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Asteroids in fiction

Asteroids and asteroid belts are a staple of science fiction stories.

Asteroids play several potential roles in science fiction: as places which human beings might colonize; as resources for extracting minerals; as a hazard encountered by spaceships traveling between two other points; and as a threat to life on Earth due to potential impacts.

Overview

When the theme of interplanetary colonization first entered SF, the Asteroid Belt was quite low on the list of desirable real estate, far behind such planets as Mars and Venus (often conceived as a kind of paradise planet, until probes in the 1960s revealed the appalling temperatures and conditions under its clouds). Thus, in many stories and books the Asteroid Belt, if not a positive hazard, is still a rarely-visited backwater in a colonized Solar System.

The prospects of colonizing the Solar System planets dimmed as they became known to be not very hospitable to life. However, the asteroids came to be imagined as a vast accumulation of mineral wealth, accessible in conditions of minimal gravity, and supplementing Earth's presumably dwindling resources -- though the value of such minerals would have to be very high indeed to make such enterprises economically viable. Stories of asteroid mining multiplied after the late 1940s, accompanied by descriptions of a society living in caves or domes on asteroids, or (unscientifically) providing the asteroid with an atmosphere held in place by an "artificial gravity".

The idea of such isolated settlements, coupled with existing stereotypes of American mineral prospectors in the 19th century "Wild West", gave rise to the stock character of a "Belter" or "Rock Rat" -- a rugged and independent-minded individual, resentful of state or corporate authority. Among such works is Ben Bova's Asteroid Wars series.

Another way in which asteroids could be considered a source of danger is by depicting them as a hazard to navigation, especially threatening to ships traveling from Earth to the outer parts of the Solar System and thus needing to pass the Asteroid Belt (or make a time- and fuel-consuming detour around it). In this context, asteroids serve the same role in space travel stories as reefs and underwater rocks in the older genre of sea-faring adventure stories. And like such hazards, asteroids could also be used by bold outlaws to avoid pursuit. Representations of the Asteroid Belt in film tend to make it unrealistically cluttered with dangerous rocks, so dense that adventurous measures must be taken to avoid an impact, giving dramatic visual images which the true nearly empty space would not provide. One of the best-known examples of this is the Hoth system in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

In reality asteroids, even in the main belt, are spaced extremely far apart. Proto-planets in the process of formation and planetary rings may look like that, but the Sun's asteroid belt does not. (The asteroid belt in the HD 69830 system may, however.) The asteroids are spread over such a high volume that it would be highly improbable even to pass close to a random asteroid. For example, the numerous space probes sent to the outer solar system, just across the main asteroid belt, have never had any problems, and asteroid rendezvous missions have elaborate targeting procedures. The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is unusual in that it does portray realistically the ship's "encounter" with a lone asteroid pair.

A common depiction of asteroids and comets in fiction is as a threat, whose impact on Earth could result with incalculable damage and loss of life. This has a basis in scientific hypotheses regarding such impacts in the distant past as responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and other past catastrophes —though, as they seem to occur within tens of millions of years of each other, there is no special reason (other than creating a dramatic story line) to expect a new such impact at any close millennium.

In earlier works, asteroid provided grist for theories as to their origin - specifically, the theory that the asteroids are remnants of an exploded planet. This naturally leads to SF plot-lines dealing with the possibility that the planet had been inhabited, and if so - that the inhabitants caused its destruction themselves, by war or gross environmental mismanagement. A further extension is from the past of the existing asteroids to the possible future destruction of Earth or other planets and their rendering into new asteroids.

Early examples

The earliest explicit references to asteroids date from the beginning of the twentieth century:

