Andromeda Part 15: Elaaden’s Orbit

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 29, 2019

Filed under: Mass Effect 123 comments

I have no idea why the designers decided to make two of our five habitable worlds into orange deserts. Sure, the planets are a little different. Eos is a bit like the Mojave Desert and Elaaden is more an expanse of sand dunes like the Sahara. I wonder if their cobbled-together Frostbite offshoot wasn’t up to the job of depicting forests, meadows, and swampsYes, I realize the planets need to be uninhabitable. We could say these planets are low in oxygen. Fine for plants, not so good for animals.. Even if we decide to have two different deserts, did they really need to be the same shade of orange? It’s space! This science in this game runs on cartoon logic anyway, so why not go wild and give us a purple desert or whatever?


The tempest is currently flying through Elaaden's atmosphere in this shot, which means that gas giant is close and the other moons are REALLY close.
The tempest is currently flying through Elaaden's atmosphere in this shot, which means that gas giant is close and the other moons are REALLY close.

I have a confession to make. I’m really into astronomy. Not real astronomy, mind you. I like shallow pop-astronomy. I like having complex questions boiled down to simple answers that you can understand without any complex mathematics. What would it be like to stand on the surface of X? How many livable exoplanets are there? How long would it take to get a message to someone in another star system? How long would it take to fly there? Is the space elevator really possible? What are the odds that there’s a planet out there with sexy blue-skinned women who want to learn about this thing we earthlings call kissingActually, this question is easy. The answer is zero.?

This means that occasionally I feel the need to take my shallow, badly-understood middle school pop-science and try to use it to ask interesting questions. I’m afraid today is one of those days.

You Tried

The local temperature is allegedly above boiling. We have environments on Earth that are way more hospitable than Elaaden, and we STILL consider them uninhabitable. Why is anyone bothering with this place?
The local temperature is allegedly above boiling. We have environments on Earth that are way more hospitable than Elaaden, and we STILL consider them uninhabitable. Why is anyone bothering with this place?

I’ll give credit to whoever designed Elaaden: They tried to base it on some kind of science. Sadly, they messed it up. I did the same thing in my orbital bombardment calculations during the Mass Effect 3 analysis. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. It’s easy to do hours of meticulous research but then stumble on one detail and turn the whole thing into a joke.

The game explains that Elaaden is “tidally locked”, which means that it’s always daytime on one side of the planet, and night on the other. That’s good science! Except, Elaaden is also the moon of a gas giant. This means that it’s tidally locked to its host planet, not the sunYes, I know this star isn’t called the “sun”. You know what I mean.. Which means it can’t always be daytime.

This is a small detail and I doubt most people would notice. It’s not a terrible fault, and I actually appreciate that the writer made the effort. But just for fun let’s take a break from nitpicking Andromeda and explore this idea a little. Let’s ask ourselves…

What Would Elaaden Be Like?

Was this place habitable before the vaults went wrong? It sorta looks like it's been a sand-blasted furnace for a long, long time.
Was this place habitable before the vaults went wrong? It sorta looks like it's been a sand-blasted furnace for a long, long time.

The host planet is a gas giant, like Jupiter in our solar system. The planet isn’t given a name within the gameWhy would you NOT name the planet? It’s totally free and you can use the name to do worldbuilding stuff. Like, give it a Krogan name to tell us about the Krogan who settled here. Not having a name for this planet is like living on Earth and not having a word for CLOUDS. It would come up constantly in conversation because it nearly fills the sky., so let’s name it after Tinia, an Etruscan god that occupied a similar place as the god Jupiter on the org chart of their mythology. To keep things simple, let’s assume that Tinia is of similar size and mass to Jupiter.

If Elaaden is tidally locked, that means one side of the planet always faces Tinia and the other side always faces away from it. However, this won’t result in “always day” or “always night”, because Elaaden must orbit around Tinia. (If it didn’t, it would fall into its host planet and vanish in the crushing depths.) This is the same relationship that the moon has with Earth. No matter when you look up at the moon, you’re always seeing the same side of it. One side of the moon always faces us, and the other side of the moon faces away, into empty space. We call the latter the “dark side” of the moon, but it’s only “dark” in the sense that we can never see it from Earth. It actually gets exactly as much sunlight as the “light” side of the moon. The new moon (the point of the month when the moon is dark to us) is when the moon is positioned such that the side facing us isn’t getting any sunlight, and the supposed “dark side” of the moon is getting it instead.

I'm pretty sure SAM is talking crazy. I can't see how you can be tidally locked to two different bodies at once. That doesn't make any sense.
I'm pretty sure SAM is talking crazy. I can't see how you can be tidally locked to two different bodies at once. That doesn't make any sense.

So what would a day be like on Elaaden? That question is a lot more complicated on Elaaden than it is on Earth. Here, our day / night cycle is determined by Earth spinning on its axis. Elaaden doesn’t spin on its axisOr more precisely: It spins on its axis perfectly in sync with how fast it orbits Tinia., so our day / night cycle will actually come from how fast Elaaden orbits Tinia. So now the question is, “How long is Elaaden’s orbital period?”

Going back to Jupiter for reference: Jupiter has 4 real moons and 75 more oddly-shaped rocks that we’re obliged to call moons because Jupiter is the biggest planet and we can’t risk pissing it off. The four main moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Because of orbital resonance, moons can’t have arbitrary orbital periods relative to each other. If one moon had an orbital period of 100 hours and another had an orbital period of 101 hours, then they would quickly pull each other out of whack. Maybe they would crash and merge, or one would get thrown off, or they would pull on each other until they fell into a proper resonance.

To keep this simple, let’s just borrow the orbital periods of Jupiter’s four main moons: Io does a lap around Jupiter once every 42 hours. Europa makes the trip every 85 hours. Ganymede does it in 172 hours, and Callisto in 17 days.

All these pissed of Krogan aren't really helping the habitability rating of the planet.
All these pissed of Krogan aren't really helping the habitability rating of the planet.

42 hours wouldn’t be a bad day length. Sure, Humans would have a lousy time with it, but that’s going to be a problem no matter where we settle. 85 is somewhat more troublesome. That means the sun will be up for 42 straight hours, followed by 42 hours of darkness. At that point you have bigger problems to worry about than keeping a proper sleep schedule. You might be able to grow crops on that world, but they would need to be very tolerant of temperature extremesAnd so would your colonists.. A 172 hour cycle would probably be uninhabitable, and a 17 day cycle would give you a rhythmic cataclysm to deal with.

The problem here is that you’re heating up when you’re in direct sunlight and you’re cooling down when you’re not. On Earth that process is fast enough that we don’t suffer from too many extremes. It’s like cooking a hot dog over an open flame. If you turn constantly, then it’ll cook evenly. If you cook it for an hour on one side before turning it over, then one side will be scorched while the other remains raw.

Are these trees leftover from before the broken vaults ruined the climate, or are they adapted to this environment?
Are these trees leftover from before the broken vaults ruined the climate, or are they adapted to this environment?

Think of the temperature climb you get on a typical day between sunrise and midday. Now imagine that process kept going for several more hours. The day side of the planet would quickly become dangerously hot and the night side would get dangerously cold. Humans have a hard time surviving above 49C / 120F, and plant lifeFor example, the crops you’re hoping to grow. can’t take prolonged periods below freezing. A long day / night cycle will take you beyond these two extremes in a single day. Maybe a nice thick cloud cover could level out the temperature extremes. That might insulate enough to slow down both the heating and cooling. Sadly, Elaaden has clear skies.

But Shamus, why couldn’t Elaaden have an orbital period of 24 hours?

I think it’s possible? If you’re willing to accept Universe Sandbox2 as a legitimate depiction of celestial bodies, then the Earth could indeed orbit Jupiter once every 24 hours. If you want to orbit Jupiter in 24 hours, then you need to orbit it at a distance of 180,000 miles. Jupiter has a spherical radius of 43,441 miles, which means you’d still be above the planet’s surface. (And not caught in its atmospheric cloud of doom.) This would also put you well above the roche limit, so your planet won’t get torn apart by tidal forces and turned into a pretty planetary ring.

But I’m not sure what the ramifications would be of orbiting something that big, that close. Your moon is going to get hammered with radiation. Tinia would loom quite large in the sky. On the other hand:

Boy howdy, that is CLOSE.
Boy howdy, that is CLOSE.

Visually, it does appear to be quite close. Elaaden is clearly closer to Tinia than Io is to Jupiter, so a near 24 hour cycle might be possible. Then again, this image also shows the other moons being incredibly close to Elaaden and this is obviously an image designed with artistic, rather than scientific, concerns in mind.

