The Teeming Universe | Alien Biology

Imagine you’re an interstellar traveler. What sorts of alien life might you find out
there in the universe? It’s interesting to speculate on how life
might evolve in the depths of a planet covered by oceans, or the skies of a world with an
atmosphere teeming with floating life. Perhaps one day, humanity will be able to
set out into the universe, and document these unfamiliar worlds first-hand. This concept is explored in great scientific
detail in The Teeming Universe: an interstellar field guide by speculative author and artist
Christian Cline. The book, which I have a link to down below,
explores how alien life might evolve on various types of planets much different from our own. So, for this entry into the archive, we’ll
be joining a scientific vessel on a journey into the beyond — and will explore just
some of the worlds that Cline covers in his field guide.

Several million light-years from Earth, the
first fictional planet we’re touching down on… doesn’t look like much. This is planet Menir, a world of ice and rock
with a diminished atmosphere and high levels of ultraviolet radiation. Stepping out onto the surface, it seems like
there isn’t any life here. But that’s because to find life on Menir,
you have to look under a microscope. That’s right, the first alien life we’ve
found is a kind of bacteria. It might seem disappointing, and there be
will much larger aliens to come later in this entry, but even discovering microscopic life
on an exoplanet would be a huge scientific leap forward.

And just because these lifeforms look like
Earth microorganisms to the untrained eye, doesn’t mean they’re the same. Called Menirophiles by the artist, he imagines
their unique purplish-pink color helps them reflect excess radiation; because they have
hydrogen-peroxide within their bodies, instead of water, they don’t freeze. While such a mixture would be deadly to carbon-based
Earth bacteria, menirophiles are protected from the harsh effects by silicon in their
molecular structure. So, while the life on the desolate Menir may
be tiny, it’s exceptionally resilient. But the time has come to leave this exoplanet,
and head somewhere where life gets a little bigger… At first glance, our next planet — Ateria
— appears far more Earth-like.

With a protective atmosphere and liquid oceans,
Ateria offers a much better opportunity to find complex alien life. Touching down on the surface, it’s a beautiful
foggy day. Out of the mist rise grand plant like structures,
and the air is filled with the buzzing of animals. Yet we’ll find Ateria is much different
than earth in one critical way… its seasons. On earth, seasonal change happens gradually
due to earth’s axial tilt, with most animals having numerous strategies to adapt to the
predictable changes.

But due to a past asteroid impact, Ateria
has a wildly elliptical orbit: meaning it moves close to its sun for some of its orbit,
and far out into the cold of space for the rest. This pattern means the seasons on Ateria are
truly extreme… and life on this planet has had to get creative. Beginning with plants, we might spot Strungs,
which possess a red tint to get the most out of the sun’s slightly dimmer light. During winters when the environment cools,
Strungs partially hollow bark retains insulating air, allowing for extra heat protection. But other organisms — like the Fisher Crame,
the first animal we’ve encountered on our voyage — have a different strategy to survive
the seasonal changes. They might look like insects on earth, but
Fisher Crames are far larger, with wingspans of four feet, or 1.2 meters.

To outsmart the cold, these creatures simply
die after laying eggs, which a new generation emerges from when temperatures rise again
to start the cycle anew. Another insect-like creature on Ateria, the
Tripperhog, has the more familiar strategy of hibernating during the long winter, with
their thick shells camouflaging them and protecting them from harm. Another clever solution. Ateria is a fascinating and extreme world,
but we must look to the horizon once again, and see how much more incredible alien life
can get. The next stop on our journey is a massive
fictional planet called Toreya. The brilliant blue of the planet comes from
the fact that 99% of the surface is comprised of an incredible planetwide ocean. Life in our own oceans can already be so alien,
so you can imagine what’s under the waves of these endless waters… The region closest to the surface is called
The Pelagic Zone — and contains entire ecosystems founded on towering colonies of kelp-like
plants. Nicknamed ‘Heavenkelp,’ these plants can
grow to an astonishing 750 feet, or 228 meters in length — almost like underwater trees.

Among the leaves, aquatic life such as the
fish-like pelagonareans seek shelter and food. Some fish on Earth live in undersea forests
of kelp or seaweed for similar reasons. Pelagonareans, or Pelegs for short, are a
highly diverse group that have evolved to fill all manner of underwater niches. The incredible diversity of the Pelegs makes
the oceans of Toreya a teeming aquatic wilderness, much like the richest areas of Earth’s oceans. The artist imagines that one species of Pelegs
— the gallant gulls — can even leave the water altogether, as they’ve evolved powered

Due to their aquatic ancestry, however, they
still need to occasionally dive back underwater to breathe. But the Pelegs aren’t the only lifeforms
that lurk below the waves. Further down, in the twilight of the Bathypelagic
Zone, you can find various translucent or bioluminescent species, feeding on floating
pieces of organic matter… or on each other. And it’s here where the largest organisms
on Toreya dwell: the Anoom — the most gigantic creatures we’ve encountered on our journey
so far. They’re able to reach a staggering 250 feet,
or 72 meters in length due to the vastness of Toreya’s oceans, which the Anoom navigate
on an enormous transparent sail. Curiously, the Anoom are composed of vast
colonies of jellyfish-like invertebrates, which work together as a single giant lifeform. And at the bottom of this planet-wide ocean,
you can find the Abyssopelagic zone: where ghostly, pale-grey species swim through the
dark. In the absence of sunlight, many lifeforms
in the abyss survive off a chemical soup supplied by hydrothermal vents, an extreme form of
survival that also occurs in our own oceans — proving life can take hold almost anywhere.

