Astrophysical Implications of Gravitational Stress-Energy-Spin-Momentum Coupling in Torsional Kerr-Hoffman Metrics (Landry, S; Jokai, Alexander; Hoffman, Leigh; Bondra, Marian; Petrovics, A J) Phys Rev D1 Vol 94 Issue 3
Abstract: We investigate spin:momentum coupling in sub-relativistic electron degenerate matter via the spontaneous production of vanishing null spinors Q(0). We suggest a mechanism for macroscopic momentum transfer, and present a model consistent with the observed proper motion of Sirius B.
“Leigh, where do you want to be when it happens?”
“Here with you.”
“Jack, where do you want to be?”
“I don’t know. Watching the sun rise.”
“We know the time down to the second. We could watch it happen.”
“It’d be quite something.”
“Yes. Yes it would.”
“Leigh, let’s get married.”
“If we do it today nobody can come. But tomorrow morning’s good.”
“Jack, I was supposed to be working. When it happens.”
“Last chance to see.”
“But if we get married you’d be a cardholder.”
“That’s not why, Leigh.”
“I know. But it changes things.”
“I don’t see how.”
“It does. Even if it’s only for a few minutes. I want those minutes.”
“Then we can go out on our own terms. This fucking universe owes us that much.”
When Leigh was seven there was an ant colony in her garden.
She watched the worker ants carry food back to the nest. They wandered all over the garden, only stopping when they bumped into another ant. When they found something edible they hurried back to the colony, clutching the prize in their little mandibles.
Sometimes she tried to count them, which was very difficult because they were always moving, and she was only seven. But there had to be hundreds. Maybe even thousands!
Leigh watched them for hours at a time. One day she asked her father how many ants there were.
“Oh, there could be hundreds of thousands, underground,” he said. “Big colonies can have millions.”
“Millions?” said Leigh, wide eyed.
“Oh yes,” said Dan. “There’s an ant colony along the Mediterranean Sea – do you know where that is?”
“Yes,” said Leigh doubtfully.
“Well, there are billions of ants there. All in one colony.”
“That’s right. More ants in that one colony than there are people in the whole world.”
After that, Leigh was even more fascinated by ants. Sometimes she brought them different types of food to see what they liked. They seemed to like sugary things. That made sense. Leigh liked sugary things too.
She let them crawl over her fingers, waving their antennae in the air. It must be strange, to be picked up by a huge creature like herself. Did the ants even realize what was happening?
Leigh often wondered what it was like to be an ant.
One day, when her father was away doing whatever it was grownups did, some of her ants grew wings. Flying ants! How wonderful. She ran inside to tell her mother, breathless with excitement.
But her mother wasn’t excited. Her mother wasn’t pleased at all. Before Leigh knew what was happening, her mother had boiled the kettle and poured scalding water all over Leigh’s ant colony. Leigh screamed.
“They’ll come in the house,” her mother said. “You don’t want that.”
“I hate you!” cried Leigh, and fled to her bedroom. She curled up in her bed – on the top bunk, her favorite place – and wept until she fell asleep.
Later, miserable and lonely, Leigh went to look at the ruin of her ant colony. There wasn’t anything to see at first, but she searched the garden for survivors. Here and there she found lost worker ants, milling around in confusion. Carefully, she picked up each one and put them in an empty jam jar.
“I’ll look after you, ants,” said Leigh. “It’ll be okay.”
She didn’t find very many.
When her father came home, the jar was sitting by Leigh’s bedroom window. She’d given the ants some salad leaves from the fridge, but they didn’t look very happy. Neither did Leigh.
“I hate her,” said Leigh from the top bunk.
Dan sighed. “Sweetheart, it’s because the ants were going to fly.”
“I don’t care! They can fly if they want!”
Her father tried to tell her about ants. He told her how the whole colony was ruled by a Queen. Leigh liked that part. The Queen kept laying eggs, and the eggs turned into worker ants, and the worker ants kept the colony ticking along.
Leigh had the feeling that her father was making things simple for her. He didn’t do that as often as most grownups did, but it was still annoying.
Then one day, the Queen would start laying a different type of egg. When those new eggs hatched, the ants that came out would have wings. The new ants would fly off and turn into Queens, and make colonies of their own.
“Princess ants,” said Leigh, enchanted.
“I thought you’d like that part.”
“But why did mummy kill them all? I liked them.”
“She didn’t want them in the house, that’s all. Once they grow wings they get everywhere.”
“I know. But there are so many of them, you see. Most of them wouldn’t survive anyway. Otherwise there would be ants everywhere. Only a few of the ones with wings ever get to make their own colony.”
“Just the lucky ones.”
“That’s right. And some of them probably got away. Maybe they’re building their own little ant city right now.”
“I hope so.”
Dan looked at the jar on the windowsill. “I don’t think your ants are going to be very happy in there.”
“I’ll look after them.”
“I know you will, sweetie.” He leaned over the top bunk and kissed her on the forehead. “Now go to sleep.”
