Star Wars: The Headcanon Burninates

Every generation has a legend. Every fan has a theory. But Star Wars Episode 9 approaches, and as the trailers start to appear, many of these fan theories will start to go down in flames.

Although I am more of a Trekker than a Star Wars fan, I did have my own thoughts on the storyline for Episode 9. Since I have just watched the first Episode 9 teaser, I thought it would be amusing to record my personal theories, just to see how badly they hold up as future trailers come out.

Continue reading “Star Wars: The Headcanon Burninates”
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To English Teachers

Today I happened to find out that my 12th grade English teacher just recently passed away. Even though my senior year was an astonishing mumbleteen years ago, some aspects of that class I remember well.

When I was in school, there was significant “churn” among the ranks of the teachers. Inexperienced graduates with shiny new teaching degrees would arrive, teach for a year, and burn out. Many teachers were first-year teachers, substitute teachers, and people who preferred to be called “Coach”.

Mrs. Loggins was not among these. Already near the end of a long teaching career at my high school (she retired only a couple years after I graduated), she was well-known for teaching English and Yearbook.

What do I remember from her “English Lit” class?

Continue reading “To English Teachers”

5 Places in the Solar System Where Life Might Be Found

5. Mars

Mars has been home to extraterrestrial life in our imaginations since the earliest days of science fiction. Percival Lowell believed that the canali described by Schiaparelli were canals built by an advanced Martian civilization. H.G. Wells wrote of a Martian invasion of Victorian England.

Although the Viking landers showed us an apparently lifeless Martian surface, it is possible that Mars once supported life, and may yet do so. After all, it possesses a (thin) atmosphere, essential nutrients, and fairly abundant solar energy. There is evidence that water ice is abundant, and that liquid water once flowed across the surface. Might there be Martian microorganisms hiding beneath the surface, protected from the harsh chemicals and UV radiation?

4. Titan

pia20713-titan-saturnmoon-labeledfeaturesiau-june2015

After Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan may be one of the most popular places in the solar system for speculation about alien life over the past several decades. Observed by Pioneer 11 and Voyager 1 only as a hazy world surrounded by an opaque atmosphere, the Cassini probe and Huygens lander provided much more information about Titan.

Though too cold for liquid water, Titan’s surface is covered by lakes of hydrocarbons. Its atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, along with methane and other hydrocarbons. This has led astrobiologists to speculate about life forms not based on water, but instead using methane or ethane as a solvent.

3. Europa

europa-moon

This moon of Jupiter possesses a subsurface ocean, kept liquid by the heat from tidal forces exerted by Jupiter. This same tidal flexing could create undersea hydrothermal vents, and there is evidence to suggest that the ocean is in contact with a rocky surface. The presence of a liquid ocean, coupled with an energy source in the form of undersea vents, and a rocky undersea surface as a source of minerals, suggests that Europa is a place that could support life.

Proposals have been made for exploration of the Europan ocean, but the high-radiation environment around Jupiter, difficulties involved in boring down to the ocean, and concerns about contaminating the moon with Earth life have prevented such a mission so far.

2. Pluto

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Yes, the poor non-planet at the edge of our solar system could potentially support life.

Pluto possesses a very thin atmosphere of nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide, and though it was once thought that the atmosphere would freeze when Pluto was farthest from the sun, scientists now believe that it remains gaseous throughout Pluto’s orbit.

Additionally, the New Horizons probe revealed the existence of tholins, a type of organic compound, on the surface of Pluto. If the extreme conditions of the surface make it uninhabitable, life might still exist deep beneath the surface, in a possible sub-surface ocean.

It should not be surprising, then, that science fiction writers have from time to time picked Pluto as a potentially life-supporting world.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Venus – Once imagined as a lush jungle world, we know now that our sister planet suffers from a stifling atmosphere with clouds of sulfuric acid and surface temperatures that can melt lead. Still, extremophiles do exist on Earth, and some speculate that life might survive high in the atmosphere of Venus.
  2. Ganymede – Another of Jupiter’s moons, Ganymede is suspected to harbor a subsurface ocean with more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined. Might something be swimming beneath the surface of this largest Galilean satellite?
  3. Jupiter – Hard as it might be to imagine life on a planet with no solid surface, Carl Sagan speculated that balloon-like organisms might float on the Jovian breezes, consuming microorganisms likewise swept around by the gale-force winds. Concept art was even created for his legendary Cosmos series.
  4. Earth. Ok, this one is a cheat. Not only does the third rock from the Sun support life, we’re also fairly certain that there’s intelligent life to be found here. Somewhere. If you’re searching for life in the solar system, Earth is your safest bet.

