A typical Hollywood alien is “soft, squishy and big on mucus,” in the words of Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. These sci-fi lumps of goo are inclined to abduct us, probe us, hover above us and even walk among us (in disguise, of course). But far beyond Hollywood’s limited scope, aliens might really exist. What are they like, and how would they actually handle a human encounter? Astrobiologists have deduced a few answers by combining their knowledge of life on Earth with their understanding of the cosmos as a whole. Their profile of ET might not be what you expected.