Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Counting Stars

Every once in awhile during a story, my characters stop and count the stars. It's a way to keep from taking the backdrop of space for granted. Think of your last road trip. Did it really pass in a blur? Or was there something, no matter how tiny, that made you catch in your breath for a second? When I need something for a space-faring hero to show a heroine or other way around, I go to Hubble Telescope site, and to the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day. The Astronomy Picture of the Day isn't strictly photos of celestial phenomena as evidenced by a spectacular shot of lightning generated from volcanic ash clouds. In that photo, you're seeing something that science cannot fully explain, yet. Theory has it that static builds up in the dust, gas and heat, thereby generating the lightning, but research to verify the hypothesis is ongoing. Where am I headed with this? What's out there between the stars? Dust and gas. Suppose your spaceship passes near a dense, dark nebula that's thick with dust. A nearby star has been exhibiting an upswing in radiation emissions, exciting that dust and gas. If lightning doesn't require oxygen in order to fire, a hero and/or heroine could catch a deep space lightning storm. Or perhaps a spaceship cuts through a patch of dust and the static generated by the dust passing over the hull leads to new adventure? Do they glow and give away their position? Does the static blow their electrical grid? Or short their onboard computers? How many ways do you want your characters to survive by the skin of their teeth just after they've paused to count the stars?

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