Geeking Science: Walking on Eggshells

Exoplanets continue to be discovered and the scientists gather what little information is available from our distant observation point: closeness to its star, size, …. oh, maybe atmosphere if the light bounces right. We can infer temperature, composition, and minerals available.  Year length and day cycle need just a bit of number crunching.

Then scientist group the planet into something that matches our system of planets – the rocky inner, the gas giants, ice rocks, and maybe, terrestrial in the life zone. But in the infinite possibilities of the universe, will every planet be a “Jupiter” or “Venus”?

Using computer modeling, other possibilities are coming to light. One is eggshell planets. The thin lithosphere means no plate tectonics, which I was surprised to learn meant uninhabitable because one of the job of plate tectonics is to control the minerals related to controlling carbon.

You know the stuff humanity is trying to control to rein in climate change.

The eggshell planets, according to theory, will have runaway greenhouse heating because of the lack of recycling crust. Other peculiarities include a crust that might bow and dip with heat cycles of the lower levels, but not create mountains or valleys.

As a science fiction writer, I thinking about how would industries take advantage of these planets? Could ships hide in the unique crust features? Scientists suspect life as we know it can’t live there, but what other options might play out?

The fact is there are over a dozen suspected planetary types. As writers, we don’t need to limit ourselves to the standard four.

Choi, Charles Q. “Strange ‘eggshell’ exoplanets may have ultra-smooth surface.” 2021 November 29. – Last viewed 1/12/2022.

Gough, Evan. “Eggshell Planets Have a Thin Brittle Crust and No Mountains or Tectonics.” 2021 November 18. Universe Today. – Last viewed 1/12/2022.

Unveiled. “Why Scientists Are Studying Unique Eggshell Planets.” 2022 January 5. – Last viewed 1/12/2022.

Flash: Light Spear Expanded

Photo by Vadim Sadovski on Unsplash

“Alright people what have we got.”

The room was secret, secure, and unknown except for the people invited in, though the topic focused on what the entire planet was talking about: the light spear carving its way across the planet at incredible speeds.

Dr. Cuvier jumped in. “Estimated death toll, about 100,000 thanks to the cut through Imphal slums. Hawaii is bracing for its turn in two hours.”

“Earthquakes are subsiding. The cut is only about six millimeters wide,” Dr. Agassiz responded when eyes rotated to him from the population expert.

“We’re in America. Give me inches boy.”

The scientists around the table winced, a few breaking out their phones to do quick calculations.

“A quarter inch, a little less.” Dr. Agassiz answered promptly without the phone consult. “Atmosphere turbulence has some rain effects, making mudslides likely in Asia, and preliminary computer modeling indicate mudslides over the next few days.”

“The beam is hovering about,” the woman next around the table glanced at her phone, “a foot above sea level. ”

Someone across the table, not any of the three men in military uniform or the man in a freshly pressed suit sitting in between them, interrupted. “Wait, it’s not going below sea level? I thought it was cutting through mountains.”

The woman glanced at those in charge and the civilian nodded his head, so she responded. “Most mountains we care about are above sea level. As geology indicated, the damage from beam is about a quarter inch across, but the full light effect is closer to four feet diameter. We got eyes on it in Mexico and I have a video if anyone wants to see it. It moves too fast to verify its shape, though we suspect a perfectly round cone, but we are working with our Hawaii group for better visuals. Modeling is backtracking it and we are swinging around telescopes.”

“Thank you, Dr. Horner. Acquisition any resources you need for that modeling.” the vice president said before moving his eyes to the next in line.

“Only two satellites are down so far, working on moving the two GPS over Hawaii out of the path now.” the telecommunication specialist immediately dropped her eyes to the largest phone in the room. Those next to her noticed her screen provided real-time data; somehow it worked through the shielding and scrambling.

Dr. Horner squished down the jealousy of the specialist getting permission to bring that device in the room. She queued her note for resource acquisition to send out to her team the minute she made it back to the surface.

“Whatever the source, it’s stationary in relation to the planets,” said a man leaning back in his chair, arms crossed.

One of the military officers raised a hand, before rolling it around in a circle. “Wait, backup, how can that be? It’s going across the planet at nearly 1,000 miles per hour.”

