An Open Letter to the Star My Uncle Named After Me, by Matthew David Brozik

kate
Dear ASASSN-15lh,

You probably don’t know me, but my name is Kate and I am nine years old. I live on Earth, which is the third planet from the sun of our solar system. Earth is about 4.5 billion years old (although not everyone who lives here believes that). We call our sun “the Sun,” and our scientists give all the other stars we can see in the night sky other names. A few hundred of the brightest stars have cool names like “Aldebaran,” “Sirius,” and “Yed Posterior,” but the rest have names that are just combinations of letters and numbers, like yours.

On Earth, most people like having money, which is used to buy things that we need or just want. People on Earth use money to buy food, clothing, and gasoline, which is a refined form of petroleum, which is itself a fossil fuel formed by natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms that have been underground for as many as 650 million years (although not everyone who lives here and uses gasoline believes that). People also use money to buy things they want, such as toys and games and candy, and even things that are completely ridiculous, like the illusory privilege of naming a star for someone, even though such naming is not recognized by any scientific authority, according to my brother, who is sort of a nerd.

My uncle Brian, who is my mom’s sister and who does not have any children and who is not even married, gave me a special gift for my birthday last November. It was a very fancy piece of paper that said that he had paid money to name a star — the one scientists call “ASASSN-15lh” — after me, and that now I could point to the sky and tell my friends that the star is called “Kate.” My mom said that I would probably need to use a telescope, though. My brother laughed and said that I would need something called a “Ritchey-Chrétien telescope with a Gascoigne corrector lens,” which costs millions of dollars. My dad said that if my Uncle Brian ever looked through a telescope in his life it was probably to watch his neighbors get undressed, and then my mom told my dad to be quiet and let me enjoy my birthday present.

The very next time we had Show and Tell at school, I showed my class my certificate and told them about you, and the other kids seemed impressed. My teacher, Ms. Strohmenger, said she thought that she might have already paid to name you after one of her cats, three years earlier around Valentine’s Day, and she made a photocopy of my certificate because she wanted to “look into it,” but then she never mentioned it again so her cat’s star must be a different one, which I’m sure she’s happy about, for the obvious reason. This bring me to the question that has been bothering me recently.

Why did you explode?

A few weeks ago, my Uncle Brian called our house and asked to talk to me. He didn’t sound very happy, and after he asked me how I was doing and how I was enjoying my gymnastics classes, even though I’m on a soccer team now, and whether my brother was being nice to me, I think he started to cry a little, and then he told me that he was so sorry to tell me that you had exploded. He told me he’d just read that astronomers in Chile, which is a long, narrow country on a landmass in the Western Hemisphere and mostly the Southern Hemisphere of Earth, had observed evidence of a supernova at your location, using a Ritchey-Chrétien telescope with a Gascoigne corrector lens, as it happened. The explosion was scientifically significant, my brother later told me, because it is the most luminous supernova detected to date, at its brightest approximately 50 times more luminous than the whole Milky Way galaxy (which is where Earth is), with an energy flux 570 billion times greater than the Sun. But it’s important to me because we shared a name and now you’re gone.

I tried to find out for myself what made you blow up, and not in a good way, like when someone blows up on Twitter, which is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets” that we have here on Earth, but I found out that no one knows for sure what the reason was. Some scientists think it might have been the presence of very large quantities of decaying nickel-56, while others say it might have been the amplifying effects of a magnetar. My brother mentioned that your supernova was “hydrogen-poor.” Is that why you blew up? Because you were poor? Is hydrogen like money for stars? Did you not have enough hydrogen to buy the things you needed? What do stars need?

I hope you didn’t explode because you were ashamed of being named after me. I’m not a super-genius like my brother, and I’m not very good at soccer (and I wasn’t so good at gymnastics, which is why I stopped doing it), but my mom says I’m very funny and my dad says I’m pretty much his favorite person in the whole world, and I’m popular at school because I try to be nice to everybody and I stick up for my brother when the other kids want to give him wedgies when he corrects them about things. But maybe your ultra-energetic supernova was, as he thinks, a signature for the birth of a strange quark star. That sounds pretty cool, I think. And if you do return as a strange quark star, I hope you’ll consider calling yourself Strange Quark Star Kate, or at least letting us here on Earth call you that.

Twinkle, twinkle,

Kate

Matthew David Brozik is the author of the books Whimsy & Soda and Taking Ivy Seriously as well as numerous (mercifully) short pieces of humor and fiction. Read more at imdb.name. Follow him on Twitter but plan to be disappointed.

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