Thought Experiment 2: Societies on a Habitable Moon

I discussed the science behind a Habitable Moon here: Thought Experiment Habitable Moon Around a Gas Giant, and you can go ahead and read that to understand the science of this thought experiment and to bring you up to speed on what I will discuss now.

The night sky, the sun, and various atmospheric effects have often played a large role throughout the history of various civilizations on Earth. For example, the Mayans were very detailed with their astronomy, many of their calculations on various heavenly bodies extremely accurate, considering the time period – all before the development of telescopes. From the evidence their civilization left behind, it seems they used the sky more like a clock. The link I provided explains in depth aspects of Mayan astronomy and how it connects with their view of their deities. Even in Mayan myths, attributes of the night sky and other astronomical phenomenon played a role in how they viewed their world.

The Ancient Greeks also had a great love for knowledge and Ptolemy was also able to make extremely accurate calculations of various heavenly bodies. Also, there is evidence that a lot of the data that Ptolemy used for his calculations included several centuries of data not only from Greek star gazing but also Babylonian star gazing. Although the Greeks sought knowledge and a more complete understanding of the universe, they still hold great reverence for what they saw in the sky. Astronomical events in the sky often feature in some of their myths. For example, many of the our more modern names for constellations is based upon the Greek constellations and myths that surrounded them. In one myth, the Pleiades star cluster, which is a large cluster of stars found in the constellation of Taurus, were known as the seven sisters, all daughters of Atlas and Pieone and as the myth goes, Orion, the hunter, say them in a glade and fancied them. After Zeus answered their pleas and turned them into doves to live in the stars, Orion kept up his chase, so that after he died, he too was placed in the heavens, forever to continue his chase, but never to succeed. There’s a lot more to the myth, as to why they wished to be delivered to the skies, but I won’t go into that here.

Suffice to say, the above discussion is to show that the night sky and what is seen in the sky often plays a heavy role in a society’s view of itself, its myths, its religions, and even its search for knowledge. For someone living on a habitable moon, I can guarantee the planet will be a huge source of mythical inspiration and thought. The society may hold the planet to be the source of life rather than the sun itself, due to the proximity of the planet and how often it may eclipse the sun. The society may even determine the star and the planet to hold significant positions in their religions and/or mythology. Possibly even marrying the two in myth. For those that live in the dark side, the myths that develop may depend more heavily on the other objects in the sky since the planet will not be as readily seen as the tidally locked side. It is quite possible that there may be other moons orbiting the planet, especially if it is a gas giant, and thus any night sky gazer would see the movement of these moons, how quickly they may rise and set in comparison to the more distant stars. They may form myths around these moons, just like how the Greeks, Mayans, and countless other civilizations on Earth did with our night sky. Perhaps, for them, they will see the moons are the harbingers of wisdom or knowledge, or maybe may develop a myth where one moon is a goddess, the other their lover, and they forever chase each other because of a fight with another, greater god.

It’s well known on our planet that astronomy and math were some of the first sciences to develop in most cultures across the globe. In China, astronomy and math were fairly well developed by the time the Arabs and more western civilizations came into contact with them. In the Western hemisphere, the Greeks, drawing on much astronomical data and mathimatical concepts developed in Mesopotamia and Babylonia, developed their extensive studies of astronomy and aided in starting science within the western half of the Earth. The Muslims helped to preserve it and reintroduce it to European nations, and thus the study of science developed and expanded to explore more and more of our universe over time. It’s quite possible that the habitable moon society will develop their own sciences through an initial fascination with the night and day sky.

I can definitely see this society eventually developing space travel in order to travel to the gas giant, to try understand it better, which in turn can help them understand themselves better. Much like our journey into space and to the moon helped us to better understand our own Earth as our home, our planet, our place to make our stand, or as Carl Sagan says:

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Yes. For someone on a habitable moon, it is quite possible they will look up at their host planet and wonder. Is there life there as well? Is that the origination of our life on this moon? What lies under that blanket of clouds? It may invoke this sense of desire to see beyond their moon, and to look up at their host planet and seek its shores. To see what lay there and beyond. And upon doing so, it’s quite possible, as their probes and instruments are sent out into their solar system, those probes will look back and take a picture of their moon from afar, and they too may come to similar conclusions as Carl Sagan.

That thirst to know, to understand, I truly think it will be prevalent in nearly – if not all – sentient societies. That desire to understand. At first, in ancient times, the society may attempt to explain how the world works through mythology and religious stories, that may hold great value and meaning to that society. Helping to define them and push them forward. Over time, they may start to develop various sciences, and that may also start periods of enlightenment, where they start to see and understand how their world actually works, outside of the confines of myths.

For the moment, I’ve kept this discussion generalized, and mostly discussed how a society may develop over time. Filling in the details? Well, that’s the fun part! For that, I’ll probably sit down and seek to answer Patricia C. Wrede’s wonderful set of questions for worldbuilding but just edit it for science fiction setting. I’ve already sat down with her questions for my Elivera world, and edited them into a more science fiction setting. (Taking out all those fantasy references (like the set of magic questions) and replacing them with more questions about technology and science.) There’s a plethora of questions there that really dig into the finer details.

For instance, one of the questions asks how the climate may affect the society. For a habitable moon, the tidal forces from the host planet would be fairly significant, which would affect tides within the ocean on the moon. Also because daylight may last for part of the orbital period, they would probably have to either measure a day based on the length of their orbital period, or perhaps they would measure the day as the difference between eclipses. On the dark side of the moon, a day may be when the sun sets and rises, and so what is a day to them could translate to several Earth days (maybe even an Earth week). With this in mind, the tidal forces within a day could also be cyclic in nature, which could help societies living by the ocean establish a rhythm to their day, where they may forage for food when the tide is out, and then return home before the tide returns. Probably forcing them to have precise measurements of tidal effects to try to estimate when the tide comes in and when it goes out. For those that live more inland, the moderate weather may, if they live in a region that has good soil, allow them to have sophisticated farming practices; I suspect such a civilization may be more in the temperate regions of the moon. For those closer to the equator, who may experience warmer temperatures, they may suffer from a lack of resources or even a lack of water. Perhaps they are more nomadic, going from water oasis to water oasis, and may develop a sophisticated navigation for the times when their moon’s orbit would take them into the night part of their day.

These are all ideas on how the moon’s orbit, the host planets effects, and some climate effects may influence the society. I’m sure, over time, I may come up with more ideas. I love speculating about these sorts of concepts, because it invigorates my imagination. It leaves me wondering what life on these other worlds could be like, and how to write about it. Over time, I start to solidify these ideas and write them down in full, so that actual civilizations are born from my fingers, and there, in their fertile ground, I can plant the seeds of a story, cultivating it as it grows, until it is time to prune it and send it off to various publishers or magazines to see if it will be accepted.

So, my readers, I hope I’ve given you some insight on how you can start building your own worlds through the use of science and speculation of a more sociological nature.

Categories: Aliens, History, Science, World BuildingTags: , , , , ,


  1. Yes, on our little fragile earth there have been horrendous events in the past, present, and probably future as well. Yet, there is also much beauty, courage, hope, and life-giving love. Perhaps we are painfully working our way toward a future when everyone will choose beauty, hope, life-giving love, and courage that puts others first. Other then this comment, as usually I liked your world view.



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