Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Life Forms of 61 Vir D

61 Vir D is a real planet. This piece was a class assignment. We were to select an extra-solar planet, and then, using the minimal data we had, invent the life forms that live on that planet.

TL;DWR*? Aliens. In space. Fictional tho.

The planet known as 61 Vir D is the third planet in the of the system classified as 61 Virginis. There are two other planets in the system, 61 Vir B and 61 Vir C. 61 Vir B has a mass of five times that of the planet Sol D (colloquially: Earth) and is located at a distance of approximately .05 AU away from the sun. 61 Vir C is slightly more than three times the mass of 61 Vir B coming in at a mass of eighteen times that of Earth. It is four times the distance away from the sun as 61 Vir B, and is at a distance of .21 AU. The third planet, 61 Vir D has been classified as a Super-Earth. 61 Vir D has a mass of nearly twenty-three times that of Earth and it is located just outside the Habitable Zone. The sun of the zone is slightly smaller than Sol (the Earth sun) and therefore the planet is within a modified habitable zone line.

Planet 61 Vir D, to be known colloquially as Vurd, has collected several moons, ranging in size. As of the current research, no signs of life have been found on any of the moons, identified as 61 Vir D I, II, III and IV. The planet itself has a one-hundred twenty-three (Earth)day long orbital period and a rotational period of thirty-nine hours, leaving the planet with just seventy-five local days in a local year. Because of the nearness of the sun and the amount of time spent sun-ward each day, the planet has a constant rain cycle. There are few major oceans, but the smaller lakes can be extremely affected by fourteen hours in direct sunlight. Often, the lakes and ponds will shrink noticeably over the course of the day, only to be replenished by the nearly nightly rainfall. A portion of the problem comes from the somewhat thick atmosphere of the planet. Because of its immense size and mass, Vurd holds a thick atmosphere close to the surface. This leads to what has been called 'The Runaway Greenhouse Effect.' It when the heat of the sun begins to evaporate the lakes, it thickens the atmosphere, causing more evaporation and a thicker atmosphere. At the height of the days heat, midday, it is almost certainly fatal to go out into the open. However, when night comes around, the dark side of the planet has time to cool off and with the occurrence of precipitation, the atmosphere is thinner, ready to begin another day of evaporation and precipitation.

Vurd has both terrestrial and aquatic species. They have many fish-like animals in the oceans, but they are considerably larger than Earth fish. Because of the greater mass of Vurd, there is a significantly increased gravity, causing there to be more of a counter to it than on Earth. Therefore, aquatic creatures have massive swim bladders. The most fish like have the bladders inside them and appear to be merely larger versions of Earth fish. However, a strange species known as the Nulur have their sacks open directly into the ocean. They have a long, needle-shaped body with two large sacs to either side of their rear fin. The design of the bladders is very advantageous when try to escape a predator. There are no vital organs or major blood-paths in them so they act as a sort of cushion to any external blows, be they crushing or shredding. If they are punctured or if the Nulur notices it's predator, deflating them narrows the profile of the fish allowing to escape. It can now more easily propel itself forward and, without the swim bladders to lift it up, it begins to glide downwards. In addition to the Nulur there are many fish that use the naturally occurring drag caused by the water to keep themselves at their desired level. They have massively wide bodies, sometimes as large as twenty or thirty meters across, but no more than a few centimeters thick. The relatively low density compared to the surface area keeps them at one level for the majority of their lives. Smaller fish and some plants often find homes on their bodies as this means that they too will stay at one level and do not have to worry about getting to close to the surface and the dangers of the sun, nor too deep and closer to the larger aquatic beings. There are very few amphibians on Vurd because they would have to go across the surface on a regular basis and the heat of day could quickly dehydrate and kill them.

Despite the sun, there are still many terrestrial species that live on the land. The planet is formed of various tectonic plates so mountains and ridges have been formed. In some cases, rifts and canyons have been created, some only meters deep, others measuring kilometers. There are open plains, some with lakes and other bodies of water, but there are very few plants in these exposed areas, and those that are there are low and widespread so as to be able to soak as much water out of the dry ground as they can during the day. Some small animals, similar to Earth's lizards and moles burrow in the ground near the lakes. During the day, they stay within their shaded holes and at night they emerge to eat from the the plants and drink from the replenished waters. Over time, the construction of the burrows has become more advanced. Due to the large amounts of rain, the burrowing animals sometimes create two pairs of tunnels. One leads horizontally out, to there sleeping locations. The others are directed downward to create wells that can potentially last through the day.

In the mountains and on the ridges, there are more plants. Depending on geography, some of these plants grow to be much larger. Because they are in the shadow of the mountain or the ridge for a significant portion of the day, less water is evaporated so more water can be consumed. The animal life in these sections grow to be no larger than the largest Earth dogs. Because of the extra relief the shade of the mountain gives, they spend more of their time hunting and eating than the plains animals so they can afford to grow larger. When the sun does reach over the peak of the mountain, the vast majority retreat to caves. Smaller animals can hide within trees or in burrows. These animals, as well as the animals in the rifts and canyons would seem very odd to a visitor from Earth. They are proportionately wider and shorter than would be expected and many have exoskeletons. Their body proportions are strange because of the much greater gravity on Vurd than of Earth. Their proportions allow them to be many times more stable as does the exoskeleton. An additional benefit of the exoskeleton is that it can absorb and reflect some of the sunlight, allowing these animals more leeway in their hunting hours. The smaller animals are much more akin to standard expectations because of their lifestyle. Living near their food and water supply means that they do not often have to move, so they do not have to deal with the constant strain against gravity. Also, when they are being chased by larger animals, they have superior mobility and have a greater sprinting capability. However, they do not have the physical structure to be able to flee for a long period of time so they must find their destination.
Within the rifts and canyons, some of the most exciting life forms make their homes. These life forms are considerably more intelligent than the majority of the other species on Vurd. They would be akin to Earth's apes. In appearance they are generally short- a tall one being over a meter in height. They have powerful exoskeletons as well as endoskeletons. The exoskeleton is there for protection as well as for the improved support that it supplies its internal skeleton. An apt comparison would be a turtle, standing on its hind legs. However, these Jikta's have three pairs of legs, so that when they stand, their rear four are on the ground. In addition, instead of the flat foot that turtles have, its forward two pairs of appendages can either curl into fists with external armor for walking on, or extend into hands with four claws, one of them being an opposable thumb. The Jikta have begun to develop crude tools to aid in their lives. For the most part their tools are simply sharpened rocks for breaking the exoskeletons of other animals. The planet known as Vurd, or 61 Vir D has a wide variety of both aquatic and terrestrial animals and plants. Life on the planet manages to cling on despite the often lethal daylight hours and the constant cycle of evaporation and precipitation. Finally analysis is to consider 61 Vir D for continued study, but not as a potential colonization location.

*TL;DWR=Too Long; Don't Wanna Read?

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