“Actually,” Dr. Lehmann sighed the longsuffering sigh of someone used to explaining things to those less informed, “the planet is rotating about 1,000 miles per hour under the beam. The source of the light spear doesn’t have to move except to follow the planet around our star. It’s a lazy man’s solution. Lazy alien solution, I guess.”

The military man narrowed his eyes at the astrophysicist, not liking the lack of respect at all, but managed to say with flat professionalism, “Thank you.”

The doctor shrugged.

The important eyes switched sides of the table to the man who had interrupted. “Eugene, speculation?”

“Bear with me a moment. First, I want to get rid of what everyone’s first reaction is. It isn’t an alien weapon.”

“Yeah, right.” Someone muttered snidely from the brainstorming side.

“Can’t be. Too automated. This is a probe, a six-millimeter probe.”

Dr. Horner raised a finger and Eugene Bascom nodded at her. “Its damage is six-millimeters, the beam is 1.314 meters wide.”

“Good point. Thanks.” Eugene, best selling science fiction writer and Georgetown University professor of biochem leaned back to think a moment. “The beam vaporized everything.”

The white-hair hunched-back female next to him shuffled her papers. “Nothing has stopped it yet. In Mexico, they tried several reflective surfaces without effect. Diamond, platinum, even q-carbon.”

“The damage area is a probe, the rest of it is … analyzing? Yes, what is a probe without analyzing the results.”

The telecommunication specialist, who didn’t even bother with a name tag like the rest of them, spoke up, “Spectral analysis of the vaporized material.”

Eugene blinked, gulped, looked at the vice president before suggesting quietly, “It’s a mining probe.”

“Mining what?” the man in charge asked, knowing his grandson’s favorite teacher was about to give an answer he really didn’t want to hear.

The scientist eyes unfocused until the fiction writer half of his brain came back with the answer, “Atmosphere.”

“Fuck,” slipped past Dr. Horner’s lips. “Yes, that is why it focused in the area above sea level. It only cares about atmosphere. The hits on the mountains are incidental.”

“Exactly, what is five miles compared to six thousand?”

“Hey, just got a message in.” the telecommunication specialist rocked her phone, “confirmed probe activity on Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Nothing on Mercury or Venus.”

The astrophysicist snorted. “Lazy aliens indeed. Mercury and Venus have the slowest rotation rates. Venus is over 200 days.”

“And Mercury doesn’t have an atmosphere to speak of.” Dr. Bascom nodded to himself. “Solar system wide mining operation or just looking for the right planet to exploit?”

Dr. Horner winced. “Anything needing a planet’s atmosphere is likely just figuring out the right tools for the job. They are going to—”

“strip everything.” Eugene overtalked Dr. Horner and finished her sentence. “Exactly, our world, the entire system.”

“But, but,” the population expert injected, “this is a habitable planet. There are PEOPLE here.”

The professor shook his head at Dr. Cuiver’s naiveite. “Since when have exploiters cared about the indigenous people?”

“If they mine systems, they are a space-going race, likely entirely space-going.” Dr. Horner said, “And they don’t—”

“care about the planet bound at all.” Dr. Bascom interrupted.

The telecommunication specialist slapped her hand down on the table. “Stop that.”

Everyone blinked.

“Look I get it,” the woman set aside her hand-held, her dark black eyes boring in the blue eyes of the professor, “you are the smartest boy in the room in a group of very smart boys. Four to one ratio male to female. But you.will.not.interrupt.this.woman.again.” The non-doctor narrowed her eyes. “Not if you EVER want to have your computers virus free. At least, don’t interrupt Dr. Horner again today.” The tech stared at the professor until he nodded understanding, somehow both glaring in anger and looking contrite in apology at being caught out. The tech, leaned back smiling, and picked back up her phone. “Carry-on.”

The two military officers side by side on the left side of the vice president smiled at each other. “Oh, I want her as a drill sergeant.”

“Don’t patronize.” The specialist muttered, her fingers moving over the screen with her eyebrows scrunching together in concentration, before speaking clearer, louder, addressing the table in general. “Confirmed activity on Uranus, though some of you are going to have to explain to me at some point how a planet rotates vertically from the normal rotational plane. Oh, and the Jupiter probes are confirmed for the 25 parallel north, south, and is starting the 50th parallel north.”

The right-side military officer growled, “So there will be more.”

