Chapter 22 Red Coast V
Novel：The Three-Bodyauthor：Cinxin Liu pubdate：2019-02-14 15:01
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Chapter 22 Red Coast V
Since she entered Red Coast Base, Ye Wenjie had never thought of leaving. After she learned the real purpose of the Red Coast Project, top-secret information that even many mid-level cadres at the base didn't know, she cut off her spiritual connection to the outside world and devoted herself to her work. Thereafter, she became even more deeply embedded in the technical core of Red Coast, and began to take on more important research topics.
Commissar Lei never forgot that it was Chief Yang who first trusted Ye, but Lei was happy to assign important topics to her. Given Ye's status, she had no rights to the results of her research. And Lei, who had studied astrophysics, was a political officer who was also an intellectual, rare at the time. Thus he could take credit for all of Yes research results and papers, and cast himself as an exemplary political officer with both technical acumen and revolutionary zeal.
The Red Coast Project had initially requisitioned Ye because of a paper on an attempted mathematical model of the sun she had published in the Journal of Astrophysics as a graduate student. Compared to the Earth, the sun was a far simpler physical system, made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. Though its physical processes were violent, they were relatively straightforward, only fusing hydrogen into helium. Thus, it was likely that a mathematical model of the sun could describe it rather precisely. The paper was basic, but Lei and Yang saw in it a hope for a solution to a technical difficulty faced by the Red Coast monitoring system.
Solar outages, a common problem in satellite communications, had always plagued the Red Coast monitoring operations.
When the Earth, an artificial satellite, and the sun are in a straight line, the line of sight from the ground-based antenna to the satellite will have the sun as its background. The sun is a giant source of electromagnetic radiation, and, as a result, satellite transmissions to the ground will be overwhelmed by interference from the solar radiation. This problem could not be completely solved, even in the twenty-first century.
The interference that Red Coast had to deal with was similar, but the source of interference (the sun) was between the source of the transmission (outer space) and the ground-based receiver. Compared to communication satellites, the solar outages suffered by Red Coast were more frequent and more severe. Red Coast Base as constructed was also much more modest than its original design, such that the transmission and monitoring systems shared the same antenna. This made the times available for monitoring even more precious, and solar outages even more of a problem.
Lei and Yang's idea for eliminating interference was very simple: ascertain the frequency spectrum and characteristics of solar radiation in the monitored range, and then filter it out digitally. Both of them were technical, and at that time, when the ignorant often led the knowledgeable, that was a rare bit of fortune. But Yang wasn't a specialist in astrophysics, and Lei had taken the path of becoming a political officer, which prevented him from accruing in-depth technical know-how. In reality, electromagnetic radiation from the sun is only stable within the limited range from near-ultraviolet to mid-infrared (including visible light). In other ranges, the radiation is quite volatile and unpredictable.
To set the right expectations, Ye made it clear in her first research report that during periods of intense solar activity—sunspots, solar flares- coronal mass ejections, and so on—it was impossible to eliminate solar interference. Thus, her research target was limited to radiation within the frequency ranges monitored by Red Coast during periods of normal solar activity.
Research conditions at the base weren't too bad. The library could obtain foreign-language materials related to the topic, including timely European and American academic journals. In those years, this was no easy feat. Ye also could use the military phone line to connect to the two groups conducting solar science research within the Chinese Academy of Sciences and obtain their observation data by fax.
After half a year of study, Ye saw no glimpse of hope. She quickly discovered that within the frequency ranges monitored by Red Coast, solar radiation fluctuated unpredictably. By analyzing large amounts of observed data, Ye discovered a puzzling mystery. Sometimes, during one of the sudden fluctuations in solar radiation, the surface of the sun was calm. Since hundreds of thousands of kilometers of solar material would absorb any shortwave and microwave radiation originating from the core of the sun, the radiation must have come from activities on its surface, so there should have been observable surface activity when these fluctuations occurred. If there were no corresponding surface disturbances, what caused these sudden changes to the narrow frequency ranges? The more she thought about it, the more mysterious it seemed.
Eventually Ye ran out of ideas and decided to give up. In her last report, she conceded that she could not solve the problem. This shouldn't have been a big deal. The military had asked several groups within universities and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to research the same issue, and all of those efforts had failed. But Yang wanted to try one more time, relying on Ye's extraordinary talent.
