- Space science researcher Gareth Dorian runs his first four worlds with the potential to host life.
- Planets like Mars and icy moons like Europe can carry life in some form, although we don’t yet know what form it might take.
- Missions to most of these worlds are either already happening or planned in the future.
It wasn’t long ago that most science enthusiasts wrote off the possibility of finding life in our solar system. At the time, it was already clear that Mars was a dry and dusty inferno and that no other planet or moon provided Earth-like conditions. But in recent years, scientists have realized that extraterrestrial life may actually exist within our system, we just have to know where to look.
Now, space science researcher Gareth Dorian provides a list of planets and other celestial bodies that offer us the best odds of finding life within our stellar neighbors, and some of them may surprise you.
Dorian’s first target is Mars, which is somewhat predictable. Mars is indeed the most Earth-like planet in our system. It’s rocky and has at least a little bit of ice, and we know it was largely covered in liquid water. Over billions of years, that all changed, but what was the planet like at that time? Was it just water and a rock, or did life flourish there?
Whatever the history of the planet, there is a possibility that life in some form still exists on Mars. Underground lakes have been detected, and the planet has a habit of spewing out methane clouds that worsen and fade with the seasons, which could be an indication that life is still hiding somewhere. These wouldn’t be the traditional “Martians” of science fiction, and would likely be of a microbial nature, but even that would be a mega discovery.
Then come the icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter: Enceladus and Europa. Both are covered in a thick layer of ice that has long been thought to represent the range of what the planet has to offer. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that liquid water is abundant under the lukewarm rind. Tidal forces keep the water in a liquid state, and heat from deep within the planet may play a role as well. If true, life could exist there, even in the absence of sunlight.
The last world on Dorian’s list is shocking: Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Sure, Titan is an interesting place, but in terms of life, it seems like a long shot. The moon has liquid lakes and rivers on its surface, but water doesn’t flow through them, it’s hydrocarbons like liquid methane and ethane cooled to very low temperatures. However, if the planet contains liquid water deep beneath its toxic surface, then there is a possibility that life may exist there.