With all of our fancy technology, and our ability to spot distant objects in the universe, located thousands of light-years away, why haven’t we had alien contact? Blame icy ocean world!
Planetary scientist Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute believes that our contact with alien civilizations may be hampered by the fact that they could be buried under ice.
Most of the extraterrestrial organisms are likely to be found deep in their home planets, in oceans entirely covered by thick layers of ice, according to a new proposal presented by Stern at the meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Utah.
Experts agree that this hypothesis could explain the lack of signals from other technologically advanced civilizations, an enigma known as the Fermi paradox.
Only recently have astronomers come to appreciate how common oceans are in our solar system; the evidence of their existence can be seen on several moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, and even in at distant Pluto.
All of these worlds have water ice as a major component of their crust, which forms towering mountains and cracked canyons on their surfaces, but melts in liquid water at lower depths.
Hydrothermal vents in these ocean bottoms could pump nutrients into their surroundings, much like ecosystems at the bottom of Earth’s oceans. These cradles of life, protected from space by a thick layer of ice, might even be more productive than our own exposed environment.
And if living organisms in the icy ocean worlds evolve into intelligent creatures, they probably would not know the night sky as well as we humans do.
Perhaps the equivalent of a “space program” would simply be confined to cross the frozen surface of the planet, Stern suggests.
His proposal is not based on new evidence, but for the first time links the prevalence of the icy oceanic worlds with the lack of alien signals.
According to Stern: “Owing to the depth of typical Type II oceans and the overlaying thermal insulation provided by the planetary lid atop these oceans, these environments are protected from numerous kinds of external risks to life, such as impacts, radiation, surface climate and obliquity cycles, poisonous atmospheres, and nearby deleterious astrophysical events such as novae and supernovae, hazards stellar flares, and even phenomena like the Faint Early Sun. Interior WOWs are naturally cut off from communication by their interior nature below a thick roof of ice or rock and ice, therefore do not easily reveal themselves. In this talk, I will examine this new idea in more detail.”
The idea is intriguing, says psychologist Douglas Vakoch, president of Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence in San Francisco, Calif., but believes there is no need to invoke the Fermi paradox, reports sciencemag.org.
Biochemical indications of life are simply difficult to detect remotely, he says, and it is likely that new telescopes and techniques are needed to find our cosmic neighbors.
If they do not find us first, Stern says, it could be because they decide that long-distance communication is not worth it, especially if they think everyone else is trapped in their own icy bubbles.
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