Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


Chapter 10.  Alien Bioenergetics


"And yet ‘tis not improbable that those great and noble Bodies have somewhat or other growing and living upon them, though very different from what we see and enjoy here. Perhaps their Plants and Animals may have another sort of Nourishment there."
          -- Christian Huygens, in The Celestial Worlds Discover’d; Or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets (1698)602

"Individuals die. However, the total amount of living matter perseveres, and even increases. We can imagine a spherical organism with the cycles of physiological processes closed completely in themselves. Such an organism will be immortal and photosynthetic, and it can develop even a higher consciousness...
          -- Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovskii (1934)

"Along the very light-shadow borderline were the Outsiders. Just as their plantlike ancestors had done billions of years ago on some unknown world near the Galactic Core, the Outsiders were absorbing life-energy. Their branched tails lay in shadow, their heads in sunlight, while thermoelectricity charged their biochemical batteries. Some had root-tentacles dipped in shallow food-dishes; the trace elements which kept them alive and growing were in suspension in liquid helium."
          -- Larry Niven, from "Flatlander" (1967)607



Why are xenologists so concerned about bioenergetics? Bioenergetics means, simply, the study of biological energy. The engine of life, as any machine, needs a supply and a flow of energy--chemical, electrical, thermal, or whatever--to keep it running. If power is suddenly cut off, both mechanical and biological machines soon grind to a halt.

The thermodynamic definition of life discussed in an earlier chapter--that living systems "feed on negentropy" and thereby manage to maintain themselves against the universal drive to disorder mandated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics--demands a flow of energy from a source to a sink. This requirement is so fundamental to the basic character of life itself that we may confidently predict that bioenergetics will be a favorite discipline among alien zoologists and physiologists. But can we be as certain about the specifics?

The Viking Lander biology package assumed so. The Pyrolytic Release device tested for photosynthetic activity on Mars, and the other two experiments sought evidence of respiration and simple metabolism. But were these assumptions reasonable? Must lifeforms evolving under alien suns on distant worlds conform to Earthly patterns and cycles?

ETs will have met the bioenergetic challenge in many diverse and unexpectedly clever ways. Each new race independently must have evolved intriguing and totally unique methods for absorbing, storing, distributing and regulating energy. While we don’t know for certain if extraterrestrial photosynthetic animals are possible elsewhere in our Galaxy, or if alien bloodstreams will run red, green or blue, or whether in some distant corner of the universe there exist "biological refrigerators" which can stabilize body temperatures on sweltering worlds as hot as blast furnaces, xenologists cannot resist the temptation to pose these and other fascinating questions.


Last updated on 6 December 2008