Could we learn more about pulsar planets?

This is a question that has baffled me for some time. The first confirmed exoplanets were discovered around a pulsar, we know now of three – vastly different – pulsar planetary systems and some disks, there are several formation scenarios around, but isn’t it time we found out more about their possible composition to constrain the scenarios a bit and learn more about the range of exoplanetary conditions? Would it be too far-fetched even in the coming decades to e.g. try to see whether they have atmospheres, and if so, attempt to characterize them?

And since I couldn’t find any answer in scientific literature, I thought I’d try to calculate some basic estimates myself. After all, how hard can it be to come up with something beyond effective temperature – perhaps planet-star flux ratios to say whether future direct detections are possible and whether we might get some spectral lines, or to at least review the possibility of auroral observations? To give myself some motivation and deadline, I submitted an abstract to the EPSC this spring. Fast forward to now… and the poster was presented there, I got some feedback, and hopefully the first draft of the paper will become available on arxiv within weeks.


The next time I think “how hard can it be”, I’ll kick myself. It wasn’t easy, and I’m just hoping I didn’t make some blatant mistake a professional astronomer would never make. After all, I’m a biologist by study, though interested in planetary science for quite a time. By all means, I shouldn’t be trying to stick my nose into other fields, especially with questions that in the ideal case require someone who knows a bit about neutron stars and exoplanetary spectroscopy at least. Who could have known that neutron stars’ temperatures vary so vastly? Someone who knew more about them at the beginning. But the trouble is, no one like that actually produced any paper or conference presentation on the topic of pulsar planets’ direct characterization, as far as I know. After I delved into the search a bit, I resurfaced bearing great papers on formation scenarios – but the best way how to test these would be to know more about the planets than just their masses and orbits, and there was nothing about achieving that.

So I attempted to provide some very, very basic estimates as an amateur and I sincerely hope that someone more capable will be inspired and will produce a more rigorous work. The EPSC is a great means how to get the topic noticed and it’s frequented by professionals from a number of planetary science and astronomy-related fields, so there is a chance someone thought: “Wow, this is interesting – but it has to be done right!”

(And yes, I hope exactly that had happened.)

Not that this is wrong. I hope it isn’t! If it is, let me know ASAP as soon as the draft is out, and I’ll try to remedy it. But even if I avoided making a dumb-ass mistake, it’s still laden with assumptions that could be determined better, and it’s – I must repeat – very basic. No nice curves for the flux ratios, or simulated phase curves; just ugly tables with a few numbers. No more complex calculations that could be done. Let’s call the upcoming version a “green paper” for lack of better terms. I hope it won’t rest with that.

And why pulsar planets, you may ask? Am I not a biologist, who should be interested especially in planetary habitability? Though these planets certainly don’t seem like great targets for search for life, they are just extremely interesting. Theoretically, some planets could survive a supernova explosion, though none of the known ones seem to have come from this scenario based on their orbits and their host stars’ properties (millisecond pulsars were spun-up afterwards by accreting material from another star or a stellar merger – though some papers suggest it may be more complicated than that). Some might come from the supernova fallback, creating a disk around the newly born neutron star. Some might form in accretion disks or leftover merger material. Some may be remnants of stars themselves – very strange planets indeed. Some may be gravitationally captured. And that’s just a short summary… While a lot can be derived from the planets’ masses and orbits, knowing their composition – or at least temperature, albedo, size – would be awesome. That would also tell us much more about planetary formation and evolution in general – which is in turn needed for any search for life beyond our solar system. (But I’m mostly in for the pure awesomeness of pulsar planets. They are just so intriguing!)

Fun fact: It seems like pulsar planets are riding on the zeitgeist, since there was an interesting paper on pulsar planets’ potential habitability and atmospheric retention (Patruno and Kama 2017) uploaded to arxiv just about a month after I submitted my EPSC abstract. It’s nice, since they perform much different calculations with different aims – and unlike me, they are professionals who went into the details. So if you’re interested in whether the relativistic pulsar wind would erode any atmospheres or not, check it out. I’ll add a link here as soon as it’s online. Or just write me an e-mail and I’ll send you what I’ve got.

