Sunday, 22 January 2017

21.08.2649 - Unnatural Storm

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Distance: 12.03 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

My fears proved unfounded and the navigation system woke me as we approached Epsilon Indi a. The sail is now able to generate enough energy for me and the computer subsystems to operate. Fortunately, we haven’t experienced any further degradation in capability over the past year. My programming might not rely on luck, but it’s not unwelcome. We are so far beyond our expected operational parameters that we shouldn’t be functioning at all.

We even have enough of our science package left do some more science. Happiness is as ephemeral as luck, but it’s satisfying to have something new for my processors to chew on that is within their current capacity. When we first entered the system, we detected an unusually high temperature from the gas giant. Now that we’re closer we’ve discovered a magnetic field, also stronger than even a planet of similar size and mass to Jupiter should have. With the remaining low-resolution optical telescope (intended as a navigation aid more than an observational tool), I have made an amazing discovery.

Unlike Jupiter, Epsilon Indi a has no attendant moons, or even a ring system. It doesn’t have the distinctive banding that is so familiar in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Instead we found a single giant storm, but brighter than the surrounding turbulence, rather than darker. At first I thought it was an optical illusion, or a defect in the camera, but the storm appeared to be a giant hump in the atmosphere and moving at an incredible speed. The torsions of the clouds around it also followed an odd pattern.
The thermal imaging system captured high temperatures around the storm and forming a tail behind it. I soon discarded my initial theory that some sort of pocket of lighter gas in the atmosphere caused the bulge. Giant storms like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter actually create a hole in the atmosphere from the lower pressure in the eye of the storm. What we saw shouldn’t be possible.

Without the radar or laser systems, I have no way to accurately measure the surface, so it was the rotation that finally convinced me of what I was observing. It spun along an axis perpendicular to atmosphere and that couldn’t happen at all – until I realised what the object was. It was a moon that had been caught in the giant planet’s gravity well and dragged into its atmosphere!

We’ve known, or at least suspected, that some super-hot gas giants orbit so close to their stars that they pass through the star’s atmosphere, but this situation is more extreme. The situation is far from stable and it can’t be long until the moon is completely swallowed by its parent. The stream of material from the storm is the moon being eroded by the 2,000 km/h winds. To be on the surface of that moon would be like being sandblasted in hell.

More bizarre is how the moon’s axial rotation has continued, despite the buffeting and its acting like a dynamo within the gas giant’s magnetic field. The radiation belts are charged from the activity and a sheet of aurora covers almost the whole planet, with flashes of mega-lightning illuminating the clouds from below. It’s a sight of staggering violence and beauty. I wish we had our full science package so we could record and share it with the world in the detail it deserves.

A world that is experiencing its own strangeness.

All too soon we pass by, our course altered as expected by the gas giant’s gravity, and the vision becomes a pixelated blur.