The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hypnale, Day 3

Day 3

            Today was uneventful, yet far from boring. As I began to study the data on Hypnale that came in while I slept, I received a most pleasant surprise. Venture Star picked up a data stream from Earth. This meant little to the Spacers save what useful information they could mine from it, but it meant a great deal to me. I want to get on the line and beam back everything I learned about Hypnale (including my right to register the new name), but hold off for the time being. If the warp gate works as advertised, then delivering all of the findings in person would be much quicker.

            There was little actual news of Earth itself. Terran society has changed little in centuries, and has certainly not changed in the fourteen years since the broadcast left Earth. I suppose it is the thought that counts. It gives me such a warm feeling to know that Earth has not given up on us. They knew when we would arrive and timed their transmission to hit us the moment the crew was revived. Ok, they were a few days late, but so what? A colleague from Recife was kind enough to forward my mail through the data stream. I have no idea what sort of strings he had to pull to achieve that, but I can imagine that a few flaming hoops were jumped through.

            I had to invest an hour just wading through it to discover the few items that were not junk. Over a decade worth of backlogged periodicals. A new planet was discovered orbiting Delta Triangulum. This in itself would not be all that exciting, if not for evidence of life. The planet’s water vapor content was low, so it was likely an arid world similar to the one around Ross 248, only much larger. The new world was interesting, if only in an academic fashion. Any voyage there would have to wait tens of generations—to Delta Triangulum I mean. Ross 248 might be reached in only a few generations once the warp gate proves itself.

            I would not mind taking a look at Ross 248 b. It was a tidally locked world like Hypnale, but by all indications was almost as dry as the Atacama. There was a sea on the planet, that much was sure, but spectral analysis insists that it covers less than twenty percent of the surface. It makes Mars look like downright humid in comparison. Alas, the arid world will be the problem of another lifetime. I curse the speed of light, and not for the first time. There are just so many wonders in the universe that I will never see. I cannot help but feel a massive injustice in that.

            The lack of any familiar news distresses me. Are all my relatives dead, or do they just assume that I am. Perhaps they simply did not take the speed of light into account and are just now sending messages. I do not take the assumption of my death personally. Considering the fate of Trail Blazer it would be little wonder if they did not hold a funeral in my honor as soon as Venture Star began its acceleration away from Sol. I hope they recorded it, for it strikes me with a morbid curiosity to see my own funeral.

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.