Color seems to be an easy way of adding more dimensions to symbols. For instance, one could use the same symbol but in five different colors, giving you five symbols instead of one.
This is probably a bad idea.
The problem is that under adverse conditions, the color might not be capable of being distinguished. With the unhappy result of five different symbols that you cannot tell apart. Such condition include:
- Emergency lighting is often monochrome instead of white. Chemiluminescence glow sticks commonly emit green light, radioluminescence tritium lights are also green, low-pressure sodium lamps give yellow light. And light designed to preserve night vision under emergency conditions is red. Any of these can make two different colors become indistinguishable. This was featured in the movie The Abyss. The diver at an absurd distance below sea level has his lamp implode. The only light left is his glow stick. Unfortunately the nuclear warhead he has to disarm uses color coded wires that all look alike in green light.
- A person might suffer from impaired color vision. This is generally red-green color blindness, occasionally blue-yellow color blindness, and rarely total color blindness. There are ways to partially compensate for this. Red and Green are commonly used as opposites for people with normal color vision. For the most common color blindness (red-green) this is the worst combo, a better choice is Red and Blue or Yellow and Blue.
- Alien species might have vision which can only see in the infrared band or something exotic like that. Not only can they not see color, they might not be able to distinguish the symbol from the cloth or other surface it is applied to.
Rob Davidoff suggested that such symbols be "double-keyed". In the US the road sign symbolizing "Stop" is red of color and has an octogon shape. Words and numbers can be used, but part of the advantage of using symbols is they are not language specific.
With respect to color, the Semotic Standard symbols might have a problem.
|Circle with dot in center|
|Mercury||Crescent over circle over cross|
|Venus||Circle over cross|
|Cross over circle. More popular in non-geocentric contexts|
|Cross inside circle. Globe with equator and a meridian.|
|Mars||Angled arrow over circle|
|Ceres||Cresent over cross|
|Jupiter||Crescent on horizontal bar of cross|
|Saturn||Cross above crescent|
|Uranus||Vertical arrow over circle with dot|
|"H" from Herschel.|
Two crescents on horizontal bar of cross, over circle
|Neptune||Crescent over cross|
|"L+V" for Le Verrier.|
|Pluto||"P+L" for Pluto and Percival Lowell|
|Circle over crescent over cross|
Moskowitz Symbols were invented by Denis Moskowitz. The vast majority of smaller celestial bodies in the solar system do not have official symbols. Mr. Moskowitz decided to remedy that.
A gentleman by the name of Jeff Love figures that in astrology the various planets are symbols for aspects of a person's psychology. He analyzed the planetary symbols into common sub-symbols.
|Circle||Interacting with the world. A conscious as opposed to a subconscious process.|
|Crescent||Receiving/Emitting information or energy|
|Arrow||Movement, creativity, aggressiveness, response|
|Cross||Balance or fixation. Abscence means unfixed.|
These sub-symbols are combined to form the planetary/psychological symbols
|Sol||Dot in circle|
|Mercury||Vertical upward crescent over circle over cross, attached to vertical|
|Venus||Circle over cross, attached to vertical|
|Earth||Cross in circle (dot in center?)|
|Cross over circle, attached to vertical|
|Mars||Arrow on circle|
|Ceres||Horizontal crescent over cross, attached to vertical.|
|Jupiter||Horizontal crescent on cross, attached to horizontal|
|Saturn||Cross over horizontal crescent, attached to vertical|
|Uranus||Arrow on circle, with dot|
|Neptune||Vertical upward crescent (with arrows) over cross, attached to vertical|
|Pluto||Circle over vertical upward crescent over cross, attached to vertical|
For measuring equitorial longitude (right ascension) around the solar system plane of the ecliptic, a rough system can be made by dividing longitude into 30 degree segments named after the 12 signs of the zodiac.
For relative angular measure there are colorful archaic terms originating from astrology.
|0°||Conjunction||In same sign|
|18°||Vigintile||360° / 20|
|30°||Semi-sextile||360° / 12|
One sign apart
|32.727°||Undecile||360° / 11|
|36°||Decile||360° / 10|
|40°||Novile||360° / 9|
|360° / 8|
|51.429°||Septile||360° / 7|
|60°||Sextile||360° / 6|
Two signs apart
|360° / 5|
|360° / 4|
Three signs apart
|102.857°||Biseptile||360° / 3.5|
360° / (7/2)
Septile × 2
|108°||Tridecile||360° / 3.333|
360° / (10/3)
Decile × 3
|120°||Trine||360° / 3|
Four signs apart
|360° / 2.647|
90° + 45°
Square + Semisquare
|144°||Biquintile||360° / 2.5|
|360° / 2.4|
Five signs apart
|154.286°||Triseptile||360° / 2.333|
360° / (7/3)
Septile × 3
|165°||Quindecile||360° / 2.182|
Opposition - 15°
Undecile × 5
|180°||Opposition||360° / 2|
Six signs apart
Ron Cobb while working on the movie Alien in 1978, developed a set of graphic icons to be used in the interior of spacecraft. It was called the Semotic Standard for "all commercial trans-stellar and heavy element transport craft". They are surprisingly modern looking for graphics created almost forty years ago. They inspired similar icons in Duncan Jones's movie Moon.
The icons used symbolic colors:
- RED : viable, sound, alive, alertness
- WHITE/GREY : life supporting condition: pressure, temperature
- BLACK : vacuum, death, hazard
- YELLOW : harmful, active process: molecular (heat), atomic, chemical
- BLUE : lowered thermal condition
- GREEN : non-human biological substance, process (not used in standard)
Spacer's Runic is from Jovian Chronicles Spacer's Guide (which has other hard-science space travel details that are relevant to our interests).
In the world of Jovian Chronicles, Spacer's Runic is an ideogram based written language used as an emergency form of communication when speaking is not possible. The straight lined symbols can be drawn with all sorts of improvised tools and surfaces, and space suits carry vacuum rated marking pens specifically to write them. Morse code is considered to also be a part of Spacer's Runic.
Spacer's Runic is considered to be universal among spacers, understandable regardless of what language the spacers speak. This is much like the real-world International Code of Signals, which can be understood even if the sender only speaks Mandarin Chinese and the receiver only speaks Czechoslovakian.
A single straight line (the "orientation mark") is used to indicate the left side of the sentences, since otherwise the orientation of the message is ambiguous in the microgravity environment. The line should include at least two sentence rows, but most spacers draw the line to include all of them. If there is only one sentence, the orientation mark should extend above and below the sentence.
The runes are read left to right,top to bottom.
Each rune is drawn within an imaginary 3 × 3 grid of evenly sized squares. They are drawn with dots and straight lines. Dots are drawn in the center of a grid square or at an intersection. Lines are drawn from the side of one grid square to another, either from the intersection or the midpoint.
The reader should cut some slack to the writer, since the writer is probably trying to draw the runes under extreme stress during an emergency.
Sentences start at the orientation mark, with each rune added at the right edge of the sentence. A sentence should be on one row, or the "continue on next line" rune allows a sentence to be on several rows. It is not allowed to have more than one sentence on a row.
Runes should be spaced so there is from 3 to 6 grid square between them, it is allowed to space the digits in a number closer than 3.
There are thousands of runes, only a representative sample is shown here.
Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels are satirical fantasy for thinking people. While they are comedy, many of the jokes require a bit of scientific knowledge on the part of the reader. Which explains why I find them so entertaining. My personal favorites are The Truth (the invention of the newspaper), Going Postal (post office vs the Victorian internet), and Raising Steam (the invention of the steam locomotive).
Anyway like many fantasy novels the Discworld has a race of dwarfs. They spend most of their time in cramped mines in very close quarters with other dwarfs. Things can get tense.
Much like spacers on a prolonged deep-space mission in a tiny hab module, actually. Or asteroid miners.
As a sort of social network to reduce tensions Discworld dwarves use something called "mine signs", a species of graffiti. I am wondering of the idea can be adapted to a rocketpunk universe. Imagine Banksy using Spacers Runic
Once people are suited up, it does become hard to tell who is who. In Destination Moon, there were four spacemen, and each had a uniquely colored suit. Kind of like colored tooth-brushes. But this won't work if you have more than a few spacemen, er, spacepeople. The person's name stenciled in large letter across the front and back is a possibility.
