Asteroids in fiction

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Asteroids and asteroid belts are a staple of science fiction stories. Asteroids play several potential roles in science fiction: as places which human beings might colonize; as resources for extracting minerals; as a hazard encountered by spaceships traveling between two other points; and as a threat to life on Earth due to potential impacts.

Overview[edit]

When the theme of interplanetary colonization first entered science fiction, the Asteroid Belt was quite low on the list of desirable real estate, far behind such planets as Mars and Venus (often conceived as a kind of paradise planet, until probes in the 1960s revealed the appalling temperatures and conditions under its clouds). Thus, in many stories and books the Asteroid Belt, if not a positive hazard, is still a rarely visited backwater in a colonized Solar System.[1]

The prospects of colonizing the Solar System planets dimmed as they became known to be not very hospitable to life. However, the asteroids came to be imagined as a vast accumulation of mineral wealth, accessible in conditions of minimal gravity, and supplementing Earth's presumably dwindling resources—though the value of such minerals would have to be very high indeed to make such enterprises economically viable. Stories of asteroid mining multiplied after the late 1940s, accompanied by descriptions of a society living in caves or domes on asteroids, or (unscientifically) providing the asteroid with an atmosphere held in place by an "artificial gravity".

The idea of such isolated settlements, coupled with existing stereotypes of American mineral prospectors in the 19th century "Wild West", gave rise to the stock character of a "Belter" or "Rock Rat" – a rugged and independent-minded individual, resentful of state or corporate authority.[2] Among such works is Ben Bova's Asteroid Wars series.

Another way in which asteroids could be considered a source of danger is by depicting them as a hazard to navigation, especially threatening to ships traveling from Earth to the outer parts of the Solar System and thus needing to pass the Asteroid Belt (or make a time- and fuel-consuming detour around it). In this context, asteroids serve the same role in space travel stories as reefs and underwater rocks in the older genre of seafaring adventure stories.[3] And like such hazards, asteroids could also be used by bold outlaws to avoid pursuit. Representations of the Asteroid Belt in film tend to make it unrealistically cluttered with dangerous rocks, so dense that adventurous measures must be taken to avoid an impact, giving dramatic visual images which the true nearly empty space would not provide. One of the best-known examples of this is the Hoth system in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

In reality asteroids, even in the main belt, are spaced extremely far apart. Proto-planets in the process of formation and planetary rings may look like that, but the Sun's asteroid belt does not. (The asteroid belt in the HD 69830 system may, however.) The asteroids are spread over such a high volume that it would be highly improbable even to pass close to a random asteroid. For example, the numerous space probes sent to the outer solar system, just across the main asteroid belt, have never had any problems, and asteroid rendezvous missions have elaborate targeting procedures. The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is unusual in that it does portray realistically the ship's "encounter" with a lone asteroid pair.

A common depiction of asteroids and comets in fiction is as a threat, whose impact on Earth could result with incalculable damage and loss of life.[4][5] This has a basis in scientific hypotheses regarding such impacts in the distant past as responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and other past catastrophes —though, as they seem to occur within tens of millions of years of each other, there is no special reason (other than creating a dramatic story line) to expect a new such impact at any close millennium.

In earlier works, asteroids provided grist for theories as to their origin – specifically, the theory that the asteroids are remnants of an exploded planet. This naturally leads to SF plot-lines dealing with the possibility that the planet had been inhabited, and if so – that the inhabitants caused its destruction themselves, by war or gross environmental mismanagement. A further extension is from the past of the existing asteroids to the possible future destruction of Earth or other planets and their rendering into new asteroids.[6][7]

Early examples[edit]

The earliest explicit references to asteroids date from the late nineteenth century:

  • Hector Servadac, Voyages et ADVENTURES à travers le Monde Solaire (Off on a Comet, 1877), novel by Jules Verne. A Victorian vision of touring the solar system via handy "comet Gallia", the comet captures the "recently discovered asteroid Nerina" as it traverses the asteroid belt. Nerina was fictional at the time, but 1318 Nerina would be discovered and named by Cyril V. Jackson nearly sixty years later.
  • Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898), serial by Garrett P. Serviss. A fleet of spaceships from Earth on its way to attack Mars halts at an asteroid that is being mined for gold by the Martians.
  • La Chasse au météore ("Hunt for the Meteor", or "Chase of the Golden Meteor", 1908), by Jules and Michel Verne. This posthumously published Jules Verne novel was extensively edited and modified by his son Michel. The attribution of plot elements between father and son was long debated, until Verne's original version was unearthed. The book begins with the rivalry between two amateur astronomers who both claim discovery of a new asteroid. Originally an in-crowd issue among astronomers, it becomes a major worldwide problem when it is found that the asteroid is about to fall on Earth (to be exact, in Greenland). One of The Adventures of Tintin has a similar premise: The Shooting Star. Unlike later asteroid books, the main problem is not the damage which its fall may cause, but the fact that it is made of solid gold, which could upset the economy of the world. Thus, the asteroid's eventual fall into the Atlantic and its disappearance beneath the waves is presented as a satisfactory aversion of the economic danger, and there are none of the huge and highly destructive tsunami which in later stories (and in reality) would have followed.[8] Fred Hoyle's Element 79 (1967) exploits essentially the same plot device: an asteroid with significant amount of gold wreaks havoc with the Earth's economy.
  • The Valley of Fear (1914), short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes's arch-enemy, "is the celebrated author of 'The Dynamics of an Asteroid' , a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it" Though the Holmes stories were published at the same time as those by H. G. Wells, Holmes regards astronomical studies as an issue of pure abstract science, which would never have practical applications or provide the scene of future adventures.
  • "Asterite Invaders" (1932–33), a storyline in the Buck Rogers comic strip, featuring miniature humanoids living on the asteroids.
  • Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince, 1943), novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The title character lives on an asteroid named "B-612". He then travels among various asteroids, each inhabited by a single person: a lamp-lighter, a king, a businessman, a geographer . . . . Saint-Exupéry made no effort at scientific accuracy, since he was mainly writing social and political commentary and satire. (For example, his reference to "Baobab trees which, if not uprooted in time, might take root and break an asteroid to pieces" is commonly understood as an allegory of Fascism). The asteroid moon Petit-Prince was named after the character, and 46610 Bésixdouze after his asteroid.

