A Ghost Wind for Christmas
Toni Moroni had been raised a Roman Catholic, but had long since become a confirmed atheist.
But she still felt a chill when a star wholly ruined her Christmas.
And not just her Christmas, if her fears were real.
On 21st December 2111, she’d been chatting with her old friend Arnold the Astronomer. A man full of excitement that Eta Carina might be finally going supernova, getting there ahead of Betelgeuse. Organising measurements for the expected surge of neutrinos.
“It will be a wonderful test of the Deep-Preon Particle Model. We’ll get exact data for generation, phase and Quirk-Number.”
“Better than for Supernova 2108D?”
“Instrumentation has improved. Besides, that was a Type 1a Supernova. A particular type of white dwarf star steals hydrogen from a neighbour, and blows itself apart as a gigantic hydrogen bomb. Eta Carina is quite different – a giant star near the end of its life. You want details?”
“Please. I am an engineer, the Instrumental who overseas sending out hundreds of star ships to settle new worlds. Oddly, your ‘ghost winds’ of neutrinos may matter to our work. So go on.”
“Well, really massive stars can fuse carbon into neon, which our own sun never will even when it’s a red giant, thousands of millions of years from now. It burns fast and its core is hot and it has a short lifetime. The world of stars is weird: it’s as if elephants were born and died in a single day while mayflies lived on for centuries.
“The ultra-hot giant star burns fast. From neon to oxygen, silicon and finally iron, each time squeezing out more energy to keep the star burning. But you can’t do that with iron. You can use it to make heavier elements – copper, silver, gold, uranium: all sorts, though some come from other sorts of cosmic disaster.
“When the core is mostly iron, ‘the centre cannot hold’. There is a core collapse, and then it bounces back as a supernova explosion. A lot of light, but even more neutrinos.”
“But their phase and Quirk-Number?”
“I could talk for hours about theories. But my judgement is that no one knows, and it may surprise us. And is very unlikely to be similar to Supernova 2108D.
“As to whether it might to something to an Interstellar Drive…”
“I am not authorised to tell you. I’ll try to bring you in on it as soon as I can. Meantime please enjoy Christmas. Or not – are you Jewish?”
“By origin, but I’m happy to make it a family gathering.”
“Thanks. But now I have urgent business.”
Toni Moroni was a high official in the Dog Star Corporation, based at the Sirius star system and making interstellar ships for overcrowded Earth. But despite mutual need, a war was not unthinkable. Some would say it was thinkable precisely because they had shared business, and each wanted the best possible deal.
Quenching an interstellar drive had been secretly developed as a weapon of war. But after a run of urgent secret meetings, it was agreed the problem was real. It was agreed to delay launches of any more ships, citing ‘engineering problems’. Say nothing more until after Christmas, when it would have to be admitted that huge numbers of ships in transit to human-friendly worlds might lose their drives and drift on helplessly.
Only 18% of the population of the Dog Star Corporation called themselves Christians, but 73% felt a strong need for some sort of celebration. It was officially the Yuletide Holiday. If people would sooner worship a Tree-God than Baby Jesus, that was their right. Most just ate and drank and gave presents and hugged friends, while a minority also had casual sex.
Toni Moroni did all of these things, but could not hide that she was distracted. But only on 26th December did most people learn why.
Copyright © Gwydion M. Williams
This is a fragment from a book-length tale, in which the Dog Star Corporation faces many perils in 2012.
The Ashes Of My Brief Existence is from the same planned book, for which I have a mass of notes.
So is Vindalf’s Gift.
There are two types of supernovas, involving very different set-ups. Those from the death of a giant star would indeed produce far more neutrinos. The rest is invented. ‘Preon’ is one name used for a variety of theories of smaller components that might make up the particles we know. It is indeed remarkable that quarks have 1/3 or 2/3 of the charge of the electron: but attempts to go beyond the Standard Model have so far not convinced most experts. It is likely to happen soon, but how it goes is anyone’s guess. Most varieties of Supersymmetry predicted particles that should have been found but were not found.