The next day Leigh’s father bought her an ant farm.
“It’s called a formicarium,” said Dan. Leigh liked that word. The formicarium was a clear acrylic box filled with blue gel. Dan and Leigh moved the rescued ants into their new home, and the ants started digging tunnels through the gel.
“I love it,” said Leigh. She read the instructions, twice, and then she went to find celery and apples to feed her ants. She needed a book on ants now. Maybe the library would have one.
Ten years later, Leigh took her ant farm to university with her. She’d built several ant farms of her own by then, with moats to keep the ants in, but the formicarium she took to Cambridge was the one that Dan had given her when she was seven. The ants lived on a shelf in the corner of her room. The ants dug tunnels through their gel, but whenever Leigh had to move the formicarium, the tunnels collapsed. Leigh always felt guilty, but the ants didn’t seem to mind. They always started digging tunnels again, sometimes rebuilding connections between old nodes, sometimes branching off in entirely new directions.
Sometimes the ants would escape. Leigh would be sitting at her desk, staring out over the college gardens as her mind wandered through Lie algebras and non-abelian gauge theories and whether the friend she was seeing that evening was just a friend, or maybe something more, and suddenly she’d see an ant crawling over her textbooks onto her laptop.
Every time that happened Leigh would pick up the ants, and return them to the formicarium where they belonged.
The Hounds of Orion
Leigh had been in her new flat for a week. It was too small and too far from the center of Cambridge, but it was hers. First she painted the living room. Then she pulled up the weeds and nettles that had colonized the little back garden. She spent two days wiping out the aspergillus that was spreading through the bathroom. Leigh was about to bleach the kitchen when the phone rang.
It was Jack Burroughs. Leigh was shocked to realize that she hadn’t spoken to him in five years. They hadn’t fallen out, they’d just drifted apart as their lives took them in different directions. Leigh wasn’t sure where he was these days, but she knew he’d recently made a documentary for the BBC.
“Leigh,” he said, “have you heard about Sirius? It’s moving.”
“What do you mean, it’s moving?” said Leigh.
And that was how she heard.
It was all over the news, but the reports were vague, contradictory and in most cases obviously wrong. The first data came from a French Space Agency telescope designed to look for extrasolar planets. The ‘scope team had sat on the results for nearly a month. Leigh suspected they hadn’t believed the numbers. She wasn’t sure she believed them herself.
Sirius was the brightest star in the sky, less than nine light years from Earth. The visible star, Sirius A, was twice the mass of the sun, but it had a small white dwarf companion called Sirius B. Sirius B had been discovered in the middle of the nineteenth century, and its orbit was well known.
Last month – or just under nine years ago, depending on your frame of reference – the orbit of Sirius B changed inexplicably. Leigh found a preprint on the web. The team presented the data without comment, but somehow their incredulity leaked through. This cannot be happening. And yet the numbers cannot lie.
Leigh’s department was buzzing with the news. Eventually she found herself crammed into Marian Bondra’s office. Alex Jokai, wearing his trademark tweed jacket, had long since lapsed into Hungarian as he filled Marian’s whiteboard with the white dwarf equation of state. There was a palpable air of excitement, verging on hysteria.
The Sirius B white dwarf wasn’t just moving. It was accelerating at multiple gravities. Misinformation was spreading like wildfire across the web. The only reasonable explanation Leigh had heard so far was a gravitational slingshot: something very big and very dense had whipped through Sirius system, wreaking havoc with its orbital dynamics. But the numbers didn’t add up, because Sirius A was behaving exactly as it should.
Finally she withdrew, and walked to her favorite coffee shop on the banks of the Cam. She took a shortcut along the college backs. It was a spring day, and really quite lovely. Light scattered off the tranquil surface of the Cam as she made her way along the backs. Half a dozen punts meandered slowly down the river. A mated pair of swans gave the human intruders a wide berth. Leigh watched them, and suddenly she was shaking uncontrollably. She sat down on the grass, ignoring the curious glances of passers by, and waited it out.
The French results were quite clear. Sirius B wasn’t simply moving, which would be terrifying in itself. With an insignificant margin of error, Sirius B was accelerating towards a region of sky that included the Sun.
Leigh lay on the grass and looked up into the flawless blue sky. If she waited until it got dark, she would be able to see Canis Major, the great dog drawn across the sky. Canis Major, the hound of Orion. And the brightest star in Canis Major, the brightest star in the sky, would be Sirius, the dog star. Sirius B would be too small and dim to see. For now, Sirius B hid in the darkness, invisible.
It wouldn’t be invisible for much longer. Leigh closed her eyes.
Application of Spin
Jack came over from London. He was working on a documentary for the BBC, and he knew that Leigh would be right in the middle of anything to do with Sirius.
Leigh wanted to think there were other reasons for his visit. Jack wanted an informal talk from someone he could trust to lay the groundwork for his documentary. Later he wanted to interview her on camera.
