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Oisin: Farside

by Chris Wayan, 2013

dedicated to Poul Anderson for his remarkable world-building

Oisin homepage - Map - Rhiannon - Farside - Gazetteer - Terms explained - Nomenclature - More worlds? Planetocopia!

I only have one orbital shot of Oisin's far side--the outer face of this huge moon, never seen from its primary, Lyr, and where Lyr is never seen. Natives to this side of Oisin, if they have any concept of astronomy beyond "fish egg in sky", will assume they live on a planet--an ideal-sized planet in an ideal orbit. After all... it spawned them. Conditions must be ideal.
Lyr, a big sea-world, with its giant moon Oisin, like a patchwork of Mars and Europa. Click to enlarge.

The two worlds' relative sizes are pretty well shown--Oisin twice the diameter of Earth, and Oisin as big as Mercury. Note that Lyr has weather systems as big as Oisin! Photo of the far side of Oison, Lyr's huge moon; a frozen sea like Europa, broken only by small islands of rust-red Martian terrain.

Sorry I have nothing bigger or sharper; this was shot from several million km out, during an approach to Lyr from the sunny side. The two worlds aren't anywhere near as close as they look above, of course--Oisin would be torn into rings and swallowed, and Lyr's oceans would boil from the tidal-stress vulcanism such a close-up monster moon would induce. It's just that planet and moon happened to be nearly lined up here, with Oisin nearly half a million km closer to the camera, the ship and the sun.

To left is the sharpest enlargement I can make of Oisin's outer face. That big continent is the east end of Rhiannon, on Nearside. Sorry, the shot isn't dead on Farside; the left third or so is borderzone. Oisin nods a little, and here on the edge, Lyr is often visible, a blue dome on the horizon or an oval egg floating low in the west over the Grania Mountains.

But on true Farside--the righthand two-thirds of the photo--there's very little land. The small continents of Maeve in the Arctic, Don in the Antarctic, and the larger continent of Dagda (lower right) barely show around the rim. Low orbital photo of Dagda, a continent on Oisin, moon of Lyr. A barren wedge of rusty Martian terrain rising from a frozen Europan sea.

The most prominent feature crosses the center diagonally: the long Brigid Chain. From left to right: Rosmerta, Brigid proper, Sulis, Sulevia and the Brigantia Islands, slumping gradually into the ice-covered sea but continuing as seamounts around the visible limb nearly all the way to Dagda (prominent in the low-orbital photo to right). Though ice-covered, the Brigantia Reefs (and others) are quite visible from space because their tops are sunlit oases rich in life. At this low latitude the ice is barely a meter thick; life's colors show through.
Alert-looking sea-slug/penguinlike reef creature off Dagda, a continent on Oisin, moon of Lyr. Collage/cutout/watercolor sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge

The collage to the left sketches a 'snailbird', a slightly penguinlike reef creature with spinal fins serrated like traditional pictures of dragons. Sophisticated eyes and nervous system; intelligence level currently unknown.

North of the chain the Sule Skerries form a reef-complex in the middle of the Matrona Sea, as isolated as Hawai'i; they're just a smudge on the horizon in this shot. Southwest of the chain, Edain and Echraide form another, though less isolated; an arm of the Brigid chain.

But the rest of the hemisphere looks from space much like Europa--endless ice-covered sea. But up close and personal, there are differences:

On Europa, when cracks open, the sea below boils violently into space and deposits as salt-stained ice. Here on Oisin, when cracks open (or, on rare occasions, along the equator, small polyas melt) the thin air is still dense enough to allow liquid water. It's just a little too cold to stay open water long.

As I write this, no life has been found yet on Europa; getting a robot rig to drill miles through ice in a vacuum isn't easy. On Oisin, it's easy--the ice is just a meter or two thick at low latitudes, and all you need to survive on the ice are tight warm clothes and an oxygen mask. You don't even need to drill, really.

To find life, just look past your toes and be patient. You'll spot something. Yes, it's sparser out in open ocean--fewer minerals--but the underside of the ice harbors algae and those feed a vast web of iceworms and free swimmers, from pseudokrill to pseudowhales.
Reef creature off subarctic Dagda, a continent on Oisin, moon of Lyr. Pastel sketch by Wayan.

Very pseudo, in the case of the whales. Oh, they're big enough, and they filterfeed, but they're gilled, not air-breathing. Breaking the surface on Oisin isn't easy; unless you've got a massively reinforced skull, the surface breaks you.

The continent of Dagda (orbital photo, above right) has fertile reefs off its northern shores, especially in Deirdre Sound (west coast, near horizon), the island of Nantosuelta (off Cape Emer, the northern tip of Dagda), and Cape Niamh (east coast).

But further south, the sun is lower, the air colder, and the ice thicker. The combination of low-angle sun and deeper ice means much less light penetrates to the underside, whether open sea or reefs. Life grows visibly thinner. Even visible from space: bacterial and algal staining of the ice shows as dull green and gold (especially after the blue-white ice and green water and multicolored reefs beneath is reddened by a faint film of as-yet undigested dust from Dagda's bare plains; though bacteria harvest this film with its precious minerals as quickly as they're deposited).

Thinner does not mean less likely to harbor intelligence. Cold environments with sparser life may indeed be better hunting grounds for large predators; a marginal habitat can mean fewer parasites, longer lifespans and larger bodies. Consider how much bigger (and bigger-brained, and bigger-tempered, and bigger territoried) Siberian wolves, ravens and tigers are (there's a reason circuses train Bengals not Siberians). Southern black bears are relatively timid; Alaskan browns dangerously irritable; polar bears, deadly.

So although I don't know what this rock-dwelling reef creature to the right is, or if it's intelligent, I can say with confidence that based on its stark southerly neighborhood (in Beare Bay), if I were you I'd go tease someone else.

The further south you go, Dagda's shores grow grayer; below 50° south, most light is reflected and life grows quite sparse. The subcontinents of Cernunnos and Don and the isles and shores of the Annwn Sea have extensive shallows, but the light's dim and blue even right below the ice; too dark to flourish. Hence the names in this region are those of Celtic underworlds and gods of the dead.

There's ice... and then there's ice.

Map of Oisin, a Europan moon (ice-covered seas) with life; a world-building experiment.
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