I’ve spent the last 11 months in the regions of the galaxy populated by Humans. I haven’t rushed my progress towards the coveted Elite status or the bigger ships – I’m happy plodding along doing what seems like fun at the time. On Monday I achieved the next step towards the ‘Elite’ Combat rating – becoming Expert and on the same level as my Trader rating of Merchant. But, despite having remained in Human populated space, my highest rating is as an explorer – Pathfinder. I guess fitting my Cobra out to do most things quite well has paid off in that area (along with having the patience to surface scan planets and stars in unmapped systems). I think I should now push on and try to get closer to that Elite Explorer status. It’s time to leave The Bubble of Human worlds and see what lies beyond. So I have re-spec’d my Cobra to be an explorer.*
The most difficult thing about exploring is deciding on where you want to go. In my early days I started out towards The Pleiades before I realised that my ship didn’t have the jump range to be able to get there. To cut a long story short – that’s how I found myself in the areas of space around Jamapa and HR 783. The Pleiades now have a newly constructed space station as a result of a Community Goal – so they are now an isolated pocket of Human space. Anyway, I’ve decided to head for The Helix Nebula – a round trip of 1000Lys.
The Helix Nebula is a large Planetary Nebula – which means it has nothing whatsoever to do with planets! Discovered around 1820 by Karl Ludwig Harding, it is an example of a dying star. It sits in the constellation of Aquarius.
I set out on Tuesday evening, passing quickly through the last systems between me and the edge of The Bubble. I cleared Human space at the HIP 118247 system where a final pirate interdicted me. As I was boosting away to safety, a friendly ISS police vessel appeared and started shooting the Pirate whilst apologising to me for the inconvenience caused – I guess that’s a benefit of being allied to the Empire 🙂
Since then I have been moving in small steps through the systems of the Columba region (Dove constellation). The stars here have a lot of high metal content planets along with the usual rock and ice ones. There is the occasional Water World and even a Water Giant or two – one of the planets recently discovered by astronomers, Gliese 1214 b, is believed to be a Water World. Then, last night, I visited my first system in the Aquarius constellation, 68 Aquarii. It was here that I found an Earth Like planet!
Earth Like planets are very rare. There is only a small ring around any star, often referred to as the Goldilocks Zone, where the conditions are right for worlds like our own. Worlds where the possibility of life as we know it can evolve. Their almost certain existence gives rise to one of the great debates in science and theology – are we alone?
As I looked down on 68 Aquarii 7 I did feel really alone and all manner of real world thoughts went through my mind. There is clearly vegetation on the planet below. There is probably animal life of some sort too – insects to pollinate flowers. But one thing is missing – where the planet has fallen into night, there are no lights. Lights equate to cities and, on a more fundamental basis, Civilization. The world below me is devoid of civilised life. And that brings about its own set of questions. Have I arrived too early in the evolution of life on this planet for civilizations to develop? Are the Aquarian equivalent of the Dinosaurs still roaming below? Or, and this is the frightening question… Were there once civilisations here that have died out leaving little trace, perhaps before they got as far as venturing into space?
It has taken 4.5 Billion Years for life on Earth to develop to the point where we have become capable of space travel. Species have come and gone as life developed. Civilizations have come and gone too in the short time that Homo sapiens have been the dominant species on the planet. Despite our SETI hunts for alien life we still have no evidence to suggest that other star systems have developed intelligent civilized life forms. That the search is difficult cannot be denied – the scale of the galaxy and the time factors governed by the speed of light make the chances of such a discovery slim. An advanced civilization on a distant planet might have died out before any detectable electro-magnetic signals from them was detected here on Earth. And the risk of advanced civilizations dying out is high – As we took our first steps into space we also developed the means to destroy our world. How close did we come in 1962? Today, we still sit on the edge of that razor. Perhaps there are civilizations on other planets that also stand on the brink? If we tip over the edge we will never know.
I wonder how many other ‘games’ get you thinking so deeply about the real world? It is one of joys of Elite: Dangerous that it is able to involve you in this manner. Or you can just treat it as a space shooter – each to their own I guess. For those of you who would like to take a more detailed look at the questions I have raised here, you might want to consider getting a copy of the book Human Universe by Professor Brian Cox.
*To go exploring properly you need a ship with a long jump range because the farther out you go, the further apart the stars are! The ideal vessel is the Asp but with a careful refit the Cobra can be turned into a good explorer. Out go the weapons, and heavy mil-spec bulkheads. No cargo holds either – there won’t be anyone to trade with (at least I don’t think there will). Smaller shields, everything smaller and lighter. The best spec Cobra for this exploring malarkey can do a 27Ly jump. With slightly larger power, shield generator and thrusters, Humourist can now do 23Lys – more than double what she could do in her multi-role guise. Without weapons and having minimal shields means a change of mind set for me – now if I meet a pirate the only option is to RUN. Fortunately, she’s very well equipped for that with a boost speed of 442m/s – nothing out there comes close!