• Belcher’s Sailor: A Remarkable Adaptation to Life on Gas Giants

    by  • February 22, 2016 • Fiction • 0 Comments

    An account by Dmitri Witles Belcher [1], [2], brought to our attention by E. B. Fischadler
    Art by Amanda Jones


    The search for extraterrestrial life has focused primarily on rocky planets similar to Earth, notably Mars. Several probes have sought to discover current or past life on Mars with no success. Significant effort has also been expended in detecting planets in the “goldilocks zone,” regions around stars where temperatures allow the existence of liquid water, in the hope of finding a suitable habitat for life. Such searches were premised on the notion that life requires a planet with liquid water and a hard surface. The recent discovery of subsurface oceans on moons of Jupiter and Saturn and the discovery of life in earthly habitats previously thought inhospitable opened the search for life to other planets which do not meet the conventional criteria. We are honored to be the first to announce the existence of life on Jupiter, and name the first species discovered there Velificator Belcherus (Belcher’s sailor). In the following we shall describe this new species, discuss its functioning, possible connections to terrestrial life forms, and its great benefit to mankind.

    Discovery

    V. Belcherus was a serendipitous discovery of the LETO mission.[3] This mission to Jupiter, launched during the Second International Space Sciences Year, returned samples of Jupiter’s atmosphere seven years later. Contained in one sample was a clump of particles that were later found to be cells of V. Belcherus. We chose to keep these cells within their container because a bunch of SISSY scientists feared exposure to an extraterrestrial pathogen. This sample was later moved to the Space Pathogen Isolation Tank and Orbiting Observation Node (SPITOON) to ensure complete isolation from the human species. At first remotely monitored, the clump was found to be growing from its initial 2.4 cm radius at a rate approaching .1 cm/week. Concerned that it would quickly outgrow its present container, we transferred it to a 3 cubic m vessel in our laboratory, in which we created a model of the Jovian atmosphere. It is in this vessel that all subsequent discovery, reported below, has occurred.

    Morphology

    V. Belcherus has apparently stabilized at 0.5 m diameter. We later learned that this was an adaptation to its containment vessel. Subsequent missions to Jupiter have found examples of V. Belcherus ranging in size up to 7 m radius. V. Belcherus appears to be an ectomorph; it has no specific shape, rather its shape is determined by environmental influences. The majority of examples observed in situ are roughly spherical, with a tendency toward ellipsoidal shape. V. Belcherus is highly porous, the pores penetrating completely through the body. Other than some gill-like appendages, described below, V. Belcherus appears not to have differentiated organs. At least five functional cell types have been identified. With the exception of one family, these cells are distributed throughout the organism. Nervous, digestive, respiratory, and mobility cells all seem intermixed throughout the body of V. Belcherus.

    Mobility

    The most distinctive cell family of V. Belcherus are the “gill cell” structures. These appear as fan like appendages distributed about one hemisphere of the main body. These structures have some muscular cells, but repeated imaging of V. Belcherus in situ shows little motion of these appendages. We also see minimal motion of these appendages in the laboratory. The asymmetric distribution of these appendages suggests an aerodynamic function, and indeed field studies have shown this to be the case. Jupiter’s atmosphere is in constant motion, generally travelling along lines of longitude, following the familiar belts. We found that V. Belcherus drifts with these belts, oriented such that the appendages are always upstream. These appendages should normally act like the feathers on an arrow, tending to orient V. Belcherus with the appendages downstream. It appears likely that V. Belcherus somehow uses these appendages to actively orient itself. One possibility is that the appendages serve as “trim tabs,” altering the balance of aerodynamic forces to reorient the body. We have since observed that V. Belcherus could “reach,” that is sail cross wind, by minute adjustment of these appendages. We suspect these adjustments also allow for vertical displacement, as V. Belcherus has been found over a wide range of depths in the Jovian atmosphere. The utility of lateral motion is to allow V. Belcherus to travel along lines of latitude. As different belts travel at different speeds, this provides some means of speed control as well as motion in the north-south directions. Vertical motion also provides speed control, as wind speed decreases with depth in the atmosphere.

    Belcher's Sailor: A Remarkable Adaptation to Life on Gas Giants

    The recent discovery of subsurface oceans on moons of Jupiter and Saturn and the discovery of life in earthly habitats previously thought inhospitable opened the search for life to other planets which do not meet the conventional criteria. We are honored to be the first to announce the existence of life on Jupiter, and name the first species discovered there Velificator Belcherus (Belcher’s sailor).


    To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2016 collection.


    E. B Fischadler has been writing short stories for several years, and has recently begun publishing. His stories have appeared in Mad Scientist Journal, Bewildering Stories, eFiction, and Beyond Science Fiction.

    In addition to fiction, Fischadler has published over 30 papers in refereed scientific journals, as well as a chapter of a textbook on satellite engineering.

    When he is not writing, he pursues a career in engineering and serves his community as an EMT.

    Fischadler continues to write short stories and is working on a novel about a naval surgeon.

    You can learn more about Fischadler and access his other publications at: https://ebfischadler.wordpress.com/


    Amanda Jones is an illustrator based in Seattle. She likes reading horror stories, binge watching seasons of her favourite sci-fi/fantasy shows, and everything Legend of Zelda. She focuses on digital portrait painting and co-creates the webcomic The Kinsey House. You can find more of her work on Tumblr under ‘thehauntedboy’.

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