An Open Letter to Neil deGrasse Tyson

The moon of Aenya in orbit around Infinity.

I’ve been on an astrophysics bender lately, reading Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles as well as Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries. It’s interesting to see how a writer and a scientist approach the same subjects, how their ideas and focus diverge and where they come together. Naturally, this got me to thinking about my own cosmology, the one I invented for my work-in-progress Ages of Aenya. Whereas many people never wonder about the borders of Middle Earth, or any other such fantasy world, the scientific part of my brain has a hard time ignoring it. How can I not wonder where, exactly, Middle Earth is supposed to be on a cosmic scale? Is it on Earth? An Earth type planet? When I created my own fictional universe, I decided to embrace what most fantasy novels tend to ignore. In fact, the cosmology of Aenya is integral to the plot. Without tidal lock, a term which refers to a non-rotating planet or moon, Aenya could not have a dark hemisphere from which the horg and bogrens evolve, nor could there be the sun scorched wastes of the western hemisphere, where much of the drama takes place. Planetary physics is, in fact, at the core of the plot. And yet, my knowledge of astrophysics is limited to a handful of university classes and a bit of layman’s reading. What I really need is an astrophysicist to help me figure this stuff out. So who better to ask than the rock star of the stars, Neil deGrasse Tyson? Fortunately, his website lets visitors send questions about science, so I’ll be crossing my fingers in the hopes that he’ll be willing to help me out. Any answer Neil provides should help dress Ages of Aenya in the accouterments of science. So here’s my letter:

Dear Neil deGrasse Tyson,

I am a huge fan of your work. You not only have a brilliant mind for physics, but you’ve managed to bridge the light-year sized gap between human knowledge and those ignorant to it. My question relates to the novel I have been working on for the past decade, “Ages of Aenya.” The story takes place on the planet (or rather, the moon) of Aenya, which orbits a Jupiter like gas giant. Aenya is tidally locked, so one hemisphere perpetually faces the gas giant, while the other, at intervals, faces the sun. When Aenya moves into the dark side of the planet it is orbiting, the sunny side is also dark. In this way, one hemisphere remains dark while the other undergoes a kind of day/night cycle. So my question is this: On this type of planet, is it possible for humans, or beings with human-like anatomies, to survive? What happens to weather patterns if a planet doesn’t rotate? Is there any wind? What effect does a Jupiter sized planet have on the tides of that world? Am I wrong in any of my assumptions? Making a stab at feasibility, I have tried to wrap my head around these issues, but as I am not a scientist, the whole thing is beyond me. Any input on your behalf would be greatly appreciated.

Nick Alimonos


Neil was too busy to respond, but another astronomer at the Hayden Planetarium did! Check it out:
The Hayden Planetarium on the moon of Aenya.

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