Jun 16, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Science! Asteroids! Magnets!

I dropped all sciences at school when I was 15, due to the high ratio of boring topics (nearly everything) to interesting topics (space science), so one of the most fun parts of writing scifi with some science behind it is learning about science! Specifically, the cool bits of science. I read news articles about space quite a lot and watch documentaries, but I think we all know how nuanced and accurate those sources are. Now I’m reading wikipedia, which is one step up, I guess.

I’m currently working on a short story set in an asteroid belt, so I’ve been reading about asteroids and asteroid mining and such things. (Amusingly, I learnt about the true gap betwen asteroids from that venerable source of scientific information, tvtropes. Protip: Meteo from Starfox 64 is not accurate.)

Asteroids are pretty cool! Here are three fun things I’ve read so far.

1) Moons! Asteroids have them. That was a pretty big WELL DUH moment for me, but for some reason it’d never occurred to me that asteroids could have moons. But look!

That’s 243 Ida and its moon Dactyl. How fucking cool is that.

2) Magnets! According to wikipedia, this is one theorised method of mining: “Magnetic rakes. Asteroids with a high metal content may be covered in loose grains that can be gathered by means of a magnet.” MAGNETS. Always with the magnets.

3) Asteroids could have really huge amounts of valuable materials on them. They could, you might think, make miners rich! And then economics shows up. “Although Planetary Resources say that platinum from 30-meter long asteroid is worth 25-50 billion USD, an economist remarked that any outside source of precious metals could lower prices sufficiently to possibly doom the venture.”

In addition to the above, I think I’ve learned enough relevant science to get on with writing this story. I’d like to draft it reasonably quickly so I can return to the SF novella, but whether my brain will co-operate with me is an entirely different matter. Onwards!


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