And Then He Rested
by Walt Trizna
David Roser, a twenty-two year old graduate student, was summoned to Dr. Smithfield’s office one bleak winter afternoon. David was enrolled at M.I.T. in the Astronomy Department. He had chosen this field for the opportunity to dwell on concrete observations, but it also gave him a chance to dream, to ponder the vastness of space and the possibilities of what might exist out there.
He was also in awe of Dr. Springfield. Springfield had won a Nobel Prize in physics for his study of the cosmos. To work under the guidance of Dr. Springfield went well beyond an honor. It would allow David to explore the sacred ground of the universe.
To be summoned to Springfield’s office was a rare pleasure that David savored, for the man truly had the characteristics of the absent-minded genius. When thinking, he constantly smoked his pipe and a wave of aromatic smoke followed him. All the buildings on campus were smoke-free, but no one had the nerve to tell Dr. Springfield to extinguish his pipe. To add to the dilemma, he was hard of hearing, and anyone daring to reprimand him would have brought attention to himself as shouting at a Nobel Prize-winning laureate.
David knocked loudly on Dr. Smithfield’s office door.
“Come in,” came a preoccupied voice far louder than normal. David opened the door to see Dr. Springfield seated at his cluttered desk, his head wreathed in a cloud of smoke as he puffed furiously at his pipe.
“David, thank you so much for coming. Have a seat.”
Smithfield motioned to the only chair in the office. It was piled high with books, which David carefully removed and stacked on the floor. As he waited for the professor to complete his work, David drank in the atmosphere of the room. Most of the wall space was taken up with bookshelves piled haphazardly with books and stacks of papers.
On the little wall space available hung framed photos taken by famous astronomers. There were pictures taken of distant galaxies using the Hubble telescope and images of the planets taken from some of the most famous observatories on Earth. They were all taken by world-famous astronomers and given to Dr. Springfield. All the photos had been taken by former pupils.
Smithfield’s desk was huge, taking up a third of the room. The surface was overflowing with books, papers and star charts. So although the desk was massive, the work area was minimal.
After a few minutes had passed, David loudly cleared his throat, not sure if Springfield remembered that he was there. Because of the professor’s hearing, all communication had to be done quite aggressively. His deafness also accounted for his booming voice.
“David, there’s been an important discovery. I’m sure you have heard about the cloud of matter found revolving around a distant star in the Cancer system. The cloud is approximately the same distance the Earth is from our sun, and the star around which it travels is very similar to our own.”
“Yes, professor. The news is full of the discovery.”
Smithfield continued. “What makes this find truly exciting is that it is a window to the formation of our own planet. It will take billions of years, but someday this mass of debris may form another Earth. What is also so exciting is that, because of the distance of this system, we will be observing a planet form at approximately the very time our own came into existence, give or take a few million years.
“The reason I wanted to see you, David, was that I want you to be involved in taking some of the initial measurements to determine the characteristics of this mass. Yours will be some of the first data recorded. For unknown generations, scientists will follow this planet’s development. It will be an important view to our past.”
David said, “I feel honored that you want me to do this work, but will it lead to a project for my degree?”
“I’m afraid not. We’ll only have about two weeks to record the initial data, then that area of the sky won’t be visible for observation for another hundred years. But who knows, with the advancement of space-based telescopes, we may be able to gather more data before that.”
* * *
David made his observations over the next week and they were truly amazing. He was sure his measurements were incorrect so he did not inform Dr. Springfield of his findings. He did, however, consult with other astronomers after five days. David found he was one among many who did not believe the results.
On the seventh day after David began his observations, the hallways of M.I.T. were in an uproar. The astronomy building had lost its mantle of reserve and discipline.
Springfield did not hear the shouts echoing through the corridors. Beyond his office it was pandemonium.
A bewildered David Rosen knocked on Springfield’s door.
“Come in,” boomed the professor’s voice.
David was upset, mystified and euphoric all at the same moment. He was on the brink of tears as he walked into Springfield’s office.
“David, what is the matter? You look like something is terribly wrong, son.”
“Professor, I’ve finished the project.”
Smithfield said, “I thought we could observe the mass for at least two weeks. Did you make the necessary measurements before you lost it?”
With a laugh that was almost mad, David said, “No professor, the project is finished. The debris is now a planet.”
Smithfield looked puzzled, “How could that be?” he asked. “There must be some mistake.”
“No, professor, there is no mistake. I’ve checked with other observatories. There is now a planet there. It took just six days!”
Copyright © 2008 by Walt Trizna