Monthly Archives: June 2012

A Taste of Earth: Scene 2

This is the second scene from A Taste of Earth,
a science fiction short story in ten scenes.
I will post the entire story one scene at a time each Friday.
I hope you enjoy A Taste of Earth, and I would love to hear from you.

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Research Ship James Cook II, Atlantic Ocean, 240 km east of Cape Cod

Seven years ago, Oceanographer Juan Gonzales had adopted the thirty-seven meter long research vessel James Cook II as his home. He knew the quirks of all the lab equipment as if they were his own children. He loved the North Atlantic, the taste of salt in the air, the cold spray on his face, the gentle rocking of the ship … well, not always gentle. Most of all he loved the life teeming within the ocean. To most people the oceans were barriers, voids where land ceased, interruptions of life. Juan knew better. If anything it was the other way around, but the moment his sensors indicated the nature of the meteor impact, he knew his ocean had changed forever.

“As far as I can tell,” he reported his findings to JPL via a satellite phone, “we’re dealing with diseased plankton.”

“Diseased?” John asked. “What, like a virus or something?”

“It’s not like the plankton has an immune system, you know? They’re just not acting right.” Two of Juan’s curious college interns, who should have been busy taking samples if it had remained a normal day, stood listening behind him.

“Then how do you know it’s diseased?”

Juan glanced over his shoulder at the interns who shook their heads, dumbfounded. “They’re converting oxygen into carbon monoxide at an accelerated rate. Don’t ask me how. I won’t know until I look at them under a transmission electron microscope, but we don’t have much time to waste.”

“What do you mean?” Dipesh asked.

“We got a real problem here. The fish, they’re dying. We’re reading oxygen depletion down to 300 meters, and it’s spreading.”

“Any growth rate estimates?”

“Eh.” Juan rubbed his forehead. “Based upon the initial contamination size, I’d say fourteen square kilometers since impact. Madre de Dios, I haven’t seen anything like this before in my life.”

“Were you able to get close enough to ground zero to collect trace elements?”

“No, and I wouldn’t be able to now. I’ve called the Coast Guard and they said they’re going to widen the quarantine area.” He heard a sigh on the other end. “They’re sending helicopters to evacuate our ship.”

“Helicopters?” Irene asked.

“Yes, they say we might spread the organism. It might be on our hull.” He thought of all the memories he would be leaving behind and the possibility of never seeing her again. How could this happen so quickly? “Hey, what was on that rock, anyway?”

“We don’t know.”

Russian Forrest, 74 km Northwest of Vologda

Ukrainian Astrophysicist Feodor Dubovik clung to his hood, fighting the wind. Two more helicopters were landing, bringing the latest United Nations Task Force technicians to the crash site. He headed for one of the Task Force tents set up for microscopic analysis. He took care walking down the new, narrow path though the forest. Someone had loaned him a flashlight, and the beam danced before him.

“It appears to be …” he searched for the English word “…explosion in atmosphere like in Tunguska in 1908,” he yelled into his cell phone, to overcome the background noise, but it had the effect of exaggerating his accent. “Livestock and human dead from it but not dead from just explosion. There is something else.”

“Can you get to ground zero?” He could barely make out what they were saying even though he pressed the cell phone to his ear.

“No. More dead downwind. Area is blocked off completely. There is some sort of microorganism riding on pollen. We see high levels of methane and nitrous oxide gases. We expect it come from this organisms. The local government proposes using fire bombs to destroy this organisms, but I think it will just make matters worse.”

“Why.”

“The organisms seem silicon-based. We never come across them before. They are just our theory till now, but our theory says they thrive on higher temperatures.” He made it to the tent and returned the flashlight. “What do you Americans think?”

No answer.

“Hello?”

Not even static.

“Hello!”

He shook his head. “Cell phones,” he added in Ukrainian. “They will kill us all.”