The vice president looked around the table. “Better move this upstairs where we got better communication. Dr. Horner, I want that backtrack ASAP, on all the probes. Are we dealing with one or several? Ms. Chow help her get all the computer power she needs pronto. I’ll talk to the president, y’all talk to your people, and your aides will tell you where we reconvene after lunch.”

One guy with wings on his shirt who hadn’t reported yet spoke up as people started to stand. “One thing, when you talk to the president. If this continues, the turbulence will get bad. We will need to shut down air travel. India already has done so.”

The civilian in charge grimaced. “I’ll mention that to her.”

(words 1,374, first published 9/15/2022)

Series: Light Spear

  1. Light Spear – link to 11/28/2021
  2. Light Spear Expanded – link to 12/5/2021

Flash: Light Spear

Photo by Nassim Allia on Unsplash

The plasmabolt speared through the atmosphere and carved a hole into the side of a mountain and rapidly moved across the surface of the planet at nearly 1,500 kilometers per hour a little north of equator. Or more accurately, the light destroying a troth less than the width of a human pinky finger remained motionless at the world rotated beneath it. The depth varied with the planet surface but persisted in length. Areas where mountains soared tens of thousands of feet up, it vaporized tens of thousands down. At ocean level, the blade of light danced across waves, burning off the crests. The precise length remaining one third of a meter above sea level.

In twenty-four hours, the weapon, because weapon it was whether malice was intended or not, had cut a path of destruction through the most populated portion of the northern hemisphere at the 25th parallel before winking out.

And restarting in the southern hemisphere, fifteen seconds later.

(words 160, first published 9/14/2022  – from a picture prompt for a Facebook writing group. Aim is about 50 words)

Series: Light Spear

  1. Light Spear – link to 11/28/2021
  2. Light Spear Expanded – link to 12/5/2021

Geeking Science: It Came From Outer Space


‘Oumuamua. It came from outer space. Deep outer space. It was just the first.

‘Oumuamua (properly spelled with the leading ‘ – Hawaiian word) was the first confirmed interstellar object we humans have noticed, and what a delightful dozy it was. All kinds of anomalies – and if you remember my post from 2018 (Dyson or Dust) scientists love anomalies.

When the chunk of rock managed to be noticed, it was already saying Aloha the second time on its way out. But all eyes immediately turned to it once it had been spotted on October 19. 2017. The comet had been shooting through the system for a century (because astronomy distances – it moved really fast, but takes forever), but until it got close enough to the sun to reflect light, seeing it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Then scientists had to move fast before its small size got it lost in the dark again.

The last recording of it came from Hubble (still the best eyes in the sky) on January 2, 2018. ‘Oumuamua will be chugging through the Oort cloud through at least 2196, though because of it’s strange inclination, when it will leave that mass of material is unknown.

First, let’s talk about it’s shape. Long and thin, flipping end over end, like a forgotten missile from a forgotten war. (So many sci-fi ideas from this piece of space flotsam.) Most space debris ends up round overtime – like rocks rolled by a river – between striking other material and gravity, space is full of marbles ready to be knocked together on a god’s playground.

But not the needle-shaped interstellar visitor. How did it gain that shape? Why didn’t the heat of circling the sun take off more of the long edges?

Guy Ottewell illustration of ‘Oumuamua’s Orbit

Second, the trajectory through the elliptical plane. While doing its end-over-end tumble (which didn’t help with the imaging), it traveled retrograde to the paths of the planets at a 33 degree angle. Most comets, if they are going to survive any length of time in the system, are off the typical plane. Otherwise Jupiter and its little gas siblings would sweep the visitor from the sky in short order.

Most short orbit comets (regular visitors from the Kuiper Belt) are within 30 degrees of normal and travels along the same orbit as the planets, although there are retrograde exceptions like Halley’s Comet.

The odd trajectory provided proof that the rock Wasn’t From Around Here.

Third, reflection is weird. Astronomers have a bunch of filters, which give them a lot of information. They tried infrared imaging and the object didn’t show up, like at all. (Shielding anyone?) Actual reflection is 10% rather than 3% of most comets; whatever it’s made from isn’t from Around Here. Not typical space material.

Fourth, and here is a really fun fact. It picked up speed and changed trajectory as it flew away from the sun.