If Elaaden orbited Tinia at the distance suggested by the above image, then it would make for a very strange day. On Earth, eclipses are rare because the moon only goes around the Earth once a month, and it’s pretty small in the sky so it doesn’t always line up just right to block the sun. Here on Elaaden we’re going around once a day, and Tinia looms so large in the sky that a daily eclipse would be unavoidable.

On earth, a lunar eclipse is when the Earth is positioned directly between the sun and the moon. (This is different from the more exciting solar eclipse, when the moon blocks our view of the sun.) During a lunar eclipse, the moon passes into the shadow of Earth. You might expect the moon to go dark, but what ends up happening is that the moon turns orange. If you picture yourself standing on the moon and looking up at the Earth, it’s easier to understand where the orange comes from. The Earth is in front of the sun, and Earth’s atmosphere is backlit. Essentially, you’re seeing a sunset that goes all the way around Earth so it’s ringed in orange-red light. On Elaaden, this would happen every single day.

Here is a simulation of Earth orbiting Jupiter in Universe Sandbox 2. The Earth would pass into Jupiter's shadow for part of every orbit.
Here is a simulation of Earth orbiting Jupiter in Universe Sandbox 2. The Earth would pass into Jupiter's shadow for part of every orbit.

Let’s assume we’re on the side of Elaaden that faces Tinia, positioned so that our host planet is directly overhead. The sun would rise in the east in the morningEast / west is a bit arbitrary, but you get the idea., and then sometime before mid-day the sun would duck behind Tinia. (Remember, from our point of view Tinia is in a fixed spot overhead.) This would result in an eclipse that would last for hours. Sometime in the afternoon we’d exit the eclipse, and then we’d have sunlight again until nightfall. Given the size of Tinia, this would make for a sort of two-phase day cycle. A 24 hour orbit might go something like this:

  • 5 hours of daylight as the sun rises.
  • 2 hours of orangeIt might not be orange. Depends on the atmosphere. And since Tinia is ALL ATMOSPHERE, I bet it would look spectacular. tinted semi-darkness as Tinia passes in front of the sun.
  • 5 hours of daylight as the sun emerges from behind Tinia and then sets.
  • 12 hours of darkness.

If we were on the exact opposite side of Elaaden, then we’d just have a normal day / night cycle. The only strange thing is that we would never, ever see our host planet. We’d also be shielded from a lot of the radiation Tinia would be throwing out, so this is probably a better place to live.

I do wonder what life would be like on Elaaden. How would people behave on a world with no day / night cycle? Sure, on Earth you have six months of light / dark in high latitude regions, but even in those places you still get some variation in lighting. How would people cope on a world where the sun never moved? How would they react to these extreme temperatures? Would they prefer to build underground to escape the heat? Are people using some sort of super-sunblock, or do we have technology to protect against UV burns? Does this planet have seasons? Are we currently in the warm season or the cool season? Are people planning to dig for water, or is the plan to just import it all?

Hopefully you didn’t find this exercise too tedious. For me, this is a big part of the appeal of sci-fi. “Given these unfamiliar parameters, how would people behave and what would life be like?” Andromeda is never interested in exploring these sorts of questions. The writer keeps presenting scenarios that could be interesting and describing it using vocabulary that suggests some level of scientific rigor went into it, but then nothing ever comes of it. The questions are ignored and the science is either shallow or wrong.

It’s all moot anyway. The game makes a big deal about how it’s always daytime on Elaaden, but Mass Effect Andromeda doesn’t support a day / night cycle so it’s always the same time of day everywhere you go on every planet. It’s a shame. Changing light conditions might have really helped to make these mono-climate planets a little more interesting.

Are We Doing Science or Not?

There are football field sized pockets where the temp is 40C and you're safe. Then most of the surface is over 50C. Then pockets where it's above boiling. That sort of danger zone mechanic made sense on the radiation planet, but here it makes no sense. Are we supposed to assume there are unseen force fields creating these abrupt temperature differentials?
There are football field sized pockets where the temp is 40C and you're safe. Then most of the surface is over 50C. Then pockets where it's above boiling. That sort of danger zone mechanic made sense on the radiation planet, but here it makes no sense. Are we supposed to assume there are unseen force fields creating these abrupt temperature differentials?

At one point SAM warns that if you fell in a sinkhole here on Elaaden, your blood would boil in 75 seconds. I don’t know what to make of this line. How is this different from anywhere else on the surface? Is the writer suggesting that it’s somehow hotter inside of a sinkhole? Maybe it’s suggesting that being trapped in direct sunlight that’s the problem, but most of the surface is rolling dunes with no shelter so being in a sinkhole isn’t any different from what you’re normally doing. In response to this, Ryder suggests they go to the “climate controlled paradise of the Nomad”. But, aren’t their space suits already climate controlled? They have to be, right? Otherwise you’re dead the moment you get out of the Nomad. Is this a joke that doesn’t land, or science that doesn’t make sense?

At another point SAM says that Elaaden is tidally locked to both the host planet and one of it’s sister moons?! Is the writer suggesting some crazy three body arrangement in an attempt to justify Elaaden’s fantastical skybox, or did they seriously write all this without ever looking up what tidal locking is?

Everything is fine.
Everything is fine.

I bring this up because it’s yet another example of how this team didn’t seem to have any idea what kind of game they were making. The artists were making photogenic Star Wars style mono-climate planets. The writers were trying to do nerdy science fiction, but it doesn’t work because the portrayal is wrong or incoherent. Once again, the game is paying the costs of details-first science fiction without getting any of the benefits. People who are just here to shoot space marines and bang hot aliens aren’t going to care about all this Neil deGrasse Tyson shit, and people that do care are going to be frustrated because it doesn’t make any sense. Regardless of which kind of player you are, all this science talk just underscores what an uninhabitable wasteland this place is and how dumb it is that anyone is trying to settle here.

I disliked Mass Effect 3 because I didn’t think the tone, plot, and theme worked with the world. I disagreed with the writer, but at least they had a vision. Here it feels like everyone on the team was just doing their own thing and nobody was in charge.

That’s enough about planetary orbits and silly science. Next week we’ll get back to fixing these planets.



[1] Yes, I realize the planets need to be uninhabitable. We could say these planets are low in oxygen. Fine for plants, not so good for animals.

[2] Actually, this question is easy. The answer is zero.

[3] Yes, I know this star isn’t called the “sun”. You know what I mean.

[4] Why would you NOT name the planet? It’s totally free and you can use the name to do worldbuilding stuff. Like, give it a Krogan name to tell us about the Krogan who settled here. Not having a name for this planet is like living on Earth and not having a word for CLOUDS. It would come up constantly in conversation because it nearly fills the sky.

[5] Or more precisely: It spins on its axis perfectly in sync with how fast it orbits Tinia.

[6] And so would your colonists.

[7] For example, the crops you’re hoping to grow.

[8] East / west is a bit arbitrary, but you get the idea.

[9] It might not be orange. Depends on the atmosphere. And since Tinia is ALL ATMOSPHERE, I bet it would look spectacular.

From The Archives:

123 thoughts on “Andromeda Part 15: Elaaden’s Orbit

  1. decius says:

    No, see: Elaaden is tidally locked to the local star, and orbits its host planet very far off the ecliptic plane. Eclipses happen a few orbits twice a year.

    This is possible because the host ‘planet’ is a very diffuse gas giant, so it can be rather large without being very massive.

    What do you mean, that has even less of a proximity to physics?

    1. Mephane says:

      Well, you are on to something there after all. In Shamus’ tidally-locked-to-gas-giant scenario, if the moon’s orbit is very steeply angled, i.e. polar or at least nearly so, you’d not get the daily solar eclipse on the side facing the gas giant, and instead have a regular day/night cycle but with the gas giant still in full view at all times. And with an orbit that is somewhere in between, you’d get daily partial solar eclipses. Fun stuff.

      1. Pax says:

        This is a really good point that may be a solution to the problems, but I have no idea if the skybox supports it. Also, if you’d got a tidally locked planet that’s a hot house on one side and a freezer on the other, surely you go find that nice, windy middle ground on the planet and settle there instead? Well, maybe not if you’re a krogan.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          “That nice windy middle ground: The temperatures on day and night side would be limited only by heat exchange between both sides, which would be crazy levels of crazy, given that wind is driven by temperature differences, and this thing has the mother of all atmospheric temperature differences.

