NASA Scientists Unveil “Seven Hotspots for Life in Our Solar System & Beyond”




Space scientists estimate the odds of humanity being the only civilization in the universe at less than one chance in about “10 billion trillion.” Recent discoveries by the NASA's Kepler Mission of planets outside the solar system drastically increase the likelihood that other technologically advanced civilizations exist.

Penelope Boston, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, and Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at SETI recently identified seven potential hotspots for the discovery of life in our Solar System and beyond in an interview with Andrew Follett of The Daily Caller News Foundation, a news and opinion website based in Washington, D.C.

1. Mars

“Mars is really big, and when we send missions we can only interrogate a small portion of it,” Boston told TheDCNF. “We’ve been working incrementally to kinda creep up on life and do it in a holistic way. The Viking missions of the 1970s were an attempt to look for life holistically, but our state-of-the-art at the time simply wasn’t up to the task. It also became clear to us just how difficult a task looking for life was. We’re looking for extremely small and extremely cryptic forms of life.”

2. Jupiter's Europa

“For me, the body in the solar system most likely to have life is pretty much a dead heat between Europa and Mars,” Boston stated. “In some ways, I think that the subsurfaces of these icy moons with liquid interiors are more conducive to life than the areas we’ve been looking on Mars. The interiors of these moons seem like big petri plates. I think the potential for life being kindled there is very high.”

“It may be that the fastest way to find extraterrestrial biology is to send a spacecraft to tightly orbit Jupiter’s moon, Europa,” Shostak told TheDCNF. “It is known to have an underground ocean with twice as much water as all the oceans of Earth, and that ocean has been there for more than 4 billion years. It’s difficult to imagine that it hasn’t produced some sort of microbial life in all that time, and now that we know that Europa spurts some of its hidden ocean into space, we could simply grab some of that material and bring it back to Earth for analysis.”

3. Saturn's Enceladus

“There are differences between Europa and Enceladus,” Boston said. “Europa is a much larger body than Enceladus. I’d have to say that if you have more real estate, you have more terrain in which those pre-biotic chemical experiments which we assume led to life on Earth can be happening. The moon is sufficiently small that it cannot have been spewing out liquid for its entire history, meaning that the breach is a much more recent phenomenon. If the breach is new, any life in the interior would be profoundly affected by this. If life was kindled there, it could be under considerable stress at this point.”

“Internal heating from the rocky core and tidal heating… are very tantalizing for Europa. Whether Enceladus is large enough to have those factors is rather questionable,” Boston continued. “Even if life is not there, we could learn a lot about pre-biotic chemistry.”


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4. Proxima B –Exoplanet of Earth's Nearest Star

Proxima b is similar to Earth in “size category and location,” Boston noted. “However, there are a lot of differences in its likely potential habitat value. Within the astrobiology community, we’re thinking very broadly about [the] variations in the kind of life we have.” Proxima b is a “real big question mark,” he added. “It is a tantalizing future set of developments, but we certainly don’t have the answers at this point.”

5. The Strangest Star in the Milky Way –KIC 8462852

Scientists found possible evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization last October, when astronomers with Yale University and other top schools published a study that used NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope to examine the star KIC 8462852. What astronomers found astounded them: the star had light patterns that were consistent with large orbiting masses blocking out some of the star’s light.

“We spent a long time trying to convince ourselves this wasn’t real. We just weren’t able to,” Ben Montet, a Caltech astronomer who co-authored the study, told Gizmodo. “None of the considered phenomena can alone explain the observations.”

The dense formations near KIC 8462852 are eerily similar to “Dyson Spheres,” hypothetical, energy-harvesting megastuctures aliens could build by rearranging their solar system. Scientists have pondered the existence of Dyson Spheres since the 1960s, as they could be a potential solution to energy problems faced by an extremely old civilization. SETI scientists have long argued humans could detect distant alien civilizations by looking for technological artifacts orbiting other stars.

The masses near KIC 8462852 aren’t consistent with its age, leading scientists to believe they appeared around the star fairly recently. KIC 8462852 is only 1,481 light years away from Earth, but is not visible to the naked eye.



6. Saturn's Largest Moon –Titan

“Any life system that could have arisen there would have to be extraordinarily different from ours,” Boston noted. “That said, there’s a large amount of organic material there. If we go searching there, that places us in a very different theoretical framework.”

In June 2010, scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini–Huygens mission reported anomalies in the atmosphere near the surface which could have been generated by methane-producing organisms. Liquid water could also be present on Titan below the surface. However, there simply may not be enough energy on Titan to allow any life to exist.

“I think there’s not enough energy on Titan to drive living processes that are like the ones we understand on our planet,” Boston concluded. “The temperature regime and the energy sources available are outside the realms of our kind of life. The liquids there are ethanes.”

7. The Cosmos –"Beyond"

“There are three ways we might hunt down biology elsewhere in the universe,” Shostak said. “The first, and most obvious, is to simply send men or machines to nearby worlds and look for it. Our robot explorers (and eventually humans) could do reconnaissance on Mars or some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.”



“A second approach is to use large telescopes to look for oxygen or methane in the atmospheres of planets around other stars,” Shostak continued. “We know how to do this, but we don’t really have the necessary hardware yet. The third scheme is to look for radio or laser signals coming from elsewhere that would tell us that there’s intelligent life out there. This is the method used in our SETI experiments.”

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