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Is Dune scientifically plausible?  Yes and no

Is Dune scientifically plausible? Yes and no

Scientists are excited Sand dunes I didn't wait for the movies to ask the big question: Is it possible for a planet like Arrakis to exist? What about sandworms? the Rumor detector I looked at their responses.

The origin of the myth

In 1965, American writer Frank Herbert published Sand dunes, which will become the first in a series of novels set in the distant future, where humanity has conquered the galaxy. But what distinguishes this work, and will make it one of the most prominent works of science fiction, is… Depth of context: Sand dunes Juggling everything at once With politics, history, philosophy, psychology and religion, In addition to the environment.

behind Scientific speculation Specific to the sci-fi genre – faster-than-light spaceships, psychic powers, genetic manipulation – Sand dunes The film centers above all on a barren planet hostile to life, called Arrakis or Dune, where a massive animal, the sandworm, produces a spice essential for the survival of the Galactic Empire. It is these two elements – the planet and the sandworm – that have a special effect Draws attention Subordinate Scientists.

Could Arrakis exist?

In 2021, three British experts in climate modeling Specifically, he attempted to model the climate of Arrakis. What we call “modelling” consists, when we talk about our planet, of inputting amounts of data – temperature, humidity, air and ocean currents, etc. – with the aim of predicting the evolution of the climate, following different scenarios: for example, the scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to Uninterrupted growth until the end of the century, or a scenario in which emissions fall after 2030 to near zero before the end of the century.

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In the case of ArrakisThe difficulty was that we obviously didn't have that amount of data. So, the three British researchers started from the few details Herbert provided: an atmosphere similar to our own, with an amount of carbon dioxide in the air closer to what it was before our industrial era. The level of ozone in the lower atmosphere is also much higher than on Earth: 0.5% on Arrakis compared to 0.000001% on Earth.

This last detail is important because ozone is also a greenhouse gas, which is why Herbert included it in his story: it is this gas that explains the warmer climate, and the more severe blow, that prevails on Arrakis.

The problem is that ozone is a toxic gas, and in order to survive, its inhabitants must have the technology to protect themselves from it or eliminate it at ground level. There is nothing insurmountable for civilization Which takes place in the future, 20 thousand years laterBut Herbert seems to have forgotten this detail.

Ultimately, climate modeling reveals other small differences with the novel: for example, given the high temperature of -70°C in summer – the polar ice caps could not survive, as Herbert had hypothesized. In fact, the Poles would be uninhabitable, and the population would have to reside near the equator. On Earth, it is the high humidity in the tropics that increases the heat. But in Arrakis, in the absence of water, and therefore humidity, summer will be more likely at the equator, while the polar regions “will have greater atmospheric humidity and cloud cover, which will help warm the climate.” The result is that there will also be some rain in the polar regions in the summer.

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But the researchers concluded that none of these differences from the novel make the existence of a habitable planet like Arrakis impossible.

Can sandworms exist?

However, the survival of giant sandworms is not certain.

In the novel, these are impressive creatures: 400 meters long – that is, ten times longer than our blue whales – they are able to detect the simple walking of a human on the sand, which in the course of their passage destroys entire mining facilities.

On our planet, worms are primarily invertebrates, that is, animals that do not have a skeleton. They absorb oxygen through their skin. But there's a reason they're so small: the bigger this animal gets, the harder it is to get oxygen to its internal organs. He remembers Biologist Michael Werner, of the University of Utah, in a text speculating about sandworms on Arrakis. “The volume increases with size, which poses the challenge of bringing and distributing sufficient oxygen to the tissues.”

Patrick Lewis, an expert in vertebrate paleontology at Sam Houston State University in Texas, Lesson In recent years A Worm with skeleton (Zegaspace quadrifron) which allows it to be larger. But “larger” in his case means 20 to 30 centimeters in length.

The main problem is with the 400-meter-long worm, Werner explains That LouisIt's very simple: gravity. Whales can be very large because they live in the water. But on the surface, Lewis describes to the magazine Science News“It basically has to be a big ball of bone to avoid being crushed under your weight.”

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“Vertebrates like you and me can reach larger sizes, but there are limits to that too,” Werner explained in 2021.

Judgment

Arrakis may exist around a distant star. But – without detracting from the qualities of Frank Herbert's novel and Denis Villeneuve's film – for sandworms, the matter is more dubious.

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