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 < Scene 1     Scene 3 >

The entire text is currently discounted: Free.
If you would like the entire story as a PDF, click here: A Taste of Earth – Justin Tyme.
For ebook format Amazon, visit: AmazonBarnes & Noble, Kubo, Smashwords, and others.
 
Copyright © 2011 Justin Tyme
 

A Taste of Earth: Scene 1

This is the first scene from A Taste of Earth,
a science fiction short story in ten scenes.
I will post the entire story one scene at a time each Friday.
I hope you enjoy A Taste of Earth, and I would love to hear from you.

_________________________________

JPL – Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, USA

“Eight minutes to impact.” Astrophysicist Dipesh Patel, member of the Near Earth Object team, read aloud the data on the wall-mounted display – telemetry of three nuclear missiles headed for asteroid Hachiman.

NEO team members, scientists, engineers, and technicians from other departments huddled around the display, all of them disheveled, haggard, and unshaven. Dipesh savored the electrifying excitement that still lingered even after thirty-six hours of sleepless anticipation. It had the feel of an all-night movie marathon. Their lab was dark and crowded and smelled of stale deep-dish pizza. Dipesh liked it that way. The darkness cut down on monitor glare, the closeness taught them to conserve space, and the pizza, well, it would have to do. If he focused on his data long enough, it gave him the feeling of being in a space capsule, which is what he had dreamed of doing since childhood. A fear of flying crushed any hopes of that so he contented himself with the next best thing.

“Come on, Hachiman,” he said. “Stay real still.”

Dr. Irene Clemmons, the matriarch of the NEO team, patted him on the back. “The laws of physics won’t change if we don’t watch it.”

“Asteroid finder and astronomer Dr. Irene Clemmons of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, has been named to the Women in Science and Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame, an award that honors women in science and technology worldwide.” ~ JPL Media Relations Office Press Release

“Not if it’s quantum physics,” Dipesh said, turning and winking at her. With her frizzled gray hair, piercing blue-gray eyes, and intense features, Irene reminded him of Jane Goodall, the scientist famous for her pioneering study of wild chimpanzees. Irene had nurtured the NEO program since its infancy, and had inspired others to postpone their academic careers and join the ranks of asteroid hunters.

Dipesh pointed to an alarm on the display computer. He felt the rush of adrenaline flow anew in his veins when he read the data. “Hachiman’s changing course.”

Meteor expert John Eastman pocketed his yo-yo, and camera engineer David Rhodes leaned over to get a better look. “What?”

“See for yourself.” Dipesh pointed to the telemetry.

“A Hiccup?” John asked.

Dipesh nodded. Dipesh turned and answered, ignoring the words on John’s tee shirt: I killed Schrödinger’s cat. “This isn’t a comet … but there must have been some form of out-gassing that changed its vector.”

They watched as two missiles missed Hachiman entirely. They could not be turned around for another try. The mood in the lab shifted from careful, watchful speculation to tense anticipation as the third missile neared its objective. There was total silence in the lab, words being strictly unnecessary. When the numbers showing distance reached zero, Dipesh breathed again for the first time in what seemed like an hour.

The lab erupted in a cheer of relief. Their elation lasted only a minute.

“Oh, no,” John said looking at his monitor. “Hachiman fragmented.” The numbers showed five fragments, several spinning off on a ballistic path but still bound to enter the earth’s atmosphere at another longitude.

“The missile should have deflected it, nothing more,” Dipesh said jumping up, defending himself before an audience of peers. “The numbers were perfect.” He felt a twinge of guilt because he helped NASA and U.S. Air Force engineers determine the missile’s explosive yield. How could I have been so wrong about the asteroid’s composition? It was carbonaceous — containing organic matter, water soluble salts, magnetite, and clay — or at least he thought so.

