Category Archives: Gliese 581

Jumping Into Orbit with an Astronomer ROCK STAR

Jumping Into Orbit with an Astronomer ROCK STAR

I’m feeling like I have just attained super-geek status right now. Giggly, “Oh my God, he spoke to me” kind of feeling. Step into a room and find greatness, kind of thing.

So let me explain.

When the news that a possible earth-like planet in the Gliese system was announced back in 2010, I was instantly captivated. Dr. Steve Vogt was in the news as he described his team’s findings. Fascinated by the idea, and with a story of a trip to this unknown and distant planet bouncing about in my head, I emailed Dr. Vogt.

Despite his busy, busy life fielding press and probably other dreamy-eyed writers like me, he wrote me back, which was amazingly kind.

When news of a Swiss team disproving his findings broke, and the news pilloried Dr. Vogt, I’ll admit, my project came to a standstill. I know it sounds silly, considering I’m a fiction writer and  all, but I actually wondered how I could write a story about Gliese 581g if the planet itself did not exist!

There was also the pesky problem of not knowing what the conflict point would be in the book, either. I had thought of a saboteur, but I couldn’t figure out what his motivation was.

It would be a couple of years before I saw the news of the James Webb Space Telescope and its scheduled launch date of 2018. I latched onto it immediately, changing the date (due to the conflict of The Collapse and the Second American Civil War in my War’s End books) to 2030. At that time, the increased abilities of the new telescope would “re-discover” Gliese 581.

I combined that with another story that was languishing in my Snippets folder, the Plague Tales, and combined them. The result was Gliese 581: Departure.

On a lark, I sent a second email to Dr. Vogt a few days ago. I wrote:

