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Life on Jupiter


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Hey Mods feel free to move this where you deem appropriate.

So, as I was gazing into the Jovian atmosphere earlier, peering intently at the bands and cloudy surface trying to see through them, I was struck by a thought. Why shouldn't life exist there, or on any other planet for that matter?

When we talk of 'life' on other worlds, I think we always get carried away with the notion that they will be like us, carbon-based, two arms two legs etc with the need to breath oxygen to survive. Why so?

Just as life on Earth adapted to the surroundings and conditions, why shouldn't life on Jupiter or Mars have done the same? Yes there are huge storms on Jupiter, and Pluto is ice-cold, but just as mammals and plants etc developed and adapted to the conditions on Earth, why shouldn't life with a totally different make-up and genetic base not have done the same, and made these places their home.

Perhaps even, we have not yet found life because it doesn't adhere to our methods of detecting it. Just because our technology hasn't found it, doesn't mean it isn't there.

Obviously I'm aware of the probable flaws in my idea which has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese but humour me.

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Your idea is not new ... see for instance Arthur C. Clarke's short story "A Meeting with Medusa".

The difficulty is that Jupiter's atmosphere is essentially hydrogen ... the only way you an organism could avoid being dragged into the interior is to be less dense (impossible), or to generate heat (like a hot air balloon) or lift from motion (like an aeroplane wing). Both of the latter methods require life to pre-exist, unlike the situation on Earth where there are solid surfaces for superprimitive non-motile life forms to exploit. There is also the question of the intense radiation fields around Jupiter, these would likely disrupt molecules complex enough to start along the road to self-replication.

You're quite right to think of human life as being the "aberration" - even on Earth, life is dominated by bacteria (you couldn't exist for long without many trillions of them in your gut) - but you've got to figure out a way that bacteria could exist for extended periods of time before life is a realistic possibility. Adaptation is only possible if survival is.

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Adaptation is only possible if survival is.

brilliant statement - this sums it up nicely. That said, it's always good to think outside the box too and there's no reason that life on planets in other systems and in the 'goldilocks' zone should be like that on Earth except that it will have the ability to replicate itself and evolve through natural selection.

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Carl sagan hypothesised that it might be possible on worlds like jupiter, somewhere in the cosmos.

He imagined life beginning as lightning stirring organic molecules in the atmosphere, and eventually evolving to kilometre sized 'floaters' like giant hot air balloons, preyed upon by sleek, aerodynamic Hunters. He spoke about it in an episode of Cosmos, highly recommended, heres a rather fanciful image that was paired with his musings.

bubble-life-1.png

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Now, bear in mind, this is now completely speculative, but i've often wondered about the metallic hydrogen core of jupiter and the other gas giants.

We know next to nothing about metallic hydrogen, as it requires an absurd amount of pressure to produce, but it's theoretically a superconductor, perhaps even to room temperature (so potentially very desirable, think Unobtanium in Avatar!), and is also subject to superfluidity and other quantum weirdness.

Maybe, just maybe, some sort of basic intelligence could emerge in this weird and unstudied form of matter, through interactions with magnetic and quantum fields and the ordering of it's crystal structure - something utterly and incomprehensibly alien. Imagine tiny globules of the strange material, splitting, combining, swimming through the core, shooting through the cloud belts, maybe even drifting between the moons, navigating the flux lines...

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We know next to nothing about metallic hydrogen, as it requires an absurd amount of pressure to produce, but it's theoretically a superconductor, perhaps even to room temperature

We might not be able to make the stuff but quantum electrodynamics tells us a great deal about its behaviour.

Unfortunately the core of Jupiter is at too high a temperature for superconductivity to be possible. The metallic hydrogen core is very likely responsible for Jupiter's magnetosphere, just as Earth's iron core is responsible for our rather weaker magnetosphere.

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Good guys, these are good ideas. I'm glad you've bypassed the (probable) implausibility of the notion and haven't taken it seriously and quashed it with, well, reason. I concur with what ollypenrice and toml42 have said, this is pure speculation and most probably wildly innaccurate, but why shouldn't we wonder? After all, we spend a lot of our free time staring upwards and observing these planets, it's natural to be curious at what could be on them, perhaps something that, like us with Earth, calls it home.

Also despite naming the thread life on Jupiter, what about the other planets? We all know the Sun is integral for life to flourish, but how much sunlight is necessary? Little would reach distant Pluto, but perhaps the lifeforms there have adapted to that, thriving in the darkness just as, I don't know, bats enjoy the darkness of caves. And at the other end of the solar system, why shouldn't something be able to survive the heat of Venus and even Mercury, having grown resistant to it?

Titan has been proven to experience a rain cycle, just like ours, but with liquid ethane. I'm no chemist and don't know the properties or characteristics of ethane, but why couldn't a lifeform benefit from those cycles that enable it to grow?

Keep the ideas coming guys and remember to forget about reason for now, perhaps it's the thing that's holding us back?

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And at the other end of the solar system, why shouldn't something be able to survive the heat of Venus and even Mercury, having grown resistant to it?

