by Liverpool Hope University
It's 'almost a racing certainty' there's alien life on
Jupiter's moon Europa - and Mars
could be hiding primitive microorganisms, too.
That's the view of leading British space scientist Professor
Monica Grady, who says the notion of undiscovered life in our
galaxy isn't nearly as far-fetched as we might expect.
Professor Grady, a Professor of Planetary and Space Science,
says the frigid seas beneath Europa's ice sheets could harbor
'octopus' like creatures.
Meanwhile the deep caverns and caves found
Mars may also hide subterranean life-forms - as they
offer shelter from intense solar radiation while also potentially
boasting remnants of ice.
Professor Grady was speaking at Liverpool Hope University,
where she's just been installed as Chancellor, and revealed:
"When it comes to the
life beyond Earth, it's almost
a racing certainty that there's life beneath the ice on Europa.
"Elsewhere, if there's going to be life on Mars, it's going to
be under the surface of the planet.
"There you're protected from solar radiation. And that means
there's the possibility of ice remaining in the pores of the
rocks, which could act as a source of water.
"If there is something on Mars, it's likely to be very small -
"But I think we've got a better chance of having slightly higher
forms of life on Europa, perhaps similar to the intelligence of
Professor Grady isn't the
first to pinpoint Europa as a potential source of
the Moon - located more than 390 million miles from Earth
- has long been the subject of science fiction, too.
Europa, one of Jupiter's 79
known moons, is covered by a layer of ice up to 15 miles deep -
and there's likely liquid water beneath where life could dwell.
The ice acts as a protective barrier against both solar radiation
and asteroid impact.
Meanwhile, the prospect of hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor -
as well sodium chloride in Europa's salty water - also boost the
prospects of life.
As for what's beyond the Milky Way, Professor Grady says the
environmental conditions that led to life on Earth are 'highly
likely' to be replicated elsewhere.
The expert, resident at the Open University and who's also
worked with the European Space Agency (ESA),
"Our solar system is
not a particularly special planetary system, as far as we know,
and we still haven't explored all the stars in the galaxy.
"But I think it's highly likely there will be life elsewhere -
and I think it's highly likely they'll be made of the same
"Humans evolved from little furry mammals that got the
opportunity to evolve because the dinosaurs were killed by an
"That is probably not going to happen on every planet - but it's
at least possible based purely on a statistical argument.
"Whether we will ever be able to contact extraterrestrial life
is anyone's guess, purely because the distances are just too
"And as for so-called alien 'signals' received from space,
there's been nothing real or credible, I'm afraid."
In summer this year, at
least three separate missions will be launched to Mars.
ExoMars 2020, which launches in
July, is a joint project from the European Space Agency (ESA)
and the Russian space agency,
The Mars 2020 mission is NASA's new rover, planned to
the Red Planet in February 2021.
Hope Mars Mission is a planned
space exploration probe, funded by the United Arab Emirates, which
is set to launch in the summer.
And Professor Grady says it's not just Martian 'viruses' being
brought back to Earth that are a concern, the prospect of us
contaminating the planet with our own bugs is also paramount.
Prof. Grady - a member of the
Euro-Cares project designed to
curate samples returned from missions to asteroids, Mars, the Moon
and comets - reveals:
"Space agencies from
across the world are working to eventually send humans to Mars.
"But if you want to do that you need to at least have a jolly
good shot of bringing them back again. And so one of the big
steps in that process is actually to bring a rock back from
"The NASA mission will collect samples in tubes and leave them
on the surface of Mars.
"And then, in 2026, ESA will send another mission to Mars to
collect those samples and put them in orbit around the red
"Then, another spacecraft will come and collect that capsule.
"It's about breaking the chain of contact between Mars and the
Earth, just in case we bring back some horrendous new virus.
"But we also don't want to contaminate Mars with our own
"And the tricky part will come when we prepare to send the first
people to Mars. Currently, we boil all the equipment in acid, or
we heat it to very high temperatures, before we send it off.
"But humans are, shall we say, a bit resistant to those
"All of these protocols for sterilization have still got to be
Meanwhile Professor Grady
says that by looking at the bigger, inter-planetary picture, Earth's
own ecological situation is brought into sharp focus.
"We could be all
there is in the galaxy. And if there's only us, then we have a
duty to protect the planet.
"I'm fairly certain we're all there is at our level of
intelligence in this planetary system.
"And even if there are octopuses
on Europa, that doesn't give us
a reason to destroy our planet."
Professor Grady has also
been looking at the bigger picture by focusing on the minutiae - a
single grain of rock, the size of a full stop.
This speck was brought to Earth in 2010 by the Japanese "Hayabusa'
mission - where a robotic spacecraft was sent to the
near-Earth asteroid '25143
Itokawa' in order to collect a sample.
By analyzing this 'world in a grain of sand,' she hopes to unlock
mysteries of the universe.
"When we look at this
grain, we can see that most of it is made up of silicates, but
it's also got little patches of carbon in it - and that carbon
is extra-terrestrial, because it also contains nitrogen and
hydrogen, which is not a terrestrial signature.
"In this one sample, a few microns in size, we can see that it's
been hit by other bits of meteorite, asteroid, and interstellar
"And with modern equipment you can start to untangle, not just a
grain, but the little bits inside this tiny grain.
"It's giving us an idea of how complex the record of
extra-terrestrial material really is.
"It also tells us the importance of analyzing the tiny things
when it comes to the bigger picture."