Degrees of Freedom

Degrees of Freedom

The boundless dimensions of math and physics

The Reawakening of X-Ray Delta One


--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

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

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