Evaluating the Scientific Accuracy of an EMP in a Hard Sci-Fi Novel

In summary: I'm not sure. There are many stars that could potentially go nova and we would not be able to detect them until after the fact.There are many stars that could potentially go nova and we would not be able to detect them until after the fact.That's correct.
  • #1
Quotidian
98
14
I'm a sometime visitor here over the years, and have posted a few questions about philosophy of physics. But I'm now working on a sci-fi novel - actually the genre is 'hard sci-fi', that is, sci fi with a realist edge. Which is what leads me here. I have what I consider to be a good idea, but I want to present it in such a way that the modestly scientifically-educated reader would not harrumph and snort and think 'tosh! Obviously doesn't know a thing about physics.'

So, the question. I'm positing a supernovae event that occurs in an area of space that is 'behind' the Sun. In other words, there's a supernovae burst, not too far distant (I'm positing tens rather than hundreds or thousands of light years) - but at the time it happens, it's on the far side of the Sun, so none of the Earth-based telescopes see it at the exact moment the signal arrives. Of course, they all see it some time afterwards, as the Earth has obviously moved and the supernovae is still there. But at that exact moment when the first light reaches the Earth - the actual explosion event, as it were - the 'line of sight' more or less goes around the Sun, and as a consequence, could easily be confused with solar energy for a period of a few minutes.

Tosh or not? (It is fiction, but as I say, I don't want to founder on some fundamental point of astrophysics.)
 
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  • #2
There aren't any stars that close that would naturally go nova, @Quotidian, so if you're looking to write a hard sci-fi novel that's likely going to cause a 'tosh' moment :smile:

Also, the amount of energy given off in a supernova, even if occluded by the sun, is not going to be confused with 'solar energy'. You are talking about us confusing staggering amounts of radiation, orders of magnitude beyond normal, we'd see reflections from other planets levels of energy.
 
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  • #3
Thanks! So if a star within tens of light years went nova, that would be completely unexpected? Like, something that could never happen?
 
  • #5
hmmm27 said:
Have you considered the amount of time it takes for a photon to get from the core of the sun to the "outside" ? as a possible story element.

I hadn't, but - OK I'll let you in on a plot point - the story revolves around an electromagnetic pulse of mysterious origin. It manifests as a major 'space weather event' (btw there's a really nice little site about this here) but it turns out that it wasn't originated by the sun. So the bulk of the story revolves around what caused it. I don't want to give it away beyond that at this point. But one point I'm considering is that it seems to have originated from the Sun, because the point of origin seems to have been along that vector - although that is not essential to the story. So a lot of the plot is about what it could possibly be, if not a solar storm. (The first section of the first draft had been called WTF.)
 
  • #6
First, novae and supernovae are not the same thing. Additionally, they have different progenitors.

Having a nearb y star either nova or supernova would be like having a caterpillar mature into a blue whale.
 
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  • #7
Quotidian said:
Thanks! So if a star within tens of light years went nova, that would be completely unexpected? Like, something that could never happen?

It would be entirely unexpected and with our physics, impossible. Most stars near us, apart from the Sirius and Procyon binaries, are red and brown dwarfs. They just don't explode...by themselves, at least :wink:
 
  • #8
Vanadium 50 said:
novae and supernovae are not the same thing

Well, that's something I hadn't thought of. I'll look that up.
Tghu Verd said:
It would be entirely unexpected and with our physics, impossible. Most stars near us, apart from the Sirius and Procyon binaries, are red and brown dwarfs. They just don't explode...by themselves, at least :wink:

Yeah I understand that. The star has to be at the right stage in the lifecycle, after it's gone through all the earlier phases. I remember reading recently that there's one that's expected to happen soon. And also, as I understand it, they can appear completely unexpectedly; isn't there an amateur astronomer down here in Aus whose particularly adept at spotting them?

And on the other hand, the physical proximity might not be that important to the plotline. The way the story unfolds, the appearance of this might or might not be connected with the 'event'.
 
  • #9
Quotidian said:
I remember reading recently that there's one that's expected to happen soon.

Possibly you are referring to Betelgeuse, but 'soon' is likely 100,000 years or so and it's 700 light years away, so probably does not help with your story.

Quotidian said:
I remember reading recently that there's one that's expected to happen soon. And also, as I understand it, they can appear completely unexpectedly; isn't there an amateur astronomer down here in Aus whose particularly adept at spotting them?

Not sure about the astronomer, but they are mostly unexpected to us because we've only recently had instruments with sufficient sensitivity and which look at high volumes of stars to start identifying candidates, and also catch them in the act.
 
