Desert planet

A desert planet is a single-biome planet on which the climate is mostly desert, with little or no natural precipitation. Desert planets are known to exist; Mars is often considered a prime example. Indeed, many terrestrial planets would be considered desert planets by this definition. However, the term is often used to refer to desert planets that remain hospitable for life.

A relatively common motif in science fiction, the concept includes both real and fictional planets, and is sometimes accompanied by elements of hydraulic despotism. Perhaps the most famous fictional examples are Arrakis, the setting for much of the Dune series of novels by Frank Herbert, and Tatooine of the Star Wars universe.



A recent study has suggested that not only are life-sustaining desert planets possible, but that they might be more common than Earth-like planets. [1] The reason for this prediction is that, when modeled, desert planets had a much larger habitable zone than watery planets.

The same study also speculates that Venus may have once been a habitable desert planet a long time ago. It is also believed by many that the same may have been true for Mars, and that life on Mars may exist even in the modern era. (This has yet to be determined)

Despite how they are commonly portrayed, a habitable desert planet would probably not have a completely uniform climate. It would likely have some amount of surface water near its poles, and would be substantially more hospitable at certain latitudes; temperate regions might be possible.

In fiction

Mars as a desert planet

Before, and certainly after, the results sent back by the Viking landers, some science fiction set on Mars portrayed it as a desert planet. Science fiction stories that do so include:

  • The anime series Cowboy Bebop repeatedly portrayed Mars as a prominent colonized world in the 21st century. It serves as a central hub for the solar system after Earth was left uninhabitable following the warp gateway disaster.
  • Leigh Brackett's Martian stories, in which Mars is largely desert with sporadic oases of civilization.
  • Larry Niven's "Known Space" novels and short stories (including Eye of an Octopus and Protector), where water is completely alien to the biochemistry of the planet's inhabitants.
  • Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" collection of short stories depict Mars as a mostly hospitable desert home to first an indigenous Martian civilization, who are displaced by an encroaching homo sapiens population. The stories use a "Cowboys vs Indians" theme which benefits from the red desert backdrop of Mars.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, where Mars is gradually terraformed from a frozen desert planet to a more hospitable Earthlike environment.
  • Martian Time-Slip, by Philip K. Dick, in which Mars has been colonized by Earth's UN; scarce water is closely apportioned, and the president of the Water Workers Union is one of the more powerful figures.
  • The 2000 film Mission to Mars is about a difficult rescue attempt following a disaster during the first manned NASA voyage to this red wasteland that is Mars; humanoid Martians are discovered to have once been native inhabitants, and the Cydonia Mensae 'face formation' is used as a major plot device.
  • The 2000 film Red Planet is about a terraforming expedition from Earth to Mars gone awry due to voracious indigenous Martian insects; Earth's Australian and Jordanian deserts were used as filming locations.
  • In the Star Trek universe, Mars is the first planet to be terraformed by the people of Earth and by the 24th century its orbital Utopia Planitia Shipyards are a key Starfleet facility.
  • The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, also by Philip K. Dick, set primarily on Mars. Drafted colonists, such as those in the ironically-named Fineburg Crescent region, relieve the bleakness of Martian life by huddling in "hovels" and taking psychedelic drugs.
  • Total Recall, in which Mars is inhabited by mutants and labourers, and air is supplied at a tax.

Titan as a desert world

  • Cowboy Bebop episode "Jupiter Jazz" features Saturn's moon Titan as a terraformed desert-world similar to Saharan conditions.
  • The DC Comics universe portrays Saturn's moon Titan as home to a race of telepaths; the most prominent example of a superhero from Titan is Saturn Girl, a founding member of the 30th Century Legion of Super Heroes.
  • Flight on Titan (1935), short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum: an Earth couple struggles through the cold, windswept Titanian desert.
  • In the Star Trek universe, Humans have established a series of domed settlements on Titan by the mid-21st century, one of which became a safe haven as Earth was ravaged by WWIII; Zefram Cochrane spent time on Titan, and later Enterprise [NX-01] Comm. Charles Tucker III nearly died in a training mission on the harsh lunar surface; the moon was a favored way-point for Starfleet spacepilots attempting the dangerous Titan's Turn stunt maneuver; by the 24th century this desert-world had been terraformed.
  • Titan (1997), novel by Stephen Baxter: NASA's mission to Titan turns bad following a disastrous landing, and the astronauts must struggle to survive; Baxter writes vivid depictions of what a hypothetical journey through the Saturnian system might be like.
  • In the Transformers universe, Saturn's moon Titan is a desert-world inhabited by a neolithic pagan humanoid species; the Quintessons briefly establish a ground base which they ultimately abandon; later the super-Destron Metrotitan is constructed on Titan, taking its name after the moon.
  • Part of The Invisible Enemy, an episode of Doctor Who takes place on Titan.

