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They fell to the Earth 25 million years ago, dandelion fluff from another star, designed to shed their outer layers like discarded snake skin as they hit the atmosphere. When the planet’s carbon dioxide-rich air slowed them enough, their black crystalline wings unfurled like great parachutes, and they glided toward the surface. The birds and apes, camels and whales of the Oligocene era, looked up as vast shadows darkened the skies.
The visitors touched down in grasslands on all of the continents. The ground shook like an earthquake as each one landed. There were hundreds of thousands of them, each one generating gale force winds as it inhaled carbon dioxide.
They drank in the Earth’s rich atmosphere and the planet began to cool. The visitors knew instinctively what they had to do. They used their metallic mandibles to burrow into the Earth. The plains of Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America shook with their digging. Day by day they disappeared deeper and deeper into the planet where they would wait.
They slept deep in the bedrock of the Earth. Above them mountain ranges reared up, species came and went, glaciers moved, and one branch of primates proliferated. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster, these primates replenished the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
And then one day, there was a sound like thunder in the distance.
Christopher De Pree
Chris De Pree grew up in Hong Kong and New York City and teaches Physics & Astronomy at Agnes Scott College, a women's college in metro Atlanta. He has written a number of popular science books, including 'Idiot's Guides: The Cosmos'. His fiction has appeared in So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial & Library and 365 Tomorrows. His new popular science book entitled 'Astronomical Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Reconnecting with the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets' will be published by HarperOne in January 2022. In July, he will start a new position at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
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