Science Fiction Planets Hal Clement's Mesklin

About the planet Mesklin described in the book Mission of Gravity by science fiction writer Hal Clements.



Location: Eleven light years from Earth.

Discoverer: None is ever mentioned as a specific discoverer, but Charles Lackland is the first human to spend any time on this highly unusual world. Lackland is a scientist attached to an Earth mission attempting to retrieve a rocket probe that failed to respond to its return signal.

Book: Mission of Gravity (1954) by Hal Clement.

Description: Mesklin is shaped like a bowl about six times as wide as it is high, a giant, flattened world spinning so fast that an entire day occupies just 9 min. of Earth time. Gravity at the rim of this toplike structure is about three times that of Earth; at the poles, however, gravitational forces increase to about 700 times Earth normal. The cold atmosphere is hydrogen; the seas are liquefied methane gas. The immense continents are rather featureless and smooth, with a few mountain ranges, extensive plains covered by a tangle of low-lying vine trees, and rivers of flowing methane. The seasons are as peculiar as the planet: Mesklin's erratic orbit around its twin suns provides it with fall and winter seasons just over two Earth months in length; spring and summer, however, each occupy about 830 Earth days, or roughly 26 months. The winter season is marked by extremely violent storms that raise the ocean levels hundreds of feet, literally changing the coastlines of vast portions of the globe within a couple of months. During the spring and summer seasons the storms decrease, and the sea levels gradually drop until the methane "waters" are replenished in the winter rains. In addition to a wide variety of animal and microscopic life suited to the climate, Mesklin has an intelligent race of foot-long caterpillars, whose bodies are well suited to living in the enormous gravitational forces that govern life on this planet. The civilization of these creatures has reached a level comparable to that of the 16th or 17th century on Earth, with seagoing ships, an active commerce, and the beginnings of science. Lackland persuades the creatures to search for the probe, but when the captain of one of the creatures' ships discovers it, he demands payment before turning over the precious scientific readings to the Earthman. It is not money or riches he wants, but an education for his people.

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