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Amazing Stories, May, 1934
The White Dwarf
by J. Lewis Burtt
Amazing Stories
HERE are few living today who can
remember the beginning of the “Great
Migration,” fewer still who can
remember what our world was like in the
old days, for the very old are apt to confuse the
memories of their early childhood with those of
later years.
Our histories tell the story, our children
are taught these things in schools so that they
can relate all the strange and marvelous facts,
but what does it all mean to them? Very little I
They recite the name of Robert
Sanderson mechanically. They tell you of his
greatness, but it seems to me that they look on
him as a mythological character rather than as
the very human, kindly man he really was.
Perhaps I am approaching my dotage—I
am nearing the century mark—and perhaps I
just imagine this to be so, but whether I am right
or wrong about it, I feel that, before I pass, I
must set down the story of the great preserver of
our race.
Of all men, I am best fitted for this task,
for my memories of him and of his work are
stamped indelibly on my consciousness by the
great love I had, and still have, for him.
As a great historical figure he lives in
the minds of all. My desire is that, through my
humble efforts, he shall henceforth live in the
hearts of all as benefactor, friend and true
I have before me my own records, the
earliest written in a very childish hand, and his
own. These latter constitute my most valued
possession and when, after my passing, it
becomes the property of the nation, it will be
perhaps the world’s most treasured document.
The facts I can check from these records; the
spirit of my beloved father, Robert Sanderson, I
may succeed in passing on in some measure
from the record written in my heart.
Perhaps we old ones are prejudiced, but
to us that world of the old days was more
desirable and beautiful than this of to-day. You
youngsters think this a wonderful world, and so
it is in many ways, but then you have no
memory of——
“Well, picture it if you can. In place of
our little white sun put back the sun as we knew
him in the days of his glory, a brilliant, golden
ball of fire five times as big across, five times as
big, even though he was so far away. Picture to
yourselves the wondrous coloring of the world
bathed in this golden-white light. Picture its
beauty under the multi-colored rays of dawn and
sunset, colors never seen on earth to-day.
Picture too the eerie, magic beauty of the
world, when faintly lit by the light reflected
from that lost satellite, the moon, itself a fairylike, silvery disk of charm and loveliness. You
cannot? No, and we ourselves never valued that
beauty at its full worth until it was taken away
from us forever.
We were so sure that nothing would
change. Did not the astrologers tell us that the
sun would continue almost without change for
countless millions of years? Were we not in a
region of space altogether free of any nebulosity
which might produce undesirable conditions?
So we went on living in our fool’s paradise,
unheeding, unwarned.
“Unwarned” did I say? That is not quite
true. As far back as 1928, a full thirty years
before the beginning of the change, we had the
warning, if we had only realized it. That wise
old astronomer, Doctor Jeans, had told us of the
danger, yet I doubt if even he took his own
words seriously. Here is the very extract from
his book:
It is slightly disconcerting to find that our sun’s
position in the temperature-luminosity diagram suggests
that it is pressing with perilous force against the
dangerous edge of the main sequence, so that its collapse
into a feebly-luminous white dwarf may commence at any
The White Dwarf
Little did he suspect that that change
must already have commenced in the interior of
the sun!
HE first note of alarm was sounded by one
of the astronomers at Mount Wilson
observatory. For what season he was reexamining the solar spectrum we don’t know,
but something or other caused him to compare
his new photographs with similar ones taken
many years before.
It is perhaps due to the keenness of this
unknown observer’s eyesight that we to-day
have our continued existence, for it was his
detection of microscopic differences between
the old and the new spectra, that first told us the
There was no doubt about it. The sun
was changing its spectral type and, as cosmic
changes go, was changing with incredible
Of course, the news-sheets and the
radiocasts got hold of the story and, of course,
they garbled and twisted it as usual. The first
news the world heard about it was a six-inch
scare headline in San Francisco’s leading daily
of July 10th, 1961. In huge, red letters the paper
Fortunately, in this case, no one took the
paper seriously. We were all used to that sort of
thing. Oh yes, people bought the paper, but most
of them to see what new hoax it was, or to find
out what new product was setting out on an
advertising campaign.
Instead of panicking, the western world
1 (Jeans. “Astronomy & Cosmogony”.)
treated it as a huge joke. But not for long. The
men at the telescopes soon made it clear that
this time there was no hoax. In very truth the
sun was changing, but, they assured us, there
was nothing to worry about yet. These changes
are matters of milleniums—plenty of time for
this generation to live out its life and for its
successors to become adapted to the differences,
if any, that our earth would experience.
It was not until 1963 that observations
were sufficiently numerous to tell the whole
story of the change. During the period prior to
this, astronomers had put forward many
theories. Some said that the sun was about to
expand into a “nova” as the result of its own
internal pressure, and prophesied a fiery death
for our world. Others said that internal forces
had at last become synchronized and were
causing a pulsation that would cause the sun to
split into a binary system, and assured us that
the effect of this upon the earth would not be
serious. A third school insisted that, though this
might eventually happen, the only immediate
change was that possibly the sun would
gradually develop into a variable star, though
not at all probably of the Cepheid type.
Strangely enough no one suspected the
real truth until 1963, when my father, who was
even then a brilliant spectroscopist, dropped the
proverbial bombshell. The sun was commencing
to shrink into a White-Dwarf star.
There was no doubt of it. The rival
astronomers, all eager for new light on the
phenomena, re-examined their data and
calculations, and one and all confirmed my
father’s prophecy.
