February 1, 2006
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.