Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction


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Potentially Vast New Suboceanic Biosphere Found on Earth

One of the great things about teaching the Planets part of Imperial’s Sun Stars and Planets course is that it gives me an excuse to read scientific reports I would be reading anyway from the science fictional perspective. But the way stories have come out over the last several weeks that have been so well timed for lectures I’m delivering has been more than a little uncanny.

Before I started we had, of course, the landing of Curiosity on Mars, Messenger’s results from Mercury and Dawn’s results from the asteroid belt. Then, just before I started the course, the possibility of two naked eye comets this year emerged. And once I started we had the Russian meteor, and a few days ago a report about the nature of supermassive planet cores around evolved stars, suggesting that they are the remains of evaporated gas giants.

Next week I give a couple of lectures on exobiology, so inevitably there’s a relevant report in Nature in a paper in Science.

It seems that suboceanic basalt, a layer several kilometres thick and covering 60% of the planet, may contain a large number of chemosynthetic bacteria using hydrogen, carbon dioxide and reactions with iron to produce their energy, rather than any of this new fangled photosynthesis stuff. This suboceanic biosphere could be bigger than the biosphere we know on the surface.

The science fictional connections are obvious – the ‘shadow biosphere’ discussed in novels by people like Peter Watts – comes a step closer.

And of course with the company I keep the first comment I hear when I mention this is ‘are you sure they’re not shoggoths’?


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JaNoReWriMo becomes FebNoReWriMo…

I managed to read my novel in progress from to finish, just like a real book, in January, and made copious notes. But work is work, observing trips and meetings and telescope deadlines wait for nobody. In my defence, I am writing new lecture notes for the course I’m giving, and that is amounting to something like a textbook on its own (75 pages and counting so far).

This evening I got back to the novel at last, and put finger to keyboard to start making some of the necessary changes.

Some of it works, a lot of it doesn’t quite work, and the middle is a bit flabby. I think I know how to correct a lot of it, but it’s all more work that needs to be done.

And now I have a novella back from my crit group also needing attention.

What do they say – work, family, life – if you write pick two?

At least I’m going to Hawaii next week…