Skip to main content

Searching for life in the solar System

Inside the Solar System, space exploration has produced a boom in astrobiological investigations of the past and present habitability of planets and moons. Several missions currently explore the possibility of life emergence in environments quite distinct from Earth. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has shown evidence of abundant surface fresh water during the early history of the planet. Spectacular discoveries have been made by the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus opening the possibility to explore the habitability in a salty, liquid subsurface ocean on Enceladus. On the latter, the presence of a wide range of organic compounds, hydrogen and ammonia indicates their source may be similar to the water/rock reactions known to occur on Earth and that are known to support life. These water/rock reactions should also take place on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Future space missions will aim at exploring the existence of life on these moons.

We will analyse samples that are analogues to the ices (comets, icy satellites) and atmospheric aerosols (Titan, extrasolar planets) present in the Solar System to charracterize the present biological molecules (amino acids, nucleotides, lipids, etc.) and determine the environments that are the most susceptible to host life as we know it.

The specific case of Mars is very exciting. The ESA’s ExoMars mission and  NASA’s next Mars Lander mission, Mars 2020,  will search for bio-signatures.

We are strongly involved in the Sample Return program of the Mars 2020 Missions and we are preparing their analysis by a set of synchrotron X-ray methods.

Submitted on January 25, 2024

Updated on January 25, 2024