Mysteries and Easter Eggs

Hidden meanings, puzzles, and unsolved mysteries

There are many hidden mysteries and dilemmas in the book, some obvious, many not obvious. Here’s a list to get you thinking. You need to read the entire book to solve most of them. E-mail me with your questions and discoveries: brian@briantissot.com

  • Tutu’s last words: “Look to the waters, my child, for they are sacred. Listen for them, for the ʻāina is singing her song. Who is the ʻāina in the story?
  • At her tutu’s funeral, how was Procyon beckoning to Sage?
  • What does Sage’s Déjà vu moment when she first stands on Thalassa mean?
  • What is the significance of 11.46 light-years?
  • What did Sage’s dreams of facing giant waves mean in the context of her life?
  • Why couldn’t Sage see the woman in the light?
  • Why did Maka save Sage?
  • What is the significance of Nesoi markings on the cave walls?
  • Where did the cetaceans of Thalassa come from?
  • Who is the volcano? What does it mean?
  • Did Sage discover the connection between her ancestors and the Koholā?

Geology of Thalassa

The geology of Thalassa was created based on real-world examples of planetary dynamics on Earth and other planets, especially Mars. Here I present the research concepts I used to create the geology, geography, and oceanography of the planet. To begin, let’s travel back in time about 100 million years ago to the planet Thalassa…

Source: esciencework

At that time the planet had a hot, molten inner core that supported active continental drift across the planet. Oceanic plates, driven by underwater spreading centers in the middle of the ocean, created collisions with other plates and subsequent subduction zones with deep-sea trenches. As ocean seafloor was subducted below the surface it created molten magma which rose to the surface creating an active chain of volcanoes. Over time, these volcanoes created islands, which were the forebears of the western chain of islands off Thalassa’s continent.

But small planets like Thalassa, which is only 10% the mass of Earth, cool rapidly. Without internal heat to drive tectonics, plates movement ceases, the planet’s core cools, and it loses its magnetic field. In the absence of this protective field, solar wind boils off the atmosphere and then the ocean. This process is accelerated on Thalassa as it is a smaller planet with has less gravity to hold on to its air and water. This happened on Mars three billion years ago, which is why it is largely a dead planet. Before that time it had extensive oceans covering its surface.

Island arc formation showing erosion as the islands age without renewed volcanism. Source: Study.com
My vision of what Thalassa’s island would look like. Source: Visuals Unlimited/Corbis.

But over time, in the absence of continued volcanism, the line of islands was eroded into the sand and rocky cores of the islands the Duke mission discovered on their journey. Because they were formerly volcanic, the rocky cores had lava tubes both above and below the water which served as caves for the Nesoi.

Rise of the Bulge

As plate tectonics on Thalassa ceased, residual heat in the planet’s core still pushed some magma to the surface. But in the absence of plate movement, inted of islands volcanism created a large, stationary volcano that became the bulge. The idea for a giant shield volcano on Thalassa is modeled after mound volcanoes on the Tharsis Bulge on Mars such as Olympus Mons.

Contrast between volcano formation on earth (with plate tectonics) and Mars (without).
Olympus Mons on Mars. the largest volcano in the siolar system. Photo: NASA.

The bulge, however, is different from Tharsis volcanoes in two important ways. One, the bulge is smaller, only 25-30 miles across while volcanoes on Mars range from 43-370 miles across. Second, after it was formed and volcanism stopped, wind and rain eroded the bulge forming canyons because Thalassa still had an atmosphere (and weather). Third, as sea levels rose the bulge was covered with water and canyons became submarine canyons; the perfect condition for large waves.

When the team arrived in 2090 they discovered the geological processes of volcanism and erosion had created the perfect surfing spot. As in the book, two submarine canyons formed in proximity to a thumb-shaped reef Milo named Colossus. Based on Nazaré Portugal, one of the top big wave surf spots in the world, Colossus is a rocky reef surrounded by two submarine canyons. The waves move fast in the deep water and are focused by the submarine canyon walls where they focus their energy, along with the incoming swells, up on a sharp, jagged reef to create monster waves. This tripling of swell energy results in waves over 150 feet.

Rogue Planet

But after formation of the islands and the bulge, volcanism ceased for 50 million years. And if nothing changed Thalassa would have gone the way of Mars and become a dead planet. But 10 million years ago, an event happened that had a profound effect on the future of Thalassa. Something, perhaps a star-less rogue planet ejected from a distant solar system, moved through the Procyon system and obliquely collided with the small ocean planet and was captured as Thalassa’s second moon — Hina. The new satellite began a highly elliptical orbit around the planet that cast it far out in space then perilously close to the planet over a two-year period, causing considerable havoc on the planet. Significantly, it created a renewal of volcanism on Thalassa which created a new second line of massive volcanoes.

Geological Terrain of Thalassa

Given it’s volcanic origins I based the description of Thalassa’s continent on volcanic land forms in Hawaii, the Canary Islands, and other locations around the world. Here’s a few to help you imagine the landscape of Thalassa.

Sage: Heroine’s Journey

Illustration depicting a woman’s heroine journey. Source: http://innatewisdomconnection.com.au/

Sage’s story, like many in modern fiction, was modeled after Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey but adapted for a woman to the Heroine’s journey. To develop her story I used several books to guide me as well as feedback from female reviewers. These include Campbell’s book (1949), The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness by Maureen Murdock (1990), and The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. By Christopher Vogler (2007). I used these books to develop the structure of the plot and elements of Sage’s experiences, such as her dreams and visions. Some of the dreams used in the book were my own, experienced while on a NatureFast in isolated places.

Mythology of the Hero’s’ Journey

Joseph Campbell taught us that mythology is a projection of the unconscious, manifested in stories we repeat in our lives as legend, folklore, and ideology. These myths take their specific shapes from the individual’s cultural environment but certain images are found to recur in people widely separated in time and space, images that have a common meaning or elicit comparable psychological responses. As such, they serve similar cultural functions.