  • Hector Servadac, Voyages et aventures à travers le Monde Solaire (Off on a Comet, 1877), novel by Jules Verne. A Victorian vision of touring the solar system via handy "comet Gallia", the comet captures the "recently discovered asteroid Nerina" as it traverses the asteroid belt. Nerina was fictional at the time, but 1318 Nerina would be discovered and named by Cyril V. Jackson nearly sixty years later.
  • Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898), serial by Garrett P. Serviss. A fleet of spaceships from Earth on its way to attack Mars halts at an asteroid that is being mined for gold by the Martians.
  • La Chasse au météore ("Hunt for the Meteor", or "Chase of the Golden Meteor", 1908), by Jules and Michel Verne. This posthumously published Jules Verne novel was extensively edited and modified by his son Michel. The attribution of plot elements between father and son was long debated, until Verne's original version was unearthed. The book begins with the rivalry between two amateur astronomers who both claim discovery of a new asteroid. Originally an in-crowd issue among astronomers, it becomes a major world-wide problem when it is found that the asteroid is about to fall on Earth (to be exact, in Greenland). Unlike later asteroid books, the main problem is not the damage which its fall may cause, but the fact that it is made of solid gold, which could upset the economy of the world. Thus, the asteroid's eventual fall into the Atlantic and its disappearance beneath the waves is presented as a satisfactory aversion of the economic danger, and there are none of the huge and highly destructive tsunami which in later stories (and in reality) would have followed. Fred Hoyle's Element 79 (1967) exploits essentially the same plot device: an asteroid with significant amount of gold wreaks havoc with the Earth's economy.
  • The Valley of Fear (1914), short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes's arch-enemy, "is the celebrated author of 'The Dynamics of an Asteroid' , a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it" Though the Holmes stories were published at the same time as those by H. G. Wells, Holmes regards astronomical studies as an issue of pure abstract science, which would never have practical applications or provide the scene of future adventures.
  • Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince, 1943), novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The title character lives on an asteroid named "B-612". He then travels among various asteroids, each inhabited by a single person: a lamp-lighter, a king, a businessman, a geographer . . . . Saint-Exupéry made no effort at scientific accuracy, since he was mainly writing social and political commentary and satire. (For example, his reference to "Baobab trees which, if not uprooted in time, might take root and break an asteroid to pieces" is commonly understood as an allegory of Fascism). Still, he seems the first writer to conceive of asteroids as worlds where human beings could live and call home, an image which later writers were to develop with greater scientific plausibility. The asteroid moon Petit-Prince was named after the character, and 46610 Bésixdouze after his asteroid.

Real asteroids in fiction

Although the asteroids are commonly dealt with en masse, a few Main Belt asteroids have become well enough known to be named in fictional treatments.

Ceres

Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest and first discovered planetoid of the main-belt asteroids.

Eros

After Ceres, Asteroid 433 Eros is perhaps the most-commonly mentioned asteroid, probably because it is one of the largest near-Earth asteroids.

  • “Our Distant Cousins” (1929), short story by Lord Dunsany. An enterprising aviator flies to Mars, but ends up on Eros on his return trip due to a navigation error. Everything on Eros is tiny due to its small size and gravity; the aviator brings a tiny elephant back to Earth in a matchbox, but it escapes.
  • Dig Allen (1959–1962) series of juvenile novels by Joseph Greene. Eros turns out to be a disguised alien spaceship.
  • Captive Universe (1969), novel by Harry Harrison. Eros has been converted into a vast hollow generation ship, the interior of which provides the setting for the story.
  • Ender's Game (1985), novel by Orson Scott Card. Eros was formerly an outpost for the aliens known as Formics who installed artificial gravity but was taken over by humans and a Command School was built there. This is where Ender was sent after he graduated from Battle School.
  • Justice League of America #26 (February 1999) by DC Comics. The JLA uses Eros as an inescapable prison for their unkillable foe, the General. He later escapes with the aid of alien forces.
  • Evolution (2003), novel by Stephen Baxter. Eros plays an important role in the future evolution of life on Earth. Millions of years after being perturbed into a new orbit, the asteroid collides with Earth, bringing about another mass extinction. The micrometeoroid-ravaged shell of NEAR Shoemaker still stands on the surface of Eros until seconds before the impact.
  • Asteroid (1997), NBC's two-part miniseries features a series of asteroids heading towards Earth. Eros, the larger of the two asteroids is shattered into small fragments by the Air Force's ABL in an attempt to divert it from a certain impact on Earth. Eros still proceeds to rain over Dallas, Texas.

Pallas

Asteroid 2 Pallas is the third-largest main belt asteroid.

  • "The Shrinking Spaceman", episode of Space Patrol (1962), puppet television series. When the Galasphere crew are sent to repair the sonar beam transmitter on the asteroid Pallas. Husky succumbs to a mysterious shrinking disease after cutting his hand on a rock. Keeping him in suspended animation Professor Heggerty attempts to find a cure.
  • Pallas (1993), novel by L. Neil Smith. Emerson Ngu, a boy who lives in a dystopian socialist commune in a crater on the terraformed asteroid Pallas, creates a crystal radio and is astonished to learn of the world outside the commune. Escaping, he discovers that the rest of Pallas is a libertarian utopia. Unable to forget his semi-enslaved family -- whose "workers' paradise" is starving to death -- he innovates a cheap but durable gun (because the Libertarians on Pallas, to their shame, did not have a domestic firearms industry), and sets about liberating his former commune. The book was partly inspired by the 1987 article "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race" written by Jared Diamond. The book also includes a brief description of a way to encapsulate the entire surface of a small body such as an asteroid to enable creating an Earthlike environment.

