The Agony of Choice in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life: Titan or Europa?
Monday, February 16, 2009
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 by step - but we have to choose which to check. We want to go everywhere, but with a price tag of billions of dollars per outer-planetary probe we have to decide and just flipping a coin will not cut it.
Option Number One, Europe, the favored son of many satellite 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 site without life-tiny bacteria-sized jacuzzis?
Number Two is Titan, a very-Terran option whose surface lakes, shore lines, seasons and relatively thick nitrogen atmosphere mean it's viewed as an early-model Earth. And 100% of all Earth know have awesome life on them! The significantly lower temperature is a bit of a stumbling block (it's at 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 does not 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 and unicorn 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 NASA, ESA to decide on 'life' mission (ABC News in Science)