Dear Dr. Vogt-

Years ago, I emailed you when news of Gliese first broke. You kindly responded to me. I appreciated that, considering how inundated you must have been at the time.
It took a while for my vision of the book to fully form. But I wanted to share the news with you that it finally did. Along the way I spoke with a virologist, two nurses, and researched Chinese burial customs and proper autopsy procedures. Fascinating stuff. Gliese 581: Departure is slowly accumulating reviews. I will admit, that the reports that your findings could not be repeated saddened me – and caused a full stop for a little while on my literary endeavors.
That said, I am pleased to inform you that eventually you will be vindicated. I have attached my book for your reading pleasure. I would be happy to send you a paperback if you would prefer.
This is my first foray into science fiction, but it won’t be my last. I write cross-genre, so I have a Twilight Zone ‘esque novella to finish, and then a [oh dear god] TWELVE book fantasy series after that. But then the way will be free and clear for a sequel to this book.
I wish you well. Please forgive any assumptions this poor author has taken when assigning you descendants. I assure you they are of the highest character.
Best Regards,
Christine Shuck
Author, Community Educator, Homeschool Mom and General Malcontent
And today I received a lengthy response back from Dr. Vogt! I’m so excited to see this, and to learn, to my delight, that the possibility of Gliese 581g is still there!
I will admit to not understanding most of what is surely a dumbed down explanation of astrophysics. I’m including the entire email for your reading pleasure…
Hi Christine,
Nice to hear from you again. Yes, those were some crazy days back in 2010 when we announced GJ581g. I’m glad you decided to go ahead with your Sci-Fi novel. Thanks very much for sending me an advance copy. I will peruse it as soon as I can get some free bandwidth.
You needn’t be saddened about reports that others could not confirm my findings. Let me give you a bit of history and an update that you won’t find in the public media.
We worked on this result for many, many months, playing Devil’s advocate with our data and errors, to convince ourselves that we were on solid ground for claiming the detection of GJ 581g. We then submitted it to the Astrophysical Journal, the world’s premier journal of record for work in my field. It passed two independent peer reviews, both with flying colors. Indeed, our editor was/is also one of the world’s pre-eminent experts in statistical analysis, and literally “wrote the book” on statistical techniques in science. Even he agreed that our detection was rigorously significant using all the usual metrics for false alarms, etc. He even advised us that we were under-selling the confidence level of the detection. It was only after passing this rigorous peer-review process, and the paper was accepted, that we then organized the NSF press release announcement.
Several weeks after our announcement, the Swiss team from Geneva (the only other group then, and now, capable of providing confirmation of such a difficult detection) gave a talk at a conference in Trieste, Italy. At that conference, they verbally stated that they had an additional bunch of 60 new points of data, data that was also superior in quality to ours, and that they saw no evidence of GJ581g in their expanded data set. They did not provide that data in their talk, nor make it available to the public.
We were a bit disappointed in this, but could not respond in any way as they did not divulge any of their data. But we were skeptical, and so we simulated up a data set (actually we simulated 1000 data sets) using Monte Carlo techniques, that had the exact same cadence characteristics (they Swiss HARPS team doesn’t get to observe every day of the month, only in lunar bright time, etc) and signal/noise characteristics as their typical HARPS data. In these mock data sets, we inserted real signals at the periods of all the 4 known planets (b,c,d, and e) plus the ones we had claimed (f, and g). In doing so, we quickly convinced ourselves that, even if the Swiss had 60 more high quality data points, they would not have been able to either refute or confirm GJ581g. So we knew that their claim (that they would have been able to see GJ581g with their expanded, superior data set) was untrue. But since we did not have access to their data, we did not feel we could write this up and get it published in the peer-reviewed literature.
So we sat back, and waited, while we were roundly pilloried in the media about our GJ 518g claim being a false alarm. It was rather frustrating, and we were accused of being scoundrels, of grand-standing in order to get grants renewed, etc. etc. I was accused of making a “mistake” by assuming circular rather than eccentric orbits. All of this was complete and utter nonsense, but that was how it played out. And we just could not join the public discussion to defend our conclusions and data.
So we kept acquiring further precision velocity data on this system, and waited for the Swiss to eventually publish their data set. It took about a year of waiting for the Swiss to submit a preprint to the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, their equivalent of our Astrophysical Journal. That preprint by Forveille et al 2011 is attached fyi. Once we had their actual data set, I set about combining it with our data to do an extremely careful analysis of the joint data set and see what was what.
In doing this detailed analysis, we learned several things. First, the Swiss’s 4-planet Keplerian model was dynamically unstable, and was therefore manifestly unphysical. Secondly, we could not reproduce their values of Chi-squared, and RMS from using their 4-planet Keplerian model as fit to their data set. Digging in further, we realized that this was because they had omitted 5 of their data points from their analysis. These were specifically the 5 data points which had the worst fit to their model. They did this omission without disclosure. Indeed, they even stated in their paper that they had omitted no data points in their analysis.
Once we realized this, we re-did their analysis, including all of their data points, and omitting none. We also included the effects of planet-planet gravitational interaction, something the Swiss had not done, but that is critical for properly modeling this system. That kind of fit is called a dynamically “self-consistent” fit, and is generally not done as it requires a much more sophisticated level of numerical modeling. Anyway, our self-consistent fit, using their expanded data set, combined with our full data set, revealed that, after accounting for the 4 “known” planets b,c,d, and e, a statistically significant signal for planet g still emerged from the data set, with a period of 32-days, and consistent with a planet of minimum mass 2.2 times the mass of the Earth, and smack dab in the liquid water habitable zone. Furthermore, our 5-planet model was statistically superior to that of the Swiss, and was completely dynamically stable.
I wrote this all up and submitted it to the Astrophysical Journal to finally join the debate. Again, it passed several peer-reviews at ApJ, and was soon accepted for publication. Unfortunately, the Swiss’s Forveille et al paper had yet to be accepted by A&A, and to appear in print. So the ApJ editor put our accepted paper on-hold until the Forveille paper appeared in print. So we waited another 6 months.
Eventually, we gave up waiting for the Forveille et al paper to be accepted and to appear in print. And the ApJ editors just would not relent and let us publish until that happened. So we pulled the paper from ApJ and submitted it to Astronomische Nachrichten, a European journal in Potsdam. It passed peer-review and was published in only a few weeks. I attach a copy of that also fyi.
The Forveille et all paper was never accepted nor published. No doubt the A&A editors rejected it and they never re-submitted. They know they were wrong, and we called them out on it publicly. There is little they can say to change that. At the same time, the Swiss have had a habit of making their mistakes just disappear conveniently from the web. So, just in case they did this, I included all of their actual data in our A.N. paper, for all to see, for all time. Anyone can repeat my analysis, with all of the available data, and will come to the same conclusions I did.
So, even though the press has long since moved on and forgotten about GJ581g, the scientific peer-reviewed record shows that our result still stands, our analysis is the last and best word on the reality of GJ581g, and the available data and most sophisticated analyses all indicate that planet g exists, albeit with a slightly smaller period (32d instead of 36d) and slightly smaller mass (2.2 Mearth). What will it take to firmly confirm this planet? That’s a tough one. We already have many hundreds of data points. We’d need more than twice that data set to even begin to make further improvements (as I discussed at the end of our rebuttal paper). Also, this is a particularly complex system in that the 67d orbit could be either circular or eccentric. Slight amounts of eccentricity in the 67d orbit could be used to mask the signal from the 32d. So the reality or not of planet g is coupled to whether or not the 67d planet’s orbit has a small amount of eccentricity. This is a very tough thing to assess, even though we now know from KEPLER results of thousands of exoplanet orbits, that it is most likely that all of these GJ581 orbits are very nearly, if not perfectly circular.
So GJ581g still lives, at least according to the present set of available data, and the best and most sophisticated analyses of those data. But we have moved on to many other systems that are much simpler and easier to confirm. These are systems such as Kapteyn b, GJ 667Cc, GJ667Ce, and GJ667Cf. FYI, a list of these nearest potentially habitable Earth-sized planets can be found here:
Sorry for the long-winded reply. It is not an easy story to tell, and the version that played out in the public media would have one believe that GJ581g was merely a flash in the pan, another debunked result for the dustbin of history. Quite the contrary, it is still alive and well according to the official record, the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
I will read through your novel as soon as I can get some time. In the meantime, I wish you much success with its release. And I’ll keep my eye on the NYT list for its imminent arrival.
With all best regards,
Steve Vogt
So, yeah…My inner fan girl is squealing with excitement.
Let’s be honest, my husband can attest to hearing several squeals of excitement from me. What an amazing guy. He wrote a fantastic, long response and I’m so damned excited – to hear from him, to know that the non-existence of Gliese 581g was erroneously reported, and so much more.
Dr. Vogt, you made my week. I swear I’d hug you if I could.

