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I am currently writing a species for my story that can self generate UV radiation by consuming cinnabar/mercury ore, being immune to mercury poisoning, converting the mercury into a vapor that interacts with a 300 watt electrical current in their body. This produces UV radiation similarly to how a mercury vapor lamp does. Phosphors in their skin interact with this radiation, causing them to emit visible UV light. This light is absorbed by them in a pseudo-photosynthetic process to produce energy reserves. Their body also naturally produces vitamin D as a result.

On their planet, their sun has died out, no longer providing them with sunlight, forcing them to burrow deep underground towards the heated core of the planet while the surface freezes over. The conflict of the story being that the core is cooling and they need to find a new planet to settle on.

They have adapted to using cinnabar as a way to produce and absorb UV radiation in the absence of sunlight. They get their water source from underground lakes and have managed to set up crops by using their UV light to help them grow, which these alien plants thrive in UV light. They harness this radiation, using it to project a UV laser from their eye for self defense against predators and for welding, etc. They also possess UV vision for seeing well in certain conditions.

Does this seem plausible enough and how can I expand on this?

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi. Welcome to Worldbuilding. I'm not sure what you mean by "how can I expand on this?" Do you intend that to ask something specific? Or is it just a general call? If the latter, one might argue that it is Too Broad or too Story-based for this site. Either is a close reason, so you may want to consider if you can make it more specific or if you should remove it. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Jun 24 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ Here's a related question which isn't a duplicate, but might give you some ideas about how life without a sun might actually work. Realistically, the thing you need to know is that photosynthesis is an endothermic reaction, meaning that it stores energy in a chemical form, whereas normal life based metabolisms are exothermic reactions, taking that stored energy and releasing it for use by the life form. It's that endothermic reaction you need to replace in your biosphere. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Jun 24 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ Since radioactive refers to the emission of radiation via nuclear transition, and UV is not emitted by such path, I have modified your title. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jun 24 at 5:27
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    $\begingroup$ You've mistaken mercury vapour for a material that has somehow stored energy and releases it as UV when stimulated. Alas, it merely helps convert the energy released by an electrical discharge into a form useful for producing light. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jun 24 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ @starfishprime it's a struggle trying to find reason in sci-fi species, but I suppose I'll just have to stretch the truth a bit, it is fiction after all. It is important to have some explanation to these things though, which I enjoy researching things and trying to apply reason to my creations. $\endgroup$ – ViolaVerse Jun 24 at 12:48
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First things first, there is no such a thing as

Phosphors in their skin interact with this radiation, causing them to emit visible UV light.

UV light is called like this because it is Ultra Violet, from the Latin beyond the violet (of the spectrum). It follows that UV light cannot be visible.

Semantic issues apart, what really puzzles in your description is the following:

a vapor that interacts with a 300 watt electrical current in their body.

together with

This light is absorbed by them in a pseudo-photosynthetic process to produce energy reserves.

If they can already produce a 300 W discharge, why put on this complicated scheme? Every process has a lower than 1 yield, thus if you have to build a chain of processes, the less the processes, the better for the overall yield. To make this clear, consider a process which has a yield of 90%. If you put two of such processes in series, the overall yield will be $0.9 \times 0.9 = 0.81$.

Last but not least, if they dwell underground, IR is a better choice than UV. IR being emitted by hot bodies, it would allow them to see everywhere, while UV would be limited to where they can cast light.

And as an overall remark: if they are the energy source of this underground world (plant thriving on the UV emission of these organisms), they cannot survive getting energy from the world itself. Thermodynamics is a nasty mistress.

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  • $\begingroup$ By visible UV light, I was more or less referring to black lights, the phosphors in their skin produces bioluminescence when stimulated by the UV radiation in the form of visible light and black light. It is true that photosynthesis is pointless to them considering they can already generate 300 watts of electricity. I am over complicating it. I will consider switching to IR since it is more reliable in their environment. The plants natural environment isn't underground, this species is attempting to adapt them to life underground, so yes, their UV emission is vital in this environment. $\endgroup$ – ViolaVerse Jun 24 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ UV light is visible if you have the right sort of receptors in your eyes. Insects, birds and reindeer can see into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Jun 26 at 9:36
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So, this is really just to mop up the details as L. Dutch's answer covers the major problems.

