The residents of our neighbouring galaxy are in trouble and only an Earthling named Piyush can save them
I stared at my prized possession. The engraved letters “Annual Water Balloon Champion 2015” gleamed off the trophy. I’d won it for the third year in a row.
I was lost in my own world when the lights in the living room started to flicker. As I was home alone, I was spooked at first. Gathering courage, I started looking around. A shadow in the backyard caught my eye. I tiptoed outside to check and went stone cold. Before me was a large saucer shaped object. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
My legs started moving on their own! Who was controlling them? My (were they still mine?) legs then took me to some strange-looking creatures.
“Help us. Robots have attacked us”, one of them spoke in a strange high-pitched voice.
“Me? I do not have any powers to help you!” I blurted out. “Your water balloons! They can dismantle the robot circuits,” the alien creature screeched.
The sirens in the U.F.O. started ringing. Behind it, a flying robot was nearing us. An army of robots followed.
“We’ve been attacked. Go. NOW!” the alien said, pushing me out of the U.F.O. I sprinted to my room and gathered all the water balloons I had. The aliens and I started a balloon war against the robots. After a while, it looked like we were about to lose. There were too many of them, and too few balloons left!
Suddenly, a glowing chip on a robot’s stomach caught my eye and an idea struck. I took out my slingshot and aimed it at a robot’s chip.
The robot lost control and fell into pieces. The slingshot did the trick for the rest of the robots, too. The aliens were ecstatic and thanked me immensely. When I returned to my living room, I noticed that there was a new trophy on the shelf with the words: “Warrior Prince 2015 AD”.
Ever find the real world just not exciting enough? Invent your own universe with time machines, clones, nuclear reactors, or whatever you want, and email your original sci-fi story in 200 words to email@example.com (with ‘Fan Fiction’ as the subject).
By Vasudevan Mukunth
You know Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on Earth. It’s 8.8 km tall. Every year, hundreds of mountaineers spend months preparing to climb the mountain, and many of them fail to reach the top. It’s a gruelling hike.
But did you know Mount Everest is less than half as tall as the Solar System’s tallest (known) volcanic mountain? Yup, meet the aptly named Olympus Mons on Mars, which stands a tremendous 26 km tall! It is a type of mountain called a shield volcano.
While a typical volcano spews lava that is thick and viscous – like shampoo – a shield volcano spews lava that is more runny – like warm ghee. Such lava flows in broad sheets over the volcano and solidifies over time. As a result, the height of the mountain increases. So Olympus Mons is actually thousands of sheets of lava stacked on top of each other.
The planet of Mars is an interesting place to study geology. Its surface is riddled with mountains (called mons), bowl-shaped depressions on those mountains (patera), small hills (tholus), large basins, long narrow depressions (fossa), and other features.
In fact, Olympus Mons, for all its size and significance, is young. Scientists have reason to believe it is at most 115 million years old and at least 2 million years old. Almost on the other side of the planet is one of the oldest volcanic mountains on Mars – Tyrrhenus Mons.
On May 22, the Indian Space Research Organization released a picture of Tyrrhenus Mons taken by the Mars Orbiter (‘Mangalyaan’).
The picture shows a top-view of the mountain, with little craters surrounding it. There are also pale streaks visible behind rocks – the streaks are a result of winds on Mars blowing dust around them except into their shadows.
Compared to Olympus Mons, Tyrrhenus Mons is tiny – only 1.8 km tall. However, it is between 3.7 billion and 3.9 billion years old. And unlike Olympus Mons, Tyrrhenus Mons was formed when streams of molten rock just under the ground run into clouds of gas or steam and exploded. As a result, clouds of ash were blown upwards and then settled on the ground to gradually build a mountain on the spot.
Another famous volcanic mountain like Tyrrhenus on Mars is Ausonia Montes. Similarly, famous shield volcanoes on Mars are the majestically named Ascraeus Mons (18.2 km), Arsia Mons (16 km), Pavonis Mons (14 km) and Elysium Mons (13.9 km).
By the time you read this sentence, an atomic clock has ticked more than 10 billion times!
By Vasudevan Mukunth
While a regular clock will slow down in about 20 years, atomic clocks will only lose one second in 30 million years!
This is because the tick tock of an atomic clock is not a swinging pendulum* but a vibrating electron.
Electrons are the negatively-charged particles in at atom. They circle in different orbits around a central nucleus.
The more energetic an electron is, the farther it will be from its nucleus.
In an atom of the element caesium, when an electron moves from a higher orbit (i.e. from farther away from the nucleus) to a lower one (i.e. a little closer), it releases a small amount of microwave* energy.
Like light, this microwave energy can travel through space as a wave.
When the electron in the caesium atom releases the microwave energy, the energy makes 9,192,631,770 full waves in one second. We know this for sure.
By recording how much energy a caesium atom loses as microwaves, we get a very accurate measure of time.
Atomic clocks’ ability to keep time for millions of years without slowing down makes them exceptional for experiments that require great accuracy. However, their most popular application is in the global positioning system (GPS)*, which lets you find out where you are on a map on your smartphone.
The blue dot on your map moves along with you only after the satellites have coordinated with an atomic clock on Earth. A tiny time difference can be enough for you miss that left turn!