For example, Sage’s Hawaiian culture and her tutu’s religious beliefs serve as a guide for her throughout the story as do her ancestral spirits, or ʻaumākua. Because they had no written language, Hawaiian mythology and beliefs have been passed down through generations in chants, music (mele), and dancing (hula) in Polynesia and Hawaii.

The Hero’s Journey is an oft-repeated familiar story. It is where we venture forth to kill our Dragon — a metaphorical battle between heaven (a bird) and hell (a serpent), the light and dark sides within us all — and return victorious to enlighten humankind with our new-found knowledge. In modern culture this is Luke in Star Wars, facing his greatest fear in the cave on Dagobah, which is not Darth Vader, but his fear of turning into Vader, turning to the dark side. This is also Frodo in Lord of the Rings, his greatest fear of succumbing to the ring of power, yet he carries it towards its destruction. Each man on an impossible journey but ultimately only fighting their inner desires to gain power by denying power for themselves. The Hero’s Journey is one we all take in our lives and it is a search for our soul which is at the heart of Sage’s path in SOT.

The Heroine’s Journey

But Maureen Murdock recognized that the hero’s quest does not adequately address the journey of a woman, the Heroine’s Journey. For women, the journey involves the healing of the wounding of the feminine that exists deep within all women, manifested both mentally and physically. Early on, Sage rejected her mother and bonded with her father, the first step in her journey. Thus, his death had a strong influence on her life and resulted in her extreme focus on competitive surfing and the masculine characteristics of strength, aggression, and assertiveness. The shift helped create her world-renowned career but distanced her from her close-knit (feminine) ‘ohana (family) and her Hawaiian culture and the values of aloha, pono, and mālama ʻaina, which are decidedly feminine in nature.

As you read what Murdock (1990) wrote, think how this scenario plays out in Sage’s life:

The heroine must become a spiritual warrior. This demands that she learn the delicate art of balance and have the patience for the slow, subtle integration of the feminine and masculine aspects of her nature. She first hungers to lose her feminine self and merge with the masculine, and once she has done this, she begins to realize this is neither the answer nor the objective. She must not discard nor give up what she has learned throughout her heroic quest, but view her hard-earned skills and successes not so much as the goal but as one part of the entire journey. This focus on integration and the resulting awareness of interdependence is necessary for each of us at this time as we work together to preserve the health and balance of life on earth.

As you move through the plot of SOT, identify the following parts of the Heroine’s journey as Sage’s struggles to find balance in her life: The elements occur at multiple places in the story, sometimes in her journey or in her dreams. For example, who does Dina represent in the story? What is the significance of searching for a way out of barren caves and finding red on her hands as she remembered her father?

Elements of the Heroine’s JourneyPlot elements to consider
Shift From Feminine to MasculineDeath of her father; role of competitive surfing; relationship with Dina and Halina; differences between Kalena and Nani
The Road of TrialsTraveling to Thalassa; riding big waves on Colossus; travels on Thalassa’s islands and barriers to her journey
The Illusion of SuccessVictories surfing; riding Milo’s surfboard; reunion
The DescentCrossing between islands; Syzygy; searching Nesoi caves; facing the precipice
Meeting with the GoddessThe woman in her dreams: Hōkūlani e hoʻāla i ka moana; connections with lichens; experiences in cavern of light; connecting with the Ceti
Reconciliation With the FemininePono; mālama ʻaina;; ‘ohana; appreciation for Earth; reconnecting with Nani
Reincorporation of the MasculineFacing Milo; becoming a Kumu; meeting the Koholā
The Unionbecoming the message; her lecture; her dance with Maka; hearing songs

Female Archetypes

As the story progresses it is also useful to identify the female archetypes Sage identifies with and the characters she encounters that influence her life. The archetypes are a useful way to understand a woman’s journey to wholeness and are typically identified as the maiden, mother, crone, queen. Each stage is a symbol of a distinct time in a woman’s life and has particular tasks that are accomplished which lays the foundation for the next stage, with both positive and negative aspects of each archetype. For example, Sage at age 13 before her father’s death is a strong embodiment of the maiden: she is pure of heart, full of love and curiosity. Anything is possible and she is in love with the mystery of life (Windhiuges.com). But largely due to her father’s death and her obsession with big wave surfing she shows the dark side of a queen: the holoscreeen and her fans give her power which she directs back to herself and becomes consumed with acquiring more fans. As a result, she withdraws from her family connections and feels drained and becomes resentful and full of anger.

Sage’s journey is to seek balance among the archetypes and become a whole woman such that the Queen’s power is tempered by the Maiden’s compassion, and so on. Balance both within and among archetypes leads to a mature woman who channels her power to help others, to protect the defenseless, to love the loveless, and uses her leadership and intellect to set an example for others (Windhiuges.com). I’ll leave it to you to identify that moment in the story.

Further Reading:

  • The Heroine’s Journey, Maureen Murdock
  • Archetypes in women: maiden, mother, crone, queen.
  • Why (some) Men are Idiots: archetypes in men
  • Campbell, Joseph. 2004. The Hero with a Thousand Faces . Princeton University Press , 403 pp.
  • Murdock, M. 1990. The heroine’s journey: Woman’s quest for wholeness. Boston: Shambhala Pub.
  • Vogler, C. 2007. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael Wiese Productions; 3rd edition.

Songs of Thalassa

Earth is teeming with life, all literally bursting with sound. On land we hear these sounds every day and most people are familiar with the noises of the forest: the hooting, chirping, moaning, howling, tweeting, clucking, whistling, squawking and hooting that creates a complex sonic melody. The sound of nature is everywhere but we don’t always take the time to listen.

Music in Nature

Writing SOT I was inspired by Bernie Krause’s fascinating book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places. Krause describes the sounds of the natural world as being as carefully orchestrated as the most beautiful classical score. Each song, each voice, is created in a way so they can be heard distinctly; so the animals can hear and distinguish one from the other. They do this against a backdrop of waves, water and wind. These are ancient sounds, as old as the universe, as old as time. There are also sounds underwater made by a great number of animals. While snorkeling or diving on a coral reef you can hear the music generated by the myriad sounds of parrot fish biting the rocks, butterfly fish nibbling on coral, trigger fish munching on plankton, the snapping of shrimp, and the gurgle of anemones. 

