Juno Measures How Much Oxygen is Being Produced by Europa

This view of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa was captured by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft during the mission’s close flyby on Sept. 29, 2022. Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing: Kevin M. Gill CC BY 3.0

If the periodic table listed the elements in order of their importance to life, then oxygen might bully its way to the top. Without oxygen, Earth’s complex life likely would not exist. So when scientists detect oxygen on another world, they turn their attention to it.

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Mars has the Right Conditions for Life Just Under the Surface

According to the immortal words of Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) “Life..uh…finds a way”.  Back in 2005, an article in Nature used the famous quote from Jurassic Park to describe the possibility of life surviving on Mars.  It encapsulates the hope that life’s adaptability, which it has proved itself so many times over on Earth, could hold true on other planets as well.  Now a new paper in Astrobiology shows that there might very well be a place where life can sustain itself on the red planet – right underneath the surface.

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Microbes Found That Survive on the by-Products of Radioactive Decay

The rocks seen here along the shoreline of Lake Salda in Turkey were formed over time by microbes that trap minerals and sediments in the water. These so-called microbialites were once a major form of life on Earth and provide some of the oldest known fossilized records of life on our planet. NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance mission will search for signs of ancient life on the Martian surface. Studying these microbial fossils on Earth has helped scientists prepare for the mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In addition to investigating the big questions about life in our Universe (origins, evolution, distribution, etc.), one of the chief aims of astrobiologists is to characterize extraterrestrial environments to determine if life could exist there. However, there are still unresolved questions about the range of conditions under which life can survive and thrive. Placing better constraints on this will help astrobiologists search for life beyond Earth.

To get a better understanding of how ecosystems can exist beneath the ocean floor (so far from the Sun) a team of researchers led by the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) conducted a study on microbes in ancient seafloor sediment. What they found, to their surprise, was that these lifeforms are sustained primarily by chemicals created by the natural irradiation of water molecules.

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How Do We Terraform Saturn’s Moons?

The moons of Saturn, from left to right: Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea; Titan in the background; Iapetus (top) and irregularly shaped Hyperion (bottom). Some small moons are also shown. All to scale. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Continuing with our “Definitive Guide to Terraforming“, Universe Today is happy to present our guide to terraforming Saturn’s Moons. Beyond the inner Solar System and the Jovian Moons, Saturn has numerous satellites that could be transformed. But should they be?

Around the distant gas giant Saturn lies a system of rings and moons that is unrivaled in terms of beauty. Within this system, there is also enough resources that if humanity were to harness them – i.e. if the issues of transport and infrastructure could be addressed – we would be living in an age a post-scarcity. But on top of that, many of these moons might even be suited to terraforming, where they would be transformed to accommodate human settlers.

As with the case for terraforming Jupiter’s moons, or the terrestrial planets of Mars and Venus, doing so presents many advantages and challenges. At the same time, it presents many moral and ethical dilemmas. And between all of that, terraforming Saturn’s moons would require a massive commitment in time, energy and resources, not to mention reliance on some advanced technologies (some of which haven’t been invented yet).

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How Do We Terraform Jupiter’s Moons?

Surface features of the four members at different levels of zoom in each row

Continuing with our “Definitive Guide to Terraforming“, Universe Today is happy to present to our guide to terraforming Jupiter’s Moons. Much like terraforming the inner Solar System, it might be feasible someday. But should we?

Fans of Arthur C. Clarke may recall how in his novel, 2010: Odyssey Two (or the movie adaptation called 2010: The Year We Make Contact), an alien species turned Jupiter into a new star. In so doing, Jupiter’s moon Europa was permanently terraformed, as its icy surface melted, an atmosphere formed, and all the life living in the moon’s oceans began to emerge and thrive on the surface.

As we explained in a previous video (“Could Jupiter Become a Star“) turning Jupiter into a star is not exactly doable (not yet, anyway). However, there are several proposals on how we could go about transforming some of Jupiter’s moons in order to make them habitable by human beings. In short, it is possible that humans could terraform one of more of the Jovians to make it suitable for full-scale human settlement someday.

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