Lucifer’s Arrow

NASA have launched a rocket at the tiny asteroid Dimorphos to see if they can deflect its orbit, as a test to see if they could do it if one was on a collision course with Earth. They calculate that the odds of Bennu – the one most likely to do so – hitting us are one in 1,750 over the next 200 years…


They thought that they were alone in the universe.

That is not strictly true. They didn’t think about it at all. They were a simple species on a small rock out in the vastness of space. They survived on primeval plant-life and tiny amounts of water, and if that doesn’t sound like much of an existence, they had sources of nutrition and a fun means of reproduction, which is no different to life in a hippie commune.

They did not know that from far across the emptiness, alien eyes were watching them.

Well, not them specifically. It was their world that the aliens were eyeing, with their strange number of eyes.

These aliens were worried that one day their own planet might be struck by a rock much like this one. They had calculated the odds of this happening within the next two hundred of their years at 1,750 to one, and although that works out at over 127 million to one on any given day the aliens reckoned that the risk was too big. They decided to see if they could knock such an object off its course.

The cost would be enormous, and the aliens had many other problems. But they were childlike in nature, and as shooting a rocket at something is a lot more fun than, say, stopping your planet melting, the project got the go-ahead. A suitable target was selected.

The aliens never considered the possibility of life there. They wrote off signs of movement on the rock as being caused by violent storms, despite the fact that they believed that a flag they had put on their own moon many years ago is still upright.

If they sound callous, it should be pointed out that they had already tested things like massive explosives on their own planet. They weren’t callous, just really, really dumb.

They built their rocket, aimed, and fired.

Ten months later it struck. The alien scientists leapt, whooping, around their control room as the thing that they had planned for actually happened. Apparently all scientists across the galaxy do this. It’s like a builder jumping for joy because his wall stayed up.

In fact the experiment was not a success. The rocket had all the effect upon the rock’s trajectory as a fly head-butting a five-ton truck.

It did, though, cause a dust cloud that blocked out the rays from the nearest star. The temperatures dropped.

The dinosaurs died.

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