Pop culture has given us plenty of ideas of what aliens might look like. The mysterious Greys of The X-Files, the flashlight-fingered E.T., French Stewart in 3rd Rock from the Sun. The list goes on.
All of this used to be science fiction, but as we continue to explore our galaxy, actual experts are saying our chances of finding extraterrestrial life have never been greater. NASA scientists predict it could happen in as little as 20 years—an admittedly conservative estimate. So when we lift the veil separating us and our otherworldly neighbors, what might we find? Apparently, the things nightmares are made out of.
1. Unkillable bugs
Sorry, but fleeing your pad in terror while you wait for the exterminator to rid you of this menace won't do much good. Even if you escaped to another planet, it wouldn't be far enough. Some researchers believe that, since cockroaches have proven to be a particularly resilient species, any alien race that survived millions of years of evolution would probably be akin to our bugs. If these things can survive the fallout of a nuclear explosion, they're probably sticking around for a while.
Science also says there's a good chance they're crawling on you right now. Maybe.
Here on Earth, all forms of life, from viruses to Donald Trump (and even non-horrible beings) are carbon-based. But things might be different elsewhere. Richard Dawkins has made the case that life on other planets could be based on silicon, which would make them basically robotic from our perspective. Sorry, Elon Musk, but maybe we should start building our robot army. Just in case.
3. Intelligent robot jellyfish
You know who loves to ruin your fun day at the beach? Jellyfish, that's who. Now imagine a planet where they're the dominant species, are smart enough to communicate, and will fly through the air.
Once your panic has subsided, deal with the fact that this might be exactly the type of alien race waiting for us out there in the abyss of space. Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist and nightmare creator, contends that aliens living in a hydrogen-heavy environment would likely evolve to look like jellyfish who communicate via flashes of light and "sucked" energy from their atmosphere. Going along with the silicon-based life theory, she also suggests that they'd have metallic skin, because she hates that you sleep at night.
4. Massive flying animals
Lots of factors go into shaping the course of evolution on a planet. Climate, geography, asteroids (sorry, dinosaurs). Gravity's also pretty important. For example, on a planet with heavier gravity than ours, the beings that would adapt the best would probably be the kind that could fly. As a result, the dominant alien race there would likely consist of large, sky-bound animals.
5. A race of giant worms
On the flip side of the heavier gravity scenario, a world with less gravity would allow beings that are usually tiny—we're talking ancient worms—to grow a lot larger. They could subsist by sucking moisture from bodies of water, and probably wouldn't have eyes.
The good news? The scientist who envisioned them, David Aguilar, explained that they would probably make great pets. Yeah sure, whatever you say Dave...
6. Massive plants
Thinking about alien life, we can't forget about the plants on other worlds. Intelligent beings would probably go green, right? As it stands, they might not have a choice. If the atmosphere is thick and the gravity is low, vegetation could grow to tremendous sizes, with some plants over a mile tall. This would probably be a good reason for aliens to try and visit our world. Landscaping is just so much easier here.
7. A huge network of bacteria
Remember that Yeti that kidnapped Luke in Empire Strikes Back? Hate to ruin your childhood, but the scene may have been slightly unrealistic. It's not out of the question that an ice planet like Hoth could support life, but scientists think it would be more along the lines of bacteria that had evolved to survive in the punishingly cold conditions.
Phew, nothing to fear, right? Wrong. In order to extract energy, the bacteria would likely have to develop into one tremendous, interconnected network. Basically, it would be one giant bacterial superorganism.
8. Human beings
According to experts, aliens don't necessarily need to be little green men. They might look just like us. It makes sense, really. As the reigning evolutionary champs (200,000 years and counting!), we've proven ourselves to be the species best suited to thriving on this planet and exploring the universe outside of it. No Dodo ever built a Saturn V rocket.
9. Freaky ass giant octopus-like beasts
Octopi are terrifying. Why do they have all those arms? They don't need that many arms. Why so many arms?! Sure, a marine biologist could probably explain why they're actually majestic creatures who balance out Earth's ecosystem, enrich our understanding of the animal kingdom, and always remember to put the seat down, but that person clearly hasn't read The Call of Cthulhu. If these devil blobs ever learn to walk on land, we're totally screwed.
In fact, some scientists wouldn't be surprised if that has already happened. While it's possible that aliens on a planet like our own would develop much as human beings have, there's a chance that evolution could have taken a swift turn towards utter insanity, with "massive octopi with exoskeletons that've developed to walk on land."
I'm just going to throw this out there: maybe we should put SETI on hold for a little. You know, until we're sure we won't be ultimately enslaved by an army of Space Kraken.
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