Admiral Edwin Witt was obsessed with discovering a habitable world so future generations would remember his name. After decades of searching, he found a world that challenges the very definition of habitability. Wittsend is so bad, the Federation will pay you to live there, and the death penalty has been replaced by exile to Wittsend. Despite all this, the Federation considers Wittsend's development a high priority due to its strategic location and favorable conditions for industry.

What makes Wittsend such a bad place to live? It must still be livable without an environment suit - breathable atmosphere, temperatures within the range humans can survive (though it might be near the edge of that range), not so much radiation that you die quickly (though it might give everyone cancer), and so on. And it must still have some aspect that allows it to have an economy, such as abundant minerals, cheap sources of energy, etc. Apart from cheap FTL travel, and dozens of settled, habitable worlds, all the laws of science still apply.

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    $\begingroup$ This is too open to opinion. $\endgroup$
    – rek
    Jun 14, 2021 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ depression inducing psychoactives in the atmosphere? That would make a very bad place to live x) $\endgroup$
    – Nephanth
    Jun 14, 2021 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ Harry Harrison wrote a documentary about this place, called en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deathworld $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Jun 14, 2021 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ Could you narrow this down? What do you want to be so bad about Wittsend? As it stands I'm going to vote to close this question - this isn't to remove your question but to give you time to edit it to a more answerable form. All it means is that whilst your question is closed it cannot recieve answers - this is so that people don't post an answer that is later invalidated by an update to the question. $\endgroup$ Jun 14, 2021 at 15:17

4 Answers 4


Because there's nothing there

The whole planet is a barren wasteland, where only heavy industry thrives. Because of the frequent high energy EM bombardment of the star, very few electronics survive, unless shielded heavily. This causes most of the surface life to consist of heavy manual labour. If they do want electronics, it is only in the dark mines and rock homes. The connection to other worlds is limited, so news outside the planet is scarce.

Thick blankets of clouds that are near persistent, shrouding everything in darkness. The air contains trace amounts of toxicity that lead to many small discomforts, even with the medical staff removing the damages once in a while. Thanks to the clouds it is also very cold on the planet, making it hard to do any work there.

Thanks to geothermal heating their homes are warm and there is enough electricity for the few electronics they do have. Yet to get light they need to use special alternatives like bio-luminescent lamps that give off little light, or use things that are bad for the air like torches.

Food cannot be grown there, so they are completely dependent on what the federation sends them. Which is generally crap. You stuff your food supply ships for such a big colony with high energy food that can be densely packed. The hydroponics setup deep underground is still highly expensive for the colony and not producing enough by a long shot. No pleasure foods and the like. That means even narcotics like alcohol are very rare on the planet, giving little distraction from the bleak hard life on planet.

You have great freedom, but nothing to enjoy it. You'll not get punished for most violations condemned on normal worlds, but if you don't work, you'll die as they give you no food or medical aid. If you interfere with production or the like, you'll also die. Depending on the violation it's starvation or simply thrown into a pit or the like. This means that on planet it is highly unfriendly, with people trying to get as much enjoyment and material stuff to make their lives just a tiny bit better. This is mostly at cost of others.

The people who get paid are the only exception. The industry world always needs more people, as the people who are exiled aren't enough to keep everything running. That is why going there for some time pays very well. They are more protected from the general lawlessness, but they still live on the same bad planet with the same bad living.


Biochemical incompatibility.

Not total, of course, but it is a tap dance to get all the nutrients to you need while avoiding the stuff that will poison you. Especially since all the techniques to detoxify it are new.


The planet is a paradise.

The temperature is perfect, balmy and warm, rain is regular, the biology is compatible, the mineral sources are ample and rare, and generally it's a great place to live on place. So what's the problem?

The natives love the paradise as well.

There's numerous extremely hardy and unpleasant organisms on the planet that love the taste of humans. Insects, bacteria, fungi, birds, all sorts of native variants that love the taste of humans. Go there, and without the right treatments and within a week you'll have some horrible organism growing in your lungs and eating you.

The natives love the minerals as well.

The natives have several enzymes and compounds in them that can metabolize the radioactive and toxic heavy metals and actinides. Even if you get the treatments and oils and protective clothing that you need to stay safe from the wildlife, if they bite you, you're gonna get injected. A lot of people get cancer from that, in the long term.

The natives are extremely drug resistant.

It's very hard to clear the native life. Normal treatments don't work- their rugged biology allows them to survive many toxic treatments. The only way to handle them is regular new labour to work till they drop.


It is an impossible and/or an extremely rare find.

As with all questions regarding habitable planets - the chances of another planet having 'breathable' atmosphere is so minuscule to be impossible.

For it to occur, the planet needs to have started with the same chemical composition to ours (and potentially size, distance from its star too). Then it has to have had a 'great oxidation event' same as ours, where photosynthetic life exactly like ours must have evolved from the initial spark of life billions of years earlier, to create an oxygen rich atmosphere. (Who knows how life started, many think our Moon, which is the result of a chance encounter with another planet, or even Jupiter, which cleans up random asteroids, to be key players in allowing the conditions for life to start).

Then it needs to potentially go through all the volcanism / ice ages etc and even evolution of animals to create just the right proportions of Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen without any toxic amounts of other elements (Chlorine, Sulphur etc.). Again, a rare precise sequence of events. Even the Greenhouse gas proportion must be exactly right (or it may turn out like Venus), or magnetic field must be able to deflect its stars radiation to prevent stripping away of its atmosphere (like Mars).

Even if by a miracle this planet accomplishes the above including the evolution of life, life on this planet will invariably have a completely different genetic makeup that it is more likely than not toxic to us, or ultimately eventually harmful.

If, however as you say, the discovery of the planet was after a long, long arduous search, it would be such a treasure - a momentous discovery because it is so so rare, that no-one would want to touch it for fear of changing it.

A planet like this is a treasure and it may be likely that it is the only other one in the universe. It makes good sense to preserve it as much possible, and not land on it, as a result of its extreme rarity.

  • $\begingroup$ Not necessarily so rare as all that. Given conditions similar to early Earth (or Mars), life is likely to develop. Given microsopic life, development of oxygen-producing photosynthesis is likely, which will almost certainly lead to a Great Oxygenation event. Proportions of N2 & O2 are not critical: they've varied widely over the Earth's history, and life has adapted. The toxic elements are highly reactive, so they won't be found in a free state unless there's a photosynthesis-like process replenishing them. And life stabilizes its environment: see Gaia hypothesis. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 14, 2021 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf - I'm not sure my answer is deserving of your downvote - given 4758 exoplanet discoveries as of May 2021 all of which find no breathable atmospheres nor life there is currently no evidence for your assertions that 'life is likely to develop', nor 'development of oxygen-producing photosynthesis is likely'. Also that 'toxic elements are highly reactive so they won't be found in a free state', given our current observations of all known celestial bodies with atmospheres all having toxic elements. Could you clarify or cite your sources to support these assertions so I could review? $\endgroup$
    – flox
    Jun 16, 2021 at 2:45

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