Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is Alien Life Surfacing Nearby?

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Is Alien Life Surfacing Nearby?

By Seth Shostak
The Huffington Post

     Extraterrestrial life may be showing up in some obvious places. No, this is not about hairless aliens that have come to Earth in saucer-shaped craft, but less sophisticated life just next door.

A century ago, scientists believed there was only one obvious stomping ground for alien biology in our solar system: Mars. Because it was reminiscent of Earth, Mars was assumed to be chock-a-block with animate beings, and its putative inhabitants got a lot of column inches and screen time. Red Planet residents were generally assumed to be similar to us: size-wise, technology-wise, and wise-wise. By 1900, astronomer Percival Lowell was energetically shopping the idea that canals laced the martian surface, the handiwork of aliens desperate to irrigate a dry world. . . .

. . . he other news concerns Europa, the albino ice-ball-of-a-moon in orbit around Jupiter. The Hubble Space Telescope has found a cloud of what seem to be dismembered water molecules a hundred miles or so above Europa's south pole. The likely scenario here is that liquid is being spewed into space from the ocean below as Jupiter pulls and tugs on Europa's frozen skin. The geysers seem to be located in cracks in the surface ice.

Almost a decade ago, Hubble found watery plumes shooting out of Saturn's moon Enceladus, so this phenomenon isn't new. But Enceladus is a runty orb, so the water erupting from its frigid epidermis dissipates into the vacuum of space, and is gone for good. Europa is a beefier satellite, and can pull the material shot up from the cracked-and-crazed polar region back down to pile up on the surface.

Consequently, if there's any life holed up in the Stygian waters beneath Europa's glistening exterior, then bits of biology might be just lying in handy heaps right there on the icy, south-polar landscape.

It's good news for mankind, or at least for that fraction of it that would be interested to know if there's life beyond our world. . . .

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