In the meantime, I can report that the Philippines were amazing, Riga was very nice, and the Azores seem wonderful too. The EGU/Galileo conference “Geosciences for understanding planetary habitability” started today and so far it was very interesting.

#Worldcon75, Helsinki and everything

Life, universe… I mean Worldcon, Helsinki and everything is here! I’ll update this post regularly as the con continues, so watch out for more news and pictures!

Helsinki's City Hall is beautiful, and they held a very nice reception for us. Thank you!
Helsinki’s City Hall is beautiful, and they held a very nice reception for us. Thank you!

Day 0

We arrived to Helsinki and enjoyed the nice reception the city held for many of the program participants in the City Hall. We met a German author Claudia Rapp there, and since she recommended us a “prohibition bar” called Trillby & Chadwick, which was just around the corner, we all went there. I can recommend the place: very small and stylish, with a variety of interesting cocktails. I had the Flower of Mare (meaning sea, not horse…), which was full, slightly salty and in overall very good. I’d love to share some pictures, but I don’t have any – it’s forbidden to photograph in there. You’ll just have to go try it personally!

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My Worldcon program

The preliminary program for Worldcon 2017 is here! I’ll have a talk about exoplanets, five panels and a signing – not speaking of the myriad program items I want to attend as an audience member. This is where you’ll be able to meet me:

Thursday (Aug 10)

Signing (11:00-12:00, signing area)

What can you bring to get signed? You can get a copy of some of the anthologies where my fiction has appeared (Alien Artifacts, Futuristica Vol. II, The Mammoth Book of The Adventures of Moriarty, TFF-X: Ten Years of the Future Fire, Penny Dread Tales Volume 3: In Darkness Clockwork Shine), or issues of Asimov’s, Analog and Clarkesworld with my stories or nonfiction articles. Or, if you like to collect international SFF, you can of course bring some of the seven novels and many short stories I’ve published in Czech.

Friday (Aug 11)

Single fandom – two languages (11:00 – 12:00, room 205)

Some countries – Finland included – have more than one national language and naturally fandom also contains people with a different native language. Is this a problem or does it enrich fandom? – Ben Roimola (M), Frank Roger, Julie Novakova

Making a Better Human (13:00 – 14:00, room 101d)

Homo sapiens evolved to be well suited to small groups on the plains of Africa, not to be living in cities in a technological society. This can cause problems. What changes would you make to have humanity better suited to its current environment? How would you achieve this? And what unintended consequences might there be? – Shariann Lewitt, Sam Scheiner, Julie Novakova (M), Keffy R.M Kehrli

Proxima Centauri b (18:00 – 19:00, room 205)

Our new and closest extrasolar planetary neighbor is a mixture of paradigms old and new. It appears to be a “meridianal world” like Ellison et al.’s “Medea,” with a narrow habitable strip, but new atmospheric modeling has produced a much more complex picture. What is that? How big is Proxima b and what else is in the Proxima system? How soon will we find out more? What about getting there? – Michael Reid, G. David Nordley, Julie Novakova (M)

Saturday (Aug 12)

Beyond the Goldilocks Zone (10:00 – 11:00, room 103)

Astronomers are on the lookout for planets in the Goldilocks zone because they are supposed to contain just the right conditions for liquid water on the surface of the planet. But why stop there? Why not look for planets that are superior to Earth? Astronomers, biologists and others will talk location, location, location to determine the best place to live for humans. – Olli Wilkman, Janet Catherine Johnston, Julie Novakova, Michael Reid (M)

Exoplanetary Zoo and The Search for Earth 2.0 (14:00 – 15:00, room 203a)