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  • #10
Just to close out, @Quotidian, my next novel involves local stars - within 20 LY or so - and this is the list I put together for my research. Perhaps your EMP can be cause by a HUGE flare from Proxima or Barnard, giving you a few years prelude as the energy races toward Earth, if you wanted to establish that prior knowledge for the reader.

Happy Easter :cool:

Name of StarLocal NameLight YearsStellar class
Sun
0​
Proxima CentauriProxima
4.2441​
Brown Dwarf Flare
Alpha Centauri AAlpha
4.365​
Sun like
Alpha Centauri BBetaSun like
Barnard's StarBarnard
5.9577​
Red Dwarf Flare
Luhman 16A
6.5029​
Brown Dwarf
Luhman 16BBrown Dwarf
WISE 0855−0714Ghandi
7.26​
Subbrown Dwarf
Wolf 359
7.856​
Red Dwarf Flare
Lalande 21185
8.307​
Red Dwarf
Sirius ASirius
8.659​
A type (hotter than Sun)
Sirius BBashfulWhite Dwarf
Luyten 726-8 A
8.791​
Red Dwarf Flare
Luyten 726-8 BRed Dwarf Flare
Ross 154
9.7035​
Red Dwarf Flare
Ross 248
10.2903​
Red Dwarf Flare
Epsilon Eridani
10.446​
Bright Dwarf
Lacaille 9352
10.7211​
Red Dwarf
Ross 128
11.0074​
Red Dwarf Flare
EZ Aquarii A
11.109​
Red Dwarf Flare
EZ Aquarii BRed Dwarf Flare
EZ Aquarii CRed Dwarf
61 Cygni A
11.4008​
Red Dwarf
61 Cygni BRed Dwarf Flare
Procyon A
11.402​
White like Sun
Procyon BWhite Dwarf
Struve 2398 A
11.488​
Red Dwarf Flare
Struve 2398 BRed Dwarf Flare
Groombridge 34 A
11.6182​
Red Dwarf Flare
Groombridge 34 BRed Dwarf Flare
DX Cancri
11.678​
Red Dwarf Flare
Tau Ceti
11.753​
Sun like
Epsilon Indi A
11.869​
Orange-red Dwarf
Epsilon Indi BaMethane Brown Dwarf
Epsilon Indi BbMethane Brown Dwarf
Gilese 1061
11.9803​
Red Dwarf
YZ Ceti
12.1084​
Red Dwarf Flare
Luyten's Star
12.199​
Red Dwarf
Teegarden's Star
12.496​
Red Dwarf
SCR 1845-6357 A
12.571​
Red Dwarf
SCR 1845-6357 BBrown Dwarf
Kapteyn's Star
12.8294​
Red Subdwarf
Lacaille 8760
12.9515​
Red Dwarf Flare
Kruger 60 A
13.0724​
Red Dwarf
Kruger 60 BRed Dwarf Flare
DEN 1048-3956
13.1932​
M8.5V[5]
Ross 614A
13.424​
Red Dwarf Flare
Ross 614BRed Dwarf
UGPS J0722-0540
13.43​
Brown Dwarf
Wolf 1061
14.0458​
Red Dwarf
Wolf 424 A
14.05​
Red Dwarf Flare
Wolf 424 BRed Dwarf Flare
Van Maanen's star
14.0744​
White Dwarf
Gliese 1
14.1725​
Red Dwarf
WISE 1639-6847
14.3​
Brown Dwarf
L 1159-16
14.5843​
Red Dwarf Flare
Gliese 674
14.8387​
Red Dwarf
Gliese 687
14.8401​
Red Dwarf Flare
LHS 292
14.885​
Red Dwarf Flare
WISE J0521+1025
16.3​
Brown Dwarf
LP 145-141
15.1182​
White Dwarf
Gliese 208-44 A
15.209​
Red Dwarf Flare
Gliese 208-45Red Dwarf Flare
Gliese 208-44 BRed Dwarf Flare
Gliese 876
15.2504​
Red Dwarf
LHS 288
15.7703​
Red Dwarf
Gliese 1002
15.8164​
Red Dwarf
Groombridge 1618 (Gliese 380)
15.8797​
Red Dwarf Flare
DEN 0255-4700
15.885​
Brown Dwarf
Gliese 412 A
15.983​
Red Dwarf
Gliese 412 BRed Dwarf Flare
Gliese 832
16.1939​
Red Dwarf Flare
AD Leonis
16.197​
Red Dwarf Flare
GJ 1005 A
 
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  • #11
thanks, that's fantastic.🙌

Happy Easter to you also.
 
