Deadly Magnificence

solar flare

An artist’s illustration of a flare from Proxima Centauri, modeled after the loops of glowing, hot gas seen in the largest solar flares. The planet Proxima b, seen here in an artist’s impression, orbits Proxima Centauri 20 times closer than Earth orbits the sun. A flare 10 times larger than a major solar flare would blast Proxima b with 4,000 times more radiation than Earth gets from solar flares.
Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa/Carnegie Institution for Science, NASA/SDO, NASA/JPL

Meredith Wallace stood outside the lander and stared up at its magnificence visible only because of her helmet’s shielded visor. The gigantic loops of glowing hot plasma from Proxima Centauri were large enough to be seen from 4.6 million miles away because they were twenty times as large as solar flares from Earth’s sun.

No one had predicted such a massive build up of magnetic energy within this star. The cluster of sunspots, the flare’s eruption site, was just north of the sun’s equator and positioned almost directly at the planet. The electromagnetic radiation wasn’t visible to the unaided eye, but for Meredith, the coronal mass ejections were like an astonishing Phoenix rising from its ashes, climbing far into the space between star and this world only to follow relentless magnetic forces back down like a brilliantly flaming Icarus.

“There’s no hope then.”

I’m sorry, Commander.” Rafael Cortez was with Mitchell, McGee, and Marroquin in the lander monitoring the radiation levels. “We never had a chance. By the time we detected the flare, the radiation had already hit the surface of Proxima B. In a few seconds, we received more rads than Earth experiences from solar flares in a year.”

“You still can’t raise Mothership?”

“Nothing from Casper and Jude. Interference from the flare is blocking all communication channels but their chances of survival are even less than ours because they’re in orbit outside the planet’s atmosphere.”

“It’s amazing to watch isn’t it?”

“I guess I’d have to say yes, Commander. I never thought staring into the face of death would be so beautiful.”

“And terrifying.”

It had taken the seven astronauts ten years in cryogenic freeze to travel the 4.2 light years from Earth to its nearest stellar neighbor in space. None of the long-range observatories and robotic probes gave even a hint that Proxima was going to enter an extended period of instability just as NASA’s first manned mission arrived at what was believed to be an Earth-like exoplanet.

Now they knew why they detected no life signs once they could engage their close range scanners. Periodic bombardment of deadly radiation from its nearby sun would destroy all organic matter.

Commander Wallace continued to look up through the thin atmosphere above her admiring the awesome power and beauty that would soon kill them all.

I wrote this for the Tale Weaver – #161 – 1st March 2018 – The Beauty in Nature. The idea is to “weave a tale about the beauty you see in nature.”

I didn’t want to write about leaves or clouds but when I read the article Superflare Blasts Proxima b, the Nearest Exoplanet, Dimming Hopes of Life published yesterday, I knew I had my story.

I had to change a few things since we know these flares are more or less regular so the chances of life ever developing on Proxima B are slim to none. No one would send humans to such a place so I decided to make the flares rare and unpredictable.

Nature is beautiful but sometimes that beauty is also deadly.

13 thoughts on “Deadly Magnificence

  1. Fascinating James, nature can be beautiful in even its fiercest form. My son is currently working in New Guinea where a 7.6 earthquake struck on Tuesday morning. The destruction is catastrophic and loss of life huge, but you still wonder how it is nature works sometimes.


  2. What a great piece – I love that it based in fact, it lends authenticity to your writing and makes it really come alive. Thanks so much for sharing


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