          Even with nice protection from those winds, you wouldn’t want to live there, because those winds will be freezing cold, while the warm air from the other side will go the other way in the upper parts of the atmosphere. Except if there’s maybe some instability in those layers (big mountains in the way, or some fluctuations over time, in which case you’ll suddenly get blasted by crazy hot storms instead of the crazy cold ones.

          So … I guess if you absolutely have to live on that thing, you’d probably choose something on the “sunny” side of that divide. Far enough sunwards that the winds no longer ruin everything but not so far that you can’t stand the heat — if such a zone exists. You’ll likely still end up with really hot sun but quite cold air, and a constant strong breeze. So digging in is really the only viable option.

        2. Decius says:

          The skybox merely needs to be able to add multiple moving objects with epicycles to model the entire year. That’s about as hard as a day/night cycle.

          And that’s if you have the absurdly close/large other nearby moons.

      2. Mortuorum says:

        A polar orbit occurred to me as well. I assume that Elaaden still needs to revolve around its axis, so it gets some kind of day/night cycle, but the polar orbit would eliminate the daily eclipses issue. My knowledge of astrophysics is admittedly very rudimentary.

        1. eVie says:

          A polar orbit doesn’t remove the eclipses entirely, and it adds a whole new thing to deal with, namely, seasons. If the moon was in a polar orbit, then at various points in the planet’s orbit, the North pole will be in constant and direct sunlight while the South pole is in darkness, the moon will experience the same day-night eclipse cycle described in the post, or the South pole will be in constant sunlight while the North pole is in shadow.

          The reason for this is that the orientation of the polar orbit remains constant as the planet orbits the sun. Attach a coordinate system to this solar system and say the planet orbits in the xy plane. You’d then have the moon orbiting in, say, the xz plane, which is a polar orbit. When the planet lies along the y axis, one pole of the moon will be always facing the sun, and when the planet lies along the x-axis, the moon’s orbit could cause an eclipse. The planet appears to take up a huge angle in the sky, so this would happen for a large chunk of the planet’s orbit.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            You’re right! Barring the possibility of fine-tuned precession, which I discuss below.

          2. Mephane says:

            All of that sounds like the cool premise for a scifi setting.

    2. Scampi says:

      I’d have 3 ideas how to make the concept of being tidally locked work from a purely theoretical perspective, meaning there is absolutely no knowledge involved whether these arrangements would work in a real environment.

      a) 2 moons orbit around the planet using the same orbit, both being tidally locked to the planet, thereby both are also locked towards each other. Since that’s apparently not what is meant,
      b) they might be orbiting around the planet in different concentric orbits on the same plane, both be locked to the planet again, AND moving at the same angular velocity thus be locked to each other again, as one is only further out than the other. This seems to be the most realistic despite being rather unlikely.
      c) My last idea would be (to me) the most intriguing, as it would involve 2 moons being tidally locked to each other, circling around a common center of gravity while at the same time being locked to the planet in such a way that they circle around each other, showing one side to the other respective moon while showing another side to the planet.
      From the planet’s surface this might look like 2 moons rotating around each other in the night sky.
      Sadly I have no easy way of displaying the idea or finding out if it would work or even exists in reality.

      Just saying: being locked to 2 objects at the same time seems to be highly unlikely, but to me it appears to be not completely impossible. Or is it for reasons I have absolutely no clue of? Anyone here with enough knowledge to educate me and any other potential flawed ignorants?

      1. ShivanHunter says:

        My experience with orbital mechanics comes almost entirely from KSP, but:

        a) would only work if the moons were exactly on opposite sides of the planet, since any other configuration has them attracting each other and ending up orbiting each other or (probably) colliding. In practice, it would be unstable, since nothing is ever exact. Also, the moons would never see each other, which kind of defeats the point of making a cool skybox.

        [EDIT] …it miiight work if the moons were at each other’s L4/L5 Lagrange points, since those are stable. But I think that relies on the object at the point being very small – if it exerted significant gravity on Elaaden, that might muck up the works, and make the system unstable again.

        b) could sort of work, but due to the orbital motion/relative velocities, there’d be a sort of “wobble”, Elaaden wouldn’t see the exact same side all the time like we do with the moon. The other moon would zoom away, behind the planet, then back towards Elaaden, and so on – and would just happen to, on average, be facing the same relative direction. So that’s getting pretty far away from the definition of “tidally locked”.

        in c) they wouldn’t be tidally locked to the planet, just to each other, since they’d basically each be tidally locked to their mutual center of gravity. (If this center of gravity is the planet, then this is a) above). Though it is a cool environment concept in its own right.

        Really, of course, they were just throwing sci-fi stuff into a word salad to make it sound cool. Which is a shame, since a planet that’s actually tidally locked – to its sun, I mean – would be a damn cool environment to explore.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Yes, if a body was at a Lagrange point, it would essentially be orbiting both the gas giant and the star with the same period, and could be rotationally locked to both. But at that point it wouldn’t be “Tidally” locked, since the tidal forces would be essentially nonexistant at those distances. Also, at those distances, the zoom lens required to get the featured screenshot would mean the Tempest is actually the size of a quarter. And it would need a minuscule lens, to avoid killer DOF. That, coupled with the lack of significant motion blur, and the crispness of the image, indicates that the whole scene is recieving huge amounts of light, which would account for why the planet is so hot even though it has a transparent atmosphere.

      2. Steve C says:

        A moon could be tidally locked to another moon and the planet…
        Imagine a geosynchronous satellite that is on the dark side of our Moon. The Moon would could be said to be tidally locked to both Earth and its satellite in that case. The satellite wouldn’t have to be on the dark side of the Moon either. As long as it was a geosynchronous orbit to the Moon then from the Moon it would appear to be tidally locked to both the Earth and its satellite. Also note that any moon is already defined a satellite.

        However the whole “one side of a moon that always faces the star” as Elaaden is supposed to have is nonsense. Even an extreme polar orbit does not solve the problem. That just changes the day cycle to be equal to the year cycle of the planet it orbits. This is different from the previous paragraph as now your perspective is if you are on the geosynchronous satellite. From that perspective it is impossible for it to also always have a single side facing the star.

        1. 4th Dimension says:

          Moon synchronous orbits are kinda impossible, since to acheve that you’d need an orbit around the Moon with the same period as the Moon around Earth. This would be a BIG orbit and would probably lie pretty much outside of it’s sphere of influence and be subject to multi body influence and thus not realy in sync with the Moon.

      3. Zak McKracken says:

        c sounds interesting but can’t work because the moons would have to orbit each other in the same period they use to orbit the planet. But since the moons have are closer to each other, they’d need to orbit each other with higher angular velocity to keep from crashing into each other.
        Exception: The previously-mentioned L4/5 constellation.

      4. Decius says:

        The orbital period of a moon is a function of distance from the planet- you can’t have concentric orbits of the same period.

      5. Philadelphus says:

        a) 2 moons orbit around the planet using the same orbit, both being tidally locked to the planet, thereby both are also locked towards each other.

        This actually exists in our solar system, sort of. Saturn has two sets of trojan moons, which is where three moons orbit at the same distance, with two less-massive ones sitting in the L4 and L5 Lagrange points approximately 60° ahead of and behind a more massive moon. Saturn’s moon Tethys has Telesto and Calypso as trojans, while Dione has Helene and Polydeuces.

        The concept of being “tidally locked” to more than one object is still rubbish though, as these moons are all tidally locked to Saturn, whose much greater mass would overwhelm the tidal forces from the other moons.

    3. Paul Spooner says:

      Just a technical note, but a “tidal lock” has to do with tidal forces, which are due to the gravitational gradient of the orbited body. You can’t be orbiting a body which is orbiting a star, and also tidally locked to the star. What you propose is possible, but it wouldn’t be a tidal lock unless the star has some kind of gravity wave technology or something. The orbit would be something like a “synchronous orbit, once removed” but we don’t actually have a name for it because it is incredibly unlikely and has never been observed.

      If the moon was tidally locked to the gas giant, and in a polar orbit, then it would have days that were a year long, a year for the gas giant that is, so if it’s like jupiter, many years. I suppose it’s possible that harmonics with other bodies in the system would cause orbital precession that would allow one side of the moon to always face the star. In that case it would be a “pole” of the moon that was facing the star, and the gas giant would always be half lit and half dark in the sky.

      Which brings me to my main quibble with taking this setting seriously. If you look at the bodies in the sky shots, it’s clear that they are being lit from different angles, both from each-other, and from the foreground.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Yup. If the things were actually lit properly, you’d have an image where the planet and the two other moonds in the shot were all (approximately) the same amount of waxing/waning/crescent. I get that this is a game that ignores science, but…shadows are so simple that a child with some sports-balls and a flashlight could figure out how to properly light this scene.

