Launch Pad: The Observable Universe and Beyond

Mike Brotherton, astronomer/educator/author, Timothy Slater, astronomer/educator, and Stephanie Slater, astronomer/cognitive scientist captivated an eager group of science fiction writers and enthusiasts drawn to all things lunar, solar, and stellar. The Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers made its Dragon*Con debut Saturday and crammed topics ranging from our solar system to the observable universe into a mere seven hours.

Brotherton, the founder of Launch Pad, began with an examination of the tremendous distances involved in considering travel to the Moon, to other planets within our solar system, and to the nearest stars.  He introduced basic concepts and formulae used by astronomers.  Brotherton pointed out common misconceptions writers can expect from their readers.  He advised the writers present to reach their readers by relating to everyday experience whenever possible, such as how long it would take to drive a car to the Moon.

Slater continued in the same vein, advising writers that they had an opportunity to expand common understanding of the universe.  He took the writers on a tour of what readers don’t know, concentrating on the big three: Earth’s seasons, Moon phases, and gravity. 

In the afternoon, Brotherton chatted about Kepler’s laws and Newton’s contributions.  He outlined orbital mechanics and addressed planet building in the context of good storytelling.  Branching out into the Milky Way and other galaxies, Brotherton then jetted through subjects such as binary stars, pulsars, and quasars.  A whirlwind of celestial mechanics followed, with a survey of light theory, supernovas, black holes, and dark matter as well as cosmology and star creation.

Slater brought the discussion down to Earth with questions about science fiction and its roles in social and behavioral change.  She addressed writing goals and aspirations, and then closed the workshop with a group discussion of books and stories that created positive social change as well as using character development as a subtle way to bring readers into alignment with authors’ social agendas, including The Hunger Games, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and Dune.

The Launch Pad crew hope to return to Dragon*Con in 2013.  Reservations for the 2012 workshop were made this year through the Dragon*Con office on a first-come, first-served basis.

To find out more, visit Brotherton’s website.

Author of the article

Amy L. Herring (Louise Herring-Jones) writes speculative fiction, with a preference for historical fantasy and alternate mystery. Her stories, appearing in fourteen anthologies, include “The Poulterer’s Tale” in God Bless Us, Every One—Christmas Carols beyond Dickens (Voodoo Rumors Media, 2019). Amy is a NaNoWriMo co-municipal liaison. She also coordinates the Huntsville (Alabama) Literary Association’s writers’ group. Visit her online at