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1st Choice in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life: Titan or Europa?

Europasurface_2 Extraterrestrial life is the most interesting thing ever, bar nothing, and if you disagree you're either a terribly limited person or misread the start of the sentence.  We're incredibly lucky to even exist, and on top of that we have two possible life-locations right here on our solar system doorstep - but we have to choose which to check.  We want to go everywhere, but with a price-tag of billions of dollars per outer-planet probe we have to decide and flipping a coin just won't cut it.

Option Number One is Europa, the favored satellite son of many exobiologists and even Arthur C. Clarke himself.  While distinctly non-Terran, huge sub-surface lakes probably heated by tidal stresses, and even an extremely tenuous oxygen atmosphere make it a leading contender.  Hot water and even some air?  Is there a more likely life-site without tiny bacteria-sized jacuzzis?

Number Two is Titan, a very-Terran option whose surface lakes, shorelines, seasons and relatively thick nitrogen atmosphere mean it's viewed as an early-model Earth.  And 100% of all know Earths have awesome life on them!  The significantly lower temperature is a bit of a stumbling block (it's ten times as far from the sun as us), but the possibility of subterranean microbial life - or even a prebiotic "Life could happen!" environment - would be a massive result.

Remember, most of space is empty.  Either "not enough there to even count as dead" or "hard radiation sterilized space that would make a bucket of bleach in a blender look like a life-form holiday home". There's life out there somewhere, and anybody who says otherwise simply doesn't understand how big the universe is, but having three such suitable environments in one (stellar scale) space?  The solar system is three winning lottery tickets delivered by a trained unicorn and we'd be fools not to collect.

Right now having to choose is hard.  But being able to choose is incredible.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

NASA, ESA to decide on 'life' mission http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2009/02/10/2487461.htm

Comments

I think this decision should be framed at least in part by our desires for eventual expansion throughout the solar system. Both moons have tremendous supplies of a much need resource; methane in the case of Titan, and water in the case of Europa.

We need to decide which resource is more valuable, because we need to establish which planets we can visit to mine that resource. I'm assuming that we will not mine a planet with life on it, so we need to start crossing places off the list.

In my mind, water is more important that methane. thus, we should establish whether or not Europa has life on it first so we can decide if a settlement/mining colony is appropriate.

"Extraterrestrial life is the most interesting thing ever, bar nothing, and if you disagree you're either a terribly limited person or misread the start of the sentence."

Or you're dying of starvation, struggling to survive, etc..

What's with the either-or language around here so often?D

some of the articles on this site makes me feel like a teenager :(

Added to the Astronomy Link List

It's a stupendous choice !!! Life might be more likely to have found a niche on one or both rather than everyone's pop culture / science - fiction favorite, Mars.

I think we can assume that if you're reading this site you're not dying of starvation.

And surely feeling like a teenager is a good thing?

Luke - "chance" is exactly that, just the possibility there could be life elsewhere in the universe. You can't say that the immensity of that universe automatically means there absolutely, positively, undoubtedly must indicate the existence of that life. The "chance" we are alone is just as powerful as the "chance" that we are not alone.

A Lottery win depends upon the prior existence of the matching number, so it does not matter how many tickets with other numbers are out there since we know that one of them will be a match. That is not the case with extraterrestrial life. We have no real indication (lights in the sky are not proof of ET and UFOs) of other life, so presuming that it could exist on Titan or Europa is pointless right now. Which does not lessen the value of exploring those other places, but which should be done for the sole purpose of learning as much as we can about them.

And the last thing we need now or in the future is importing any kind of material in volume onto our planet, Earth, to disturb its equilibrium. We must always be aware that there is indeed a"tipping" point beyond which we should not go.

How much of a chance is there that contamination from an Earth probe could leave the seeds of life on Europa or Titan that would take root & even flourish ? Think extremeophiles. They would have to be hardy, but bacteria & viruses have been known to exist in the vacuum of space & some were found on a Soviet lunar lander in the 70's, I believe. Food for thought.....

Evil Cosmic Monkey from Knoxville (pardon me, but what a strange name that is!) wonders about the "chance" of life being spread by exporting viruses and bacteria to other places in the solar system (and presumably beyond). But not to worry - they evolved in adaption to Earth conditions and could not survive if suddenly thrust into adverse conditions. For instance, an acoholic puddle or an atmosphere of hydrogen peroxide would certainly kill them before they would have the opportunity to "evolve." Conversely, if extraterrestrial microbes were sent here, they would also be unable to proliferate, H. G. Wells notwithstanding.

Des -

Extremeophiles could probably survive in an ocean of what was essentially liquid BLEACH, at least that's what I've been led to understand, because they're very good at evolving, acclimating / adapting to adverse conditions,conditions where Homo Sapiens & other carbon - based life forms would have a snowball's chance.

" Black smokers " & the creatures around them on the Earth's ocean floor are prime examples of such, even though I'm sure you're aware of that. Hopefully Europa or Titan have something similar. It's important knowledge in view of our perspective of our place in the Great Chain of Being. ( & I'm not sure who thought up the phrase " Great Chain of Being ", BTW. )

Some folks, like people struggling to survive in countries ridden by drought, disease, famine, political oppression, etc., or people in the U.S. & Canada or Europe suffering from poverty, HIV, cancer, illiteracy, could very likely CARE LESS about searching for & finding life on other worlds. We in the Industrialized West & similar countries should be happy & thank our lucky stars, our angels, God, Whomever, that we have the luxury of thinking about such things at our leisure & discussing them. I mention this in conjunction & response to Dendurn's comment above.

Let Bullshit out there and try with Europa.....

You will get reasonable Chances.....Extremophyles...Amebae ...or whatever ...YOU can imagine...

NASA knows where to go....

Regards to Hydrobot.

EvilCosmicMonkey: While extremeophiles have adapted to unbelievable conditions, they did not arise in those conditions. They adapted to them from less hostile ones.

Using Earth as a model (which isn't terribly unreasonable, as we don't exactly have a large sample set to work with), we would expect a world of extremeophiles could only exist if the world had previously not been so hostile. Mars is still the better bet, becuase we have evidence it was once a far less hostile world, and if normal life arose in the past, extremeophiles could have clung to existence as the water dried up and the atmosphere thinned, killing off less adaptable organisms.

While life could conceivably survive in Europa's ocean or on Titan's surface, the question is more one of weather it could arise in the first place - as far as we know, these have always been extreme environments - not entirely unsuitable for the existence of life, but not likely candidates for the origin of life. Lake Vostok in Antarctica has been brought up with regards to Europa, but it's important to remember any life in Antactica's subglacial waters didn't arise there initially, it either found it's way in or was sealed in when the lakes formed.

This is an okay article. It has decent information. However, I didn't learn anything from what the author was stateing. All of the information is very basic and well-known. How could you leave the fact that Titan's lakes and rainfall, are not water...but METHANE!!! Good try, but have more information next time...

J-ROCK

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