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In my far-future world, owning a planet or moon is as common as owning a house. People usually have a large house, with an adjacent farm for their own sustenance that is usually tended by robots. Other than that, the planet is left alone, except when hotels or residences for friends are built.

Poorer people own hemispheres or continents (the equivalent of condos). Only the poorest just live in houses or rooms without attached planet ownership.

Most people live on terraformed or naturally earthlike planets, as living on a non-terraformed world is similar to living in a raw concrete shell of a house without windows, plumbing or electricity. Terraformers are the equivalent of builders or plumbers on Earth, and they perform their work using nanotechnology and robots within months. To give planets water and an atmosphere, icy comets are brought in, if necessary from other systems using FTL.

You can assume that travel occurs by means of fast FTL ships and Star Trek-level teleportation (e.g. teleporting is possible from orbit to the surface, but not from Earth to Mars).

What would be signs of material wealth, comparable to luxury mansions offering amenities not present in a standard house, in such a world? In contrast, what caveats would "budget planets" have?

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    $\begingroup$ Owning multiple planets? Owning a solar system? Owning a galaxy at the really high end of the spectrum? The deal with money is being richer usually means having more stuff. I'm also curious as to what government is in place to allow these kinds of things to happen without massive galaxy-wide wars. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Jul 20 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ How uniform is the quality of terraforming work? Some people may be living on designer-created paradise worlds, while others would have to suffer barely livable ones. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 20 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ “It’s only half completed, I’m afraid – we haven’t even finished burying the artificial dinosaur skeletons in the crust yet... " $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Jul 20 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ It's a neat idea, but unless you change human nature, you'd need very fast ftl travel. People like to see other people, they go to work, they shop, they socialize. How can they do this in your setup? $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Jul 21 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ "Other than that, the planet is left alone" is some utopian thinking. What's stopping others from invading you? How the heck do you know you don't have squatters on the other side of your planet? Why would you want to display wealth? Do you want invaders, because displaying wealth is a surefire way to get invaders. $\endgroup$ – MonkeyZeus Jul 22 at 14:27

16 Answers 16

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The same things that make houses expensive today

First of all, while the wealthy generally live in bigger houses, the price does not scale linearly with square meters of living space. A five million dollar house isn't necessarily ten times bigger than a 500k house. Instead, it's of higher quality with better features, materials, and design. In a planet, this value could be expressed in things like:

  • Expensive custom ecosystems with genetically engineered plants and animals. Maybe pegasi to carry people around or dolphins engineered to let owners ride then. Also, crafting a stable ecosystems would be something quite difficult or expensive and people would want to show theirs off
  • Artisan crafted shorelines an landscape features
  • Fine tune planet-wide weather control
  • Special features like floating mountains, auroras on demand, other impossible geological features
  • Artisan moons or planetary rings

The second thing (and arguably most important) that makes houses expensive is location. You might pay more for

  • Desirable neighbors and neighborhood
  • Comfortable local starlight
  • Cool nebulae or other space features visible at night
  • Long term stable orbit
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    $\begingroup$ Location, location, location! The £5M house in a posh, upscale neighbourhood will fetch £500K in a more modest, merely wealthy, neighbourhood. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jul 20 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ In Hitchhikers Guide they even say they can create certain skies and such. They can customise colour, heat, corona effects (northern lights, not the other one). You allude to it, bit wanted to go just a bit deeper :) . Finally you could do the ultimate. 2 or more suns, posdibly different kinds for real special effects. $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Jul 21 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ Additionally, tectonic stability (or specific instability) would be a desirable quality. Volcanic fountains? Designer tsunami? $\endgroup$ – Nij Jul 21 at 8:02
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    $\begingroup$ Not only might a long term stable orbit be interesting, but an orbit which does or doesn't cause seasons. Some might prefer a permanent summer, some a permanent winter, some a mix of both. The length of days or the length of daylight per day might also be very important. $\endgroup$ – Lasse Meyer Jul 22 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ I mean, if they can customise the effects of terraforming, I'm sure they could make some custom corona viruses too. "Instead of making you feel sick, the pathogens on my world just get you high." $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jul 22 at 17:09
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The ultimate sign of wealth is being able to command other humans' services. Most people are only served by robots. The really wealthy will have human butlers, secretaries, cooks, tutors for their children, stewards to organize the other servants, etc.

The human servants will be people with only a house but who would like a planet, or with planets that need more terraforming to be really elegant and comfortable.