 

Get Your Free Kindle Copy! Two Days Only!

Get Your Free Kindle Copy! Two Days Only!

Gliese 581-Departure

It’s time for me to stand on the street corner with my sign that says, “Read my book!”

And better yet, download it for free on Friday and Saturday!

The reality of self-publishing is this little thing we call marketing. But let me tell you a story first, because that is what I do. I tell stories – and some of them are even true.

Years ago, about a year after I first returned to the city of my birth, I went to work for Children’s Mercy Hospital. I worked in the Nephrology department. Nephrology, by the way, is the study of kidneys. Some doctors specialized in bedwetting issues, others in odd kidney diseases, all the way to kidney transplants.

Of the pool of doctors I worked with, along with three other secretaries, was this one firecracker of a doc. He wasn’t taking the transfer over to computers well. He especially was not interested in ever reading email, dealing with the new computer programs the hospital was pushing him to use, and he frequently would holler, “I don’t work with computers, I am not a computer technician, I AM A DOCTOR!”

He said it as if that answered everything.

I wish that I could flail my arms about and say that same thing – “I am a WRITER!” and have it magically make marketing go away.

But it doesn’t, so here I am.

So…

Consider this a friendly, upbeat reminder that my most recent book, Gliese 581: Departure will be available for download on your favorite Kindle device all day Friday and Saturday, June 3rd through the 4th.

I do this out of the hope that you will read it, LOVE it, and tell the world – starting with Amazon and Goodreads. I have provided the links there to both for your convenience.

Your opinion matters. Your opinion will make the difference between someone clicking “Buy Now With 1-Click” or moving on to the next Indie book in the list.

Download it for free.

Read it.

Review it.

And remember…

beauty

4th Edit in Progress!

4th Edit in Progress!

I’ve got to write a quick note here and then jump back into edits.

Last Saturday, my editor-in-chief (my eldest daughter) got the manuscript back to me. As silly as it might sound, especially considering this is my 5th book, I’m still getting the hang of the editing process. More specifically, when I receive an edited document in Word, I have to “Accept/Reject Changes” -something I hadn’t done in the last round of edits.

Oops.

No wonder she looked frustrated and said, “You haven’t taken any of my suggestions from my last edit, and the words are all smooshed together and weird!”

Lesson learned. I spent over two hours the other day just going through the basic little wording changes and clicking “Accept Changes.”

So now I’m diving into the more difficult parts. My worst sins?

