Tau Ceti in fiction

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The Sun (left) is both larger and somewhat hotter than the less active Tau Ceti (right) Compare sun tau ceti.png
The Sun (left) is both larger and somewhat hotter than the less active Tau Ceti (right)

Tau Ceti is a star that hosts a planetary system and a common locale in much science fiction. It is the second closest spectral class G star to the Sun (after Alpha Centauri A), making it a popular story setting or system of origin in science fiction tales. The Sun, itself of spectral class G, provides an obvious model for the possibility that the star might harbor worlds capable of supporting life. But Tau Ceti, weighing in at ~0.78 M, is metal-poor [1] and so is thought to be unlikely to host rocky planets (see Destination: Void by Frank Herbert below); on the other hand, observations have detected more than ten times as much dust around the star than exists in the Solar System, [2] a condition tending to enhance the probability of such bodies. Since the star's luminosity is barely 55% that of the Sun, those planets would need to circle it at the orbital radius of Venus in order to match the insolation received by the Earth. [3] (See Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein below.)

Contents

Tau (Ταῦ, /Taf/ (Τ)) is the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet. The name Cetus is also Greek (Κῆτος, Kētos) as well as Arabic (القيتوس, al Ḳaitoos) and translates variously as a large fish, a whale, a shark, or a sea monster. [4] In Greek mythology, the cetacean constellation, although not the star itself, represents the monster slain by Perseus in his rescue of the beautiful princess Andromeda.

General uses of Tau Ceti

Many stars may be referred to in fictional works for their metaphorical or mythological associations, or else as bright points of light in the sky of Earth, but not as locations in space or the centers of planetary systems.

The constellation Cetus lies close to the celestial equator and intersects the plane of the ecliptic, which allows it to be seen from most of the Earth's surface. However, because of its unprepossessing appearance in the sky, and its want of a "good" traditional name to supplement its esoteric Bayer designation, Tau Ceti has rarely if ever been used in a general sense, either in traditional mythologies or in the arts and literature that draw sustenance from them.

The star's popularity as a subject of science fiction stems not from its general cultural resonance, but from its astronomical data:

Literature

Artist's conception of a Bussard ramjet. One key component of the ramjet--a miles-wide electromagnetic field that scoops up interstellar hydrogen for fuel--is invisible. Bussard Interstellar Ramjet Engine.jpg
Artist's conception of a Bussard ramjet. One key component of the ramjet—a miles-wide electromagnetic field that scoops up interstellar hydrogen for fuel—is invisible.
Wormhole travel as envisioned by Les Bossinas for NASA. Wormhole travel as envisioned by Les Bossinas for NASA.jpg
Wormhole travel as envisioned by Les Bossinas for NASA.
Artist's depiction of a pair of O'Neill cylinders forming a habitat in space. Spacecolony1.jpg
Artist's depiction of a pair of O'Neill cylinders forming a habitat in space.

Film and television

Star Trek

The items in this subsection all refer to works in the film, television, and print franchise originated by Gene Roddenberry.

Other film and television

Barbarella (actress Jane Fonda) subjected to erotic overload in the Excessive Machine. Fonda3.JPG
Barbarella (actress Jane Fonda) subjected to erotic overload in the Excessive Machine.

Comics

Most of the items in this section are manga or light novels by Japanese authors.

Games

Artist's conception of the first Magellan probe orbiting the planet Venus, with the Sun in the background (1990). Given Tau Ceti's spectral similarity to our own star, the picture serves equally well as a likeness of a fictional Magellan probe exploring New Earth. Magellan - artist depiction.png
Artist's conception of the first Magellan probe orbiting the planet Venus, with the Sun in the background (1990). Given Tau Ceti's spectral similarity to our own star, the picture serves equally well as a likeness of a fictional Magellan probe exploring New Earth.
Artist's rendering: Rifter-class frigates after a successful attack against an Armageddon-class battleship in an inter-factional war in the New Eden galaxy, the setting for the EVE Online MMORPG. Eve Online - Empyrean Age screenshot.jpg
Artist's rendering: Rifter-class frigates after a successful attack against an Armageddon-class battleship in an inter-factional war in the New Eden galaxy, the setting for the EVE Online MMORPG.

Other media

See also

Tau Ceti is referred to as a location in space or the center of a planetary system unusually often in fiction. For a list containing many stars and planetary systems that have a less extensive list of references, see Stars and planetary systems in fiction.

Notes and references

Notes

  1. The calculation of the orbital radius rC of a planet C (Constance) receiving earth-level insolation from Tau Ceti, based on the modern value of its intrinsic stellar luminosity as Lτ = 0.52 ± 0.03 L, [7] is:
    (rC)2/(r)2 = (Lτ)/(L)    (rC)2/(93×106 mi)2 = 0.52L/L    (rC)2 = 0.52(93×106 mi)2   rC = (√0.52)*93×106 mi  67×106 mi.
    By way of comparison, the average orbital radius r of Venus around the Sun is likewise a little more than 67 million miles.
  2. Delany mistakenly identifies Tau Ceti as a red giant [10] when, in actuality, it is a G-type star somewhat smaller than the Sun.
  3. The Dispossessed was published during the last year of the Vietnam War, a proxy struggle between America and the Soviet Union.
  4. The name Sogo for the City of Night is likely an acronym coined from Sodom and Gomorrah.
  5. The name of this collection of tales is heavy with allusions in both English and Japanese. The English (2001 Nights) is an obvious reference to the Arabic classic, One Thousand and One Nights (trans. e.g. Sir Richard Burton (1885)). The Japanese 2001夜物語 (Nisen'ichiya Monogatari, or 2001 Tales) recalls the seminal Japanese literary classic 源氏物語 (Genji Monogatari, or The Tale of Genji ) by Lady Murasaki (11th century).
  6. Compare the Somerled Trade Run to the "Great Circle" chain of corporate space stations terminating at Tau Ceti in C J Cherryh's 1981 Downbelow Station (above).

