Teen Librarian Monthly January 2010

The January edition of Teen Librarian Monthly is available to download here

Meteorite Strike by A.G. Taylor

A meteorite has struck earth without warning, unleashing a deadly alien virus. Thousands fall victim… but not Sarah and Robert.

Instead they develop strange side-effects – psychic abilities. And that makes them targets for the the Hyper-Infectious Disease Response Agency (HIDRA), a rogue international agency determined to turn them into lab rats, just like the other kids they’ve already captured – kids who can control fire, create storms and tear steel with their minds.

If they can work together, these kids might stand a chance against HIDRA…

This is the debut novel for A.G. Taylor and has made the shortlist for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize for 2010. Meteorite Strike is the first book in the Superhumans series, with a second book Alien Storm due out later this year.

On their way to Australia to live with a father they have not seen in years, Sarah and Robert are typical siblings that bicker and argue. When their aeroplane is brought down in the aftermath of a meteorite strike they have to depend on each other and a parent they have no reason to trust to stay alive. Pursued and captured by HIDRA they are soon caught in the middle of a power struggle between the senior echelons of the agency to determine the core functions of HIDRA – saving lives or creating human weapons of destruction.

It is easy to see why Meteorite Strike has made the Waterstones’ short list as it is a gripping, well told story that takes the time-honoured staple of children gaining superpowers and polishes it up for a new century. Throw in a corrupt multinational agency an unknown disease and you have the makings of world class sci-fi! It is not all science fiction though – space-borne plagues are a possibility, and there are some theories that alien diseases have already reached the Earth.

On a personal level I found Meteorite Strike to be an extremely enjoyable read, the characters were well-written and believable and overall it set the pace for what I think is going to be a fantastic series, the strands that were left dangling at the conclusion make me want to get my hands on Alien Storm as soon as possible.

Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide by William Hussey

Posting a review of a horror book on Christmas eve may be a bit odd but seeing as it is the season to be jolly, I have entered into the spirit of things in the writing of this review…

Jake Harker is an outsider, a loser whose nose is always in a horror comic. That is until horror stops being fiction and the Pale Man and his demon Mr Pinch stop Jake on a dark, deserted road. That night, under a tree called the demon’s dance, Jake will learn the true meaning of terror . . .

‘Twas the day before Christmas
and as I lay on the beach
Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide
Lay within reach.

I picked it up
to read a few pages.
Next thing I knew
I had been reading for ages!

In each generation
blood must be shed.
All this and more
I learned as I read.

Demons lie trapped,
they wait to be freed
by a coven of witches
a dangerous breed!

The Elders oppose them
the Demontide to deny.
To halt the invasion
an innocent must die!

Jake Harker (aka Horror Boy Harker) is a 15 year old loner and horror fan and makes a credible hero of this new series that combines magic, demonology, horror and cutting edge science. Jake will appeal to readers of all ages and genders but will grab the attention any readers who feel like outsiders (and seeing as this is written for teens there will be many).

No punches are pulled in the telling of this tale, the horror is visceral but never feels forced and none of the characters are two-dimensional caricatures. The lack of black and white morality makes the story far more interesting as shades of grey always have more depth. The story twists and turns like a spider on a pin and I was never sure of the motivations of all the players until the closing chapters. Dawn of the Demontide is a chilling read on a hot summers day, it will be even better late at night with a winter storm howling outside the window.

William Hussey is being heralded as one of the new masters of dark fiction, and with this book his ascent begins.

Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide
by William Hussey will be published in March 2010 by Oxford University Press

Be Beautiful with Walker Books and Baylis & Harding

At some point, every girl is going to come up with a whole bunch of questions about her skin, her hair, her looks … and when Alice’s daughter, Molly, started asking, there seemed to be so many, you could write a book. With chapters about hair, make-up, spots, skincare, hair removal, manicures, pedicures and how to look good in pictures, this fabulous beauty bible extends a sympathetic helping hand as it guides teenagers through the minefield of often inappropriate beauty advice in a friendly and informative way.

To celebrate the launch of Be Beautiful by Alice Hart-Davis & Molly Hindhaugh, Walker Books in association with Baylis & Harding is giving away a Beautilicious beauty pack to one lucky visitor to Teen Librarian.

To win this stunning prize, simply submit your favourite beauty tip in the comments field. A winner will be chosen at random on the 15th January!

