Proceedings of the Royal Society B
March 1, 2006
How Small I Am . . .
This tiny fish (above) from peat swamps in Sumatra measures only 7.9 millimeters in length, making it the world's smallest animal with a backbone.
When you visit a new place, first impressions are important. What does it look like? Is it tidy? Interesting? Familiar or unusual? Would you like to stay there for a while, or is your first reaction to want to leave?
Science fiction writers spend a fair amount of time imagining what our homeour planetwould be like to visitors from another world. One way to begin is to imagine an alien very much like us, but different in some way. For example, you might imagine an alien who can see infrared radiation, or heat. To such a creature, the skin of your face would be brighter than the skin of your arms or neck because it would be able to "see" the heat from the blood under that skin (especially if you blush). How would your room look to such an alien? Where are the warmest spots? Where is it cold? How could you decorate with heat?
Another difference might be size. The animal pictured above is a fish. It's smaller than any other fishor animal with a backboneon Earth. It still swims and acts like a fish many times its size, but it can move between tiny stones and hide very well.
What if the first aliens to visit Earth were like us, but much smaller? How would your home look to a very small alien? Try this challenge.
Challenge: Welcome to My Home
Imagine your home has been picked for a visit by one of our newest acquaintances, the Mapps, aliens who look and act just like us but are only as big as your thumb. The Mapp who will visit you is an exchange student named Leah. She needs a place to stay during the school term. Your task is to help prepare your room for Leah's visit.
- Safety first. What might be dangerous in your room for someone as small as Leah? Lie on the floor and see what is at that height. Look under furniture. Imagine yourself trying to move through your room, if you were thumb-sized. For anything you find, decide if it should be removed for Leah's visit or if it can be made safe where it is. Don't forget, you can make signs to warn Leah if necessary.
- Being comfortable. When you want to relax, you sit in a chair or on your bed. What could Leah the Mapp use in your room to be comfortable?
- Having fun. If you were having a human student visit from another country, you'd like to entertain him or her. Leah would like to have fun as well. Look around your room for activities or objects that might be fun to offer the Mapp. What could you use, make, or alter?
If you wish, send your favorite idea about hosting a tiny alien to us at firstname.lastname@example.org (or fill in the form below). If we use your idea, you may be eligible to win a prize! Please include your first name, age, city or town, and state. If you are under 13 years old, get your parent's permission to write to us.
This week's recommended scifi books
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