Distance: ??.?? light years from Earth | Content Flag: Local Storage
Despite the astounding discoveries, I still don’t know anything about the Visitors. I hope that might be about the change as my perception of the galaxy shifts. From the reversed motion of the celestial objects, I watch time flow backwards. I count the reverse orbit of the Earth to establish how much time passes. The motion accelerates until it blurs, but still at a level I can track.
Almost 90 million years passes.
Having established the when, the virtual environment proceeds to show me the where. The viewpoint expands until it encompasses the whole galaxy, with its satellite dwarf galaxies. And what a sight it is, billions of jewels shining against the stark backdrop of intergalactic space. At this scale I can even see its motion. The bright bulge of the core, the supermassive black hole hidden in its centre dragging the stars in grand spirals, with just a few isolated stars sprinkled in the vast gulf between the spiral arms.
I have only the briefest moment to admire the Milky Way until the virtual environment drags my focus to a smudge orbiting around our galaxy. I recognise it as the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy a hundred times smaller than our own, and about 160,000 light years away. Once in sight, the view shifts closer. The transition occurs in less time than a heartbeat. It continues to move until a group of brightly backlit nebulae appear. Searching my database, I identify it as the Ghost Head Nebula, even without the distinctive pair of young star clusters. And still we move closer until we enter the nebula itself.
Without the stars for illumination, the nebula lacks its distinctive colours as stored in my database. A lonely white dwarf provides only a glimmer to highlight the twists and folds of the dust and gas. The Visitors draw my attention closer until I see a planet. From the pattern of dimensions around it, I know that it is a rogue planet. A frozen giant unbound by a star system’s gravity, and so following its own path through interstellar space.
The planet’s mass is huge, many times that of Jupiter, but it was only marginally larger. From the Visitors’ teachings, I’d mapped our understanding of the elements to theirs and so I can read the composition of the planet. Its surface is a bland blueish grey, the gases of the atmosphere turned to slush, far from the warmth of any star.
It passes close by to the white dwarf, not enough to be truly captured by the star’s gravity, but sufficient to pull it into an expanding loop which repeats several times before the planet continues on its path out of the nebula. Even though the white dwarf is no longer capable of fusion, it still radiates tremendous thermal energy. Combined with the sudden gravitational tidal effect, the planet swiftly warms up. On the surface of its frozen atmosphere, ice and dust had accumulated and are now released from the thawing atmosphere.
Throughout its journey the planet maintains its spin, and as the layers of its atmosphere thaw, so too do the deeper layers. As they do, the minuscule magnetic field of the planet is energised by the differentials of the layers of metallic hydrogen.
My view shifts again, now zoomed in to see the microscopic grains of dust. The spinning gas bounces the dust in seemingly random motions, causing them to collide and to slowly accrete. The gases become charged and ionise the dust, making them subject to the strengthening magnetic field. The spinning field twists the tiny clumps into chains, and then into helices. Only then do I realise what I am witnessing.
The prevalent theory according to the last update from Mission Control was that the Sun Dragons were a plasma-based lifeform, which had developed from the complex interaction of ionised dust in rings and the dense magnetic fields of gas giants. The process had been correctly identified, but the source is more exotic than anyone had imagined.
This is the origin of the Sun Dragons.
Then the rogue planet completes one more orbit of the white dwarf and continues its journey into deep space.