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Lets say an alien trickster wants to trick a group of human astronauts into thinking they’ve been transported to another world far away. But in reality, he wants them to stay on good old Earth, throughout all of this. What place on Earth would be best for faking being on another planet?

Criteria

  • This place cannot have any obvious life forms. Nothing too complex (Small microbial creatures are fine)

  • No humans for at least a few hundred miles, and no signs of their presence.

  • Must be somewhat hostile to human life

  • Cannot be underwater

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    $\begingroup$ Burning Man - Black Rock Desert (Labour Day Weekend). You'll feel like you're on Mars. $\endgroup$ – Bray Feb 25 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Feb 25 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ I don't have enough rep to answer, but there is a place that I always wanted to visit, simply because it looks like some alien planet: Bisti $\endgroup$ – Pavel P Feb 25 at 22:25

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The problem your going to have in any open sky area however, is the familiarity of the moon and constellations - a dead giveaway that your still on earth.

To that end, I'd suggest the best place for this scenario would be a large underground cave system, like Reed Flute cave in China:

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Caves are certainly good in many ways, but not usually hostile. In most cases, air will be a perfectly breathable mix and temperature is as ideal as can be. Instead I would suggest something more like the Cave of Crystals en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_the_Crystals where the heat and gases from nearby magma chambers will make the air seem much less Earth like. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Feb 26 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ The question asks for somewhat hostile. Generally caves will meet this criterea once sealed due to the lack of food supply, limited breathable air (not to mention pockets of methane etc) and lastly, in many instances, a lack of suitable drinking water. Unfortunately @Nosajimiki, the example cave you have suggested, when still open, would not have meet the criteria of 'somewhat hostile', as the conditions present were lethal to human life over short time scales. Caves with environmental conditions too similar to your suggestion would also fail to meet that criteria. $\endgroup$ – T3RR0R Feb 27 at 1:15
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  • This place cannot have any obvious life forms. Nothing too complex (Small microbial creatures are fine)
  • No humans for at least a few hundred miles, and no signs of their presence.
  • Must be somewhat hostile to human life
  • Cannot be underwater

Inland Antarctica seems to satisfy all the above:

  • Doesn't have obvious life form, not animal nor vegetal, it is just a barren extension of ice.
  • You won't find any humans, except in the scientific bases
  • It is definitely hostile to human life. Ask Robert Falcon Scott for info.
  • It's not underwater
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    $\begingroup$ There's even a Stargate SG-1 episode where they end up in Antarctica and think they're on a different planet... $\endgroup$ – Andon Feb 23 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ Bonus, I don’t think there’s any air carrier flyovers there either. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Feb 24 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ Bonus bonus, the constellation issue would be less prominent because people are generally less familiar with Southern Hemisphere constellations than northern ones. It might not fool astronauts, but it might confuse them for a while if they're at weird positions in the sky people aren't used to (like at the South Pole). $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Feb 24 at 7:38
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    $\begingroup$ @user2352714: Plus, if you stick them sufficiently close to the pole during summer there'll be no night time making observing the stars a tad more complicated. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Feb 24 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ @TitaniumTurtle Nope, there's a planet in the way. $\endgroup$ – AI0867 Feb 25 at 20:01
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Two places come to mind immediately;

The soda lakes of Tanzania
The soda lakes of Tanzania are quite uncomfortable places for humans to be, and ultimately they fill the brief of 'somewhat' hostile to human life. But, they also look the part when you think of an alien landscape.

Soda Lakes of Tanzania

These lakes of soda ash are pink in colour and extremely alkaline, meaning that humans will find them quite uncomfortable to be around even with basic protective clothing. As such, there are no humans around these although you will find flamingos at certain times of the year as they come here to raise their chicks far away from where anything even remotely close to a predator is going to come.

Coober Pedy, Australia
Second, there's a place in Australia that looks like an alien landscape for an arid desert planet that was actually used as the location for shooting the original Pitch Black movie with Vin Diesel - Coober Pedy.

Coober Pedy Landscape

Famous as an area rich in opals and for being so hot that many of the homes are literally carved out underground to escape the heat, there are areas in the surrounds that can give a desolate feel and the sheer heat and lack of water (and the subsequent cold at night) can make this feel like a very uncomfortable place. Its isolation also fits the brief; this is not a place you want to get lost in and not have anyone know you're missing. People die in the Australian Outback all the time through not being prepared for the harsh conditions and the sheer size of the place.

