I’ve been messing around with Space Engine again. Over the last few days I’ve managed to find a handful of planets with pretty interesting features that I guess I could share. If I keep messing around with this game maybe this could turn into a bit of a series.
If you haven’t read my previous posts on this “game,” Space Engine is a sort of interactive planetarium where you can explore an entire virtual universe from the smallest hill to the biggest galactic cluster. It’s being built by Russian astronomer and programmer Vladimir Romanyuk, who’s using procedural generation (similar to Elite and No Man’s Sky) to create virtual representations of known space objects as well as plausibly realistic educated guesses at what might all be out there. Thus, the planets I’m going to talk about here are things that could plausibly exist according to our current knowledge of science.
Exotic Life In Extreme Cold
Like I said in an earlier post, Space Engine currently doesn’t render aliens but will list a statistic telling whether a planet has life (sometimes shown as a green grass texture) and what kind of life that is (multicellular, marine, terrestrial, etc.). Usually that life occurs in “pleasant temperatures” which you usually get a moderate distance away from main sequence stars like our own sun. This planet is nothing like that and still has life.
It has what Space Engine calls “exotic” life which I think just means it’s based on something other than carbon. This life persists on a planet with an average temperature of negative 284 degrees Fahrenheit (about -176 Celsius), orbiting two weak suns. One of them I believe is a red dwarf. The other is a white dwarf which seems to give off no heat or light at all. White dwarfs are sort of like black holes. They even have that gravitational lens effect you see in the movie Interstellar. The planet orbits these stars at about 60 percent of the distance between the Earth and our sun.
Another cool aspect is this planet is covered by clouds so thick you can’t see the surface at all from space. It’s sort of like Venus or Titan in this respect. Neither of the suns nor the planet’s sole moon are visible from the surface.
The Black Pearl
When we’re talking systems of multiple stars, most people probably just imagine a system of planets orbiting a couple stars. Many however are quite different. I’m not sure how actual scientists figured this out, but a different kind of “multiple system” seems to be quite common in both Space Engine and Elite. Essentially, a lot of them are just groups of small solar systems orbiting each other at relatively close distances. You might have two read dwarfs orbiting each other, but each one might have a system of planets of its own. You also tend to get planets in these systems that orbit all these stars from way out, but they tend to be so far away from their suns that they get almost no light or heat at all. They’re usually just pitch black balls of ice, rock, and gas, but I ran into one that’s quite different.
One moon orbiting a gas giant on the outer rim of a multiple star system manages to maintain a global ocean — a water world, in near total darkness. It may be hard to make out in the images above. The top image shows the planet from an orbital view, which you can see as a big gap blocking the background stars. The second image is from the surface where you can see the suns its orbiting on the horizon. The blackness in the bottom half of the picture is the ocean.
The moon has three suns: two red dwarfs and a white dwarf, but its host planet orbits these stars at about 105 times the distance between Earth and our sun. Despite getting basically no light, this moon actually manages to maintain a toasty surface temperature of 138 degrees Fahrenheit (58 Celsius). Again, I’m not an astrophysicist or anything but I think its thick atmosphere might have something to do with it — it has around 16 times Earth’s atmospheric pressure at sea level.
The Earth With A Speedy Moon
This next planet I found is pretty Earth-like. It’s got oceans, vast continents, and an okay average surface temperature of 48 Fahrenheit (8 Celsius). It doesn’t have any life though. At only 87 million years old it’s probably way too young for that (it took 500 million years for the first cells to show up on Earth). Gravity is two-and-a-half times Earth’s.
But when examining the planet I found I’d caught it in the middle of a solar eclipse. In Space Engine you can actually see the shadow a moon casts over a planet’s surface during a solar eclipse, and from the surface you can see the eclipsed sun. When trying to catch a screenshot of this however the eclipsed area kept shifting, and I made sure time in the game was moving at normal speed. Checking the stats on this planet’s main moon (is has 17 in total) I found that it actually orbits the entire planet in about nine hours (the planet has about 1.7 times Earth’s diameter). The planet also has only a nine-hour day.
There were other planets I found but I think I’ll save those for later posts.One reason I’m doing this is to display how varied the planet generation in Space Engine can get. Building blocks like diameter, gravity, atmospheric pressure, composition, the kinds of stars planets orbit, and the moons orbiting them all have effects that create more and more variety. I’ve probably spent dozens of hours playing this game and keep finding new things. Hopefully No Man’s Sky will have a similar level of variation in its planets.
- A remake of the Genesis game Target Earth is coming to North America on PlayStation 4 and PC. http://www.siliconera.com/2016/04/06/assault-suit-leynos-coming-north-america-europe/