10.31.2012

The Ultimate Bad Alien Science Fiction Idea


Forget scary alien apocalypses where we collectively commit suicide after the newest generation of humans become psychic baby aliens. Don’t even worry about invasions of body snatchers or Heinlein’s amorphous alien blobs that make you a hunchback and take over your brain. Dying en masse because a galactic alliance throws the book at human civilization is only kind of rough. Having a martial, elephantine alien species go to war with you at the cost of millions of lives isn’t precisely spectacular, but it could be worse. We could all probably do without Doctor Who’s shenanigans of destroying London, the planets, and bits of the Universe but it’s no big deal, especially since he usually puts it back. Asteroids aren’t a problem and neither is Red Weed, though that’s a bit closer.
 
No.
 
The real problem is when some extraterrestrial bacteria lands on Earth, turns out to be an invasive species and starts gnawing away at the trees. Trees, not just a specific species of tree. The strain of bacteria, now irreparably widespread due to trade, infects the majority of humans – hell, let’s make that everything with a brain – and turns them into hungry, hungry zombies.
 
The few surviving pockets of humanity hurriedly (and rather inexplicably) develop AI both as a form of protection for their stronghold and as a way to record the remainder of human thought (because once Animalia becomes Zombie-malia, humans are pretty assuredly toast). But the AI turns against their human creators Terminator-style, as AI always does when not Robin Williams, and starts retaking the planet from its fleshy and flesh-eating foes. However, since each pocket of now-dead humans separately created AI, we now have AI C++ and AI Python fighting for dominance, a fight which escalates into nuclear warfare – the ensuing EMP and outright physical destruction destroys all remaining vestiges of everything, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to little zombie fish.
 
 
And then it turns out that the initial microbes were left-over biological weapons from an alien war millions and millions of years ago that never would have affected us if we learned how to stop cross-contaminating space gear before we brought stuff back from Mars. We find this out in a time-bending epilogue, because the multiverse is being swallowed up by an increasingly large black hole and, since we don’t know any better, I can pretend that’s how time in a black hole works.
 
Aliens. Zombies. Hostile artificial intelligence, nuclear warfare, and a giant catastrofuck caused by an overlooked detail. And the end of the universe surrounded by a bunch of bad science.
 
Out sub-genre that, sci-fi world.
 
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Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

10.27.2012

Neil deGrasse Tyson: NASA and Culture



In this fantastic speech, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the importance of space exploration and the effect NASA has had, not on technology or science, but on culture.

I have to say I really love this address. I've honestly listened to it at least 3 times today alone in an effort to remember more of the arguments Tyson uses to defend NASA's importance. In fact, Tyson does a remarkable job of supporting an organization that I haven't been particularly fond of for quite a few year -- and even goes so far as to explain why NASA does not hold the same place in the public conscience that it did 50 years ago.

Additionally, in Tyson's unique way, he discusses how policy makers fit into what he would like done, how improving NASA will stimulate the economy, and why NASA even has an effect on the creative arts. Altogether a wonderful speech and definitely worth a listen.

But what do you think? Does space exploration really have such a massive effect on society, not only on technology but on culture and the arts? Tell us what you think!

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.


10.22.2012

Video: Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and Arthur C. Clarke - God, The Universe and Everything Else (1988)



This talk show from the eighties is so inexpressibly epic that I can’t even pick a place to start. In the most incredible combination of popular scientific figures, Stephen Hawking, Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan have a fifty-minute discussion ranging from the origin of the universe to nuclear war – topics that are just as relevant now (especially that last one). Whether it’s Hawking’s snide comments about the government, Carl Sagan’s critique of how science is taught, or Arthur Clarke’s use of old computer technology to actually teach the audience about math, there is just so much casual competence on screen that it makes me nostalgic for a TV era I wasn’t even around for.

Not only does this show touch on all sorts of space and science topics, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Arthur Clarke discuss aliens with very divergent viewpoints. Hawking sticks to his strong opinion that alien contact is a bad idea: he thinks it's more likely that intelligent aliens will destroy us as soon as visit us. Sagan and Clarke think about the matter more optimistically, and Sagan particularly, as a key figure in SETI, thinks that contact with aliens will be inevitable if they do exist. If alien civilizations are anywhere nearby, after all, TV has already reached them. (Frighteningly.)
 
