Europa, Enceladus, Moon Miranda

A lot of ice moons seem to have interior oceans, warmed by tidal flexing and possibly radioactivity.  But they’re lousy candidates for life, because you need free energy; and there’s very little in the interior oceans of such system.

It is possible that NASA is institutionally poor at pointing this out.

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50 Responses to Europa, Enceladus, Moon Miranda

  1. ursiform says:

    Holding out the possibility of life sells the NASA budget. So NASA chooses to be institutionally poor at pointing that out.

    • ursiform says:

      Much like they pretend that their highly “enhanced” Hubble photos look anything like what you’d actually see if you visited those places.

      • gcochran9 says:

        It is certainly possible to improve an image (“superresolution”) if you have enough signal to noise. I’ve done it myself. Went to a big meeting on Hubble image enhancement, years ago: don’t know what they’re up to lately.

        • ursiform says:

          I was referring to the false colors in most of the images they publish. False color has its place in analysis, but most of the “ooh, aah” stuff they publish has been recolored for aesthetic impact.

        • ursiform says:

          If went there you could have all the resolution you wanted by getting as close as you dared …
          And my comment mostly applied to deep space images, if I wasn’t clear in my transition.

    • Yeah, for them it’s cheap at the price. They just have to point out that there’s more likelihood there than on, say, the surface of Saturn – which is true – and mumble through the rest of the explanation. Journalists will do the rest for them.

  2. Patrick Boyle says:

    My understanding is that NASA is looking for twelfth imam. He jumped down a well and perhaps came up in a water filled planetoid.

  3. Bryan Bell says:

    You’ve crushed my hopes for Europa.

  4. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    OT: Horizontal Gene Transfer

    Our analyses suggest that while fruit flies and nematodes have continued to acquire foreign genes throughout their evolution, humans and other primates have gained relatively few since their common ancestor. We also resolve the controversy surrounding previous evidence of HGT in humans and provide at least 33 new examples of horizontally acquired genes.

  5. jamesd127 says:

    Assume a rock core, the inside of which gets very hot. Extreme temperature differentials will generate chemical disequilibria where hot springs percolate up. Simple life forms could survive on those chemical disequilibria.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Well, one thing to remember is that the interior heat escaping at the Earth’s surface runs abut 1/10,000th as much power per square meter as sunlight.

      • kernly says:

        And yet there is life on Earth that runs on that interior heat. It’s not as much life, but that’s not that relevant. We want to find life, or the absence of it where it could theoretically sustain itself, because either result is interesting.

      • melendwyr says:

        Another thing to remember is that it’s the gradient of energy that matters, not the absolute amount, especially not over the entire planet.

        The water from a thermal vent is more than enough to sear the flesh off your bones… and supports a wide variety of chemosynthetic lifeforms to boot.

      • Dale says:

        It seems at our state of knowledge that the hydrothermal vents were where life originated, because they provide endless liquid that is in chemical disequilibrium. And its clear from bacteria that evolving something that can exploit a chemical disequilibrium is in most cases fairly easy. The power level may be low, but it’s far easier to exploit than sunlight. (Go look up the structure of the photosynthetic apparatus!) So the question regarding Europa et al. is whether there is something resembling real vulcanism.

    • If Wikipedia is to be believed communities of such life forms exist around hydrothermal vents in earth’s oceans.

      • As best as I understand it the free energy coming from these hydrothermal vents on Earth which many life forms feed on are in large part due to the recycling nature of our tectonic plates which no other planet or moon in our solar system has. That does not mean that another world/moon like Europa does not have hydrothermal vents but that they would belch the goodies that a life form can feed on isn’t known but i can’t see why they would.

      • Bryan Bell says:

        In earth’s history hydro-thermal vents are unlikely sources for life or its interesting parts of its evolution.

    • ursiform says:

      Hydrothermal vents do provide a lot of heat locally. But only because the Earth’s hot core contains a lot of thermal energy. No evidence of anything similar in the moons of the outer solar system.

  6. Here is the very readable Astrobiology Magazine But it is funded by NASA and guess which agenda they are leaning towards. They are leading the reader to the conclusion that there is a very strong possibility of life in our solar system and that we need a lot more missions to numerous locations to search for it. I’m curious about these missions and I am glad to support them but the selling of the science of astrobiology by NASA is to be taken with a large lump of salt.

  7. MawBTS says:

    As Randall Monroe points out, Saturn’s moon Titan has a thick atmosphere and light gravity. If not for the bitter cold, you could imagine it being home to some interesting flying creatures.

    • jamesd127 says:

      > Titan has a thick atmosphere and light gravity. If not for the bitter cold, you could imagine it being home to some interesting flying creatures.
      Bitter cold means extremely slow metabolism.

      The main energy source is the hydrogenation of highly unsaturated carbon compounds produced by ultraviolet light in the upper atmosphere, which is low energy source, though pretty high energy relative to the ambient temperature.

      Life on titan is possible, and I think probable, though we would find it very hard to recognize as life, but yes, not going to fly.

      • ursiform says:

        I don’t understand your post. Are you saying:

        Life on Titan is probable, but undetectable.
        Life on Titan is probable, but no flying animals.
        Life on Titan is probable, but not there.


