Gas Giant Texture Tutorial

The final result of all of our efforts.

So here’s my much delayed tutorial for making better gas giant textures. I really did intend to get this posted by Friday, but it proved shockingly slow, with a lot of false starts and dead ends. Particularly shocking since I was starting with an okayish initial image. Meh.

Gas giants aren’t really something I’m looking to map. Any decent gas giant map would almost certainly have to be very three dimensional, and I really do not want to map something that complex in three dimensions. Particularly since it is going to change fairly quickly over time. What I want here is pictures. I want to be able to render a gas giant rising in the sky of one of its moons. I want to be able to show attack ships burning in the light of a crescent gas giant. But since I do want to be able to do these things, I need to figure out how to create a reasonably convincing facsimile of such a thing. That is what this article is about.

For those who want to follow along or examine the decisions(good and bad) that I have made, I have posted a zip file with all of my textures, planetGenesis graphs and blender file here.(ed. We had a problem with Google Drive that delayed posting the zip file, but it is now available. We apologize for the inconvenience.)

I’m starting with planetGenesis for the basic noise. The noise itself is actually pretty simple, and I should be able to implement it in Cycles nodes directly. I originally intended to massage it in Photoshop, though, so I did it in planetGenesis. I may post a tutorial on my manual use of the Photoshop Liquefy filter later, but for now, this puppy is all procedural. I’ll also look into doing this in pure Cycles later as well.

I start by creating a perlin noise with a very low frequency on the x and y coordinates, and a high frequency on the z coordinate. This creates a spherical noise with strong horizontal stripes. In pG, this is a fractal with in this case 4 octaves. The result with only 1 octave would be a straight noise, but I like the final result better with several octaves. Four seems like a good compromise between time and attractiveness of the texture.

This produces our basic noisy stripes.

Next I created a fairly high frequency noise(in all three dimensions). This will serve as a distorting noise to make the general swirling. Connect this to the left channel of a multiply combiner. To the right channel attach a constant value “noise”(Add Noise>Gradients>Constant Value). After quite a bit of experimentation I found that 0.32 was a good strength for this distorting noise. Attach the multiply combiner to the left channel of a warp combiner. This will provide the distorted stripes. In my early experiments, this beauty was pretty satisfactory all by itself. This is what I was originally going to pass into photoshop for further improvement.

These distorted stripes could be a decent gas giant texture all by themselves.

The next part turned into a bit of a spaghetti nodes nightmare, I’m afraid. I created a low frequency noise to control where I would place a few large storms. I clamped this and pushed it down to make a fuzzy mask that only effected a few specific locations. I used this mask to mix between the original distorted noisy stripes and the new storms.

It’s just a mask, so not so pretty, but this controls the placement of the storms and, in the next step provides the control that swirls the existing distorted stripy noise that gives the storms their details. I could’ve swirled yet another noise, but it would’ve made the spaghetti graph even more insane with little visible effect.

Next I passed that mask through a multiply combiner(with a constant that, after experimentation, I set to 9.0), this gave some strength to the distorting effect I applied to the original swirly stripes with another warp combiner. The result was generally a mess. I don’t quite understand why adding zero to the coordinates of the stripy noise causes it to get all distorted. I think that may be a bug in the warp combiner. Since I don’t want to turn this into a coding post, I’m just going to work around that possible bug by mixing the storm-distorted noise with the swirly stripes. Since I have yet to add three-way combiners to pG, the mixer is a bit of a mess. But the results aren’t bad.

Here we have our bigger storms. Unfortunately, it looks even worse than the swirly distorted stripy noise.

I could differentiate these storms from the general background storminess by painting in a different color by hand. Instead, I’m going to add the storm mask directly back into the noise to differentiate the storms from the overall noise after passing it through a multiply combiner with another strength value. This makes the big storms contrast more strongly with the surrounding environment. I ended up going with a -1.0 on that final strength to make a bump map for the clouds as well.

Raising those storms.

Or maybe lowering them…

I also made a full-coverage map of the large storms. I’m thinking that it might work better to mask a gradient map of this in as a separate diffuse color set. This picture will be in the zip file, but I decided not to post it here.

This is the final network I used to render my noises.

I think I have all of the defining noises I need or might need, so it’s on to Blender.

