Origin of Life

Astrophysical Sources of Energy for Life

Last Event

10th June 2016, 16:15
Astrophysical Sources of Energy for Life



Date: 10 June 2016, 16:15

Event number: 44

Title: Astrophysical Sources of Energy for Life

Speaker: Dr. René Heller

Speaker Affiliation: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen

Place: Conference Room of Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Theaterstr. 7

Host: Reitner & Duda


Most organisms that live on or near the surface of the Earth feed on the energy delivered by sunlight. Some, such as plants and algae, capture solar photons to carry out their metabolic processes (they are phototrophs). Others, such as fungi and you (these are heterotrophs), feed on phototrophs. Beyond Earth, other worlds in the solar system could be habitable as well, think of the icy moons around Jupiter and Saturn. These moons receive little sunlight because they are far from our host star. Life could not survive on their surfaces, because these moons have no appreciable atmospheres or liquid water. Liquid water exists, however, beyond the frozen surfaces of Europa and possibly Ganymede (both orbiting Jupiter) and under the ice shield of the tiny moon Enceladus around Saturn. The orbital energy of these moons has been identified as a possible energy source, as it is transformed into an internal "geo"logical heat source via friction in the moons. This effect is called tidal heating. I will review how tidal heating might liquify frozen water and create habitable niches on the solar system moons, which could be inhabited by organisms deriving energy from chemical reactions at the bottom of their dark sub-ice waters.

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