        • jamesd127 says:

          I> don’t understand your post. Are you saying:

          Life on Titan is probable, but undetectable.

          Life on Titan is probable, but so alien, and with a metabolism so very slow, that we will have trouble recognizing it as life.

          > Life on Titan is probable, but no flying animals.
          Just black slime wet with liquid ethane, looking, and acting, much like bathroom mold.

      • Brian says:

        Call Me Joe

    • epoch2013 says:

      If it wasn’t bitter cold, wouldn’t the thick atmosphere just escape, due to the low gravity?

  8. Hesse Kassel says:

    Here in Australia we get a fantastic return from NASA searching for life. They entertain us, inform us and may even find something useful. Then they bill the US taxpayer. That’s the kind of government program I can really support.

    “They came in peace for all mankind”

    Oh, and thanks for stopping the Russians and the Japanese too.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      You’re welcome. Seeing as how stopping the Japs and Commies was about the last worthwhile things that we did, I’m glad that you remember. And I’m glad to hear that NASA benefits Australians; at least it benefits someone, and compared to a lot of things that the U.S. Government does, it’s expensive but harmless.

  9. Garr says:

    “Energy” is a glowing, humming vapor that constantly extrudes and retracts wispy tentacles. Elves can see and shape it; this is the secret of their technology.

  10. JayMan says:

    I have thought something similar for some time.

  11. Jerome says:

    NASA is welfare for people who went to college.

  12. JayMan says:

    Well, we already send plenty of probes to Mars, and it’s not like the promising locales for life in the Galactic neighborhood are easily accessible, so NASA needs to sell itself somehow.

    In any case, even if there’s no life on these various ice moons, it still would be pretty interesting to see what’s there.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      I’d have thought anywhere that had the components to make air and water locally could support a nice holiday dome at least.

  13. ohwilleke says:

    I wonder how much energy tidal forces make available on these moons. I could also image that life on these moons could be periodic, emerging only in windows when there is unusual prolonged and intense sunlight and then doing dormant in between.

    • MawBTS says:

      The difference between Jupiter’s perihelion and aphelion is pretty small, relatively speaking. And it doesn’t get much light in any case.

      If we’re talking about energy, Io (of all places) might be the best place to look. But it’s too close to Jupiter, and gets blasted with constant radiation.

      • jamesd127 says:

        But it’s too close to Jupiter, and gets blasted with constant radiation.

        in the core of the Chernobyl reactor are fungi that appear to be deriving their energy from radiation, melanin functioning as their equivalent of chlorophyll.

        • Now that is damned interesting. Radiotrophic fungus are able to convert gamma radiation into chemical energy for growth. Could this stuff grow in space? Yep, the Mir space station is a moldy mess. The aging Mir is nearly overrun with the stuff. The whole space station has a mushroomy reek and when you pull out a control panel you are likely to find the back of it covered with the nasty looking stuff, a moldy mat with hues between green and black. Earth biology never wastes any energy source.

          • jamesd127 says:

            I expect that when we go into space, we will find life anywhere we find liquids and an energy source, but it will all look, and act, like bathroom mold.

            • gcochran9 says:

              I doubt we’ll see any in the Solar system, other than Earth. You need a situation in which life A. could exist and B. could evolve. A is hard enough, B is probably even more restrictive.

          • I am not optimistic that life is in other places in the solar system either. I just thought it amazing that life on earth is so variable. Just about the only place in the solar system with the very narrow temperature band required for earth like life is deep within a few moons like Europa, but I doubt that there is any free energy in these locations. There is a huge zone of space which has enough free energy to support a radiotrophic life form but it is either too cold or too hot for any kind of earth like life to survive. On top of just surviving is the whole difficulty of life evolving in the first place. If, and this is a big if, if Mars was life friendly early on in the history of the solar system there could be some primitive life forms hanging on deep underground. I would love to be wrong but I think this astrobiology stuff is utterly unsubstantiated and as I have stated elsewhere a sales job by NASA.

  14. Greying Wanderer says:

    If it was a source of naturally de-deuterated super water

    then perhaps it could be home to lots of low energy dwarfs rather than high energy giants.

  15. austmann says:

    Tidal flexing affecting planet Earth probably is probably one factor in cliate change:

    Seafloor Volcano Pulses May Alter Climate:
    “A new study shows that they flare up on strikingly regular cycles, ranging from two weeks to 100,000 years—and, that they erupt almost exclusively during the first six months of each year. The pulses—apparently tied to short- and long-term changes in earth’s orbit, and to sea levels–may help trigger natural climate swings.”

    Concerning abiogenesis, any thoughts on Jeremy England’s work?

  16. Hipster says:

    Random question about the Visual Word Form Area.
    If the idea is that it facilitates reading of alphabetic scripts, is there any evidence that Chinese people brought up only speaking/reading English have lower-than-expected reading abilities considering their IQs?

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      My understanding – could be wrong – is VWFA allows people to see whole words as pictures. If so I’d have thought it would make it easier for them to learn to read and write generally – just more so with pictographic languages.

      As an aside if the above is correct it might be the basis for the long-lasting educational argument over whole words vs phonics as teaching methods. Maybe people with VWFA can learn to read and write with either the whole words method or the phonics method (maybe faster with the whole words method) while people without VWFA need phonics.

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