Archive for the ‘Fun Stuff’ category

Russia’s Steampunk Lunar Lander

October 8, 2010

I always found the contrast between Soviet and US engineering fascinating. The goals were generally similar, but while the US seemed to aim for elegant, lightweight, optimized designs, Soviet spacecraft always look like they’re bolted together out of cast iron or something. That’s why I love this gallery of photos of the Soviet lunar lander that they developed during the space race. This thing looks like it should be used for deep sea exploration! Between this, and the always-awesome Lunokhod rovers, I’m pretty sure the Russians inadvertently started the steampunk movement.

The Science of Starcraft: Supernovae and Gauss Rifles

September 21, 2010

I’ve got two new posts up at The Science of Starcraft! The first tackles the difference between supernovae and novae. The words are often used interchangeably in sci-fi, but they are (usually) very different phenomena. Plus, I love telling the story of nucleosynthesis and stellar evolution, and this was a good excuse.

The second post is sort of a sequel to my previous post about railguns. This time I look at gauss rifles, another electromagnetic futuristic weapon that pops up in sci-fi pretty often, but is incorrectly depicted in Starcraft:

The Science of Starcraft: What is a Railgun and How does it Work?

September 6, 2010

I have a new post up at The Science of Starcraft! This time I tackle rail guns: sci-fi staple and the bane of intro physics students everywhere. To learn how these futuristic guns work in the real world and whether their depiction in Starcraft is accurate, go check out my latest post!

Can Life Survive in Space?

August 12, 2010

I’ve got a new post up at The Science of Starcraft! This time I tackle the question of whether unprotected living things could ever survive in the vacuum of space. Go check it out!

Big Sky Country

July 31, 2010

Well folks, I’m headed off to Big Sky Country tomorrow (aka Montana)! I’ll start the week at the MSL camera team meeting, where I will get all sorts of cool news about the MastCam, MAHLI and MARDI cameras which I will not be able to share with you.* After that, the lot of us will pack up and head to Glacier National Park to learn about the geology of the Belt-Purcell supergroup, and more generally, how to apply terrestrial geology to martian geology. I always enjoy field trips like this because I get to hike around on the rocks with a bunch of experts as well as many with less field experience, so there are lots of educational discussions. Also, did I mention the part where I get to drive and  hike around in spectacular scenery? Yeah. Times like this I’m reminded that my job Does Not Suck.

I’ll try to write a post or two about the trip once I actually understand the geology we’re going to see a little more. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I’ll have some pretty pictures to share too!

*One of the difficulties with actually being involved in missions is that I can’t just write about all the cool stuff I hear about. I got scolded when this blog was just starting out for posting information before JPL or NASA had approved of it, so I tend to err on the side of caution now. It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing I can really do.

Force Fields and Plasma Shields

July 29, 2010

Force fields are common in lots of science fiction, but how realistic are they? That’s the question I tackle in the latest Science of Starcraft post. Head on over and check it out!

We Didn’t Fake the Moon Landings

July 29, 2010

But I want to get one of those dramatic glowing tables!

Starcraft Cloaking Devices

July 27, 2010

Today’s the big day: Starcraft 2 comes out! Over at my Science of Starcraft blog I have two new posts. One is a nice short video summarizing the plot of the original game, so if you want to know what I’m talking about when I make game references in other posts, check it out.

I also posted an article about real-world research into cloaking devices, a technology that is common in the game. Turns out there is a lot of research going on, but the best cloaking devices are still found in nature.

The Science of Starcraft: Creepy Slime Molds

July 23, 2010

My second article is up over at my new Science of Starcraft blog! This one is about the weird substance in the game called “creep” and its similarities to real-world slime-molds. Check it out! Even if you don’t play Starcraft, slime molds are really cool/weird.

(PS – I swear I’ll be posting some real Martian Chronicles content soon instead of just pointing to articles elsewhere! But I’m trying to get the Starcraft blog on its feet before the Starcraft 2 release date next week, so I’ll be using this blog to publicize it a bit.)

The Science of Starcraft

July 21, 2010

In 1998 the computer game Starcraft came out, setting the bar for real-time strategy games for the next decade. I loved playing Starcraft, and spent more time that I’d like to admit doing so. Starcraft also gave me my first taste of computer programming: the game came with a “map editor” which let you construct your own maps, including simple if-then statements. IF an enemy unit enters my base THEN it explodes. Stuff like that.

Well, on July 27th, the long-awaited sequel – Starcraft 2 – will be released. I am super-excited to play a new and improved version of one of my favorite games of all time. My brother has been playing the beta version and it sounds like it’s awesome.

With that in mind, let me tell you about the great idea I had last week. I was trying to think of some new non-fiction writing project to embark on. I write here and at Universe Today, but I was hoping to come up with something with a broader appeal than just space enthusiasts. And then it hit me, I could write something like the Science of Star Trek, but for video games. But each game is set in its own universe, some of which don’t really follow any scientific rules at all. I needed a little more focus. And then, as I was biking to campus, I realized that I could write about the science of StarCraft.

I immediately googled it, and found that nobody had beat me to the punch. The more I thought about it, the more perfect it seemed. It combined my three favorite things: science, writing and video games! With the game launching next week, I could get a new blog up and running just in time. So that’s what I did!

I am happy to announce the grand opening of my new blog: The Science of Starcraft! I’ll be digging into every aspect of the StarCraft universe, speculating about how it might work, and searching for real-world analogs. My first post is already up, taking a look at one of the cinematic teaser trailers for the game, which shows how the human armored infantry units are constructed. In my post, I show how the robotics in the video are actually quite similar to those being developed for the military today. And the assembly robots in the video are nearly identical to those on actual assembly lines!

If you’re familiar with the game, head on over and chime in or suggest a topic for me to write about! If you don’t know a nydus canal from an archon, go take a look, see what all the excitement is about, and learn how modern science is imitating modern science fiction (or is it the other way around?)

I’m pretty excited about this new project, and I hope you’ll check it out, and spread the word to any friends of yours who might be into either gaming or science! I’ve also created a new twitter account that you can follow: @starcraftsci