Where in the world is Marcus?

There seems to be no rest for globe-trotting scientist extraordinaire Marcus Chown.He will take a short breather after hanging around the Teen Library all day yesterday but will pop up again at Super Collider Weekly on the 15th January.

If you are interested in finding out where he is going (and where he has been), you can find his blog tour schedule here.

Be sure to visit his website at www.marcuschown.com

Science Test

I have a spare copy of the excellent We Need to talk about Kelvin that I am offering as a prize. To be entered into the draw for this amazing book you will have to answer these fabulously simple questions set by Marcus himself.

1.
If all the empty space were squeezed out of matter, the human race could fit in:
a) Wembley Stadium?
b) The area of the Isle of Wight?
c) The volume of a sugar cube?

2.
Einstein famously said:
a) God does not play roulette with the Universe
b) God does not play dice with the Universe
c) God does not play poker with the Universe

3.
The faster you travel:
a) The taller you get
b) The slimmer you get
c) The lighter you get

4.
The best place to look for evidence of the big bang in which the Universe was born is:
a) On your TV
b) In your washing machine
c) At the Greenwich Meridian

5.
Most of the Universe gives is currently invisible to our telescopes – but how much?
a) 1%
b) 50%
c) 98%

6.
The scientists who won the Nobel prize for detecting the faint “afterglow” of the big bang thought they had found:
a) the glow of pigeon droppings
b) the glow of street lights
c) the glow of glow worms

7.
Einstein’s mathematics professor called him a:
a) lazy possum
b) lazy dingo
c) lazy dog

8.
Today’s sunlight was made:
a) 30,000 years ago
b) 300 minutes ago
c) 3 seconds ago

9.
Aged 16, Einstein came up with the idea of relativity after wondering what it might be like to travel on a:
a) sound wave
b) light wave
c) steam train

10.
The first time anyone eve saw an atom was in:
a) 1980
b) 1880
c) 55 BC

Answers via e-mail to editor (at) teenlibrarian dot co dot uk – the draw will be in 2010 so there is plenty of time to swot up on your science skills!

We Need to Talk About Kelvin : chapter 7

The unutterable feebleness of starlight

How darkness at night appears to be telling us there was a beginning to time but is actually telling us something quite different


If the stars are other suns having the same nature as our sun, why do not these suns collectively outdistance our sun in brilliance?

Johannes Kepler
(Conversations with the Starry Messenger, 1610)

The only way in which we could comprehend the blackness our telescopes find in innumerable directions would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray has yet been able to reach us.
Edgar Allan Poe (Eureka, 1848)

It is a crystal clear night far away from the lights of any town or city. The stars are shining like diamonds. There are so many stars that they distract from the most striking feature of the night sky. It is black. Overwhelmingly black. It may seem like a trite observation. However, it is telling us something important about the Universe. The overwhelming majority of astronomers believe is that is telling us that the Universe has not existed for ever; that there was an instant when it came into being; that, in common with you and me and every creature on Earth, the Universe was born. But, actually, the world’s astronomers are dead wrong. The darkness of the sky at night is telling us something entirely different.

