Wednesday 14 January 2009

What happened to Galfloat?

"GalFloat: Space Travel and Used Ships"

You know, the cheap-looking advertisement banner on the Furaha intro screen? Advertising anonymous space travel? Tickets sent in unmarked brown paper envelopes?

Well, the 'Galfloat' company decided to upgrade its looks, but with the current financial crisis, space travel is in a bit of a slump, so it might take a while for our sponsors to return.

The pages of the Furaha site have finally been revamped and upholstered, so perhaps you might wish to take a fresh look.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

The Cycle of Cyann 3: the last of the rings...

I did mention that I thought some small errors had crept into the way Bourgeon and Lacroix had depicted the shape of the terminator (that's the edge between the lit and dark halves of a planet). How do I know?

Well, the terminator is supposed to be a great circle on a globe; it just looks distorted on a flat map, but is a circle in 3D. But if we take that flat map and drape it around a globe and have a look, the terminator ought to show up as a perfect circle again. I did just that with an image taken from the book 'La clé des confins', and here it is. The flat image is shown alongside the sphere it is draped around.

Click to enlarge

The thin latitude and longitude lines are drawn by the program I used to depict the globes (Matlab); the vaguer lines were in the original image. You can see the two equators line up nicely, so the map isn't too inaccurate. However, the terminator at the pole does not form a smooth circle, but has a distinct 'peak' there. Anyone who has tried to draw flat maps for the purpose of having them look good on a globe knows that polar areas are very difficult to get right. The map by Bourgeon and Lacroix shows some 'pinching' there.

To be fair, I also did the same trick with my own projection. Here we go:

Click to enlarge

It does work better, but I am not making this point to gloat. The opposite, in fact: I am astonished how accurate this was all done by Bourgeon and Lacroix. Remember that the album 'Six saisons sur Ilo' appeared in 1996 or 1997. I first worked out the mathematics of the terminator shape in 1985, and in 1996 this was the best printer output I could obtain:

Not exactly impressive, is it? So, no doubt, to produce good drawings, Bourgeon had to redraw the image by hand, and I guess a small error crept in. I am curious to hear whether this explanation is correct, though, so if anyone knows how to reach the authors, please let me know.

I also promised you animations of the ring and its shadows. They're done, and as I cannot post them here, I decided to incorporate them in the Furaha website. Simply go to the site, choose the planet icon and then 'some more examples'. If that sound too complicated, go there directly by clicking here (but you will lose the context).

Sunday 4 January 2009

Cyann and Ilo's rings

The last time I introduced 'Le Cycle de Cyann', focusing on the wildlife. On browsing through 'La clé des confins' my attention was drawn to some astronomical explanations. In the second album of the series Cyann travels over the planet Ilo (there should really be a dot in the letter O, but I cannot reproduce that here). That planet is of interest as it has a very long and narrow continent winding almost like a snake over the globe. This provides an opportunity for Cyann to travel through a vast array of landscapes along with their accompanying biotopes, much to the enjoyment of the reader.

But there is another thing that struck me, and that is that Ilo has rings. I cannot say whether it is at all probable that an Earth-like planet has rings, but their presence certainly has some interesting consequences. From seeing photographs of Saturn, everyone knows that the rings cast a shadow on the planet. But that shadow will not always fall in the same area, provided the planet is tilted to a degree.

In midwinter the North pole is tilted maximally towards the sun, and so will the rings; hence they cast a large shadow on the southern hemisphere. But at the spring and autumn equinoxes the plane of the rings present to the sun edge on, so the rings cast a shadow on the planet no wider than the rings themselves. Here is one picture of Cyann, waiting for her lover on the equator, on the day of the equinox:

Click to enlarge

She is facing the sun, and the rings behind her are lit, forming a luminescent vertical stripe in the sky. Looking in the other direction the rings form a dark stripe. Looks like an excellent setting for a romantic encounter.

The consequences of all this tilting are fairly complex. Think of how the ring shadows complicate winter: the shadow of the rings falls on the hemisphere that is tilted away from the sun, where it is winter anyway. But the shadows make the winter days even darker, but in complex ways: it is theoretically possible for the sun to come up, disappear behind the rings, come back again in midday, disappear behind the rings again, and finally to come back only to set on the horizon. All such matters are brilliantly handled in the book. Here are two pictures from 'Le clé des confins' showing how it works. One is an equinox picture, and the other is a solstice picture. If you need more explanations on why the sadows change shape, please go to the planet page on the Furaha site.

Click to enlarge

These caught my attention as they resemble the images on the astronomy page of Furaha quite closely, in particular the way the terminator is drawn. The 2x1 ratio of the maps is a giveaway that there is some serious thought here. So I wondered whether I could copy all these ring effects, and sat down to some good old-fashioned Matlab programming. Here is how that started:

Click to enlarge

You will see rays of the sun -the blue lines- starting from the edges of the rings. They are of course all parallel, and strike the planet (many don't of course, and these are not shown). The relative sizes of the planet and rings were taken from the book, and I estimated axial tilt to be 21 degrees. Once the x,y,z-coordinates of the rays falling on the planet are known, which only takes high school mathematics, these can be converted to latitudes and longitudes, et voilà. Project these over a rough map of the planet, redrawn from the book, and there we are:

Click to enlarge

Nice, isn't it? It is quite close to the drawing in the book, but small changes in ring diameter and axial tilt have large consequences. I also found that ths shape of the terminator in the solstice picture in the book is not exactly right. I can only assume it is some copying error, because the rest is much too good to be guesswork. Do not underestimate the amount of thought that has gone into this. I know from experience that working out the form of the terminator can take quite a bit of effort. Bourgeon and Lacroix not only did that too, but also worked out correct ring shadows, as well as thinking up cultures, animals, etc. It's almost enough to make you desperate...

But I won't be! Instead, I think I will produce some animations of the shadows as they change in the course of a year. Later.