The issue here is that the complex molecules required for self replicating systems are too unstable at these sort of temperatures.

Titan has been proven to experience a rain cycle, just like ours, but with liquid ethane. I'm no chemist and don't know the properties or characteristics of ethane, but why couldn't a lifeform benefit from those cycles that enable it to grow?

1. Water is an excellent solvent, but nevertheless it doesn't dissolve everything.

2. The low temperatures associated with liquid ethane would probably be a barrier to life getting started because the complex organic molecules just short of self replication would probably be too stable at low temperatures to "evolve" into the first replicators.

This is all a bit speculative because we have little idea as to the exact conditions which sparked life on Earth ... but Titan probably has a hydrosphere at some depth beneath its surface (lots of liquid water & an energy source from tidal heating plus decay of radioactive material in the material that originally formed it) & if life does exist on Titan, my guess is that it would be found in the hydrosphere rather than on its surface.

It's a big leap of imagination to see an organism which used water "evolving" into one which used ethane, or any other solvent ... it's a major step jump in chemistry ... if an ethane living organism ever was found, I think it it would prove absolutely that life came into existence more than once.

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It is fun to speculate, but we do have to temper our fantasies with some sort of rationality.

The real problem is that we've only observed life originating on one planet, under one set of circumstances, with one 'chemistry set'. and, well, to be fair we didnt really even observe that... With a sample size of 1, it's virtually impossible for us to assume anything about any other independent biological system.

The best approach we can really take is the one brianb is setting out very well, to look at what we know about chemistry, and under what conditions complex molecules are both stable and active.

Now, what's interesting is that there is a potential line of evidence that does point to the possibility of life on the surface of Titan, based on an imbalance of chemicals in the atmosphere and on the surface.

This might be an error, or it might be a previously unknown chemical reaction, or it might be some sort of microbe that breathes hydrogen, eats Acetylene (a hydrocarbon) and lives in the methane lakes!

but the important point is that this is an observable line of evidence, and the different hypotheses are testable

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There are various clouds on Jupiter like amonia white clouds, and those orange/brown containing unknown color compunts (probably some hydrocarbons and alike). Simple life forms in those clouds could exist getting energy from reactions involving those compounds and maybe some radiation from the Sun and Jupiter. It's possible in theory - maybe it's also a reality.

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Again, dipping into pure speculation mode once more, but how awesome would it be if the colour compound turned out to be within some sort of jovian cloud-based algal bloom, you can see Earths blue-green algal blooms from space, wouldn't it be funny if we'd all been staring at alien life all along :D

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Now, what's interesting is that there is a potential line of evidence that does point to the possibility of life on the surface of Titan, based on an imbalance of chemicals in the atmosphere and on the surface.

This might be an error, or it might be a previously unknown chemical reaction, or it might be some sort of microbe that breathes hydrogen, eats Acetylene (a hydrocarbon) and lives in the methane lakes!

Surely the possibility of life on Titan should raise our hopes of finding life elsewhere though. I know it hasn't been proven yet but if it turns out that there is life there, millions of miles out of the so-called 'goldilocks zone' that is massively encouraging.

Another thought is, if we take life on planet earth in the goldilocks zone as an example and bear in mind Drake's equation of estimating how many other planets out there might have similar conditions to ours (e.g. the right distance away from their star which is the right temperature etc) would this mean that life on another planet in the goldilocks zone is similar to that of our planet? I mean, hypothetically let's just say that on another planet that happens to be the right distance away from its star in another solar system, life exists. The planet has water and a rain cycle and a magnetosphere. Would life there mirror that of Earth and contain intelligent beings or would the lifeforms that exist there be completely different to us? Essentially what I'm saying is does being in the goldilocks zone dictate the type of life that exists on the planet? As you say, having only 1 'chemistry set' to direct us and 1 example of life being observed to go on is very restricting

Alternatively what if say, Titan wasn't a moon of Saturn but we bring it into the goldilocks zone as a moon orbiting Earth. We've seen Mars being too small to survive the Sun's solar winds, so imagine Titan as being Earth-sized-ish. It still has it's lakes of liquid (is it ethane or methane, I always forget?) but now has steady sunlight and a similar temperature to Earth's.

Would life then flourish seeing as it now has the 'right' climate or would the fact that it has no water hold it back?

Edited by Space Oddity6
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ethane and methane are both gasses on earth, they're components of natural gas that is processed and used to heat our homes.

i guess to use the analogy of Goldilocks, with us being Goldilocks; as far as we're concerned, baby bears porridge is just right and the others are inedible. but mummy bear obviously prefers her porrige cold/sweet and daddy bear obviously prefers his hot/salty.

for biologies with different chemistries, if any exist, they will have their own goldilocks zone. Titan may well be in the Goldilocks zone for methane based life, and 51 Pegasi b may be in the Goldilocks zone for a silicate based life, for all we know... it's all relative

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for biologies with different chemistries, if any exist, they will have their own goldilocks zone. Titan may well be in the Goldilocks zone for methane based life, and 51 Pegasi b may be in the Goldilocks zone for a silicate based life, for all we know... it's all relative

Exactly what I was saying in my original post. How do we know that being as far away from the Sun as say for example Neptune, Uranus and Pluto are, that that is or isn't detrimental to the chance for life to survive and adapt. After all, they've recently found whole eco-systems living around these deep-sea vents where sunlight never reaches which shows us that it isn't always integral for life to flourish.

