Tag Archive: Earth


Tourist Trap coverLetter UPlanets not occupied by Humans or R’il’nians are often found by the Jarnian Confederation. Most are outside the parameters Humans need for life, but when a habitable planet is found, it may be treated in any of several ways. If it is barren, it may be terraformed and colonized. (Example: Horizon.) If it has life but not sentient life it may have some Terran or R’il’nian species imported and then settled by Humans. (Example: Eversummer.) Some planets are of special scientific interest, and they will be kept as pristine as possible. (Example: Mirror.) But if a planet has a native, sentient species, or a species that appears to be evolving toward sentience, that planet will be left alone, and warning beacons will be placed around it.

No contact is permitted with the inhabitants of such a planet: a species must earn its own way to the stars. If the planet is deemed attractive to lawbreakers, it will be assigned a Guardian, a R’il’noid who is responsible for keeping the planet safe and insulated from contact with star-faring species. Such planets are known as uncontacted planets.

Earth is an uncontacted planet. There is a Guardian, and in fact Roi was at one time the Guardian for Earth. It is considered a special planet, as the Humans of the Confederation are well aware that it is their ancestral home. But they keep their presence well-hidden from the Humans of Earth.

I’m doing my A to Z blogs from my books, both characters and background information. For characters I’ll introduce them quickly, say what point of time they’re talking from since their situations change drastically through the books, and let them talk. The format of background information will vary according to what I’m talking about. Bold type indicates that more information has been or will be available in another A to Z post. All of these blogs will be scheduled to go live just after midnight Alaska time.

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What point at the top of the atmosphere gets the most solar radiation on the day of the summer solstice?  Would you believe the North Pole?

Yes, that’s right. If the Earth’s pole of axial rotation were perpendicular to its orbital plane, the North Pole wouldn’t get any incoming radiation, and summer solstice would not even be defined. But with an axial tilt of only 23.5°, the pole still gets more radiation over 24 hours on the date of the summer solstice than any other point of the northern hemisphere on any date. Only the South Pole gets more, on the day of the winter solstice.

It doesn’t show up in temperature, first because much of the incoming solar radiation is scattered away during its long path through the atmosphere, and second because the ice and snow at the North Pole reflect much of the radiation back to space. (The second factor may be changing, and this is one of the reasons the Arctic is such a sensitive region.)

But suppose the axial tilt were 90°?

Uranus (Hubboe)

Uranus, as viewed by Hubble.

We do have one planet in our Solar System that approaches this: Uranus, with a tilt of 82.14°. But let’s stick with the Earth and assume it has a tilt of 90°. What would the seasons be like?

Summer solstice at the pole would be unbearable. Imagine the sun directly overhead at noon. Now stretch that noon out in time, so that the sun stays overhead for 24 hours. Hot? No place on Earth has that much incoming solar radiation today. Granted there would probably be clouds. In fact, there would probably be hurricane-like monsoonal storms unknown on our planet today. But it would still be hot.

By contrast, the South Pole would be in the middle of a six-month long night. It would have some stored heat left from the intense summer, probably enough to keep maritime climates above freezing. But it would still be dark except for the stars, the moon, and the southern lights.

The equator? At summer solstice, the equator would be pretty chilly. The sun would never rise or set, but just appear to sit at the northern horizon. As time moves toward the autumnal equinox, the sun gradually begins to rise in the north-northeast at 6 am, ride to its maximum height in the northern sky, and then set in the north-northwest at 6 pm. By the equinox, the sun would rise in the east, rise to directly overhead and then set in the west. But at the north pole, the sun has been spiraling gradually down the sky from overhead, until it finally just glides along the horizon at both poles on the day of the equinox, which begins a 6-month night for the North Pole and a 6-month day at the South Pole.

What happens if you add up all of the incoming solar energy over the course of a year? Not too surprisingly, the poles are the winners, with the equatorial regions being relatively cool. Given that water is much better at storing heat than land, the oceans would be warmer at the poles than the equator. Land areas are far more likely to follow a strong annual cycle. High-latitude continental climates would have tremendous seasonal variation, while maritime climates would be much more uniform. Monsoons, which are driven by these land-sea differences, would be extreme. And equatorial climates, which on our earth are primarily wet or dry, would be intensely cold near the solstices and as warm as they get on the equinoxes.

I haven’t actually tried this as a science fiction world—I want my planets to be habitable! But I do have a planet with zero axial tilt—Eversummer—in Tourist Trap. To quote Marna, the planet’s name must have been picked out by a publicity agent!

