Is It Possible for Humans to Survive on Dune’s Planet Arrakis?

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  • The desert planet, Arrakis, in “Dune: Part Two” has extreme temperatures and little water.
  • Surviving on such a planet would take technology and adaptability.
  • Three experts explain what it might be like to live on Dune’s planet.

In a distant star system, 20,000 years into the future, a scorchingly hot planet with arid deserts and little water is home to blue-eyed, seminomadic inhabitants called the Fremen.

Frank Herbert first described this harsh, fictional world of Arrakis in his 1965 novel “Dune,” which was recently adapted into a film trilogy. The trilogy’s second iteration “Dune: Part Two” debuted in US theaters Friday.

The movie was shot in the deserts outside Abu Dhabi, but we wondered what it would actually take to survive on a real-life Arrakis.

While it would require some ingenuity and technology, it wouldn’t be impossible, according to scientists we spoke with.

“There are populations that have lived for centuries and even millennia in deserts,” Seth Collings Hawkins, a wilderness medicine specialist with Wake Forest University School of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What planet Dune would look like in real life

“There are so many factors that make Earth habitable to humans,” Amy J. Kreykes, an aerospace medicine expert at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told BI.

That includes everything from the atmosphere to its distance from the sun to its available water.

“Everything is just uniquely perfect,” she said, “and really any deviation from any of that could make other environments a hostile environment for humans.”

Dune’s planet Arrakis has enormous sandworms, a drug known as spice that helps with interstellar travel, and two moons. Yet it’s not totally dissimilar to Earth.

Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in "Dune."

According to experts, Frank Herbert did an impressive job creating a realistic world in “Dune.”
Warner Bros. Pictures

When “Dune: Part One” came out in 2021, University of Bristol meteorologist Alexander Farnsworth and several other scientists used a weather-prediction climate model to simulate the conditions of Arrakis.

They input everything they could find from The Dune Encyclopedia on the planet’s geographical features, atmosphere, and astronomy.

There were a few places where the team’s model differed from the book’s descriptions, like the weather at the planet’s poles and tropics, for example.

Overall, though, Farnsworth said he was impressed by the world Herbert created.

“I think what surprised me most was overall how accurate Frank Herbert was in envisioning a desert world without having a physics background or a supercomputer to run any sort of calculations on,” he said.

“He must have done a huge amount of research into the various earth system components to understand how such a world could work,” he added. In fact, Herbert said he spent six years researching for the book.

Based on their calculations, Farnsworth and the other researchers found that living on Arrakis would be possible, though probably not all that pleasant.

Surviving the lack of water

Timothee Chalamet in front of mountain

Stillsuits in “Dune” help prevent the characters from deadly dehydration.
Warner Bros.

Planet Arrakis lacks oceans, lakes, or even tiny puddles on its surface. Needless to say, that’s bad news for humans.

“There’s a rule of threes,” Hawkins said. The human body can go for about three minutes without oxygen, about three days without water, and about three weeks without food. “This would be the point at which your body would start to break down,” he said.

To survive such dry conditions on Dune, the fictional Fremen wear what are called stillsuits, which capture the body’s perspiration and other bodily fluids and turn them into drinkable water.

However, this concept isn’t completely sci-fi.

Hawkins called space the “ultimate water-deficient environment,” which is why the International Space Station’s toilets turn nearly 85% of astronauts’ urine into drinking water.

Reclaiming that moisture is essential in environments where there’s no ready external source. However, as crucial as water is, on Arrakis, the temperature is the real killer.

“You would probably get heat stroke before you would die of dehydration,” Hawkins said.

Surviving the temperature extremes

A picture of Zendaya in "Dune."

If the lack of water on Arrakis doesn’t kill you, the heat certainly will if you’re not prepared.
Warner Bros.

Unlike in the book, Farnsworth’s scientific model of a real-life Arrakis found the tropics to be more hospitable than the polar regions because the temperatures would be milder year-round.

At the poles, the temperatures ranged from 158 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer to -76 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Meanwhile, temperatures at the tropics would range from 56 to 113 degrees.

“So [at the poles] it is not just heat stress but also cold stress that living things would have to contend with,” on a real-life Arrakis, he said.

Therefore, if you could pick, you’d want to live near the equator on Arrakis.

“The most feared consequence of being out in that environment is heat stroke, which is literally cooking of the brain,” Hawkins said. The body’s temperature would rise to 106 or 107 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than a fever.

Zendaya touching Timothée Chalamet's face

Travel by night would be the smartest way to move around on Arrakis.
Warner Bros.

“You just wouldn’t travel during the day at all,” he said. Everyone would find shelter until temperatures began to cool off at night. In the event that you’d have to venture out during the day, you’d need something akin to a stillsuit.

“It really seems paradoxical [to cover yourself], but we know now that a lot of the problem is the radiation and the heat exposure from the sun,” Hawkins said.

Certain fabrics are both breathable and good at reflecting heat. Integrating heat-conducting materials into clothing can help, but you would still want some kind of internal fan or air conditioner, Hawkins said.

“With technology, we can actually add tools on that help prolong our time out in the sun or in the hot environment with less bad effects,” Hawkins said.

Surviving the atmosphere

Timothee Chalamet holding up a knife

Lack of water isn’t the only thing that would make growing plants on Arrakis difficult.
Warner Bros.

When it comes to the composition of the atmosphere, “humans are very specific in their needs,” Kreykes said.

The atmosphere on Arrakis is similar to Earth. It has similar pressure, slightly less nitrogen (74.32% compared to about 78% on our planet), and a bit more oxygen (23.58% versus Earth’s 21%).

Despite the similarities, humans might still have an adjustment period.

“Anytime that you start messing with the atmosphere and changing those parameters, that has the potential to have significant effects on the human,” Kreykes said. “Any deviation would need to be looked at very, very closely for habitability for humans.”

Arrakis also has a little less carbon dioxide than Earth, which could affect plant growth. It would be another challenge on top of the limited water sources.

A glimpse of the future Earth?

Sandworms attacking

Earth is becoming more similar to Arrakis every day as the climate crisis raises global temperatures, but thankfully climate scientists don’t predict giant worms in Earth’s future.
Warner Bros.

While learning to tame giant sandworms is a problem that Earth will hopefully never have to face, parts of our planet aren’t all that different from Arrakis.

For example, the Sonoran Desert along the Mexican-U.S. border recently hit 177 degrees Fahrenheit, one of the hottest surface temperatures on record.

Arizona, New Mexico, and California have all faced droughts or water shortages in recent years.

As Earth continues to warm in the face of climate change, excessive heat and water scarcity will continue to affect not only humans but plants and animals worldwide.

One reason for the popularity of “Dune” and similar speculative fiction, Hawkins said, is because we can see elements of our own futures in it, “and I do think that this story has that message for us.”

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