With earthquakes, warning time makes a difference

Wired magazine recently published an article entitled “A New Earthquake Early Warning System For Mexico City.”  In theory, residents could have up to 60 to 90 seconds of warning before a quake.  That’s enough time to leave a building or move to a safer place, potentially saving many lives.  But what happens when someone develops a system that might warn users of a quake hours or more before it happens?

It depends.  Would the system include the probability of the quake hitting within various ranges of time, such as what we find nowadays for hurricane predictions?  Would it present probabilities for cities that might be hit as well as the chance for various ranges of intensity?

This is not exactly the same as hurricane prediction data.  Hurricanes often come with predictions that are days ahead of making landfall.  There is usually time to evacuate, and often time to go far enough away to be out of the expected path.  But it’s hard to imagine a future where earthquakes can be predicted in that fashion, with notice days ahead and predictions good enough to give residents confidence.

My science fiction short story “Seismic Morality” examines a few of the issues with earthquake prediction in the future.  You can find it in my anthology “Science Fiction: Tragedies”.



Science is difficult

Recently, the famous little Philae comet lander re-made contact with satellite Rosetta.  After Philae landed and lost power, likely due to being in shade, it was hoped that Philae would regain power at some point.  So this is great news!

Unfortunately, Rosetta had to move further away from the comet due to interference from the comet’s increasing dust-particle trail.  So now it’s apparently more difficult for Philae to communicate its incredibly valuable scientific data to Rosetta — and then to Earth.

This is the kind of scientific tension and struggle of science fiction.  Whether on Earth or exploring the solar system, new technology sometimes achieves success for its inventors, but it is often accompanied by some kind of failure(s) along the way.   After a number of space launch successes, SpaceX recently lost a Dragon spacecraft in an explosion shortly after a launch for a space station resupply mission.

In my “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs” anthology, little robot Floccin has to deal with the inherent danger of new technology when he gets a software upgrade.

Comet In Space clip art