Based on a comment by Duncan Drake, one could demonstrate great wealth, and taste, by employing Galactic class artists or musicians.

Terraforming would itself be an important art form. See Slartibartfast in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, who won an award for the coast of Norway. The merely wealthy would have planets following conventional, off-the-shelf, designs. The super-rich would have a planet designed for them by some renowned artist.

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    $\begingroup$ As an expansion: imagine the really wealthy having their own musician or painter; obviously someone of well known galactic fame. Someone who may put into art their own vision and echo it in eternity. $\endgroup$ – Duncan Drake Jul 20 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ Personally I'd rather have the robots :-D. People are messy! $\endgroup$ – boatcoder Jul 21 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ @boatcoder Status symbols are often less comfortable and convenient than lower status alternatives. Consider high heeled shoes vs flip flops, men shaving rather than letting their beards grow, three piece suit with collar and tie compared to slacks and a tee shirt. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Jul 21 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ more than designed they might have parts of the teraforming done "by hand", "Ah yes, I currently have a crew in touching up the northern tundra. Sure a robotic teraforming fleet could get it done in a tenth the time, but there is something to be said for the artisan's human touch indivually placing the new trees and picking out from the ground exactly where to place a glacier that no machine can replicate really" $\endgroup$ – Lyndon White Jul 21 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ @boatcoder That's what your servants have robots for. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jul 22 at 17:39
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Similar to really high-end goods today, or collectables, the best planets wouldn't be noticeably better, they'd be rarer or special in some way:

  • In a small "good" galaxy where planets are rarely for sale and only the best people live.
  • Discovered by a famous explorer, later made into a beloved movie ("yes, this is that planet. I can show you the crash site where they fell in love").
  • Designed by a famous terraformer who tragically died young after just 8 planets.
  • Notorious for a horrific accident or series of brutal murders during terraforming (which was also a book and a movie).
  • Previously owned by a famous war hero (or celebrity).
  • The site of an historical space battle -- where Zapp Brannigan defeated the Omicronian invasion.
  • Conversely, a planet once conquered by the Omicronians, with historical sites and artifacts of when there were true warriors in this universe.
  • One of the 68 planets built using the old terraforming process, which gives greater fidelity and texture than the soulless new method.
  • Rare naturally habitable planets, unspoiled by terraforming, with real storms, real winters, even a few dangerous natural predators -- real nature.
  • One of the first 50 planets to be found by the Altas-2 space probes (for the barely rich -- at least the planet has some claim to fame. People remember the Altas-2's).
  • Newly terraformed planets. There's nothing like a fresh job. After a few decades everything just gets so run down and wild. True connoisseurs can tell the difference. And re-terraforming -- so gauche.
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    $\begingroup$ You're just too much of a peasant to appreciate my au naturel 100% organicly grown, terraforming-free planet. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Jul 21 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen Actually, your planet had the oxygen tweaked. Everything discovered by defunct ACME Corp did. They called it "atmoscuplting", but it's crude terraforming. You can check the registry, but anyone in the know can tell just by looking at the plant mutations. The important thing is that you like it. $\endgroup$ – Owen Reynolds Jul 21 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ I don't want to hear that from someone who had to import mega-fauna onto his planet. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Jul 21 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen That's getting into the answers about spending on upgrades, which I also agree with. I can imagine someone overpaying for a famous historical planet, then paying boatloads more for dinosaurs, 10 moons, and a copy of Yellowstone. $\endgroup$ – Owen Reynolds Jul 22 at 2:18
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Impossible shapes

Although I gave my votes to 2 incredibly good answers, here's my 2 cents.

Worlds that don't follow normal rules might be the top of the bill. They can be smaller than a planet, as you simply don't need that much space, but you can do more creative things on the edge of possibilities. Ringworlds (in orbit around a planet or sun, or surrounding a planet or even sun), flat worlds, mobius strips or hollow planets with a light source inside, so all life happens inside the crust. Possibly several planets or structures close to each other in such a way the world works, but only just.

But the most extravagant might be what it's orbiting. A sun, or multiple suns of different kinds. Or maybe even a black hole. Showing their disdain for the rest of the whole galaxy, as time means nothing for them. They live a few minutes on their planet or structure around the black hole, while the rest of the galaxy lives a decade or a century. They are the people that matter. The rest of the galaxy comes as a far second.