Real asteroids in fiction[edit]

Although the asteroids are commonly dealt with en masse, a few Main Belt asteroids have become well enough known to be named in fictional treatments.

Ceres[edit]

Main article: Ceres in fiction

Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest and first discovered planetoid of the main-belt asteroids.

Eros[edit]

After Ceres, Asteroid 433 Eros is perhaps the most-commonly mentioned asteroid, probably because it is one of the largest near-Earth asteroids.

  • “Our Distant Cousins” (1929), short story by Lord Dunsany. An enterprising aviator flies to Mars, but ends up on Eros on his return trip due to a navigation error. Everything on Eros is tiny due to its small size and gravity; the aviator brings a tiny elephant back to Earth in a matchbox, but it escapes.[9]
  • "On the Planetoid Eros" (1931), a storyline in the Buck Rogers comic strip.
  • Dig Allen Space Explorer (1959–1962) series of juvenile novels by Joseph Greene. Eros turns out to be a disguised alien spaceship.
  • Space Angel (1962–1964) Cambria Productions TV series. In the episode 'The Visitor from Outer Space,' Scott McCloud and his crew are forced to destroy Eros by deflecting it into the Sun, when it becomes a hazard to spaceship navigation.
  • Captive Universe (1969), novel by Harry Harrison. Eros has been converted into a vast hollow generation ship, the interior of which provides the setting for the story.
  • Ender's Game (1985), novel by Orson Scott Card. Eros was formerly an outpost for the aliens known as Formics who installed artificial gravity but was taken over by humans and a Command School was built there. This is where Ender was sent after he graduated from Battle School.
  • Vacuum Flowers (1987), a novel by Michael Swanwick, is set partly in "Eros Kluster", a slum of jerry-rigged space stations orbiting 433 Eros.
  • Asteroid (1997), NBC's two-part miniseries features a series of asteroids heading towards Earth. Eros, the larger of the two asteroids is shattered into small fragments by the Air Force's ABL in an attempt to divert it from a certain impact on Earth. Eros still proceeds to rain over Dallas, Texas.
  • Justice League of America #26 (February 1999) by DC Comics. The JLA uses Eros as an inescapable prison for their unkillable foe, the General. He is simply deposited on the asteroid's flatter end. He later escapes with the aid of alien forces.
  • Evolution (2003), novel by Stephen Baxter. Eros plays an important role in the future evolution of life on Earth. Millions of years after being perturbed into a new orbit, the asteroid collides with Earth, bringing about another mass extinction. The micrometeoroid-ravaged shell of NEAR Shoemaker still stands on the surface of Eros until seconds before the impact.
  • Leviathan Wakes (2011), novel by Daniel Abraham writing as James S.A. Corey. Supporting "a population of one and a half million", Eros is "a port of call in the first generation of humanity's expansion" into the outer solar system and is the setting for a large part of this science fiction series opener.

Pallas[edit]

Asteroid 2 Pallas is the third-largest main belt asteroid.

  • "Palladian Space Pirates" (1936), a storyline in the Buck Rogers comic strip.
  • Seetee Shock (1949) and Seetee Ship (1951) novels by Jack Williamson in which many smaller asteroids are made of "contraterrene" or "seetee" matter, an early fictional name for antimatter. Pallas is made of normal matter and is the seat of government for the "Mandate" which oppressively governs the Asteroid Belt
  • Captain Future magazine, Winter 1942 ("Quest Beyond the Stars"), featured a version of Pallas known as the "Pirates' Planet."
  • "The Shrinking Spaceman", episode of Space Patrol (1962), puppet television series. When the Galasphere crew are sent to repair the sonar beam transmitter on the asteroid Pallas. Husky succumbs to a mysterious shrinking disease after cutting his hand on a rock. Keeping him in suspended animation Professor Heggerty attempts to find a cure.
  • Pallas (1993), novel by L. Neil Smith. Emerson Ngu, a boy who lives in a dystopian socialist commune in a crater on the terraformed asteroid Pallas, creates a crystal radio and is astonished to learn of the world outside the commune. Escaping, he discovers that the rest of Pallas is a libertarian utopia. Unable to forget his semi-enslaved family—whose "workers' paradise" is starving to death—he innovates a cheap but durable gun (because the Libertarians on Pallas, to their shame, did not have a domestic firearms industry), and sets about liberating his former commune. The book was partly inspired by the 1987 article "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race" written by Jared Diamond. The book also includes a brief description of a way to encapsulate the entire surface of a small body such as an asteroid to enable creating an Earthlike environment.

