Scientists think that planets with underground oceans could support life and hide it

Exploring our solar system has led to some of the most interesting findings in the field of planetary science. The finding of worlds with underground oceans that might hold life has been one of the most interesting discoveries.

You can find these worlds not only at the edge of our solar system, but also on the icy moons of big planets like Europa, Titan, and Enceladus. Even Pluto, which is far away, is thought to have an ocean under its surface.

Underground ocean life
Interior water ocean worlds like Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, are prevalent throughout the universe. New research from Southwest Research Institute suggests that layers of rock and ice may shield life within such oceans, protecting it from impacts, radiation and other hazards and concealing it from detection. Layers of rock and ice may therefore shield and protect life residing in them, and also sequester them from threats and detection. © NASA/JPL-Caltech / Southwest Research Institute / Fair Use

With the help of new technology and researchers’ never-ending curiosity, we’ve been able to learn more about these worlds’ secrets.

S. Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, says in a report he will present at the 52nd annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC 52) in March 2021 that the number of interior water ocean worlds (IWOWs) in our solar system suggests they may be common in other star systems as well, which would greatly increase the chances of a planet being able to support life over time.

Scientists have known for a long time that planets with oceans, like Earth, must stay within a certain range of distances from their stars in order to keep the temperatures of their seas at a level that keeps life in them. On the other hand, IWOWs can be seen from much farther away from their stars. This makes it much more likely that there will be a lot more places in the sky where people can live.

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Earth-like planets with seas are also in danger of losing life from things like asteroid and comet impacts, harmful star flares, and nearby supernova blasts, among other things. Stern’s article says that IWOWs don’t have to worry about these kinds of threats because their oceans are covered by a dome of ice and rock that is several to many tens of kilometers deep.

Solar flayer reaching earth
Impact of a gigantic solar flare on the Earth, causing destruction.

“Interior water ocean worlds are better suited to provide many kinds of environmental stability, and are less likely to suffer threats to life from their own atmosphere, their star, their solar system, and the galaxy, than are worlds like Earth, which have their oceans on the outside,” said Stern.

He further points out that the same covering of rock and ice that shields the oceans on IWOWs also shields life from detection by nearly all astronomical approaches.

If such worlds are the primary abodes of life in the galaxy and intelligent life develops on them – big “ifs,” Stern notes – then IWOWs may help solve the Fermi Paradox. The Fermi Paradox is a topic that was originally posed in the early 1960s by Enrico Fermi, who later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. It asks why there isn’t more clear evidence of life if it’s widespread across the universe. “The same protective layer of ice and rock that creates stable environments for life also sequesters that life from easy detection,” said Stern.

Micro life under ocean
Underground ocean worlds. © NASA

In conclusion, the finding of worlds with oceans underground has changed planetary science a lot in the last 25 years. Since there are a lot of these kinds of worlds in our solar system, we are more likely to find life beyond Earth than we thought before. Icy moons of big planets like Europa, Titan, and Enceladus, as well as faraway planets like Pluto, are now good options for more exploration and study because they may hold the key to figuring out how life works in the universe.

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There are really no limits to what can happen, and the new things we learn about these worlds will continue to capture our minds for many years to come.

More information: “Some Implications for Both Life and Civilizations Regarding Interior Water Ocean Worlds”.

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