Story Seeds of Science


I am always interested in what’s going on in the world, but I try to look at it through a different lens. 

One of those lenses is the scientific news, and when I’m looking at it, I’m often looking at it from the point of view of an author. I find it fertile ground to harvest story seeds from, even if I never quite know what’s going to grow out of that. 

Like this story on using the elements detectable around stars to predict the possibility of life as we know it. 

Determining the elemental ratios for exoplanetary ecosystems is not yet possible, but it’s generally assumed that planets have compositions similar to those of their host stars. Scientists can measure the abundance of elements in a star spectroscopically, studying how light interacts with the elements in a star’s upper layers. Using these data, scientists can infer what a star’s orbiting planets are made of, using stellar composition as a proxy for its planets.

On Earth, the key elements for biology are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur (or CHNOPS). In today’s oceans, phosphorus is considered the ultimate limiting nutrient for life as it’s the least available chemical necessary for biochemical reactions.

And this slightly related story which would be possible to weave together into something cool, space opera, and possibly aliens: 

The system, about 80 light years away, violates all common conventions about stars and planets. The white dwarf is the remnant of a sun-like star, greatly shrunken down to roughly the size of Earth, yet it retains half the sun’s mass. The massive planet looms over its tiny star, which it circles every 34 hours thanks to an incredibly close orbit. In contrast, Mercury takes a comparatively lethargic 90 days to orbit the sun. While there have been hints of large planets orbiting close to white dwarfs in the past, the new findings are the clearest evidence yet that these bizarre pairings exist. That confirmation highlights the diverse ways stellar systems can evolve and may give a glimpse at our own solar system’s fate. Such a white dwarf system could even provide a rare habitable arrangement for life to arise in the light of a dying star.

That last line “life to arise in the light of a dying star” just makes my heart beat a little faster. From the perspective of a writer, can you imagine? I know I can. 
But it’s not all science fiction future-forward imagination. This story makes me wonder about history, and assumptions, and how it could work into the past, or fantasy, or… 

 “We found that Vikings weren’t just Scandinavians in their genetic ancestry, as we analysed genetic influences in their DNA from Southern Europe and Asia which has never been contemplated before. Many Vikings have high levels of non-Scandinavian ancestry, both within and outside Scandinavia, which suggest ongoing gene flow across Europe.”

The team’s analysis also found that genetically Pictish people ‘became’ Vikings without genetically mixing with Scandinavians. The Picts were Celtic-speaking people who lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late British Iron Age and Early Medieval periods.

Dr Daniel Lawson, lead author from The University of Bristol, explained: “Individuals with two genetically British parents who had Viking burials were found in Orkney and Norway. This is a different side of the cultural relationship from Viking raiding and pillaging.”

And on that note, I’m off to get ready for my daily commute and story dictation. Yesterday I was trying to go hands-free with a microphone headset and lost a lot of the story I was telling. Today I am going to be shopping for a better alternative to that microphone. Sigh. We always run into wrinkles, but then again, life would be boring if it all went according to plan, wouldn’t it? 

3 thoughts on “Story Seeds of Science

  1. When I smashed a finger on my right hand, I couldn’t type for a while. I actually got proficient at dictating, until the mike broke. So it goes.
    I wonder if the giant planet circling the tiny star is a binary star in formation? Maybe a fail-to-launch?

    1. It is fun to speculate, isn’t it? I know scientifically that life on other planets is likely to be unicellular. Not very exciting. Still, this is how we are most likely to find ‘aliens’.

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