Note that today is the midsummer blog hop, and you can enter the draw for prizes by commenting. The prize on this blog is a PDF of one of my books, Homecoming or Tourist Trap (your choice.) In addition, anyone who comments on this blog is eligible for the grand prize drawing: 1st Prize – winner’s choice of a Kindle Touch or a Nook Touch
2nd Prize – a library of science fiction romance titles donated by various authors and an Anabanana Gift Card. Most of the books will be in digital format, with one print anthology.

No more than one comment on a single blog will count, but you can comment on multiple blogs to improve your chances.

I think I’ve gotten myself in over my head.

My well supplies far more water than I need, and with counterweighting it is no great problem to teleport the filled containers to Storm Cloud’s group. Filling the containers and finding the group each day takes far more work, though they are marking their trail after a fashion. No doubt their marking method is as obvious to them as it is hardly visible to me. Another two days, and they should be in country with grass and surface water. The herds are only a little beyond them.

Lion’s group is more difficult – they seem unable to accept that I can keep them supplied with water if they leave their mudhole, which is going to dry up soon, and teleporting fresh kills to their site is simply not going to work long term – for one thing, it’s hard on the local predators. And it won’t solve the problem of water. They don’t seem able to understand that I can do some things that they cannot but that I can’t do everything, and they keep trying to argue that it would be much simpler if I just made it rain.

Worst yet, I’ve spotted two more groups of people who speak the language I’ve learned. I was going to leave them alone, since I’ve found Storm Cloud’s group, but because of what I found today I have to rethink that.

I was searching for a fresh kill to take to Lion’s group when I spotted a group of hyenas squabbling over something – and the something turned out to be a human body, emaciated to the point that there was little left even for a hyena. I teleported back to the shelter for Patches, and had her backtrack the hyenas. The trail led to a camp of sorts, with enough of a thorn barrier to slow down the hyenas, but those who had built the barrier were dead or dying of starvation. Only one was still conscious, a woman whose skin, far too large for her body, suggested she had survived this long only because she had once had enormous fat reserves.

The rest were beyond any help I could give them, but I teleported two melons and some figs to her. By evening I though she might survive, though the rest of the group were now dead.

What can I do? She cannot walk far, or survive on her own. Nor can I teleport her without further shock which could well kill her. And will the other groups I saw end in the same way as hers?

 Year 2 Day 320

I don’t think the rains are going to come.

Oh, there have been a couple of showers, but barely enough to lay down the dust. Everything around me seems to be burning, except what is already burned. I am in no danger—the well is providing all of the water I need, and the shelter, built from the remains of the escape capsule, is fireproof. I hunt, fish and gather far to the north, where the rains have fallen and the world is green. But how are the nomads faring? Can they find enough food? Where are they?

I no longer think, or even hope, that they will return this year. What could they find to eat here? The herds have not come, and with the stream dry, there are no fish to be caught. But I cannot stand to be alone much longer, and the only other R’il’nian-like species I have found is hostile.

I have decided to try to find those I know. It won’t be easy. This is a big continent, and all I know is that they should be somewhere to the north where it is green enough they can find game. Probably somewhere north of the rains. They are a rare species—I know that, for I have been watching for them, casually, for fivedays now. It is time to intensify the search. Perhaps with the aid of Patches I can find them, or if not the group I know, some other group of the same people.

I wish I knew where their gather site was.

Year 2, Day 280

The rains are late. Either that, or they have been early the last two years.

Is it possible that they will not reach this far south, that the nomads will not return? Certainly they follow the herds, and the herds will not come south until the vegetation greens, after the rains have fallen. In the two years I have been here, the rains have come before the summer solstice. But my crude calendar says the solstice is today, and there is no sign of rain. Only of dust and smoke, which forced me to levitate to see the direction in which the sun set. I did not even see cloud tops, or dry lightning.

The stream has gone dry, and I am seeing more and more dead animals on my exploratory flights. To the west are sand dunes – I don’t explore much that way. A day’s flight north, though, it is raining in places. How much longer will the rains move southward? If they reach me, will they last long enough to turn the vegetation green? Should I go farther north, and try to find the nomads?

I have burned off most of the dry vegetation around my shelter. Not that the starving animals left much. Predators were glutted at first, but now they, too, are gaunt and starving. The warnoff has become a necessity if I leave the shelter on foot.

Luckily I can teleport myself and Patches to greener areas where I can fish and she can hunt the small mammals we both prefer as food. The large mammals would be tastier, but without the nomads I am not very good at preparing them.

I hope they come back.

Perhaps I should teleport north of the rains, and try to find them?

This is an excerpt from Jarn’s Journal, the journal kept by a fictional human-like alien, Jarn, who was stranded on Earth roughly 125,000 years ago. He has made friends with one tribe of early humans, but they have followed the grazing herds northward. Jarn’s Journal to date, from the time of his crash landing, is on my author website.