Related Research Articles

Known Space is the fictional setting of about a dozen science fiction novels and several collections of short stories written by Larry Niven. It has also become a shared universe in the spin-off Man-Kzin Wars anthologies. ISFDB catalogs all works set in the fictional universe that includes Known Space under the series name Tales of Known Space, which was the title of a 1975 collection of Niven's short stories. The first-published work in the series, which was Niven's first published piece was "The Coldest Place", in the December 1964 issue of If magazine, edited by Frederik Pohl. This was the first-published work in the 1975 collection.

Tau Ceti Star in the constellation Cetus

Tau Ceti, Latinized from τ Ceti, is a single star in the constellation Cetus that is spectrally similar to the Sun, although it has only about 78% of the Sun's mass. At a distance of just under 12 light-years from the Solar System, it is a relatively nearby star and the closest solitary G-class star. The star appears stable, with little stellar variation, and is metal-deficient.

Planets in science fiction are fictional planets that appear in various media of the science fiction genre as story-settings or depicted locations.

CoDominium is a series of future history novels written by American writer Jerry Pournelle, along with several co-authors, primarily Larry Niven.

The Alliance–Union universe is a fictional universe created by American writer C. J. Cherryh. It is the setting for a future history series extending from the 21st century out into the far future.

Sirius in fiction

The planetary systems of stars other than the Sun and the Solar System are a staple element in much science fiction. Sirius, a double star system with the binary designation Sirius AB, is the brightest stellar object in the night sky. Its component stars are Sirius A and Sirius B.

Alpha Centauri in fiction Alpha Centauri star system appearing in fiction

As one of the brightest stars in Earth's night sky, and the closest-known star system to the Sun, the Alpha Centauri system plays an important role in many fictional works of literature, popular culture, television, and film.

Rigel is one of the brightest stars in the sky, usually the brightest star in the constellation Orion. It is frequently mentioned in works of fiction.

Vega in fiction

The planetary systems of stars other than the Sun and its solar system are a staple element in much science fiction. Vega is a blue-white star in the constellation Lyra that is frequently featured in works of science fiction. Like its bright cousins Sirius, Deneb, and Altair, it is classified as a star of spectral type A. Roughly two and a half times the size of the sun, it is 40 times as luminous and, together with Arcturus and Sirius, one of the most radiant stars in the galactic neighborhood. Its luminosity joins with its relative proximity to the Earth—it is only 25 light-years away—to make it the fifth-brightest star in the night sky. Vega is rendered decidedly oblate by its rapid rate of rotation, and since it is pole-on to the sun, it appears significantly larger to earthbound observers than it actually is. For this and a variety of other reasons Vega has been extensively studied by astronomers, leading it to be termed "arguably the next most important star in the sky after the sun."

Altair is a luminous white star in the constellation Aquila frequently featured in works of science fiction.

Aldebaran in fiction

Aldebaran is a type K5 giant star in the constellation Taurus that is frequently featured in works of science fiction. Aldebaran is a subject for ancient myths in multiple cultures and, in more recent times, the mythologizing of science fiction.

Epsilon Eridani in fiction

The planetary systems of stars other than the Sun and the Solar System are a staple element in much science fiction. Epsilon Eridani is the fifth-brightest star in the riverine southern constellation of Eridanus. An orange star slightly smaller and less massive than the Sun, and relatively close to the Solar System, it is frequently featured in works of science fiction. It is classified as a type K2 star, with the corresponding suggestion that it has a stable habitable zone and is well suited for life. However, one factor which weakens the case for habitability is its youth—it's as little as 200 million years old—and consequent high levels of ultraviolet emission.

The planetary systems of stars other than the Sun and the Solar System are a staple element in many works of the science fiction genre.

The planetary systems of stars other than the Sun and the Solar System are a staple element in much science fiction.

A significant number of science fiction works have explored the imaginative possibilities of binary or multiple star systems. Many real stars near the Sun belong in this category.

Nebulae, often being visually interesting astronomical objects, are frequently used as settings or backdrops for works of science fiction.

Black holes in fiction

The study of black holes, gravitational sources so massive that even light cannot escape from them, goes back to the late 18th century. Major advances in understanding were made throughout the first half of the 20th century, with contributions from many prominent mathematical physicists, though the term black hole was only coined in 1967. With the development of general relativity other properties related to these entities came to be understood, and their features have been included in many notable works of fiction.

Fomalhaut in fiction

Fomalhaut is a class A star on the main sequence approximately 25 light-years (7.7 pc) from the Sun. It is the brightest star in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus and at magnitude 1.2 is one of the brightest stars in the sky.

<i>Project Hail Mary</i> 2021 science-fiction novel by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary is a 2021 science-fiction novel by Andy Weir. It is his third novel, after 2011's The Martian, and 2017's Artemis. Set in the near future, the novel centers on middle school-teacher-turned-astronaut Ryland Grace, who wakes up from a coma, afflicted with amnesia. He gradually remembers that he was sent to the Tau Ceti solar system, 12 light-years from Earth, to find a means of reversing a solar dimming event that could cause the extinction of humanity.

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