It is thought that one or more of the icy moons of the outer solar system could support life.
Image Credit: NASA Planetary Photojournal

Waterworlds: The Search For Life in the Outer Solar System

By Paul Scott Anderson

Until relatively recently, it was thought that the best, or perhaps only, place to look for life elsewhere in the solar system was Mars. The other inner planets were much too hot while the outer gas and ice giants were far too cold – the chances of any kind of life being found, even microbes, was considered extremely unlikely at best.

That view, however, is now starting to change. The more that various space probes have studied some of the far-off worlds in the outer solar system, the more it has become apparent that the conditions for life (at least as we know it) could indeed exist on some of them.

But it’s not the giant planets that have renewed the interest in this possibility, it’s their moons. With very little to no warmth from the Sun, they were assumed to be just frozen balls of ice and rock.

As the saying goes, however, truth is often stranger than fiction.

One of those seemingly “boring ice balls,” Jupiter’s little moon Europa turned out to be a lot more interesting, when evidence was found for the existence of liquid water beneath its bleak, frozen surface. Not just some water either, but an entire ocean of it! Europa is actually now thought to contain a lot more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined. As it turns out, tidal flexing caused by Jupiter’s gravitational pull keeps Europa’s interior warm enough for liquid water to exist.

Read more: Waterworlds: The Search For Life in the Outer Solar System « AmericaSpace.

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