Could There Be Life on Uranus?

by Fraser Cain on October 7, 2008

Uranus Compared to Earth. Image credit: NASA

Uranus Compared to Earth. Image credit: NASA


The more we learn about life on Earth, the more we realize that it can live in some of the most inhospitable places on the planet: encased in ice, in boiling water, and even in places with high radiation. But could life exist elsewhere in the Solar System? Could there be life on Uranus?

Maybe, but probably not.

There are a few problems. The first is the fact that Uranus has no solid surface. It’s mostly composed of ices: methane, water and ammonia. And then it’s enshrouded by an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. The second is that Uranus is really cold. Its cloud tops measure 49 K (?224 °C), and then it gets warmer inside down to the core, which has a temperature of 5,000 K.

You could imagine some perfect place inside Uranus, where the temperature could support life. The problem is that the pressures inside Uranus are enormous at those temperatures, and would crush life. The other problem is that life on Earth requires sunlight to provide energy. There’s no process inside Uranus, like volcanism on Earth, that would give life inside the planet a form of energy.

Life on Uranus would have to be vastly different from anything we have here on Earth to be able to survive. Of course, it’ll be almost impossible to ever send a spacecraft down into the planet to look for ourselves.

We have written many articles about the search for life in the Solar System. Here’s an article about how life on Mars might have been killed off. And here’s an article about how the soil on Mars might have supported life.

Here’s a link to Hubblesite’s News Releases about Uranus, and here’s NASA’s Solar System Exploration guide.

We have recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast just about Uranus. You can access it here: Episode 62: Uranus.

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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