Experiments on a new planet

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Summary: I am looking to compile a list of experiments that would be conducted on a new planet to learn about it.

Hi, I am trying to compile a list of experiments that would be conducted on a new planet. I'd like to categorize them as such:

Simple field experiments that could be done with basic supplies in the wilderness without specialized equipment.

Makeshift field lab experiments that could be put together with some basic resources like simple metals and glass

Basic lab experiments that could be conducted once you start being able to make some simple specialized equipment, like chemistry/titration equipment and simple centrifuge etc.

Advanced lab experiments that would need precision manufactured equipment, and/or a sterile environment.

Maybe also list what type of general scientific field it falls under. (physics, biology, geology, astronomy, etc.)

Here is my list so far(I will update as it goes):

Atmospheric composition (basic or advanced lab?)

Barometric pressure(physics)

Gravitational acceleration(physics): simple field experiment (pendulum experiment)

Soil composition(geology)

Astrogational info(astronomy):(planetary rotational period, orbital radius, orbital period, astronomical relation to earth)

Ecological/biological info on local plant/animal life. (biology)

Solar spectral analysis

UV light intensity
 
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  • #3
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Are you writing a SF story?

Yes, but I want to be as factual as I can.
 
  • #4
DrClaude
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Yes, but I want to be as factual as I can.
Thread moved to the Writing and World Building forum.
 
  • #5
DaveC426913
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I think we'd need to know a little more about the context.

IMO, a realistic scenario for exploration of a new planet would not be driven out of pure scientific interest; it would be funded by an organization with an agenda.

Why are they exploring planets? For resources? That would skew the areas of testing.

How big a budget? (A team of 10? A team of 1000?)
How much access to facilities? (large industrial civilization nearby? Remote location of system?)
 
  • #6
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I think we'd need to know a little more about the context.

A small group of scientists (3-4) accidentally find themselves on a new planet while doing some field testing on earth, and must learn about it to survive. There is no way back to earth or any kind of communication with earth.
 
  • #7
DaveC426913
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A small group of scientists (3-4) accidentally find themselves on a new planet while doing some field testing on earth, and must learn about it to survive. There is no way back to earth or any kind of communication with earth.
Ah! Very different scenario.

In that case, you'll want to look at the hierarchy of survival.
https://survivalskills.guide/rule-of-3-survival/
Even if they have their survival needs wrapped up (say, a broken spaceship), their priorities will stay the same but shift to long term.
 
  • #8
Vanadium 50
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Solar spectral analysis

A small group of scientists (3-4) accidentally find themselves on a new planet while doing some field testing on earth, and must learn about it to survive. There is no way back to earth or any kind of communication with earth.

We're trapped on an alien planet, and our very survival is in jeopardy. I wonder if we can see the sodium D lines in the sun?
 
  • #9
anorlunda
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I don't see how any of those experiments you listed in #1 would aid in their survival.

Rather than do experiments, I think they should look for food and shelter.

One very useful experiment would be to find out if a local food was poisonous. But I don't know how to test that other than with a guinea pig of some sort.
 
  • #10
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We're trapped on an alien planet, and our very survival is in jeopardy. I wonder if we can see the sodium D lines in the sun?
I don't see how any of those experiments you listed in #1 would aid in their survival.

Rather than do experiments, I think they should look for food and shelter.

One very useful experiment would be to find out if a local food was poisonous. But I don't know how to test that other than with a guinea pig of some sort.

Immediate survival needs are a given, I'm wondering what experiments would be carried out over the years they live there. They'd need to know how intense the solar radiation is to ensure their safety. They'd need to know soil composition to grow food better. They'd need to study hunting patterns of predators. And learn which plants and animals are edible. They'd at least try to use the stars to locate themselves in the universe and figure out where they are. And over time build up technological capabilities, and ease of life.

So, yes, scientists would conduct the experiments, and yes they would be helpful. But I'm not sure what all experiments would help, or what would be needed to conduct the research.
 
  • #11
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The orbital period is important to find out - recall the assumption that it is at first unknown. The orbital radius, as such, is irrelevant.
But what is highly relevant is local current season, and climate. If you start not knowing how long the year is, you also start not knowing the season, whether it is winter or summer coming, and how cold it will get.
UV light intensity is quite relevant to survival. As is atmospheric pressure and composition. Man is not awfully well fitted to measure these directly.
 
  • #12
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What's your premise?

Is this a TEOTWAWKI concept, with the cast pitted against each other for immediate survival, in which case it is very quickly Lord of the Flies.

Is it a The Martian style novel of wits for rescue?

Or, is it, given this comment, a struggle to establish a civilization?

I'm wondering what experiments would be carried out over the years they live there.

