Toxic, storm-wracked, and infested with fearsome predators, this world is not for the faint-hearted. For the canny operator with a cunning and well-armoured head, however, a wealth of glory and honour lies in store. Welcome to the Klingon Homeworld of Qo’noS. Qapla’!
When humanity first encountered the Klingons, they presented as little more than mindless, aggressive barbarians with Ming the Merciless eyebrows and vegemite for makeup. Later (around the time they mysteriously sprouted their distinctive crinkly foreheads) humans and Klingons developed a mutual respect which saw them fighting side-by-side against the Romulans, the Dominion, and the ever-present threat of cancellation. Today, Klingon culture, values, and even language are the obsession of super-nerds the world over.
However, it wasn’t until halfway through Star Trek: The Next Generation that fans saw the Klingon Homeworld for the first time. A hard land for a proud people, Qo’noS turned out to be not dissimilar to Scotland: rugged, beautiful, and politically entangled with the English.
Building a Planet, Step One: Kowtowing to Canon
- It has one large moon, Praxis, which was blown up in a mining accident.
- It orbits its star with a period of about 567 Earth days, which means the star is either larger or hotter than our Sun.
- It has a high surface gravity (1.25 g), very mountainous terrain, and abundant volcanism.
- It has one large supercontinent surrounded by a single giant sea.
- It is wracked by perpetual storms, with hurricane cells growing to the size of North America.
- It has a highly tilted axis and extremely variable surface temperatures.
- Klingons enjoy the heat, and are more sensitive to the cold, so Qo’noS is probably on the warm side compared to modern Earth.
- It has a ‘noxious’ pea-soup atmosphere, steamy jungles, and a vibrant biosphere dominated by hulking predators. Evolution has armed the inhabitants with super strength, redundant organs, and combined endo-exo-skeletons.
- The whole planet seems to have a grimy green tinge, as seen from space.
- The planet has an arbitrarily capitalised name that only fans could love.
Reading down this list, some distant memory stirs in me. It’s in my blood, my bones – it’s in my DNA. I remember this planet. My ancestors were born on it.
Qo’noS is just like Earth – a long, long time ago.
Building a Planet, Step Two: Sashaying toward Science
Imagine a world where all the land is gathered in one vast continent, surrounded by a turgid and violent sea. The collision of the landmasses long ago heaved up chains of supermountains thousands of metres taller than Everest. Now the supercontinent is on the brink of breakup. Ocean-floor spreading and mass erosion of the highlands has fertilised the sea, causing a boom of oxygen-producing microbes. Meanwhile, volcanoes spew forth torrents of lava and sulphur and CO2. As a result, the atmosphere is a thick, gloomy soup, both toxic and nutritious. A fierce evolutionary arms race breeds ever more vicious predators. Life thrives.
This is Qo’noS, the Klingon homeworld – but it is also Earth, at the very beginning of the Cretaceous, when dinosaurs reigned supreme.
Supercontinent = superawesome
Anyone who got a kick out of Grade 8 geography (and let’s face it, if you’re a Star Trek fan you probably did), you’ll know that Earth’s continents were once organised into a supercontinent which we call Pangaea. Bonus nerd cred accrues if you also know that Pangaea is but one of many supercontinents in Earth’s history, which are formed and dispersed in the so-called Wilson supercontinent cycle.
Pangaea was the most recent supercontinent. It started breaking up just before the age of T-Rex and was left in bits all over the world by the time the big meteor hit. Descriptions of Qo’noS give the impression the Klingon homeworld is going through a similar breakup, which is fitting considering that the Klingon Empire is constantly on the brink of falling apart too.
Qo’noS’ supercontinent would have a profound effect on the global environment:
- Daily and seasonal temperature variations would be greatly exacerbated.
- Super-monsoons (massive seasonal rains) would dominate many coastal regions as inland regions become freaky hot during the summer.
- Storms would be much more powerful, as they would have tens of thousands of kilometres of ocean to track across before making landfall.
- Chains of supermountains formed during the collisions of the continents would disrupt the global air circulation, concentrating rainfall in some areas and blocking it off in others.
