Science fiction loves a hot, dry, desert planet. But could a planet like that really exist? And could humans actually survive on it? Specifically, could we live on Frank Herbert’s Arrakis? Three scientists with expertise in climate modeling decided to find out. Alex Farnsworth, Sebastian Steinig, and Michael Farnsworth fed every bit of data known about Dune‘s desert planet (pictured above in the latest film iteration) into a supercomputer, then waited three weeks to find out that yeah, we probably could survive on Arrakis—though it wouldn’t be very nice.
The data fed into this climate model was a mix of assumptions about the world’s physical laws and data about the planet that came from Herbert’s novels and the Dune Encyclopedia. The results, in sum: “Arrakis’s climate is basically plausible.”
But! While Herbert—writing two years before the first climate model—got a lot of things “right” about his fictional planet, this model suggests that the author put his characters in maybe the worst possible place:
The books and film describe a planet with unforgiving sun and desolate wastelands of sand and rock. However, as you move closer to the polar regions towards the cities of Arrakeen and Carthag, the climate in the book begins to change into something that might be inferred as more hospitable.
Yet our model tells a different story. In our model of Arrakis, the warmest months in the tropics hit around 45°C, whereas in the coldest months they do not drop below 15°C. Similar to that of Earth. The most extreme temperatures would actually occur in the mid-latitudes and polar regions.
Surprise: Everybody on Arrakis would have a better time of it if they moved away from the poles (the climate model also suggests that polar ice caps would not exist on this world). The authors explain, “The mid-latitudes, where most people on Arrakis live, are actually the most dangerous in terms of heat. In the lowlands, monthly average temperatures are often above 50-60°C, with maximum daily temperatures even higher. Such temperatures are deadly for humans.”
An extremely endearing note at the bottom of this article explains that the three scientists who ran the Arrakis climate model did it in their spare time, and do actual important science while they are working. But we have more important science fiction questions, like: What about Hoth? Can it be snow all the time? Wouldn’t Mustafar, like, just melt into itself? Please explain Star Wars worlds next, okay?
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