Latest Work: Science Fiction Or Science Fact: The Science Of Sci-Fi (Virgin Media)
Here is the latest thing I've done for Virgin Media Presents. Normally it's a revolving newsletter where content is deleted, but they liked this one so much, it's now on their main website.
Check out the link here. And for the original article, it's below...
Science Fiction Or Science Fact: The Science Of Sci-Fi
Science fiction has an uncanny way of predicting the future. We can’t escape the targeted advertising foreseen in Minority Report. Star Trek’s communicators are basically the flip phones now cluttering up your drawers. And The Jetsons alone anticipated video chat, robot vacuum cleaners and flying suitcase cars. (OK, two out of three isn’t bad).
Now as Syfy’s space drama Dark Matter returns for series 2 record it here with TV Anywhere, you might wonder just how far fetched is the story? Series 1 (available now in TV On Demand > Box Sets) opens with the crew of a derelict spaceship awakening from stasis with no memories of who they are or how they got on board.
Already blowing your mind a bit? Stasis is a typical sci-fi trope, where people are placed into a state of “suspended animation” or hibernation. They’re somewhere between life and death, where bodily functions like breathing and heart rate are essentially put on hold. It’d be handy for a long journey, and we don’t just mean in the car…
So just how close are we to making these science fiction concepts a reality? Can a group of people really get mass amnesia? Is suspended animation real? And what about the android on board in Dark Matter?
One man who knows plenty about the true science of sci-fi is Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, and co-author of The Scientific Secrets Of Doctor Who, Dr Marek Kukula. We asked him to sort Dark Matter’s science fiction from science fact…
Also seen in: Battlestar Galactica, Andromeda, Stargate SG-1
“Humans are already an interstellar species. The Voyager 1 probe became the first human artefact to leave the Solar System and enter interstellar space. And TV and radio broadcasts – travelling at the speed of light for the last century – now fill a bubble of space around 100 lightyears in radius. Interstellar travel could be possible if a spacecraft could be accelerated to close to the speed of light. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity says time for anyone onboard would pass at a slower rate, so a journey taking hundreds of years might only feel like a few weeks for the crew.”
Also seen in: Red Dwarf, Firefly, The Tomorrow People
“We know many animals – from insects to bears – can go into a dormant state with very low metabolic rates, usually to hibernate through harsh climate conditions. Some animals, such as certain types of fish and amphibians, can even survive being frozen solid, often by filling their tissues with substances that prevent ice crystals from damaging their cells. Whether or not we can learn to replicate these abilities in humans remains to be seen, but if we can this could have huge implications for healthcare, as well as long space voyages.”
Also seen in: Doctor Who, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Heroes
“We’re already time travellers, moving into the future at a rate of one second per second. Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity say the rate at which time passes can be altered both by gravity and motion, so astronauts on the International Space Station are speeding round the Earth at 7.66 kilometres per second, so for them time passes more slowly than for people on the ground. As for travelling backwards into the past, so far we’ve found no evidence this is possible – but there’s still a lot for us to learn about the physics of time.”
Also seen in: Humans, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Babylon 5
“Building machines that can mimic human appearance and behaviour has proved much trickier than early science fiction writers assumed. There are multiple challenges, both in terms of the mechanics of robotic humanoid bodies and in creating the artificial intelligence to inhabit them. But many advances have been made in recent years: robots can now walk and balance on two legs, handle delicate objects, understand basic speech and even beat humans at chess. A robot that looks and thinks like a human might not be all that far away.”
Also seen in: Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Star Trek: The Next Generation
“In many ways this is already possible. For centuries, skilled politicians, media manipulators and even stage magicians have understood how to get people to believe what they’re told, even when contradictory evidence is right in front of their noses. A better understanding of the workings of the brain may give us new ways to manipulate thoughts and memories, but human beings have always been masters of deceiving both themselves and others.”
Also seen in: The Flash, Community
“The word “universe” means “everything there is”. But scientists speculate the universe we inhabit might be one of many parallel universes, together forming a vaster “multiverse”. Quantum mechanics says events are inherently unpredictable, so one interpretation is a huge number of parallel universes exist, one for every possible outcome of every possible event. Some cosmologists also suggest new universes might spontaneously form from old ones, like small soap bubbles splitting from larger ones. But we are some way from finding out whether this is true, as we can’t – as yet – look for physical evidence of something outside our universe.”