Worldbuilding #1 — Earth

Knowing what this series of articles have to offer, I’m sure you want to dive in and get into designing you world. I don’t blame you as designing a world is a lot of fun. But before we can do that, the first few articles goes over preliminary information.

Many people approach worldbuilding as randomly placing objects where ever they look good and giving no more thought than that. There is a logical pattern that must be followed in how our world is built and the best way to understand that is to look at our own planet.

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So let’s dive right in. Earth.

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17

There’s a lot to go over here, so let us start with basics. Earth is 70% water. Places on the equator have a temperate climate all year long. As we move north or south of the equator, the less temperate it becomes, and as we get to the top/bottom of the world, the colder it becomes.

Places close to water tend to be the most fertile, often being close to lakes, rivers, and the ocean have the most humidity thus a lot of rainfall, such as China, Europe, and Eastern US. Places far from sources of water tend to be dry, such as Arizona, Australia, and the Gobi Desert. There are exceptions to this, such as the Sahara Desert, that is touching the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, but is one giant desert (though history of cultures in Africa strongly suggest it was jungle at one point).

The further North and South we go, the greater chance of snow we see, however, going up in elevation also increases the chance of rain and snow. Rivers start from Mountains and flow downhill, never up. Rivers tend to be small (but appear big). Rivers that are big generally have several Rivers combine together, such as the Mississippi River.

Water makes for a great heat sink. It can absorb a lot of heat. Compare Miami, Florida to Phoenix Arizona. Miami sits on the Ocean where as Phoenix is a desert. Miami Mean Average is 83/69. Phoenix Mean Average is 87/63. The decline for Phoenix is 27% from high to low and for Miami is 17%. Might not seem that big of a difference, but considering that Miami never reaches above 90 degrees (as an average) and Phoenix does reach above that. However, for the low, Phoenix can reach as low as 45 whereas Miami doesn’t go below 60.

What we are seeing here is that while water in the air (humidity) can deflect a lot of the heat, during the night time, it holds onto a lot of that heat, so that is why the Miami stays temperate from night and day. Phoenix has next to no humidity, and gets a full blast of heat during the day, but quickly loses its heat during the night.

 

Let us go back to mountains. Mountains are formed by tectonic plates often colliding with each other or scraping along side each other. Same effect is done to create islands in the ocean. Tectonic plates are the cause of earthquakes and volcanic activity, and while bad prove to be good for life on this planet, as it allows minerals from below the Earth onto the surface. We know that tectonic plates are crucial for a planet to sustain life, which is the leading belief of why life failed on Mars, as there are no tectonic plates present on Mars. We’ll discuss tectonic plates in a later conversation.

If mountains are too high, it can deter cloud movement over them.

Next we have erosion. Of the many types, the two most common is water and air. Water eats away at coastlines and help give rivers its shape over time. It can also create canyons, such as the Grand Canyon. Air erosion can over time give mountains its shape.

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Let us step outside our planet and go to the moon. The moon has a gravitational pull on earth which causes tides on Earth, which in turn affects our climate and thus life on this planet. Every year, the moon moves father away from us by about 38mm. This lengthens our day by 23 microseconds. May not seem like much, but consider 400 million years ago, there were 400 days in a year with each day lasting nearly 22 hours.

Let us go further out. Now, I know what many of you are saying, that I’m writing a fantasy series, why would I care about the solar system. Unlike our sci-fi writers who might need to better understand our solar system, at one time in human history the objects found in the sky were once thought of as Gods. These God’s were later to be discovered to be planets. Having an understanding of planets in a solar system can play to your fictional culture trying to understand what they are, believing them to be Gods as well.

Looking at our solar system, we first make notice of the Earth’s position. Earth is in a position that we call the Circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ), also known as the Goldilocks zone. This zone is the area of space surrounding our sun that allows a planet like ours to support liquid water. If we were too close, the seas would boil and the water would evaporate. Too far, and the seas would freeze over. If the distance from the Sun to the Earth is 1 unit (called an Astronomical unit (AU)), then this zone for our solar system is between .725 to 3 AU. A planet in this zone would be capable of having liquid water.

Now Venus is .72 from the sun, so it is close to the border, but all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prevent it from having water. Now the Moon, Mars, and the dwarf planet Ceres are in this zone, their atmospheric pressure are too low to create a greenhouse effect that Earth and Venus can, which is crucial for liquid water and life.

Also take a look at the solar system itself. You will note two groups of planet. Inner and Outer. You will also note that the Outer planets are larger than the Inner. In fact, 99% of the mass of the universe orbiting the sun is in the Outer region of planets. It is also known that Jupiter does affect the trajectory of many asteroids, preventing them from hitting Earth. We also have the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the Kuiper Belt where we find Pluto, and the Oort Cloud believed to be on the outskirts of our system. Scientist believe this provides safety to our planet to prevent objects from hitting us, though it is not perfect and objects still get through, such as the Moon as well as the rock that killed the dinosaurs.

This was a long article about the brief nature of our planet. There is a lot more details that I left out, many which will be discussed later, and some you will have to research on your own.

For this series of articles, it will assume that the solar system has a Yellow Star like our solar system, that our fictional planet is in its habitual zone, that our planet is on an axis, that the laws that govern this planet are the same as Earth.

For my fantasy writers, you will have magic that can explain things like water flowing uphill or mountains forming on their own (without the use of  tectonic plates). I recommend refraining from that unless you want to spend time in your story explaining that.

For everyone, when you begin thinking of your world and where you want to see things located, start thinking about the facts you found in this article. When we design our planet, there is an order in which we do things, start with land mass and oceans, to placement of mountains which tells us where rivers are located, to then where forests are found and where people build their homes. Everything is connected together.

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