‘Under Alien Skies’ ignites the next generation of sci-fi.


Phil Plait, creator of the popular astronomy blog Bad astronomyhis interest in outer space is partly due to his childhood love of science fiction films such as Angry red planet And Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

“I’m a big science fiction dork,” Plait says in episode 541. The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast. “I’ve watched every TV show, and I’ve read the movies and everything, a lot of books. I like science fiction.”

In his new book Under the alien sky, Plait explores what different spatial perspectives look like to a person in the flesh by studying the normal human perspective. “I open each chapter with a short vignette, which is basically a fictional tale,” he says. “It’s usually in the second person. So I say, ‘You’re on this planet,’ ‘You’re standing on the bridge of a starship,’ ‘You’re standing there watching a dust storm approach you on Mars.’ And hopefully that way it will be a more immersive experience for the reader.

Plait hopes the book will serve as a useful resource for filmmakers and science fiction writers looking to inject an extra dose of reality into their imaginative visions. “I’ve actually done some consulting for movies, TV shows, and even a couple of video games,” he says. “So I know the process of advising writers or other people involved in the entertainment business about what the real science is.”

Plait understands that as much as it’s fun to see science fiction that incorporates real science, the ultimate goal of any book or movie is to tell a good story. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t really understand the science, because you’re still inspiring people,” he says. “And if you get the science right? Hey, bonus.”

Listen to episode 541 of the full interview with Philip Plait The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (on top of). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Phil Plait in March:

On Earth, the sky is blue during the day, then when the sun sets, you get a red sky around the sun, because of the fog and dirt floating in the air, which tends to absorb or scatter blue and green light. The end result is that light doesn’t reach your eyes, only red objects, and the sun looks red and the sky around the sun looks red. On Mars, however, the opposite is true. There’s all this dust in the air, and the dust is iron oxide, rust, and it floats in the atmosphere and turns the sky red. But it tends to scatter its blue light towards you at sunset. So during the day the sky is red, but when the sun sets – and when the sun rises, too – the sky is blue.

Phil Plait on Science Consulting:

I got an email from one of the digital influencers [on The Expanse] He said, “Hey, there’s going to be a shot where we’re getting close to Jupiter. What does it look like?” So I wrote a few paragraphs and sent it to him, and when that episode aired, he said, “Oh look! They did all that.” That was great. … I did some consulting for the movie to comeAnd that was a completely different situation where I was consulting with a production company, and they said, “Hey, we’ve got this movie out, if you want to see it, watch it. Check it and science. And I did and I made a few notes and sent it back and forgot about it. And years later the movie comes out, and I’m watching it, and I’m like, “Hey wait a minute! I remember this scene. ” So it was great. It’s interesting how things work sometimes.

Phil Plait on the Asteroids:

Many small asteroids are what we call “debris”. Smaller than pebbles are huge piles of stones that can range in size from small to a house or larger. But they are not a solid thing. Not a giant rock in space. … If you were in a spaceship approaching an asteroid a mile away, it would have negligible gravity. So you’re in your spaceship and you’re hanging off the side of this thing, and you jump from your spaceship onto an asteroid, which may not have a solid surface to land on. You can dive into the top of your spacesuit and pass through just to stand on it. And I thought that was a funny way to open that chapter, where the astronaut is basically stuck in an asteroid, dropped a few meters, and his countryman has to come and find him.

Phil Plait on Globular Clusters:

There is another type of cluster called globular clusters, and these are spherical clusters of approximately hundreds of thousands or even a million stars. …When you go outside at night, you see a few thousand stars in the sky, one of the darkest places on earth, and the sky looks like it’s covered in stars. But in a globular cluster you can have 50 times as many stars in the sky, and many of them will be very bright – because these are red giant stars or other stars that are very bright and very bright and close to here. Planet, because these clusters aren’t that big – you can read them. They cast shadows on the ground. And you can have thousands of such stars in your sky.


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