Juno

Asteroid 3 Juno is one of the largest main belt asteroids, being the second heaviest of the stony S-type.

  • Eon (1985), science fiction novel by Greg Bear. Juno appears as a hollowed out asteroid/starship from the future, called the Thistledown.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), a Real Robot anime directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino. The asteroid Juno, renamed Luna 2, has been placed into Lunar orbit, opposite the moon for the purpose of supplying materials for space colony construction. It is later retrofitted into a military base for the Earth Federation.

Vesta

Asteroid 4 Vesta is the second largest of the asteroids.

Icarus

Asteroid 1566 Icarus is best known for its close approach to Earth and the Sun.

Other asteroids

Common themes

Colonization

See also Colonization of the asteroids
When the theme of interplanetary colonization first entered SF, the Asteroid Belt was quite low on the list of desirable real estate, far behind such planets as Mars and Venus (often conceived as a kind of paradise planet, until probes in the 1960s revealed the appalling temperatures and conditions under its clouds). Thus, in many stories and books the Asteroid Belt, if not a positive hazard, is still a rarely-visited backwater in a colonized Solar System.

  • Dumb Martian (1952), short story by John Wyndham. A ruthless Earth man buys a young Martian woman (Martians, in this story, being a humanoid race subject to Earth-human colonialism and exploitation). She is to serve as a companion in his five-year lonely tour of duty on an asteroid orbiting Jupiter. The power struggle between the two of them, isolated on the asteroid, forms the main plot, and the arrogant and chauvinistic Earth man finds the hard way that his "Dumb Martian" is not as dumb as he thought her.
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953), juvenile novel by Isaac Asimov. The Asteroid Belt is the haunt of dangerous pirates. The hero, an agent of the The Terran Empire, has not only his job but also a private score to settle with pirates who had killed his parents. In the end, however, the enlightened Empire gives former Pirate strongholds in terraformed asteroids a chance to stay on as law-abiding communities.
  • "The Lonely" (1959), episode of The Twilight Zone, television series. A convict, living in exile on an asteroid for 40 years, is clandestinely given a robot woman as a companion.
  • "Island in the Sky" (Uncle $crooge #29, Mar. 1960), comic by Carl Barks. Scrooge McDuck scouted the asteroid belt to find a safe location for his money. The story depicts the asteroid belt as being much more dense than it actually is. There are also many very large asteroids, some having atmospheres and inhabitants. At least one is a virtual paradise, replete with lush vegetation including bananas, papyas, apples, nuts, wild rice and melons.
  • X-men, comic book. The villain Magneto has used an asteroid called Asteroid M (X-men #5, May 1964) as his base of operations, complete with an observation deck, hangar bays and medical facilities. The various facilities had technology that kept it concealed from standard detection technology.
  • "Tales of the Flying Mountains" (1970), short stories first published 1962-65 by Poul Anderson. Collection of short stories on the colonization of the asteroids.
  • Protector (1973), novel, and other short stories by Larry Niven. These stories explore the psychology of the "Belters," people born and raised in asteroid colonies. A similar society in the "Serpent Swarm" of asteroids in the Alpha Centauri system, are featured in some stories of the Man-Kzin Wars series.
  • Gundam, anime and novel series by Yoshiyuki Tomino. Asteroids are utilized for a variety of purposes. In Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), Several asteroids have been moved from the asteroid belt to positions in Earth's Lagrange points. The most prominent of these are Solomon and A Baoa Qu, major space fortresses of the Principality of Zeon. Juno, formerly a mining asteroid, is renamed Luna II and moved to the Lagrangian point opposite to the Moon. It becomes the Earth Federation's main space military base during and after the story. . Solomon and A Baoa Qu eventually fall into the Federation's hands, and are renamed Konpei Island and Gate of Zedan, respectively. In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985), Axis is a former asteroid mining colony that has become the stronghold of the Axis Zeon faction. Originally located in the asteroid belt, Axis is equipped with thermonuclear pulse thrusters in order to travel to Earth. Axis arrives in the Earth Sphere late in the Gryps Conflict, and the alliances Axis forms drastically alter the balance of power.
  • The Venus Belt (1981), novel in the North American Confederation series by L. Neil Smith. A social system of total free enterprise on asteroids.
  • Ender's Game (1985) and Ender's Shadow novels by Orson Scott Card. The Asteroid Belt is mainly a military zone, housing the bases and institutions dedicated to the war against Earth's insectoid invaders (which in the end turn out not quite as horrible as official propaganda made them look). A major part of both books takes place at Command School on 433 Eros where gifted children are kept in complete isolation and ruthlessly turned into tough fleet commanders, losing their childhood in the process.
  • The Way (1985-1996), series of novels by Greg Bear. There is a colony inside a hollowed-out asteroid.
  • Gap Cycle (1991-1996), series of novels by Stephen R. Donaldson's. Numerous human asteroid colonies, albeit not in the Solar System's Asteroid Belt.
  • Asteroid Wars (2001–2007), novels by Ben Bova. Warfare by corporations for control of the asteroid belt.
  • The Orion Conspiracy (1995), computer game. The Cerberus colony is on an asteroid.
  • Blue Mars (1996), novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. The colonization of asteroids and how new technology affects their development.
  • Night's Dawn Trilogy (1996-1999) by Peter F Hamilton. Thousands of inhabited asteroids are in Earth orbit. Some of them are linked to Earth via space elevators.
  • Saga of Seven Suns (2003-present), series of novels by Kevin J. Anderson. A faction of humanity, "The Roamers", lives on asteroids.
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), film. Padmé gives birth to Luke and Leia in an asteroid colony.

