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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Friday, September 20, 2013

The Guy Who Turned On the Stars: A Science Fiction Story

The Guy Who Turned On the Stars: A Science Fiction Story On the planet where Corvo lived, very far from Earth, the sky always looked brown during the day. You could see the sun, but only as a blurry patch that was brighter than the rest of the sky. The brown haze of the sky blocked the sun so much that you could stare right at it without hurting your eyes. At night, nothing could be seen in the sky. In fact, in Corvo's language there was an expression “as empty as the night sky,” meaning something that was completely empty.

Most people on Corvo's planet just accepted this state of affairs without giving it any thought. But Corvo was a curious type of person, and he began wondering why the sky had always looked brown to those of his race. He studied the matter as part of his scientific studies. On Corvo's planet, science was not very advanced, and airplanes had been invented only thirty years ago. But there were tools for Corvo to pursue scientific investigations.

After a lengthy inquiry, Corvo was able to draw a conclusion about why the sky was brown. The sky was brown, he concluded, because of three great active volcanoes on his planet. Throughout the recorded history of his planet, the smoky volcanoes had been steadily spewing out tiny particles into the sky. The particles were mixed into the atmosphere by the planet's strong winds, which carried the particles all over the world. The result was a sky that was always brown, because of tiny suspended particles in the air.

Now most people would be content to have just come up with an explanation for the brownness of the sky, but Corvo was an audacious sort who took things further. After much thought, Corvo decided that it was not a good thing that the sky above him was always brown and opaque. It would be much better, Corvo concluded, if the sky was instead clear and transparent, for at least some of the time. But was there any way to change things so that the sky could become clear?

After years of study and thinking, Corvo came up with an audacious plan. He wrote up his plan into a document that began to circulate in the offices of his country's government. One day Corvo was called in by a government committee, and told to explain and defend his plan.

“The three huge volcanoes on our planet create two huge problems,” explained Corvo. “First, they send up so many particles that our air is filthy and polluted. My studies indicate that millions of people might be saved from respiratory diseases if we were to find a way to block the volcanoes. The other problem with the volcanoes is that they make it impossible for us to study anything beyond our atmosphere. There might be all kinds of interesting things outside of our planet, but we can't see any of them, because our naturally polluted sky blocks us from seeing into outer space.”

“I propose that we fix these problems in a simple way-- by blocking the three volcanoes,” said Corvo. “All that is required is a sufficient number of airplane flights. Every volcano has a tube-like vent, which is rather like a chimney. We can send in bomber planes to drop bombs down the vents of the volcanoes, to block them. Then we can send waves of planes to drop sand upon the volcanoes, to block them from emitting particles. If you drop a sufficient amount of sand on the top of the volcanoes, they will be permanently sealed.”

“How many plane flights would be required to block the three biggest volcanoes?” asked a government official.

“I estimate that to block each volcano, we will need to drop 500 plane loads of explosives,” said Corvo. “Then we would need to drop 2,000 plane loads of sand on top of each volcano. The cost would be very high, and the project would require one or two years to complete. But it would be worth it.”

Corvo's proposal was debated fiercely, but eventually the government agreed to fund the ambitious plan. The bomber planes began flying, dropping explosives down the vents of the planet's three great volcanoes. Then cargo planes began dropping sand on top of the volcanoes. After a total of 7500 plane flights, the tops of all three volcanoes were sealed.

At first there was no big change in the skies. The skies still looked brown, but just a little less brown.

“We spent so much on this project-- why isn't it working?” asked a government official.

“We're in a low-wind weather pattern,” ventured Corvo. “All those particles in the air are just hanging there in the atmosphere. Wait for a good storm, and it should flush things out, and the skies should clear.”

A while later there was one of the huge wind storms that were common on the planet. People went underground to shelter themselves. There were heavy winds and days of nonstop rain.

Finally when the storm ended, the weather changed abruptly, and people came out of their shelters.

Corvo went outside with his wife Jyna and looked up at the sky. It was late in the afternoon.

“I can't believe it!” exclaimed Jyna. “The sky – it's blue! Does that mean the sky is broken?”

“I had no idea what color it would be when the volcano dust cleared,” said Corvo. “Blue – what a beautiful color for a sky to be! Don't worry, the sky isn't broken. We've healed it!”

Jyna looked at the sun, and her eyes hurt.

“The sun – it's so much brighter!” said Jyna. “It will blind us!”

“No, no, it's not any brighter,” said Corvo. “Just don't look directly at the sun. We used to be able to look directly at it, but now that the sky is clear, we can't do that any more.”

Corvo and Jyna waited outside looking up at the sky with great excitement. An hour later the sky started to turn orange. It was the first sunset they had ever clearly seen. They could see the sun appear as an orange ball on the horizon.

“Now you can look at it,” explained Corvo. “But only when it's on the horizon.”

The couple watched the sun disappear under the horizon, and then they watched part of the sky turn purple. It was their first good look at twilight.

“That was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen,” said Jyna. “Nothing could ever top it.”

“But let's keep watching the sky,” said Corvo. “Maybe we'll just see blackness when night comes, but perhaps there might be something interesting to look at.”

Holding hands together, the couple looked up at the blackening sky with great excitement. One by one stars started to appear in the sky. It was the first time anyone on their planet had ever seen the stars.

“What are those lights appearing in the sky?” asked Jyna. “Some kind of bird or insect, perhaps?”

“No, they're not moving,” said Corvo. “I don't know what they are.”

Alternating between laughter and tears, Corvo and Jyna watched as thousands of stars became fully visible in the sky. As Corvo's planet was near a glorious star cluster, he saw far more stars than anyone can see from Earth.



“They're so beautiful, these lights in the sky,” said Jyna. “What shall we call these things?” Her language had no word for star, because no one had ever seen a star before.

“Perhaps for now we can call them sky jewels,” said Corvo.

“They will always be a mystery,” said Jyna. “We'll never know whether they are gods, or jewels, or animals.”

“Perhaps one day we can know,” suggested Corvo. “I have a strange idea for a new invention we could create to study these glorious things in the sky. You put two special pieces of glass at opposite ends of a long tube. I call this invention a telescope.”