In short, Miller's Planet is described as a "potential habitable planet" with very massive tidal waves as tall as 4,000 feet. If for some reason, life began in this planet and is destined to evolve to be as smart as Humans, how would they be designing structures that should be built on raging water with usual tsunamis? What would this structures look like? (A graphic representation is a plus)

Note that the lifeforms that would start here will begin without any access to advanced technologies of any aliens.

  • $\begingroup$ Feel free to edit this question if it feels broad enough or seems to be very idea generating. $\endgroup$ – Swindles Jun 22 '15 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ Editing a question (by someone other than the OP) to reduce its scope or make it less of an idea-generation question goes against the spirit of this site, as it changes the question. That being said, this question appears to be neither of those. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 22 '15 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ A couple of quick points. The waves were supposed to be caused by the tidal locking of the planet and not the tidal bulge at all. I saw an estimate indicating that they might continue (slowly diminishing) for decades (but not millions of years). Also the location of the planet relative to Gargantua also place it extremely close to the "critical orbit" - which is the closest an object can stably orbit it. So the planet may not have the millions or billions of years left required for evolution to work its magic. Should we handwave these problems away in our answers? $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Jun 22 '15 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ Buildings would be wave resistant? $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Jun 22 '15 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ The planet's native inhabitants would all be surfers, lead by a wave-warrior called Kahuna. No buildings, but awesome surfboards! $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jun 22 '15 at 18:32

Build INTO the ground - literally.

A normal building would have a problem because of this:

|--------|                           <- 
|        |    Big wave, big problem   \\
|        |  <-------------            | |      The building has to withstand
|        |                           /   \     all the force hitting it
|        |                          /     \
|   []   |                         /       \

So the solution is simple. Don't get hit. Dig Build like this:

      <- ------------ "Hey, where's my target?"
       | |      The waves go over the building - it doesn't matter how big the
<-    /   \     wave is if it doesn't hit :P
     /     \
    /       \
   |        |
   |        |     (Note: the "=" is the entrance hatch to our building)
   |        |   
   |________|---- "Gtfo wave, nothing to hit here" 

In other words, you wouldn't see the buildings. You'd have a lot of entrance hatches on the ground though.

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    $\begingroup$ The entrance hatches would get buried under debris each time the wave comes over, that might be a problem. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jun 22 '15 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ @TimB I didn't see any debris floating around in the movie - Actually, I think that the movements of the water had long eroded away anything on the surface, to the point where it's probably REALLY smooth with very little debris... But yes, if there WERE debris, then it would definitely be a concern. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jun 22 '15 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ I'm curious how large the tidal effects would be in the ground. On Earth the tides don't just displace water, but also dirt. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_tide I don't know if there is any way to know, but it seems possible to me that the tides could cause serious seismic activity even under the ground. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Jun 23 '15 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeNichols You're assuming that the planet isn't a solid hunk of rock. We can't assume that plate tectonics even apply to Millers planet - all we know that it's covered by shallow ocean because most of the water is in the tide. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jun 23 '15 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify Even if the entire planet were solid rock there could still be compression and flexing as the "tidal wave" moved through the rock. Presumably there exists a way to calculate the amplitude of that wave, and what difficulties it might pose to underground construction, but I don't know it. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Jun 23 '15 at 21:32

This is a very broad question (starting with, what would life be like), so I'll assume and Earth-like progression of life.


The first coral-like structures evolved to be hardy against water erosion - they had to - and adapt to rise above water-level. Your big wave now just washes over and around their pyramid-like structure. After more and more structures mitigate against the strength of the surge. Other life soon follows, and life among the coral cities.

Your advanced peoples build gently sloping ramps, and soon the wave is a non-issue. The architecture looks much like the pyramids and ramps of the hardy coral.

enter image description here

Water Life

Life evolves entirely in the water and evolves to go underground rather than to breathe air, and the wave is a non-issue.

Honestly, there's a lot of speculation that can happen here.


Structures could survive in deep water, or even on the floating artificial islands on the surface of the ocean above deep water

The wave height shown in the movie is largely due to wave shoaling's amplification of wave height in shallows:

wave shoaling amplification animation

Tsunamis don't swamp seagoing ships that are underway out over deep ocean.

  • $\begingroup$ I was under the impression the waves were tidal in nature, being pulled up by the vast gravitational field of the black hole the planet orbited. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jun 22 '15 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify I think he is suggesting that the buildings would be floating on the deep water $\endgroup$ – colmde Jun 23 '15 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, that could have been much clearer. Edited and fixed. @Thucydides for more on the probable nature of the waves on Miller's Planet, check out this answer on physics.stackexchange and this scifi.stackexchange question. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Hanley Jun 23 '15 at 13:19

I would say, they would likely be at least amphibious beings or more fishlike. Can live under water. As such much of their building can take place below the oceans waves where tidal waves will have much less effect. The other option would be far inland where the waters have lost most of their destructive force and are just strong currents.

Under water, they can be any shape imaginable, even to the point they can sway in the ocean currents like sea weed. Which might be what the actually use to make their homes.


I don't think life would evolve to any kind of tool development on Miller's world because of the very long list of conditions described in this other answer. There's just no calm enough place to develop fire or tools, which are prerequisites for building any kind of human level infrastructure.

Life would pick one of at least two strategies for living there. A filter feeder attached to the bedrock or a free-floater living in the standing wave. The closest earth analog to the ecology of Millers' is a tidal pool habitat.


As mentioned elsewhere in the comments, there are multiple interpretations of the waves. I'll stick with the sloshing, so that it is entirely possible that the waves are only present on the side of the planet that faces the black hole. In this case, the planet rocks forth and back by a small angle, and the wave is basically fixed.

In this situation, the path of destruction due to the wave is rather limited, perhaps a couple of degrees, and most of the planet should be "safe". Intelligent life can safely form on the outer edge of the path of destruction. Provided that the wave is directly in line with the black hole, and the planet oscillatory tilt angle is small, there should also be an equally small (safe) area that also experiences a day and night cycle (one hour, in the case of Miller's planet).

Provided that the waves are not the real threat, as long as one chooses the right place, the real issue with building structures would be to deal with the forces exerted by the black-hole. I would expect pyramidal, or small dome structures to survive better than towers or stilted buildings. Given that the planet rocks forth and back, that it is tidally locked, and that the black hole gravitational pull is typically not perpendicular to the surface of the planet, we should expect a non-negligible amount of shear forces along the z-axis (the height) of any structure. Reducing the height of the construction and increasing the section should reduce the chances of failure. Among flat structures with a large base surface, pyramids and domes have a better distribution of inner stress components and are easier to build compared to rectangular blocks.

A pictorial representation, the green area should be safe from the waves: Miller's planet


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