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With the news this week that the tiny red dwarf star Gliese 581 has a planet, imaginatively labeled Gliese 581 G, situated almost perfectly within it’s habitable zone, I find I’m forced to indulge in a most delightful flight of fancy. Owing to its proximity to the parent star it’s expected that Gliese 581 G will be tidally locked. In other words, like our own moon relative to the Earth, the same side of this planet always faces its ‘sun’.

For me this news was another one of those “Too f***ing cool!” moments with which modern cosmology occasionally, but quite reliably favours me. In my imagination I send out a trailblazing colony mission to settle and explore this new world; unburdened by too many obtrusive facts, since as yet the planet is still the subject of more speculation and theorising than actual knowledge.

Approaching this new system my colonists awaken from their long slumber on the Project Orion style ship, still months away from their destination, and begin the frenetic preparations, observing, calculating, measuring, sampling, recording, debating and celebrating in the freefall periods between the decelerating nuclear pulses. A common theme in their lively discussions being the possibility of finding intelligent lifeforms, and what such lifeforms might think of the regular flashes now appearing in their sky. Were it a pre-industrial society the colonists own experience suggests these might take on some religious significance, appearing as an omen for good or ill. But then who aboard could really claim to comprehend the mind of an undiscovered alien race on a world so very different from their own? Nevertheless the speculation continues unabated, with some expressing unease at the possibility that members of a more advanced civilisation might have identified precisely the nature of this new interstellar intruder, and may even now be preparing some response.
As the months pass and the planet resolves into a rocky world, banded by a clearly ecological zone with a dark blue-green hue that likely photosynthesises the redder wavelengths of the star’s light, the speculation surrounding intelligent life slowly descends into the completely esoteric as none of the expected signs are found to be in evidence. A strange hydrological cycle presents itself, from the constantly frigid dark side with its giant glaciers, an inexorable flow of ancient ice gradually melts as it’s pushed past the transitional zone, carving immense river valleys over eons; the scale of which Mars-born colonists may be prepared for, had they stood gazing out from the rim of the Valles Marineris, but which will leave the Earth-born gaping in complete, uncomprehending awe. From these valleys with their alpine-analog climates the water continues sunward, eventually spreading into seemingly unending and unbearably humid marshlands, before finally evaporating in a salty, cracked and baked desert that itself gives way to a blasted, rocky wasteland under the constant and insufferable glare of a red-hot sun. Any water by this point has long since begun its meteorological pilgrimage, to fall again as fresh snow on the dark side glaciers.

In toward this new world my colonists slowly fall, preparing to dismantle the ship, a network of satellites to be left in orbit and the remainder being given as much material purpose on the surface as could be conceived of prior to launch. This was always a one-way trip. They plan a landing in the most temperate and hospitable valley they can identify, the mission biologists becoming ever more animated as it becomes clear that these valleys often isolate strips of divergent ecologies, while the engineers plan and design their longer-term habitats, voraciously consuming all the data they can on the available material resources, the climatic conditions of their chosen site, and even the wild speculations of the biologists in their own deliberations.

For the final few hours all falls silent, the crew holding their collective breath. The last of the nuclear pulses and a long series of aerobraking maneuvers through the outer planets now lie behind them, a few short minutes of atmospheric violence and fire, an entry rather than a re-entry, is all that now remains of their journey.
In that last hour as spacefarers our intrepid colonists contemplate their new home, a celestial passenger forever bound to its unremarkable Red Dwarf star. In a rare moment of delighted and uncharacteristic agreement they dub it ‘Lister’ and prepare to land.

(The brief history of their colony, and the society it eventually generates in my imagination will have to wait for another time, because now it’s late and well past my bed time.)


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The Dose

What if every act of imagination were the seed from which a new universe grew?
What universes would you then be responsible for having crafted from the ether of the multiverse?
Mine may well be full of zombies, soviet invasions, apocalyptic wastelands, strange empires and their even stranger inhabitants, but I'd like to think that despite their idiosyncrasies they all share a general sense of hope for their respective futures.

My own little universes, made to scale...
They are the Markrocosm.
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