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Is it possible for massive clumps of algae to evolve and survive in deep space?

Let's say there is an expanding red star in a system with asteroids and planets once containing organic molecules, and these naturally evolve into a sort of organism that uses sunlight for consumption as well as electrical fields, draining passing starships of their power supply and trapping them.

The system itself can be a nebula, with ionized hydrogen and other gases.

These colonies of spaceweed would measure thousands of kilometers long, in floating clouds around the gravity wells of this system, and would present a hazard for colonists.

If this is possible then how would its physiology work?

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First, take a look at this other, related question:

Life in the water/snow line of a protoplanetary accretion disc?

Life in space may be possible, within some constraints. Any space thriving organisms would probably live within amorphous space ice, which will be present orbiting a star, or a planet (such as the rings of saturn).

So yes, you could have some equivalent to algae in space.

About ecologically meaningful interactions with ships, though... The chances of a ship or probe hitting an asteroid or comet by accident is quantum small. That's why space agencies don't have to care much about accidents while traversing the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and that's why the five probes currently going out of the solar system don't need to worry about hitting something in the Oort Cloud. So the chances of a visiting ship hitting on a large chunk of your space algae would be infinitesimally small.

In particular, most of the mass orbiting a star should stay nearly in the same orbital plane, which closely aligns with the star's rotation. A visiting ship may come from above or below that plane to further reduce the chances of an accident.

Since your algae will probably never come into contact with ships by accident, it may never evolve a way to "sap their power".

A more likely occurrence is that space debris containing such algae may come towards a planet. They would then have a chance to impact on a ship orbiting that planet. If the algae survive the impact, they may do whatever it is that they do, but they will be limited in their growth by how much ice the hull of the ship will support stuck to it. This, too, is unlikely. See the ISS, for example - it gets constantly hit by micrometeoroids, and yet you don't see ice accumulating on it.

Then again... Handwavium is a thing, and if you wish to have a Dyson Sargasso Sea around your star that traps and saps space shipts, it's up to you. This is the stuff of good, enjoyable science-fiction.

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Unlikely, as this is way beyond even the capabilities of extremophiles

There are bacteria that still show signs of metabolism in temperatures of -200°C (~70K), but space is even way colder than that. It is close to 0K as there is barely anything in it - that's why it's called space.

Also you do not just have the cold temperature - that might be an obstacle that could be overcome, but you also have extremely low pressure that would probably rip microorganisms apart.

That's not enough though. There is no radiation shielding. I mean algae are small and so barely a target for radiation, but if that is where they live exclusively they could always suffer from that radiation.

Reproduction?

How would they reproduce? Space is vast. And there are no material resources. How would they copy themselves or reproduce in some other manner?

Summary

Space has several conditions that make this concept unrealistic. All because of extreme conditions that are way, way worse than anything here on earth.

  • Extremely low temperatures
  • Extremely low pressure
  • Radiation
  • Absolutely no resources whatsoever and thus no reproductive opportunities
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    $\begingroup$ "and there are no material resources" I read a couple days ago about space grease. It appears that there could be some sort of material out there for space algae to munch on. not sure on the logistics but it's something for a science fiction premise to base itself on :) $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2018 at 13:46
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Space is vast.

Space is empty.

Space is either really cold or broiling hot.

Space is a place where whenever you encounter something it normally has such a high energy that you'd rather prefer not encountering it.

The only semi-plausible way for something resembling life to thrive in such harsh environment would be to somehow spread the concept of life from the scale of a cell as we know it to something large as a nebula.

In this nebula atoms can randomly meet each other from time to time and interact. If with this interaction they are able to entangle, they will stay entangled even after they depart. If they find a way to spread this entanglement over the nebula and use it to develop something similar to what a living cell uses to grow and multiplicate, we would have something similar to life.

Of course it would be spread over time and space in a way that to us humans would probably look like a bubble of useless dust, and for them we would be something fast as a decaying pion, but it could be something which could act like life.

It won't be an algae, though. It would be something completely different than what we know. It's even possible that it could be a mental process with no physical body supporting it, but just a diffused link of entangled atoms.

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