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A desert planet is a single-biome planet on which the climate is mostly desert, with little or no natural precipitation. Desert planets are known to exist; Mars is often considered a prime example. Indeed, many terrestrial planets would be considered desert planets by this definition. However, the term is often used to refer to desert planets that remain hospitable for life.
A relatively common motif in science fiction, the concept includes both real and fictional planets, and is sometimes accompanied by elements of hydraulic despotism. Perhaps the most famous fictional examples are Arrakis, the setting for much of the Dune series of novels by Frank Herbert, and Tatooine of the Star Wars universe.
A recent study has suggested that not only are life-sustaining desert planets possible, but that they might be more common than Earth-like planets. The reason for this prediction is that, when modeled, desert planets had a much larger habitable zone than watery planets.
The same study also speculates that Venus may have once been a habitable desert planet a long time ago. It is also believed by many that the same may have been true for Mars, and that life on Mars may exist even in the modern era. (This has yet to be determined).
Despite how they are commonly portrayed, a habitable desert planet would probably not have a completely uniform climate. It would likely have some amount of surface water near its poles, although the climate pattern would strongly depend, as for other bodies, on the axial tilt.
Study conducted in 2013 concluded that hot desert planets without runaway greenhouse effect can exist in 0.5 AU around Sun-like stars. In that study, it was concluded that minimum humidity of 1% of is needed to wash off carbon dioxide from atmosphere but too much water can act as a greenhouse gas itself. Higher atmospheric pressures increase the range of which the water can remain liquid.
Mars as a desert planet
- The anime series Cowboy Bebop repeatedly portrayed Mars as a prominent colonized world in the 21st century. It serves as a central hub for the solar system after Earth was left uninhabitable following the warp gateway disaster.
- Leigh Brackett's Martian stories, in which Mars is largely desert with sporadic oases of civilization.
- Larry Niven's "Known Space" novels and short stories (including Eye of an Octopus and Protector), where water is completely alien to the biochemistry of the planet's inhabitants.
- Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" collection of short stories depict Mars as a mostly hospitable desert home to first an indigenous Martian civilization, who are displaced by an encroaching homo sapiens population. The stories use a "Cowboys vs Indians" theme which benefits from the red desert backdrop of Mars.
- Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, where Mars is gradually terraformed from a frozen desert planet to a more hospitable Earthlike environment.
- Martian Time-Slip, by Philip K. Dick, in which Mars has been colonized by Earth's UN; scarce water is closely apportioned, and the president of the Water Workers Union is one of the more powerful figures.
- The 2000 film Mission to Mars is about a difficult rescue attempt following a disaster during the first manned NASA voyage to this red wasteland that is Mars; humanoid Martians are discovered to have once been native inhabitants, and the Cydonia Mensae 'face formation' is used as a major plot device.
- The 2000 film Red Planet is about a terraforming expedition from Earth to Mars gone awry due to voracious indigenous Martian insects; Earth's Australian and Jordanian deserts were used as filming locations.
- In the Star Trek universe, Mars is the first planet to be terraformed by the people of Earth and by the 24th century its orbital Utopia Planitia Shipyards are a key Starfleet facility.
- The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke
- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, also by Philip K. Dick, set primarily on Mars. Drafted colonists, such as those in the ironically-named Fineburg Crescent region, relieve the bleakness of Martian life by huddling in "hovels" and taking psychedelic drugs.
- Total Recall, in which Mars is inhabited by mutants and labourers, and air is supplied at a tax.
Titan as a desert world
- Cowboy Bebop episode "Jupiter Jazz" features Saturn's moon Titan as a terraformed desert-world similar to Saharan conditions.
- The DC Comics universe portrays Saturn's moon Titan as home to a race of telepaths; the most prominent example of a superhero from Titan is Saturn Girl, a founding member of the 30th Century Legion of Super Heroes.
- Flight on Titan (1935), short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum: an Earth couple struggles through the cold, windswept Titanian desert.
- In the Star Trek universe, humans have established a series of domed settlements on Titan by the mid-21st century, one of which became a safe haven as Earth was ravaged by WWIII. Zefram Cochrane spent time on Titan. Later, Enterprise (NX-01) Commander Charles Tucker III nearly died in a training mission on the harsh lunar surface. The moon was a favored way-point for Starfleet spacepilots attempting the dangerous Titan's Turn stunt maneuver. By the 24th century this desert-world had been terraformed.
- Titan (1997), novel by Stephen Baxter: NASA's mission to Titan turns bad following a disastrous landing, and the astronauts must struggle to survive; Baxter writes vivid depictions of what a hypothetical journey through the Saturnian system might be like.
- In the Transformers universe, Saturn's moon Titan is a desert-world inhabited by a neolithic pagan humanoid species; the Quintessons briefly establish a ground base which they ultimately abandon; later the super-Destron Metrotitan is constructed on Titan, taking its name after the moon.
