Note: This a short story by Arthur Clarke, as retold in a creative task for The Future of Storytelling course in Iversity.
Some time in the future, a group of astrophysicists were on their way back to Earth after investigating the “Phoenix Nebula,” a supernova that would explain one of the greatest mysteries in the Universe.
Traveling on a spaceship, these astrophysicists had one goal: investigate the time when this supernova occurred. Supernovas were known to be the last breath of dying stars that eventually exploded, creating enormous energy and light that traveled through space and time. By the time supernovas were seen on Earth, it may have happened hundreds of thousands or even billions of years ago. Throughout history, such phenomenon were recorded, albeit rarely. Supernovas were evidence of what was once a Star or what is “left of a Star.”
Our unnamed protagonist recounted how he was now part of a historical and scientific discovery after traveling in space this far to reconstruct the beginnings of the “Phoenix Nebula.” To his amazement, his group found evidence of a small planet that revolved around the dead star– just as Earth revolved around the Sun. They went on to investigate the God-forsaken planet and stumbled upon a huge monument, a pylon that served as a “marker.” They decided to dig up the site and found a Vault.
To their astonishment, the Vault remained unscathed even after the apocalyptic explosion of their “Sun,” obliterating the planet’s civilization. The Vault was full of treasures but what caught his attention was the well-preserved “history” of the Vault’s content—as if the civilization who left it behind wanted it found.
Just like time capsules, the Vault immortalized a civilization now gone.
The Vault revealed a civilization just like Earth. They were happy. But amid their bliss, they knew their Sun was dying. This time capsule was the only evidence that they existed.
As they traveled back to Earth, the protagonist was torn. After finally making calculations to understand when this cataclysmic event happened–using pieces of evidence they’ve collected from the Vault, he uncovered an unfathomable truth. He was sure. And he didn’t doubt his math. That was his job.
He was conflicted. How would he now show that THIS supernova seen on Earth was THE star that shined so bright in the night sky, allowing a group of wise men find their way into Bethlehem.
I remember choking when I heard this story. Growing up with Bible stories told to me every night and day, the story of the three wise men using the star to guide them where the Son of God was born is all-too-familiar. Years later after finishing College, I’ve grown fascinated with sci-fi stories, some which embarked on controversial premises of the existence of God or a higher being who was behind the creation of the Universe. Scientists and sci-fi storytellers marvel at the universe. This “what-is-the-meaning-of-this-life” tale fuses our own internal debates about religion and science, and vice versa. What made this story meaningful is the plot: What if THAT star was indeed a supernova! And if we believed in what astrophysicists were saying–that there might be a planet just like ours somewhere in the Universe. Told in a short-story format, The Star does not focus on a protagonist, but on an idea of “What if? The story is very effective—and I could imagine if this was made into a movie—it would be riveting, as the payoff is held until the last word. What kept me reading, and re-reading this story—and retelling it friends, is the thought that WE ARE SO LITTLE IN THIS VAST UNIVERSE. Sometimes, we forget our place, and we forget to marvel at the world, and say, “Wow, we’re so lucky to be part of this greatest creation.”