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"[Science fiction] is the only kind of writing that allows you to look at the world we live in and change one piece at a time."
- Frederik Pohl

Space Beacon  
  An ordinary sun is transformed into a beacon for use by spacecraft when in hyperspace.  

Finding a sun that can be used as a space beacon is easy - but when that sun is orbited by inhabited planets, things can get sticky.

"Why here, and what is a beacon?" asked Dusty...

"Here, because your sun lies at the end of a long open course through the galaxy, the continuation of which lies along a change of course..."

"And what is a beacon?"

"It is a phenomenon caused by the Doppler effect when traveling at galactic speeds. In this case, when coming through this rift at fifteen hundred light years per hour, a three-day variable star will appear to the observer as a rapidly blinking light..."

"We use the three-day variable to denote the galactic travel lanes. Very effective. We use the longer variable types for other things - dangerous places like cloud-drifts, or a dead sun that might be as deadly to a spacecraft as a shoal is to a seagoing vessel. It's all very logical."

"...you're going to make a variable star out of Sol, just for this?"

Scyth Radnor shook his head. "Please do not think us hard... You're not going to insist that your animal comforts are more important than the functioning of a galaxy-wide civilization?"

From Troubled Star, by George O. Smith.
Published by Better Publications in 1952
Additional resources -

As it turns out, Scyth did have a plan for Earth involving a device called a barytrine field.

This idea is an obvious precursor to the opening scene in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; Scyth and his crew are a bit nicer than the Vogons who need to demolish Earth.

I also thought this item was interesting because I remember the debate that occurred when pulsars were discovered in 1967. A radio array discovered a very regular signal, consisting of pulses of radiation that recurred every few seconds. The astronomers who discovered it named it "LGM-1" for "little green men."

Everyone thought that the most obvious explanation was that they were signal beacons used by extraterrestrial civilizations. Ever wary of Occam's razor, however, scientists continued to search for a simpler, physical explanation.

Today, pulsars are believed to be rapidly rotating neutron stars with powerful magnetic fields; they emit radiation in the form of radio waves. These enormous objects have periods that range from 1.5 ms to 8.5 seconds. The radiation is focused along a very narrow beam along the poles of the magnetic field; dubbed the "lighthouse effect", pulsars emit radio waves so regularly that they are as accurate as an atomic clock.

George O. Smith was about fifteen years ahead in predicting that suns could be used as rapidly pulsating space beacons. With the right engineering, of course.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Troubled Star
  More Ideas and Technology by George O. Smith
  Tech news articles related to Troubled Star
  Tech news articles related to works by George O. Smith

Space Beacon-related news articles:
  - XNAV Steer Your Way By X-Ray Pulsar
  - TEMPO2 Uses Pulsars For Celestial GPS
  - X-Ray Pulsar 'Beacons' To Guide Spacecraft

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