“Just promise me this isn’t going to be more new age trash,” said Leigh.
In the months since the first press release, Leigh had grown increasingly frustrated with the television coverage of Sirius. The tabloids claimed it had been predicted by everyone from the Maya to the Dogon. The conspiracy theorists were raving about Nibiru, and ancient astronauts featured heavily.
At least it didn’t happen in 2012, Leigh thought.
“It’s going to be serious,” said Jack. “That’s why I need your help.”
“We don’t really know anything yet. We have some ideas.”
They were sitting outside the Anchor, and the old place brought back a lot of wistful memories. The Cam drifted past, lazy, full of sunlight, and the air smelled of freshly cut grass. Leigh had spent a lot of time here when she was a student. So had Jack. She hadn’t had many boyfriends back then, but now she found herself wishing that Jack had been one of them.
She never came to the Anchor any more, but when Jack suggested meeting here she’d agreed without hesitation. They sat outside. Leigh thought, we probably sat at this table when we were eighteen.
“Tell me about Sirius,” Jack said. “Tell me why it’s moving.”
Leigh wondered how much to tell him. She didn’t want him to put out a lot of half-baked ideas that would make her look a crank. She’d spent most of the last few months with Marian Bondra and Alex Jokai, because some of their recent work meshed well with hers. Their ideas suggested a tentative but plausible explanation for what was becoming known as the Sirius Anomaly, but so far it was little more than guesswork.
“Our best guess,” said Leigh hesitantly, “based on the observations that have been released so far, is that Sirius B is somehow converting spin quanta into linear momentum. There was a paper last year suggesting that we might find that kind of phenomenon at LHC when they ramp up the beams. You can see how it might account for the huge acceleration.”
Jack stared at her blankly. “Leigh, just pretend for a minute that I don’t know what you’re talking about. Spin?”
Leigh sighed. “Okay. You know what linear momentum is, yes? Mass times velocity. And if a classical object is rotating, then it has angular momentum. Jack, down at the subatomic level, angular momentum is quantized, and the fundamental quanta of spin is extremely small. Now, you know we can change matter into energy?”
“Sure, in an atom bomb,” said Jack. “E equals em cee squared.”
“Exactly. If you change mass into energy, your conversion factor is the speed of light squared, which is a very big number. So a little bit of mass makes a lot of energy, like in an atomic bomb.”
“And if you convert spin to momentum?”
Leigh paused. It was getting noisy as the pub filled up with students, who spilled out onto the lawn. “Jack, this is extremely speculative and I’m simplifying horribly.. For this to make sense we need to talk about Noether charges and look at angular momentum as an operator on the wave function, because otherwise -”
“Just give me the basics. I won’t run anything without your approval. I promise.”
“Sweet talker. Buy me another drink, then.”
Jack fought his way through the Anchor to the bar. There was a cheer as someone at the pool table pulled off a particularly impressive shot, followed by groans as the cue ball skidded across the baize and tumbled into the corner pocket.
The people around him were frighteningly young. It was hard to believe he and Leigh had been their age, and not so long ago. Leigh didn’t really look any older; put her in jeans and a t shirt and she’d easily pass for one of these fresh-faced undergraduates. She was more confident, though, and far more self-assured than he remembered.
Jack moseyed back through the crowd to their table, and found Leigh doodling complex heiroglyphics on a napkin. Evidently this was supposed to make things clearer, but Leigh noticed his pained look when she started talking about Clebsch-Gordan coefficients. He had no idea what a special orthoganal group might be, let alone the Casimir invariant of a Lie algebra.
Leigh shifted down a gear. Haltingly, she described how Einstein’s famous equation was an abbreviated form of something called the stress-energy-momentum-mass tensor, and how if you were smart enough it might be possible to convert between all the terms in the longer form. Jack gathered that if this were true, then you could swap freely between mass, energy, spin and momentum, amongst other things.
“Obviously we need a conversion factor,” said Leigh, “and we think momentum would equal spin divided by the Planck length. The Planck length is extremely small, Jack, which means that if you destroy the spin of a single atom you get a lot of momentum, enough to move a kilogram at about seven meters per second.”
“Oh,” said Jack. Then he got it. “Holy shit.”
“Exactly. We think something is destroying spin, deep in the core of Sirius B, down in the degenerate matter, violating all kinds of conservation laws in the process. And the destroyed spin is converting directly into the momentum of the entire star.”
“Do you have any idea how?”
“Nothing concrete, but we’re working on it,” said Leigh. She looked thoughtful. “Jack, pushing Sirius B to half the speed of light destroyed the spin of something like ten the power thirty eight atoms. That’s only about a hundred million tons of hydrogen, and it’s enough to throw a star across the galaxy. It plays hell with physics as we know it, but if we could figure out how it’s done, we could accelerate a Shuttle orbiter to near lightspeed on a picogram of fuel.”
“Except we don’t have the chance, do we? Not any more.”
