Scientist theorizes worlds with underground oceans support and conceal life

One of the most striking discoveries in planetary science in the last 25 years has been the presence of oceans beneath layers of rock and ice in our solar system. These worlds include ice satellites of big planets like as Europa, Titan, and Enceladus, as well as distant planets such as Pluto.

The exploration of our solar system has brought to light some of the most amazing discoveries in planetary science. One of the most fascinating revelations has been the discovery of worlds with underground oceans that are believed to conceal life.

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Interior water ocean worlds like Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, are prevalent throughout the universe. New research from Southwest Research Institute suggests that layers of rock and ice may shield life within such oceans, protecting it from impacts, radiation and other hazards and concealing it from detection. Layers of rock and ice may therefore shield and protect life residing in them, and also sequester them from threats and detection. © NASA/JPL-CaltechSouthwest Research Institute / Fair Use

These worlds are not only found in the outer reaches of our solar system, but also among the icy satellites of giant planets like Europa, Titan, and Enceladus. Even Pluto, a distant planet, is believed to have an ocean hidden beneath its surface.

With the help of advanced technology and the unwavering curiosity of researchers, we have been able to delve deeper into the mysteries of these worlds.

Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist S. Alan Stern writes in a report presented at the 52nd annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC 52) in March 2021 that the prevalence of interior water ocean worlds (IWOWs) in our solar system suggests they may be prevalent in other star systems as well, vastly expanding the conditions for planetary habitability and biological survival over time.

For many years, scientists have known that worlds with oceans on their surfaces, such as Earth, must stay within a certain range of distances from their stars in order to maintain the temperatures that keep those seas alive. IWOWs, on the other hand, can be detected at considerably greater distances from their stars. This dramatically increases the number of habitable worlds that will likely exist throughout the galaxy.

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Impact of a gigantic solar flare on the Earth, causing destruction. © Philcold/Dreamstime

Earth-like worlds with seas are likewise vulnerable to a variety of risks to life, ranging from asteroid and comet impacts to harmful star flares, neighboring supernova explosions, and more. According to Stern’s article, IWOWs are immune to such threats because their oceans are shielded by a dome of ice and rock that is several to many tens of kilometers thick and covers their oceans.

“Interior water ocean worlds are better suited to provide many kinds of environmental stability, and are less likely to suffer threats to life from their own atmosphere, their star, their solar system, and the galaxy, than are worlds like Earth, which have their oceans on the outside,” said Stern.

He further points out that the same covering of rock and ice that shields the oceans on IWOWs also shields life from detection by nearly all astronomical approaches.

If such worlds are the primary abodes of life in the galaxy and intelligent life develops on them – big “ifs,” Stern notes – then IWOWs may help solve the Fermi Paradox.

The Fermi Paradox is a topic that was originally posed in the early 1960s by Enrico Fermi, who later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. It asks why there isn’t more clear evidence of life if it’s widespread across the universe. “The same protective layer of ice and rock that creates stable environments for life also sequesters that life from easy detection,” said Stern.

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Underground ocean worlds. © NASA / / Fair Use

In conclusion, the discovery of worlds with underground oceans has revolutionized the field of planetary science in the last 25 years. With the presence of such worlds being common in our solar system, this means that we are more likely to find life beyond Earth than previously thought.

The icy satellites of the giant planets like Europa, Titan, and Enceladus, and distant planets like Pluto, are now prime candidates for further exploration and study, as they may hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of life in our universe.

The possibilities are truly endless, and the discoveries of these worlds will undoubtedly continue to captivate our imaginations for many years to come.

More information: “Some Implications for Both Life and Civilizations Regarding Interior Water Ocean Worlds”.