      2. Decius says:

        “Orbiting a body” is a simplification of a complex path; to a third approximation, Io is orbiting the sun and Jupiter is puterbing that orbit.

        If the ‘planet’ was not massive enough to be the tidally dominant force, a moon could have a rotational period close enough to its stellar orbital period.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          How exactly do you propose, that the planet be the gravitationally weaker body and still have the moon orbit it?

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Hush… Decius has spoken, and the heavens attend his… wait, third approximation of what? Decius, have you been taking your meds?

  2. Yerushalmi says:

    We call the latter the “dark side” of the moon, but it’s only “dark” in the sense that we can never see it from Earth. It actually gets exactly as much sunlight as the “light” side of the moon.

    Actually, the dark side of the moon gets slightly *more* sunlight than the light side in the aggregate – because the light side occasionally is eclipsed by the Earth, while the dark side never is.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Just what I was going to say.
      Plus, due to the larger number of craters casting up reflective regolith, the “dark side” of the moon is also lighter in the sense of having a higher albedo. Though it’s not very light. I was surprised to learn that the moon is basically the same color as asphalt.

    2. Ronan says:

      If I may “actually” your “actually”, the dark side does get less light than the side facing the earth / planet.

      Because When it is at night, the near side gets full secondary light from the planet (like a full moon on earth, except every night and much bigger), while the far (dark) side only faces the emptyness of space.

      And that’s an interesting point in Shamus’s fictionnal setting; as a gas giant takes a lot of sky “surface” (angle ?), its secondary light would be far from negligible: the nights on the side facing the planet would not be very dark.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        That’s what I originally came here to say: The planet-facing side of the moon will never have proper darkness. At dawn, they’ll have “half-planet”, which then increases during the night. That will also provide them with some additional heat at night, which would probably make that side more habitable.

        During planet-eclipse (which also helps reducing day temperature), the sky would be darkest, but they’d still get some rim-glow from the planet, especially since it’s a gas giant and should have a lot more light shining and reflecting/refracting through the outer atmosphere.

        Assuming a reasonably flat ecliptic plane, (and the mean temperature…) the best place to live would be planet-facing, somewhere towards one of the poles, depending. If the moon’s orbit is inclined a little, that would give it seasons, made more interesting by the fact that the daily eclipse would change in length, reaching two maxima, at spring/fall equinox.

        1. Anthony Serrano says:

          It’s also worth mentioning that “Earthlight” on the moon would be noticeably brighter than moonlight is on Earth, because the earth is about 16 times larger in the lunar sky than vice versa, and the Earth reflects two and a half times more sunlight than the moon does.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            As evidence, you can pretty clearly see the “night” side of the moon against a dark sky when it’s in the crescent phase.

  3. Lino says:

    I disliked Mass Effect 3 because I didn’t think the tone, plot, and theme didn’t work with the world. I dis agreed with the writer, but at least they had a vision. Here it feels like everyone on the team was just doing their own thing and nobody was in charge.

    Couple of typos:
    1. “I disliked Mass Effect 3 because I didn’t think the tone, plot, and theme worked with the world.” is what you probably wanted to say
    2. “I disagreed

    Fascinating entry, and it just drives home how completely directionless this whole project was…

  4. Tremor3258 says:

    With longer days, that could be evidence of terraforming. Would probably be fun to land, probably have a really strong jet stream with long days.

  5. Mattias42 says:

    A real tidal looked planet sounds like it would be—if not a dream for a space-faring species, then at least a huge asset. Heck, the extremophile macro fauna? Probably not edible as such, but it would be a fascinating thing to study, at least.

    Have your cities be mostly underground, and litter the surface with solar and thermal collectors. Sure, it would take a lot of work… but why even terraform something like that when it would give you so much energy to work with?

    That would be a really intriguing choice to make, actually. Near unlimited power and preservation, vs a place where your colonists can actually live without habitats and suits.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      Pah, screw the solar panels, instead make a planet-sized Rankine Cycle between the light side and the dark side. It’s like geothermal power but way bigger in scale and cool science fiction potential if you do it right

      1. Echo Tango says:

        If you’re trying to exploit the hot/cold differences of a tidally locked planet, you’d just make really strong wind turbines, in the zones where the wind is strongest. Still pretty cool, but not too outlandish for a sci-fi setting. :)

    2. Jbc31187 says:

      It would be both scientifically plausible (at least scientific-lite) and give you an excuse for copy-and-paste corridors. If it’s an important planet you can throw in a few spectacular caverns with glowing fungi or something.

      MA1 was great for this stuff. I remember there was a biotic commune/cult that deliberately set up on a dust bowl planet so they wouldn’t be bothered. And the translators worked because every spacefaring species released translation software to bring in commerce, and on and on. It was never super hard science but there was some thought to it.

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        Well, the whole conceit of the Reapers creating the relay network and the Citadel and by extension guiding every emerging galactic civilization along similar paths of technological (and even socio-political) development does a lot of the work in handwaving most of those issues. I’m still impressed at how neat it makes all the worldbuilding.

    3. King Marth says:

      I played a sci-fi tabletop game (FATE core-based) where we did a “ring world” like this, tidally locked where the hot side was mostly solar collectors and there was one massive belt of city built in the edge zone.

    4. Zak McKracken says:

      In terms of thermodynamic power, yeah, put a Rankine cycle in that planet! Or, you know, wind turbines to turn the wind into a Rankine cycle.

      In terms of natural living space: Water is good for live, and would also provide some thermal shield, but it will evaporate/boil on the hot side, be transported via (scram-)jetstream to the cold side where it will precipitate, as snow, and form a permanent ice cone. The glaciers will move towards the sunny side at glacial speeds, and somewhere sun-wards on that interface will be the only liquid water, and it will be very little, even if the planet used to be covered in water before it got tidally locked, and it will be exposed to the crazy, crazy winds blowing from the cold side to the warm on the ground. So no tranquil moraine lakes, more like drops of water driven across a quickly-eroding landscape. Maybe there’ll form a few cracks and canyons in which water could actually come to rest in, and that’s where natural life could start happening.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Just noticed this: If you put proper thermal power plants in that place, they’ll cool down their environment on the hot side (might make it livable), and heat it up on the cold side (same thing!).
        But! That will also start melting some ice on the cold side, locally, with potentially unforeseen consequences, and might make for some strange weather effects on the hot side.
        It would also require a few very very long pipes, and damaging them would break the whole apparatus, and give the people living at the hot end a very bad day… so you’d need lots of redundant pipes, and now the whole project looks a lot more difficult. Maybe just use wind turbines. The winds should be relatively constant (except when they’re not…).

        …maybe not such a great place after all, but certainly something that could be used to great effect in a sci-fi story.

        1. Jbc31187 says:

          I bet those crazy Ancients would have the tech to make a Rankine cycle work with minimal fuss. And then you’d have A) a reason to colonize this desolate hole, B) a point of conflict with anyone who wants a planet-sized generator, and C) a mystery about why the Ancients built this thing.

    5. Gareth Wilson says:

      Some real scientists did a computer simulation of a tidal-locked planet a while back. Any reasonable atmosphere transports enough heat around so the temperature difference isn’t too bad, comparable to the difference between the poles and Equator of an Earthlike planet. The real difference will be light, not heat. The dark side ecosystem could be like the deep ocean ecosystem. No plants at all, everything depending on edible debris blown in from the light side.

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        Yeah. I was going to post that I think that might be the case. After all. You can’t heat a planet infinitely and atmosphere is real good at spreading all that heat about by literally moving the heated or cooled atmosphere.

        Also, if they are far enough from the local star they might be getting considerably less starlight, hence less power, less heat.

  6. silver Harloe says:

    Suggest you check the first reply to this post about radiation:

    It’s quite possible that the radiation levels wouldn’t be bad at all. Or quite possible they’d be extremely bad, depending on the exact shape and size of Tinia’s Van Allen belts. In most cases, though, it is likely that “closer to Tinia is better” because of the protection from stellar radiation provided by Tinia’s radiation belts.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I actually never looked at the radiation thing in detail, this is interesting.

      If I’m understanding correctly, the radiation belt around Jupiter (or any other planet with an atmosphere) is that the planet isn’t emitting radiation, it has an almost Saturn-like ring of energetic particles orbiting it, where the atmosphere has trapped some radiation? Is that a good layman way of looking at it?