Lei's agenda was even simpler: He just wanted Ye's paper. The research topic was highly theoretical and would show off his expertise and skill. Now that the chaos in society was finally subsiding, the demands on cadres were also changing. There was an acute need for men like him, politically mature and academically accomplished. Of course he would have a bright future. As to whether the problem of interference from solar outages could be solved, he didn't really care.
But in the end, Ye didn't hand in her report. She thought that if the research project were terminated, the base library would stop receiving foreign language journals and other research materials, and she would no longer have access to such a rich trove of astrophysics references. So she nominally continued her research, while in reality she focused on refining her mathematical model of the sun.
One night, Ye was, as usual, the only person in the cold reading room of the base library. On the long table in front of her, a pile of documents and journals were spread open. After completing a set of tedious and cumbersome matrix calculations, she blew on her hands to warm them, and picked up the latest issue of the Journal of Astrophysics to take a break. As she flipped through it, a brief note about Jupiter caught her attention:
Last issue, in "A New, Powerful Radiation Source Within the Solar System," Dr. Harry Peterson of Mount Wilson Observatory published a set of data accidentally obtained while observing Jupiter's precession on June 12 and July 2, during which strong electromagnetic radiation was detected, lasting 81 seconds and 76 seconds, respectively. The data included the frequency ranges of the radiation as well as other parameters. During the radio outbursts, Peterson also observed certain changes in the Great Red Spot. This discovery drew a lot of interest from planetary scientists. In this issue, G. McKenzie's article argues that it was a sign of fusion starting within Jupiter's core. In the next issue we will publish Inoue Kumoseki's article, which attributes the Jovian radio outbursts to a more complicated mechanism—the movements of internal metallic hydrogen plates—and gives a complete mathematical description.
Ye clearly remembered the two dates noted in the paper. During those windows, the Red Coast monitoring system had also received strong interference from solar outages. She checked the operations diary and confirmed her memory. The times were close, but the solar outages had occurred sixteen minutes and forty-two seconds after the arrival of the Jovian radio outbursts on Earth.
The sixteen minutes and forty-two seconds are critical! Ye tried to calm her wild heartbeat, and asked the librarian to contact the National Observatory to obtain the ephemeris of the Earth's and Jupiter's positions during those two time periods.
She drew a big triangle on the blackboard with the sun, the Earth, and Jupiter at the vertices. She marked the distances along the three edges, and wrote down the two arrival times next to the Earth. From the distance between the Earth and Jupiter it was easy to figure out the time it took for the radio outbursts to travel between the two. Then she calculated the time it would take the radio outbursts to go from Jupiter to the sun, and then from the sun to the Earth. The difference between the two was exactly sixteen minutes and forty-two seconds.
Ye referred to her solar structure mathematical model and tried to find a theoretical explanation. Her eyes were drawn to her description of what she called "energy mirrors" within the solar radiation zone.
Energy produced by reaction within the solar core is initially in the form of high-energy gamma rays. The radiation zone, the region of the sun's interior that surrounds the core, absorbs these high-energy photons and re-emits them at a slightly lower energy level. After a long period of successive absorption and re-emission (a photon might take a thousand years to leave the sun), gamma rays become x-rays, extreme ultraviolet, ultraviolet, then eventually turn into visible light and other forms of radiation.
Such were the known facts about the sun. But Ye's model led to a new result: As solar radiation dropped through these different frequencies on its way through the radiation zone, there were boundaries between the subzones for each type of radiation. As energy crossed each boundary, the radiation frequency stepped down a grade sharply. This was different from the traditional view that the radiation frequency lowered gradually as energy passed from the core outwards. Her calculations showed that these boundaries would reflect radiation coming from the lower-frequency side, which was why she named the boundaries "energy mirrors."
Ye had carefully studied these membranelike boundary surfaces suspended in the high-energy plasma ocean of the sun and discovered them to be full of wonderful properties. One of the most incredible characteristics she named "gain reflectivity." However, the characteristic was so bizarre that it was hard to confirm, and even Ye herself didn't quite believe it was real. It seemed more likely an artifact of some error in the dizzying, complex calculations.
