Atmospheric beasts are hypothetical non-winged organisms which could live in the atmosphere of planets. These could fly (or float) without wings as they weigh less than air. The term is also used to describe some cryptids, for example the Crawfordsville monster.
In astrobiological speculation
Carl Sagan proposed, albeit offhandedly, that this kind of creature could live in the atmosphere of a gas giant, such as Jupiter. Illustrations of atmospheric beasts have appeared in books, exhibiting speculation as to the exotic forms extraterrestrial life might take. Descriptions of this sort often portray these beings as living balloons, filled with lighter than air gases. In the context of a Jupiter-like planet with an atmosphere of 75% hydrogen and 25% helium by mass, such an organism would have to use a nearly pure hydrogen or "hot hydrogen" balloon, since there is no other lighter gas.
In cryptozoology and fringe research
Atmospheric beasts also appear in cryptozoology and UFO-related contexts. Through ufology history, many authors wondered if the purported spaceships they were investigating could be some kind of animals living in Earth's atmosphere.
Early UFO writer Trevor James Constable believed that the UFO phenomenon was best explained by the presence of large amoeba-like animals inhabiting Earth's atmosphere. He called these hypothetical creatures "critters." Constable speculated that they spent most of their time in an invisible low-density state and propelled themselves through the air with "orgonic energy, a force common to all living creatures". When they increased their density, the animals became visible. He thought that "critters" were carnivores and the mutilated animal carcasses and unexplained disappearances were evidence that they sometimes preyed on humans and livestock. The implementation of radar was theorized to be the reason that the critters were being seen more often, as Constable imagined that it disturbs them out of hiding.
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Atmospheric creatures on Earth have served as the premise of several science-fiction stories since the early 20th century, though most of these refer to atmospheric beasts on Earth, not the Sagan hypothesis of creatures living in the atmospheres of gas giants.
The first occurrence of such creatures in science fiction was in Will A. Page's 1911 short story "The Air Serpent", which, as the title implies, was about a flying, reptilian-looking creature. Arthur Conan Doyle elaborated upon the idea in his 1913 story "The Horror of the Heights", which portrayed an entire ecosystem of semi-solid beasts living at previously undiscovered heights in the atmosphere, as did Ray Bradbury in The Martian Chronicles.
Dan Simmons's Hyperion Cantos features Zeplins, a race of sentient floating beasts of enormous size.
The Elder Scroll's Morrowind includes Netches, large jellyfish-like creatures that float several meters off the ground. They are herded and used for their leather
The game Star Control II includes a race of balloon-like aliens called the "Slylandro", who are native to a distant gas giant, living only within a certain air density. While intelligent and long lived, they have little technology and no means of travelling beyond their planet, as all material beyond a certain density sinks to levels of their atmosphere they cannot survive in.
In the game City of Heroes, Kheldians are energy beings that can bond with living creatures in a symbiotic relationship, and after generations are able to 'memorize' their 'host pattern' to transform to one of these species at will. One of the species they can transform into is a tentacled, squid-like creature that is said to have lived in the atmosphere of a gas giant.
- Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. Episode 2. 1980
- Dickenson, Terence; Schaller, Adolf (1994). Extraterrestrials: A Field Guide for Earthlings. Camden House.
- Reece, Gregory L. (August 21, 2007). UFO Religion: Inside Flying Saucer Cults and Culture. I. B. Tauris. p. 17.
- Extraterrestrial energyzoa hypothesis - Dead
- On the Track of the Gelatinous Meteor
- The Cryptid Zoo: Atmospheric Beasts