Juno[edit]

Asteroid 3 Juno is one of the largest main belt asteroids, being the second heaviest of the stony S-type.

  • Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), a Real Robot anime directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino. The asteroid Juno, renamed Luna 2, has been placed into Lunar orbit, opposite the moon for the purpose of supplying materials for space colony construction. It is later retrofitted into a military base for the Earth Federation.
  • Eon (1985), science fiction novel by Greg Bear. Juno appears as a hollowed out asteroid/starship from the future, called the Thistledown.

Vesta[edit]

Asteroid 4 Vesta is the second largest of the asteroids.

Icarus[edit]

Asteroid 1566 Icarus is best known for its close approach to Earth and the Sun.

  • "Summertime on Icarus" (aka 'Icarus Ascending', 1960), short story by Arthur C. Clarke. An astronaut is stranded on Icarus as it approaches perihelion.
  • In the Ocean of Night (1977), novel by Gregory Benford. An asteroid named Icarus plays a major role.
  • Lucifer's Hammer (1977), novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The 1968 passing of Icarus is mentioned several times. However, the actual impactor is a comet, perturbed by a passage of the hypothetical dwarf star Nemesis.
  • The Memory of Whiteness (1985), novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. Icarus is inhabited by a religious cult that worships its close approaches to the Sun.
  • Icarus's Way (a.k.a. The Trip of Icarus) (1974), novel by Lyuben Dilov. Icarus is equipped with engines and turned into a large spaceship travelling for generations through the Universe.[10]
  • Alley Oop, newspaper comic strip. During Icarus' 1968 passage the character Doc Wonmug electrostatically deflects it away from a collision with Earth.

Other asteroids[edit]

Common themes[edit]

Colonization[edit]

When the theme of interplanetary colonization first entered SF, the Asteroid Belt was quite low on the list of desirable real estate, far behind such planets as Mars and Venus (often conceived as a kind of paradise planet, until probes in the 1960s revealed uninhabitable temperatures with a deadly carbon dioxide and sulfur atmosphere under its clouds). Thus, in many stories and books the Asteroid Belt, if not a positive hazard, is still a rarely visited backwater in a colonized Solar System.

  • Seetee Shock (1949) and Seetee Ship (1951), novels by Jack Williamson featured terraformed and antimatter asteroids.
  • Dumb Martian (1952), short story by John Wyndham. A ruthless Earth man buys a young Martian woman (Martians, in this story, being a humanoid race subject to Earth-human colonialism and exploitation). She is to serve as a companion in his five-year lonely tour of duty on an asteroid orbiting Jupiter. The power struggle between the two of them, isolated on the asteroid, forms the main plot, and the arrogant and chauvinistic Earth man finds the hard way that his "Dumb Martian" is not as dumb as he thought she was.
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953), juvenile novel by Isaac Asimov. The Asteroid Belt is the haunt of dangerous pirates. The hero, an agent of The Terran Empire, has not only his job but also a private score to settle with pirates who had killed his parents. In the end, however, the enlightened Empire gives former Pirate strongholds in terraformed asteroids a chance to stay on as law-abiding communities.[12]
  • "The Lonely" (1959), episode of The Twilight Zone, television series. A convict, living in exile on an asteroid for 40 years, is clandestinely given a robot woman as a companion.
  • "Island in the Sky" (Uncle $crooge #29, Mar. 1960), comic by Carl Barks. Scrooge McDuck scouted the asteroid belt to find a safe location for his money. The story depicts the asteroid belt as being much denser than it actually is. There are also many very large asteroids, some having atmospheres and inhabitants. At least one is a virtual paradise, replete with lush vegetation including bananas, papayas, apples, nuts, wild rice and melons.
  • "The Small Planets" (ca. 1960-62), episode of Gumby animation. Gumby searches for an asteroid to settle, but finds each one already inhabited by a reclusive and unfriendly child.
  • X-Men, comic book. The villain Magneto has used an asteroid called Asteroid M (X-men #5, May 1964) as his base of operations, complete with an observation deck, hangar bays and medical facilities. The various facilities had technology that kept it concealed from standard detection technology.
  • "Tales of the Flying Mountains" (1970), short stories first published 1962–65 by Poul Anderson. Collection of short stories on the colonization of the asteroids.[13]
  • Protector (1973), novel, and other short stories by Larry Niven. These stories explore the psychology of the "Belters", people born and raised in asteroid colonies. A similar society in the "Serpent Swarm" of asteroids in the Alpha Centauri system, are featured in some stories of the Man-Kzin Wars series.
  • Gundam, anime and novel series by Yoshiyuki Tomino. Asteroids are utilized for a variety of purposes. In Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), Several asteroids have been moved from the asteroid belt to positions in Earth's Lagrange points. The most prominent of these are Solomon and A Baoa Qu, major space fortresses of the Principality of Zeon. Juno, formerly a mining asteroid, is renamed Luna II and moved to the L3 Lagrangian point opposite to the Moon. It becomes the Earth Federation's main space military base during and after the story. . Solomon and A Baoa Qu eventually fall into the Federation's hands, and are renamed Konpei Island and Gate of Zedan, respectively. In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985), Axis is a former asteroid mining colony that has become the stronghold of the Axis Zeon faction. Originally located in the asteroid belt, Axis is equipped with thermonuclear pulse thrusters in order to travel to Earth. Axis arrives in the Earth Sphere late in the Gryps Conflict, and the alliances Axis forms drastically alter the balance of power.
  • The Venus Belt (1981), novel in the North American Confederation series by L. Neil Smith. A social system of total free enterprise on asteroids.
  • Ender's Game (1985) and Ender's Shadow novels by Orson Scott Card. The Asteroid Belt is mainly a military zone, housing the bases and institutions dedicated to the war against Earth's insectoid invaders. A major part of both books takes place at Command School on 433 Eros where gifted children are kept in complete isolation and ruthlessly turned into tough fleet commanders, losing their childhood in the process.
  • The Way (1985–1996), series of novels by Greg Bear. There is a colony inside a hollowed-out asteroid.
  • Blue Mars (1996), novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. The colonization of asteroids and how new technology affects their development.
  • "Futurama" (1999–2003, 2008–). Humans have inhabited asteroids with single homes in the asteroid belt.
  • Asteroid Wars (2001–2007), novels by Ben Bova. Warfare by corporations for control of the asteroid belt.