And the next imaginary planet on our interstellar
journey is no exception. At 64% of earth’s mass, Yulene is the smallest
planet we’ve visited yet. Its gravity is therefore so low it’s on
the very edge of the minimum for planetary habitability — which has had a fascinating
impact on the planet’s native life. Much of Yulene’s surface is locked in permanent
ice caps, as the low gravity has resulted in a thin atmosphere that retains little heat. While some forms of life venture into these
frozen wastes, most of the planet’s organisms live on the warmer equatorial tundra. Here, for the first time in our interstellar
voyage, we can spot trees similar to those on earth. Similar doesn’t mean the same, however,
and upon closer inspection of their leaves, you can spot some key differences. Due to a higher presence of blue visible light
on Yulene, leaves have evolved to use not chlorophyll, but the yellow pigment xanthophyll
for photosynthesis. Above the yellow foliage, you can spot the
magnificent Clerei, flying animals similar to birds or pterosaurs. These low-gravity fliers have wingspans of
nearly 40 feet, or 12 meters — which they use to soar on mountain thermals that help
them achieve lift off despite the thin atmosphere.

After mating, Clerei build nests in the branches
of Yulene’s trees, raising their young in pairs like many species of birds. And baby Clerei are called Cerilets, which
is one of my favorite details. Clerei typically feed on animals like the
aquatic Cobbleback Trate, a creature that gets its name from a pattern of stone-colored
markings that help camouflage it from predators gliding overhead. To lay their eggs, the Cobbleback Trate, like
many freshwater Earth fish, must make a trying voyage upstream to the frigid regions where
predators are scarce.One creature that doesn’t have to worry about predators, however, is
the armored Sisobe, low-gravity grazers that can grow up to 20 ft, or 6 meters in length. From the edge of the tundra to the continental
deserts, you can find these shaggy giants, which move in great herds not unlike Earth
bison. And as the sun sets on Yulene, many plants
let off a brilliant glow to attract pollinating species.

It’s a dazzling display, but it’s time
to continue our voyage… And the next imagined world is perhaps the
most extreme so far. Borold is a planet that closely orbits a red
dwarf star: only 20% the size of our sun, and far cooler. Borold is also tidally locked, with one side
of the planet perpetually facing the sun in endless day, and the other trapped in endless
night. Yet despite the harshness of Borold, there
is life upon this rock. In the less extreme twilight region between
the light and dark sections of the planet, you can find the Borold Stars. The largest animals on this planet’s surface,
these creatures can grow up to 30 ft, or 9 meters long.

Since the gravity on this planet is almost
3 times that of earth, Borolds creep slowly across the ground — almost like giant terrestrial
starfish. The real challenge for Borold Stars, however,
is food and water. Unable to hunt due to their top speed being
one mile, or 1.6 kilometers per hour, Borold Stars simply crawl over anything edible, and
crush it under their body. And when they find water, they can drink hundreds
of gallons at a time. Borold Stars aren’t alone on this rock,
however. There are also plants… just not plants as
we know them. These are Vleian Ojur, which look like jagged,
tall stones: but are actually cone-shaped photosynthetic lifeforms most analogous to
Earth trees. Their design helps protect them from the planet’s
brutal winds, which are the result of the extreme temperature gradients produced by
the planet’s tidal lock. Our final Borold organism, however, can take
advantage of these perpetual winds to achieve lift-off.

You might not expect to find flying organisms
on a world with such crushing gravity, but Borold Kites are scavengers that let these
currents carry them to their next meal. Unique? Certainly, but even more fantastical lifeforms
might be waiting on the final stop of our journey. The last fictional planet we’ll be visiting
is also the largest of them all. A world somewhere between a terrestrial planet
and a gas giant, Hurcelion has a thick atmosphere divided into layered ecosystems, almost like
an aerial ocean. And it is in this atmosphere where we’ll
find some of the most awe-inspiring life in all the cosmos. In the stratosphere, balloon-like animals
float on sacs of internal hydrogen, steering themselves through the air on specialized
fins. Many of these animals feed on greed clouds
of areofoliage, groups of small floating plants held aloft by the wind, which contribute to
the high oxygen levels in Hurcelion’s atmosphere.

And feeding on the herbivores are Speldos:
airborne predators which despite being twice as long as a school bus, are quite agile. Speldos lack jaws, but their gaping mouths
are filled with teeth, so to hunt they simply ram into their prey. But the Speldos aren’t the true titans of
these skies. Oones are the largest animal we’ve seen
on this expedition, at over three times the size of a blue whale. Indeed, Oones are more than just singular
lifeforms, and incorporate dozens of symbiotic species into their bodies. Oone mites are among the most important, as
they act as the colony’s guardians. While normally docile, they become fierce
protectors when the Oone they call their home is threatened. Sometimes, however, an Oone passes away and
falls through the atmosphere to Hurcelion’s surface, in a striking event known as an Oonefall. Below the calmer upper-atmosphere, the surface
of Hurcelion is a volcanic, stormy wasteland — and one of the most extreme regions glimpsed
so far.

Yet even here there is life, like the tiny
Praglerworms, which you can spot illuminating the dark with their bioluminescent displays. These organisms prove, once and for all, that
life can take advantage of even the most extreme scenarios in this Teeming Universe. Although our journey through the cosmos is
over for now, Christian Cline’s book The Teeming Universe contains many more incredible
speculative worlds and alien creatures, and I encourage you to check out the link to it
below. I’ve also included a link in the description
to Astrovitae, a relatively new speculative biology magazine you can read online for free. The Teeming Universe was recently featured
there, and they’ve got a lot of other cool stuff too, so I wanted to spread the word
to fans of the genre.

And as always, thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this entry, please lend your
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