These three figures are an interesting choice. You have two hard core scientists, though both popular and eloquent figures, and a science fiction writer who, despite writing fairly soft science fiction, manages to keep up with them. And then, most surprisingly, there’s a host who actually knows and appears interested in science, which is a far departure from talk show hosts now. Everyone has a fairly different point of view, as well as obviously different areas of expertise and concentration, but they treat each other’s answers as legitimate and worthy of respect; even when the topic turns dangerously to the intermixing of God and science -- something I don’t think a host, speakers, or the audience could handle -- all there is in the show is awesomeness.

It’s like having the masters of the universe – quite topically – coming together to have a rousing discussion just for our entertainment.

Oh, wait. That’s exactly what it is.

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Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

10.21.2012

October 21, 2012: This Week's Alien and Space News


Space news in general doesn’t follow much of a theme each week. A majority of it might cover a specific event (the landing of Curiosity reigned for at least a solid week), but usually there’s a chaotic combination of theoretical science, experiments, discoveries and funding battles. Though there’s a bit of all of that this week, as usual, there’s quite a bit of cohesion, too, and it’s all about making space travel more practical.
 
Humans vs. Germs: Microgravity might just be out to kill us. Not only does it suppress the immune systems of the astronauts in it, microgravity also boosts the sticking power of microorganisms. Out in space, and outside the confines of a space suit, germs can float wherever, and virtually for however long, they like. So far prevention methods include lots of vaccines, stringent sterilization of the food and environment, and maybe some HEPA air filtration. But this is definitely something to think about, because few places would be worse for an epidemic to break out in.
 
The Shuttle is Dead, Long Live the Shuttle: Now that our much-loved shuttles are ensconced in museums, NASA’s more focused on the Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy lift rocket for exploring farther than low Earth orbit. As part of the task of sending the spacecraft Orion to future destinations – the article throws in Mars as a teaser – an umbilical arm was attached to NASA’s launch tower; it’s job is handle all the cryogenic propellant the rocket will need. One of the best parts of this story is that NASA will do hundreds of tests on it before declaring it ready: the SLS has to be screw-up resistant, or fault tolerant, and work even if singular components break before it’ll be used.
 
The Smashing Moon Interlude: Thinking about space travel isn’t the only that happened this week, after all. Sadly, we’re still not 100% sure about how the Moon came to be – it’s in that nebulous zone of ‘You mean we still can’t agree on the right answer?’ that water on Mars stayed in forever. However, evidence seems to point at a Mar-sized body smashing into Earth in the past and the Moon taking form from the ensuing dust and shrapnel. Scientists had sort of known for decades that the Moon had been made through a huge impact: Moon rock is just like Earth rock except for not having any elements that can easily evaporate. But it wasn’t until now that planetary scientist Frédéric Moynier found variations in zinc concentration that point firmly towards the ‘Earth + Horrible Collision = Moon” idea.
 
The Dragon Will Have Veggies: Next year, SpaceX will be carrying a new food experiment by NASA in the form of a vegetable garden. Trying to grow fresh food in a space-like environment is hardly a new idea, but as people are rallying around ideas like visits to asteroids and colonies on Mars, it’s becoming more and more important. Through NASA’s VEGGIE experiment, the Vegetable Production System, plants like tomatoes and swiss chard could grow in about a month 200 miles above the Earth. There are quite a few challenges involved in this, like carbon dioxide, nutrients, and photosynthesis as a whole, but NASA seems to be doing well so far. Just as cool, NASA’s encouraging science classrooms to get in on the act. This last bit might just be some good PR, but since there’ve been kids building nuclear reactors and solar death rays before, it might also be extremely useful.
 
