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I'm working on a space-fantasy setting and one of the cosmological quirks is that the cosmos, instead of being a vacuum, is actually filled with a gaseous substance. As a result, the entire cosmos is essentially an infinitely large nebula. The ether, which is silvery in hue, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, helps justify certain space opera tropes, such as relatively close range combat at relatively slow speeds; perhaps even fighter craft. The ether is quite abrasive; anything moving through it is subject to a considerable amount of friction. It also diffuses coherent beams far more than a planetary atmosphere. The ether becomes darker and more condensed the cooler it becomes. Imagine that people could look out from their ships into the dark and eerie "deep ether".

How dose the existence of an all pervading ether effect the lives of the people living in this cosmos? What dose the sky look like?

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    $\begingroup$ You try both ignore physics and get physical consequences of impossible situation. Magic can work whichever way you want it to work. @bowlturner is right $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Feb 3 '15 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ Space would be blackness without starlight, a night time sky would be black...no? Comets or asteroids won't really exist (basically flying through a high friction atmosphere) and will tear up until they slow down and impact something. Space travel through a high friction medium would be near impossible...anything faster than a few times the speed of sound will tear itself up in the ether. I'd suspect you'd silo the universe like this...space travel would be near impossible and everyone would be stuck on their world. With high friction ether, I doubt current humanity could get to the moon $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 3 '15 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ To add...our current satellite network wouldn't be feasible either. They depend on no friction to continue the orbit, otherwise they'd need a constant source of propulsion to keep them going. This ether basically changes every component on space that we know...and I think you basically eliminate space travel as even a possibility. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 3 '15 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Twelfth Space travel as we know it would be impossible. But what's to stop modified airplanes from flying out of the atmosphere and through the ether? $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 3 '15 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @ksmarts distance and propulsion. Jet engines require Oxygen for combustion...unless maybe the ether combusted (I guess that'd be dangerous to be in?). Space is huge...I'm unaware of a jet plane that carried enough fuel to fly around the world...the moon is 9.5 times that distance away. The fastest manned atmospheric flight hit around 3520 KM/H (which burned an incredible amount of fuel to maintain) would take over 100 hours to get to the moon. Over 17 days for a commercial 747 to hit the moon. As a comparrison, the ISS flies around at 27500km/h Friction makes space travel near impossible $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 3 '15 at 20:36
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I'm going to ignore all the huge issues with physics with that much matter flowing around. (including the friction on the planets slowing them down to fall into the sun, it would also tend to displace large amounts of the planets atmosphere, that's still ignoring most known physics anyway.)

So what to see? I'll start with the convection currents around the sun. There would be large amount of matter pushing away as it is heated up and somehow it would have to be flowing in to replace it. So there would be some kind of pattern in the sun probably visible by the naked eye. Warmer ether flowing away, cooler ether sinking in to replace. You would likely be able to see the convection taking place, it would also diffuse the light a lot more making the sun appear huge in the sky.

light would be dimmer, but more warmth would likely arrive by direct matter transference, like the heat vents in a home.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ether begin displaced by heavier elements might allow normal planetary formation;at least that's the best justification that I've got. Space weather and warmer but slightly dimmer planets. What about Ether born life, analogs to flora and fauna swimming or drifting around. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 3 '15 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Trismegistus With the Handwavium needed to get all that mass out there, but not absorbed into a celestial body, there is no reason not to have some interesting animals out there. Might be more likely to resemble dragons, but much more ethereal (pun intended). I might look to a lot of the deep see fish for interesting examples. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 3 '15 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ There 's an explanation for how the ether got there. In this cosmos there are no stars. What there are is empyrean, points in space from which energy and matter erupt;the Elder Scrolls series has a similar concept. From a tumultuous other plane, empyrean erupt into "this" one. all that exotic energy and matter normalizes as it comes to contact with this plane;with the ether begin a product of this process. empyrean are contently erupting all across the cosmos; most are short lived. Some are permanent. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 3 '15 at 23:50
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Relatively close range combat at relatively slow speeds are already taken care of by the vastness of space and inertia. It will already take a very long time to get anywhere with a speed limit of C, there is no need to decrease it further.

Additionally, if you add friction to space then you can no longer have orbiting planets. Try swinging a ball around on a string in the air and see if it goes on long enough to evolve life. Evolving life is especially problematic if you've blocked, redirected, diffused and otherwise reduced the energy of all the light getting to a planet.

It seems unlikely that a race would ever try to get to space at all. By all accounts if a race can't see the stars, then they won't try to reach them. What would they do if they got there? The interplanetary void would essentially be an endless bank of space fog, a race could travel for generations and would never see another planet (not that they have any reason to think others exist).

So, if life could develop anywhere at all, and if they ever had a desire to travel into a seemingly endless void of space fog, they would never meet another race to do combat with.