Bernie Krause refers to the collective sounds that animals make as a Biophony, which is unique for each environment and changes with the weather, time of day, and season. Partitioning of sounds occurs across the acoustic bandwidth as animals adjust their vocalizations to avoid overlap with the vocal territory occupied by other creatures. It is similar to different band member playing different instruments that occupy different note ranges. Actually these similarities may not be a coincidence.

An epiphany from his observations was that the biophony is a proto-orchestra: an ordered soundscape that may have been the inspiration for the origin of human music. As Krause writes in his book (P. 104-105) —

Close links between humanity and the soundscape have always been an essential lens through which we understand the world. … Those of us living close to the natural world have learned the permutations of these dynamics well. It is likely that buried deep within the human limbic brain is ancient wiring that springs to life every time we reconnect with these delicate webs of acoustic finery. It didn’t take early humans long to find useful ways of incorporating biophonic information into hunts, ceremonies, language, and the dialoguing exchanges of music — our first organization of sound.

These sounds should be appreciated for the music they make, the symphonies they conduct, they way they resonate with our souls. in SOT I made natural music the centerpiece of the book and a key component of how Sage’s connects with the planet and discoveries music role in the universe.


Music in Songs of Thalassa

The sounds of the Nesoi and other Thalassa creatures were inspired largely by Earth’s cetaceans. However, unlike on our planet, I endowed the Nesoi with sounds in three different ways: whistles, clicks and creaks, and songs. The whistles were used to communicate in air, the clicks and creaks were used to navigate underwater, and the songs were used to communicate underwater. On Earth, these traits are generally only found in a single group at a time but the Nesoi are special and are highly evolved on their homeworld.

Their creaks and clicks of the Nesoi were similar to the the sperm whale and used for echolocation.

Creaks and clicks of a sperm whale

Their beautiful underwater songs were like male humpback whales during their underwater swims.

Humpback whale song: like the song of the Baleena

The Ceti were envisioned using to use sounds like blue and fin whales.

Sounds of a Blue whale
Sounds of a Fin whale

While, the Baleena sounded more like Humpbacks.

Humpback whales songs

When the Nesoi, Ceti and Baleena all joined in a chorus I imagined they would sound something like this, although much more beautiful.

Chorus of sounds

But many living things make sound, indeed a mixture of well-blended music is typical for healthy ecosystems. Listen to the a recording of a living coral reef in Fiji that Krause captured with a hydrophone.

Coral Reef in Fiji

I imagined the Nesoi whistles sounded like Beluga whales.

Whistles of the Beluga Whale

However, Nesoi whistling is a form of sophisticated communication which I base on Silbo Gomero in the Canary islands. It was created to communicate across the deep ravines and narrow valleys that radiate through the island over a distance of up to 3 miles. Similarly, it would work on Thalassa in the cave systems and among nearby islands. Of course, Beluga’s may be communicating too but we just don’t understand it yet. Check out Silbo Gomero:

Further Reading:

  • Au, W. W. L. et al. 2006. Acoustic properties of humpback whale songs. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 120, 1103–1110.
  • Glotin, P. H. et al. 2018. From biosonar coda to whales’ songs phylogeny Scaled AcoustPartie du Biodiversity Mission Interdisciplinaire du CNRS. Online presentation Accessed 2018. http://glotin.univ-tln.fr.
  • Krause, Bernie, 2016. The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places. Back Bay Books, 304. pp
  • Parsons, E. C. M., Wright, A. J. & Gore, M. A. 2008. The Nature of Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) Song. .

Mythology & Beliefs

A large part of SOT involves Sage’s cultural upbringing and her embracing of Hawaiian culture, and eventually a new worldview. Here I explore aspects of Hawaiian mythology and culture including in the book in more detail. I also explore the concept of Pantheism.

A depiction of Kanaloa, A Hawaiian God of the Sea

Hanau ka po
The night gave birth

Hanau Kumulipo i ka po, he kane
Born was Kumulipo in the night, a male

Hanau Po‘ele i ka po, he wahine
Born was Po‘ele in the night, a female

Hanau ka ‘Uku-ko‘ako‘a, hanau kana, he ‘Ako‘ako‘a, puka
Born was the coral polyp, born was the coral, came forth

The Kumlipo

Hawaiian Mythology

Hawaiian religion is focused on four main gods, prominently Kāne, , Lono and Kanaloa plus several other deities (Wikipedia). Ku was the god of war and prosperity. Kāne represents the god of procreation and was an ancestor of chiefs and commoners. Lono is associated with fertility, agriculture, rainfall, music and peace. And Kanaloa was considered to be a god of the sea, the Underworld and a teacher of magic.

The Hawaiian creation myth, the Kumulipo, is a chant linking the gods to royalty, the aliʻi, to humans, and to all natural things. Through the gods, mana — spiritual energy — flowed, and memorizing a family’s genealogy was a away to establish the connection between an individuals and the gods. Accordingly, in many families children were taught all of the families ancestors. Since there was no written language, traditionally they had to memorized. In addition, each family is considered to have one or more guardian spirits known as ʻaumākua that protected the family. In SOT, Sage’sʻaumākua play an important role in the story and appear at several key junctures in her life.

SOT primarily focuses on Kanaloa as most of the story takes places in the ocean. Sage’s tutu’s belief in Kanaloa’s revenge is one of the factors motivating her to go to Thalassa. Kanaloa is seen as an enforcer in the belief that her inoa pō, the name tutu’s saw in her dream, should be used and followed. As discussed in Look to the Source (Pukui et al. (1972), inoa pō are often chosen by a child’s family aumakua and were seen as both a gift and a command. The name must be used; refusal could result in crippling or death and the names were seen as casting a role for the individual’s life. in the book, Sage’s tutu names her granddaughter Hōkūlani e hoʻāla i ka moana: a heavenly star that awakens the ocean. Does she accept this name?


