Tag Archives: planet

Proxima Centauri b – Our Newest Neighbour

This is the biggest exoplanet news ever. 4.25 light years away, a tiny red dwarf star has revealed something extremely important: a potentially Earth-like planet. The ESO announced today that they have discovered a planet orbiting the nearest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri.

Artist's impression of Proxima Centauri b. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser. Source.
Artist’s impression of Proxima Centauri b. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser. Source.

So, how big is this planet? At least 1.3 times the size of Earth, or possibly up to 3 Earths. This would mean it’s either an Earth-like planet or a Super Earth. It is most likely to be terrestrial and due to its proximity to its star, it’s tidally locked. One side always faces its star. However, it’s in that very special place in a star’s orbit where liquid water can exist. That’s the good thing. The bad thing is that ultraviolet and X-rays from Proxima Centauri could make the surface of the planet potentially uninhabitable. With that being said, life could thrive below the surface.

What would it be like on the planet, though? The side facing the star would be hot and blasted by radiation. The side facing away from the star would probably be extremely cold, possibly covered in ice. The area that’s perpetually at sunset would be the most habitable and comfortable. If there’s a significant atmosphere, then temperatures could be stabilised all around the planet, and likely to be a constant wind flowing from the day side to the night side.

Breakthrough Starshot, a project started by billionaire Yuri Milner, physicist Stephen Hawking, and others, now has a destination. This project, designed to send tiny probes at 20% the speed of light into interstellar space, could reach Proxima Centauri b in only 20 years, then another 4.25 years to transmit data back to the Earth. The probes would take pictures and send them back. However, the estimated launch date is 2060, so many of us today would unlikely get to see this. Well, I plan to be around in 2084. I’ll only be 107 years old. I want to see this planet!

This has a lot of people excited, including me. I really want to know more about this planet. I wish we could go now. To see the surface of a world orbiting another star would be the dream of any astronomer or astronomy enthusiast. This is big!

Evidence Grows for a New Ninth Planet

Astronomers at Caltech have announced that evidence for an undiscovered ninth planet in the Solar System is mounting. It would be larger than the Earth, but smaller than Neptune. It could be a Super-Earth or a Mini-Neptune. But it’s orbiting so far away, it would take 20,000 years for it to orbit the Sun. It’s ten times the distance from the Sun as Neptune.

So, why do they think there’s another planet out there? All of the larger bodies, such as Sedna, that are orbiting beyond Pluto seem to all stay together on one side of the Solar System. This is strange, because it is far more likely that they’d be more evenly spread around the Solar System. The most likely explanation is a large planet orbiting at an even larger distance with its aphelion at the opposite side of the Solar System as these other large objects. Watch this video for an explanation by the two astronomers who have been studying this.

This is actually a very serious study going on, and it’s being reported by many reputable science and news agencies. If this planet is real, they have a rough estimate of its location, so they can search for it. But with its great distance, it’s not quite like searching for a needle in a haystack, it’s more like searching for a grain of sand in a farmer’s field.

Personally, I’m hoping something is found. This would be a very exciting discovery. What do you think? Are they on to something? Let me know in the comments below.

Highest Resolution Ever Images From Pluto

We have some amazing images coming in from New Horizons, and they are the highest resolution images we will see. But this is just the first! There will be a lot more coming. It would be great to post an image, but I won’t do that. Instead, watch this video. And I recommend watching it in full screen at full resolution.

We start off with a terrain that is very light and icy with some craters. But it appears that there’s a dark material in the craters. It appears it’s layered. Probably various ices. It then moves down into a badlands region, which wouldn’t look too out of place on Earth. Then it abruptly moves into a water ice region with polygonal shapes and what looks like a rippled terrain.

The surface of Pluto is absolutely fascinating. You can read the article here on New Horizons’ official page at NASA.

What do you think of this recent image?

2015’s Biggest Science Story

What do you think is the biggest science story of the year? 2015 isn’t over yet, but I think it’s safe to say that we have a very good candidate already.

My choice is New Horizons at the Pluto system. Pluto was expected to be a certain way, somewhat like Triton, but it turned out to be completely unique. It was unexpected. It’s likely to still be active, since there’s a huge area covered by ices, there are tall mountains, and the colouration is providing a lot of questions. One of the more recent pictures showed the atmosphere over a horizon that was lit by the sun, and the surface shows mountains. This is that image:

nh-apluto-wide-9-17-15-final_0Click the image to see a larger version. Or go here to see the full sized image.

There are still many months of images to download from New Horizons, so we’ll get to see many more surprises over the next year or so.

So, what’s your choice for biggest science news of 2015?

