Love & Supernova 27 - The Last Day

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What would you do if you know that tomorrow is the last day of your life?

Very soon, the sun will go supernova. There are ten days left. The planet, Betelgeuse VII, is being evacuated. The last survivals are being rescued and moved to a new planet, Betelgeuse S, located at ten light years away.

First, rescue ships came at every 150 days to each town, rescuing about 70% of the population. Then, as not many remained, ships came every ten days, searching everywhere for survivals. About 20% of the population was saved.

But still, even now, there are 10% left. Many didn't want to go, because they believed that the rescue ships are in fact owned by pirates that will take them to UV Ceti, to be sold as slaves. Now, the clock is ticking.

In charge with the rescue operations is Analemma, a former castrato which dresses and refers to itself as being a woman. For the last ten days, Analemma planned a different rescue operation. Ships will patrol all the time, all day long. They are equipped with an infrared detector, which automatically scans for any remaining people. Each ship will fly fast, scanning the planet for survivals. Each time a survival is found, the ship will stop and ask that person to come aboard and save its life. Those who don't want to go, will be left there.

It is impossible to cover the whole planet that fast. Also, each ship must get out in time. Basically, they must all depart when there will be 30 hours to supernova. When Betelgeuse will explode, it will first blow a powerful jet of neutrinos, followed at short time by a massive gamma and X ray burst. These events will destroy any equipment on a ship that is close enough. Then, the real supernova will start.

In the last two days, Betelgeuse will try to fuse silicon into iron, to produce the last amount of energy that can be generated by nuclear fusion, to delay its death. This is the signal. On the planet, there is a neutrino telescope, connected to each online panel, placed in every town and to each onboard computer, placed in any ship. When the telescope will detect the unique neutrino signature of silicon fusion at an alarming rate, all ships will depart, as fast as they can. In every town, the alarms will ring.

So, rescue ships patrol the whole planet, searching each corner, according to their schedule. Pilots are stressed to the limit. They work, eat and sleep in their cabins. Two pilots are in each ship. They have no time to change clothes. In order for the plan to succeed, they must not lose a single second. Everything is pushed to the limits.

But not everyone wants to go. Many people chosen to hide in the underground mines, where they built closed ecosystems. In some cases, people just preferred to remain on the surface, not believing that the end is so near. Others, afraid not to end-up as slaves in UV Ceti, decided to stay and die. It is better to die then to suffer in slavery, tortured, bitten and raped by the pirates out there. It is a very hard choice for many.

Still, rescue ships manage to save 6% in these last days. 2% remained on the surface and 2% in the underground.

**********

Alex is a pilot from Betelgeuse S, who takes part in the rescue operation. Like many people there, it is very hard to classify someone based on gender. Alex was born as a hermaphrodite and worn the name Alexa. It is common both on Betelgeuse VII and on Betelgeuse S, for people to wear male names with an added a. But Alex chosen to become a man in all aspects, through DNA changing and surgery.

Because cross-dressing is so common and many times it is impossible to guess the gender of a person, people stopped using the words he and she and replaced them with it. Even Alex, sometimes gets dressed like a woman, even if it chosen to become a man.

For five days, Alex and its coworker roamed the planet, looking for survivals. All this time, they had no time to change their clothes and take a bath. They slept, ate, lived and smoked in the spaceship. Now, Alex is in charge, while its coworker, very tired, is taking a nap.

But there is something wrong. The onboard computer receives live data from the neutrino telescope. Situation does not look well. Silicon fusion is starting. Alex looks at the sun, saying:

"I hope you will give us some more time!"

What is going on inside Betelgeuse? In the center of the core, atoms are squeezed close to the limit, to incredible pressure and density. Temperature has reached 3.5 billion degrees K. Everything lighter then silicon has fused. Now, the core is composed of silicon, sulfur and other heavier elements. Atoms are stripped of their electrons, which roam in the little surrounding space. At those high temperatures, all light is in the form of high-energy gamma rays.

Sometimes, when a silicon atom is hit by a gamma ray, it absorbs the energy and releases a proton, a neutron or an alpha particle (helium nucleus). The released particles are absorbed by other, heavier atoms, almost instantly, releasing a little bit more energy. Usually, gamma ray collisions end-up with the release of alpha particles.

The process is called photodisintegration. Usually, silicon fusion works like this: As a silicon atom absorbs energy from gamma rays, it loses an alpha particle, also absorbing energy from the core. This way, silicon is split into magnesium. Then, magnesium loses an alpha particle and transforms itself into neon. As neon is highly unstable in these conditions, it breaks into oxygen, releasing another alpha particle.

Then, oxygen can further disintegrate into carbon and helium, but usually it fuses. Two oxygen atoms form back a silicon or sulfur atom, producing some energy.