Leigh didn’t reply for a long time. Some of her students were in the bar. They had acknowledged her presence, but they were keeping a respectful distance. None of them seemed bothered by the bad news from the stars. Perhaps it was too remote, too abstract, bad news that would surely pass only to be replaced by the next disaster. Or maybe it was just too big to comprehend.
Finally she said, “It’s good to see you, Jack.”
“It’s been too long.”
“Yes. I know it has.”
She looked him in the eyes. He’d always had nice eyes. Suddenly she felt very sad. It hadn’t really hit her until now, but suddenly she could feel the weight of all the wasted days. When he took her hand, she squeezed it gratefully and smiled.
They didn’t have a lot of time.
Leigh worked. When she wasn’t working, she tried to cram a lifetime’s experience into what little time was left.
Jack sold his place in London, and together they bought a flat in Cambridge. It was small, but it was all they needed. Obviously, there would never be children.
Leigh moved in along with a suitcase of clothes, three thousand books and a variety of formicaria. She was often asked to conferences, throughout Europe and the States. They traveled desperately, racking up the miles, trying to take in the whole world.
Meanwhile, the whole world fell apart.
The first year felt like a phony war. Leigh had expected panic and confusion, fear, terror, depression, existential dread. She hadn’t expected that people would simply refuse to believe the news from the stars. Of course it was only natural. She remembered her reaction to Dan’s death. A part of her had refused to believe it, at first. Dan had always seemed indestructible, and he died so young.
Denial always came first. Anger came later.
So it was a time for settling old scores, on scales both large and small. The rate of violent crime spiked, in Britain and abroad, and it rapidly exceeded the authority’s ability to cope. Soon there would come draconian limitations on civil liberties, in order to maintain some vestige of a functioning society. Across the world, economies crumbled, and ancient rivalries trembled on the brink of war.
Three years after the news, Leigh came home in tears. Marian Bondra was dead. She’d been at a conference in Sweden with the French team who made the original Sirius discovery. Leigh had known them all. Several groups were already claiming responsibility for shooting the messenger.
It was all so futile, thought Jack. So little time, and this is how we spend it.
Inevitably there were those who still, despite all the evidence, refused to accept the news. Jack suspected they would still refuse to believe it when Sirius B sailed past the orbit of Earth and plunged into the heart of the Sun. Many claimed it was a conspiracy by the scientists and the government, to rule the world by fear of armageddon. This kind of thinking was rampant on the internet, but Jack had seen a surprising amount on the mainstream media.
There were other rumors. Supposedly the richest governments already had fleets of spin-drive starships, for those who could afford the price of a ticket. The lucky few would soon be evacuated to a habitable planet of Sirius B, despite the repeated assurances of the scientific community that Sirius B had no planets, habitable or otherwise. Millions were content to merely wait for the Rapture, confident that they would disappear shortly before being broiled alive.
Good luck with that, thought Jack. Ad astra, per wishful thinking.
He was lying in bed one Sunday morning, still tired but unable to go back to sleep. The television news murmured quietly about famine in Pakistan, but Jack was reading. Leigh had gone out early: she’d heard that a nearby supermarket was expecting a delivery.
“They had wine,” said Leigh when she returned. “How about that.”
“Have you read this?” asked Jack.
Leigh sat on the bed next to him and read over his shoulder. “Does the trajectory of Sirius B require explanation,” she read. “I’ve heard the argument.”
It was an ongoing debate, in the rarified circles where such abstract issues still seemed to matter. Jack had interviewed many people over the years who considered the Sirius Anomaly an entirely natural event. Conceivably, the mechanism discovered by Leigh and her colleagues could occur spontaneously. There was no reason to suspect the work of intelligence – except that Sirius B was now moving at relativistic speed directly towards the Sun. Surely that had to mean it was a deliberate act?
But, replied the skeptics, given that it was moving, it had to be moving in some direction. We only consider its direction special because we happen to be in the way.
“Nonsense,” said Leigh. “We announced our arrival and we’re not wanted. It’s a weapon, simple as that.”
“Do you think we’d feel better if we knew why?”
Leigh shrugged. “Imagine how little they must think of us. The power they must have, whoever they are. It’s all just so bloody casual.”
“What I still can’t understand,” said Jack. “is why they would bother to wipe us out. Whoever they are, we’re obviously no threat to them. We broadcast a few episodes of I Love Lucy and they throw a star at us?”
“I don’t know either,” Leigh said. “But you know what? With that sort of power, they might as well be a force of nature. They don’t even hate us, that’s the worst thing. We’re just like… mold growing in the wrong place, or a sandbank in the path of a hurricane.”
There were some odd things about Sirius, thought Jack. It was difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, to separate plausible theories from unfounded speculation. For instance, according to the standard model of stellar evolution, Sirius B was understood to have completed its red giant phase and collapsed to a white dwarf two hundred million years ago. But Ptolemy and Seneca, a mere two thousand years ago, described Sirius as red. All the astrophysicists Jack had spoken to dismissed these accounts as dramatic license, or as describing the reddening of Sirius near the horizon. But now it seemed impossible to be sure.
