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Wizards, Aliens, and Starships

Book Description

From teleportation and space elevators to alien contact and interstellar travel, science fiction and fantasy writers have come up with some brilliant and innovative ideas. Yet how plausible are these ideas--for instance, could Mr. Weasley’s flying car in the Harry Potter books really exist? Which concepts might actually happen, and which ones wouldn’t work at all? Wizards, Aliens, and Starships delves into the most extraordinary details in science fiction and fantasy--such as time warps, shape changing, rocket launches, and illumination by floating candle--and shows readers the physics and math behind the phenomena.

With simple mathematical models, and in most cases using no more than high school algebra, Charles Adler ranges across a plethora of remarkable imaginings, from the works of Ursula K. Le Guin to Star Trek and Avatar, to explore what might become reality. Adler explains why fantasy in the Harry Potter and Dresden Files novels cannot adhere strictly to scientific laws, and when magic might make scientific sense in the muggle world. He examines space travel and wonders why it isn’t cheaper and more common today. Adler also discusses exoplanets and how the search for alien life has shifted from radio communications to space-based telescopes. He concludes by investigating the future survival of humanity and other intelligent races. Throughout, he cites an abundance of science fiction and fantasy authors, and includes concise descriptions of stories as well as an appendix on Newton's laws of motion.

Wizards, Aliens, and Starships will speak to anyone wanting to know about the correct--and incorrect--science of science fiction and fantasy.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover Page
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright Page
  4. Dedication Page
  5. Contents Page
  6. 1 Playing the Game
    1. 1.1 The Purpose of the Book
    2. 1.2 The Assumptions I Make
    3. 1.3 Organization
    4. 1.4 The Mathematics and Physics You Need
    5. 1.5 Energy and Power
  7. I: Potter Physics
    1. 2 Harry Potter and The Great Conservation Laws
      1. 2.1 The Taxonomy of Fantasy
      2. 2.2 Transfiguration and the Conservation of Mass
      3. 2.3 Disapparition and the Conservation of Momentum
      4. 2.4 Reparo and the Second Law of Thermodynamics
    2. 3 Why Hogwarts Is So Dark
      1. 3.1 Magic versus Technology
      2. 3.2 Illumination
    3. 4 Fantastic Beasts and How to Disprove Them
      1. 4.1 Hic sunt Dracones
      2. 4.2 How to Build a Giant
      3. 4.3 Kleiber’s Law, Part 1: Mermaids
      4. 4.4 Kleiber’s Law, Part 2: Owls, Dragons, Hippogriffs, and Other Flying Beasts
  8. II: Space Travel
    1. 5 Why Computers Get Better and Cars Can’t (Much)
      1. 5.1 The Future of Transportation
      2. 5.2 The Reality of Space Travel
      3. 5.3 The Energetics of Computation
      4. 5.4 The Energetics of the Regular and the Flying Car
      5. 5.5 Suborbital Flights
    2. 6 Vacations in Space
      1. 6.1 The Future in Science Fiction: Cheap, Easy Space Travel?
      2. 6.2 Orbital Mechanics
      3. 6.3 Halfway to Anywhere: The Energetics of Spaceflight
      4. 6.4 Financing Space Travel
    3. 7 Space Colonies
      1. 7.1 Habitats in Space
      2. 7.2 O’Neill Colonies
      3. 7.3 Matters of Gravity
      4. 7.4 Artificial “Gravity” on a Space Station
      5. 7.5 The Lagrange Points
      6. 7.6 Off-Earth Ecology and Energy Issues
      7. 7.7 The Sticker Price
    4. 8 The Space Elevator
      1. 8.1 Ascending into Orbit
      2. 8.2 The Physics of Geosynchronous Orbits
      3. 8.3 What Is a Space Elevator, and Why Would We Want One?
      4. 8.4 Why Buildings Stand Up—or Fall Down
