An asteroid is on its way to Earth, but don’t worry – the end is here Not here. The asteroid, named 2023 BU, is about the size of a van and is expected to miss our planet during Thursday’s flyby. However, according to a NASA scientist, it will be “one of the closest approaches of a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”
Since the Hayabusa2 returned with the sample from the Ryugu asteroid in December 2020, several important discoveries have been made – most notably analyzes confirming the presence of substances thought to be the building blocks of life on the asteroid, such as liquid water and organics fabrics.
Hayabusa-2 took several years to land on Ryugu (literally “Dragon Palace”), pound out just over 5 grams of asteroid material, and bring it back to Earth (landing in Australia in late 2020).
NASA scientists have confirmed not just frozen water but liquid — inside crystals called pyrrhotites. JAXA scientists (pictured above with Prof Tsuchiyama of Ritsumeikan University, my main employer!) continue to check the density of the samples.
The water is similar to the carbon dioxide-laden water of hot springs. The research teams have already discovered over 20 amino acids, the basic protein building blocks of carbon-based life.
Another theory called “panspermia” proposes that a key mineral (boron) missing on early Earth came in an asteroid from Mars. ☄️ Hmm. Did Mars produce asteroids? Or more like asteroids hit Mars and broke off lots of tiny fragments? That somehow survived the journey to Earth?
Seems a little unlikely. But there is now evidence that at least some proteins came from space rocks.
So, sorry, Ridley. This isn’t how it happened. Cool movie, though.
This installment is a bit longer than anticipated, so I will cut it into two parts. Metaphorically. Just like the Artemis crew will need to, following their agreement with the Mars colonies faction heads to train the afflicted settlers in controlling their odd new powers and sensations while assisting in distribution of temporary water and food supplies. Only Martin, the former Mars UN Overseer, who thinks he can manipulate the situation, is about to find out things are proceeding far faster than he planned. And Luna Base has a nasty surprise in store for Mars…
The storeroom chambers were nearly full by now. It had taken several days, but at last the food and water brought from Ceres had been stacked neatly, carefully portioned and labelled for each settler division. Orders were sent to each settler node requesting two or three representatives to bring their respective robotic platform dollies to the main supply chamber.
Cooper strolled casually along one earthen wall, rubbing a hand against the soil. He could feel the regolith composite materials, sense the minerals and hydrocarbon content. It would be so easy to extract and solidify what they needed, strengthen the structure. Or dig even deeper below the planet’s surface.
“Here,” Martin said, handing a pad to Cooper. “I’ve authorized the complete list of supplies brought by the Artemis. There’s my thumb verification, at the bottom.”
Cooper accepted the pad. He scrolled up to verify, nodding. “That should do it.”
“Now,” Martin said, addressing both Artemis crew members with him. “I’d like to find out what happened to my security chief, Hamels. She was outside the airlock when you dropped the ditrium on the ice cap.”
“First things first,” Enoch said. “We’d better make sure that the quantum teleportation nodes from Luna are severed.”
Martin turned pale. “That would seem a bit, er, final, wouldn’t it?”
Enoch grinned. “You bet. And necessary. Who knows what might come through the next time the UA turns the system on again?”
The geist spread his hands wide and made a booming sound, then laughed. The tall spacer slapped his crewmate on the shoulder, then both laughed hysterically for a moment. Martin stared at them. Cooper couldn’t help doubling over again, holding his stomach.
The “new” rock is apparently a meteorite that fell to Earth at least 100 years ago (or more, depending on how you define a “generation”). The two newly-identified minerals are being called “elaliite” (after El Ali, Somalia) and “elkinstantonite” (after NASA planetary evolutionary expert Lindy Elkins-Tanton).
And there’s still one more as-yet-unidentified mineral in the 70-gram rock fragment at the U of Alberta (the original is about 15 tons, and is reported to be the 9th largest such meteorite to have survived entering the Earth’s atmosphere). These three minerals evidently do not exist naturally on Earth. Makes you wonder how many other such minerals are still floating around in space.
And of course, how they might be used to make incredibly strong yet flexible spacecraft materials. (FWIW NASA was already talking about “new” materials such as carbon nanotubes and self-healing piezoelectronic “skins” some twenty years ago…)
Now, maybe it’s just me, but I have a feeling that a 15-ton rock falling into the desert would have raised all sorts of hell. At least locally. Nothing like a 143,000 ton rock, of course. Is there really no record of this thing falling out of the sky? Maybe it’s time to talk to non-European communities and to take their oral legends a bit more seriously.