The person who first realised that such a commonplace observation of the sky might have something to tell us about the cosmos was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, imperial mathematician to the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1610, he received a copy of Galileo’s best-seller, The Starry Messenger in which the Italian scientist documented the astronomical discoveries he had made with the newly invented telescope. They included mountains on the Moon and the four “Galilean” moons of Jupiter. Kepler was so inspired by the book that he dashed off a letter to Galileo, which was later published as a short book. In Conversations with the Starry Messenger, Kepler not only underlined the importance of Galileo’s work but pointed out something that nobody else appeared to have noticed – the darkness of the sky at night is deeply surprising.
Most people, if asked why the sky is dark at night, would say because there is no sun and starlight is much weaker than sunlight. It takes a genius to realise that the reason it is black at midnight is far from obvious and may actually have something profound to say about the Universe.
Kepler’s reasoning was straightforward. If the Universe is infinite in extent so that its stars march on forever, then between the bright stars in the night sky we should see more distant, fainter stars, and between them, stars even more distant and even more faint. It was like looking into a dense forest. Between the trunks of a nearby trees you see the trunks of more distant trees and, between them, the trunks of trees even further away. The view that confronts you is therefore of a solid wall of trees. Similarly, claimed Kepler, when we look out into the Universe, we should see a solid wall of stars.
It is possible to be more precise than this. Imagine the Earth is surrounded by spherical shells of space rather like the concentric skins of an onion. The farther away a shell, the fainter the stars it contains. On the other hand, the further away the shell, the bigger it is, it contains more stars. Well, the increase in the number of stars should exactly compensate for the stars getting fainter. In other words, every onion-shell of stars should contribute exactly the same amount of light to the terrestrial night sky. But this is disastrous. If the Universe goes on forever, there are an infinite number of such shells. Add up the light coming from all of all of them and the answer is an infinite amount. Far from being dark at night, the sky should be infinitely bright.
Infinity – a number bigger than any other – is merely an abstract mathematical concept. Nothing in the real world is infinite in size. The conclusion that the night sky should be infinitely bright must therefore be wrong. Somewhere in the logic used to deduce it there must be a flaw. And there is. Although the stars appear to be dimensionless pinpricks, in reality they are other suns, shrunken to mere specks by their immense distance. Each is a tiny disc – too small to see with the most powerful telescopes – but a disc nonetheless. Consequently, the discs of nearby stars obscure those of the faraway ones just as nearby trees in a forest hide the faraway ones. This means the night sky should be papered entirely by the discs of stars. Although not infinitely bright, it should be as bright as the surface of a typical star.
Kepler believed the sun was a typical star. Consequently, he concluded that the night sky should be as bright as the surface of the sun. We know today that the sun is not an average star. It is considerably more luminous than most. About 70 per cent of stars in the solar neighbourhood are “red dwarfs”, cool suns reminiscent of softly glowing embers. However, this hardly changes Kepler’s conclusion. Rather than being as bright as the surface of the sun, the sky at night should be glowing blood red from horizon to horizon. “In the midst of this inferno of intense light”, said the Anglo-American cosmologist Edward Harrison, “life should cease in seconds, the atmosphere and oceans boil away in minutes, and the Earth turn to vapour in hours.”
Thankfully, the sky is not as bright as the surface of a typical star. It is about a trillion trillion trillion times fainter. This paradox that the night sky is dark when, logically, it should be bright ought to be called Kepler’s paradox. However, because it was popularised by a distinguished German astronomer called Heinrich Olbers in the early 19th century, it has instead become known as Olbers’ paradox.
When a prediction clashes with a cast-iron observation, clearly it is the prediction that is at fault. More than likely the assumptions that went into making the prediction need re-examining. Kepler’s most obvious assumption was that the Universe goes on forever. If this not true, then the paradox can go away. After all, there will be only a limited number of onion shells of stars contributing their starlight to Earth’s night sky. It is easy to imagine the sky being filled with so little starlight as to appear black. This was actually Kepler’s solution to the dark sky paradox. He abhorred the idea of an infinite Universe. It terrified him. It was monstrous. He therefore concluded, with some relief, that the Universe must be finite in extent.
If Kepler was right, the cosmos was not like an endless forest. It is akin to a localised clump of trees bounded at the rear by a dark wall. Because the clump is so small and sparse, we can see the dark wall behind. This is the blackness between the stars.
As a matter of fact, in the 20th century astronomers did indeed discover that the Universe is finite – or at least the portion of the Universe from which we receive starlight. Recall Edwin Hubble’s 1929 discovery that the Universe is expanding, its constituent galaxies flying apart like pieces of cosmic shrapnel. If the expansion is imagined to run backwards, like a movie in reverse, there comes a time when all of Creation is squeezed into the tiniest of tiny volumes. This was the beginning of time, the moment of the Universe’s birth, the big bang. According to the best current estimates, space, time, matter and energy exploded into being in the fireball of the big bang about 13.7 billion years ago.
The size of the Universe – or at least its effective size – is inextricably linked to its age. This is because light, though fast, is not infinitely fast, so it takes time for it cross space. An interval of 13.7 billion years may seem an unimaginably huge tract of time. But it is simply not long enough for light, crawling snail-like across the vastness of space, to have yet made it to Earth from the most distant reaches of the Universe. Consequently, the only celestial objects we can see are those whose light has taken less than 13.7 billion years to reach us. Imagine them occupying a bubble of space – the “observable universe” – centred on the Earth.
The observable universe is bounded by the “cosmic light horizon”. This is pretty much like the horizon at sea. We know there is more of the sea over the horizon. And, similarly, we know there is more of the Universe over the cosmic light horizon. Only its light has not got here yet. It is still on its way.
Light travels a light year per year – since that it was a “light year” is, the distance light travels in a year. So an obvious conclusion to draw is that the distance to the cosmic light horizon must be 13.7 billion light years. However, this is incorrect since the Universe, in its first split-second of existence, is believed to have undergone a brief, faster-than-light epoch of expansion. Because of this “inflation”, the distance to the light horizon is not 13.7 billion light but about 42 billion light years.
Of course, the Universe may be infinite in extent. In fact, in the inflationary picture it is effectively infinite. However, the combination of the finite age of the Universe and the finite speed of light reduce the volume of space from which we can receive light to a bubble 84 billion light years across. This cuts dramatically the amount of light arriving on Earth.
Remarkably, the first person to realise that the reason the night sky might be black was because there were stars too far away for their light have got to us was Edgar Allan Poe. In his imaginative essay, “Eureka”, published in 1848, he wrote: “Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us a uniform luminosity since there could be absolutely no point, in all that blackness, at which would not exist a star. The only way in which we could comprehend the blackness our telescopes find in innumerable directions would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray has yet been able to reach us.”
It would seem, then, that the evidence that the Universe has a finite age – that it was born in a big bang – stares us in the face every night. In fact, it has been staring people in the face since the dawn of human history. Only nobody realised. Nobody guessed the true cosmic significance of dark sky at night.