Comets don’t do this. They pick up speed falling toward the sun, allowing them to break free of the gravity and keep to their elliptical orbit. But to speed up while moving away from the monster gravity well? And change where it is going?

Are we sure this is not an alien probe?

Scientists, because aliens are ALWAYS the last option, speculate that the asteroid experienced outgassing vents on the side facing the sun but because of the small size and distance, our telescopes couldn’t pick it up. This combined with the tumble changed the trajectory.

Because, yeah, something with an odd-shape will lose its materials in a manner which won’t break it in half, apply speed increase while flipping end over end, and remain needle shape. Let’s go with invisible vents.

Scientists assure us this happens with other comets. The speed increase, at least. They have seen it before with some comets. All of whom eject large amounts of dust and gas when warmed by the Sun; basically an explosion on one side sends the comet careening away from the star. Problem was ‘Oumuamua didn’t do the dust-ejection thing at all.

Those studying the speed-increase and trajectory-change phenomenon have come with six possible explanations, and the comet outgassing seemed ‘most likely’. (Kiesman 2018)

I’ll go with bad programming on some alien’s part. They matched the speed, but maybe they don’t see in the same range as us and didn’t include the visible part where it was visible to us. Our scientists looked for three different types of gases, one easy and typical and two less easy. Nothing.

Fifth, where did it come from? Coryn Bailer-Jones of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, backtracked the path to four possible candidates. Guess what? None of the answers match up to our present understanding of expelling materials during the planet-creation process. ‘Oumuamua is traveling too fast, like a factor of ten high. Another anomaly. 

But, you know, if you are going to send out a space probe to nearby planets or stars, a good space agency would slingshot the probe around stars and planets to increase speed and change direction to get aim a probe at another place to investigate. Once into space, maybe the needle unfolds to send its gather data home on its way to the next system?

But, as with WTF? star mentioned in the “Dyson or Dust”, only one example does not a database make.

Did I mention ‘Oumuamua was the first?

Guess what happened in 2019?

An amateur astronomer named Gennady Borisov spotted another comet and bounced it through the international database to see what it could be. It didn’t match anything, so boy-o got it named after him – the Borisov comet. Continued observation came back with an interesting piece of data – the orbit wasn’t elliptical. Not by a longshot. Under one is required for comets to stay in-system – even an Oort cloud comet with a million year orbit, this baby had a three trajectory.

Another interstellar object, and this one over twice as big as ‘Oumuamua and spotted on the way in. Lots of time for observation. First spotted on August 30, Borisov wouldn’t do-si-do around the sun until December 8, 2019.

After the craziness of ‘Oumuamua, scientists were hot to have another interstellar object to observe.

Borisov reflects like normal, has a round shape, the material analysis possible at distant is coming back typical to a rock from Sol’s local real estate.

So now we have one rock that is exactly like what we expected and one which is nothing like we expected. Which is the anomaly for what’s out in the Big Black?

Did our alien observers get better with their camouflage?

Only time will tell. As we continue to upgrade our telescopes and raise our awareness of Near-Earth-Objects, Humanity will figure this out.  

Me. I’m impatient. I want to know the answers now. But we aren’t in the Big Black yet, so we have to wait and watch patiently for the next rock to come to us. To wash ashore from the Endless into our Solar System.


UPDATE – 6/28/2020

From the Planetary Society Downlink 6/5/2020

The first interstellar object ever detected passing through our solar system, ‘Oumuamua, may have been an iceberg made entirely out of hydrogen, scientists say in a paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal. ‘Oumuamua mysteriously accelerated as it left the solar system, but not in a way that matched our understanding of comets venting dust and gas. Models show a hydrogen iceberg fits the data, meaning ‘Oumuamua could have formed in a dense cloud of hydrogen and helium where stars are born, known as a giant molecular cloud. A well-known example of such a cloud is the Horsehead Nebula in Orion. (The Planetary Society, Mission Briefings, third paragraph)


So not aliens, maybe (article is out for peer review). On the other hand, one of the questions for space exploration has been how to get a hold of hydrogen while in deep space.



Brumfiel, Geoff. “A Comet From Another Star Hints That Our Solar System Isn’t One-of-a-Kind.” NPR. 2019 December 5. – Last viewed 12/6/2019.

