Alien Worlds: Your Guide to Extraterrestrial Life
by David Aguilar
80 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Kids, 2013
Are you ready to jump into space? To boldly go where no man has gone before? If so, you’ll need a handy field guide to extraterrestrial life.
David Aguilar’s new book may look like science fiction… but it’s not. Aguilar, who directs the Science Information at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has written a number of nonfiction books about space – but he wanted to write something that would appeal to kids. Especially kids who love adventure.
So in this book he invites readers to enlist as “alien space scouts” to search for life on eight new worlds. Space scout training begins with a briefing on how planets form, where to locate habitable zones around stars, what types of “Earth-like” planets we might find, and how to identify life on another planet. He includes the obligatory warning: Do not try to feed these life-forms. Some of them sting or bite, with nasty consequences.
Then it’s time to suit up, fuel the rocket and head out to explore. There’s Ocean World, similar to a young sea-covered Earth with a few emerging volcanic rocks. Life on this world looks a lot like what we would find if we visited Earth 450 million years ago, says Aguilar.
There’s a desert-like “Dying World” where temperatures range from 85 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit – a snapshot of what Earth could be like a billion-and-a-half years from now. “Sleepy Hypnos” is a planet that, with three earth-years of winter, is populated by a variety of life-forms that undergo metamorphosis. And there’s “Rogue World” where life has evolved from metal, glass, and energy fields.
For each world Aguilar provides a field guide to the aliens, with in-depth information about life under those environmental conditions. Truth is, says Aguilar, we don’t know what life on other planets will look like. But we do know about the diversity of creatures that have lived – and are living – on our own planet. And though he doesn’t come right out and say it, this fun exploration of other worlds underscores just how important habitat is to life.
Beyond the book:
Go on an “alien” hunt. You don’t need a spaceship to see weird creatures – just check out what’s living in a neighborhood pond or under a log. Or take a virtual field trip via your computer to check out things that live in Earth’s harshest environments. What lives in the Sahara desert, on top of Mount Everest, or at 20,000 leagues under the sea?
Design an extraterrestrial creature. Choose one of the alien worlds and design a plant or animal that lives there. Think about what it needs to survive:
- a way to breathe
- a food source
- protection from heat and/or cold
- protection from cosmic radiation
- a way to sense their environment
- a way to move (based on the planet’s gravity)