Ices and Oceans in the Outer Solar System: Considerations for Habitability

Robert Pappalardo, NASA

Friday, October 15, 2010, 3:30pm

This seminar is part of the Jones Seminars on Science, Technology, and Society series

On Earth, everywhere there is water, there is life, so it is reasonable that the search for life in our solar system focuses on the search for water. Where it is found will indicate the best places to continue the search to understand whether life actually exists there. If so, why; and just as important: if not, why not. The solar system's most promising candidate for an ocean beyond Earth lies beneath the icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. Europa is one of the most geophysically and astrobiologically fascinating and complex bodies in our solar system. Its exploration is key in advancing our understanding of habitable zones in our solar system, and other solar systems. In addition to Europa, oceans might exist within other icy moons as well, including Ganymede, Titan, Triton, and perhaps even tiny Enceladus. We will take a tour of the solar system's icy bodies that may contain oceans within. The interior oceans of icy moons may be the most common habitats for life in the universe.

About the Speaker

Robert Pappalardo is a Senior Research Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He is the Pre-Project Scientist for the Jupiter Europa Orbiter mission concept, and he was the Project Scientist for the Cassini Equinox (extended) Mission at Saturn. He is also the co-chair for the National Research Council's Committee on the Origins and Evolution of Life. Pappalardo's research focuses on processes that have shaped the icy satellites of the outer solar system, especially Europa and the role of its probable subsurface ocean. Additional research involves the nature of bright grooved terrain on Jupiter's moon Ganymede, the geological implications of geyser-like activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus, and the processes that shape the surface of Saturn's moon Titan. In 1986 he received his B.A. in Geological Sciences from Cornell University, and in 1994 he obtained his Ph.D. in Geology from Arizona State University. From 2001-2006, he was an Assistant Professor of Planetary Sciences in the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Department of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Along the way, he has worked with various science museums and organizations to bring the excitement of astronomy and planetary exploration to the public.