The rescue of the extraordinary Beowulf Schiffer

Published on May 09, 2018

The rescue of the extraordinary Beowulf Schiffer

    Traditionally, I’ll start from afar.

    It is difficult for an intelligent (or, in my case, simply corrosive and harmful) person to read fiction. Writers often make funny mistakes, which, although they do not spoil the impression of their works, can be the subject of a merry discussion. For example:

    The height of Max’s robot was one meter twenty centimeters, and expedition members gradually believed that he was a kind, intelligent metal man, an iron gnome, something like a miniature Iron Lumberjack from The Wizard of Emerald City.
    (c) Robert Sheckley. Man according to Plato


    Ah, Sheckley, your story is wonderful, but the height of the Lumberjack is already one meter twenty centimeters. Your Max and Lumberjack are about equal to a sprout. Recall the story: the Lumberjack was once the most ordinary person from the people of the Munchkins. And the Chewers, God forgive me, were a little taller than a catbelow ellie. (The old man whom Ellie called tall was TOTAL a finger taller than Ellie!) But back to the Lumberjack. When he decided to marry, his aunt's aunt, wanting to upset their wedding, turned to the evil sorceress Gingham. Enchanted by her ax chopped Lumberjack first one leg, then another, then arms, and then his head. However, in accordance with the laws of a fairy tale, the Lumberjack did not die - his friend-smith repeatedly replaced the lost parts of his body with iron ones. Needless to say, this method of replacement does not make it possible to increase the size of the Lumberjack - if the blacksmith would make one leg longer, then the Lumberjack would not be able to walk. So the growth of the Lumberjack is equal to the growth of the chewer. Ally is about equal in height. That is, a meter, twenty meter. The first illustrators of the book still remembered this, and contemporary artists started to go into all seriousness.

    Or, take the story of another cult (in certain, narrow circles) author:

    Wind. It arises thanks to the most powerful forces of the universe. Inside the star, with unimaginable gravity that cannot be imagined by humans, thermonuclear fusion takes place.
    (c) Konstantin Vasenin.


    Well hello please. The standard model of the Sun suggests that the Sun consists of 3 zones - and fusion occurs only in a tiny, inner zone located in the center of the sun. (Sunlight then drags to the surface through the static zone for many, many years, but not the point.) So what is the gravity of our synthesis zone? Tataram-pam, pam - NO. In the center of the sun, weightlessness. Along the edges of the synthesis zone - gravity reaches the earth. (Maybe higher, but not fundamentally) Here you have a grandmother and all the unthinkable gravity.

    Now consider a not-so-harmless error for the plot. In the novel by Robert Uralovich Ibatullin, “The Rose and the Worm,” there is an interesting physical blunder that completely undermines the intrigue. I will quote a few sentences from the book - this is the very beginning of the novel, so if it's a spoiler, then it's not terrible. But you decide.

    Spoiler
    В 2184 году два астронома, Карл Квон и Фархад Назим, обнаружили странность в спектре одной слабой звезды в созвездии Орла. Странным в ней было одно – исключительно узкая и яркая линия в инфракрасной части спектра. Предыдущие наблюдения не показывали ничего подобного. Больше всего это походило на излучение мощного лазера где то около звезды – лазера, нацеленного на Солнечную систему.

    Окончательная черта была подведена в 2232 году. Полуразумный орбитальный радиотелескоп, постоянно нацеленный на HD 183658, обнаружил, что рядом со звездой как будто на пустом месте возник источник поляризованного синхротронного излучения. В своей исторической статье радиотелескоп робот опубликовал удивительные параметры нового объекта: расстояние – 57 световых лет, напряжённость магнитного поля – около 400 гаусс, скорость приближения – половина скорости света.

    Только теперь картина событий стала вполне ясна. Сначала инфракрасный лазер у HD 183658 разогнал звездолёты до половины скорости света. Некоторое время они летели с этой скоростью по инерции, а потом включили магнитное поле – включили для торможения.

    Итак, чужие не просто летели в нашу сторону на звездолётах невероятной мощности. Они тормозили. Они намеревались остановиться в Солнечной системе. И главное, они по прежнему не посылали ничего похожего на сигналы ни в одном диапазоне волн.

    (с) Роберт Ибатуллин «Роза и червь»


    Have you noticed? In order for the described events to happen in reality, the cosmos in the novel must be significantly different from our cosmos. Our stars are not nailed to the firmament of heaven and change position relative to each other. So the laser, which accelerates the alien fleet, does not aim at the solar system, but at the point where the solar system will be in many years. And not visible from Earth. All intrigue down the drain.