I have an alternative. Contain your 'ether'/space-fog to a solar system. The planetary paths should be kept clear in order to allow orbit without space-friction. The silvery hue belies the properties of the space-fog that allow it to keep from falling into the star. It's harvested for solar sails and hull plating. It is, in fact, so valuable that space-faring civilizations come from all of the local systems to harvest it for use in their recreational solar-sailboats and sun diving combat fighters.

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  • $\begingroup$ I see the "space fog" as you put it as being thin enough around the inner system that it doesn't obstruct vision. Heavier elements displaced enough of the ether to let planets form somewhat normally. I like the visual range combat common in space opera. I used the "space fog" as in an universe justification for ships not sniping at at each other from light seconds away. It also makes nukes in space far more deadly. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 3 '15 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Trismegistus If you can't spot a ship that's light seconds away, how can you navigate at all? I like the idea, I just think it introduces more problems than it creates. Figuring out that there are other solar systems would be particularly difficult in such a universe. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 3 '15 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ Ha, I mean introduces more problems than it solves. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 3 '15 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ Would the space fog be similar to a cloud of gas and dust enveloping the system? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Feb 4 '15 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 In a local sense. With the planetary path cleared a civilization can at least see what empty space looks like, then they'll know it from the space fog. It would be a nebula with the properties described for the "ether". $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 4 '15 at 1:32
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Took a bunch of comments to flush out this answer. You are in 'handwavy' physics here and if your audience wanted to, they'd probably pick these thing apart. If the audience is in for the fun of it...Star wars exists doesn't it? Will try to keep in that frame of mind for the answer.

Here is my solution:

Have the viscosity of ether related to gravity. A higher gravitational effect (lets say mercury sized or larger) produces enough of a gravitational effect to negate the viscosity of the ether (yes, the solution is hand wavy, but so are the properties of dark matter, why can't gravity effect how 'solid' the ether is). The end result here is planets and planetoids can keep an orbit, and you will still have your ether. Better yet, you'll have area's of extreme viscus ether between planets and in microgravity space. A little hand wavy, but it works...a gravity field applied to ether lowers viscosity to near 0. It's also possible to have the viscosity of ether related to the speed of whats travelling through it.

Detecting changes in the viscosity of ether over distances would functionally work as a gravity scanner...pick out large gravity objects by detecting a change in the ether...maybe?

This would also mean the gravity of earth would keep the viscosity of ether down so the moon is a viewable object and people can reach for the moon (maybe not the stars)? Satellites also remain feasible...and it would also mean that a plane couldn't just fly to the moon as the gravity of the moon and earth eliminate the thicker ether there.

And to continue along these lines..the suns gravity could then be explained on how to keep the sunlight reaching earth. You might have to bring earth significantly closer to the sun, but if the ether was thin around the sun you would simply have the planetary golidlocks zone close to the sun.

Remember that from earth only the sun, moon, and maybe venus at the right time of year is all that will be perceivable. Everything else will be blackness. Star light, star bright, I'll never see a star at night?

Comets and asteroids will be an odd phenom...they would slow down as they traveled (especially through deep space) and eventually slow to the point that they'd drift into other planets gravitational fields and eventual collision (maybe a moon?). Asteroid fields might not be feasible...same issue where they come to a halt in the ether and slowly collapse (our asteroid belt would go into the sun). Would there be a big change in Earths development if it was never struck by meteors? Your call

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  • $\begingroup$ Figuring out the mechanics of the world is really for my own peace of mind, i like knowing how the world works. Why gravity as the displacement mechanism for ether? I went with heat so that edges of a solar system would be reminiscent of the deeper parts of the ocean; to the point of having ether turn into a liquid when it gets cold enough. Celestial weather, perhaps even great storms that blot out the sun and scrape across a planets atmosphere. World's being warmer yet a little darker. From comments these are the major impacts, so what's been missed. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 4 '15 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Trismegistus Heat is a hard one...the vacuum of space is cold, if the ether was to change based on heat, it itself would have to heat up. This means it can hold heat and would warm from the sun outwards. Over time, this warmth would permeate through the solar system as there is really no place for it to go...and that's a pandora's box of issues. I think you are best leaving the ether unable to interact with heat, or you risk really warm outer space. Perhaps you can get away with number of photons striking it for viscosity, but it needs a method of reducing it's heat $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 4 '15 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ Warm space is fine. Ether's heat conductivity will have be at just the right level so that planets, at least the ones that people are going to be living on don't boil. The warm ether will flow out of the system towards the edges where it will meet the cold;resulting in great storms. I am perfectly fine with space being an ocean, in fact that's the feeling that i'm trying to invoke;their is no space instead there is an outer sky. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 5 '15 at 16:09

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