Reach For The Stars

An unusual star system containing five stars has been found by the WASP astronomy project, as reported on the BBC News website here. Multiple star systems occur in two classic science-fiction works. Isaac Asimov's novella Nightfall is set on a world with six suns - as a result night falls only once every few thousand years. Liu Cixin's novel The Three Body Problem, translated from the original Chinese, features a virtual world with three suns in irregular and unpredictable orbits.

Both stories explore the impact of these star systems on the civilizations below - in Nightfall, the inhabitants cannot detect stars beyond their system so cannot grasp the size or nature of the Universe, and they have a deep-rooted fear of the dark. The aliens on Liu Cixin's world also struggle to make sense of the Universe, and are striving to find a way to predict their suns' movements so they can prepare for the deadly hot or cold spells that occur when the suns get too close or too far away.

On our own world, we had it easy. All the clues were within easy reach - a single, stable sun, a clear view of the other stars, our own Moon and other planet/moon systems visible through simple optical devices, and it still took us centuries to work it all out, burning heretics along the way.

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