This was a long, drawn out process of trial and error, and I still consider the result to be a WIP. Mt initial idea was simply to plug some of the image textures I generated in planetGenesis into the gas giant material I posted in my last article. This idea fell apart about the time I discarded Photoshop editing in favor of purely procedural rendering. Now, I’m just feeding in the grayscale images as non-color data. This worked well for bumps and strength factors, but required a lot of rejiggering with color data. The color ramps required a lot of playing about to make them look good.

I tried a lot of things like a rough glossy and subsurface transmission. None of these made the effect better, some made it worse. After a lot of trial and error, rendered at half resolution, this was my final working material node graph. For clarity, I have separated nodes into blocks by responsibility.

The bump block was the simplest and most straight forward. I simply loaded my chosen bump texture, ran it through a multiply node with a scalar strength and passed the result into a bump node. I then passed that into the normal vector slot of the diffuse bsdf.

My final material nodes in Blender.

The diffuse block was a bit more complicated. I used my storm mask texture to control mixing between a texture generated by passing the initial storminess texture through a brown-orange to off-white color ramp and a second storm texture generated by a 50-50 mix of the storm coloring noise texture and the so-called great storms texture passed through a dark-red to red to whitish color ramp. The result of all this was passed to the color slot of the diffuse bsdf.

Finally, I generated a somewhat subtle emission shader. This was created by passing the initial storminess texture through an invert node, because I wanted the higher bumps to represent thicker clouds being cooler at higher altitudes and also absorbing more of the heat radiated from the hotter lower clouds. I then multiplied this by an emissive radiation strength(in this case, I settled on 1.0 as a good compromise between subtlety and visibility.  I passed this final strength into the strength slot of the emission shader.

For the color of the emission shader, I passed the initial storminess shader into an orange to ruddy-brown color ramp. In retrospect, I may try a blackbody shader to determine the color for this, but that may work best with multiple cloud layers and volumetric scattering and absorption. Basically, I’d need to scale the input texture to an appropriate temperature range. I’d also need to scale the emission strength realistically for temperature.

I played around a lot with just the emission shader alone to get the effect I wanted, and this really does make a lovely brown dwarf shader. With multiple cloud layers and volumetrics, this should be darn powerful. Maybe even showing the play of light from a nearby star and the glow from a brown dwarf’s internal heat.

I’m really liking the effect I got from this, but at full resolution… It. Is. Slow to render. for such a simple scene, this shouldn’t be taking me four hours to render. I’m thinking I missed something in the optimizations, but if this is really how things are, I’m a little afraid of volumetrics. I’m also thinking that any scene with interesting spacecraft and such will need to be composited from multiple passes. Especially, if my spacecraft have any volumetric transparency, gloss or complicated geometry.

So the final render is what you see at the top of the page.

Beyond, that… yeah I could spend another week polishing this up, but right now I think I just need to get this posted. Thank you for your patience. Until next week, this is The Astrographer signing off.

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Not Dead

Well, I’ve gotten behind and let my post queue evaporate Over Spring Break, I drove the family down to California. It was a good vacation, but I didn’t have a chance to send any posts up the pipe. Since returning, I’ve been sick and tired most of the time. That and the seemingly futile job-hunting have taken a lot of my time. I have been working on some things in the last week or so, but the going’s been slow.

After the last Java update, all my projects on Eclipse were broken, so I needed to fix that up. I managed to get my StarBase stellar database project up and kinda running, but getting PlanetGenesis was first priority.

After a lot of false starts and some slow going, I did get a gas giant texture going using PlanetGenesis to create the backing noise, the Liquify filter in Photoshop to add some nice swirling storms to the effect and a gradient map adjustment to colorize an rgb diffuse texture. A little painting later, and I fed the original swirled 16-bit grayscale bump texture and the diffuse texture I made into Blender and rendered with Cycles. I had some boneheaded issues like feeding the normal vector output through a multiplication node instead of passing the input image texture through the multiply. That caused problems with the shader that took an absurd amount of time to figure out and fix…

Anyway, I do have a pretty…-ish picture to show for all of that(and a lot of Photoshop crashes…), so I’ll share that with you.

I will have a post up next week(I promise!), but I may not get it up by Monday.