- Part of The Invisible Enemy, an episode of Doctor Who takes place on Titan.
Fictional desert planets
Other desert planets have been used as story motifs in fictional works:
|Abydos||Stargate (and later in the TV series Stargate SG-1||1994||Film|
|Altair IV||Forbidden Planet||1956||Film|||
|Anarres||The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin||1974||Novel||Not strictly a desert planet; has oceans and is predominantly steppe|
|Arrakis (aka Dune)||Dune by Frank Herbert, and subsequent works in the Dune universe||1965||Novel||Homeworld of the Fremen and source of the valuable spice melange|||
|Athas||Dark Sun setting for Dungeons & Dragons||1991||Role-playing game|
|Bara Magna||Bionicle||2009||Toy line||Large utopian planet struck by a cataclysm 100,000 years previous|
|Beachworld||"Beachworld" by Stephen King||1985||Short story|
|Byss||Star Wars: Dark Empire||1991–1992||Comic book|
|Canopus III||Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Eye of the Beholder"||1974||Animated TV series|
|Cardassia IV||Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Homecoming"||1993||TV series|
|Ceti Alpha V||Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed"||1967||TV series||Devastated by destruction of nearby Ceti Alpha VI|
|Dorvan V||Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Journey's End"||1994||TV series|
|Dozaria||Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Indiscretion"||1995||TV series|
|Fire||Lexx season 3||1999||TV series||An afterlife planet for the souls of deceased people, who made unvirtuous choices when they were alive. The inhabitants build their cities high above the ground to avoid the deadly heat emanating from the planet's core.|
|Fyrine IV||Enemy Mine||1985||Film|
|Gamma X||Les Maîtres du temps||1982||Animated film|
|Geonosis||Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones||2002||Film|
|Kerona||Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter||1986||Computer game|
|Kharak||Homeworld||1999||Real-time strategy video game||Planet bombed by the Taiidan Empire|
|Khoros||Ben 10||2005–2008||Animated TV series||Homeworld of the alien Fourarms|
|Klendathu||Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, and subsequent works||1959||Novel||Homeworld of the Arachnids|
|Kolarus III||Star Trek Nemesis||2002||Film|
|Korhal||StarCraft and subsequent games in the StarCraft franchise||1998||Real-time strategy video game||Once-lush throne world of the Terran Dominion|
|Korriban||Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic||2003||Computer game|
|M6-117||Pitch Black||2000||Film||Gas giant's moon|
|Marak's World||Hammerfall (and later 2004's Forge of Heaven) by C. J. Cherryh||2001||Novel|
|Ocampa||Star Trek: Voyager||1994–1997||TV series||Devastated homeworld of Kes and the Ocampa|
|Osiris IV||Futurama episode "A Pharaoh to Remember"||2002||Animated TV series|
|Perdide||Les Maîtres du temps||1982||Animated film|
|Resurgam||Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds||2000||Novel|
|Salt||Salt by Adam Roberts||2000||Novel|
|Socorro||Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game adventure The Black Sands of Socorro||1997||Role-playing game|
|Starbuck||Galactica 1980 episode "The Return of Starbuck"||1980||TV series|
|Tallarn and other planets||Warhammer 40,000 universe||Miniature wargame|
|Tatooine||Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope||1977||Film|
|Titania||Star Fox 64 for Nintendo 64||1997||Video game|
|Tophet||Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles||1999||Animated TV series|
|Torga IV||Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Ship"||1996||TV series|
|Toroth||Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Desert Crossing"||2002||TV series|
|Trisol||Futurama episode "My Three Suns"||1999||Animated TV series|
|Tyree||Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes "Image in the Sand" and "Shadows and Symbols"||1998||TV series|
|Unnamed planet||Snare by Katherine Kerr||2003||Novel|
|Unnamed planet||Star Trek episode "Arena"||1967||TV series|
|Vega||Spaceballs||1987||Film||Home planet to Schwartz-master Yogurt|
|Vulcan||Star Trek: The Original Series, and subsequent works in the Star Trek universe||1966||TV series||Homeworld of the Vulcan race|
- Choi, Charles Q. (9/01/11). "Alien Life More Likely on 'Dune' Planets". Retrieved 9/02/11.
- arXiv:1304.3714 [astro-ph.EP] Towards the Minimum Inner Edge Distance of the Habitable Zone Andras Zsom, Sara Seager, Julien de Wit.
- Wright, Les. "Forbidden Planet (1956)". Culturevulture.net (Internet Archive). Archived from the original on May 7, 2006. Retrieved May 7, 2006.
- "Dune 40th Anniversary Edition: Editorial Reviews". Amazon.com. Retrieved January 26, 2010.