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Ideal for a space ‘Santa’? Scientists eye distant snow-capped moons for signs of life

Saturn’s moon Enceladus (NASA)

Scientists in the uk have identified Saturn, Jupiter and snowy mane as potentially the best chance for life beyond the solar system.

Whether you blame it on the carbon emissions, or consider only a part of the Earth’s natural life cycle, you can’t deny this basic fact: Our planet is getting warmer.

The effect of climate change is particularly strong in the arctic circle, where, according to the NOAA Arctic Report Card 2017, the winter maximum sea-ice extent in March was the lowest on record and the sea surface temperature in August was 7 degrees warmer than the average.

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And that does not bode well for the region’s most famous resident — a jolly old man with red cheeks, red cheeks and a long white beard of which the address is simply: the north pole. There will be no ho-ho-ho-ing as Santa’s Workshop tumbles into the atlantic Ocean.

So Santa can be forgiven for the search of a new house, a cool place with a great view and plenty of space for the elves and reindeer, sleigh and gazillions of toys. And if he is inclined to pack up and move, scientists at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Exoplanets and Habitability may be just the right place: the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

They are ice and snow covered, with great oceans lying beneath the surfaces, conditions, say the researchers, could live.

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Santa consider Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth largest moon. It is covered with fresh snow and ice, and the temperature is a cool 324 degrees below zero in the afternoon. (An extra jacket is recommended for the evenings.)

That is quite a bit of cold, but the researchers say that life can still thrive in the moon environment. Enceladus has large amounts of water under the surface undergoes changes in temperature and pressure, and hydrothermal vents that can encourage the development and sustainability of life. The ice above the water, meanwhile, can protect the organisms from ultraviolet radiation and cosmic radiation.

But again, it is very cold, and no one knows for sure that Santa’s reindeer can have a 746 million km sleigh ride each year until the reach of the good boys and girls tucked into their beds on Earth.

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“Living in a never-ending landscape of snow and ice throughout the year may not seem particularly inviting, also for the santa Claus,” said Warwick Professor Dr. David Brown. “But these moons are some of the best opportunities for a life outside of the Earth in the solar system, and are areas we are very interested in exploring.

“Looking to places like Enceladus gives us a great chance to explore the possibilities of these winter wonderlands for the support of life.”

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