THE MEET-UP: A Ceres Encounter


The following is an imaginary voyage to the dwarf planet Ceres by an astronaut and his robonaut partner. The meet-up described may, in the future, be a real event, and one which we should expect with both curiosity and delight. We hope you will follow along here and enjoy the meet-up.

At a sustained speed of 75km/s (167,770.2 mph), it had taken my partner and I 35.4 Earth days (See Note 1) to reach the dwarf planet Ceres. Well before we descended onto the planet we knew someone else had already been there. At the time of that discovery, we did not yet know if they were still there. We also did not know if they were live or robotic or both. Since my partner was a robonaut named Carl, he was especially interested in who or what may still be on Ceres. We knew this much because we had detected both an orbiting spacecraft as well as  a lander-craft on the surface of Ceres. We also knew this planetary body could support a visit by a lander based upon an earlier flyby survey of Ceres by  the NASA spacecraft Dawn in 2015.

Our spacecraft was a brilliant blend of the Apollo and Orion concepts that included an exploratory lander and rover. It also was designed to work independently of our presence so that both Carl and I could descend to Cere’s surface and conduct our exploration. The spacecraft’s VASIMR style propulsion system is what enabled us to sustain that 75km/s speed. This was the first human spaceflight mission of this distance that used a new spacecraft design with a new and powerful propulsion system.

We set up our spacecraft into its automatic parking orbit and boarded the lander for our trip to Ceres. We also had our rover along. The approach and landing were uneventful and Ceres’ surface was moon-like but less battered than the Moon or Mars.  At its warmest, Ceres boasts a temperature of -35 degrees Centigrade. There was a hint of an atmosphere and gravity, but neither were such that we could abandon our protective space suits. Similarly travel in the rover had to be very slow and cautious else we could probably bounce right off Ceres’ surface.

Before and during our landing approach we got a fix on the other lander. We picked a landing site that put us in close rover distance to that craft. After carefully anchoring our lander and assembling and testing the rover, we set out to visit the other nearby lander. My versatile robonaut partner managed a quick snapshot of the lander, which looked very similar to our earlier Viking landers.  It took us well over an hour to carefully drive the rover to the foreign lander. As we approached, we saw movement near the other lander and we stopped. We were unsure just what we were coming upon.

It appeared to be a robot of some sort. It approached us from the rear of its lander in a slow, almost staggering movement. It was articulated, but was not humanoid in form. Again, Carl, my robonaut partner, was able to snap a quick picture as it approached us. Because of its leggy design we, at first, were not sure if this was ET in some sort of spacesuit or a robot, as we suspected. It continued toward us and appeared to not be hostile. We dismounted from our rover and moved towards it. We continued towards each other until we were about 5 feet apart. As we observed it, it was obvious we were being observed; actually scanned. There was no communication between us, just a weird, silent mutual assessment.

Carl, very humanoid in design and capabilities, reached across and tapped my arm. Since he could speak, he informed me in his hum-like, echo-voice that ET or the ET robot was trying to communicate digitally. Excitedly I urged Carl to try to decipher and respond. As I watched both Carl and ETBot, I sensed a steady stream of data exchanges going on. Very quickly it we confirmed that ET was a robot who we named ETBot. Everything coming from ETBot was both digital and in binary numbers. Fortunately, Carl and his impressive onboard computer was able to quickly decipher the long, continuous string of data coming from ETBot. Carl, rapidly learned how ETBot was using binary and begin to directly communicate. Information exchange was now two-way.

For the next three days, Carl and I continued to converse with ETBot. Carl served as the translator for both of us. In summary here is what we learned and what we were able to do to help ETBot:

ETBot was from planet 57266 within the cluster G1 (MayallII) located in the Andromeda galaxy(See Note 2). His parent star was identified as 57 and his home was 266 with the full designation above, all expressed in binary form. ETBot transmitted a picture of his G1 home cluster, shown here.  I was overwhelmed. Here was contact with an extra-terrestrial robot from our neighbor galaxy some 2.5 million light years away.

