Occasionally current events will catch up to a screenplay I’ve written and require me to do a rewrite. Cultural developments, politics, or global catastrophes can sometimes require a line or two to be updated. But I find more often it is science and technology that move faster than the pen writes.
This week heralded the major announcement of the first ‘picture’ ever taken of a black hole.
To be accurate, it is an image constructed of the data collected from the pattern of radio waves emitted from around a black hole. Some folks likened it to the “Eye of Sauron” from Lord of the Rings. In truth, scientists could have assigned any optical value to the data – it was all invisible electromagnetic radiation by the time it reached earth. But painting it yellow – gave it the other worldly glow that we come to expect from glowing objects in the visible spectrum in space. It was an impressive image of a major scientific discovery.
Well done physics! But what did this mean to my writing?
A major plot point in my limited location thriller EPSILON ECHO – is the discovery of certain radio signals bouncing back – ‘echoing off’ – a deep space anomaly and returning to earth. These radio signals harbor old ‘deep state’ information. Information that the current surveillance state agencies aren’t too keen to have brought to light. “The past is never where we left it,” is one of the taglines I use.
Exactly HOW this happens in the script, is accomplished with a bit of SciFi ‘handwavium’. It’s tricky when your plot involves scientific theories. You have to at least root them in some plausible scientific concept or theory. Faster than light travel for instance – is impossible for all we know. But it’s necessary to travel the vast distances of interstellar space in the course of a human lifetime, much less a two hour movie. So even physicists who know better – will accept a bit of ‘handwavium’ for the sake of a good yarn. Sometimes SciFi even precedes, or stimulates real scientific research, raising such questions as ‘how COULD a ‘transporter’ work?”
In a brief scene in Epsilon Echo – the physicists discuss how such a signal might be ‘bounced’ or ‘slingshotted’ back to earth – Doppler shifted of course – but still intact. I toss around some info I researched on radio waves ‘bouncing’ off charged layers like the ionosphere – suggesting a type of anomaly like that in space, allude to ‘gravitional lensing’ and sprinkle in ‘faraday rotation’. All good theories that MIGHT go into such an anomaly. It worked – okay.
BUT I had one character – the ‘dumb one’ – suggest a Black Hole. The others laugh at this, and point out that radiation striking the black hole would pass through the event horizon and be lost forever.
Except – not – as it turns out.
While watching the press conference describing how the ‘image’ of the black hole was constructed – I learned a number of important scientific points and terms. Chief among them – the name of the Event Horizon Telescope – the concept of the Swarzchild Radius and a phenomena known as Relativistic Beaming.
I learned that light rays (electromagnetic radiation) that approaches the ‘edge’ of the event horizon at a distance of two point six Schwarzchild radii actually WOULD be warped around the black hole, and sent zooming off in the return direction at an accelerated rate.
Bingo! I had a plausible basis for my handwavium.
It didn’t NEED to be correct; it just needed to be one of the possible explanations – along with some sort of charged nebula or faraday rotation. Together I had grab bag of theories that would be a good enough point to start working the plausible explanation.
Hell, it was even better than dilithium crystals!
Putting this in only required tweaking a few lines. It even gave me a chance to make Stuart, the ‘dumb one’ – the hero of the moment. So, good character development.
So the story is ‘refreshed’ and made a bit more plausible.