But it is as you say, all relative and, like our own existence a question of luck and circumstance.

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very intresting read. i enjoyed that thread although i hope its not over.

it hurts my head when i start to think about whats out there. and it hurts my head more to think that i will more than likley never find out.

The one thing i will say is this........

How many times have the experts on planet earth been wrong.. eg. The earth is flat ETC !!

and a thought .....

if a blood cell had a brain ... would it ever find out it was in a human ?? (i hope you understand why i think that.... earth being a blood cell in my thoughts)

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Enjoyed reading these answers to the question, great stuff..... What if :) The planets themselves where alive ? would that mean all planets have life as the planet themselves "is life" I mean we do need to look outside the box " I would say Earth itself is alive would anyone else?" or is it an inananimate object which just supports life? Makes you think doesn't it? :)

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I wouldn't say the Earth is alive, but there is a line of thinking that does; look up the Gaia hypothesis.

It proposes that the Earth and all of it's geological activity and all of its lifeforms are a single interconnected organism that acts to maintain a suitable home for life.

The problem with this idea is that it's not very scientific, in that it does not propose any mechanisms for Gaia to know what's good for life now and in the long term, nor any mechanism for fine control of geological processes. It also goes against everything we know about geology, genetics and evolution, which favours the propogation of ones own genes, rather than the betterment of life as a whole.

There is also is a specific problem in that several past mass extinction events appear to have been as a result of runaway global warming and cooling or increased vulcanism, and came close to wiping out all life on Earth.

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Loved the Jovian cloudscape picture. Such ideas (non-Carbon life etc.) seemed to be

floating (sic!) about, quite a lot, in the 60s-70s? Evocative, certainly! :)

Appealing it may be - Life-like molecules, based on other atoms (homologous elements) are "chemically" possible, though may not be practicable, "kinetically". Conventional Life depends too on electro-negativity - The hydrogen bond (of water etc.). Though, as a youngster, the idea of things ingesting "sulphur compounds" and "belching hydrogen sulphide", might stimulate the imagination... and senses! ;)

Edited by Macavity
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the idea of things ingesting "sulphur compounds" and "belching hydrogen sulphide", might stimulate the imagination...

This is an energy source used by bacteria living around the "black smokers" in the deep ocean ... part of the richness of the Earth's ecosystem, not exotically alien at all.

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Not sure if the figures are still current, but at one time it was estimated that the chances of a simple protein molecule forming at random would be 1 in 100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000. (10^113). One protein molecule, not a prokaryote or eukaryote which are massively more complex.

That number is hyper astronomical, in that it probably exceeds the estimated number of atoms in the entire universe, and mathematicians dismiss an event having less than 1 in 10^50 as never happening.

The chances of a random combining of the 2000 or so proteins required for a typical cell were worked out at 1 in 10^40000 :p

For those willing to accept the massive leap of blind faith that life spontaneously arose on our planet, adapted, and survived, wouldn't the probablility of the same thing happening in a separate place within the universe be impossibly small, let alone within the relatively local confines of a single solar system?

Before we try figuring out the likelihood of life on extra-terrestrial bodies, there is no clear and definitive process identified and documented whereby life on our own planet has arisen, not even on microscopic level. It will be a lot easier to understand the likelihoods of life elsewhere, once we discover the facts behind our own origins.

So far, the more we find out, the further we are from the answers.

:):icon_scratch:;)

Cheers

Tim

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but at one time it was estimated that the chances of a simple protein molecule forming at random would be 1 in 10^113.

Hmmm. Except that proteins are very likely to form once amino acids are present in reasonable concentration, and amino acids are produced by the passage of electric sparks through a mix of ammonia, methane and water vapour in a few hours.

The trick that life does with proteins is to produce specific ones - not randomly - in useful combinations. It's that assembly which is coded by genes.

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I'm not sure where you got those figures, but yes, whilst a protein spontaneously assembling is quite unlikely, consider the analogy of "mount improbable" used by Richard Dawkins.

Whilst leaping the face of a mountain in one go is very unlikely, so much so that you could say it is impossible, it is possible to climb it with a succession of smaller steps, each of which is perfectly natural, yet the cumulation of which would be impossible to achieve in one go.

a protein spontaneously self-assembling may indeed be nearly impossible, but a series of very probable events can lead to it. The Miller-Urey experiment showed that amino acids form within hours when sparks are introduced into an environment simulating the early Earth. the leap from a set of amino acids to basic proteins is not a large one, and Earth had a few hundred million years, not a couple of hours in a test tube!

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