After taking on the IGER assignment to survey the Sagittarius-Carina spiral arm I headed towards the Musca Dark Region and the Coalsack Dark Nebula. I like to see the Coalsack as a crossroads of sorts, because from there you can basically go further coreward, towards the Ophiuchus Dark Region and further towards the Lagoon Nebula, or you chose to go in the galaxy’s trailing direction towards the gigantic region of the Carina Molecular Cloud Complex and the mostly uncharted regions beyond.
Both, Musca Dark Region and the Coalsack are ideal for novice Explorers as they more or less lie at the doorstep of inhabited space and are easy to navigate and quite dense with stars. This only changes once you approach one of the dark regions that dot the outskirts of the inhabited Bubble. Musca for example is a place filled with many, many brown dwarfs and young protostars that don’t yield the necessary hydrogen isotopes for jump fuel. Thus, the patches of brown dwarfs and other non-scoopable systems can be a problem for ships with a limited jump range. Back in the day of 7-light years-drives it must have been a veritable pain to navigate without additional fuel tanks or deep space tankers, and maybe that’s where the term ‘Badlands’ comes from. Like travelling a desert without much water or navigate an ocean in a rowboat. Other terms stuck as well, like the ‘Dark Systems’, just another indication of how difficult it must have been for the early explorers to travel through.
Approaching the Coalsack, the stretches of brown dwarfs get thinner and give way to the more regular variety of stars. Star density is still more than enough to navigate here and quite a few stars have terrestial planets suitable for Terraforming or even boast an intact ecology already teeming with life. And then of course there is the Dark Nebula of the Coalsack itself. It’s an inky and beautiful jewel, especially when viewed with the Milky Way as background. The Coalsack is what is called a globule or infrared dustcloud, a mass of gas and dust so dense that it blocks out even infrared light and thus proved impenetrable for astronomers for many decades. It’s also a haven for the formation of stars. The interstellar matter is cold and dense enough to allow gravitational contraction to take place, the birthing signal for a new generation of protostars.
All of this presents many opportunities for the up-and-coming Explorer to hone his navigational skills and get a grip on the different types of stars and stellar bodies (yes, there are quite a few of them): What’s a TT-star and what’s a T-star? What’s an A1 III and what’s a Y5 V? Where do I find habitable planets? Where do I find planets rich in minerals? And what is a Giant Molecular Cloud?
After some time, you’ll get the hang of it, I’m sure. And the Badlands won’t be as bad anymore.