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Exhibit blends science and fictional aliens

<div>At a Miami science museum, visitors are surrounded by beings with pear-shaped heads and egglike green eyes.  Fiction has invaded the serious walls of science. </div>
/ Source: The Associated Press

The museum's dim lights and otherworldly sounds give it away: Something is different. A glance, and you realize those surrounding you have pear-shaped heads and egglike green eyes.

Fiction has invaded the serious walls of science.

The Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium opened its doors Saturday to "The Science of Aliens," making it the first North American stop of the British-born exhibit pairing popular and scientific visions of outer-space life and asking visitors to consider unearthly species may not be such an incredible idea.

The exhibit also opened this week at Cite de la Science et de l'Industrie in Paris.

As Miami museum president Gillian Thomas puts it: "We're trying to stretch people's imaginations of what science could be."

"Could," of course, is the operative word.

The exhibit presents curious-looking Earth dwellers and compares the severe conditions such creatures are able to survive on this planet with environments elsewhere in the solar system. If they can make it here, it suggests, can't they make it anywhere?

"We want people to know life on other planets is possible," said Hugo van Maasakkers, project manager for the "Science of ..." series of exhibits. "But it wouldn't be so strange from the things we already have around us."

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Whether those potential alien life forms would fit the alien images in popular culture is another question, one hinted at near the exhibit's entrance.

The first of the exhibit's four zones is dedicated to film aliens, including the ones from "E.T.," "Return of the Jedi" and "Aliens." There are two-headed teddy bears and clips of the TV show "Futurama," and a mirrored feature that lets visitors see what they might look like as an alien.

It is all decidedly unscientific.

Thomas says it is a perfect journey into serious discussion on life outside Earth — one thousands have taken since "The Science of Aliens" launched two years ago at the London Science Museum.

"All science fiction isn't just based on nothing. It's really based on science," Thomas said. "I think science fiction is an important way of getting people to be more comfortable with science."

Before visitors leave, they are invited to construct a message, purportedly to be sent out of this galaxy with the author's photograph attached. But perhaps the exhibit's best image is on a wall in the middle, in an understated display with no sound or flashing lights.

It is a panoramic view of the galaxy, with a tiny yellow circle locating the solar system that is Earth's home.

"You are here," it says.

But could we be all alone?