Thank you for your patience,
The AstrographerEdit:
Did a little bit more on it. This isn’t a complete thing, but it was good experience and it will help me on my next post. Basically, I added a bit of edge blurring in post to make the planet look a bit more like a big ball of glass and less like a solid plastic ball. This is about the best I can do with what I have here. My actual post for the week will be started from step zero. I’m also posting a zip of the blend file and input imagery, so you can take a look if you like. I spent a bit of time organizing the shader and composition node trees to make it a little clearer what I was doing. On to greater things!

The latest, and last version of this. I hope that I can get that red spot storm to work so well again.

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Using Blender to Bake Icosahedral Maps

Getting back to my usual maps and planetary textures, today I am responding to the comment by Gregrox, here. I did previously make some recommendations for converting equirectangular maps to the icosahedral projection, but Photoshop and Flexify are far from freely available and, unless you’re on a Windows machine, getting Wilbur to run in Wine can be more complex than a novice user might hope for(it might also be a bit screwy in operation. So, here I will detail a method to create a map in icosahedral projection from a map in equirectangular or “latlong” projection.

As an experiment in multi-layered textures based on real-life pictures, I took some extreme close-up pictures of moss, rocks, rust and gravel around my home. In the process, which I shall describe later, I created the following spherical texture.
It’s far from perfect, but as this is simply an example used for the purpose of demonstrating a method I’ll go with this to save time.

First, we’ll open up Blender. I’m currently using 2.78a, but this really isn’t using any advanced concepts, so it should work in any fairly modern version. Delete any objects in the 3d viewport, though you may feel free to keep any lights and a camera. We’ll press shift-a and select the ico sphere mesh object. In the tool options for add icosphere, reduce subdivisions to 1. You should have what looks like a twenty-sided die in your viewport.

Next we’ll create a shader for the icosphere. In the properties panel, select the materials tab. It should look like a ball with a checkerboard pattern. For this example, I’m going to use the Blender internal rendering engine and its shaders. Hit the +button to add a new material slot. Name it “Planet Surface” if you wish. Now go to the textures tab, which is represented by a checkerboard square.  Hit the +button to add a new texture. Name it “Planet Texture” if you like. For type, select Image or Movie. Scroll down to the Image pane, tap the Open button. Next, go down to the Mapping pane. Set the texture coordinates to generated and the projection to sphere. At this point, the shader should be ready to rumble.

To take a look at what you have, set the shading method in the 3d viewport to rendered. For a more spherical view, set the shading to smooth in tools and under the modifiers tab of the properties panel(it looks like a wrench), select subdivision surface. Increase the view subdivisions to 3 and uncheck subdivide UVs.

Admire the view.

I went to a lot of trouble to remove the polar pinching, and it didn’t show up in the rotated Flexify orthographic projection at all, but somehow Blender is always good at finding the pinch. I found a little asterisk of pinching at the upper left hand quarter of the globe. I’m just hoping that doesn’t show up in the bake. Other than that, there’s little to do about it at this point…

The next step is to do the UV-mapping so we can bake this to a texture.

Go to edit mode in the 3d viewport. Hit the a key until you’ve deselected everything. Make sure that you are in edge selection mode. Select the five edges around the North Pole then flip the icosahedron over and select the five edges around the South Pole. Next select one edge across the midsection of the icosahedron.

In the tools, select the Shading/UVs tab. Scroll down to the UVs pane. Mark seam. Now open the UV/Image Editor. Tap + to create a new image. I did mine at 2048×1024 resolution. Press r to rotate and g to move and s to scale the UV outlines to fit over the image bounds.

Now go back to the Properties area, select the Render tab and scroll down to the bake pane. Set bake mode to Textures and press the Bake button.

Now go back to the UV/Image Editor to view your image.

Please try this method. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. I’m trying to get to them more quickly than I have in the past. Even if it proves difficult to put together, once you have it rigged once, you can just plug different pictures into it and use it as is.

Thank you,
The Astrographer

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The Ksufesh Wyvern

The Ksufesh Wyvern is an airborne predator which has used its speed and flying ability to nest in extensive caverns high in the mountains of Ksufesh’s largely desolate continents, keeping the young safe from most predators while the parents are away on long hunting expeditions in the seas of Ksufesh.

The scales on the upper body of the adult Ksufesh wyvern are richly impregnated with lead and other heavy minerals to protect it from incoming radiation. During outbursts of radiation from Gzietsia3741 B, young wyverns are forced to remain in the caverns until they can develop their thick leaden scales  Due to the weight of lead in the wyvern’s scales, they can only fly due to the high density of the planet’s atmosphere, thin hollow bones and a lightweight body structure other than the beefy wings.

