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3 Million Tons of Extraterrestrial Ice Fishing
November 18, 2009 10:01 PM   Subscribe

At least three million tons of fishlike creatures could theoretically live and breathe on Europa, according to Professor Richard Greenberg of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Greenberg recently presented his findings to the Division for Planetary Sciences, American Astronomical Society (PDF, Google quick view). Greenberg has written about potential life on Europa before, but his recent calculations suggest that the concentrations of oxygen would be great enough to support not only microorganisms, but also more complex animal-like organisms which have greater oxygen demands.

Water under the ice of Europa is the first step towards life on Europa. Life on Europa has been proposed before, even with potential Europa-like situations found on Earth at the Blood Falls of Antarctica (previously). Water could be warmed through the gravitational push and pull of Jupiter, generating huge planetary waves in Europa's submerged ocean. Galileo's expedition, which found several lines of evidence to support the theory that liquid oceans exist under Europa's icy surface, ended when it crashing into Jupiter to prevent lifeforms from Earth possibly infecting Europa. Jupiter Europa Orbiter is planned to launch February 2020, with a goal to explore Europa to investigate its habitability.
posted by filthy light thief (46 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
One day humans will send a probe to drill through the ice and explore the oceans beneath, and immediately destroy whatever life exists there
posted by moorooka at 10:17 PM on November 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


In first to mention 2010.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:17 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


To put this in perspective, humans caught ~90 million tons of fish in 1990

If my calculations are right, it will only take us 11 days to completely catch all of Europa's fish
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:33 PM on November 18, 2009 [20 favorites]


What luck. Io is made of chips!
posted by not_on_display at 10:34 PM on November 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


Once we get this space-touristy stuff kicked off, a well-stocked moon teeming with bass will be the only thing tempting any of my dad's side of the family to leave our atmosphere. They won't believe for a second that it's science and not Our Lord and Savior ChristJesus Almighty that will have got them there, though.
posted by The Potate at 10:51 PM on November 18, 2009


I guess Bass Pro will be getting their obligatory free property handout to build a megastore on Europa.
posted by crapmatic at 10:59 PM on November 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I picture a colony of hockey playing and ice-fishing Canadians living on Europa, wearing hybrid snowsuit/spacesuits with toques on top of the helmets, with a Tim Horton franchise embedded in their space station.
posted by idiopath at 11:01 PM on November 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


I picture a colony of hockey playing and ice-fishing Canadians living on Europa, wearing hybrid snowsuit/spacesuits with toques on top of the helmets, with a Tim Horton franchise embedded in their space station.

Hey that's pretty good. Where is Scalzi?
posted by LarryC at 11:25 PM on November 18, 2009


All these worlds are ours except that one.
posted by vrakatar at 11:26 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I picture a colony of hockey playing and ice-fishing Canadians living on Europa, wearing hybrid snowsuit/spacesuits with toques on top of the helmets, with a Tim Horton franchise embedded in their space station.

What, no beer?!?!? If Canucks go up, there will be beer. CRAZY SPACE-FISH BEER.
posted by Salmonberry at 11:33 PM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh, yes, of course the beer, and maybe some bears too, this could be a refuge for the polar bears displaced by global warming, if we can figure out how to get them to use atmosphere suits. An entire new Canada, in space.
posted by idiopath at 11:35 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I thought the problem with life in hydrocarbon liquids was that it's not a 'polar' molecule, and doesn't dissolve all kinds of stuff. Water is actually an extreemly corrosive liquid, and dissolves almost anything (everything we see on earth, of course, is what's left after everything else gets dissolved and washes away). It's also a polar molecule, so we get things like lipid bilayers, etc.
posted by delmoi at 11:39 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Europa fish are pretentious and slim and educated and probably have bicycle races. American fishermen will not be interested in this type of thing.

But fish monsters on the moons of Jupiter! Please let's have some crazy alien life right here in our Solar System ....
posted by kenlayne at 11:42 PM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oops, I thought europa was one of those moons with hydrocarbon seas, not water-based.

It would be interesting to run simulations and see if Europa would have the same kind of gelology that some scientists think served as a natural source for life to start.
These vents form when water reacts with the mineral olivine, which is common in the sea floor - and would have been even more common early on, before the Earth's crust thickened. The process produces a new mineral, serpentine, and releases hydrogen, alkaline fluids and heat. It also makes the rocks expand and crack, allowing more water to percolate down, sustaining the reaction. The warm, hydrogen-rich effluent ultimately breaks through the sea floor as an alkaline hydrothermal vent.