Still the world felt no anxiety. After all,
it would be such a slow change that only the
astronomers would notice it within a life time. It
was again a case of “aprés nous le déluge.”
“I was only a small boy at the time— ten
years old to be exact—but I can still remember
him throwing down his newspaper in disgust,
still see him turn to his physicist friend, Jack
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Tremayne, still hear his words:
“What fools; this isn’t a matter of
generations at all! The sun’s unstable I tell you.
The collapse has actually commenced and will
continue with increasing rapidity.”
“Is it really as serious as that?” his friend
asked him, “You’re not usually a scaremonger,
Bob, but even coming from you this is hard to
“Listen, Jack,” my father told him
earnestly, “the position as I see it is this. Our
world is doomed to slow death from freezing.
Now, shall I broadcast the facts, tell the people
the ghastly truth, or let them die slowly and
miserably, hoping on to the end that somehow
they will yet be saved?”
T this Tremayne leaned forward in his
chair and stared intently at my father.
“You don’t mean that, do you
Bob?” he asked. “Is it really as bad as that?”
“I’m afraid it is. According to my
figures the point of instability was reached fifty
years or so ago, and, sometime between that
time and this, the sun’s interior began to
contract. Now the surface layers are beginning
to feel the effects of this internal strain and
already visible fluctuations are occurring.
“Within about sixty years our sun will
have become a star very much like the little
companion of Sirius, a feeble, white dwarfs.
True—its central temperature will still be
enormous. In fact it will rise to millions of
degrees, but the heat will not be able to radiate
on account of the terrific internal resistance. The
atoms will be packed so closely and be so far
stripped of their electrons that they will not be
able to radiate freely. (You know what I mean,
even if I’m not using the physicists’ language.)
According to my figures, instead of
having an average density of l/5th that of water
as at present, the sun will contract until its
density is about sixty-thousand that of water—
say a ton or so to the cubic inch—which will
give it a diameter of considerably less than
thirty-thousand miles instead of its present ninehundred thousand miles.
“This means a radiating surface of about
one thousandth the present area and, even
though the surface will be much hotter, yet the
total radiation will not be much more than a
third of one percent of its present value. In other
words, our sun will shrink to the level of a star
of the twelfth magnitude, or thereabouts.
“There’s no need to elaborate on the
effects of that, is there?”
“I guess it’s the end all right, Bob, if
that’s really the case,” Tremayne was forced to
admit, yet, even in the face of these definite
figures, he couldn’t quite believe that the end of
the world had really come.
“Is there no way out?” he asked
Father shook his head sadly.
“No, I’m afraid there isn’t, Jack. Not
“Unless what?”
“Oh, nothing. I just thought for a
moment that we might—but it’s utterly
Tremayne looked hard at my father.
“What’s that, Bob? Did I hear you use
the word ‘impossible’?”
“Yes, I know,” father answered, “I know
I’ve always bawled you out for using it,
whenever I got a chance. I know I’ve always
said that impossibilities don’t exist, and yet now
I’m forced to eat my own words.”
Tremayne got up from his chair and
stood in front of his friend.
“Bob,” he said quietly, “I’m not
listening to that from you. You don’t believe it’s
the end anymore than I do. The very fact that
you thought of a possibility proves that, doesn’t
“I thought of that too,” father replied,
“but I know it’s useless to kid ourselves—call it
the optimism of youth if you like, and then
The White Dwarf
remember that our sun is dying of old age.”
“All right then, Bob, I will call it the
optimism of youth. Now you listen. Put it this
way. Our sun isn’t dying, but merely changing
from one state to another. The old state has
become untenable, therefore it must change to
the new one. But why call it ‘death’? Why not
call it a re-birth, and say the sun is renewing its
ERY pretty, Jack.” My father was still
unconvinced. “But I’m afraid it’s not
very practical. The sun may go on
living for many more millions of years, but such
a sun cannot give much light and heat to the
poor old earth. No, Jack, it’s the end for us,
whichever way you look at it.”
“Snap out of it, Bob.” Tremayne still
persisted in his efforts. “I haven’t finished yet.
You can bombard me with all the pessimistic
facts you can find, but I still won’t give up
hope. As you say, it may be the optimism of
youth—we’re neither of us much over thirty
yet—but youth’s optimism has generally got us
further than age’s pessimism.
“Come on now, let’s hear this idea, how
ever impossible it sounds.”
“All right, Jack, if you must have it.
What I started to say was this:
“ ‘There isn’t any way, unless we can
move the earth closer to the sun.’—Now chew
on that for a while and see if you’ll talk any
more about going on hoping.”
“I don’t need to chew on it at all. Why
should it be so impossible to do that?”
“You, a physicist, ask that?” father
laughed. “Pray tell me, good sir, against what
shall we push in order to drive the earth out of
its present orbit?”
Tremayne shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’ll agree
that it looks crazy, but in any case a little
experimental figuring won’t hurt anyone, and
it’ll be an interesting little problem to tackle at
the least.”
“All right then,” father was naturally
optimistic, and Jack Tremayne’s arguments had
served to chase away the cloud of hopelessness.
“It’s a go. Come and have dinner here to-day
week and we’ll compare notes and see which of
us is right.”
I shall always remember that dinner.
Perhaps it was the undercurrent of excitement
that prevailed, or perhaps it was that in the
discussion which followed the meal, I was
forgotten, and so was allowed to sit up till long
after my usual bedtime. Whatever the reason, I
have always retained a clear picture of that
During dinner, neither Uncle Jack, as I
used to call him, nor my father spoke of the big
problem, but as soon as they had settled down
before the fire, father went right to the point.
“Well, Jack, what about it?” he asked.
“No luck, I’m afraid, Bob.” Uncle Jack
hated to make the admission I’m sure, “It’s
going to take almost unlimited power to move
this old earth. You were right last week when
you reminded me that we’ve nothing to push
Then father, who had been struggling
hard to hide his elation, fired his first broadside.
“So the optimist and the pessimist have
changed places, have they?”
“Changed places? How come?” asked
Uncle Jack, knowing that something unexpected
was coining.
“Sure. I’m the optimist this time. Ever
heard of a rocket?”
“And I thought you had an idea!”
scoffed Uncle Jack as he sat back with a mock
sigh. “Sure I’ve heard of rockets. Didn’t we
nearly blow ourselves up with ’em when we
were kids? But as for shifting the world with
’em—nothing doing. Why they can’t even make
a decent rocket motor to drive an aeroplane!
“At that I spent a couple of days figuring
on the darned things—just in case.”
Amazing Stories
“Well?” father queried mischievously,
“And the answer to that calculation was?”
“The same as you got, I reckon. Not
enough power available on the earth to get even
a thousandth part of the reaction needed.”
“Sure, Jack. That’s what I got too—at
“What d’you mean ‘at first?’” Tremayne
almost shouted it. He knew how that there was
something coming.
UST what I say. It looked just foolish at
first, but I either had to solve the problem
or spend the rest of my life listening to
your feeble jibes and alleged wit,” he grinned,
“so I got busy and did some more figuring on
new sources of power.”
“And you found one?”
“Found one? No, you found it!”
“I found it? What the devil are you
talking about?”
Uncle Jack really was surprised this
“The great physicist fails to apply his
own discoveries to the solution of practical
problems,” jeered father as Tremayne became
more mystified than ever.
“Your—” he began to explain, but Uncle
Jack stopped him with,
“My ‘atom-buster.’ Well, of all the
“ ‘Atom-buster.’ That’s good!” laughed
father. “I quite thought you’d figure that in
somewhere, being the discoverer of it and all
that, but just in case you didn’t, I did. Listen!
“Your machine develops power by
converting mass into radiation, and from what
I’ve seen of it, it appears to have a fairly high
efficiency. Then why not use it to develop
beams whose radiation-pressure will be directed
outward from the earth. Won’t the reaction of
such beams give a rocket effect and force the
earth in the opposite direction?”
“Hm-m-m. I suppose so, but even so, it
doesn’t seem possible to produce such terrific
beams as we should need— they’ll be extremely
inefficient too.”
“At a guess I’d be inclined to say that
we’d have to disintegrate so much matter that
that in itself would wreck the earth. Then, too,
think of the atmospheric disturbances. They
alone would be sufficient to kill us all off.
“It’s too bad Bob, but I guess it’s not
“It isn’t, eh?” father got up, went across
to his desk and took out a file of papers. “Well,
just look those over will you, you old sceptic?”
Tremayne took the papers and for nearly
half an hour he studied them in silence, after
which the discussion started again.
“Look here, Bob,” he opened up, “These
figures are all very well, but why wreck the
earth to save it?”
“Not going to wreck anything. Why
should I?” father challenged.
“You won’t, eh? Well, look.”
I rather suspect that Tremayne was
already convinced, but he and father often used
to adopt this antithetical manner just to bring
out the weak points in an argument.
“According to these figures you plan to
use the annihilation of matter, produced by my
short-wave ray machine, to produce a beam of
radiation, whose reaction will speed the earth in
its orbit and at the same time drive it towards
the sun until it is finally forced into a new orbit
a little less than five-million miles from it. That
“Yes, that’s about it, Jack, and why
“According to your own figures you will
require about 1016 (10,000,000,000,000,000)
horse power. What about atmospheric
disturbances when you start up a beam like that?
Why, ionization alone——”
“Yes, I know, Jack. It’s going to mean
terrific storms and unprecedented electrical
disturbances, but that’s inevitable. We can
The White Dwarf
minimize this by getting to as high an altitude as
possible to start our beams—we’ll have to,
anyway, because we don’t want to have any
more atmosphere in the path of our beam than
we are forced to.”
“What do you mean, ‘our beams’?
You’re talking as though it was all arranged.”
“I know I am, Jack. It’s going to be.
There’s no other possible way, so you and I are
going to get this thing started—force it on the
world if we have to.”
OB, you’re crazy,” Uncle Jack’s
expression of delighted admiration
entirely belied his words. “Suppose we
grant you that bit about the atmosphere, what’s
going to happen when you start shoving on the
earth with such a pressure? You’ll split it in
“No we shan’t. We’ll place our beams
on mountain tops of high plateaux, where the
crust is strong enough to stand the push. Then,
too, we don’t pull all the power in one beam—
couldn’t handle it anyway—but use several
hundred to distribute the strain.”
“Well, sounds possible,” Uncle Jack
admitted, “but there’s still the great objection
that when you bring a planet very close to its
primary sun the tidal strains will tend to smash
it into fragments like the rings of Saturn.”
“Sure, if we get close enough,” father
agreed, but if you’d only learn a bit of
astronomical mechanics you’d know that a
planet is safe if it’s three or four times the sun’s
radius away, unless there is a great difference in
their relative densities.[2] In our case we shall be
2 For two bodies of similar density, the
small body will be broken up as soon as the
radius of its orbit becomes less than 2.45
times the radius of the large body. If the
smaller body is less dense than the larger, the
distance is increased correspondingly. This
figure is known as Roche’s limit.
several hundred diameters distant, since the sun
will have shrunk to about 26,000 miles across,
so we’ll be quite safe even when we consider
the great density of the contracted sun.”
“But how about the daily rotation, tides,
seasonal variations and things of that sort,
“They’ll be darned funny to get used to
at first, for some of them are going to be
altogether different, but we’ll have fifty years or
so to get used to them. It’ll take that long for the
sun to contract, and our speed of approach must
be calculated to conform to that, otherwise we’ll
either fry or freeze at some point on the way.
It’ll be considerably disconcerting at that, for
we can’t possibly adjust the changes in our orbit
to allow for the fluctuations that the sun will
necessarily undergo. Still I don’t think it’ll be
too bad if we keep approaching at about the
speed required to keep the earth’s average
temperature somewhere about where it is now.
“Of course conditions will be vastly
different, but man is an adaptable creature. Let’s
see how it sounds:
“We can keep the daily rotation constant
by directing our rays accordingly. We get rid of
seasonal changes altogether by forcing the
earth’s axis more normal to the plane of the
ecliptic. The short year of about four and a half
days won’t bother us in the least, for we shall
not notice it except by observing the stellar
movements. The increased velocity of the earth
will be as undetectable as is our present speed;
we shan’t feel a steady-speed of eighty-three
miles a second any more than we can feel the
nineteen-miles a second we are now doing.
“No doubt there will be considerable
discomfort and disturbance, even probably some
actual suffering, during the periods of
acceleration, but that’s unavoidable and it is
certainly less unpleasant than slowly freezing to
“The high tides’ll be a bit of a nuisance,
I must admit, and they’ll spoil a lot of good
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country, but they’ll still be endurable say four-to
six-hundred feet on most coasts.” He paused for
a moment, then continued seriously, “It’s going
to be a tough journey right enough, I can see
that, but ‘needs must when the devil drives’ you
know, Jack.”
“I suppose so. Check over those figures
again. Thanks. Now let’s see. You figure a
group of rays developing about 1016 horsepower
will give you sufficient push to give an
acceleration of half a centimeter per second per
second—hm-m-m. That shouldn’t jar things too
badly, but it’ll get us up to eighty-three miles a
second in a lot less than fifty years, won’t it?”
URE it will, but you don’t suppose we
can use continuous raying, do you? I
figure that if we use them for about ten
minutes at a stretch we’ll cause enough fun.
Don’t forget we’ll have the atmosphere, as well
as the oceans, trying to lag behind. That means
terrific wind storms and bad tides. A ten minute
push means an interval of some hours to let the
atmosphere re-adjust itself.
“Two banks of rays, one on each side of
the earth, operating alternately, should give the
minimum of trouble, and ten minutes every
twelve hours will give us plenty of time.”
Tremayne studied the figures a bit
longer. Then he shot some more questions.
“See here, Bob, you’ve figured that the
total acceleration required (‘sixty-four miles a
second, or, say, ten million centimetres a
second) will be given by an amount of energy
equal to the total destruction of thirty-million
tons of matter. Then why on earth do you go on
calculating on a basis of a thousand times that?”
“Why not? Do you expect our rays to be
a hundred per cent efficient? If we get a tenth of
one per cent efficiency out of them we’ll be
darned lucky, shan’t we?”
“Yes, that’s true, but now here’s another
trouble. If we accelerate, the earth won’t fall
towards the sun. It’ll tend to fly off at a tangent
to its present orbit and it will eventually land up
away further from the sun instead of nearer.
“It would if we merely shoved it along
faster, but if we shoot the rays outward, we can
so direct them as to drive the earth towards the
sun as well as speeding it up—just a matter of
careful calculation that.”[3]
3 The non-scientifically minded will no
doubt prefer the story without too much
mathematics, but for those who are interested
in that side of things we append the following
outline of the figures that my father first
showed to Uncle Jack:
The sun’s present state is that of a ‘G’
type star of 880,000 miles diameter and
surface temperature about 6,000o C. Its
absolute magnitude is about 4.85 and its mass
about 2 x 1037 tons. A star of this mass and
size is just on the border-line of the “main
sequence” and, in the case of our sun, has
recently become unstable and has started to
collapse to the next stable configuration, that
of a “white dwarf.”
The shrinkage will take about sixty
years more, the final state of the sun being that
of the star known as Sirius B. It will have a
diameter of only 26,000 miles, with a surface
temperature approaching 8,000o C, and a
central temperature almost beyond estimation
(say a billion degrees). Its density will be
increased to about 40,000 times its present
value, on the average say about a ton to the
cubic inch.
Its total radiation will decrease in the
ratio of about 1 to 400, making it a star of
about the 12th magnitude. The visible light
radiation will be a little greater than this, the
heat radiation being correspondingly less.
In order that the earth may receive the
same amount of heat from the sun as it now
does, we must move to an orbit of less than
five million miles radius. This can only be
done by increasing the orbital speed front its
The White Dwarf
“How about the moon, Bob?” was the
next question.
“Don’t need it do we? We’ll sort of miss
her old face for a while, I guess, but we can’t
afford to take her along with us. Besides we can
take the first pushes against her. Until she gets
driven too far away, say a couple of million
miles, we’ll save all kinds of power by pushing
against her”
present 19 miles a second to about 83 miles a
second, which will give an orbital period of
about 4.4 days, so that the term “year” will
become almost meaningless.
To accelerate the earth’s mass (3 x
1021 tons) to this speed requires at least 6 x
1031 ergs of energy, and this is greater than the
total energy available on the earth, unless we
release vast stores of energy by the
annihilation of part of the earth’s substance.
The annihilation of one gram of matter
releases 9 x 1020 ergs, which gives us a figure
somewhere around 6xl010 grams to be
annihilated—say about 30 million tons.
Estimating the reaction from the
energy release—the radiation-pressure—at
one tenth of one percent of the energy release,
we require 3 x 1010 tons or say from ¼ to _ a
cubic mile.
The reaction from this energy should
give acceleration of (½ cm. sec.)2 which will
give the total speed required in about two
million seconds. This divided over 50 years
gives roughly 18 minutes per day.
Two stations on opposite sides of the
earth, say the Andes and the Himalayas,
radiating for ten minutes per day, should leave
enough margin for all ordinary contingencies.
These stations must consist of matter
annihilators, or “atom-busters,” to use the
popular term, capable of consuming and
converting into energy a total of about 1500
tons a second.
And so the discussion went on all
evening and far on into the night until, at last,
Uncle Jack was fully satisfied.
As he rose to go he said,
“It’s a wonderful scheme, Bob, and I’m
right with you. How soon do we start?”
“If we’re lucky we’ll get the people
convinced within a year, or a couple of years,
maybe. They’ll very soon be noticing a change
in conditions, that will do more than all our
“Then say ten years for preparation and
another fifty years for the long ride.
“Say, Jack, we’ll be old men before we
get there. Maybe we’ll not see the end of the
trip at all.”
“Likely not, Bob,” Uncle Jack agreed,
“but even if we don’t, young Ted here,” putting
a hand on my shoulder as I got up rather
sleepily, “will be able to finish the job for us.”
“Good-night, old man! See you up at the
observatory sometime to-morrow.”
MONTH or so later, after consultation
and discussion with the leading scientists
and statesmen of the world, my father
issued a statement through all the main news
“Various contradictory rumors as to the
important changes now occurring in the
structure of the sun have been circulated during
the past two years. These rumors have been
vague and often ill-expressed by uninformed
persons, and have led to the whole matter being
treated as a joke.
It is therefore necessary to inform the
peoples of the earth of the true state of affairs.
Let us assure you, first of all, that there
is no cause for panic, although it essential that
world prepare for a time of intense disturbance
calling for great courage and self-sacrifice on
the part of everyone.
We cannot stress too much the
seriousness of the condition in which we find
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ourselves, and cannot urge too strongly our plea
for immediate and united action by all peoples.
Briefly the situation is as follows:
Our sun is collapsing into the type of
star known as a White Dwarf. The collapse will
occupy about sixty years, at the end of which
time it will give only about one-four-hundredth
of its present light and heat.
This would mean total annihilation for
the human race—a slow death by freezing—
except that we have discovered a possible
means of averting the tragedy.
We have refrained from publishing the
facts until we could offer some hope of safety,
because we did not wish to cause needless
worry and suffering, but now that we have a
solution to offer there is no further reason for
hiding the truth.
Our only hope of salvation is to move
the earth itself closer to the sun, and this can
only be done at a tremendous cost and sacrifice.
During the next two weeks more details
will be given you, and the probable effects of
such an attempt explained. At the end of that
time each government will conduct a plebiscite
to determine the wishes of its people.
We strongly urge you, one and all, to
vote “YES” to the Question, “Shall we make the
attempt to move the world?” for it is our only
hope of continued existence as a race.
This statement is issued with the
approval of all governments and of all
prominent scientific bodies.
On behalf of the Royal Society.
In spite of carefully written explanations
and appeals, the plebiscite returned an
overwhelming “NO” to the proposition. The
world’s attitude in general was:
“We’ve been hoaxed before. We don’t
intend to be fooled this time.”
Still, in spite of this, the scientists
continued their preparations, my father and Jack
Tremayne being tacitly accepted as leaders in
the enterprise, even by the older and more
experienced men.
Six months later a second plebiscite was
conducted. By this time the effects of the sun’s
instability had become a little more noticeable.
It no longer shone with quite so steady a light.
Variations in its radiations were becoming
detectable, though faintly so, without the use of
instruments, and as a result, weather conditions
all over the world were showing great
The world as a whole was not yet
convinced, however, and this second vote
confirmed the result of the former one— but
with a greatly decreased majority.
Evidently some of the people were
beginning to wonder.
The attitude of the various religious
bodies was typical. The Buddhist churches
folded their hands and talked of the “end of a
cycle.” The Mohammedan dismissed it in one
sentence as “the will of Allah.” The more
conservative of the Christian churches at first
denounced the advocates of the plan as
blasphemous, but later on changed to an attitude
of bitter scoffing. Only a few of the more
progressive organizations saw in it a reasonable
proposition, one or two even going so far as to
point out that the discovery had been made in
time to allow humanity to “work out its own
URING the next six months it became
obvious to all those who were reasonably
observant that there certainly was
something happening to the sun. They could no
longer ignore the fluctuations now discernible in
its brilliancy and also in its apparent size.
The result was that the third vote
showed about fifty-two per cent against the
attempt, and, by the end of the next period,
The White Dwarf
human thought had swung around so far, that a
three-fourths majority voted a definite “Yes.”
