will (more-or-less) actually be in orbit.

You too can help to build a new Beagle by donating or buying a fetching t-shirt. Remember, every time you don’t support the Beagle Project, Cthulhu eats a kitty.

The Final Frontier not so final for tardigrades

September 9, 2008

Previously on Project Tardis, our intrepid tardigrades were being launched in space, there to experience the Ultimate Challenge of hard vacuum.

Today, I am delighted to report that (some) of the noble tardigrades have survived! Researchers report that:

Back on Earth, tardigrades that had basked in cosmic radiation revived and reproduced at rates comparable to an unexposed control group. Those dosed with solar radiation were less likely to wake — but that even a few survived, wrote Rettberg’s team in findings published today in Current Biology, was remarkable.

Though the TARDIS blog remains defunct, those who want more delicious tardigrade knowledge can check out the peer-reviewed paper in Current Biology.

Talking squid in outer space!

February 5, 2008

Margaret Atwood, writer of quality dystopias, apparently dismissed scifi as “talking squid in outer space.” Clearly, her brain has been eaten by Ursula Le Guin’s decaying corpse of genre fiction. But before you angrily stick your copy of Handmaid’s Tale where the sun don’t shine (that is, right next to the mouldering stack of Xanth books), please take a moment to contemplate the horrifying truth: Atwood is NOT WRONG.

This glorious website from scifi author Vonda McIntyre features the finest collection of “talking squid in outer space” novels, stories, and illustrations this side of the Goodwill Store. Please enjoy such treasures as the featured story and the Squidliography. If you still require more scifi squid, head over to Space Squid Zine. Or just get yourself a pet squid.

Via Metafilter

Oh my Cod.

December 14, 2007

Man builds fish-car. Puns ensue.

Just one example:

He said: “I get plenty of fishy looks from people, but I generally have a whale of a time with it.

Via Chaos Theory


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