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Prometheus - A Film By Ridley Scott

LV-426: A Truly Strange Space Oddity

From: Prometheus Movie Replies: 2

Chris Picard

The following is a guest post, I'm publishing on the author's behalf, enjoy!

It's never been a more exciting time for astrophysics and, in particular, the hunt for extra-solar planets. New worlds are being discovered on an almost weekly basis, some of which have set the imagination aflame at the possibility of them being inhabited (or at least having the capability of harboring life as we know it).

But even before the first exoplanet discovery was confirmed in 1995, we've been dreaming of strange planets beyond our own solar system. Arguably, no such imagined celestial body is as tangible - and terrible - as LV-426, a small moon in the Zeta II Reticuli system and home to the nightmarish xenomorphs.

lv426_1.png

But what do we really know about LV-426? What would NASA physicists be able to tell us - in an astronomical sense - about the moon if we were to find it within our own solar system (heaven forbid?)

*Note that all scientific assertions are based purely on plot points, observational impressions and details explicitly given within the canonical films and books only. Games and non-canon fiction were not considered.

Size and Mass

The make-up of LV-426 - or Acheron, as colonists came to call it - is rather strange, and that's before we come to address the murderous predators scuttling around the surface.

What's most remarkable about Acheron is that it's tiny in volume, but isn't too far off planet Earth in terms of mass.

Acheron is listed as being around 600km in radius. A very good size comparison would be Charon, a satellite of Pluto which has a radius of 600km - half as big as Pluto itself. To put this into perspective, Charon is in the bottom left:

lv426_2.png

So, by planetary standards Acheron is rather minuscule. What's remarkable here is that it has a surface gravity measuring 86% of the Earth's; this is greatly at odds with its size, considering that its real-life counterpart Charon only has 0.2% of our planet's pull.

In fact, Acheron has roughly the same gravity as Uranus despite the fact that Uranus is over forty times the size. We know the core of Acheron is molten, but we donít know exactly what it consists of - all we can assume is that it must have an extremely unusual core made up of something nearly ten times heavier than iron, and no known element fits this planetary anomaly.

Temperature

Although you wouldn't want to take a stroll on Acheron due to the xenomorphs, razor-sharp rocks, brutal weather and atmosphere (more on those in a bit), itís temperature would actually be the least of your worries.

Holding steady between -40 and +60 įC, it's actually less variant than the hot and cold extremes we see on planet Earth. This could be due to that giant molten core of mystery gloop, which would kick out a great degree of heat just below the surface and circulated by the very active weather system. Alternatively, it could have inherited its rare, habitable temperature as a by-product of being in a binary star-system (Zeta II Reticuli). Until further information is available, we might assume itís a combination of these factors and possibly more.

Atmosphere

While the lack of oxygen is what would inhibit us taking a long, deep huff of Acheron air, its atmosphere isn't entirely inhospitable.

Ignoring any effects of the Weyland-Yutani terraforming activities, the main ingredient of Acheron's atmosphere is nitrogen at 85% - just above our own, which is 78%. However, whereas the remainder of our atmosphere is predominantly oxygen, Acheronís is a toxic soup of argon (10%) and neon (5%) alongside some other trace gasses.

But while we'd need to keep up the terraforming in order to make it human-friendly, it's not inconceivable that it wouldn't sort itself out over time. The warm temperature coupled with the known abundance of methane, could kick start a healthy level of global warming and melt water ice. While no endemic lifeforms are known to have made the moon a home, it's easy to imagine Acheron as primordial and not too far (in a cosmological sense) from an abiogenesis event.

Weather System

Given the severe winds which seem to permanently move across its surface - as well as the high water vapor content - has given rise to some very extreme rock erosion effects, as evidenced by the bizarre features carved into the surface rock.

lv426_3.png

The strength of the winds on LV-426 are likely to be frequently over 60mph (if not higher) in order to produce the same effects in dense igneous rock as if it were sandstone, as can be seen in the Mauritian geology on the right.

However, the extreme winds never culminate in fully-blown storms and hurricanes. While we donít know of any real-life examples of moons as small as Acheron and have a substantial atmosphere, it's unlikely that the moon would be big enough to sustain an atmospheric storm.

Physical Location and Star System

... and this is where the science breaks down, because we simply don't know. Arguably, Ridley Scott and his writers are equally nonplussed, not only by its location with regards to planet Earth but also its relationship with the surrounding moons and stars.

