Let's take our regular "Great Blue Star Whale", with a mass of about 10 000 tons. That poor, poor whale is reaching the end of its life for whatever reasons. (Damn you! Space whale hunters!). It will interestingly crash into a planet. That planet is not too dangerous (no endless volcanoes or corrosive sand) but it is uninhabited.

My question regards the possibility for life to evolve and expand from the corpse of the space whale. Would it be possible / realistic for something like this to happen?

A few things we'll consider :

  • The insides of the space whale are protected from outside influences (gravity still applies)
  • Some of the whale's cells are still alive
  • The whale is biological and potentially edible
  • The corpse may stay at a reasonable temperature for a prolonged amount of time

May life even grow inside the corpse without ever needing to go out ?

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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it be Japanese space-whale-hunters? $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 11:28
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    $\begingroup$ Am I the only one, thinking about the Hitchhikers Guide? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandervonWernherr Nope! Was just about to post this: At the risk of being too noobish, is the space whale a reference to Douglas Adams' space whale $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandervonWernherr I wish whoever clipped that from the movie had left in the next sentence: "Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now." $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ In fact from the books we know why the bowl of petunias says that, it implies reincarnation. $\endgroup$
    – Goufalite
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 12:56

5 Answers 5


Crash isn't the word when a star whale hits a planet, the word is splash.

A spider'll not even notice a drop like this, a mouse'd walk away, a horse'd break every bone in his body and a helephant would splash - Wee Mad Arthur (Terry Pratchett) - Feet of Clay

You're going to end up with bits of whale spread over quite a bit of the local scenery. Digestive bacteria would still be going strong but the whale as a whole is very very dead.

Life could well evolve on the planet as a result of this, how easily is down to the diet of the whale and how well the surviving bacteria can adapt to available food sources on the planet. If there happens to be a type of rock that the whales could break down that's plentiful on this world then you're home free.

When it comes to life going outside the whale... after that landing it's most definitely outside. There's not a lot of inside left.

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    $\begingroup$ It [has] to be said... youtube.com/watch?v=xBgThvB_IDQ $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ At the risk of being too noobish, is the space whale a reference to Douglas Adams' space whale $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly enough the Terry Pratchett quote cited in the answer is, itself, an accurate paraphrase of something similar in the article by JBS Haldane's "On Being the Right Size". The original article about square-cube rule. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @ThomBlairIII, what actually came to mind was the Dr Who star whale $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix The star whale was my second thought after Petunia and the Whale (Hm... sounds like a 50s rock band). $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 12:30

Photosynethetic plant-life and bacteria, yes

First it needs to be said...

And wow! What's this thing suddenly coming toward me very fast? Very, very fast. So big and flat and wide it needs a big wide-sounding word like ...o ...ou ...ound ...round ...ro ...ground! That's it: ground! I wonder if it'll be friends with me.

But, in all seriousness, the answer to your question is:

Yes, a creature like that can very well kickstart life on an otherwise lifeless planet

The animal cells of the creature itself are unfortunately doomed to die, and rather soon(*). However, it may be carrying passengers. Any plant life or bacteria that uses photosynthesis for its metabolism may catch on and thrive.

The most obvious and interesting among these (if we assume an Earth-like origin for the creature and an Earth-like destination) are probably Cyanobacteria. Assuming your poor creature splashes down near free water, then this kind of bacteria is not only likely to thrive, but to have other interresting effects on the planet, such as oxygenation of the atmosphere.

As for the bowl of petunias...

enter image description here

(Image source and credit)

...well same thing really. If it is carrying any plant life that can survive without being dependent on nutrients from pre-existing life, then plant life can — quite literally — take root.

It must be noted though that with evolution being the extraordinarilly slow mechanism that it is, it will take a few billion years until there is widely diversified life of the sort that we think of.

(*) Then again... a space whale that can life in the extremely harsh conditions of outer space?! Seems like quite tough animal cells if you asked me. And there are some — indeed — immortal cell lines in Earth as well. Maybe, just maybe...

