The Pulsar

Six year old Lincoln Phillips sat on the couch between his parents, lost in his thoughts. He hoped that for once he could make it to his bed time before his parents started to argue.

As they did most nights the Phillips family watched TV while eating their dinner.

Lincoln enjoyed the peace while everyone chewed, knowing that it wasn’t destined to last.

Right on cue, as the show faded into ads Mrs Phillips changed the channel and Lincoln’s hopes were dashed.

“Do not make me miss my show!” Mr Phillips exclaimed, reaching over Lincoln and snatching the remote.  He switched back to what would be three minutes of ads and the fighting began.

Lincoln immediately relaxed his posture and slid out from beneath his tray table to the foot of the couch. He knew what would be coming for the rest of the night and that he needed to leave before he was placed in the middle of another fight. Not that he had ever been struck. Even at six years old Lincoln knew what it felt like to be used as a pawn in their games.

He ran upstairs as fast as his little legs would carry him while in the background the fight escalated into shouting. Lincoln slammed and locked his bedroom door and then climbed out of his window onto the roof. The argument was almost as loud as it had been inside.

Lincoln climbed a ladder onto the roof and in almost complete darkness crawled up the tiles. As soon as he crossed the peak he stopped and rolled over, staring at the cloudless sky.

The sounds of the argument below were lost to the gentle breeze and his thoughts turned to the stars above.

The roof was Lincoln’s place of solace. He went there so often that he had memorized the star patterns. He could name the constellations and their specific stars aloud as he traced them in the air.

The constellations of Pegasus, Andromeda and Perseus sat in the centre of the sky and as Lincoln traced left along them he saw something unexpected. Between Mirphak and Capella, the two brightest stars of the Perseus and Auriga constellations, there was for the briefest second a tiny purple flash. As quickly as it had appeared it was gone, but Lincoln stared at the spot he had seen it.

Although he was young, he knew a lot about the mysteries of space. However, he couldn’t explain what he had seen. A smile spread from ear to ear as he realised that the beautiful glint that he had seen was the beginning of something new.

That exactly moment, however, as Lincoln would later learn, was also the end of something. His parents’ argument had escalated further than ever and his father decided to walk away.

Every day from that moment onwards there were two things the world told Lincoln he would never see again. Out of those two things the only one he cared to find again was the purple light in the sky. It was almost impossible for a six year old to convince anyone that he wasn’t seeking an answer for what he had seen, in order to ignore thinking about why his father had left. But he ignored them and endeavoured to learn everything he could about science and space.

It didn’t take long for him to discover that he had seen a Pulsar – a neutron star that sends a beam of radiation into space. An effect otherwise known as the Lighthouse Effect that only occurs when all of the circumstances align and not something usually seen on Earth.

No matter who he told about the light they always told him that it was impossible to see a pulsar with the naked eye. Not only were they too far away, but they most commonly either emitted radio or x-ray waves. Though it was possible, nobody had ever seen a pulsar emitting optical light and they weren’t going to believe that a child had seen it.

Lincoln knew what he had seen. More than anything he wanted to prove everyone wrong and dedicated his life to doing so.

Although he never saw the pulsar again, he held onto the memory as a reminder that there was still true beauty to discover; no matter how elusive it was.

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