Europa Could be Pulling Oxygen Down Below the Ice to Feed Life

An artist’s interpretation of liquid water on the surface of the Europa pooling beneath chaos terrain. Credit: : NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jupiter’s moon Europa is a prime candidate in the search for life. The frozen moon has a subsurface ocean, and evidence indicates it’s warm, salty, and rich in life-enabling chemistry.

New research shows that the moon is pulling oxygen down below its icy shell, where it could be feeding simple life.

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Even More Complex Organic Molecules Have Been Found in a Protoplanetary Disc. Was Life Inevitable?

This artist's concept a protoplanetary disk around a young star. Researchers at the Leiden Observatory found the large organic molecule dimethyl ether in a protoplanetary disk for the first time. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Will we ever understand life’s origins? Will we ever be able to put our finger on the exact moment and circumstances that lead to living matter? Will we ever pinpoint the spark? Who knows.

But what we can do is find out how widespread the conditions for life are and how widespread the molecular constituents for life are.

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Does the Entire Planet Have a Mind of its Own?

In a self-described "thought experiment," University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank and colleagues David Grinspoon at the Planetary Science Institute and Sara Walker at Arizona State University use scientific theory and broader questions about how life alters a planet, to posit four stages to describe Earth's past and possible future. Image Credit: (University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw)

What is humanity? Do our minds set us apart from the rest of nature and from the rest of Earth? Or does Earth have a collective mind of its own, and we’re simply part of that mind? On the literal face of it, that last question might sound ridiculous.

But a new thought experiment explores it more deeply, and while there’s no firm conclusion about humanity and a planetary mind, just thinking about it invites minds to reconsider their relationship with nature.

Overcoming our challenges requires a better understanding of ourselves and nature, and the same is true for any other civilizations that make it past the Great Filter.

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Massive Rocky Planets Probably Don’t Have big Moons

The Earth straddling the limb of the Moon, as seen from above Compton crater on the lunar farside, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

The Moon has orbited Earth since the Solar System’s early days. Anyone who’s ever spent time at the ocean can’t fail to notice the Moon’s effect. The Moon drives the tides even in the world’s most remote inlets and bays. And tides may be vital to life’s emergence.

But if Earth were more massive, the Moon may never have become what it is now. Instead, it would be much smaller. Tides would be much weaker, and life may not have emerged the way it did.

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Curiosity Sees a Strong Carbon Signature in a Bed of Rocks

This is the Stimson sandstone formation in Gale Crater on Mars. This is where the Curiosity Rover drilled the Edinburgh hole and found enriched Carbon 12. Image Credit: NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS

Carbon is critical to life, as far as we know. So anytime we detect a strong carbon signature somewhere like Mars, it could indicate biological activity.

Does a strong carbon signal in Martian rocks indicate biological processes of some type?

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Even Tiny Mimas Seems to Have an Internal Ocean of Liquid Water

Mimas, as imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft and processed by @kevinmgill

Data from the Cassini mission keeps fuelling discoveries. The latest discovery is that Saturn’s tiny moon Mimas may have an internal ocean. If it does, the moon joins a growing list of natural satellites in our Solar System that may harbour liquid water under their surfaces.

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Remember When Life was Found in a Martian Meteorite? Turns out, it was Just Geology

The Alan Hills meteorite is a part of history to Mars aficionados. It came from Mars and meteorite hunters discovered in Antarctica in 1984. Scientists think it’s one of the oldest chunks of rock to come from Mars and make it to Earth.

The meteorite made headlines in 1996 when a team of researchers said they found evidence of life in it.

Did they?

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Life on Earth Needed Iron. Will it be the Same on Other Worlds?

The Juno spacecraft took this image of Earth during a gravity assist flyby of our planet in 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill.

A lot has to go right for a planet to support life. Some of the circumstances that allow life to bloom on any given planet stem from the planet’s initial formation. Here on Earth, circumstances meant Earth’s crust contains about 5% iron by weight.

A new paper looks at how Earth’s iron diminished over time and how that shaped the development of complex life here on Earth. Is iron necessary for complex life to develop on other worlds?

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Did Cosmic Dust Deliver the Phosphorus Needed for Life?

Sunlight reflects off tiny, interplanetary dust particles, creating the faint column of glowing light seen against the stars in this image. New research suggests that cosmic dust might be an important source of phosphorus for life on Earth. Credit: Malcol, CC BY 3.0

Without phosphorus, there’s no life. It’s a necessary part of DNA, RNA, and other biological molecules like ATP, which helps cells transport energy. But any phosphorus that was present when Earth formed would’ve been sequestered in the center of the molten planet.

So where did phosphorus come from?

It might have come from cosmic dust.

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Is That a Fossil on Mars? Non-Biological Deposits can Mimic Organic Structures

NASA's Perseverance rover, which is searching signs of ancient life on Mars (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

There’s nothing easy about searching for evidence of life on Mars. Not only do we somehow have to land a rover there, which is extraordinarily difficult. But the rover needs the right instruments, and it has to search in the right location. Right now, the Perseverance lander has checked those boxes as it pursues its mission in Jezero Crater.

But there’s another problem: there are structures that look like fossils but aren’t. Many natural chemical processes produce structures that mimic biological ones. How can we tell them apart? How can we prepare for these false positives?

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