Dr. Renault couldn’t help feeling the excitation of discovery at this moment. The most monumental discovery of the Coronal Satellite-station was this, the thing which it seemed would inevitably destroy the multi quadrillion dollar project. It wasn’t the craft’s remarkable system of salvaging energy from the star it orbited so close to. As it passed through the corona, the heat was far too intense to try to harvest energy from, as such it drew induction from the star’s turbulent magnetic fields themselves. The material science and advanced plasma shielding used had taken decades to develop. The device shot through the solar system in an elliptical orbit, only briefly passing through the corona close enough to take its measurements.
Those measurements themselves were an amazing feat. The most advanced array of electromagnetic fluctuation detectors ever built, with the intention of mapping solar plasma flows so accurately that they could form predictive models. Models Dr. Renault begrudgingly knew were being used for all sorts of other tech.
Science had always had a dependent relationship with warfare, but in recent centuries the pattern of scientists only being able to find funding for their research if it had a weapons application had reached a cliché. To get grants for her advanced predictive solar modeling project, she’d needed to tack on a bit in the presentation about how hypothetically, if a nuclear weapon of sufficient size were detonated on the surface of a star it could stimulate a solar flair that could be aimed by an advanced enough model. This could be used as an area denial weapon in interplanetary naval combat or even cause significant infrastructure damage or a communications disruption on a targeted planet. It was, of course, a pipe dream, but pipe dreams get funding if they can kill something. That was the kicker, but the real grease on the funding wheels had been the physical hull and plasma shield. The military had been researching those technologies for a long time before her little pet project gave them a convenient excuse to shift some of the cost into the civilian science budget. Directed plasma weapons were the latest battlefield fad, and a civilian need to overcome intense plasma was a convenient excuse to develop both the weapons and the shielding to protect craft from those weapons.
In the end, it wasn’t military tech that would be her life’s legacy. It would be in the field of exo-biology. Something she knew almost nothing about. She’d found life on another world, if you could call it a world. Life so bizarre and unexpected word of its possibility would rack the brains of physicists, chemists and biologists for centuries, perhaps millennia.
The station powered its elliptical close shots by the sun with a long and weak burn of a Bussard Ramjet during its approach into the star’s corona. The ramjet was modified to harvest some of the solar plasma and store it as fuel for starting the next burn when the device was still too-far away from the sun to harvest enough solar wind to be viable. The readings from this plasma storage tank were strange, to say the least. The plasma clumped. The mechanism of this plasmal-bonding, as she had dubbed it, was unclear. It almost seemed as though it were a feature of the gravito-electromagnetic field produced by nuclei at very high energies. The clumped plasma moved in ways that human made plasma did not, at least on the microscopic scale. Tiny clumps of plasma would absorb other plasmas, seeming to run from other plasmas, and divide themselves into similar plasmas. Some were amorphous blobs, some rigid and seemingly covered in strands. These microscopic little clumps seemed to her and the project’s AI, Halcomp, to behave very similarly to bacteria. They seemed to use radioactive isotopes as fuel sources in some bizarre metabolic analogue. These plasmal-bacteria moved and propelled themselves in a way the typical non-living plasma fluid did not, and as such, were slowly eroding at the containment chamber.
If Halcomp could not find a new way of modeling and containing them, the craft would be destroyed in a few weeks. A lifetime of work would explode internally, then drift aimlessly and crash into the sun. Halcomp wasn’t confident that he would find a solution. Its models of their behavior suggested a containment chamber with much more fine-tuned abilities than the one in their vessel, which had been designed for dead plasmas. An action to contain one region of the chamber would allow a release in another. All the shipboard computer could do was slow the inevitable, and gather more and more data in the process.
General Titus, the military liaison for the project, had laughed with excitement when she told him of the impending destruction of the craft and the reason why. “Life on the sun? You gotta be kidding me!”
“I know it’s ridiculous, but the data can only be explained by—”
“By a new craft, with far more efficient shielding, potentially able to penetrate deeper into the corona, with an enhanced plasma storage tank, capable of directing and containing plasma more efficiently.”
“I think we can scrounge some money for that. After all, life on the sun might be the greatest discovery in the last century of humanitarian science!”
Dr. Renault didn’t particularly care that her life’s work was in an inevitable death spiral. Another one would be built, eventually. The quest for a more advanced predictive model of the sun’s magnetic field would be a pursuit of mankind for at least another century or two. Finding life on the sun, though, nobody had ever thought to try for that. “Freak accidents are the real moments when science is revolutionized,” the doctor thought to herself. She was already moving, acquiring security clearance for a couple of old friends from her days as a post-doc. An exo-biologist, and quantum-physicist. They’d all have their hands full writing the first paper on this.
Dr. Renault thought back to when she was a child at a science themed summer camp. The instructor, an eccentric former nuclear physicist named Dr. Shawn, had taken an approach that her normal schooling teachers did not. In class, when an experiment didn’t go as planned, they got a failing grade. In Dr. Shawn’s class, they were sent on a quest to design new experiments to explain why they got the strange result. “Science isn’t made when things happen exactly how we think they will. That’s engineering,” he said. “All the greatest moments in science happened when someone looked at their data and said, huh, that’s weird.” After that, she’d been on a quest to find something unexpected, and this was it.
From the space race to the creation of the internet, military needs seem to be driving the fields which we as a species put the most effort into furthering. What is some underfunded science that you think would truly change the world for the better? Comment below. If you enjoyed this please, share, subscribe, and check my blog for more content. Also check out my short story collection Remote Viewing Session X719 available FOR FREE on Kobo now. See the books page for more info.
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