With the recent New York Times report claiming that astronomers may have discovered signs of life on Venus, I think it’s time we start to rethink what extraterrestrial life forms might actually look like. According to the article, astronomers have detected the chemical Phosphine in Venus's atmosphere, which on Earth is only produced by living microbes. Although scientists have yet to collect samples of these potential Venusian microbes or photograph them, based on how our planet functions, the presence of Phosphine suggests that there must be some form of organic life. While this is a very exciting finding, before we get our hopes up, it’s possible that the presence of Phosphine is the byproduct of an undiscovered geological process taking place on Venus.
As someone who believes that there is definitely some form of life out there, even if it’s not “intelligent life,” I am optimistic that we will discover alien microbes on Venus. If we find Venusian microbes, this discovery could completely change our perception of what alien life looks like, how it functions, and where we can find it.
The problem with “little green men”
Alien’s are stereotypically depicted as “little green men” who come from outer space to invade Earth. This depiction of aliens was popularized in the 1920’s, and even to this day has remained the stereotypical image of aliens. While the stereotypical “little green men” are still very popular, movies like Star Wars and Alien have done a good job depicting diverse alien species. These movies have done a good job diversifying our understanding of how different creatures that evolved on different planets would look, however, their alien’s are still bound by the laws of nature on Earth.
If we are now going to accept that life could exist on planets very different from our own, we have to start reimagining extraterrestrial life. The atmospheric compositions, climate conditions, temperature fluctuations, and levels of solar radiation on other planets are very different from Earth’s, therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the selective pressures on another planet would produce creatures that resemble anything on Earth. All the plants and animals on earth today look and act the way that they do because over millions of years of evolution, these designs were best adapted to our environment. If we look at another planet that has entirely different geological and atmospheric conditions than Earth, it's unlikely that any lifeforms would have faced the same selective pressure as anything alive on Earth. Just look at how different dinosaurs are from anything on our planet today. If vastly different atmospheric conditions could produce dinosaurs on our own planet, why would we assume that alien life would look anything like what we know here on Earth?
Perhaps on planets that have very similar atmospheric conditions and geological formations we would find lifeforms that resemble the ones here on Earth. However, if we are going to accept that life can exist on “uninhabitable” planets, we need to change our understanding of what aliens might look like. On Earth, all living things have solid, physical body's, and most creatures tend to have some form of limbs that makes them mobile. On another planet that is nothing like Earth, it seems more likely that extraterrestrial life would have entirely different adaptations. Perhaps these aliens would have several legs and several sets of arms. Or maybe they don’t have solid body's at all, rather they exist in a liquid, gaseous, or slime form. On a planet like Venus that is so different from Earth, it’s likely that selective pressures would have favored species that look nothing like anything we have here on Earth or could ever imagine. We should not limit our understanding of what alien life might look like to our terrestrial world because they likely evolved to survive under very different conditions.
How would aliens behave? Would they even be interested in Humans?
People like to imagine aliens, especially “little green men,” as invaders from another planet. While so far this has not been the case, a lot of people still believe that extraterrestrial UFOs have visited our planet and in some cases aliens have abducted people. All we know for sure is that the U.S. Government has acknowledged the existence of UFOs and has declassified some footage (check out our article on UFOs if you would like to learn more). While I 100% accept that there are real unidentified flying objects, I have a difficult time accepting that they are extraterrestrial in nature.
I don’t really buy that intelligent alien life has traveled to Earth. As humans we like to think that we’re the center of the universe and that if there was intelligent life out there it would be interested in contacting us. If there are other intelligent beings why would we assume they think the way we do, have the same values as us, or have the same interests? Because these hypothetical extraterrestrials evolved under incredibly different conditions, it's totally possible that they are really intelligent, yet lack any curiosity or desire to explore the universe. Perhaps curiosity and interest in other lifeforms was not evolutionarily advantageous so they never developed that trait. Maybe their societies don’t value exploration and they are solely focused on what's going on in their world. They might also have absolutely no interest in humans. Just because we think we’re great does not mean other species do or have any interest in interacting with us or studying us. When we make these assumptions, we are projecting our own beliefs and values onto other beings that most likely have cultures and societies that are nothing like ours.
For now all we know for sure is that there could be microbial life on Venus. As more discoveries are made, we should start to think about aliens as creatures that evolved under entirely different conditions and not assume they would look, behave, or be interested in anything that humans are interested in.