top of page
  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#194 - Mary Robinette Kowal

This week, we are joined by award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal, to chat about her latest sci-fi novel The Relentless Moon and more, But before we do that we go from the Primeval atom to a Primordial Black Hole via Quantum correlations and multiple silly accents.

We want a fireworks theory of evolution. The last two thousand million years are slow evolution: they are the smoke and ashes of bright but very rapid fireworks

Georges Lemaître

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of The Glamourist Histories series, Ghost Talkers, and the Lady Astronaut novels. She’s a member of the award-winning podcast Writing Excuses and has received the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, four Hugo awards, the Nebula and Locus awards. Her stories appear in Asimov’s, Uncanny, and several Year’s Best anthologies. Mary Robinette, a professional puppeteer, also performs as a voice actor (SAG/AFTRA), recording fiction for authors including Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow, and Neal Stephenson. She lives in Nashville with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters.

Visit her online at

Mary Robinette Kowal talks about the latest instalment in her Hugo and Nebula Award-winning series that began with The Calculating Stars continues this summer with The Relentless Moon (on-sale July 14, 2020)This alternate history of the Apollo-era Space Race imagines a world where the women of Hidden Figures became astronauts, using science fiction to examine privilege, equality, racism, sexism, mental health, and climate change.


Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître (17 July 1894 – 20 June 1966) The Belgian Catholic priest, mathematician, astronomer, and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain

Taught by Mr Prime Numbers Charles de la Vallée-Poussin, went on to hang out with the Great Arthur Eddington (Cambridge) and Harlow Shapley(MIT)

In 1927, in the Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles, he published one of the most influential papers of ALL time "Un Univers homogène de masse constante et de rayon croissant rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des nébuleuses extragalactiques" ("A homogeneous Universe of constant mass and growing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae").

The new idea that the universe is expanding derived from General Relativity; this later became known as Hubble's law, even though Lemaître was the first to provide an observational estimate of the Hubble constant., Hubble confirmed with observation and gave a better estimate only 2 years later, but still

Don’t worry, back in 1922 Alexander Friedmann proposed an expanding universe.

Lemaitre was the first to identify that the recession of nearby galaxies can be explained by a theory of an expanding universe

Einstein apparently was horrified at the time, "Your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious"

His old mentor Eddington decided to sing the praise of his old student and pushed his work in the english language, This led to an invite to London to share his latest thought., He published this thought of a Primeval Atom in Nature

In 1931 - The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory

“SIR ARTHUR EDDINGTON1 states that, philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to him. I would rather be inclined to think that the present state of quantum theory suggests a beginning of the world very different from the present order of Nature.

Thermodynamical principles from the point of view of quantum theory may be stated as follows : Energy of constant total amount is distributed in discrete quanta.

The number of distinct quanta is ever increasing.

If we go back in the course of time we must find fewer and fewer quanta, until we find all the energy of the universe packed in a few or even in a unique quantum.”

Einstein remained dubious, but was coming round to the idea and was actually encouraging.

By 1933 Georges Lemaître was one of the most famous scientists in the world, and Einstein had been won over too.

However Fred Hoyle would years later take the mickey out of the whole idea calling it the "Big Bang" on a BBC radio show, and that is what we now know the Primeval Atom as today.

Remember Alexander Friedmann, well in a sort of strange coincidence, check out who else was born today!!

Wendy Laurel Freedman (born July 17, 1957)

And guess what she is famous for? her measurement of the Hubble constant!!! A team of project's researchers, led by Freedman, using the Hubble telescope published their final result in 2001 a value of H0 = 72 +/- 8, a breakthrough at the time and a major goal of Hubble Telescope

Congratulations to

UK Based Teledyne e2v who have been selected by European Space Agency’s (ESA) for two missions, CHIME and CO2M, funded by ESA, incorporate image sensors at the heart of the instruments and will utilise Teledyne Imaging’s technology.

Robert Zubrin: Voyager Space Holdings announced July 13 it is acquiring Pioneer Astronautics, a company that develops technologies to make human life sustainable in outer space founded by Robert Zubrin.

Science Breakthrough of the Week


Yu, H., McCuller, L., Tse, M. et al.

The standard quantum limit: The measurement of minuscule forces and displacements with ever greater precision is inhibited by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which imposes a limit to the precision with which the position of an object can be measured

When light is used as the probe, the standard quantum limit arises from the balance between the uncertainties of the photon radiation pressure applied to the object and of the photon number in the photoelectric detection.

The only way to surpass the standard quantum limit is by introducing correlations between the position/momentum uncertainty of the object and the photon number/phase uncertainty of the light that it reflects.

They manage to confirm experimentally this theoretical prediction that this type of quantum correlation is naturally produced in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO).

