Monday, May 17, 2010

Giant Storms and You

Last night I heard about a series on the National Geographic channel*, all about extra-planetary weather. It promised me storms and giant lightning bolts, which are relevant to my interests. Unfortunately, I don't get the channel in my cable package, but there were videos online.

So I watched them. There was information on what the weather on gas giants (and moons of gas giants, in the case of Titan) looked like. There were CG views of Titan, and CG-enhanced views of San Francisco succumbed to various storms. There were explosions as lightning hit landmarks. And, after making me more nervous about climate change, they added that we'd never get such devastating, longterm, out of control storms on Earth, because we're such a small planet that weather keeps running into things—including other weather.

That put an end to my fantasies of apocalyptic stories in which we do get thunderstorms of toxic gas and acid rain that last for centuries, but sparked a whole other set of ideas—namely that we may have to deal with the aforementioned Storms Of Death during our period of space colonization.

Of course, I'm assuming that we'll be aware of anything screwy with a planet's weather before we send the landing party, but that's not necessarily going to prevent the landing party from leaving the ship. If there's a planet with high plutonium content and we needed plutonium for our spacefleet, we'd probably start a mining colony on it despite just about anything, if the demand was high enough. If a spaceship was having engine/navigation/pirate/police troubles and the only way to solve the problem was to land, they would. And then they'd have to deal with whatever the clouds dropped on them.

Or—if a sentient alien species evolved somewhere like Titan or Venus, what sort of biology would they have to let them cope with their environment? Would we get insectoids with metal carapaces that they shed every six months because of damage from hydrochloric acid rain? Slug-like creatures with acid-based biochemistry, rather than water-based, and who breathed methane? I'm not even getting into what the culture would look like.

Anyway, I've probably talked long enough so here are the videos in question. They're worth watching just for the explosions.






* @NatGeoChannel

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