Mad Destroyer

Fletcher Pratt | published Spring, 1930

added Jun 6, 2024
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First Date of Publication
Spring, 1930
Original Source
Science Wonder Quarterly
Original Source Type
Magazine - Pulp
Short Story
Original Language
Kasman Review
Other Links
Summary: Cosmic collisions predicted to destroy all of earth in three years… by a mathematical physicist who has solved the general “N-body problem” to make accurate predictions…

Story Tag Line: “For twenty-three hours the people of earth will enjoy the spectacle. Then every vestige of life will perish in a rain of burning hydrogen and calcium.”

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  • Vijay Fafat
    Published on

    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.