Atmospheric Beast

Atmospheric beasts (also sky beasts or sky critters) are organisms which could hypothetically live within the atmosphere of Earth or other planets. These could fly (or float) without wings as they weigh less than air.

In astrobiological speculation
Carl Sagan proposed that this kind of animal could live in the atmosphere of a gas giant, such as Jupiter. Illustrations of atmospheric beasts have frequently appeared in books and 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 a hydrogen atmosphere, such an organism would have to be a hot hydrogen balloon, since there is no other lighter gas.

In science fiction
Such organisms are widespread in science fiction. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle anticipated these ideas in his short story "The Horror of the Heights", where an airman discovers a previously unknown ecosystem of life forms in Earth's atmosphere. Kenneth Oppel's 2004 novel Airborn, set in a similar Victorian milieu, depicts a previously undiscovered species of flying mammals named "cloud cats", who live their entire lives completely in the air. In the second novel of the series, another species named "Aerozoans", very much like airborne squid or jellyfish. Similarly, the tentacled "hylighters" of Pandora, in Frank Herbert's The Jesus Incident are of a similar shape to the Portuguese Man o' War.

Some works set in extraterrestrial Earthlike atmospheres depict hydrogen-filled "living dirigibles"; Frederick Pohl's Jem and John Varley's Gaean series are two examples.

The most common setting for these organisms appears to be gas giants. Arthur C. Clarke depicted gas giant inhabitants in several works including his short story, "A Meeting with Medusa" and the novel 2010: Odyssey Two.

Another depiction includes the James Tiptree, Jr novel Up the Walls of the World. Another example of this type of life-form is found in Iain M. Banks’ The Algebraist.

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