Beliefs: Pantheism

Illustration of Pantheism: all things are connected in the Universe. Source: pantheism.com

Through her experiences on Thalassa Sage begins to develop a new philosophy outside of Hawaiian religion which embraces the belief that all things, the physical, biological, and the spiritual, are connected. These are elements of Pantheism. The philosophy of Pantheism believes that all things are linked in a profound unity. It believes that all things are interconnected and interdependent and that both in life and in death humans are an integral part of this unity which encompasses the cosmos (Harrison, 2016).

Pantheism is an ancient religious belief that is not focused on a supernatural creator, such as a single God or Gods, but rather is based on a profound respect for nature and the universe. God is the Universe and spirit is present in everything. Rock, water, wind, lichens, Neosi, and Sage. All are bound up and connected in the universe. Pantheism was the dominant belief of many philosophers and poets from Wordsworth to Whitman.

Lichens, as they may have looked on Thalassa

In the book the land is covered with red, orange, and yellow lichen-like organisms (let’s call them lichens for now but they are unique). Everything has spirit so lichens do as well and they are all connected across the landscape and seascape of Thalassa. Celtic animism believed the world was dominated by many spirits that occupied the land, the water, the trees, and animals. As such, like Pantheists, they respected and worshiped the natural world and in turn protected their sacred places. Sage’s experiences lead her to believe that all life is connected, even across the universe, a belief consistent with Pantheism. She also discovered several sacred places on the planet which she perceived as unusual.


Cultural Practices: Mālama ʻĀina 

The sustainable practices around the cultivation of Taro on Hawaii is an example of Mālama ʻĀina

The concept of Mālama ʻĀina, which Sage embraces on Thalassa, means to care and nurture the land, both because you love it, but also so it can give back what we need to sustain ourselves and our future generations. It is both a physical and spiritual Hawaiian value. It acknowledges a symbiotic relationship between kānaka (man) and ʻāina (land), and to understand that ʻāina has mana, spirit, and intrinsic value beyond its economic value (blackkoa.com). This is an extremely important concept that needs to be incorporated into our everyday ethics and our natural resource policies and management practices. It is also how Sage practices in her relationship with Thalassa.


#ownvoivce

I write about Hawaiian culture and religion with great respect and humility. I use this worldview because I believe many traditional Hawaiian values and practices are rich with purpose with much to offer to the modern world. However, my writings are based on my limited knowledge of the subject and a brief time living in Hawaii and hence are not written using a authenic native Hawaiian voice. My hope is this book will inspire you to listen to authentic native Hawaiian voices and seek their wisdom: nānā i ke kumu (look to the source). Here are a few recommendations with more in the reference sections.


Questions for the Reader:

  • What events reinforced Sage’s beliefs in her Hawaiian culture?
  • What experiences developed her beliefs in Pantheism?
  • Where were the sacred spots where she had unusual experiences? Places where she felt guided or connected?
  • Can you spot the instances where ʻaumākua influence her decisions and behavior?
  • Why did Sage adopt Mālama ʻĀina?

Further Reading:

  • Beckwith, Martha Warren. 1972. The Kumulipo A Hawaiian Creation Chant. University of Hawaii Press , 257 pp.
  • M. K., Haertig, E. W., C. A. Lee. 1972. Nānā I Ke Kumu (Look to the Source) volume I. Hui Hanai, 240 pp. Online copy.
  • Mālama ʻĀina. http://blackkoa.com/surfboards/malama-aina/
  • Harden, MJ. 1999. Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian Elders Speak. Aka Press, Kula, HI. 239 pp.
  • Harrison, Paul. 2016. Elements of Pantheism: A Spirituality of Nature and the Universe. 3rd Edition. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 114 pp.
  • Kupihea, Moke. 2001. Kahuna of Light: The World of Hawaiian Spirituality. Inner Traditions International , 266 pp.

Fermi’s Paradox

Fermi’s Paradox addresses the Drake equation, one way to get an estimate of the number of space-faring, technologically advanced civilizations in the Universe today. Source: UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER


Fermi’s Paradox is great way to think about the possibility of life, in this case technologically advanced civilizations in the universe. Below is text from an early draft of SOT that was deleted from the book. This is a conversation the crew had in space on the way to Thalassa and is an introduction to the Paradox.


As she stared out into black space an amazing star field unfolded before her. Although the Milky Way dominated the sky she could still make out the constellations she had known as a child. Seeing the familiar asterisms of Orion and the Bailer of Makali‘I she suddenly felt nostalgic, remembering memories of her father in the cold void of space.

Georgia reached over and touched Sage’s shoulder. “You ok? You look depressed.”

She came back to the present, realizing her eyes were wet with tears at the memories of her father. “I’m fine.” She smiled, realizing that Georgia had a warm side she hadn’t noticed before.

It had been three weeks since their initial team meeting and their first detailed discussion about Thalassa. They had arrived at K-Geo station, boarded a Cutten solar shuttle, which was full of other passengers heading to various destinations, and were just a few hours away from docking at Cassini station. She sat with Byron, Georgia and Milo in a large communal dining space on the shuttle that looked back on Jupiter and its many moons which they had passed 12 days ago.

Sage had been staring at Procyon, thinking about her tutu’s vision and last words, when thoughts of her father took over. Milo walked in and Sage asked again about the Proteus mission and evidence of life on Thalassa, which prompted Byron to launch into a tirade about Fermi’s Paradox, which she had never heard of.  Moshe was filming the discussion, to be used in a documentary about the mission.

“Enrico Fermi was a physicist, and a brilliant one at that.” Byron spoke with a passion and knowledge that showed he cared deeply about the subject and had an equally strong opinion.  “The paradox arose from a conversation with other physicists where he simply asked the question, in the middle of lunch I might add, ‘Where is everybody?’”

Then Georgia interrupted, “In other words: if the galaxy is full of intelligent life why haven’t we seen or heard from them? Why aren’t they already on earth? I mean the universe is over 13.8 billion years old, they’ve had plenty of time!”