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    $\begingroup$ But: Will the cells survive a crash from outer space? Although dead, the whale has a significant speed when it enters the atmosphere. I'd assume that it goes all smoke and flames during the descent. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ No, it will not. The outer layers may become charred and ablate a bit, but something as massive as 10 000 tons will undoubtedly make it all the way down. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ Okay, thanks. I don't imagine 10000 tons being that much for a space fish $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexandervonWernherr Whales are not fish!) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa Crisp on the outside, but not on the inside: what-if.xkcd.com/28 $\endgroup$
    – Residuum
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 11:03

Seems Plausible IF It's a Sperm Space Whale: cue "Panspermwhalia"

If the average earthly whale is anything like the average space whale, then it seems very likely some of the intestinal contents will still be alive and some can continue to thrive:

A body’s intestines are filled with micro-organisms in their millions, and these do not die even after the person dies. These micro-organisms start to break down the dead intestine cells. Others like the bacteria known as coliforms and clostridia start invading other body parts.

(Source: How Long Does It Take for a Body to Decompose?)

In that environment, evolution could easily continue via mutation, natural selection, etc.

Obviously, though, the chances of inseminating new life on a planet are higher if a thoroughly potent source is involved. Hence, Sperm Space Whales are most likely better candidates for whale induced panspermia (but I do not speak from experience.)

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    $\begingroup$ And interestingly enough, all life in the universe may or may not have evolved from crashing space whales. +1 for the joke in the bold title. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ However, the above conjecture can be proved false by the fact that a space whale is a form of life, and could not have evolved from itself crashing. However, it is possible that all other life in the universe may have evolved from crashing space whales. $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 23:37

As far as life springing forth from the corpse of the whale, I'm not quite certain that could happen. However, the whale could be the catalyst to awaken bacterium that have been dormant for any length of time on the new planet. The whale's corpse would provide the "nutrient solution" that the bacterium need to revive and grow.

A variation of this occurred in New Mexico in October, 2000. Here is a short article that might be helpful - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/sci/tech/978774.stm


Usually questions about space-whales are a steaming pile of pseudoscientific twaddle, however, this question confines itself to something sensible. The OP may congratulate himself.

For the sake of scientific sanity, it is assumed that space-whales are otherwise whale-like creatures created by extremely advanced alien technological civilizations. Basically they are cyborg marine mammals equipped with environmental protection systems to enable them to survive in space, and a propulsion system for easy travel around the galaxy.

The core question is essentially whether dying or dead whales "beaching" themselves on alien planets can be a source of life dissemination. Basically, panspermia by dead space-whales. So the question is would this work?

Could life on a planet be initiated by the cells and tissues from a dead whale? The simple answer is no. Possibly the DNA from those cells might form the precursors to life on the planet, but this should be regarded as extremely improbable. So no.

What is more probable to be a source of life on a planet is the microbiota carried by the space-whale's body. If microbes could become established in the planet's environment they could colonize the planet. However, there are caveats about the fact that these micro-organisms will be well adapted to the environment and ecology of the space-whale's body this will make it improbable, but not impossible, for dead space-whales to be the vectors for spreading life to otherwise lifeless planets.

Possible, highly improbable.

May life even grow inside the corpse without ever needing to go out?

Sadly, no, even ten thousand ton dead space-whales don't last forever. Their tissues will either run out or break down to the point where the viable existence for any organisms living inside a dead space-whale will run out. Eventually the outside environment will break in, and the space-whale won't be anymore. So, for a short time, yes, but not in the long run.

  • $\begingroup$ If the whale was whole but damaged, partial exposure to the atmosphere could help the natural selection process along, creating a relatively safe environment where lots of strains of bacteria are exposed to their natural environment at first (and can breed relatively unrestricted by the bodies standard defenses) and become progressively more exposed to the new hostile environment. So the last paragraph might actually describe a success scenario. $\endgroup$
    – Joeblade
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Joeblade It all comes down to the balance of probabilities. They have a distressing tendency to go either way. My gut feeling is the timescale is too short. However, bacteria are remarkably resilient and adaptable blighters it remains very possible. So, yes, it might be a success scenario. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 12:55

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