Space Lasers Fired at the Moon!

Space lasers fired at the Moon! It sounds like something from an Austin Powers movie – do you mean a “Space Laser” <air quotes> 🙂

The truth is even more interesting. Astronomers at observatories in new Mexico, Italy and Germany have been firing lasers at the Moon for 50 years as part of a long-ranging experiment that has yielded data on the tidal behaviour of Earth’s oceans, the surprising flex of the elastic lunar surface (up to 15 cms), the gradual movement of the Moon away from the Earth, and confirmation of Einstein’s gravitational theories.

Mercury's Tidally Locked Orbit
Apollo legacy lives on – through prisms

Arrays of hundreds of prisms left on the lunar surface by Apollo missions receive the incoming laser beams and bounce them back to Earth. The Apollo 11 and 14 arrays have 100 quartz glass prisms each, while the array left by Apollo 15’s astronauts has 300! The accuracy in measurement these prism arrays allow is stunning — and the experiment just keeps yielding data year after year because the arrays require no power or maintenance.

The returning signals have allowed the orbit, rotation and orientation of the Moon to be very accurately determined, and have confirmed that he the distance between the Earth and Moon is increasing by around 4 cm a year.

The experiment has highlighted the behaviour of Earth’s ocean tides, but also has shown that the lunar crust also rises and falls in a solid lunar “tide”. It has also confirmed that the Moon has a fluid core! This really surprised me, having thought (like many others) that the Moon was a “dead” rock. In fact the prevailing theory, even among scientists, was that the core would be cool and solid. The Moon’s fluid core affects the position of its north and south poles, which the experiment was sensitive to pinpoint.

The experiment has also confirmed Einstein’s theory of gravity, which assumes that the attraction between bodies is independent of their composition – proven true for the gravitational affects between the Sun and Moon, and Sun and Earth, despite the higher iron content of the Earth.

And that’s not the end for lunar reflectors. NASA has recently approved a new generation of reflectors to be positioned within the next ten years. These would be spread over a larger area, allowing more extensive analysis of lunar geography and further verification of Einstein’s gravitational theory.

Cool, huh?

Studies like this are invaluable in understanding new worlds. As a SF writer, they provide invaluable insights when it comes to building your own planets. Check out my own world-building in my SF novel, The Tau Ceti Diversion.

With the crew dead, and the starship’s jury-rigged fusion threatening a lethal explosion, Karic and the surviving officers finally reach a habitable planet. It’s a miracle, but the last thing they expected was to find that planet already occupied . . .

Get it now!

Near Future SF

Try some Near Future SF! With the crew dead, and the starship’s fusion drive held back from a lethal explosion, Karic and the surviving officers reach a habitable planet – the last thing they expected was to find it already occupied . . . #TheTauCetiDiversion @ChrisMcMahon111 #ScienceFiction #NearFuture Check it out on Amazon!

Near Future SF

Try some Near Future SF! With the crew dead, and the starship’s fusion drive held back from a lethal explosion, Karic and the surviving officers reach a habitable planet – the last thing they expected was to find it already occupied . . . #TheTauCetiDiversion @ChrisMcMahon111 #ScienceFiction #NearFuture

The Causes of Earth’s Spin Axis Drift

Did you feel that? Well probably not, but believe it or not, the Earth wobbles all the time as it spins on its axis — that imaginary line that passes through the North and South Poles. That wobble causes that “spin axis” to shift. Over a century it’s moved about 10 cm per year. Scientists now have a new handle on the causes of Earth’s Spin Axis Drift.

The boffins at NASA have been crunching away on data accumulated across the entire 20th century to identify three separate mechanisms that combine to cause the observed drift — 1) loss of mass in the global cryosphere (frozen regions), primarily in Greenland;, 2) glacial rebound, and 3) mantle convection.

Glacial rebound is the shifting of large land masses on the Earth’s surface in response to the loss of ice sheets. Not too long ago, in the last Ice Age, heavy glaciers covered a lot of the Earth’s surface. The whole of England is slowly rising in the west and sinking in the east. This can be observed by looking at castles like Harlech in Wales which were built on the coast, but are now miles inland. The fairy tale Avalon of King Arthur’s tales is speculated to actually have been Glastonbury Tor, which during that Dark Age period was actually an island, yet is now high and dry. This phenomenon can be observed in many places across Europe.

Mantle convection — another mouthful — is the action of the hot magma beneath the Earth’s tectonic plates, causing them to move. This magma heats and circulates like any heated fluid, behaving much like water boiling in a pot. This effect represents another large-scale shift in surface mass that contributes to the overall “wobble”.

If you want to check out an interactive simulation, check on this link.



Studies like this are invaluable in understanding our own planet. As a SF writer, they provide invaluable insights when it comes to build your own planets! Check out my own world-building in The Tau Ceti Diversion.

With the crew dead, and the starship’s fusion drive held back from a lethal explosion, Karic and the surviving officers reach a habitable planet – the last thing they expected was to find it already occupied . . .

Get it here!



Great New Epic Fantasy

One the most exciting things to happen over the Christmas and New Year break was that I can across some great new epic fantasy. A new author discovery for me! Miles Cameron’s The Red Knight.