There are bound to be others as well but these are useful because they lack a lot of vegetation. For most humans, seeing a tree or a bush or a flower etc. that they recognise is going to be the killer blow to your illusion. They're going to expect plants to look VERY different to what they know on Earth, so any place with vegetation is going to be hard for your punters to accept as alien. These two places on the other hand don't have a lot of vegetation, or water for that matter, making it an easier sell. Ultimately though, how well you can maintain the illusion is not just dependent on how exotic a location you can find, but how well read your punters are. In today's world, it's going to be a lot harder than it would have been (say) 100 years ago when knowledge was locked in Encyclopaediae that you had to know what you were looking for in order to find things out in them. With the advent of the internet and mass media, the chances of at least one of your punters knowing that they are still on Earth is higher, just simply because they have access to more information now than ever before.

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    $\begingroup$ … which brings up the point that a mobile telephone signal jammer is an important factor for a modern trickster. "I'm 82 squillion parsecs from Sol, but I can still get cat videos on my i-Phone and there seems to be a Burger King with a wi-fi hotspot, too." (-: $\endgroup$ – JdeBP Feb 23 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ Your point about vegetation is contradicted by your second photo, which contains very obvious vegetation. Nice suggestion for the first one though. $\endgroup$ – JBentley Feb 23 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Is there a cell tower in range of either place? I know lots of places in Spain and America where there is no cell service. Plus, if they’re told they are going to a “distant planet,” they may not bother to take a phone. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Feb 23 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ Otherwise, a reverse image search might tell them where they are. And GPS certainly will. Nice twist to the story: at the end of the day, someone says, “well, if we’re going to die here, might as well play solitaire … HEY! I got a GPS signal!” $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Feb 23 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia says "Because of its unique biodiversity, Tanzania named the Lake Natron Basin to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance on 4 July 2001." - Doesn't sound as if this could be qualified as per condition 1... $\endgroup$ – I'm with Monica Feb 25 at 11:58
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Add Danakil in Ethiopia ..

Volcanic activity and solved salts give multicolored water that's borderline acid and thus dead - and the colors give a nice flavor even combined with a natural azure sky enter image description here enter image description here

Edit: Not even microbes were found in the ponds ... thus they not only appear foreign and dead .. they are deadly, poisonous, acidic

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    $\begingroup$ This also helps a bit with the sky issue (atleast at day time). Bright colors like this cause color-relativity distortions; so, even the familiar blue sky may appear too blue to be Earth because the ground in this case is the sky's complementary color. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Feb 24 at 15:53
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Use a Human Terrarium

The single most definitive piece of evidence that you may be somewhere alien is... the aliens.

Instead of putting them in an open field on some plant designed to look alien that just so happens to be able support human life with 1G of gravity, 1 yellow star, and familiar constellations, put them in a giant indoor terrarium. Add plastic Earth plants and fake rocks to help the human's "feel at home". Add a house that looks right, but is not made out the right materials:concrete is painted to look like wood, the bed mattress is basically a giant hunk of rigid styrofoam, etc. Maybe forget to add certain expected features like no sink in the bathroom, or no living room. Have a large glass window on one side of the exhibit that the aliens can see in through, but also faces another alien terrarium with species and apparent climate conditions that are not Earth like. Maybe open up one side of the house so the aliens can see into all of the rooms from the window too.

Use climate controls to make the room a bit uncomfortable but in ways that fit the bill of aliens trying to give humans things that they like. Maybe it's too hot and humid because Earth life does so well in tropical zones. Maybe you put too much oxygen in the air making it easy to hyperventilate, because humans really need their oxygen. Make the lighting in the terrarium mimic a 24-hour day/night cycle.

If the aliens can speak to the humans, they can can further sell the experience by asking them questions about their exhibit to try to dial it in to be more human friendly. "How is the Gravity?", "Is it warm enough for you?", "Can you breath well?", etc. Tell the humans they can not survive outside of the chamber so that they don't try to escape. Have aliens always wear EVA suits and use an airlock whenever they have to enter the human exhibit.

The reason this sort of condition would be so convincing is that any failure to make the environment not feel like Earth would just be perceived as the Aliens doing something right to fake it.