NASA’s Big Mars Announcement

Mars_23_aug_2003_hubbleSo, NASA has a big announcement coming about Mars tomorrow. There’s a lot of speculation about what it’s going to be. Water, ice, salt water, conditions for life, glaciers, flowing water, etc. Well, we already know about ice and glaciers. Can’t be that, can it?

They said it’s going to solve a mystery. Maybe it’s about flowing water? There have been many outflows seen, which could either be caused by landslides or flowing water. Maybe they’ve solved that mystery.

There’s a lot of hype leading up to this announcement, so it must be big. What do you think it is?

Axial Tilt, Latitude and Other Planet Details

I’ve already done posts about this before, but it’s nice to see another point of view. And this one has some really nice maps!

The War of Memory Project

It’s been a while since I did a worldbuilding post.  This one will be thin, because I just have a few points of data rather than anything particularly visual or interesting, but my friend Chris and I spent most of today batting planetary details back and forth, trying to figure out some of the specs of my world.

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A Few Hours From Pluto

New Horizons is flying past Pluto in only a few hours. We’ve been receiving more images, though they will continue to be scant over the coming days. You see, as it’s passing Pluto, the camera will be focused on it and Charon, which means that the high gain antenna will not be pointed toward Earth. We have to wait for the good pictures.

However, we do have some new images. Here is the latest for Pluto.

Pluto on July 12, 2015.
Pluto on July 12, 2015.

As you can see, there are craters, the dark regions around the equator, and guess what? An ice cap! That’s right, Pluto has an ice cap of nitrogen and methane. That was predicted, and it seems it was correct. Also, the diameter has been discovered to be 2,370 km, which is larger than thought. In fact, it turns it out it’s larger than Eris. Pluto is the largest Kuiper belt object that we know of. One thing that’s remarkable to me, though, is the mottled surface. It looks a lot like Triton in that respect. You can also see the bright area on the left side is rotating into view. It’s going to be the focus of the high resolution images.

On to Charon, which I have neglected to talk about.  Here’s the latest from Pluto’s largest moon.

Charon on July 12, 2015.
Charon on July 12, 2015.

There’s an obvious crater in this image, and the pole is dark. I wonder why. But to the right of the bright crater is what looks like a chasm. This chasm is larger than the Grand Canyon.

So far, Charon looks like it could be found around a planet like Saturn with its chasm and grey appearance. We’ll see how it looks with higher resolution images in the coming days and weeks. Pluto, on the other hand, looks like it could be a cousin of Triton’s. Very interesting.

What’s surprised you so far about Pluto and Charon?

Pluto Has Some Surprises

As the great George Takei would say, oh my.  NASA recently released images of Pluto from the New Horizons probe have revealed some details about the surface of Pluto. It’s the clearest view yet, and will only get better as the probe passes the dwarf planet and its moons. Just take a look at this video, which is an animation of the images taken by New Horizons.

What you can immediately see is the dark spot on the southern part of Pluto. What is it? This is looking very interesting. See NASA’s news post on this here.

A few days ago, they also released an animation of Charon orbiting Pluto in full colour.

Charon orbiting Pluto, barycentric view.
Charon orbiting Pluto, barycentric view.

What’s remarkable is that the colours of Pluto and Charon are so different. It was guessed that they were similar in composition, but now that we see their colours, it makes their relationship more interesting. Pluto is an orange-beige, while Charon is grey.

Ceres has been great to see, but Pluto is the biggest event this year in space exploration, I think.  I can’t wait to see what the surface looks like. Not long to wait, though. It’ll arrive next month, on July 14th. Who’s looking forward to it?

World-Building: The Planet

Now that we have a star chosen, we need to decide the properties of the planet.  There’s a large variety of planet types to choose from, but we need to make sure of one thing, it has to be in a habitable region in the system, or the Goldilocks Zone.  But that’s not all.  There’s a lot to consider.

Creating Your Planet

First, let’s figure out where the planet is.  It needs to be far enough from the star so that it isn’t incredibly hot, and it has to be close enough so it isn’t completely frozen.  This area is the Goldilocks Zone.  I wrote about creating a calendar for a hypothetical planet in this post recently, and it uses the same equation.

D = (Ts^2Rs/2Tp^2)((1-a)/(1-τ/2))^1/2

D is the distance of the planet from the star.  Ts is the temperature of the star (you can figure this out with a Wikipedia search of your chosen star). Rs is the radius of the star (again, use Wikipedia).  The other two variables are what you assign yourself.  First is a, or the albedo of the planet.  An albedo of 1 means that all light is reflected, such as an ice planet.  An albedo of 0 means no light is reflected, which is pretty much impossible.  The Earth is around 0.37.  You can fudge with that number, but the higher you go, the colder it is, the lower you go, the warmer it is.  A forest can be anywhere from 0.09 to 0.18.  Grass is 0.25.  Desert sand is 0.40.  Now, if there were no atmosphere, a desert would be colder than a forest, but that’s not the way it works on Earth.  That’s where the other term comes in, τ.  This is the optical depth of the atmosphere.  If it’s a higher number, it’s hotter, if it’s a lower number, its colder.  Basically, a high number implies a stronger greenhouse effect.  Venus has a very high optical depth.  The Earth’s is about 0.6.  Finally, we have Tp, or the temperature of the planet.  This is the key number you want to set.  If you want an Earth-like world, set it at about 288 Kelvin (or about 15 degrees Celsius). If you want a hot planet, maybe 313 Kelvin is fine.  A cold planet could be 273 Kelvin.  With these numbers, you can choose a range of orbits for your planet.

