Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

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Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby Falcon_D » Fri Mar 23, 2018 9:44 am

Sometimes I wish Sci-Fi authors who have a basic grasp of physics play games like ED or Kerbal Space Program.

This would allow them to understand better the distances and times involved in spaceflight.

I brought this up cause I just started reading this book where the author keeps placing ships in terms of millions of kilometers for things like space stations and other ships.

Start of ship to ship engagement distance 2 million km. Entry of ship to request station docking 0.5 million km.

Wtf?
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Re: Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby Tom Derrick » Fri Mar 23, 2018 10:27 am

Hm, I think that depends on the tech level of that particular story.
So for example, if they are using conventional weapons like in Battlestar Galactica, 2 million km is nonsense of course.
But if we go in the direction of Star Trek with subspace sensors and tachyon weapons and stuff like that, I think 2 million km is actually quite reasonable.

And then of couse, sometimes the storytelling is more important than realism.
I like the idea of two battleships shooting their railguns at 2 million km away, trying to anticipate their opponents movements.

May I ask which book you are reading ?

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Re: Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby TorTorden » Fri Mar 23, 2018 11:09 am

This is just my own 2 cents of course.
Those distances are actually a lot less unlikely than those in ED.
Although granted Elite has these magic Alcubiere like drives that utterly breaks any form of physics.

Now anyone who has played a little Kerbal, to be fair I suck at it, moving something, or even just changing direction in space is ridiculously hard.
So a spaceship coming in on speeds that would be ok for interplanetary travel or especially interstellar travel, half a million km's would be at the very end of the deceleration point, I honestly think this is a bit late to announce yourself.

And just the concept of short range dogfighting in space is comical.
But it makes for excellent and engaging game play. So one I chalk up for Game > Reality.

Today already, warfare want to separate out own assets as far away from the hostilities as possible, long range weapons and drones being currently heavily used. Take current naval engagement tactics for modern carrier groups today is 600 nautical miles(wikipedia), 1100 km, same guns in space would probably be 10x that easy.
Some more advancements in targeting, and moving up to a field of clear fire, with some upgraded targeting systems.

Take for instance rail guns currently in development, I see those very soon, as in a few decades if not already but kept under hush hush, reach slug velocities of 10000 ms, and they are working on adding self guidance to these slugs, so some homing capabilities would be perfectly expected.

Even a moon shot scenario would be something I would consider doable.

The moon is 384.4 million km away, roughly. A slug shot from earth orbit would reach a ship in orbit around our moon in less than 11 hours.
Impossible ?
I don't think so, given smart rounds that can adjust course, and decent target anticipation algorithms you can be fairly certain where an object in space will be in a few hours, even some fairly crazy manoeuvres on the targets part would be limited by orbital mechanics, and the rest sorted by these homing 1k\s slugs.
I would honestly expect that to be technically possible in less than 50 years, interplanetary travel would be the real nut to crack.
In fact the longest distance of engagement range would probably be stemming not so much from our abillity to strike, but the speed of light, and thus a delay, in how we perceive the target, if that becomes up to a few minutes, things get more difficult, but still inside the realm of being solved, it does go both ways of course.
But 2 million km, I'd say that's on the side of short range for space combat.
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Re: Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby Falcon_D » Fri Mar 23, 2018 12:22 pm

Distance from Earth to Moon is 384,000 km.
The book I’m reading is called Starship’s Mage. They use magic for interstellar travel and fusion drives for space travel. The weapons they use are homing missiles with anti-matter drives and lasers.

Speed of light is about 300,000 km/s so it would take about 6.6 seconds for a laser shot to hit a target 2,000,000 km away.

The author uses km, not m.

Even dropping 2MM from a station, you can barely see it. Even with orbital mechanics limiting the different paths a ship could take in the 6s for light to reach your sensors there is still a high probability of you missing your shot with a laser.

At distances like those mentioned in the book I don’t know how they can pick up and aim at targets with light speed limited sensors. No mention of tachyon or other things.

P.S.: I’ve never actually played Kerbal Space Program.
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Re: Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby TorTorden » Fri Mar 23, 2018 12:38 pm

1km is a thousand meters, 1 Mm is a million meters or 1000km. The meter is the definition for all of them.
1km is just a shorthand for writing 1000m, It's not too common to see the MM nomenclature but that's what it is, shorthand for displaying large number of meters.

The author in question does sound like a git though and probably has no clue what a meter actually is, and just uses killometers since it armies does.

Like Star trek, they seemingly change the speed of the warp drive on a per episode basis, in short they have admitted warp speed is defined by plot.

Like Supermans strength, he struggles to lift a bus of kids, but later he can push the fucking moon with no more effort than the bus...

Also you should play kerbal.
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Re: Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby uvelius » Fri Mar 23, 2018 8:39 pm

I recently singed contract as an author for the oldes Sci-Fi series still in existence, or to be precise, a version of the original running in parallel, but adapted to today's knowledge in astrophysics (and all the other stuff that changed since the 60's).

I observed that space combat is a particularly hard topic to come by in inter-stellar, inter-galactical settings. For one, you always have to resort on excused like shields not to make explode a target on first hit. There are exceptions, though, like the really fancy stuff some aliens sported in one our seasons as ship armour, but that is still very unlikely.
But most of all, a core issue is is engagement distance. As the others have mentioned here before, even today's high-end ordnance/artillery has insane ranges. Transferred into a high-tech future, range and efficiency/effectiveness would most likely even increase, making combat a game of spreadsheets in space ... oh wait, they called another sci-fi game like that.