Mineral extraction[edit]

The prospects of colonizing the Solar System planets became more dim with increasing discoveries about conditions on them. Conversely, the potential value of the asteroids increased, as a vast accumulation of mineral wealth, accessible in conditions of minimal gravity, and supplementing Earth's dwindling resources. Stories of asteroid mining became more and more numerous since the late 1940s, with the next logical step being depictions of a society on terraformed asteroids — in some cases dug under the surface, in others having dome colonies and in still others provided with an atmosphere which is kept in place by an artificial gravity.

An image developed and was carried from writer to writer, of "Belters" or "Rock Rats" as rugged and independent-minded individuals, resentful of all authority (in some books and stories of the military and political power of Earth-bound nation states, in others of the corporate power of huge companies). As such, this sub-genre proved naturally attractive to writers with Libertarian tendencies. Moreover, depictions of the Asteroid Belt as The New Frontier clearly draw (sometimes explicitly) on the considerable literature of the Nineteenth-Century Frontier and the Wild West. And since (in nearly all stories) the asteroids are completely lifeless until the arrival of the humans, it is a New Frontier completely free of the moral taint of the brutal dispossession of the Native Americans in the original.

  • Seetee Ship (1951) and Seetee Shock (1949) by Jack Williamson. Earth, Mars, Venus and the Jovian Moons are all dominated by competing tyrannical political systems (a Communist one, a Fascist one, and a Capitalist "democracy" totally dominated by a single vast, all-owning and all-controlling corporation). The scattered, despised and numerically inferior asteroid miners are left as the sole remaining champions of individual liberty. The "Rock Rats" neatly turn the tables by finding out how to produce energy from the collision of matter and anti-matter asteroids (anti-matter or "Contraterrene" is the "Seetee" (C-T) of the title). Virtually unlimited energy is broadcast from the Asteroid Belt all over the Solar System, for everybody to tap and use completely free of charge — and all the oppressive systems go crashing down.
  • Beyond Mars (1952–1955), comic strip in The New York Sunday News by Jack Williamson. Loosely based on the novel Seetee Ship.
  • Catch That Rabbit, short story by Isaac Asimov in the collection I, Robot (1950). A lonely asteroid mining station is the location for an intractable robot mystery and tangle.
  • The Rolling Stones (1952), novel by Robert A. Heinlein. The family Stone travels to the Asteroid Belt, where the twins of the family hope to sell food and luxury items to the miners extracting radioactive ores.
  • Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet (1952), young adult novel by Harold L. Goodwin under the pseudonym Blake Savage; alternately published under the title Assignment in Space with Rip Foster. Planeteer Rip Foster undertakes capturing an asteroid of pure thorium and steering it to earth orbit.
  • The Rogue (1963), short story by Poul Anderson. A tense love affair takes place between an asterite entrepreneur, who represents a kind of reversion to 19th Century Capitalism, and a woman officer in a space warship sent by the Social Justice Party (in power at Washington D.C.) to clip that entrepreneur's wings. The encounter is the first skirmish in what eventually develops into a full-scale Asterite War of Independence (consciously modelled on the American one), told of in further stories. Anderson's asteroid stories were eventually collected in Tales of the Flying Mountains, where the flourishing Asteroid Republic makes of a terraformed asteroid the first interstellar ship, which in the course of generations would reach other stellar systems. The veterans who go along tell, for the edification of the young generation, their memoirs of the pioneering days.[13]
  • Known Space (1964 onward) series of stories by Larry Niven. The Solar System is divided between the U.N.-dominated Earth and the Asteroid Belt, two competing political and cultural entities whose rivalry might at any moment descend into a destructive war — forming the background to several books and the main theme of World of Ptavvs. In this universe, it is planets such as Mars which are the neglected backwaters, Belters spurning them and their gravity wells as fit only for "Flatlanders".
  • The Men in the Jungle (1967), novel by Norman Spinrad. The Asteroid Belt is originally colonized by Afrikaners who hog its mineral wealth and lord it over later-arrived immigrants from Third World countries — in effect recreating Apartheid all over again. A revolution culminates with the creation of the Belt Free State, a republic far less stable than Anderson's which is headed by the likeable though thoroughly corrupt Bart Fraden. The intervention of the Big Powers from Earth, seeking to control the same mineral wealth, leads to Fraden's overthrow and his escape out of the Solar System — setting the stage to further (quite grisly) adventures which are the book's main plot line.
  • "Tinker" (1975), short story in the collection High Justice, vol. 1 of the Future History series by Jerry Pournelle. The Asteroid Belt is dominated by a consortium of multinational corporations (upgraded to multi-planetary corporations by this time). Pournelle deliberately turns upside down the well-established rules of this sub-genre by making the corporations and their field agent into the Good Guys of the story. The Bad Guys are the rugged miners of Jefferson Asteroid, who use assorted dirty tricks in their effort to get free of the corporations' rule — an aspiration which a character describes as "an atavistic nationalism for which there is no room in the Belt".
  • Heechee (1976–2004) series of stories by Frederik Pohl. Explorers discover an asteroid orbiting perpendicular to the solar plane, filled with hundreds of small spaceships left aeons ago by a mysterious alien race which humans call "Heechee". Named Gateway by the discovers, the powerful nations of the world occupy the asteroid and subsequently form the Gateway Corporation to administer the object. Under their open eye, there develops a culture of adventurers and prospectors rather similar to that portrayed in other asteroid books. Here, however, the prospecting is not for mineral wealth but rather for interstellar discovery, to which the adventurers set out blindly in the hardly understood alien ships, in trips which can end with riches or death.
  • Red Dwarf (1988–1999), television series. Asteroids have presumably been mined for at least several decades, as Dave Lister is once heard singing a futuristic version of "Clementine" – "On an asteroid / Evacuating for a mine / Lived an old plutonium miner / And his daughter Clementine...". The Jupiter Mining Corporation, which operates the ship Red Dwarf, presumably mines on asteroids (Red Dwarf itself mined the Neptunian moon Triton, according to the novels).
  • The Stone Dogs (1990), novel in the Draka series by S. M. Stirling. The Asteroid Belt is a major arena of the decades-long struggle between "The Domination of the Draka", a political and military entity bent on conquering everybody else and reducing them to literal slavery, and its arch-enemy "The Alliance for Democracy". Following "The Final War" of that history's 1998, the tough Asteroid miners are the last holdout against the victorious Draka. Though they eventually defect to the Draka, they are first able to launch "New America", a huge starship carrying some 100,000 colonists to the stars, to keep the cause alive and fight again another day.
  • Heavy Time (1991), novel by C. J. Cherryh. Mining of the asteroid belt of Earth's solar system is a critical part of the economy in the 24th century. A dispute over mining rights to a particularly large asteroid rich with valuable minerals involves ASTEX, a giant mining corporation, and the book describes in detail ASTEX's mining operations in the asteroid belt.
  • Several short stories by Geoffrey A. Landis, including "Outsider's Chance" (1998) and "Betting on Eureka" (2005), deal with mining asteroids.[14]
  • Live Free or Die (2010), novel by John Ringo. Asteroids are melted by sunlight concentrated by a distributed network of orbital mirrors, allowing the centripetal force of the asteroid's own rotation to separate it into concentric layers of its component materials, which are then peeled off one-by-one. One asteroid, known as Troy, is drilled into, stuffed with ice, and then melted, inflating it into a hollow metal shell nine miles in diameter and over a mile thick, which is then developed into a space station used to defend the solar system from invading aliens.