Space News by CBS: Space articles by general news venues are usually kind of sketchy: New York Times, in particular, has a sad tendency to be cutesy and a little vague whenever they cover science news rather than science people. But it’s exciting when a general news site, within two days of the discovery, plasters in article from a space website on their page and says, ‘Read this – it’s kind of important.’ Also, the topic itself – a relatively close alien planet called Alpha Centuari Bb – is pretty exciting. This planet, maybe, we could send exploratory devices to.
 
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Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

10.16.2012

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Facing the Ultimate Frontier and What Encourages Science



Here's another wonderful video from the great Neil deGrasse Tyson. It's also long, --over two hours-- making it great for road trips or to have playing in the background while working -- after-all who wouldn't want to listen to the wonderful and knowledgeable words of Neil Tyson for as long as possible?

Tyson makes several interesting points in this video; the importance of NASA and how it relates to the future if the United States, how education can be improved, and –perhaps most importantly – the drivers behind the advancement of science and what will need to be done to encourage additional investment into scientific study and space exploration.
Which brings up several interesting points. Do the influences Tyson mentions really cause almost all scientific advancement? And does the coming emergence of other space-faring countries mean the United States will increase research and funding for space-related activities due to the increased competition, and more importantly fear? Does this mean that we are inevitably moving toward the militarization of space?

Tell us what you think in the comments!

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.

10.07.2012

October 7, 2012: This Week's Alien and Space News


CRS-1 Set for Oct. 7: SpaceX has been busy. After the delays and tentative successes we watched in the early summer, a Dragon is setting out to the International Space Station today to bring over 1,000 pounds of supplies. But that’s not all it’s going to do. After staying at the ISS for three weeks, Dragon will return – return, not burn up on reentry like other supply vessels in the past – loaded with over a ton of samples collected for engineers and other scientists to analyze. So far it looks like NASA made a good choice about who to contract out to.
 
Smile for the 3-D Analysis!: All of the space technology launched so far that has been equipped with cameras has been equipped with 2-D cameras. The only way to get 3-D data in the past has been to cluster a bunch of cameras in the just right way to build 3-D with a whole lot of complicated math. But the idea of a 3-D camera built for space flight has been buzzing in the aerospace world ever since they’ve been well-built for terrestrial uses in 2000. Thales Alenia Space, SINTEF, and Terma, in particular are studying all available alternatives to make it happen.
 
Venus Has Ice?: Be a bit skeptical, scientists caution, but recent data might note the existence of carbon dioxide ice and snow on Venus. This is surprising, seeing as Venus is usually portrayed as being terrifyingly hot and carbon dioxide ice doesn’t exist unless you dip heavily into the negatives.  But data about the concentrations of carbon dioxide gas at different altitudes allowed scientists to calculate the temperature at different spots just as night was turning to day on Venus, and a patch high in the atmosphere that falls to a chilly -175 degrees Celsius. The news is so surprising that the ESA starting an investigation into how other gases in the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and oxygen, are affecting the data.
 
Next on the To-Do List – Black Holes: Black holes remain more than a bit of a mystery seeing as nothing, let alone any device to analyze them, can get anywhere reasonably considered to be ‘close.’ As a matter of fact, the closest thing we knew of next to the supermassive black hole in our galaxy had been a star that orbited it every 16 years; but UCLA astronomers just found another star that orbits it every 11½ years. Astronomers like Andrea Ghez are ecstatic about this, because having two points of reference that orbit the black hole several times within a human lifespan opens up the possibility for several experiments that will probe the nature of black holes. More specifically, we’ll learn more about how black holes bend space and time.
 
The First Dig for Microbial Kind: Landing a rover on Mars is a feat in and of itself, but a lot of people have been waiting for the star event in Curiosity’s investigations into Mars. The rover is about to start its first analysis of Martian soil, during which it will look at past environmental conditions and look for the chemical components necessary for life. And maybe, just maybe, it might find something wiggling around in it and dramatically change life as we know it. But we’ll see.
 
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Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

Yo-Yoing in Space and What This Means For Children



Here's a nice little video of a NASA scientist yo-yoing in space.

When I first saw this video I was incredibly jealous -- since yo-yoing is one of my favorite hobbies -- but the more I thought about it the less appealing this seems. There are thousands of yo-yo tricks and a great majority of them require gravity.

