Building the ultimate Solar System

A while back I performed an experiment called build a better Solar System.  The game was to make better use of the Solar System’s habitable real estate.  In the game I was required to keep all of the Solar System’s planets (and large moons) and their orbital configurations.  Just by switching the orbits of different planets and moons I built a Solar System with seven potentially habitable worlds!  Here is what it looked like:

A re-imagined Solar System with seven potentially life-bearing planets!  The liquid water habitable zone is shaded in green.
A re-imagined Solar System with seven potentially life-bearing planets! The liquid water habitable zone is shaded in green.  For an explanation of how I came up with this, see this post.

This better system is a little different than the Solar System we have now.  Venus became one of Jupiter’s moons, Jupiter took Mars’ orbit, Mars took Venus’ orbit, and Earth’s moon was switched out for Titan (currently Saturn’s largest moon).  Good stuff.

Let’s take this game to the next level.  I want to build the ultimate Solar System.  I want to build a planetary system with the most possible habitable worlds. 

I hope you are not asking yourself why.  It’s all about imagination.  But, imagination constrained by science (and, to a lesser extent, by reality).  Imagine all the stories you could tell about a system with lots of habitable worlds!  Alliances, wars, vacations on other planets, even orbital trickery!

Let’s do this systematically.  I’ll discuss one piece of the puzzle at a time, then we’ll put them together.  Here is the layout.  The first five posts are the original Ultimate Solar System, and the next three are newer add-ons.

1. What kind of star do we want?

2. What kind of planets do we want?

3. What types of orbits should planets have?

4. Ninja moves: moons and co-orbitals 

5. Putting it all together: some ultimate planetary systems.

6. Building an Ultimate Solar System with 16 stars

7. The biggest tragedy in the history of the Universe

8. The Ultimate Trojan 2-star planetary system

9. The Ultimate Retrograde Solar System

10. The Ultimate Engineered Solar System

Hope you enjoy it.  Comments and questions are welcome!


26 thoughts on “Building the ultimate Solar System

  1. Dr. Raymond,

    I’m sure you’ve thought of it (you seem to have thought of everything else) but what about Klemperer rosettes? Talk about your ninja grand master moves.

    Three gas giants each have 5 earth-size moons and each gas giant has in its L4 and L5 positions co-orbital earth-size planets all in the same orbit. Times four in the habitable zone. 84 worlds. A binary system; 168.

    As for stability, perhaps the resonances would work out just well enough where as some worlds’ orbit begins to decay another planetary body in another orbit tugs just enough to pull or push the world back into place. Is this where the n-body problem peeks its ugly head out?

    But if I was REALLY crazy I would take a very large star and put six smaller stars (with your ultimate solar system) in each other’s L4 and L5 points, in the same orbit, in the habitable zone, around the very large star. A seven-star system. Would it be too hot with the energy from both a supergiant star and a main sequence star?

    Please let me know.

    And thank you, it is nice to know I am not the only one thinking about this stuff.

    Very Respectfully,

    Evan Stark

    1. Evan — great question. Your idea is awesome! I had heard of Klemperer rosettes but never studied them. In my own work I have never ended up with more than 3 planets sharing the same orbit, and even that was quite a surprise (and if I remember right, it was not stable in the long term).

      Unfortunately, wikipedia tells me that the Klemperer rosette is an unstable equilibrium, meaning that any small perturbation from the exact alignment will make the system go unstable: . Since all systems are invariably perturbed a little (for example, by the planets/moons orbiting the primary bodies in the rosette), this is bad for business. I do think this is a cool idea that warrants more study though. Maybe there is a subset of rosettes that remain stable.

      Anyhow, thanks for the very interesting comment

  2. Do you have publicly available .ubox sim files for these choreographed systems of yours? Forgive me if they’re right in front of my face- it’s the easiest way to hide something from me 😉

  3. I believe the Ultimate Solar System design actually has three goals:
    1) Fit as many habitable worlds as possible;
    2) Maintain stability in the system as long as possible – several billion years as a minimum; and
    3) Maximize habitable space on each world (except, as you mention, the possibility of sprinkling in a few ‘vacation’ or adventure planets).
    You reiterate the first goal, but the second is just touched on in the discussion of orbits. This goal may need a little more attention. We need a system that’s not only internally stable – which your simulations test, but also externally stable: maximum stability even when exposed to the influence of asteroid impacts, rogue planet interlopers and nearby companion galaxy influences. For example, we may need a few gas giants outside the habitable zone to reduce the number of asteroid events inside the habitable zone. Also, perhaps the binary planet mini-orbits would be too risky in the scenario where one of the two planets suffers a catastrophic asteroid impact?
    Maximizing the habitable space on each world pretty much eliminates the possibility of tidally locked planets. I feel like you may have not given enough weight to this concern in your star selection. Smaller than our sun is better, as you explain, but habitability for life as we know it is likely optimized on K type stars, not M type, and probably the larger K type stars at that (K0-K1).

    1. You make some good points. I have indeed tried to emphasize points 1 and 2, although I have not tried to make these systems robust to external perturbations — although I imagine that a few gas giants (or 2-3 Trojan gas giants, or even a ring of ice giants) could help quite a bit. As for point 3 — yes, this would definitely not favor Eyeball planets like the ones I discuss. I agree — early M or K stars are probably a good balance in that regard.

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