TL;DR: UV is hard to generate and hard to work with. Inefficiencies in the system will make it useless for farming, and dangerous for the user to do anything else other than glow prettily. Sorry about that.


generate UV radiation by consuming cinnabar/mercury ore, converting the mercury into a vapor that interacts with a 300 watt electrical current in their body. This produces UV radiation similarly to how a mercury vapor lamp does.

Mercury vapour lights don't consume that much mercury... it is only lost when the bulb breaks. You won't need a cinnabar rich diet unless you're doing a bad job at sealing your vapour bladders. That is of course up to you as an author, but bear in mind that a species who continuously leak mercury into the environment around them are likely to be unhealthy for other lifeforms in their proximity who aren't similarly immune to mercury poisoning!

So anyway, your species presumably has some gas bladders lined with mercury vapour secreting glands and some kind of electrical discharge mechanism, whatever that looks like. Remember that mecury vapour lights are arc lamps! Immunity to mercury poisoning doesn't imply immunity to UV damage, so your gas bladders will need to be well lined with a UV-protecting membrane if you want to avoid getting glow-in-the-dark sarcomas. They'll also get hot; the process of producing UV isn't perfectly efficient after all, and nor is the conversion of UV to visible light.

Real-world mercury lamps are no more than 10% efficient, I think, so for 300W in you'll get 270W of heat (for comparison, an adult human at rest generates about 100W of heat) so you'll need a decent blood supply to the light organs to stop them cooking their owners. A blood clot could have serious consequences if they don't have effective voluntary control over the light organs... light organ ischemia might result in serious burns or even fires. Beware of senile old folk!

Phosphors in their skin interact with this radiation, causing them to emit visible UV light.

Emitting visible light is kinda at odds to the next set of requirements, by the way.

set up crops by using their UV light to help them grow, which these alien plants thrive in UV light.

Have a read up on the power requirements of grow lights in greenhouses. I'm seeing figures like "30W per square foot". It isn't clear whether luminous efficiency is taken into account, but your glowing peeps might only be able to provide enough light for a few square feet of crops, and that isn't going to produce very much food. It certainly won't provide enough food to offset the calorific cost of having a 300W lightsource in your body.

They harness this radiation, using it to project a UV laser from their eye for self defense against predators and for welding, etc.

UV lasers are super inefficient. Like probably less than 1%. They'll also use a whole different set of chemicals and optics to your UV lights. To produce enough energy to weld is likely to need kilowatts of power, and to do that organically is going to need a pretty hefty appetite, and it'll produce an awful lot of heat which will need specialist radiators or an aquatic habitat to sink. The lasing mediums are often pretty reactive and toxic (lots of lovely halides in there) and would be quite difficult and hazardous to keep in an organic housing.

Focussing and directing UV light precisely enough for metalwork will require some pretty funky looking organic optics, too. I'm not sure how big they'd need to be, but you might start needing a head like Giger's alien.

As a defense... well, you don't need many watts to blind someone, but if you were intending to zap predators with deadly eye beams you'll run straight back into that thermal inefficiency problem with kilowatt power draws and heat outputs. Really, you'd be more effective if you used all that energy to drive massive muscles and threw rocks instead!

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    $\begingroup$ Reading this was a joy, thank you, very colorful wording and I appreciate the feedback, I will consider all this and try and come up with something. Because I feel like I could make this work, I don't want to ditch UV altogether. Again, I realize it's not a very good energy source, didn't even take into account heat generation. $\endgroup$ – ViolaVerse Jun 24 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ here's an idea, what if that heat generation could be used to keep them warm in their planets climate? $\endgroup$ – ViolaVerse Jun 24 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ how many calories would they need, would it be important to mention their smaller stature of 3-4 feet tall? $\endgroup$ – ViolaVerse Jun 24 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ maybe their body produces a natural substance that assists in heat sink, and instead of projecting the lasers from their cycloptic eye, they could wear a something like Cyclops from X-Men to concentrate the UV energy into a laser somehow. That might be unoriginal though. $\endgroup$ – ViolaVerse Jun 24 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ natural coolant is literally sweat... duh. $\endgroup$ – ViolaVerse Jun 24 at 14:13

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