  • #12
There is an international project to map and research the Earths magnetic field, which at this ditance from the Sun is much stronger than the strongest solar flares. The biggest impact of the Sun is high energy proton emission which is routed to the poles by Earth's magnetic field. An ElectroMagnetic Pulse weapon like "Golden Eye" is a nuclear explosion in low Earth orbit which injects electrons into E, D layers (moving electrons creating a magnetic field) inducing high voltage in conducting object below. (Sodium atoms in the D layer are ionized by sunlight and faint yellow glow.)
Three-D force declines at 1/r so the (super)nova not to solid. Perhaps you don't know, however a pulsar or neutron star which rotates/wobbles but emits an extremely strong beams of gamma rays from the poles. It can be light years away and still cause an extinction event if one of the beams pounts at us.
Second nugget is the Earth's magnetic field reverses every 100,000 yrs but its late. Areas in South Atlantic and Africa have reversed (magnetic compass inverted) already. When the magnetic field is neutralized everything from the Sun and elsewhere comes straight thru. But we'll get the magnetic field back eventually.https://www.astrobio.net/news-exclusive/deadly-nearby-gamma-ray-burst/
 
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  • #13
Thanks, that's interesting. I'm working on the premise that the radiation burst in the story I'm writing is of an unknown type and from an unknown source - after all it is science fiction. But I want it not to be something that seems obviously implausible - well, except to the highly educated! But as it is, just doing the research has been very interesting!
 
  • #14
Quotidian said:
I'm working on the premise that the radiation burst in the story I'm writing is of an unknown type and from an unknown source

How about a collision of a black hole with an unknown brown dwarf (at least as something the scientists in your story are speculating about)?
 
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  • #15
There are various possibilities. To be honest, the nature of the event is not the difficult part of the story. The difficulties are all in the more day-to-day stuff of story-telling. To be honest, since COVID-19 hit, it’s kind of put my efforts on the back burner, as the story is set in the present day and I don’t know whether to include it. But I intend to pick it up later in the year.
 
  • #16
You could consider a Type 1a supernova. The progenitor is normally a white dwarf that has accreted matter above the Chandrasekhar limit from a nearby companion star. Usually the companion star is a giant, but it could conceivably be a main-sequence star. Something like that could potentially go unnoticed even if the progenitor were relatively near to us.
 
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  • #17
That’s great! This thread has been a treasure trove of ideas, thank you.
 
  • #18
Quotidian said:
There are various possibilities. To be honest, the nature of the event is not the difficult part of the story. The difficulties are all in the more day-to-day stuff of story-telling. To be honest, since COVID-19 hit, it’s kind of put my efforts on the back burner, as the story is set in the present day and I don’t know whether to include it. But I intend to pick it up later in the year.

An extinction event cause by a distant supernova would certainly be a good way to progress the twised plot that 2020 has been thus far.

You could open with someone saying "well, at least it can't get any worse..."
 
  • #19
Actually one of the papers I've read - not all of it - is about panspermia, the idea that proto-organic material, including viruses, originate from interstellar space (Hoyle and Wickramasingha). THis paper was a recent one, last couple of years, re-assessing the theory. I must say that it strikes me as intuitively plausible. But it's too much of a digression from my story idea, although it is discussed somewhere in the plot.
 

Related to Evaluating the Scientific Accuracy of an EMP in a Hard Sci-Fi Novel

1. What is an EMP and how does it work in a hard sci-fi novel?

An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, is a sudden burst of electromagnetic energy that can disrupt electronic devices and systems. In a hard sci-fi novel, an EMP is often portrayed as a weapon or event that can disable advanced technology and cause chaos.

2. How can I determine if the depiction of an EMP in a hard sci-fi novel is scientifically accurate?

To evaluate the scientific accuracy of an EMP in a hard sci-fi novel, you can research the current understanding and capabilities of EMPs in real life. This may involve studying physics, engineering, and military technology. You can also consult with experts in the field or read articles and studies on EMPs.

3. Are there any common misconceptions about EMPs in hard sci-fi novels?

Yes, there are often misconceptions about EMPs in hard sci-fi novels, such as the belief that they can affect living organisms or that they can be targeted to specific locations. In reality, EMPs primarily affect electronic devices and their range is difficult to control.

4. Can an EMP be used as a plot device in a hard sci-fi novel?

Yes, an EMP can be used as a plot device in a hard sci-fi novel, but it is important to ensure that its use is scientifically plausible. This may involve incorporating realistic limitations and consequences, as well as accurately portraying the effects of an EMP on technology and society.

5. How can incorporating an EMP in a hard sci-fi novel enhance the story?

An EMP can add an element of danger and unpredictability to a hard sci-fi novel, as well as create opportunities for characters to adapt and problem-solve. It can also serve as a commentary on the potential consequences of advanced technology and the importance of being prepared for unexpected events.

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