Some particles just shouldn't be accelerated

First of all, I just want to say, on the record, that I'm sorry. We had no idea what was going to happen when we did the experiment. Heck, that was why we were doing it. I'm sorry. We're not going to do it again, regardless of how improbable the results were last time we tried it. Nor is anybody else.

Okay. What basically happened was that one of the collisions we engineered produced two of the rarest particles known to physics. Now, these are shortlived things so we've seen one at a time on many occasions, but two existing alongside each other even for a matter of nanoseconds was pretty exceptional in itself, if scientifically uninteresting. But what was amazing - the factor that we've never been able to engineer again - was that these two particles curved around in the magnetic field and they collided as well.

And both of them totally vanished. Not even a pulse of electromagnetic radiation marked their disappearance. They completely vanished from the reaction chamber. Now obviously the first thing you're thinking and the first thing I thought is "this has got to be equipment fault", but the trails of all the other particles in the experiment all came out fine. How could the chamber record one set of trails but not others? Selective failure like that doesn't happen.

Now obviously we spent some time investigating what theoretically should have happened when the two particles collided, but all the numbers went berserk and just added to the growing body of evidence that physics was in need of a totally new theory of everything. So when numerous attempts to duplicate the experiment failed (luckily), we hesitantly suggested that the particles might have decayed into neutrinos - a fudge of an explanation, they were both positively charged for heaven's sake - and moved onto something else.

That all happened twelve years ago.

One year ago that new theory arrived, so we decided to dig up the results from that old experiment and run a simulation based on the new equations. The numbers went berserk again, but this time in a quantifiable way. We ended up with a particle that breaks pretty much all the conventional laws of physics. Firstly, when it decays - after about a quintillionth of a second according to its personal timescale - it releases a quantity of energy so gargantuan it could annihilate a planet. Or a star. Secondly, in that quintillionth of a second it fires itself across the space at relativistic speeds, and homes in on the first point mass it comes near. Like a star. You see where I'm going with this.

So we asked ourselves, if the energy wasn't released inside our reaction chamber, then where was it released? Where did the particle end up when it decayed? Obviously not in our own Sun, as proven by the fact that it's still there. So we decide that the thing to do is predict and plot the particle's instantaneous trajectory through space. Its life-line.

The next bit was fun; pulling out star charts, figuring out the orientation of the reaction chamber in space at the exact date and time of the experiment... you can guess what we found. It headed out of the solar system, towards another star. It homed in on it, and after a quintillionth of a second by its personal timescale, but about six years by ours, it decayed.

Yeah. Barnard's Star. Six light-years away. Now Barnard's Nova.

I said I was sorry.

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Discussion (25)

2008-05-23 16:17:45 by Rob:

Very fine short story.... thanks!

2008-05-26 19:50:44 by ChrisJim:

Still, we've got six years to flee! Hmm. One might be better off mining all of the solar system for all of it's lead and heavy metals and just sitting behind the sun for when the radiation hits. And wait there for 10,000yrs to the x-rays to die down.

(I wonder if this filter accepts the other square root.)

2008-06-17 00:59:47 by Andrew:

The species that lived around that star are going to be pissed!

2008-08-06 22:35:46 by strangexperson:

No, we *had* twelve years. Six years out, Barnard's Star blows up, wavefront travels six years back. All twelve of those years were spent in the process of noticing that something was wrong.

2009-01-02 19:46:54 by FlyingSagittarius:

This is great!

2009-01-23 12:53:07 by Paradoxia:

Hmm, now that it's too late anyway, couldn't they just repeat the experiment for the sake of seeing what would happen? What have they got to lose? (Just kidding by the way).

Cool story.

2009-04-09 23:09:46 by Charlie:

What was with the two odd particles at the beginning, and did they form the particle that created the nova?

2009-05-23 02:58:18 by Larry:

I don't buy it. The two original rare particles "were both positively charged for heaven's sake", yet they curved _into_ each other in the magnetic field? Doesn't happen, sorry.

2009-08-05 03:36:56 by Ross:

@Larry: If they had different masses and were ejected at different angles from the same source, the combination of the two curves might result in a collision. The area enclosed would look like a crescent roll.

2009-08-05 03:37:22 by Ross:

@ChrisJim: Yes, it does.

2009-12-21 18:36:25 by Brian:

I'm wondering what the sky looks like as this person is delivering their explanation. Is it an eye-searing riot of aurorae gone amok, as we encounter the very leading edge of a literally apocalyptic radiation storm? Or is it an ordinary night with one new, pretty star in it?

I know a supernova that close to us would be a world-ending event, but Barnard's Star isn't big enough to generate a supernova. It's less than 20% the mass of our sun. Blowing it up via some external influence would be catastrophic to its planets, if it has any, but I wonder what sort of effects we would expect to encounter at this distance.


2010-02-09 01:02:22 by Xartavion:

The effects would clearly include rampant speculation. :)

2010-02-14 06:04:47 by Mick:

The damage done to us would partially depend on the exact quantity and type of energy released by the decay. I mean, if it releases enormous quantities of gamma rays, the supernova is just a side note. If it's just less energetic light, then... I'm not sure.

Either way, a "supernova" of a star that size would not result in enough of and energy-shockwave to destroy all life on Earth. It would be very bright, and cancer rates would go up, and it still all depends on the energy released by the particle.

Mmm. Late-night physics.

2010-03-04 04:06:16 by Lucas:

I'm pretty sure Sam didn't intend this story to be about an apocalyptic event. It seems to me by the tone that the scientists aren't saying,"Crap! Let's evacuate!" They're saying, "Oopsie. Our bad."

2012-03-22 00:16:12 by LOL:

I think that this experiment should be countinued for as long a possible: Accelerate tons of them in random orientations, and you got a galaxy-buster.

2012-11-18 01:38:25 by PhantomHoover:

Note that it says Barnard's *nova*; novae and supernovae aren't the same, so maybe it's a major, visible change but not actually able to damage Earth.

2013-05-09 18:46:26 by Noone:

@LOL: Eventually one of them will blow up the sun.

2013-07-06 03:59:20 by Seraphnb:

I like considering this as an Ed story. It's almost reminiscent of what supposedly happened to cause the Andromeda drama.

2014-03-03 03:27:47 by William Brennan:

@LOL: Also, given the Drake Equation, we would probably hit inhabited places before too long. Aside from this being utterly evil, if aliens figure out where the particles are coming from...

2015-05-09 14:34:28 by Daniel Fu:

If only there was a way to aim these things...

2015-11-23 13:25:04 by gtrytrtyh6htgrt:

ayy lmao

2016-07-25 18:57:43 by BillMann:

Is the implication that it ended the world? I didn't get that.

2016-12-06 16:04:02 by annoying user:

Check your web design buddy :^)

2016-12-07 13:27:50 by Leigh:

Love it. This is my kind of science fiction.

2017-08-29 23:20:00 by Fan of Richard Feynman:

Haha, nope. Conservation of energy. E=mc^2. Also, I would have been curious where would Arrow of Time (read "enthropy") point in that case.