Would it be possible to have a region on a planet that is not near its poles that has below freezing temperatures most of the year, while having more temperate regions both above and below it? If so how? Would the sun have to do a weird? Would the planet need to be an odd shape? Is it just impossible? Also, the planet is going to be lower mass than earth, and and needs to have a stable climate capable of sustaining conventional life in the temperate regions.

  • 41
    $\begingroup$ Mountains ? Altitude is your friend $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Mar 23 '19 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ On Earth sometimes cold air from the poles goes all the way to the equator and past it through some corridors. That's common in Brazil, but it's not constant. $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 23 '19 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ How big you want that region to be? How "normal" it has to be? $\endgroup$ – Artemijs Danilovs Mar 23 '19 at 19:37
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ What's wrong with Tibet? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 23 '19 at 20:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ as an alternative to mountains, would debris belt of some kind work? you have a fairly thick ring blocking most of the sun. this is of course a pretty fantastical alternatives to simply having a mountain range $\endgroup$ – Nullman Mar 25 '19 at 8:48

11 Answers 11


As Raditz_35 points out in comments, mountains - even equatorial ones - are colder at higher altitudes. For instance, Mt. Kilimanjaro is only three degrees off the equator, but its summit is cold enough to host glaciers. But what you want isn't just one mountain, it's a whole ring of them, mostly along the equator.

Enter Iapetus, the eighth moon of Saturn and the third-largest. Among Iapetus's features is a pronounced ridge of mountains, some as much as 20 kilometers high, and over 1300 km long (longer if one takes into account isolated peaks that fall along the same line in both directions). This ring follows the Iapetian equator for no clearly-defined reason. It may be a remnant of some earlier phase of planet formation, such as former planetary rings, or it may have been caused by Saturn's gravity as the moon cooled. It might even have formed through the same natural buoyant forces that cause continents on Earth. Whatever the case, if Iapetus had an Earthlike climate on its plains (and I must stress that it absolutely doesn't) the ridges would be frozen solid for most of their height. Obviously you'll want your equatorial ridge to be a smidge less pronounced.

  • $\begingroup$ Since earth's equator is already higher than our highest mountain compared to the poles, when does something cease to become a mountain and start to be just the landscape? Is electrical engineering we use a term called crest factor do quantify how "sharp" something is compared to its base level. Maybe something like that could be used here too. $\endgroup$ – pipe Mar 25 '19 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Pipe The flattening of the earth has little to do with mountain ranges. As the flattening of earth is an effect of its rotation. - As such the atmosphere experiences a similar "flattening". Since the atmospheric density/composition influences the temperature gradient through altitude - it's easy to define mountains as elevations beyond what is expected from gravitational effects. $\endgroup$ – paul23 Mar 25 '19 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ We need to add that the standard atmosphere - while there are quite a few models - typically have increase in temperature at higher altitude. Up to the tropopause (12km) it's typically a linear reduce of temperature with altitude. In the stratosphere (20-40k altitude) the temperature actually raises(!) with altitude, up to about -10-20 degrees of sea level. (Due to the effects of ozone decay and excitation of cosmic radiation). $\endgroup$ – paul23 Mar 25 '19 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ @paul23 the temperature increases wouldn't "feel" like temperature increases though, since the significantly thinner atmosphere means that there's much less heat energy. $\endgroup$ – David Rice Mar 25 '19 at 15:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DavidRice yet also -equally- less convection/conduction. Which only leaves cooling through radiation. Which is slow. (In space you won't instantly freeze, even though the ambient temperature is only a few Kelvin) $\endgroup$ – paul23 Mar 25 '19 at 15:18

You can do it with elevation.


world temperature map

Here is a map of average temperature on Earth. I have labeled the Andes and the Himalayas. They are high elevation areas and you can see they are substantially cooler than adjacent areas at the same latitude (same distance from the equator). The Himalayas are more a patch than a strip but otherwise are exactly /a region on a planet that is not near its poles that has below freezing temperatures most of the year, while having more temperate regions both above and below it/.

You could accentuate this. Make a high mountain range where you need it to be cold. It does not need to be steep mountains - it could be a high plateau. The higher it is, the colder it is.

