Plasma Based Life
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Basic Information

A speculative concept which featured in a story, The Black Cloud, by Sir Fred Hoyle, living plasma has a few interesting experiments behind it. Mircea Sanduloviciu at Cuza University in Romania has observed argon plasmas formed from electrical discharges forming spheres with surface layers like the lipid bilayers of cells. They could split to replicate, take up neutral atoms to grow, and release electromagnetic energy, and are comparable to the lipid vesicles that life uses as containers. A simulation of interstellar conditions found that inorganic dust surrounded by plasma can form charged helices with unusual lifelike properties. These experiments are far from the staggering complexity of terrestrial lifeforms, but they might just represent a primitive stage of self-organization that can develop further.

Due to the fact that plasma is abundant in the stars and interstellar space, it may be that these extremes are the domain of living plasma using magnetic fields or sunlight for energy. However, though it may form in these extremes, it may well survive as cold plasma at mild temperatures. A hot environment is too energetic and violent to support as much complexity, while cold space has little energy to go around, so evolution may be very slow or limited in these locations. Apart from outer space, living plasma might establish itself on planets with energy and raw materials, carried from the skies or flashed into being by lightning.

The richest plasma biospheres might be planetary, just like ours, and may carry out energetic chemistry within a plasma sheath mixed with particles, or dusty plasma. It would be comparable to Bubble Life as it would not use a liquid solvent, but may have organic parts. It might absorb energy from light and even have a chemical metabolism that exploits electron transfer and reactive ions in the plasma. When plasma biomatter dies, it would disintegrate into dust and vapor. There might be electromagnetic and volatile chemical signals between cells to make complex organisms. It isn't clear that such complexity could happen but plasma is versatile enough to have been used for industrial applications.

As plasma couldn't deposit solid materials such as collagen as structural support, they would probably be held together by electromagnetic forces and be quite diffuse compared to us. They might appear as colorful hazes or glows settled onto objects or hovering in the air. They wouldn't necessarily be amorphous clouds, though: the forks of lightning, the radiating glows of electrical arcs, and the filaments of a plasma globe show that intricate shapes can be made from plasma. A shape with a large surface area, such as a spherical fractal, would be useful to absorb light. There may be swarms of small plasma organisms that resemble the Aurora Borealis, and rapid plasma streaks that resemble Ball Lightning. The skies of a world with a plasma biosphere would be an extraordinary sight.

Sources

Game and Story Use

  • This is fertile ground for speculation, not just into alien species but the supernatural.
  • Except in a very soft or comical setting, it's best to keep this sort of exotic life on the sidelines, as it's nearly impossible to know how it'd work.
    • There might be non-sapient plasma creatures in various places acting as scenery or hazards.
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