The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hypnale, Day 2

Day 2

            I spent the better part of two days going over the data Verner gave me, as well as more recent scans. Hypnale continues to surprise me at every turn of the proverbial page. Lalande 21185 b was such a mouthful, I just had to give the planet a proper name. Considering just how toxic the atmosphere would be to me, I felt that naming the planet after a genus of the viper family to be very appropriate. It has a nice ring to it too, more so than whatever mythological name it will eventually end up wearing. Astronomers lack imagination when it comes to naming things.

            Along with toxic air, Hypnale has plentiful acidic rain. When I say acid, I do not mean the slightly acidic rains of the long past industrial age; I am talking about the sort of rain that dissolves rock (the paleontologists back home will not like this one bit). The chlorine in the atmosphere undergoes some chemical reaction to give the rain a detectable amount of hydrochloric acid. Not only will the planet choke you, it apparently will digest you too. A simple full-face breather will not cut it on the surface. I will have to wear a head-to-to environmental suit, the sort I needed on the surface of Europa.

            The crew think I am nuts for wanting to go down to Hypnale’s surface. Of course, they think anybody who lives on a planet to be held hostage from climate is nuts. Spacers have not touched the soil of Earth for generations. Most have not even bothered touching the surfaces of Luna or Mars, both worlds remade in Earth’s image. With Earth, the excuse is natural climate, with the other two worlds the excuse is the paraterraforming shield surrounding them. I cannot speak for Mars, but without that shield surrounding Luna, the atmosphere would be washed away by the solar winds like a comet.

            Going for a swim is out of the question as well. Not only are the oceans acidic, they also conduct electricity. Details are still sketchy, and shall remain so until I get close enough to launch a probe into the ocean. I will have to choose carefully whose probe I launched. You see, my being in the Lalande System is not completely my own doing. True, I badgered and harassed my way into the position, but I am funded by an assortment of universities back on Earth. Each one of them made me bring one of their probes along with me.

            How could I say no? Without their funding I could have bought the old heavy lifter that will serve as my lander, but I never could have afforded the extensive refit. What was once a cargo ship that long ago launched from the surface of Earth, is now a full-fledge biological laboratory. The old hulks were rendered obsolete once the first of Earth’s orbital towers was complete. Now days, any ship leaving Earth simply pushes off from the Ring. Come to think of it, I have no idea when the last ship actually left the surface of Earth.

            Some astronomers theorized any tidally locked planet would broil on one side and freeze out its atmosphere on the other. Hypnale is solid proof against that. Like the oceans, and detail on air currents will have to wait for my landing. However, from what the sensor reports say, the temperature is regulated by a simple convection from the sunward hemisphere to the starward one. Hot air rises, cold air sinks, and the pressure difference drives the current. I hope this does not prove to be a planet of endless wind. I loathe the wind, especially the chilly variety.

            The planet has a strange geology. There is a lone supercontinent that extends from beneath the sun all the way to the darkside, but it only does so on one side of the planet. The other side is all oceans from sun to stars. Seventy-seven percent of the planet’s surface is underwater. Given that the planet has a surface area one-and-a-half times greater than Earth, which is a lot of water to explore. Full oceanic charting will have to wait for a research colony.

            After two days, I think I earned a break. I toss the smart paper on a small desk in my quarters. No, the crew was not so gracious as to grant them to me. Since my lander sat in the Venture Star’s cargo hold, Captain Selma saw no reason why I could not simply live there. To do otherwise would only waste space. Spacers do not believe in wasting anything—except perhaps my time. They also do not believe in windows on spaceships. Even if I had a berth on the ship, I would not have much of a view.

            Instead, I have to settle for bringing up outside images on my lander’s viewers. I tap the nearest wall viewer, bringing up an image of outside. It might not be a window, but it was as close as I could get. Viewers had an advantage over old fashion windows. With a quick glance, I could tell there was nothing worth seeing to anybody but a cosmologist. With a quick swipe across the screen, I shift the view to a more pleasant scene. A blue-and-purple half marble comes into quick view.

            Hypnale is nowhere near as beautiful as Earth (or Luna or Mars), but it is still a fascinating display. I think Hypnale will never be viewed as beautiful. Though I grasp the concept of purple plants intellectually, it is still unnerving. I suppose no matter how educated I get, my mind will not so easily overcome billions of years’ worth of evolution. Many years will pass before any poetry proclaims the beauty of the amethyst waves of grain.

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