We're relatively certain that LV-426 is a moon around the ring planet Calpamos, along with its sister moon LV-223 (which features in Prometheus) and at least one other moon not explored in the Alien canon. Calpamos itself is a fictional planet but listed as being in Zeta Reticuli, a very real star system.

lv426_4.png

But characters mention distances which donít add up, refer to the moons as planets occasionally (and vice-versa) and the relationship between the two moons and their home planet is about as clear as mud. Essentially, everything in the previous paragraph could be incorrect but just when you think you've got it nailed, someone will point out a contradictory piece of information from a DVD extra. Even Neil DeGrasse Tyson took a swing at the numbers.

Not that it matters, of course. The follow up to Prometheus may well shed further light on this dark corner of the Universe, and even if it doesn't, it's fun to speculate. In film schools across the country, students are considered to utilize real-world locations in order to excite their creative juiced; nowhere is that advice more apt than space.

But until we've got more information to go off, we'll have to revel in the discovery of real exoplanets until we can speculate more on the nightmarish world of Acheron.


2 Replies

BigDave

Nice Post Chris....

I would say that as far as boundaries of Science that indeed LV426 is too small to have such strong gravity, it would more likely be closer to our own moon.

But there is real potential for life out there, and Kepler space telescope has found many thousands of potential worlds that could fit within the ideal properties to be Earth Like, as in Type of Star, Distance to Star and having a Satellite (Moon).

But then its overlooking the obvious and that is while we look at the many rocky planets out their for potential to support life, it would actually be the many more moons that would actually be more ideal to support life.


There are Moons in our own solar System that if they was the distance of Earth away from the Sun would certainly be ideal candidates for life to thrive, maybe they may not have natural life on them as we cant prove it, but certainly if they was as close as Earth there would be some lifeforms on Earth that should be able to thrive on those few moons.

As far as LV 426 and LV 223 being the same Planets Satellites i am not so sure, as Calpamos has 3 moons in Alien, but does the Planet in Prometheus not have 4?

And also its a bit odd to designate a LV 4 and 2 to a planet that has 3 moons, unless of course its like this.... LV 126 = Calpamos and LV 223 = the closest or largest moon, with LV 426 being the 3rd and thus the other moon being LV 326.

Then again could it not designate that LV2** and LV 4** are indeed separate Planets and their moons, just be like saying Saturn is LV 406 and Jupiter LV 203 with the moons being LV 426, 436 etc?

BigDave

Oh i would add maybe another thing as far as LV 223 and 426 and distances would be...

1) Surely The Nostromo would have picked up Shaws Signal? or indeed the colonization of LV 426 would have detected such Signals from LV 223 if it was so close. And like wise Prometheus would have detected the Derelict Signal.

Then again maybe David and some Corp suits would known about such things and kept them hidden for their own Agendas.

2) Ridley did say that the Derelict crashed while it was either going too or from LV 223 with a Cargo of Eggs, the Pilot got infected and knew what was to come and so set a nearest course to Quarantine the Cargo on the closest Baron Moon it could find.

Judging the Speeds the Juggernauts must be able to Travel, from the time the Engineer/Space Jockey got to get infected with the Cargo, from when he had taken off to then when he awoke from being Face Hugged and set a new course. Would this total time lapsed and speed of travel rule out the planets being around the same Planet?

I am not sure if their is any confirmation that both are around the same Gas Giant or even same Star System, maybe one is in Zeta 1 and the other Zeta 2?


Update.......

I noticed another thing, in Alien and Aliens LV 426 seemed to be stuck in perpetual darkness.

In Prometheus most of the movie was in Light, and while this could be that the scenes in Prometheus was mainly shot at day time as the crew avoid exploration at night due to lack of light and colder weather.... in Alien and Aliens i get the idea the world is much more dark.

Maybe this means that the Moons are from different planetary systems?

You see we get light on Earth, and Mars has light but if both planets where the distance of say Neptune then they would have little or no day light as they would be too far from the Sun.

Maybe if they are in the same system (LV 223 and 426) Maybe the LV 2 could be the second closest Planet to the Sun and LV 4 the 4th and the distances could be vast, if we say take away Mercury, Mars and Jupiter then Earth would be 2nd closest planet to our Sun and Uranus then the 4th. And any moon around Uranus would be vastly more darker place than our moon.

I also got the impression that LV 223 was not a very baron place, indeed the Engineer could survive outside for some period of time, and it appeared to be a less inhospitable place than LV 426 which looked baron, and i guess thats why the Space Jockey decided to choose that as a destination to Quarantine the Cargo.

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