In Piers Anthony's The Kirlian Quest, he notes that this problem has occurred before: knights in armor are similarly anonymous. The solution is coat of arms and heraldry. The knights wear their coats of arms on their shields, tabards, and horse barding, to identify themselves.
When a proposed heraldic "device" (coat of arms) is submitted to the college of heralds, it is compared with all existing devices. The new device must have at least one major and one minor point of visual difference from those already registered. Otherwise it would be too easy to confuse the two devices in the heat of battle. Mistaking a foe for a friend could be fatal. It is also a good idea if the device can be recognized at a distance.
As an amusing side note, a heraldic device has a "blazon". This is a verbal description of the heraldic device done in heraldic terminology. If you give a herald a blazon, they can reproduce the original device even if they had never seen it before. Just remember that the "blazon" is the verbal description and "to emblazon" means to draw, paint or otherwise make a graphic representation of the device (called an "emblazonment").
In Larry Niven's Protector, the Belters of the asteroid belt spend most of their lives inside their space suit. They have a tendency to paint their suits in extravagant colors. One of the characters had Salvador Dali's Madonna of Port Lligat on the front of their suit. In an interesting psychological quirk, Belters also tend to be nudists when in a pressurized environment.
And if you find any illustrations of the game Warhammer 40,000, you will quickly see that the Space Marines are big fans of heraldry. Even though you can generally idenifty the bad Marines by the tentacles, weeping open sores, and other Marks of Chaos. Otherwise, if the opponents look like skeletons they are Necrons; if they are tall, skinny, and distainful they are Eldar; if they are green with tusks they are Orks; and if they look like Giger's Alien xenomorph on bad LSD and are eating everything they are Tyranids. They are all enemies, so the basic rule is if it does not look like a Space Marine, shoot it with your bolter.
In a science fictional rocketpunk universe, they will generally be for members of the astromilitary, the civilian military, a trader with a megacorporation trading company, or a member of an independent free trader ship. There might be an additional symbol showing skill ratings, e.g., a person might have the badge of a crewperson of the free trader ship Solar Queen along with the cogwheel badge of an engineer.
And of course the police will have badges, whether they are for city, state, county, planet, federation, starport, space station, or whatever.
A common cliché in science fiction is the tell-tale sign of a spacer who is down on their luck. They will be wearing a worn out ship coverall zipper-suit, all the fabric faded except for the dark spot where the embroidered textile ship's badge used to be.
For cinematic purposes they will probably look like a flashy symbol, but in reality they will probably be more like an RFID chip or other electronic tag. Cinematic badges are usually worn on the sholder, on the left breast, or both. Sometimes there will also be a colored ribbon going down the leg and/or arm, but I digress.
And don't forget the spacecraft, it might have nose-art. noted that typical US Navy ships have a squadron logo someplace, while cruisers tend to have the logo of their Group because in the US Navy cruisers are in Groups rather than Squadrons.
Christopher Weuve said that he is a big fan of DESRON-21's logo. As he puts it, just change "Solomons" to something else suitable (Orion? Arcturus?) and you're ready to go.
In a discussion about future military spacecraft paint schemes, Barry Messina says:
An experiment in inventing the spacecraft colors for the science fictional Strategic Space Command.
The author's father, Major Winchell D. Chung, (ret.) used to be the navigator/bombardier officer on a SAC B-52 aircraft. For his crew he painted insignia on their helmets. Years later when I saw the first Star Wars movie I wondered why the X-wing pilot's helmets looked oddly familiar.
I always wondered about the dragon emblem. Thinking back, I vaguely remembered it was based on a water-slide decal. After a bit of an internet search, I figured what I was remembering was the IMPKO dragon decal from 1960. It appears my father modified it to have four feet instead of just two.
Judging by the way RocketCat is eyeballing the dragon, I figure there will be a new emblem added to his space suit.