Coffee Share 190622

This is a Weekly Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Alli.
Alli manages a weekly list of posts from a small group of bloggers who want to just stay in touch, chat about blogging, writing, travel, photography, children, pets, work, life hacks or just about anything else that might be of interest.
Link to Last week’s list Link to This week’s list
Link to my Story Blog. Come share a laugh with me.

Good day all,

Today, over coffee, I’d like to talk about big ideas as a way to inspire more stories around my favorite genre, hard science fiction.

Many years ago, when my children really were all 6 years old or less, I started a story to try something within the genre, but very different.

I was becoming a dissatisfied reader, not of the genre, but how it was most frequently executed.  Aliens were boring but technologies, well extrapolated from what may soon be possible today were not.  A standard protagonist was okay, after-all, a story seems to be the most fun when viewed through the eyes of someone in the story, while the standard antagonist was also boring.  Early into the story, I knew to look for who I was supposed to hate and want to see defeated. Chapter, after chapter of the protagonist dealing with the evil acts of the antagonist seemed forced into a pattern expected by a New York based editor who seemed not to care about what made hard science fiction attractive to people like me.  But the best parts of the best stories to me were the unusual scientific phenomena and how the characters met and dealt with it.

Way back when the idea of black holes were new, authors had some serious fun with them.  Of course, no one in those days could point to one, so they had only fascinating and compelling theories about what they were like, these things with so much gravity that they were able to grab light by its particles and drag it into this wad of crushed atomic matter was so cool to get your brain around.  Somehow, despite the full knowledge that if they existed at all, black holes would also crush anything we could see or hold but that if we powered our way into one correctly, we would find an attached worm-hole maybe and be squirted out of the other end, somewhere far from where we started.

Okay, lots of these amateur cosmologists got out of hand, but the reading ride was fun again and even kept Star Trek series going for another few seasons.

Anyway, as one of those amateur cosmologist myself, what I stumbled upon was a weird solar phenomenon that was begging to have a story written around it.  We’re all familiar with sunspots in a very general sense, but unless you paid enough attention in your college astronomy course to recall the details beyond being tested on it, you might not recall or maybe even have been told about what they do and where?

solar composit

If you take another look at the photo of the sun that leads this essay, you might recognize that it is the sun, but is also a composite of many photos taken from a NASA space telescope designed to collect data for earth based solar scientists.  What someone did was to collect a years worth of photos, all in a certain frequency that allows sunspots to stand out so we could see, over the year where all those sunspots occurred on the disk of the sun.

You can clearly see how the solar equator was rarely touched and sunspots clustered mostly in two bands above or below the equator.  This line of study has revealed much more  and some clever person conceived a neat way to illustrate what was going on.  Charted by their magnitude, appearance over time and location in solar latitudes, the collection of sunspot data formed butterfly-like patterns, predictably, through a cycle that always takes almost exactly 11 years.  Here’s the results of a simple solar sunspots butterfly butterfly diagram

So, what is the diagram showing us?

  1. Sunspots, for the most part cluster between 10-30 degrees north or south of the sun’s equator while never occurring near the sun’s north or south poles @ 90 degrees north or south, but why?
  2. They seem to arrive in pairs.  If one appears in the south, another will likely appear, about the same distance from the equator in the north; an even bigger why?
  3. And what is it with how they seem to disappear at the end of an 11 year cycle only to begin again around 30 degrees north or south, build and spread toward the equator but fade away before actually touching it, cycle after cycle?

Okay, perhaps I’m among the few who find this interesting as it is, but there is a practical side of knowing what’s going on.  Have you heard the term ‘Solar Maximum’?  On the butterfly chart, you can see when sunspots are most common and using the chart, can extrapolate to current day.

van allen beltDo you recall that a sunspot is a storm?  Do you recall learning that these storms throw off lots of charged plasma particles and radiation.  This stuff would wipe us all out were it not for the Earth’s protective magnetic Van Allen belt which deflects most of this solar shrapnel except for the wee bit of radiation that follows the flux of our magnetic blanket to create the aurora borealis, around our north pole, and Aurora Australis around our south pole.

The northern and southern lights look amazing, even in still photographs, but these storms also mess with our space based satellites and Earth based electronics.  Big solar storms, when they reach Earth, have caused massive power outages and equipment damage.  There is always some amount of solar wind trying to break through the Van Allen belt, but only when sunspots and solar storms increase the shower of solar debris, do our polar lights come on, Canadians start to worry about their public power and operators begin to put their satellites into a safe, nearly shutdown mode.

orbitl plane plutoDid you also know that Earth, along with most of the other planets, all rotate the sun in along roughly the same plane? This means that because most sunspots come from those two bands across the sun, close to, but not from the equator, that any sunspot that throws off stuff, that stuff will travel along the planetary plane and likely spray some of the planets, so there’s really no escaping this stuff – unless you get off of the solar plane. Hmmm.

orbital plane for main planets

Only Mercury and Pluto wander very far from the solar plane.

So with this as a backdrop of hard science, could you write a story using an extreme solar storm as your antagonist?  The regular 11 year cycle was only discovered as we became able to note, with precision, the location and intensity of a newly arrived set of sunspots.  What if the 11 year cycle itself had a (yet t be detected) larger 11 decade cycle?  What would that look like and how would the people of Earth react.  What if one of these upcoming storms threw something bigger at us?

Are you a Mars buff?  Want to go yourself someday?  Maybe you don’t know, but Mars does not have a Van Allen belt.  We could wonder why over weeks of discussion.  I’d like to hear that discussion but for now, I’ll do it from inside Earth’s.  Lacking some kind of protection, we’re talking epic sun burns.

I think this all leaves plenty of room for the human drama story and no token evil creep to hate.  I’m sure some of your characters would distinguish themselves with plenty of selfish acts, but as writers we would have lots of opportunity to tell the stories of heroes helping others.  Has some idea come to you as to how we might travel and live safely on Mars?  Sounds like a story I’d read.  I actually have one I’d like to write.

Wow – I think I can hear the cranky New York editors all the way from California.

– – = = ( o ) = = – –

Thanks again, and again, and to Alli for hosting our get together.

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Gary photo n bio

10 thoughts on “Coffee Share 190622

  1. Every so often I get very interested in something and dig deep and then incorporate it into a story, but I feel myself closer to a Ray Bradbury (a story teller) than Arthur C Clark (a scientist who wrote sci fi).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, once I was trying to place my space station and realized it was in the inner Van Allen Belt and discovered that might not be so habitual…. I’m sure if I wrote that the space station was 3000 km uop, someone would point out that it isn’t a good idea….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Space and astronomy are so fascinating. There is so much to learn and certainly a wide opening for fabulous stories. I can feel my own imagination screaming after reading this coffee post. Thanks Gary, have a great week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Maria, I was doing some editing today and was reminded of your comment above. I should have mentioned to you that your daughter might like one of my newer, non-coffee share stories on this topic. Did you see my story, Cosmic Gold? It’s a simple read and if your daughter likes space stuff, she might get a kick out of this one. My young boy character was on 11 years old and your daughter might relate to what he was trying to do. If interested, here’s the link:

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow. I knew there were sun storms but this is a lot more detailed information. I am writing a story about Mars. It has been rattling around in there for a while! It was fun to read all the details and I can imagine how excited you were finding it all out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tammy,
      I was doing some cataloging and came across this post and your comment above. So – what ever happened to your story about Mars? Did your characters find a way to survive a solar storm without the help of a handy Van Allen belt? I’d love to see this topic addressed by a writer as clever as you.


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