Venus has a reputation for being one of the most inhospitable places in the solar system, and deservedly so. Its thick carbon dioxide (and acidic) atmosphere has a crushing pressure similar to that in the deepest oceans on Earth and the scorching temperature on the surface is hot enough to melt lead. It’s like that everywhere on the planet, all the time. It has therefore been considered an extremely unlikely environment to support any kind of life. Even the toughest microbes here would find survival next to impossible. There is however a possibility, even if remote, that the upper atmosphere of this hellish world could be habitable, according to some scientists.
There is some more exciting news from the Kepler space telescope mission – as announced in a NASA press briefing this morning, three more planets have been detected orbiting in their stars’ habitable zones. Larger planets have been found already in this zone around various stars, but what makes this newest discovery so compelling is that these new planets are the smallest found so far in this zone, so-called “super-Earths.” Two of them may even be covered by oceans!
The Kepler space telescope has already found thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars, and now the next space telescope to join the search has been announced.
You may be familiar with the phrase “follow the water” when it comes to the search for life on Mars, and for good reason – any place on Earth where there is liquid water, there is life. So, logically, the best places to look for evidence of past or present life on Mars would be where there has been liquid water in the past (or perhaps even still is, underground). But now there is also another approach being taken, in terms of possible present-day habitability in particular: follow the salt.
One of the unique characteristics of Earth which sets it apart from other known planets is its oceans. Such large bodies of surface water have not yet been found elsewhere, although a number of moons, including Europa, Enceladus and Titan and possibly others, are thought to have subsurface oceans and or seas.
The analysis results of the first-ever rock drilling on Mars, by the Curiosity rover, were announced today by NASA at a press briefing in Washington. The new findings indicate that ancient Mars, at least in this area, was habitable and could have supported some form of life.
As one of the few places in the solar system other than Earth known to have an ocean, Europa has become one of the most fascinating worlds that we know of. This moon of Jupiter is small, but enticing – beneath its frozen surface of ice is a global ocean of water, making it a primary focus of study, especially in terms of the search for life elsewhere.
Exoplanets are now being discovered on a regular basis, including ones that may be potentially habitable. But when even the nearest ones are so far away compared to the planets in our own solar system, how could they be studied for possible signs of life? Is that even possible?
In the search for life elsewhere, the Earth is typically used as a standard against which other planets, or moons, are compared. Since our planet is teeming with seemingly countless life forms, it must represent the near-perfect, most ideal conditions for life to flourish, right? It would seem so, but new research is suggesting that may not be the case, that there may be other exoplanets in other solar systems which are even better suited for life than Earth is.