Habitability, Survivability, Detectability
What Is Astrobiology?
Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. Astrobiologists address three fundamental questions: How does life begin and evolve? Is there life elsewhere in the universe? What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?
Icy moons in our solar system are some of the places astrobiologists are studying to search for signs of life beyond Earth.
Icy worlds such as Titan, Europa, Enceladus, and others may harbor the greatest volume of habitable space in the solar system. For at least five of these worlds, Europa, Titan, Ganymede, Callisto, and Enceladus, considerable evidence exists to support the conclusion that oceans or seas may lie beneath the icy surfaces The total liquid water reservoir within these worlds may be some 30-40 times the volume of liquid water on Earth.
This vast quantity of liquid water raises two questions: Can life emerge and thrive in such cold, lightless oceans beneath many kilometers of ice? And if so, do the icy shells hold clues to life under the surface?
The Icy Worlds team of investigators is addressing these questions through conducting three science investigations and one technology investigation that respond directly to the goals of NASA's Astrobiology Program Roadmap. The science goals include: The science goals include investigating the Habitability, Survivability, Detectability of these worlds.
The Icy Worlds team of investigators is addressing these questions through conducting three science investigations and one technology investigation that respond directly to the goals of NASA's Astrobiology Program Roadmap. The science goals include:
Investigate the detectability of life and biological materials on the surface of icy worlds, with a focus on spectroscopy, and focusing on analyzing spectral bands that are not related to photosynthesis.
Ice as a Unifying Theme
Because ice is the dominant form of water in the solar system, the icy worlds team of researchers will follow the ice. In the laboratory, analytically and numerically, as well as in the field, the team is investigating the properties and chemistry of ice. From analyzing the scale of microbes in ice to that of convection in ice shells, the team is working to better understand and constrain the many ways in which icy worlds may provide habitable niches, as well as the role of ice in the broad context of astrobiology. The team's work applies to icy regions on Earth and extends to worlds well beyond Pluto.