(Originally posted on Read With The Gringa 7/6/17)
If scientists discover microbial life one of Saturn’s moons, is this a big deal? Well, the gringa supposes that humans could officially lay to rest the question of whether or not we are alone in the universe. But it does leave open the question of whether or not mankind shares the Universe with intelligent life. After all, I’m not so sure microbial life counts as an intellectual peer for humanity. So what, exactly, did NASA report they found on Enceladus? See for yourself:
So microbes eat hydrogen like candy. Does that mean that life might evolve on Enceladus or that life is dead and gone and this candy is all that’s left? You know, kind of like coming home and finding traces of teenagers in the crumbs left on the sofa and smears of chocolate on the gaming controls.
It means that it’s possible that microbes can exist in Enceladus’ ice covered sea. The next step would be to explore this cosmic ocean, perhaps with a probe that can take samples, to see if microbes are alive and well. But what kind of environmental conditions would microbes need in order to survive? Let’s take a look at some of the basic environmental conditions of Enceladus:
-Surface temperature of -330 degrees F (or -201 degrees C)
-Freshwater ice surface that reflects 100% of sunlight
-5 surface features: cracks, ridges, fissures and crust deformation
-Liquid fresh water sea underneath surface crust of ice
-Tidal forces created upon internal sea by Saturn’s pull, which creates internal heat, so sea temperature would be warmer than surface temperature but still unknown
-Smooth surface plains of ice crust indicate that water once flowed upon the surface, possibly forced upward from eruptions of volcanoes in the interior sea
-No detectable atmosphere
-No magnetic field
Are there any microbes known to man that could survive these conditions?
-Microbe Colwellia psychrerythraea strain 34H can survive temperatures as cold as -320 degrees F. Testing was conducted with liquid nitrogen, which is -321 degrees F.
-No detectable atmosphere and no magnetic field means no protection from radiation. But, as concluded from microbe studies on the International Space Station (ISS), there are microbes that not only survive such conditions, but actually thrive in them: Deinococcus radiodurans, also called the Conan of microbes, could live quite happily in Enceledus’ frigid ocean.
So, if there are microbial Conans alive and well in the interior sea of Enceledus, how long might it take for them to gain some intelligence and start communicating? Well, let’s start with the moon’s suspected age, 100 million years. The earth, by comparison, is thought to be about 4.5 billion years old. Enceledus is just a baby. It was during Earth’s second phase, the Archean phase, when the first signs of microbial life appeared on Earth. This would have been when Earth was about 1 billion years ago.
So, Enceledus may just be getting started. Those microbes out there in its interior sea? Those could be the earliest seeds of a future humanoid race that evolves to build a bone-chilling, zero oxygen, radiated civilization in another couple of billion years or so. So, just stay tuned, right?
Sources: Science Mag
Image Credit: America Space
Video Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory