Which planets or moons could host life in our solar system?
The presence of extraterrestrial life has been a common theme in popular culture for generations. While aliens are often presented as fictional characters, there’s more evidence than ever before that lifeexists beyond our planet. A revealing U.S. intelligence report from June 2021 reported substantive evidence of unidentified aerial phenomena identified by the U.S. military. A study by the Pew Research Center the same month reported that 65% of Americans are confident that intelligent life exists on other planets.
Astronomers and researchers believe that if life, in whatever form, does indeed exist elsewhere in space, there are some places where it is more likely to develop and thrive than others.
Here are the top five moons and planets where you’re most likely to find your doppelgänger (or at least an airborne microbe).
Although Venus’s atmosphere can be harsh and inhospitable given its relative proximity to the sun, there is still a chance that life exists on this grey planet. The primary evidence for this comes from phosphine gas, which researchers detected in Venus’s atmosphere last year. On our planet, phosphine is produced by living organisms in environments where oxygen is low. If this thick gas is present on Venus as well, that could signal the presence of life (likely small microbes) that is producing it.
Future expeditions to Venus are planned by NASA this decade. It remains to be seen whether they will find any evidence of living organisms or water, which is known to have existed on Venus at some point.
Of Saturn’s 82 moons, Enceladus is one of the largest. The surface of the moon itself is completely covered in ice, making it uninhabitable on top. But, what about underneath? Researchers have discovered evidence of hydrothermal activity, signaling some sort of heat source that could help sustain aquatic life within the iced-over oceans surrounding the moon.
Tests of the atmosphere have also revealed the presence of compounds such as methane, propane, ammonia, and salt water, which are all organic material. While no expeditions are currently planned to Enceladus to study it in detail, researchers may get lucky if one of the moon’s volcanoes erupts to reveal even further evidence of life beneath the surface.
Titan is Saturn’s largest moon. Its atmosphere and surface are rich in organic compounds and raw materials that are necessary to sustain life. Unlike other large celestial objects, it is also home to a number of rivers, lakes, and oceans. They’re not filled with water, however. Instead, they house methane and other liquids gasses that flow and ebb around its surface. There’s also a thought that real water may exist in a subterranean ocean, although that’s yet to be confirmed.
A mission by NASA is planned to explore the atmosphere over the next decade. Hopefully that will unveil some new insight into the discovery of life in some form or another.
Europa is one of Jupiter’s many moons, and the sixth-largest moon in our solar system. Although the surface of the moon is covered in thick ice, there is an identified ocean beneath. The circulation of tides within the ocean produce heat and a system that continually moves material from the bottom to the top. This circulation could potentially reveal oxygen within the ocean, which is a key component to sustaining life. Researchers have also already discovered organic materials that could hold a clue to life formation.
Missions are already planned to Europa to study more about the moon and its ecosystem. Low-altitude flights and investigations into the environment below the surface are planned within the next decade.
The greatest chance of revealing life beyond our planet lies with our red neighbor, Mars. Research into Mars revealed the presence of lakes and rivers filled with liquid water at some point in the past. Its atmosphere was also warm enough to comfortably sustain living beings. While it’s not probable that life currently exists on its dusty surface, what lies beneath Mars may hold other answers. Studies have revealed the presence of large reservoirs of water that could still hold living bacteria.
A NASA rover, Perseverance, is currently on Mars collecting samples and taking recordings in an effort to find sustained life on the planet. NASA is looking forward to reviewing those samples upon the rover’s return to learn more about what’s really happening with our solar neighbor.
Oumuamua –Our First Interstellar Visitor
In October 2017, a strange object entered our solar system. First noticed by an astronomer in Hawaii, it remained visible for 11 days until it dimmed from view. During that time, researchers flocked to telescopes to study its features and figure out its origins. It was determined that this oddly shaped object was the first known visitor to pass through from a distant star system.
Its shape was observed to be long and narrow, similar to a cigar. It also wasn’t very large, measuring at most around 300 feet long. The color of the object was dusty red, which is similar to the color of matter found in objects discovered in deep trenches within our own solar system. Its velocity and movements inside the Milky Way also stumped scientists; they appeared to have no connection to our own gravitational forces or the movements of known stars or comets.
Explanations for this object abound. Some believe it to be an alien spaceship carrying astronauts from a foreign corner of space. Others suggest that it could be a block of matter spun off from a molecular cloud or a comet that was pulled out of its origin solar system by some kind of gravitational force. Whatever the ultimately explanation, Oumuamua, and other interstellar objects discovered since, may hold an important clue to what really exists outside of our immediate celestial surroundings.
Check out our other articles for more astronomy and star facts here.
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