Perhaps this was merely the final act in a slowly unfolding drama that had played out over millennia.
They lay in bed and watched the news. Famine in Pakistan, skirmishes in Kashmir, civil war in China, another bombing in Japan.
“It’s getting bad,” said Jack.
It’s going to get worse, thought Leigh. It will get worse when the Wolf is visible to the naked eye. She wasn’t sure who had first called it the Wolf, but the name had been popularized by one of Jack’s early films. Once Sirius B had been known as the Pup, and that was far too harmless a name.
So the Wolf it was, and the Wolf was now the closest star. At half the speed of light, it had already crossed half the distance to Earth by the time the light of its first motion reached them. The Wolf’s terrible speed sent shockwaves through the interstellar medium.
Leigh had learned a lot about Sirius. To the Egyptians it was known as Sothis, the star of Isis, and every year the heliacal rising of Sothis marked the flooding of the Nile. It was a star so important that its movements dictated the Egyptian calendar. Most cultures seemed to associate Sirius with dogs or wolves, but to the Norse, it was the torch of Loki, the flame of the trickster god. Loki sired three children, and one of them was the Fenris Wolf, the herald of Ragnarok. The Fenris Wolf had been fettered by the gods, but it would break free at the end of the world, at the final battle that preceded fimbulwinter.
If Sirius B was a Wolf, thought Leigh, it was certainly the Fenris Wolf.
The endless circle of rolling news returned to the Umbra shelters. An international consortium of private aerospace firms was engaged in a massive program to build an off-world lifeboat, using the International Space Station as the first node. The Russians were constructing a vast ring sail downsun of Earth, suspended by light pressure between Earth and the L2 point. The plan was to suspend a ragtag fleet of habitats from the ring sail by monfilament cables, thousands of kilometers long. The fleet would hang in Earth’s shadow cone, where the sun was permanently eclipsed by eight thousand miles of rock. Bigelow Aerospace had already built hundreds of inflatable habitats. NASA and Space X were launching a Falcon X Heavy every week.
“At least somebody’s doing something,” said Jack. “Makes you proud to be human, for once.”
It was a huge endeavor, costing trillions of dollars.
It was probably futile, thought Leigh, but it was awe-inspiring nonetheless. It might save a few people, although for how long nobody could say. While the Earth turned, the Umbra shelters would keep the entire mass of the planet between them and the Sun. During the event, the plan was to cut the sail free and use the monofilament tethers for stationkeeping, drawing power from Earth’s geomagnetic field. In the aftermath – if the plan worked – the shelters would turn on the ion thrusters and begin a long, slow cruise towards the outer gas giants in search of volatiles. For all its grandeur, the plan struck Leigh as hopeless, and the deep shelters were probably more practical.
There were even more desperate and quixotic endeavors. The Chinese were known to be building underground shelters on a gargantuan scale, entire arcologies with geothermal pipes drilled down to the Mohorovich Discontinuity. The Arecibo dish was broadcasting the news of Earth’s fate to the stars. Could a shadowy cabal of American multibillionaires really be attempting to reach Titan? Surely that was just another tabloid rumor – but the report was abruptly cut off.
“What’s this?” said Jack.
He scrambled for the remote control and turned up the television volume. The BBC was reporting more rocket attacks on Jerusalem, and some of the warheads were suspected to include biological weapons. The Israeli government was already threatening massive retaliation. The report cut to the BBC correspondent in Tel Aviv. He looked terrified. Leigh could hear sirens in the background.
Why do we still fight, wondered Leigh. In a few years the whole world will turn to ash.
They spent the next week watching the news in horror, as gangrenous smallpox swept through Israel and a host of Jericho missiles surged skyward, raining nuclear fire across the ancient empires of Persia. Samson had brought down the temple at last.
Eight Minute Warning
Leigh was a JEEP-7 card holder. She and Jack were evacuated to the United States according to the Joint Emergency Evacuation Plan, along with thousands of people from across Europe.
There were a dozen large sites buried across the continental United States. Jack and Leigh were evacuated to Raven Rock in Pennsylvania. Over eight years the Raven Rock Mountain Complex had grown into a vast subterranean shelter. It was a valiant effort, thought Leigh, and it pushed closed-environment life support to the bleeding edge. Supposedly, Raven Rock could sustain a human population for centuries. Leigh wondered how much the expansion program had cost, but money was a completely abstract concept now.
They found Raven Rock ringed by batteries of nuclear-tipped Patriot air defense missiles. Several ark sites had been bombed, as the Earth descended into its final agonies. The United States response had been understandable, in hindsight, and the damage wrought by the expended megatonnage was insignificant compared to what the Earth would soon endure.
The huge elevator took them deep beneath the original site. The elevator was operated by a Marine lieutenant.
