SGU-ugh and new ways of seeing exoplanets!

Greetings Earthlings!

I hope this post finds everyone well.  In this posting I'll talk about the degenerating state of the writing on Stargate SGU, and a new way astronomers have to detect exoplanets.


The last few episodes have been very disappointing.  First off, there was the Halloween week episode where we joined the world inside Scott's head and got to see his pointless toxin-induced hallucination while simultaneously watching the real-world effort to save his life from predatory plant-things.  

The episode was stupid, plain and simple.  The writers chose to skip any kind of an introduction to the situation, so we, the watchers, were thrust without any kind of guide into the panic-stricken effort to save Scott's life.  We had, and still have, no idea how the team got to the planet they were on, or why they were there in the first place, nor what kind of consequences they face from leaving the planet prematurely.

Second, the whole thing seemed like a five-year old's idea of how to make Chloe's alien infestation relevant to the rest of the SGU plot.  I won't get into this too much as it is a "spoiler" for the most rotten episode of SGU yet, but let's just say it will have you groaning with the pain of its idiocy.  Pointless, stupid drivel are good descriptive words for what this episode was.

Then came the episode where the ship started testing Col. Young's resolve with a series of Kobayashi-Maru style "you're screwed" test-dreams.  This episode both established that the ship is indeed sentient (okay, not such a bad idea) and that it can somehow interface with human minds (explain please, your half-assed explanation in the actual episode was kinda dumb).  After the Halloween episode this one really wasn't that bad, but it's relative.  The coolest part was that it developed the Rush character as a villain not often seen in sci-fi today: a man who is villainous not because he is inherently evil, but because he is driven to his goal at the cost of everything around him.  Not a unique idea, but still not so often seen.

Fast forward to the latest episode where the ship encounters yet another derelict vessel in space (apparently alien species are just as messy as we are).  We continue to see Rush's villainy in this episode, but there's a bit of a surprise twist in which it is finally discovered for what it is.  I am honestly surprised that certain people didn't die in this episode as a result.  I also find myself looking forward, with caution, to the next one so I guess that means it was better written than the last two.  The disappointing part is that there is still a lot of random what-the-heck crap thrown in that connects to nothing and it's never a good thing when I watch a show wondering if it is really gonna suck or not this week.

In closing, I think SGU is on life support.  Maybe I'm out of touch, but I can't see how it's going to continue as it is and survive.  Maybe killing SGU with bad writing is part of syfy's conversion from a quasi-intelligent station to one of mindless 14-year-old jack-offery, but if it's not then I hope some new blood gets injected into the scripting soon because I can't keep watching episodes that are just plain stupid.  There is something to be said for trying out new ideas, but a well written and acted story, even if it's been done a thousand times before, is still better than something that is new but doesn't make any sense.  I think the writers here have forgotten that, and perhaps that's why this show is so hit-and-miss.

Time will tell if it continues or gets the axe.  On a final note, I actually wouldn't mind seeing it canceled so much, which I think is telling about its quality.

Okay, on to the Real World!

The latest NASA news had an article about a new way to detect exoplanets- those terrestrial and gaseous bodies orbiting other stars that continue to support the arguments of Carl Segan and Frank Drake for life on other planets (among other things).

The new detection method is based on an observable phenomena right here in our own solar system.  Space, unlike what you may have heard, is not 100% hard-vacuum, but is actually filled with "stuff".  The space between stars, for example, is filled with all kinds of radiation and the occasional proton making it a kind of very-low-density gas through which something called the inter-stellar wind blows.  This "gas" is more intense around stars, and is part of the phenomena we call solar-wind.

In addition to solar wind, the space around our own sun is filled with "dust" particles through which the planets move like fish circling inside a classic fish-bowl.  If you've ever taken a glass or bowl of water, dropped some black pepper in it, and then swirled it around with a stick you are familiar with the phenomena now being considered as the next exoplanet detection method.

As the planets move through the dust disc -oh, and it is a disk due to the spinning motion of gravitational force generated by the rotating sun- they create trails of varying density in the dust around them.  Since many planets do not travel directly in the same plane as the stars they orbit, and since the planets' gravity pulls dust in along in their path, secondary discs are created by the presence of planetary bodies around distant suns.

It is these secondary disks that can be detected by our modern telescopes.  This method of detection is easier than a lot of other methods because the planetary dust-rings are a lot bigger than the planets themselves, and are therefore easier to "see" in the glare of the stars they orbit.

Above: the Hubble image of the star Beta Pictoris, and its dust disks.

The secondary disk in the image of Beta Pictoris is thought to be generated by the presence of a planet.

There are also secondary indicators.  As planets move through the dust they create variations in its density.  You can see this in your bowl and pepper model by what happens to the pepper around your finger as you swirl it around.  This observation can be used as further evidence of planetary bodies in a distant solar system.  Below is a density image of our own solar system with the sun in the center, and the density variation being caused by Earth's orbit.

The second dot below the first one is earth.  Purple indicates the lowest density, while red the highest.

I'm very excited about this new method, and fully expect even more planets to be discovered in the coming years!

All images above are courtesy NASA.  You can red the original article about this new method of planet detection here.

That's all for this posting!  Be well!


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