The Once and Future Universe

Fans of the Cosmos

I just spent the weekend at a fan-based “con” called StarFest, held near Denver, Colorado. I go back each year to give science talks, which also allows me to indulge my inner fangeek for the various bits and piece of the science fiction/sci-fi universes that I follow. I know a lot of people scoff at these cons because all they see (or think they see) are people dressing up as storm troopers or Federation officers and so on.

That’s certainly one aspect, which is an enjoyable one because people are SO darned inventive with their costumes. And, in reality, they aren’t different from devotees of wargaming, Civil War re-enacting, SCA activities and Renaissance Festival activities. I heard from friends of mine a while back that there is a lot of interest in Germany, for example, in stories of the American Old West, with people dressing up as characters, etc.

Anyway, back to StarFest.  I gave two talks, one about the Sun and solar activity, and the other one about the search for exoplanets and extraterrestrial life. Had a great time doing them and people asked a LOT of really good questions!

Those questions are why I love to talk at Cons.  It seems like there is a higher number of people really motivated to love astronomy and space science who attend these events. It was evident from my conversations in the hallways, at the art show, in the coffee shop, etc. that they READ more about it. And, they want to know more. This Con had some well-known actors attending to talk about their roles in various shows. I happened to be taking a break in the con’s guest relaxation area and got to talking with one of the actors who turned out to have a HUGE interest in astronomy, to the point where he said that he reads whatever he can get his hands on about the subject. We had a pretty entertaining conversation until it was time for him to go do another appearance. He asked for my card so he could write with more questions.

A group of attendees joined me for coffee in the hotel Starbucks and they were peppering me with questions about Miguel Alcubierre’s research into warp drive. They’d read everything they could find (more than I had, I must admit), and were just so excited about the idea that warp drive isn’t so farfetched after all. It spurred me to read more about the work being done to achieve such a thing.

I came away from the con (as I do each year) impressed with the enthusiastic reception of science — astronomy, space science, planetary science, etc. — by many of the con attendees. It didn’t seem to matter if they were steampunk fans or science fiction readers or Star Wars devotees or Firefly fanatics or followers of Battle Star Galactic or any of the other media creations out there. Many attendees had a basic interest in new things happening in science. And, they bring their  kids, who are REALLY the wave of the future.  I talked to a few young’uns who didn’t have any idea who Shatner’s Captain Kirk was, but they were interested in finding out more about him and the Trekiverse because of what Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk did.  One little guy wearing a Superman cape told me with great confidence that he’d be one of the first engineers to live full time on the Moon. His mom (a real-life engineer) just beamed.

I’m a life-long science fiction reader and Trekkie. While the early NASA missions were what spurred my interest in the stars after my dad showed me the night time sky, I can honestly say that SF and Star Trek played a huge role, too. And, that’s a great thing. The both present stories about people (albeit in the future), living their lives with technologies that seem farfetched to us today, but are utterly normal to THEM. Perhaps that’s why I like the genres so much. They give us a glimpse of our future in the stars. It’s up to us to make wise decisions about what that future is going to look like!




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