Thursday, 7 May 2015

Seeing In Space

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

If you were spacesuited in free fall in interplanetary space watching an approaching spaceship, how clearly would you see it? With no surface underfoot, unlimited space and innumerable lights in every direction and no atmospheric diffusion of light, you would have to learn how to notice and identify nearby objects - at first by realizing that they were moving against the stellar background.

"The sun cast bleak light and knife-edged shadows across Envoy." (p. 104)

Would the shadows be dark enough to make a single object look like several oddly shaped smaller objects close to each other?

One section of an approaching spacecraft:

"...was bare ribs and stringers, open to space. It enclosed an intricate web, in which solid shapes bulked. No details came through the screening effect of the metal and the tricky light-and-shadow of vacuum." (p. 107)

If suddenly transported to such an environment, we would probably not recognize anything. Even those of Anderson's characters who are experienced astronauts continue to find the lights and shadows "tricky."

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