m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

Alien Animal Planet

Via del.icio.us scifi: the Wired article Alien Animal Planet features “flying whales, walking trees, [and] three-eyed killer birds” cooked up by NASA and SETI. Don’t miss the story images section in the sidebar.

To make the worlds as realistic as possible, SETI astrophysicist Laurance Doyle and NASA researcher Manoj Joshi ran detailed climate simulations on a desktop Linux box. The sims allowed the scientists to observe the consequences on habitability of a range of complex atmospheric variables like thermal circulation and precipitation levels. Next, a group of life scientists, led by University of Cambridge paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris, applied the principles of natural selection and adaptation to populate the planets. They determined creature leg lengths and wingspans using biomechanics algorithms, and they established vegetation height and characteristics according to factors like available light and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.