  • 19
    $\begingroup$ I love the "I want to build a world with X, is it possible?" "Possible? It's on every confirmed habitable planet we know of!!" questions. Sometimes the answer is right under our nose. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Mar 24 '19 at 0:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I would add an arrow to the rockies as well they seem cooler in climate in some patches than the rest of the continental us on that map $\endgroup$ – Echo61505 Mar 24 '19 at 15:04
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ Your arrow for the Himalayas actually points to the Tibetian Plateau. I'd not normally comment this, but I still harbour resentment to a geography test on which I got 99%, and my only mistake was exactly this... $\endgroup$ – James K Mar 24 '19 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ Interest only: Look at the nice yellowish streak going up the West side of the Bristish Isles and far to the North. This is caused by the Gulf Stream carrying warm water northwards and the Atlantic Conveyor carrying the cold water back below it for reheating. Without this I'm told that the BI would be permanently ice-locked. I'm not sure that's true but they would certainly not be the balmy sunny subtropical place they now are. Hey! Wait .. :-). Drop the UK into the Southern Ocean at correct lattitude and it lies wholly below NZ - and Invercargill is not known for its halcyon winters. $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon Mar 25 '19 at 6:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @corsiKa: "It's on every confirmed habitable planet we know of!!" So... one? $\endgroup$ – DavidS Mar 25 '19 at 16:12

Yes - based on the planet's rotational axis

A cold climate (wherein "cold" is relative to what we consider "conventional life") in the "middle" (by "middle" assuming "equator" - ie, on the crust but centrally according to the longitude and latitude of it's rotational axis, and therefore not a planet's core) is most definitely possible

In fact, Uranus spins "on it's side" - at least how we think of "sides" in space. A neat youtube video off planet axis is here

Depending on it's directionality, a planet whose spin (like Uranus') is perpendicular to it's sun, the the north/south poles would be more temperate than it's equator. In other words, if you "flipped" the earth such that the equator was rotating at a different angle relative to the sun, then the poles would be more temperate with a different climate at the equator - whether hotter or colder.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ This would result in a very hot summer and very cold winter at the poles. The equator would be pleasant in the spring/fall seasons, and pretty cold during the winter/summer seasons. I don't think it's quite what you're looking for, but it would be a fascinating place to set a story. $\endgroup$ – Mark Foskey Mar 24 '19 at 0:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Actually you don't need to go for a full sideways rotation axis. 54 degrees of tilt is the magic number for the pole switch. This diagram illustrates the matter nicely. m.imgur.com/yJHPwd7 $\endgroup$ – TheDyingOfLight Mar 24 '19 at 21:46

Imagine a world at the L5 point between a binary star system, with it's rotational axis pointing at the suns. This planet's coolest area would be the belt around the middle.

  • $\begingroup$ Hello DAmann, welcome to the forum, please take the tour and read up in our help centre about how we work in the help center. This is the briefest first answer that I've ever upvoted, we normaly expect (demand) more elaborate explanations, but this succinctly does the job in my view. $\endgroup$ – Bitter dreggs. Mar 25 '19 at 19:41

Asteroid Belt

Maybe perpetual darkness via an extremely dense ring of asteroids around the planet. Because it is always dark and receives very little light (energy) it gets very very cold. Could be that this is enough to give you freezing temperatures.

How to explain an asteroid belt dense enough is another question. My suggestion would be that ice moons are orbiting the planet with a liquid cores. As they orbit the planet they get squeezed and released (tidal forces) which releases water which gets pulled very slowly towards the planet and creates this ice asteroid field which reflects the light coming in. (I think this is how they explain the rings of Saturn currently)

  • $\begingroup$ This would require the planet's rotary axis and orbital axis to be perfectly aligned. It also requires the belt to be extremely wide (unstable wide, top of the belt would follow a complete different orbit than the bottom) or extremely close (within atmosphere), otherwise the shade cast by the belt will be less than a few miles - which is too little to create a difference in climate, convection can easily keep everything in line. $\endgroup$ – paul23 Mar 25 '19 at 14:09

As others have mentioned, altitude would be your answer. Since that's already established, I'm going to suggest a couple ways a tall ring around the equator could be accomplished.

Planetoid Smash

In the early days of the planet forming, another planet of a similar (small) size was forming as well in the neighborhood and while they were both still semi-molten, they bumped into each and stuck together. This could have left a raised band between the formerly two planetoids as they smashed together.

How uniform or weathered this ring is is up to you.

High Spin

As we know, the Earth bulges slightly around the equator, due to it's spin. Again, before your planet fully solidified, it had an abnormally high rate of spin, causing the bulge to be more pronounced than normal with it ending up as tall as terrestrial mountains.

Whether it still has that high spin is up to you.

The high spin rate would probably have a more uniform ring, but a non-uniform ring could have valleys and holes/caves that could allow easier travel between the hemispheres.