Ksufesh wyverns are excellent burrowers well adapted to quickly digging tunnels when they can’t find unoccupied natural tunnels and to expanding their existing nesting warrens. To help in digging through hard rock, wyverns produce and store a powerful acid and spray it out accurately to considerable distances. This also provides them with an excellent defensive weapon. Ksufesh wyverns are excellent swimmers, spending most of their time swimming in the seas of Ksufesh hunting the prolific marine fauna.

The only significant predator of the Ksufesh wyvern is the Damnthing, a large predatory species of “flying fish” capable of swimming faster than a wyvern and even leaping high out of the water to pounce on wyverns as they slowly rise up into the air.

During extended radiation outbreaks, the lead-impregnated scales can grow so heavy that the wyvern can lose the power of flight. During these periods, a wyvern can hibernate for months on very limited food.

Thank you for reading,
The Astrographer

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Life in the Bubble, part 2

Here I am going to lay out some basic assumptions about the physical universe of our world.

FTL is possible. Not only is it possible, but it works, is fairly cheap and not a lot of trouble. It is based on the work of Miguel Alcubierre and Chris Van Den Broeck and others. The first practical FTL warp drive prototype flew in the mid- to late- 23rd century. FTL drives capable of 1 light year/day pseudo velocity are common with a typical effective range of about 9 light years in a single jump. The jump range of an FTL warp drive is governed by accuracy of astrogation and an increasing tendency to get captured onto the gravitational shadow of stars neighboring the path of travel. A warp drive ship will always drop out of warp somewhere around the 1/10,000th gee isograv of a massive body. If the astrogation is successful and the ship exits at the expected body, there will be no unfortunate side effects. The farther it exits warp from where expected, the greater the chance of a high-energy feedback effect that could wreck the engine, destroy the ship or possible even worse. The upshot of this is that the range of a warp ship can be longer in less densely populated parts of the galaxy and shorter in more densely populated regions. This also makes it difficult to, “thread the needle,” past a star close to the path between two stars. The farther the jump, the harder it is. Could one potentially, then, travel to another galaxy if one were far enough from the clutter of this one? Yes. Possibly. At least that’s the theory. Of course, the density of the stellar population does not effect the speed the ship travels at, so at 1 light year/day, that would take about 6,000 years to travel to the Andromeda Galaxy 2,200,000 light years away. Better pack for a long trip!

The fastest cutting-edge human ships are capable of as much as 5 light years/day, although that requires very expensive equipment and most of the ship’s mass and volume to be dedicated to drive and power systems. Even then, the effective range of a single jump hasn’t increased by much. The most advanced ships might be capable of as much as 9.3 light years if the astrogator is skilled and willing to take risks. These are not necessarily the fastest ships as optimizing for speed is different from optimizing for range. Long jumps are safer, easier and more reliable over more familiar trajectories. For popular trade routes near Sol, full 9 light year jumps can be considered safe and routine. For a ship exploring unknown space, it might be best to keep the individual legs to under 8 light years unless one has extensively travelled among stars near to both termini. The expense of a cutting-edge range-optimized drive can be considered a good investment for an explorer. Even if he has no intention of going beyond the 9 light year limit. or even 8…

Habitable worlds are common. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have Earthlike planets everywhere, but if the planet is orbiting in a pretty wide Goldilocks zone, is old enough to have developed photosynthetic life, and is in a pretty wide size range, it’ll be lifebearing. Also, there’s a whole range of non-Terrestrial forms of life that widens the range considerably, but that doesn’t make a planet habitable by any human definition. It sure adds interest, though. Keep in mind, a lot of those,”habitable,” planets are pretty marginal to hostile to humans. Still, there are a whole lot more Earthlike worlds than expected. There are also hugely more Marginal worlds where humans can get along with a minimum of help, although they might not like the place. There are still many systems with no habitable planets in them, not even for,”Life As We Don’t Know It.” With the limit on the range of the warp drive, people are going to have to stop at a lot of places that aren’t at all hospitable. And just like little towns that sprung up in the desert along Route 66, someone will set up in any frequently trammeled system to try freeing the travelers of the cash in their pockets. Or sometimes even just to avoid contact with the rest of civilization…

Even if every star system had a living planet(which isn’t true), our own Solar system is a good indicator of how much uninhabitable territory you can find in a system with a habitable planet and how much interest that territory holds.

