The possibility of life existing elsewhere has fascinated human beings since… well, since humans have been on this planet. With the advancement of space study and exploration, many astronomers have turned their attention to finding planets (or other astronomical bodies) with life. For example, there is the extrasolar planet Gliese 581g. Located 20 light-years away from Earth, 581g orbits within the habitable region around its star and has enough mass (3 times that of Earth) to retain an atmosphere capable of supporting life. There’s also the ongoing SETI (Search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project. The Voyager probes carried golden records which contained scenes, greetings, music, and sounds from Earth for would-be alien listeners. To date, these searches, and others, have not proven fruitful. Yet, personally, I think these are worthwhile endeavors and that, sooner or later, they will pay off. Think about it. Our universe is so vast that it is a virtual certainty that life exists, somewhere out there. The odds that our small corner in the cosmos turned out to be the only place to hit the biological jackpot are ridiculously small.
That said, maybe we don’t have to look too far to find life. In fact, it may be right under our noses, here in this same cosmic corner. Life doesn’t exist on the 7 other planets, but some of the moons surrounding our Jovian neighbors have been garnering interest. Wikipedia has a great article detailing the studies and theories of life on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Jupiter’s moon Europa is thought to have an ocean under its icy surface, which could harbor life. Then, there’s Enceladus, whose picture you see above. Like Europa, it is thought to have an ocean. It is also a moon with cryovolcanic activity, with eruptions spewing water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, potassium salts, and other organic materials (Kluger, 2012). With these discoveries, growing numbers within the scientific community consider it a sweet spot for alien life (Lovett, 2011). Much exploration needs to be done, but the excitement over what is known is certainly warranted. And, yes, in the end we may not find anything at all. But, that just means we’ll have to look harder elsewhere.
Or maybe, just maybe, they’ll find us first.
To read more about Enceladus, see: