Packing Them In
Professor Ovis Jopp, the lean, seven-foot-two, green-bearded ‘Sage of Trondheim’ left fellow scientists stupefied yesterday, when he revealed the result of his latest endeavour, a scheme for compacting the numerous bodies of the asteroid belt to make a planet. Never the retiring type, the bonhomous boffin described his work as a towering accomplishment and an intellectual and engineering feat of the highest order. It seems he got the idea from a belief that there are twelve planets in our solar system. Having rejected Pluto and discovered Ovisius and Joppius as ninth and tenth, he decided to take a hand in giving us number eleven.
“Even I cannot describe the process as simple,” the professor told his engrossed listeners. “I sensed that the key was to produce a magnetic casing, much as those involved in nuclear fusion try to contain plasma. As always, I employed the lowest workable technology, my scale model being a ring-shaped tube of green plastic, part-filled with fragments of rock and metal, to simulate the asteroids. I suspended this tube from an electric ceiling fan, substituting thin strands of wire for the blades, then rotated the apparatus to simulate the celestial objects.”
Following a long ovation, Jopp continued: “Next, I constructed a miniature solid-fuel rocket, which is effectively a sophisticated version of those made by the space pioneer Robert Goddard. My device was in the form of a bobbin, bent so as to achieve the necessarily circular path. Around this contrivance, I wound a length of magnetised wire. On ignition, the rocket behaved exactly as I had predicted, describing a spiral route, round and round the tube’s exterior, unwinding the wire as it went. Thus, I achieved confinement of the rock and metal oddments to a narrow pathway within the torus, clear of its internal surface.”
Silencing further applause with a raised hand, the professor went on: “I then cut the tube, sealing one end, after which I activated a pneumatic hinge, which straightened the bend in the rocket, then I directed the craft to the open end of the tube. Using a ram attachment which I had built into the rocket’s nose, I employed the engine thrust to force the fragments in upon each other, much as one would pen cattle or sheep. The result was a compact ball, jammed against the sealed end of the tube. The test was complete and demonstrated clearly that the principle, applied on a larger scale, would enable us to, as it were, wrap up the asteroids into a single tidy bundle, giving a planet which I shall name in due course. I can well understand how you must feel, for I am still overwhelmed by the enormity of my exploit.”
There was a sharp response from Jopp-knocker, Dr Terps Dunderklap, the short, round, alopecic ‘Swedish Savant’. Found outside a gynaecology clinic near Trelleborg, he was caustic. “Jopp is demented,” he stormed. “It is fitting that his newest idea involves going round in circles, for that exemplifies his approach to science. Had he consulted me, I would have dissuaded him from this inanity, as I proved long ago that his plan is impracticable. Perhaps he will now tell us how he intends to upscale his addle-pated experiment to the real thing, which would involve a rocket seventy-eight miles long, plus nine hundred million miles of wire. It is a pity that he will not succeed. Were he to do so, he would doubtless visit his dream planet, to find it inhabited by little green men, and presumably women of similar hue. As he is a big green man, he would become their leader, much as a one-eyed person assumes that position in the realm of the blind. Mercifully, we would then never see him again.
Will these two great Norsemen ever agree about anything?
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