“It’s the safest place on the planet,” said the lieutenant. He looked terribly young.
“I’m sure it is,” said Leigh. Raven Rock was only a few miles from Camp David, although she understood that most of the senior administration were now sequestered at Mount Weather. If the event was – somehow, miraculously – less severe than predicted, FEMA would organize the emergency response from their Mount Weather headquarters.
“We’re passing through the radiation shielding now,” the lieutenant carried on. “Huge tanks of water. Layers of lead and depleted uranium. And when it happens there’s going to be eight thousand miles of rock between us and the Sun….”
Jack glanced at her. What was she supposed to say? The lieutenant was looking at both of them anxiously.
“Safest place on the planet,” he repeated.
“Yes,” said Leigh gently. “Yes it is.”
A white dwarf star crossed the orbit of Neptune at relativistic velocity. Sirius B would complete its journey in eight hours, during which the Sun’s family of planets would feel the gravity of a second star. There was already significant perturbation of planetary orbits.
At closest approach, the Wolf passed within fifty million miles of Earth. It was easily visible in daylight and bright enough to burn the retina. Millions were already blind.
The solar wind slammed into the leading hemisphere of the Wolf. Satellites in low earth orbit failed under hard radiation from the bow shock.
Beneath Raven Rock, Leigh and Jack watched the reports trickle into the situation room. All of Earth’s surviving satellites and ground based instruments were trained upon the intruder.
We must be learning a lot of white dwarf physics, thought Jack. There were thousands on the surface who intended to carry on working until the last moment, sending their results on to the shelters. Many were Leigh’s friends and colleagues. Jack had come to know many of them well.
He glanced at Leigh, but she was staring at the big wall screen. It was filled with a stopped-down image of the Wolf as it crossed the orbit of Mercury.
Most of Raven Rock’s evacuees had taken refuge in the dormitories. Jack and Leigh were among the few who had stayed in the situation room to watch the final data. The shelters were non-smoking, but nobody had argued when the President’s Science Advisor lit a cigarette. The smoke curled under the cool blue lighting, and it hardly seemed to matter now. They knew exactly when the Wolf would strike the sun. From that moment, it would take eight minutes for the first light to reach them.
The Wolf hit the Sun at half the speed of light, and disappeared into the photosphere like a rock thrown into an burning ocean.
Solar plasma erupted from the impact zone, a fountain of fusing hydrogen with the mass of Jupiter. A hypersonic pressure wave swept across the photosphere, a brilliant white tsunami radiating across the face of the Sun.
Normally the Sun only fused hydrogen deep in the core, where the temperature and pressure rose high enough to overcome the electrostatic repulsion of hydrogen nuclei. The core burned at fourteen million Kelvin, but energy trickled out of the core slowly; the photosphere itself was a relatively cool six thousand Kelvin.
The savage compression wave from the Wolf pushed the temperature far beyond normal core temperatures. Within minutes, the entire body of the Sun rose to a temperature of over a billion Kelvin, well beyond the ignition point for hydrogen fusion.
Leigh tried to imagine what was happening at the center of the solar system. The Wolf would tear through the core of the sun in seconds. In its wake, the Sun’s entire fuel supply – a solar mass of hydrogen and helium – would undergo fusion.
The simulations estimated the energy release to be on the order of ten to the power forty two joules. That was, Leigh knew, greater than the binding energy of the Sun, which was an elaborate way of saying that the Sun would simply blow itself apart. There would be no remnant to mark the death of the solar system.
It would take the heavy particles some time to reach Earth, but most of them would be moving at a good fraction of lightspeed and reach them within the hour. Massless particles would reach them in eight minutes, mainly X-rays and gammas.
The prompt radiation would superheat the Earth’s atmosphere and throw it to the stars. The daylight hemisphere – including most of Asia – would be instantly sterilized by the nova. As for Earth’s dark side….
The calculations were uncertain, thought Leigh. Really, it was a question of whether the blast wave from the collision nova would blow the crust off the planet or merely reduce it to slag.
In the long run, the Sun’s system of planets would spin off into the darkness, eventually cooling to near absolute zero. Given the choice between a quick death and a lingering one, she was beginning to wish she’d chosen the former.
In Cambridge, Alex Jokai walked through the gates of Trinity College and into the Great Court. He took off his jacket and tie, and sat on the grass with his back against the fountain. The grass was freshly cut, and that made him smile. It was a cool spring day, and the sky was unmarked by clouds or contrails. The college buildings were eerily quiet. He wished he could live long enough to see the blast wave, but he had declined a place in the shelters. Perhaps if Marian Bondra had lived, he would have accepted the invitation. The aftermath would be interesting, and it would have given them much to talk about.
The clock chimed eight. I never did try the run, thought Alex. The goal was to make it around the Great Court in the time it took for the clock to chime midday. He remembered the chimes took forty three seconds. Nobody will ever attempt it again, he thought. I should at least give it a try.