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    $\begingroup$ And a Faraday cage for radio signal. Human specially trainned one alway try to communicate. $\endgroup$ – xdtTransform Feb 25 at 7:22
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    $\begingroup$ I consider this the best answer. The others may fail the illusion by showing the night sky or not feeling enough other-worldly. This answer however might very well work due to the principle of faking something by pretending there is no difference, much like actors fake drunk persons by "acting sober". $\endgroup$ – Björn Larsson Feb 25 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ no sink in the bathroom, or no living room, you mean, modern city life? I've lived in places that had neither. And I've also seen concrete painted to look like wood. OMG... Am I on Earth?! $\endgroup$ – gerrit Feb 25 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit I can not answer if you are on Earth, but I can tell you that you have been living in a human terrarium. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Feb 26 at 14:40
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Even if you stick to daytime to avoid the issues raised in the comments, there are still some things that would lead the astronauts to think they're on earth - the sun being the right colour/distance, the temperature being in earth ranges, the fact that they can breathe the air, the exactly-1g gravity, etc.

Indeed, "we're on earth somewhere" requires a far smaller leap of faith than "we've somehow moved lightyears away", so they'll assume they're on earth unless there's some clear evidence that they can't be on earth. So you need somewhere on earth with conditions that some very educated people think can't exist on earth. That leaves you exactly one possible answer:

Put them in a lab somewhere. Inside that lab, you need to use superior technology to fake non-earth conditions. If you can control their spacesuits, this gets much easier: you just feed fake data into the inside (including feeding in fake atmospheric data telling them that they can't breathe the atmosphere so they don't just open the visor and ruin things), replace the visor with a screen that perfectly fakes what they'd see if they were on some other planet, etc.

Gravity is the hardest thing to fake - there are solutions, but they either require mega-engineering projects that the astronauts would definitely have noticed the construction of (if you're trying to modify gravity by even a few percent for 12 hours by linear acceleration, you need a tower so big that the top absolutely isn't "on earth" by any reasonable definition), or flawed in a way that is liable to be noticed, making them more suspicious of the whole illusion (if you put them in a massive centrifuge (that isn't megaconstruction-scale) and they throw something up in the air, it'll fall down somewhere very different from what they'd expect on a real planet - you can fake the appearance with your helmet-screens, but then you need to do something to really move it back to where they expect to find it without them noticing; if you weight the spacesuits, that feels different to higher gravity in a way that astronauts are likely to notice). I think your best bet would be to just make the gravity close enough to earth to make the differences hard to notice and hope they don't get too suspicious about it.

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    $\begingroup$ Sun, Moon, and stars are definitely going to be an obstacle. There's a reason why having two moons or two suns hanging conspicuously in the sky of an opening shot in a sci-fi movie is a trope instantly signaling "not Earth". $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Feb 23 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ And yet the Vasquez Rocks and a rubber mask worked all of these years for Star Trek viewers. (-: Tunisia and the Haya language worked for Star Wars viewers. It's important to take into account how much the victims want to be tricked. There's psychology here, not just physics, astronomy, and geology. $\endgroup$ – JdeBP Feb 23 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ @JdeBP I don't think too many Star Trek viewers failed to realise they were watching fiction, however. $\endgroup$ – JBentley Feb 23 at 15:49
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I would say specifically the dry valleys of Antarctica rather than the ice sheet. We’re used to the idea that there are ice sheets on Earth, but a valley with no ice or visible life, and very cold temperatures, looks very alien.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Until you find the inevitable plastic pollution. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Feb 26 at 14:57
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"Lets say an alien trickster wants to trick a group of human astronauts..."

Lets say it can not be done with astronauts (or boy/girl scots).

Those people know about "Celestial navigation". Its just a question of time one of them look up to the night sky and see she/he is not out of earth.

May be placing them into an underground place could make the "trick". A very, very strange underground place on the pretext of protecting them from space radiation.

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  • $\begingroup$ I somehow missed this prior to posting my own answer. Dead on the money. $\endgroup$ – T3RR0R Feb 24 at 8:29
  • $\begingroup$ The stars should be similar on Earth and (say) Mars, no? $\endgroup$ – user253751 Feb 24 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ @user253751 Seeing the same star constellations should tell you that you are still in the same solar system. But the planets which are visible to the naked eye (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the lack of Earth) should give away that you are still on the same planet. And when the sun raises, you should know you are still on Earth, because on any other planet it would be much brighter or fainter. And if you can see the Moon, you can be pretty sure you are still on Earth. A sun which looks almost like our sun is a possibility, but a moon which looks exactly the same isn't, $\endgroup$ – Philipp Feb 24 at 12:39
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Antarctica and Greenland would be a convincing answer. There is no life there and everything there is white and even the sky is white.

