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Detecting the Future

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 Mark Powers has been making up ridiculous stories since primary school and is slightly shocked to find people now pay him to do it. In this special blog for Just Imagine, Mark shares his thoughts on the infiniteness of space … and of our imaginations.

Happy National Space Day! 

Things I’ve seen in the night sky over the years:

  • The two-tailed silvery blob of Comet Hale-Bopp
  • The International Space Station
  • Jupiter and its Galilean moons through a telescope at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
  • A large, fiery green meteor
  • The orbiting city of Starville sailing serenely overhead like a gleaming snow globe

That last one isn’t true. At least, not yet. That’s the thing about science fiction. It has the most alarming habit of becoming science fact.

My new book Space Detectives features a creature called a tufted grotsnobbler, a purple slimy monster with wings that looks like a cross between a slug and a pineapple. I decided these creatures would hail from Venus as a sort a throwback to the days of mid-20th century SF, when we knew comparatively little about the other worlds in our solar system, and for all we could tell the planet Venus might well have been home to all sorts of bizarre alien life. We know better now, of course.

Imaginary beauty of colorful nebula and stars

Probe missions to the planet have revealed that thanks to runaway greenhouse effect (sound familiar???), the surface temperature of Venus is at least 462 °C and therefore not exactly welcoming to living things. And yet…in September 2020, researchers claimed to have found significant amounts of the compound phosphine in the cooler reaches of the Venusian atmosphere. Phosphine is what scientists call a biomarker, that is, a substance whose presence is strongly suggestive of the existence of life. So maybe there are tufted grotsnobblers flitting about in the skies of Venus after all…!

We enjoy stories about space because space offers infinite possibilities. Any creature you can dream up, any way of life you can imagine, any landscape or piece of technology you can conceive, it can all exist out there, somewhere in the limitless reaches of the universe. And one day we may well see cities orbiting overhead at night, or travel to exotic worlds to meet fabulous alien beings. While we can’t physically do those things at present, what the best science fiction does is allow us to experience the wonders of space here and now in our imaginations.

SPACE DETECTIVES by Mark Powers, illustrated by Dapo Adeola is available to purchase at