The accolade for “the greatest science-fiction story ever written” usually goes to Isaac Asimov’s wonderful tale Nightfall (though personally I’d agree with the master himself, and say that The Last Question is a better story). If you haven’t read Nightfall, it’s a story set on the planet Lagash. The planet is unusual in that it possesses a stable orbit around six suns. Inhabitants of Lagash have evolved in an environment in which they never see night, never see darkness. The story hinges on what happens during an eclipse when, for the first time, the natives of Lagash experience nightfall. Read the story. You’ll love it.
Critics have often pointed out a weakness in the story: a stable orbit around six stars is, they say, impossible. Well, this week a team of astronomers working from Kepler data have posted a paper on arXiv (“Planet Hunters: A Transiting Circumbinary Planet in a Quadruple Star System“) that tells of the discovery of a planet that’s being pulled by the gravitational tug of four planets. This isn’t quite Lagash, but it’s a planet that possesses an apparently stable orbit in a very complicated environment. Planetary systems are clearly more complicated than we thought. Maybe a planet like Lagash isn’t impossible after all.