Neutron Star Flyby

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From the beginning of time, most things that have ever happened have happened close together. Complexity compresses itself: there were more changes in the first second of time than in all later seconds.

The neutron star TK19228 represented 99% of the complexity of everything going on in the surrounding five-hundred cubic lightyears. This remnant of a collapsed star was as tightly compressed as matter COULD be before turning into the infinite nothing of a black hole.

A teaspoon-sized fragment of the core of the neutron star weighed as much as a mountain. If it could somehow be teleported to Earth, a large portion of that decompressing mass might as well be converted into pure energy. The explosion would be equivalent to several weeks of solar output, quadrillions of times more powerful than the largest nuclear bomb. As if the whole earth surface was tightly packed with nukes; or one second of the Sun going supernova.

The probe Bombdiggity had been falling for a long time from a vast height. Soon it would swing around the neutron star at two hundred thousand kilometers per second. Ahead, TK19228 approached like an atomic fastball, a twenty kilometer bauble spinning like an inconceivable gyroscope that looked even smaller than it was, a toy lamp in the night.

The probe was shaped like a ribbon to snake through the tidal gradient. The gravity strengthened enough to noticeably distort the probe's space, stretching it out like a rubber band. Then came the U-Turn.

It made its observations in an eternal fraction of a second as the tidal force turned it with monstrous precision around the sphere of white death. There was a loooooooot going on here.

Not all the probe's particles were being pulled equally in this gravity field. Atoms a few centimeters further from the neutron star were being pulled slightly less hard and fell behind, further stretching the ribbon. With a double misunderstanding you could call this a centrifugal effect, as if it wanted to keep going straight. In another second, the probe would be rising again in the direction it had come from.

There was time for a fleeting thought as the core rolled by in a titanic waltz. Here the magic of math became reality. TK19228 had perfectly straight equatorial bands that were tiled with bright hexagons. It was artificial looking like a display screen, or beyond that a fractal. Just glancing at this kitsch overelaboration seemed like a blasphemous obscenity of the end of nature.

At that moment the probe was going faster than it ever would again. In another moment the neutron star fell away like a coin down a well, already changed from the way it had been, never to be the same again.

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