Released alpha particles merge with other atoms, producing energy. Silicon absorbs one and becomes sulfur. Then sulfur absorbs another one and becomes argon. The next to be produced is calcium, then titanium, chromium and iron. Finally, iron absorbs one last alpha particle and becomes nickel.

The resulting nickel is radioactive and breaks apart into the most stable isotope of iron.

Silicon fusion starts inside the core. but, for a while, it produces less energy then neutrino losses. In the super-compressed and overheated core, highly energetic collisions between atom nuclei, between electrons and between gamma rays, end-up with the production of neutrinos, which fly away, stealing the energy. It will take some time until the energy production from silicon fusion equals the neutrino loss.

How much energy is Betelgeuse losing through neutrinos? About 50 000 times the energy it radiates as light. Silicon fusion could support it for at least a hundred years, but it will only last a bit over a day.

Alex, with an eye on the data, tries to hurry the ship, to pick-up as many people as could be saved in the remaining time. Four hours until silicon fusion equals neutrino loss... The ship stops somewhere in the forest, where two people are sitting.

"Come with me!" shouts Alex through the speakers.

They hurry inside. The door closes fast and the ship continues its scanning. Somewhere in a pasture, there is another person. The ship slows down and lands. Alex screams through the speakers:

"Come with me if you want to live!"

The door opens and another life is saved. The ship starts flying again, reaching what appears to be a small, remote village.

"Come with me!" screams Alex again.

People hurry to get inside. But, there are a few aged people which cannot move fast. Someone returns to take a baby. Two children don't want to go, scared by the large ship. Alex hurries them to move, asking some people from inside, to help.

The ship detaches again. Alex keeps an eye on the online data. Neutrino radiation is dramatically increasing and it affects the onboard computer. But still, everything is functional. There is a town ahead. The ship lands.

"Come with me!" screams Alex.

There are a few people down there, trying to come. Alex ask them to hurry. Silicon fusion is accelerating in an exponential line. And there is one more town to reach... One more town and all is done. Four more minutes left... silicon fusion cover 10% of neutrino loss and increasing fast.

Two people return and try to bring an old woman that has no feet. A child runs from the ship and its parents jump after it.

"Come on, people! Faster!" screams Alex, looking at the data.

Silicon fusion reaches 15% of neutrino loss, then 25%, then, very fast, 40%.

"We have only one minute!" screams Alex.

More people gather to the ship, trying to get inside. But Alex can see... silicon fusion covers 70% of neutrino loss... and very fast reaches 100%.

The onboard computer turns on automated pilot. The door closes, catching someone's hand. That person remains outside and falls on the ground, screaming of pain, while the hand remains inside. The ship automatically takes off and hurries through the clouds.

Alex watches the planet behind. There are people that could be saved if there were only a few minutes left. And there was only one more town to go. The ship turns its engines at maximum, leaving the planet behind. The onboard computer is experiencing major problems, as so many neutrinos pass through its circuits. Normally, neutrino radiation does not affect matter significantly. But now, there are passing more neutrinos through Alex's ship then through the whole Earth in the Solar System.

The sensors are scrambled. Alex takes command and directs the ship manually. With maximum acceleration, the ship is heading away from Betelgeuse. Away, before the core collapses and releases more neutrinos in a few seconds then it did in its entire lifetime.

**********

Down, in the town, people watch the spaceship vanishing through the clouds. It is gone. All gone.

"We are dead!" says someone.

"Fuck!" mumbles someone else.

"Now, we will all die".

The person who lost its hand, screams of pain. Some people curse. Some start shouting at each other.

"Couldn't you move faster? Now, we are all going to die".

"I should let you here!"

The online panel starts beeping. The alarm is on. Silicon fusion has increased to 110% of neutrino loss. Now, silicon is keeping the star alive... but for very short time. Some people start beating the others. Desperation follows. Then, they all realize everything is over. They are doomed... but anxiety does nothing good.

**********

In the next town, people waited together near the online panel. Suddenly, they see the ship, departing up in the sky, turning on its high-energy thrusters. The online panel shows the ship is late with a few minutes. They know well that, once the rate of silicon fusion equals the rate of neutrino loss, no ship will come. And this is what happens. The online panel starts sounding the alarm. All is lost. No ship will now come to save them.

Some people start to cry. Someone starts cursing, while others get angry and hit everything around. More people gather together and try to hug each other.

"I will get drunk!" says someone.

"Michelle! What the..."

"It doesn't matter anymore. If it wants to get drunk, so be it. Tomorrow there will be no tomorrow".

"I want to get drunk too!"

Some people get insane and start crying, shouting, gesticulating. They are insane.

"I want to confess", says someone.

"I am not a priest", says someone else.

