In the "Star Wars" movies, the Skywalkers hail from a forbidding desert planet called Tatooine, where human settlers have had to move most of their dwellings underground to escape the extreme conditions. Although this planet was invented in the imagination of George Lucas, it very well could have been based on a town right here on Earth. 

Coober Pedy, an old mining town built in the heart of the Australian outback, might be the closest thing to Tatooine in reality. Due to temperatures that regularly exceed 110 degrees and frequent dust storms, most of the desert town has had to move underground, reports There are subterranean hotels, shopping centers, even churches. The town's tunnel system holds around 1,500 houses with about 2,000 people living there.

And yes, the town's otherworldly design has made it a popular location to film science fiction movies too. "Red Planet," "Mad Max" and "Pitch Black" were all filmed here.

The dugout shelters that make up the town are far more than just holes in the ground. Residents enjoy all the usual amenities of above-ground living, such as walk-in closets, modern kitchens and televisions. Because the town was originally built as a mining settlement after opal was discovered here in 1915, some of the walls are even embedded with the gemstones.

As might be expected, tourism is mostly what keeps the town booming today. Tourists flock here looking for an authentic outback experience-- and to witness for themselves this remarkable subsurface settlement.

Take a look at some of the photos below to get a feel for why this real-life underground town has inspired so many fictional worlds:

Werner Bayer/Flickr

雷米 杜/Flickr

Underground bookstore (雷米 杜/Flickr)

Phil Whitehouse/Flickr


An underground church (Werner Bayer/Flickr)

Nicholas Jones/Flickr

Graeme Churchard/Flickr

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Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Tatooine-like Australian town built underground so residents can escape extreme heat, dust storms
Faced with frequent dust storms and daily temperatures in excess of 110 degrees, the Australian town of Coober Pedy has had to move underground.