It began as a dim light in the winter sky.
A professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson first saw the light, a muddy blob that shouldn’t have been there—there being in the general neighborhood of Uranus. Two nights later she confirmed that it wasn’t a glitch in the equipment, there was something new out there, fairly big and really goddamned fast, heading sunward.
A month later everybody who was anybody in astrophysics had gotten a good look at the object, originally given a long number but renamed Grijalva after its discoverer, and everyone agreed, yep, it’s big and yep, it’s headed this way.
Two months after that, the story broke in the popular press. “Killer Asteroid Headed Towards Earth” the headlines screamed—which made the astronomers cringe, because of course it wasn’t an asteroid, it was a comet. But that’s the media for you.
Grijalva was the biggest comet anyone had ever seen, and as it passed Saturn and then Jupiter the folks in the white coats crunched the numbers and decided that it was going to pass close to the Earth on its way to the sun.
Really, really close.
There were rumors, of course, and of course those rumors were dismissed, but this is the Internet age, and the data was posted all over the place, and the math, while complicated, was pretty straightforward. Grijalva was going to be visible from everywhere on Earth. For a while.
Up until the time it hit.
After that, well, there wasn’t going to be anybody left to see it. Not on Earth anyway. Anyone watching from Mars would get a hell of a show.
Different governments tried with varying levels of success to suppress the news, but it was impossible. Pretty soon the date was everywhere.
July 15th, 2015. The end of the world.
There was speculation about just how bad it was going to be. Everyone was talking about the “dinosaur killer” that had struck Arizona millions of years ago—estimates were that Grijalva was bigger, and traveling faster. Some people thought that for some it might be survivable. Most didn’t.
Things began to fall apart as the date approached. Some panicked, some turned to religion, some lost themselves in debauchery, some tried to live out their lives as if everything were normal.
Most people did all these things, at different times.
There were cries for the governments of the world to do something, but there really wasn’t anything to do. Plans were discussed to launch nuclear warheads at Grijalva, but they weren’t designed to hit something moving through space at thousands of miles an hour, and they couldn’t be redesigned. Not in time.
Some urged calm, and some urged panic. As the end approached there were acts of unspeakable cruelty and unprecedented heroism. Everyone, it seemed, had one big thing that they wanted to do before they died. Some did it. Others died trying. There was suicide and murder, madness and beauty, and an overwhelming feeling that none of it mattered, as the months became days, became hours, became minutes…
And then the unthinkable happened.
It turned out that Grijalva wasn’t quite what everyone thought. Instead of having a solid rocky core, which the calculations of mass and the lines on the spectrometer led the world to believe, Grijalva was composed of dozens of little rocks, hundreds maybe, all bound together in a clump of ice. As the comet drew close to Earth a combination of increasing heat and tidal stresses shattered the ice and all those little rocks went off in their own separate trajectories.
Some of them did enter the Earth’s atmosphere, true, and a few of those actually avoided being burned up long enough to impact the surface. There was some damage.
But the end of the world? Eh, not so much.
July 16th, 2015, the day that wasn’t going to happen, dawned on a world that was still, pretty much, all there. Seven billion people suddenly realized that, despite everything, tomorrow came after all.