Eight Questions With… Marcus Chown

Welcome to Eight Questions With… Marcus Chown, these questions (and answers) can also be found on the last page of the December edition of Teen Librarian Monthly, and now for the first time on the website itself. This is for those readers who do not subscribe* but are interested in finding out more about our scientist in residence.

Q1 Which of your books would you recommend for teens and young readers

For teens, any of my popular science books. When I was a teenager I used to read popular science books by people like Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan. I write at their kind of level – in fact, I write for my wife, Karen, who has no science background. So, if I was a teenager today, I might be a reader of my books, if that makes any sense!
My most accessible books are Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You and The Magic Furnace. In fact, several school science teachers have said they’ve given Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You to their teenage pupils.
Did you know that there’s so much empty space in matter that, if you could squeeze it all out, the entire human race would fit in the volume of a sugar cube? Did you know that a single atom can be in two places at once – the equivalent you being in London and New York at the same time? Did you know that you age faster on the top floor of a building than on the ground floor? All these things are in Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, which is about Einstein’s theory of relativity too. All in less than 200 pages. Without an equation. And, hopefully, it won’t hurt you (at least, not much!).
The Magic Furnace is the book of mine I like best. It’s about the discovery that we are far more intimately connected to the cosmos than even the astrologers guessed. Want to see a piece of a star? Just hold up your hand. You are stardust made flesh. The iron in your blood, the calcium in your bones, the oxygen that fills your lungs every time you take a breath, all of these atoms were forged inside the furnaces of stars which lived and died before the Sun and Earth were born. The story of how we discovered this is the story of The Magic Furnace.
So much for teens, what about young readers? Well, there’s Felicity Frobisher and the Three-Headed Aldebaran Dust Devil (www.felicityfrobisher.com). It’s the book I had the most fun writing. Felicity Frobisher is quiet and polite and never gets into any trouble whatsoever. Until the day she is visited by Flummff, a young Three-Headed Aldebaran Dust Devil (he comes down a “wormhole” from a dusty planet around the red giant star Aldebaran).
Flummff is very, very bad. He gets poor Felicity into all sorts of trouble at school. She gets chased out of a park by a fist-waving park keeper and accused of cheating in the school cross-country run. But, despite having the worst day of her life, she also gets to beat the school bully, and go down a wormhole to Hawaii, the International Space Station and Flummff’s horribly dusty, horribly gritty home planet. The Scotsman newspaper called the book: “A thrilling, silly escapade among the stars.” And that’s about it. It was my chance to be really, really silly, which I don’t ever get with my popular science books.

Q2 Do you ever read the works of other science writers? If yes who can you recommend?

