Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Podcast: Recreating Isaac Asimov's 'Nightfall' Solar System

Sunset on a four star world with a nearly invisible gas giant. Artwork courtesy of Dirk Terrell
What would life be like on a planet with six suns? What if darkness only fell once every 2000 years due to the complex orbits of this fictional solar system? Would the people go mad?




This is the world envisaged by Isaac Asimov in his short story Nightfall (1941). The story is more a psychological exploration of an alien civilization, but astrophysicists Smaran Deshmukh (Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education) and Jayant Murthy (Indian Institute of Astrophysics) were curious if the Nightfall system could actually exist. Last July, they published a paper describing their work and we find out more in this week's podcast.

An impression of Kepler-64, the first known planet in a four star system.
Artwork courtesy of Dirk Terrell






















We also talk to Dirk Terrell of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who helped discover Kepler-64, a real-world example of an exoplanet with four suns. Terrell also created the fantastic artwork you see here.
An impending eclipse due to a gas giant, similar to the eclipse of Dovim by Kalgash's moon.
Artwork courtesy of Dirk Terrell
You can read the original Nightfall short story in the space of an hour or two, and it's a fascinating tale. For more details check out the 1990 novel by Asimov and Robert Silverberg. Note that in the podcast we use the names of the stars and planets from the later novel, rather than the slightly different short story names.

Happy listening!

--
By Tamela Maciel, also known as "pendulum"

Podcast music courtesy of James Utterback

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