Once the people’s mandate had gone
forth no time was wasted. Preparations must be
commenced immediately, for the sun’s
shrinkage was proceeding even more rapidly
than had been anticipated. If the attempt to save
the world was to be made in time, it must be
started within seven years at the least.
For once in history the world acted as a
unit. Only one of the greater powers showed
signs of giving trouble, and this one was
speedily brought into line by pressure from
within, as well as from the rest of the nations.
To us of the old days the task seemed
overwhelmingly colossal. Even many of the
leaders looked on it as a forlorn hope. In fact,
one astronomer actually expressed the opinion
that “at any rate it will be better to die quickly,
rather than to live on to face slow starvation and
There was much discussion as to the
exact places for setting up the “atom-busters”
(Everyone, scientists and all, had now adopted
Tremayne’s humorous name for his
disintegrators), but in the end they agreed on
two areas in which the districts originally
selected by my father, an area in the Andes not
far from Lake Titicaca, and another in the
northeast of Upper Burma to the east of the
Himalayas. These two regions included a
number of suitable plateaux well above the
fifteen-thousand foot level, and they were
almost exactly opposite to each other on the
earth’s surface.
At first points right on the equator were
advocated by many, but they were finally
rejected as giving the rays no thrust in a
direction that would serve to swing the earth’s
axis perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic.
The task of preparation was indeed colossal. A
vast army of workmen was shipped to each of
the chosen spots, or rather as near to them as
was possible, for before anything else could be
done, roads and railways had to be built to
transport the mass of equipment needed.
During the three years that were
occupied in this road construction the world’s
largest factories were put to work fashioning the
necessary parts for the “atom-busters.”
A great deal of experimentation had
been necessary before a satisfactory machine
was evolved. The first ones constructed were far
too inefficient and small, but when they began
to build bigger ones, they came up against
troubles produced by the enormous forces and
temperatures generated.
The first serious accident occurred in
1965. Father had designed a machine big
enough to project a ten-foot beam of force. This
machine used up fifty pounds or so of matter
each second, and was intended as an
experimental model for the big three-ton-asecond machines that were eventually to be
They all thought the trial would be a
huge success, and, in their unwise enthusiasm,
the factory authorities had arranged for a
number of visitors to witness the tests.
About four o’clock one afternoon the big
machine, already set up in an open space a
hundred yards from the visitors’ seats, was
loaded with its first charges of crushed rock.
The mechanism consisted of a small
projector of rays of extremely short wave
length, rays short and penetrative enough to
destroy the actual protons and electrons of
4 I am not physicist enough to explain
exactly how Tremayne produced these rays,
although I understand it to some extent. “They
were rays of shorter wave length than the
“Millikan” or “cosmic” rays that caused so
much excitement at one time, their wave
length being of the order of 10-14 cm.
Amazing Stories 12
HIS activating ray started the disintegration
of the matter in the main projector and the
similar radiation produced from this in turn
activated the rest of the charge in a cumulative
manner, the intensity of the power developed
being limited only by the speed at which the
charge was fed into the focus of the machine.
The energy thus set free was focused
into a beam pointed in the required direction by
means of extremely refractory reflecting
surfaces. It was the production of these
reflectors that had first made possible the
original “atom-buster,” no other known
substance being able to withstand the terrific
bombardment of the rays for a single instant.
In the machine under test these reflectors
were six feet thick and were calculated to be
opaque to the penetration of rays of the intensity
to be produced.
Even these reflectors suffered
considerable surface volatilization, so that two
minutes was set at the time limit for projection.
The demonstration was to begin at 4.30
P. M. and at that time the factory
superintendent, from his seat among the guests,
threw on the activating beam.
There was a terrific crackling roar as the
beam shot out into the sky. The beam itself was,
of course, invisible, but its path was marked by
an intensely dazzling beam of light, as the
molecules of air in its path became ionized, or
rather as the atoms themselves were stripped
almost to their nuclei. Blazing particles of gas,
the atoms torn off but not actually annihilated
by the beam, streamed out into space in a
fountain of living fire. The heat and electrical
tension became unbearable. Terrific lightning
flashes played around the beam and a wind
began to blow towards the streaming fount of
The sight was utterly terrifying, but
unutterably grand and impressive.
For forty seconds the superintendent
stood motionless, except for the movements of
his fingers on the feed controls. Then Uncle
Jack, who was standing between him and me,
shouted above the deafening din of the
reverberating machine,
“Cut it out! Cut it out, for God’s sake!”
The shout was drowned in the earsplitting noise. Desperately he tried to make the
superintendent hear, but without avail. Then,
realizing the futility of what he was doing, he
grabbed the man’s hands from the switches and,
in an agony of apprehension, slammed
everything into neutral.
But it was too late. The reflectors had
already become too thin. Even as the ray died
down from lack of fuel, the whole machine
exploded with terrific violence, scattering
blazing pieces of itself in all directions.
Had the machine burst while radiating at
full blast the result would have been something
indescribable, perhaps even the uncontrolled
disintegration of the earth itself, although the
general opinion was that such a catastrophe is
Even as it was, the shock was felt for
miles. Of the group of spectators, six were
killed outright, while all were more or less
severely injured by the concussion and the
flying fragments. The superintendent was
among the killed, but, strangely enough, Uncle
Jack and I both escaped with very minor injuries
and burns.
I suppose a few such accidents were
humanly unavoidable, but I know that this one
impressed me so deeply that for weeks I begged
my father to give up his plan and let the world
die out in peace after all.
