Humanity speculating about aliens is like a virgin speculating about their first time. So little is known of the reality that the fantasy quickly ends up absurd. But hey, it's fun to fantasize anyway. So let's take a look at the wildest guesses scientists have made about who's going to probe us one day.
The biggest assumption we make about aliens is that they'll look at least vaguely like us. Part of that is convenient shorthand; it would be hard to bond with a fictional alien if it had 27 ear-penis hybrids protruding from its giant slug body. But we also figure that we look like us, and we turned out OK, so clearly this is a good evolutionary route to take.
But that forces us to make a lot of other assumptions about the conditions of an alien planet and the chemical building blocks present there. If aliens exist, there's no guarantee that they're living on a planet exactly (or even vaguely) like ours. What is safe to assume is that aliens were subjected to the same laws of natural selection that we were. If you're not adequately built for the salt storms of Xipglor, then get the hell out of the Morplok.
Humans, if you'll forgive the casual existential horror, are just giant masses of cells working together. And human evolution had a few key stages when that work got more complicated. Single-celled organisms became multi-celled organisms, multi-celled organisms saw increasing numbers of parts performing an increasing number of functions in tandem, and eventually all of that cooperation produced Chad, your neighbor who insists that everyone in the African country shares his name. The process that produces that complexity is what we should be looking for in intelligent life, regardless of the resulting physical appearance. And that means real first contact might be Buzz Astronaut going for an uncertain hand-to-maggot-penis shake with the butthole cactus here:
No, astrobiologists don't think that we'll specifically run into this creature that clearly wants to eat our genitals, but in the right conditions (namely, conditions that are quite different from our own), a bunch of smaller parts could come together to form something that's as complicated as us, despite looking nothing like us. Life doesn't inherently create human-like creatures -- it just creates. And if we ever do run into something along the lines of what's been dubbed the "Octomite," we'll have to make sure we don't show them all of our television shows, in which our noble heroes immediately destroy anything that looks remotely like that.
Humanity, along with all other life on Earth, is carbon-based. Carbon is great at bonding and forming long molecular chains, and it's often been assumed that carbon is a requirement for metabolism and other important functions that make life work. But "carbon chauvinism" has been disputed more and more over the years, which we're sure has led to some sarcastic comments about Silicon Justice Warriors.
Silicon is generally thought of as the most probable carbon alternative. It's commonly found throughout the known Universe, it's good at bonding, and it's easy to manipulate in a laboratory setting. It does have some downsides, but it's so easy to coax silicon into various artificial molecules that it's reasonable to assume that it's happening naturally somewhere in the Universe. But whether we'll actually stumble across that happening is another issue, so let's look at a different carbon alternative that could be hanging out close to home.
That's an azotosome, a hypothetical critter based on methane. If it looks simple, that's because it's only nine nanometers wide. So it probably doesn't have a rich inner life, but the fact that methane dominates Saturn's waterless moon of Titan has led to a lot of speculation about what life would look like in -290 weather. Methane has a much lower freezing point than water, and compounds based on it are sturdy, so this thing could theoretically be bobbing about in Titan's liquid methane oceans.
If it's really there, and how it would behave if it is -- those are the next big questions. But there is some credibility to the idea beyond a sci-fi writer on a tough deadline being inspired by their own farts.
Most plant life is green. We kind of take that for granted. But a recent paper (which we're far too dumb to understand the technical parts of) argued that long before those goddamn daisies were hogging all of the sunlight, purple organisms were getting in on the action. And theoretically, alien life could be doing the same.
Remember, light isn't merely light -- it's made up of red light, blue light, whatever kind of light exposes semen on crime shows, etc. Chlorophyll gives plants and algae their distinctive green color (although other substances in plants can create, say, red leaves), but photosynthesis doesn't actually absorb green light, despite the fact that green light is rich in energy. This implies that early plants were competing with other forms of life that were already soaking up that sweet, sweet green -- and that something might have been simple organisms with a molecule that provides a purple tint.
That molecule is less efficient than chlorophyll, but its simplicity keeps it effective. There are modern bacteria and single-celled organisms that still feature that purple pigment, and they seem to be related to some of the earliest life on Earth.
Regardless of how much early Earth resembled Prince's mansion, the point is that purple is a perfectly valid color for lifeforms to be, and there's no particular reason that alien life can't use the same strategy. Methods used to search for signs of alien vegetation generally act under the assumption that, like our own plants, they're thriving off the consumption of red and blue light. But we should also be looking for signs that green light is being absorbed, because that would also imply the existence of alien plants. And, even better, those plants would be fabulous.
Dinosaurs used to be the dominant species on Earth, right? And that only changed because of a freak extinction event, right? So if evolution had been allowed to continue unimpeded, dinosaurs could have eventually evolved our level of intelligence. And please don't show this next part to anyone responsible for the Jurassic World franchise, but if there are any other Earth-like planets out there, couldn't dinosaurs have continued their evolutionary growth there without incident? Your brain says no, but your inner eight-year-old says hell yes.
This theory is not only being proposed by us to justify our novel Dinosaur Brothel Planet, but also by prominent chemist Ronald Breslow to explore why the building blocks of life on Earth (sugars, amino acids, DNA and RNA) all generally exist in one specific shape and orientation. Essentially all amino acids, for example, have what's called a left-handed orientation (a right-handed orientation would be a mirrored opposite), and one of the big mysteries of life is why.
One theory is that life was brought to Earth by a meteorite that slammed into the planet, and so the only genetic material we could work with was what was available on that rock. If other planets were "seeded" the same way, but with different orientations on those building blocks, you might end up with intelligent dinosaurs. Yes, there are probably a few (thousand) boring steps in between, but we're not scientists. We're space dinosaur enthusiasts who are already sketching out a raptor lightsaber fight.
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