If you believe in an infinite universe, then you probably believe that there’s life somewhere out there. By default, it must be–infinity is big, after all… really big. Too big to wrap your head around. Researchers who believe in that sort of thing (those kooky science freaks!) have a new main squeeze when it comes to life beyond earth, and their new points of interest are two moons: the oceans on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Oceans! We hang out in those all the time!
“At present, we know of only one genesis of life, the one that led to us,” said David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at The Open University. “If we knew that life had started independently in two places in our solar system, then we could be pretty confident that life also got started on some of the tens of billions of planets and moons around other stars in our galaxy.”
Here’s something that’ll make your brain hurt: in an infinite universe, everything is constantly moving away from us. As things get farther away, they begin to move faster. No matter where you find yourself (if, by chance, you find yourself in a galaxy far, far away) every other galaxy is moving away from you. Here’s the brain-melting part, though. Those galaxies aren’t moving through space, they’re moving in space. That’s because space itself is also moving; no center and no end, ya dig? I don’t. How does one wrap their head around the concept of something without borders? And how, for the love of all things holy, can something with no borders expand? Whatever. We’ll leave that to the theoretical science folks.
NASA recently announced that two moons in our solar system could very well support life. That’d be aliens, to us earth-goers. According to us, there are a few things that are required to sustain life: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Europa and Enceladus have (almost) all of those. But who’s to say that life can’t evolve without those things? Us, who’ve evolved with those things? Anyway, according to the soon-to-be underfunded NASA (fuck you, climate science!), both moons have almost all the necessary elements, but Enceladus is probably the best bet. In 2020, the Europa Clipper mission is going to have a quick look-see.
The Cassini spacecraft, that crazy thing that reached Saturn back in 2004, has been poking around the area for a while now. Using something called a mass spectrometer, it “detected an abundance of hydrogen molecules in water plumes rising from the ‘tiger stripe’ fractures in Enceladus’ icy surface.” Enceladus is Saturn’s sixth largest moon, and it’s basically a giant ball of ice with an ocean underneath. According to NASA, the hydrogen came to be from a massive reaction involving the moon’s ocean and its rocky center. If that turns out to be true, there could be much-needed methane floating around in the ocean on Enceladus, too.
“Now, Enceladus is high on the list in the solar system for showing habitable conditions,” said Hunter Waite, leader of the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and lead author of the Enceladus study. “The presence of hydrogen established another reference point saying there is hydrothermal activity inside this body, and that’s interesting because we know in our own oceans, those are very important places that are teeming with life, and they are probably one of the earliest places where life happened on Earth.”
In addition to NASA’s find on Enceladus, Hubble’s Space Telescope (we make some incredible things, don’t we?) recently looked at a huge water plume shooting out of the warmest part of the surface of Europa. That moon is just one of something like 70 other moons–the number seems to be constantly changing–but it’s a moon, and there’s an ocean on it. That ocean appears to have about twice as much water as Earth, and researchers are positively shitting their pants over it. This was the second time they observed a plume of water in the exact same spot, which, if you’re a NASA person staring at Jupiter’s moons, it positively riveting.
“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”
It is a very exciting prospect, to say the least. But if life has taught us anything, it’s that it… uh, finds a way.
It exists in some of the least habitable places on Earth, so it seems a bit presumptuous for us to assume that, on a planet over 700 million miles away, life would need what we need. But still, the ocean, whether it’s here or there, gives life. Doesn’t it feel good to be a surfer?