One grain of ice is enough to create life

About the episode

You might expect that it would take a long time to find traces of life on other planets or moons. A bottom sample, for example, or a close-up survey of the surface. Researchers now believe that even a grain of ice in the air should provide enough information.

Previous missions have seen clouds of gas and ice particles emerge from cracks near the south pole of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons. A new mission will begin this fall in which Europa, one of Jupiter's icy moons, will be studied extensively.

So you naturally want to be as prepared as possible for what you might encounter there, so researchers were already busy asking the question: What can we do with those plumes of gas and ice? What do they bring with them from the depths of the oceans?

For the first time, they have now shown that even a small amount of cell material contained in a single ice particle can be detected by new instruments on board the spacecraft. They tested this in the laboratory using droplets containing bacteria common in Alaskan waters.

The type that tolerates the cold well, is very small and needs little food. A good candidate for the harsh conditions on the icy moon.

Using new tools, it should be possible to detect lipids or fatty acids. Of course, the ice particles this would contain would soon be accelerating at about 4 to 6 kilometers per second, but in theory, with a bit of luck, it should be possible to detect life in this fairly simple way.

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What are the chances that they will actually find out? The same researchers found evidence of phosphate on Enceladus in previous research. Combine this with the water, energy, salts and carbon-based organics found previously, and it becomes increasingly likely that something similar to what exists on Earth will emerge.

Let's take a look first. Hence we hope that if something is alive, it can also be trapped in a grain of ice. And this is exactly the icing on the cake that lands on the right tool.

Read more about the research here: Signs of life that can be detected in a single grain of ice emitted from extraterrestrial moons

Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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