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March 31, 2014

A recent study suggests that earthly microbes just might have hitchhiked their way across the solar system. If so, then perhaps they survived long enough to “seed” some of the moons of the outer planets with life.

A space rock hits Europa


Scientists know that material can be blasted off one planet and land on another — they’ve seen the proof in meteorites that came from Mars. So a team of researchers at Penn State tried to find out whether chunks of rock blasted off of Earth could find their way to other worlds — especially to Europa, one of the largest moons of Jupiter.

Europa appears to have the ingredients necessary to support life: an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust, a source of energy, and the right chemistry. So if life from Earth or even Mars landed on Europa, perhaps it could survive there.

The team’s simulations looked at Earth rocks that were large enough to protect microscopic organisms from the rigors of the trip. They showed that perhaps a half-dozen of these big boulders could have reached Europa. They also showed that one or two rocks could have made it to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, which also has the ingredients to sustain life.

None of this means that life actually did hitchhike from Earth to other worlds. And it’s unlikely that it could have survived even if it did. Even so, it opens the possibility that life from Earth could have spread to other worlds.

More about life on other worlds tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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