Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Wrong Aliens

NOTE: Reposted because I had to edit the post just to prove I knew the difference between its and it's.
This is a good news/bad news post. The good news: the 'habitable zone' - the distance from a star in which life could conceivably survive is growing. Space Daily reports that models suggest Pluto may have a liquid ocean under its ice cover. New Horizons is going to check that out. Since water seems the most likely place for us to find extra terrestrial life (as we know life, at any rate), the habitable zone suddenly extends much, much farther from the sun than most of us ever imagined. A book written by a pair of scientists in the late 90s called Rare Earth, does a great job of laying out the case for complex life (animals, plants, etc) being exceedingly rare.

If New Horizons finds an ocean on Pluto, none of that case changes. We aren't likely to find a society of merfolk swimming the dark ocean of our erstwhile ninth planet (now, officially a 'planetoid' - it's been pretending all this time. Who knew?) We *might* find single celled organisms. If Pluto were to offer up a jackpot of submarine life, we'd find a couple of multi-celled critters. Honestly? Assuming a probe were ever to actually make Pluto, land, bore through the ice and end up in the ocean with all sensors still intact, we'll be lucky to find some kind of primordial goo.

Remember. This is the good news.

The bad news: If the insulation of liquid water expands the habitable zone so dramatically, are science fiction romance authors pairing their heroes and heroines up with the wrong kinds of aliens? Maybe we should be coming up with unlikely love stories between an air breather and one of those Plutonian merfolks I mentioned probably didn't exist...

Granted, we're assuming that Earth isn't the only planet in the universe positioned in such a way as to support complex, humanoid life. It's probably also worth assuming that *our* form of complex life might not be the only form of complex life in the universe. But isn't it interesting to contemplate how a species that evolved in a dark, cold ocean would go into space? Why would they? And what would their senses be like? Vision wouldn't work. Not in the dark. Unless it's thermal.

Okay. Now this is getting interesting.


  1. Let's check out Mars before we go to Pluto, or to moons like Titan. You know there has to be life on Mars, right? There was the last time I was there......

  2. When was the last time you got a letter from home, Noel-Anne??

  3. Interesting post, Marcella. I've been doing a bunch of thinking about habitable zones. It does make for good SF ideas. Since most of us do write about humanoids and other planets/galaxies, it is well worth studying scientific facts, too. (I have a post up -Nov. 12- on Mars and Curiosity.)