When I was a teenager I used to read Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan. But I would recommend anything by Simon Singh, because he’s a good writer (and because he’s my friend!). So Big Bang or Fermat’s Last Theorem. Richard Feynman was an eccentric, bongo-playing Nobel-prizewinning physicist but he popularised too. His best book is QED: The strange theory of light and matter, which is about what he got his Nobel Prize for. That’s small and without equations but demanding. But the books about his adventures such as Surely, You’re Joking, Mr Feynman? And What Do You Care About What Other People Think? are great fun. (I was incredibly lucky to be taught by Feynman)

Q3 How did you become known as the Katie Price of Science Writing and who first gave you the nickname?

I have to admit I gave it to myself! I heard that Katie Price never gets any prizes but that one of her books outsold all 100 (I think) books on the Booker Prize long-list combined. I too never get short-listed for any book prizes or anything like that but readers seem to like my books because they buy a lot of them. So I thought: I’ve got something in common with Katie Price. So that’s why I called myself the Katie Price of Science Writing on my website (www.marcuschown.com). It’s tongue-in-cheek, really. Just a bit of fun!

Q4 What is the most satisfying part of the writing process for you?

When the money arrives! No, I’m joking!

Actually, the best part is when your book comes out and you keep going in bookshops to see if it’s arrived yet. I am very sad. I tend to get my wife, Karen, to photograph me holding up the first book in a shop! But it’s great. The thrill never wears off. When I was at school, I liked English and writing stories. My absolute dream was to write a book and see it published and go into a bookshop and see it on a shelf. And, when it happens, it’s just as wonderful and amazing as I imagined it would be.

Q5 I have recently acquired a copy of Felicity Frobisher & the Three-headed Aldebaran Dust Devil (an amazing title and even better story) – do you have any plans for a sequel or perhaps even writing similar books for older readers?

I am so glad you like my title – and the story! I really enjoyed writing it. I had never written children’s fiction before and I had no idea whether children would like it. But I was overwhelmed by the response when I went into schools. And children keep asking when they can read more about Felicity Frobisher. I think children identify with Felicity because she isn’t like the normal heroes of children’s books. She isn’t any good at school, isn’t athletic, and she wears big glasses. Her mum and dad never notice anything about her. And she’s being bullied by the school bully! And, if things could not get any worse, she is befriended by Flummff, an alien boy who is very, very bad. But, although he gets her into tons of trouble, he definitely gives her the adventure of her life. Definitely, the sort of thing most children would like to brighten up a dull, boring day at school

The good news about a sequel is that I am writing Felicity Frobisher and the Newly Wedded Capellan Toast Weevil and also have a third book fully plotted. The bad news is that my publisher does not want to publish any more. So I will have to find another publisher. But don’t worry. I will. I’m persistent!
As for writing similar books for adults, my wife is 50 and she loves Felicity Frobisher. So I think the book can be enjoyed by both children and adults.

Q6 Are there any novels that you have enjoyed that you would recommend for Teen readers?

I really liked Elizabeth Knox’s teen novels The Rainbow Opera and The Dream Quake. She’s one of my favourite novelists. I also really like Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses about a world where black and white people have switched roles. I also liked her sequels, Knife Edge, and Checkmate. I liked Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines, about cities that trundle across the planet, fighting and gobbling each other up. And, of course, I love The Lord of the Rings, which I first read when I was 18.

Q7 What can you tell us about Kelvin (that won’t ruin the end of the book)?

It’s about what every day things that tell us about the Universe. It’s as simple as that. Every chapter starts with a familiar everyday observation – like the sky is dark at night or teacups break when you drop them – and leads on to the, often amazing, thing this tells us about the Universe. For instance, the reflection of your face in a window tells you about the most shocking discovery in the history of science – that the Universe is based on chance, the roll of a “quantum” dice, that ultimately things happen for no reason at all. The fact that iron is common – in the metal of cars, even in the blood coursing through your veins – is telling you that out in space there must be a blisteringly hot furnace at a temperature of at least 5 billion degrees. I finish the book with one everyday observation for which we don’t yet know what the thing it is telling us is. If you see what I mean! The observation is that there are no aliens on Earth – not lurking on street corners, not floating angelically overhead or beaming up and down like characters from Star Trek. It could be that we are the first intelligence to arise in our Galaxy. Or it could be it’s so dangerous out there in space that any race that ventures out from its home planet gets wiped out. Or it could be anything else. In fact, this is case where your guess is as good as mine. Or the guess of the best scientists!

