Technology understanding and development continues to throw surprises. Some of them come from obscure effects. Others come from improvements in mechanisms once thought inferior to other technologies. It’s these kind of odd obscure things that can be the basis of a good science fiction story.
A couple of such interesting techie things have come to light.
The first concerns the aurora and the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), which includes GPS. Aurora is caused by charged particles in the solar wind from the Sun colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere. This results in reactions that form new gases and releases energy such as the light displays. It had long been thought the resulting plasma (charged particles) turbulence was the cause of interference in the GNSS.
The engineers and scientists at Bath University, England, have now shown this is not the case. The bottom line is they don’t know what in the aurora is causing the interference. It’s one big unknown. See here for details.
This is one of those opportunities for the science fiction writer to put together short stories to speculate what the cause is. And, if you come up with a good idea, you may be able to transfer the effect to other planets.
Given the emphasis these days on reducing pollution from fossil fuels, it is not surprising that engineers are revisiting a whole bunch of other propulsion forms for cargo ships. We’ve had designer kites placed on tankers to reduce the fuel usage. Now we are revisiting the rotor sails invented by a German engineer, Anton Flettner. In fact he went on to build a couple of ships in the 1920s with these rotor sails. However, the cost of using these sails was greater using the conventional screw propellors.
But now with the improvement in technology, these sails can reduce a ship’s fuel costs by 7% to 10%. See here for details.
You can see from the above 1920s image what a visual difference the rotor sails make to a ship. It seems so bizarre to what we’re used to, and it’s this strangeness that can be used in science fiction stories. This comes on top of the actual effects of rotor ships.
In fact, there was a proposal to build 1,500 robotic rotor ships to mitigate global warming. The ships would spray seawater into the air to enhance cloud reflectivity. A prototype ship has been built.
I’m sure there other such technology quirks that could be used as a basis for a science fiction story. It’s a case of finding and using them.