The usual idea was to look for planets around F, G and K stars. Only the smaller, cooler, longer-burning F-class stars, of course! Well G and K are still the winners, here. I’ll usually run the Accrete program about ten times for each of these stars and take the result I like best. The smaller F class stars I’ll run three times, and if they prove to be too young for life, then I guess we’ll end up with the kind of thing the 2300AD RPG referred to as Pre-Garden worlds. Easily-terraformable and if the star doesn’t kill them in the meantime, they may even develop life, but not right now.

In addition, many M class stars seem like they may be likely to host habitable planets, and they certainly have plenty of time to develop life. Possibly, while a lot of the M class stars are flare stars, which complicates things for a potentially habitable world, a majority of habitable worlds orbit M class stars. Pretty much all of them will be face-locked and thus at least a bit strange.

Even with all this, and with my finger on the scale, the majority of the stars will not host habitable planets. Not even places for sulfur-breathing, silicon-based aliens… No habitable planets around O’s or B’s or A’s. No habitable planets around larger F’s. Even most of the smaller F, G, K and M stars won’t have planets. At a guess, I’d say 30% of the G’s and K’s and 5 or 10% of the M’s. Still pretty shockingly common.

Lots of complex life. Most planets that can have life, will have life. Most planets that can have complex multicellular life will have it. And. Most planets that can have interesting megafauna from bigger than your fist to as big as a brontosaurus or Blue Whale, will have such things. This is just an aesthetic choice on my part.

Intelligent life is rare. This is a universe where finding something smarter than a monkey is important. Finding neolithic tribesmen is monumental. And other starring life forms are few and far between. Humanity has contacted perhaps half a dozen starfaring life forms including itself. Most of these were discovered by far-ranging deep space explorers and remain inconveniently far away. We’ve also encountered about twice that number of species in the Paleolithic-to-2050AD range of technologies. We’ve also discovered about a score of “graveworlds” planets that had once been host to intelligent life that had attained a degree of development between Industrial Age and Late Space Age and then been wiped out. Some of these planets are now barren post-Garden. Some of them are desolated, but still alive. Sometimes the sophonts are extinct, sometimes they are merely uncivilized primitives, scratching at the ruins at the ruins of their former greatness. Sometimes the worlds have recovered and grow lush over the ruins of the dead. In one case, the survivors managed to fight way back into space and are now one of the very few starfaring species. These places are grim sobering reminders that humanity in 2448 is still slowly negotiating it’s way over the boundary between scarcity and plenty and we haven’t been following the path of those who successfully made the transition. The good news is, we’ve reached the stars and spread wide, perhaps wider than the conflagration of our future doom might reach.

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Food in the 25th Century

When discussing the dietary habits of humans in 2448, it is useful to differentiate the population groups. In general, most people from Earth tend to lump Spacers, Settlers, Colonists, Loonies, Martians, Belters and Outies together as,”Spacers,” but they display a great deal of diversity. In the more specific terminology used by people off-Earth, “Spacers,” are itinerants who spend most of their working lives on spacecraft, a subset of this is the “Wanderers,” who travel mostly from birth to death in large family groups aboard,”clanships.” “Colonists,” are people who live in orbital or Lagrange wheel colonies near Earth as well as those living similarly in extra-solar systems. “Loonies,” and,”Martians,” are people who live respectively on the Moon and Mars. “Belters,” is the term for people who live and work among the asteroid belts of the inner system to out beyond Mars. “Outies,” is an even more generic term for anyone who lives around Jupiter and beyond in the Solar system. “Settlers,” is applied to those who live, mostly on habitable planets, beyond the Solar system. For the purposes of this essay, “spacers,” will be used in the generalized sense common on Earth, but some note will be taken on variations within the larger group. When capitalized, it can be taken specifically to refer to shipboard individuals.

