Science Fiction in Professional Science Journals

January 3rd, 2013

There are a few journals out there that are a little bit not so serious in my opinion (e.g. Journal of Cosmology), but a few of the top-tier journals have published what I can only call science fiction.  Now, sometimes I joke and say that I write science fiction published in the Astrophysical Journal, as well as some novels and short stories…but a few can legitimately say that.

I know two really good examples and am hoping people will point me at some more:

One was an article by David Brin about the Fermi paradox.  This, as I recall, was in the Quarterly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society back in the 1980s, and I read it in our library at the University of Texas.   The link goes to a recent Brin post about the Fermi paradox more generally.  Hmm…maybe there’s more than I thought.  I found this webpage with a bunch of scholarly scientific papers about the Fermi paradox that overlaps science fiction in some serious ways.  Might be fun to read.  Anyway, here’s the Brin abstract and a link to the paper online.

The Great Silence – the Controversy Concerning Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life

Brin, G. D.
Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 24, NO.3, P.283-309, 1983

Recent discussions concerning the likelihood of encountering extraterrestrial technological civilizations have run into an apparent paradox. If, as many now contend, interstellar exploration and settlement is possible at non-relativistic speeds, then reasonable calculations suggest that space-faring species, or their machine surrogates, should pervade the Galaxy. The apparent absence of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations, herein called ‘the Great Silence’ places severe burdens on present models.

The other was from Carl Sagan and Ed Salpeter and published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement.  It was a lengthy riff on a possible ecosystem in the skies of Jupiter:

Particles, environments, and possible ecologies in the Jovian atmosphere

The possible existence of indigenous Jovian organisms is investigated by characterizing the relevant physical environment of Jupiter, discussing the chromophores responsible for the observed coloration of the planet, and analyzing some permissible ecological niches of hypothetical organisms. Values of the eddy diffusion coefficent are estimated separately for the convective troposphere and the more stable mesosphere, and equilibrium condensation is studied for compounds containing Na, Cl, or both. The photoproduction of chromophores and nonequilibrium organic molecules is analyzed, and the motion of hypothetical organisms is examined along with the diffusion of metabolites and the consequent growth of organisms. Four kinds of organisms are considered: primary photosynthetic autotrophs (‘sinkers’), larger autotrophs or heterotrophs that actively maintain their pressure level (‘floaters’), organisms that seek out others (‘hunters’), and organisms that live at almost pyrolytic depths (‘scavengers’). It is concluded that ecological niches for sinkers, floaters, and hunters appear to exist in the Jovian atmosphere.

Hmm, one other I thought of, since it sparked an idea for one of my own novels.  From David Eichler:

Stellar archaeology and black widow pulsars

The recent discovery of PSR1957+20 suggests the existence of ‘black widow’ neutron stars, which destroy their companion by ablation, and supports previous conjectures that isolated millisecond pulsars were spun up by companions that were later disposed of. Any exotic, nondegradable residuum would remain in orbit around the pulsar. It is noted here that a statistically viable sample of millisecond pulsars may present a means of looking for excavated exotic matter at the cores of previously existing stars. The mass threshold of detectability using pulsar timing, 3 x 10 to the -8th solar mass or less, would provide a much stronger constraint than previous considerations and is of astrophysical interest.

Anyone have any other examples? I know there must be a number of them, but these are the ones that come to mind. Theorists in particular have had some wacky, interesting ideas that never clearly worked out but might be ripe for science fiction.


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