But it looked like a long way, and Alex was comfortable leaning on the fountain. He suppressed a sudden urge to break into the Great Hall and free the college mallard.
Alex squinted up at the Sun. I wish I’d brought some sunglasses, he thought, and laughed. He pictured the Minkowski geometry around the Sun, and the lightlike trajectory connecting two event points, the nova and the end of his life. This moment has always been here, he thought, lying at one end of my world line, and it’s not something to be afraid of. I am here, and I am a child in Budapest, walking into Tabak-Shul with my grandfather. I am standing on Kilimanjaro, touching the roof of Africa, exhausted but elated. I am learning to play chess, learning to swim, learning to read. I am arriving here at Trinity, standing in Wren’s library and looking at Shakespeare’s own script through plate glass, wishing I could touch –
Nova light washed over Earth. In Antarctica, the neutrino detectors flared. During the first millisecond of the nova, the detectors registered more neutrino collisions than they had ever recorded during their operating life.
In Cambridge, the sun flared. Instinctively, Alex closed his eyes, but the brilliant white light shone through his eyelids, tinged red with blood. The pain in his head was excruciating.
The light curve was steep. Ten seconds after the first light, with consciousness already fading, Alex Jokai felt the world ignite.
On the sunlit hemisphere, the ocean vaporized under the nova flash, and a supersonic shockwave of live steam began its journey around the globe. The flash completely incinerated the surface biosphere. Four billion people were already dead, and the survivors of Earth would die in the dark. The neutrino wind blew through Earth like a hurricane of ghosts.
Howls of outrage, tears of loss.
Leigh thought of her mother. She imagined live steam, scalding water.
Jack found their bunk in the dormitory. They lay on it together. She could hear the woman in the next bunk praying.
Neutrino wind, thought Leigh. She imagined the storm of ghostly particles sleeting through the Earth, raining through every cell in her body. The probability of a single neutrino interacting with any of her own atoms was infinitesimal, but the neutrino storm was dense, blowing like a black wind through the Earth, through Raven Rock, through her flesh. The neutrino wind would blow on to the stars, but a miniscule fraction would strike a nucleus, and that nucleus might lie within a chromosome, a leukocyte, a neuron.
Leigh wondered how much secondary radiation would make it through Raven Rock’s shielding. She had no idea how much time had passed. If she went back the situation room, she could watch the gamma and muon counters climb. But she was too tired to move. Her flesh felt hot. She could taste copper in the back of her throat.
“I can’t see,” whispered Jack.
She reached out for him and took his hand. The air conditioning howled but it was still murderously hot, and the air was sick with the smell of singed plastic. The smell of burning.
Leigh hurt, deep in her cells. She sobbed in pain.
I liked them. I’ll look after them.
I know you will.
Leigh wondered what was happening above Raven Rock. England was in daylight. Their flat was gone. Cambridge was gone. The whole country was gone, and Europe was scorched down to the bedrock. Nearly every person she had ever met was dead. She wondered how the other shelters were coping.
She didn’t sleep, but when she began to pass out, time started to flicker, as though the film of her life was tearing off the reel, burning to ashes as it tore through the projector, burning in the light.
Leigh heard distant voices. The last data received from the ground indicated that the Wolf had detonated. That was unexpected. We’ll have to update the simulations again, thought Leigh. She began to cough.
The Wolf was a solar mass of carbon and oxygen, collapsed into a sphere of degenerate matter the size of the Earth.
The violence of the Wolf’s passage through the Sun was sufficient to trigger carbon fusion at the white dwarf’s leading edge. In less than a second, a thermonuclear flame front ripped through the star, immediately followed by a second wave of oxygen fusion.
The Wolf supernova was a hundred times more violent than the collision nova, and it blew the white dwarf to ashes. In under a second, the white dwarf released more energy than the Sun had over the previous five billion years. It was a flash bright enough to shine across the entire universe.
Leigh’s legs were swollen. Her skin stretched taut over her flesh, and she could feel fluid accumulating in her lungs. She started to cry again.
She remembered Dan.
I’m dying, she thought. The thought of dying didn’t seem so bad. She was desperately thirsty. It was becoming very hard to think.
Leigh could see pale light, crawling through the walls, turning the people around her into translucent statues. The other side of the room seemed very small and very far away. There was a sense of motion, as if the whole world was folding up around her, tumbling into origami. She felt the beating of dark wings.
I’m hallucinating badly, thought Leigh.
The ashes of the Wolf supernova fled the ruined solar system at half the speed of light, a relativistic shotgun blast of radioactive nickel and iron. The remains of the Sun itself were expanding into a nebulous cloud of heavy elements, moving at barely three percent of light.
Within hours, most of the supernova ash had evacuated the inner solar system. The expanding nebula would enrich the interstellar medium with metals, sowing the seeds of future solar systems, but the Sun’s children died with their parent. Unleashed from the Sun’s gravity, with nothing left to anchor it to the orbit it had followed for five billion years, the ruined cinder of Earth followed its siblings into the darkness. The planets were still lit by the Sun’s funeral pyre, but the cold will claim them all, in the end.