I could not say that Cameron is necessarily a new author. Cameron, who also writes under the pen name of Gorden Kent, has published a substantial body of historical fiction, as well as series of espionage thrillers, but he was certainly new to me as a fantasy author when I got hold of a copy of The Red Knight.

Every now and then an author comes along that makes you sit up and smile, and Cameron certainly did this for me with Red Knight. This is an exceptional novel. Well written, well plotted, with a unique magic system, a well-drawn world of epic fantasy, great action and excellent characterisation.

I was not so sure off the mark. Although obviously well written — Cameron writes like a pro and his background in historical fiction has given him clarity and precision — there were some things that put me off. These were in the realm of structure and artistic choices, rather than craft.

One was the high level of detail in armour description. I have a limited tolerance for technical descriptions that bog down the narrative flow, like extensive descriptions of sniper rifles in thrillers for example. Although I respected his obvious detailed knowledge of period armour, this was initially a negative for me.

The second thing was Cameron’s penchant for writing in vignettes. There was short scene after short scene — very short, some only a page or less — most of which introduced new character after new character.

Here Cameron had to work through the difficulty of the writer who draws a broad canvass for a series — how to introduce the necessary cast of characters without slowing down the story and confusing the reader. Well, for me it really did slow the story down, at least at the start.

By the time I was fifty pages in, I had accepted the detailed descriptions of armour as necessary for the piece. This was epic fantasy, with knights in armour and the whole panoply of attendant squires, men-at-arms, crossbowmen, archers etc, and the descriptions and specialised vocabulary ultimately added to the sharpness with which the world is drawn. My initial hesitation on this front was probably due to the fact that I am not typically an epic fantasy reader — I tend toward heroic fantasy in unique and completely non-medieval settings.

I was probably about one third of the way through the book by the time I had adapted to the continuing vignettes and was comfortable with the large array of characters.

By this stage I was completely hooked on the story.

If you love fantasy, and particularly if you like epic fantasy, check out The Red Knight.

I, for one, am really looking forward to the rest of this series. I haven’t been this excited by a new fantasy writer in a long time.



HERE BE SPOILERS! (If you want to read the book, stop reading now:)).

I love magic – hey that’s why I write fantasy – and I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a new magic system as much. I really enjoyed the subsidiary characters, particularly the mage Harmodius.

The broader story, and the array of Wild creatures, was also very well done, with a mix of the new and familiar.

One thing I did think could have been stronger was the portrayal of Thorn. This man was supposed to have once been a magical genius, yet he reacted to like an angry adolescent to any provocation, and was ultimately revealed to have been manipulated by forces unknown. I would have liked more complexity in Thorn.

I do like my villains to be complex — something I probably got from reading so many Gemmell novels. Now there was an author who knew how to write shades of grey into both his protagonists, and antagonists.

Most Interesting Fantasy of the Year

I hope everyone had a great Christmas, and Santa brought you what you wanted.

Heading toward the end of the year, I thought I would reflect on the most interesting Fantasy of the Year. My overall favourite read would have to go to Ryhming Rings, the surprise posthumous publication by my all-time favourite writer David Gemmell, but here I’m talking about Fantasy novels particularly.

I did not quite know what to make of this book, since on the face of it, it featured many of the things that usually are deal-breakers for me, but I still come back to the novel as my most unusual Fantasy read of the year. The first novel by by Peter Newman, called The Vagrant.

The Vagrant was slightly offbeat, but overall a nicely worked piece.

The post-apocalyptic setting is well imagined, and it’s nice to see someone successfully pulling off a cross-genre mix of horror and SF, something I have a bit of a soft spot for.

The writing is good, but what had me gritting my teeth from the very outset was the use of present tense, somewhat of a pet hate of mine. And to make it even more of a challenge, the central protagonist is mute — yep, he doesn’t speak through the entire novel. Not only is the main character silent, but he is outside the point-of-view. The book is written in an omniscient viewpoint. I’ve got no particular problem with omniscient, but in that case I really look for the dialogue to express the inner world of the character. In this case that personality is successfully portrayed through the Vagrant’s heroic actions and his consistent integrity, which I enjoyed. I don’t typically go for anti-heroes, so that was a big plus for me.

The world is beautifully crafted, imaginative, and original. I was drawn through the story as much by the quest of the Vagrant to exit the cursed badlands where his journey begins, as by the vast amount of unknown backstory that is slowly drip-fed to the reader.

For me though, a reader who loves being hooked into character, the absence of the Vagrants PoV really hampered my ultimate enjoyment of the novel. Hey, but that’s just me.

Given the fact that the Vagrant has only his non-verbal interactions and his actions in response to challenges to demonstrate his character, Newman does of great job of creating sympathy. I think one of the core vehicles for this is the fact that the Vagrant is the guardian and primary carer for a tiny infant that spends most of the book hidden away in his coat (don’t worry that’s no spoiler! You learn that pretty much on page 1). Having him obviously caring and protecting an defenseless infant goes a long way to creating that sympathetic link between writer and reader.

Nice one Peter!