A Science Lesson

John Hammersmith's Chevy scraped against the wall with a grinding shudder and a shower of sparks. He geared down to third and slowed, but not much. Ahead could be seen the light of the street through the exit. The sun had gone down, so it wasn't much lighter, but it looked clearer, cleaner, safer. As the Chevy crested the rise before ramping down to the street, Zack was struck by the blue and green gyrations of tonight's aurora. It was almost enough to make him want to believe in God again.

John turned to the right and merged with traffic. He was not hurrying any more. He glanced at Zack, turned his attention back to the road and said, "You okay?"

Zack looked overwhelmed. He was pale and when he reached up to brush the hair out of his eyes the way he did when he was nervous, his hand was trembling. "I don't know where to start," he said. "I, bl... where are we going? Who killed Norm?"

"And what do black holes have to do with it?" John interjected.


"Well, that's a dark matter, indeed," John said. He paused, looking expectantly at Zack. Zack didn't blink. Crestfallen, John continued, "That was just a little cosmology humour - black holes, dark matter... ha, ha. Anyways, I'm taking you home, if you'll tell me where that is, and I don't know who killed Norm Waxman. It was a hit, though. That's for sure. It was premeditated, an assassination. He knew something and he was killed for it."

"And the black holes?"

John nodded his head, smiled. "There's a coffee shop up ahead. Let's stop and I'll tell you about it."

It was a pleasant evening. The air was mostly calm except for the occasional breeze which was little more than a puff, then nothing. The sky was clear. John and Zack sat outside at a patio table. John drew Zack's attention to the northern lights. 

"Explain that for me—the aurora. What is it?" John asked.

Zack sipped his coffee, looked up at the splendor above. "It's hot gas in the ionosphere, excited to the state we see by interaction with the solar wind."

"Solar wind? What's that?"

"Come on, John. You're the science editor. You tell me."

"Okay. I know what it is, but if anything I say is going to make any sense, then I need to establish some common ground with regards to cosmology. I need to know what you know. Then the education can begin. Do you consider yourself to have an open mind?"

"Yes, of course."

"Of course. Everybody does. By 'open,' I mean are you prepared to accept the possibility that some of the things you know to be true are, in fact, false? Are you prepared to face the possibility that what you know is incorrect? Can you be sufficiently humble to change your mind? That kind of 'open'?"

There was a pause. "Yes." Zack said soberly.

John swallowed a mouthful of coffee. "Would you say that the solar wind is radiation, ionized particles flowing out from the sun like a wind?"

"Yes. Yes I would."

"Would you agree that ionized anything is electrical in nature?"


"And that ionized gas that flows is therefore an electrical current?"

Zack looked unsure.

John helped, "'A flow if ions' would be a very basic definition of an electrical current, would it not?"

"Yes," Zack's face brightened just a little. "I suppose it is."

"Well, that's what the erroneously named "solar wind" is. It is a flow of ions. It is an electrical current. The aurora is a cosmic neon light. It is plasma ignited to a glow state by the sun's toroidal electrical current. The aurora is an electrical phenomenon that is occurring in space."

Zack look stunned. "It is?"

John Hammersmith just looked at him. He waited.

Zack said, "I guess it is. Never really thought of it that way. Hmm." He looked thoughtful. Then he seemed to wake up. He looked straight at John. He pointed his finger at him. He said, "But electrical currents flow in circuits. If the solar wind is an electrical current flowing outwards from the sun, then there must be a current flowing into it as well. Did you think of that?"

John laughed. "I didn't think of any of this. This is just what I've learned from the papers I have read."

"Well I haven't read any of these papers," Zack said.

" That's the problem," John replied, "Nobody has. Most of them are never published. You're right about the current, though. There does have to be one flowing into the sun. I don't want to start in on that, though. Consider this: If the sun—our star—radiates an electrical current would it make sense to assume that other stars to the same thing?"

Zack nodded.

"So electricity is flowing everywhere throughout the universe, right?"

Zack said nothing. He looked lost in thought. He just nodded absently.

"How much print did Stephen Hawking devote to electricity in 'A Brief History of Time?' When have you ever read in anything about electricity in any astronomy book?"

"None. Never." Zack Bergeron said. "Not once."

The End

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