"But there is no priest left in our town. So, I will confess all my sins to you. Please, I want to die with nothing stuck on my heart".

Someone, in desperation, takes a knife and cuts its veins, committing suicide. Another person takes that knife and says:

"I want to die peacefully, not to be burned alive"... and cuts the veins of its hand.

"I don't want to die burned alive", says someone else. "Can someone please kill me?"

"I will", says its best friend, taking a razor.

**********

Some people prepared themselves for this. Deep underground, in former mines, they built enclosed ecosystems to support their food, air and water supply. They watch the clock. They watch how Betelgeuse is fusing its silicon into iron, the last source of energy. Soon, there will be an inert core. For a short time, the core will be heated by a surrounding shell fusing silicon. But when that shell is exhausted, there will be no more energy. The core will further contract, increasing its temperature to five billion degrees... and will collapse. They just hope that they will survive.

In the towns, the last survivals gather together. Some went drunk, some lost their minds, some needed to confess their sins to the others. They gather to the online panels, which are still ringing the alarm. With so much neutrinos flying around, panels are affected. Still, their chronometers show how much time is left and what is going on inside the star.

Seven hours to supernova. The core has exhausted its silicon and is made of iron. The star has an onion-like structure. From the core outside, there is a shell fusing silicon, then one fusing magnesium, one fusing oxygen, one fusing neon, one fusing carbon, one fusing helium and one fusing hydrogen. Each shell is like a window to the past, to the times when Betelgeuse was younger and was fusing something lighter. People just sit one near each other and watch.

Fear has gone. Agony and despair are gone. Anger between people is also gone. They forgot any fight, any conflict, anything. They just sit and wait.

**********

Somewhere nearby, two teens decide to go to a more quiet place. They sit on the grass. This is the last day of their lives... the last hours in fact. They kiss and hug each other. Finally, they decide to make love. It is the first and the last time.

Then, they move to a former railway, which now is abandoned and partially destroyed. they sit on a former bridge.

"There is one last thing I would like", says one of them. "To get married with you".

"But there is no priest", says the other one. "But God listens us anywhere we are".

They decide to ask God personally to marry them. One of them has two rings on two fingers.

"Dear God, please make these rings saint and please unite us forever!"

They take the rings and put them on their fingers.

"Do you want to marry me? With no priest, I have to ask you personally".

"I do. Do you want to marry me?"

"I do".

"Then, we are united forever".

The two lovers sit on the former railway bridge, holding each other. But the time is ticking. They have less then an hour left.

Silicon fusion shell is advancing outwards. The core is made of iron, that is cooling, releasing neutrinos. Tightly squeezed, electrons hit the atoms and merge with protons, forming neutrons and more neutrinos and a larger energy loss. Bombarded with more and more gamma rays, iron atoms break apart, disintegrate into alpha particles (helium nuclei) and free neutrons, absorbing a huge amount of energy and forcing the core to further collapse. Released alpha particles merge with other iron, nickel and zinc atoms, forming heavier elements, only that, this doesn't produce energy, it consumes. The core is tearing its energy apart.

But the sun remains in the sky just as it were. there is no difference. no exterior sign shows what is happening inside.

Only a few minutes...

And then, it happens. Unable to sustain itself, with all its energy drained into neutrino radiation, the core collapses very fast. It takes only a few seconds. There, matter gets so tightly squeezed, that all protons merge with all electrons, forming a mass of neutrons and a huge blow of neutrinos. A neutron star is born from the massive iron core. As pressure and temperature increase, the core cools itself very fast through neutrino radiation. Outer layers try to fall, to fill the gap where the core once was, squeezing as tightly as possible. The core gets surrounded by a massive wall of tightly compressed iron. A wall of iron, so dense that even neutrinos cannot pass through.

In only a few seconds, as the core collapses, Betelgeuse produces more energy then the whole galaxy. Only that, all that energy is released as neutrinos. The iron wall is so tight, that not even neutrinos can pass through. So, they have to lose some of their energy, to push it outwards. It is this massive neutrino emission that actually triggers the supernova. Without this, the star would last much longer, slowly compressing itself into a black hole.

Neutrinos push the inner layers of the star outwards, with an increasing speed. Now, everything will explode. But still, it takes nearly 3 hours for the explosion to reach the surface. But, once the iron wall is broken, neutrinos escape in a massive number.

Two massive jets of heated plasma get out of Betelgeuse through the poles. The surface of the planet is scourged by the extreme heat.

The two lovers smoke together a cigarette, sitting on the railway. They hold each other's hand, enjoying the last seconds of their lives. Suddenly, they feel a massive heat. The neutrino wave has arrived. They hug each other in a long kiss.

Feeling the heat, they hold each other, as strong as their hands allow them. Their last words are:

"I love you!"

"Me too!"



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