Recently, Discover Magazine summarized the widespread evidence for water in our solar system. (“Alive On the Inside?” March 2015, page 16 and 62). The list of objects with subsurface oceans (listed from largest to smallest) include Ganymede, moon of Jupiter; Titan, moon of Saturn; http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150202.html Europa, moon of Jupiter; Triton, moon of Neptune; Pluto, Ceres, Enceladus, moon of Saturn http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Facing_Enceladus http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Cassini Huygens/Icy_moon_Enceladus_has_underground_sea , and Mimos, moon of Saturn.
Spreading cracks on Europa’s surface and a missing piece of surface crust suggest that material crucial for life may be transported to water below the surface. Geothermal heat from the core and hydrocarbons from above add to life’s possibilities there.
Robots will report from Ceres and Pluto this year. Support is growing for the Europa Clipper, and NASA is evaluating instrument proposals for that trip. Hopefully, the ESA will send out a probe to sample Enceladus’s southern leak.
The possibilities for life seem more likely now that liquid water has been found just beneath Europa’s surface, though the larger ocean may be many kilometers deeper. Bacteria on Earth have been found at –320oF, close to Europa’s surface temperature of minus 370.
Popular Science February 2015 ups the anti in its summary “Where to Look For Life In Space.” With a nice summary of the water-bearers listed above. The article also describes the bacterium Shewanella, with membranes containing tiny chemical wires that contact manganese oxide in order to shed the electrons it obtains from carbohydrates, thus “conducting electricity.” Another electron-mover is Geobacter and a thousand other strains of bacteria that can put electrons onto an electrode and take electrons away. Such microbes that can “eat feces and breathe electrons” may have a lot to teach us about the possibilities of life beyond Earth. So do others that live between salt and freshwater, or without iron, or under the “crushing pressure” of deep underground
environments, or exposed to the vacuum or radiation of space.
The January 2015 Scientific American article on sociomicrobiology describes how bacteria communicate by releasing chemicals, whose concentrates can trigger a community response—another consideration as we look for life elsewhere. Plants are also capable of such chemical talk. If Earthlings can do it all, surely they can, perhaps in many places out there.
Fast forward to the May 1, 2015 issue of Earth and Space Science News.EOS.org: It notes that the Kepler Space Observatory in its search for habitable planets has “…detected 4633 candidate planets and has confirmed 1019 as of April.” Most of these are rocky planets about Earth’s size orbiting the habitable zone of reasonably long-lived stars where water can remain liquid. The title of the article is “NASA Hopes to Find Strong Indications of Life Beyond Earth Soon.” The article quotes agency scientists as predicting “…strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and…definite evidence within 10 to 20 to 30 years.”
When considering the size of our galaxy, and how many galaxies there are, it is no longer fiction to assume that we are not alone. So the debate is on. Should we hunker down and quit broadcasting ourselves? Or have we already blown it? Old “I Love Lucy” shows are already on their way far into space, right? Their frequency is high enough to get through our ionosphere.
Or are the distances to other habitable planets so great, we needn’t worry? Since it would take some 80,000 years to get to the nearest star, given current rates of travel, we have been little optimistic about meeting our galactic neighbors anytime soon. Lawrence Krauss’s The Physics of Star Trek gives us some perspective. Here’s his latest YouTube talk www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMhrt8ZdkS0
Author of The Archives of Varok
The View Beyond Earth (Book 1. Rewrite of A Place Beyond Man 1975)
The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)
Nautilus silver award 2013 YA
ForeWord finalist 2012 adult SF
The Alien Effect (Book 3.)
An Alien’s Quest–Reconciliation and Hope (Book 4. coming in 2015)
Excerpts, Synopses, Reviews, On Writing, Characters and More-
Other Book Reviews- http://www.goodreads.com/Cary_Neeper
How the Hen House Turns- http://www.ladailypost.com
Complexity, Bio, Bibliography and Links- http://caryneeper.com
Astrobiology- http://astronaut.wpengine.com search:Who’s Out There