Another place is the Atacama desert. Take a picture of it and change the color of the sky from blue to red/light brown and it will look indistinguishable from Mars.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Atacama has the added benefit of having no microbes. $\endgroup$ – Burgi Feb 24 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Burgi but it has. $\endgroup$ – Prof. Falken contract breached Feb 24 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ the dry valleys in antarctica have been used for testing equipment by NASA iirc $\endgroup$ – jk. Feb 24 at 10:22
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The Vasquez Rocks, in California:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasquez_Rocks

enter image description here

They have been used in Star Trek several times, and make an especially good practical joke, since the astronauts are likely to realize they are still on earth by stumbling into tourists.

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    $\begingroup$ A bit of cheeky trivia, not very helpful along what was asked, isn't it? $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Feb 24 at 14:57
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Sudbury, in Canada. After decades of nickel extraction the countryside looks like the surface of the moon, in fact astronauts trained there.

Though this may no longer be the case. I was there 15 years ago, and it seems they were rather ashamed of having made their place look like the moon, so they had started planting millions of little trees.

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    $\begingroup$ Kind of a good idea. Until the characters walk around and stumble upon some obvious sign of human activity, that is (and then they can go "Damn you! Damn you! Goddamn you all to hell!"). $\endgroup$ – laancelot Feb 25 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ In the early 1970s, Inco completed the "Sudbury Superstack" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inco_Superstack). That pushed the smelter off-gases that had caused the local vegetation to die way up into the atmosphere. Soon afterwards, vegetation started coming back - but, alas, acid rain became more prevalent in northern Europe. $\endgroup$ – Flydog57 Feb 25 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Flydog57 and this is the very core issue with Capitalism. Companies can and will profit from actions that destroy overall value, with no consequence whatsoever as long as it doesn't violate local laws... $\endgroup$ – Kheldar Feb 25 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ @kheldar: I was a chemical engineering student in Canada in the 70s (& I took a class in industrial air pollution control). That stack is a direct result of the regulations in force at the time. They regulated pollutant ground concentrations near the point source. I actually did a project that looked for an optimum solution, offsetting stack height with the cost of other mitigations. Regulation is immensely important, smart regulation is smarter $\endgroup$ – Flydog57 Feb 26 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting and enlightening, though of course the question of how much regulation is suggested by the industry remains. Humans are complicated, and sometimes self-defeating... $\endgroup$ – Kheldar Mar 6 at 14:09
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Haleakala Crater, on Maui also comes to mind.

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What place on Earth would be best for faking being on another planet?

There's a specific term for this: terrestrial analogue sites.

I'm particularly familiar with Río Tinto in Spain - a river with a concentration of heavy metals so high and a pH so acidic that the water runs literally red, and is hostile to most earth lifeforms. But weird bacteria can survive, so space agencies actually use the site for extremophile research (think "xenobiology") and for testing equipment in extreme conditions.

Río Tinto

Unfortunately (for your request), one can see trees a dozen meters away from the riverbed. You might want to consider a fictional underground cave system with the same acidic, heavy-metal-saturated kind of water.

I see a problem with your premise, though:

Let's say an alien trickster wants to trick a group of human astronauts into thinking they’ve been transported to another world far away

IMHO, astronauts are knowledgeable of analogue sites, and chances are that some of them have actually been trained in the field of geology in any of them.

You might want to consider a fictional underground cave system with the same acidic, heavy-metal-saturated kind of water, and with anaerobic bacteria replacing all that oxygen with carbon dioxide (or whatever suits)

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I would suggest the Atacama Desert. It's the driest place on Earth; there are some areas of the desert with no plant or animal life at all. Due to this, it was used as a test location for a prototype of the Mars Curiosity rover, which explored the desert trying to find signs of life.

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Socotra, Yemen

Image

With UFO-like trees as its most notable feature, the island of Socotra looks like it was transported to earth from a distant planet.

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RAF Bentwaters, in Suffolk.

Why is this the right answer? Because it's been done.

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In closed room, with projection mapped all the part of room in front of you, good audio, nice music... Close your eyes...

You are suddenly now on totally different planet...

Or you can get a headcrab on your head and be in empty room, but I prefer having table in middle of room and having projection mapped some good animations... That would be the best.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi and welcome to Worldbuilding, and thank you for answering. I am not sure if you have read this question correctly, or you might misunderstand the purpose of the Worldbuilding community, but as you can see your answer isn't well liked because it is not a good fit for the site. I would suggest you take the tour and take a look at the help centre to see what topics we normally ask about, and what kind of answers we expect. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 24 at 14:42

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