  • $\begingroup$ combine the high spin with some type of plate weakness right in the middle, creating a ring of volcanoes at the equator. $\endgroup$ – Nelson Mar 24 '19 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ Getting rid of a high spin rate would be hard though. $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner supports Monica Mar 25 '19 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ The spin would still need to be high, otherwise the planet would pretty quickly return to its spherical form. Besides, losing spin is really, really hard. $\endgroup$ – toolforger Mar 25 '19 at 19:55

If you set the axial tilt to a certain range, the equator would become arctic and the poles would be tropical. I believe it's 45 degrees, but I could be mistaken, Artifexian's youtube video on the topic of Axial Tilt covers this if I recall correctly. (I can't check at the moment)

  • $\begingroup$ It's between 50 and 60 degrees, but yes, you can swap the climates of the equator and poles, at least in the sense of which gets more total sunlight over the course of the year. $\endgroup$ – Mark Mar 25 '19 at 21:50

Your planet is an odd one: It has no axial tilt and no seasons.

In old days, in the time of magicians, they wrought the Bridge of the World to feed their lust for power. Six great towers to the sky were created (beanstalks) and they became the pylons for the Bridge.

Ok, ok.

6 beanstalks. From there, you build a ring city around the earth over the equator. This city could easily expand to be quite wide -- 20-100 miles which would create a permanent shadow band along the equator.

It would much like the temperature drop that comes with a solar eclipse, but it would keep going. At some point the temperature is balanced by cold air settling and rushing out from the Shadow Lands, and warm air rushing in. I don't know how effective the circulation would be.

  • $\begingroup$ Mmmyyes, but the question is science-based. $\endgroup$ – Wilson Mar 25 '19 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ So the cause is leftover technology. $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Mar 26 '19 at 0:01

For an inverse real world effect look on Willk's global temperature map at the nice warm (yellowish) streak going up the West side of the Bristish Isles and far to the North.
This is caused by the Gulf Stream carrying warm water northwards and the Atlantic Conveyor carrying the cold water back below it for reheating.

Without this I'm told that the British Isles would be permanently ice-locked. I'm not sure that's true but they would certainly not be the balmy sunny subtropical place they now are. Hey! Wait .. :-). Drop the British Isles into the Southern Ocean at correct latitude and it lies wholly below NZ (bottom right on the map) - and Invercargill, at the bottom of NZ, is not known for its halcyon winters.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think we'd be ice-locked, but if you consider that Edinburgh is roughly on the same line of latitude as Moscow, I think even the Scots might start to complain about the weather! $\endgroup$ – neophlegm Mar 25 '19 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ @neophlegm Yes. As noted, I would not have deduced the ice-locked condition by looking at the overall picture. However - look at the above temperature map and note that the gulf stream warming appears to warm the whole of Scandinavia plus the West side of Russia - so even Moscow benefits from the warming!. - Coastal temperatures elsewhere are also much affected by wider geography. I've shivered in Chinese factories with snow on the ground in Qingdao (on the coast), at a lattitide that in coastal Australia at the same latitude would have seen a cold day but never ever snow. $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon Mar 26 '19 at 4:00

Volcanic Fallout

The prevailing surface winds at the equator are due west (balanced by high level jet streams off the equator blowing due east.) With active volcano(s) at the equator, the fallout would be carried due west and under the right circumstances might create a band of cool at the surface.

The largest volcanic eruption on Earth in the last 800 years was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Tambora (indonesia, 8 degrees south of the equator.)

This certainly had climatic influence, though perhaps not as local as you are looking for. Sulfuric acid in the atmosphere from the eruption, with max intensity in April 1815 reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the earth's surface. This caused "the year without a summer" as far away as Europe and North America in the following year 1816, resulting in a 3C temperature drop in France and the worst famine of the century. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer

Peak annual temperatures on earth are not highest at the equator

It's also worth noting that peak (as opposed to average) annual temperatures are highest a little off the equator. For example in Africa peak temperatures occur not at the equator but in the deserts of the Sahara and southern Africa.


As @Willk pointed out, you just need altitude.

Now the question is: How do you get that altitude in a band around the equator.

You could figure that with plate tectonics moving things around, for a brief time (in a geological sense), mountain range could line up on or near the equator.

Another, more believable, solution is to have a super earth with a high rate of spin. This planet will tend to bulge out at the equator. If the bulge is significant enough, it will get large enough for there to be a difference in the perceived gravity between the pole and the equator. This would allow mountains to grow higher on the equator. Look at Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement as an extreme example of this type of world.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.