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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Vanished Apocalypse: A Science Fiction Story

When the US president announced that a giant asteroid was heading towards a collision with planet Earth, he first tried to make it look like a problem that the government could solve. People were told that NASA would launch a space mission to divert the asteroid from its course, using nuclear weapons to blast the giant space rock off its course.

But insiders knew that the chance of success was slim. The asteroid had been discovered too recently, and there wasn't the time needed to properly prepare a space mission with a high chance of success. NASA workers frantically scrambled to put together the crucial launch. They loaded as many nuclear weapons as they could into the payload of a huge rocket. But in the rush, they crammed too much weight into the overloaded payload.

When the rocket blasted off, a large fraction of the world watched breathlessly on their TV screens. But after rising a few hundred meters into the air, the overloaded rocket veered to the right, and began spinning in the air. It crashed to the ground in a horrific explosion that spewed lethal plutonium over many square miles.

Now it was clear to all: there was no hope of an eleventh hour mission to stop the asteroid. The giant space rock would hit the planet with all its force. Scientists calculated that the asteroid would blast out so much matter on its impact that a large fraction of the planet would be covered with dust. The dust would stay up in the atmosphere for years, blocking out sunlight, and throwing the world into a nuclear winter in which it would be impossible to grow crops. The eventual result would be a mass starvation in which almost everyone would die. The chance of the human race surviving was slim.

Scientists announced the exact day and time when the giant asteroid would strike: on December 6th at 11:24 AM. When December arrived, the people of the world dealt with the situation in a variety of ways.

In New York City, Priscilla Carlson heard that the glamorous shops on Fifth Avenue had been abandoned, as millions fled the city, seeking higher ground in case of an asteroid collision in the ocean. Priscilla got a baseball bat and smashed open the windows of some chic designer boutiques. She grabbed some status-symbol luxury items such as Gucci handbags and Oscar de la Renta dresses. Returning home, she took pictures of herself with her stolen loot. But after posting the pictures on Facebook, she was heartbroken when her pictures received no “Like” votes at all. Finally she realized how distracted her group of Facebook friends must have been.

In Chicago, young Allan Ramsay figured that the worldwide chaos and approaching doom was a golden opportunity for him to do what he always wanted to do: to ride his skateboard on the ledge of a skyscraper. Allan thought that his many daredevil stunts on the streets of Chicago would prepare him for this great challenge. Given the nationwide chaos, he was easily able to get to the 40th floor of a skyscraper. He got the thrill of a lifetime when skateboarding along a narrow skyscraper ledge. But then he ran out of ledge while skateboarding too fast. The poor young lad then plunged to his death.

In Florida, William Anderson thought how he would spend his last hours with his two young children. He decided to tell them nothing about the approaching apocalypse. He took the kids out of school, and disconnected his television set, telling his kids to speak to no one for the next week. William decided that on the morning of December 6th, he would spend his last hours doing what he had loved doing more than anything else: reading aloud to his young children, and playing baseball with them in their backyard.

On December 5th, the New York Times published what it believed would be its last issue. It had a 6-inch tall headline with a single word: DOOM!

On the night of December 5th, people around the world could see the giant asteroid as a bright star in the sky.

“Look, you see that big star in the sky?” said Ed Baker to his wife. “It's the Angel of Death, and it's here to take us all.”

Then suddenly the asteroid simply disappeared.

People all over the world witnessed it. They were looking at a bright star, and then suddenly there was nothing to see. Television shows at first reported that they were having trouble getting a fix on the exact location of the asteroid. But before long it became clear – there simply was no more asteroid. Inexplicably, it had just plain vanished. The world had been spared.

Two weeks later, scientist Hubert Keller was interviewed about the amazing incident by a reporter from CNN.

“What do you think was the reason why the asteroid mysteriously vanished?” asked the reporter.

“I've heard some of my fellow scientists advance the idea that the asteroid vanished because of the random spontaneous appearance of a quantum wormhole,” said Professor Keller. “But I consider that hypothesis to be ridiculous.”

“So what is your theory?” asked the reporter.

“My theory is that what happened was what I call spontaneous disintegration,” explained Professor Keller. “It could have been that this asteroid was just a kind of 'house of cards' waiting to collapse. Perhaps it was mainly hollow, and mainly made of dust. So, purely by chance, it might have disintegrated at a lucky moment.”

“But wouldn't that have left a huge cloud of dust?” asked the reporter. “Nothing like that was reported. The asteroid seems to have suddenly vanished without a trace.”

“Yes, but I can explain that through another hypothesis,” said Professor Keller. “I postulate that at exactly the same moment that the asteroid spontaneously disintegrated, there occurred – purely by chance, of course – a gigantic surge in the solar wind which basically blew away all the dust from the asteroid more or less instantly. So purely by coincidence you had these two things happening at the same time, which merely made it look as if the asteroid had suddenly disappeared.”

“So you don't think the sudden disappearance of the giant asteroid is anything that should make you think that perhaps you've overlooked something, that perhaps there's something more at work in the universe than just blind, accidental causes?” asked the reporter.

“Why, of course not,” said the Professor indignantly.