“Let me back up a bit so you can see the big picture.” interjected Byron. “There are three possibilities here. One, intelligent life doesn’t exist. Two, life exists but we haven’t communicated with them. And three, they are already on earth. I believe in the first explanation: we are alone in the universe.”

Moshe, who was listening while filming, agreed. “Yes, I believe that is true. We are God’s unique creations and the universe is here for us. Just us.”

Sage, as a biologist, was clearly getting worked up. “You guys are crazy. How can you say that given the billions and billions of stars, many of which have planets, some of which must have life? I agree it’s probably very rare but given all the possibilities there could still be tons of life out there.”

“But remember Sage,” Georgia added. “We’re not talking about life but intelligent life. About the possibility of civilizations advanced enough to travel through space or at least make noise that we can hear with our radio telescopes.”

Byron quickly interjected. “Yes, intelligent life but I don’t believe there is complex life, period. At least nothing beyond microbial life. Just think of all the terms in the Drake equation!”

“Come on Byron,” quipped Milo who had been passively listening. “Cut the math crap.

“Ok,” Byron replied. “It’s just that the earth and our solar system are more unique than most people know and life may have evolved here due to a very narrow range of possibilities.” Then Byron began to lecture on a topic he had clearly discussed before. “First, even though the universe is 13.8 billion years, our sun is only 4.6 billion years’ old and is about halfway through its life. In another 5 billion years, it will turn into a red giant and destroy earth. So, it took almost half of the sun’s life for us to emerge. That’s cutting it close if you ask me. And many stars, like Procyon for example, have much shorter lives that our sun, some only tens to hundreds of millions of years or perhaps several billion.”

Timeline showing earth relative to age of the galaxy. Source: waitbutwhy.com

Georgia disagreed “Sure, that’s true but even on earth there was unicellular life after only 300 million years, so it is possible. Moreover, aren’t you forgetting red dwarfs, the most common type of star in the galaxy? They live for over a trillion years and so would their planets!”

“That’s true,” replied Byron. “But they are so dim their habitable zones are very close to the star and planets that close are bombarded by radiation and quickly become tidally locked to their suns so they generally bake on one side and freeze on the other. Not conducive to life.” He said with a smug look.

Since no one rebutted that statement he continued.  “Perhaps even more importantly, rocky planets like ours are rare, as are rocky planets that live for a long period of time in the habitable zone. Moreover, having a large neighbor like Jupiter appears to be important as the huge mass sucks up most of the life-destroying collisions with asteroids and comets. Another factor is our moon, which is large relative to the size of the earth. It also takes collisions on our behalf and creates tides which were likely important for the evolution of life.”

The great filter that can stop evolutionary advancement to higher civilizations. These can a variety of events including collisions, climate extremes, x rays, etc. Source: waitbutwhy.com

Sage shook her head at the bombardment of complex ideas present in the debate.

Byron concluded. “Then add on top of that earth’s plate tectonics, which recycles gases and regulates climate, our magnetic field, which protects us and our atmosphere from solar radiation, etc. What you end up with is a combination of so many uncommon factors that it makes life almost impossible to evolve, let alone intelligent life, anywhere else. No, I think we are quite alone and unbelievably rare and precious.” Moshe nodded and showed a rare smile.

“Well,” said Sage, grinning at Byron. “That’s quite a lecture, and obviously well thought out, but maybe we just haven’t looked in the right places or communicated in the right way.”

Milo added. “It’s possible but SETI is over 100 years old and has never received a signal. That’s pretty compelling evidence.”

Then Sage added, somewhat jokingly. “Maybe they are just happy where they are and don’t want to waste time on the ‘interstellar net’ or whatever. Just because they aren’t exactly like us doesn’t mean they don’t exist. “

“I actually agree, Sage,” replied Milo.  “But if intelligent life exists we’re probably talking about more than one civilization here, perhaps thousands. Clearly at least one of them would want to travel or send signals and we would have heard them by now. It is puzzling.”

“I guess I don’t feel that we’re alone in the universe,” said Sage. “I know it isn’t science but Hawaiians believe the gods, their ancestors, came from the stars and colonized earth and left guardians to watch over us. The guardians were a bridge between the human and spiritual world. I’ve always looked at the stars and felt their presence. Our ancestors are out there, I know they are. They just have to be. So we can’t be alone.”

Byron was agitated “You’re right, that’s not science. It’s religion and faith and not based on evidence. Believe what you want but only science is truth.”

“No, it’s based on believing in something bigger than yourself.” said Moshe, coming to Sage’s defense. “Lack of physical evidence does not mean it doesn’t exist.”

Despite Moshe’s support, Sage was taken aback by Byron’s comment. Although she knew her comment was unscientific she didn’t like it thrown back in her face. Although she could feel her childhood faith in the Hawaiian gods waning, her tutu’s and father’s teachings had lodged the idea deeply in her psyche. More importantly, the recent string of events involving Procyon just seemed too coincidental to lack meaning. The star and her name and tutu’s funeral. Maybe it really was her destiny to travel to Procyon. Well, she was on her way and would just have to figure it out. She just had to have faith that she was doing the right thing. Although she agreed that science was likely the larger truth, the idea that she was heading towards the home of her ancestral gods helped her accept her mission more easily.

Georgia interrupted her thoughts. “I’m not sure about all that but we must also consider the vastness of space and the barrier that represents. We are all so isolated. Ok, so here’s one way to think about space. Everyone knows what an AU is, right?” But she saw the confused look on Sage’s face. “An AU, or Astronomical Unit” is a standard measure of distance in space. It’s the distance from the earth to the sun, about 93 million miles.  We’ve been traveling for three weeks and we are getting close to Saturn, which is about 9.5 AU from the sun. Imagine extending that out a bit further, to the next planet, Uranus, which at 19 AU, still quite a ways from the sun. So, for scale take the size of our solar system out to Uranus as the size of a quarter. Based on this model our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is a football field way from that quarter, about 4.2 light years or 15,000 AU. That’s the closest star! Where we are going, Procyon, is 11.5 light years from us, or almost 3 football fields away from our quarter, our solar system, or 41,000 AU, about 4 trillion miles. Backing up some more, our galaxy alone is 100,00 light years across! The universe itself is much bigger, likely 46 billion light years across, so it’s big and incredibly spread out so it’s a huge barrier to interstellar travel. So even if there is advanced life we may never see it.” Georgia stopped, looking satisfied to have made her point.