It may have been the shock that affected
me in this way, I think likely, for I snapped out
of this phase as suddenly as I was jarred into it,
and once more I became as enthusiastic a helper
as anyone.
Perhaps this little tragedy was not
altogether to be regretted, for out of it
eventually came much good. For months after it,
The White Dwarf
both father and Uncle Jack worked continuously
on the production of a still more refractory
substance for the reflectors, I too working with
them and learning all I could, so that I could
continue the work when their time came to lay it
E did succeed at last, our success being
without any doubt due to the magnificent
courage, confidence and faith of these
two wonderful men. Never once during this
period, nor at any other time for that matter, did
either of them lose faith in their ultimate
success, never did they let down on their
activity unless such a let-down could be
indulged in without delaying the work. Being
human, they sometimes became irritable, but
notwithstanding this, they usually kept a calm
and kindly manner that endeared them to every
one who worked with them.
We call these men great because of what
they accomplished in devising and working out
the plan, but I tell you that their real greatness
lay not in that, but in their fine character, in
their unshaken confidence that inspired a world,
in the greatness of their love for humanity that
enabled them to save a world not only from
destruction by that terrible freezing death, but
from the horrors of fear and panic, from the
effects of those waves of terror that seemed at
times to sweep the whole world.
Very human were these two men. I have
seen my father stop an experiment to tend to a
workman who had burned a hand. There were
others to do it, but the burn had been caused by
an unavoidable slip on my father’s part, and so
he felt it was up to him to make personal
amends to the unfortunate victim.
By the middle of 1970 the banks of huge
machines were almost ready to use. In each
district a number of moderately flat areas
totalling some hundreds of square miles had
been found in the higher ranges, that in the
Andes being well over the seventeen-thousand
feet line, and the other less than a thousand feet
lower. In each of these were set up four separate
banks of “atom-busters,” each consisting of
some five-hundred huge projectors, each
capable of annihilating over three tons of matter
a second, and giving a sixty-foot beam of almost
incalculable force.
These projectors could be adjusted to
turn the beams through an angle of two degrees
from the central point, which was exactly
vertical. Further swinging would mean danger
of forcing the whole apparatus over, while less
gave insufficient movement for “aiming.”
A discharge consisted of a ten-minute
period of radiation from one bank of projectors,
which would then be allowed to cool for three
days, while others were used. After each
discharge new reflectors had to be installed, and
it was the construction and transportation of
these uncounted millions of reflectors that had
been the world’s greatest difficulty.
September 15th, 1970, at ten o’clock at
night, local sun-time, was the time set for the
first discharge from the Andean station, the
other station to follow with its discharge after
approximately twelve hours. The time, 10 P. M.,
was decided on after a great deal of calculation,
as giving the push which would give best results
in both speeding the earth around the sun and
driving it in towards the center. The course
aimed at was, naturally, a gradually tightening
The first half-dozen discharges from the
Andes were to be directed against the moon, as
it was then in a suitable position and the
reaction against it would, it was hoped, increase
the push on the earth considerably. That was, of
course, the chief reason for selecting that
particular date for starting the raying, the moon
being then very close to the full.
Remote control was installed to all the
machines, for anyone within a mile of any one
of the big projectors would be pretty sure to
come to a sudden and fiery end as soon as the
Amazing Stories
ray was formed. The walls of protective screens,
efficient as they were, were quite inadequate to
check the whole of the unfocussed part of the
radiation, and exposure to these short, hard
waves meant instant death, even in
comparatively low intensities.
As the momentous hour approached,
father sat motionless and silent, his hand on the
control switches.
Slowly the seconds ticked by. The
company of watchers scarcely breathed, so
intense was the strain.
UST as the tension had become utterly
unendurable, father moved the first switch.
For a few seconds there was no sign of
action. Then came a dull reverberating roar, as
the first ten machines went into action.
One after another the switches went
over. Moment by moment the reverberation
increased, until at the end of a minute or so, the
whole earth seemed one chaos of infinite sound
and infinite vibration. Away into the skies
stretched beam on beam of fearful radiance,
beams of marvelous beauty, haloed with
lightnings such as Old Father Jupiter himself
never dreamed of.
Was there a sense of motion? Some of
us fancied we could detect it, but none of us
were sure.
Six observers, including Uncle Jack, sat
with eyes glued to the telescopes, watching the
changeless face of the full moon, a moon whose
brilliance was completely overshadowed by the
dazzling beams of power.
An interminable five minutes passed.
The earth itself seemed almost riven apart, yet
still that infinity of reverberating energy
continued to flame forth.
One of the observers called suddenly,
his voice coming shrill and clear through the
awful din.
“We’re moving I think, sir!”
Instantly father leaped to the lad’s
telescope, checked its bearings, and the
observer’s figures. For another minute he sat
there motionless, then with a very proud, yet
extremely humble, movement, he rose and,
seemingly without any effort, he called above
the din,
“We are moving! Our world is on its
way to safety!” and he added a very fervent
“Thank God!”
A few moments later he reached out and
commenced to throw over switches, the rays
dying out as he did so. At first the silence
seemed even more terrifying than the
reverberation. Then the tense emotions burst
their bounds and for a while we shouted and
capered around like little children just out of
school—all except father and Uncle Jack, who
stood silent with clasped hands.
Our earth was at last started on its
strange and wondrous adventure.
