The Planet at the End of the Rainbow

A short story about astronomy’s most unexpected discovery

Bill Adler
4 min readJul 6, 2020


Photo by Bill Adler

“Are you pulling my leg?” I asked. Louis’ always flawless hair was out of alignment, as if he’d just woken up from an abbreviated sleep on the observatory’s couch after having been awake all night.

“No, Mark. Here. Look at the images from Kepler, and from our telescope.” Louis shoved photographs in front of me, nearly knocking my coffee over. “Confirming data from La Silla and Roque de los Muchachos in the Canaries. There’s no doubt.”

“Sweet Jesus.” I whistled. I whipped off my glasses and shook them, as if to readjust the prescription. I slipped my glasses back on, but the photos didn’t change.

“This is big,” Louis said. “Nothing like this has ever been seen before.”

I cupped my palms over my mouth and nose, letting carbon dioxide build up because I needed an altered state of mind. With my hands still in front of my mouth I said, “First things first. Let’s call Dr. Hammond. Before I do, I want you to swear that this data’s right, that you’re not pulling an April Fool’s joke a month early.”

Louis looked directly into my eyes. “We’re going to win a Nobel for this.” He pumped my hand. “What are you going to tell Hammond?”

“That we have proof of nuclear explosions on an exoplanet, Louis. And not just one or two detonations: The brightness of the imagery implies multiple bombs — hundreds at least. A horrific war in all likelihood. A new planet, but a dead world.”

I couldn’t even imagine the newspaper headlines, but this would go down as one of the most significant discoveries in human history. In the same breath, we discovered intelligent life in the universe and witnessed that life become extinguished.


Louis pointed to the far side of the room. I cried for a civilization I’d never known.

I called Julia Hammond, the director of the Combined Hawaii Observatories, which included our Keck Observatory. It was apparent from her struggle to connect the “h” and “o” in “hello” that my six a.m. call woke her. But after my first sentence, her words were crisp and clear.



Bill Adler

An American writer in Japan, editor of The Binge-Watching Cure books, author of the bestselling book, Outwitting Squirrels. Occasional pilot, 24/7 cat owner.