Junior Science Extracts

From ‘Zero Gravity

One day, towards the end of summer, Daniel Taylor was out in his back garden, playing with a tennis ball, when something peculiar happened. He’d thrown the ball up several times – higher, then a little higher – when he succeeded in throwing it up with such determination that it failed to come back down.

It was as if the ball, having reached its zenith, just sort of hung there. Daniel brought a hand up to his eyes to shield them from the sun. Stood and stared at the ball, as if it might suddenly change its mind and head back towards the ground. But it stayed most stubbornly where it was, until finally Daniel went indoors and climbed the stairs right up to the attic, to see if he could get a better view of it from there.

He opened the dormer window and, sure enough, there it was, about ten or twelve feet away. The ball didn’t appear to be stuck as such, since he could see from the marks on its side how it slowly turned on its own axis. In fact, the ball seemed perfectly happy where it was.

Daniel pulled his head back in from the window, then went round the attic, looking for something to throw at it, to try and dislodge the thing. Something big enough to have a hope of making contact, but not so delicate that it would break into a hundred pieces when it hit the ground. He needn’t have worried. When he flung his father’s old hiking boot at the ball he missed by a clear eighteen inches, but instead of continuing its trajectory towards the garden it too came to rest in mid-air.

Now, Daniel Taylor was about as cautious as the next boy – which is to say that he was not very cautious at all – but he didn’t relish the prospect of falling almost forty feet and the pulverising effect such a fall might have on his body. So he didn’t attempt to join his father’s old boot and his own tennis ball until he was fairly confident that such an undertaking might have a decent chance of coming off. He threw sundry other articles into the vicinity, such as a book (quite big and heavy), a cricket trophy and a picnic blanket. The blanket in particular provided some sense of the area’s dimensions, since it appeared to hang, half-in and half-out of whatever was holding it up.

Daniel found a small step ladder in the kitchen cupboard, carried it up to the attic, bundled it through the window and out onto the roof. He dropped the ladder’s feet into the gutter, checked the distance, and gave the top a gentle push. It came to rest more or less where Daniel had expected, not far from the blanket. It bobbed about a bit, but seemed reasonably secure. Then Daniel made his way up the steps and after a few apprehensive moments, swung first one leg, then the rest of himself into the general area that he hoped was about to take his weight.

As soon as he was in among the boots and books and trophies he felt the atmosphere change most comprehensively – could suddenly appreciate why all these objects were so determined to hang around. Every last ounce of his weight was stripped away, leaving nothing but unencumbered movement. He had been freed from gravity’s chains.