Two more moons in our solar system may hide life under icy crusts
NASA’s upcoming dance card may have just gotten a little fuller, as new research shows that not one, but two moons in the solar system could be capable of sustaining life.
The first of the two moons is Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. For years scientists have wondered what is hiding underneath the icy crust of the moon. It has long been assumed that Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, contained water, but according to new images from the Hubble Telescope, there could be more water than anyone suspected. More water even than all of the surface water on the Earth.
A report from Scientific American states that the new working theory is that Ganymede’s oceans are about 60 miles thick, roughly 10 times the depths of Earth’s oceans. With that much water, the chances for some form of lifeform developing there is greater than ever.
Scientists have been using the Hubble to study the auroras on Ganymede, which are found on the poles of the moon and caused by its magnetic fields. The auroras are affected by Jupiter’s magnetic field and the motion of the gas giant as well. Recent studies show that Ganymede’s auroras did not move as much as expected though. That led the researchers to conclude that a subsurface ocean was dampening Ganymede’s auroras.
The method used to determine the volume of liquid on Ganymede could also in the future be used to detect liquid on distant exoplanets.
“By monitoring auroral activity on exoplanets, we may be able to infer the presence of water on or within an exoplanet,” Heidi Hammel, executive vice president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy said.
“Now, it’s not going to be easy – it’s not as easy as Ganymede and Jupiter, and that wasn’t easy. It may require a much larger telescope than Hubble, it may require some future space telescope, but nevertheless, it’s a tool now that we didn’t have prior to this work that Joachim and his team have done.”
Several missions to Jupiter’s moons are planned in the near future, beginning with the European Space Agency’s JUICE (JUipter ICy moons Explorer) spacecraft, which is expected to launch in 2022. The probe is set to explore Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede. It is expected to reach Ganymede in 2032.
NASA has its own Jupiter probe set for Europa, where it also hopes the amount of volume could lead to some incredible discoveries.
Along with Ganymede, Saturn’s moon Enceladus has also shown to have more to it than initially thought. The Cassini spacecraft, which is currently exploring Saturn and its moons, recently discovered tiny grains originating from the moon, according to USA Today.
The microscopic grains are thought to have been formed recently due to a chemical reaction between rock and hot water. For that chemical reaction to occur, the water would need to be at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
That could signify that Enceladus could be habitable.
Part of the reason the moon has been overlooked is its size, which is about a fifth the size of our moon.
“The most surprising part of this is that Enceladus is a very small object,” Sean Hsu, the lead researcher from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics said. “It’s much smaller than our moon, and it’s expected to be inactive.”
A mission to investigate Saturn’s moons, specifically Titan and Enceladus, has already been proposed. NASA gave priority to Jupiter’s moons, but the probe is still in the planning stages.
“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” astronaut John Grunsfeld said.