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Searching for life on the moons of Jupiter: Aliens in the oceans

Searching for life on the moons of Jupiter: Aliens in the oceans

August 15, 2012 - As the Curiosity rover begins its exciting trek across the surface of Mars and up the dramatic peak of Mt. Sharp it is important to realize that the plans for this great success were incubated and acted upon more than 10 years ago. Exploration like this is not for the faint of heart -- it takes time and persistence.

So what's next? What is in the funded pipeline now that will be revolutionizing our understanding of life in the solar system 10 or even 20 years from now? The short answer is -- nothing. Curiosity is it. After Curiosity there is, at present, no other mission in production that will explore potentially habitable worlds beyond Earth.

But where do we want to go? Where do we hope we'll be? Along with continuing our exploration of Mars there are several moons of Jupiter and Saturn that we think might be good places for life.


These moons -- worlds with names like Europa, Enceladus, and Titan -- are covered with solid water ice, beneath which we have very good reason to believe that vast liquid water oceans exist.

And when I say liquid water I mean good old-fashioned H2O; if you drank this stuff it would probably taste similar to a big gulp of salty ocean water from our ocean here on Earth.

These are oceans that exist today and have likely been in existence for much of the history of the solar system. Why is this important? Well, if we've learned anything about life on Earth it's that where you find liquid water you generally find life.

We need to know if the origin of life easy or hard. Does life arise wherever the conditions are right or is it a rare occurrence in our Universe?

These moons have lots and lots of water and they could be great homes for alien ecosystems (note that when I say "alien ecosystems" I'm referring primarily to microbes and simple life forms. As much as I'd love to discover creatures like those seen in the movie The Abyss, I'll be happy just to find a considerable speck of a microbe!)

One moon in particular -- Jupiter's moon Europa -- may have the perfect combination of liquid water and the chemistry needed for life.

Europa is about the size of our Moon and beneath its icy shell Europa harbors a global liquid water ocean of roughly 100 km in depth (by comparison, Earth's ocean has an average depth of 4 km and a maximum depth of 11 km). The ocean of Europa contains about 2-3 times the volume of all the liquid water on Earth.

It's an ocean that's there today and has likely been in existence for much of the 4.6 billion years of our Solar System's history. As such, Europa provides an incredibly compelling place to go to search for a second, independent origin of life and it's a place where we might find lifeforms that are alive now, today.



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Aliens in the oceans - searching for life on the moons of Jupiter

Posted on 08 14 2012 Leave a comment Jupiter 's moon Europa has a crust made up of blocks, evidence that Europa may have once had a subsurface ocean. (Holmes) As the Curiosity rover begins its exciting trek across the surface of Mars and up the dramatic peak of Mt. Sharp it is important to realize that the plans for this great success were...

Aliens in the oceans - searching for life on the moons of Jupiter

More water on Europa than on Earth


( via edition.cnn.com )



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