Interview: Brad Tucker, Consultant Astrophysicist for Alien: Covenant – Episode 22 – Yutani Podcast

There are close to 100 emails between Brad and I. Things just kept happening and we just had to keep postponing. One of the events which prevented us from the recording was the Soyuz rocket failure.

and then a fire which came quite close to his observatory https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/fire-continues-to-burn-out-of-control-near-stromlo-20181102-p50diq.html

Finally, tonight I sit down with Dr Brad Tucker, Astrophysicist and Cosmologist at Mt. Stromlo Observatory. He shares his insight into the work he did for Alien: Covenant and we also discuss science accuracy and inaccuracies in the movie, as well as emerging space technology, and also discuss how science fiction can inspire and innovate technology.

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Footnotes:

  • The Fermi Paradox
  • Space sequences Dr Brad Tucker was consulted for
  • Moss?

We had a question about the Biology of Planet 4, unfortunately, it is outside of Brad’s expertise but our friend XenoPark, a Discord and Patreon supporter, is a Biologist and was able to answer these questions.

If Planet 4 was completely ridden of all lifeforms how could there be trees, don’t they need carbon dioxide to grow?

So in the flashback, we see that there is flora on planet 4, and from David’s diary we see the fauna as well, beetles, molluscs. David says that the accelerant goes after meat (maybe it seeks out special proteins, etc.), kills, mutates, or creates parasites which can kill the engineers, and we suppose the complete fauna on the planet. When the Covenant crew arrives we see the planet is empty, and there are big forest, trees, moss.

So could there be trees?
Yes, if the accelerant truly does not harm plant life, and what we see is the original flora before David. Secondly, if the plants and trees are pollinated by wind/water like many species here on Earth. These kind of species are not dependent on animal pollinators (invertebrates, birds, bats), and could thrive. If there were other pollinating strategies, for example with beetles, in that case, those species went extinct. Thirdly there are no plant-eating animals present.
We see that possibly the atmosphere on planet 4 is like on Earth, the Covenant crew can breathe without difficulty, and we saw in Prometheus that the engineers need the same type of gases. So what happened here on Earth is that plants were the first organisms that colonised land, because their efficient strategy to exploit the carbon dioxide filled atmosphere (and there were no other opponents present) After that plant radiation started, slowly the atmosphere filled with oxygen as a by-product, which helped invertebrates to radiate to land (because the not so efficient breathing prevented previously), and later amphibians as well. If we pull out the animals from the ecosystem, I don’t think plant life would be thriving after 10 years, a bunch of the species would die out. After a while, those species would step into this empty place, which is not dependent on animals. Or it is thriving because the level of animal dependence was very low, before the bombing. So there is plenty of carbon dioxide naturally in the atmosphere.

How did the moss in the juggernaut grow in the dark?
Basically, it can’t. Moss is not entirely a plant, but it needs high humidity to reproduce (spores are carried by water drops), and light. Maybe, it is not a moss, something else, and it can live without direct sunlight. Or it’s in a relationship with that green slime found by David on the control panel in Prometheus. There are unicellular organisms which can switch from photosynthesis when there is light, to predation at night. Maybe sometimes the juggernaut boots up and emits some light. Moss can lie dormant, and with a single drop of water, it can turn into green in a couple of seconds.

Thank you again, Brad, for helping us answer some interesting questions regarding the movie, it’s been a very enlightening conversation. And I look forward to having you on the show again in future!

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions, if you have anything you’d like to ask Dr Brad Tucker about you can reach him at his website https://www.mso.anu.edu.au/~brad, Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/DrBradTucker/, or Twitter https://twitter.com/btucker22.

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