      5. 8.5 Stresses and Strains: Carbon Nanotubes
      6. 8.6 Energy, “Climbers,” Lasers, and Propulsion
      7. 8.7 How Likely Is It?
      8. 8.8 The Unapproximated Elevator
    5. 9 Manned Interplanetary Travel
      1. 9.1 It’s Not an Ocean Voyage or a Plane Ride
      2. 9.2 Kepler’s Three Laws
      3. 9.3 The Hohmann Transfer Orbit
      4. 9.4 Delta v and All That
      5. 9.5 Getting Back
      6. 9.6 Gravitational Slingshots and Chaotic Orbits
      7. 9.7 Costs
    6. 10 Advanced Propulsion Systems
      1. 10.1 Getting There Quickly
      2. 10.2 Why Chemical Propulsion Won’t Work
      3. 10.3 The Most Famous Formula in Physics
      4. 10.4 Advanced Propulsion Ideas
      5. 10.5 Old “Bang-Bang”: The Orion Drive
      6. 10.6 Prospects for Interplanetary Travel
    7. 11 Speculative Propulsion Systems
      1. 11.1 More Speculative Propulsion Systems
      2. 11.2 Mass Ratios for Matter-Antimatter Propulsion Systems
      3. 11.3 Radiation Problems
    8. 12 Interstellar Travel and Relativity
      1. 12.1 Time Enough for Anything
      2. 12.2 Was Einstein Right?
      3. 12.3 Some Subtleties
      4. 12.4 Constant Acceleration in Relativity
    9. 13 Faster-Than-Light Travel and Time Travel
      1. 13.1 The Realistic Answer
      2. 13.2 The Unrealistic Answer
      3. 13.3 Why FTL Means Time Travel
      4. 13.4 The General Theory
      5. 13.5 Gravitational Time Dilation and Black Holes
      6. 13.6 Wormholes and Exotic Matter
      7. 13.7 The Grandfather Paradox and Other Oddities
  9. III: Worlds and Aliens
    1. 14 Designing A Habitable Planet
      1. 14.1 Adler’s Mantra
      2. 14.2 Type of Star
      3. 14.3 Planetary Distance from Its Star
      4. 14.4 The Greenhouse Effect
      5. 14.5 Orbital Eccentricity
      6. 14.6 Planetary Size and Atmospheric Retention
      7. 14.7 The Anna Karenina Principle and Habitable Planets
      8. 14.8 Imponderables
    2. 15 The Scientific Search for Spock
      1. 15.1 Exoplanets and Exoplants
      2. 15.2 Doppler Technique
      3. 15.3 Transits and the Kepler Mission
      4. 15.4 The Spectral Signatures of Life
      5. 15.5 Alien Photosynthesis
    3. 16 The Mathematics of Talking With Aliens
      1. 16.1 Three Views of Alien Intelligences
      2. 16.2 Motivation for Alien Contact
      3. 16.3 Drake-Equation Models and the Mathematics of Alien Contact
  10. IV: Year Googol
    1. 17 The Short-Term Survival of Humanity
      1. 17.1 This Is the Way the World Will End
      2. 17.2 The Short-Term: Man-Made Catastrophes
    2. 18 World-Building
      1. 18.1 Terraforming
      2. 18.2 Characteristics of Mars
      3. 18.3 Temperature and the Martian Atmosphere
      4. 18.4 Atmospheric Oxygen
      5. 18.5 Economics
    3. 19 Dyson Spheres and Ringworlds
      1. 19.1 Dyson’s Sphere
      2. 19.2 The Dyson Net
      3. 19.3 Niven’s Ringworld
      4. 19.4 The Ringworld, GPS, and Ehrenfest’s Paradox
      5. 19.5 The Ringworld Is Unstable!
      6. 19.6 Getting There from Here—and Do We Need To?
    4. 20 Advanced Civilizations and the Kardashev Scale
      1. 20.1 The Kardashev Scale
      2. 20.2 Our Type 0.7 Civilization
      3. 20.3 Type I Civilizations
      4. 20.4 Moving Upward
      5. 20.5 Type II Civilizations
      6. 20.6 Type III Civilizations
    5. 21 A Googol Years
      1. 21.1 The Future of the Future
      2. 21.2 The “Short Term”: Up to 500 Million Years or so
      3. 21.3 The “Medium Term”: Up to about 10^13 Years
      4. 21.4 The “Long Term”: Up to a Googol Years
      5. 21.5 Black Hole–Powered Civilizations
      6. 21.6 Protons Decay—or Do They?
      7. 21.7 A Googol Years—All the Black Holes Evaporate
      8. 21.8 Our Last Bow
  11. Acknowledgments
  12. Appendix: Newton’s Three Laws of Motion
  13. Bibliography
  14. Index