      1. silver Harloe says:

        In shape, the radiation belts are less like Saturn’s rings and more like having a giant shield facing the sun.

        It’s not the atmosphere that creates the radiation belts – Mars doesn’t have a significant protection from radiation, for example. Our magnetic field comes from the spinning molten iron in our core. I’m not sure where Jupiter’s come from.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Yeah, Jupiter has a colossal magnetic field, which traps charged particles in a ring around the planet (the radiation belts). This isn’t electromagnetic radiation, like gamma rays. It’s beta radiation and protons, maybe even some alpha radiation.

    2. Baron Tanks says:

      Today I learned about radiation belts. Today is a good day.

  7. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    By the time I got to Elaaden, I had already learned that the science in this game is made up fantasy garbage and I was sort of numb to the idea that this game was aiming anywhere in the direction of reality. I didn’t sit down and draw up orbits to figure out what was wrong, but I knew it was all nonsense and that the science didn’t make any sense. By this point, I was like “Okay – I just have to go along with this.” It wasn’t ideal, but I learned to deal with it.

    The thing that boggled my mind though was the quest to save the Krogan seeds and, by extension, Vorn. You fly to some outlaw base on one of the planet’s other moons only to discover that it’s way more habitable than Elaaden could ever dream of being and both the Initiative and the Krogan passed on it to set up shop on this hellish sand moon. Even as I started writing this, I thought “This is too stupid to be real – I misunderstood the game in some way.” So I just ran off to look it up and sure enough, the base is on one of Elaaden’s sister moons and that moon is hilariously more hospitable for life. Again, it leads me to believe that the Initiative are a bunch of idiots who are determined to self-destruct.

    Something else that bothered me about Elaaden was the quests “The Mind of An Exile” and its follow-up quest “Gray Matter.” They are non-essential “Heleus Assignment” quests that nobody is obligated to complete to advance the game. Short of being tasks, the quest chain makes no effort to stand out in any way. But the problem is that it’s arguably one of the most important worldbuilding story beats in the entire game. In completing “The Mind of An Exile,” we discover that an unknown number of Initiative colonists were exposed to some type of radiation during their cryosleep that damaged their brains in a way to make them be more paranoid and violent, answering the question why so many of the “brightest minds of the Milky Way” got here and decided to be the violent A-holes of the Heleus Cluster. In “Gray Matter,” Lexi creates a serum that somehow repairs the damage, which I would think is kind of a big deal. But this game treats it like a “meh” quest that’s only there for the completionists.

    1. Geebs says:

      So, do the symptoms of this radiation-induced brain damage include a belief that the sufferer was once part of an elite military unit and the desire to talk about it constantly, by any chance?

    2. tremor3258 says:

      “Again, it leads me to believe that the Initiative are a bunch of idiots who are determined to self-destruct.”

      That Cerberus funding showing itself again, I guess.

    3. Trevor says:

      Yeah, the game does not in any way explore the people of the Initiative and think about the type of people who would sign up for a one-way trip to another galaxy.

      There are a ton of reasons why people would do this, so it wouldn’t narrow your types of people that much. In a military game, like the original Mass Effects, almost all the humans you meet are in the Alliance. But you can have a wide range of personalities within the broad tent of “military background”: you have weirdos like Joker, rural hick-types like Ashley, and serious officers like Kaiden. Just because they’re all military doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

      But no one in the Initiative seems at all jazzed about exploring the unknown or doing something difficult that no one’s ever done before. The peasants you meet will complain at the drop of a hat that they didn’t immediately find these pristine golden worlds with no other sentient life or hardship on them. Or you meet a bunch of people who immediately go full Mad Max space pirate within a year of encountering things in a less-than-ideal state. I guess it’s good that we packed so many tattoo machines on the Nexus so that our exiles can go full punk.

      1. Henson says:

        Ashley was many things, but ‘hick’ was not one of them.

        1. trevalyan says:

          I think her following Earth religion in a setting where few others share her beliefs, history of low-prestige backwater assignments, and (sigh) caution of aliens aka “spess racism” combine to make her appear as (wrongly) a sheltered urbanite’s idea of a space hick.

          1. Tremor3258 says:

            Ashley’s got the Dishonored Family and Military Brat thing more than hick. Her Mass Effect Father Issue ™ was her grandfather surrendered to Turian forces in the First Contact War.

            1. trevalyan says:

              Exactly. Even then, I don’t see any problems between her and any actual turian. She places most of the distrust on alien governments in general, but especially the Council.

      2. Jbc31187 says:

        Not just the humans, the other species had different personalities too. You had your space cop Turians, but you also had grumpy cashier Turian and blue-collar Turian and greasy-yet-charming corporate shark Turian. There was that poor Asari scientist on Virmire who even got a different character model from the standard mold. We even got two flavors of Salarian techies poking around stuff they weren’t supposed to, in the same location.

    4. Karma The Alligator says:

      I’m amazed at the game’s capacity to still induce face palming moments like this that far into the game. Every time I think it can’t get any worse, I’m proven wrong. Really makes me look forward to seeing what else they did in the worse way possible.

  8. Bubble181 says:

    I don’t think you’d get a lot of actual darkness. A planet covering 50° of your sky will result in Extreme Moonlight conditions, probably as bright as sunlight on Earth.

    1. butsuri says:

      I was looking to see if anyone had mentioned this.

      Anyone here ever read Encounter with Tiber, the SF novel Buzz Aldrin coauthored with John Barnes in 1996? Part of that was set on a tidally locked Earthlike moon of a gas giant. As I recall there were civilizations of two different alien subspecies on continents facing toward and away from the planet. The ones facing away had a normal day/night cycle corresponding to the moon’s orbital period. But they didn’t know they were on a moon rather than just a rotating planet; they were debating what size the size of their world was, having taken some measurements that gave the actual size of the moon and some that were actually the size of its orbit. On the side facing the planet, they didn’t have night because when the sun was down they were lit up by reflected light from the planet; it only got really dark during the eclipse. (Well, that’s what I can remember from a book I read over 20 years ago, anyway.)

  9. ShivanHunter says:

    Taking this in a completely different direction: I’d LOVE to explore a planet that is actually tidally locked to its sun. The LZ would be somewhere in the twilight area, and it would be filled with vastly different microbiomes. The sun side of a mountain would have entirely different conditions than the night side, and the two ecosystems that spring up there would feed into each other, building up over millions and millions of years, creating vast, imposing shapes in the landscape. Unique patches of life in the shade of every hill and crevice, and vast, deep, thick forests in the shade of mountains, with vegetation and wildlife varying wildly along the temperature gradient.

    (And I’d pitch this idea to the art lead, who tells me it would cost a trillion dollars to implement, and they’re adding a THIRD desert planet just for suggesting it)

    1. Bubble181 says:

      That works y be Mercury, no?

      1. silver Harloe says:

        We used to think that, but it was observed in 1965 to not be tidally locked 1:1 with the sun (though it was still taught that way for a couple more decades I think? Science didn’t always percolate from papers to public as fast as it does in the internet age).
        Mercury’s orbit and revolution are still pretty interesting:

        1. Shas'Ui says:

          The actual day length results in some pretty cool possibilities: if you can maintain 0.6km/h, you can outrun the sun.

          Something I read, can’t recall the name, had big airtight buildings on wheels, constantly chasing the sunset/outrunning the dawn as a sort of noveria situation, aka do whatever experiments you want here, chances of safety/ethics inspections / industrial espionage are low and if something goes wrong, you just stop the lab, and it is frozen/broiled repeatedly until nothing is left.

          1. Richard says:

            I think the “buildings going around Mercury” was more or less taken to the logical final by Kim Stanley Robinson ion his Mars series.

            He imagined a ceramic railtrack going all the way around the planet, and a city running on the rails using sleeve bushings, shaped so that the thermal expansion of the rails themselves pushed the city around the planet.

            Whether or not that’s feasible to build (how would the rails handle the much larger longitudinal expansion?), it’s certainly a pretty cool idea.

            It’s also mentioned by several characters it was only built to prove that humans could do it, not because it made any kind of commercial or scientific sense.

        2. Shas'Ui says:

          The actual day length results in some pretty cool possibilities: if you can maintain 3.6km/h, you can outrun the sun.

          Something I read, can’t recall the name, had big airtight buildings on wheels, constantly chasing the sunset/outrunning the dawn as a sort of noveria situation, aka do whatever experiments you want here, chances of safety/ethics inspections / industrial espionage are low and if something goes wrong, you just stop the lab, and it is frozen/broiled repeatedly until nothing is left.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      I… Don’t think that’s how it works?

      Yes, the shady side of a mountain is cooler than the sunny side because there will be less radiant heat from the sun, but convection and conduction will still equalize the temperatures in an area that localized.

      You wouldn’t have “inhospitable sunny side but somewhat tolerable in the shady side of the mountain,” you’d have “inhospitable sunny side and still inhospitable but maybe 1-3 degrees cooler in the shade”

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        There would be constant howling windstorms in the habitable ring due to the planet-wide convection cycle, but due to cold air sinking, it would nearly always be frigid air blowing toward the sun-lit regions. Might even have rivers of liquid oxygen and nitrogen. At the surface, you’d be able to get quite a ways into the “day” side without overheating. Probably grow crops twice as fast as normal due to the constant sunlight.

        Oh, there would also probably be significant tectonic activity, due to the mantle convection to carry heat away from the day side. That would mean the ground would be moving away from the star, and there would probably be lots of earthquakes, although the exact nature of that would rely on how much radioactive material was in the core, and how old the planet was.

        Point being, yeah, it could work this way. Local thermal convection would be overwhelmed by global convection. As to conduction, large scales make everything an insulator. You could very easily have hundreds of degrees of thermal differential between the “day” and the “night” side of a significant mountain.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Large scales make everything an insulator, but I wasn’t talking large scale. I was talking mountain peaks and ravines where conduction still kinda matters.

          Also, my gut tells me you’d actually need to get into the “night” side to find the habitable space, because from an energy balance standpoint the entire planet, including the cold side, has to radiate as much thermal energy as the sunny side takes in from the star. That means the cold side has to be warmed by the warm side more than the warm side is cooled by the cold side, which will push “temperate” more into the cold area.

          Also, I have no idea what weather does when you don’t have coriolis acceleration forcibly mixing cold and warm air due to planetary rotation. Again, going by my gut here, I don’t think you’ll have radical shifts in temperature over a “large mountain” scale, and I’m not even 100% convinced you’ll get the torrential storm systems because you don’t have “really really hot” next to “really really cold,” you have a gradient of temperatures that will cause some convection, but not so extreme as what you’re describing.

          Admittedly, I’m really just spitballing here though.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Permanently shadowed craters on the moon (typed it “Mun” first try. Thanks KSP.) are around 35 K, compared with the crater rims, which are 220 K. So, landscape-scale conduction is basically nonexistant. You can see this a lot closer to home, where temperatures at depths greater than about 2m don’t vary significantly over a daily period, and deeper than 10m doesn’t vary with annual fluctuations. So, for surface stuff larger than about 10m you don’t have to consider conduction, as radiation and convection will wash it out. Speaking of getting washed out, the thermal gradient is certainly going to be able to liquefy any breathable atmosphere, so I’m revising “rivers” of LN2 to “continuous blasting gales”. Imagine a series of continuous hurricanes in sequential bands a thousand miles deep, surrounding the terminator. Something like that.

      2. Decius says:

        You don’t live on the terminator. You live where the winds reach a “temperate” temperature, wherever that lies.

  10. Redrock says:

    Reading this, I’m just so glad I know so little about astronomy, physics and, well, science in general. Ignorance really is bliss. I mean, I studied political science, so most governments and societies in games aggravate me to my wit’s end, but at least I don’t have to worry about whether a skybox makes sense. But now I can see how Andromeda can be an absolutely painful experience for someone who does care about that sort of thing.

    1. djw says:

      I have a ph.d in physics, but I find that its pretty easy for me to tune out the science nonsense in Mass Effect. I tentatively slotted it in the Science Fantasy section of my brain when I created my first shep adept, and the silly faster than light gibberish made it official that the science was just fantasy word salad.

      The story dumbness is a lot harder for me to reconcile, honestly.

      1. Erik says:

        This, in spades.

        I can decouple my science, engineering, and even (hardest) history backgrounds enough to enjoy a good story, even if the details of any of these make NO sense. But story dumbness makes all of it fall apart, to the point where even modern-day media with no reality-inconsistent glitches becomes unwatchable, or for games they become playable only for the mechanics, skipping all cut-scenes. Bad writing *and* unskippable cut-scenes? Never gets played again.

  11. Jenkins says:

    Given the stupefying silliness of some of the game’s later cutscenes (looking at you, Asari Ark) the answer to whether Mass Effect: Andromeda is doing science can only be a resounding no.

    Sigh. At least we still have Dragon Age.

  12. Looking at these screenshots, I have to wonder if most of the environments and art assets were recycled from Dragon Age: Inquisition.

    I vaguely remember being annoyed by some red, desert-like maps in DA:I that were bland and uninteresting. Maybe they just reused parts of them for this game to save time/money?

  13. Asdasd says:

    Actually, this question is easy. The answer is zero.

    Why you gotta do me like that, Shamus.

    1. TMC_Sherpa says:

      Red Dwarf does have pleasure gelfs so you can kinda get there in the end. Although it’s best not to think about it too hard.

    2. butsuri says:

      Take heart! It’s not actually zero, it’s just really really really close to zero.

      In fact, I think one would even have to say it’s one of the most likely possibilities!* It’s just that any particular possible alien civilization, at that level of specificity, is more-than-astronomically unlikely.

      *A humanoid body plan is the only one we know from direct experience is a possible shape for an intelligent being, after all.

  14. Randy M says:

    I enjoyed the astronomy discussion; in fact I really like this series despite never playing a mass effect game.

  15. “Are we supposed to assume there are unseen force fields creating these abrupt temperature differentials?”

    But isn’t thermal heat kinda weird in general, like even on Earth during the night it can be slightly hotter in the shaded areas and colder in the areas that has moonlight. I forget exactly what the reason for this is.
    So I would not be surprised if it was much hotter in a shaded crater.

    I mean, researchers have toyed with the idea of storing heat in concrete during the day and release it during the night.

    As to multiple celestial bodies being tidal locked, sure why not. You could test it out in Universe Sandbox2 right?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, at night areas that are shaded are warmer, since they can’t radiate heat into space. But the whole conciet of this world it that it’s always day on this part of the planet.

  16. Hector says:

    Semi-off topic:

    I have long questioned the idea that Star Wars only shows one-environment planets, at least to a degree. We only ever see small portions of the planets anyhow, and the fact that they’re different from Earth doesn’t make them monomaniacal. Granted, there are an awfully large number of writers with questionable imaginations who like to push this idea.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      We also see the planets from orbit, and they appear largely monochromatic.

      1. Hector says:

        I disagree. I just double-checked myself, but if you actually look at the outer-space-vistas of Tattoine and Dagobah, they actually show considerable colour variation (Hoth is a bit questionable since it looks like large portions of it are covered by clouds). They’re on Wookiepedia for reference.

        1. silver Harloe says:

 colors vary from brown to dark brown. And the text on that page opens with “Tatooine was a sparsely inhabited circumbinary desert planet…”

 as you say, much cloud cover, though the text again opens with “Hoth was a remote, icy planet…”

 is also pretty monochromatic green with some cloud cover, with the description “Dagobah was a mysterious, mist-shrouded, swampy planet, mostly covered in swamps and bogs,”

    2. Dan Efran says:

      I consider the monoplanets a legitimate part of the Star Wars formula. It’s the James Bond films’ “visit three countries” thing, in space.

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        And in both cases, it amounts to seeing a couple of acres or city block-equivalents of the whole country/planet.

    3. Matthew Downie says:

      All the “Star Wars” encyclopedias (and dialogue, and opening crawls) back up the idea that most of the worlds we see have a fairly uniform environment.

      “Long ago, Tatooine was covered in oceans and rainforests but for unknown reasons, it became a hot desert world… The planet also had no vegetation… Inhabiting the planet were many native species, the largest of which were the carnivorous krayt dragons.”
      Yeah, I bet they were carnivorous, if there were no plants for them to feed on. I wonder what was at the bottom of the food chain? Jawas?

      1. Pinkhair says:

        If it is like Dune, it could be dragons all the way down…

  17. eVie says:

    Jumping onto the point about tidal locking, any large moon that orbited so closely to a gas giant would likely undergo significant tidal heating, and thus would probably be volcanic, like Io (or cryovolcanic, like Europa).

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Well, the tidal heating occurs when a body is dissipating energy. In a fully circularized and tidal locked body (like Earth’s moon) there is no tidal heating. Io and Europa get tidal energy from their eccentric orbits, maintained by harmonic resonance with the orbits of other moons. Which, seems like what the author had in mind, but then decided to throw orbital mechanics out the window and make everything “tidally locked” to everything else.

