Cosmology for the Layman

Science fiction is getting an ever-increasing fan base, be it Star Trek, Firefly, Babylon 5, or any of the dozens of movies and TV series, or thousands of books. On the other hand, it is demonstrably not necessary to actually understand science to produce a science fiction product, and there are some truly awful gaffs out there. Of course once they are committed to film, then they have to be explained away.
  • Star Trek encounters an energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy. They meant the Universe, but had to do some fast footwork to recover.
  • Firefly seems to take place in a single solar system with 210 inhabitable planets, every one of them with a 24-hour day and a 365-day year. Not to mention a temperate climate and Earth-standard gravity.
  • Buck Rogers opined that there were a googleplex star systems in our galaxy. If you turned each atom in the entire universe into a zero, you'd have enough to write out a googleplex — it's rather a big number. Conversely there are at most four hundred billion stars in our galaxy.
  • Star Trek III manages to use one quarter impulse power in space-dock. Full impulse power gets them up to just under the speed of light. It's about a million times worse than going around a multi-story car park in fifth gear with your foot only a quarter down on the accelerator pedal.

I could go on. I'm writing this series of essays as a resource for fans who want to create realistic scenarios without making too many mistakes. On the other hand, if you are a big movie studio, then please get yourself a science consultant and listen to them. When we watch and read science fiction, we expect to make some suspensions of disbelief, but when we are asked to accept stuff that makes no sense because the writer made a mistake it's like reading "she walked along the road under a green sky with pink polka-dots." It stops us in our tracks, ruins our involvement and makes us more likely to go and do something else instead.

Here then are some essays on subjects concerning space travel. I've tried to put them in a reasonable order to read one after the other, but feel free to pick and choose.

Coming soon:

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