Greenland’s Ice Sheet is Similar in Many Ways to the Solar System’s Icy Worlds and Can Teach Us How to Search for Life

Many regions on Earth are temperate, nutrient-rich, stable environments where life seems to thrive effortlessly. But not all of Earth. Some parts, like Greenland’s ice sheet, are inhospitable.

In our nascent search for life elsewhere in the Solar System, it stands to reason that we’ll be looking at worlds that are marginal and inhospitable. Icy worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus are our most likely targets. These frozen worlds have warm oceans under layers of ice.

What can Greenland’s cryo-ecosystems tell us about searching for life on icy bodies like Europa and Enceladus?

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The Interior of Enceladus Looks Really Great for Supporting Life

When NASA’s Voyager spacecraft visited Saturn’s moon Enceladus, they found a body with young, reflective, icy surface features. Some parts of the surface were older and marked with craters, but the rest had clearly been resurfaced. It was clear evidence that Enceladus was geologically active. The moon is also close to Saturn’s E-ring, and scientists think Enceladus might be the source of the material in that ring, further indicating geological activity.

Since then, we’ve learned a lot more about the frigid moon. It almost certainly has a warm and salty subsurface ocean below its icy exterior, making it a prime target in the search for life. The Cassini spacecraft detected molecular hydrogen—a potential food source for microbes—in plumes coming from Enceladus’ subsurface ocean, and that energized the conversation around the moon’s potential to host life.

Now a new paper uses modelling to understand Enceladus’ chemistry better. The team of researchers behind it says that the subsurface ocean may contain a variety of chemicals that could support a diverse community of microbes.

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This is What Perseverance’s Landing Site Looked Like Billions of Years Ago. See Why it’s Such a Compelling Target?

Today is a milestone in NASA’s Perseverance mission to Mars. At 1:40 pm Pacific time today, the rover will have traveled 235.4 million km (146.3 million miles). That means the spacecraft is halfway to Mars and its rendezvous with Jezero Crater. The spacecraft isn’t traveling in a straight line, and the planets are moving, so it’s not equidistant to both planets.

“Although we’re halfway into the distance we need to travel to Mars, the rover is not halfway between the two worlds,” Kangas explained. “In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles [42.7 million kilometers] behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles [28.8 million kilometers] in front.”

But today’s still a good time to take another look at Jezero Crater, and why NASA chose it as the mission’s target.

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Here’s a Clever Idea, Looking for the Shadows of Trees On Exoplanets to Detect Multicellular Life

That’s the kind of headline that can leave us scratching our heads. How can you see tree shadows on other worlds, when those planets are tens or hundreds of light years—or even further—away. As it turns out, there might be a way to do it.

One team of researchers thinks that the idea could potentially be used to answer one of humanity’s long-standing questions: Are we alone?

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Maybe Volcanoes Could Explain the Phosphine in Venus’ Atmosphere

The detection of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere was one of those quintessential moments in space science. It was an unexpected discovery, and when combined with our incomplete understanding of planetary science, and our wistful hopefulness around the discovery of life, the result was a potent mix that lit up internet headlines.

As always, some of the headlines were a bit of an over-reach. But that’s the way it goes.

At the heart of it all, there is compelling science. And the same, overarching question that keeps popping up: Are we alone?

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Why Lava Tubes Should be Our Top Exploration Priority on Other Worlds

When magma comes out of the Earth onto the surface, it flows as lava. Those lava flows are fascinating to watch, and they leave behind some unique landforms and rocks. But a lot of what’s fascinating about these flows can be hidden underground, as lava tubes.

These lava tubes are turning out to be a very desirable target for exploration on other worlds, just as they are here on Earth.

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Worlds With Hydrogen in Their Atmospheres Could Be the Perfect Place to Search for Life

We’re waiting patiently for telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope to see first light, and one of the reasons is its ability to study the atmospheres of exoplanets. The idea is to look for biosignatures: things like oxygen and methane. But a new study says that exoplanets with hydrogen in their atmospheres are a good place to seek out alien life.

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A NASA Panel Says We Don’t Need to be so Careful About Infecting Other Worlds

It’s time to update the rules. That’s the conclusion of a panel that examined NASA’s rules for planetary protection. It was smart, at the dawn of the space age, to think about how we might inadvertently pollute other worlds with Earthly microbes as we explore the Solar System. But now that we know a lot more than we did back then, the rules don’t fit.

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