Sunday, December 23, 2012

One Planet With Four Suns

SF authors are not adverse to exploring alien planets. I remember a story that took place on a planet that had a severely elliptical orbit around its sun. I don’t remember details of the orbit, but let’s say it took this planet 100 Earth years to go around its sun once. For about 75 of those years, the planet was too cold to sustain life. Everything hibernated. As the planet finally approached the sun, things thawed out; people, plants and animals woke up and went about their business. They would have about 8 (of our years) of an ever-warming spring, an equally long hot, hot summer and then a gradually cooling autumn before they all hibernated again. Weird, huh?
A lot of planets these authors explore have multiple moons. Sometimes a colony would be on a world orbiting a binary star. I was as fascinated by reading about these unusual planets as the authors were in their exploration of them.
At that time, the existence of planets outside our own solar system was an unknown. These days, scientists seem to be finding them all over the place, and the assumption is that they’ve only seen the glint shining off the iceberg.
I was thumbing through the latest Discover magazine, which goes through the top 100 discoveries made in 2012. It states over 100 planets were discovered in 2012, and it had brief descriptions of 3 of them. The one that really caught my attention was PH1, which orbits a binary star. That was enough to make me remember the unusual planets I read about as a kid, but PH1 doesn’t stop there. PH1’s binary stars are also orbited by another binary star!
Try and imagine what days and nights would be like on PH1. I’ve tried, but my brain circuits tend to start sizzling after a while. To get you started, remember that 2 suns would be in the sky each day, although twice a year, one of those stars would be behind the other. The other two suns would be even further away, I assume, and I’m not sure how close they would need to be in order to be seen from the planet as ‘small suns’ and not just a pretty light. If they are seen as little suns, they would spend most of their time also in the daylight sky, perhaps disappearing behind the big suns, or being faded out by the light of the big suns. At regular intervals, however, the little suns would emerge from behind the big suns and move around to the night time sky for several years until they slipped back into the daytime again.
And that brings us to nomenclature and religion of any people living on PH1. Would they call it First and Second sunrise, First and Second sunset, with a special term for when the main suns appear to be merged? Would they have special terms for the ‘night suns’? Would the small suns be seen as ‘enemies’, sneaking behind the planet for nefarious means? What do you think?
I’m going to put this in a pot on the back burner and see if a story grows.

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