As you might know, our Universe is expanding. In fact, the expansion is accelerating (due to dark energy). As expansion progresses, patches of the universe will not be visible anymore (they cross the cosmic horizon), because light isn't fast enough to reach us from there. In about one billion (long scale, 1 billion= $10^{12}$) years all other galaxies will be out of sight, and in 100 billion years, even stars won't be visible. (see introduction of http://arxiv.org/pdf/1205.3855v2.pdf)

In such a lonely world, how human (or human-like, whatever) societies would be? I'm interested in two types of societies:

  • Well developped societies, with access to ancient records about stars (photographs, stellar charts, astronomy textbooks, maybe even records of contacts with extraterrest species). Would they believe that old records are just mythology? Would they feel lonely?
  • Newly created societies, without any previous proof of other stars.

In my opinion, this is not duplicated from How would technology develop differently without astronomy?, because the Solar System would be perfectly visible. Of course, I'm considering that life is still viable (maybe we have moved to another place to survive the red giant Sun)

PS: Ethan Siegel has just posted this about astronomy in the far future. While not essential to answer the question, it provides helpful backbround. And I really enjoyed it.

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    $\begingroup$ Without FTL travel, the universe is already a pretty lonely place. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of people who are more interested in their television, and couldn't give a hoot about the stars today... $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel It's not the same, we can have hope. We know that the Universe is really really big, and maybe there is someone else somewhere. Or we can dream of better ships, that could travel to near stars in a couple of human generations... $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey I guess they aren't watching Star Trek :) $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ I highly recommend Douglas Adams' Life, the Universe and Everything. It revolves around a society that evolved on a lone planet around a star fully enclosed in a nebula so that no light from any other star ever penetrated and they thought they were alone in the universe. $\endgroup$
    – IchabodE
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:33

3 Answers 3


A newly formed star with life-bearing worlds will be within a galaxy. They will see a sky like we do: most naked-eye lights are nearby stars and galaxies are diffuse or too faint to see.

They will not have evidence for cosmology and history of the universe, but will see an island (or local group) surrounded by nothing.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not asking about newly formed stars. I'm assuming that the star was created within a galaxy, and long after, expansion dominates and overcomes the gravitational binding of the galaxy. Probably such a long-lived star would have to be a white dwarf if I want it still habitable. But that's not the point of my question. $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ I was asking about the impact on society (science, technology, religion, literature, etc) of having no stars (not too faint stars, just none of them). I think that "no cosmology" is a bit of tautology, and doesn't answer to the question. Thanks for your reply anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Bosoneando just one word: Nightfall. In constant daylight except for once in a thousand years, people would go mad when the stars came out. The classic story is all about society. As for not having visible stars, there are more realistic reasons you can come up with why they are not visible th them, as opposed to there being none. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ I will read both (Asimov's and Siverberg's). For what I have in mind, expansion of the Universe is a major point of the plot, it's more than a justification for starless skies. $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ When you say "within a galaxy" here, I get the impression you could mean "within a nebula"? Of course, a world could also pass into a nebula later in it's existence. $\endgroup$
    – glenatron
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 13:44

Going to skip over feasibility and just go to the social impacts. One of the odder aspects of this question is you can somewhat draw on Earths population for examples here...prior to electricity, human light did not block out the night sky and they were significantly more noticeable than today. Stars are at the core of our belief structure (In Roman times, the stars were gods poking holes in the night sky to see down). They were heavily studied and entire lifetimes were devoted to tracking them and their movements (one effort to locate god in the stars actually managed to pinpoint a location in which the majority of stars swirled around...as we later discover, the area pinpointed was a decent approximation for the super massive black hole at the center of the milky way). When you have a lifetime to dedicate to watching and tracking star movement, it's amazing the conclusions you can come to.

Today, we have light 'pollution' and the majority of humans are unable to see all but the brightest stars in the sky....we heavily neglect them today and (in my opinion of course) have lost our connection to them and with it, our desire to reach for them. Leaves us stuck in our small petty worlds blissfully unaware of the grandeur of the universe.

Early humans actually read a significant amount of information from our evening sky and the proof of this is pretty readily available. In whats now known as http://blog.world-mysteries.com/science/ancient-time-keepers-archaeoastronomy/ Archaeoastronomy (how ancient cultures viewed the stars) we piece together how ancient cultures related themselves to the stars, and it's not a big surprise how heavily the stars influenced our early culture. The earliest is mentioned in the link here, astronomically aligned stones placed in Egypt date back between 6400bc and 4900bc. Wonders of the world such as the Pyramids and Stonehenge directly relate to star positions and tracing the flow of time using the stars. The Mayan calendar gives hints that the Mayan's were capable of reading the Earths 26'000 year wobble cycle from staring at the stars as well.

Most planets are names are directly derived from Gods (or vice versa?)...the planets are significantly brighter in the night sky and move more readily, lending themselves to be called the greater god as they wandered through the night sky watching humanity below.

