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Observing Editor

One adventuresome atom

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Recently, this correspondent had the opportunity to interview the reclusive cowboy astronomer Dr. Furianus ‘Dusty’ Fortiscue on his ranch in Oklahoma. Dr. Dusty, as he prefers to be called, is famous for several inventions that help astronomers work more effectively in the plains, including the extensible grain-silo telescope and the portable mountain. Dr. Dusty has been following the recent solar storms closely, and he graciously took time out of his fall roundup to entertain a few questions.

The Glob: Dr. Dusty, do you have an opinion as to the cause of the intense solar activity we have experienced over the last few weeks?

Dr. Dusty: Well, I’ve certainly been thinkin about the sun. See, some folks say it’s middle-aged, but that don’t make no sense to me, what with the spots. This here star’s clearly an adolescent, and so you can guess what it’s got on its mind. These prominences and flares, well, it’s just gettin roused by some passin heavenly body, and it’s lettin off a little steam, if you know what I mean.

The Glob: Is there any risk associated with this activity?

Dr. Dusty: Well, we’re not gonna go blind, if that’s what you’re thinkin. The solar brightness ain’t going to vary much. Damn, though, I’m afeared one a these days it’s gonna git itself really worked up to the point that it blows fire and plasma out past the orbit of Venus to roast our asses in one colossal cosmic spl**ge.

The Glob: Good Lord!

Dr. Dusty: Yep, prayin ain’t a bad idea, but I was thinkin maybe we could treat the disease by treatin the symptom. If we could just clear up them spots, maybe it would calm the hell down.

The Glob: Is that even possible, doctor?

Dr. Dusty: Sure, it’s possible, and NASA’s got folks working on a coverup cream for celestial bodies, made mainly of osmium, tungsten, and titanium with a little beeswax and Vitamin E. But we need to test it first, and we were thinking about using Jupiter, but the trouble is, the coverup stuff is so heavy it’ll sink right through the atmosphere of a gas giant. It’d be one hell of an extreme makeover if it worked out, though.

The Glob: That would be must-see TV.

Dr. Dusty: TV? Well, the time delay would make things pretty slow. There’s no way to get Jupiter into the studio, a course.

The Glob: It would be a grave situation.

Dr. Dusty: We get too close, and we’d end up broadcasting live from hell quicker than you can believe.

The Glob: Indeed.

Dr. Dusty: I suppose it would be interesting. See, they’ve already got TV in hell.

The Glob: They do? Who does?

Dr. Dusty: The damned. They’ve got TV in hell, but there’s only one channel for everyone: a personalized shopping network. What you see for sale are all the things you lost or never had due to your own foolishness. Just one bad decision after another, and all these chances to set things right with a simple phone call and a credit card. But you start out nearly maxed out on your credit card, and when you go to town buying up your long-lost possible futures, well, they come looking for you to pay. Pretty soon they’ve got your spleen out your eyesockets and your lungs down around your knees, and they drag you into the shower and run cold water through your ribs, though it ain’t exactly cold, and it ain’t exactly water, cause it’s on fire. And it’s like that every single day. Your life and your losses on TV, and the chance to get them back, but only if you pay, and you just keep paying, forever. Compound interest is a terrible punishment for sin… I wonder about the divine mercy sometimes, I really do.

The Glob: Well. . . thank you for your time, doctor.

Dr. Dusty: My pleasure, son. You’re welcome to come back if’n you got any more questions. I’ve got a theory of galaxy formation that you just might want to hear about sometime. Turns out that there’re more similarities between stars and steers than you might expect.