Dragon's Egg is a science fiction novel1 (1980) by Robert L. Forward,
based on an idea first suggested by Frank Drake,
which describes a thriving community of intelligent beings living on the
surface of a neutron star (see neutron
star, life on). The extraordinarily high gravity, 67 billion times that
on Earth, means that everything, including the life-forms, is made of tightly-packed
nuclear matter. The dominant creatures on Dragon's Egg are "cheela", which
are similar in intelligence and biological complexity to humans. As Forward
|Cover art to Czech edition of
This implies that they
contain the same number of nuclei, so it is not surprising that on Earth
their mass is about the same as human beings – 70 kilograms. Their
bodies consist of complex molecules of bare nuclei. The cheela are flat,
flexible creatures about 50 millimeters in diameter and 0.5 millimeters
high. They have a density of about 7 million grams per cubic centimeter,
the density of the crust of the neutron star... Cheela cannot breath or
talk because the "atmosphere" of Dragon's Egg is only a few micrometers
thick (around the "toes" of the cheela). The cheela communicate by strumming
the crust with their lower surface, or "tread" to produce directed vibrations
in the neutron star's crust.
Forward builds a detailed, scientifically-informed picture of the anatomy,
environment, culture, and technology of his hypothetical condensed-matter
sentients, and explores the difficulties that the cheelah and our own species
would face in making contact. Among these are that the inhabitants of the
Dragon's Egg live their lives a million times faster than human beings so
Talking to these beings would be difficult. Their
biology depends upon the strong nuclear force instead of the electromagnetic
force. Nuclear reactions happen much faster than chemical reactions, because
the nuclear force is much stronger... With a time difference of a million
to one, a second to a human - the time it takes to say "Hello" - would
be the equivalent of a week to a star creature. It would hear "He ...
" on Sunday and "... lo" on the following Saturday.
Forward took his speculations further in the 1985 sequel, Starquake!.3
- Forward, Robert L. Dragon's Egg. New York: Del Rey (1980).
- Forward, R. "When You Live Upon a Star," New Scientist, 36
(December 24/31, 1987).
- Forward, Robert L. Starquake! New York: Del Rey (1985).