The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Two Whole New Worlds


To ignite the public imagination with the possibilities of life on other planets, a group of researchers from NASA and SETI have created an elaborate scientific vision of what alien worlds might look like. Their projections appeared in a National Geographic special last fall, and are currently on display at the London Science Museum.

The scientists started out by imagining two Earth-like planets — “Aurelia” and “Blue Moon” — with some key differences in atmospheric density, orbit, etc. Then they performed some crazy advanced computer simulations and came up with super-detailed visions of the types of lifeforms that would inhabit these alternate worlds.


For example, the incredible denseness of the atmosphere on Blue Moon makes the evolutionary leap from sea animals to flying animals much more straightforward, producing a species of airborne whale-like creatures. Aurelia’s synchronous rotation means sunlight is a precious commodity, so trees become tree-animals, moving slowly on tentacles to maximize their exposure to the sun.

Tentacular tree-animals? Flying whales? Crazy, right?

Ha. Probe the Internet a little and you’ll find all sorts of folks criticizing the NASA/SETI scientists for being too conservative in imagining other planets. Carbon-based life forms are so boring, says the Fortean Times. Why not silicon, like on that one Star Trek episode? (Wikipedia’s rather critical entry on the project tells us the tendency for scientists to assume all life must be carbon-based is often called “carbon chauvinism.” New favorite thing.)

OK, I know I said I wasn’t generally a fan of science fiction, but if sci-fi SF authors all had hott interactive Flash applications (and a blog, no less!) to illustrate their visions, I think I could dig it.

An article in this month’s Wired about the project piqued my interest, which led me to the Nat’l Geo presentation, which is the main attraction. Make sure you watch the movies and listen to the audio commentaries.

February 1, 2006 / Uncategorized


What appalled me about the presentation of the TV documentaries based on this science fiction was that they presented it as science. This I do not understand, or appreciate. It says a lot about our culture that one can present fiction as fact by saying “a bunch of scientists believe”.

Word. Especially in today’s political and intellectual atmosphere, anything that creates confusion between science and intelligent speculation does us a disfavor.

Content aside, that Flash site is hot! This is weird… I find myself liking some of these huge screen-consuming Flash presentations lately…

Interesting observation, Chris. Not having seen the television show, that didn’t strike me at all, but when I look at the video preview on your site, I see what you mean. Voiceover from the clip: “The planet Aurelia is teeming with life. Scientists believe this world could be discovered within the next few years.” I think the Flash site is more scrupulous about presenting it as clear fiction; its intro is: “The year is 2020. A new telescope orbiting high above the earth has just made a discovery that will change our lives forever.”

You’re right, though, it’s really important now and always to make the distinction between science and fiction clear.

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