mathematicians,physicists, cosmologists, astronomists: help!

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agwhanooo
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24 Oct 2011, 6:58 pm

Right guys, please go gentle with me as I know diddly squat about math or physics. I hope to be working on a literary project which involves a substantial amount of complex technical stuff involving math, physics, cosmology, astronomy and earth sciences, but I don't even know where to begin as I'm a complete layperson. This is something I'm determined to do despite my layperson-ness, so I'd really appreciate it if some kind soul(s) would dedicate a bit of their time to helping me out. Obviously there is no money involved, however you will of course be credited if you wish.

I don't want to give anything away in public view; after all you can't patent plot and if some unscrupulous lurker decides to snatch mine then I'm pretty screwed. So, if you would be interested in helping out, PLEASE PM ME, and I trust that you will not share my ideas with anyone else.



ruveyn
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24 Oct 2011, 7:45 pm

agwhanooo wrote:
Right guys, please go gentle with me as I know diddly squat about math or physics. I hope to be working on a literary project which involves a substantial amount of complex technical stuff involving math, physics, cosmology, astronomy and earth sciences, but I don't even know where to begin as I'm a complete layperson. This is something I'm determined to do despite my layperson-ness, so I'd really appreciate it if some kind soul(s) would dedicate a bit of their time to helping me out. Obviously there is no money involved, however you will of course be credited if you wish.

I don't want to give anything away in public view; after all you can't patent plot and if some unscrupulous lurker decides to snatch mine then I'm pretty screwed. So, if you would be interested in helping out, PLEASE PM ME, and I trust that you will not share my ideas with anyone else.


Isn't it better to write about what you know?

ruveyn



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24 Oct 2011, 10:44 pm

Okay, this is going to be challenging for you. Especially if you need to understand some of the math. But here's some advice:
1) For all things qualitative about astronomy and planetary science, go to the podcast Astronomy Cast: . They have hundreds of shows in their archives covering all sorts of things (their more recent ones have tended to be biographies of famous astronomers, so they won't be as useful, but take a look through the backlog).
2) I don't know what level of math you'd need. Some stuff actually can be done with just high school algebra. For other stuff you need at least basic calculus to do it properly. I believe Khan Academy has some good video tutorials on these things. You could also consider buying a university textbook. Both of those pieces of advice go for physics as well.
3) Wikibooks--I haven't used it much (one of these days if I decide to start learning Swedish like I kind of want to maybe I'd start there) but it's worth taking a look. Basically it's the concept of Wikipedia applied to creating open-source textbooks. It's all free of course, but the coverage can be rather spotty.
4) Popular science books may be helpful depending on what you need to know. Michio Kaku has some good books on future technologies (Visions, Physics of the Impossible, and Physics of the Future). Also Ben Bova, an author known for his hard science fiction (and shortage of character development I might add) has published a few books (I think he co-authored them actually) talking about what sort of things science fiction writers should know about:
-Space travel : [a writer's guide to the science of interplanetary and interstellar travel]
-Time travel : [a writer's guide to the real science of plausible time travel]
-World-building : [a writer's guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets]
They're a bit old so probably kind of out of date, and they'd be hard to find. I know my province's library system has a some copy's kicking around, so maybe you can find them in a local library too. But be warned--anything about exoplanets will be hopelessly out of date because that field changes almost daily, so the world building one should be taken with a grain of salt. Or a bucket.
5) Keep up with the news. Read blogs and news sites like New Scientist, The Universe Today, Phil Plate's Bad Astronomy blog, (there'd be plenty of others out there too). There are constant discoveries being made. It might also give you some source of inspiration for your story.
6) Wikipedia is something to be careful of. On the one hand it is incredibly useful for giving quick bits of information about something. The problem is that the articles tend to be written at an academic level, making them very difficult for a lay-person to understand. This can sometimes cause misunderstandings which can be quite troublesome.

Hopefully that can provide some help. You do not have an easy task ahead of you--be warned.

PS: "Astronomists" is not a word--they're astronomers. Still, at least you didn't call them astrologers (be prepared to be punched if you make that mistake).



agwhanooo
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25 Oct 2011, 1:18 pm

AstroGeek, thanks for the correction and for your thoughtful advice.

Thing is, I've done quit a bit of research on my own and asked in other forums (including Bad Astronomy), but no-one's responding to me. Perhaps lay-people aren't very well liked in the scientific community, or I'm simply asking the wrong questions, I don't know.

Anyway, I have specific questions which I need help with, and no amount of research save having studied the aforementioned areas would suffice...



AstroGeek
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25 Oct 2011, 8:59 pm

agwhanooo wrote:
AstroGeek, thanks for the correction and for your thoughtful advice.

Thing is, I've done quit a bit of research on my own and asked in other forums (including Bad Astronomy), but no-one's responding to me. Perhaps lay-people aren't very well liked in the scientific community, or I'm simply asking the wrong questions, I don't know.

Anyway, I have specific questions which I need help with, and no amount of research save having studied the aforementioned areas would suffice...

What sorts of questions do you have--I might be able to help with some of them. I'm only a first year physics student in university, but my knowledge is considerably greater than that. Still, if it come's to relativistic calculations or something like that then I'd be useless. Although it would be a good challenge I suppose.

Part of the problem here is that questions can have some very specific parameters that might not be obvious to you as a lay-person, or which you just might not think to mention. This can make answering them over the Internet difficult. You'd need to include lots of detail. You can't simply ask, for instance, about the energy required to traverse x km of vacuum in y hours, you'd need to explain the local gravitational fields, what sort of engine you'd be using to accelerate the ship up to speed, and possibly some other things that I can't think of at the moment--see what I mean about there being lots of tricky things that you wouldn't think to include in a question? If I was solving this for my own science fiction (which I occasionally try to write--unsuccessfully) then I could just make a decision on my own, but obviously I'd need to know details from you in this case.

For general astronomy info, you should look to see if there is a local astronomy club in your area. Many of the members would be lay-people, but some would probably have the knowledge you are looking for. Generally they will be very welcoming and eager to share their hobby. That way you (or they) can ask for clarification in real time.