Mineral extraction

The prospects of colonizing the Solar System planets became more dim with increasing discoveries about conditions on them. Conversely, the potential value of the asteroids increased, as a vast accumulation of mineral wealth, accessible in conditions of minimal gravity, and supplementing Earth's dwindling resources. Stories of asteroid mining became more and more numerous since the late 1940s, with the next logical step being depictions of a society on terraformed asteroids — in some cases dug under the surface, in others having dome colonies and in still others provided with an atmosphere which is kept in place by an artificial gravity.

An image developed and was carried from writer to writer, of "Belters" or "Rock Rats" as rugged and independent-minded individuals, resentful of all authority (in some books and stories of the military and political power of Earth-bound nation states, in others of the corporate power of huge companies). As such, this sub-genre proved naturally attractive to writers with Libertarian tendencies. Moreover, depictions of the Asteroid Belt as The New Frontier clearly draw (sometimes explicitly) on the considerable literature of the Nineteenth-Century Frontier and the Wild West. And since (in nearly all stories) the asteroids are completely lifeless until the arrival of the humans, it is a New Frontier completely free of the moral taint of the brutal dispossession of the Native Americans in the original.

  • Seetee Ship (1949) and Seetee Shock (1950) by Jack Williamson. Earth, Mars, Venus and the Jovian Moons are all dominated by competing tyrannical political systems (a Communist one, a Fascist one, and a Capitalist "democracy" totally dominated by a single vast, all-owning and all-controlling corporation). The scattered, despised and numerically-inferior asteroid miners are left as the sole remaining champions of individual liberty. The "Rock Rats" neatly turn the tables by finding out how to produce energy from the collision of matter and anti-matter asteroids (anti-matter or "Contraterrene" is the "Seetee" (C-T) of the title). Virtually unlimited energy is broadcast from the Asteroid Belt all over the Solar System, for everybody to tap and use completely free of charge — and all the oppressive systems go crashing down.
  • Beyond Mars (1952-1955), comic strip in The New York Sunday News by Jack Williamson. Loosely based on the novel Seetee Ship.
  • Catch that Rabbit, short story by Isaac Asimov in the collection I, Robot (1950). A lonely asteroid mining station is the location for an intractable robot mystery and tangle.
  • The Rolling Stones (1952), novel by Robert A. Heinlein. The family Stone travels to the Asteroid Belt, where the twins of the family hope to sell food and luxury items to the miners extracting radioactive ores.
  • The Rogue (1963), short story by Poul Anderson. A tense love affair takes place between an asterite entrepreneur, who represents a kind of reversion to 19th Century Capitalism, and a woman officer in a space warship sent by the Social Justice Party (in power at Washington D.C.) to clip that entrepreneur's wings. The encounter is the first skirmish in what eventually develops into a full-scale Asterite War of Independence (consciously modelled on the American one), told of in further stories. Anderson's asteroid stories were eventually collected in Tales of the Flying Mountains, where the flourishing Asteroid Republic makes of a terraformed asteroid the first interstellar ship, which in the course of generations would reach other stellar systems. The veterans who go along tell, for the edification of the young generation, their memoirs of the pioneering days.
  • Known Space (1964 onward) series of stories by Larry Niven. The Solar System is divided between the UN-dominated Earth and the Asteroid Belt, two competing political and cultural entities whose rivalry might at any moment descend into a destructive war — forming the background to several books and the main theme of World of Ptavvs. In this universe, it is planets such as Mars which are the neglected backwaters, Belters spurning them and their gravity wells as fit only for "Flatlanders".
  • The Men in the Jungle (1967), novel by Norman Spinrad'. The Asteroid Belt is originally colonized by Afrikaners who hog its mineral wealth and lord it over later-arrived immigrants from Third World countries — in effect recreating Apartheid all over again. A revolution culminates with the creation of the Belt Free State, a republic far less stable than Anderson's which is headed by the likeable though thoroughly corrupt Bart Fraden. The intervention of the Big Powers from Earth, seeking to control the same mineral wealth, leads to Fraden's overthrow and his escape out of the Solar System — setting the stage to further (quite grisly) adventures which are the book's main plot line.
