I'm currently working on a series (that can be found on universe factory) and I need a convenient plot device, the colony ship left com satellites and relays in orbit before it landed (and crashed) but for some reason our protagonists will find themselves unable to connect to them at all. The satellites are fine but I need a way for the atmosphere to block all the signals.

things to know:

  • can be something not necessarily caused by the atmosphere itself
  • must still allow visible light to pass through
  • must be a 24/7 thing

links to my other WBST posts link1 link2

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As an alternative to blocking signals, have you considered simply interfering with them? Perhaps the planet is bathed in radio waves from some other source, making it impossible for the satellites to discern signal from noise. This is the basic idea behind radio jamming - it's tough to entirely break the link from source to target, it's much easier to overload the target so it can't tell what's the signal. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2020 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ Does it need to block them or would enough broad spectrum radio noise which makes communication with the sattelite impossible work? $\endgroup$
    – lijat
    Sep 2, 2020 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang all that really needs to happen is for one reason or another they cant contact them $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Sep 2, 2020 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @lijat it just needs to be unable to contact the satellites $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Sep 2, 2020 at 19:22

3 Answers 3


Assumption:Radio waves, microwaves, light... they're all photons. They're all electromagnetic waves. Particles. Waves... Anyway... I'm assuming by "communications" that you mean things between AM radio and the GHz frequencies of Cell Phones — and nothing else. Because if you allow for laser communications (light passing through your atmosphere) there's no way to stop the comms.

Assumption:I'm assuming that you want "natural" solutions and not "technical" solutions. In other words, no aliens broadcasting noise to block the comms. Having said that... huh... That gives me an idea.

Van Allen Radiation Belts

Let's say your planet has a much more dense magnetic field than Earth. The Van Allen Radiation Belts would be much closer to your planet than they are to Earth. All those charged particles could wreak havoc with comms.

Your Planet is an FM Pulsar

Let's put something a bit asymmetrical into your planet's molten core. Maybe a micro-black-hole that hasn't got around to sucking down the entire planet yet. It's working on it! But in the meantime, it's sending out an FM broadband signal somewhat like a pulsar that made landing on the planet itself a doozy... much less communicating with the ship! Oh, and the fillings in your teeth just became magnetized.


Your sun's a bit more energetic than most stars and the result is an over-charged thermosphere. You don't just get Aurora Borealis... you get the Great-Great-Grandmother of All Aurora Borealis! And it comes with lightning storms! Planet-wide! If you thought landing with that honking black hole swimming around in the bowels of your planet was a problem, wait until you're being struck by thousands of lightning strikes a minute! Each one of them producing a mini-EMP.


Assuming that the planet can hold living being without requirement of great protection from climate and radiation.

If communication using only Radio Frequency it's enough to have a planet with a magnetic field more intense than Earth or having a external source of radiation that interfere with the radio communication like Jupiter (more near to the planet), Jupiter produce strong radio signals, particularly bright in the decimeter band.

"The magnetosphere of Jupiter is responsible for intense episodes of radio emission from the planet's polar regions. Volcanic activity on Jupiter's moon Io injects gas into Jupiter's magnetosphere, producing a torus of particles about the planet. As Io moves through this torus, the interaction generates Alfvén waves that carry ionized matter into the polar regions of Jupiter. As a result, radio waves are generated through a cyclotron maser mechanism, and the energy is transmitted out along a cone-shaped surface. When Earth intersects this cone, the radio emissions from Jupiter can exceed the solar radio output." i took this extract from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astronomical_radio_source

If communication can be done with light (laser) you need an atmosphere on your planet that have the effect of a lens that can produce an effect of distortion of the light.

If you want a more exotic effect, the colony found the planet can be habitable but the scanner they used cannot find an alien signal (produced by an ancient device) that block every communication in and out the planet (the only way to use comm is to find the device, powering off or learning how its work).


Malfunctioning drive units
Your colony ship is a kind of torch ship with very powerful drive units. Only top-level experts in the field of fundamental physics truly understand where they draw their energy and thrust from. The drives, being so powerful and volatile, were built from some of the toughest stuff imaginable. The crash only marginally damaged them, but the damage causes the units to shine vibrantly in the radio spectrum. The high-energy radio waves scatter off the ionosphere,leaking out into space and ricochetting back down to the surface, shrouding most of the planet in a dizzying wash of noise.
The satellites are simply unable to pick out your signals amidst it all.

Solar maximum
The central star behaves a bit differently than our familiar Sun. Its sunspot cycles are a fair bit longer. Your colonists arrived during its kind of Maunder Minimum, but now its activities have ramped up as the Minimum ended. Explosions in the star's magnetic canopy spew swathes of electrons into the upper solar atmosphere. They interact with the solar atmosphere and create massive undulations in the solar plasma, making it radiate across the radio spectrum, washing over your planet and drowning out most ground-based signals.
The effect would sorta be like this, but at a greater magnitude and lasting perhaps decades instead of our Sun's familiar ~5-year cycle.


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