Monday, November 16, 2015

Interstellar Nomads – Part 3 – Speciation

Deliberate speciation is the creation of a new species, for any reason at all. It has been used in this blog in connection with an alien civilization reaching the limits of the chromosomal arrangement that evolution provided them, and proceeding to change it, so as to achieve some advantages in any of a number of attributes. They could have recognized that their immune systems could be so much better without the baggage of the old chromosomes. They could have made the discovery that they could re-introduce regeneration into their species if they just changed the chromosomes. They could have wanted to have better DNA repair capabilities but the old chromosome design was holding them back. And so on. This decision has profound implications for the alien civilization, although at first sight it seems like a simple, logical decision to make.

There is a separate and completely distinct reason for an alien species to do deliberate speciation. If it manages to colonize other planets or satellites in its own solar system, it could become clear that a new species would be better suited to live there. The obvious parameter is gravity. If their solar system has an inhabitable world, but one which has 1.4 times the gravity of their own, this may be too many negative effects on their own species. Early heart attacks and other medical problems might be the first to be noticed. Breathing the different atmosphere that a higher gravity planet holds onto might be the second one. But if they modified their species to cope with that gravity, or better, to be ideally designed to live in that gravity, including the atmosphere change and anything else needed, then their colonization attempts would be much more successful. This also has profound implications. On the high gravity planet, there is a new species there which may have less connection with the home world. The new species of citizens might have a hard time visiting the home world. This alien civilization has divided itself in two, inside its own solar system.

The same thing could happen if there are lower gravity planets orbiting their sun. Light, spindly creatures that need much less to breathe might be the best design for a creature to live on this planet. The same would happen for a satellite they considered marginally habitable. There could even be a solar system with three habitable places, and the originating alien civilization that arose on one of them could split itself into three distinct varieties. They could communicate easily, as they would keep the same language. They could ship things from one planet to another, perhaps with the transport ship just going into orbit and ferrying down materials or whatever on a shuttle. But the three species do not visit with each other.

In a previous post, it was considered that some alien civilization might make a decision we consider bizarre. They would choose to live their lives out on a starship. Of course, the idea of having intergenerational starships is not so outlandish. What is different is that they have no inclination to get off that starship and move the civilization back onto a planet. If you stop to think about it, if a starship is designed for multiple generations to live on, and they are living happy, content lives there, as would be the goal of the design, why stop? What is the big deal about having a planet?

Now consider the alien civilization that is making the decision to become star-traveling nomads. They are designing ships, planning to build them, figuring out how to navigate, determining how to actually make it possible to maintain the ships for humongous periods of time, figuring out if there are any areas of the galaxy they certainly wanted to avoid, and thinking, thinking, thinking about how to pull this off, with no details forgotten that might cause them a catastrophe or even end their civilization.

They would most likely get around to thinking about speciation. If there are any organisms besides the aliens themselves on that nomad ship, they might just redesign them using their genetic knowledge. They are long past asymptotic genetics, meaning they know how to do anything that is possible to do, whether it would be achievable by evolution or not. And likely, there are many more things that evolution would never create that they could create, perhaps hundreds or thousands of times as many possible organisms, only a few of which might somewhere, on some planet, evolve into existence. So they might stock the ship with organisms they designed themselves.
Then they might also ask, what about us? Should we redesign our own species to make it more suited for traveling for eons between the stars? This interacts with the design of the ship itself. If they live on a planet with a certain gravity, their bodies were essentially designed to deal with the stresses of such a level of gravity, and to operate in it, and not in any other. This means, put gravity on the ship, maybe by rotating it, or change their own species to be designed for zero gravity.

Just what a species would look like if it was designed for zero gravity requires a wide imagination. Does it make sense to have weight-bearing limbs, or maybe no legs at all. Four arms, perhaps? On Earth, heads are usually the highest point of the body of many creatures. In zero gravity, there is no highest point, so where should the head go? Digestion might be assisted by gravity, so peristalsis might have to be modified. Friction on any surface would be important for moving about, but does this mean four hands or four feet? How many eyes? What wavelengths should they be sensitive to, is red enough so lighting is easier? What type of communication should there be between citizens on the nomad ship?

And then there is atmosphere? Is one needed? Here on Earth it is a given that animals use oxygen, because we have it and it is free and useful to the animal. On a nomad ship, is a different way of providing oxidizer for the fuel used for nutrition better? Then leave the ship a vacuum? Or fill it with some gas, but make that gas optional for the new nomadic alien species?

It should be obvious that any alien civilization which has made a decision to become nomads in space has a huge number of options available to them, and they might spend quite a long time preparing for this, just as they would in designing the ship.

One implication of such speciation is that they would not visit Earth, because they couldn’t survive here. If the consideration that, once the aliens have designed an intergenerational ship, they will never get off it, is valid, no aliens would ever want to visit Earth. We would be seen as a primitive bunch of creatures that might someday join the crowd in the galaxy, kind of a stepping stone to real civilization, which floats between stars, traveling forever.

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