Pern is a planet from the imagination of science fiction and fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey, which has developed over the years into a place where readers of the series of books would love to visit and live, and in turn meet the creatures that have become inseparably associated with Pern, the dragons.
The Rukbat System
Pern is one of five planets that orbit the star designated alpha Sagittarii, which lies roughly two hundred light years from our own Sol. This star is more commonly know as Rukbat - the Arab astronomers who first discovered it named it Rukbat Al-Rami, the 'Archer's knee'. Along with the five planets in the system, there are two asteroid belts, a rogue planet, and an Oort cloud. This particular Oort cloud differs from the normal as it is made up of much smaller particles of matter than usually expected in such a body. Oort clouds are usually nebulous collections of stone and ice chunks.
The Planet Pern
Pern is the third planet in the Rukbat system, the only one able to support human life. It is a very blue planet when seen from space, due to the abundant seas, and there are three distinct continents. The biggest continent is massive, taking up more that half of the overall landmass, the second is smaller, and is approximately the size of Earth's Eurasian landmass. The last is a very small and barren continent, set apart on the other side of the world by an ocean 5000 miles wide. Pern’s diameter is approximately 6500 miles and there are two moons revolving around it; Timor, the more distant moon, and Belior the smaller but closer one. A Pern day is just over 24 hours long; the Pernese count 362 days to their year, with a leap year every sixth year. A single revolution around Rukbat takes Pern 366 Earth Days.
The naming of Pern came about when the planet was first surveyed for possible colonisation by the Earth's Exploration and Evaluation Corps. The teams had codes for easily identifying planets after they had surveyed them. 'DE' would mean the planet was a Dead End, unsuitable for colonisation, 'ILF' meaning that the planet was unsuitable as Intelligent Life had been Found. Pern was named for the initials on the report sent back to Earth, Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible. A letter 'C' was also added to the corner of the report to indicate the planet was suitable for colonisation.
The journey to Pern from Earth took 15 years, the crew of each of the three colony ships taking it in alternate five year shifts out of cryogenic sleep1. The three ships, Yokohama and its two smaller sister ships, Buenos Aires and Bahrain carried 6023 people between them, 25 dolphin volunteers, who slept the entire journey, and enough equipment and embryonic life-forms to provide the colonists with a good start in their new home.
The chosen landing site, named simply Landing, was on the volcanic plateau in the Southern Continent, behind an enormous extinct volcano, which was named Mount Garben. After all the cargo had been removed, the two smaller ships were completely gutted; only the Yokohama was left with any functioning machinery. The three ships were left in space orbiting in the planet, and over the centuries became known as the Dawn Sisters.
These native inhabitants of Pern were first discovered by the children of the colony, while out searching for biological specimens. Through good timing and not a little luck, the children discovered that the creatures were 'Impressed'2 upon hatching from their eggs. Soon many of the colonists had baby dragonets and after a short while, it was decided to experiment with the dragonets, and a clutch of eggs was treated with a compound called mentasynth, which was designed to enhance empathy. The resultant dragonets were capable of more direct telepathic communication and empathy with the humans who Impressed them. This was the first small step towards creating the creature that would ultimately save the people of Pern, the dragon.
The rogue planet, named the Red Star, so fleetingly mentioned above was to be the cause of the almost extinction of the people of Pern. The report from The Exploration and Evaluation Corps team had noted that the planet must have been captured by the gravity well of Rukbat, and was unable to escape from its orbit. They judged that its period of revolution was just over 200 years.
It was in the eighth year of colonisation that the Red Star came close enough to show its awful secret. As it passed through the Oort cloud it picked up debris, which became an ice cometary trail which followed the Red Star on its journey until it was close enough to feel the pull of Pern's gravity, the material then fell onto the Pern's surface. This material, called Thread because of the way it looked, was a network of mycorrhiziod fibres, similar to harmless Earth mycota (a substance found in fungi), this Thread was to prove anything but harmless, as it was able to ingest any organic substance.
Hundreds of people died in what was to be called First Fall. Nothing was left of the victims but whatever pieces of metal they had been wearing. If it wasn't for the as yet unseen skills of the colonist's dragonet's many more would have perished. It seemed that the dragonet's had developed traits that could save them from the assault of Thread, and these they used to defend their human friends. The dragonets had learned to breath fire, and to burn the Thread in the air, they also herded the colonist's towards rivers and lakes, knowing that Thread was destroyed in water. It was these actions that prompted one of the colonists to say, 'If only the dragonets were larger!'
Thus the story of Anne McCaffrey's Pern ends and the story of Pern's famous dragons begin.