      Interestingly, Europa’s surface is tidally locked to Jupiter, but its interior might not be!

  18. GoStu says:

    It’s just a damning sign for the universe when they come up with these ideas (“It’s a moon tidally locked to the gas giant!”) but don’t do the cursory research or thought to actually explore the detail.

    As you said, a tidally locked moon will still have a day/night cycle as normal. But what if they went ahead with the idea of a terrestrial planet tidally locked to its star? Yes, generally speaking these are hot & rocky planets rather close to the sun – but because there’s a shortage of real estate in the Heleus Cluster it can be explained that living here is better than many other spots. You don’t get that pretty view up-close to the Gas Giant… but you can still keep a mission on “the moon of a gas giant” if you like, or just use that idea for a different livable planet.

    Our tidally-locked planet people would have some advantages; for example they could have amazing amounts of solar power from arrays on the bright side of the planet. If there’s little to no atmosphere and the panels are always in the sun, this is a lot of power. There’s even some advantages to having sunlight and vacuum with gravity – it would lend itself to metallurgy and industry. Focused sunlight can heat metals, and with no air your metals stay hot (hard to cool down) and don’t get gas impurities. From that, I can tell you that this planet might be an industrial planet.

    The inhabitants could live in a domed crater city that they can pressurize. Personally in the world of Mass Effect I’d have made this a Volus planet because money and industry are right up their alley. (I would have brought those little guys along to Andromeda for sure, because they like atmospheres nobody else can use). Now we have our first in-universe look at a Volus settlement.

    This domed crater could be right on the poles. Not too far from their solar arrays and foundries, but somewhere that when they duck into the crater they can control the amount of light they receive. Maybe they have a big mirror array that reflects light down into the city, but only at the times they decide it should be day/night. Now we have a big PLOT DEVICE that doesn’t have to run on bullshit inexplicable alien tech. I can see multiple storylines for this place:

    – [villains] are threatening the foundries. Now we can have a cool battle through a heavy industrial area with molten metal and all that around. This looks great and you can even have industrial hazards like “focused sunbeam” heat beams for the player to avoid.

    – [other villains] are trying to strong-arm the noncombatant Volus into turning over their metals

    – [some bad guys] have seized the solar array and plan to use it to make the Volus leave their city. Something-something Mass Effect Fields prevent bombardment something something but focused sun will boil them all something something. Go have an exciting battle in zero-gee on an orbital mirror.

    – The Volus themselves have control of the best and cheapest source of refined metals in all of Andromeda, and are starting to build a godawful monopoly beyond what they’ve ever controlled in the Milky Way. They’re extorting the colonists, go [have a social encounter].

    The interesting setting lends itself to creating plot threads, if only you actually understand what you’ve written. You can get that cool-science engagement from people who really appreciate the effort. But the delivery they went for here falls flat. It’s too science-nerdy to capture the space opera feel well, but it’s just too wrong to engage the harder-science lovers.

    1. GoStu says:

      Shortening this up:

      Mass Effect: Andromeda has writers. Mass Effect (original) had Authors.

      Almost any hack can just write down “this planet is a moon tidally locked to a gas giant”. It takes an author to really explore the consequences of such a planet and what living on it might be like and why you’d do it.

  19. Sartharina says:

    I was talking with a fellow furryfriend (Who actually apparently worked on the original Mass Effect. I wonder if he is in any way responsible for the codex saying “Furries are illegal”), and tried asking him questions about how to make my fantasy Nomadic Cat People Planet work, as a moon around a gas giant far from a distant Blue Giant. I think we decided that we’d need an upper atmosphere with a chemical composition that fluoresces when exposed to the radiation of the sun and planet to absorb radiation and create light.

    Unfortunately, that conversation got derailed into fight Global Warming by increasing orbit radius (Let’s swat bugs with nukes!), and trying to make Venus inhabitable by likewise increasing ITS orbital radius by smashing Mercury into it.

  20. Abnaxis says:

    So, by my measure I have a good bit less hobbyist astrophysics than you, and a good deal more applied physics, so this whole post sent me on an a wholly unproductive mental tangent think about this whole “tidally locked to two bodies at the same time” thing. I mean, judging from the Mercury article Silver Harloe linked above, tidal locking basically just means a body’s orbital period and it’s rotational period are whole-number ratios of each other, right (in this case, it’s kind of short-hand assumed the ratio is 1:1)? That’s not…impossible, is it? I mean, if both moons are tidally locked to the planet, and both have geostationary orbits (which is basically the stablest of stable equilibria in orbital physics, right?) then they’ll be tidally locked to one another, right?

    Other than that…hmmm. I actually think that’s what has to happen, right?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, that’s possible. The moons would need to also be at mutual lagrange points (L4 or L5) for this to work, so you still wouldn’t get the moons hanging in the sky as shown.

  21. evileeyore says:

    Is there a particular reason the moon can’t be in a “tidal locked” polar orbit? You know perpendicular to the planet’s orbital plane, thus always keeping one side to the star and one side away?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Could, but it would make the day a year long, barring precession or other fine-tuning orbital shenanigains. More details in the comments above.

      1. djw says:

        A day would still be one orbit around the planet. I think you mean that the cycle of day shaded by planet to day unshaded by planet would take a year. Unless I am missing something.

        EDIT: retracted. I didn’t think that through.

    2. GoStu says:

      Off the top of my head, something like that would be unlikely – the gas clouds that condense into planets and stuff all shared an average direction they were moving when the solar system formed. Anything moving at a right angle polar orbit like that would be an unlikely extrasolar capture, that came in from outside the solar system and got stuck there.

      I’m not an astrophysicist but my gut tells me that such an orbit would be highly unstable and likely to collide with some other body orbiting the main planet.

      Mass Effect 1 acknowledged these sorts of rarities in its planet descriptions and actually used them for worldbuilding. I remember one description of a moon in unstable orbit being destined to break into a ring system within the next few hundred years or so, and long-lived Asari already booking trips to see it when it happened.

    3. Richard says:

      Such a orbit is perfectly feasible and in fact very sought-after for Earth-observation satellites as you get to see the whole planet and keep your solar panels lit continually, so you don’t need large batteries to stay alive at night.

      It’s called Sun-Synchronous, and is a type of (near) polar orbit where the precession period of the near-polar orbit equals the orbital period of the host body.

      The precession happens because the the host body is an oblate spheroid.
      – I’m unsure whether Jupiter is sufficiently oblate, but there’s no particular reason why a gas giant couldn’t be.

      However, it’s not stable, so it seems incredibly unlikely that a moon could be there – unless somebody put it there.
      Maybe the Precursors thought that’d be fun?


    One of my problems with Elaaden was that one of the planets key landmarks was a crashed Remnant dreadnaught in the middle of the map. There are several breaches in the hull and the interior provides the largest environmental hazard ‘safe-zone’ on the planet as the large cavernous area is all in shadow.

    I think it would have been a great way to make Elaaden stand out from the other planets by making it all about this ship (suitably scaled up to take over the entire map), have the Exiles/Angara/krogan all set up encampments in various parts of the ships hull for various reasons (shelter from the sun, salvaging large quantities of materials for building more ships, trying to research the secrets of the Remnant). The constant threat of large quantities of Remnant emerging periodically to throw everyone out could have given the settlements their own unique feel and distinguish the planet from Eos by making the planets plot firmly oriented around slowly securing parts of this gargantuan ship. You could even use the artifical nature of large portions of the map to design arenas with much more options for verticallity in combat than on the other worlds.

    You could have done all sorts of things with this one idea to make Elaaden stand out, as well as justify why anyone would want to colonise it rather than a more habitable rock. Instead we got Eos with potholes and krogan.

    1. GoStu says:

      Dang, that’s a cool idea. It’d be immediately visually distinct, and because they’re already doing style/assets for “Remnant Dreadnought” it’s more a matter of scale. It’d worldbuild better and might be pretty memorable.

      Shame we just got “Eos with Potholes” and “Krogan that nobody should have invited”.

  23. rabs says:

    Well that’s it, I waited too long to buy Universe Sandbox². Should be awesome with my VR HMD.

    Great series by the way, I enjoy how you take an astonishingly flawed game to make us dream of how it could be awesome if done well.
    I feel an after-taste of sadness and frustration though, and hope some devs won’t miss the opportunity to fulfill our appetite.

  24. Shas'Ui says:

    In regards to not naming the gas planet: given that it is “tidally locked”, it would appear in the same place forever, clouds and moons moving in front of it; it might be a reasonable assumption that the inhabitants would consider it to just be part of the sky that was colored differently.