Which brings me to my main point. One of the most often overlooked issues with a space-faring civilization is the children. Admittedly, people might discuss the process of giving birth or ways to insure the child's body isn't adversely affected by the lack of gravity but I've never heard people discuss how children might be entertained. As anybody who's gone on a road-trip with a child before will tell you, children need to be entertained or they start to cause problems.

"But it's space!" you might say, "space should always be interesting to children." What's important to remember though is that space probably becomes a lot less interesting when you were born and raised there. I think one of the reasons we find space so intriguing is because we interact with it so little.

But even if children never get bored with space, they'll still want to play with toys. Naturally this presents several problems. For one, children would have to have some special way to attach the toys to something. Otherwise, if the child is playing with more than two toys at a time, the third will probably float away and have to be chased down. Additionally, any toys with small parts or that break apart easily are going to be incredibly difficult -- and potentially dangerous -- to find when they get lost, since they could be anywhere. On earth at least, we know toys are probably on something. In space, a lost toy could be literally anywhere in the space craft.

I'm not saying that I don't want humanity to move into space, or that being in child in space couldn't be fun. I'm just saying that I don't want to be a parent in space.

But what do you think? Will children have more difficulty playing with toys in space? Will they be able to play with the same toys or will new ones have to be invented that are. "space friendly"? And how might parents respond to the challenges of raising children in space?

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.

10.02.2012

October 2, 2012: This Week's Space and Alien News


A wide variety of space was touched on in the news this past week. Not only are we doing amazing things like measuring black holes and taking a peek at the universe from when it was really, really young, NASA (and SES) performed all sorts of technological badassery. There’s also more information added to the whole Mars-water-life debate, but so many other awesome things are going on that Mars can wait until something more novel happens.
 
A Universal Language for Our Space Stuff: As if the point needs to be reinforced, it’s not just the United States and Russia out in space anymore. Luxembourg’s satellite operating company SES launched a TV satellite into space that’s using a new operating language called SPELL. SPELL is open-source software that incorporates every potential navigational need with top security – now we just need all the other satellites to join up with this vastly superior software. At least, hopefully vastly superior software.
 
For All the ‘Space is Useless’ People Out There: Spin-off technology, especially spin-off tech from astronautics, is undeniably awesome, bringing about everything from Black & Decker cordless vacuums (there’s a pun in there somewhere) to firefighting equipment. Just in case it requires even more validation, technology developed for astronauts can save trapped miners’ lives. NASA’s new air revitalization system can save potentially hundreds of lives in just the next few years, as mining accidents become more and more noted around the world – and it does it as a side note.
 
Building Things With and On Foreign Soil: The Earth’s atmosphere is a testy place, and traveling through it is one of the most dangerous parts of any given trip through space (which is saying a lot). To minimize the danger from heat and pressure that returning spacecrafts face, NASA’s Michael Hogue and others are testing out blocks of simulated moon and Mars dirt to see if it can take the heat. If it can, then we just found a couple of new low-gravity environments for making safety gear.
 
The ISS Goes Mainstream – Again!: The ISS had filled its quota of mass-access coolness just a few weeks ago by hosting experiments from high school students and showing the whole thing on YouTube. But now it’s upping the ante. NASA just opened up the offer of having a number of academic, governmental, and industrial groups carry out experiments on the International Space Station with the SCaN Testbed. Aside from the wealth of information experiments usually bring, this just increases the interaction the world is having with space.
 
Buddhism Rocks: The first sentence of this article is full of so much historical awesome that Indiana Jones is jealous. And while it doesn’t have much in the way of technological discovery, it’s a pretty neat article about a 1,000-year-old state of Vaisravana and reads like an anecdote you might tell an audience or a few friends to get them interested in space. The only downside is stuff like this usually draws out the people who think human civilization advanced only with extraterrestrial assistance – without any actual proof to back it up.

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Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

10.01.2012

Picture: Science



A nice little picture sent to me by a friend. No idea where it's from so if you know, please tell us so we can source it.