Forget jet-lag – what about planet-lag?

Earth from spaceWhen you’re watching movies like Star Wars (any of ‘em) or Star Trek, do you ever wonder (as I do) what it would be like to planet-hop? Many of us have suffered from jet-lag on planet Earth. You get on the plane in Australia and you get off the plane in London and it’s all different.

Okay, so what’s all different? Well, the time, for a start. Good grief, I got on the big bird at 2pm and arrived in Europe at 5am the same day. I travelled for 25 hours and lost half a day. (As a small aside, this is a perfect example of why ‘time’ isn’t real. It depends entirely on where you happen to be – but that’s another story.) This displacement of the day’s routine does terrible things to our body clock, of course. It takes a few days for you to adjust to the time where you are and get back into the cycle of day and night. Time is just one, obvious, aspect of travel. There are so many other things that vary from place to place on our own little globe.

Have you noticed how every city smells different and that’s particularly true if you leave your comfort zone? For people like me, of European descent, going to Asia, for instance, where the lifestyle is… different? There’s the clothes they wear, the customs, whether people look you in the eye, the currency, the trees, which side of the road they drive on… Even if they speak the same language, it’s different. US, British, Australian English all vary from place to place even within their own countries, let alone one to the other. Let’s not forget the food, the music, the houses… I could go on and on. So could you.

Now let’s take that to a planetary level. All of the above may well be true, even where each planet is populated with humans. Let’s keep it simple and not add aliens. What else is different? What if the sun the planet revolves around isn’t the same G class sun as our dear old Sol? The light would affect your perception of colour. Gravity may vary, so you’d weigh less or more and the air would be different. Think about how that works just on our own planet. The atmosphere thins rapidly as you climb higher. This is a real problem for mountaineers who must acclimatise or wear oxygen masks, but the locals are used to it.

I’ve tried to hint around at some of these things in The Iron Admiral : Conspiracy when Allysha arrives at a new planet.

Good grief, it was like walking into a sauna. She hesitated until Sean’s hand on her back urged her forward. Moisture began to bead on her face, her shirt stuck to her skin and she was certain she could feel her hair begin to curl. The air tasted different, too; a little bit earthy and sweet. Not unpleasant; just not what she was used to and different again to the arid, dusty air of Brjyl, the only other planet she’d been to apart from home.

The ship had landed on a platform above purple and green forest that spread to the horizon on three sides. Blues and greens seemed brighter, somehow, and reds and oranges more subdued.”

Back to our planet and ‘time’. The length of the year (the time it takes the planet to travel around its sun) and the length of the day (the time the planet takes to turn on its axis) will be different. Can you imagine what that would do to the brain’s perception of reality? Then there are seasons, or lack of them. We can assume a planet where people can walk around unprotected has a magnetic field, otherwise we’d be fried on the spot.

I guess, in a way, all this explains why your Star Wars and Star Trek movies rarely venture down the path of real planetary differences. Sure, the scenery is different but the assumption seems to be that the air is breathable and thick enough not to exhaust anybody and the gravity’s fine. Otherwise it might end up being a pretty boring story.

4 thoughts on “Forget jet-lag – what about planet-lag?

  1. rinellegrey

    Ohh, cool sci-fi topic. I would expect that the differing day length would affect you for longer than the time difference even! However, if you were planning on going to a specific planet, and new the conditions there, I would expect that you could gradually change your patterns on the ship on the way there. You’d be able to make some pretty significant changes even in a week. If it took a month to get there, I think you could have made the adjustments before you get there. Maybe even adjust to a different gravity?

    Still many social, cultural and environmental differences though, that are perfect fodder for stories.

    1. Greta van der Rol

      What you’re up against is your in-built body clock. I think you could do gravity and atmosphere – but body clock may be very hard. Whatever – it’s all worth thinking about 🙂

      1. rinellegrey

        Yes, but you can adjust your inbuilt body clock! In fact, we do so every day, since the human body, in the absence of daylight and other factors, reverts to a 25 hour clock. It wouldn’t be easy, and it would take time, but it can be done, at least minimally. Studies on jet lag have found ways to reduce it through just these means.

        1. Greta van der Rol

          But that’s the issue. If you’re on a planet with a (say) 45 hour day or a 13 hour day it would take a long time to for our inbuilt programming to accept a change. And what sort of change? Stay with a 25 hour cycle and be up half the night? It’s an interesting question.

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