Sorry that it’s been almost three months since posting more fiction. The colonists on Mars are still undergoing training by Riss and Sanvi so that they can understand and control their new abilities. Meanwhile, Bardish has headed out into space, where he met his destiny.
And Gennaji, who had been headed to discover Bardish’s fate on Luna, is now approaching his own.
“Prepare to board that Loonie ship,” Gennaji said tersely, unstrapping his flight harness.
Karel’s voice sounded void of emotion. As if the big man had gone numb.
Gennaji glanced over at his new navigator. It looked as if the man hadn’t slept at all since they left Ceres. Since their failure. Since Andrej betrayed him.
He couldn’t help himself.
“Pining for that backstabbing vybliadok?”
Karel shot him a glare that Gennaji could not back down from. He planted his magboots firmly down on the control room deck and returned the glare. Neither spoke for a moment.
“He made his choice,” Karel finally said. He kept his eyes firmly on his captain.
“Yes,” Gennaji said, crossing his arms. “He did. And you?”
“You agreed to join this crew. Standard sixteen-month contract.”
“For two more weeks.”
“Yes, two more weeks! A man makes a promise, a man keeps it. You have a problem with being a man?”
Karel turned red, clenched his fists.
“Captain,” said the pilot. “The Lunar skiff is changing course. Heading…directly at us!”
“What?” Gennaji took a step towards Orynko. He felt a big hand grab the back of his right upper arm, twisted him around to face behind him. The punch came in slightly off target, a glancing blow on the chin that sent him backward a step or two. He staggered, recovered, anticipated the left body blow and blocked with the inner part of his right arm. Karel fell forward, his momentum carrying him into his captain.
Gennaji immediately sidestepped, tripping the bigger man and forcing him into a headlock from behind. Left forearm under the man’s left shoulder and neck, right arm behind and locked with the left bicep. Twisted hips, pushed down to the floor, pinning his opponent down with his body weight.
Karel gasped, grabbed at the forearm, kicking futilely.
They couldn’t possibly outrun the hunter ship. Sergey couldn’t identify the vessel, not from his prone position, certainly not in his physical condition. But he knew from experience that any hunter ship could run faster than them, even if the lunar skiff had more maneuverability. And he had a strong suspicion who it was, anyway. Someone he probably should have dealt with in the past.
Music was playing now. He caught just a few refrains. Piano. Ah. Moonlight Sonata. A bit melodramatic, he thought, but appropriate.
He returned his thoughts to this Elodie person who had chosen his adopted daughter’s favorite composer. He still had no idea why she had rescued him from Lunar Base. Or even why he needed rescuing in the first place.
Somebody wanted him. Badly. But why?
In the end, it mattered not to him. All that he wanted was what he had always wanted.
To remain free and independent. Owned by and beholden to no one.
Not even his rescuer, no matter her taste in music.
“El-Elo-die,” he croaked. “W-what now?”
There was no sound from the front of the little ship. He tried again, a bit louder. Still nothing. The music swelled.
He closed his eyes, making a fist with his good hand. No, he wouldn’t die like this. Lying down and useless.
With every ounce of willpower he could muster, Sergey struggled to his feet. Foot, he corrected himself, grabbing onto anything he could to get upright. It took considerably longer than he thought. After a few excruciatingly long moments he found an arm looped round him, assisting him the length of the ship. He was helped into the navigator’s chair, next to the pilot’s chair.
No captain needed on a two-person ship. He would’ve smiled with chagrin, if he could still smile.
“I guess you just aren’t the kind of person who is willing to stay still,” Elodie said. She had sat next to him, almost as if by magic, without his noticing.
He flickered his eyes at the console.
“Where is the approaching ship?” she guessed. He tried to nod his head, but it hurt too much. But at least he could still grunt.
She called up the flight and intercept trajectories and overlaid them so that he could clearly see them.
“No ship registered ID. Most likely hunters. Perhaps pirate.”
He examined the readout, then tried to shake his head, slowly. It came out looking more like a twitch to the right.
“No? Do you know who it is?”
“Captain, before you tell me what you’re thinking, I want to tell you something.”
He continued to gaze at the trajectories in front of them. The dot representing the hunter ship slowly closing in.
“I received a transmission from Ceres. The mining council was briefly taken over by a hunter captain named Ildico. I think you know her.”
He blinked his eyes to show that he did. And waited.
“Ultimately she was unsuccessful. The Artemis showed up. Helped depose her. Now it’s on its way to Mars. The Sundering has begun. We will no longer bow to the whims of the old order, no longer be their mining slaves. No longer be powerless, controlled by—”
He sighed, waved his hand. Enough with the speeches and politics, he thought. It had nothing to do with him. At least he knew that Riss was safely away from whatever coup, whatever powerplay had occurred. She had chosen independence, as did he. He was satisfied.
