Wednesday, January 29, 2025. 05:12 hrs Pacific Time. 102 hours before landing.
Amir Saadin plopped down into the chair facing the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft monitoring console with a long sigh. He ran his fingers through his unkempt black hair in a coarse attempt to comb it. Amir slept in a few minutes too long, and had just enough time to splash some water on his coffee-colored skin and put on his tan slacks and blue button-down shirt before he dashed out the door. He hated having to do the early morning shift at Goldstone Deep Space complex, but this week it was his turn among the rotation of solar research technicians. The last thing Amir expected to do this morning was record a turning point in human history.
Each technician developed his or her own preferred sequence when it came to which monitoring station they observed in which order. Amir always checked in on the SOHO spacecraft monitoring computers first. He had a soft spot in his heart for that old bucket. Launched in December 1995, he and the craft were the same age to the month. But more than that, he loved its underdog story. It was built for a two-year mission, but kept on going. After it lasted fourteen years, they decided to officially extend it’s mission another two years. Then another two. And another. Even today, over thirty years later, it hadn’t been decommissioned. NASA just assigned it secondary missions like this one.
For over three weeks, the European Space Agency and NASA dedicated their most modern solar research spacecraft to study the mysterious, tiny spherical anomaly which appeared out of nowhere, parked just over eight million kilometers from the sun. But after Sunday’s record-breaking solar flare, it disappeared. Studying the flare was the priority, so they assigned the venerable SOHO spacecraft the task of scanning outward from the sun into the solar system, in the hopes of re-acquiring the two-meter sphere, or at least finding evidence of what happened to it. That put the onus of the assignment on the shoulders of those technicians at Goldstone who still bothered with the old bird. Technicians like Amir.
It wasn’t just Amir who was interested in the anomaly. When it was first noticed by the ESA, it immediately attracted the attention of astronomers, scientists, science fiction fans, and dreamers all over the world. The world’s media has had a field day imagining that this could be anything from a rogue asteroid with some sort of odd gravitational field to space debris or even some super secret spy satellite that world powers refused to acknowledge. And that only covered the more plausible theories; more sensational blogs had suggested that it might be anything from alien in origin to the appearance of God. Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubric were name-checked in practically every other article.
To feed the hunger for information, NASA had been uploading reports to it’s site about the spherical anomaly nearly every day, attempting to inject some facts and actual data to the chatter. At first NASA’s blogs were some of the most popular reports on the net. Each report was visited and linked and reprinted millions of times. But over the ensuing weeks, as nothing happened with the anomaly, interest began to wane, and the number of visitors and links to NASA’s reports had dropped considerably.
The technician monitoring SOHO generally wrote the report for the day, which meant many of those NASA reports had Amir’s name on them. This suited him just fine. Amir’s father had been a prominent Palestinian writer who had built a name for himself writing eloquent, moving essays for peace in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, and Amir always fancied himself as a scientist with a knack for turning a phrase. Even though writing routine reports for general consumption was considered an unenviable task, he harbored the hope that having all those published reports with his name on it might somehow give his career a boost.
When Amir loaded up the feed from SOHO’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, he nearly spit up in his cup. He carefully rose from his chair, put his coffee on a table behind him, and returned to his seat. He leaned in close to the screen, his dark eyes wide, nearly hyperventilating. He called up SOHO’s diagnostics on a secondary screen and went over each parameter of the live operational status of the craft one by one. Each parameter checked out.
He picked up the phone at his desk and put it on intercom. “Dr. Glau,” Amir swallowed, his voice trembling, “please come to the SOHO spacecraft monitoring station immediately.” He used two hands to place the phone back on the receiver.
Two other technicians were in the large monitoring room with him, and immediately turned to Amir.
“Oh my God!” Justine Bunnings exclaimed as she stopped correlating data on potential quasars. She brushed a lock of blond hair out of her eyes and ran over. “You located it? You re-acquired the spherical anomaly?”
“Yeah…” Amir replied, shaking his head. “Can you believe it? A two meter sphere in billions of cubic kilometers of space? But that’s not all…”