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 https://amzn.to/2k8k1Vx

Tau Ceti – One of Our Celestial Neighbours

The Tau Ceti system is indeed one of our close cosmic neighbours. At less than 12 lightyears away, it is one of the closest systems to Earth’s own solar system – along with others such as the Centauri system and Epsilon Eridani. Because of its nearness to our own solar system, it has been a favourite in science fiction for decades. A likely first or second step for any intrepid interstellar explorers.

I first started toying with the idea of a novel set in the Tau Ceti system more than twenty years ago. And as these things go, the story developed in fits and starts as I bounced between novel projects and other stories. One of the things about writing science fiction, particularly near-future SF, is that the science never stands still. And particularly, in the last few decades, the developments in astronomy and the identification of planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets, has been almost exponential!

When I wrote the first draft of The Tau Ceti Diversion, there was not a single confirmed planet identified outside Earth’s solar system. Now, thanks largely to the latest Kepler space-based telescope discoveries, there are more than 3000! Not only that, but there have been five identified in the Tau Ceti system itself, with one – and possibly two – in the habitable zone around that star.

What did this mean for me? It meant a ton of research, and lot of very careful rewriting!

In my very early drafts of The Tau Ceti Diversion, I was free to imagine an Earth-like solar system of planets and shape them as I saw fit for the story. But by the time the last draft was completed, only months ago, I had very specific information about what those planets might be. I knew their approximate mass, their orbits, even their eccentricity. I had to go back to the drawing board – and my excel spreadsheets – to try and work out how these known planets would fit within the very specific constraints of my story. Not the least of which was that my story included a tidally locked planet!

It’s no accident that the Tau Ceti system has been popular as a setting for science fiction. Even before the identification of its family of planets, Tau Ceti, in the constellation of Cetus, was known to be very similar to our own Sun. It is smaller, about 78% of the Sun’s mass, and is the closest solitary G-class star (the same spectral class as the Sun). That’s enough to make it seem like our cousin. Add to that Tau Ceti’s stability, and lack of stellar variation, and you already feel like moving in. The only hitch is the presence of a debris disk, which means that any planet orbiting Tau Ceti is likely to face more impact events than planets in our own solar system.

Seen from Tau Ceti, the Sun would appear much like Tau Ceti does to us – a third magnitude star visible to the naked eye.

The composition of Tau Ceti, as measured by the ratio of its iron to hydrogen content, or metallicity, is lower than our Sun, indicating that it is older: its makeup derived from earlier stars yet to manufacture the same amount of heavy elements in their internal fusion factories.

So similar to our own Sun, and so close, it’s no wonder that it is also a target for the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) program.

As readers of my novel The Tau Ceti Diversion will discover, the explorers in my novel certainly find some intelligent life there!

Read it now on Amazon!

Tau-Ceti-Diversion-severed-ebook-cover (Medium)

 

UFO Buzzes International Space Station!

As the UFO flew past the ISS earlier in the week, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy was quick of the mark. He caught the object on video as it passed. Of course it did not stay unidentified for long – Russian ground controllers identified it as an antenna cover from the Zvezda service module. See the footage here.

This comes after the US government recently confirmed the existence of Area 51 for the first time. Of course, they confirmed it as a testing area for spy planes, and did not say anything about aliens or crashed alien spacecraft.

The ISS incident got me thinking about UFOs in general, and whether there really has been any alien visitations of Earth in modern times.

Given the vastness of space, and the constraints of physics, I think the most likely alien visitor would be of the robotic kind. Perhaps there has been a probe or two fly past and take so photos. If so, then its next move would be a high-intensity beam communication back to its point of origin. Once more, given the vastness of space, its home civilisation may not pick up the message for hundreds or thousands of years. This of course assumes no advanced SF-type goodies like navigable wormholes or warp drives.

So what do you think? Have aliens visited? Have you seen any truly weird UFOs yourself?