Nouri Sardar (The Muslim Vibe)
The idea of extraterrestrial life is one of incredible fascination to us. Perhaps aggrandized through a century of literature and film, human beings are obsessed with the idea of searching the stars and discovering intelligent life.
With the Universe being as unfathomably vast as it is, it seems impossible that Earth is the only planet that contains life.
Humans have been searching for alien life rigorously for the past few decades. It just may be, however, that Islam has already confirmed the existence of extraterrestrial life.
What does science say?
Even within the solar system, there exists the possibility of some form of life. Europa, for example, one of Jupiter’s larger moons, is believed to be a geologically active world, due to the gravitational fields of Jupiter heating its interior. Its surface is covered by water ice, and scientists believe that beneath the surface, due to the heated interior of the moon, is a global ocean which may be over 100 km deep. It’s plausible that the ocean floor contains hydrothermal vents and volcanos, features on Earth that enable the existence of life in the deepest depths of its oceans.
Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, is also ice covered with a subsurface ocean of salty liquid water. Scientists discovered enormous geysers near the moon’s south pole which spray out water into space. The water contains tiny grains of rocky silicate particles that provide strong evidence for the existence of hydrothermal vents, and possible conditions for life.
Another moon of Saturn which is of interest to scientists looking for life is Titan. Its weather system is methane-based, instead of water-based, and the moon contains rivers and lakes made of methane and ethane, as well as possible cryovolcanoes that erupt liquid water rather than lava. It’s entirely possible that lifeforms exist on Titan, made up of different chemistry to lifeforms on Earth.
Some scientists are still hopeful of the discovery of life on Mars. It had water billions of years ago, and potentially life, but what interests scientists today is the methane that exists in the Martian atmosphere, as methane can be produced by biological processes. While its atmosphere is very thin, it’s not impossible that life may still exist if the planet has managed to retain some reserves of water beneath its surface.
Outside of the solar system, the possibilities are endless. Scientists generally look for planets in what is known as the Goldilocks Zone, which refers to the habitable zone around a star where the temperature is just right for liquid water to exist on a planet. And, based on our understanding of life, where there is water, there should be life.
There are however other factors to consider. Scientists look for rocky planets, rather than gas giants like Jupiter or Saturn. And even if they find them, it doesn’t automatically make them inhabitable. For example, Mars and Venus exist in our sun’s Goldilocks Zone, but Mars barely has an atmosphere, and Venus is being decimated by its own greenhouse effect. Scientists would also look for traces of gases on potential worlds that can only be produced by life.
In short, there may be life outside Earth. There may not be. What that life may look like – and whether it is intelligent life – no-one can say for sure. Whether we will ever even discover life outside of Earth, no-one can know for sure. And, regardless, given how vast the Universe is, finding life is unbelievably difficult.