  • Miners in The Sky (1967), novel by Murray Leinster. The ring system around Thotmess, a gas giant in the system of the star Niletus where planets are called for Ancient Egyptian gods, is a completely lawless place where "claim jumping" is frequent. Miners, riding small "donkey ships", need to contend with both the harsh natural environment and with fierce human competitors. They must be ready at any moment to take up a gun or a bazooka to defend their finds of "grey matrix in which abyssal crystals occur". (The reader is not told what this may be, except that it is evidently valuable enough to kill for.) The extra-solar environment is chosen by Leinster in order to convey the feeling of an ever-expanding frontier - Sol's own Asteroid Belt has become "tame", as did the rings of Saturn, and the rough adventurous types move further on. (The historical model is obviously the recurring Gold Rush of the Nineteenth Century, drawing adventurers in 1840s from the settled East Coast to wild California, and in 1890s from settled California to the wild Klondike).
  • "Tinker" (1975), short story in the collection High Justice , vol. 1 of the Future History series by Jerry Pournelle. The Asteroid Belt is dominated by a consortium of multinational corporations (upgraded to multi-planetary corporations by this time). Pournelle deliberately turns upside down the well-established rules of this sub-genre by making the corporations and their field agent into the Good Guys of the story. The Bad Guys are the rugged miners of Jefferson Asteroid, who use assorted dirty tricks in their effort to get free of the corporations' rule — an aspiration which a character describes as "an atavistic nationalism for which there is no room in the Belt".
  • Heechee (1976–2004) series of stories by Frederik Pohl. Explorers discover an asteroid orbiting perpendicular to the solar plane, filled with hundreds of small spaceships left aeons ago by a mysterious alien race which humans call "Heechee". Named Gateway by the discovers, the powerful nations of the world occupy the asteroid and subsequently form the Gateway Corporation to administer the object. Under their open eye, there develops a culture of adventurers and prospectors rather similar to that portrayed in other asteroid books. Here, however, the prospecting is not for mineral wealth but rather for interstellar discovery, to which the adventurers set out blindly in the hardly-understood alien ships, in trips which can end with riches or death.
  • Red Dwarf (1988–1999), television series. Asteroids have presumably been mined for at least several decades, as Dave Lister is once heard singing a futuristic version of "Clementine" - "On an asteroid / Evacuating for a mine / Lived an old plutonium miner / And his daughter Clementine...". The Jupiter Mining Corporation, which operates the ship Red Dwarf, presumably mines on asteroids (Red Dwarf itself mined the Neptunian moon Triton, according to the novels).
  • The Stone Dogs (1990), novel in the Draka series by S. M. Stirling. The Asteroid Belt is a major arena of the decades-long struggle between "The Domination of the Draka", a political and military entity bent on conquering everybody else and reducing them to literal slavery, and its arch-enemy "The Alliance for Democracy". Following "The Final War" of that history's 1998, the tough Asteroid miners are the last holdout against the victorious Draka. Though they, too, are eventually overwhelmed, they are able to launch "New America", a huge starship carrying some 40,000 colonists to the stars, to keep the cause alive and fight again another day.
  • Heavy Time (1991), novel by C. J. Cherryh. Mining of the asteroid belt of Earth's solar system is a critical part of the economy in the 24th century. A dispute over mining rights to a particularly large asteroid rich with valuable minerals involves ASTEX, a giant mining corporation, and the book describes in detail ASTEX's mining operations in the asteroid belt.
  • 2038; Tycoons of the Asteroid Belt (1995), game by James Hlavaty and Tom Lehmann. Transposes the highly successful "18xx" series of railroad board games into the asteroid belt.
  • Descent (1995), computer game. Three secret levels take place on unidentified asteroids.
  • Asteroid Wars (2001–2007), series of novels by Ben Bova. A trade war over the mining of the Belt develops into a shooting war.
  • "Scar" (2006), episode of Battlestar Galactica television series. Raw materials are mined from an asteroid to gather resources vital to the fleet.