Interest in alkaline vents rose in 2000, when Deborah Kelley and her colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle stumbled (if one can stumble in a submersible) across an active alkaline vent field just off the mid-Atlantic ridge, exactly where Russell said such vents should be. The team dubbed it the Lost City, partly for its spectacular spires of rock, which form as carbonates precipitate out in the alkaline fluid.

Like ancient vents, the spires of the Lost City are riddled with tiny pores, some with dimensions not dissimilar to modern cells. And the chemistry fits the bill too. A report last year confirmed the presence of methane and other small hydrocarbons, as well as hydrogen itself (Science, vol 319, p 604).
...
Together, Martin and Russell have pointed out that identical iron-sulphur minerals can still be found at the heart of proteins that convert carbon dioxide to sugars - using hydrogen gas
...
The vent fluid would also have contained nitrogen compounds such as ammonia, and conditions would have favoured the production of amino acids - the building blocks of proteins.

That's not all. In the presence of phosphate, minerals might have catalysed the production of nucleotides - the building blocks of RNA and DNA. And if nucleotides did form by mineral catalysis, the pores in alkaline vents would have had an extraordinary effect.
If these guys are right about these geological formations, and they would be likely to show up on Europa as well, well that's pretty interesting.
posted by delmoi at 11:47 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought the problem with life in hydrocarbon liquids was that it's not a 'polar' molecule, and doesn't dissolve all kinds of stuff.

Also, can't nonpolar molecules can dissolve the lipids that encircle our cells? Isn't something like cyclohexane a skeleton key to cell explosion?
posted by kid ichorous at 12:30 AM on November 19, 2009


er, can't nonpolar molecules dissolve
posted by kid ichorous at 12:31 AM on November 19, 2009


Wow, just in time for 2010!
posted by Afroblanco at 12:59 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's Tim Hortons, get it right, eh?
posted by bwg at 1:23 AM on November 19, 2009


bwg: "It's Tim Hortons, get it right, eh?"

You caught me, I know nothing about Canada really, my plan is just to get all the Canuks to move to outer space so the US can get a little more breathing room.
posted by idiopath at 1:33 AM on November 19, 2009


To put this in perspective, humans caught ~90 million tons of fish in 1990

But c'mon, Europa's tiny - or at least a little smaller than our own moon. So it's proportionally a lot of fish-like creatures, maybe.

How many tons of humans are there on the planet?... oh wolfram-alfa, where are you? ah ok, so then... 467,600,000 give or take. These fishing licenses are gonna be a bitch to come by.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:35 AM on November 19, 2009


Mermaids or Zoidbergs?
posted by robotot at 1:37 AM on November 19, 2009


Fishy, fishy, fishy fish
posted by XMLicious at 1:37 AM on November 19, 2009


How many tons of humans are there on the planet?... oh wolfram-alfa, where are you? ah ok, so then... 467,600,000 give or take.

America has 5% of the population, but 10% when you measure by mass.
posted by delmoi at 1:48 AM on November 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


One day humans will send a probe to drill through the ice and explore the oceans beneath, and immediately destroy eat whatever life exists there
posted by mattoxic at 2:41 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


ALL THESE FISH ARE YOURS
BUT WATCH OUT FOR THE GIANT ELBOWED SQUID
WE DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED THERE
BUT THEY EVEN SCARE THE SHIT OUT OF US
AND WE'RE, LIKE, WAY MORE ADVANCED THAN YOU.
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:31 AM on November 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


This is just to say

I have eaten
the fish
that were below
the icesheet

and which
you were probably
saving
for another planet

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so extraterrestrial
posted by patricio at 3:43 AM on November 19, 2009 [14 favorites]


What, so we can do cruel things like this to them?

*Note: I'm most definitely not a PETA member, but this just seems so wrong.
posted by bwg at 3:56 AM on November 19, 2009


You caught me, I know nothing about Canada really, my plan is just to get all the Canuks to move to outer space so the US can get a little more breathing room.

That's right, we Toques shall be the first to truly conquer space. No one will ever see it coming.
posted by bwg at 3:57 AM on November 19, 2009


"At least 3 million tonnes could theoretically live"
I'm struggling to parse that. So the entire range between 0 tonnes and 3 million tonnes is ruled out, but anything more than 3 million tonnes is ok, as is exactly 0 tonnes?

Don't believe it.
posted by edd at 4:12 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


First in with a Thomas Dolby reference.

Also: Very cool.
posted by absalom at 5:11 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


"At least 3 million tonnes could theoretically live"
I'm struggling to parse that.


