Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “astronomy”

Imagine the Universe (NASA)

Imagine the Universe – http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is an accretion disk?
  • What is Fermi acceleration?
  • When were the first X-Rays observation satellites?


This site is intended to provide astronomy and astrophysics information for people 14 years and older. It is provided by the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA and focuses on high energy physics. Think stars, galaxies, black holes, quasars and related objects rather than planets, moons and comets.
The main reason I put this resource into the book is for its excellent dictionary section. If you’re not already well versed in astronomy, put down your pen and look up this section before writing the words light year, parsec, astronomical unit (AU), or black hole.

The other sections of this site are Science, Special Exhibit, Satellites and Data, Teacher’s Corner, Ask an Astrophysicist, and Resources.

Science – Collection of topical articles organized into: The Basics, Cosmic Objects, Cosmic Questions, and the Search for Answers. The last group of articles focuses on the tools that high energy astronomers and astrophysicists use in their work.

Special Exhibit – An in-depth treatment of a scientist, satellite and/or other topic. This area is also home to the Imagine the Universe Theatre Archive and the Featured Scientists Archive.

Satellites and Data – This tells the story of satellites used to detect high energy radiation (X-Ray, Gamma and Cosmic) and has a section on how the data is processed into useful information and new discoveries. Information on particular satellites goes back to the 1960s.

Teacher’s Corner – Lesson plans, PowerPoints and other resources that would be useful to orienting yourself on particular topics. The PowerPoint “Life Cycles of the Stars” would be helpful to run through if your story involves Red Giants or Supernovae.

Ask an Astrophysicist – This section has two pieces – an archive of questions arranged by topic and a form to ask a question. The scientists behind this section are a small group of volunteers, so they really, really want you to browse or search the archive for an answer before submitting a question. Members of the general public can send one question per email and no more than one question per week. It usually takes a week or two to answer a question, so this isn’t instant gratification.

Topics in the archive include binary star systems, dark matter and dark energy, exoplanets, Milky Way and other galaxies, relativity and Supernovae and their remnants. One Q&A with implications for writers is “Is there a possibility that a nearby star could go supernova and destroy the earth? Or have other bad effects on us?”

Resources – Links to outside resources on most of the topics covered in Imagine the Universe.


Cosmicopia: An abundance of cosmic rays

Cosmicopia: An abundance of cosmic rays – http://helios.gsfc.nasa.gov

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is an isotope?
  • What are galactic cosmic rays?
  • What’s the effect of cosmic rays on eyesight?
  • What are the 10 most abundant elements in cosmic rays?


From the website:

“Cosmicopia contains an abundance (a cornucopia, if you will) of information about cosmic rays, the Earth’s magnetosphere, the Sun, space weather, and other exciting topics in space science. Brought to you by the ACE mission and the cosmic ray group at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, this site is aimed at the general public and intended to be accessible to interested readers without a background in this area of science.”

The site is part tutorial and part links to other resources. It is broken up into four sections: Basics, Cosmic Rays, Sun and Space Weather. The Cosmic Rays section includes a FAQ page.

Story and Scene Ideas

Writers need to know about cosmic rays, the magnetosphere and space weather if they send characters into space for any extended period of time using 21st Century technology. If your character is in an unshielded ship headed to Mars when a solar storm breaks, he will die. Add some shielding or explain how your character has been genetically altered to resist radiation. Same goes for when she and her companions are exploring Mars. One the first tasks should be to find or create shelter.

Knowing about space weather can help add spice to stories on earth too. A strong enough Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) could potentially bring down power grids and scramble satellite communications if the proper precautions are not taken.

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