Calculation showed that the push of the
ray was rather more than had been expected, but
even so the period of radiation was not
shortened. It was felt that it would be best to get
ahead of schedule and then cease raying now
and then for a period to let the world steady
For a month the regular schedule was
carried out, the effect of the alternate push from
north and south of the Equator having exactly
the desired effect of pushing the earth’s axis
over slowly to its new direction.
At the end of this month the atmosphere
and the oceans were so disturbed that it was
necessary to stop raying for some ten days, the
storms having become so violent that serious
damage was resulting.
This procedure—a month’s activity
followed by ten day’s rest—was followed for
nearly four years with hardly any variation. By
the end of that time we were running in an orbit
almost identical with that of Venus.
About this time I was one night
observing for father, when I thought I saw a
The White Dwarf
flash of light from the dark side of that planet,
which, being just then quite close to us, was a
most magnificent sight far surpassing the glory
of our old moon, now lost to us forever.
I called father, and together we watched.
There was no mistake about it. Five separate
and distinct flashes, each lasting about forty
seconds, were observed.
“What do you make of it, dad?” I asked
“There can be only one explanation—
signals,” he replied without hesitation.
UT he was wrong. It was more than
signals. Three days later into our
atmosphere came a long shining projectile
shooting flame and fire from its nose. And
within a few minutes came another—and
another—until five of them were whistling
through the air, checking their speed with their
fire-tubes as they came.
Before they landed, they cruised over a
great part of the earth’s surface, coming to rest
finally close to the great Yerkes observatory.
Since it was by no means certain
whether these Venetians were friendly or not,
they were met by the entire staff of the
observatory, all armed, but these precautions
proved entirely superfluous, since the visitors
were here on a peaceful mission.
To-day we were familiar with the
appearance of the Venerians, but these first
arrivals seemed very strange and bizarre, with
their many limbs and their curious, translucent
They stayed with us for nearly three
months before we could converse with them
sufficiently fluently to give them the
information they had come for. It seems that
they, too, had suspected something wrong with
the sun, but they could not make out what the
trouble was, since their cloud-girt world made
observation difficult. By a lucky chance they
had seen our world approaching their own, and
had been able to guess, by noticing its irregular
orbit, that it was being driven from its old path
by intelligent beings. They had, therefore, made
a great effort and had so much improved their
reaction-motors that they were able to send five
space ships across space to us, to inquire what it
was all about.
It has always seemed curious to me that
the Venerians, who in many ways are so far
behind us, should, as the result of our efforts in
moving our own world, perfect the very thing
that we ourselves had failed to develop
satisfactorily—the rocket-ship.
As soon as the Venerians fully
understood the state of affairs they returned to
their own world, saying as they left:
“Now that we know that you of earth are
no more hostile to us than we are to you,
perhaps we shall be able to develop an
intercourse profitable to us both.
“At the present moment we both have
greater problems to attend to, so that must wait,
but not for very long, we feel.
“We can never be grateful enough to you
for giving us the secret of your projection
machines. Before long we shall be following
you, for we, too, must perish otherwise.”
The rest of the journey was without
interest. We never seemed to get accustomed to
the reverberation of the “atom-busters” nor to
the violent storms that swept the earth almost
continuously. We hated them but we tolerated
them, because we could not do otherwise,
consoling ourselves with the thought that some
day they would no longer be necessary.
There was no dramatic climax to our
journey. We just rode into our new orbit and
then ceased to ray any more. No doubt it would
have made better reading if I could have
described a magnificent climax, but certainly no
one on the earth desired any such finish. We
were all so heartily sick of the continuous
racket, that all we wanted was the chance to
settle down peacefully once more.
Amazing Stories
The gradual development of the huge
tides, with the consequent inundation of large
areas of fertile land, and of most of the great
cities, came about so gradually that we had
plenty of time to get used to them and to change
our intra-continental traffic from ocean-going to
air-going. The increased volcanic action
troubled us but little, since most of the action
was directed through the old volcanoes, most of
which were far from the populated districts.
The gradual change in the condition and
types of plant growth was extremely interesting
and, on the whole, beneficial. The increasing
preponderance of the shorter waves in the sun’s
light produced not only greater fertility but
more beautiful forms.
HE only noticeable effect on our bodies
was, as you are all aware, to darken our
skins so that to-day we are all permanently
“sun-tanned,” as we should have called it in the
old days. Our eyes, too, have changed a little,
due to the difference in the quality and intensity
of the daylight.
Our seasonless year of four and a half
days still seems strange to us who knew the old,
fascinating, seasonal changes, though to you
children of the new generation it is normal
enough, especially since we still keep the old
period of three hundred and sixty-five days as
our legal year.
For a while, too, we missed the
moonlight, but now that Venus has come here
too, we have a light that even I must admit is
better than the old one.
The old Venerian who first thought of
bringing the two planets together into a binary
system was a real benefactor to both worlds.
My father and his friend lived to see the
successful completion of their task. In fact, it
seems almost as though they just lived on for
that, for both of them passed within a few
months of the stabilization of our new orbit.
And now I too am an old, old man, ready
to pass into the great beyond. I have been
blessed above all men, for to me has been given
the privilege of living through the whole of this
wonderful era, and of being closer than any
other to that man of all men, my beloved father,
Doctor Robert Sanderson.
My life’s work is ended. The story is
told as I would have you know it. My dear wife
has already preceded me, and now I am ready to
go myself, confident in the knowledge that man
will go forward and rise to undreamed-of
heights in this new-old world that, despite all
the troubles and difficulties, has been to me a
very good world to live in.

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