Human Aliens: Dick and Dom as aliens from Mars and Venus
We've given TV stars Dick and Dom an extra-terrestrial makeover to show how their bodies could evolve if they lived on Mars and Venus.
The eye-catching result is that Dick has evolved into a Martian “fishman” complete with gills and green skin to swim in a liquid water lake. The European Space Agency recently found signs of such a lake beneath the south polar ice cap of Mars. Dom has grown giant crab-like claws and a shell to protect himself from the extreme heat of Venus.
The aim is to encourage people to think about how evolution works, the harsh conditions on other planets, and how lucky we are to live on such a habitable planet - not too hot or too cold for life.
We took advice from evolutionary biologist Dr Ben Garrod from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and space scientist Dr Natalie Starkey in briefing illustrator Kathryn Nichols on what the ‘alien’ versions of Dick and Dom should look like. The collaboration gave birth to the two weird and wonderful creatures that are intended to be thought-provoking rather than totally scientifically rigorous.
"Life in the way we have portrayed it here would be astronomically small. There’s no reason we’d be human-shaped and these evolutionary designs are a 'best fit' for some of the most extreme conditions in the galaxy."
Dr Ben Garrod, evolutionary biologist from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge
"Adapting Dick to live on Mars and Dom on Venus is a fun way of thinking about how humans could evolve to live on other planets. Is there life elsewhere in the Universe? Not that we know of...yet! But if it exists then it almost certainly looks nothing like us. Why? Because the conditions on other planets are completely different to Earth; crushing pressures, extreme temperatures and with toxic atmospheres. If we wanted to colonise these planets we would need to take a life support system to survive. But if alien life is already there, it will have evolved and adapted to thrive in these weird conditions."
Dr Natalie Starkey, space scientist
Dick and Dom's evolutionary adaptations
Dick the Martian fishman
- Fins to swim in the liquid water lake where he lives that the European Space Agency recently found signs of beneath the south polar ice cap of Mars.
- Gills to extract oxygen from the lake water as the Mars atmosphere is very thin and mainly consists of carbon dioxide.
- Bioluminescent organ on his head to attract prey, like the anglerfish that lives in the deep oceans on Earth.
- Dick is amphibious, but he only spends limited time on the surface of Mars, where the gravity is only 38% that of Earth, the temperature ranges from highs of 20˚C to very low lows of -150˚C and there is also the risk of long-term radiation exposure, owing to the atmosphere being so thin.
- Green skin due to the microalgae that live in his skin, like the emerald green sea slug found in the waters along the east coast of the United States on Earth. The algae capture energy from sunlight via photosynthesis and Dick is nourished by the sugars this produces.
Dom the Venusian crabman
- Crab-like body and huge claws – like the kiwa crab that survives the incredibly high pressures and temperatures found around the hydrothermal vents in Earth’s deep oceans.
- Sealed, armour-plated skin helps to protect him from the extreme heat and pressure, as well as the toxic atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid. It’s super-hot on the surface of Venus – about 460˚C, which is enough to melt lead – and the pressure is 90 atmospheres, which is similar to the pressure at 1km depth in Earth’s oceans.
- Bacteria grow on the ‘hair’ on his claws and help to detoxify the atmosphere.
- Pointed feet with a small surface area help him to deal with the extremely hot surface of the planet.