Navigational hazard[edit]

Another way in which asteroids could be considered a source of danger is by depicting them as a hazard to navigation, especially threatening to ships travelling from Earth to the outer parts of the Solar System and thus needing to pass the Asteroid Belt (or make a time- and fuel-consuming detour around it). Asteroids in this context provide to space travel stories a space equivalent of reefs and underwater rocks in the older genre of seafaring adventures stories. And like reefs and rocks in the ocean, asteroids as navigation hazards can also be used by bold outlaws to avoid pursuit.

Representations of the Asteroid Belt in film tend to make it unrealistically cluttered with dangerous rocks. In reality, even in the main belt, asteroids are spaced extremely far apart (even so, they can still be a risk to ships travelling at high speeds).

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), film. 2001 accurately (and, for a work of fiction, atypically) depicts a "close approach" between the Discovery One and a binary asteroid while en route to Jupiter. The scene simply cuts briefly to two lone rocks passing by the ship, with tens of thousands of kilometres to spare.
  • 2061: Odyssey Three (1986), novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke dispenses with the relative monotony of the journey from the first book, and instead applies ominous parallels to the journey of the RMS Titanic. During writing the novel, the Titanic's wreck had just been found.
  • The Wreck of The River of Stars (2003), novel by Michael Flynn. Themes of nautical adventure novels are transferred to an Asteroid Belt environment, with a dramatic account of cumulative accidents, mismatched good intentions and power struggles among crew members in a former space luxury liner turned tramp freighter (the "River of Stars" of the title) which culminate in a disastrous collision with an asteroid.
  • Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets (2004), television drama documentary by the BBC. The Pegasus encounters a binary asteroid from much closer than expected, and dubs the rocks "Hubris" and "Catastrophe" as a result.

Collisions with planets[edit]

A common depiction of asteroids (and less often, of comets) in fiction is as a threat, whose impact on Earth could result with incalculable damage and loss of life. This scenario is based on such past events as the impact event responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. Such events are, however, sufficiently rare that there is no special reason to expect such an impact in the near future.

