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BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations having nothing to do with each other. Duality and such …
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When the Event ended she retreated to the observatory’s small breakroom a couple hours later than she normally would have. Quarter-to-four in the morning; the Event had postponed things, and now her belly was rumbling, though she didn’t mind it. She should have minded it, she thought, and she shouldn’t even be hungry. She should be crying. She should be terrified. She should be on the computer, on the phone, screaming to every other astronomer she could think of, trying to get the word out, trying to find out who else had seen it, trying to get confirmation. Instead, she calmly opened the little plastic container with her salad in it and began crunching on a slice of radish laying on top, dabbed with the French dressing she loved. Rather than despair, the warm, calm, lovely glow that had enveloped her these past few days would not be dissuaded.
Why should it, she thought, pulling a saltine from a sandwich bag, scraping a little salad onto it with her fork, crunching away as she looked at the bare walls. There were no windows in the breakroom as it was deep in the observatory’s interior. The cork bulletin board was crowded with announcements and staff schedules, according to which another astronomer was generally with her for the shift, but he’d awakened with a sore throat and decided to stay home. There was a maintenance guy puttering around somewhere; they’d rarely said three words at a time to each other. There was a tech person on call, but only for real emergencies. That was all the little campus-based observatory had funding for, and only that much because her study of Wolf-Rayet stars, in particular Eta Carinae. drew enough science foundation money to pay for observations at this time. She considered her solitude and concluded it was perfect. Other people at this moment would only disturb her mellow. She took another small bite of salad, put the fork down, and absently rubbed her abdomen where right that second, right under her warm palm, after years of trying, her child was growing.
She and her husband had tried for years. She’d had issues, then it turned out he had issues, they tried this, they tried that, she was injected with something, he was injected with something else, doctors suggested this thing and then that thing, some of those things costing ridicules sums of money they didn’t have. Nothing, nothing worked. She was out of time. He was out of Hope.
Then it happened by accident, no science, just passion.
The memory of telling him last week made her smile. The look of sheer, shocked joy on her husband’s face when she revealed her doctor’s confirmation – he hadn’t suspected anything was up until that moment – was pure gold. A rush of electric bliss. Enormous tons of anxiety and sadness evaporated. She’d been floating ever since, happy inside her bubble, shielded from all discontent. Her husband was too, but he would dissolve into intense darkness, she thought rather off handedly, when she told him about tonight. She would leave him to it, and she didn’t feel guilty about that. Maybe she just wouldn't say anything to anybody.
When the Event began, she didn’t think about her husband. She thought about a scumbag ex-boyfriend who had verbally abused and humiliated her until she could escape him. She thought about him because one of his favorite movies, which she’d endured six times, featured George S. Patton telling a colleague that the thing which scared him most was the idea of a bullet coming straight for his nose.
A bullet coming straight for her nose.
She’d looked into her telescope monitor tonight at the star system Eta Carinae which contained two stars with five million times the luminosity of the Sun. At 12:16 PM the stars collided and collapsed as a black hole. The combined matter of both stars swirled into a high-density accretion disk that fell into the hole, drove relativistic jets along the rotational axis which broke through the stellar envelope as a tightly focused gamma ray burst containing more radiation than the Sun would emit during its entire 10-billion-year lifecycle. It had all happened in a split second from 7,500 light years away, and at 12:16 PM that night it struck the lens of the telescope and was immediately identified by her instrument as gamma rays.
Many gamma ray bursts are detected for less than two seconds. Most for a little more than two seconds. They emanate from billions of light years away. None had been observed sparking within the Milky Way Galaxy. But Eta Carinae is in the Milky Way, a relatively close 7,500 light years away, its gamma ray burst was pointed straight at Earth and lasted for 11,308 seconds. 3 hours, 14 minutes, 11 seconds.
She chewed her salad and knew that the moment gamma rays struck the atmosphere oxygen and nitrogen molecules began forming nitrogen oxide and then nitrogen dioxide gas which would reduce ozone by up to 75% making it ill-advised to go outside. The gas would create photochemical smog blocking sunlight and triggering a cosmic winter. Finally, toxic levels of acid rain would fall. These effects would last for years, long enough to produce global level extinction. It had happened before, 450 million years ago, when a gamma ray burst causing the Late Ordovician Mass Extinction ended 85% of life on Earth.
And she didn’t care. She didn’t. Not a whit. Satellites equipped with senor arrays would have detected the burst, reported it, and the world would collectively freak out in a few hours. She calmly ate her salad with the divine French dressing. There was life inside her. She had created it. She glowed with it and would not be discouraged of it. The rest of the universe could take a flying leap.
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Writer’s note: As we have become a society easily seduced by conspiracy theories and catastrophes of all manner, lest I contribute to the foolishness let me quickly say that scientists believe the events of this tale are extremely unlikely. Gamma ray bursts are not only exceedingly rare and too distant to cause the Earth lasting damage. They are also very tightly focused beams and even if one were to occur closer – have to be within 8,000 light years - it would have to be pointed right at us to do any harm. Further, theories that the Late Ordovician Mass Extinction was caused by a Gamma ray burst are not only just theories, they are only minority theories. Even if one were to occur as described in this story, the radiation signatures of Gamma ray bursts vary so drastically that the effects can only be guessed at. I’ve used it here simply as a counterpoint to the powerful rush the lead character is experiencing.
Perhaps a better story line – humans knew nothing of gamma radiation until the first nuclear blasts, and we knew nothing of cosmic gamma ray bursts until we developed sensors to detect whether or not the other guys had tested new weapons. So it was the development of life-ending technology that led to the discovery of an even more powerful life-ending force of nature to remind us how puny we are. So proceeds the branches of The Tree Of Knowledge. Now bite this apple …
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All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.