Due to an unforeseen malfunction your intergalactic spaceship suddenly drops out of hyperspace and comes to a near full stop. The ship is damaged, and will need to be evacuated soon...very soon.

You have some control of sublight travel and manage to find a habitable planet in the system you have arrived in. Lucky you! Off you, and your main ship's computer, go and do all the necessary 'can this planet support life?' tests.

This planet is going to be home for the foreseeable future and you need your evacuation pods to have as much detail about the planet as possible (the pods computer systems are not as powerful as the main ship's system). Eg topography, water sources, temp ranges, and broad annual weather patterns (obviously dangerous plant and animal life will be a nasty surprise once you have landed).

The story-universe is based on normal laws of science. So even though this is an alien planet, hot air still rises, cold air still sinks.

Question. Can you deduce the entire years general weather pattern from about half a day's scans?

If not, What can you deduce from about half a day's scans? (maybe up to a full day cycle)

For example, your scans show a large mountain range, so you can deduce watershed, orographic rainfall, rainshadows, anabatic, katabatic winds, mountain and sea breezes etc.

Example, your scans show a wide shallow coastline along the equator. You can deduce warm shallow seas. Lots of sediment. Weaker ocean currents warming the air above it. Warmer currents spawn storms along the equator (hurricanes and tornadoes)

Etc etc.

Edit I have considered launching a series of small satellites before the ship is evacuated. This would allow more detailed information to be collected and be sent down to the planet in the future. But just incase one or two escape pods land on their communication antenna, or there is some reason why a pod couldn't receive the signal, what basics can I give my survivors.

FURTHER EDIT - info to consider in your answers This being a completely unknown planet, with no known records on file. You have no climate time series; no ice cores, no tree ring data, you have no storm cycle records (eg storm every 100 or 1 000 years), no historical sea level records, no records of what is the hottest/coldest day of each year etc.

You do have far-future tech, so presumably you could get; atmospheric chemical makeup, current weather systems for the planet on the day, topographic map, maybe even a partial geological map (earthquakes and volcano map), current temperatures, broad climate regions (equatorial, tropical, subtropical tundra etc), sea temperatures and currents, bathymetric maps (underwater topographic map),atmospheric circulation (eg Hadley/ferrel/polar cells), wind speeds and currents (eg trade winds, doldrums), storm paths (eg roaring forties). Distance to the moon and the gravitational force on the planet and tides, distance to the sun and calculation of orbit, length of a full day, how long the seasons last for, how long a year is, orbital mechanics influencing 'mini ice ages', to name a few.

With a snapshot of about a day, with the help of a computer running simulations and calculations on how everything influences everything else, could you get a broad outline of the climate and weather for the year?

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    $\begingroup$ The fact that you already found planet that is in goldilock zone, has suitable gravity for humans and atmosphere at right pressure is already winning a lottery. And if it has life and oxygen atmosphere is crazy lucky. Details like topography and water sources are just nice bonus. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Jul 12, 2016 at 11:19
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    $\begingroup$ They VERY lucky. Lucky the ship didn't just 'blow up' killing them all....They must have a couple leprechaun's stashed away somewhere. But for arguments sake, what could they get? $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2016 at 11:28
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    $\begingroup$ I'm imagining a guy with a shovel churning leprechauns into a burner like it's a space steam locomotive, which is very distracting to be honest. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2016 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ So that's how the FTL engine works! They ran out of leprechauns but had just enough luck in the engines to drop them off near a goldilocks planet! $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2016 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ We don't know how common goldilock planets are in our own galaxy, and this stack is aimed torwards fiction, people! $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2016 at 16:37

1 Answer 1


You seem to be assuming that this planet is generically similar to other planets that this ship and crew has comprehensive information on. Given that, a snapshot of the atmosphere and weather, which is what you're getting, plus observations of the moon(s), the planet's orbit, etc. will tell you a fair bit about the climate, but not so much about the weather.

You can make a fair guess about the range of weather over the seasons for any given area of the planet, but you'll know that there will be surprises over the next few years, and details that you won't be able to predict about the climate.

Having wonderful tech doesn't let you avoid being wrong some of the time. For example, a simple indicator of where there's plenty of rainfall is the amount of plant life. But if, for example, rainfall at point A is strongly seasonal, and you're currently in the season when it happens, it's hard to tell that all that grass-equivalent plant life will be gone in a few months, because there's a desert there the rest of the time.

For another example, prevailing winds are very important, because they let you know which ways the weather moves. We understand the prevailing wind patterns on Earth, and they're been pretty consistent for several centuries. But there are historical records that indicate, a bit vaguely, that the prevailing winds used to be different in some places. We have no idea how that could have been the case, but that probably means we don't understand the problem as well as we think.

With only a day's observations of this planet, your colonists can't understand its weather from scratch. They can only try to fit what's happening now into a general model of how weather happens on planets like this, but no two planets are identical.

More uncertainty comes from the chaotic nature of weather, and the complexity of influences on it. You just don't have time to figure out all the details unless you have vastly superhuman minds or AIs.

It sounds as if once you've landed, you won't have much capability to move long distances. So you're going to want to try to pick somewhere that has reliably good weather for your needs. Do you expect someone to come and rescue you within a few weeks, or is it already time to set up farming and write a constitution? Rather than looking for the spot with perfect weather, the wise course may be to try pick somewhere that doesn't have extremely bad weather, and accept that it won't be perfect.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah. I'm (and they are) aware you won't be able to predict everything. Just wandering if you can use your tech, find out what the atmosphere is made up, use logic on how you know such an airmasses moves within the known physical constraints etc. it would be nice to say, ''don't land there! In winter it drops to below zero. And you won't be prepared!''. Or ''summer is on average over 40degrees Celsius, rather land on other side of mountain''. Rescue will take a few years. They going to have to work at surviving to last till rescue. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2016 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ I'll edit a bit more in about the uncertainties and their causes. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2016 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ "Having wonderful tech doesn't let you avoid being wrong some of the time." Wonderful answer, +1 $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2016 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps I think it could be very easy to identify "no-go" spots. Quite often there are obvious features which demonstrate that a location is unpractical. However, identifying a good "go" site may be far more difficult without more time. As an example, Pompei looked like a great place to build a city, until Vesuveus exploded. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jul 12, 2016 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Cort Ammon, There! Precisely! The Romans should have waited until they could do a detailed geological survey from remote sensing and sonar images before they decided to build their city next to a mountain named after one of their gods. Really! What were they thinking! $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2016 at 17:46

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