By 2448, some variation on vegetarianism is nearly universal on Earth, with considerable use of yeast-, fungus- and algae-based foods. Carniculture was perfected in the mid-2090s, but never became terribly popular on Earth. Due to a lack of available arable space, people on spacecraft typically enjoy a similar diet to people on Earth. They tend to eat a larger fraction of microbial foodstuffs more easily produced in the confined space of ships, and they supplement with preserved meat purchased while at dock and stored aboard. With more space available for agriculture, Colonists, Loonies and Martians frequently have more real vegetables and fruits in their diets, similar to those on Earth. Carniculture is far more popular in space than on Earth, and many Colonists, Loonies and Martians even have actual animal meat as a regular part of their diet, particularly rabbit, duck, chicken, guinea pig and fish as well as dairy and egg products. Life in the outer system is frequently more like shipboard life, small and cramped, even for settled people, thus the diet resembles that of the Spacers, although with less access to preserved meat or meat of any kind, though some of the larger bases(particularly on Ganymede and Titan) can produce carniculture meat.

The diet on extrasolar habitable planets is similar to that on the larger colonies or on the Moon and Mars, but with more food derived from alien organisms where available and compatible with human biochemistry. Some Settlers also consume the meat of larger mammals such as beef, pork and mutton, or even alien megafauna. A large fraction of extra-Solar settlement is by people born on Earth, though, and so they frequently share an Earthperson’s squeamishness about eating larger animals except in the carnicultured form.

Although food converters can produce food blocks and nutrient mush suitable for human consumption from any raw organic matter(most carbon-based plant or animal life biochemically compatible or not, petrochemical hydrocarbons, garbage and sewage among other less-speakable sources), they are not well-regarded as they are essentially tasteless, or worse. It is commonly said that the output of a food converter generally tastes something like a blend between sawdust and whatever the feedstock was. With more diversity of feedstock, the food produced tastes more like sawdust, and less like… whatever. Instead, except on small deep-space exploration ships, where storage is at a premium and even algae-growth equipment can be inconveniently large, food converters are generally used to simplify bio-matter recycling, converting wastes into fertilizer for plants or feed for livestock or even as fuel for machinery. When forced to rely on converter food, spacers typically keep large stocks of spices, herbs and other flavorings, particularly hot and pungent spices which can go a long way towards covering the flavor of many times recycled solid human waste. Converter food is generally considered to taste more like whatever was fed into the machine the more times it cycles through…

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it,
The Astrographer

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Life in the Bubble, part 1

Human Space

The distribution of humans is still very much concentrated near Earth, but they are spread very widely. Of the roughly 27 billion humans alive in 2448, about 18 billion live on the Earth, 7.5 billion live spread about the Solar system and about 1.5 billion humans live outside the Solar system. The Earth is divided into around a hundred largely peaceable nations with fairly liberal immigration and legal systems. Most of the population is concentrated to Earth-orbital, cis-lunar and lunar stations, with a smaller number on Mars. The asteroid belt and beyond are largely inhabited by itinerant workers in some resource extraction business, with the population density quickly dwindling beyond Jupiter. Beyond the Solar system, the vast majority of humans are in permanent settlements on earth like worlds near Sol. Beyond that, it’s mostly widely spread explorers and prospectors, with a few small enclaves established to maintain friendly relations with the few starfaring alien species humanity has yet encountered.

Human Governments and Fleets

The Interstellar Commonwealth is a loose affiliation of Earth nations and human settlements throughout most of known space. The nations on Earth are mostly autonomous as are the governments of the Moon, Mars and the largest extrasolar settlements. Smaller human settlements are established and run by the Commonwealth, itself, one or another member nations or by one of the larger megacorporations. There are a few wildcat colonies out on the periphery. While the popular media on Earth and the inner colonies tend to portray the wildcats as lawless anarchies or pirate stations, the vast majority are peaceable and lawful. They simply, for one reason or another, desired independence from the governance of Earth. For comparison purposes, the IC has a role largely similar to the old United Nations, but more cohesive and with genuine enforcement powers.

The Interstellar Commonwealth Space patrol is a highly professional, skilled and disciplined military and police force equipped to the latest and highest quality human technological standards. In times of crisis, the ICSP can also enlist the aid of the IC Survey and Exploration Service, a civilian government agency charged with exploration of distant systems and survey work on inhabited worlds. While the SES is civilian and many of the ships and crew of the SES are independent contractors, it is recognized that deep space exploration is a potentially hazardous business, so exploration ships are well protected and  even many of the independent contractors are at least lightly armed. On the periphery, where the law can be thinly spread and piracy is a distinct hazard, civilian freighters can be permitted some anti-piracy armaments in exchange for agreements to come to the aid of the ICSP when needed.