Q8 Do you ever visit School or Public Library Reading Groups or science classes? If yes, what is the best way to get into contact with you or your agent about it?

In the past, I have been to state schools. I have also given talks at events like the Cheltenham Literature Festival and the Edinburgh Science Festival. What I can do depends on what else I am doing at the time. But the best way to contact me is through my publisher, Faber & Faber.

Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed answering these questions!

– –
* Subscription to teen Librarian Monthly is free and can be done by sending an e-mail to teenlibraryservice (at) gmail dot com

We Need to talk About Kelvin : chapter 11

Earth’s full, go home

How the fact there are aliens on Earth is telling us either we are the first intelligence to arise or some unknown factor prevents the evolution of space-faring civilisations

Sometimes I think we are alone, sometimes I think we are not. Either way, the thought is staggering.
Buckminster Fuller

I’m sure the Universe is full of intelligent life. It’s just been too intelligent to come here.
Arthur C. Clarke

One striking feature of the world is so obvious that, like the darkness of the sky at night, it is almost never remarked upon. It does not matter what country you live in, what continent you are on, where at all you are on the planet. There are no aliens. They are not loitering on street corners, coasting angelically through the clouds above your head or materialising and de-materialising like crew members of the “Star Trek” Enterprise.
The fact there are no aliens on Earth is widely believed to be telling us something profound about intelligent life in the Universe. Unlike the case with the other everyday observations in his book, however, no one is quite sure what that profound thing is.

Over the years, many people have realised that the lack of aliens on Earth is a deep puzzle. However, the person who articulated it in the most memorable way was the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. One of the last physicists to combine the roles of front-rank theorist and an experimentalist, not only did Fermi come up with a theory of radioactive beta decay, which predicted the existence of the ghost-like “neutrino, but he constructed the first nuclear reactor – on an abandoned squash court under the west stand of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field. Fermi’s “nuclear pile”, which went “critical” on 2 December 1942, made the “plutonium” for one of the two atomic bombs dropped by America are on Japan. Those bombs were tested in the desert of New Mexico. And it was, while visiting the bomb lab at Los Alamos in the summer of 1950, that Fermi made his memorable observation about extraterrestrials.
He was having lunch in the canteen with Herbert York, Emil Konopinski and Edward Teller, the “father of the H-bomb”. The physicists had been discussing ETs because of a recent spate of newspaper reports of “flying saucers”. Although the discussion had turned to more mundane subjects, Fermi had gone quiet, deep in thought. Suddenly, in the middle of the ensuing conversation, he blurted out: “Where is everybody?” The others around the table immediately knew what he was referring to – ETs. They also recognised that Fermi, a man with a reputation as a deep thinker, had articulated something important and profound.
Fermi was a renowned for his back-of-the envelope calculations. For instance, at the explosion of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert on 15 July 1945, he had dropped a scrap of paper from shoulder height and watched how it was deflected by the shock wave from the Bomb. Knowing that Ground Zero was 9 miles away, he estimated the energy of the blast – the equivalent of more than 10,000 tonnes of TNT.
Implicit in Fermi’s “Where is everybody?” question was a similar back-of-the-envelope calculation. How long it would take a civilisation that developed a star-faring capability to spread to every star system in our Milky Way galaxy?
Fermi never revealed the details of his reasoning. However, more likely than not he realised that the most efficient way to explore the Galaxy would be by means of self-reproducing space probes. Such a probe, on arrival at a destination planetary system, would set about constructing two copies of itself from the raw materials found there. The two daughter probes would then fly off and, at the next planetary system, build two more copies. In this way, the probes would infect the Galaxy relatively rapidly like bacteria spreading throughout a host.
Using plausible estimates for the speed of such probes and the time required to make copies, it was possible to estimate how long it would take to visit every star in the Milky Way. And the answer was surprisingly modest – between a few million and a few tens of millions of years. Since this was a mere fraction of the 10 billion-year lifespan of our Galaxy, one conclusion was unavoidable. If a star-faring race had arisen at any time in the history of our Galaxy, its space probes should be here on Earth today. So, in Fermi’s immortal words, “Where is everybody?”

Teen Librarian Monthly December 2009

The December edition of Teen Librarian Monthly is available to download here

This edition contains an interview with Marcus Chown who is hanging around Teen Librarian today as well as many other interesting articles and links for the discerning Librarian.