Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
A few hours after the Neptune Explorer achieved orbit around the solar system’s most distant planet, it detected very faint radio signals from Neptune’s largest moon, Triton. The signal was a repeating series of pulses: 1030230233-1030230233-1030230233… Earth based scientists were unsure if this signal was natural or artificial. They instructed the satellite to transmit the same sequence of pulses back toward Triton. Almost instantly, the signal from Triton changed to 3130332-3130332-3130332…
After a minute, Cory Kincaid, NASA’s expert in mathematical concepts and linguistics, yelled “I got it. It’s artificial. “It’s base four, not base ten. I guess these aliens only have four fingers.” His declaration was received with questioning stares, not enlightened nods. “Look, in base ten the first series is really 314159-314159-314159…” Still, only blank stares. “That’s pi, you know 3.14159. The second series is 1.4142 in base ten. That’s the square root of two. They’re the two most basic fundamental relationships in geometry and mathematics. It has to be a signal from an intelligent life form.”
Maria Diorisio, NASA’s Director of Operations, walked up to Cory and patted him firmly on the back. “Congratulations, Kincaid. That little bit of deduction just won you a ticket on a manned mission to Triton, which leaves in two months.”
It actually took three months before the ship left the Docking Station on its seven week sojourn to Triton. During the trip, Cory made significant progress communicating with the Tritons. But the major breakthroughs came after the ship landed. The Tritons turned out to be quarter-sized crab-like creatures that amassed around the numerous geysers dotting Triton’s frozen surface. Apparently, they fed on a food source flowing from the geysers, similar to the chemosynthesis that supported life around Earth’s deep water thermal vents. The crabs walked on four hind legs, and used their two forelimbs to gather food. As it turned out, each of the forelimbs had two “fingers.” The individual crabs were capable of transmitting extremely faint radio signals, presumably for communication, since Triton’s thin atmosphere could not propagate sound waves. The most amazing finding, however, was that each crab was not an individual entity. The estimated one billion crabs were mentally linked together. One brain, so to speak. It was only through their combined, synchronized effort that they were able to gain the attention of the Neptune Explorer. As the weeks passed, Cory was able to work out a rudimentary language, and communication increased exponentially. That’s when the Tritons delivered the bad news.
“Ms. Diorisio,” reported Cory on the hyperlight transceiver, “I need you to focus Hubble II on the following coordinates: RA 284.92475 and Dec +39.436111. It’s important, so please hurry.”
She motioned to her assistant to begin the alignment. “What’s going on Cory?”
“Well, Ms. Diorisio, the Tritons are collectively an extremely intelligent species that have been sentient for almost a billion years. They have an extensive astronomical database. They’ve been trying to warn us for centuries.” He mopped the sweat from his forehead. “They say a long period comet will hit the Earth in nine months. They say it’s over 150 miles in diameter. Please tell me there is nothing at those coordinates.”
After consulting a monitor, Diorisio said “The live image only shows a star. Give us an hour for a longer exposure.” Sixty minutes later, Diorisio’s knees gave way as the time exposure revealed a discernable disc five times larger than Betelgeuse, the star with the largest angular displacement. But the most damning evidence of all was the fog surrounding the disc. The characteristic coma of a comet as it approaches the sun.
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