    Except for when it eclipses the sun, or depending on how much it remains lit when the rest of the sky goes dark, or if the weather patterns changes are visible from the moon. So yeah, it really should have a name.

    Also, if there was a big, unknown thing in the sky with constantly shifting patterns, I imagine that it would quickly become some sort of fortune-telling/prophecy object, with the locals ascribing meanings to its shifting swirls.

    Except that all of this would require a primitive (non spacefaring) local civilization, as opposed to the spacers we already have; unfortunately the “new alien races” budget was all spent on “pull-tab face”…

  25. sheer_falacy says:

    There’s actually a book series that takes place on a tidally locked moon, the Quintaglio Ascension. All of the characters are sapient dinosaurs (nanotyrannosaur based), and the first book is basically dinosaur Galileo trying to convince people that they’re a moon and that the big weird circle in the sky that you see on the other side of the “planet” is the gas giant that they’re orbiting and not the face of god. Really.

    I have no idea how scientifically accurate it is but it sounds like it’s way more so than Andromeda.

    1. Syal says:

      I’m going to assume the story ends with the planet opening its mouth and telling him to seriously shut up dude.

    2. GoStu says:

      I’ve read that! I like the author’s other books better, but at least Sawyer incorporated the oddities of the world (moon of gas giant) into the culture and behavior of its characters.

  26. Stuart Worthington says:

    “A 172 hour cycle would probably be uninhabitable, and a 17 day cycle would give you a rhythmic cataclysm to deal with.”

    A question for anyone more science-minded than me. For an alien species native to a planet with such a cycle, what sort of differences would there be between someone like that and humanity?

    1. Shas'Ui says:

      The closest analog here on earth would be deserts: hot during the day, then quickly becoming quite cold at night. Just amplify the effect by the time in/out of the sun, and lessen it by the ability of the atmosphere/terrain to store heat & therby smooth the fluctuations.

      The most obvious solution is some form of hibernation, probably also with burrowing to avoid the extremes. You’d need to avoid water-based body chemistry as the expansion when freezing would result in catastrophic damage. The hibernation would probably start towards the end of the day period to avoid the highest temperatures, and continue through the night.

      Your plant analog would have to be very good at storing enough energy to maintain itself for the days of darkness, or have some other energy source. Possibly something like a root vegetable, where a very large root os used to store the energy, except the part above the surface is discarded every night and grown fresh the next morning, like deciduous leaves, or retracted somehow.

      An advanced society would probably have a big focus on stockpiling and planning, and would do things in small parts rather then larger wholes, as anything too large would be interrupted.

      That’s my wildly speculative guesses given advanced life. Reality would probably be either no life or extremophile/chemical processing soil dwelling bacteria, but that’s no fun!

  27. Alec D. Generic says:

    On the topic of messing up science:

    The new moon (the point of the month when the moon is dark to us) is when the moon is positioned such that the side facing us isn’t getting any sunlight, and the supposed “dark side” of the moon is getting it instead.

    No. New moon is when the moon crosses through the earth’s shadow, where there is no light. So neither “our side” nor the “dark side” are getting any light. The point when only dark side is light and ours is dark is called a solar eclipse.

    1. Henson says:

      I’m afraid what you’re describing above is a lunar eclipse. Shamus is correct.

    2. Alec D. Generic says:

      Ok, so I freely admit I jumped the gun here with some wrong knowledge, which could have been avoided with a little googlin’. Oh, the irony.

      Sorry. I stand corrected.

  28. Jabberwok says:

    Setting aside all of the other problems, I find it very hard to believe that a planet with a temperature over the boiling point would have trees on it, or at least anything resembling a terrestrial tree. But maybe that’s explained by some other nonsense…

    1. ClaimedInfinity says:

      The temperature is not over the boiling point. It is around 60 degrees or something. It sure raises the question why the life support of the suit is so weak, but well I’d accept it as a gameplay element.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        Ah, okay. One of the article captions says it’s above boiling. Well even so, 60 is higher than the hottest recorded temperature on Earth. And I’m not seeing a lot of trees in photos of Death Valley, even though it actually has a day/night cycle. I would expect a landscape that is always hotter than the hottest deserts on Earth to be nearly one hundred percent treeless, unless they are man-eating space trees.

  29. ClaimedInfinity says:

    Actually it makes at least some sense if you look at the planet on galaxy map. The rotational axis of Tinia is at almost 90 degree angle to it’s ecliptic orbit and the satellite is at geostationary position. So Elaaden is INDEED tidally locked to the gas giant and the one side of it is INDEED always facing the sun. Here’s the screenshot.

    1. ClaimedInfinity says:

      Sorry, in the previous post should be “0” not “90” . Actually it’s somewhere between 0 and 30. Tinia’s axis is like Uranus’ in our Solar system.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Well, even if it was 90 degrees, that would make the day a year (for the gas giant) long, barring precession or other fine-tuning orbital shenanigains. More details in the comments above.

        I suppose if Tinia’s orbital period is several hundred years, then that might be effectively the same as one side always facing the star, as long as the orbit was face-on to the star. You would get normal day-night cycles when the gas giant’s orbit moved so the moon’s orbit was edge-on to the ecliptic. And of course, if the moon’s orbital inclination is only 30 degrees then you’d get normal days, with seasons only a little more extreme as on Earth (which has an axial tilt nearly that high), and then with abnormally long “years” depending on the orbital characteristics of the parent gas giant.

        1. ClaimedInfinity says:

          My point is that you get a day that lasts half a year like on Titania and Oberon. And considering orbital period of a gas giant that day may be decades long (I think it’s 44 years * 0.5 = 22 years according to the game). Not a very good place to live by any means when the night comes (you’d have to have settlements for day and night cycle on both sides of the satellite and move between them every 22 years) but as I stated above it at least makes some sense considering the info we’re told by the game.

  30. Philadelphus says:

    Finally, a post where Shamus discusses astronomy and I can put that PhD I’m earning and life-long love of astronomy to good use! I’ve waited years for this! Years!

    …ahem. Just two minor notes:
    1. While Io, Europa, and Ganymede are indeed in a 1:2:4 resonance with each other, Callisto is far enough out that it’s not in a resonance with anything else. This doesn’t actually change anything you wrote as you never explicitly claimed they were all resonant, I just wanted to clarify that.

    2. The reason the Moon gets all orange/red from the atmosphere during a lunar eclipse also has to do with its precise distance from the Earth. The Earth’s atmosphere refracts light and bends it around the planet, but it only does so to a finite extent: if we were to pause during a total lunar eclipse and steadily move the Moon in closer and closer eventually it’d be entirely within the refracted ring of sunlight and go pretty much completely dark, though given how big the Moon is it might pass within the Roche limit by that point. (Moving it outwards would probably have the opposite effect, as eventually it’d reach the point where the angular size of the Earth is smaller than the angular size of the Sun so it’d never actually be completely eclipsed by the Earth.)

    This is relevant to the part about being on the moon of a gas giant: depending on how close in you are to the giant, your solar eclipses might completely block the local star out, without even the ring of refracted starlight around the edge. Though as you mentioned the much thicker atmosphere might increase the refractive angle of the light, so…you’d probably have to be pretty close in. Maybe. It’d definitely make for an interesting sci-fi scenario where you no longer have symmetric day/night cycles, but instead have more night than day each rotation.

  31. Rane2k says:

    I think from this comment thread alone, you could construct several interesting planetary body arrangements that would have interesting story and/or gameplay implications.
    I also think that the mental energy expended on this topic far exceeds the effort that was made at bioware. :)

    In regards to Shamus´ discussion of the 24h orbit with the 5/2/5/12 split of light/darkness, I think that would make for an interesting basis of a culture´s religion. Like the egyptians imagining the sun being pushed across the sky (Kephri, I think), there could be very interesting religious “explanations” for the time period where Tinia blocks out the sun.

    1. ClaimedInfinity says:

      Well, bioware at least thought about making the gas giant axis highly tilted. You won’t have “always daytime” on the one side of the tidally locked satellite but you still can have “20 years daytime”. It is still shallow though (how about the question what will happen when the night comes – anybody ever thought about that?) but yeah, we have what we have.

  32. Hellfire says:

    It’s probably been said already but I want to add it anyway u_u of course the writer didn’t think this tidal locking out very well, or at all, but there’s a solution: the moon is tidally locked to a tidally locked planet whose tilt is next to 90°, like Uranus. No seasons, no eclypses. It’s still an idiotic place to want to colonize.

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