I am working on a story where ships are tricked and crash land on a volcanic planet due to some sort of electromagnetic interference. The survivors of the landing essentially become gladiators on a planet fighting for survival.

I doubt it is possible but I am curious as to whether it is possible for humans to exist relatively unaided on a volcanic planet.

  • The planet does not have to have seas of lava
  • It should be too hostile for extensive life (no ecosystems)
  • At least 15% of the planet's surface should be liquid magma

Ideally the survivors would require as little PPE (personal protective equipment) as possible

I don't want them to have to be running around in full environmental suits and in need of oxygen tanks. Don't worry about food, water and shelter, I have that covered.

Is it possible that such a planet could have a breathable atmosphere and not be overly detrimental to exposed skin?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Hawaii is not too bad. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 4 '17 at 18:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Will, Hawaii has an ecosystem. $\endgroup$ – Green Jan 4 '17 at 18:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @James , any commentary on the atmosphere of this planet? Are we assuming a Nitrogen-Oxygen mix at human temperatures? Also, is this about how they will survive the initial 10 days? No water and no food preclude them surviving longer than a few weeks. $\endgroup$ – Green Jan 4 '17 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Green Honestly I don't care as long as it is relatively scientifically sound. Design the planet as necessary. And learn to follow directions, I said don't worry about food and water ;) $\endgroup$ – James Jan 4 '17 at 18:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Smart-ass answer: No, you can't have magma all over the surface, because once exposed to the atmosphere, it is called lava. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Jan 4 '17 at 21:16

No, if you want to stick to contemporary science

The first thing that does preclude survival would be the atmosphere. Without any ecosystem it does not seem feasible that the atmosphere is anywhere near breathable. Volcanos cough up an awful mix of gases that are not healthy at all: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcanic_gas#Hazards

Also, without oceans (of water) the planet would be either extremely dry, or the atmosphere would contain excessive amounts of vapor. Without any water people would die of thirst (any water they bring will be lost sooner or later to evaporation). A vapor atmosphere would be too hot and dense for breathing.

If 15% of the surface were liquid lava, the planet would surely be uncomfortably hot (each square meter of 1500°C hot lava emits megawatts of heat). This does not necessarily rule out cooler spots, but if there were an atmosphere of about earth density it would act to transport that heat everywhere.

In conclusion, a planet with that level of volcanic activity might look somewhat similar to venus - nowhere near survivable without heavy equipment.

  • $\begingroup$ You may also want to mention acid rain caused by the acidic compounds released into the atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – user41805 Jan 4 '17 at 19:07

I'm going to go with no, because:

On the one hand your planet is 'hostile to extensive life' - even the kind of specialised life that would evolve on such a planet. Without extensive PPE, there is no way that a (non-specialised) lifeform such as a human is going to be able to survive there.

Precisely why your planet is inhospitable doesn't really matter when you consider that point.

  • $\begingroup$ I am basically asking answerers (you in this case) to tell me if it possible for them to breath and exist on the planet, not survive long term or start farming or whatever. (its an admittedly fine line) $\endgroup$ – James Jan 4 '17 at 19:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Still no. The problem is that life can easily evolve to live in places that would very quickly kill a person. To have no (or very little life) on the planet, the same thing that stops life from existing is also going to stop human life, and in very short order. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Jan 4 '17 at 19:08

Probably not.

If 15% or more of the planet's surface is liquid magma, that's an absolutely incredible amount of heat being released, and an even more astounding amount of volcanic gases.

You might be able to imagine local life to transform the volcanic gases into harmless forms, but this is a level of volcanism that is totally unprecedented on Earth or even Io. The combination of enormous amounts of greenhouse gases and enormous heat from the interior would probably cook the planet... maybe even with no solar input at all.

(Earth's internal heat is less than 1/3000 the Sun's input, but surface lava exists on Earth only in a few tiny spots like Kilauea.)

However, that doesn't rule out some kind of 'volcano world'.

You could still have a habitable planet whose landscape is largely shaped by volcanism. Since super-high rates of volcanism will likely make the planet uninhabitable, you just need to reduce other influences on the landscape.

