“Ugly giant bags of mostly water,” said the crystalline microbrain.
“Bags of mostly water?” Picard responds.
No, UGLY bags of mostly water, Captain (is probably what Worf was thinking). Lock phasers?
Instead Data replies, “An accurate description of humans, sir. You are over 90% water surrounded by a flexible container.”
Picard gives him a look he’ll never forget.
Because of his positronic brain.
We’re 90% water? What does that mean exactly? Where is all this water? Is it combined with stuff or are my cells doing laps in some kind of swimming-pool gland? Am I just a big bag of human Kool-Aid? Nine parts water, one part stardust?
That’s pretty cool, actually.
Turns out a person is about 60% water, unless 24th century humans are much more liquidy. Most of the rest of our atoms really are the remains of exploded stars, ejected into the cosmos long ago and eventually coalescing into the being that is now you.
So enjoy your atoms while you have them because they’ve traveled light years to get here, but let’s get back to this whole water thing because it sounds pretty important.
Water helps life in two ways: 1) internally (we’ve got a lot of it inside us), and 2) externally (stuff lives in it, like fish and stuff; and if you’re a fan of evolution, then it’s where life on Earth began).
What is it about water? What’s so great about it? It’s just, y’know, water: two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, right? So?
Fun fact: water is liquid at normal Earth temperatures. Turns out this little tidbit of information is actually quite crucial to life. As a liquid, water can move stuff around, in order to deliver nutrients to our cells and carry away waste products. While you may describe someone as having ice in their veins, if they did, they’d die because ice is a solid. That’s not good for you. Water is more than just a liquid, it is also a terrific solvent, which means it can grab hold of the stuff you need (or don’t) and haul it around. It’s molecular configuration has a positive charge on one end and a negative charge at the other, so it can likewise grab onto negatively or positively charged ions, like chlorine or sodium, respectively (opposites attract, yo!).
Another fun fact: ammonia and methane can act like water when they’re liquids, which typically require pretty cold temperatures. No one has found any ammonia oceans yet, but Titan, one of Saturn’s largest moons, has large lakes of liquid methane. Bunch of methane fish swimming around? Pee-yew. And yes, some folks think there may be life forms swimming around in there.
The big news is about extraterrestrial water in our solar system. Scientists suspect that Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, has a massive ocean of water beneath its thick icy crust, possibly with more water than all of Earth’s ocean’s combined. Sure, there ain’t much sunlight down there, but the tidal forces from Jupiter could provide the heat and mechanical energy to fuel life. Ganymede isn’t the only one, though. We expect that over 20 places in the solar system may harbor water in some form, all of which at least providing for the possibility of life.
What would this life look like? For the most part, scientists are not holding out for a hundred-headed, multi-tentacled glow-in-the-dark intelligent extraterrestrial to come walking of its bathtub, but are optimistic about finding microbes lurking somewhere in the depths of our neighborhood planets, moons, and asteroids.
Microbes aren’t that exciting, unless they are the 24th century crystalline kind, which didn’t even want to talk to humans for another three hundred years anyway, so fat lot of good that does us.
Let’s make extraterrestrial microbes exciting again! What if we found something that forever changed the way humans lived?
What might we find out there that could truly be life-altering?
Here are some ideas. Please feel free to add some more in the comments, and remember, the discoverer gets to name their discovery, so give them a name that will last the test of time.
1. The Midas Microbes
There’s gold in them oceans! Earth’s oceans contain nearly 20 million tons of gold diluted in seawater. These concentrations are so minuscule, only 13 billionths of a gram per liter, that it would cost way more to extract it than it’s worth. But what if a microbe extracted the precious metal as part of it’s biological processes? It sucks in seawater and poops out little gold pellets. With enough microbial trips to the potty, every person on Earth could have up to nine pounds of the precious golden poop!
2. The Bio-Crobes
Bio-crobes, or biologically-compatible microbes, are life’s little helpers (for humans anyway). Check this out – tooth decay is not caused by sugar, not exactly; it is caused by bacteria (microbes themselves) that EAT sugar and excrete waste products that dissolve enamel. Yes, microbe poop also eats teeth. So, what if we could replace these buggers with something a little more benign, like microbes that eat sugar, bleach your teeth, and give you great-smelling minty breath! Or bio-crobes that you rub on your skin to eat germs so you wouldn’t have to bathe for weeks? Or ones you digest to pass gas that smells like roses? Or ones that eat cancer cells and regenerate worn tissue?
3. Solar Bugs
Currently, the best solar panels in the world might convert about 40-50% of the sun’s energy into electricity, but they’re darn expensive and pretty labor-intensive to make. On the other hand, plants are notorious for converting solar energy into chemical fuel; they operate a little differently, converting only a few percent into usable energy, but perhaps there’s a microbe that you can stew in a pot of water in your front yard, let them sit in the sun for a while, and power your house. Imagine a world where everyone had a microbial stew providing electricity with no need for power plants or coal mining or oil extraction or anything like that.
What have you got? What do you think would be a life-altering life-form? What would it do and how would it change the world? Let us know in the comments!