But now, Ye made the first step in confirming her guess about the gain reflectivity of solar energy mirrors: The energy mirrors not only reflected radiation coming from the lower-frequency side, but amplified it. All the mysterious sudden fluctuations within narrow frequency bands that she had observed were in fact the result of other radiation coming from space being amplified after reflecting off an energy mirror in the sun. That was why there were no observable disturbances on the surface of the sun.
This time, after the Jovian radio outbursts reached the sun, they were re-emitted, as if by a mirror, after being amplified about a hundred million times. The Earth received both sets of emissions, before and after the amplification, separated by sixteen minutes and forty-two seconds.
The sun was an amplifier for radio waves.
However, there was a question: The sun must be receiving electromagnetic radiation from space every second, including radio waves emitted by the Earth. Why were only some of the waves amplified? The answer was simple: In addition to the selectivity of the energy mirrors for frequencies they would reflect, the main reason was the shielding effect of the solar convection zone. The endlessly boiling convection zone situated outside the radiation zone was the outermost liquid layer of the sun. The radio waves coming from space must first penetrate the convection zone to reach the energy mirrors in the radiation zone, where they would be amplified and reflected back out. This meant that in order to reach the energy mirrors, the waves would have to be more powerful than a threshold value. The vast majority of Earth-based radio sources could not cross this threshold, but the Jovian radio outburst did—
And Red Coast's maximum transmission power also exceeded the threshold.
'The problem with solar outages was not resolved, but another exciting possibility presented itself: Humans could use the sun as a super-antenna, and, through it, broadcast radio waves to the universe. The radio waves would be sent with the power of the sun, hundreds of millions of times greater than the total usable transmission power on Earth.
Earth civilization had a way to transmit at the level of a Kardashev Type II civilization.
The next step was to compare the waveforms of the two Jovian radio outbursts with the waveforms of the solar outages received by Red Coast.
If they matched, then her guess would receive further confirmation.
Ye made her request to the base leadership to contact Harry Peterson and obtain the waveform records of the two Jovian radio outbursts. This was not easy. It was difficult to find the right communication channels, and numerous bureaucracies required layers of formal paperwork. Any error could lead to her being suspected of acting as a foreign spy. So Ye had to wait.
But there was a more direct way to prove the hypothesis: Red Coast itself could transmit radio waves directly at the sun at a power level exceeding the threshold value.
Ye again made her request to the base leadership. But she didn't dare to give her real reason—it was too fantastic, and she would have been turned down for certain. Instead, she explained that she wanted to do an experiment for her solar research: The Red Coast transmission system would be used as a solar exploration radar whose echoes could be analyzed to obtain some information about solar radiation. Lei and Yang both had deep technical backgrounds, and wouldn't have been easily fooled, but the experiment described by Ye did have real precedents in Western solar research. In fact, her suggestion was technically easier than the radar exploration of terrestrial planets already being conducted.
"Ye Wenjie, you're getting out of line," said Commissar Lei. "Your research should be focused on theory. Do we really need to go to so much trouble?"
Ye begged, "Commissar, it's possible that a big discovery will be made. Experiments are absolutely necessary. I just want to try it once, please?'' Chief Yang said, "Commissar Lei, maybe we should try once. It doesn't seem to be too difficult operationally. Receiving the echoes after transmission would take—"
"Ten, fifteen minutes," Lei said.
"Then Red Coast has just enough time to switch from transmission mode to monitoring mode."
Lei shook his head again. "I know that it s technically and operationally feasible. But you ... eh, Chief Yang, you just lack the sensitivity for this kind of thing. You want to aim a super-powerful radio beam at the red sun. Have you thought about the political symbolism of such an experiment(*32)?"
[Translator's Note(*32): Chairman Mao was often compared to the "red sun", especially during the years of the Cultural Revolution.]
Yang and Ye were both utterly stunned, but they did not think Lei's objection ridiculous. Just the opposite: They were horrified that they themselves had not thought of it. During those years, finding political symbolism in everything had reached absurd levels. The research reports Ye turned in had to be carefully reviewed by Lei so that even technical terms related to the sun could be repeatedly revised to remove political risk. Terms like "sunspots" were forbidden(*33). An experiment that sent a powerful radio transmission at the sun could of course be interpreted in a thousand positive ways, but a single negative interpretation would be enough to bring political disaster on everyone. Lei's reason for refusing to allow the experiment was truly unassailable.
