NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - Icy Worlds
02/2009 - 01/2015 (CAN 5)

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Astrobiology of Icy Worlds: Habitability, Survivability, and Detectability

Icy worlds such as Titan, Europa, Enceladus, and others may harbor the greatest volume of habitable space in the Solar System. For at least five of these worlds, considerable evidence exists to support the conclusion that oceans or seas may lie beneath the icy surfaces. The total liquid water reservoir within these worlds may be some 30 to 40 times the volume of liquid water on Earth. This vast quantity of liquid water raises two questions: Can life emerge and thrive in such cold, lightless oceans beneath many kilometers of ice? And if so, do the icy shells hold clues to life in the subsurface? The NAI JPL-Icy Worlds Team will address these questions through three science investigations and one technology investigation, by:

  • Researching the habitability of liquid water environments in icy worlds, with a focus on what processes may give rise to life, what processes may sustain life, and what processes may deliver that life to the surface
  • Researching the survivability of biological compounds under simulated icy world surface conditions, and comparing the degradation products to abiotically synthesized compounds resulting from the radiation chemistry on icy worlds
  • Researching the detectability of life and biological materials on the surface of icy worlds, with a focus on spectroscopic techniques, and on spectral bands that are not in some way connected to photosynthesis
  • Developing a Path to Flight for astrobiology instrumentation that has not yet reached a technology readiness level adequate for flight, focusing on instruments and techniques that can detect biosignatures in space

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