In this week’s edition of Wing Up With, we catch up with the brains behind the famous Borderlands Venture. Commander Leth is a familiar face around CCN and–full disclosure–has offered his design talents to the Colonia Gazette in the past.
We managed to tempt Qohen away from his mapping work just long enough to find out what this enigmatic explorer is doing out there on the other side of the galaxy, how he came to CCN and just what he plans to do next.
Gazette: It’s great to have you with us, Commander! So, tell us about Qohen Leth. What can you normally be found doing?
Qohen: Well, normally I cannot be found. I spend my time almost exclusively in the dark, away from civilization (or ‘un-civilisation’, rather). I travel a lot, it feels natural. When I’m not, or when my good ol’ Barbara Barbara (my AspX) is processing data, I’m drawing stuff in a corner of my cabin.
Gazette: I think most colonists would be familiar with your art by now, even if they didn’t realise it!
So what brought you to CCN?
Qohen: Erimus brought me to CCN. Before then, I didn’t care much for politics or player-driven enterprises, I kept to the science. Scientists don’t know boundaries or sides, they just work together towards a common goal.
And this is precisely what drew my attention to CCN, once Erimus had briefed me. I had heard about Jaques once, a few weeks earlier, when he made his historic jump. It seemed like an entertainment to me, nothing more, really. It’s only after I heard what it meant for the people I belong to – the explorers, the outlanders, the scientists – that my take on this situation changed.
Obviously, a leader like Erimus had the means to unite people from all horizons; without a doubt, we, as a team, would be able to gather people and invite them to take part to a new common goal: the establishment of a society more suited to our nature.
Gazette: Eloquently put. It’s unusual for someone to identify both as a scientist and an artist. Care to comment on that?
Qohen: Grins. It’s not the first time I hear about my ‘various selves’. I don’t really know how to put it, it just happens to be. I guess I tried my hand at art during those long travels – you have to have a hobby, some personal work to worry about to forget the loneliness and the coldness of space at times.
When I heard some folks back in the Bubble wanted me to work on something for them, it also became a means to keep in touch with other human beings. It helped me hold on during tough times. I wasn’t always alone, I wasn’t always idle, waiting to reach a target 500,000 ls away.
Gazette: It’s unusual to be sure. You clearly view science as your calling and design as a hobby, though. Was it your love of science that led you to launch the Borderlands Venture (BV)?
Qohen: It’s definitely science. Or, if you consider ‘science’ the medical term for ‘space madness’, well… Sometimes I wonder why I set out on such an ambitious adventure. And brought innocent people along with me. You know scientists. They always go for it, and sometime later they ask themselves if it’s even doable. That’s our lot.
Gazette: How did you conceive it?
Qohen: The idea is extremely simple. As I, and a few others, wanted to know more about how the systems are distributed in space and detect any relevant patterns regarding the mass distribution, potential terraformable bodies, etc. we decided to scan in full detail what we call a galactic sector–a 1280 LY-side cube in space. This way we can gather statistical data that may allow us to precisely estimate the parameters governing the relationships between stars, planets, and moons.
On a practical level, it’s fairly simple as well. This is how our onboard flight computers work: all the systems in a sector are sorted by a three-letter code, like AA-A, FD-T, etc. The last letter is a group, further subdivided into 626 sub-sectors; amounting to 17,576 sub-sectors for the whole sector. So, we drew a list of sub-sectors starting from AA-A, drew lists of systems in each of those, and started to meticulously scan in detail every system, one sub-sector after another, filling forms as we go. Commanders EfilOne, Dukrous and ReaperSMS have been a huge help setting our procedure up.
Gazette: What made you pick that area of space in particular?
Qohen: Good question.
First, it had to be decently doable, meaning it couldn’t hold so many systems that we would never ever see the end of it. So it had to be on the edge of the galaxy.
Second, it had to be far enough so that it would have barely been visited and would discourage people not willing to make the effort to sign up and just forget about it. You’d have to deserve and want to be there.
And third, I felt that the New Outer Arm was the place to be, as it is fairly unknown. Then we scouted a bit, and we chose the Tosia sector because we liked the name!