1. Enceladus

pia17202_-_approaching_enceladus

En-what? Enceladus, one of the larger moons of Saturn, is yet another world possessing a subsurface ocean. Observations by the Cassini spacecraft suggest a geologically active world, with geysers containing hydrocarbon compounds and indicating the presence of a high-pH ocean.

Though highly alkaline and buried deep within the moon, scientists speculate that this ocean may provide the energy sources and support the complex chemical reactions needed for life to form. Life on Enceladus may be powered by chemosynthesis, with hydrothermal vents being a source of chemical energy for the Enceladan microbes.

Incidentally, if you are ever uncertain about pronunciation, Space.com has a handy guide for pronouncing the names of all the planets and moons in our solar system. Yes, even the eighth planet…

Resonant Cavity Thrusters

EmDrive. Q drive. Cannae drive. All of these are a class of devices known as resonant cavity thrusters, and for the past few years they’ve been popping up in the media from time to time.

What’s the big idea?

Take an ordinary household magnetron (you’ll find one in every microwave oven). Use it to pump microwave radiation into a resonant chamber of a certain shape (a metal box that’s wide at one end and narrow at the other.)

Turn it on and voilà: even though nothing is emitted from the system, you’ll detect a very small anomalous force pushing the chamber.

Continue reading “Resonant Cavity Thrusters”

6EQU–

It was too late to turn back — for all of them. Three weary explorers stared out the porthole as the spacecraft A Shot in the Dark hurtled toward Comet 266P/Christensen.

“Collision course set,” announced Michelson as the main rocket engine died. “That’s the last of our fuel.”

Dr. Grigori stared out at the stars.

“What should we tell Earth?” Dr. Markova asked.

Michelson shrugged. A world now plagued by climate shifts, mass extinction, and natural disasters too numerous to list needed hope, not more bad news.

It had started decades prior. A mysterious radio signal from the stars. “Wow!” writ large in the margin by a grad student. Astronomers worldwide tuned to 1420 MHz, but heard only silence. For decades they wondered: was the Signal merely radio noise, or the first evidence humankind is not alone?

The mystery deepened: the Signal returned, and Comet 266P/Christensen was pinpointed as its source, but against expectations, the Signal showed hints of advanced intelligence. So billions of dollars in venture capital funded A Shot in the Dark — a one-way mission of discovery. Investors dreamed of alien technologies to save the world and pad their bank accounts. If successful, the crew would be hailed (whenever future investments could fund a rescue mission) as heroes by a world desperate for hope.

But just before arrival, Dr. Grigori made a horrifying discovery. “The Signal is not from the Comet; the comet’s halo merely reflects and amplifies it.”

“From where?” Michelson asked.

“Are you familiar with the Gaia Hypothesis?” asked Markova. “That Earth is essentially a single, unified organism?”

“Decades of pollution,” muttered Grigori. “Neglect. Abuse.”

Markova looked grim as the Signal played over the speakers. “This Signal,” she explained, “is the death rattle of Planet Earth.”

Written for Cracked Flash Fiction, Year 1 Week 38, where the prompt was the first sentence of the story. This story references the famous Wow! Signal, along with recent (at the time) articles suggesting that the signal may have originated from two comets.

Flash! Friday vol. 2-48

Once more unto the breach! This week I’ll be judging the Flash! Friday writing contest one last time, before riding off into the sunset.

If this week’s image prompt inspires you to write a story in 150 words, come post it on the contest page. Remember to include a treasure in your story.

Don’t miss the boarding call — midnight Eastern Time — or you’ll be left on the platform.

Chef at the Trans-Siberian rail wall, between Moscow and Khabarovsk. CC 2.0 photo by Leidolv Magelssen.

Flash! Friday Again

This weekend I’ll again be judging the Flash! Friday contest. Check out this week’s photo prompt, as chosen by the contest’s dragony host. Come write a story about it in 150 words, and remember that your stratagem must include a nemesis!

(Those of you who feel especially clever may consider additional bonus challenge: do not use the word “chess”.)

The time limit is midnight ET, so post your 150 word story on the contest page before then. Good game, all.

Flash! Friday

This week’s Flash! Friday will be a little different — because this week I’ll be judging!

That’s right — the dragony host of Flash! Friday has delegated to me the daunting task of judging this week’s contest entries. What have I gotten myself into?

This week’s word prompt is “freedom”, and its corresponding photo prompt is shown below. Can you capture the essence of these ideas in 150 words? Can you do so by 23:59 EDT tonight? Click the link at the beginning of this post and join in!

(I won’t be submitting a story entry this week, but you can bet that if I did, there’d be cyborgs.)

Miranda — The Tempest. Painting by John William Waterhouse, 1916. Public domain photo.