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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

Pair of Rogues

Jonathan is a scientist and author, who has appeared several times in Analog, Amazing Stories, Scientific American, Science, and hundreds of other venues, married to a scientist and author. He has degrees in Mathematics, English Literature, and Computer Science. He worked many years in the Space Program, was a Professor of Astronomy, Professor of Mathematics, then taught middle school and high school. Most, but not all, of his 4,400+ publications, presentations, and broadcasts, are in Art, Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Cosmology, Dark Fantasy, Economics, Fiction, Geology, History, Irony, Jurassic Studies, K-almost primes, Literature, Mathematics, Newtonian and Postnewtonian Physics, Oceanography, Poetry, Psychology, Quaternions, Riemannian Geometry, Sociology, Time Travel Theory, Universal Cellular Automata, Vector Spaces, Venn Diagrams, Wild Knots, xyz Drawings, Yang-Mills Equation, and Zeno's Paradoxes.

Legend tells that once upon a time our world, populated by our people, and all the motile and sessile organisms of our ecosystem, orbited a huge hot glowing ball of thermonuclear plasma.
Be that as it may, for time beyond memory, we have co-orbited with Partner across the dusty vacuum of starry space.
We obtain our breathing oxygen by melting and hydrolysis of ice from our endless supply of frozen rivers, lakes, and oceans.
We have not yet mastered the technology of thermonuclear fusion, but at least we have our thorium fission reactors to sustain our civilization.
Now all the talk is about a work of fiction. It is an imaginary tale of what it must be like to evolve on a planet whose rivers still flow. A planet orbiting one of those hot glowing balls of thermonuclear plasma, which we think are the same as the distant stars.
The surprising part of the fiction, beyond the superficial entertainment of the two characters in love with each other, and the scenes of people walking outside without carrying air supplies, is the notion that there can be several planets orbiting the same star. In the story, a technology is perfected of burning liquid oxygen with liquid hydrogen to propel a "space ship" from the home world to one of the other worlds.
Scientists say that this is, in principal, a possibility. That is, the kinematics and thermodynamics are valid. We just don't have the engineering and technology.
It would be risky, expensive, and divert enormous resources away from the quest for fusion, and the hard work of maintaining our cities, and the domed food growing fields.
And yet, it cannot fail to capture the imagination.
New research suggests that billions of stars in our galaxy have captured rogue planets that once roamed the space between the stars. It raises the possibility that nomad worlds, which were kicked out of the star systems in which they formed, occasionally find a new home with a different sun. This finding could explain the existence of some planets that orbit surprisingly far from their stars, and even the existence of a double-planet system such as our own.
"Stars trade planets just like randomball teams trade players," said the Director of the BigCity Center for Astrophysics. To reach their conclusion, that team simulated young star clusters containing free-floating planets. They found that if the number of rogue planets equaled the number of stars, then three to six percent of the stars would grab a planet over time. The more massive a star, the more likely it would be to snag a planet drifting by.
They simulated young star clusters, because capture is more likely when stars and free-floating planets are crowded together in a small space. Over time, the clusters disperse like a puff of air discharged from a breathing device into the black sky, due to close interactions between their stars, so any planet-star encounters have to happen early in the cluster's history.
Rogue planets, they conclude, are a natural consequence of star formation. Newborn star systems often contain multiple planets, just as in the work of fiction that we all read. If two planets interact, one can be ejected and become an interstellar traveler. If it later encounters a different star moving in the same direction at the same speed, it can hitch a ride.
A captured planet tends to end up hundreds or thousands of times farther from its star than the hottest, closest planet in that system. It is also likely to have a orbit that's tilted relative to any native planets, and may even revolve around its star backward, or "retrograde."
Our Astronomers haven't detected any clearcut cases of captured planets yet. Imposters can be difficult to rule out. Gravitational interactions within a planetary system can throw a planet into a wide, tilted orbit that mimics the signature of a captured world.
Finding a planet in a distant orbit around a low-mass star would be a good sign of capture, because the star's disk wouldn't have had enough material to form the planet so far out.
The best evidence to date in support of planetary capture comes from, of course, the co-orbiting nature of our world with Partner. A pair of rogues, orbiting each other without a star.
"To get more proof," said the director of the BigCity Center for Astrophysics, "we'll have to build up statistics by studying a lot of planetary systems."
So which should we do? Keep the cities running, continue the quest for practical nuclear fusion reactors, or build a "space ship" to send explorers to the mysterious surface of Partner, and at last figure out the strange lights we sometimes see there?
I turn up the flame on my reading light, set aside my latest issue of the prestigious journal Nature, and crack open the pages of the latest chapter of the great work of scientific fiction. Outside the artificial quartz window, I see Partner, faintly illuminated by starlight. And I wonder.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Author Comments

The motivation for me was to take a breaking science story from real life, and see it through characters, dialogue, and plot, in a way that made use of my two decades in the space program, my former Astronomy Professorship, and my experience in writing and editing science fiction, so that nonscientists could appreciate this remarkable aspect of our cosmos.

- Jonathan Vos Post
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