Friday, June 11, 2010

Searching for Life on Io

Physorg offers this piece on the chances of finding life on Io.

If life were to exist on Io, the organisms would have to be extremophiles. Io is bombarded by high levels of radiation from Jupiter, so it would be virtually impossible for anything to survive on the surface. The life would probably be found in the moon's numerous lava tubes, where they would be protected from the radiation. And since we know life on Earth exists even in similarly inhospitable environments, it's reasonable to suspect life on Io might be equally hearty.

It's also unclear whether there is sufficient water that could act as a solvent for biological processes, but as astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch suggests, the organisms could use some sort of sulfur compound instead of water, as Io is rich in the element. According to Dr. Schulze-Makuch, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide or perhaps even sulfuric acid might be able to do the job.

In any case, the search for life on Io would be an extraordinarily complex endeavor, as any lander would have to endure extreme conditions. So don't hold your breath for a mission there anytime soon. And in any case, I think we've got a better chance finding something on Europa or Titan. But Io is still an intriguing destination, and we shouldn't rule out further investigation just yet.

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