The lower bound for the estimate of the maximum amount of life Europa could support is 3 million tonnes.
posted by lucidium at 5:26 AM on November 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think I'll write an article about how my living room could theoretically be filled with as many as 950,000 ping pong balls.
posted by usonian at 6:08 AM on November 19, 2009


What, so we can do cruel things like this to them?

*Note: I'm most definitely not a PETA member, but this just seems so wrong.


Note: for anyone considering clicking that link, it involves a still-living fish that has been deep-fried up to the gills, being poked with chopsticks till it writhes (proving it's still alive), then eaten.

I can handle the killing of animals, but that's friggin' needless cruelty.
posted by dubold at 6:12 AM on November 19, 2009


Isn't it sort of Earth-centric to assume that the Europans even need oxygen to live? Maybe all that oxygen is what finally wiped out the 3rd Great Undersea Elbow-Tentacled Moop Empire, and all that's left now are the ruins of their once mighty non-oxygen processing Kelp Superstores.
posted by steef at 6:14 AM on November 19, 2009


We have always been at war with Europa's space fish.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:26 AM on November 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


dubold, that's exactly what I thought (those interested in more can visit my site).

Although now I think it's kind of a derail.

On topic, I just saw a NatGeo feature that mentioned Jupiter's effect on Europa, as well as ice drilling.

Finding life within the solar system other than ourselves would be freaking amazing. One can only hope.
posted by bwg at 6:35 AM on November 19, 2009


I picture a colony of hockey playing and ice-fishing Canadians living on Europa, wearing hybrid snowsuit/spacesuits with toques on top of the helmets, with a Tim Horton franchise embedded in their space station.

LMM: This is HMCS Lucy Maud Montgomery to Europa Landing Craft Ray Bourque. Do you read us, oover?

RB: This is the Ray Bourque. How's it gooin' eh?

LMM: All right, you know. Have you made contact with the Europans yet?

RB: Soory. Cribbage match ran long. We're putting on our gear now.

LMM: Remember protocol when you go oat there, Ray Bourque. You have three minutes to remind the ETs that you are not Americans.

RB: Like that's gooing to make them less hostile. They're definitely mad about The Transmission.

LMM: You're carrying an official apulogy for that. The Communications Commission didn't know the transmitter for the 24-hours-a-day Bryan Adams channel was pointed at Europa. It was supposed to be aimed at the American coalony/Hummer dealership on Ganymede, eh?

RB: Let me guess. We're gooing to win them over with diplomacy and a culture of diversity and inclusion?

LMM: Right. And if that doesn't work, oaffer them some Cheezies and Coffee Crisp.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:21 AM on November 19, 2009 [11 favorites]


At least three million tons of fishlike creatures

They have an embassy here.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:24 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Obviously, this makes me very happy.
posted by bettafish at 7:54 AM on November 19, 2009


Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu Europa wgah'nagl fhtagn?
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 7:56 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


between this post and the one above, I am a very happy Space-Whelk.
posted by The Whelk at 8:03 AM on November 19, 2009


At least three million tons of fishlike creatures could theoretically live and breathe on Europa

I'm more concerned about the possibility of three fishlike creatures that weigh one million tons each.

Because you just know that one of them will end up being a jerk.
posted by quin at 8:37 AM on November 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


In terms of colonization, this is all moot, since the surface of Europa is bombarded with unsurvivable amounts of radiation. Getting water based life may be possible but as humans we'd only benefit by viewing our fish tank from a distance.
posted by cbecker333 at 9:01 AM on November 19, 2009


delmoi: I thought the problem with life in hydrocarbon liquids was that it's not a 'polar' molecule, and doesn't dissolve all kinds of stuff.

I do believe you're thinking of Titan, which is home to lakes of methane.
posted by hangashore at 9:11 AM on November 19, 2009


And
Oh, this is the place where the astronauts gather,
In helmets and boots and space gloves battened down.
All sizes of figures with jet packs and jiggers,
They congregate here on the RAZOR TENTACLED NUCLEAR TOOTHED JELLYSHARK jigging ground.
Apologies to Art Scammell.
posted by hangashore at 9:23 AM on November 19, 2009


Isn't it sort of Earth-centric to assume that the Europans even need oxygen to live?

The Significance of Oxygen notes that while methane, nitrate, and sulfate could be used in respiration, oxygen provides the most free energy. Organisms evolved to take advantage of this extra energy. Additionally, O2 could react with other O2 molecules in the upper atmosphere to create ozone, providing UV protection and further supporting life.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:24 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


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