Monday, April 19, 2010

Ripped From Today's Headlines

Hello all, more news you can use to fire your imagination and come up with fantastical stories, all pulled from real life happenings. I’ve gathered together another bunch of excellent jumping off points sure to spark that creative fire. So without further adieu:

Research conducted by Dr. Gwen Robbins, an assistant professor of biological anthropology at Appalachian State University, finds no evidence of cannibalism among the 84 members of the Donner Party who were trapped by a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in the mid-1840s. The Donner Party has long been infamous for reportedly resorting to cannibalism after becoming trapped for months during the winter of 1846-1847.

During the excavation of the Donner Party’s campsite, 16,000 burned, fragmented bones were found. Many of the bones also had butchery and boiling marks. Robbins, an osteologist who specializes in bone biology and microstructure, examined the bones. The team produced thin sections from these specimens and examined them using a microscope. From this work, they determined that humans were not among the food refuse examined. (Read more…)

Oooo, interesting and gruesome! So if the Donner Party didn’t go cannibal, what happened to them? Maybe the recovered bone fragments were mostly animal, but maybe some of them were “unidentifiable” by Robbins and her colleagues. Meaning they matched no known species. So maybe something else inhabited those mountains where the Donner Party made camp, something that didn’t feel like sharing.

And did you know there were survivors from the Donner Party? It’s true. What if some trusty protagonist/researcher happened across a descendant of one, and managed to finagle an old journal that hinted at some strange creatures up in the Sierra Nevadas? And maybe said protagonist was to arrange for a new expedition to investigate? And everything goes fine, except that whatever attacked the Donner Party is still there, waiting for humans to return…

Current observational tools cannot account for roughly half of the heat that is believed to have built up on Earth in recent years, according to a “Perspectives” article in this week’s issue of Science. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) warn in the new study that satellite sensors, ocean floats, and other instruments are inadequate to track this “missing” heat, which may be building up in the deep oceans or elsewhere in the climate system.

“The heat will come back to haunt us sooner or later,” says NCAR scientist Kevin Trenberth, the lead author. Trenberth and his co-author, NCAR scientist John Fasullo, focused on a central mystery of climate change. Whereas satellite instruments indicate that greenhouse gases are continuing to trap more solar energy, or heat, scientists since 2003 have been unable to determine where much of that heat is going. (Read more…)

So where’s all the earth’s heat running off to? Maybe like these scientists say, it’s going deep in the ocean where we can’t adequately measure it. Or maybe…it’s being stolen. An extra-terrestrial conspiracy. What if some other intelligent life out there has been observing us and has seen how we humans are threatening to ruin our planet via global warming. Out of concern for our ecosystem, they decide to cool things off by stealthily siphoning off the earth’s warmth, just enough stop the runaway greenhouse effects.

Their motives are laudible, but then things start to go wrong, natural disasters, epidemics. And then they are discovered. How will mankind react?

The eruptions of “supervolcanoes” on Earth’s surface have been blamed for causing mass extinctions, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and changes in ocean circulation. Despite their global impact, the origin and triggering mechanism of these eruptions remain poorly understood. New data collected during a recent Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) scientific research expedition in the Pacific Ocean may provide clues to unlocking this unsolved mystery.

In fall 2009, an international team of scientists drilled five sites in the ocean floor to study the origin of the 145 million-year-old Shatsky Rise volcanic mountain chain. Located approximately 930 miles east of Japan, Shatsky Rise measures roughly the size of California. This underwater mountain chain represents one of the largest supervolcanoes in the world: the top of Shatsky Rise lies about two miles below the sea surface, while its base plunges to nearly four miles below the surface. (Read more…)

Underwater supervolcanoes are just cool. But what causes these massive eruptions? I can imagine accompanying a deep ocean dive in one of those submersibles, taking samples and getting up close to these lava-spewing behemoths. Then, maybe a few crewmembers go out in deep-sea pressure suits to investigate one of the drilling sites, except they find the site has been destroyed by unknown parties.

A strange haze of silt and sea life cuts them off from their base ship and their communication system goes dead. Then they’re surrounded by alien creatures who take them into the base of the volcano chain itself. There they learn the terrible truth: the deep sea volcanoes are not natural, they are the vents for a mammoth space ship that crash landed millennia ago, and the scientists’ deep drilling set back their repair efforts. The bad news? Repairs are just about finished, and the ship is ready to take off, blasting half of the earth apart when it does. Our intrepid scientists have their work cut out for them.

For the first time, astronomers have directly observed the mysterious dark companion in a binary star system that has puzzled skywatchers since the 19th century. Using an instrument developed at the University of Michigan, scientists have taken close-up pictures of Epsilon Aurigae during its eclipse, which happens every 27 years. "Close up" in this case is a relative term, but the images zoom in enough to show the shape of the dark object's shadow.

Epsilon Aurigae is the fifth brightest star in the northern constellation Auriga. For more than 175 years, astronomers have known it is dimmer than it should be, given its mass. They also noticed its brightness dip for more than a year every few decades. They surmised that it was a binary system in which one companion was invisible. But what type of object was the companion? The new images show a geometrically thin, dark, dense, but partially translucent cloud can be seen passing in front of Epsilon Aurigae. (Read more…)

Interesting, so it’s some kind of amorphous cloud tightly orbiting this star. Perhaps, using the new instrument, a researcher is able to study the radiation patterns surrounding the cloud and Epsilon Aurigae, thereby making a startling discovery. The cloud is parasitic, feeding off of the star’s energy. Even more disturbing, the researcher discovers energy patterns emitting from the cloud indicating that it is sentient. Then one fateful day, our researcher finds that the cloud has begun moving away from Epsilon Aurigae. Plotting its new course, the scientist extrapolates and discovers it is headed straight for…our sun!

So there you have it, four honest to goodness real-life news items tailor made for inspiring gripping speculative fiction. Use them as you see fit. Take them in completely different directions than the ones I’ve outlined. And have fun with them!

-Jason Kahn


Jean said...

I love this post and the many ideas it spawned. Lots of good stuff here.

jason kahn said...

Thanks Jean, they're fun to write, too!