Navigational hazard

Another way in which asteroids could be considered a source of danger is by depicting them as a hazard to navigation, especially threatening to ships travelling from Earth to the outer parts of the Solar System and thus needing to pass the Asteroid Belt (or make a time- and fuel-consuming detour around it). Asteroids in this context provide to space travel stories a space equivalent of reefs and underwater rocks in the older genre of sea-faring adventures stories. And like reefs and rocks in the ocean, asteroids as navigation hazards can also be used by bold outlaws to avoid pursuit.

Representations of the Asteroid Belt in film tend to make it unrealistically cluttered with dangerous rocks. In reality, even in the main belt, asteroids are spaced extremely far apart (even so, they can still be a risk to ships travelling at high speeds).

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), film. 2001 accurately (and, for a work of fiction, atypically) depicts a "close approach" between the Discovery One and a binary asteroid while en route to Jupiter. The scene simply cuts briefly to two lone rocks passing by the ship, with tens of thousands of kilometres to spare.
  • Asteroids (1979), arcade video game by Atari. Collision is an ever-present hazard in a dense asteroid field.
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980), film. Han Solo enters an asteroid field to flee from the fleet of the evil Empire, and C-3PO thinks it is a bad idea. Han then hides his ship, the Millennium Falcon inside a giant asteroid; the ship then finds itself inside a colossal animal that lives within the asteroid.
  • Homeworld 1999, game. In Mission 06: Diamond Shoals, the Kushan fleet must pass through a turbulent asteroid field, destroying asteroids before they impact the Mothership.
  • 2061: Odyssey Three (1986), novel by Arthur C. Clarke. A journey through the asteroid belt has ominous parallels to the journey of the RMS Titanic.
  • The Wreck of The River of Stars (2003), novel by Michael Flynn. Themes of nautical adventure novels are transferred to an Asteroid Belt environment, with a dramatic account of cumulative accidents, mismatched good intentions and power struggles among crew members in a former space luxury liner turned tramp freighter (the "River of Stars" of the title) which culminate in a disastrous collision with an asteroid.
  • Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets (2004), television drama documentary by the BBC . The Pegasus encounters a binary asteroid from much closer than expected, and dubs the rocks "Hubris" and "Catastrophe" as a result.

Collisions with Earth

A common depiction of asteroids (and less often, of comets) in fiction is as a threat, whose impact on Earth could result with incalculable damage and loss of life. This scenario is based on such past events as the impact event responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. Such events are, however, sufficiently rare that there is no special reason to expect such an impact in the near future.

