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Friday, July 29, 2016

F3 Sandbars

            Nina, Jenny, Walker, and Charlie sat at the conference table. The projector, which had at first displayed the galactic map with positions of the stuck nanosats—there were fifteen, total, in different parts of the galaxy—now displayed a picture of the Incredible Hulk punching the shockwave of a supernova, which somehow worked and saved the spaceship he was standing on.
            “See, because the Hulk is powered by gamma rays,” Walker was saying, “the supernova’s gamma rays actually served to power him up way beyond normal, so he—”
            “Enough! I concede the point,” Charlie through up his hands.
            Jen half-dozed, half-ate a slice of cold pizza. Half a dozen pizza boxes formed the basis for the fort Nina had constructed for herself to avoid confronting the data again.
            “Come on, guys, let’s focus,” Charlie said.
            “Can’t make me,” Nina said from her fort.
            “Shleepy,” Jenny muttered.
            “Give it a rest, Charlie, we’ve been here all day and night. We’ve got nothing left. For all we can tell, the satellites just stopped in place. Like I said before, their sails got ripped off.”
            “But it didn’t happen with any of the other thousand nanosats we have out there. Why would it happen to these? Plus, they’re not stopped. They’re still moving, just not nearly as quickly.”
            “They shtopped, we din’t,” Jenny said, her pizza slice dropping from her hand onto the plate.
            Nina lifted the pizza box on top of her fort a little to peer at Jenny. “Say that again.”
            “Hmm? Wha?”
            “They stopped—” Charlie began
            “We didn’t,” Walker finished. Walker leaned in and kissed Jenny full on the mouth.
            “Mmmh!” Jenny’s eyes opened wide, then softened as she leaned into the kiss.
            Charlie grabbed the laptop controlling the projector, flipping it back to the map with the data tables. “Okay, our solar system is revolving around the galactic center at. . . .”
            “About 230 km/s,” Nina said, breaking out of her fort Hulk style.
            “Okay, and the speed of the galaxy through the universe is about 600 km/s.”
            “We’re also moving through the local group at 100 km/s. So why are the nanosats, all of them! Going approximately 190 km/s?”
            “Well, we know they’re not caught in eddies like these others,” he gestured at three groups on the map. “They just keep spinning around in a loop twice the size of our solar system. So they must have hit something. That completely prevents the dark energy from filling their sails.
            “But they didn’t vaporize!” Walker exclaimed breaking the kiss with Jenny. “Any impact with matter at that speed would vaporize the nanosat, and probably a good chunk of whatever rogue planet it hit, too.”
            “What if it wasn’t normal matter?” Jenny said, her eyes alert, and her smile lopsided.
            Everyone looked at her, then at each other, then at the map.
            “Dark matter?” Charlie ventured.
            “If the sails can interact with dark energy, can they also interact with dark matter?” Nina said.
            “Weakly, otherwise it would have vaporized. Instead it must have been like jelly, absorbing and slowing the impact, then trapping the satellite.” Walker mimed the effect.
            “Like a ship running aground on a sandbar,” Jen smiled.
            “The dark matter is gravitationally bound to the galaxy, but weakly, and probably moving at a different rate through the galaxy, which is why the relative speed is different.” Nina pointed to the spots on the map.
            “How do we prove it, weather girl?” Charlie smirked, nodding to Nina standing next to the screen.
            Nina looked darkly at him.
Jenny, though pulled out her phone, speed dialing.
            “Tyson Deep space Array Control,” said a man on the other end.
            “This is Dr. Jennifer Nichols. I need time on the array. This is a priority.”
            “A priority? In astrophysics? Sorry, Dr. Nichols, you’ll have to submit your request like anyone else. It’s a big sky, and a lot of people want to look at it.”
            Jenny ended the call.
            “Go through Jim. He’ll get us the time,” Walker smiled at her.
            Jenny nodded, then dialed Jim Macomber.
            “We shouldn’t need much time. Just some pictures so we can see what kind of lensing effect is in this region. That’ll be confirmation enough.”

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