Countdown to the Comet

A story written for day 3 of the A-to-Z challenge. C is for contraterrene matter, an early alternative term for what is now known as antimatter.

Sir James Marten greeted the two gentlemen as they entered the observatory floor. “Your Majesty,” he bowed to the first.

“Sir James Marten,” his visitor replied. “May I introduce the President of the United States?” A round of handshakes followed before the astronomer for the Royal Observatory ushered the two men to the meeting table.

“Mr. President,” Marten began. “May I say that I am honored by your visit to our observatory.”

The President held up a hand. “My time here is brief, Sir James. I am scheduled to meet your Prime Minister in an hour to discuss defense preparations.” Though the Prime Minister was still negotiating for peace, there seemed little chance of success with the Germans threatening the Polish border. “To cut to the chase, I understand that the Royal Astronomer has gone bonkers and is now predicting Armageddon.”

Marten hesitated momentarily. “I will endeavour to be brief. You are no doubt aware of the quite accidental discovery of Comet Spencer Jones some months ago?”

“Indeed, I vaguely recall it. Very little good news crosses my desk of late.”

“Sadly, Mr. President, there is little good in this news. Using the mathematics of Keplerian mechanics, we are able to predict the movements of these heavenly bodies quite precisely.”

The President nodded. “I recall some years back an American astronomer succeeded in detecting the ninth planet of our solar system,” he commented with a hint of pride.

“By our calculations, Comet Spencer Jones will come quite close to the Earth in approximately eighty years.”

“How close?”

“Mr. President,” the astronomer said, “it’s going to impact the Moon.”

The President nodded pensively. “That’s fascinating, Sir James, but a new crater on the Moon eighty years from now is of limited interest.” He fished in his pocket and withdrew a pocketwatch. “And I am nearly due for that meeting with the Prime Minister.”

King George broke his silence. “That, however, is not the worst of the news, Mr. President. Sir James, do try to speed things along for our guest.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. Mr. President, are you familiar with the concept of contraterrene matter?”

A puzzled look crossed the American leader’s face. “Perhaps a Cambridge lad such as yourself could dumb it down for a poor uneducated Harvard grad such as myself?”

“It is a recent physics concept: a sort of mirror matter, identical to normal terrene matter in every way except charge. Except when terrene and contraterrene matter meet, they annihilate into pure energy.” Marten sighed wearily. “Well, Mr. President, we have determined that this comet is composed of pure contraterrene matter.”

“I don’t understand,” said the leader. “If this contraterrene matter is indistinguishable from normal matter, how can you identify it?”

“One of our theoretical physicists realized that as a comet composed of contraterrene matter travels through the solar system, it will occasionally contact stray gas. We have detected telltale radiation from the comet that can only be explained as a terrene-contraterrene reaction.”

“So this contraterrene comet is going to impact the Moon sometime in the early twenty-first century?”

comet-1Marten nodded. “When it does, it will release more than ten to the thirty-seventh power ergs of energy. The Moon will be destroyed, and the resultant debris will rain down on our Earth. Nothing will survive.”

“Good God!” the President muttered. “So what can we do?”

Once again, the King spoke. “We have developed a plan, Mr. President.” He leaned closer across the chestnut meeting table, lowering his voice to a whisper. “War is coming. We must defeat the German juggernaut and eliminate the madman at the head of the German state.”


“The war will be an excuse to pour money into weapons and rocketry research on both sides. In the aftermath, we will seize their top rocket scientists, bringing them into our fold. We will also work with the Soviet leadership to cultivate an atmosphere of global conflict, so that our weapons and space programs may continue to expand. This must be done in absolute secrecy at all times, lest we incite a panic in the general populace.”

“Work with the Germans? And the Soviets?!”

“Scientists are scientists,” Sir James told the President. “We will need the best and brightest minds the world can offer to harness the awesome power of the atom. Only then can we hope to journey to this contraterrene comet, and destroy it.”

“Atomic power?” said the President in awe. “I thought that was just science fiction.”

“For the sake of Britain, and America, and all of Mankind,” King George said to the President, “I hope it is not.”


Runaways on Hope Street

Written for Flash! Friday vol 3-11. Prompt is to include the moon, along with the photo prompt by Harshil Shah.

“Tell me it again, Rudder. About the Moon.”

Roderick embraced his kid sister, for warmth as much as affection. The wind ripped straight through his ratty coat. “They’s a huge castle up there on the Moon. Bigger even than this factory. But clean, ’cause the Man in the Moon has hundreds of servants to scrub away the grime.”

Blue eyes admired the bright orb. “It looks like ice. Is it cold?”

“No, Winnie. Up there, the sun’s so bright it makes everything glow like a gas lantern.” He leaned against the icy brick wall, gazing heavenward. Uncaring stars twinkled in the winter sky. “And they’s clear lakes, and open grassy fields for miles and miles and miles. Just like when we was young.”

“It must be real warm there, Rudder. I can feel it now.” Her shivering stopped. “And Daddy is up there?”

“Yes. Daddy went to be a servant to the King and Queen of the Moon. They pays him in diamonds, and dresses him in purple silk, and lets him stay in their castle.”

Sleepily, the girl closed her eyes. “When can we see him, Rudder?”

“Real soon, Winnie.” Roderick, too, closed his eyes. “We’ll be with ‘im real soon.”

5 Misconceptions about the Moon

The Moon holds a special place in our imaginations — and why not? Along with the Sun and the five classical planets, the Moon is one of the few celestial objects whose apparent motion in the night sky can be seen.

You can even see its disk with the naked eye — and unlike the blinding white-hot disk of the Sun or the barely-discernible-to-human-vision disks of Jupiter or Venus, what a disk is the Moon! Throughout history, we’ve stared at the shadows and highlights of the lunar surface and envisioned everything from a man to a magic rabbit.

In case you’re wondering, that’s Mercury, not the Moon.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that we’ve built up some misconceptions about the Moon. Here are the five misconceptions about the Moon that I find to be the most prevalent, most fun, most frustrating, or just the most annoying.
Continue reading “5 Misconceptions about the Moon”