  • "The Wandering Asteroid", episode of Space Patrol (1962), puppet television series. The Space Patrol crew accept a dangerous mission to destroy an asteroid deflected from its orbit by a cometary collision and heading directly for the Martian capital Wotan.
  • The Green Slime (1968), film. A rogue asteroid hurtles toward Earth. The astronauts leave Space Station Gamma 3 and place bombs on the asteroid, finding it inhabited by strange blobs of glowing slime that are drawn to the equipment. Unfortunately for everyone, some of the slime is carried back on a space suit and soon evolves into tentacled creatures. The movie inspired the classic board game The Awful Green Things From Outer Space.
  • Rendezvous with Rama (1972), novel by Arthur C. Clarke. An asteroid impacts in Northern Italy destroys Padua, Verona and Venice. In the aftermath of that disaster, a regular Spaceguard against rogue asteroids is formed, whose members are the protagonists in the main story line — a meeting with a mysterious alien space artifact.
  • Lucifer's Hammer (1977), novel by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. Earth's population falls into panic at hearing of an impending collision with a space object, is falsely reassured when hearing that the object is not an asteroid but a comet "with the density of sundae", then finds out the hard way that at the speed of collision this still causes enormous damage and throws the world into total chaos.
  • The Hermes Fall (1978), novel by John Baxter. NASA discovers the asteroid Hermes is on a collision course with Earth and initiates a desperate attempt to deflect it.[15]
  • Meteor (1979), film. The asteroid Orpheus hurtles toward Earth after its orbit is deflected by a comet. The movie was inspired in part by a M.I.T. student report. Project Icarus (1968).
  • Impact! (1979), novel by R. V. Fodor & G. J. Taylor. A series of asteroid collisions trigger World War III.[16]
  • Shiva Descending (1980), novel by Gregory Benford and William Rotsler,[17][18]
  • The Hammer of God (1993), novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Mankind tries to stop an asteroid named Kali from hitting the Earth.
  • Sliders Episode 4, "Last Days" (1995), television. The sliders team must invent the atom bomb to deflect an asteroid that is on target to destroy the Earth.
  • Titan (1997), novel by Stephen Baxter. China tries to deflect an asteroid into Earth orbit to use as a weapons base, but instead causes it to hit Earth, presumably destroying all human life.
  • Deep Impact (1998). film. Based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel The Hammer of God, although the asteroid becomes a comet[19] An unsuccessful attempt to alter the course of the asteroid by detonating nuclear devices on its surface, after which the astronauts involved pilot their ship into the asteroid's path to prevent it hitting Earth.
  • Armageddon (1998), film. An asteroid is prevented from impacting the Earth by drilling into its core and planting nuclear bombs which split the asteroid in half. The two halves move in different directions and miss the Earth.
  • "Asteroid (2001), an episode of the radio drama series Radio Tales on National Public Radio. Based on the short story "The Star" by H. G. Wells, the drama chronicles the events surrounding the approach of an asteroid which is predicted to impact the earth and instead passes in a "near miss" that causes cataclysmic damage.
  • Terraforming Earth (2001), novel by Jack Williamson. An asteroid impact wipes out most life on Earth. The only remaining humans are a small group of clones on an automated moon base, tasked with rebuilding civilization.
  • "Fail Safe" (2002), episode of Stargate SG-1 television series. A Goa'uld surreptitiously diverts an asteroid to a collision course with Earth.
  • "Collision Course" (2003–present), novel by Susan Nichols Ferrara.
  • "Impact Winter" (2004), episode of The West Wing, television series. The White House staff prepare for a possible asteroid impact on the Earth.
  • "Phantom Planet", the series finale of Danny Phantom (2004), features a giant asteroid originating from Saturn (nicknamed the "disasteroid" because of its enormous size) hurtling towards the Earth, with people helpless to stop it.
  • "Wizards vs. Asteroid" (2011), episode of Wizards of Waverly Place, has the Russo family hearing of a giant asteroid hurtling towards Earth, and they go into space to activate the missile that got stuck in it and failed to detonate.

As weapons[edit]

  • Protector (1973), novel by Larry Niven. Jack Brennan, a human turned into a "Pak Protector", commits genocide by causing an ice asteroid to collide with Mars, thereby causing a rise in the water content of its atmosphere and exterminating the native Martians to whom water is a deadly poison.
  • Footfall (1985), novel by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. Elephant-like aliens launch an asteroid which lands in the Indian Ocean, causing a huge tsunami which almost completely wipes out life in India and causes enormous damage to all countries which have shores on that ocean.
  • Metal Armor Dragonar (1987), anime. The Lunar-based Giganos Empire uses a mass driver to fire asteroids at the Earth and space colonies.
  • Starship Troopers (1997), film, loosely based on the 1959 novel by Robert A. Heinlein. Aliens launch an asteroid at Earth, completely wiping out Buenos Aires. This is the opening move in the war.
  • Sunstorm (2005), novel by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke. Extraterrestrials attempt to cause Earth's destruction by way of a "cosmic bullet" projectile sent into the Sun.
  • Live Free or Die (2010) and its sequel Citadel by John Ringo, in which asteroids are melted, inflated, and turned into unstoppable battleships of space.

Fifth planet[edit]

Before colonization of the asteroids became an attractive possibility, a main interest in them was theories as to their origin – specifically, the theory that the asteroids are remnants of an exploded planet. This naturally leads to SF plot lines dealing with the possibility that the planet had been inhabited, and if so – that the inhabitants caused its destruction themselves, by war or gross environmental mismanagement. A further extension is from the past of the existing asteroids to the possible future destruction of Earth or other planets and their rendering into new asteroids.