Until recently, most of the IC Space Patrol’s forces have been designed entirely with law enforcement in mind. The most significant fighting expected by an ICSP ship would have been taking down a pirate gang or smugglers. Trepidation about the earliest contacts with starring aliens led to the construction of a small fleet of now quite elderly purpose-built warships. Recent tensions between the IC, the corporate league and the Union of Soviet Soviet Systems has spurred the ICSP to modernize its existing warships and begin building new ones.

The corporate league is a loose defensive coalition between interstellar corporations for the most part originally chartered on Earth. Technically, almost all of these corporations are subject to the laws of the IC, although a few of the smaller corporations are chartered out of larger interstellar colonies, the Moon or Mars. The corporate league has no united military forces of its own and in fact no official existence. “Corporate league,” was an appellation coined by journalists which managed to stick, as,”loose collection of defensive agreements between interstellar corporations…,” was, while accurate, rather unwieldy. Driven by a mutual antipathy and increasingly frequent hostilities with the USS and dislike of regulation by the IC(and on the IC’s part, suspicion of increasing lawlessness and efforts to illegally influence IC politics by some of the megacorps), some of the larger(and usually less lawful) corporations are beginning to fit out ships for combat. Most of this activity has been carried out at newly-built shipyards on the periphery of human space, beyond the prying eyes of IC regulators and USS spies.

The state of corporate fleets vary greatly. Most are genuinely dedicated to protecting corporate shipping from pirate activity, though some are used for smuggling. Only a few of the largest corporations have built larger warships, and this construction has been covert. The quality is also highly variable. Some of the largest megacorps have forces as modern and disciplined as those of the ICSP, with a great deal of anti-piracy and counter-smuggling experience. Others are quite laid-back, obsolescent, inexperienced, ill-maintained or sometimes all of the above. While the overall forces that the corporations could gather would rival or even outnumber the Space Patrol, much of that force would be poorly prepared for a serious fight and in the event of a civil war it is likely that many of those forces would side with the Commonwealth or prosecute rivalries against other corporations. The biggest firms like the Amicus Corporation, Yukawa Industrial and Tritanium Enterprises are already clearly, if quietly committed to the illegal construction of warships, an offense that would result in immediate loss of charter and liquidation of assets were the ICSP and the IC’s courts not so hamstrung by corporate influence. The situation brewing between the Commonwealth and the corporate league seems ripe for civil war, and skirmishes have already begun. So far, though, the actions have been deniable and attributed to pirate activity. Lately, many of the pirate gangs seem suspiciously well-equipped.

The Union of Soviet Systems is a recently-formed alliance of socialist-leaning colonies gathered together to defend their newly-won independence from the Commonwealth and fight corporate incursions into their systems and those of their neighbors. Not all of their neighbors appreciate the ostensible help. Some of those neighbors have requested aid from the ICSP or corporate forces to restrict USS interference. Some of those requests were genuine, others were engineered to support corporate attacks against the Union.

Except for the somewhat “cutesy” name, this group is by no means a resurgence of Chinese or Russian or Korean communism. In fact, it has no connection to any 20th century socialist movement of note, although it does have a loose lineage connecting it to Scandinavian socialism and some democratic and anarchist socialist movements in mid- to late-21st century North American politics. Although they jealously guard a buffer zone around their little pocket of systems, and they’d be happy to help nearby systems slough off the yoke of corporate dominance if they had the resources, any slight interest they might have in expansionism is limited by the sparse population and good resources of their existing systems and the ready availability of uninhabited systems further out. Besides, they are fully engaged in trying to hold on to what they have and not stupid enough to risk squandering their freedom by grasping too greedily.

The corporate league, for their part, and particularly the Amicus Corporation, which has a lot of investments near USS space, would be far more interested in squashing the Union than any fight with the Commonwealth, but with corporate infighting, the remoteness of USS space and the recent capture by Union Marines of a suspiciously well-equipped yet poorly prepared pirate base on Gimel3129, a radioactives-rich planet orbiting a white dwarf in a planetary nebula on the Union’s border, their their efforts have so far been stymied.

The USS Marines managed to capture a huge cache of shipboard munitions, ship construction and maintenance equipment and a large number of industrial fabricators, many of them brand new, still in their cases. Had a USS informant not overheard a drunken pirate, in a starport bar, bragging about the base they were building in the planetary nebula, the base might have been completed. Given the equipment found, it could easily have become a formidable fortress, beyond the ability of the Union’s limited forces to overcome. This has made the USS skittish and put their forces on high alert.

