Life In The Solar System

Introduction to Life in the Solar System: Humans and our associated kin on the third rock out from the Sun are lords of life forms in the solar system. But, we’re not unique lords, just lords. Other abodes in the solar system, most probably Mars, Jupiter, Europa, and Saturn are anywhere from possible to probable habitable abodes to simple microbial life forms; perhaps something slightly above and beyond that. Taking each abode in turn… mykindredlife

But first a pat on the back for those terrestrial microbes; all those germs, bacteria, unicellular critters and even viruses (though viruses, depending on your perception of their actually being alive as we normally define ‘alive’ might exclude them from this discussion). They are tough, I mean they boldly go, survive, and even thrive where even angels fear to tread, far less humans.

Microbes can live in environments where other multicellular critters also fear to tread and often can’t: from the coldest terrestrial environments, up to the near boiling temperatures, from deep underground to the heights of the atmosphere, from inside water-cooled nuclear reactors and the interior of rocks, to intensely saline, acidic and alkaline environments, to ecosystems where the sun never shines, like the abyssal depths.

They can even survive outer space. Bacteria survived on the surface of the Moon – on Surveyor Three. This was possibly the most significant discovery of the entire Apollo Moon program and it hardly even rated a mention. Astronauts from the Apollo 12 mission brought back to Earth parts of the unmanned Surveyor Three Lunar Lander. Terrestrial bacteria on those parts survived the lunar vacuum, solar radiations (UV, etc.), the massive temperature extremes, and lack of water and nutrients. Experiments since done in low earth orbit have confirmed that given just minimal shielding, bacteria can indeed boldly go! diagnozujmy

You’d be aware of how difficult it is to totally sterilize something, be it hospital equipment or a spacecraft bound for a Martian landing. They’re tough – have you ever read about a mass extinction event where a bacterial species, unlike say the multicellular dinosaurs, went poof? Microbes are easy to transport. They can be blasted off the surface of the Earth, shielded from radiation by the debris, and survive to land on another world and be fruitful and multiply. There’s little doubt that somewhere way out there, terrestrial bacteria have hitched a ride to the stars, bolding going where lots of microbes have gone before! Translated, I firmly expect that the universe (including our solar system) is teaming with microbial life in all sorts of places. The less than glamorous catch is that LGM is not going to stand for Little Green Men, but Little Green Microbes.

On Earth, microbes rule, OK? The biomass of all those bacteria, etc. put together easily equals the biomass of every other multicellular plant and animal added together. One could easily argue that microbes, not humans, are the jewels in God’s crown – He made so many of them, and talk about being fruitful and multiplying. The number and mass of micro-organisms are many orders of magnitude greater than the numbers and collective mass of humanity. If fact, there are millions of microbes living inside you – most beneficial. In fact, it could also be argued that you are nothing more than an elaborate colony of billions of unicellular organisms – your individual cells that make you, you..

Microbes have another decided advantage over more complex life forms, like plants. Solar energy (photosynthesis) isn’t the only kind of energy available to organisms. Even on Earth there are lots of organisms, mainly unicellular ones, that use chemosynthesis as the means by which they directly derive their energy needs, directly as in from the chemicals in their environment. Today we know a great deal about chemosynthesis and the organisms that can produce organics from inorganic substances and derive energy from the process.

When I was a high school biology student (1962-63), it was absolutely gospel (and no correspondence would be entered into contrary) that our Sun was the be all and end all of the existence of terrestrial life. No sun; no life. All life ultimately depended on photosynthetic plants which in turn couldn’t exist without sunlight. And while we don’t get our energy directly via photosynthesis, we’re still dependent on solar energy since we eat the plants or the animals that eat the plants.


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