Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
The twelve scientists stationed at the Scobee Moon-Base listened intently as the Earth-based support team updated them on the recently discovered Levy-Takanotoshi asteroid. The asteroid was a previously unknown Centaurs Class object that had its orbit perturbed by one of the gas giants. Unfortunately, it wasn’t discovered until well after periapsis. Now that it had rounded the sun, it was streaking toward the Earth at almost 20 miles per second. Astronomers calculated that it would strike the Earth in fourteen days. They were currently uncertain about how much damage the impact would cause, but they knew there was nothing they could do to divert it. The support team also reported that there was not enough time to refit and launch the Crew Exchange Vehicle before the impact. In other words, the twelve scientists would be trapped on the moon for a long, long time, depending on the extent of the damage caused by the asteroid.
Two weeks later, the twelve scientists gathered at the observation ports. The dark landscape of the moon’s night-phase was partially illuminated by the light reflected by the nearly “full Earth,” which floated motionless approximately 60 degrees above the horizon. On schedule, the asteroid came into view as it skirted past the moon and headed toward its rendezvous with Earth. It took over three hours for the asteroid to cross the gap between the moon and the Earth. The scientists took turns at the telescope watching the eight mile long, potato shaped rock slowly tumble toward the Earth. When it impacted the western coast of Africa, there was a full minute of blinding light as the asteroid vaporized itself, along with billions of tons of the Earth’s crust. Like a stone tossed into a stagnant pond, an expanding ring of compressed atmosphere raced outward from the impact site at supersonic speed. An incredible plume of dust and debris was blasted into the upper atmosphere; some of it continuing into interplanetary space. As the Earth rotated above them, the scientists watched in stunned silence as the sunset terminator slowly traversed the impact site, plummeting Africa into the relative darkness of night. From the moon, a glowing red cauldron of boiling rock, more than a hundred miles in diameter, could still be seen through the column of dust spewing from the cataclysmic scar on the Mauritanian coast. A few hours later, the impact site rotated beyond the eastern horizon. The only visible evidence of the disaster was an eerie crescent shaped red glow reflecting off of the dust particles that were spreading across the exosphere.
After a sleepless “night,” the scientists gathered again at the observation ports to watch Africa rotate over Earth’s western horizon. But there was nothing to see. The thick clouds blanketed the African continent, and much of the Atlantic Ocean. There was only a churning “cloud mountain” marking the site of the impact, as dust and debris continued billowing upward.
The scientists hadn’t received a transmission from Earth since the global atmospheric shock wave had coalesced in the South Pacific Ocean, near Australia. As the hours passed, the thickening dust clouds began to obscure the tsunami swept eastern coast of the United States. North America had a faint orange hue as fires raged across the continent. The twelve scientists solemnly accepted the unenviable fact that the possibility of rescue was non-existent. As they looked up at Earth, they each tried to memorize the familiar land formations of their decimated homeworld, because each of them knew that for the foreseeable future, there would be nothing else to look at but an impenetrable layer of gray clouds.