Fictional Universe of Avatar

In the 2009 science fiction film Avatar, director James Cameron conceived a fictional universe in which humans seek to mine unobtanium on the fictional exoplanetary moon, Pandora. The Earth-like moon is inhabited by a sapient indigenous humanoid species called the Na'vi, and varied fauna and flora. Humans travel to Pandora in the 22nd century to discover this lush world, which is inhabited by many lifeforms including the human-like Na'vi. The clan with which the humans have contact in the film lives in a giant tree that sits on a vast store of a mineral called unobtanium, which humans want as an energy supply.

Astronomy and Geology

In the film, Pandora is depicted as being located in the Alpha Centauri A system approximately 4.37 light-years (276,000 AU) away from Earth. It is one of the many natural satellites orbiting the gas giant Polyphemus, named for the Polyphemus of Greek mythology. Pandora's atmosphere is a mix of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, xenon, ammonia, methane, and hydrogen sulfide. Humans cannot breathe this, so they wear Exo-Packs when outside their buildings or vehicles.

Leri Greer, a designer at Weta Workshop, explained the unusual day/night cycle experienced by the Na'vi, who inhabit a moon orbiting a planet, that in turn orbits around a star.

I actually wrote about how it causes a particular sky coloration across the visible spectrum at moments of pure dusk. And the Na'vi, depending on what elevation they live at (sea level versus higher altitudes), perceive a distinct color in narrow band at the horizon at that moment. They identify themselves, and signify in their markings, with this color. Which helps other Na'vi quickly discern at a distance what/where they are from, or what they are likely to be like (fishermen, high plains, skyriders, etc.). That pure dusk "color," combined with their other predominant color markings lets you also know how they relate to Eywa as a "religion" versus Eywa as a physical reality. And during ceremonial gatherings you can "read" a Na'vi by how they mark themselves with dyes, muds, and paints. And the environment and day/night cycle is directly responsible for the development of this social expression behavior. Again, this was an internal idea to help us design things at Weta Workshop, it's hard to say how much filtered upward to the larger production.

Pandora has lush, tropical rainforests that cover much of its continents. Pandora also possesses a lesser gravitational force than Earth does. The geology of Pandora is strongly affected by the presence of unobtanium, a mineral whose superconductive properties allow it to float in magnetic fields. This property makes it highly valued by humans, who mine it for transport back to Earth. Pandora's levitating Hallelujah Mountains contain significant quantities of unobtanium, which allows them to ride the strong magnetic fields in their region. Cameron hopes to explore the other moons in future sequels, books, and spin-offs.

Pandoran Biosphere

The Pandoran biosphere teems with a biodiversity of bioluminescent species ranging from hexapodal animals to other types of exotic fauna and flora. The Pandoran ecology forms a vast neural network spanning the entire lunar surface into which the Na'vi and other creatures can connect. The strength of this collective consciousness is powerfully illustrated when the human invaders are defeated in battle by the Pandoran ecology, after the resolute Na'vi were nearly defeated. Cameron utilized a team of expert advisors in order to make the various examples of fauna and flora as scientifically feasible as possible.


In the Avatar universe (set in the year 2154), humans have achieved a technologically advanced, post-industrial society dominated by powerful corporations and industries. One of Earth's most powerful corporations is the globally integrated Resources Development Administration, a quasi-governmental organization that possesses a monopoly over all resources in the Alpha Centauri system and any other non-Earth location. The Interplanetary Commerce Administration granted these sole rights to the RDA under the stipulation that the use of weapons of mass destruction of any kind are to be strictly prohibited. Known RDA personnel on Pandora include head administrator Parker Selfridge, Colonel Miles Quaritch, Private Sean Fike, Corporal Lyle Wainfleet, Dr. Max Patel, Dr. Grace Augustine, Dr. Norm Spellman, and Samson 16 pilot Trudy Chacon.

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Parker Selfridge

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Miles Quaritch

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Lyle Wainfleet

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Grace Augustine

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Norm Spellman

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Trudy Chacon

Although Earth is never seen in the film, other than in the extended collectors edition, Cameron developed the future Earth of Avatar as a dystopian, overpopulated, overpolluted, global urban slum wrecked by corrupt, nature-destroying industrialism; the movie's background cyberpunk theme is a regular feature of his work. According to Jake, the Earth is a "dying world" where humans have "killed their mother", suggesting that there is very little, if any, functioning natural ecosystem left. By the film's 22nd century timeframe, Earth faces a worldwide economic/energy crisis due to the depletion of natural resources. Earth is also apparently so politically unstable that the services of private security contractors and the militaries of Earth's nations are in high demand; Colonel Quaritch boasts about serving three combat tours of duty in Nigeria before coming to Pandora and notes that Jake is a veteran of a military operation in Venezuela. The planet has also suffered serious natural and man-made disasters, such as an intra-continental conflict and tsunamis hitting the east and west coasts of the United States.


Technologically, humans have achieved monumental advancements by 2154: interplanetary and interstellar space travel and colonization; virtual 3D printing and holography mapping; and advanced methods of cryonics and psionics (via synthetic telepathy interface) are employed. Using their capability of advanced genetic engineering, humans develop "Avatar" hybrid bodies from genetically distinct modified-human DNA and Na'vi alien genetic material. Through psionics, genetically matched humans are then mind-linked to these "Avatars" for remote control operation. In the area of medicine, humans have developed advanced stem cell neuroregeneration technology that can cure Jake's paralysis. However, in 2154, it is still extremely expensive and is not covered by Veterans Affairs benefits. Thus, RDA is initially able to use Jake's desire to regain the use of his legs as leverage against him.

As with many science fiction films, many space vehicles, aircraft, ground vehicles, weapons and technologies were created to fit the story. Many were patterned after historical or contemporary technologies to give the film a sense of futuristic realism. Concept artist Ryan Church based many drawings on aerodynamic research from previously classified NASA and DARPA technical papers. Unlike the movie Aliens which employed one drop ship from de-orbit to ground combat, several vehicles cover specific roles of utility transport, gunship, and base resupply. This is similar to the specialization of aircraft and helicopters in the United States military since the Vietnam war.

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Amplified Mobility Platform

is an MK-6 vehicle redesigned for Pandora's hostile environment that is worn and controlled as a large "mech" motorized suit.

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AT-99 Scorpion Gunship

is the heavily armed gunship counterpart to Samson and is similar in role and appearance to the AH-64 Apache, Mi-28 or UH-1 Huey gunships.

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C-21 Dragon Assault Ship

is a large four-post ducted-fan VTOL heavily armed transport and gunship, which can deliver AMP, suits through drop doors.

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GAV Swan

is a six-wheeled terrain assault vehicle with a gyrostabilized platform so when it travels over rough terrain, the gunner platform is stabilized.

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ISV Venture Star

is an interstellar bulk carrier starship that uses antimatter propulsion systems to enable interstellar travel.

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SA-2 Samson

is a twin-ducted fan VTOL utility aircraft armed with two door mounted machine guns and two pylons near the cockpit with missile pods mounted on them.

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