- Plants and animals are able to travel from one end of the world to the other on foot, keeping everyone on their toes.
Earth is tilted on its axis. This is what causes the seasons, and not our distance from the sun, as these Harvard graduates seem to believe. The more a planet’s axis tilts, the more conditions in a given place are determined by the time of year, and not by how far from the equator it is. Summers get a lot hotter, winters get a lot colder, and windspeeds are massively enhanced, leading to larger and more potent storm systems.
Planets are not formed tilted on their side, but like people, they can get that way if they are hit really hard by a blunt object. This is what happened to Earth and Uranus, and it’s probably the same story with Qo’noS. The Klingon homeworld may even retain a memento of this early exercise in martial arts – its moon, Praxis, which probably formed after a massive collision with another planet, just like Earth’s moon Luna. On Earth, the gravity of the sun slowly pulled us back on our feet. But if Qo’noS got hit harder or more recently, it could still be akimbo. The resultant seasonal extremes, on top of the supercontinentality effect, would create absolute mayhem for the climate. Wildlife would have to be tough and adaptable to survive – but that is the Klingon way.
Why is the sky green?
So far so familiar. But what’s with that ‘noxious’ green sky?
We know the atmosphere is broadly made of the same stuff ours is, since Worf doesn’t need to wear a gas mask on the Enterprise. Qo’noS must have some extra gas in the air which we don’t.
One gas fits the bill and it’s a nasty one: chlorine. Chlorine literally means ‘pale green’ in Greek, and it has the scary property of reacting with water to form hydrochloric acid – inside people. This is why it is sometimes (illegally) used as a weapon.
Because Qo’noS has a very dense, warm, turbulent atmosphere, chlorine could mix through it the same as oxygen and nitrogen do on Earth. Diffused throughout the atmosphere, the chlorine would lend a greenish hue to the atmosphere and qualify as noxious without being flatout lethal. However it could on occasion react with water in the atmosphere to form a nasty acid rain. This might explain why Klingons all have big baldspots on top of their heads.
Chlorine has one more really cool property: a ‘boiling point’ of -35 degrees celsius. That may sound pretty chilly but it’s warm enough for chlorine in Qo’noS’ atmosphere to form clouds and rain. What would happen if a cloud of chlorine rained on a cloud of water? It would be a sight to see – provided you were wearing proper safety goggles.
Building a Planet, Step Three: The Estimate
Star Trek lore puts Qo’noS only 90 lightyears away from Earth. Did they hit the mark? Just how common is a planet like the Klingon homeworld? Let’s take a shot.
- Number of stars in our galaxy = 250 billion
- Planets in the habitable zone per star = 2
- Fraction of planets that are rocky = 50%
- Fraction of above that are big = 50%
- Fraction of above with big moons = 50%
- Fraction of above with plate tectonics = 50%
- Fraction of above with life = 50%
- Fraction of time such planets have supercontinents = 10%
- Chance of that chlorine thing happening = 1%
- Chance of Worf being defeated in combat against a newly introduced antagonist = 100%
- Standard ‘Goldilocks’ factor = 1%
- Gut instinct factor = 80%
- Number of planets like Qo’noS in our galaxy ~ 125,000
Distance to the nearest one:
- Volume of galaxy = 3.5 E+13 cubic lightyears
- Volume surrounding each Qo’noS = 3.5 E+13 / 1.25 E+5 = 2.8 E+8 cubic metres
- Distance between each Qo’noS = cubed root of volume = 650 light-years
- Average distance to the nearest Qo’noS ~ 325 light-years
That’s further away than Star Trek suggests, but it’s only another ten days at a leisurely Warp 4.5. The main factors limiting the population of planets like this at any given time are the presence of a supercontinent and the unusual atmospheric constituents yielding that lurid green hue.
The bottom line
From its supercontinentality to its super wonky axis, its hot, humid atmosphere to its hydrochloric clouds, everything about Qo’noS is dialled up to 11. Its extreme environment hearkens back to Earth’s own misspent youth, so it’s fair to say there may be a little Klingon blood in all of us.