Scientists find desert planet in ‘Dune’ to be surprisingly realistic

During March, sci-fi enthusiasts were transported back to the desert planet Arrakis with the release of Dune: Part Two. On this barren world, settlers are after “the spice” for interstellar travel, all while dodging massive sandworms.

The allure of Arrakis has captivated fans of Dune for years since Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel introduced this desolate landscape. The recent film adaptations helmed by director Denis Villeneuve have vividly brought Herbert’s world to the screen, prompting scientific scrutiny of Arrakis’ feasibility.

Researchers suggest that human habitation on a planet resembling Arrakis is feasible, but the existence of colossal sandworms in reality is highly improbable.

Inhabitable, But Challenging 

A climate simulation of Arrakis conducted by a group of climate modelers sheds light on the planet’s atmospheric dynamics. Drawing inspiration from the Dune novels and the Dune Encyclopedia, the model revealed similarities between Arrakis and Earth’s atmosphere, despite variations like lower CO2 levels and increased ozone content on Arrakis.

Alexander Farnsworth from the University of Bristol highlights the importance of ozone’s greenhouse effect on Arrakis, causing a warmer atmosphere despite lower CO2 levels.

The polar regions of Arrakis would face extreme temperatures, ranging from scorching heat to bone-chilling cold, making human settlement there nearly impossible without advanced technology. In comparison, the equatorial regions offer more moderate temperatures, albeit accompanied by intense winds and massive sand dunes.

In the computer simulation, Arrakis’ tropics exhibited reduced atmospheric moisture, leading to a more tolerable climate even during hot summers. However, hurricane-force winds near the equator could pose challenges for settlers.

Despite the inhospitable conditions, humans could potentially survive on Arrakis with advanced technology and off-world support for essential resources like food and water.

Sandworm Survival Challenges 

While human survival on Arrakis may be achievable, the same cannot be said for the giant sandworms depicted in the Dune series. These massive creatures, up to 400 meters long, pose anatomical challenges for survival, with oxygen absorption being a critical limiting factor for large invertebrates.

Vertebrate variations of worms on Earth, like the Zygaspis worm lizards, provide insights into potential adaptations required for giant sandworms on Arrakis. However, the constraints of gravity and heat dissipation would likely impede the growth of such colossal creatures.

With the hostile climate of Arrakis and the physiological limitations of giant sandworms, their existence on the planet seems implausible, safeguarding humans from potential encounters with these mythical creatures.

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