Monday, 11 March 2013

Cosmic Dust

What Poul Anderson in "Pride" (Space Folk, New York, 1989) calls a "brown dwarf" (p. 8) and describes as a "half-star" (p. 1) or "sub-sun" (p. 20), James Blish in Mission To The Heart Stars (London, 1980) calls a "grey ghost" and describes as "a dwarf semi-star" (p. 92).

Anderson describes space travellers exploring new environments, therefore encountering as yet unexplained phenomena like:

" 'Those white clouds blanketing most of the surface [of the brown dwarf]...What are they?'" (Space Folk, p. 16)

When a pilot sets off on a solitary mission, it is entirely expectable that something will disable her spacecraft. When a second pilot sets off to rescue her and to complete her mission, it is even more expectable that he will succeed. These are the kinds of things that happen in this kind of story. What is of interest is the nature of the obstacle that she had encountered:

" 'The whitish material in the atmosphere and in the plume she encountered, it's dust...mostly fine silicate particles...cosmic dust that the Solar System condensed out of.' " (p. 23)

This solid material was incorporated into the bodies of smaller planets and the cores of gas giants and was vaporized in the Sun but the heat of the brown dwarf kept it suspended in the lower atmosphere from where it is cast into space whenever the dwarf temporarily ignites.

Thus, the space explorers are encountering that primordial dust from which their planetary system was formed. What more dramatic discovery could they have made two light years from home on the fringe of the Solar System?

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