Getting to know the Neighborhood

Following its return to Earth, the Beagle docked with Chatham Station where engineers went over the spacecrafts systems with the metaphorical fine comb, checking all systems and structures thoroughly to see if repairs were needed. After the intense examination of the Beagle, nothing was discovered that would indicate that there would be any larger problems with the craft in the future. Only a number of armor panels had to be replaced due to micro debris damage.

However, the Beagle was upgraded with additional stores of spare parts and food, for its next mission. The Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission was to be a 5 year long mission to the ten nearest star systems, excluding Proxima Centauri and Alpha Centauri, each to be observed for a predetermined time, or passed through with a 200 day fast transit for the systems with confirmed planetary systems.

Additionally the Beagle carried 20 atmospheric probes to be used upon close passes of worlds with atmospheres. These probes were designed to be capable of operations within the atmospheres of Terrestrial as well as Jovian worlds, going as far as being capable of soft landings.

On December 17, 2045 the Beagle departed from Chatham Station on its 200 day trajectory towards the Feynman Limit, reaching it on July 5, 2046. Following two days of receiving a few last orders and doing the last checks on all systems, the Beagle left towards Barnard’s Star, needing 4 days and 17 hours for the transfer of 5.563 lightyears.

Following a two day observation period, the Beagle changed its position for a 200 day trajectory that would pass the star’s two planets. The two planets were relatively close to each other at 0.065 and 0.069 AU distance to their primary. The gravitational interaction between the two worlds was low however as the inner, Icarus, was only about the size and mass of Vesta, while the outer, Daedalus, was comparable to Ceres.

An asteroid belt was closer to Barnard’s Star and within the astronomical community a discussion arose whether or not Icarus and Daedalus were members of this asteroid belt.

After travelling past the Feynman Limit of Barnard’s Star again and after another observation period, the Beagle made a 4 day and 16 hour transit towards Ross 154, 5.53 light years distant to Barnard’s Star and 9.68 light years away from Sol.

Ross 154 had been confirmed to hold a single planet, but shortly after arrival the Beagle discovered a second planet deeper in the system, as well as a wide asteroid belt between the two.

On its 200 day transit through the system the Beagle passed the outer planet, Assur, a nebulous rock world five times the mass of Earth and with a dense hydrogen and helium atmosphere. A single atmospheric probe was launched towards Assur and landed softly on the shore of an ammonia lake, returning large amounts of data for the entire time of Beagle’s stay within the system.

Comparably the inner world, a low mass Selenian rock named Erech, was of little initial interest, as were many of the systems asteroids of its belt and a mere flyby was not going to uncover all its potential secrets.

The next target of the Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission was Luhman 16, a system of dual brown dwarfs. At a distance of 6.59 light years from Sol and 11.44 light years to Ross 154 the two ‘failed stars’ were the closest of their kind to Earth. The Beagle arrived at Luhman 16 11 days and 11 hours after leaving Ross 154 to begin its 60 day observation period.

As the two brown dwarfs orbited each other at a distance of 3 AU the discovery of a single planet around Luhman 16A was a surprise and the mission plan of Beagle hadn’t taken it into account yet. Luhman 16B on the other side was home to a ring system, not too unlike that of Saturn, making it possible that it used to have one or more planets.

The planet of Luhman 16A was classified as a Hemerian orbiting at a close distance of 0.005 AU, was eventually named Thebes, keeping in line with the IAU naming scheme of using ancient cities as names for planets.

The fourth leg of the survey mission, WISE 0855-0714, 6 light years from Luhman 16 and 7.2 light years from Sol, was reached by the Beagle following a 5 day and 2 hour transit. WISE 0855-0714 was originally believed to be a brown dwarf, but the low surface temperature observed by the Beagle forced the reclassification to a rogue planet, surrounded by an extensive ring system and a small number of shepherd moons. Still, the Beagle kept its observation period of 60 days.

Wolf 359, a planetless star with only a large asteroid belt, was 4.35 light years from WISE 0855-0714 and 7.78 light years away from Sol. Surprisingly, when the Beagle reached the stars Feynman Limit after 3 days and 16 hours, it left Heim-Feynman Space just twenty thousand kilometers away from a cometary body. Named Beagle’s Rest by the crew, the Beagle matched its trajectory and speed with the comet and surveyed much more closely for the 90 days of the observation period. With its trajectory known Beagle’s Rest might be of use later on.

