Category Archives: Source Material

Lots of Little Sources

Here’s a collection of source material that piled up:

Huge Ring System

Astronomers have discovered an exoplanet, in the system, J1407b, which is 200 times the size of the ring system of Saturn. There are also gaps in the rings which they think indicate the presence of moons there. The Contact Light setting has got to have at least one gigantic ring system like this!

Ancient Star System

In other news, Kepler has found an ancient planetary system. The system, Kepler-444, is 11.2 billion years old. It has at least five planets – all of them too hot to support life – but it means ancient systems can exist amidst much younger stars. Planets on which civilizations rose and fell long before life even got started elsewhere.

Science Fiction Atmospheres

In 2005, Prof. Pierrehumbert wrote an essay about Science Fiction Atmospheres.

Intergalactic Winds

There are Intergalactic Winds – I’ll have to do something with them.

TL 8 ASAT Technology

I am always looking to fleshing out those TL charts, and here is an example of TL8 ASAT technology at work.


I think most of you will probably know Starflight, but on the off chance that you don’t – here’s a decent Let’s Play of that 1986 science fiction classic.

(Scott does pretty good space-based game Let’s Play videos IMO.)

Starflight has been cited as one of the biggest inspiration for Mass Effect, and you can easily see many similarities.

Comet Closeup

ESA’s Rosetta/Philae mission has not only reached its destination, but Philae has landed. The landing seems to have been bumpy, but semi-successful.

For our purposes, the most important information is some useful detail on the makeup and looks of a comet.

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All Images are owned by the European Space Agency and used with permission. More on the ESA webpage or flickr feed.

From what I understand, the Philae launcher bounced twice because the ground was much softer than anticipated.

I think that besides the microgravity, one of the most noticeable features of the landscape would be the impossibly large overhangs from the very irregular shape of the comet. There is also outgassing and loose rocks everywhere. From what is being reported, the surface is solid with perhaps 10-12cm dust. In reality, the images of the comet are enhanced; the  color of the comet is described as being “the color of charcoal”, so a character standing on the comet won’t be able to make out distant features and indeed may have trouble navigating without aid. (For a space opera setting like Contact Light, it probably makes sense to simply stick with a more traditional cometary image, that is, icy and white/gray.)

There are organic molecules present, which may or may not be a reason to go there.


Update: Surface, color.

Update 2: The BBC reports on additional features of the comet.

Assorted Source Articles

More source articles that might come in handy:

  • Discovery of a rogue planet – somewhat older article about the discovery of a brown dwarf 100ly from Earth. Not really a planet, but if there’s one then there are many and this means if we need a way station somewhere that isn’t a full planetary system – we can put one where we want it.
  • As part of the Rosetta coverage, BBC posts that comets are surprisingly (to laymen like me, anyway) black rather than the shiny gray or even white one usually imagines them to be.
  • Discovery of a “Lava World”
  • Ocean living – for your water world colonies
  • This article on super-habitable worlds has some good info on what makes a planet habitable – and tackles something people never really consider; could there be a more habitable planet than Earth, and if so, what might it be like?

Freelance Traveller, Asteroids, Comets, Oh My

You’ve probably seen that Freelance Traveller September and October issues are out. Freelance Traveller is a fan-supported magazine. The editor, Jeff, is looking for submissions – check out the guidelines and get in touch with him!

In other news, some US companies are trying to get into asteroid mining. Turns out it’s a bit of a legal minefield, thanks to the Outer Space Treaty. The BBC has an article on the matter.

Finally, Rosetta will land on 67P on November 12th.

August Asides

Rosetta has gone into orbit around 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Some awesome photos have been published already. When you play (read about/work on) a space opera setting such as Contact Light or the original Traveller, it is easy to forget how barren and hostile the universe really is.

In other news, the August issue of Freelance Traveller is out and focuses on Psionics. A shame I did not know this before, as I could have easily worked on that subject. Ah well.

Last but not least, American engineers have created a sheet of plastic that mimics the, err, mimicry of the octopus. It consists of small – 1×1 mm – cells that can change color. There have been other attempts to create an “invisibility cloak” – some that look much more like what we saw in Ghost in the shell, like this example – but I have a feeling this octopus-plastic is going to get adopted to serious uses in a reasonable timespan. In the Contact Light universe, I will assume that high tech combat vehicles will use this instead of painted-on camouflage patterns, one TL higher the sheets and the software that control them become good enough to be used for personal armor, and yet another TL higher it’ll be used for fashion items.


Wild Planets

Planets can be quite strange. We just learned that massive planets can have solid surfaces. That’s not the only weird world that is out there. has a list of 6 Planets that put Sci Fi to shame. It’s an older article but it’ll still serve as source material.

  • Gliese 436 b: “Coated in burning ice”
  • WASP-12b: “Slowly getting eaten”
  • HD 69830c: “Puts Our Night Sky to shame”
  • PSR B1257+12b: “Orbits a Massive Strobe Light”
  • Titan: “Covered in ‘fossil’ fuels”
  • Gliese 581c “Hellish Landscape with black plants and red sky

Astrobites responded with a list of 6 Plantes that put Sci Fi and to shame.

  • GJ1214b: “Planet is a big ball of steam”
  • Kepler-16b: “Has two suns”
  • Kepler-11: “Has six planets inside the orbit of Venus”
  • HD80606b: “Skims its sun”
  • 1SWAP J140747.93-394542.6: “Ring system puts Saturn to shame” (lots of shaming going on)
  • There may be many planets that have no stars at all
  • COROT-7b: “It rains rocks”

It’s probably impossible to account for all this weirdness with an RNG based system, at least one that remains manageable. However, the take-away is that even after decades of finding real exo-planets, we can still get away with designing really odd outlier worlds for our science fiction heroes.