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Six Places To Look For Alien Life In Our Solar System

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 7 14

In the 1997 Sci-fi drama “Contact”, actress Jodie Foster eventually manages to establish brief communication with an alien life form from the Vega star system, 26 light years from Earth.

But despite the discovery of thousands of new planets in the ensuing years, there has been little evidence to support the existence of alien life on any of them.   As it turns out, one of the best places to find traces of life beyond Earth could be in our own backyard, astronomically speaking.

The planets and moons of our own solar system contain diverse concoctions of chemical soup that may house alien life in its most primitive form. Scientists at the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute recently formulated a list of 6 locations within Earth’s solar system as potential ET hang-outs.

Jupiter's moons Titan (background) and Enceladus

Titan and Enceladus(103464)

1. Enceladus

This tiny Saturn satellite revealed some of its secrets when the 2005 Cassini probe provided stunning photographs of the southern hemisphere.  Frozen water spewed spaceward from beneath the surface through cracks marring the landscape.  Scientists theorize the water is kept relatively warm by the huge gravitational tug-of-war between Saturn and other nearby celestial bodies. The basic alien life building blocks exist in these subterranean incubators and could be verified by obtaining an atmospheric sample from the enormous geysers.

2. Titan

Saturn’s largest moon is the only celestial body in our solar system (other than Earth) known to contain significant evidence of surface liquid.  In addition, Titan has its own atmosphere.  While these elements may seem like an enticing place to settle down, unfortunately the liquid on the surface is mostly ethane and methane, and the atmosphere is a toxic mixture of hydrocarbons combined with a temperature of -290 Fahrenheit.  While this may not be a vacation destination for Homo sapiens, the ongoing chemical processes intrigued scientists enough to send a lander there in 2005.

3. Mars

Yes, Mars.  The Martian life forms popular with Hollywood film makers are not the sort man is likely to encounter there.  This perennially popular choice for alien habitats does have a few interesting features that keep extraterrestrial hunters piqued.  One of these is the dark stripes that appear during the Martian summer at the Horowitz crater.  Many scientists believe water may run beneath these stripes.  This theory could be easily proven or disproven with a technologically simple probe to the Martian surface.   And recently, a study of Martian meteorites showed that water was a major player during the planet’s formation and that large amounts of water were stored throughout the interior at some point.

4. Europa

Europa orbits the planet Jupiter and is always on the short list for alien life environments because it has an atmosphere that consists mostly of oxygen. It also contains a vast amount of liquid water.  Unfortunately, these oceans are beneath 10 miles of ice. In addition, the 10-mile shield of ice effectively prohibits any photosynthesis as we know it to take place.  However experiments in Russia’s Lake Vostok have demonstrated the ability of some organisms to thrive in extremely harsh environments. 

5. Venus

Venus, with its proximity to the sun and surface temperatures exceeding 850 degrees Fahrenheit, is not normally a consideration in the search for alien life.  However some scientists theorize that the chemical reactions high in the relatively balmy Venusian atmosphere may be conducive to primitive extraterrestrial life. Studies are currently underway to determine how sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide react to potentially  become part of a food chain for airborne microbes.

6. Ganymede and Callisto

Both moons of Jupiter  are listed as potential candidates for alien life but any efforts to verify it will likely take place in the distant future.  Like Europa, both these moons have underground oceans.  However unlike their more famous sister, the oceans on these two moons are buried beneath 60 miles of solid rock.  So while these oceans may indeed be teeming with alien microorganisms, there is no technology in place now or in the foreseeable future for humans to put a lander on these moons, bore 60 miles down, and take samples to be analyzed.

Discovering life beneath the buried seas of Europa, Callisto and Ganymede will be the task of future generations.  Exploring the surfaces and atmospheres of Enceladus, Titan, Mars and Venus is within the scope of human capability now. Many of us may live to see the exciting day when life is discovered outside the boundaries of planet Earth. The article Leave the Aliens Alone is an interesting perspective on what may happen when Contact leaves Hollywood and becomes reality.



Jul 5, 2012 3:01pm
It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine life on such colder planetoids (approaching super-conductive temperatures) as being silicon-based instead of carbon-based (operating with an electrical charge as a "life spark:" with the organism acting as a sort of super-conductor). We really do need to think about what lies in our own neighborhood before venturing out into other areas. Good piece. A thumb.
Jul 5, 2012 8:59pm
Hi Vic,
Thanks for reading and the thumbs up. I agree that other life forms may be based on a substance other than carbon. As you know, this has been postulated in many sci-fi scenarios. In fact, one of my favorite episodes of the original "Outer Limits" was the initial one titled "The Galaxy Being", an electro-magnetic plasma creature that is inadvertently transmitted over radio waves to our planet.

Jul 5, 2012 6:39pm
Hi Great thought-provoking article. I really enjoyed stretching the mind when it comes to alien life--Europa, for example, might well be hiding the most mind-boggling secrets under its ice. I am personally also convinced that Mars probably supported our type of DNAers many millions of years ago; in fact, as you know, there is a far off chance that we are genetically related to a very ancient martian species in that our genetic structure may have survived some ancient catastrophy and been included in debree. Oh I know a lot of people scoff at such ideas but we have no idea how to really evaluate temperatures even 3 or 4 million years ago beyond speculations. And we do not know--as Viedillinger so aptly puts it, what the "neighborhood" was like even a million years ago. Anyway 5 stars from me and keep up the good work--Hey, how about an article on Sirus and its sister planet? I'd sure read it!
Jul 5, 2012 9:08pm
Hi Marlando,
Thanks for the nice comments. I think when we are talking about early life on earth, all bets are off. We are constantly shifting and revising theories, as well as making new discoveries. With our rapidly increasing ability to see further into deep space, I think we will uncover much surprising information about our own past. I just hope I live to see it!

Jul 5, 2012 9:44pm
Always have been fascinated with the possibility of alien life form. I don't think I'd live to see that day but thanks for writing about it. Thumbs up!
Jul 6, 2012 8:35am
Hi there,
I'm a huge sci-fi/astronomy fan myself. I'm thrilled others here have enjoyed my writing as well. Thanks for the kind comments.

Jul 6, 2012 9:10am
Nice article! May I link to it in a future article?
Jul 6, 2012 10:09am
Thanks. By all means feel free to link to it.
Jul 6, 2012 9:24pm
What about the Pleiades? I'm a fan of all SETI stuff. Thanks for the great work. Thumbs up!
Jul 6, 2012 10:10pm
Hi and thanks for reading,
You are correct in that the Pleiades are a possible source of alien life due to the existence of rocky type planets there that may have some characteristics of Earth. However I limited my article to our own solar system because it seems to be often overlooked in the search for life beyond our planet.

Jul 9, 2012 3:23pm
I wonder will we ever know? Gill
Jul 9, 2012 10:54pm
I have no doubt we will eventually find life of some sort. Even the just released photos of Mars indicate a riverine system that once flowed on the surface.
Thanks for reading.
Aug 2, 2013 3:52pm
I've always been fascinated by our solar system (in fact I just wrote an article about it 2 days ago.. please read :) ..

I think Jupiter's moon Europa seems to be the most likely candidate for hosting some sort of organic life (even its microscopic) based on what I've read about it..
Aug 3, 2013 11:18am
Thanks for reading. I agree that Europa has much potential under the surface. I am sure the next several decades will bring many exciting discoveries in our system. I enjoyed your article as well. It was very informative. I find it interesting that the asteroid Ceres is so warm. So much to learn out there!
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  1. "6 Likely Places to Find Alien Life." Space.com. 23/06/2012 <Web >

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