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Altair is my planet of focus for Vast Worlds, with most of the lead characters at least hailing from the world even if the scene is not actually set on the surface. In a way it is rather idealised, becoming the old classic of the characters home town being the one where the author wishes to live, but I have tried to rise above the stereotype and give the place a realistic background with its own darker side. Still, things tend to be a bit more idyllic than they have any right to be any.

Anyway, Altair is a bright sun roughly seventeen light-years from Earth, and the system is actually fairly sparsely populated, with only two rocky dwarfs and a single gas giant in the outer system[1]. Due to the mix of elements, the planets are quite light, with Altair II (the colony) possessing only about four fifths of the gravity of Earth, even though it has roughly the same radius. This also gives them a deficit in heavy metals, though as it a solar system, this only increases costs of exotic elements and doesn’t prevent them from being found at all[2].

Altair II is a snowy world, with the global temperature at just bellow freezing, and this actually leads to an odd situation where the temperature is rarely low enough to form permanent ice sheets, but never high enough for liquid water. During the day, the top layer of snow vaporises, and practically doubles the density of the thin atmosphere. Then, at night as the temperature drops back off, the water re-solidifies to form a dusting of snow across the whole planet[3]. Because this occurs roughly two hours after sunset there is actually a permanent snow storm travelling around the planet and it is easily visible from space as a band of cloud reaching from pole to pole.

Terraforming is actually rather rapid, and mostly based around biological control mechanisms[4]. Extremely thermophobic bacteria from Earth’s deep ocean trenches (heavily modified) are spread around the planet, and are actively photosynthesising the trace carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This produces oxygen but more importantly heat, which has already increased global temperatures by two degrees and a thin line of permanent melt water now rings the equator of the planet. The exposed surface is now home highly basic plants, extracting carbon from the curst of the planet and replenishing the rapidly dwindling supplies in the atmosphere.

Because of the shape of the continents, Altair is being terraformed to be cooler than Earth, mostly to maximise the amount of temperate land on planet for farming[5]. This will create lower seas, large ice caps, and the thinnest band of ‘tropical’ terrain around the equator which many see as a shame as the planet will not possess the sheer variety of life that Earth does. Others respond that that is true, but we’ll never be short of penguins.

[1] The giant, Kale, is near inexplicably pink. This is actually due to the mix of gasses and the amount of UV radiation the sun puts out, but still the Altairians actually feel a little embarrassed about how effeminate their planet is.

[2] Actually, the majority come from Altair I, which could be easily compared to Sol’s Mercury.

[3] The thin atmosphere spreads the snow fairly evenly across the planet as it diffuses very quickly. Due to the axial tilt, this means that one hemisphere always has huge drifts of snow, while the other a mere dusting. This change is seasonal.

[4] But what else would you expect from the capital of genetics?

[5] Though the residents have not realised they’ll never need that much farmland.


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