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Science and fiction

Science and fiction

Fictional superheroes and serious science are usually galaxies apart but two University of Auckland astrophysicists couldn’t resist the chance to try their hand at a little cosmic creativity for a new sci-fi novel.

Fictional superheroes and serious science are usually galaxies apart but two University of Auckland astrophysicists couldn’t resist the chance to try their hand at a little cosmic creativity for a new sci-fi novel.

Department of Physics lecturers Dr Nick Rattenbury and Dr JJ Eldridge were scientific consultants for Astarons, a comic-style graphic novel which follows the adventures of cosmic ‘guardians’ whose mission is to save the universe from destruction and whose abilities and personalities are derived from the characteristics of real planets.

“It’s been a great opportunity as an educator to work in a fictional context but with characters that can convey real astrophysical concepts,” says senior lecturer in astrophysics Dr Nick Rattenbury.

“What’s the personality of this planet?’ is not a question we had ever asked ourselves before.”

Dr JJ Eldridge is a big science fiction fan – so much so that he introduces himself to new students with a picture of himself taken with four actors who once played Dr Who.

“I may not live on a starship but my work as an astrophysicist is as close to my ideal career as it’s possible to get, so the opportunity to be involved in this project was irresistible,” he says.

Author Gilda Kirkpatrick is an Auckland-based advertising and marketing executive who decided to write the book after realising that children’s fiction didn’t contain any real science.

“It really struck me how sci-fi has no basis in fact and I thought there was an opportunity to do something different,” she says. “The book is aimed at parents who want their children to learn through being entertained.”

Astarons is illustrated by children’s animator and illustrator Myles Lawford. Gareth Jensen, a specialist in 3D animation and whose credits include King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia, also worked on the book.

The vividly-colourful novel is the first in a planned series involving eight “Cosmic Guardians” whose adventures take readers on a journey through the solar system. Each of the main characters is based on one of the eight planets in our Solar system.

The characters’ mission is to save the solar system from destruction and, through their adventures, introduce young readers to key scientific concepts such as supernovae, galaxies, black holes and the Big Bang.


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