Now, putting aside the mathematical part, we have to choose a size for the planet.


The above chart shows what planets have been discovered by Kepler.  It’s apparent that Super Earths and Earth-size planets are very common.  Obviously, an Earth-sized planet is ideal if you want an Earth-like world to create.  But the Super Earths create an interesting possibility. However, there’ll be higher gravity, and you’ll possibly have a thicker atmosphere.  But that’s not necessarily true.  What you’ll also get with a larger planet is much more land to play with.  Imagine the exploration possibilities.  There are some other effects of having a Super Earth, though.  Mountains will be smaller, ocean waves will be smaller, animals will likely have thicker and stronger legs, people will become stockier.  A planet smaller than the Earth will have opposite effects.  Mountains are taller, though plate tectonics is less likely.  Possibly no earthquakes or volcanic activity.  This can be a problem with maintaining an atmosphere that can trap heat, unless there’s a healthy plant cover.  The core of the planet will cool more quickly, and a smaller magnetic field could make it a less habitable planet.  People would also have problems with maintaining calcium in the bones, and may be unable to return to Earth.  But if it’s just a bit smaller, it should be no problem.

The surface of the planet is another thing to consider.  How much land will you have?  Earth is around 25% land.  Do you want more land and less water? Sure, go ahead.  It’ll likely be a more arid planet with more extreme summers and winters.  Or do you want more water?  Then you’ll have a more moderate climate, but expect plenty of tropical cyclones.

But what if your planet is a moon of a gas giant, like Pandora in Avatar?  Well, you can go ahead and do that, but if you want scientific accuracy, keep in mind that the tides on the moon will be quite high if it’s close to the planet.  This will mean very strong tides, making any coastal regions very dangerous to live in.  Also, even if the moon is farther from the planet, it’s likely to be tidally locked.  This means one side of the moon will always face the planet.  A larger orbit means longer days.  You could have a world with incredibly long days and nights.  The Earth’s moon has days and nights of 14 days long.  For a habitable world, this would create an interesting way of life, I would think.

You can take as much or as little of this advice as you like.  Remember, it’s fiction.  For a fantasy world, you don’t have to think about this part, unless you want to.

What I did

Ariadne turned out to be in a very favourable position around Beta Comae Berenices.  I took a temperature of 288 Kelvin, an albedo of 0.37, and an optical depth of 0.6 to produce a very Earth-like planet.  It’s slightly larger than Earth at 1.028 its mass.  It has a roughly Earth-like ratio of land to water, consisting of one very large continent and three smaller continents.  It has polar ice caps.  Thanks to the world being in a rather humid period, there are only two major deserts and a lot of tropical rainforests.  It’s a geologically active world with plenty of volcanoes and earthquakes.  The volcanism is a bit more than Earth due to its younger age.  Although I didn’t touch on moons of planets in the above section, Ariadne has two moons, one closer and larger than our Moon, and the other farther and much smaller.  There will be significant tides, of course.

Next time, we’ll take a much closer look at the surface of the world.

Colonising a World: Government

With several thousand people moving to a new world, some kind of organisation is required and a leader is fairly important, or at least a team that works together to lead.  But you can’t just arrive, then choose a government.  It would be chaos.

From the moment colonists are chosen, a leader must emerge. Not just one, but an entire government must be chosen.  Each person has a useful skill for the colony, and some are natural leaders.  They must be charismatic, organised, thoughtful, compassionate, and possess common sense.  They need to organise the colony even before the ship is launched.  On arrival, they must direct everyone to their tasks.  presumably, the lay of the land will already be known, so they must oversee the setup of the colony, and the colonists will know exactly what their jobs are.  In case off emergency, they must have contingency plans prepared.

The initial government need not be large, but there should be people assigned to direct and oversee various aspects, such as infrastructure, energy, agriculture, education, medicine, labour, natural resources, exploration, and so on.  They should be experts at what they manage.

After the dust settles, and everything is running smoothly, a new elected government may be chosen.  If new settlements are formed, they too can choose a local government.

One thing that is important before going is to establish a colony charter, a set of rules that all colonists must abide by.  What would you want to include in the charter?