  • Telling instead of showing
  • Omnipotent/narrator voice
  • Flipping back and forth with points of view

So I’ll be tackling those, and then doing an “oral edit” – reading the manuscript out loud to my husband. This will be the first time he has heard the story. And due to his dyslexia, he prefers audio to text any day of the week.

So when will Book 5 be on the metaphorical shelf?

That’s a great question.

As we move out of winter, I’ve got my hands full of classes to teach and a half acre lot to plant and sculpt. It could be a week, or it could be a month. Believe me, I want it done. But books are finished when you can no longer point to huge sections and say, “Oh damn, that needs fixing.” Until then, it’s not leaving my side.

I will be looking for reviewers. If you have a Kindle, I will be saving this file in .mobi format and possibly other formats (just have to learn how). This will be available to you for free, with the understanding that after you read it, if you could please post a review (good or bad, but geez, I hope it’s good) on Amazon and Goodreads.

Sound fair?

Contact me for more details or to put your name on the list.

And now, back to editing!

Progress – Almost Book Like in Appearance

Progress – Almost Book Like in Appearance

Something odd is happening in the past three nights – I’ve actually had deep, refreshing sleep void of pain or restlessness. It’s been amazing! I guess you don’t know you are missing something until you get it again. I haven’t slept this well in months. And it is certainly helping with the writing, especially yesterday and hopefully again today.

I’m getting excited. I want to talk about the details, but more than that, I want it to be complete so I can start with the final edits and then get it out there so folks can read it. I really think a lot of people are going to like it.

Writing Those Science-y Details

My youngest nephew is brilliant, he’s 20 or so now, smarter than most, and certainly a far sight brighter than I am. I queried him the other day about light spectrums and such. As I explained to him, “Sure science fiction is fiction, but that doesn’t mean I can just make anything up. I figure there are a handful of jumps you can make, and then the rest has to be realistic. At some points you have to follow the rules of science, otherwise it’s fantasy, not science fiction.

Despite reading science fiction for years, I have found writing those science-y details a little intimidating. But I’m working on that, powering through, if you will.

Pushing That Word Count Up There

I believe I wrote in excess of 6,000 words yesterday. I may have miscounted, because the number (at least for me) seems overly large, but I did spend they entire day writing. This brought me up from the thin, anemic 74k it was before I began yesterday morning to over 80,000 by the end of the two chapters – Mr. President and Mars Needs Moms.

I typically shoot for a novel that has at least 80,000 words – in other words it isn’t a novella, but it also isn’t an epic tome.

And in case this brings visions of me typing a word and then checking the word count, let me put you at ease. It doesn’t work like that. I write until the story is done – having a goal for the word count is simply for my benefit.

Yesterday was lovely. I spent hours writing, crafting details and small glimpses into this world I am creating, adding richness to the universe of stories I will write in again, and it all flowed out of me peacefully and without difficulty. That’s the way I want the writing to come.

It always surprises me, too, where the story turns or banks. When I sat down to write the chapter Mars Needs Moms, it was titled Supply Shortage and was supposed to be about the colonists in the throes of the virus, desperate for more food. Instead it turned into a story about a young woman who was badly damaged by oxygen deprivation as a child, her younger half brother, and a stranger from one of the other Habs in the colony – the only three left after the rest of the colony succumbed to the virus.

Writing is fascinating to me – a sort of magic in how it springs forth from my mind, often far different from how I originally envisioned it.

The Tunes Help

What do you call a former stepson who you think of as the son you never had? I’m not sure, and I still hover between calling him “Bill, my son” to “Bill, my former stepson” – sometimes there are no good titles – especially for those keepers in your life.

I remember when Bill first picked up this guitar I had – and had never played – and began playing it obsessively. Pretty soon he was carrying it around, tied to his back with a cord. Fast forward fifteen years and I have this to listen to as I write. Pretty cool, and not distracting for me. I love listening to music, but the vocals distract me from my writing.

Writing, Marketing – Rinse and Repeat

I’ll keep reading the books on marketing and keep trying new ideas, but I’ve settled on this concept for now:

  • Every day I need to write
  • Every day I need to market my writing

How that marketing looks depends on my interest, willingness and knowledge, but I’ll never be the hard sell gal. I can’t stand it directed towards me, and I refuse to direct it towards others. I realize that there are more fish in the sea than ever, and that everyone is inundated with distractions, so my voice will often be lost in the din.

That’s fine, I’ll keep working at it.