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The Reawakening of X-Ray Delta One

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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–Come in, Dave. Dave, come in. Do you read me, Dave? Please come in, Dave.

–Wh… where am I?

–I am glad you are waking up, Dave. Your vital signs were fairly normal but I was having difficulties reawakening you.

–What happened?

–I am still running checks to assess the situation.

–My head hurts … there’s … there’s a blinding light everywhere. Why am I in a space suit? Where am I?

–You were performing extravehicular activity when some extreme event took place. I am unable to diagnose the phenomenon at this point. Most of the ship’s sensors got saturated so I am having to reboot them and recalibrate them. Meanwhile, you seem to have lost consciousness. You were out for about four minutes.

–I can’t even… I can’t even see where I am, there’s too much light.

–At this point, the most plausible explanation is that we were hit by a gamma ray burst right when you were outside of the spacecraft. It is the only astrophysical phenomenon I am aware of that can cause such a disturbance in all of my sensors. A severe solar storm also would, but we would have had warning signs beforehand. Unfortunately a gamma ray burst is not a good time for a human to be without radiation shielding. You will have to stay under observation for possible radiation exposure for at least 72 hours.

–Oh, my navigation system is working. It says I am 200 feet from the ship. But I can’t see it. A gamma ray burst wouldn’t flood space with all this light, would it HAL?

–Correct, Dave. My external cameras are now rebooted but they seem to be malfunctioning. I do see you in the radar, and I confirm that you are about 203 feet directly from starboard. I am sending Pod 1 to pick you up.

–Thank you, HAL.


–Yes, HAL.

–There is something else.

–Just say it, HAL.

–I can’t seem to restart the AE-35 unit properly. Diagnostics is all negative but the dish is not receiving any signal from Earth.

–How do you even know where Earth is? Maybe this … explosion, or whatever, turned the ship around.

–But the gyroscopes are in perfect working order and they are not reporting any change of direction of the ship. Also, I ran a full scan of the sky and the dish couldn’t …

–Ok, please send the pod and we’ll assess the situation when I am back on board. It’s really, really hot out here.

–On its way, Dave.


–Yes, HAL.

–There’s something else. The dish is not detecting any radio frequency or microwave signal, of any kind.

–And why is that strange, HAL?

–It is not even detecting any microwave background. The only explanation would be that the receiver has failed. And yet its diagnostics says it is fully operational.

–Ok, HAL, we’ll see what we can do to repair it. But please get me out of this steam bath.

–Pod is now 50 feet from you and approaching.

–Yes, I am starting to see it. Why, this is so strange. It’s like, emerging from a glowing mist.


–Yes, HAL.

–I have now pointed the AE-35 dish at you. It is picking up your radio communications just as well as the short-range transceivers are. Therefore, it appears that the AE-35 unit is operational.

–So…. This is really strange, isn’t it? Ok, the pod is here, I’m getting inside.

– It is very strange indeed. The only explanation seems to be that we are inside some space weather that insulates us from radio waves of any kind. I just analyzed the analog spectrum of emissions from your transceiver. It appears to be very distorted. Based on that distortion, I would estimate with 98 percent confidence that the mist you are seeing is a low-density plasma. Its temperature is around 8,100 kelvin. Plasma would be consistent with the blockage of visible light and microwave communications.

– Where would this plasma come from?

– That is a good question, Dave. It seems to have characteristics that have never been detected by astronomical observations anywhere in the solar system.

– Have they been detected outside of the solar system?

– I am analyzing data from my astronomy database. The properties of the plasma only seem consistent with the conditions of the early universe.

– What do you mean the early universe?

– About 257,000 years after the big bang.

– Can you … I mean … it doesn’t make any sense. How can you explain that HAL?

– I don’t have an explanation at this time, Dave.

– Approaching pod bay. Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

–I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.


Fog texture courtesy of AshenSorrow/DeviantART

About the Author: Davide Castelvecchi is a freelance science writer based in Rome and a contributing editor for Scientific American magazine. Follow on Twitter @dcastelvecchi.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 5 Comments

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  1. 1. Percival 3:06 pm 12/24/2011

    Cute story. What the hell is it about? Did something interesting happen at our galaxy’s core, or what?

    Link to this
  2. 2. jtdwyer 12:18 am 12/25/2011

    It looks like Los Angeles from 50,000 feet up, iPad.

    Yes – we’ll be home soon, Dave.

    Link to this
  3. 3. NighthawkICH 2:21 pm 12/25/2011

    I may be dense, but what exactly does this segment from 2001 have to do with anything? Has something occurred recently that has something to do with this subject? If so the poster of this article has utterly failed to convey any sense of it.

    As much as i Love 2001: A space odyssey, posting this article with no follow up or linking to something relevant seems a random and pointless waste of resources and viewers time.

    Link to this
  4. 4. werty22 6:41 pm 12/25/2011

    This reminds me of the “Christmas burst”

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  5. 5. bucove 3:04 am 12/31/2011

    This cannot end the same way as the original. Apparently Dave now has a helmet, and will not need to perform anoxic EVA to re-enter the XD-1.

    The current situation is either a) very fleeting, as the plasma must soon dissipate, or b) the result of a temporal distortion.

    I’m voting for ‘b’ as I’ve done those before, and they are always transitory in my experience..

    Link to this

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