Sunday, December 30, 2012

Did we just discover Plateau?

Science News: News in brief: Possible planet looks habitable
Candidate body pushes limit of astronomical detection
By Alexandra Witze
Web edition: December 19, 2012
The closest single star like the sun — Tau Ceti, 12 light-years away — may harbor five planets slightly more massive than Earth. One may even lie in the star’s habitable zone.
According to the analysis, Tau Ceti is surrounded by five planets that weigh between two and six Earth masses and take between 14 and 640 days to orbit the star. The one reported in the habitable zone is a five-Earth-mass planet with a period of 168 days.
For a science fiction fan, discovery of a habitable planet around Tau Ceti would be very significant, as the list of planets around the star in Tau Ceti in fiction indicates.  Since this blog has a Niven and Pournelle theme, I'll quote the entry on the two they created for their fiction.
A Gift from Earth (1968), Known Space novel by Larry Niven. The colony world Plateau in the Tau Ceti system lives by a rigorous code: All crimes are punishable by involuntary organ harvesting, while organ transplants are reserved to the benefit of the aristocracy. A robotic Bussard ramjet (see graphic) arrives from Earth, bearing a gift that will upset the unstable social balance on Plateau.[16] The relative proximity of Tau Ceti to the Earth (with a turnaround point at UV Ceti) is an important plot element in the novel, enabling Plateau to be isolated from the mother planet, and yet still close enough to receive occasional cargoes via ramjet.
Tau Ceti also makes a cameo appearance in The Ethics of Madness, as noted in the Wikipedia entry on Known Space.
Plateau in the Tau Ceti system is Venus-like, with a plateau (called Mount Lookitthat), half the size of California, rising high enough out of the dense atmosphere to be habitable. Inhabitants ("Mountaineers") are divided into two rigid hereditary castes, the "crew" and the "colonists", depending on whether their ancestors piloted the colonizing vessel. The crew are the upper caste, and hold power through their monopoly on organ transplantation and control of the police. The original colonists signed the "Covenant of Planetfall", agreeing that this outcome was just recompense for the labors of the crew during the voyage; that they signed at gunpoint as they were awakened from hibernation is kept secret from later generations, and also that those who refused, died. This repressive system is overthrown in A Gift From Earth, and the former inequality and caste system appears to have disappeared by the time The Ethics of Madness takes place.
Now for a planet that both Niven and Pournelle created.
The Legacy of Heorot (1987), first novel in the Heorot trilogy (1987–1997) by Larry Niven, Steven Barnes, and Jerry Pournelle. Two hundred colonists arrive on the paradise world Avalon (Tau Ceti IV) to found a new community, having made the 100-year journey from Earth in suspended animation. The colonists, all selected for their outstanding physical and mental attributes, make a terrible discovery: Their intelligence and reasoning skill have been damaged in transit, a devolution that will ill serve them in their upcoming struggle with the native grendels for control of their new land.
Colonists to Avalon fighting Grendels.  That doesn't remind me of anything, does it?

Finally, read the rest of the list of fictional inhabitable worlds around Tau Ceti; it's impressive.


  1. "Gift" is a prefect example of how tech keeps outstripping Sci-Fi. It looks like we'll be able to make organs from our individual DNA as needed very soon.

    The catch, as ever, is money. I'd say the Rich/Poor Divide is the one constant.

    1. No kidding. Moore's Law is another. As for the rich/poor divide, that's in "Gift from Earth" as well. That society had a ruthless class structure until after the revolution.