This page provides a small user interface to the StarGen program. It's purpose is three-fold:
- to allow users with no other access the ability to generate systems,
- to demonstrate how StarGen command line options are constructed,
- to share experimental features with users who are helping me develop them.
The table to the left contains a number of controls that will allow you to specify the number and types of systems that you want to create. As you do so, it will build a StarGen command line at the bottom of the table.
If you press the "stargen" button to the right of the command line options, a CGI script will run and the resultant systems will be displayed in this window. You should be able to use your browser's "Back" button to return to this page.
Your first choice of options is whether you want to use a real star (or set of stars) to build your system(s) around. In the top row there is a menu offering three Catalog options: None, Dole and SolStation. If you select None, then you can either specify the stellar mass to use, or leave it to StarGen to generate a random mass. On the other hand, if you choose either Dole or SolStation, then a second menu will appear, allowing you to choose stars from the corresponding catalog. This will also disable the ability to specify a stellar mass.
The Dole catalog consists of 15 stars listed by Stephen Dole in his book Habitable Planets for Man, upon which many elements of StarGen are based. These are the nearby stars that he suggested were most likely to have planets that could support human life. You can either choose an individual star from this catalog or generate a system for every star in the catalog.
So, suppose you want to create a setting for a game or science fiction story, or just want to explore the possibilities of life in the nearby universe. You might select Dole and All in the two menus in the top row. This will make -d appear in the text box at the bottom. Pressing the stargen button in the lower left is the same as issuing the command “stargen -d” in a command line environment. Try that now, remembering that you can get back to this page by using the Back button on your browser.
When you do so, this page should be replaced by one similar to the one shown in the picture to the right. The number and type of planets in each system will be different from the picture, but each system in the Dole catalog should be represented. Not only will the planets be different from the ones I generated for the picture, but if you come back to this page and issue the very same command, the results should be different from the results you got the first time. This is fine if you are exploring the possibilities of StarGen and the Dole catalog, but if you are doing this to generate a game world or fictional setting, you will probably want to be able to come back to the same system. This is what the Set random number seed field is for.
In order to create the systems, StarGen uses a pseudo-random number generator, which is a function that produces a series of numbers that are not obviously related to each other. Since a mathematical formula is used, the sequence is the same each time it is calculated. The function actually takes one number and produces the next one in the sequence. You can specify the first number used for a system. If you don't, the program picks one based on the time of day in seconds.
So, say you want a reproducible set of systems. Select Dole and All again, this time put a number like 42 in the Set random number seed box. Press the stargen button. This should produce a set of systems that you can come back to again and again. It is the equivalent of using the “stargen -d -s42”.
If you have not chosen a Catalog, you can instead enter a Specific Stellar Mass to be used for all the stars you generate. Please note that stellar mass in StarGen is limited to the range from 0.2 to 1.5 solar masses. This is because of the assumptions made years ago by the folks at the Rand Corporation who constructed the original model. They were interested in understanding the possible distribution of habitable planets among the stars. Because of this, they ruled out stars that are two large, which will not have a stable temperature long enough for life to evolve and stars that are two small and so will have a habitable zone so close to the star that the planet's rotation will be slowed to a stop.
There is a second limitation regarding mass inherent in the basic StarGen model. The way StarGen creates a solar system is by simulating the formation of planets in an "accretion disc", a ring of gas and dust thought to surround newly formed stars. The model that the Accrete program upon which StarGen is based generates the initial disk based uses to initially distribute the mass around a star results in a disk that seldom generates large enough planets close enough in to very small stars to be within the habitable zone. As a result, I have never seen a habitable planet generated around a star with a mass of less than about .63 solar masses.
I have considered raising the 0.2 solar mass limitation, but I am considering changes to StarGen that might allow suitable planets to show up around these smaller stars. The observations of actual extra-solar planets resulted in the surprising discovery that gas giants are often see far closer to their stars than previous theory or StarGen's model would allow. One possibility that has been suggested is that these planets formed further out but had their orbits disrupted, resulting in them falling to a lower orbit. It I put logic in to simulate that, suitable earth-sized planets may migrate close enough to these smaller stars. Until then masses in the 0.2 to 0.625 range are probably not useful.
