Ethereal Universe

August 29, 2010

Our story takes place in a far off location that’s still familiar to stargazer and astronomer alike. Nestled in between Pisces and Taurus is the constellation Aries. Named after the ram that would bear the Golden Fleece, Aries holds special significance for us because the subject of this blogger’s fascination, the origin of life in the universe, makes this constellation our target. Hiding within the backdrop of those stars is the galaxy we designate NGC 772 in the New Guide Catalog. This deep space object is a unbarred spiral galaxy about 130 million light years away.

And just one star in this galaxy is the focus of our thought experiment. One star amongst billions of stars in their night sky. This star is not the biggest or the brightest. In fact, it’s smaller and dimmer than our own Sun. But this star makes up for its mediocre mass with a special property; it is home to the planet where our story begins. This planet is a strange world compared to Earth; it’s bigger and denser than Earth and it’s perched closer to its star than we are to our Sun. It has three moons and a wobbly revolution. It routinely experiences severe volcanic eruptions and savage hurricane-force winds across most of its surface with lightning more intense than anything seen on earth. It can rain corrosive sulfuric acid the gravity can crush mountaintops, leaving the terrain flat and heavily battered. This planet is a hostile place for humans, but this planet is also an abode for alien life.

Areios Pagos or the rock of Aries is an unreal planet, both in its strange environment and in the more literal sense in that there is no planet even remotely like it discovered yet. Areios is a thought experiment that came from the hours I spent imagining what an alien planet would look like the alien that lived there and what a human explorer would experience on its surface. It’s nothing more than a creative writing assignment steeped in hard science, but it’s nothing less than an ethereal world of imagination.


This is a blog devoted to speculative biology. Some scientists like Douglas Dixon, a Scottish geologist and author of books on paleontology, speculate what life would be like on Earth if the Dinosaurs never went extinct. What would dinosaurs look like with another 65 million years of evolution? And maybe more importantly, what would mammals look like if the dinosaurs never went extinct? Could humans have evolved to the sentient creatures we are today? The Speculative Dinosaur Project delves into this idea, contemplating what the world would look like without us mammals in charge. In his book, Future Evolution, Peter Ward surmises what life will look like in a world dominated by humans long into the future, a speculative world of gargantuan dandelions and a proliferation of rat-like scavengers.

This blog will apply a scientific approach to another area of speculative biology. Our focus will be on astrobiology, the potential for life in universe. What would a habitable planet outside our solar system look like and what kinds of critters would inhabit it? In future entries, I will introduce a fictional habitable planet that spawns life much like what we see on Earth. Referencing our current understanding about the origin of life on Earth, I will speculate how and when life first arises on this alternative world and what forms these creatures could evolve over time, leading to a discussion of the first sentient life on this planet and its eventual demise.

Check out my future entries and the other content that’s to come in upcoming weeks!