Jupiter and Saturns icy moons could hold the key to alien life

ESA Ariane 5 rocket launches with Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer

The icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn may hold the key to the survival of alien life, according to scientists at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

Scientists have released a research paper suggesting that the so-called “strike-slip faults” on the moons of Ganymede (which rotates around Jupiter) and Titan (which rotates around Saturn) are hotbeds for life to thrive. 

A strike-slip fault is a crack in the surface of the planet — and Earth itself has one, which is known as the San Andreas Fault. 

And as on Earth, seismic forces cause the strike-slip faults to create tidal waves on Ganymede and Titan. 

It’s these tidal waves that create a life-friendly environment. 

“We are interested in studying shear deformation on icy moons because that type of faulting can facilitate the exchange of surface and subsurface materials through shear heating processes, potentially creating environments conducive for the emergence of life,” Liliane Burkhard, lead author of the research and scientists at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, said in a statement.

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“I investigated strike-slip faulting features in intermediate-aged terrain, and they correspond in slip direction to the predictions from modelling stresses of a higher past eccentricity,” said Burkhard.

“Ganymede could have undergone a period where its orbit was much more elliptical than it is today.”

The “higher past eccentricity” in question could host alien life forms, and it’s Burkhard’s hope that future missions could allow her to explore that possibility. 

“Missions such as Dragonfly, Europa Clipper, and ESA’s JUICE will further constrain our modelling approach and can help pinpoint the most interesting locations for lander exploration and possibly for gaining access to the interior ocean of icy moons,” Burkhard concluded.

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