Good science fiction should start with science fact. But, of course, science is a dynamic enterprise that includes many current mysteries and uncertainties so there is plenty of room to develop an imaginative theme while exploring the edges. Here are five edges that a reader or writer may want to explore:
➤ It might indeed be possible to go through a wormholes to a distant galaxy, according to a recent paper. A wormhole, first envisioned by Einstein and Rosen in 1935, “is a special solution to the equations describing Einstein’s theory of general relativity that connects two distant points in space or time via a tunnel.” (LiveScience) It has long been considered at best hypothetical and at worst impossible but the new paper begs to differ:
Unfortunately, most leading hypotheses surrounding wormholes suggest that they would collapse as soon as they formed due to instability. However, one new theory slated to be published in The Journal of Modern Physics D posits that, actually, wormholes can remain stable enough for objects to enter on one side and leave through the other…
Using the Eddington-Finkelstein metric, though, Koiran was able to mathematically simulate a path for an object into a black hole and through a wormhole instead of breaking down at the event horizon.Tony Tran, “New paper claims that yes, you could climb through a wormhole to a distant galaxy” at Futurism The paper is open access. (November 16, 2021)
Visiting other galaxies would then be much closer to a possibility.
➤ Life may have got its start in space — at least in part:
Researchers have discovered a new clue in the search for the origin of life by showing that peptides can form on dust under conditions such as those prevailing in outer space. These molecules, which are one of the basic building blocks of all life, may therefore not have originated on our planet at all, but possibly in cosmic molecular clouds…
Now that it is clear that not only amino acids, but also peptide chains, can be created under cosmic conditions, we may have to look not only to Earth but also more into space when researching the origin of life.Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena, “How life came to Earth” at ScienceDaily (February 10, 2022) The paper is open access.
As a matter of fact, even developed life from space has been suggested as a serious possibility because it gets around the conundrum of how the complexity of life on Earth could have formed within the comparatively short time period the planet allows. At any rate, it is a viable hypothesis. A 2018 open-access paper in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology even argues that the “Cambrian Explosion, which produced most of the basic animal life forms we see today, was the outcome of extraterrestrial viruses carried on a meteor that crashed onto Earth 540 million years ago.” Even octopus eggs, the researchers suggest, may have an extraterrestrial origin. While that sounds far-fetched, it should be seen in the context of the remarkable intelligence of the octopus (for an invertebrate), confounding expectations. Anyway, many scientists take seriously the possibility that life or ingredients for life may have an extraterrestrial origin.
In the current study, Kroupa’s doctoral student, Moritz Haslbauer, led an international research group to investigate the evolution of the universe using the latest supercomputer simulations. The calculations are based on the Standard Model of Cosmology; they show which galaxies should have formed by today if this theory were correct. The researchers then compared their results with what is currently probably the most accurate observational data of the real Universe visible from Earth.
“Here we encountered a significant discrepancy between prediction and reality,” Haslbauer says: “There are apparently significantly more flat disk galaxies than can be explained by theory.”University of Bonn, “Too many disk galaxies than theory allows” at ScienceDaily (February 4, 2022) The paper is open access. The paper is open access.
The researchers offer an alternative hypothesis that dispenses with dark matter. It turns out, there’s lots of room for new hypotheses and thought experiments:
Yet for all its unparalleled success at explaining the physical underpinnings of the Universe, the Standard Model is still woefully unable to explain everything. It didn’t predict that the universe’s rate of expansion is accelerating. It is mum on the imbalance of matter and antimatter. And it is silent on dark matter, which may make up 27% of the universe.Ross Pomeroy, “Four Glaring Holes in the Standard Model of Physics” at RealClearScience (February 4, 2022)
➤ There is an Earth-like planet orbiting our Sun’s closest star.
Found by ESPRESSO, part of the Very Large Telescope Array in Chile, it is currently only a planet candidate — that is, it awaits confirmation from other astronomers — but the researchers are confident that it will check out:
Astronomers have discovered a third planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the star closest to the Sun. Called Proxima Centauri d, the newly spotted world is probably smaller than Earth, and could have oceans of liquid water.
“It’s showing that the nearest star probably has a very rich planetary system,” says Guillem Anglada-Escudé, an astronomer at the Institute of Space Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, who led the team that, in 2016, discovered the first planet to be seen orbiting Proxima Centauri.Davide Castelvecchi, “Earth-like planet spotted orbiting Sun’s closest star” at Nature (February 11, 2022)
Proxima Centauri d is much smaller than Earth, at 26% of Earth’s mass. Its star is 4.25 light years away, so we would need to reach near light speeds to physically explore the planet within reasonable time constraints. But it’s something to aim for and science fiction around it could be grounded in reality.
➤ And, just when we thought the world was easy to define and describe, imaginary numbers might be needed to describe reality, new studies find, even though physicists would have preferred to avoid them:
In their updated version of the classic Bell test, the physicists devised an experiment in which two independent sources (which they called S and R) would be placed between three detectors (A, B and C) in an elementary quantum network. The source S would then emit two light particles, or photons — one sent to A and the other to B — in an entangled state. The source R also would emit two entangled photons, sending them to nodes B and C. If the universe were described by a standard quantum mechanics based on complex numbers, the photons that arrived at detectors A and C wouldn’t need to be entangled, but in a quantum theory based on real numbers, they would.Imaginary numbers are necessary to accurately describe reality, two new studies have suggested.
To test this setup, the researchers of the second study performed an experiment in which they shone laser beams onto a crystal. The energy the laser gave to some of the crystals’ atoms was later released as entangled photons. By looking at the states of the photons arriving at their three detectors, the researchers saw that the states of the photons arriving at detectors A and C weren’t entangled, meaning their data could be described only by a quantum theory that used complex numbers.Ben Turner, “Imaginary numbers could be needed to describe reality” at Live Science (December 21, 2021) The study at Nature is open access. The one at Physical Review Letters requires a subscription.
Quantum theorists mightn’t like it but, we are told, the two new studies show that “if quantum mechanics is correct, imaginary numbers are a necessary part of the mathematics of our universe.”
Science fiction must make sense, the way any narrative must make sense. Alternative universes must hang together, at least from the reader’s perspective. But the universe we live in now features enough challenging facts that imaginative science fiction can become a valuable way of exploring reality.
You may also wish to read:
Is life from outer space a viable science hypothesis? Currently, panspermia has been rated as “plausible but not convincing.” Marks, Hössjer, and Diaz discuss the issues. Famous atheist scientists have favored panspermia because there is no plausible purely natural explanation for life on Earth that would make it unnecessary.
Science paper: Could octopuses be aliens from outer space? It’s the octopus’s intelligence that causes such usual theses to float in the science literature. There is no simple way of accounting for how smart the eight-armed invertebrate is. So, even if we dismiss an extraterrestrial origin, we still face a mystery.