A relatively dry* planet would have less water erosion. A planet with very stable weather (maybe low axial tilt, low orbital eccentricity, and a small temperature gradient with latitude) might have less wind and thus less wind erosion. If complex life is nonexistent or rare, you won't have roots and such breaking down rocks. This would give you a world of volcanic rock, though not of liquid magma.

*You'd still need enough water to support enough photosynthesizing life to keep the atmosphere breathable... unless the planet is this way due to a geologically recent catastrophe of some kind, and hasn't had time to lose its free oxygen.


Not for very long

If the thermal effects of a largely volcanic planet don't get you immediately, the combustion products from all the vulcanism probably will and quickly. Hydrogen sulfide is nasty nasty stuff (so says OSHA). If the combustion doesn't get you, you'll probably want to commit suicide from the overpowering smell of sulfur.

The most common gases found in volcanic emissions is water and carbon dioxide. If the whole planet is volcanic then there may be runaway greenhouse effects from the excessive CO2. Also, water vapor atmospheres are immediately suffocating.

This is not a nice place and you're probably going to die very quickly.


I would say yes but not indefinitely without any help from outside.

If our civilization is advanced enough to make spaceships that can safely travel accross space, I think living on a volcanic planet would be a piece of cake.

They would probably just stay there until they get saved by some interplanetery rescue ship. If they wanted to settle there, they would probably need some regular shipment of supplies.

Howver they would probably not want to set up a permanent colonoy on such a inhospitable planet.

By the time we master space travel, we will have mastered robotics as well. If there are any interesting ressources or if there some scientific research to be done, that can be done by robots.

So in your story the crash survivors would probably just be fine on their planet until someone comes to rescue them. If no one ever comes to rescue them , eventually after a certain time, their habitat, infrastructure, gear and gadgets that help keep them alive will eventually break and then it s game over for them.


How about a planet too volcanic for life to evolve, but benign enough for some life to survive there?

Species that survive either become good at survival or get replaced by those more fit by that selector. But the genesis of life is a tricky, somewhat-thermodynamics-contrary event, which I suspect is rare and/or needs 'luck' (to use the technical term ;-) So I suspect that it's possible to have a planet with enough volcanic activity to prevent life from evolving there, yet still be able to harbor some life (e.g. crashlanded characters and hopefully seed stock and/or DNA) and/or other from-space arrivals.

I could easily imagine a planet with life in somewhat restricted zones (e.g. shallow seas, coastlines, valleys of one continent?) Perhaps limited life, even single-celled organisms -- but that means large amounts of organic chemicals for those crashlanded to work with, even if they cannot eat the alien life.


That's 15% liquid lava, magma is, by definition, underground not on the surface. Nitpick over.

Planetary survivability depends on the magmatic chemistry if 15% of the surface was liquid flowing silicate lava then no dice, the atmosphere would be too hot the breath and horribly toxic to boot. If on the other hand we look at carbonatite volcanism (where carbonates largely replace silicate chemistry in magmatic formation) we see a much lower temperature regime in play with lava flows of only 500 odd degrees and much lower total embodied thermal energy in the rocks. Carbonatite lava is also extremely wet which means that there'd be high rainfall and low in Sulfur meaning it gives off very little toxic gas, it also doesn't transport a range of toxic elements like Arsenic so any surface water would be relatively safe to drink. My only concern would be the relative concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere Carbonatite flows give off Carbon Dioxide and water vapour the way silicate lava does Sulfur Dioxide and then they give off more Carbon Dioxide when it rains as well, some kind of atmospheric gas concentration kit that lowered the relative levels of Carbon Dioxide would be handy though possibly not essential away from the main flows. Carbonatites are a good microbial food source when they start to break down, which they do when wet so the planet could support a breathable atmosphere due to abundant microflora without any obvious signs of life.