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  • $\begingroup$ "a few minutes on their planet or structure around the black hole, while the rest of the galaxy lives a decade or a century" - sounds profoundly dangerous. Your enemies get to move thousands of times faster than you can. Or political events may spiral out of control before you even notice. (Of course, these very facts mark the owner's wealth, confidence and power - that he doesn't care.) $\endgroup$ – nerdfever.com Jul 22 at 23:58
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Frame Challenge

Given enough wealth, most people prefer not to live in isolation. While many worlds would in fact have a single human running the show, owning a planet just for yourself is like buying a farm... it's actually something that poor people do rather than what rich and ambitious people do because it isolates you from the resources you would have at your fingertips living in a more urbanized place.

Instead, the really rich people will flock to Urban worlds where many people live where they can duke it out over control of intergalactic industries, stock markets, and political influence. Any commoner can own a world, but to own a simple condo on Earth itself is a luxury very few people can afford.

Sure many rich people might own a vacation world for the occasional weekend getaway, but that is just thier cabin in the woods so to speak.

As for an actual Answer:

When you consider single person worlds "the new rural" then shows of opulence and wealth will be different based on why you own your own world for the same reason that a rural vacation home is different than a rural farm.

If you are one of these country folk out there to make a living, then "wealth" would likely be measured in how well you are exploiting its resources:

  • A "family farm" world might have a simple farm and some mines out in the hills all run by robot servants with just the landlord's home and some nice surroundings. He lives off the land but does not really produce any excess worth selling and therefore lacks the wealth to buy many luxuries either. This means that he also can not afford to buy much of anything from the interstellar community including terraforming; so, instead of a truly terraformed world, he might only have a habitat dome or whatever his initial investment could afford.
  • A more wealthy world will have much more developed industries able to produce higher grade consumer goods or plentiful access to rarer elements that can be sold to interstellar conglomerates. These worlds will be able to produce enough wealth to afford a full terraforming job and many of the niceties of modern living.
  • The richest resource worlds will be fully developed and industrialized world's able to produce its own high end technologies like starships, nanotech, and terraforming equipment. The down side of these worlds is that they will pretty much all be owned by the rich and powerful mega corporations that are HQed on Urban worlds. The exploitation of these worlds will be so vast and shameless that they are probably terrible places to live as a whole, again forcing the human residents into a habitat dome. In this case, the resident is more likely an employee or slave to the larger corporation; so, he gets very little say in how they will abuse the lands. He's just there to make sure the cogs of capitalism keep spinning.

For vacation worlds, you will see places valued for thier serenity and charm. Here the quality of terraforming will be the most important feature. How clean is the air, how friendly is the wildlife, how comfortable is the weather, how beautiful is the landscape, etc., etc.

When you consider rural real-estate today, a nice vacation home can add a lot of value to rural land, but not nearly as much as and oil field or a giant copper mine; so, it stands to reason that the most expensive worlds will be the super industrialized ones, followed by high end vacation worlds, followed by generally productive resource worlds and more rustic vacation worlds, followed lastly by under developed "family farm" worlds.

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  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, I don't think people would have their own planet for day to day use, but instead have it as a vacation planet, when you really really need to get away from it all $\endgroup$ – Kevin Wells Jul 22 at 18:14
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The really wealthy ones equip their whole planet with a hyperdrive, which is ludicrously expensive, and can roam the galaxy on their own planet. Much like a hyper luxury yacht these days.

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    $\begingroup$ You're rich if you can roam a galaxy on your own planet. You're wealthy if you can roam your own galaxy on your own planet. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Jul 21 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it make more sense to move the planet's sun rather than just the planet? $\endgroup$ – Ichthys King Jul 24 at 6:45
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing Causes too much havoc at the destination. $\endgroup$ – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jul 24 at 8:00
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Your Own Private Island, er.. Planet

It's not just about real estate. Prestige also lay in improvements, and location

Spaceport

Is your private world one of those impoverished little things that requires visitors to bring their own teleporters and shuttles? Or, did you spend the little extra for some orbital installations for shelter, small repairs, and taking aboard consumables?

Space Elevator

Just did the bare minimum and got a few space stations in place, or did you have the courtesy to provide one or more space elevators for low-cost hauling things in and out of the gravity well?

Security

Tell me you spent a little bit for some privacy and to keep the riff-raff away?! At least a few defense satellites, maybe some ground-to-orbit emplacements, some data protection, and basic staff.

Entertainment

Now, if you want to impress someone, show that you have some modern facilities for modern people in the form of solid orbital rings around the planet. Or are you too cheap?

But really, an orbital ring is kind-of starter kit stuff, isn't it? A real mover is going to have a full Matrioshka Planet, with layers-and-layers of the whatever is current going on.

