8 February, 2020
What lurks within Europa’s oceans ? Image Credit: NASA
When it comes to seeking out signs of extraterrestrial life within our own solar system, no target has proven more tantalizing than Europa – a world thought to be home to a potentially habitable ocean of liquid water hidden deep beneath a thick icy exterior shell.
One major proponent of this idea is planetary scientist Professor Monika Grady who outlined her thoughts on the subject at a recent talk at Liverpool Hope University.
Not only could there be life forms in the icy ocean of Europa, she argues, but deep caverns on Mars could also provide a potential sheltered habitat for extraterrestrial organisms.
“When it comes to the prospects of life beyond Earth, it’s almost a racing certainty that there’s life beneath the ice on Europa,” she said. “Elsewhere, if there’s going to be life on Mars, it’s going to be under the surface of the planet.”
“There you’re protected from solar radiation. And that means there’s the possibility of ice remaining in the pores of the rocks, which could act as a source of water.”
“If there is something on Mars, it’s likely to be very small bacteria.”
“But I think we’ve got a better chance of having slightly higher forms of life on Europa, perhaps similar to the intelligence of an octopus.”
Overall, she argues, the conditions that led to life on Earth are likely to have occurred elsewhere too.
“Our solar system is not a particularly special planetary system, as far as we know, and we still haven’t explored all the stars in the galaxy,” she said. “But I think it’s highly likely there will be life elsewhere – and I think it’s highly likely they’ll be made of the same elements.”
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