Only one thing left to do now.
“Captain,” Elodie said forcefully. “You must come with me to Ceres. The remaining hunter ships will listen to you. They respect you.”
He tilted his head to the side, waving his hand again. Then gestured at the screen in front of them.
“Yes, I am not sure how to evade this ship, if it proves hostile. The message I received did not talk about any kind of rescue ship coming. I think the mining council still believes I am on Luna, safe and soundly hidden. But somehow, somehow—”
He gestured with his right hand. “Pen. Pen.”
She complied, setting down a pad and stylus for him. Sergey tried in vain to write a few letters, managing only to scrawl indecipherable scribbles. He seemed on the verge of tossing the pen when Elodie said, “Captain. Don’t write. Draw.”
He stopped, then began to draw images. Two ships. One small, one large. Lines between them. An even smaller, tubelike ship. An asterisk, covering the tubelike ship.
He pointed to the asterisk, then to himself. Then from the small ship to Elodie. Then drew a circle and added stick figures around it. He made one hold what looked like a pad or some similar device. He then drew a line from the small ship to the circle again pointed to Elodie.
“You want me to go to the circle? Is this Ceres?”
“You want to stay in the small ship. This one we are in?”
He tilted his head to the side.
“No? Then, you want to go to the big ship?”
He tilted his head again and closed his eyes.
She suddenly grasped his design.
“Captain, I can’t let you do that. My duty is to prevent your capture and escort you safely to—”
He grabbed her arm with his good hand and held it firmly. Looked her in the eyes. Then said as clearly as possible, “Elo. Dee. Give. Mess. Age. All. Hear.”
He kicked his right foot on the floor and pointed at it. She looked down at it, then up again at him. He gestured again and grunted. Carefully, she removed his boot.
Bardish couldn’t see her remove the chip from an inner pocket in the back of the boot, but he was sure she would find it with little trouble. An old hunter tradition. A final, farewell message. He had always carried it with him, occasionally re-recording it before he thought he might meet his fate. He couldn’t remember when he had last done so. Probably well before the attempted coup. Possibly before Riss had left to track down her rock.
It was just as well. His mind hadn’t changed about many things. Especially since the trial.
The trial that had never should have happened.
Elodie showed him the transponder capsule, with the chip inside.
“Captain, do you want me to broadcast this?”
He blinked, grunted, and pointed at the image of the tubelike ship.
“I understand,” she replied. She held his good hand with both of hers. “You are a legend, Sergey. To all of us. I will make sure that everyone will hear.”
He smiled. Only half his mouth moved, making it appear more like a grimace.
“Well, at least those who care to hear, at any rate.”
He grunted, then looked at the console. Their pursuer had gained considerable ground on them. Most likely would demand to board them. For what purpose, he did not know. But at least this way he would stay free.
If only he knew where Riss was. And that good-for-nothing fiancé of hers.
As the clone pilot assisted his entry into the pod, he prayed for their success. For Riss and Weng. Not for himself. He cared not whether the stratagem worked. This clone, Elodie, she was capable enough of defending herself.
He lay in the tiny pod, hands clasped together in prayer. He only wanted to sleep. Sleep, and to face the darkness on his own terms.
He nodded in response.
The door above his head closed. The music stopped. The pod launched.
Sergey closed his eyes.
Green grass, flowing light blue banners and red rising spires floated before them.
The dirge began.
Beside his old horse a soldier is lying
Beside the soldier his mother is crying…
Above them in circles the bird is flying…
My body pale white, like seeds of poppy–
wounded sore in desperate flight.
O mother mine, do not sorrow so
To see your son in such plight…
Search for a doctor, a carpenter, as well.
The doctor cannot help but
The carpenter a small house will make…
When all is lost and all is finished,
My builder and my war, farewell and good-bye.
O mother mine, cease all your weeping,
Because your poor son is going…
Next:Bringer of Light, Chapter 37: Transit, Ceres to Luna. Gennaji and Karel finally come to an agreement, and things do not go well.
First of all, stop calling it “the golden asteroid.” That’s confusing people (the headline of the article linked below even uses the phrase “gold mine.” Come on, lazy journalists.)
If 16 Psyche is worth mining, when could such operations proceed? Citigroup thinks that space mining, including from the moon and asteroids, will be a $100 billion-per-year business by 2040. Launch costs will continue to decrease and experience in operating in space will continue to expand until such a business makes economic sense.
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