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Conference Papers Year : 2016

Space exploration of habitable worlds in the outer solar system

Abstract

In looking for habitable conditions in the outer solar system recent research focuses on the natural satellites ra-ther than the planets themselves. Indeed, the habitable zone as traditionally defined may be larger than originally conceived. The outer solar system satellites provide a conceptual basis within which new theories for understanding habitability can be constructed. Measurements from the ground but also by the Voyager, Galileo and the Cassini spacecrafts revealed the potential of these satellites in this context, and our understanding of habitability in the solar system and beyond can be greatly enhanced by investigating several of these bodies together [1]. Their environ-ments seem to satisfy many of the “classical” criteria for habitability (liquid water, energy sources to sustain metab-olism and chemical compounds that can be used as nutrients over a period of time long enough to allow the devel-opment of life). Indeed, several of the moons show promising conditions for habitability and the development and/or mainte-nance of life. The strong gravitational pull caused by the giant planets may produce enough energy to sufficiently heat the cores of orbiting icy moons. Europa and Ganymede may be hiding, under their icy crust, putative undersur-face liquid water oceans [2] which, in the case of Europa [3], may be in direct contact with a silicate mantle floor and kept warm by tidally generated heat [4]. Titan and Enceladus, Saturn’s satellites, were found by the Cassini-Huygens mission to possess active organic chemistries with seasonal variations, unique geological features and possibly internal liquid water oceans. Titan’s rigid crust and the probable existence of a subsurface ocean create an analogy with terrestrial-type plate tectonics, at least surficial [5], while Enceladus’ plumes find an analogue in geysers. As revealed by Cassini the liquid hydrocar-bon lakes [6] distributed mainly at polar latitudes on Titan are ideal isolated environments to look for biomarkers. Currently, for Titan and Enceladus, geophysical models try to explain the possible existence of an oceanic layer that decouples the mantle from the icy crust. Titan has further been suggested to be a possible cryovolcanic world due to the presence of local complex volcanic-like geomorphology and the indications of surface albedo changes with time [7,8]. Such dynamic activity that would most probably include tidal heating, possible internal convection, and ice tectonics, is believed to be a pre-requisite of a habitable planetary body as it allows the recycling of minerals and potential nutrients and provides localized energy sources. In one of our geophysical studies [4], we have showed that tidal forces are a constant and significant source of internal deformation on Titan and the interior liquid water ocean can be relatively warm for reasonable amounts of ammonia concentrations, thus completing the set of parameters needed for a truly habitable planetary body. If the silicate mantles of Europa and Ganymede and the liquid sources of Titan and Enceladus are geologically active as on Earth, giving rise to the equivalent of hydrothermal systems, the simultaneous presence of water, geo-dynamic interactions, chemical energy sources and a diversity of key chemical elements may fulfill the basic condi-tions for habitability. Such habitability indications from bodies at distances of 10 AU, are essential discoveries brought to us by space exploration and which have recently revolutionized our perception of habitability in the solar system. In the solar system’s neighborhood, such potential habitats can only be investigated with appropriate de-signed space missions, like those proposed for Titan and Eneladus (TSSM and others) and JUICE (JUpiter ICy moon Explorer) for Ganymede and Europa [9]. JUICE is an ESA mission to Jupiter and its icy moons, recently se-lected to launch in 2022. Other future mission concepts are being studied for exploring the moons around Saturn. References: [1] Coustenis, A., Encrenaz, Th., in “Life Beyond Earth : the search for habitable worlds in the Universe”, Cam-bridge Univ. Press, 2013. [2] Grasset, O., et al.: Astrobiology 13, 991-1004, 2013. [3] Patterson, G.W., et al.: AGU P41F-09, 2011. [4] Sohl, F., et al.: JGR 119, 1013-1036, 2014. [5] Solomonidou, A., et al.: PSS 77, 104-117, 2013. [6] Stofan, E.R., et al.: Nature 445, 61-64, 2007. [7] Solomonidou, A., et al.: JGR 119, 1729-1747, 2014.. [8] Solo-monidou, A., et al: Icarus in press, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2015.05.003.. [9] Grasset, O., et al.: PSS, 78, 1-21, 2013.
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obspm-03829324 , version 1 (25-10-2022)

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  • HAL Id : obspm-03829324 , version 1

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Athena Coustenis. Space exploration of habitable worlds in the outer solar system. Space exploration of habitable worlds in the outer solar system. Chinese Academy of Sciences., Mar 2016, Pékin, China. ⟨obspm-03829324⟩
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