For a list of "fifth planets" in fiction, see Fictional planets of the Solar System

New asteroid belts[edit]

A theme related to that of the Fifth Planet is the generation of a new asteroid belt, via the demolition of a planet, sometimes the Earth. It should be noted that the energy required to reduce a planet such as Earth to loose rubble is truly enormous: about 2×1032 J, equivalent to the Sun's entire luminous energy output for about a week![citation needed]

  • Facing the Flag (1896), novel by Jules Verne. A mad genius invents an enormously powerful new explosive, of which a few grams suffice to blow a passable tunnel through many metres of tough volcanic rock. One of the story's villains remarks that several thousand tons might be enough to blow up the entire Earth and render it into a new asteroid belt – which (though no character in the story has any desire to actually try it) seems to be the first time that such a suggestion was made in science fiction.
  • Worlds of the Imperium (1962), novel by Keith Laumer. The hero, travelling in a vehicle capable of traversing parallel worlds, passes many where Earth had been shattered in a cataclysmic war and was rendered into a scattered collection of asteroids. He gets a brief and horrifying glimpse of an asteroid on which a section of road is still visible. Later, he learns that our own Earth narrowly avoided a similar fate.
  • The Corridors of Time (1965), novel by Poul Anderson. Two groups, the Wardens and the Rangers, wage a relentless struggle for control of Earth and the Solar System. As a result, Mars is blown up and its remnants become a new Asteroid Belt. The two fighting sides tacitly agree to use more subtle forms of fighting, involving mainly time-travel.
  • The Venus Belt (1980), novel by L. Neil Smith. The "useless" planet Venus is deliberately blown up to create a new asteroid belt. It is part of a genre of asteroid SF in which asteroids are rated as more valuable than planets.

Spacecraft[edit]

  • Eon (1985), science fiction novel by Greg Bear. The asteroid Juno appears as a hollowed out asteroid/starship from the future, called the Thistledown.

Extrasolar asteroids[edit]

Some works of fiction take place on, or in, asteroid-like bodies or fields outside the Solar System:

  • Miners in The Sky (1967), novel by Murray Leinster. The ring system around Thotmess, a gas giant in the system of the star Niletus where planets are called for Ancient Egyptian gods, is a completely lawless place where "claim jumping" is frequent. Miners, riding small "donkey ships", need to contend with both the harsh natural environment and with fierce human competitors. They must be ready at any moment to take up a gun or a bazooka to defend their finds of "grey matrix in which abyssal crystals occur". (The reader is not told what this may be, except that it is evidently valuable enough to kill for.) The extra-solar environment is chosen by Leinster in order to convey the feeling of an ever-expanding frontier – Sol's own Asteroid Belt has become "tame", as did the rings of Saturn, and the rough adventurous types move further on. (The historical model is obviously the recurring Gold Rush of the Nineteenth Century, drawing adventurers in 1840s from the settled East Coast to wild California, and in 1890s from settled California to the wild Klondike).
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky (1968). A generational ship called the Yonada is shaped like an asteroid.
  • The Mote in God's Eye (1974), novel by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. The novel features the examination of evidence indicating the use of asteroids in planetary bombardment as the final strategy of a war that almost wipes out the warring species.
  • Outcasts of Heaven Belt (1978, expanded from a 1976 story), novel by Joan D. Vinge, in which an extraterrestrial solar system is originally named the "heaven belt," and colonized because its extensive asteroid belt gives access to resources.
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), film by George Lucas. In demonstrating the ability of the newly constructed Death Star to destroy planets, Grand Moff Tarkin destroys the planet Alderaan, thereby creating an asteroid field that the Millennium Falcon haplessly stumbles into when attempting to visit the planet.
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980), film. Han Solo enters an asteroid field to flee from the fleet of the evil Empire. Han then hides his ship, the Millennium Falcon inside a giant asteroid; the ship then finds itself inside a colossal animal that lives within the asteroid.
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode "Golden Man" (1981, season 2). The spaceship Searcher enters the asteroid belt of the Alpha Centauri system and becomes trapped against an asteroid by a powerful magnetic storm while responding to a distress radiobeacon signal, the plot involves the crew visiting an Earth-like planet Iris VII that exists within the belt so that they can escape the asteroid's gravity and destruction of the Searcher.[20][21]
  • Gap Cycle (1991–1996), series of novels by Stephen R. Donaldson's. Numerous human asteroid colonies, albeit not in the Solar System's Asteroid Belt.
  • Night's Dawn Trilogy (1996–1999), novel trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. Worlds colonized by humans use asteroids as their main source of minerals and location of their industries. The asteroids are either in orbit around a colonized world, are moved into orbit to be used as a base for the industry, or are in an asteroid belt.
  • Halo: The Fall of Reach, novel by Eric Nylund (2001). Describes an assault by Spartans on a hidden rebel base located within a hollowed-out asteroid. A large hangar/airlock protects the internal atmosphere of the facility from vacuum.
  • Star Trek: Voyager episode Homestead (2001). A group of Talaxians are living in an asteroid field which another race is trying to mine.
  • The Saga of Seven Suns (2003–present), series of novels by Kevin J. Anderson. A faction of humanity, "The Roamers", lives on asteroids.
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), film. Padmé gives birth to Luke and Leia in an asteroid colony on Polis Massa.
  • "Scar" (2006), episode of Battlestar Galactica television series. Raw materials are mined from an asteroid to gather resources vital to the fleet.
  • Halo: The Cole Protocol, novel by Tobias Buckell (2008). Describes a massive linked cloud of asteroids trailing the orbit of a gas giant. The links contain mass transit systems.