Lalande 21185, much like Wolf 359, lacked a distinct planet, being surrounded by an asteroid belt instead. 5.91 light years from Wolf 359 and 8.29 lightyears from Earth, the Beagle reached it after 5 days and begun its 90 day observation period.

Compared to Wolf 359 and Lalande 21185, Sirius was a much more interesting object on the first glance. 10.9 light year from Lalande 21185 and 8.59 light years from Sol, the Beagle reached it in 9 days and 6 hours. While the star system was of interest to the astronomers astronomers, it lacked any planetary bodies or denser asteroid belts, as the white dwarf had pretty much removed any of them.

Unexpectedly, when the Beagle reached Luyten 726-8, the crew was presented with a very unique sight. 10.24 light years from Sirius and 8.72 light years from Sol, the Luyten 726-8 double star was home to a single gas giant orbiting around Luyten 726-8A. It was 70 times the mass of Earth and orbiting its primary in a distance of 0.048 AU. The interesting part however was that this HydroJovian world had a very distinct dark green color.

Only a spectral analysis of the light from the planet, named Nineveh, revealed the reason for its color as it showed the absorption lines of chlorophyll. Combined with an atmospheric temperature of about 50 degrees celsius meant that it was home to algae-like life.

The Beagle was already on its 200 day trajectory towards the planet, when this information was discovered and the crew of the spacecraft prepared three atmospheric probes for the planet, meaning to take as much data as possible. By chance one of the probes descending Nineveh’s atmosphere passed through a large cloud of what appeared to be ‘sky crill’, winged insectlike creatures floating in the updrafts and showing that the planet had some higher life forms living of the algae analogs.

Epsilon Eridani, the second last leg of the Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission, was later called the ‘Jackpot’. 10.5 light years from Earth and 5.1 light years from Luyten 716-8, Epsilon Eridani had four planets, two asteroid belts and a larger dust ring. Three of these planets were within the Feynman Limit, with the last being far outside of it.

A brief visit to this outer planet, Uruk, a CryoJovian of 31 Earth masses with a larger system of moons 30 AU from its primary, was followed by a 200 day transit through the system, though it only allowed the flyby of two planets. The innermost planet, a heavy gravity Ferrian world named Lagash and enveloped by a thin helium atmosphere was the only planet not visited.

The largest planet of the system, Babylon, a EuJovian world of 492 Earth Masses, was within one AU of the Feynman Limit and the second to be visited by the Beagle before the spacecraft moved towards the most interesting place in the system.

Eridu, the second planet of Epsilon Eridani was only 0.7 AU away from its primary and close to the inner edge of the green zone of Epsilon Eridani. With 1.33 earth masses it was large enough to keep a thick nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere and a pair of moons, the largest half the size of the Moon. 83 percent of the surface was covered by oceans and the landmass was taken up by smaller continents and large island chains, the topology lacking large mountain chains. This placed the world into the Lacustric classification and would make it very interesting for later settlement. Two probes made a landing on the planets surface, one of them within a dense jungle, while the other splashed down within one of the oceans. Both made a larger number of images and returned them to the Beagle, before the spacecraft left the system.

Ross 248 was the last target of the Beagle on its second mission, a system with three worlds and a single asteroid belt, about 12.65 light years from Epsilon Eridani and 10.3 light years from Sol.

Again the Beagle was able to only make a pass by two of the systems planets on its 200 day trajectory, missing the innermost planet Opis, a Selenian rock only 0.08 AU from its primary, while passing part of the asteroid belt. The first planet to be passed by the Beagle was the outermost EuJovian Susa, a world 522 times as massive as Earth and 2.1 AU distant to Ross 248. It was the target of a pair of atmospheric probes, which returned some interesting data, like a rather high amount of methane in the planets atmosphere.

The middle planet, Sippar, was a cryogenic Titanian world, with a thick nitrogen methane atmosphere and liquid methane oceans covering the surface of the half Earth mass planet. To get good information on the planet, three probes descended into its atmosphere with only one surviving the landing on a large plateau.

The Beagle finally returned to Sol on March 16, 2050, entering the system just a million kilometers away from 319876 Junctio. Following contact with Junctio Station, the Beagle made contact with Earth and began to transfer the majority of its data, before making way towards Junctio as the first FTL spacecraft to dock with the way station.

Later the Beagle returned to Earth, where it arrived in December 2050, to be checked completely once again and determine whether or not the spacecraft had been able to take the stress of its long mission.

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