Longish short story or short novella. I originally read it in an anthology compiled by Isaac Asimov. (I don't think the actual story was an Asimov)

Story about intelligent beings native to stellar photospheres.

Starts as an in-flight conversation between two beings, scientists decompressing after a research trip. They have slightly different structures, because they're from different star systems. They are, however, comfortable in a mutually compatible environment. (Plasma contained in a collapsed-neutron hull)

(turns out that solar flares are starship launches, and sunspots are large structures that are related to their cities)

The beings start to speculate about hypothetical "exotic" phases of matter, and what behavior matter might display if it was insanely cold. (by this, they mean too cold to emit spectral lines)

One being doubts that anyone could ever find enough of such an exotic material to learn about it. (after all, you can't see the stuff!) Second being responds by telling a "sea story" about something he had witnessed. A research vessel near his home star gets inexplicably dragged off course by a "phantom" gravity well. Plotting the effect, it appears to be a fairly significant concentration of mass, but no matter is seen. The vessel cannot break free, and eventually seems to impact on the invisible mass. The hull is breached. The crew is lost. As the plasma bleeds out of the hull, the observers note emission spectra of iron, silicon, aluminum & other "heavy" elements....

Cut to earth where we see this crash from a human perspective. Humans get lucky that the impact is in an out of the way area. A man in the area recognizes that this is a constructed object, but the plasma leak melts the rock under the ship, and the hull material is so dense that it sinks long before the heat can dissipate.

The anthology seemed to be from the 70s or 80s, but the dated science makes me think the story itself may date back to the 40s

NOT any of the stories in the following anthologies: Before the Golden Age, The Winds of Change and Other Stories, The Early Asimov, Nine Tomorrows

1 Answer 1


This is "Proof" by Hal Clement (1942, Astounding). You can read it (with some OCR quirks) here.

You can find it in The Great SF Stories IV, although I found it in Antologia Scolastica, an Italian anthology.

All the elements you cite match, except for solar flares being ship launches. They do note that

our converters take so much as to lower the solar temperature considerably for thousands of miles around each city

The two protagonists are Kron, a ship-captain from Sol, and an unnamed scientist from Sirius B. The story recounts the disaster that befell Kron's friend Akro and matches your memories:

“In that moment, every one of us saw the identifying frequencies as the heat from Akro’s disrupted ship raised the substance which had trapped him to an energy level which permitted atomic radiation. Every one of us recognized the spectra of iron, of calcium, of carbon and silicon and a score of the other elements — Sirian, I tell you that that ‘trapping field’ was matter — matter in such a state that it could not radiate, and could offer resistance to other bodies in exactly the fashion of a solid. I thought, and have always thought, that some strange field of force held the atoms in their ‘solid’ positions; you have convinced me that I was wrong. The ‘field’ was the sum of the interacting atomic forces which you are trying to detect. The energy level of that material body was so low that those forces were able to act without interference. The condition you could not conceive of reaching artificially actually exists in nature!

  • Yes, that's the story! (Though, I don't think that's the anthology that I originally read - none of the other works seem even slightly familliar)
    – SailsMan63
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 17:54
  • Don't tell me he called this cold stuff "dark matter"...
    – Mr Lister
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 20:58
  • @MrLister not quite. It is described as a "dark body", "invisible", and the source of a gravitational disturbance. Kron never calls it 'matter', but rather something unknown that can behave like a solid.
    – LSerni
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 22:32
  • @LSerni what was I thinking? Kron does literally call it matter and even does so in the very passage that I quoted. They had never thought it was matter -- but that was before hearing the Sirian's theory.
    – LSerni
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 10:13

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