a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|Mad Destroyer (1930) ||Fletcher Pratt |
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction
by the same author)
The story is about a mathematician/astronomer who has discovered an exact solution to the multi-body problem in gravitation i.e. a formula which can easily calculate the positions and velocities of N bodies moving under mutual gravitation, for all N >= 2. Based on this formulation, he solves for the position of the asteroid, Eros, moving under the influence of Sun, Earth and Venus and predicts that it will crash into the sun in 3 years with enough force that a small outer layer of the Sun will get blown off, destroying all life on Earth. Some melodrama follows and people now wait for the predicted date for denouement.
There is a very good description of the 3-body problem in layman's terms and the scientist acknowledges Karl Sundman's 3-body solution as well ("Sundman of Helsingfors"), with the note that Sundman's solution is not very user-friendly for calculations in the (computer-less) real world. The author does make a mistake when his scientist claims that a collision between Eros and Earth can cause only a few thousand people to die in the immediate vicinity of the collision but in general, a very nicely written story.
In addition to underestimating the damage caused by the collision of an asteroid with the Earth, as Vijay mentions, the author overestimates the consequences of a collision with the sun (which is lucky for us since I suspect that things crash into the sun relatively often).
Some may be interested in the religious aspects of the story. In particular, the astronomer interprets his discovery allowing an exact solution of the n-body problem to God and the imminent collision with Eros as "Judgment Day".
Published in Science Wonder Quarterly Spring 1930.
|(Note: This is just one work of
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works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)|
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)