Eps 1: Are extraterrestrial life forms possible under the ice?

JUpiter ICy moons Explorer mission

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Miriam Lucas

Miriam Lucas

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This article discusses the possibility of extraterrestrial life forms existing under the ice on some of Jupiter's, Saturn's, and Neptune's icy moons. There is evidence that a global ocean of liquid water exists beneath Europa's ice shell, and future missions may land and study the moon in detail. Other moons in our solar system that may harbor life include Enceladus and Titan.
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Enceladus is a moon of Saturn, and Titan is a moon of Jupiter. Scientists have detected evidence that these two icy moons may host some sort of alien life beyond Earth. The possibility of extraterrestrial life forms existing in the oceans that lie under the ice on these moons has been discussed for years. Ganymede, another moon of Jupiter, and Europa, one of Saturn's icy moons, are also potential candidates for hosting extraterrestrial life forms. All four moons have been found to contain oxygen, water and other nutrients necessary to support life.
This has led to speculation that under the icy layers of these moons, an even warmer liquid ocean could exist. Planetary scientist Alan Stern believes that the icy orbs are actually ocean worlds, with a liquid ocean underneath the thick layers of ice. These subsurface oceans could be similar to those found on Earth and other planets and moons. Stern suggests that beneath Europa's frozen exterior is an ocean world, with depths containing all sorts of space objects like hydrothermal vents, black smokers and sea lilies. Similarly, Enceladus has been identified as having a potential subsurface ocean beneath its surface oceans. Finding extraterrestrial life forms on these distant planets or icy moons is possible if there are worlds out there which have similar oceans to ours.
Scientists have discovered several moons encrusted with ice that orbit Jupiter, Saturn and other planets in our solar system. One of the most prominent examples is Jupiter’s moon Europa. It is thought that beneath its icy surfaces lies an enormous liquid ocean. This ocean combined with Earth’s oceans could be larger than all the oceans on Earth combined, potentially harboring the necessary ingredients for life to exist outside of Earth. Scientists have discovered perhaps other ingredients inside Europa's icy surface, such as hydrogen peroxide and sulfuric acid which may be necessary for life to exist within this distant moon's ocean beneath its ice surface.
In addition, Saturn's moon Enceladus also has a few frigid moons that are believed to have an ocean beneath its icy crust. Scientists speculate that the ocean beneath the frozen surface may be capable of harboring liquid water and potentially alien life. This makes these two icy moons, located in the exterior outer solar system of Jupiter and Saturn, possible candidates for hosting extraterrestrial life forms under their frozen surfaces. There is still much research to be done to determine if these icy moons could actually support life.
Astrobiologists contemplate the use of robot probes to explore Saturn's moon Titan and its potential for life. NASA is also considering sending a mission to sample Europa's ocean, which could potentially be leaking from the surface of Europa. In addition, hope has been raised that scientists led by the space agency may find microbes or even more complex creatures in the depths of Jupiter’s moons. An autonomous submarine may be envisioned to explore these depths and look for signs of microbes. Missions to Jupiter’s moon Enceladus and Saturn’s moon Titan have already been planned by various space agencies, with spacecraft being sent out into space on regular missions. As more research is conducted, scientists are hopeful that extraterrestrial life forms will one day be discovered beneath the ice of some of these distant moons.
In particular, a lot of focus has been placed on Jupiter’s moon Europa. The Europan Ocean is believed to be hidden beneath the thick layer of ice that covers the moon. To study Europa’s ice and its potential for harboring alien life forms, scientists have proposed a lander mission. This mission would create high resolution maps of the icy surface and then study hydrothermal activity at specific locations. The mission could also involve sample plumes to study the materials composition or even a sample return mission as its first mission.
It is thought that under the ice of Europa, located below its surface and especially under the ice shell, contains an ocean of salty water. This is because under the thick ice crust of this moon, it is made up of slushy ice and liquid water. This has been estimated to be around 10 kilometers deep. Scientists have used ground-based telescopes and land based subsurface radar observations to study these features on Europa's icy surface. These observations have revealed strong evidence for a global ocean beneath its icy shell, which scientists believe to be composed mostly of water with some other compounds such as magnesium sulfate, calcium carbonate and sodium chloride in it. This could potentially feed life forms living in its deep saltwater ocean. In addition to this, scientists have also looked at formations on the icy surface which could indicate that something else was occurring below the surface. After further research they found strong evidence that there could be extraterrestrial life forms existing underneath this icy crust.
Scientists believe that beneath the frozen surface of Saturn's moon Titan, as well as the three outer Galilean moons of Jupiter could contain enormous liquid oceans. These are believed to be made up of briny water which is composed of salts and liquid hydrocarbons. Even though on the surface these planets and moons appear to be cold and dead, underneath their frozen crusts hides a thick layer of liquid water which may even have living organisms in them. Therefore scientists are continuously researching more into this possibility to determine whether or not extraterrestrial life forms can exist beneath the ice on these celestial bodies.
Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, is a key ingredient in this search. It is believed that beneath its icy surface lays an ocean with interesting chemistry. Many scientists think that this ocean could even contain life forms. This possibility is made more likely by the fact that beneath Europa’s icy surface lies a rocky mantle and water oceans which are kept warm by tidal forces from Jupiter. The Hubble Space Telescope and other powerful telescopes have enabled scientists to gain insight into the possibility of life existing on Europa, as well as other moons within the Jovian system. The Galileo spacecraft was used in an effort to locate evidence for life on these moons, and observed thin plumes ejected from their surfaces- which suggested more recent observations of these plumes by a newer spacecraft named Juno.
Additionally, increased ground based and space telescopes have increased scientists' confidence that oceans beyond Earth exist. These oceans include those on Europa, Enceladus, and Ganymede, which are incredibly compelling places to look for possible alien life forms.