Aquatic worlds are found in our own solar system, and life can hide among their layers of rock and ice, new studies suggest. Life can one day be found on worlds like Europa, Enceladus, Titan, Mars and maybe even (Pluto).
Inner Ocean Worlds (IWOWs) are common in our solar system, and similar planets and moons are likely to exist in other planetary systems, greatly increasing the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
“As we now know, in our solar system, Earth is an unusual type of oceanic water world because its oceans are on the outside. In contrast, an increasing number of worlds in our solar system have… shown… that they probably contain interior water oceans. As a result, oceanic water worlds are now considered common in our solar system… IWOWs appear to be particularly conducive to the development and maintenance of life, and perhaps of benefit to the development and maintenance of life ” , Dr. Alan Stern, planet specialist at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) writes in a letter to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2021.
Shields to the max!
The search for alien life is often confined to the planets in the habitable zone surrounding the stars – where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for life to develop. However, water-rich moons like the moon of Jupiter, Europe, could dramatically increase the number of worlds on which life could thrive.
“Earth is not the only oceanic world in our solar system. Water on other worlds exists in various forms on moons, dwarf planets, and even comets. Ice, water vapor in the atmosphere and oceans on other worlds offer clues in the quest to discover life beyond our home planet, ”describes NASA.
Each of the most intriguing targets in the search for life in the solar system offers unique challenges and resources for life to take hold.
Mars, the planet most often associated with alien life, does not have large amounts of liquid water on the surface, although saline deposits can be found in small thimble-sized packages underneath. Earth.
Europe is cold, but this massive moon of Jupiter is heated by tidal forces as it orbits its powerful parent. Titan has oceans of ethane and methane, and the thickest atmosphere by far of any moon in the solar system. What this might mean for the development of life remains a mystery. On Earth, it was recently discovered that the ocean floor itself was the source of chemical reactions in early life forms.
Earth (considered an EWOW, or an oceanic world of outer water) and other terrestrial planets in our solar system have been the target of bombardments from asteroids and comets, as well as violent radiation that may have led to extinctions on Earth. However, the aquatic worlds could be protected from these threats by thick envelopes of ice and water.
“The inland water oceanic worlds are better suited to provide many types of environmental stability and are less likely to experience threats to the life of their own atmosphere, star, solar system, and galaxy, than worlds like Earth the oceans on the outside, ”says Stern.
Olly Olly Planet Free!
One of the challenges in finding such life is that the same oceans and ice that protect life can also prevent us from detecting life. If life forms primarily in the icy oceans of these worlds, Stern explains, it could help explain why we have yet to see life on other worlds.
Considering the laws of chemistry and physics, life should be common throughout the galaxy. This might help answer the Fermi Paradox, which begs the question – if life is common, why haven’t we found life forms on other worlds yet? Stern believes that the very water and ice that protect life on these worlds could prevent us from seeing evidence of its existence.
“All these worlds are yours except Europe. Don’t try to land there. Use them together. Use them in peace. »- Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two
Hit the play button above to watch The Cosmic Companion’s interview with science writer David Brown, talking about the Europa Clipper mission.
The Ocean Worlds Exploration Program being developed by NASA aims to explore the ocean worlds of our solar system. This program seeks to explore and understand places like Europa and Titan, where mighty oceans could teem with life.
“Tidal energy from Europe can also allow the ocean to interact with the rocks of the European seabed. Chemical reactions between water and rock could help provide not only the building blocks of life, but also the energy necessary for life, ”writes NASA on the Europa Clipper website.
The Europa Clipper aims to launch on Jupiter’s water moon in October 2024. If the Ingenuity rover’s test flights to Mars are successful, the next interplanetary helicopter will (hopefully) fly to the mighty moon of Saturn, Titan.
The lessons learned from exploring the aquatic worlds of our solar system – perhaps even the discovery of life itself – will provide us with the tools and experience to discover life around distant stars.
This article was originally published on The cosmic companion by James maynard, founder and publisher of The Cosmic Companion. He was born in New England and became a desert rat in Tucson, where he lives with his lovely wife, Nicole and Max the Cat. You can read this original piece here.
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