Gazette: That’s actually fascinating! The Gazette suspected (knowing you a bit) that you just chose the furthest place you could, out of bloody-mindedness.
Qohen: That could have been a reason on its own, indeed!
Gazette: How many Venturers are there now?
Qohen: Right now, there are five of us, including me who’s just leaving the area for some time. More are scheduled to come later on this year, like Aggie Ninepence, who I believe is well-known to the community, and Johnny Dietz, your latest Gazetteer I believe. The uniqueness of this expedition makes it very adaptable.
Gazette: Where are you heading?
Qohen: I’ve just started heading to Jaques Station! It’s about time I visit our beloved bartender. I’m carrying 2 and a half months of data, that I’m going to secure in our new headquarters there. It’s extremely valuable. I’ll also spend some time lurking around the station to greet newcomers.
Gazette: Visitors to the bar are very familiar with your holographic presence already, I think.
How far through the whole enterprise are you now?
Qohen: According to the original plan and our dynamic estimate, we’re at 0.904% only, with 1,216 systems logged (that’s over 12,000 bodies). As you can see, even such a remote sector is much too populated to be dealt with with current technology.
Our estimates give 134,000 systems and over 765,000 planets. So I’m thinking that we will end the exhaustive survey once we will have logged all the -A sub-sectors, and start a Stage 2 of BV with different and more human-size objectives. So we’d be at about 25% completion of Stage 1.
That’s of course without taking into account the processing of all the data and the writing of our scientific paper. We might be done in about 10 to 12 months at this rate.
Gazette: Ten months is less time than I expected. You clearly have the structure and academic rigour needed. What would Stage 2 look like?
Qohen: Such a venture does indeed require a strong structure and a sense of discipline. It’s tough sometimes for the Venturers, but they get along happily, knowing they’re here to make history.
Stage 2 is still under brainstorming. There are several options.
We could continue our density/mass-codes research by scanning relevant subsectors only, relying on ReaperSMS’ valuable input regarding the sector’s structure. We could also look for every Earth-Like World, Water World and Ammonia World in Tosia.
A more difficult but also very exciting challenge will be to find a Helium Gas Giant – you know those are extremely rare.
Depending on the motivation after 10 months, Stage 1 might stay open to be completed on and off by very different crews. In fact, it’d be a tremendous team effort from the player base to contribute, fleet after fleet, to this huge enterprise. But scanning all those systems… Expect years of work.
Gazette: We’re genuinely struck by the laudable motivation behind this. Have the data collected so far revealed anything surprising?
Qohen: It’s hard to tell, since there’s no similar database to compare it to! And we haven’t run all the calculations yet.
From the few statistics we monitor daily, we can see that the average number of stars per system is 1.8, and the average number of planets per system is oscillating around 5.7. What struck us at the beginning was that the first few dozens of sub sectors almost exclusively contained high metal content (HMC) planets!
But at about 12% in, the trend shifted and the number of Icy planets quickly caught up, which is significant. So far we have 3025 ice balls and 2449 HMCs – these are close numbers. 10% sharp of the HMCs are terraformable. And we have 15% more terraformable Water Worlds than non-terraformable, which is unexpected. No Class V Gas Giant, no Helium, and only one Water Giant. But these are only first-look statistics.
For what it’s worth, I can add that so far the total mass of Tosia is 2.595827^100 tons!
Gazette: Wow! Well that’s a question that’s bugged mankind for centuries. Glad that’s resolved.
And, as and when your monumental undertaking comes to an end, will you make Colonia your home?
Qohen: Is that worth asking? Colonia already is my home (I’m glad Custodians have reserved condos), our headquarters, and the starting point of all my future expeditions.
Gazette: Well, it will be good to finally have a drink with you in person, rather than watching your drunken hologram ask Jaques out on dates. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to speak to us, Commander!
Qohen: My drunken hologram? That’s… that’s not me. I think there’s someone else in my ship. Ahem. It was a pleasure! I shall hit your backyard in about 24 hours! Fly safe, Commander.
See here for more information on the Borderlands Venture: