[Editor’s note: this story has been in the works for way too long, since at least 2014, and I’ve finally decided to publish it, mostly as-is. The tenses change a few times and there are some other issues with it, but I also need to be free of it. So here it is.]
10 years ago, your average Joe Six Pack didn’t have a damn clue what L4 meant. This is still true for poor Joe, though now his kids probably do. Do you? No, it doesn’t have a thing to do with the lumbar vertebrae, or the Bren Gun, or whatever else . It’s a damn point in space.
Ask a kid in elementary school about the L4 and he’ll wax poetic on the subject, much like the previous generation could be relied on to blabber about dinosaurs or sharks or Pokemon. Nowadays, every damn kid knows that L4 stands for “4th Lagrange point”. Which, in turn, means that if you’ve got two large bodies, like the earth and the moon, there are 5 “stationary” points. 5 points where you can put something, like a rock or a book, and it won’t move. L1, 2, 3… those are about as stable as the tip of a needle. Yeah, put something there, it won’t move. Look at it the wrong way and off it goes, sailing into the night sky.
4 and 5, that’s where the money’s at. So to speak. You put something there, it sticks around. Maybe not in the same place – it wobbles a bit, in an orbit, you see – but it’s not flying nowhere.
“Come on dad, let’s get some ice cream! We can talk space later!”
10 years ago, I had a thankless job at the University of Chicago. Which is to say, I was that PhD student who worked the night shift, stuck in the lab while the rest of my high-school graduating class was attending dinner parties and art-house openings with their families. Or the DINK weekend warriors, climbing Mt Rainier, unwinding from some mind-numbingly boring IT gig they scored along the way. Ha, those suckers. They’d never know the true pleasure of staring at electron microscope scans, processing data, setting up simulations in a dire attempt to replicate the… Where was I going with this?
10 years ago, I’d have given anything to be where I am now.
10 years ago, I was a damn fool. A silly PhD student.