Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Roll up, roll up!

"Roll up! Roll up! Witness the daring explorer place life, limb, and exploration data on the line!"

The ships engines hum in a routine and disinterested manner. The occasional plinking sound from mechanical systems that carry the heat generated to the outer edge of the vessel. 

"Stare deeply into the black hole! A monstrous beast that shouldn't exist in the universe! A thing to scare all common sense and bravery!"

The water extractor has developed a small rattle and a tinny whine. I'll get it overhauled when I get back, but for now there's enough water stored to be able to make the rest of the journey safely. There shouldn't be any trouble on that front.

"Risking life and limb to wring every last nanogram of data, the explorer can stand on the brink of danger! And some reckless souls will fall, never to be seen again, in our universe or the next!"

Another system with an M-class star fills the main view. There is still more than half a tank of fuel so no need to refuel here. Pulling back on the controls points the ship off to the next destination. Scanned data captured and stored, a quick look shows nothing worth staying for, and the countdown begins.

"Moving over to the other side of the Orca, as we continue this tour of fearsome and noble galactic monstrosities, you can see the accretion disc hurling matter into the black hole."

The tourist guide in my head has stopped speaking for the moment, and is no longer replaying the events in my mind.

Its all quiet now. Back to normal. But a few hours ago all hell had broken lose.


The stars pirouette around the gravitational mass, drawing all of the galaxy around itself as a cloak to hide its singularity.

More sensor data streams in about the nature of these beasts. Studied by many explorers before me, and many more to follow, the black hole still has some mysteries to reveal. Setting up another sensor pass should capture enough for now, and then onto another exploration bounty claimed. 

The feeling of being at the eye of the storm is one that can't be shaken.

The black hole isn't a large one as they go, I've already visited larger, and the orbit around the body is one that even the onboard computer can calculate. Leaving the computer to continue the orbit, my full attention turns to the sensors to ensure they remain pointed where they should.

One star races across the field of view, up to the edge of the hole, then takes an abrupt right angle turn and traces a path around the event horizon, before continuing on its way. If I can get the spectral profile of that star then the event horizon might be mapped with greater theoretical understanding.


My distraction is my undoing. The klaxons go off and, deep in concentration chasing the star, the blaring sound is a distance call on my attention. Only a moment mind, but that could be enough to be fatal, while the ship grinds and threatens to shake itself apart in protest. In relief it drops out into sub-light space with a vicious rattle.

Though normal doesn't quite begin to describe this volume of space. I've been close to a black hole before, more by accident than by design, but this one has a rather murky and claustrophobic feeling to it.


The physics inside here is still playing havoc with my sensors and eyes. The engine trails seem to be falling behind me and to one side.

Sensor data continues to pour in. But really it is time to go. This doesn't feel safe to me.

An invisible barrier pushes up and I can feel my ship veer off to one side.


Yes, really. Time to go.

Lining up the next system it is tucked off to one side, and away from the black hole. There is no personal experience here of jumping into witch space from where I am.

Deep breath. Stab at the drive engage and hope...

The rush into hyperspace was most welcome. Jumping from inside the black had clearly been safer than I'd thought, and I now have the sensor records to show for it. One day this will become a tourist spot for hordes of Orca full of gawping holidaymakers.


"Moving on to the noble and beautiful! The three graces are a rare sight in our galaxy! And one of extreme beauty I must say! Named by the Commander of the Federation of Pilots who first discovered them..."

The tourist guide is back. 

I'm making his life possible by risking my own. Remind me not to tip him at the end of the voyage.