“Asteroid composition can only be determined by Earth-based or satellite observation and this limits the astronomer to spectral and gravimetric analysis. Some are piles of rubble, held together my microgravity. They appear to contain metals, water, carbon-based molecules, or even traces of amino acids and other organic compounds. In a word, we just don’t know what most asteroids are made of.” ~Doctoral Thesis, Dipesh Chandwadkar

They all watched the monitors for projections of fragment impact sites. Except for the whir of the equipment fans, silence again ruled the lab. Dipesh pulled up his spreadsheets and double-checked some numbers. How could I have been so far off? They were based on NASA’s figures. Did they give me bad data?

“Here we go,” Irene said reading the monitor. “Looks like four fragments. None of them big enough to be global busters or tsunami makers, but may be large enough to make impact. Their vectors take them to the Pacific Ocean near Santa Monica Beach, northern Russia, the Gobi Desert, and one in the middle of the Pacific. Only one still headed for the Atlantic.” The screen displayed the specific coordinates.

“Thank God none of them is heavily populated,” Dipesh said. “There’s not much in the Gobi.”

Lupe asked, “Why would some fragments take a ballistic path and hit the other side of the Earth?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Irene said, “but it looks like their initial vector may have been away from the earth, but pulled back because of the earth’s gravity.”

“The explosion would have given it escape velocity,” Lupe said.

Dipesh jumped up and grabbed his tool kit, which included an infrared thermometer and Geiger counter.

“Where are you going?” Irene asked.

“Santa Monica Beach. I want to get samples of these rocks before any of the locals do.” And find out if I was really wrong about its composition.

John reached for his tablet computer. “I’m coming with you.”

“Good,” Irene said. “Don’t forget your cell phones. I’ll contact the other impact sites and conference you in.”

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Continued in Scene 2

 
The entire text is currently discounted: Free.
If you would like the entire story as a PDF, click here: A Taste of Earth – Justin Tyme.
For ebook format Amazon, visit: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kubo, Smashwords, and others.
 
Copyright © 2011 Justin Tyme
 

Is the Standard Model Wrong?

Science is based on doubt. One of its greatest strengths is self-checking assumptions. It is never one hundred percent correct. Woe to those who blindly follow it as a religion.

Electron-Positron Collision

An electron and positron collide. The resulting decay happens more often than predicted by the Standard Model of physics.

In the last posting, I briefly described what the Standard Model explains, and what it doesn’t.

Now a recently discovered problem with the model may open the door to new discoveries and a better model.

If a globe is a model of the Earth, then it is an improvement over a flat map model of the Earth. Both models show India’s relative position to Australia, but the flat model gives the false impression that sailing far enough east plunges one into the abyss.

In the same way, the standard model describes how sub-atomic particles interact, but it seems to give false impressions. Technically speaking, there is a particular decay process where B-bar mesons decay into three other particles:

  • a D meson (a quark and an antiquark, one of which is “charm” flavored ),
  • an antineutrino (the antimatter partner of the neutrino), and
  • a tau lepton (a cousin of an electron).

The problem is, this happens more than the Standard Model predicts — a false impression.

“Big deal, right?” she said, laden with sarcasm.

Well it is if you’re trying to explain how the universe works or are using these principles to create the iPhone 16. In the same way, a flat model of the Earth is good enough as long as you’re not a sailor.

While the findings are more sensitive than previous studies of these decays, they are not statistically significant enough to claim they present a clear break from the Standard Model. Michael Roney of the University of Victoria in Canada said in a statement, “Before we can claim an actual discovery, other experiments have to replicate it and rule out the possibility this isn’t just an unlikely statistical fluctuation.”

“If the excess decays shown are confirmed, it will be exciting to figure out what is causing it. We hope our results will stimulate theoretical discussion about just what the data are telling us about new physics.” ~  BaBar physics coordinator Abner Soffer of Tel Aviv University.

