By Dominic McNamara © AUFORN - AURA South Australia
The Australasian UFOlogist Magazine Vol.8 NO.4
This is a collection of Articles based in Facts. These articles cover life's formation, existence and struggle to survive. In fact, if you look hard enough, life has survived some of the strangest, remote and sometimes, unexpected places.
There are some strange things theorised to exist within our own solar system, most of it, cold and 'dead'; geologically as much as biologically. But we are always finding surprises. The search for life in the solar system turned out to be a search for a geologically active body. If we could at least find that, then there was a chance of life past, present or futuristic.
In the early seventies, the massive effort for the Voyager spacecraft to begin the journey to the outer planets had reached the decision making exercise of what objects to record in imagery, how many, why and so on. When it came to Jupiter, It was assumed there were no real standouts to be found from photographs of her moons. After all, they were all expected to be somewhat similar to our moon - inactive, crater ridden and without atmospheres of any kind. They were all so small and insignificant.
During the mission, it was remarked upon by many, that when voyager came in close to the moons around the outer planets and photographed them, the dots of light we have seen for so long would finally become whole objects that could be viewed as something solid and tangible. There were many who did not believe these worlds worthy of much photography at all. The more images of the planets themselves, the better they felt about spacecraft usage. In fact, it was left to only a few to champion the cause of moon photography to exist as a major part of the mission and not to be considered cursory.
One of the goals of Voyager was to seek out evidence of geological life; worlds which were still active from the inside out. Proof of such things can be hard to gauge let alone find. Mars has proven to have geology on a scale which dwarfs volcanoes and canyons of the earth. Yet there is no evidence of its being ongoing.
The Jovial Satellites did not give up very much to start with. Each moon exciting to see up close, but predictable in type and appearance. But circling closest to Jupiter's surface was Io, a small world roughly the size of our moon. Voyager 1 took the cursory photographs expected of the mission and moved on. Investigators viewed the imaging of Io containing dark dots upon her surface and surmised they were looking at yet more impact craters like those found on the outer moons of Jupiter.
The next day, a spacecraft navigation engineer named Linda Hyder (nee Morabito) arrived for work and discovered reel tapes of the imaging from the previous day's activity. Hyder turned her attention to the crescent shaped depiction of Io and contrasted the images to reflect a brighter picture and studied as much detail in them as she could muster. In one particular image, she was puzzled by an apparent bulge or halo appearing next to the little moon, and at first commented to herself that it looked like another moon had been caught in the frame “peeking out from behind Io”. But there was no other moon anywhere near Io and no other explanation was forthcoming.
It was only when Linda decided to try a few correlations with the surface of Io that a connection was found. Hyder was perplexed by the realisation that whatever it was she was looking at, it seemed to bear out a relationship with Io itself and not some optical illusion. It was when she noticed that this plume shape in the image fell directly over a heart shaped object on the surface that she realised what she had discovered; the first volcanic eruption seen anywhere other than on the Earth! The eruptions hurled Sulphur and Sulphur Dioxides 270 - 300 Km into space where upon they come crashing back down and all with ballistic speed and force. Geologically active worlds were now a reality.
As Voyager sped on, the sister ship was hurriedly reprogrammed to take a closer look at Io and Europa on the way past. Sure enough, there were the plumes of Sulphur Dioxide spewing from craters all over Io. The original imaging of Io was redundant, made so by the fact that Io was almost completely resurfaced by volcanism.
As seen in an earlier Life, Forms article, Europa, next moon out from Io, was seen as a 'billiard ball' of a moon, ice white and smooth with little or no chance of geological activity. But when examined closely and compared with data returned from the spacecraft, it soon became obvious that here too there was a hard surface, underneath which, there lay a pool of the same sorts of materials in a more liquid form. What we might call “lava” of the world we looked at.
The voyager spacecraft headed off for Saturn. Would there be any sign of geological life if not its biological counterpart?
We already know of the Titan moon Atmosphere and that until 2005, we will not have been able to see down to the surface of that shiny world. There were no real indications of geological activity on the moons other than Titan and even then, no real proof.
When the spacecraft traversed the Saturnian system, it now journeyed into uncharted territories and frankly, some officials still doubted the crafts ability to survive for the outer planets of Uranus and Neptune.
But survive it did. The search for living worlds took a turn for the worst at this extremity. Uranus was a baffling pastel of Turquoise rocked over onto its back. A lot had happened here, but it all happened billions of years ago. What would be found at Neptune a full ten years after the Jupiter encounter?
The scientists needn't have worried.
Neptune was a vast 'ocean looking' gas and ice ball complete with its own dark spot and clouds in the upper atmosphere. But whereas Neptune had at least been barely visible through telescopes, the moon Triton was the total unknown. This object was now the coldest encountered in the Solar system. Every winter, the atmosphere of Nitrogen, already frosted upon the ground, partially freezes solid onto the surface producing the ice cap look! Triton is also the only moon in the solar system which has a retrograde orbit, i.e. it orbits opposite to the planets rotation.
According to Larry Soderblom, a geologist attached to the mission Voyager from the US geological survey, “Any expectation of geological activity on Triton was considered by most to be, frankly, insane.”
But after looking more closely, there were dark spots and smudges upon the fresh icecap! In order for this to be true, something had to have been responsible for laying them down - an active process! But still nobody thought it geological. They were not easily observed in imagery as anything with animation, so Soderblom decided to look at pictures of the same spots taken from slightly different angles using 3D viewing glasses. A period of months went by until one afternoon, they were literally stunned to find something which seemed to stand up and away from the ice. They were looking at Geysers of material thrown out from under the surface itself. These geysers soared ten Kilometres or more into the upper atmosphere until they turned sharply horizontal in the high speed jet streams.
This would be the last time a world was encountered by voyager.
One of the problems endured by individuals observing things they cannot explain is the fact that we are readily disposing of that information as though it were untrue or somehow unsound. The Voyager mission to the outer planets was a lesson in learning how to accept the unthinkable. According to Larry Soderblom, wherever we go in the universe, we should expect the unexpectable. This lesson is transferable to any search made anywhere, including that for life unknown. The only problem, how to convince anybody that such a search requires a fresh look and a new set of rules. At least a different approach based on newly discovered horizons as to what life is and where it may exist.
The Voyager craft carried a gold recording of us all with her. This is no longer the case or practice in any mission now or planned.
Far too often there have been opportunities to examine elements both in the local solar system and on the earth itself to define if other forms of life exist. But of course, if we stop looking with any seriousness for other life forms - if it is not part of the agenda when we go further out into the universe, or just further down the back yard, you'll never find it - but the unexpectable might be finding you.
Referenced: NASA space probe archive. BBC Productions The Planets. University of Colorado. JPL Labs.