Alien oceans: Is there life in the solar system’s secret seas?

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#Alien #SolarSystemAlien oceans: Is there life in the solar system’s secret seas? : SUDDENLY, out of darkness, a ghostly city of gnarled white towers looms over the submersible. As the sub approaches to scrape a sample from them, crew-member Kevin Hand spots something otherworldly: a translucent, spaceship-like creature, its iridescent cilia pulsing gently as it passes through the rover’s headlights.

This is not a dispatch from an alien world, but it could be. Hand is a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, and one of a select few to have visited the carbonate chimneys of the Lost City at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

It is the site of an extraordinary ecosystem – one that Hand suspects might be replicated on icy moons orbiting distant gas giants. “In my head, I was saying to myself: this is what it might look like,” he says.

Jupiter’s moon Europa, and Enceladus, which orbits Saturn, both have vast oceans secreted beneath their frozen outer shells. As such, many astrobiologists consider them our best bet in the search for life beyond Earth. NASA is plotting life-finding missions there. But we don’t have to wait to dip our toes in extraterrestrial waters.

NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Having explored extreme ecosystems on our own ocean floor – places like Lost City, where life is fuelled by nothing more than the reaction between rock and water – we know what to look for.

Enceladus’s plumes have got astrobiologists excited NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Now the race is on to spot signs of similar geochemical rumblings on Europa and Enceladus, and so discover whether we truly are alone in the solar system. “Follow the water” has long been the mantra in the search for life. Source: Newscientist