The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day 5 (on Hypnale)

Day 5

            Landing proceeded as smoothly as I planned. The ship had zero problems in landing itself. If it had, then I would be quite crossed for a while. Following that spell, I would likely be dead. For centuries ships have either landed or docked themselves, or participated in a semi-autonomous fashion. Despite the fact that there is no way an AI can screw up a landing, some humans prefer to take the controls themselves. They claim that it makes the ship feel like an extension of their own body. As far as I can tell, controls feel like controls; plastic, glass and composites.

            My survey of the planet begins in the Sunward Hemisphere, directly beneath the sun. I dubbed it the Sunspot Desert. A quick scan of the landing zone indicates the temperate can exceed three hundred fifty Kelvins. If life on Earth taught me anything, it is to expect life in unexpected places, even a desert that approaching the boiling point. Looking at the baked desert beneath the pink sky, I wonder if any water is to be found. I might have to deploy a drill probe.

            As soon as the lander was safely on the ground, I prepared for my first excursion. The Sunspot Desert was hotter than any on Earth, but at least here I will not have to worry about acidic rain. A standard environmental suit, a design that has existed for centuries, should have no problem radiating off any excess heat. After all, they were designed to operate the surface of Mercury, which ranged plenty hotter. It could probably handle the heat of Venus, but anyone fool-hearty enough to stroll the surface of that planet would need a specialized E-suit to handle the pressure.

            I launch the first of many probes. For such an open space as a desert, I chose one of the aerial probes, a simple balloon design from the University of Nairobi. Zoologists in East Africa used the design for observing the wildlife of the savanna. I do not expect to see any lions or antelope running around the desert, but the probe will zoom in on any fauna out in the open. My first thought would be to wait for nightfall, for that is what one would do on Earth in a similar setting. Lalande long since liberated Hypnale from the curse of day-night cycles. One of the reasons I chose the Sunspot Desert first was to studying just how life copes with it being high noon all the time.

            After I launched the probe, I decided to take a step outside. I have no way of telling just how long the probe will take to find anything. It might not find anything in this part of the world. While I wait, I might as well take some soil samples. I might not be as intimate with an E-suit as a Spacer, but I have no trouble donning the suit. I remember watching other researchers at Europa Station putting on an E-suit for the first time. I wonder if I was as equally clumsy. E-suits are solid pieces with servo-enhanced limbs. Not quite powered armor, but I imagine such formidable weapons would not be necessary here. At least I hope so.

            As soon as I step into the suit the HUD on my visor comes to life. Standard E-suits display nothing all that exotic, just information such as temperature, pressure, atmospheric composition, and most importantly, remaining power on the life-support system. I worry more about power than I do air. Millions of nanites inhabit filters in the suit, taking the carbon dioxide I exhale and breaking it down into carbon and oxygen. The carbon is stowed away for later removal. The best attribute to these nanites is that water in high concentration will deactivate them, so nobody needs to worry if they accidentally inhale the machines.

            There was absolutely no prompt or pageant when I stepped foot on Hypnale. My feelings were mixed to the occasion. On one hand, I was the first human to ever visit the planet and was hoping for a little fame. On the other hand, I had approximately three months to survey an entire planet and decided I should get down to work. No famous first words no live press conference, just me with a long scoop. Despite myself, I did take a moment to just observe the strangest world I have yet to visit.

            The bleached red-white rocks and pink sky were not the strangest sights on the planet. Actually, the strangest sight was not even on the planet. Directly overhead throbbed Lalande 21185, larger than life. I have never seen a sun take up so much space. Though it is much small in Sol, in terms of volume as well as mass, Hypnale orbited just under zero-point-one AU. Even then, it was far dimmer than what my biology evolved. I could safely look at the sun here. In a sense, it was more like looking at the never-blinking eye known as Jupiter from one of its moons than looking at a real star. It pumped out plenty of heat to compensate. My HUD displayed a temperature just twenty degrees shy of boiling.

            Without my E-suit, it would be rather intolerable. Even with it, I lose my enthusiasm for the desert. Nothing stirred within visual range, nor did it within range of my suit’s sensors. Is this part of the world truly lifeless? The only way I would solve this question today was with a sample of the soil. I scoop up several hundred milligrams and retreat to the confines of my lander. The soil analysis shows the dirt to be nearly desiccated. It had not enough moisture to even form a drop of dew. There were but a few traces of organic compounds, but no lifeforms. My first sample of Hypnale has proven a total bust. How can I put into the words the frustration I felt of being on a planet I know has life, but cannot find even a microbe? I decide to give the airborne probe a day or two to survey the area before moving starward; east just does not seem to be an apt direction on a planet without day and night.

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