Saturday, March 29, 2008


I’ve been reading about this a lot lately on various science sites and I was holding off posting a blog about it until something bigger was discovered, but after thinking about it for a bit I realize that this is pretty big. The Cassini probe has been investigating the Saturn system for a while now and one particular icy moon has been consistently stealing the spotlight. First, massive geysers were seen blasting out of Enceladus. This led scientists to the conclusion that beneath the surface Enceladus hid a big ocean of liquid water. The moon is too far away to be heated by the sun, but the constant tug of the planet Saturn flexes the moon and creates heat in its core. So scientists flew the Cassini probe through the stream of one of the moon's giant geysers and found traces of organic molecules mixed in with the water vapor. This is huge. The moon has all the ingredients of life: water, organics, and an energy source. It’s not a stretch to envision a strange ecosystem like the ones found around hydrothermal vents at the cold dark bottom of our own oceans.

Another recent discovery, a whole lot farther away, showed that organics are also present on an exoplanet (a planet in another solar system). Scientists cautiously state that this does not mean that there is life on the planet HD 189733b, because the planet is too close to its sun. This is a sensible statement, but how can we be sure these alien life forms aren't perfectly comfortable there, perhaps under miles and miles of protective cloud layer deep within their gaseous planet?

I’m not a believer in UFOs or Alien abductions or anything like that, but it’s starting to become increasingly clear that the building blocks of life (and possibly life itself) are common in the universe. I’d say that we need to ready ourselves because within the next few decades (if not years) we’re going to discover a Martian bacteria , a Saturian jellyfish, or an HD 189733b-ian incomparable to any living thing we have on Earth and things will be a lot more interesting.

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