Artist’s concept of the scale of our Solar System in astronomical units (AU). Each unit is the distance beyond 1 AU ansd shows 10 times the previous distanc. One AU is the distance from the Sun to the Earth while Uranus is about 19 AU. Image credit: NASA

Milo was listening intensely but spoke up at the mention of Procyon. “But you’re forgetting the worm portals, aren’t you? With the portal, it doesn’t matter how far apart things are although we are limited by mass and energy costs.”

“That’s true,” replied Georgia. “But it was pure luck that we discovered it. We would never have discovered the secrets to exotic matter without the supercollider explosion during the Higgs boson experiment. Without that accident, we’d be spending most of our lives traveling to and from close stars in cryo-sleep.”

But then she continued “Byron has made the point that life, particularly intelligent life, is probably non-existent due to the amazing string of events that must happen to develop the right conditions. I don’t entirely disagree. But I also believe that life is a force in itself. And just as physics and chemistry drives the physical evolution of the universe, so biology drives the evolution of life. And if we’ve learned anything it’s that life begets itself. Life is resilient and will find a way. Somehow, life will find a way. As the great Stephan Hawkins once said, ‘when there is life, there is hope.’”

Kami [Sage’s brother, deleted from the book], who had been standing nearby unnoticed listening to the conservation, spoke up. “I think they’re already here, you know like Chariots of the Gods and UFOs.” At which point everyone laughed, including Kaimi. “But my favorite idea” he added “Is that they are watching us, and we are living in their zoo, like those old movies ‘The Matrix’ or the ‘The Truman Show’.” Or maybe they even have a prime directive like on Star Trek: do not interfere with intelligent life!” Again, everyone laughed but it caused Sage to think about the old Hawaiian myths and origins of the gods and the time with her father.

An announcement interrupted their conversation: the shuttle was approaching Cassini station and it was time to prepare for docking. Milo quickly yelled over the rising noise levels “Anyhow, we’re about to find out for ourselves!” as everyone ran to their cabins to grab their personal gear and move to the off-loading dock.

As Sage reached her cabin to grab her stuff, she felt the fear in her stomach. This was it, she thought, I’m leaving home, the solar system and heading out into the unknown.


Further reading:

Procyon: A System in Chaos

Procyon (bright spot) showing it’s white dwarf (Procyon B) and the 40 year orbit they have around each other. 1.7 billion years ago Procyon B was a red giant.

While Thalassa is a fictional planet, the science of the Procyon system in SOT is based on real research and our current understanding of stellar evolution and binary star systems.


Procyon: A Binary Star System

Procyon is the 8th brightest star in the night sky and thus a highly visible star. Together with Sirius (the brightest) and Betelgeuse (11th brightest), it is part of the Winter’s Triangle. Only 12.46 light years away from us, Procyon is in our close stellar neighborhood and is the 15th closest star to earth. It is a double star with a faint but invisible to the eye white dwarf companion, the remains of a bigger star.

Stars are classified by their mass and temperature, which determines their color. Earth’s sun is a yellow G-star while Procyon (Procyon A in the binary system) is a slightly larger yellow-white F-star (1.5 times our sun’s mass) . As such, it is seven times brighter than our sun. The light on Thalassa would be yellow-white, not yellow, as it is on earth, and light-trapping photosynthetic organisms may use different pigments and hence display different colors than plants on earth (Kiang, 2008). This is why the fronds and lichen-like creatures on Thalassa are yellow, orange, and red, not green.

F-stars also emit 2-7 times the amount of cell-damaging ultraviolet light (UV) as our sun, which would likely inhibit the development of life on land. However, seawater is a good shield against UV light, especially in the deep sea, so ocean creatures are protected from UV.

Because bigger stars burn brighter and hotter they die much faster than smaller stars, Procyon A will only last two billion years compared to our sun’s 10 billion year life span. Since it is now 1.9 billion years old it will transition to a red giant in the next 10-100 million years.

The size of Procyon A & B relative to earth and our sun. Source.

Procyon A’s white dwarf, Procyon B, was once a very bright bluish B-type star 2.6 times the mass of our sun. Because it burned hotter, it turned into a red giant after a billion years before collapsing into a small white dwarf, smaller than Earth. On Thalassa, Procyon B would appear twice as bright as a full moon.

Procyon’s neighbors’ red giant phase

When a star runs out of hydrogen fuel to fuse into helium within its core it begins to collapse while the outer atmospheric envelope expands. After a few million years the red giant ejects its outer layers then collapses into a white dwarf. Procyon B went through these stages about a billion years prior to the setting for SOT. During the end of Procyon B’s life it would have ejected a significant amount of ionized radiation and UV light into the region which would had a disruptive effect on the asteroids and comets around the binary star system.

Rain of Debris

Artist’s illustration of comets raining down on a planet. Source.

During the early life of all solar systems, debris remains from planet formation which includes asteroids and comets. Asteroids are made of metals and rocky material and formed closer to the star, where it is too warm for ices to remain solid. Comets are made up of ice, dust and rocky material and are formed farther from a star where ices does not melt. As comets approach a star their ice melts and vaporizes to form a tail.

Our solar system, and likely similar systems with planets, went through several hundred million years of collisions from asteroids and comets called the late heavy bombardment period. Most of the craters in the moon, and those visible on other planets, satellites, and asteroids, were created during this time period which occurred 4.1-3.8 billion years ago (Gomes et al., 2005). Few of these craters are visible on earth due to erosion and plate tectonics, but there are some.

