Netflix's 'Alien Worlds' Is the Ultimate Escape From Our Doomed Planet
Take me to the alien planet populated by fuzzy cat-sized crabs, please.
Now that we've been stuck inside our homes for almost a full year, most of us are desperate for any sort of escape. But what if slapstick family comedies and drug cartel dramas and superhero shows aren't cutting it anymore? We humbly suggest leaving this whole dumb planet behind and journeying a few light years away to the fantastic planets dreamed up by Netflix's new pseudo-docuseries Alien Worlds.
Alien Worlds, at only four episodes long, gives us a taste of what extraterrestrial life might look like, based on what we already know about the weird and odds-defying ways life evolved on Earth. It's part documentary, part science fiction, interspersing computer-animated visions of lush alien worlds with a potpourri of comparisons to the wild animal and plant life on our own. On far-off Eden, a day takes an entire year to pass, and monkey-like predators migrate with the sun while the offspring of their prey wait in spherical cocoons up in the trees. On the exoplanet (the word for any planet outside our own solar system) Atlas, fish-like birds are airborne for their entire lives, while on tidally-locked Janus, five-legged crustaceans called "pentapods" mature into two drastically different forms of the same species, depending on which side of the planet their larvae land on.
It's great fun to see how the animators of the show took ideas from our own planet and translated them into different environments, creating not only fantastical creatures but weather patterns and air densities that could only exist on worlds that bear barely any resemblance to our own. If you're into, for example, the insane amount of time and energy James Cameron and his crew put into describing and providing Latin names for every single bug and weed that appears in Avatar, you'll find endless joy in watching all the "what ifs" play out in Alien Worlds.
Secretly, though, it's the Earth-bound science that ends up being the most interesting part. Over the course of its episodes, the show consults with specialists in a wide range of areas, from cavers hunting for gloopy bacterial colonies delightfully known as "snottites," to mycologists studying the network of fungal mycelium that connect the trees in a forest. The series documents the symbiotic relationship between African hunter-gatherers and a bird called a honeyguide that communicates with them to lead them to a hard-to-reach beehive, and the biodiversity that exists within a single species of leafcutter ant whose offspring have the ability to grow into vastly different types suited for vastly different jobs. They even drive up to the gates of Area 51—but, sadly, no one is allowed inside. Oh, well.
A segment in one episode features Didier Queloz, one of the Swiss astronomers who won the Nobel Prize in 2019 for discovering 51 Pegasi b, the first-known exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star. Since then, and using his team's methods, we've found tons more, increasing the probability of one day finding not only another planet that is habitable, but another planet that contains an entire extraterrestrial ecosystem, and perhaps even intelligent life similar to our own.
Later, the show visits the Arecibo Observatory (of GoldenEye fame), from which we once beamed a message describing Earth and humanity into the far reaches of space. So far, we've received no response. Given how many planets are out there, and how many more must be out there just by raw statistics, and how many of them we haven't tried to talk to yet, there's still plenty of hope that little green men are out there waiting for us to send another shout into the cosmos. Or maybe they're more like little green crabs.
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