[Translator's Note: The Chinese term for "sunspot?(太阳黑子) literally means solar black spot." Black, of course, was the color of counter-revolutionaries.]
Ye didn't give up, though. In fact, as long as she didn't take excessive risk, it wasn't difficult to accomplish her goal. The Red Coast transmitter was ultra-high-powered, but all of its components were domestically produced during the Cultural Revolution. As the quality of the components was not up to par, the fault rate was very high. After every fifteenth transmission, the entire system had to be overhauled, and after each overhaul, there would be a test transmission. Few people attended these tests, and the targets and other parameters were arbitrarily selected.
One time when she was on duty, Ye was assigned to work during one of the test transmissions after an overhaul. Because a test transmission omitted many operational steps, only Ye and five others were present. Three of them were low-level operators who knew little about the principles behind the equipment. The remaining two were a technician and an engineer, both exhausted and not paying much attention after two days of overhaul work. Ye first adjusted the test transmission power to exceed the threshold value for her gain-reflective solar energy mirror theory, using the maximum power of the Red Coast transmission system. Then she set the frequency to the value most likely to be amplified by the energy mirror. And under the guise of testing the antenna's mechanical components, she aimed it at the setting sun in the west. The content of the transmission remained the same as usual.
This was a clear afternoon in the autumn of 1971. Afterwards, Ye recalled the event many times but couldn't remember any special feelings except anxiety, a desire for the transmission to be completed quickly. First, she was afraid to be discovered by her colleagues. Even though she had thought of some excuses, it was still unusual to use maximum power for a test transmission, because doing so would wear down the components. In addition, the Red Coast transmission system's positioning equipment was never designed to be aimed at the sun. Ye could feel the eyepiece growing hot. If it burnt out she would be in real trouble.
As the sun set slowly in the west, Ye had to manually track it. The Red Coast antenna seemed like a giant sunflower at that moment, slowly turning to follow the descending sun. By the time the red light indicating transmission completion lit up, she was already soaked in sweat.
She glanced around. The three operators at the control panel were shutting down the equipment piece by piece in accordance with the instructions in the operating manual. The engineer was drinking a glass of water in a corner of the control room, and the technician was asleep in his chair. No matter how historians and writers later tried to portray the scene, the reality at the time was completely prosaic.
The transmission completed, Ye rushed out of the control room and dashed into Yang Weining's office. Catching her breath, she said, "Tell the base station to begin monitoring the twelve thousand megahertz channel!"
"What are we receiving?" Chief Yang looked in surprise at Ye, strands of hair stuck to her sweaty face. Compared to the highly sensitive Red Coast monitoring system, the conventional military-grade radio- normally used by the base for communicating with the outside—was only a toy.
"Maybe we'll get something. There's no time to change the Red Coast systems to monitoring mode!" Normally, warming up and switching over to the monitoring system required a little more than ten minutes. But right now the monitoring system was also being overhauled. Many modules had been taken apart and remained unassembled, rendering them inoperable in the short term.
Yang stared at Ye for a few seconds, and then picked up the phone and ordered the communications office to follow Ye's direction.
"Given the low sensitivity of that radio, we can probably only receive signals from extraterrestrials on the moon."
"The signal comes from the sun," Ye said. Outside the window, the sun's edge was already approaching the mountains on the horizon, red as blood.
"You used Red Coast to send a signal to the sun?" Yang asked anxiously.
"Don't tell anyone else. This must never happen again. Never!" Yang looked behind him to be sure there was no one at the door.
Ye nodded again.
"What's the point? The echo wave must be extremely weak, far outside the sensitivity of a conventional radio."
"No. If my guess is right, we should get an extremely strong echo. It will be more powerful than ... I can hardly imagine. As long as the transmission power exceeds a certain threshold, the sun can amplify the signal a hundred million-fold."
Yang looked at Ye strangely. Ye said nothing. They both waited in silence. Yang could clearly hear Yes breath and heartbeat. He hadn't paid much attention to what she had said, but the feelings he had buried in his heart for many years resurfaced. He could only restrain himself, waiting.