Greshko, Michael. “Bizarre comet from another star system just spotted.” National Geographic. 2019 September 12. – Last viewed 12/6/2019.

Kiesman, Alison. “What do we know about ‘Oumuamua?” Astronomy. 2018 November 2018. – Last viewed 12/6/2019.

NASA. “Our Solar System’s First Known Interstellar Object Gets Unexpected Speed Boost.” 2018 June 27. – Last viewed 12/6/2019.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology. “First Interstellar Asteroid Wows Scientists.” 2017 November 20. – Video last viewed 12/6/2019.

Ottewell, Guy. “Oumuamua’s path in our solar system.” EarthSky. 2017 December 27. – last viewed 12/6/2019.

Planetary Society, The. “Committed to Doing the Work, Mission Briefings”. The Downlink. 2020 June 5. – last viewed 6/28/2020.

Seligman, Darryl and Gregory Laughlin. “Evidence that 1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua) was composed of molecular hydrogen ice”. 2020 May 28. – last viewed 6/28/2020.

Strobel, Nick. “Comet Orbits — Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt.” (personal website). Last updated 2019 May 26. – last viewed 12/6/2019.

Geeking Science: Entanglement

Image courtesy of Cheezeburger

By the time most people have finished high school, they have been introduced to the Schrodinger’s Cat, a concept created by Erwin Schrodinger during a correspondence between him and another powerhouse physicist of his day, Albert Einstein, as they pounding out the implications of quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics doesn’t live in our normal space-and-time continuum, well, it does, but it breaks a lot of “rules” normal physics have. Kind-of like the rules of adults don’t apply to babies, the rules of molecules doesn’t apply to the parts that make up atoms. Smaller things always gets different rules. They are the baby – got to love them.

In Schrodinger’s Cat, it means if you shrunk down a cat to sub-atomic particle size and stuck it in a box with some poison, until observation happens a state of quantum superposition exists where the cat is both alive and dead.

Part of this is because quantum mechanics doesn’t happen is space-AND-time … it happens in space-time. Meaning some of the properties of time are indistinguishable / overlap with the properties of space. Think of how light is both energy and matter and can be bent by gravity. It’s like that, only different.

Humans love their boxes, and the universe is not a box.

Schrodinger’s Cat is an example of entanglement, where an link exists between particles which have become entangled. Scientists have been exploring the principle of quantum nonlocality – where two entangled particles will share rotation, momentum, and polarity even over the divide of space INSTANTLY, possibly over light years. Experiments have come back positive – not the light year distance, but pretty much what humans can test on Earth indicate this theory can be supported. 

For science-fiction, what this means, is mankind may be able to create instantaneous communication. Using quantum particles and the nonlocality principle – combined with say, Morse code – messages can be sent over any distance WITHOUT possibility of interference or signal loss. Yes, limited to one location to another. But a network is possible – say fleet headquarters has dozens of arrays linked to ships throughout the galaxy – a single message can be sent out. 

If this is possible, mankind won’t lose itself by scattering to the stars but remain a coherent whole.

But … ready for the kicker … remember space-time. Locality on the quantum level isn’t just in SPACE, but in TIME. The Crull article in the bibliography goes into it with deeper science from an experiment run in 2013 where it WORKED, but I’m going to just play with this from a sci-fi viewpoint.

Speculating this out, humans can communicate backward and forward through time with this principle. All one would need is the right technology similar to the network of one-to-hub communication in standard space already speculated above.

Maybe humanity won’t get time machines, but writers can play fast and lose with the science to make them “techno-babble” possible.

Still, I’m more enthralled with the means of really and truly communicating over light-years. 

At one point, there was a question going around of which science fiction world is stronger – who would win, Star Trek or Star Wars?

A lot of people in my circle went with Star Wars. I immediately said Star Trek, not based on their weapons or the size of their ships, but the fact they had instantaneous communication. In most battles, that is the deciding factor – can you coordinate your people to arrive at the same time over vast distances? Star Trek could, Star Wars depends on the Force to be on their side.

Real world. though. We may be able to do Star Trek level instantaneous communication even before we put a colony on a world circling a different sun.

Geeking science!


Crull, Elise. “If You Thought Quantum Mechanics Was Weird, Check Out Entangled Time”. Science 2018 April 14. – last viewed 11/14/2019.