For us as writers, I would say this means that either we have to skip space combat completely and only mention it as an abstract side note (which is both legitimate and brilliantly done -- yes, Attack Ships On Fire On The Shoulder Of Orion among them), or, if we want to get interesting close-by encounters, to limit physics and "reroute" tech development considerably ... if we don't go crazy by inventing such excessively high-tech stuff that it blows everybodys mind (also done, and no, not in Star Treck and the likes. You don't directly find familiar human-shaped characters there). You can try to stick to reality as we know it of course and transfer it into the far future, but it will always remain a wild guess ...so why not use entertaining Artist's Freedom from the start.

So basically, to compare reality with story-telling, and that's precisely what Elite is about, should mostly fail. Which is a shame on the one hand.But on the other hand, I find it very, very entertaining to throw certain bureaucratic parts of reality right out of the window, every time I bow up an enemie's vessel between the handsomely few and huge asteroids, or write encounters with those crazy alien ships involved.

To wrap it up: Don't compare reality with stories and games. Just enjoy.

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Re: Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby Falcon_D » Sat Mar 24, 2018 8:19 pm

Actually I’m currently enjoying the book. It has an interesting premise. Mixing magic with science. The only issue I have with the story and the author is the distances involved in some of the scenarios.
Space combat is really an interesting and not really practically researched science. How do we actually deal with the distances and times involved using our current knowledge of physics?
Yes. I agree some artistic license must be given. But sometimes I wish that the physicist had more say. For example one major scene in the latest Star Wars movie.
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Re: Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby Tom Derrick » Sat Mar 24, 2018 9:48 pm

Hm, so if we assume conventional sensors, working at light speed, then you see the target on your computers with 6.6 second delay. If you fire your lasers, it takes them as much time to reach that target. Let´s round up and say we have a 15 second delay (at 2 mio. km). That´s actually not so far off of shell travel times in world war 2 naval combat.
The sailors back then also had to shoot at where they assumed the target would be in 15-20 seconds.
In a sci-fi story I can well imagine some sophisticated targeting computers, maybe even an AI that would figure out the most probable location of the target ship by analysing its previous maneuvers or something like that.
I would think that a big enough ship would only have limited possibilities to change course in 15 seconds.

Yes, world war 2 ships had shitty hit rates, but I think in a sci-fi story, that´s actually a good thing. I mean, even todays targeting systems would have 100 % hit rates with lasers at 50 km range.

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Re: Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby TorTorden » Sun Mar 25, 2018 2:59 pm

Tom Derrick wrote:Hm, so if we assume conventional sensors, working at light speed, then you see the target on your computers with 6.6 second delay. If you fire your lasers, it takes them as much time to reach that target. Let´s round up and say we have a 15 second delay (at 2 mio. km). That´s actually not so far off of shell travel times in world war 2 naval combat.
The sailors back then also had to shoot at where they assumed the target would be in 15-20 seconds.
In a sci-fi story I can well imagine some sophisticated targeting computers, maybe even an AI that would figure out the most probable location of the target ship by analysing its previous maneuvers or something like that.
I would think that a big enough ship would only have limited possibilities to change course in 15 seconds.

Yes, world war 2 ships had shitty hit rates, but I think in a sci-fi story, that´s actually a good thing. I mean, even todays targeting systems would have 100 % hit rates with lasers at 50 km range.

Exactly.
Although I doubt Laser based energy weapons will ever exist as they do in Elite.
I do find it amusing I can sit parked a few ls from a neutron star and suffer no ill effects. But a few seconds of a laser burst shred me apart...

AI targeting and target prediction is going to become insane. Especially if the system can incorporate known previous tactics of a given target damn near spooky prescient.

And current research, as mentioned is working on railgun slugs with the ability to adjust trajectory after launch, although I would expect this to be around the use of controlled fins, and or affecting spin on the projectile which is doable in atmosphere. Space projectiles would need some form of RCS, which also would need fuel.
But can't see how these projectiles couldn't be large.
Heck they would likely be multistage and clustered.

Can almost see it. A railgun firing multistage missiles with smart targeting that release a few hundred mini-nukes each..

Yeah that a scary thought.

And of course current level tech and warfare make for not very interesting stories.
A fighter planes engagement range to another fighter is already several miles, and is mostly defined by radar range and what plane has the better stealth systems.
Radar screen, lock target, release boom.

Also indeed.
Egg on my face regarding the distance to the moon, I can't fathom why but I was convinced there was a K between Mm.
So my bad.
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Re: Sci-Fi authors and Astronomy

Postby Avago-Earo » Sun Mar 25, 2018 8:01 pm

It could be for entertainments sake. Asimov was pretty clued up on the theoretical side of things, HG Wells more of a layman. I still think The War Of The Worlds is a masterpiece. Most people in the science community, at that time, had concluded that sentient life on Mars was extremely unlikely. 'Wells ploughed on though, and with his dreams he brought us the horror home of being treated as we treat others. There are musings of scientific ideas, just to fill the gaps, but the story of a man, who's world is falling apart around him, who's struggling with the insanity of loneliness, who questions a society falling apart, one so familiar. Killing another man to stay alive, then considering suicide himself...

Sometimes science can get in the way of a good story (looks at Bible).
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