I grew up with robots that (who?) got around like humans. Or ostriches. From C-3p0 to Robby in Forbidden Planet and Lost in Space, my robots… had legs (cue ZZ Top). OK, Robby was more breadboxes with wheels, but you get the idea. Anyway, tech moneybags-with-geek-glasses Softbank just bought Boston Dynamics – maker of, yes, leggy bots. Do they see the future of bots as human-environment-friendly? “Spiral staircase? No problem-o! Allow me to carry you to your super-villain observatory on the roof, Dr. Nothankyou.” Well, maybe. Or MAYBE… it’s just the Japanese obsession with robots as plasti-flesh-wrapped humanoids. Yes. That’s a thing. You hadn’t noticed?
Meet Melibe Viridis. Tiny but terrifying. Envelops its prey in its H.R. Giger-esque extendable “mouth-part” – a bit of anatomy tagged with the disturbing but poetic descriptor: “oral veil.” Sorta like an ambulatory Venus flytrap but with multiple legs. And made out of Ghostbuster slime. Life on earth: always able to ambush us humans with dang-near unimaginable evolutionary marvels.
Here’s the scoop from the unimpeachable savants at the Sea Slug Forum: “There are a number of benthic species of Melibe in the tropical Indo-West Pacific. Melibe viridis can grow to over 120mm in length. Their most unique attribute is their method of feeding. They have lost their radular teeth and have developed the oral veil into a large veil or “fish net” which they use to constantly scan the substrate as they crawl along. When the sensitive papillae on the inner edge of the oral veil touch a small crab or crustacean the edge of the veil is rapidly contracted, trapping the prey, which is then ingested. Some species of Melibe, but not this species, harbour zooxanthellae in their bodies.”
The big-ass Very Large Telescope down in Chile gets a new pair of exo-goggles. Then, as part of the $100 million Breakthrough initiative searching for off-world life, it’ll zoom in on the could-be rocky-earth-like planet we think is orbiting Proxima Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor. Will this give us our first look at actual extraterrestrial life? Could happen. If we luck out on a cosmic scale. Stay tuned….
The groggy, suspiciously attractive Passengers of this SFX extravaganza take us on a sort-of-world-ship, half-light-speed journey to a nearby star system with a habitable planet. Stasis for the travelers is the key, but things go pear-shaped when two of the ticket-holders wake up prematurely. Like 90 years too early. Complications and void-luv ensue. But we’re all encouraged to note that the film takes its physics seriously. For the most part… Like tears. They don’t just float off from your face in zero-g. Liquid surface tension keeps ’em stuck on your skin, and this principle is adhered to in the film (see what I did there?) Then there’s “tether physics.” The infamous scene in Gravity got this badly wrong and took some serious verbal abuse for it from SF geekdom and actual physics-knowing types worldwide. In Passengers, two floaters pulling on a shared line act the way they’re ‘sposed to, and that means we’ll all feel better about Newtonian law being strictly obeyed. At least where space-crying and tugging are concerned. But all science aside, the ship itself is gorgeous. The technical term is swoopy, I believe. Very swoopy. Can’t vouch for the quality of the human performances. It IS an off-world kinda movie we have here, however, and it pays attention to the more pedestrian science-y bits. (Which is more than we could say for Gravity or Interstellar). So, there’s that. Here’s the arty at space.com that goes into more deets on it all: http://www.space.com/35104-passengers-scifi-movie-nails-space-physics.html
Next stop: the Valles Marineris. Mind the gap.
Too hot. Too cold. Or juuuuust right? Young planets aren’t so comfy for young life forms. But hey, there’s the Earth. So, score one for biology…. Turns out young planets go through all kinds of spasms and hiccups on their way to stability. So, even if say bacterial level life manages to get itself established, things can go seriously sideways at any point after that. On Earth, bacteria ruled as sole monarchs of the place for two billion years, and only then managed to gear up into complex cells and then animal-caliber creatures. So, while we may find delightful slimey bio-film-inhabited planets aplenty, it may be hard to locate anyone able to play chess with, etc. More from the pessimists here.
Still, Proxima b COULD be all kinds of exciting, providing a comfy habitable-zone home for all your fave off-world evo-devo fantasies. But we won’t know for a goodly while, so no need to send off your order for celebratory Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters quite yet. Cold-shower arty here.
Rumors say: the new guy is rocky, in the Goldilocks zone, & a mere 39.9 trillion miles away. So, yeah, basically in our back yard. Exo-deets to come….