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Tom Corbett, Space Cadet: Sparkling Meteor Part 1 & Part 2
james_nicoll
Sparkling Meteor Part 1
Sparkling Meteor Part 2

A Solar Guardsman on comet patrol out beyond Mars suddenly falls silent after reporting a mysterious sparkling asteroid. The boys are sent out to investigate and the Guardsman turns out to be out cold, suffering from what is eventually determined to be acute radiation illness.

Interestingly, the sick man is not alone, although he is supposed to be on a one man ship. It turns out he has a small boy with him, his son, to help with the crushing loneliness out in space by providing company.

The boy gets left behind with the cadets when the commander races the sick man back to Earth. This means the cadets get to experience the unalloyed charms of having a small, energetic child on board a space craft in deep space and since Roger thrives on confrontation, he's the one who bonds with the boy. As a direct result of this, he misses a chance to get a fix on the orbit of the odd asteroid (although this oversight is later corrected, in such a way that requires the cadets to ignore direct orders to head right back to).

Down on Earth, the powers that be eventually figure out that the asteroid, whatever it is, is implicated in four previous deaths. It's not at all clear how it caused them but clearly the asteroid is too dangerous to leave uninvestigated. The cadets head out again, this time to help work out what is up with this rock.

The kid was supposed to stay on Earth but he stows away. Very happily for him, Solar Guard ships have an excess of capacity and he is not immediately thrust out into space.

This turns out to be very lucky, because while the Polaris' jet boat is on its way to collect samples from the surface of the asteroid, the boy finally gives an account of what happened just before his father fell ill and that is enough to let Dr. Dale work out that they are dealing with a Contra Terrene asteroid! One touch and the guys in the jet-boat will be vapour! And since the radios are being jammed by the emanations of the rock, a thrilling in-person rescue must ensue!

When the boy turned up, I actually wondered if they were going to use a variation of the time reversal plot from SeeTee Shock and </i>SeeTee Ship</i> but no, it's just a common case of a lonely sailor putting a small child into stores.

It seem to be the cadets find reason to ignore orders an awful lot and nothing ever comes of this. Unless it's Roger, in which case he may end up polishing brass-work for weeks.

Dale seems pretty convinced getting rid of this asteroid will be as easy as ramming it with a similarly massed object but A: even a puny billion tonne anti-asteroid when combined with a billion tonnes of matter is going to produce a lot of energy over a short period of time (IIRC 9x10^28 J or two trillion megatons of TNT, expressed in a short intense pulse of gamma rays), and if they fumble it and just blow the anti-asteroid apart, now they've fill a set of related orbits with small fragments of antimatter.

                        Rockets       Labs          Cadet    
                                               Missing   Sick   Injured
Episode                   W    D        W  D    T A R    T A R  T A R
Trial in Space                 4           1      1 1      1
Asteroid of Danger        2             1           2           1 2 
Giant of Mercury          1    1
Atmosphere of Death                                             1    1
Mission of Mercy                                          1
Double Cross in Space                               1          
Sparkling Meteor           
Total                     3    5        1  1      1 4     1     2 2  1 

                                    Supporting Cast
                                 Good Guys                Bad Guys
Episode              Missing Injured/ Killed Kidnapped   Injured Killed
                              sick            
Trial in Space       
Asteroid of Danger      1
Giant of Mercury        9               9       1                  4
Atmosphere of Death     1               2                   1      1
Mission of Mercy       many   many
Double Cross in Space                                              1
Sparkling Meteor                1
Total*                  11      1       11      1           1      6

* Does not include totals for Mission of Mercy

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.

Not just gamma rays; a bulk antimatter annihilation would be a messy thing, because of the nuclei. Lots of pions and their decay fragments.

...though I suppose in practice much of what you'd detect from a huge explosion of light mesons in vacuum would be gamma rays. Lots of fairly-high-energy electrons and positrons too, many of them produced by muon decay.

This is the only episode I've listened to recently.

I was delighted to learn of its existence, and its availability; the TV version gets mentioned in a footnote in "The Road to Seetee."* The TV version appears to be known as "Asteroid of Death," and exists on VHS tapes here and there. I'll tweak up the reference the next time I revise the essay.

Dr. Dale and Captain Strong seem awfully chummy compared to the formality prevalent around the Academy, addressing one another as "Joan" and "Steve."

Dale seems pretty convinced getting rid of this asteroid will be as easy as ramming it with a similarly massed object but...

To how high a standard of scientific plausibility should we hold 1950s radio dramas? From everything I've learned, Tom Corbett is near the peak.

That said, I could not understand why The Kid, whose cells are dividing more rapidly than an adult's and who is therefore more vulnerable to radiation, should be unaffected by the symptoms that brought down his dad, given that they were aboard the same spacecraft with the same proximity to the Sparkling Meteor. A handwave about better-shielded staterooms would fix this, but I failed to hear one.



*PDF available on request to members of James's commentariat, or on the back of boxes of Kellog's PEP,the Build-Up Cereal. Act now.

It's an interesting question: just how violently "sparkly" would a huge chunk of antimatter be on a typical day, if it were just minding its own business in the environment prevalent in our solar system? Any kind of micrometeoroid hit ought to be pretty significant.

Actually a very interesting question! Any sparkling is just good old black body radiation the material of the antimeteor. So what you're going to see is going to depend on the stopping power - the higher the stopping power the more energy is absorbed per unit mass, right? Guesstimating, you want something on the order of 6000 K for 'sparks'. So if a micrometeroid does in fact mass one microgram, you'll see mebbe 50 MJ dumped into the material. That's - what? - about ten kilos at 6000 K , depending on the specific heat.

So WAG, not so very sparkly, depending on how close you are. Of course, if you are close enough to see sparkles, you'll be getting a big dose of 50 MJ flying off in the other direction. And that's all gamma and other ionizing stuff . . .

There'd be a constant background of gammas (and fairly energetic positive and negative betas, the ultimate product of pion decay) just from the interplanetary medium and solar wind hitting the thing, I suppose.

Belated thought: I bet once the Solar Guard thinks about it,they will realize the CT is a potential power source and should not be squandered.

If you really wanted to get rid of it, don't hit it with a big chunk of matter. Hit it with a carefully controlled and aimed little stream of matter to turn it into an hybrid AM-Thermal/AM-Beam Core rocket and put it into an escape trajectory.

Although, thinking about it for a second, I wonder what amount of thrust it is generating from interactions with the solar wind?

About three paragraphs down I was thinking "The 'kid' is actually Q, isn't he?". Glad to see it was a different twist. (And that nobody actually got totally or partially disintegrated. AND that the System contains Scientific Minds sharp enough to realize that an anti-asteroid in our system will indeed look different from a regular one. Wonder if they tried to check the sign of its gravitational attraction while they were nearby?)

--Dave, do you fear the experiment? no, but i fear the result!