If you want a little more detail to flesh the planets in your setting out, you could try adding in the atmosphere model. (Technically, the model is still "experimental", but it has been a feature for years and should not go away, though it may be changed. No need to hesitate to use it.) This changes both the thumbnail display and the full planet descriptions. The thumbnails will include descriptions of whether the atmosphere is breathable or poisonous and so on.
In the main descriptions, it turns this:
|Molecular weight retained||5.2 and above||N, O, CH4, NH3, H2O, Ne, N2, CO...|
|Molecular weight retained||5.2 and above||
N, O, CH4, NH3, H2O, Ne, N2, CO...
The presence of the Inspired Partial Pressure figure allows StarGen to make some judgments about the breathability of the atmosphere.
Now suppose the game or story you want to create a setting for takes place in particular star system and you have some particular requirement, like a high-gravity world, or a cold one. This is what the Repeat count field is for. You can generate several versions of the same system and then choose the one you need. To see this, choose Dole and instead of All, pick a specific star from the second menu, say Tau Ceti. This will change the options listed in the text box at the bottom to -D4 (4 is Tau Ceti. If you pick another star the number will be different.)
Hitting the stargen button at this point will generate just a single system. Adding a specific seed will make this reproducible, but if the result isn't what you're looking for you need to keep trying different seeds until you find what you're looking for. Try this now: set the seed to 42, and the Repeat count to 10. This time you'll get 10 versions of Tau Ceti.
The problem with just doing this is that if you're looking for a particular type of planet, you'll have to wade through a lot of systems, most without habitable planets. To make this easier you can select Only systems with habitable worlds from the menu in the second line. This will change the command line options to “stargen -D4 -s42 -n10 -H”, and greatly reduce the number of systems generated. Try it. This should produce only 1 or 2 thumbnails. At the bottom of the page will be a table summarizing the results. It will look something like this:
|Breathable g range||0.78 - 0.81|
|Terrestrial g range||0.81 - 0.81|
|Breathable pressure range||303.55 - 365.29|
|Breathable temp range||-26.7 C - -7.9 C|
Now that only habitable planets will be listed, you can afford to generate more systems without filling up the disk and the Thumbnails page with tons of useless systems. So, let's pump the count up to something like 200. This will give us options of “stargen -D4 -s42 -n200 -H”. Consulting the summary we can see that a small cool star like Tau Ceti tends to create smaller colder worlds. So, if we want larger or warmer planets we may want to use a different star, say Delta Pavonis:
Systems with two planets with breathable atmospheres are even more rare, but are dramatically quite interesting. We therefore have an option that is useful in searching for them. The Filter can also be set to Only systems with 2 habitable worlds. If you do so with the Catalog set to Dole and All the random number seed to 5, the Repeat count to 100 and check Only systems with 2 habitable worlds and optionally Use experimental atmosphere model (this last isn't required as both habitability filters imply the gas model) the options become "-d -s5 -n100 -g -2", and the results should look like this:
As you can see, this has reduced more than 250 habitable systems to just the one that has at least 2 planets with breathable atmospheres according to the gas model. Notice that the system is part of a binary star system. I'm not entirely certain why, but this tends to be the case. Most systems with 2 habitable planets are in binary pairs. I think this is because the accretion disc is narrower and more even in thickness.
This piece of code is the most experimental feature available from this page. It is incomplete, under active development and produces impossible results. It is accessible here at this point solely so that a couple of people who have collaborated with me on StarGen can view the output of my latest attempt at moons. This option is under development and may change radically without notice. Regard it as an undocumented alpha test feature.
This option causes the output to be written to a Comma Separated Values (CSV) text file that can be loaded into a spreadsheet such as Microsoft's Excel, or a database program. All of StarGen's data for each planet and moon is dumped. This option is intended for use by a couple of people who are using StarGen data as input into their own simulations.