    So, do not read anything? Thank God there is a way out. Ethan formulated it much better than I did. (Yes, yes, the same Ethan, whose articles we love to read on the Gictimes)

    Perhaps I don’t watch films the way most scientists do. I do not look for flaws or plot holes, I do not say: “this is impossible!”. I am trying to reconcile what is happening with the possibilities provided by the laws of physics.

    (c) Ethan Siegel.


    Let's try to go his way.

    Consider the story "Neutron Star" by Larry Niven. The story earned the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1967, and it’s very tiny - so it’s better to take a break and read it in its entirety. If, more than your aspirations, you have not read it before.

    Well, for those who have already read, I will remind the plot: The hero of the story, the brilliant pilot Beowulf Schiffer is hired to understand the tragic incident - the death of a married couple of pilots. (Hereinafter quotes from the translation of Alexander Vladimirovich Maltsev (Trend)).

    Two people, whose names were Peter Laskin and Sonya Laskin, expressed a desire to use the ship. They intended to walk a mile from the surface of a neutron star, along a hyperbolic trajectory. After which they no longer contacted. When their drifting ship was found, the following picture was inside:

    In the control compartment there were two reloading couches. Both were torn off their legs and fluttered to their nose, crumpled like tissue paper. They destroyed the control panel. The backs of the mangled couches were splattered with something brown, like rust. Spots of the same color were visible everywhere: on the walls, on the windows, on the viewing screens. As if something strong, with gigantic power, hit the chairs; for example, a dozen paint-filled balloons.

    “This is blood,” I said.
    - Right. The circulating fluid of the human body.

    The puppeteer was heading towards the bow of the ship, but something made me turn to the strut legs for a more detailed inspection. They were bent. Through the curved transparent panels of the case, some unknown force squeezed the metal with such wild power that it flowed like warm wax from the spacers - and inside too.

    Obviously, during their flight, some strange force penetrated the hull and did this with struts for landing. The same force, we believe, killed the pilots.


    Here you need to talk a little about the spaceships of this universe. The Laskins' ship was built using a hull from a company of aliens - General Products. This building is significantly superior in technology to earth developments. So much so that scientists do not understand how this is possible to create. The fact is that:

    Nothing can get through the General Products corps. No type of electromagnetic radiation other than visible light. No kind of matter, from the tiniest subatomic particle to the fastest meteorite. This is a statement of company brochures, and warranties were the cornerstone of its existence. I never doubted that these statements were true, and I never heard that the General Products corps was damaged by a weapon or whatever.

    As you know, the fact of the death of the pilots, or rather, the fact that something was able to get through the hull, can greatly undermine the credibility of General Products. And they hire our hero to figure out the incident. Repeated the flight of the Laskins, but survived. And Beofulf accepts the challenge.

    The Sky Diver jumped out of hyperspace exactly a million miles from a neutron star. It took me a minute to navigate the stars - and another one to discover the distortion that Sonya Laskina noted shortly before her death. The star was on the left - somewhere a sector the size of the moon, visible from Earth. I turned the ship so that its bow was pointing exactly in that direction.

    The neutron star lay right on course, although I could not see it - and, in fact, did not expect to see it. She was only eleven miles across, and she was very cold. A billion years have passed since the BVS-1 burned with a thermonuclear flame. At least millions of years have passed since those catastrophic two weeks when she was an X-ray star and blazed with heat at five billion degrees Kelvin. And now she showed herself only to a huge mass.

    The ship began to unfold by itself. Affected acceleration, which gave him a thermonuclear engine. My faithful metal guard, without any help on my part, put me into a hyperbolic orbit, which will pass only one mile from the surface of the star. Twenty-four hours of the fall, twenty-four hours of the rise ... and during this time something will try to kill me. Just like the Laskins killed.


    You clever guys have probably understood for a long time what awaits him and laugh merrily at the stupid pilot. But it’s good for you to laugh while sitting at home in your burrow, and if you had fallen into such an alteration, you probably would not have learned it. One way or another, during the flight, the pilot notices inexplicable for him, but completely predictable events.

    The Sky Diver returned to its upright position - its axis again passed through a neutron star. But he had just been directed sideways! It seemed to me that I fixed the ship in a horizontal position. Again a slow turn - I used a gyroscope. Again, the ship barely shifted until it passed half the amplitude. Then, it seemed, he automatically returned to the vertical. As if the Diver preferred to look directly at the neutron star.

    I didn’t like it. I tried to repeat the maneuver, and again the "Diver" resisted. But this time I felt something else. Something was trying to drag me.

    I unfastened the safety net - and fell into the bow of the ship with my head forward. Acceleration was weak, about one tenth of a g. It seemed more like drowning in honey than falling. I climbed back into the chair, fastened my net. In this position, on weight, face down, turned on the recorder. He described the incident with such pedantic details that my hypothetical listeners would have no choice but to doubt my hypothetical sanity.

    Something was dragging me, but not the ship.

