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crazyivan's avatar

Could there be life in the inner solar system?

Asked by crazyivan (4451 points ) December 3rd, 2010

Given the recently unveiled Mono Lake findings and a number of other newer discoveries about more and more extreme extremophiles, do you think there is any chance that the inner planets might yet be found to contain some form of life?

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21 Answers

josie's avatar

”...any chance”
Meaning any chance at all?
Sure.
Why not?

iamthemob's avatar

Sure.

Although I’m tentative to use the Mono Lake discovery as good evidence of it as a possibility, considering that I haven’t heard anything about how the new organism developed. It seems very likely that the use of arsenic in place of phosphorus was an adaptive feature it developed, and therefore doesn’t mean that the basic conditions that we traditionally considered necessary for the development of life would be discounted in order for this type of life to develop.

If that’s the case, I’d bet against life in the inner solar system (outside, you know, us).

LuckyGuy's avatar

They found life at high temp, deep sea geothermal vents that use Hydrogen Sulfide for fuel. Maybe Venus has something similar but we just haven’t found it.
I won’t hold my breath though.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Could there be life in the inner solar system? well, I don’t see why not. We have found life that lives up to 3000 underground, we have found life in the ocean at insane pressures and intense heat, and now this new life that basically lives in poison. It looks like life can live more or less anywhere, so the conditions for life are probably not as strict as we thought. However, I suspect life is much like a virus, once a planet is infected, the life covers all of it. With that in mind, I suspect the amount of planets that have life is the key point.

If we say 1 in 10 of all planets develop a form of life, then the odds are that we are the planet with life in our solar system. If the odds are even more against us, then we may find not many planets have life, but the ones that do are covered in it.

Personally, I would not find it unreasonable at all, that any other planet in our solar system has life. But as I’m a bit of a skeptic, I’m still going to air on the side of caution, and say the life in this planet is probably it for this solar system.

wundayatta's avatar

Given how hard it was to find this form of life on earth, which, despite being announced by NASA is still an earthling, I would expect it would be much, much harder to find life on Mercury or Venus. We probably won’t be visiting those planets personally, and it’s hard to imagine developing robots that could find such things, if only because we don’t know what we’re looking for.

But as everyone says, it could be there.

iamthemob's avatar

@wundayatta – ironically though, it may be the opposite. If they’re searching for any life at all and it’s there…it’s easy to find something of any type than a particular type of something that’s everywhere when you’re not really looking for it.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

There’s still a possibility on Mars. Mercury could never have had an environment that was conducive to life, as it could never have had atmosphere from which to form an ocean; it’s too small and too close to the sun. Venus might have had a planetary ocean early in its life, as it may once have had an atmosphere similar to the primordial atmosphere of the Earth. Whatever it might have had has long since boiled away. If life ever had a chance to start on Venus, it would be gone now, at least in any form we could recognize.

The articles that were making the rounds yesterday speak of a new form of life based on Arsenic rather than Phosporus, but it’s unclear whether this was adaptive or if it started as a completely separate evolutionary branch. I suppose we’ll know more when these organisms are studied more closely. However, Arsenic and Phosphorus are chemically similar, having the same number of electrons in their outer shells. The structure of their DNA is similar to ordinary DNA, but with Arsenic atoms in place of Phosphorus. Phosphorus also plays a role in energy transfer by way of the coenzyme ATP. The new bacteria have a chemical similar to ATP, but with Arsenic in place of the Phosphorus.

Could we find Arsenic-based life elsewhere? Possibly, although Arsenic is a heavier element and is thus less prevalent in the Universe. Personally, I think this is an evolutionary backwater. It’s interesting, but not profoundly so.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Wel, seein’ as how Earth is in the Inner Solar System… !! : )

iamthemob's avatar

I haven’t thought about ADP or ATP in the longest…

marinelife's avatar

Unlikely.

crazyivan's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex Just to clear up. The life announced my NASA yesterday was not a naturally occuring bacteria that used arsenic instead of phosphorus. It was a basteria that was able to survive in a high arsenic environment that was eventually made to replace its phosphorus with arsenic. It was not a naturally occuring anomoly and it certainly doesn’t represent another branch of abiogenesis.

That being said, the significance of its discovery is that it proves that the 6 traditional chemicals needed for life are not necessarily necessary. If arsenic can replace phosphorus it is likely that, for example, silicon could replace carbon, meaning that life could arise on a planet that lacked abundant chemicals that we used to think were needed.

It was more the fact that the thing could live in such an inhospitable environment that prompted the question.

Scooby's avatar

Anything is possible, or so it’s said! :-/

tigress3681's avatar

Forgive my ignorance, but what is an “inner planet”?

crazyivan's avatar

Anything closer to the sun than earth.

tigress3681's avatar

Danke. Focusing only on the effects of the sun on the development of life on planets closer to the sun than ours…. Life could exist. It would need to be extremely heat resistant and have a very good radiation repair mechanism. Consider the archaea in and around volcanoes, they have various genetic differences that make their enzymes more capable of withstanding the harsh environments. I can’t think of a specific organism or type of organism that is able to withstand high amounts of radiation but I know that there are organisms that are better able to protect their DNA from radiation than others. Consider skin cancer is a risk in all people that experience the sun but not everyone develops it. Some people’s genes are better able to repair and prevent damage. I would expect the smaller sized organisms that might develop in other closer planets would also have varied abilities to protect their genetic information.

Paradox's avatar

I think life would be less likely on planets like Mercury or Venus. Maybe some simple organisms on Mars or certain moons from the larger planets.

ETpro's avatar

The discoveries of life here on Earth in conditions previously thought deadly to all living things would seem to me to suggest that life is far more adaptable than we even imagine. Yes, there could be life on Mercury or Venus, just life of a very different form than what we are familiar with here.

Some time ago, we found entire ecosystems surviving in the deepest parts of the oceans in superheated sulfuric acid around volcanic fumaroles. Previously, we had thought that life requires access to food produced by photosynthesis. Living things either carry on their own photosynthesis or trace their food source back to organisms that do. But the bottom of the food chain around these hydrothermal vents uses sulfur and not sunlight to supply its energy.

Now, NASA scientists have discovered a strange bacteria living in California’s Mono Lake in a heavy concentration of the deadly poison, arsenic. These bacteria are able to substitute arsenic for phosphorus in their DNA chains and in the proteins they synthesize.

So if life can pull off tricks like these, what other adaptations is it capable of? We truly have to broaden the specs for what sort of planet might potentially support life.

mattbrowne's avatar

A wonderful discovery. But we need more research to answer your question.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

As things turned out, this discovery might not be as profound as the media would have us believe:

http://www.slate.com/id/2276919/

It’s certainly interesting that this bacteria can survive in an arsenic-rich environment, but the experimenters might have been sloppy, which would cast serious doubt on the findings. Somebody will have to repeat the experiment with better controls.

crazyivan's avatar

Isn’t that the truth, Icthy… This is not the first time NASA scientists have made a big ferfluffle only to fall flat upon peer-review. Read some pretty scathing reviews of the science and I must say that I’m horribly disappointed both at the hype and at the powers at NASA. Exagerating and screwing up are not viable roads toward more funding!!!!

ETpro's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex Thanks for the link. We’ll have to wait till the peer review is complete on the arsenic-loving bug, but the fumarole ecosystem alone is enough to convince me that we need to accept the possibility that like will be found elsewhere adn will not be life “as we know it.”

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