Year 2, Day 248

I’ve always thought of herbivores as relatively harmless. Not that you want to corner or threaten one, as they generally take rather violent exception to anything that signals they might be eaten. But as a general rule they don’t go looking for trouble. Not these!

I have named them hippopotamus, though I will have to find out what Songbird’s people call them. I’ve seen them before, of course, when I was following the river downstream. They look like small, barren islands from above, and lumbering, clumsy brutes when they drag themselves out of the water where they feed.

They are not clumsy.

Especially when they see me watching them and decide that I am a threat.

They are very crowded, as the dry season has been more intense then usual this year, and they have retreated to the few deep scours of the river. I knew the tempers of the bulls were short, as I have seen several battles. In fact I was watching a battle, amazed at the gape of their jaws, the ferocity with which they attacked each other, and the obvious fear with which the cows herded their young out of the way. I had shielded against their emotions, so I had little warning when one of the rivals suddenly decided I was a threat and charged me.

I am ashamed to say that I totally forgot everything I have managed to learn about counterbalancing over the last few months and simply did a brute-force teleport to my shelter.

Needless to say, I am almost too exhausted to record this. I need to make counterbalancing automatic!

Jarn’s Journal is an ongoing feature that gives some of the back story of my science fiction universe. Jarn is a human-like alien, a R’il’nian, who was stranded on Earth, in Africa, roughly 125,000 years ago. He has made contact with a tribe of early humans, but they have left for the season, following the game herds. Jarn’s story to date is on my author website.

Year 2 Day 172

Songbird’s is not the only group of R’il’nian-like creatures here.

I’m not even sure they are the same species, as they seem to communicate more by gestures and scratching figures on the ground than by sounds. Certainly they did not understand me when I tried to speak to them in the language I learned from Songbird. In fact, they tried to attack me with their spears! But they are very similar. I will have to ask the shaman about them—it I can just figure out where this gather of theirs is!

I was exploring a lightly wooded savannah area, with gallery forests along the watercourses. It looked to me as if it would be an excellent hunting area for Songbird’s group, but not if it is claimed by another group. I wonder if they are the same species? If they can — or do — interbreed?

I should not take sides, especially as I think this new species is also intelligent. Certainly they make hunting tools and hunt cooperatively.

Do not interfere. I’m way past that. But I want company!

Jarn’s Journal is the (fictional) journal of an alien marooned in Africa roughly 125,000 years ago. His story is the remote background the the Jarnian Confederation, where Homecoming and Tourist Trap are set. The entire Journal to date is on my author site.

This an excerpt from the (fictional) journal of an alien, Jarn, stranded in Africa roughly 125,000 years ago. Jarn’s story is part of the remote background of the science fiction world of my novels Homecoming and Tourist Trap, as well as an upcoming trilogy. For his Journal to date, see my Author Site.

Year 2, day 140

The headaches have almost disappeared. Score another round to my esper instructors.

They kept telling me that my headaches were analogous to sore muscles when I tried something new physically. Well, they were right. Over the last few fivedays I have seen more parts of this continent than I have over the past two years, and while my head felt as if it was going to explode the first few days, I can now go almost anywhere I have seen and levitate to a height which is uncomfortably cold with no headache at all. And once I am high enough, I can pick out landmarks and teleport to them with little effort.

It is a large continent that I have landed on. To the north, trees and watercourses become steadily more frequent until finally I find myself in jungle. By the sun, this jungle continues past the equator, bordered to the north by more savannah and eventually by true desert, drier than anything near my shelter. Farther yet, I came to a great salt sea. It may be partially enclosed, as there seem to be few tides in spite of the large moon.

South, the land again is washed by salty water, but stormier and with definite tides.

There are mountain ranges, valleys, even volcanic areas, and a great valley which makes me suspect this continent may be rifting apart. I have yet to find snow or ice, though I think I glimpsed some coming in. Still, by the height of the sun this continent is centered on the equator and even its most northerly and southerly limits are far from the poles.

I am mapping at after a fashion – it gives me something to do while I am alone. I can get both latitude and longitude from the position of the sun, though absolute distances have to be expressed in terms of the unknown radius of this planet. I keep hoping I will find the gather, but even the area green from the rains is far too large for anything but blind luck to lead me to them. I wish I knew where they were.

Oceanography: Exploring Earth’s Final Wilderness

It’s been almost 50 years since I took an oceanography course, so I ordered this course as a refresher. It was a refresher all right, and not just of what I remembered of oceanography — this course covers everything from the history of the Earth to modern-day pollution. As one of my old colleagues at the Geophysical Institute says, “It’s not Planet Earth, it’s planet Cloud-Ocean.”  And this course was a marvelous refresher of the whole of geophysics, core to tropopause, and some biology with the whole thing straightforward enough to be understandable to almost anyone.

