Dwarf Planet

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Bandorf ran as quietly as he could through the bracken covering the open forest floor. The dogs and their human handlers were too close behind him to allow noisy passage. He was tiring fast. Earth gravity had always been hard on him and his brothers. Breathing hard, he slipped efficiently between the fern stalks. His small feet sprang lightly off the rich, leafy litter. Though his shoes looked like leather, their material didn't leave a scent trail. It was the noise of his passage that mattered. The humans couldn't hear him, but he knew from experience that the dogs often did.

He jagged around the base of the large oak and jumped into the air. He barely cleared the rock outcrop which hid the crack in the granite wall. His shirt scraped and almost hung on the sharp point at the very narrow entrance to the crevice.

Once again, he had escaped the humans and passed through the gate. Neither dogs nor men could follow, both were too large to enter the crack which hid the quantum transmission gate. He had been far enough ahead of them that they would keep chasing long enough to be well past the ancient oak before calling a halt. It would be a big problem if they ever got close enough to see one of his sort slipping into the crack.

Moments later, he stepped into the cool and dim transmission chamber of the local outpost in this system, Pluto, the Dwarf Planet. He verified on the gate's display that all his brothers were also here and put the gate in standby mode, shutting access from the other end on Earth.

Bandorf stepped through from the gate chamber into the common room. Five of his brothers were there, presumably waiting for his return. It was unusual for just one of them to visit Earth without the others. This time, he was glad he'd gone alone.

"Hey, Ban!" was the chorus from all but one as he stepped in. The quiet scowl from beneath bushy eyebrows confirmed that Sentor was in his Grumpy mode.

"Did you get it?" came the important question from Caputch at the closest table.

"I got it, but it was a really close call getting back to the gate. The sheriff's men were unusually sober and alert. They had the dogs out before I was clear of the village. It's a good thing you slowpokes weren't with me on this trip."

"I'm even faster than you!" piped up Wincit whose small frame had only recently begun to fill into adult form. Wincit was a mere 60 cycles old and eager to earn status among his older brothers.

"Yah, quick you may be, Win, but your grasp of wisdom isn't what it should be as yet." The comment caused everyone to turn their heads as Kamber spoke. He had come into the common room quietly from the communications center. "You might not have gotten out of the village at all. Ban got the locator and didn't stay around to search for anything extra. Good job, by the way, Ban."

Bandorf shuffled his feet, but raised his head to look directly into the eyes of his eldest brother.

"We have to hope that the humans still think our technology is just magic and that their mechanics don't turn into effective scientists too soon," responded Bandorf.

Caputch came close and grasped Bandorf by the elbows. With a sheepish grin he said, "Thank you for getting it back for me. Kam is sending me back home early and I didn't want to return without it. My reputation is already bad enough. I didn't need the loss of a locator on my record as well."

Bandorf ducked his broad head, and his curly hair swung loosely as he shook it. Turning to Kamber he asked, "Do you really think it is wise to close the outpost? We still have much to learn from the humans."

"It isn't up to us, Ban," responded Kamber. "I have given all the arguments and well-thought reasons to stay active in this system, but the Council has plans for us elsewhere. We must be home very soon to get our briefings and make our connection to the new assignment. The team needs to stick together. Wisdom has proven over the ages that a band works its best together. The seven of us must not split just to keep an eye on the humans. We will leave the electronics hidden on the Earth's moon. The automatics will notify our cousins at home if things begin to get interesting again."

"I surely hope the Council won't choose us to be the ones to come back." Everyone was surprised to hear Sentor speak, but not surprised at his negative tone. "I didn't enjoy all that foolishness with the 'magic mirror' that the bozos from Cthamat abandoned. It is embarrassing to have to fix somebody else's screw ups all the time.

Everyone laughed sympathetically, but each of the brothers understood it was their role. They were the best cleanup crew from Dwarlond, and the rest of the galaxy's bozos did typically call on the Dwarf clans to fix the mistakes left behind throughout the Consortium.

About the Author: 
Retired science teacher (middle school) and school district computer coordinator. Learning continues...

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Quantum Theories

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!