The Commonwealth, on the other hand, has little interest in the Union, largely washing their hands of it. Unfortunately, they can’t tolerate corporate aggression against a now independent power, so they are watching the situation closely.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this,
The Astrographer

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More posts forthcoming…

Just as a quick aside, I now have posts up the pipe for Monday, March 12th and Monday, March 19th. I’m going to try to make Monday posts a regular thing. I’ve already finished a post for Monday, March 26th.

Thank you for reading my little blog,
The Astrographer

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The Planet Ksufesh(First WIP)

Ksufesh is the second of three* planets orbiting Gzietsia3741C*, the least massive of three* stars in the Gzietsia3741 system.

Of the other two* stars in the system, Gzietsia3741A* is the most massive and is currently in a red giant stage. Gzietsia3741B* is the neutron star remnant from the supernova that destroyed the formerly largest star in the system around 4-5 billion years ago*. Consequently, Gzietsia3741B* is a fairly old neutron star and has cooled and quieted considerably since its violent origin.

The supernova certainly disrupted the young system even as it was forming. The Gzietsia3741A system is only orbited by one 50 Earth mass gas giant, although it is possible that it had once had more planets closer in that were swallowed as it expanded into its red giant stage*. Gzietsia3741A and B orbit each other fairly closely, but well beyond the Roche limit even of the greatly expanded red giant star.

Gzietsia3741C has an orbit widely separated from A and B. Currently it only has three planets. The innermost planet of Gzietsia3741C is a tiny scorched ball of rock only about the mass of Earth’s Moon*. Ksufesh is the second* planet in the system, with a mass a little bit greater than that of the Earth. The third* planet in the system is a small gas giant(gas midget?) similar to Neptune, with about nine Earth masses.

All of these planets may have been considerably larger before the supernova scoured the system, or, conversely, they may have been enlarged or even created from the gas and dust injected by the supernova itself. In any, the surfaces of all the planets in the system have been greatly enriched with heavy metals in the aftermath. These heavy elements include lead, gold, strontium, mercury, arsenic, tantalum, lanthanum, thorium, uranium and even some of the longer-lived isotopes of plutonium and other transuranic elements, possibly including some Island-of-Stability aka-metals. All of this would make this system a motherlode for miners from Earth while at the same time making Ksufesh rather toxic to humans.

Any habitable planet’s atmosphere would be sufficiently thick to absorb the x-rays from a neutron star most of the time, but frequent burst of hard radiation have stripped Ksufesh of its ozone layer several times, exposing its surface to ultraviolet radiation from its own star and cosmic sources, including the neutron star. This has forced life on Ksufesh to evolve means of handling the effects of that radiation. In spite of several mass extinctions traceable to the effects of the neutron star, life on Ksufesh has largely been successful in adapting. Deep sea organisms are mostly immune to the effects of extra-planetary radiation. Many photosynthetic organisms in the shallower seas are capable of functioning for a time without the benefit of sunlight in deeper layers of the sea. What land life there is has concentrated elements like lead into their outer integument or shells to protect from radiation and some also limit their active lives to times when the neutron star is below the horizon. Interestingly, the biochemistry on this planet is fairly Earthlike. If everything wasn’t so toxically imbued with heavy metals a lot of the lifeforms on the planet would be edible to humans. As it is, food derived from this planet would have to be heavily treated to leach out those heavy metals so they can be filtered. People on Ksufesh would do well to stay covered and not breathe too much of the dust.

I am currently researching whether such a planet is strictly possible and just how extreme the environment may be. If it proves realistically impossible for such a planet to exist, I will have to move the Moh’s scale of science fiction hardness for this world a bit more toward the Star Trek end of things and consider this planet to be just a bit more hostile than initially planned.

*A lot of numerical values for this planet and its system are still uncertain. Although, I find having the red giant in the system interesting, I’m concerned that it may be causing too much mass infall onto the neutron star, which may pump up activity that would ruin the chances for Ksufesh, even given Star Trek-level scienciness.

Thank you for reading,
The Astrographer

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Sorry About the Delay

I’m very sorry for the delay in getting the next post up. The weekend is very much not my own time. I should have taken that into account. I will get the next post up ASAP.

Thank you for your patience,
The Astrographer

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