Add one mind-controlling alien . . .

Every epic tale needs its villain. My new Fantasy book Warriors of the Blessed Realms is written against a backdrop of multiple worlds, and follows the adventures of heroes like Finn, from the Blessed Realms, and Liam, from Brisbane in Australia, as they fight the dark forces of the Vault of Seven Horns. They seek to defeat the plans of a cruel overlord, and rescue a captured priestess from a dark ritual that will give their enemy a vast increase in power. So who is the villain? Add one mind-controlling alien . . . the krell lord VoYannan!

So who are the krell? They are a solitary species that propagate without sexual union. Somewhere in their evolutionary history they took a dark, inward turn. In order to reproduce a krell must implant a krell-spawn into a host. The spawn grows in the host as a parasite until it rips its way free as a fully conscious krell. Nice eh? Heh – they are the bad guys! Each new krell possesses all the memories and talents of their progenitor, but their power as newborn krell depends on the choice of host. This is the fate of the captured priestess Sephany — unless our heroes can reach VoYannan’s ruined world and rescue Sephany from the depths of VoYannan’s dark citadel.

So why would a krell — who are always jealous of their power and control — loose a generation of krell-spawn on the universe? Because the sire and the newly born krell are mentally linked. The newly emerging krell can be leashed to their parent, and enhance the parent’s power. Yet there is a trade-off. As the new krell grows in strength, they can in turn consume and destroy their parent, as VoYannan did to his own progeninitor.

Krell don’t socialise well. In fact, they pretty much want to kill and dominate each other. Yet new krell keep coming.

The krell have awesome mind-control powers. Lord VoYannan, the ruler of the Vault of Seven Horns, controls fifty-eight planets, and dominates millions of sentient beings through direct mental control. He draws power from each, and enhances his power with each new mind brought under his control.

The Vaults themselves are dystopian SF worlds. Oppressed millions are kept in check by legions of laser-wielding brutes called Siithe, a savage race that consumes their victims (and even each other if they get the chance). Here are leaden skies, vast ruined cities, and factories manned by slaves from dozens of conquered species.

So, about the story . . .

Warriors is an epic tale spanning multiple worlds and multiple genres — fantasy, urban fantasy, and SF — where magic and high-technology go head-to-head.

VoYannan plots to unleash a devastating assault on the Blessed Realms, a coalition of six worlds with benign technology that is dedicated to preserving life. He uses an ancient Gateway on Earth to strike. His Vault forces capture the priestess Sephany, crucial to his plans, and escape.

Realm warrior Finn Evenstone sets off in pursuit, but cannot pass the Gateway used by the Vault.

Liam Durrow, sole survivor of an ancient Earth lineage, is led to Fraser Island by a vision, and uses his unique magical abilities as Keeper to open the Gateway.

Both Finn and Liam are soon battling the Vault on Earth, and in the Shadow Worlds, planets already ruined by the krell. They need all the help they can get. They are joined by tenacious Federal Agent Yolinda Paris, who has her own score to settle.

Check it out! Grab a copy of the book! Available at selected bookstores and these online retailers!

Avid Reader Bookstore

Amazon – Print and kindle

Barnes & Noble – Print and Nook

Google Books – Print

Booktopia – Print

Bookdepository – Print

Fishpond – Print

Waterstones – Print

Kobo – ebook

eBay – Print

itsi – epub

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!

Atmosphere on a Fictional Planet

So you’ve got your story working, but how do you sketch out the atmosphere on a fictional planet? Maybe you have some idea of the mass, radius and gravity and you’ve got the orbit in the ‘sweet spot’ goldilocks zone where liquid water can be present on the surface, but what will conditions on the surface actually be like?

What sort of factors go into whether that planet, presumably an Earth-like rocky world, will have an atmosphere that can support terrestrial life?

Planets above a blue planet

The gravity of the planet is one key variable, along with surface temperature, and the strength of the planet’s magnetosphere, which can protect against atmospheric stripping due to solar wind.

The surface temperature of a planet will determine how much kinetic energy, and so velocity, the gas particles will have. If that temperature, and velocity, is high enough it will exceed the planet’s escape velocity and the molecules will fly off into space like tiny spaceship explorers. Earth has lost most of its very light gases like hydrogen and helium in this way, whereas the gas giants have enough gravity to retain them. We kept our water, and we’ve got a lot of it! If Earth was sitting where Venus is things would be different, the additional temperature would give those lighter gases like water vapour enough energy to escape, and also prevent any being trapped on the planet’s surface itself (whereas some is ‘sequestered’ on Earth as water and ice at our lower surface temperature). But beyond the early, settling down period where the lighter gases are lost, any world larger than Earth, orbiting in that goldilocks zone, will not continue to lose a significant proportion of its atmosphere through thermal processes.

Here’s a cool pictorial on thermal escape (source: Wikipedia).

Solar_system_escape_velocity_vs_surface_temperature.svg

Beyond that thermal stripping process, is where the magnetosphere comes into its own, deflecting the solar wind – one of the main non-thermal processes leading to atmospheric loss. The very thickness of a planet’s atmosphere (retained due to its gravity, and as a function of surface temperature), will also protect a planet from the solar wind, even in the absence of a magnetosphere. It’s thought that Venus’ thick atmosphere, ionized by solar radiation and the solar wind, produces magnetic moments that act out to 1.2-1.5 planetary radii away from the planet to deflect the solar wind, much like a magnetosphere (but an order of magnitude closer to the planet). In fact, it’s thought the dominant non-thermal atmospheric loss process on Venus is actually from a type of naturally induced electrical acceleration. On Venus, the stripping of the lighter electrons from the atmosphere causes an excess of positive charges, accelerating ions like H+ out of its atmosphere.