It is likely other solar systems had similar episodes of intense collisions within 500-800 million years of their formation, such as Procyon. In addition, in SOT, it is postulated that when Procyon B’s red giant blasted off its atmosphere, it disrupted the asteroids in the system, and the comets in its Oort Cloud, causing a second period of intense bombardment. As a result, Procyon is envisioned as displaying numerous comet tails, like spokes in a wheel, and the frequency of asteroid and comet collisions with Thalassa is relatively high.

Artist’ illustration of comets plummeting a solar system as envisioned for Procyon and Thalassa. Source: NASA.

Procyon’s Orbit

As in any binary system, Procyon A and B orbit each other, and with a period of 40.8 years. Their orbit is elliptical (not a circle) and the distance between the stars varies between 8.9 AU and 21.0 AU. One AU is the distance from the earth to the sun, about 93 million miles. At their closest they are about the same as the distance between us and Saturn; at their farthest about the distance between us and Uranus.

Orbit of Procyon’s white dwarf around Procyon A. Source.

Procyon A and B were at periastron (their closest) in 1967, 2008, and will be again in 2050 and on May 15, 2090 when Syzygy between the white dwarf and two moons occurs in SOT. This is one reason the book’s setting is during 2089-90 as it corresponds with the actual peristron’s date..

References and Further Reading:

Procyon In Hawaiian Voyaging Traditions

The Winter’s Triangle as seen from Hubble. The Procyon (upper left), is the ninth brightest in the sky and named Puana.

While Thalassa is a fictional planet, the science of the Procyon system and its role in mythology and Polynesian navigation is based on real research .


O na hoku no na kiu o ka lani.
‘The stars are the eyes of heaven.’

Hawaiian Sailing Proverb (Pukui, 1983)

Procyon is a close stellar neighbor and one of the brightest stars in the sky. Because of its prominence, it is a member of the Winter Triangle asterism – a group of noticeable stars that form a triangle pattern in winter’s night sky. More importantly, it has been important in mythology in many cultures and in addition to being used for navigation, it is known for its astrological influences. For example, to the Mesopotamians, Procyon foretold wealth and renown and in astrology, it portended wealth, fame, and good fortune (Wikipedia). These are partials reasons why I choose Procyon in the book — Milo’s goals to get rich exploiting the planet aligned with these influences.

But Procyon is also important in Polynesia cultures as well. In Tahitian culture, Procyon was considered one of the pillars propping up the sky from Earth (Henry 1907) and it was known to the Māori. But my principal focus was on its use in Hawaiian voyaging traditions, where it played a major part in the discovery of Hawaii.


Hawaiian Voyaging Traditions

The ancient Hawaiians saw Procyon as part of an asterism including four other stars, in Ke Ka o Makali’i (“the canoe bailer of Makali’i”) that assisted them while navigating at sea. Recently named Puana (Maori for “blossom”), it had no recorded Hawaiian name outside of its use in the asterism (Johnson et al., 1975). The constellation was part of a curving formation in the shape of a bailer surrounding the western constellation Orion. Makali’i has several meanings in Hawaiian: 1) it’s the name for the Pleiades, a group of seven stars called Nā hiku o Makali’i (meaning seven little eyes); 2) it was the name for the third modern voyaging canoe (following Hōkūle‘a and Hawai‘i loa) built by native Hawaiians to resurrect ancestral voyaging traditions; and 3) it was the name of the navigator of the legendary canoe of Chief Hawai’iloa, who is often identified as the discoverer of Hawai’i.

The Great Bailer asterism which rises in the east in the winter and sets in the west in the summer.

Puana forms Ke Ka o Makali’i with Capella (Hoku-lei: star lei), Sirius (A’a: burning brightly), Castor and Pollux (Namahoe: the twins), and Canopus (Ke Ali‘i o kona i ka lewa: chief of the southern heavens) (Brosch, 2008). Polynesian navigators at sea looked east for rising stars to use as clues to direction and the constellation was seen to rise in the east like a cup (Hawaiian Star Lines). In the illustration below, Ke Ka o Makali‘i is shown rising in the eastern sky, which typically occurs in the winter.

Puana was part of a star compass (out of 200) indicating east and was used by knowing where stars rise out and set from the ocean. Because the stars were not always visible they were used along with the sun, moon, flight path of birds, other marine life, and the direction of waves, to navigate through the great unknown. But according to Nainoa Thompson, the navigator of the Hōkūle‘a, it was more than a science and involved the integration of all elements into a mental construct you could see in your head. As Thompson describes it:

Navigation that I’ve spoken of so far is more external; it’s what you see; it’s looking at the stars, infinite and far away; it’s looking at small waves that are very close. Taking this information and making it knowledge is one thing. Being able to navigate is another. There is a whole other journey that goes on, and that’s internal. It’s one that tests you to do things you can’t do in your normal life. Much of navigation is this internal journey.

Nainoa Thompson, Voices of Wisdom.


Procyon in SOT

Sage, of course, is the navigator, extending Hawaiians into the stars as her tutu had seen and reconnecting with their ancestors. This is why she is named Sage Thompson. Procyon was the focus the story for several reasons: 1) Because it was used in Hawaiian voyaging traditions it served as a good metaphor for Sage pioneering a journey into the unknown; 2) It was relatively close to Earth (11.46 light-years) and would likely be an early target for starships, and 3) it’s old enough (1.9 billion years) to have evolved life. I would have used Sirius (A’a’), which is a super interesting star and mythologically the “source of the Polynesian people” but it is too young to have life (230 million years). The part of the story where Sage looks to the sky for the Winter Asterism but realizes she is in the constellation is meant to drive home that she is isolated and the stars can lead her home.