In my opinion, we start heavily watching the stars when Agriculture began gaining prominence as it was our first heavy tie to the seasonal calendar...when do you plant? when do you harvest? How much longer until our next rainy season? A lot of this information is exceedingly trivial to today's humans as there's an app for it I'm sure, but to early humans this information could really only be discerned from watching the stars.

And it's these points that your society will have to address as major changes over us:

1) I'll contend much of early Polytheistic religion directly stems from our star gazing and thinking those lights were staring back down at us, watching and judging. Without this, I'm thinking nature is your most likely place to find their early images of a god and their belief structure.

2) How do they tell time? Day to Day sure, the sun works...but how do you know when a full year has passed without the stars in the night time sky returning to where they started the year before? They'll have to come up with something semi-unique here as our ancestors almost exclusively used the sky to know when they should plant their fields, when the next winter was, and so on.

3) How do you arrive at a heliocentric view of the solar system? Would they be prone to thinking the world is flat far longer than we were (should point out that as a species, our first heliocentric image is early greek)...the positioning of planets, stars, and the sun give away (with enough study) that the earth orbits the sun. Without the stars to tell them, how do they figure out the Earth isn't flat?

4) Directions are what? Nothing gives away north prior to magnetism outside of the stars...the seasonal fluctuations means the sun isn't a good guide. Egyptians used rivers (there word for north was 'downstream nile'...and this created confusion when they encounters a east west flowing river). North East South West is determined by the stars...what do they use?

I've gotta dispute your one question though...ancient records from billions of years ago when the stars exist aren't going to be there anymore. If your planet is earth like, odds are the continents have drifted around, sunk into the earth, and have been pushed back up...the land wouldn't even be recognizable as what it once was billions of years ago. No record of billions of years ago would exist, so I'm having problems seeing 'ancient text books' or photographs existing to show that there was once a starry sky.

  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I wasn't clear enough. Plot would be set billions of years in the future, but ancient records don't have to be from today. Maybe the records when they're found are just a couple thosand years old, when the last stars were still visible. They have to be ancient enough, though, so nobody remembers seeing stars. And we surely have records thousands of years old. $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ For the rest, it's a wonderful answer, exactly what I was looking for! Thanks a lot. $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 15:07

For what I have in mind, expansion of the Universe is a major point of the plot, it's more than a justification for starless skies

Look for (e.g.) Laurence Krauss on youtube describing that future and what people evolved during that era would see and learn about the universe.

Find the timeline of the stellariforous (sp?) era and how long you can have new starts being formed. Take the latest plausible date (before all the hydrogen clouds are used up or the dust outweighs the gas thus changing what forms), and reconcile with the appearance of the universe at that time. How far apart will galaxies be, and will superclusters still hold together?

You can contrive a reason for a :Renaissance" galaxy to be undergoing star formation much later, when galaxies typically are fading out. Or... it's just one star-forming cloud, in a galaxy that is nothing but ancient red dwarfs (not visible very far) dead stars. Brainstorming here... handwave-alert ... the gas isn't actually used up, but the proportion of dust is so high that our kind of stars don't form, and furthermore there is no activity like supernovae to induce a collapse of a cloud. So the cloud is very old and undisturbed. A pocket of extra-galactic gas that was also around the local group (you can look up the cycle of gas moving in and out of galaxies) fell back in very slowly, and eventually disturbed the old molecular cloud and served as a source of star-forming hydrogen in more concentrated form. The stars formed in that nursery are a few like ours and a bunch of red and brown dwarfs, and the cluster spreads out over the course of a couple galactic rotations, so the sister suns can't be found without a telescope.

There are no live-fast-die-young supergiants, no red giants, or other objects highly visible from a long distance. So maybe 2 or 3 stars are visible? More with a telescope, but searching is a lot of work. With orbital infrared observatories the population of red dwarfs can be found and map out the shape of the galaxy.

Maybe there are pulsars still going, visible by radio. White dwarfs stay glowing embers a long time, so supernova remnants may still be detected; though the debris cloud has long since dispersed, all that dust will be spread out evenly in the galaxy instead, so there might be glimmers as a white dwarf or neutron star passes through dust. Supposing the lack of material also prevents the "bubbles" around stars that keep interstellar material away — no solar wind or magnetic fields from white dwarfs. What is the spectrum of a fading white dwarf? If it's poor in UV, what might cause interesting things to happen to dust? They might just be too dim to see or to directly illuminate anything, unless very close.

So, the galaxy is still around, able to cause the star to form, but there's not much to see.

Plot idea: people are used to empty sky, and when something suddenly appears, it is a shock and stimulates their society. What might they see? How about a white dwarf colliding with a neutron star? Or a newly active accretion disk around a black hole as some old stuff got close.

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent explanation about stellar formation and evolution! I really appreciate it. But I don't think that I need such a level of detail (after all, characters don't know that other stars exist, so they won't be experts in stellar formation). Nevertheless, I will consider your ideas to make everything consistent and plausible. Thanks for your help! $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 14:51

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