That's very slowly Lord of the Flies, because building and maintaining a technological base is really difficult. People think they understand how stuff works, but typically they do not, and even if they do, manufacturing parts is not straightforward. And specifically to the experiments you want them to do, scientific instruments typically require calibration, clean conditions, and power. If anything breaks, it is unlikely to be repaired on an outpost with no access to high technology facilities.

Finally, biology is the main 'experiment' they need to undertake. Where is water, what can I eat, what causes allergic reactions, what is going to kill me. The rest is incidental if you starve to death...
 
  • #13
jim mcnamara
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Let's go back to square zero.
If you want to be scientific about it and assume this story happens in the Milky Way somewhere:
https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/faq/6/how-many-exoplanets-are-there/Of these very very few are earth-like

Molecular clouds (matter that condenses into solar systems) have varying relative abundances of elements.
So your planet may have more copper than iron in the crust. As a simple example. So the list of earth-like places can shrink because of many factors relating to planetary formation, and the effect of having big moon.

You could even have a planet with an oxygen atmosphere likes and lots of living things that seem similar to our known biota here. But, oops, early on something arose that caused evolution to deal with handedness (stereo isomers) but used R instead of out L. A perfect match turns out to be completely useless and sometimes toxic.

The point is:
You may not want to overdo the science bit because what your team finds is like not anything they can deal with.
In other words, if you start out super scientific you are shooting yourself in the foot in two ways:

1. Virtually any planet will have some serious problems

2. You likely will have to come to the realization that you have to terraform (in small part) and create a small earth-park to get past some problems. Unless you make the place an Earth twin. Which negates the need for experiments.

If you want the protagonists to succeed, take a less scientific track, like Larry Niven and other "high science background" authors had to do to make their stories work. Readers are cool with that.

My training is in an area of Ecology/Evolution. I used to teach students about homeostasis and how a very minor tweak can propagate possible into a disaster. Hormones in humans can work like this, so can single species introduction into an area:

Imagine.
A tree lined clear 2 acre pond with a smooth surface, under blue skies.

Now lob a large 5Kg rock right into the middle of the pond. Splash! Waves move over the all of the pond's surface. The entire system responds to a small perturbation ( rock is tiny compared to the pond)

Anything that was under the rock's impact is clobbered. But waves now propagate over the entire surface, and a mud cloud at the impact site starts to spread slowly outward.

Your crew is a rock. And it can screw up things all over.
 
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  • #14
Vanadium 50
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1. Virtually any planet will have some serious problems

This.

Heck, even Earth would have some serious problems. If someone were dropped on a random spot on the Earth, unprepared, they would likely be in trouble. Even if you didn't count oceans. For giggles, I drew some random numbers and got:
  1. Sirte Desert, Libya. This may actually be the most hospitable.
  2. Antarctic Ice Shield
  3. Sahara Desert in northern Mali.
  4. Siberia, just south of the Kara Sea
  5. More Siberia, about 70 miles from Turukhansak
  6. The middle of the Sankuru river, about 40 miles from Ilebo, Democratic Republic of the Congo
 
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  • #15
anorlunda
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And those serious problems would likely kill everyone before the chance to do science. For example little or no atmosphere.

But the following is a much bigger problem for story credibility.
A small group of scientists (3-4) accidentally find themselves on a new planet while doing some field testing on earth...

"Whoops, I spilled coffee on the keyboard and now we're on another planet."
 
  • #16
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If you want the protagonists to succeed, take a less scientific track, like Larry Niven and other "high science background" authors had to do to make their stories work. Readers are cool with that.

I more want to go this route, but I wanted to learn about what science could realistically be done to know what kind of things my much smarter than me characters would do. As well as reverse engineering my fictional planet, so I don't make up something that just doesn't work with physics.

For example I have decided on my planet orbiting a larger blue-white star. And from my research plant life would likely be either more red to absorb more of the light that is available, or blue to reflect excess light. This also means that it is in a much larger orbital radius.

I suppose I would look more for things that scientists could learn in methods ranging from Newton and Galileo up to the 1930's ish era. And maybe if a civilization builds I can work it up from there.

How would they determine the amount of light and wavelengths to see how harmful it is and what precautions must be taken.

How would they determine if they can make penicillin?

How might slight variations in atmospheric composition affect barometric pressure and chemical reactions?

If oxygen content is too high or low, how would they determine this, and compensate for it.

I want it to be just enough off from earth that the changes I make are plausible, and close enough to stand up to some scrutiny and debate.
 
  • #17
Vanadium 50
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"Whoops, I spilled coffee on the keyboard and now we're on another planet."

"I wonder what will happen if we park in the boss' spot?"
 
