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Is There Life on Jupiter?


As an avid reader, I have come across many books that proposed the idea of life on Jupiter. Some even proposed that Jupiter is lifeless, but its moons harbor advanced life forms. Is there life on Jupiter? While there have been no samples taken that could test for microscopic life on the planet, there is quite a bit of compelling evidence that shows there is no possible way for life as we know it to exist anywhere on the planet. Try this link for one scientist’s take on finding life in the cosmos.

First, let’s look at the conditions on Jupiter that preclude the existence of life. The planet is a gas giant composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. There is virtually no water to support known life forms. The planet does not have a solid surface for life to develop anywhere except as a floating microscopic organism.

Free floating organisms could only exist at the very tops of the clouds due to atmospheric pressure that is progressively more intense than anything seen on Earth. While the cloud tops could harbor life that is resistant to solar radiation, the atmosphere is in constant chaos. Convection forces the lower atmosphere upwards and colder areas of the atmosphere are constantly being sucked closer to the core. The churning would eventually expose any organisms to the extreme pressures nearer the core, thus killing any that may develop.

Should an organism find a way to resist atmospheric pressure that reaches 1,000 times what it is here on Earth, there are the temperatures close to the planet’s core. Gravitational compression has heated areas near the core to over 10,000 degrees Celsius. It is so hot in some areas that hydrogen is in a liquid metallic state. While organisms on Earth live in areas near volcanoes, the temperatures there do not approach Jovian levels.

Jupiter is completely inhospitable to life as we understand it, but its moon Europa has been proposed as a possible habitable zone. It is thought to have a large amount of water ice on its surface. Some of which covers a proposed ocean of water slush. The conditions under the water ice could be harboring microscopic life according to some scientists.

The question ”is there life on Jupiter” seems pretty well decided. There is no way that life as we understand it could exist on the gas giant. The possibility of life within the Jovian system is still being explored. Some debate exists about Europa. NASA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter was set to answer those questions before it was canceled. Hopefully, another mission like it will be launched soon and end all of the debate.

Here’s an article about the search for life on Europa. Not so fast, though. Here’s an article about how Europa might be corrosive to life.

Here’s a classic article from Time Magazine in 1961 about the possibilities of life on Jupiter, and the search for life on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

We’ve also recorded an entire show just on Jupiter for Astronomy Cast. Listen to it here, Episode 56: Jupiter, and Episode 57: Jupiter’s Moons.

Sources:
http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/starsgalaxies/frozenworlds.html
http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Jupiter
http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Jup_Europa
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/jimo/

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