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From Universe Today: Do icy worlds have enough chemicals to support life?

An illustration of a number of the different kinds of planets found by Kepler all lined up in a row.
types of planets Kepler found/NAA

From Matt Williams at Universe Today:

For decades, scientists have believed that there could be life beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Since that time, multiple lines of evidence have emerged that suggest that it is not alone. Indeed, within the Solar System, there are many “ocean worlds” that could potentially host life, including Ceres, Ganymede, Enceladus, Titan, Dione, Triton, and maybe even Pluto.

But what if the elements for life as we know it are not abundant enough on these worlds? In a new study, two researchers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics (CfA) sought to determine if there could in fact be a scarcity of bioessential elements on ocean worlds.

From a recent email from the authors of a study (public access):

“We found that, as per the assumptions in our model, phosphorus, which is one of the bioessential elements, is depleted over fast timescales (by geological standards) on ocean worlds whose oceans are neutral or alkaline in nature, and which possess hydrothermal activity (i.e. hydrothermal vent systems at the ocean floor). Hence, our work suggests that life may exist in low concentrations globally in these ocean worlds (or be present only in local patches), and may therefore not be easily detectable.”

Europa Clipper (artist’s concept)/NASA, JPL

This naturally has implications for missions destined for Europa and other moons in the outer Solar System. These include the NASA Europa Clipper mission, which is currently scheduled to launch between 2022 and 2025. Through a series of flybys of Europa, this probe will attempt to measure biomarkers in the plume activity coming from the moon’s surface. More.

Well, luckily, there’s only one way to find out for sure. How about: Boldly go. But be realistic. Let science fiction be fiction and enjoy it as such. 😉

See also: Exoplanets break apparent rules for planet formation

Water forms superionic ice, a “new” metal-like state with H+ ions as charge carriers (kairosfocus)


Tour the exoplanets – virtually – courtesy of NASA

It all depends on whether they have Organic methane as just discovered on Mars, or just ordinary, boring methane. ;-) -Q Querius
"phosphorus, which is one of the bioessential elements, is depleted over fast timescales" What can "depleted" possibly mean for an Element? It can't possibly be DESTROYED by cold water. And as far as I know it doesn't decompose (like Uranium). So do they mean phosphorous gets LOCKED into stable compounds? And that these stable compounds are NOT the kind of stuff that pond scum in tidal pools can break back down? On the other hand, if Life is INSERTED by an external Intelligent Designer, are we to believe that the Designer can't "undeplete" as much phosphorus as the Designer wishes? I think the bigger problem is that frigid waters are only useful to LARGE life forms (um, bigger than a field mouse) if they are FRINGE areas surrounded by subtropical and tropical breeding areas. This was the problem with Snowball Earth, and there remains the good chance that our Snowball was melted by external intervention by The Designer. The Snowball was otherwise stable as a Snowball. vmahuna
I think that the odds of finding other life in our solar system are low, but I also think that the search is well worth it. The benefits that we have received from space exploration have been significant. Even if the benefits are incidental to the actual goals. Allan Keith

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