Scientists determine that people could actually survive on Dune’s desert planet Arrakis. The science-fiction novel by Frank Herbert was published in 1965 and remains a classic of the genre, having inspired different TV and film adaptations that historically struggled to completely capture its narrative and themes. The most recent of these adaptations, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, tackles only the first half of the source material and was a critical success upon release.

While Dune is solidly in the realm of science fiction, a gathering of climate scientists from The Conversation created a model from Herbert’s description of the desert planet, and they conclude that, climate-wise, it’s not all that implausible. While their supercomputer-enabled simulation contests a few the book’s assertions, such as the presence of longstanding polar ice caps, they remark that “the world he created looks remarkably consistent” despite the limitations of his era. And, while the Fremen have chosen to live in perhaps the most difficult areas to sustain life, “quite a bit of Arrakis itself would indeed be habitable, albeit inhospitable.”

The consistency of Herbert’s description of Arrakis’ environment, while certainly impressive, is reasonable no accident, as climate plays a crucial job in the larger story. In Villeneuve’s film, Imperial Ecologist Dr. Liet-Kynes informs protagonist Paul Atreides that the innovation exists to transform Arrakis into a paradise, yet all efforts to transform the planet ceased when the spice was discovered. Paul then signals that this will be a central goal of his mission to make a play for the Emperor’s throne, foreshadowing part of his relationship with the Fremen in the next installment.

Regardless of whether they’d trust never to find themselves on a desert planet, Dune fans will surely find it exciting to know how closely Herbert’s original stays to the real science. Indeed, the seeming plausibility of the Fremen way of life is thematically crucial to the story, which relies heavily on allegory to comment on the colonial exploitation and subjugation of Arab and North African peoples by Western powers. While Villeneuve’s film may have softened the political commentary, it does capture the sense of overwhelming heat in the transition from Caladan to Arrakis, and fans will be eager to see how Dune: Part 2 handles the planet’s underground caverns.


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