Location, Location, Location

Anyone can get one of those planets-in-a-box out in the hinterlands at the edge of the galaxy. But close to the ancestral homeworlds... that's valuable real-estate. Or, maybe near the galactic core - where the action is.

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Luxury Moons

Any podunk quintillionaire can own a boring old planet. The truly mega-wealthy adorn theirs with luxury, decorative moons. The more moons, the fancier, the better. Moons are like jewelry for planets. You want them to sparkle and be the envy of all those other planets. Of course you could build luxury moon base resorts and high stakes lunar casinos on some of them but they don't all have to be inhabitable, some are just for show. "What? Gold plated?! No dahling, that moon is solid 24K of course, what kind of peasant do you take me for? That other moon is made of a single diamond crystal - you should see it during an eclipse, it's simply magical!"

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure diamond would be stable enough under its own gravity when in the size of a moon. $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Jul 22 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget the intricate orbital engineering needed to keep a constellation of large (i.e. visible from the surface) moons in semi-stable orbits without crashing into each other, your planet, or flying into deep space. $\endgroup$ – BBeast Jul 22 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @BBeast Yeah, we're definitely talking about Type 2 at least on the Kardashev scale for this sort of thing. A solid pure-gold moon would also be quite heavy compared to most, but that's okay, if we assume the owners of the planet have the resources to acquire that much gold or grow a moon-sized diamond, it's reasonable to assume they've got the orbital mechanics pretty well sorted. $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Jul 22 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @PaŭloEbermann You might be right, but nobody's asking for hard science on this question. I don't know though - diamond is a pretty densely packed material, maybe it would work? You could also make it a smaller moon, but at a lower orbit so it's still visible from the ground, maybe. (I do like the idea of a diamond eclipse though, that would be pretty amazing to see.) $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Jul 22 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Rob Are you referencing this VSauce video from a few years ago by any chance? $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Jul 22 at 13:47
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This is a subplot in Warner Bros. Miracle Workers, where God is actually a being that owns only one planet (Earth) and who is managing it rather poorly. God and his sibling eventually meet with their parents to discuss how their planets are doing; God's sister says that one of her planets is a true utopia, so it basically runs itself.

A sign of wealth for these beings would be the state their worlds are in. A truly rich world would be a world where everybody's needs are catered for, with no wars and no pandemics. A poor world would be... Well... By this measure you're probably on one right now.

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    $\begingroup$ Still the best known place to live. heh. Since at least everyone gets one need for free compared to other places: air. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Jul 20 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen Ah yes. The one piece of socialism that we haven't managed to eradicate yet. $\endgroup$ – user253751 Jul 21 at 15:43
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If everyone owns a planet, that is essentially just the same as today where everyone owns land. Everyone might own land, but that it costs money to develop and build on that land. Someone with an untouched wilderness planet is surely less wealthy than someone with an ecumonopolis. THere is also the flip side where instead of maintaining an ecumonopolis the world is maintained as a biodiverse paradise.

If everyone owns a planet, that also means a lot of habitable (or uninhabitable planets under a dome). Those planes without the need for domes surely ranks higher, and among those planets capable of supporting life, the desert and ice planets surely rank lower than the more verdant ones.

Something you did not make clear is just how much a planet is worth compared to other stuff. Is it just that planets are so cheap that everyone can own one and the house actually costs more? Or is that they are of comparable worth and you can't think of anything that might be more expensive than a planet with which to flaunt your wealth?

Then there is also having an automated fleet at your disposal and orbital structures.

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    $\begingroup$ Re: "today where everyone owns land". The opposite is true. E.g.: "land has long been concentrated in the hands of a small number of owners", and "the bulk of the population owns very little land or none at all". theguardian.com/money/2019/apr/17/… $\endgroup$ – Daniel R. Collins Jul 21 at 14:49
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Location, location, location.

In our world, the prices for real estate don't just depend on the inherent properties of the object but on where it's located. The same could apply to your world. Planets close to the economic centers of the galaxy would be far more expensive than those somewhere in the outer spiral arms. A good view of a warm and pleasant main sequence star might also be more popular than having to orbit some dim brown dwarf, unpleasantly bright supergiant or worse an unpredictable variable star which might cause a havoc on your planets biosphere if it turns out your planetary shielding isn't as flexible and self-adjusting as the contractor promised.

