Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Aliens at the Montreal Science Centre

The Montréal Science Centre currently has a cool-sounding exhibition on the science of aliens. According to an article in The Star, the exhibition focuses on what the plant and animal life might be like on two possible planet types:

Using the expertise of a number of renowned scientists, the exhibition presents ideas on what aliens might look like, taking into consideration biology, astronomy, and the laws of physics and chemistry.

"It's fiction, yes, but it's science-based science fiction," says Louise Julie Bertrand, the head of exhibitions at the Centre. Such an exercise, she adds, will appeal to both kids and adults. "People are often attracted to the bizarre and intriguing and weird."

The stars of the exhibition are these alien forms envisioned by the scientists to fit the specific characteristics of two "planets," such as carbon content, the temperature, the type of atmosphere.

"It was a real attempt to come up with creatures, that, although fanciful, are plausible," says Michael Meyer, an astrobiologist and the lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program.

There are two fictional planets in the exhibition. "Blue Moon" has a very dense atmosphere, which allows a great variety of flying critters. "Aurelia" closely orbits a star much cooler than our own sun:
The top predator on Aurelia is the bipedal gulphog, which has a long neck and a claw-like beak, and stands 4.5 metres tall. It might feed on six-legged mudpods that scurry on the ground, hide in burrows, and swim like crocodiles. There are also stinger fans, which look like plants but are actually animals that use tentacles to capture a weak star's energy.

Assumptions were made when the planetary flora and fauna were being designed: there is oxygen in the atmosphere, and alien evolution proceeds similarly to evolution here on Earth. The idea was to make the life forms plausible based on what we know about biology.

In addition to the fictional planets, a section of the exhibition looks at aliens in science fiction movies and books.

If you are thinking of going, you might want to wait until Sunday, May 25th, which is Montréal Museum Day and all the exhibits are free. If I were in Quebec, I'd definitely go check it out. The exhibit runs through September 1.

(This is a exhibit created by "the science of . . ." that has already exhibited in London and Miami. It is also currently showing at the The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo, Japan through June 16. )

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