An Artist’s Rendering of Europa’s Surface as Jupiter Looms in the Background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
An Artist’s Rendering of Europa’s Surface as Jupiter Looms in the Background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Cosmic Queries – Alien Oceans

An Artist’s Rendering of Europa’s Surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
  • Free Audio
  • Ad-Free Audio
  • Ad-Free Video

About This Episode

Where could life be hiding in our solar system? Under the surface of Mars? On asteroids? One of the most likely places ccould be alien oceans. On this episode of StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Jordan Klepper are answering your fan-submitted Cosmic Queries about alien oceans and finding life in our solar system, with the help of Kevin Peter Hand, PhD, author of Alien Oceans: The Search for Life in the Depths of Space. When Kevin isn’t busy writing books, he serves as an astrobiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and as a Deputy Project Scientist on the Europa Mission. 

We start with a simple question: Why look in oceans at all? Kevin tells us why the moons of the outer solar system, like Europa and Enceladus, are places where liquid water could be right now. We discuss how the search for carbon-based life still allows for the discovery of non-carbon-based life. You’ll learn how a mission to Europa would shape up in the “near” future. Kevin tells us how we would drill through the icy surface to get to the ocean underneath. Unlike traveling to the nearest star, the technology for this drilling already exists, but, there are still major problems to be solved. You’ll also learn just how deep the oceans of Europa measure and the importance of the icy surface for harboring life.

Kevin helps us refine our understanding of the “habitable zone.” We explore why the proximity to a host star may not be the only criteria based on the possibilities of these alien oceans. We investigate why studying the oceans here on Earth can inform not only our understanding of how our planet works but also help us understand alien oceans. 

What happens if we don’t find life? Find out why a non-discovery of life is as equally profound a discovery as finding life. Discover more about universal biosignatures. Would the discovery of DNA-based life on Europa be the same as discovering DNA-based life on Mars? All that, plus, we ponder what the discovery of life on another world would teach us about Earth.

Thanks to our Patrons Matthew Pounsett, Tom Bock, Daniel Hargrove, Janice Vick, Jill Burkey, Sinai Coons, Derek Lee Snow, and Mike Rafalko for supporting us this week.

NOTE: StarTalk+ Patrons and All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free.

About the prints that flank Neil in this video:

“Black Swan” & “White Swan” limited edition serigraph prints by Coast Salish artist Jane Kwatleematt Marston. For more information about this artist and her work, visit Inuit Gallery of Vancouver,

In This Episode

Get the most out of StarTalk!

Ad-Free Audio Downloads
Ad-Free Video Episodes
Stickers & Mugs
Live Streams with Neil
Priority Cosmic Queries
Early-Access Videos
Learn the Meaning of Life
...and much more

Episode Topics