Monday, May 29, 2017

Life on a Gas Giant Planet

Intelligent life on a turbulent gas giant?

One of the main characters in A Reluctant God is "Tay," a composite intelligence reflecting the combined consciousness of billions of very advanced individuals from an empire of gas giants.

Raising the question, of course, "Could intelligent life - or life at all - actually evolve on a gas giant like Jupiter?" Now that NASA's Juno spacecraft is returning stunning data on Jupiter as it swings in and out of Jupiter space, showing an incredibly turbulent upper atmosphere, the question gets ever more complicated.

Clearly I believe life can develop - in fact that life is inevitable - in the cauldron of magnetic fields, intense radiation, and hyper-energetic storms.  In Reluctant God, the living space is below the surface maelstroms. Their energy source is from the planetary chaos above. The idea of a "food chain," and all its 'eat or be eaten' implication is completely alien to them.

The Heglin 
(Imagine super-intelligent, very large Daddy Longlegs)

In this excerpt, protagonist Bobby and his spacefaring crew of Artificial Personalities (A.I.s with human personalities as operating systems) are given a brief, virtual tour of a gas giant where the Heglin evolved. They have abandoned their home planets because of the inexorable approach of Satan.

Bobby and all the APs felt as if they were transported to another reality. They vividly perceived a world, clearly a gas giant, from great altitude. The atmosphere was clear but viscous. Layers of opaque clouds shelved down into great darkness. Their point of view moved deeper into the atmosphere until across the top of one of the cloud shelves could be seen a distant moving mass like thin smoke. As the point-of-view moved closer, it was soon apparent that the smoke was a cloud of individual creatures. It was like nothing so much as a disturbed nest of Opiliones, daddy long legs. Simple pentagonal bodies with extraordinarily long multiple legs with end segments moving in treading-water motions. They tumbled over one another, legs interweaving and sliding apart with confoundedly smooth motions, like a tangled knot constantly knitting and unknitting itself as it progressed along the cloud top.

Bobby spoke. “And each of these creatures is an individual? This is not some sort of multipart creature?”

Tay laughed – his first, Feynman later told Bobby. It was a rich, delighted sound that could only be a laugh. “Individuals. This scene to us is a family portrait. The planet is typical of those we colonized. There are many gas giants in this galaxy, but only those with this particular atmospheric mix pleased us. I am showing you the atmosphere as transparent to your eyes as they are to our senses, but in reality, the gas passes no light in the spectra you see.”

“The coordination between individuals is so perfect, perhaps you have neuronal links?” asked Bobby.

“Or a form of telepathy?” asked Feynman.

“Or a lot of rehearsal,” came the voice of John Cleese, rarely heard from. He continued, “Tay, I’m sure you have observed our physical abilities make this clotting your people do quite astonishing to us.”

“Did that, John,” answered Tay. “It has been hundreds of thousands of your years since we have known the joy of weaving ourselves in a traveling flow.” There was a tinge of very human melancholy in Tay’s voice.

The scene from the past of the Heglin Empire faded and the smiling Buddha face reappeared. “Actually,” Tay continued, “I shouldn’t mourn what we have abandoned. It has been supplanted by far greater joys of total communal experiences, not the least of which is our continued existence.”

So there you go. If you believe, as I do, that life is the inevitable outcome of vast time, sufficient complexity and available energy, then it should be easy to accept gas giant lifeforms... maybe as impressive as the planets where they evolved!

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