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Book II Jules Verne

A Bold Proposition

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Table Of Contents: Off on a Comet

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"I don't want to intrude," observed Ben Zoof, "but I don't understand why such learned gentlemen as you cannot make the comet go where you want it to go."

"You are mistaken, Ben Zoof, about our learning," said the captain; "even Professor Rosette, with all his learning, has not a shadow of power to prevent the comet and the earth from knocking against each other."

"Then I cannot see what is the use of all this learning," the orderly replied.

"One great use of learning," said Count Timascheff. with a smile, "is to make us know our own ignorance."

While this conversation had been going on, Lieutenant Procope had been sitting in thoughtful silence. Looking up, he now said, "Incident to this expected shock, there may be a variety of dangers. If, gentlemen, you will allow me, I will enumerate them; and we shall, perhaps, by taking them seriatim, be in a better position to judge whether we can successfully grapple with them, or in any way mitigate their consequences."

There was a general attitude of attention. It was surprising how calmly they proceeded to discuss the circumstances that looked so threatening and ominous.

"First of all," resumed the lieutenant, "we will specify the different ways in which the shock may happen."

"And the prime fact to be remembered," interposed Servadac, "is that the combined velocity of the two bodies will be about 21,000 miles an hour."

"Express speed, and no mistake!" muttered Ben Zoof.

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"Just so," assented Procope. "Now, the two bodies may impinge either directly or obliquely. If the impact is sufficiently oblique, Gallia may do precisely what she did before: she may graze the earth; she may, or she may not, carry off a portion of the earth's atmosphere and substance, and so she may float away again into space; but her orbit would undoubtedly be deranged, and if we survive the shock, we shall have small chance of ever returning to the world of our fellow-creatures."

"Professor Rosette, I suppose," Ben Zoof remarked, "would pretty soon find out all about that."

"But we will leave this hypothesis," said the lieutenant; "our own experience has sufficiently shown us its advantages and its disadvantages. We will proceed to consider the infinitely more serious alternative of direct impact; of a shock that would hurl the comet straight on to the earth, to which it would become attached."

"A great wart upon her face!" said Ben Zoof, laughing.

The captain held up his finger to his orderly, making him understand that he should hold his tongue.

"It is, I presume, to be taken for granted," continued Lieutenant Procope, "that the mass of the earth is comparatively so large that, in the event of a direct collision, her own motion would not be sensibly retarded, and that she would carry the comet along with her, as part of herself."

"Very little question of that, I should think," said Servadac.

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Off on a Comet
Jules Verne

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