Fictional desert planets

Other desert planets have been used as story motifs in fictional works:

Planet Source Year Medium Details Reference
Abydos Stargate (and later in the TV series Stargate SG-1 1994 Film
Altair IV Forbidden Planet 1956 Film [2]
Anarres The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin 1974 Novel Not strictly a desert planet; has oceans and is predominantly steppe
Arrakis (aka Dune) Dune by Frank Herbert, and subsequent works in the Dune universe 1965 Novel Homeworld of the Fremen and source of the valuable spice melange [3]
Athas Dark Sun setting for Dungeons & Dragons 1991 Role-playing game
Bara Magna Bionicle 2009 Toy line Large utopian planet struck by a cataclysm 100,000 years previous
Beachworld "Beachworld" by Stephen King 1985 Short story
Byss Star Wars: Dark Empire 1991–1992 Comic book
Canopus III Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Eye of the Beholder" 1974 Animated TV series
Cardassia IV Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Homecoming" 1993 TV series
Ceti Alpha V Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed" 1967 TV series Devastated by destruction of nearby Ceti Alpha VI
Dorvan V Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Journey's End" 1994 TV series
Dozaria Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Indiscretion" 1995 TV series
Fire Lexx season 3 1999 TV series An afterlife planet for the souls of deceased people, who made unvirtuos choices when they were alive. The inhabitants build their cities high above the ground to avoid the deadly heat eminating from the planet's core.
Fyrine IV Enemy Mine 1985 Film
Gamma X Les Maîtres du temps 1982 Animated film
Geonosis Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones 2002 Film
Gunsmoke Trigun Manga series
Imecka Dragonball GT 1996 Anime
Kerona Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter 1986 Computer game
Kharak Homeworld 1999 Real-time strategy video game Planet bombed by the Taiidan Empire
Khoros Ben 10 2005–2008 Animated TV series Homeworld of the alien Fourarms
Klendathu Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, and subsequent works 1959 Novel Homeworld of the Arachnids
Kolarus III Star Trek Nemesis 2002 Film
Korhal StarCraft and subsequent games in the StarCraft franchise 1998 Real-time strategy video game Once-lush throne world of the Terran Dominion
Korriban Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2003 Computer game
M6-117 Pitch Black 2000 Film Gas giant's moon
Marak's World Hammerfall (and later 2004's Forge of Heaven) by C. J. Cherryh 2001 Novel
Ocampa Star Trek: Voyager 1994–1997 TV series Devastated homeworld of Kes and the Ocampa
Osiris IV Futurama episode "A Pharaoh to Remember" 2002 Animated TV series
Perdide Les Maîtres du temps 1982 Animated film
Plyuk Kin-dza-dza! 1986 Film
Resurgam Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds 2000 Novel
Salt Salt by Adam Roberts 2000 Novel
Socorro Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game adventure The Black Sands of Socorro 1997 Role-playing game
Starbuck Galactica 1980 episode "The Return of Starbuck" 1980 TV series
Tallarn and other planets Warhammer 40,000 universe Miniature wargame
Tatooine Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope 1977 Film
Titania Star Fox 64 for Nintendo 64 1997 Video game
Tophet Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles 1999 Animated TV series
Torga IV Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Ship" 1996 TV series
Toroth Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Desert Crossing" 2002 TV series
Trisol Futurama episode "My Three Suns" 1999 Animated TV series
Tyree Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes "Image in the Sand" and "Shadows and Symbols" 1998 TV series
Unnamed planet Snare by Katherine Kerr 2003 Novel
Unnamed planet Star Trek episode "Arena" 1967 TV series
Vega Spaceballs 1987 Film Home planet to Schwartz-master Yogurt
Vulcan Star Trek: The Original Series, and subsequent works in the Star Trek universe 1966 TV series

See also


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