Squeezed Vacuum Light is where the average amplitude is zero and can be used to reduce the uncertainty of one of the correlated parameters. They look at noise spectra taken without squeezing and with squeezed vacuum states injected at varying quadrature angles. After subtracting classical noise, they were able to show that the quantum mechanical uncertainties in the phases of the 200-kilowatt laser beams and in the positions of the 40-kilogram mirrors of the Advanced LIGO detectors yield a joint quantum uncertainty that is a factor of 3 decibels below the standard quantum limit.

The use of quantum correlations may improve the observation of gravitational waves,

“Just a few years ago, this type of quantum behaviour would have been too weak to be observed. But new measurement techniques are now enabling us to go beyond these limits. Not only that, but the approach taken by LIGO scientists in these experiments means that future improvements and upgrades to the instruments can be made with increased confidence that they will yield the improved sensitivity that we are looking for.”

Denis Martynov


Space Politics of the week

Russia have been dissing the Nasa Space Program this week,

Yuri Kotetchkov

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space organization, seemed to suggest in a Russian TV interview that Russia is not interested in participating in NASA’s return to the moon program.

“This is a big political project. our American partners are retreating from the principles of cooperation and mutual support,” and treating Artemis like a NATO project. While at the same time bragging about recent discussions with top Chinese officials, Russia and China intend to lead the development of a lunar scientific base.

He then went on to slag off SpaceX , after saying they were at the beginning of a very long journey to even compare with the Soyuz MS, "An old horse won’t spoil the furrows,", "In space, one must run not after beautiful goods with wonderful labels, under the music of Bowie, but one must lean, first and foremost, on well-functioning systems. Especially where it comes to people's lives,"

Jim Bridenstine went on to praise the Russians and talk about what solid partners they are, like a boss.

And SpaceX are releasing pictures of they satellite internet dishes also like a boss. An Elon has invited Andrei Korolyov grandson of the great designer, and his family to visit his SpaceX factory and observe a space launch once coronavirus travel restrictions have ended….like a boss. Starship SN5 set for a static fire followed shortly by a 150-meter hop attempt.


Artist's conception of accretion flares resulting from the encounter of an Oort-cloud comet and a hypothesized black hole in the outer solar system.. Credit: M. Weiss

Follow up to the grapefruit-sized backhole that may be in our solar system!!! Podcast 153. ...why … because I love that story!

Astronomers have been looking for Planet 9, which was theorised by the same astronomers who ironically had demoted Pluto the original planet 9 to a minor planet. Many objects called Trans Neptunian Objects in the Kieper Belt are being shepherded into odd orbits and a large planet orbiting much much further out than pluto might explain this. However other papers have demonstrated it could be swarms of objects and debris fields or just statistical confirmation bias.

So the original …Jakub Scholtz at Durham University in the UK and James Unwin at the University of Illinois at Chicago Blackholepublished argued it may be a primordial Black hole. Formed during the early rapid expansion phase of the Universe tiny black holes would have been created, called primordial black holes, made not from Stella collapse but from density fluctuations in spacetime, so are usually quite small. There should be vast quantities of these MACHO things. Many would have been small enough that they would have evaporated via Hawking radiation by now, but some would have made it to this epoch slowly leaking away. They have even been considered to be dark matter candidates, the causes of FRBs or the seeds of the supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies. But what if one is lurking at this edge of the solar system beyond the map.

Now Dr Avi Loeb, Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard, and Amir Siraj, a Harvard undergraduate student, have developed a method to search for black holes in the outer solar system,

The study suggests that the recently named mega large telescope the Vera C. Rubin Observatory (LSST:Legacy Survey of Space and Time) once built has the capability to find black holes or in fact actual Planet 9s, Mike Brown said he’d give up looking for Planet 9 if it didn’t

The basic reasoning is this, as a comet from the ort cloud gets to close to the completely dark object (the size of a grapefruit but as heavy as 7 Earths) will actually start to melt as there will be an accretion disc which is fairly nebulous but warm. The accretion disc is from gas from the interstellardisrupted medium. AS the comet melts it will become tidally disrtupted, a tiny black hole will have incredibly powerful tidal forces, this will cause the comet to accrete onto the black hole and this should hugely heat up the accreted comet so that it gove off enough radiation to be spotted by the Vera Rubin.

"This method can detect or rule out trapped planet-mass black holes out to the edge of the Oort cloud, or about a hundred thousand astronomical units," said Siraj. "It could be capable of placing new limits on the fraction of dark matter contained in primordial black holes”

Vera Rubin is ideal as it scans the entire sky twice a week, as long as it’s not full of starlinks, and we don’t know where Planet 9 is, but Rubin is also capable of scanning deeply enough for small comet impacts which should be reasonably common.

"The outskirts of the solar system is our backyard. Finding Planet Nine is like discovering a cousin living in the shed behind your home which you never knew about," said Loeb. "It immediately raises questions: why is it there? How did it obtain its properties? Did it shape the solar system history? Are there more like it?"

Avi Loeb

80 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page