In the last quarter of a century, we have discovered several thousands planets around other suns and the number keeps growing rapidly. Some of the worlds were big surprises initially: planets circling dead stars, worlds almost grazing their suns or on orbits more fitting a comet than a planet. What can this vastly diverse exoplanetary zoo tell us about the universe, the place of our own solar system in it, and chances of finding a “second Earth”? – Julie Novakova

Genre Fiction in Translation (17:00 – 18:00, 203a (Messukeskus)

Translated fiction has been the “Cinderella” of the Anglophone speculative fiction market for quite some time, but lately has been gaining more attention and support, winning major awards and kickstarting new venues. What are the perks of translating genre fiction and publishing translations? Can the authors themselves facilitate it? How can we make it easier for translations to be published? – Julie Novakova (M), Ann Vandermeer, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, Jan Vaněk jr.


In addition, you’ll probably find me at some of these items I’d like to see (sometimes even five at the same time…):

Wednesday (Aug 9): Live Tea and Jeopardy/Fashion in SF/Beyond The Big Bang (16:00-17:00), Economics in World Building (17:00-18:00), Creating Effective Dialogue/Hypnotism: Separating Fact from Fiction (18:00-19:00), Psychology, Personality and Politics: Where Are We Heading (19:00-20:30), Red Mars/Green Mars (21:00-22:00)

Thursday (Aug 10): In Defense of The Unlikeable Heroine (10:00-11:00), my signing (11:00-12:00), Editor’s Dream/Superintelligence/Literary Agents and Where to Find Them/Art Workshop: Sketching (12:00-13:00, resp. 14:00 for the workshop), Coode Street Live (13:00-14:00), Logic of Empire/Human reproduction in SF/Remember Who is Boss/Has “Hard SF” changed as a genre? (14:00-15:00), The Long Term Future of The Universe and How to Avoid It (15:00-16:00), Turning Up The Heat on Cli-Fi/Translations into English (16:00-17:00), Publishing Translation/Archeoastronomical View of the World/Tech Questions You Can’t Ask (17:00-18:00), European SFF (18:00-19:00), What Science Can Tell Us About Alien Minds (19:00-20:00), How To Write What You Don’t Know (19:30-21:00)

Friday (Aug 11): The Times That Shaped The Science (10:00-11:00), Single Fandom – Two Languages (11:00-12:00; but if I weren’t there, I’d really like to see Contemporary Chinese SF and Where to Find Them), Aim For The Stars/Under Pressure: Exploring Oceans Beyond Earth/Can Writers of SF Predict the Future/Are Utopias Worse than Dystopias?/Cyberpunk and Computing Advances in SF (12:00-13:00), Making a Better Human (13:00-14:00), Space Medicine (14:00-15:00), Fantastical Travel Guide/The War on Science (15:00-16:00), Proxima Centauri b (18:00-19:00), Hugo Awards Ceremonies (19:30-22:30)

Saturday (Aug 12): Beyond The Goldilocks Zone (10:00-11:00; if I weren’t there, I’d also like to see Mars Colonies/Loses Something in the Translation), Beyond The Dystopia/Gender and “Realistic History”/Up Shields! Dealing with Space Radiation (11:00-12:00), Making Life Interplanetary/Betrayal With Integrity: Conformance and Estrangement in Translating Chinese SF (12:00-13:00), Clouds on The Horizon/Colonialism and The Space Opera/Science Fiction Gone Wrong (13:00-14:00), Exoplanetary Zoo and The Search for Earth 2.0 (14:00-15:00; too bad my talk is against Live Short and Prosper: SF Writers in China, which I’d like to see), Portrayal of the Scientist and Science in SF/Getting Around Linguistic Problems in Translation/Future Shock, and Do YOU Suffer From It? (15:00-16:00), China & Italy: Far in the Past, Close in the Present (16:00-17:00), Genre Fiction in Translation (17:00-18:00), The Singularity (18:00-19:00), Tall Technical Tales (19:00-20:00)