  • "The Wandering Asteroid", episode of Space Patrol (1962), puppet television series. The Space Patrol crew accept a dangerous mission to destroy an asteroid deflected from its orbit by a cometary collision and heading directly for the Martian capital Wotan.
  • The Green Slime (1968), film. A rogue asteroid hurtles toward Earth. The astronauts leave Space station Gamma 3 and place bombs on the asteroid, finding it inhabited by strange blobs of glowing slime that are drawn to the equipment. Unfortunately for everyone some of the slime is carried back on a space suit and soon evolves into tentacled creatures. The movie inspired the classic board game The Awful Green Things From Outer Space.
  • Rendezvous with Rama (1972), novel by Arthur C. Clark. An asteroid impacts in Northern Italy destroys Padua, Verona and Venice. In the aftermath of that disaster, a regular Spaceguard against rogue asteroids is formed, whose members are the protagonists in the main story line — a meeting with a mysterious alien space artifact.
  • Protector (1973), novel by Larry Niven. Jack Brennan, a human turned into a "Pak Protector", commits genocide by causing an ice asteroid to collide with Mars, thereby causing a rise in the water content of its atmosphere and exterminating the native Martians to whom water is a deadly poison.
  • Lucifer's Hammer (1977), novel by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. Earth's population falls into panic at hearing of an impending collision with a space object, is falsely reassured when hearing that the object is not an asteroid but a comet "with the density of sundae", then finds out the hard way that at the speed of collision this still causes enormous damage and throws the world into total chaos.
  • Meteor (1979), film. The asteroid Orpheus hurtles toward Earth after its orbit is deflected by a comet. The movie was inspired in part by a MIT. student report Project Icarus (1968).
  • Shiva Descending (1980), novel by Gregory Benford and William Rotsler
  • Footfall (1985), novel by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. Elephant-like aliens launch an asteroid which lands in the Indian Ocean, causing a huge tsunami which almost completely wipes out life in India and causes enormous damage to all countries which have shores on that ocean.
  • Metal Armor Dragonar (1987), anime. The Lunar-based Giganos Empire uses a mass driver to fire asteroids at the Earth and space colonies.
  • The Oxygen Barons (1990), novel by Gregory Feeley. In one of the plot threads of this novel, Galvanix, a citizen of the Lunar Republic, prepares to plant a small fusion bomb on an asteroid which threatens to smash into the terraformed Moon, causing untold devastation. He succeeds, but there are complications which take a whole book to resolve.
  • The Hammer of God (1993), novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Mankind tries to stop an asteroid named Kali from hitting the Earth.
  • Outpost (1994), computer game. The Earth is threatened by an asteroid named Vulcan's Hammer. A plan is made to stop the asteroid, with a nuclear warhead. This however fails and splits the asteroid into two pieces, which collide with the Earth. With the Earth destroyed, a group of selected colonists head off into space, in search of new home.
  • Sliders Episode 4, "The Last Days" (1995), television. The sliders team must invent the atom bomb to deflect an asteroid that is on target to destroy the Earth.
  • The Dig (1995), computer game by LucasArts and novelization by Alan Dean Foster. The impact-threatening asteroid Attila turns out to be an alien probe.
  • Deep Impact (1998). film. Based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel The Hammer of God, although the asteroid becomes a comet (see). An unsuccessful attempt to alter the course of the asteroid by detonating nuclear devices on its surface, after which the astronauts involved pilot their ship into the asteroid's path to prevent it hitting Earth.
  • Armageddon (1998), film. An asteroid is prevented from impacting the Earth by drilling into its core and planting nuclear bombs which split the asteroid in half. The two halves move in different directions and miss the Earth.
  • Starship Troopers (1997), film, based on the 1959 novel by Robert A. Heinlein. Aliens launch an asteroid at Earth, completely wiping out Buenos Aires. This is the opening move in the war.
  • "Asteroid" (2001), an episode of the radio drama anthology series Radio Tales as heard on National Public Radio. Based on the short story "The Star" by H. G. Wells, the drama chronicles the events surrounding the approach of an asteroid which is predicted to impact the earth and instead passes in a "near miss" that causes cataclysmic damage.
  • "Fail Safe" (2002), episode of Stargate SG-1 television series. A Goa'uld surreptitiously diverts an asteroid to a collision course with Earth.
  • "Impact Winter" (2004), episode of The West Wing, television series. The White House staff prepare for a possible asteroid impact on the Earth.
  • Sunstorm (2005), novel by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke. Extraterrestrials attempt to cause Earth's destruction by way of a "cosmic bullet" projectile sent into the Sun.
  • "Phantom Planet", the 2006–2007 season finale of Danny Phantom (2004), features a giant asteroid originating from Saturn (nicknamed the "disasteroid" because of its enormous size) hurtling towards the Earth, with people helpless to stop it.

Fifth planet

Before colonization of the asteroids became an attractive possibility, a main interest in them was theories as to their origin - specifically, the theory that the asteroids are remnants of an exploded planet. This naturally leads to SF plot lines dealing with the possibility that the planet had been inhabited, and if so -that the inhabitants caused its destruction themselves, by war or gross environmental mismanagement. A further extension is from the past of the existing asteroids to the possible future destruction of Earth or other planets and their rendering into new asteroids.