Games involving asteroids[edit]

  • Asteroids (1979), arcade video game by Atari, and its sequels such as Blasteroids. Collision is an ever-present hazard in a dense asteroid field.
  • Wing Commander: Privateer (1993), computer game. Several space stations are inside asteroids.
  • K240 (1994), computer game for the Amiga. Very similar in terms of game play and plot to the game's 1997 successor Fragile Allegiance.
  • Outpost (1994), computer game. The Earth is threatened by an asteroid named Vulcan's Hammer. A plan is made to stop the asteroid, with a nuclear warhead. This however fails and splits the asteroid into two pieces, which collide with the Earth. With the Earth destroyed, a group of selected colonists head off into space, in search of new home.
  • 2038; Tycoons of the Asteroid Belt (1995), game by James Hlavaty and Tom Lehmann. Transposes the highly successful "18xx" series of railroad board games into the asteroid belt.
  • Descent (1995), computer game. Three secret levels take place on the asteroids Ceres, Eunomia and another unidentified one.
  • The Dig (1995), computer game by LucasArts and novelization by Alan Dean Foster. The impact-threatening asteroid Attila turns out to be an alien probe.
  • The Orion Conspiracy (1995), computer game. The Cerberus colony is on an asteroid.
  • Fragile Allegiance (1997), computer game. Is a 4X real-time strategy game and spiritual successor to K240 that revolves around the colonization of asteroids in a far away asteroid belt so as to mine rare minerals whilst fighting off or taking over the settled asteroids of other mining companies.
  • Descent 3 (1999), computer game. A mission takes place on Ceres.
  • Homeworld 1999, game. In Mission 06: Diamond Shoals, the Kushan fleet must pass through a turbulent asteroid field, destroying asteroids before they impact the Mothership.
  • Terminus (2000), computer game. The Asteroid Belt offers possibilities for mining, as well as several missions in "story mode".
  • Asteroid Wars (2001–2007), series of novels by Ben Bova. A trade war over the mining of the Belt develops into a shooting war.
  • EVE Online (2003–present) is a Massively multiplayer online role-playing game with a fully player-driven economy, and most of the basic materials come from mining the countless asteroid belts.
  • Freelancer (2003), computer game. Several space stations are inside asteroids.
  • Millennium 2.2 (1989), computer game. Asteroids are presented as both a mining opportunity (many minerals are only available to the player at first by mining asteroids) and as a shipping hazard.
  • Mass Effect series (2007-2012) - includes several asteroid-based locations, two space stations in hollowed-out asteroids, and one weaponized "planet-killer"-grade asteroid.
  • The Dead Space video game series (2008–2012), produced by EA's Visceral Games. Features the strip mining of entire asteroids and even terrestrial planets to fuel 26th century humanity's resource consumption.
  • Space Engineers (2013) - Sandbox style building game. The main way to obtain resources, for both construction and energy, is by mining them from a varying number of nearby asteroids.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Asimov, Isaac (March 1939). "Marooned off Vesta". Amazing Stories. 
  2. ^ Williamson, Jack (1950). Seetee Ship. 
  3. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1953). Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids. 
  4. ^ Clarke, Arthur C. (1993). The Hammer of God. 
  5. ^ Niven, Larry (1977). Lucifer's Hammer. 
  6. ^ Hogan, James P. (1977). Inherit the Stars. 
  7. ^ Heinlein, Robert (1948). Space Cadet. 
  8. ^ Jacques Crovisier
  9. ^ Lord Dunsany, “Our Distant Cousins,” The Saturday Evening Post, November 23, 1929; collected in In the Land of Time and Other Fantasy Tales, S. T. Joshi, ed., Penguin Classics, 2004.
  10. ^ Dilov, Lyuben (aka Lyubin, Luben or Liuben) (2002). Пътят на Икар. Захари Стоянов. ISBN 954-739-338-3. 
  11. ^ Coyle, Harold (2001). Dead Hand. Forge. ISBN 0-812-57539-3. 
  12. ^ Review of Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids[dead link]
  13. ^ a b "Tales of the Flying Mountains by Poul Anderson". fantasticfiction.co.uk. Retrieved September 2012. 
  14. ^ Review, Asimov's Science Fiction October/November 2005, Tangent Online 2006-02-12 (retrieved Jun 11 2014)
  15. ^ Baxter, John (1978). The Hermes Fall. Granada (Panther). ISBN 0-586-04610-0. 
  16. ^ Fodor, R. V.; Taylor, G. J. (1979). Impact!. Leisure Books. ISBN 0-8439-0648-0. 
  17. ^ "SF Reviews Shiva Descending by Gregory Benford & William Rotsler". sfreviews.com. Retrieved September 2012. 
  18. ^ Benford, Gregory; Rotsler, William (1980). Shiva Descending. Sphere. ISBN 978-0-8125-1690-6. 
  19. ^ http://www.space-frontier.org/PROJECTS/ASTEROIDS/aclarke_address_may26-98.html[dead link]
  20. ^ ""Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" The Golden Man (TV Episode 1981)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 2012. 
  21. ^ "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)". Database of Movie Dialogs. Retrieved September 2012. 

External links[edit]