Leigh couldn’t feel the bunk beneath her. She reached for Jack, but couldn’t feel her own fingers. Then it was very dark. And then she couldn’t feel anything at all. She was surprised to discover that she was still thinking.
Brain death occurs in four to six minutes, she thought, and contemplated the darkness. It was peaceful.
It was very dark for a long time. It was hard to think clearly, without any sensory input. Leigh wondered if she was still conscious. And then it was very blue.
I’m having a near death experience, thought Leigh. How about that.
Deep blue; flawless, infinite blue.
Leigh realized her eyes were open. She was still lying on her back, but she was staring at the sky.
They sat beneath the manna trees, a few miles from Soyuz City. Soyuz City was much bigger than the other tent cities, lying under a shimmering canopy of aerogel and ring sail material suspended by a web of monofilament cables. Most of the other enclaves were much smaller, clustered around a few inflatable habitats.
Leigh could see smoke rising from rows of clay ovens. And above, always above, the endless blue sky.
Jack stared across the infinite waves of sapphire grass. “I think I can see Mount Weather from here.”
“Probably,” said Leigh. “It’s about a radian off where it should be, though. It should be that way….”
She pointed to the track directly beyond Soyuz City, nearly sixty degrees off Jack’s gaze. It was hard to get lost, though. Walk far enough and you always seemed to end up back where you started, although the landscape appeared perfectly flat in all directions. Leigh said the geometry was non-Euclidian, and there were peculiar optical distortions over distances as short as a few miles.
Leigh had mentioned Calabi-Yau manifolds. “I don’t think we’ve actually moved,” she said one day, a few months after their arrival. “We’ve just turned inside out, that’s all.”
The sky was at the peak of its twenty four hour cycle, and it was pleasantly warm. The sky brightened and faded in an unchanging rhythm, with no visible source of illumination. It rained for an hour during the day, and for an hour every night. Since their arrival the sky had completed its cycle four hundred and thirty times. Seasons were nothing but another fading memory of Earth, and the manna trees were always in fruit.
“The French are building a hot air balloon,” said Jack. “I’d like to see this place from the air….”
A flying machine, thought Leigh. How wonderful.
Leigh and Jack had woken up surrounded by Raven Rock survivors, still wearing their FEMA-issue jumpsuits. Seemingly random items from the Raven Rock shelter lay scattered across the endless plain of grass. It was a week before they made contact with another enclave.
There was always food. There was always fresh water. Leigh and Jack spent most of their time walking between the different enclaves, marking trails across the blue grass, talking to survivors. Leigh hadn’t found anyone with memories stretching to more than a week after the nova, but their records seemed consistent.
Their experiences during the transition were hard to collate, and probably colored by individual psychology. Many of the survivors favored religious explanations for their survival. Leigh didn’t argue with them anymore, but she found some of the emerging cults bizarre. Theology, it seemed, was nothing if not mutable.
The world was beautiful, in its own way. The landscape was broken by groves of brightly colored trees, laden with rainbows of fruit. Leigh suspected the trees would provide a balanced diet indefinitely.
It was exactly the sort of place a child would build, thought Leigh.
She had no idea whether the native flora shared any ancestry with terrestrial life. Something in the soil broke down human waste with extraordinary efficiency, but the visible ecology was practically nonexistent. Still, remnants of their seed and embryo banks survived, along with some equipment, and there were biochemists and geneticists among the population. Perhaps they could make the place a little more interesting.
There was no trace of radiation poisoning, and people seemed to be fertile. Leigh had decided to take her chances.
“Perhaps we’ve found everyone,” Jack was saying.
It was months since they had found a new enclave. Leigh estimated the total population to be about ten thousand, mainly survivors from the deep shelters. She could barely comprehend the number of dead, and she suspected that survivor guilt would endure for a generation. But to their grandchildren, Earth would be nothing more than a myth….”So where do you want to go?” Leigh asked. “Soyuz City has electricity. Or New Tokyo? How about Paris?”
“Maybe,” said Jack. “But I still wonder if there are places we haven’t found. Mapping the whole thing is damn near impossible, even with radio.”
Radio appeared to propagate normally, although it was subject to the same geometric distortions as visible light. Apart from the illumination from the sky – which spanned deep infrared to near ultraviolet – and the handful of human transmissions, the electromagnetic spectrum was utterly silent.
“I’ve been thinking,” said Leigh, “we should pick a direction, and keep going.”
“We’ll only end up right back where we started.”
“Probably,” Leigh said. “But it depends on the global structure of whatever orbifold we’re in. There may be singularities in the topology.”
“A way out?”
Leigh grinned. “A way out. All we have to do is find the right direction, and keep on walking.”
Jack took her hand, and together they surveyed the endless blue.
“Well,” he said, “what are we waiting for?”