  • Space Cadet (1948), juvenile novel by Robert A. Heinlein. The hero's first assignment after graduation from the Space Patrol's academy is to a ship charting the intractable Asteroid Belt. He has the luck to be involved in a startling discovery: not only is the Belt proven to be what is left of an exploded planet, but also remains are found of that planet's inhabitants.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), novel by Robert A. Heinlein. The Martians of the novel "encountered the people of the fifth planet, grokked them completely, and had taken action; asteroid ruins were all that remained, save that the Martians continued to praise and cherish the people they had destroyed." There remains at the end of the novel the uneasy thought that they might do the same to us, were they to determine that we were, by their standards, insane.
  • Chikyu Boeigun (The Mysterians, 1957), The solar system's asteroid belt is the remnants of the Mysterians' home planet, Mysteroid, destroyed as the result of a nuclear war.
  • The Destruction of Faena (1974), by Alexander Kazantsev. The asteroid belt is the debris of Faena, the fifth planet of the Solar System located just between Mars and Jupiter. Faena was destroyed thousands of years before the first civilizations of Earth appeared, following the activation of a doomsday device-like thermonuclear super weapon built by the native sentient species and the few of them who survived the explosion (by launching into space) had to seek refuge on Mars and Earth. The homo sapiens genus is thus assumed to be a mixture of local DNA and the Faetan genes.
  • Inherit the Stars (1977), first in the Giants series of novels by James P. Hogan. The planet Minerva exploded to form the asteroid belt 50,000 years ago. It was home to two intelligent races: the Giants 25 million years ago, and the Lunarians (nearly identical to modern man) 50,000 years ago.
  • Mutineers' Moon (1991), novel by David Weber. The asteroid belt was a planet that was geologically unstable. The Achuultani attacked the planet with kinetic weapons, shattering it and then attacked Earth, resulting in the extinction of the dinosaurs.
  • Final Fantasy IV (1991), video game. The fifth planet is populated by a race of highly advanced humanoids who are aware that their planet is unstable. Thus they travel to Earth and craft a second moon to live on as the fifth planet explodes to create the asteroid belt. The character FuSoYa is a member of this race, which is called the Lunarians due to their living on the moon (the true name of their race is not said).

In a rare variant, the Fifth Planet exists not in the past but the future:

  • Rogue in Space (1957), novel by Fredric Brown. A living, intelligent, and very powerful asteroid arrives in the Solar System's Asteroid Belt, after countless aeons of wandering interstellar space. Passing near a lonely asteroid, "he" encounters the first living beings other than "himself" which "he" ever met: a likable criminal involved in a life-and-death struggle with a corrupt and power-mad judge. The bad judge is eventually killed, but so is the judge's beautiful wife who is the good criminal's ally and beloved. The god-like Living Rock takes pity on the couple, resurrects the woman, collects all the asteroids in the Belt and forms them back into a planet with "himself" at its centre, and makes of the new planet a private Paradise for "his" favourite human couple.

New asteroid belts

A theme related to that of the Fifth Planet is the generation of a new asteroid belt, via the demolition of a planet, sometimes the Earth.

  • Facing the Flag (1896), novel by Jules Verne. A mad genius invents an enormously powerful new explosive, of which a few grams suffice to blow a passable tunnel through many metres of tough volcanic rock. One of the story's villains remarks that several thousand tons might be enough to blow up the entire Earth and render it into a new asteroid belt - which (though no character in the story has any desire to actually try it) seems to be the first time that such a suggestion was made in science fiction.
  • Worlds of the Imperium (1962), novel by Keith Laumer. The hero, travelling in a vehicle capable of traversing parallel worlds, passes many where Earth had been shattered in a cataclysmic war and was rendered into a scattered collection of asteroids. He gets a brief and horrifying glimpse of an asteroid on which a section of road is still visible. Later, he learns that our own Earth narrowly avoided a similar fate.
  • The Corridors of Time (1965), novel by Poul Anderson. Two groups, the Wardens and the Rangers, wage a relentless struggle for control of Earth and the Solar System. As a result, Mars is blown up and its remnants become a new Asteroid Belt. The two fighting sides tacitly agree to use more subtle forms of fighting, involving mainly time-travel.
  • The Venus Belt (1980), novel by L. Neil Smith. The "useless" planet Venus is deliberately blown up to create a new asteroid belt. It is part of a genre of asteroid SF in which asteroids are rated as more valuable than planets.
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), film by George Lucas. In demonstrating the ability of the newly-constructed Death Star to destroy planets, Grand Moff Tarkin destroys the planet Alderaan, thereby creating an asteroid field that the Millennium Falcon haplessly stumbles into when attempting to visit the planet.

See also

References

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