The shadow outside moved in the yard. As it was dark, the only thing I saw was the barely perceptible glint of some kind of light object bouncing off the light at the corner of the yard. My imagination immediately jumped to conclusions, and I took a moment to glance at the drawing of a Chupacabra my friend had drawn for me to compare features.
The shape disappears into the woods on the other side of our lawn, leaving me wondering what the strange-looking mass might be. I was not about to go run off into the darkness. To do so would likely disappoint me anyway, since my passion is in thinking about all of the unlikely creatures it might be.
A Speculative Future
One look around the medley of drawings and posters of mythical creatures on my studio walls and most people would write me off as a sci-fi geek. I do have an interest in speculative fiction, and no doubt I'm up for discussion on space travel anytime a friend wants to debate the issue. But my main area of interest is in astrobiology and Cryptozoology.
The Origins of Astrobiology
The associated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have been searching for life on other planets from the beginnings of the organization. Most people have heard of the SETI program, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which was formed in 1984 as a non-profit agency. The program had been in the minds of scientists since the publication of a 1971 document entitled Project Cyclops that originated in a summer workshop sponsored by NASA. In it, scientists discussed searching for radio signals that had been artificially generated--intelligent life on other planets.
I first became interested in aliens when I was a child, but unlike most older children the interest didn't diminish, even as I learned more about the practical side of science. In fact, it became clear to me that the chance of alien life was likely, in all of the millions of star systems out there in the universe. The hypothetical potential of finding life on another planet was almost definitive.
Using the Imagination for "Real"
What would aliens look like? The question is one that most researchers of the subject have a lot of opinions on. Speculative biology points to intelligent life as being bipedal, human-like almost, even on planets where conditions are much different than Earth. The reality, however, is probably counter to this idea. I believe that life on other planets represents a variety of looks.
Planets with a higher level of gravitational attraction would have beings who were less massive than Earthlings to get around easier, or perhaps stronger/more muscular beings in order to deal with the heavier gravitational force. Part of the challenge of speculative biology is to envision lifeforms that may live on strangely un-Earthlike planets. And this is where the field strays from traditional science and into fantasy.
Studying Speculative Sciences
There is a use for those with the ability to use speculative evolution and biology practically. The Astrobiologist must use scientific principles from zoology, biology, chemistry and other physical sciences to hypothesize what life in other planetary systems might look like. And cryptozoologists must piece together facts from thousands of myths and stories as well as figuring in scientific descriptions of past animals to prove that animals like the Chupacabra can exist.
A Career in the Arts
Speculative evolution is an artist's dream. Given a life form, the artist uses a little bit of science and a lot of imagination to fast-forward time and determine how animals might change in different habitats or circumstances.
Guessing what humans may look like in the future is a popular topic of speculative fiction and fuels my interest in the subject. As the planet changes, there will be a time in the distant future that our fragile human form will have to change to adapt. Similarly, if we leave the planet in search of an existence on other planets our bodies will have to accommodate new surroundings.
Will future humans have microchip eyes? Larger lungs to work more efficiently in polluted air? Maybe we'll experience even bigger changes, like the addition of gills or the creation of a new organ...speculative evolution allows us to consider any potential.
The trees cast a deep shadow across the moon-lit grass tonight, making me wonder what might be lurking back there, just outside the range of my low vision. Movement again catches my eye, but I can see the figure that bounds across the lighted half of the lawn clearly. Mittens, our outdoor Manx cat, lets out a quiet "meow" as he races across to the porch. His lack of a tail makes him look more like a large rabbit than a cat.