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From: Royce J. Myers III
New energy in debate over alien life
Radiation could spark Europan ecosystem, researcher says
By Alan Boyle, MSNBC
Jan. 26 What form could life beyond Earth take, and where
could it exist? One study indicates that the radiation driven by
Jupiters magnetic field could fuel the minimum conditions for
life on Europa, an ice-covered moon. Other researchers argue
that organisms beyond Earth on Europa or elsewhere would
typically be no more complex than microbes.
Such discussions are opening a new chapter in the search for
extraterrestrial life, with astrobiology becoming a high-profile
scientific pursuit. Researchers are finding that earthly
organisms endure in the ice of Antarctica and the depths of the
ocean under conditions that were once thought positively hostile
to life, and that planet formation could be much more common
than previously thought.
When scientists also consider that liquid water, a key necessity
for life as we know it, just might exist beneath icy shells on
at least two of Jupiters moons and could have existed on
ancient Mars as well they are increasingly coming around to
the view that life could find a toehold somewhere within alien
What does it take for life to arise? One of the current points
of debate relates to how much energy is required to sustain the
kinds of biochemical reactions supporting living processes. On
Europa, for example, theres no way the suns feeble rays could
penetrate the ice to fuel photosynthesis. And although deep-sea
volcanic vents could provide an alternative energy source, as
they do on Earth, theres not yet any evidence that such vents
exist on Jupiters moons.
But in Thursdays issue of the journal Nature, astrobiologist
Christopher Chyba of the SETI Institute argues that a hail of
charged cosmic particles, accelerated by Jupiters massive
magnetic field, could spark enough chemical reactions on
Europas icy surface to fuel an ecosystem in the brine below.
There may well be lots of other energy sources that might be
used on Europa, Chyba told MSNBC. But his aim was to see
whether life could be sustained using merely the mechanisms that
are known to exist on Europa.
FULL STORY AVAILABLE AT: http://www.msnbc.com/news/362046.asp
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