Sources: 
Misbehaving Particles Poke Holes in Reigning Physics Theory and
Experiment Raises Doubt over Standard Model of Physics
 
 

The Standard Model in Layman’s Terms

You can’t see what sub atomic particles look like because they’re smaller than light itself … well, at least smaller than the wavelength of visible light. But if you hit an atomic nucleus hard, really hard, you can break it apart and see what it’s made of and how those pieces interact. It’s somewhat like trying to figure out how a Swiss watch works by shooting it with a gun.

Standard Model of Particle Physics

Over the last century, scientists have done just that. The guns they used are particle accelerators (colliders) and they help us develop what’s known as the Standard Model of particle physics. This Standard Model describes nuclear interactions that mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Any model has its limits. A desk-top globe is a model of the earth, but it doesn’t show the current weather patterns and you can’t use it to find your way home from the grocery store. It shows one thing well at a macro scale: political or topographic or some other feature. A globe works well because it shows us what the world looks like from a distance. Without it (and without pictures from space), all we can see of the Earth is as far as the horizon.

In the same way, the Standard Model is a representation of the very small, but it also has its limits. It’s good at showing how sub-atomic particles interact, but it doesn’t show what happens with dark energy, dark mater, neutrino oscillations, or gravity (as described by general relativity).

And there may be another problem. The model appears to leak.

If you want more explanation of the standard model in layman’s terms, click here.  It’s a great video.

If you want to see what university education might look like a hundred years from now, read Cohesion Lost, a science fiction short story full of suspense, a couple of twists, and a little humor.

About Cohesion Lost: For Alexander Sevik, providing for his family is hard enough without losing grip on reality. His dreams are real. One night, he lives the entire life of a deckhand on a Spanish galleon. The next night, it’s life as an ancient Roman senator. Next, he is a cyborg on a space cruiser. When he wakes, he sometimes forgets who he is. His hands tingle for no reason, and the strange man who is following him talks about aliens. When he discovers the key to his dreams, he uncovers a national threat. And he has to choose between his own sanity or saving lives.

Calling All Disaster Recovery Robots

DARPA concept image showing two humanoid robots assisting in disaster relief: closing a pipe valve (left) and using a power tool to break down a wall (right).

A few weeks ago, DARPA (the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) announced that it would hold competitions for autonomous robots that would give aid to victims of natural or man-made disasters and conduct evacuation operations.Calling it the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), the agency is looking for anyone who can advance current robot technology past existing limits to create an autonomous bot for the DOD’s “disaster recovery mission.” The primary technical goal of the DRC is to develop ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments.

The winner takes all: a $2 million cash prize.

The DRC is scheduled to launch in October 2012 with events planned for June 2013, December 2013 and December 2014.

One of the main objectives of this program is to develop humanoid robots or at least robots that can work in a human environment.  Dr. Gill Pratt, Program Manager in the Defense Sciences Office at DARPA, explained the reason for this in an interview with IEEE Spectrum:

“The three big ideas here are, first, we need robots that are compatible with shared environments, even though the environments are degraded, and second, we need robots that are compatible with human tools. The reason for that is that typically we don’t know where the disaster is going to be, and right now the stock of tools, all the way from vehicles to hand tools, are really made for people to operate, for maintenance or construction, and so we want the robot to be able to use all those tools. The third thing is compatibility with human operators in two ways: one is that the robot is easy to operate without particular training, and second is that the human operator can easily imagine what the robot might do. For that to be true, the robot needs to have a form that is not too different from the human form. But I think that some variation actually might work.”

Speculative Fiction

What will the future be like if we have humanoid robots assisting in disaster relief?  Let’s say that a military accident releases swarms of microscopic robots called forger nanites into the environment.  They make their way towards a research lab, which after hours is run by science intern Kutisha. As three swarms head her way, the military dispatches hover-tanks carrying human sized robotic mechs as disaster relief. Alone, late at night, she places her faith in the mechs, watching the battle between the big and little machines unfold on her doorstep. The question may not be who will win, but who to trust.

Yes, this is a plug for Death Has No Shadow.

Sources:  DARPA’s announcement, Interview with IEEE Spectrum