7 Survival Tips for the Hardy Extraterrestrial

1. Embrace the cold. Here on Earth, life requires liquid water for its essential operations. But on the surface of Mars, where temperatures seldom get higher than -70°C, water is perpetually frozen. This means that any microbes burrowed into the Martian permafrost may have the ability to quench their thirst with a liquid that has a lower freezing point. No life has yet been found on the Red Planet, but recently, a team of scientists suggested that an organism capable of combining hydrogen peroxide with a small amount of water might survive such cold, dry conditions.

2. Live in a cloud. One layer of Jupiter’s vast atmosphere is a haze of ammonia, ammonia hydrosulfide, and water—all smeared by the planet’s swift rotation into frayed wisps the size of continents. An article published in the 1960s by the American Astronomical Society (coauthored by Carl Sagan) hypothesized that organisms living in that layer might look like tiny hydrogen-filled balloons. They might reproduce asexually via exploding seeds or spores, or, like raindrops, they might coalesce with others of their kind and become larger organisms. The atmosphere of Jupiter might harbor great living dirigibles, each of them many miles across.

3. Sip methane. On Saturn’s large moon Titan, the warmest midday temperature is about -179°C. Still, if we could walk along a Titanian lake, we might see foaming waves lapping gently at a pebbled shore. If we stayed very long we would learn that the pebbles are water-ice as hard as granite, and that the surf is methane. Methane is the same liquid that carved Titan’s river channels and falls as its rain. Some scientists who study Saturn and its moons say that if there is Titanian life, methane might be its drink of choice.

4. Find a comet. Astronomers think of comets as “dirty snowballs,” fragments of ice and rock dusted with organic matter. As a comet falls along its orbit toward the sun, its surface layers boil off. Any ice locked inside its dark interior melts, and for a few days or weeks—as long as it’s warm enough—any hibernating microbes would have liquid water to help them begin to move and reproduce.

5. Think electrically. The central character of The Black Cloud, a 1950s-era science fiction novel by astronomer Fred Hoyle, isn’t a human; it’s a diffuse nebula of hydrogen and more complex molecules. Organized in the manner of a living being, The Black Cloud propels itself by manipulating magnetic fields and thinks with electrically charged dust particles.

6. Slip into a parallel universe. Atoms are composed of particles called protons and neutrons, and protons and neutrons, in turn, are composed of quarks. Change the masses of quarks even slightly, and you couldn’t make atoms like those we know. Simple chemistry—let alone biology—would be impossible. But in 2009, a team of physicists found that if you adjust masses of quarks in a certain way, you might make atoms with neutrons and a particle called Σ –, or “sigma minus.” A universe with such atoms could have hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen, the elements necessary for life as we know it.

7. Go with the flow. What are life’s most basic needs? No one really knows, but it’s possible that they are nothing more than matter and energy, and it’s possible that any sort of matter and energy will do. As for the shapes life might take, there may be no limits at all. One scientist has proposed that, over billions and billions of years, life might “evolve into whatever material embodiment best suits its purposes.” If he’s right, then in the long run the best way to survive in outer space, or even right here on Earth, is simply to stay open to change.


David Toomey is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts ­Amherst. His most recent book is Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own.


  1. Cool thought worms listed here. Thank you,

  2. Really? Think outside the ionisphere like this? Rediculous. We’ll never make it that far unless we come to terms with our inner selves first. Keeps nerds out of the unemployment lines, I guess.

  3. It is all interesting to imagine life taking form and living “in” the most suitable form. When I first opened my email about this message I saw the graphic of ancient geometry and that mixed with the title made me have the thought that… “without physical form bodies (energy/loose matter) maybe some basics of how thought, feelings, desiires, seen & unseen things interact or go together would give an entity without a body a good chance or obtaining or creating one in a vacuum!” Okay, so if your reading and you got this far, lets journey further because I thought of something else. When some people die they want to be remembered for the work they did or the society or body that they were affiliated with when they were alive. Is it possible that great kings and those with great influence understood somethings about the underworld, the unssen or mysterious parts of “for every action there is a reaction”? When we are without a body do we seek one? Are there unseen bodies or virtual clouds that we exsist in withought bodies? When someone is immersed into Christ (The Perfect One and His Perfect Power) are they becoming part of The Perfect Body in an unseen place? This all does get very interesting to me once I begin to think about it. Keeping an open mind during change is good, but also in a wild and changing violent universe would we create an ultimate governing entity that would automatically protect us and close our minds from those things which would ultimately cause us to lose our bodies which we have taken so long to perfect & protect…

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