    No, nonsense, it cannot be! What could reach me through the General Products building? Quite the contrary, something was pushing the ship, knocking it off course. If the situation worsens, I could use the engine to compensate for the external impact. In the meantime, the ship was blowing away from the BVS-1, which I was not upset at all. But if I'm wrong, and if the ship does not blow away from the star, the jet engine will bring down the Sky Diver in eleven miles of neutronium.

    By the way, why is the engine still not working? If the ship diverts off course, the autopilot must restore it. The accelerometer is fine. He was fine when I inspected the ship through the access pipe.

    Could something push the ship and the accelerometer, but not me? The question came down to the same impossible version: to something that could penetrate the General Products building.

    “Fuck the theory!” I told myself. I was going to get out of there. To the recorder, I said:
    - Acceleration has increased to a dangerous level. I will try to change the trajectory.
    Of course, when I deploy the ship and start the engine, artificial acceleration will be added to the X-force. It will be hard, but I will try to withstand it for some time. If I walk a mile from BVS-1, the same end awaits me as Sonya Laskin.

    She must have been lying face down in the net like me. Lying in anticipation, there was no engine. And the pressure grew, and the net crashed into her flesh, until the net itself burst and threw Sonya into the bow of the ship. There she lay, crushed and wrinkled, until a mysterious force tore off the chairs themselves, and threw them to the poor man.

    I took up the gyroscopes.

    Gyroscopes did not obey. I made two more attempts. Each time the ship turned about fifty degrees and did not intend to turn further, while the howling of the gyroscopes became stronger and stronger. When I let go of the gyroscopes, the ship immediately turned back and did a few swings. The nose of the ship was directed downward towards the neutron star, and the "Diver" clearly decided to adhere to this direction.

    Fall for another half hour, and the X-force is already greater than one g. My insides fought in agony. Eyes bulging, almost ready to fall out. I probably shouldn’t get a cigarette, but it's too late to think about it. A pack of Fortunados fell out of my pocket as I fell into the bow of the ship. There she lay, four feet from her fingertips. The proof that X-Force, besides me, acts on other objects. Awesome.

    I could no longer endure this torture. Than yelling at a neutron star, I have to use the engine. And I launched it. Raised traction until it was in zero gravity or so. The blood that rushed to the limbs returned where it was. The accelerometer showed one point and two tenths of a g, and I cursed a lying device.

    A soft packet hung in the bow of the ship, and it occurred to me that a small push would return its owner. I tried to do this. The pack slowly flew in my direction, I reached for it - but as if endowed with intelligence, it accelerated and escaped capture. I almost grabbed her near the ear, but she moved faster. The pack flew at a crazy speed, taking into account the fact that I was practically in zero gravity. Still gaining speed, she slipped through the door to the lounge and disappeared from view, hiding in the access pipe. After a few seconds I heard a loud pop from falling. But this is impossible! Blood was already rushing to his face under the influence of a mysterious force. I pulled out a lighter, stretched out my hand in full length and let go of a weightless object. The lighter softly flew to the bow of the ship. But the Fortunados pack hit the stern with such force,

    I still gave traction. The muttering sound of thermonuclear fusion reminded me that if I tried to continue in the same vein, I would very likely be able to expose the General Products corps to such a tough test that no one had yet done: rub it into a neutron star at a speed of half the light .

    With one whole and four tenths of g, as the false accelerometer claimed, the lighter became weightless and swam in my direction. I let her go on. She definitely fell when she reached the doorway. I turned off the engine. Inertia violently threw me forward, but I continued to watch. The lighter slowed down and seemed to think about whether to fly into her access pipe or not. Still decided to fly. I pricked up my ears, trying to hear the sound of a fall, and jumped up in my chair: from a powerful blow, the whole ship shuddered like a gong.


    Then, finally, Beowulf finally realized what kind of force was trying to tear the ship apart. This is the tide. The accelerometer was located in the center of gravity of the vessel. Otherwise, the mass of the ship would knock down the arrow of the device. The puppeteers fought to death over the accuracy of ten significant digits. The pilot was in the control cabin, a few meters away from the center of the ship. And, accordingly, it was exposed to tidal forces. This is how Beowulf explained this to his employer:

    - Do you know what happens when the moon approaches too close to the planet?
    - She's falling apart.
    - Why?
    - I do not know.
    - Because of the tide.
    - And what is the tide?
    “Yeah!” I said to myself. - Now I will tell. The satellite of the Earth has a diameter of almost two thousand miles and does not rotate relative to the planet. Imagine two stones on the moon, one at the point closest to the Earth, and the other at the farthest point from the planet.
    - Well?
    “It is clear that if you remove the moon, both stones will begin to diverge.” They are in different orbits, so to speak, in two circular orbits, one almost two thousand miles further from the Earth than the other. But still, these stones are forced to move at the same orbital speed.
    - The farthest stone moves faster.
    - Right. That is, there is a force that is trying to tear the moon apart. Gravity does not allow it to decay. If you bring the moon close enough to the planet, those two stones will simply begin to diverge.
    - Clear. That is, this “tide" was trying to tear the ship apart. In the life support compartment, he was strong enough to tear off the loading chairs from the racks.
    - And kill the man. Imagine this picture. The bow of the ship was only seven miles from the center of the BVS-1. The stern of the ship is three hundred feet further. If they are allowed to fly apart, they will disperse in completely different orbits. When I was close to the star, my head and legs tried to do the same.