It started out conventionally enough, with an overview of the history of oceanic exploration. But many of the observations of the ocean basins demanded explanation. Why did the mid-Atlantic ridge exist, for instance? The Challenger Deep? For that matter, why were island arcs so often paralleled by trenches and home to volcanoes and earthquakes? What were the magnetic stripes discovered during World War II? How was it that the sea floor, which should have been receiving sediments from the continents throughout geologic history, had astonishingly young bedrock when drills began to penetrate those sediments? Some of these questions were touched on 50 years ago, some were hastily swept under the rug, and some (such as the puzzlingly young age of the seafloor bedrock) had not even been discovered yet.

These questions eventually led to the theory of plate tectonics, and several lectures on these DVDs are devoted to explaining this theory and how it came about. But that’s a small part of the first two discs in this set of six.

The physics and chemistry of water take up several lectures. Waves, rogue waves, tsunamis, and tides are covered, along with some of the physics of water. For something so familiar (oxygen and hydrogen are two of the most common reactive elements in the universe) water has some astonishing properties. Not only does it have an extraordinarily high heat capacity and is it very nearly the universal solvent, it is one of the few compounds in which the solid phase is less dense than the liquid. In other words, ice floats! We’re so used to this we don’t even think about it, but the world would be very different if ice sank, as most solids do in their own melts.

Life in the seas is interesting in itself and also critical to feeding our global population. Food webs, plankton, jellyfish, fish, marine mammals and birds and whales all get their moments of exposure, along with fish farming.

Then the course moves on to coasts: estuaries, deltas, beaches and sea cliffs. Life is here, too, from sea grasses and mangroves to coral reefs.

The lectures then cover storms, the deep ocean circulation, and the effects of climate change and pollution.

As a meteorologist I would of course like to have seen more on the role of the oceans in influencing weather. Not only are the oceans the great flywheel of climate, and their slow response one of the problems in climate modeling, they provide much of the water vapor that transports energy around the globe. Still, 36 half hour lectures can’t cover everything. Professor Tobin certainly tried, though, and for a single course succeeded brilliantly.

Every now and then I order a course on DVDs from The Great Courses. Most recently, I’ve been viewing Skywatching, a course by Alex Fippenkio on the sky, day and night: what can be seen in it and the physics of why it looks the way it does.

Roughly the first third of the course deals with what we can see in the daytime sky. Dr. Filippenko discusses sky color in midday and when the sun is rising or setting, clouds, lightning, and the interaction of sunlight with water and ice (giving rainbows and halos.) This is closely related to what I researched and taught, so I didn’t really lean anything new. The presentation, however, was generally good. I did catch an error in one diagram, but I suspect that was the graphic designer. (The diagram is the one used to explain polarization in reflected light, and the error is that the angle of reflection and the angle of incidence are not shown as equal.) I was also rather disappointed that Dr Filippenko did not point out that frozen droplets are initially near-spherical, and develop their hexagonal prism shape (and the optical effects this produces) only later, by vapor-phase growth. But I suppose I shouldn’t expect everyone to be familiar with ice fog.

This section of the course should be of particular interest to writers needing information on sky and cloud cover, storms, and less common phenomena such as rainbows or sundogs. If you are going to describe an evening sky, you’d better have some idea of what’s happening.

Roughly half the course deals with the constellations and observing the bodies of the solar system. Most of this I was familiar with as an amateur, and I’ve used some of it — lunar phases and seasons, for instance — in my writing. Every writer who wants to put a moon in the sky should watch the section on lunar phases. Rising crescent moon in the evening? Nope. Just doesn’t happen. Neither does a narrow crescent high in the sky.

The lecture on solar eclipses brought back the one I saw, shortly after I moved to Alaska in 1963. I didn’t have a car yet, but two other graduate students gave me a ride down to Sourdough, Alaska to see the total solar eclipse of July 20, 1963. There were scattered high clouds, and while they added suspense –would the sky be clear during totality? – they wound up adding to the experience. Every bright spot of Bailey’s Beads had its own rainbow (technically iridescence.) I know I took a picture; I remember taking photos both before and after the eclipse, the ones after being a series with the exposure set at a constant value to capture the change in the light. I found that series, but so far the ones before and during totality are missing. They may have been separate from the others and lost during the fire twelve years ago.

Overall I’d give the course an A. Dr. Filippenko is a wonderful teacher, and with few exceptions the graphics are excellent. The course takes 3 DVDs and consists of 12 45-minute lectures.

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