Having one or more beautiful moons in the sky might also be a plus (a moon which is as large and close as Earth's moon actually appears to be quite rare). But the biggest status symbol might be a terrestrial planet with a ring system visible from the ground.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would have agreed, but then I remembered FTL. location is never going to be the same when you can hop wherever you want at will and instantaneously. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Jul 21 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Gnudiff That depends on how much faster than light we are talking about. How long does it take to fly across the galaxy? Minutes? Hours? Days? Years? Decades? Centuries? The question says "Star Trek Level", and canon from Star Trek: Voyager is that flying from one quadrant of the milky way galaxy to another takes about 75 years. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jul 21 at 20:50
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Sure, you own a planet or few, but actually living down in a gravity well? On a single planet? How gauche.

I mean, they are great places to visit.

Well off people will own multiple solar systems, each with multiple planets. Rich people will own globular clusters and worldships. The ultra rich will own ringword starships and dyson spheres and more exotic mega engineering.

Having a large number of planets available to you gives you a wide selection of places to go and experience. The robotic civilizations (or something else sub-citizen) on them can provide interesting cultural experiences as well.

A worldship is a FTL spaceship the size of a planet. Something akin to a yacht. Take your home with you. Some worldships contain planets, others are hollow shells held up with rotation or more exotic means. The scale is the important part.

A ringword starship is an entire ring wrapping a star at the habitable zone, spun up to produce 1 G of force (made out of exotic and/or dynamic materials), with an FTL drive capable of moving the entire structure. It contains more land area than a some galaxy's habitable planets.

Static ringwords also exist, but ringworld starships are the top tier of transport. Some ringworld starships may be used as mobile entertainment devices; you travel around the galaxy going to interesting places, while you have an entire galaxy's land area on the ship while you go between ports of call (cruise ship line).

I'm sure someone is working on taming a naked singularity so someone can have their own pocket universe to live in.

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Rather than a materialistic approach, wealth in your world could be viewed from a more ostentatious angle in the pursuit of making property from otherwise useless things that may or may not have aesthetic value--qualitative vs. quantitative.

For example, you and your galactic golf partner each own a handful of planets. They are describing their latest purchase, terraformed by the best in the business, with blasé features like a thousand individual bleach-white sand beach islands in a thermally-regulated azure ocean. Nice. They asks about your latest project. Their eyebrows raise when you say you now own a nebula. Their jaw slowly drops as you show holo-captures of the views--peaks and valleys in a gamut of color and contrast--from the private station you're building to orbit the stellar jewel. And they nearly faint when you inform them you will be leaving the entire thing pristine, and not harvesting any of its resources.

Not only are you flaunting your wealth through exclusive access to a thing of unique beauty (though some people might think a cloud of dust is just a cloud of dust), but further flexing your position by implying you don't need to use it as a revenue stream.

So you don't necessarily have to own more, or more expensive, but wealth could be judged by the intrinsic value of a thing or collection.

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The sign of wealth could be ancient artifacts or famous art... as long as there're ways to ensure authenticity (eg. cryptographic).

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There are some physics to consider. The size of the planet mostly determines how much gravity it has, and gravity probably has interesting effects on human physiology e.g. low gravity will likely result in fairly tall people if they are born and raised there.

Low gravity also allows for some interesting activities like human powered flight. On the other hand through history there are examples of where the rich adopt things that are worse simply because they are expensive. Higher gravity means more fuel needed to get around, especially to leave the planet.

Planets in interesting locations may also be more valuable, e.g. orbiting a gas giant could offer spectacular views. On the other hand in a binary sun system it may be quite annoying to have irregular day lengths.

Speaking of which the rotational period of the planet (day length) will be a factor, humans probably won't deal well with very long days as we know from people living in the extremes of northern Europe. The ratio of ocean to land may be a factor too. Tectonic stability, i.e. how often and how severe the earthquakes are.

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There's still constraints for the property value of the whole planet:

  • The color of the star (some planets could be worth more, others less based on star)

  • Distance to star, size of star affecting how large it is in the sky

  • Distance to star w.r.t where the planet is in the habitable zone (too hot, too cold)

  • Whether or not those mean there's heavy terraforming (e.g. large cloud layer to keep in heat)

  • Is the planet tidally locked (no day night cycle)

  • Preferred day/night cycle times (too slow, too fast being less valuable)

  • All these could affect biodiversity

  • Also the types of ecosystems available (maybe more is better, whereas a one-note tundra planet is less interesting)

  • Gravity - 1G is preferred, > 1G less valuable?

  • What the night sky looks like (how many moons, rings?)

  • Magnetic field - does the planet have natural aurorae?

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