Ripples in Spacetime Explained

LigoA new book Ripples in Spacetime is an engaging account of the international effort to complete Einstein’s project, capture his elusive ripples, and launch an era of gravitational-wave astronomy that promises to explain, more vividly than ever before, our universe’s structure and origin. The quest for gravitational waves involved years of risky research and many personal and professional struggles that threatened to derail one of the world’s largest scientific endeavors. Govert Schilling takes listeners to sites where these stories unfolded-including Japan’s KAGRA detector, Chile’s Atacama Cosmology Telescope, the South Pole’s BICEP detectors, and the United States’ LIGO labs. He explains the seeming impossibility of developing technologies sensitive enough to detect waves from two colliding black holes in the very distant universe, and describes the astounding precision of the LIGO detectors. Along the way Schilling clarifies concepts such as general relativity, neutron stars, and the big bang using language that listeners with little scientific background can grasp. Govert Schilling (1956) is an internationally acclaimed astronomy writer in the Netherlands. He is a contributing editor of Sky & Telescope, and his articles have appeared in Science, New Scientist and BBC Sky at Night Magazine. He wrote over fifty books (in Dutch) on a wide variety of astronomical topics, some of which have been translated into English, including Evolving Cosmos, Flash! The Hunt for the Biggest Explosions in the Universe, The Hunt for Planet X, and Atlas of Astronomical Discoveries. In 2007, the International Astronomical Union named asteroid (10986) Govert after him.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales

Family Die

He died the moment he slipped down to this ledge. He hadn’t fallen yet, but time would weaken him. There was no way up, no hope of rescue. And now he was staring into the small crevice before him at something that was inexplicable. It didn’t register at first. It didn’t matter. He was a dead man now. He knew it. This was just a moment in time, his last moment, for however long it lasted. The realization of it made what he was looking at insignificant. His arms stretched into the hole, but there wasn’t room to climb in. His head would barely fit into the rock.

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The hole was deep. Maybe twenty feet, straight in. Above him, it was twenty feet to the edge of the cliff. Below, three hundred feet straight down. He had slipped, looking down. Slipped, his hands clawing the curve of sand and rock, while wondering about what appeared to be an opening. It had happened quickly. One moment safe, and the next. . .

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It was getting dark now. He was alone. He always hiked alone. People told him not to do that, but he liked being alone in nature. It was his nature.

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It was too late, now. There were no other hikers in the area. He had already yelled until his voice left him. No one had come. He thought back to other hikes. Not that he was trying to think, yet. The thoughts flashed by him, and he was observer to them, as if from a distance. Flashes of memory. Wisps. There was no self recrimination to his thoughts. He was past that, now. The moments of his explorations and meditations were behind him. This was the last such moment. This was the end.

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When acceptance finally came, he focused and considered what he was looking at. It was a stash of jewelry, covered in dust. A long string of pearls and necklaces. Gold or fool’s gold? It didn’t matter. There was no luster to it. The thought flashed by him that it must be real. No one would put costume jewelry in a tiny crevice twenty feet down a ledge no one could get to without a rope.

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The thought was distant, and he struggled to keep it. Wanted to grasp it, like a handhold that didn’t exist on the face of the rock. How much was there? Who had put it there, and why? The thoughts were smoke drifting away. He flailed at them, like he had struggled to get both hands to grip, before pulling himself up into this position. Other thoughts flashed too: memories of rock climbers he’d seen doing what seemed to be impossible. . . placing their hands into niches in the rock, using pitons, cleats, ropes. He had no such things, but even with them there would be no way to save himself.

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He stared at the stash of jewelry, the line of treasure. It was like a rope, in a way. He might grasp it in one final effort, were it connected to something, which it was not. He might hold on a bit longer, and yell again when his voice returned. He chuckled at this thought. The laugh was guttural, a rasp in his throat. He was staring at a “treasure trove,” as such hunters liked to say.

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Everyone was such a hunter, he realized, except him. Anymore.
His arms were getting weaker, now. The last sliver of the sun slipped out of sight down the horizon to his left. But there was no green flash. It was shades of gold, fading.

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Fading into shades of grey.

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© 2017 JLowe

cartoon

Deckard Enters a Bar

Blade Runner 2049

 

The Colony war was winding down. No longer were they seeking off world recruits among the masses. After Rachel’s expiration, Deckard had grown depressed and listless in retirement. As he dropped down into the microwave glide path of J.F. Sebastian’s former building, his Spinner’s vidphone activated automatically and a voice asked, “Business or pleasure?”
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“Boredom,” he said.
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There was no response. His vehicle came to rest in a designated slot near the entrance to a new structure which bled colors across his windscreen in the rain. The garage computer, having traced and approved his Spinner’s ID as a former police vehicle, had selected the VIP section. Deckard stepped out and looked up at the fake neon signage: Club Turing. He’s heard about the place. Without his portable SK machine, it might be a challenge. Out of curiosity, he stepped through the scan portal, had credits deducted, and took a table. Opposite some old school roulette wheels (which eliminated the electronic manipulation of results,) there were two stages for the girls. One was lit in red, the other blue. It was the latest gambling innovation: guess which dancer was real. After you bought a drink, you made a bet from your table, and touched one of two glowing—and anatomically correct—globes there.
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Deckard was about to place his first bet when a girl sat next to him. She was blond with short hair, and wore a green thong bikini and clear plastic high heeled shoes. “You look familiar,” she said, giving him a wry smile.
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“I’ve never been here before,” Deckard responded. He figured that if she was an android she’d have accessed his entry data, and intended to fool him into thinking she’d been arrested in his past. If she was a replicant, maybe she used the tactic on everyone. On the other hand, if she was real, that was another matter. In either case, the object was to fool the patron up close and personal, getting him to wager much more than the price of a drink. “I was just curious,” Deckard added, by way of explanation.
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“Handsome too,” the girl said.
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Deckard chuckled. The lie was no clue. Touching her would be no clue, either. Amazing, what the flesh factories could produce. He decided to try another tactic. “Do you like poetry?” he asked. “Because I have a poem for you to read. You can tell me whether you think it was written by a replicant or not.”
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He tapped his vid pen twice on the table, and it projected a text image. The girl read the poem and shrugged. “Hard to tell,” she said. “But if I had to guess, I’d say you wrote it.”
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“And am I a replicant?” Deckard asked.
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“No, you’re not.”
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Deckard smiled and made his bet, thinking, How would you know?

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© Jonathan Lowe

science fiction