    The pilot was saved by reprogramming the autopilot and moving to the center of the ship while the weightless zone was moving around the ship. In the center of the ship, tidal forces are minimal, and Beowulf hung there, spinning in a pipe, while the spaceship flew over a dangerous section.

    Is it possible in reality? At first glance, no. That is, tidal forces really deploy the ship. And the ship, indeed, can accelerate to half the speed of light, moving along a hyperbole near a neutron star. (The diameter of the star from the story gives a runaway speed of 182 thousand km). At the same time, which is funny, when the ship is accelerated to such a huge speed, weightlessness will reign in the center of the ship.

    It is a pity that the pilot cannot be exactly in the center. Well, he’s not the point, excuse me. Even if it lies flat exactly in the center. As calculations show, when the pilot is in the center of the ship, the navel of the pilot detaches from the ridge with an acceleration of 9 million. (I did not think - I have paws). So how do we save the extraordinary Beowulf Schiffer from pasta? (Turning into pasta - stretching under the influence of a large difference in gravity between the legs and head).

    At first I thought that the pilot was saved by increasing the periastron of the orbit (This is like a perigee, only in relation to the star). If you didn’t notice, in the story Beowulf’s ship first went along hyperbole 1, then, as a result of course correction, switched to hyperbola 2, whose periaster is higher. Why? Because he "succumbed to the gas" in the direction of the star.

    Yes? But how does an increase in speed, when the vector is directed toward the star, raise the periastron? The laws of space mechanics of nifig are not intuitive - in order to raise the periastron, you need not to slow down in orbit, but to accelerate. How did a ship accelerate if its nose was pointed at a star? When moving along a hyperbole (along a steep hyperbole) around such a tiny object as a neutron star, the path along the orbit and the direction to the star practically coincide. While you are far from the star, naturally.

    But alas. Despite the fact that Beofulf undoubtedly managed to raise the periastron, this tiny change in the orbit does not save our hero. The thrust developed by his ship (30) is cat's tears, compared with the power required to increase the orbit to a safe level.

    So is everything gone? Of course no! What do we know about the star from the story? "Given: a white dwarf burned to the ground with a mass of more than 1.44 solar masses." But let me! White dwarfs are evolved stars with a mass not exceeding the Chandrasekhar limit. That star that was a white dwarf - DOES NOT BECOME a neutron star in itself. (She will become a black dwarf, but now this term is unpopular).

    Accordingly, if the star is a white dwarf, which with its mass is the most probable outcome, the passage of Bovulf becomes possible. Because with increasing star diameter, tidal forces decrease.

    - BUT ALLOW! “An indignant attentive reader will say,” The story is called “The Neutron Star,” and not “The White Dwarf,” and Beowulf tells us all about the diameter of the star at 11 miles.

    - This is elementary. Beowulf was wrong. Sorry, he didn’t measure a star with arshin. The story says: nothing is known about the tiny hidden star except the mass. So the diameter of the star - and this is stated in plain text in the story - is estimated.

    - BUT Sorry! How did the pilot then pick up speed to fly around a star, since this star is not neutron? The concentration of the mass of the dwarf is not enough to disperse the ship!

    - Very simple. Pinocchio gave three apples. He ate two. How many apples did Pinocchio have left? Think one thing? Nothing like this. Nobody knows how many apples Pinocchio already had before that. Morality - always reset variables! We do not know how fast the ship left subspace at the beginning of the story. So essentially Beowulf just flew past the star through a hyperbole.

    - And his speed was equal to half the speed of light in at least one section of the trajectory?

    “But I was just thinking about this until you distracted me with your questions,” I said indignantly. - Enough. I wash hands! Every article should have some kind of mystery. It will be in this riddle whether I managed to save the pilot, or if all efforts were lost in the tune. I look forward to hearing from you, dear readers.

    Threat. P.S. I'm not very smart. It is what it is. Therefore, all the errors in the article, which undoubtedly are in it, please be taken as an invitation to discuss them in the comments. (No, I did not add them there on purpose, to revitalize the discussion - this is usually not required if you understand what I mean).