Our explorers need a breathable atmosphere, but they also need an atmospheric pressure like our own Earth’s.

My fictional planet of Cru, in the Tau Ceti Diversion, has comparable surface temperatures to Earth, but a higher surface gravity. The higher surface gravity, and its lower density, allowed me to assume a lighter atmospheric composition, and allow an atmospheric pressure, or weight of atmosphere, close to surface much like Earth’s. That atmospheric composition is crucial to having a reasonable atmospheric pressure – its not just the gravity of the planet. Venus, even though it has slighter lower gravity than Earth, has a crushing atmospheric pressure of 90 times Earth’s due to its heavier  atmosphere of CO2.

Check out what my my intrepid explorers found in my novel The Tau Ceti Diversion when they touched down on the planet!

Read it now on Amazon!

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

Estimating Surface Gravity on a Fictional Planet

So you want to estimate surface gravity on a fictional planet? Easy!

One of the things I had to do as part of the rework of my novel The Tau Ceti Diversion, is to try and work out the surface gravity of my fictional planets. From the Kepler data, there are two exoplanets located in the Tau Ceti system that are likely to be in the system’s habitable zone, or where there is the possibility of liquid water on the surface, and perhaps life as we know it.

To play around with my estimates of gravity, I used ratioed rearrangements of Newton’s law of gravity (law of universal gravitation) and a simple formula relating the density of a spherical planet to its mass and radius (these are at the bottom of the post in the ADDENDUM).

WARNING: MATHS CONTENT!!!

Here’s Newtons famous law:)

law of gravity

The two planets thought to be in Tau Ceti’s habitable zone are denoted Tau Ceti e and Tau Ceti f. What is known about these two planets is their likely orbit, eccentricity, and their mass. All of these properties have been derived by calculation, based on observed data, so are all known to within appropriate error bounds, but I’m leaving the error off my scribblings so things don’t get too messy.

Tau Ceti e is thought to be around 4.3 Earth Masses, or Me (i.e. 4.3 times as heavy as Earth), while Tau Ceti f, the planet that orbits a bit further out, is thought to be around 6.67 Me. For the astronomically minded, these two planets orbit at around 0.55 and 1.35 AU from Tau Ceti respectively.

So, here’s where I cheated a bit, like any good engineer. I started with the answer I wanted and calculated backwards to see if the answer I wanted led to reasonable base assumptions. This is not as cheeky as it sounds, because when you have an insoluble problem (i.e. not enough data is known for an explicit result), an iterative approach is often used.

For my story to work, I needed a surface gravity on my planet of no more than 1.2g – that’s twenty percent higher than Earth’s. But how could I get a gravity that low on a planet that was over 4 times the mass of Earth? The answer is that surface gravity is a function of mass and radius, or going a step further along the calculation path, mass and density.

I used a ratioed form of Newton’s law that allowed me to relate the ratio of two planets gravitational forces to the ratios of their masses and radii. I already knew the ratio of the gravities ( assumed at gTCe/gE= 1.2) and the ratio of the masses (MTCe/ME =  4.3), so could calculate the ratio of radii (rE/rTCe) at 1.89.  Using another formula that related the ratio of the two planet’s densities to their ratioed mass and radii, I could then calculate their ratioed densities (dens TCe/ densE) at 0.63. So at the end of all that, to have a surface gravity of 1.2 g, Tau Ceti e would have to have a density of 63% of Earth’s. Is that reasonable?

The density of Earth is 5.514 g/cm3, not too much different from the density of a rocky planet like Mercury (5.427 g/cm3), but a lot higher than other solar system planets like Jupiter and Uranus (1.326 g/cm3 and 1.27 g/cm3 respectively), comprised of lighter materials. A surface gravity of 1.2g on Tau Ceti e would put its density at around 3.5 g/cm3, less dense than our own rocky planets, but certainly in a feasible range.

So what sort of densities would you expect for the Tau Ceti system? One clue is the metallicity of the system, which is a measure of the ratio of iron to hydrogen in the star’s makeup. In the case of Tau Ceti, this is estimated to be around one third of our own sun. This indicates the star is likely to be older than the Sun, made up of stellar remnants left over from less evolved stars that have not had time to form as much of the heavier elements in their internal fusion factories.

So Tau Ceti is made up of lighter elements. Based on this, it was reasonable to assume that the planets in the Tau Ceti system would also be made up of proportionally lighter elements, and quite possibly in the range I had estimated. Tau Ceti e and Tau Ceti f are also large planets – much larger than our own Earth – so having a density in between Earth and our own gas giants also made sense to me.

Using the same planetary density I had calculated for Tau Ceti e, for the larger Tau Ceti f, gave me a surface density of around 1.4g for the bigger planet – just a little too high for feasible human colonisation – and that fit nicely with my story as well.

It was a lot of fun playing with these calculations, and thankfully the known science fit with my story, at least with some comfortable wiggle room!

Check out what challenges that increased gravity provided for my intrepid explorers in my novel The Tau Ceti Diversion!

Read it now on Amazon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADDENDUM

For those interested in the maths. . .

Density formula:  densp= Mp / (4/3*pi()*rp^3)

Where:

densp= Density of Planet (kg/m3)

Mp = mass of planet (kg)

rp = radius of planet (m)

In ratio form: densp1/densp2= Mp1/Mp2 *(rp2/rp1)^3

 

Ratio of Newtons law relating gravity, mass and radius of two planets:

gp1/gp2= Mp1/Mp2 *(rp2/rp1)^2

 

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!

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