Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes -mini story followed by an article
“Didn’t you hear me the first time, sir?”
“Sorry, let me rephrase. WHAT?”
“Captain, the core’s become unstable.”
“No, no, no, that’s ridiculous.” The deck hand fiddled nervously with the worn map in his hands.
“Yessir, the whole ship’s been creaking louder than usual.” As if on queue, a thunderous roar struck the hull of the ship. The captain continued his discontented grumbling as he paced the floor and scratched his salt and pepper beard.
“For the past 32 years, this ship has been faithful and strong. I don’t see why the core would be unstable now. I even did a check up on it last night!”
“Sir if I may, the others have been making sure the hatches and exits are sealed. I’ve sent some outside the craft to check for l-leaks a-and structure-al in-stabilities.” The last words came with some effort, and as it seemed rehearsal.
“Follow me down to the core. We need it operational now, especially with the radiation storms coming in.” The reports had come in from the Galactic Organization of Sovereign Systems.
“Yessir.” The ship rumbled. The Captain led the deck hand through the ship’s rooms and twisting corridors. Every so often, the Captain would pause, as if he were lost, and then take another turn. Soon enough, the two reached a bio-scan doorway. Slightly above it was etched in enlarged print: C. C. U. (‘Core Containment Unit’ was written in red underneath). The deckhand went ahead and entered his credentials. The Captain followed suit and placed his hand on the scanner.
The door slid open.
The deck hand winced, closed his eyes, covered his ears and crouched away from the captain. The shots never came. In the few seconds after, his thoughts careened against the inside of his mind. The mutiny didn’t happen. They left me, he thought. They set me up. They wanted me to get killed. His rampant thoughts were interrupted by the soft yet stern voice that belonged to the captain.
“Jennings.” The deck hand cringed, and withdrew further within himself. “Jennings get up,” said the Captain, his voice now more distant. Jennings slowly stood up, his face contorting into anguish from the betrayal of his friends, into fear of the Captain’s wrath. It seemed like the warmth escaped the room, leaving a chilly void behind.
“C-C-Cap’n,” he could hardly speak.
“Mutiny?” asked the Captain. Jennings meekly nodded. “I knew it.” said the Captain casually. Jennings had now shrunk so much that it seemed as if he were trying to get absorbed into the wall. He wished anything to get out of the captain’s cold sight. The Captain continued. “For the past several weeks, I’ve been catching bits of conversation amongst the crew. I heard the discontent. The ungratefulness you all harbored within.” The ship’s walls sounded off once more. Jennings was shivering now, with his back hugging the wall. “I paid you all well, didn’t I? I’ve been just, haven’t I? I gave you all a home here, and this is how I get repaid? We fall on some hard times, and now everyone turns on each other like a pack of mad dogs!”
“Sorry,” said Jennings, much louder this time.
“I’ve made preparations to leave this ship,” said the Captain flatly.
“Yes,” said the Captain. “I’ve thought about this very carefully.” The ship groaned as if in protest once more. While they were talking, the Captain had begun entering commands into the core’s interface. With each flourish, a sizable bang could be heard from within the ship itself.
“You think your accomplices abandoned you?” he laughed raucously. “Don’t worry! This pack of treasonous rapscallions isn’t so far gone that they’d turn on their own before the mutiny is even attempted.” Jennings glanced at the man in the core.
“What are you saying?” asked Jennings. The captain chuckled.
“You see, when I first got this ship, I had to account for everything that could happen. Contingency plans. The core we are in right now is one.” He paused as the outermost layer of the radiation storm hit the side of the ship. “Your friends, I assume are down by the core as planned, ready to ambush a man that will never again walk through that door. I led you here! You thought everything was in your control, but that was just an illusion! This core here is essentially part of another ship. Once I detach this core from the main, the rest will cease to function.” Jennings let out a squeak.
“But that means,” started Jennings.
“Everyone in the rest of the ship is done for,” finished the captain. The ship was now getting hit with more debris, and it rocked in the presence of the bigger storm. The walls of the core separated and enclosed the core within. A pod appeared from the walls inside.
“Oh and Jennings,” the sickly deckhand looked up at his captain, “the map please.” Jennings clenched the tightly rolled map which he had crumpled while listening. He looked up at the captain, resigned, and held up the map. The Captain snatched the map from his hands. Just as he was about to leave, he stuck his head back out. “Jennings, one more thing: do send the rest of the crew my regards. Good luck weathering the storm.” And with that, the Captain disappeared into the pod.
Author’s note: I was mulling over the idea of flash fiction occurring in outer space when I just started with a single word. “What.” That opened up the door to the rest, as I continued and expanded on the idea. I arrived at the title, Solar Storm after initially imagining solar flares and wondering how their radiation would affect a spaceship/electronics. I thus learned about space radiation and even more about solar activities (which will be covered in a future article).
The earth is encapsulated by a magnetic field. The magnetic field protects us from space radiation by shielding the planet from particles released by solar flares and cosmic rays. The field also keeps charged particles and restrict them from leaving. These charged particles accumulate to make donut-shaped clouds around Earth, and these are called “van Allen Radiation Belts” These belts were found by Dr. James van Allen by using the satellites NASA launched in 1958. The belt’s radiation consists primarily of protons and electrons. The featured image illustrates the aforementioned magnetic field surrounding the earth. Radiation belts exist around Jupiter, granted they are significantly larger than earth’s. Another place to find these belts would be the store around stars known as pulsars.
Space radiation can also affect electronics. There are three types of effects to consider when discussing radiation effects inside satellites. Let’s break it down below.
1. Total ionizing dose
-The effects in electronics are due to damage that amasses over a lengthy period of time in the insulating region of a device. The device’s properties are altered causing its stability and performance to degrade. Eventually, the device is rendered useless.
2. Displacement damage
-This type of damage is also cumulative, however, it afflicts the device’s semiconductor material. As a result, the device could begin to deteriorate and then fail to operate if subjected to enough radiation.
3. Single event effects
-Caused when a single particle travels through a sensitive area in the device. The single even effect could ultimately end up being either destructive or inconsequential to the device, sometimes the effect being so small that it’s hardly noticeable. At worst, it could shut down one of the satellite’s systems.
Space radiation could also cause an increase of electrical charge within an insulating material until it gets to the point where a discharge (1) could incur serious damage. Radiation could pry into the satellite’s circuitry and consequently disable some of its functions.
Although space radiation may be troublesome for satellites miles away from the ground, they can disrupt communication systems, GPS navigation, and even air travel by the Earth’s poles. This is due to the fact that they are less protected by the magnetic field there relative to regions closer to the equator. Large coronal mass ejections from the sun can adversely affect power grids as well. The particle radiation creates disturbances in the planet’s magnetic field, creating a “magnetic storm” of sorts. Such storm could induce power surges and possibly even a blackout. Quebec experienced a blackout because of a power surge in March 1989, which goes to show just how significant these magnetic storms could be.
1. Like walking along a carpet and touching the doorknob and getting shocked (static discharge)