The Spice of (Extraterrestrial?) Life
December 6, 2013
What do I imagine awaits us? In a word, variety. Which seems redundant, or perhaps "the easy way out." But there's little doubt it's true. Perhaps a solar system just like ours. Perhaps one crammed close to its star and therefore burning hot. Perhaps one farther flung, and icy. Perhaps all, and everything in between.
And maybe, if we dare let our minds wander, there will be something stunning to look at. An exo-Europa, but instead of being flat and smooth on the surface, it is craggy rugged, the ice practically sloshing like waves, thanks to the actual water beneath it. The churning masses of frost and rime crashing together like continents. And how would light play upon such a surface? Even if the star is distant, surely it would be spectacular.
What if an exo-Mercury has a surface of less rock and more metal? Proximity to its star moltenizing the surface so instead of lakes and oceans of water (or hydrocarbons like a Titan), the slabs of rock sit amidst a world of lava. Would lava currents carry heat as water does here? Would the planet--atmosphere-less as it would nearly have to be--have weather driven by these molten tides?
Of life, we can hope, but perhaps more wisely only speculate. If it does exist, though, what awaits? Tradition (and media) say something humanoid, or at least something RESEMBLING an Earth creature, unlikely as a true connection might be. But science tells us anything is possible. Will we meet what are, as Star Trek would have us believe, near human twins, different only for ears, or a nose, or green skin? Will we see something so truly alien, so different from Earth life that our minds cannot find them pleasant to look at--though we must hope we would be sensible enough to not let that taint our interactions. Would we be able to perceive them at all? Was Douglas Adams right, is there a super-intelligent shade of the color blue waiting to meet our retinas and wave hello?
It seems the only certainty is that we will see many things. We will see many more Marses. Many more Venuses. Many Jupiters and Uranuses and Plutos and Cerii (Cereses?). With fingers crossed, maybe a couple Earths thrown in there. Maybe a few more exotic, more bizarre things for us to learn about. It could be more of the same, it could be wildly different.
All we can say for sure is, it's out there. One day, we're going to see SOMETHING. And I can't wait.
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.