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.”
Thanks to the revolutionary Roddenberry-Cochrane drive, Ellis Vanderberg was able to travel to Proxima Centauri A, the closest Earth-like planet to our own, perform a year-long survey of its one continent and the six largest islands, and then return home in a little over four decades.
Of course, due to the time dilation effect, much more time passed on Earth than Vanderberg experienced during his trip. That’s the good and bad thing about traveling in interstellar space at a significant faction of the speed of light.
Vanderberg was twenty-two years old when he was launched into space. The only son of Billionaire Charles Vanderberg, he had volunteered to test the space craft and experimental drive his father’s corporation invented. The government first insisted that the journey not be made, but the Vanderberg fortune and influence insisted otherwise. Then they insisted that a team of trained astronauts and mission specialists be sent instead of Ellis, but again, the Vanderberg fortune and influence won out.
In the end, Charles Vanderberg got his way and Ellis Vanderberg got the singular honor of being the first person to travel to another planet outside of our Solar System.
Now he’s back. Ellis knew that much more time had passed for the people of Earth than he experienced. Subjectively, he was a man in his mid-sixties, but he expected his parents, his sisters, his friends, everyone he’d ever known would be dead.