Sunday (Aug 13): Moving Beyond Orientalism in SFF/Bullets in Space (11:00-12:00), The Right Stuff/Beyond Dependence: The Future Evolution of Space Settlements/Writing Fight Scenes That Work (12:00-13:00), Robot Morality/Designing Life/Strange Horizons+Samovar Tea Party (13:00-14:00), History as World-building (15:00-16:00), The Power of the Reviewer: Promoting and Hiding Diverse Voices (16:00-17:00), Closing Ceremony (17:00-18:00)

As you can see, there are some gaps (Friday 16:00-18:00; Saturday evening, unless I attend the Masquerade; Sunday morning, 14:00-15:00, evening), although it may be because I went through the program rather quickly and may have overlooked other interesting stuff. Judging by other conventions I’d attended, I’ll probably attend approximately half of the time outlined above, since I’ll want to meet people and talk. This time, unlike in London in 2014, I know plenty of other attendees – but I’ve never met most of them in person. Changing that will likely be a major part of the convention for me. I might also try the film festival. In summary, the program looks fantastic – can’t wait for the convention!

Joining Patreon! + Eurocon schedule

Without further ado: I have joined the ranks of creators on Patreon! You can support my writing and translations there and enjoy a peek inside the life of a writer(/translator/scientist), including exclusive excerpts and other rewards. Check it out here!


I’m also heading to the Eurocon in Dortmund tomorrow. I have one talk scheduled for Friday at 15:00:

Oceans under ice: Endless worlds most wonderful?
Jupiter’s moon Europa has attracted our attention and sparked our imagination for many decades. Ever since the discovery that it may have an internal ocean, which was later confirmed, one question loomed above all: Could it also support life? But only more recently, we’ve learned that many more places in our solar system and beyond could have liquid water under their thick icy crusts. Could subsurface oceans be the most abundant environments suitable for life in the universe? How can we go about discovering it? And how did science fiction authors take on this exciting topic? Let’s dive straight into the deep, dark and cold realm of oceans under ice.

I’ve also seen my preliminary program for the Worldcon in Helsinki this August, and it looks amazing! I can’t share it with you yet, but hopefully soon. Stay tuned!

2017: Swedish Odyssey AKA Astrobiology in Sweden

A yearly meeting of the Astrobiology Centre of the Stockholm University took place this month in Tällberg. Its sessions covered topics ranging from habitability of planets of red dwarfs, reactions of ions in planetary atmospheres, or resistance of organisms to radiation, to astrobiology outreach and education, isotopes as biosignatures, and impacts and their role in evolution. I had the opportunity to attend the meeting thanks to the Czech Centres and the FameLab contest (more on that here – in Czech).

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A week+ later

This is a time machine of sorts, since I wrote this blogpost more than a week ago, but couldn’t log in on my tablet. Enjoy the trip into the past!


What I planned to do…

…was to write a blogpost about Angelo Neumann, the amazing first director of the Neue deutsche Theater in Prague in late 19th century. His enthusiasm, innovative concept of the “theatre of special events” and a lot of hard work made the theatre truly exceptional. I fictionalized Neumann in “The Wagner Trouble”, but he would deserve a whole book to do him justice. (To Czech-speaking readers, I wholeheartedly recommend “Až k hořkému konci”, a nonfiction book about the Neue deutsche Theater by musicologist Jitka Ludvová). Hopefully there will be other occasions to write about him, since we have written two more stories set in the theatre together with Lucie Lukačovičová. One was just rejected after 296 days of consideration (which is an awful lot of consideration compared to the average 7 days for that market, so I guess that we should be pleased if we weren’t moderately pis… um, disappointed, I mean).

I also wanted to write a piece about the current status of bush elephant populations and the risks they face. Despite attempts to stop poaching, they still need a lot of help – and let’s hope they don’t end up like in “To See The Elephant”. These wonderful animals were a great inspiration to me and I owe them. Another inspiration (spoiler-laden; read the story first) was this paper, an occurrence which shows that attending evo-devo classes pays off in more than exciting scientific work.

