Avatar’s Pandora is the wildest, most beautiful and most deadly place in the galaxy. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live here? But how could the air kill you? What elements could make your body glow? And how could a gas giant destroy Pandora’s surface?
Welcome to Pandora. Located in the Alpha Centauri star system, this world is shrouded in mystery and the cinematic rules created by James Cameron. For starters, Pandora isn’t even a planet. It’s a moon of a gas giant just like our Jupiter. If this deadly moon existed in real life, it would have to follow the laws of physics.
That’s good news for you. Because on Pandora, you’d weigh 20% less than you do on Earth. Take advantage of that weaker gravity, and leap across the untamed alien jungle. But under no circumstances should you ever jump in this water. The gas giant Pandora revolves around is called Polyphemus.
This massive planet is only a bit smaller than Jupiter. But that’s big enough to destroy all life on the world you just arrived on. Pandora and Polyphemus are tidally locked, so only one side of this moon is always facing its gas giant. And that’s dangerous. All because it could cause tidal heating when one side gets a slightly larger gravitational pull than the other.
Sure, this could create floating mountains along the magnetic waves of Polyphemus. Except Pandora’s surface wouldn’t be anything like it is in the movie. In reality, it would look more like Jupiter’s moon, Io, which also happens to be the most volcanically active world in the Solar System. And if that wasn’t enough, Pandora’s sky would be radioactive.
Well, sort of. If the magnetosphere of Polyphemus were just as big as Jupiter’s, Pandora would be trapped within it. There, it would be bombarded with charged particles from its own star system. If Pandora didn’t have its magnetosphere, you’d have no buffer from these intense rays. So you’d better wear a What If-approved protection suit.
And trust us, you would want to have this suit. Because even if it wasn’t radioactive, the atmosphere would still kill you. On Pandora, the air would be mostly made up of carbon dioxide and xenon. Both of these gases in high concentration would instantly suffocate you. And that rotten smell? That’s the hydrogen sulfide. That won’t kill you, but you’ll wish you were dead.
Even if you could breathe that surface air, life would be hard without a magnetic field. You might have to live underground. Or maybe underwater? In Avatar: The Way of Water, you will dive under the waters of Pandora to explore an entirely new society. But if this planet existed, the water could kill you.
All because that water would likely be highly acidic, thanks to the high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. It could be so bad it would dissolve all sea life that has shells. And that would severely alter the food chain. Even worse, one dip in these waters could burn your skin off. You’d need to make sure that protection suit is waterproof.
But if you set your life in the ocean, you’d miss the beauty above the surface. But Polyphemus would never leave your sight if you were on Pandora’s right side. The other side of the moon would never get this magnificent view. This comes with some tradeoffs. You’d have a hard time falling asleep.
The Alpha Centauri star system Pandora is located in has not just one, not two, but three suns. Pandora would orbit around Alpha Centauri A. But another star, Alpha Centauri B, would also send a lot of light Pandora’s way. It burns 2,300 times as bright as the full Moon on Earth. And you wouldn’t even be able to watch Netflix during your sleepless nights.
Standard electronics wouldn’t last long in this environment, not with all that radiation and electrical interference. You’d need space marine-grade technology to survive in this world. At least there would be enough animals and plants for you to feast on. Only I’d recommend running chemical tests for heavy metals and strong acids before you eat anything.
Undetected toxins could destroy your kidney and liver. And there might be an unexpected side effect. If you ate too much glowing food, you might become bioluminescent. Pandora would be a world of incredible species of extreme wildlife. Hey, soon enough you might be taming an Ikran for your commute around your strange and lethal home.
- “Is Carbon Dioxide Harmful To People?”. Dianna Smith. 2019. learn.kaiterra.com.
- “Xenon – Gas Hazards & Applications”. Matt Shaw. 2020. cacgas.com.au.
- “Why Does My Water Smell Like Rotten Eggs?”. 2022. health.state.mn.us.
- “Jupiter’s Magnetosphere Will Blow Your Mind While It Kills Your Spacecraft”. Nancy Atkinson. 2016. universetoday.com.
- “In Depth | Io – NASA Solar System Exploration”. 2022. solarsystem.nasa.gov.