Twenty minutes later, Yang picked up the phone, called the communications office, and asked a few simple questions.
He put the phone down. "They received nothing."
Ye let out a long-held breath and eventually nodded.
"That American astronomer responded, though." Yang took out a thick envelope covered with customs stamps and handed it to Ye. She tore the envelope open and scanned Harry Peterson's letter. The letter said that he had not imagined that there would be colleagues in China studying planetary electromagnetism, and that he wished to collaborate and exchange more information in the future. He had also sent two stacks of paper: the complete record of the waveforms of the radio out-bursts from Jupiter. They were clearly photocopied from the long signal recording tape, and would have to be pieced together.
Ye took the dozens of sheets of photocopier paper and started lining them up in two columns on the floor. Halfway through the effort she gave up any hope. She was very familiar with the waveforms of the interference from the two solar outages. They didn't match these two.
Ye slowly picked up the photocopies from the floor. Yang crouched down to help her. When he handed the stack of paper to this woman he loved with all his heart, he saw her smile. The smile was so sad that his heart trembled.
'What's wrong?" he asked, not realizing that he had never spoken to her so softly.
"Nothing. I'm just waking up from a dream." Ye smiled again. She took the stack of photocopies and the envelope and left the office. She went back to her room, picked up her lunch box, and went to the cafeteria. Only mantou buns and pickles were left, and the cafeteria workers told her impatiently that they were closing. So she had no choice but to carry her lunch box outside and walk next to the lip of the cliff, where she sat down on the grass to chew the cold mantou.
The sun had already set. The Greater Khingan Mountains were gray and indistinct, just like Ye's life. In this gray life, a dream appeared especially colorful and bright. But one always awoke from a dream, just like the sun—which, though it would rise again, brought no fresh hope. In that moment Ye saw the rest of her life suffused with an endless grayness. With tears in her eyes, she smiled again, and continued to chew the cold mantou.
Ye didn't know that at that moment, the first cry that could be heard in space from civilization on Earth was already spreading out from the sun to the universe at the speed of light. A star-powered radio wave, like a majestic tide, had already crossed the orbit of Jupiter.
Right then, at the frequency of 12,000 MHz, the sun was the brightest star in the entire Milky Way.
Chapter 22 Vocabulary Note
cast - to regard someone as a particular type of person
exemplary - excellent and providing a good example for people to follow
acumen - the ability to think quickly and make good judgments
zeal - eagerness to achieve a political aim
requisition - if someone in authority, especially the army, requisitions a building, vehicle, or food, they officially demand to have it during an emergency such as a war
sun outage - an interruption of satellite signals caused by interference from solar radiation. The effect is due to the sun's radiation overwhelming the satellite signal.
plague - to cause trouble to someone for a long period of time
accrue - get something over a period of time
volatile - likely to change suddenly and without warning
coronal - the outermost part of the sun's atmosphere; visible as a white halo (glowing ring) during a solar eclipse(when the Sun can not be completely seen because it is blocked by the Earth or Moon)
feat - an impressive achievement which takes a lot of skill and strength
concede - to admit that something is true or correct, although you wish it were not true
trove - treasure; in this case, a large supply of information
cumbersome - slow and difficult
precession - the motion of a spinning object in which the axis of rotation describe a cone
ephemeris - a list of the future positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets over a given period of time
vertices - the highest point of a body part
photon - a unit of energy that carries light and has zero mass
membrane - a very thin layer of material that covers something
artifact - an object that someone has made
convection - the gas movement in which warm gas rises and cold gas sinks
bureaucracy - a complicated official system that is annoying or confusing because it has a lot of rules and processes
operational - working and ready to be used
feasible - a plan, idea, or method that is feasible is possible and is likely to work
symbolism - the way in which an action is a sign of something more important
unassailable - not able to be criticized
not up to par - to be less good than usual or below the proper standard
overhaul - to repair or change the necessary parts in a machine or system that is not working correctly
guise - the way someone or something appears to be, which hides the truth
eyepiece - the glass piece that you look through in a microscope or telescope
portray - to describe or show
prosaic - boring or ordinary
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