Besides that, I wanted to finish an analysis for a commentary in progress, and revise a paper lacking some in the introduction and discussion. As it is, I didn’t manage any of them before my flight to Stockholm, where I’m writing this, so here’s what you can expect instead (and expect enthusiastically you should): Starting Monday, I’ll be at an astrobiology meeting in Tällberg. I’ll try to write some regular updates. On Wednesday, I’ll be presenting the state of astrobiology outreach and education in the Czech Republic. I hope to learn some insights on how to increase its reach and impact, what to do differently, what more to do… I’ll also looking forward especially to the sessions on habitability of M dwarfs’ planets, and limits of survival of Earth life in terms of radiation. Then, on Friday, I’m off to Göteborg for the Vetenskapfestivalen popular science festival. I’m doing a podcast Friday afternoon, and a talk Saturday morning. If you’re there by any chance, you’re welcome to attend! I thank the Czech Centres immensely for arranging the whole journey for me. So – expect a few new posts in the near future, and stay tuned!


End of journey back in time. Long story short: Sweden was perfect – seeing the country, attending the meeting and talking with the other attendees, speaking at the Vetenskapfestivalen… I didn’t have a chance to write regular updates due to the login problems, but expect one long blogpost most likely tomorrow. So – until then!

Czech science fiction in English

Hanuš Seiner is one of the best Czech short story authors in my opinion, and every one of his sparse publications is worth reading. When I read his story Hexagrammaton in 2013, it took my breath away. What a shame that readers abroad cannot read it, I thought. Someone should translate it.

Back then, I had no idea that I would translate it a few years later. Cut to 2017: The English translation is going to be published at on May 10.

Why stop at one translation? When I started working on my hard SF anthology, I asked Hanuš to write a story for it. His Terra Nullius became the anthology’s titular story, and not long after that, I asked him if I could translate it.

Since Monday, you can read it in Strange Horizons.


Illustrations by Jeffrey Alan Love (Hexagrammaton) and Sishir Bommakanti (Terra nullius).


Terra Nullius isn’t the first story from my anthology of the same title. My story “The Ship Whisperer” appeared in Asimov’s in English, and in ZUI Found in translation into Chinese by Geng Hui.

What else can we look forward to? I’m working on translating samples from several other stories by various Czech authors, and a couple of my own works are awaiting publication: The Wagner Trouble (in GigaNotoSaurus), To See The Elephant (in Analog), Étude for An Extraordinary Mind (in Futuristica II), Aeronauts of Aura (in Ares Magazine)… For non-English speakers, there are also a few promising projects to translate Czech SF into Portuguese and other languages (e.g. Azerbaijani or Filipino). Let’s see where it leads!


Cover and contents of Futuristica II (Metasagas Press; cover by Kanaxa Design).


Space is a good place for countries to work together

Few people have a career record as impressive as Leroy Chiao: He’s an astronaut who flew three Space Shuttle missions, was the commander of ISS’ Expedition 10, and conducted countless research projects in space as well as down on Earth. After working for NASA, he became an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and consultant, for which his astronaut’s practical experience and chemical engineering background present a unique combination of insights. Last autumn, he has visited the Czech Republic to launch his book “OneOrbit/Život jako výzva” (“Make The Most of Your OneOrbit”), which was published by the Zdeněk Sklenář Gallery and first introduced at the International Book Festival in Beijing. English and Chinese editions of the book were published shortly after. We’ve talked with Leroy Chiao about returning to the Moon, facing the health challenges of a flight to Mars, working in space internationally and more.

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Making ESA ready for the future

At the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, I had the honor of being among the students awarded with ESA’s Student Sponsorship to attend the conference and of meeting the agency’s Director General Jan Wörner. Read about his plans for ESA and beyond the agency, about what inspired him to pursue a career related to space and how can ESA inspire others.

The interview was conducted primarily for the magazine Přírodovědci, whose next issue will feature a Czech translation of the text below.

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