The story begins in classic disaster film style. A small rogue black hole is approaching our Solar System. It isn’t going to get close enough to destroy everything, but it will agitate our Sun, causing horrific solar flares as it reaches perihelion. Those flares are going to bake the Earth’s surface in fatal levels of radiation. Conservative estimates suggest that it will take a thousand years for the planet’s magnetic fields to recover, at which time it will be fit for recolonization.
We don’t have FTL travel and we’ve only got a decade to prepare, so the world unites in an effort to build a fleet of generation ships capable of holding ten thousand souls, plus a Noah’s ark assortment of domesticated animals. The trick will be to keep that viable gene pool alive for a thousand years in deep space. The finest minds alive work on the problem, but there is just no way to bring even a fraction of the oxygen, food and water needed.
In desperation, an insane plan is adopted.
The ships will launch about a year before perihelion and will proceed on a collision course with the approaching black hole. At the moment when the singularity passes closest to our Sun, the ships will dive into its gravity well, slingshoting in close enough to the event horizon to cause significant time dilation.
Emerging after half an orbit of the hole (by firing Orion nuclear engines to reach escape velocity), they will race back towards earth, arriving just before the life support supplies run out. If the time dilation does what it should, the fleet's two year round trip, will find an Earth more than a thousand years older and completely healed.
Now for my question…
What combination of black hole size/mass and distance from our Solar System would make this story viable?
- It needs to get close enough that an Orion nuclear drive (and maybe a sun-dive/slingshot outbound maneuver) can get our ships there in a relatively short time (so that we don’t run out of life support on the way there).
- It needs to be small enough that it doesn’t rip Earth out of its orbit as it passes by. It can take the rest of the planets, but Earth and our moon have to survive.
- It needs to be big enough that it can generate enough time dilation that a thousand years can pass on Earth during the fleet’s one or two year journey.
One additional question…
Is it believable that a cosmically short-term interaction with a distant black hole, could temporarily cause our sun to intensify, throwing off solar flare for a few years before settling back down to normal?