ETBot arrived on Ceres by accident. Apparently a series of system problems forced him to find some place in our solar system to land and make repairs. His original target for exploration was Mars!. He had been sent here as part of a widespread exploration of our Milky Way galaxy. When we asked ETbot who sent him, he indicated he did not know. The entire population of his home, planet 266, was populated by robots. They all took commands from another distant planet. He had no idea what existed on that other planet. So we had no real idea what kind of life-form existed on another planet in the G1 cluster in the Andromeda galaxy. We wondered if we would be believed when we got home. At least we had Carl’s pictures and the picture ETBot shared with us.

ETBot’s lander was trashed. He was stuck on Ceres unless we could come up with some way to help him get back to his orbiting spacecraft. Carl made some calculations and suggested we abandon our rover and uses its storage space as temporary housing for ETBot. Carl also advised that if we were very careful we had enough fuel to allow us to rendezvous with ETBot’s spacecraft and then still get back to our own. ETBot declined to explain to us how he would be able to travel that immense distance back to his G1 home. He was receptive to our offer and indicated he could compact himself to easily fit in our lander’s storage space. We set about loading ETBot on our rover and begin the slow, tedious journey back to our lander.

The loading of ETBot into our lander’s storage space worked. We were also successful in our launch and rendezvous with ETBot’s spacecraft. It looked quite small in comparison to ours and we realized that somewhere out there, ETBot would link up with a larger, faster spacecraft that would take him home. Again, ETBot declined to give us any information about that other spacecraft. As far as we knew, ETBot was named a binary number, from a distant planet in our sister galaxy. We learned absolutely nothing about ETBot’s masters. In summary, an exciting, but disappointing encounter. When we finally got back to our spacecraft, ETBot and his spacecraft were gone. Had they ever existed? Were Carl and I in an altered state? Had we simply imagined all of this? Fortunately the pictures and Carl’s detailed recording of our digital communications with ETBot assured us that we were not crazy. We hoped our superiors back on Earth would arrive at the same conclusion. We terminated our full exploration of Ceres and proceeded home to present the results of our strange meet up with ETBot.

Disappointed in this outcome? So were we, but when you consider what we just experienced and all that we DID learn from ETBot it is not a total disappointment. We now know there is some form of intelligent life in a system in another galaxy. We now know we are not alone. Yes, so far, all we have done is exchange digital data with a robot supposedly from another planet that we cannot even see. Conspiracy buffs and other doubters will probably label this as some wild, make-believe story to pump up our lagging space exploration efforts. Well, we will just have to tough it out and begin to plan on our own deep space exploration  across to Andromeda and her G1 globular cluster. Will ETbot be there to greet us and be our guide?

What do you think?

NOTES:

  1. At its ideal distance from Earth, Ceres is 229,321,881km away. The spacecraft at its sustained speed of 75km/s will take the indicated number of days to reach Ceres. Actually, that time factor is a general estimate and is not adjusted for necessary speed changes and course changes to make an orbital intersect with Ceres. Ceres’ distance from Earth is an optimal distance based upon the difference between Earth’s greatest orbital distance (Aphelion) from the Sun and Ceres’ closest orbital distance  (Perihelion) from the Sun. Earth Days=24hours
  2. The G! (Mayall II) globular cluster (GC) as shown in the image above is one of thousands of GCs within the Andromeda galaxy. The image above is from an excellent blog article on G1. Click here to see that discussion. Additionally you may click here to read more detailed information about the G1 cluster. As stated in the link references, it is possible to see G1 with a 10″ or greater reflector telescope. You may also use Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope to visually learn more about G1. If you have the WWT use the coordinates cited in the link references to search for G1.

CREDITS:

In addition to the credits mentioned in the above text the following are:

Header Image: NASA image of shuttle ATLANTIS on its way to LEO.

Orbital Diagram of Solar System and Ceres: Courtesy of AstroBob http://tinyurl.com/3jtaz9q

Image of ETBot landercraft, courtesy of SciencePhoto Library http://tinyurl.com/3t43bvy

Image of ETBot: Artist concept NASA


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