  • #18
Vanadium 50
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so I don't make up something that just doesn't work with physics.

For example I have decided on my planet orbiting a larger blue-white star.

And you're already in trouble. These stars are young. Very young. Eta Aurigae, a B3V, is maybe a few tens of millions of years old. That's a problem for evolving local life.
 
  • #19
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And you're already in trouble. These stars are young. Very young. Eta Aurigae, a B3V, is maybe a few tens of millions of years old. That's a problem for evolving local life.

@Vanadium 50's point is the perfect double-edge example of sci-fi writing:

1. Some readers will know this, and it will annoy them;
2. The larger number of readers won't know this, so they'll just read on.

There is likely to be something scientific you don't get right, but the point is the most readers are not looking for that, they just want to read a good story!

If your characters are engaging, and the plot is interesting, and the narrative is well crafted, pretty much everything else can be overlooked.

So the best advice any of us can give is, start writing. Don't sweat the large stuff, but ask us about the nitty gritty details - one at a time - and if you're finding yourself going Jules Verne in technical description, back it off, the audience for such myopic exposition is very limited.
 
  • #20
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May I suggest you consult...
The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World After An Apocalypse
by Lewis Dartnell

IMHO, with what you've described, you have so painted yourself into a corner.
Unless your solar-system has been too-conveniently tidied, the planet terraformed, it will be anaerobic and grossly inhospitable. UV from your young-ish Blue-White star is almost the least of your worries. A terrestrial-sized planet will also be young, probably volcanically active, probably have a nastily acidic atmosphere, even if density and temperature are 'moderate'. There may be frequent meteorite falls, ranging from nuisance to crust-crackers. Don't linger on low ground near coasts, impactor tsunamis may travel far...

Your logistics would be a problem, too. 'The Martian' barely managed to grow enough food in an existing 'greenhouse dome', which I considered fair. Starting from nothing, how/where/what could you plant enough to feed your small team ? Does not compute...

So, posit a 'stargate', which dumps your unfortunate field team inside an abandoned alien terraforming base. Fortunately, set on stable geology. Think 'Silent Running' with its robot gardeners. Assume the remaining intact domes' stale but breathable atmosphere has Earth-like mix, albeit at tolerably different pressure to match the still-anaerobic planet. Deduce that Earth had been 'sampled' for blue-green algae etc to oxygenate the ocean & atmosphere, but there's a lot more 'banded iron' to precipitate before atmosphere becomes 'aerobic'. Deduce 'flora' was probably collected more recently...

Your team get to do their basic science etc, if only to figure their situation.

May I suggest reading...
OMNILINGUAL (Novelette) by H. Beam Piper (1957) also https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19445
FALSE ALARM (Novelette) by James White (1957) (if you can find it)
... which nimbly derive meaning of unknown, but technical languages from context and periodic table...
Both references found at http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/futurelang.php
;-)
 
  • #21
anorlunda
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abandoned alien terraforming base
LOL. Aliens may have a forming machine, but it would certainly not be "terra" forming.
 
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  • #22
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Certainly not a 'machine' per that first 'Total Recall' movie's cringe-worthy finale, but a research & observation centre, a 'Field Camp' if you will. Convenient to study progress of the busy algae in the oceans, experiment with plantings in mineral beds variously derived from typical geologies...

A question: If eg Wiki's broad definition reads...
"Terraforming or terraformation of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to the environment of Earth to make it habitable by Earth-like life."
What would you prefer to call such a make-over ??
 
  • #23
Vanadium 50
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or blue to reflect excess light

What do you mean "excess light"? Why wouldn't your plants simply use this energy rather than come up with a complex adaptation to make them less efficient than their competitors?

Furthermore, if you change the color, you change chlorophyll. That most likely means replacing magnesium with some other metal, and that in turn makes it likely the plants are poisonous. Or so different from our biology that they are no good as food, which sooner or later will amount to the same thing.

It seems like you are painting yourself into a corner before you even get to the plot.
 
  • #24
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Furthermore, if you change the color, you change chlorophyll. That most likely means replacing magnesium with some other metal, and that in turn makes it likely the plants are poisonous. Or so different from our biology that they are no good as food, which sooner or later will amount to the same thing.
On Earth, there are two types of plants that are not green.
Blue and red algae.
Both use the same chlorophyll as green algae and plants, with magnesium. They just supplement it with phycobilisomes. Which are diverse, containing stuff such as phycocyanins and phycoerythrins.

Are red algae edible?

What would a land plant equipped with phycobilisomes look and taste like?
 
  • #25
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It seems like you are painting yourself into a corner before you even get to the plot.

This is exactly why the topic, find out what is actually unreasonable and restructure.

I am greatly appreciating all the feedback.
 

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