A few years ago, Alan Jaras told a science fiction story on Flickr, using images of crystals he'd photographed under a microscope. He called it MicroWorld. Here are a few of the breathtaking images and the incredible tale they tell.

The story is about explorers who land on the tiny world, whose laws of physics don't resemble anything they've experienced before. Oceans are solid; strange thrumming mountains slice the landscape; crystalline life forms are everywhere. Jaras tells the story of their exploration, and eventual discovery that the planet is suffering from atmospheric toxins that will be burned away by a nearby supernova. Yes, it's Golden Age stuff, and incredibly fun to read. You can read a few excerpts from Jaras' tale below, but I advise you to read the whole thing.

Read MicroWorld, via Flickr.


As they approached, the sound of the moving glacier grew fainter to be replaced by a quiet harmonious hum. From the distant viewpoint of the plateau the buildings had appeared to be small dwellings but now they could see them to be much larger. Roughly spherical in shape, as if built to withstand some tremendous pressure, they were arranged in a small group of about ten in number. The explorers moved closer and it soon became obvious to them that these structures had long been abandoned.

Large plates had been riveted over openings to keep 'something' out. Whether the defences were meant to repel an invading force or some pending cataclysmic event the travellers would never know.

This is a scanning electron micrograph of crystals of a complex sodium sulphate mixture forming from furnace gases. The largest 'sphere' is approx. 3 microns in diameter. The average human hair is about 50 microns in diameter.


From Above the Maze Looked Easy
Safely through the crystal mountains they gazed down on the gigantic maze. What was its purpose, to keep them out of the land which lay beyond or to keep others in? With some trepidation they began the long climb down.

Scanning Electron Micrograph of sodium sulphate recrystallized from methanol.


The Forest That Knew No Fractals
Having negotiated the maze,more by luck than by skill, our brave explorers continued in their quest. Where were the inhabitants? Are any surviving on this world where the laws of nature seemed no longer to apply? Many questions were still to be answered. The forest was their next barrier; trees with no branches , no leaves; as if stripped bare by some gigantic explosion. They pressed onward drawn by the strange light that beckoned.

Electron Micrograph (SEM) of fracture surface of silicon carbide fibre reinforced glass ceramic.


The coaster had lost its roll
Their journey through the forest had fortunately been uneventful and soon they looked down on a great plain. The remains, of what they could only imagine as a gigantic theme park, stretched out for miles. Their pulses began to race,was there a lost civilization to be found, or, like the apparent roller coaster, just a memory.

SEM micrograph of multi-layer surface coating on plastic. Shrunk , cracked, crazed and curling due to over-enthusiastic etch in plasma etcher.


The Causeway
They continued, carefully threading their way past the rock pools of gas. By now they had learnt to expect the unexpected on MicroWorld, but nothing prepared them for the sight that confronted them as the reached the end of the ocean. A shimmering interface plunged vertically downwards, the vast sea cut through and separated as if cleaved by some gigantic sword. They stood at the edge of the shore looking down at the immense pulsating wall and marvelled at the strange laws of physics that governed this world. The land too came to an abrupt end with no apparent way down while far below a crystal sea slowly heaved, creaking and groaning as each swell ground huge metallic lances against each other. They walked slowly along the cliff top desperately searching for a way forward.

Scanning Electron Microscope image of re-crystallized sodium carbonate.


Rivers of gas
The two gas layers began to mix and swirl but still seem to remain immiscible. In a strange psychedelic dance the green and purple layer of the sublimed 'snow' crystals spiralled with the pink creeping ground fog as it continued to rise and advance towards them from deep below.

Scanning Electron Micrograph of re-crystallized sodium carbonate. The width of the picture is about the diameter of the average human hair.


The Sky Began To Boil
Back in the relative safety of their craft they were once again surrounded by the familiarity of the control room. For a moment, as they sank into the long awaited comfort of the body-moulded seats, the groanings of the planet seemed somewhat distant and unreal. But there was little time to relax, the main wave of high energy particles from the supernova was almost upon them. Already large bubbles were forming in the sky above them as it started to boil. If they could survive this then the journey through the black hole back to their own galaxy should be relatively easy. Fingers danced over the control desk and the panel lights glowed to welcome them back; so far so good.

A macro shot of internal bubbles in a hand-made glass bowl.