Sunday, November 12, 2017

Science in Fiction (#34): The Empress by S.J. Kincaid

Welcome to this month's Science in Fiction feature! Science in Fiction is a meme I created to showcase the wonderful aspects of science in Young Adult fiction novels. For more information and previous feature, check out the "Science in Fiction" tag!

This month, I'm featuring The Empress by S.J. Kincaid!

The Empress is the action-packed sequel to The Diabolic, one of my favorite books of 2016. There are so many science-y topics that I could pull from this book - from extraterrestrial non-human beings, to robots, to space travel and colonization, to galactic empires. But I'm going to do a tangential topic that I find fascinating. In this book, Nemesis and Tyrus travel across the galaxy to find an immortal being who is crucial to their success and acceptance as Emperor and Empress. There are many dangers in finding this being - including the black hole near the planet that the being resides on. 

Today, I'm going to talk about black holes!

I find black holes incredible. I can't even imagine something so powerful and intense existing, and yet, they do! I would love to travel in space if only to experience a black hole from afar off (because it can't be seen).

So, what is a black hole? NASA defines a black hole as:

"A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. This can happen when a star is dying." (NASA)

We can't see black holes, which is kind of sad! But we can detect them based on the behavior of stars around the black hole. Telescopes can see the light of black holes that humans cannot. 

There are a ton of theories surrounding black holes, since they are very difficult to study. One such theory that Kincaid uses in this book is that time slows down near black holes. This could be true! Albert Einstein came up with the theory of general relativity, which speaks to this phenomenon. Part of the theory of general relativity is the quantum field theory in curved spacetime; there is a lot of physics involved in all of these concepts, but basically, because of the curvature of spacetime around the black hole, light has to travel a greater distance near a black hole. But the speed of light is constant. So time must slow down to compensate for the great distance. 

Is that neat? I think it's neat. 

No need to worry about the Sun turning into a black hole, or Earth being swallowed by a black hole. If a black hole ever approached our Solar System, the planets would simply revolve around the black hole like they do the Sun. We're good!

Fun facts:

- The Milky Way galaxy contains a few hundred million stellar black holes! (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
- There is a black hole that weighs 17 billion suns! (NASA)
- Stephen Hawking doesn't believe black holes exist, because the idea of a "point of no return" (event horizon) doesn't line up with quantum theory. (Nature)
- There is a theory that information can escape black holes, due to traversable wormholes. I don't totally understand this theory but it is fascinating. And kind of wild? This article was published a few weeks ago. (Quanta Magazine)

And now, for some pictures!

Computer simulation of a supermassive black hole at the core of a galaxy
Computer-simulated image of a supermassive black hole. NASACredits: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe, J. Anderson, and R. van der Marel (STScI)

Artist's drawing of black hole Cygnus X-1. NASACredits: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Galaxy 1068
Image from the Hubble Space Telescope of Galaxy NGC 1068. The close-up shot shows the center of the galaxy, and you can kind of see the black hole! It's illustrated in the inset, but that's still pretty cool. NASA. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thoughts on black holes? What are some phenomena in space that you find interesting? If you could travel in space, what is one thing you'd want to see or experience or investigate?


  1. That first pic is amazing (and a little scary). I think they're fascinating, and would love to see one (from a safe distance). But the fact that they can't be seen... wow. Pretty wild.

    Interesting about Stephen Hawking. I didn't know that. If it turned out they DIDN"T exist, then it would be VERY interesting to see what it is that accounts for that behavior!

  2. I don't really know anything real about black holes, ack, only from books and movies :D But yesss, I too love watching and reading about them :D So awesome. And creepy. Such a lovely post Alyssa. <3 Thank you for sharing :)

  3. It's such a crazy thing and makes me feel so small in this world. It's incredible what NASA has been able to discover. And I really need to read The Diabolic. :)

  4. I have been interested in space for a long time and love watching those Discovery channel shows and conspiracy shows. That said, I would want to travel at the speed of light and visit other solar systems and other galaxies!

    Also, the multiverse. Ehemm.

  5. What a great topic! I know a little about black holes and they really do give you something to think about.


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