Sure... but it depends on how long you want to live fore. There's no civilization here. Even if you have replicators for food and water, nothing works forever. One thing that's neglected is that you crashed here in a ship, which will have supplies such as water (what, you're on a five year mission to boldly go where no man has gone before and you didn't consider no man has gone there because there's no water). Your premise assumes that your ship crashed far enough away that the debris field wasn't melted by the lava (because you're people will melt too... not much of a story there) and relatively in tact or at the least, with a minimal debris field (terminal velocity is a bitch on any planet, you'd have to have some safe impact otherwise you might as well land in a lava pool.). Depending on the skills of your surviving crew, you can work up some survival strategy that could prolong your lifespan on the planet.

Even if you have to have an escape pod launch and that's how you get onto this world, what kind of escape pod will not contain enough water and emergency rations to last days presumably adrift in space (though all the Star Trek Escape pod scenes I recall curiously were small box like structures that didn't have any bathroom facilities.) either way you get there, the ship can still provide some shelter, food, rations, and other amenities to at least last for a bit longer.

I'd next look into crew skill sets... a doctor or even a meditech could provide basic CPR and possible medical relief to atmosphereic poisons and what have you. An engineer could jury-rig up a comms unit (normal situations that would be protected as it's critical to getting out distress calls... but in fiction that ruins the story... got to leave them inoperable for a good duration of the story). Scientists can futher remind the party that, hey, you need to think smart in this situation, and give your crew all the facts about volcanoes that you could possibly need to give to the audience (all scientists, even those with out geological specialties, know everything about volcanoes, that's just science fact). Then it's just a matter for guesstimating the length of survival stay and running the clock to the last possible second, at which point, you're safely rescued.

Of course, your mention of gladiators complicates this... the planet you want might be a nice place to visit (from the perspective of survival) but you probably aren't going to live there... The gladiators seem to imply that there's more than your typical surviving bridge crew and one guy in a primary colored uniform who will die to prove it's serious danger. You're talking about civilization. That's harder... you're not going to suddenly evolve to this... you might try cultivating food... but the rub is if you're near enough to see active volcanoes, chances are your soil is volcanic in nature... and the last thing you hear about life in Hawaii how devoid it is of the stuff. Volcanic soil is very fertile so if life can't make it here... it's not going to... so you likely don't have enough food and water to feed a new civilization, grow crops, and provide irrigation to those crops that can be then reclimated into potable water... The problem with space travel is getting things up there... most space ships will probably be economical with space and supplies... only what is necessary AND a bit more in case of emergency.

The other case where gladiators could arise is if this peaceful ship on a diplomatic mission to all de wrong places (give me the pun, damn it) has no weapons and something is killing them... if you want it to be a fellow survivor, see above about getting off soon and needing to survive that long and have him be a factor in bringing the countdown to death down quicker. Else, it's alien to your heroes... either another poor unlucky crash survivor who is probably not to well off, the enemy that shot you down, in which case, he has space guns... why are you challenging him to personal combat OR native life... which was ruled out but...

As they say in the movies, Life Finds A Way. Yellowstone national park has all sorts of microbial life in various pools that are either acidic enough to melt humans or boiling hot to the point life as we know it would be dead in short contact OR both at the same time. Ecosystems exist in plenty of forms where the autotrophic level is not solar based on this very Earth... and one of the most diverse ecosystems at this level primarily thrives around underwater volcanic vents where the autotrophs there use volcanic energy to fuel the ecosystem. No sun needed. Now, these are all underwater and lacking water would be difficult for life anyway... one of the deadest parts of our planet are regions in the Andes Rain Shadow that have not received any rainfall in all of recorded human history... in some spots, there has never been appreciable water since the dinosaurs were around... and equally there has been no life...

But if you have pockets of water, Vocanic areas would have small ecosystems... not many diverse life forms, just enough to do things, which could again be a threat... and if you're looking to survive, maybe a controlled crash near a body of water could bring you in contact with this alien life... which would be pretty threatening... after all, this animal would have been purpose built to hunt and eat in this climate... and you're dying because of it.

Again... this is more biological... there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn't make it this far that have already been answered. Assuming the situation you described can exist, it would be quite harsh to civilizations of gladiators rising up.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.