Further Reading

  • Brosch, N., 2008. Sirius Matters. Holland: Springer.
  • Bryan, E. H. and R. A. Crowe. Introduction to Hawaiian Astronomy (reprinted from Stars Over Hawai’i. Petroglyph Press, Hilo Hawaii.
  • Coleman, Stuart Holmes. 2002. Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero. MindRaising Press , 271 pp.
  • Harden, MJ. 1999. Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian Elders Speak. Aka Press, Kula, HI. 239 pp.
  • Hawaiian Star Lines, Accessed 2016
  • Holberg, Jay B.. 2007. Sirius: Brightest Diamond in the Night Sky. Springer Science & Business Media , 250 pp.
  • Henry, T. 1907. Tahitian astronomy. Birth of the heavenly bodies. J. Polynesian. Soc. 16(2): 101-104.
  • Mahelona, J. K. and R. K. Johnson. 1975. Inoa Hōkū: A Catalogue of Hawaiian and Pacific Star Names. Ocarina Books, , 272 pp.

The Birth of the Procyon System

Space Gas & Dust. Source: ESO (European Southern Observatory)

While Thalassa is fictional, the science of the Procyon system in SOT is based on real research and our current understanding of stellar evolution and binary star systems.


Gas & Dust

The planet began two billion years ago as frozen clouds of dust and molecules dispersed across vast areas of space. Somewhere in the galaxy a star went supernova and the shock wave disrupted the clouds. Although movement was imperceptible, over millions of years, weak gravitational forces caused molecules to gather and rotate in space. Due to variations in density two planetary discs emerged. Most of the mass, more than 99.9%, collapsed into two stars in a binary system. The tiny amount of remaining material coalesced to form planets and debris in the emerging solar system.

Proto-planetary disk. http://www.daviddarling.info

The first protostar to emerge was massive. As it collapsed from gravitational forces it formed a star two and a half times that of the sun — 2.5 solar masses. The second protostar formed a smaller star, 1.5 solar masses. Over millions of years, as the molecules coalesced into the cores of the two protostars, temperature and pressure increased until gases, mostly hydrogen, began to fuse into deuterium and then helium. The resulting nuclear fusion balanced the collapsing gravitational forces. As the stars ignited they radiated light out into the far reaches of the universe. The Procyon system was born.

Binary star system. NASA

The larger star was blue-white and burned brighter and hotter that its smaller yellow-white companion as they orbited each other over a 25-year period. Because the star system had formed from the supernovae remnants of previous giant stars, which had created heavier elements through fusion, the Procyon stars and their eventual planets were rich in heavy metals, especially iron, nickel and traces of heavier elements including radioactive isotopes.

The remaining debris was scattered throughout the binary star system as primordial rock, dust, water ice, frozen gases, and organic compounds which formed asteroids and comets that rained down on the planet’s surfaces, slowly enriching them with water and other compounds. Early in its history one particularly large mass, the size of a small planet, slammed obliquely into Thalassa and shattered it into pieces which were thrown into orbit to coalesce into a small moon orbiting the young planet.

Planet Formation. Alan Brandon/Nature

As the stars formed and blinked on, tiny remnants of the molecular clouds orbited them began to form into small planetesimals, meters to kilometers in size, which eventually coalesced from countless collisions into protoplanets and eventually planets. Around the larger star this process resulted in the formation of two gas giants, both larger than Jupiter and orbiting close to the star. Due to gravitational interactions between the stars and the gas giants only one planet was formed around the smaller star: a small rocky planet about the size of Mars. Billions of years later astronomers on earth would name the planet Thalassa, after the primordial god of the sea.

As Thalassa cooled it formed a core, mantle and outer crust. Because of its high concentration of heavier elements, the core created intense heat which powered convection within the mantle, creating a strong magnetic field. For hundreds of millions of years, volcanoes drove crustal plate movement and belched gases and ash onto the planet, which began to fill with water in low lying basins as it cooled. These volcanic processes also pushed heavier elements from the core to the surface, creating rich deposits of heavier metals, including gold and platinum which settled on the deep-sea floor. Tremendous pressure in the volcanic plumbing deep in the mantle slowly turned some carbon into diamonds, which were pushed to the surface.

Red Giant

Red Giant explosion. NASA/Hubble

After 600 million years, as the small rocky planet continued to develop, the larger star, because it was burning faster and hotter than the smaller one, began to run out of hydrogen in its core. As fusion shifted outside of the growing helium core to a hydrogen shell, intense heating and pressure caused a collapse of the core and an expansion of the star’s outer atmosphere as it transitioned into a red giant. Rather quickly, as the red giant grew, it consumed its inner gas planets. When the red giant ran out of fissionable material it violently ejected its atmosphere into space then collapsed into a small, hot and extremely dense, earth-sized carbon core: a white dwarf. In the process, its nebula further enriched the Procyon system with heavier elements, including carbon, iron and other heavy elements that dispersed into space amongst the primordial debris. Although the white dwarf was still hot, it had lost most of its luminosity and it was now orbiting the smaller star once every 40 years.

The death-throes of the larger star caused pronounced changes in the gravitational forces around the two stars and disturbed the orbits of long-period comets in the system’s oort cloud, sending a renewed flood of debris raining down on Thalassa. For over a billion years, as the planet belched volcanic gases and steam, and pushed heavier elements to the surface, the oceans grew, and the planet cooled. Eventually, reduced mantle convection slowed crustal plate movement and magma from the remaining heat formed a volcanic bulge on the surface. Repeated eruptions on the bulge resulted in a massive surface volcano. But as volcanism subsided, and the planet’s heat dissipated under its deep oceans, the bulge began sinking on the thin crust and rising sea levels eroded the volcano to a underwater plateau.

As the planet cooled it would have taken the path of many before it: as the molten core cooled and plate tectonics ceased, Thalassa would have lost its magnetic field and the solar winds would have stripped off its atmosphere and its oceans would have dissipated into space.

Rogue

But 10 million years ago, an event happened that had a profound effect on the future of Thalassa. An object, perhaps a rogue planet ejected from a distant solar system, moved through the Procyon system and obliquely collided with the small ocean planet and was captured as Thalassa’s second moon. The new satellite began a highly elliptical orbit around the planet that cast it far out in space then swung it back perilously close over a two-year period, causing considerable havoc on the planet, including a renewal of volcanism.

Mark Garlick/Getty