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If Water Is Essential For Life, Then These Two Moons Have Lots Of It

Water is an essential component for life. It is found almost everywhere on this planet from the ice caps to the oceans.

Water has a unique ability that not only makes it essential for survival, but also makes life possible. Wherever water flows, you can be almost sure to find life. We use exactly the same strategy while searching for life beyond Earth.

Water is essential for organisms here on Earth simply because it is mostly found as a liquid. Being a universal solvent, it plays a very important role in the splitting of DNA molecules and also in the overall functioning of the bodies of all organisms. Not only can water dissolve nearly anything, but it is also one of the few compounds that can exist as solid, liquid and gas within a relatively narrow range of temperature.

Liquid water's property as a solvent, in which salts and organic compounds such as amino acids and sugars readily dissolve is due to its dipole molecular structure. The oxygen atoms in a water molecule acquire a slight negative charge due to the variation in density of the electron cloud in and around the molecule. Its polarity is what makes it able to dissolve a wide range of substances.

The basic components of life is found everywhere in the solar system. We could find them on comets, asteroids, moons and even in the atmospheres of the gas giants. We have a number of intriguing possibilities for where the first signs of life beyond Earth might be found.

Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus, in particular, have attracted attention because of evidence of oceans of liquid water existing beneath their icy surfaces. This evidence added with the possibilities of hydrothermal or volcanic activities, suggests that these frozen moons might harbor life. The amounts of water in these moons are enormous.

An image showing the surface of Europa.

A size comparison of Europa to that of Earth and Moon.

Europa holds three times the water than all of Earth’s oceans combined. The water beneath its surface remains liquid because of the tidal forces exerted by Jupiter. Some scientists argue that the energy generated from this process would be so enormous to even trigger volcanism or other hydrothermal activities on Europa’s ocean floor. If such processes ever occur, then living creatures in Europa’s ocean would be able to obtain energy from these hydrothermal vents to meet their energy needs.

Europa, however, is the perfect size to heat its oceans efficiently. It is larger than Enceladus but smaller than other moons such as Ganymede, which has a thick layer of ice surrounding its core and blocking communication with the exterior.

An image showing the surface of Enceladus.

A size comparison of Enceladus to that of Earth and Moon.

Enceladus, even though smaller than Europa is also one of the most promising places to find life beyond Earth. This is because NASA’s Cassini space craft has observed water vapor plumes erupting from near the moon’s south pole which clearly points out that somehow or the other there is active heating going on beneath the surface of Enceladus.

These features make the two icy moons the highest priority places for the search for life beyond Earth. NASA and the European Space Agency has proposed many missions to unveil the deep mysteries of these alien worlds, which has intrigued us for decades.

To know more about these mystery shrouded moons and more, see our latest book, ‘The Worlds Unknown’:


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