As I pondered life in the Universe it dawned on me that there maybe many more moons that exist that are supportive for evolving life then say planets. A planetary system can have many more moons then planets. So I wondered what kind of life might evolve on a gas giants moon. IFL Science.
I was thinking that it would be much more complicated to launch satellites into stable orbits around a moon dwarfed by a gas giant, possibly even impossible for higher orbits such as geosynchronous. I thought it might also obstruct observation of the night sky, which might have cultural impacts or delay the development of technology. There is no real reason to expect life to only come rocky worlds like ours. Moons are a very plausible source of the stuff of life.
Living on such a moon would likely mean that the inhabitants wouldn’t have developed a geocentric version of the universe. It would have been obvious that they went around the gas giant and that the gas giant orbited the sun. That might well have pushed on the development of astronomy faster than it was here.
Here are some points to consider:
- You are not the center of the universe. The planet you orbit is huge, so it dominates your sky much more than our moon or even the sun does. Perhaps you worship it? I can easily see a form of astrology that depends on the particular swirls of the clouds of your planet. We read tea leaves and birthmarks – why not cloud patterns?
- You are probably tidally locked. Most likely one face of your moon points toward your host planet at all times. This means half of your home never sees the planet and the other half always does. The holy land is going to be right under the planet, right?
- You get hit with more space debris. Large planets have large gravity, and that means lots of space rocks are coming your way. All those extra impacts mean that you may have lots of metal earlier in your development than a species on an Earth-sized planet would.
- You never invent the compass. The compass only works on Earth because Earth has a relatively strong magnetic field and it’s the only one around. Most giant planets have giant magnetic fields, and these would drown out anything from your moon. This might slow down exploration of your moon.
- You have a higher rate of mutation. I’m not sure about this one, but I’ll mention it anyway: Gas giants spew out lots of radiation. All that radiation is going to increase the rate of mutation on your planet. This might be an advantage or a disadvantage.
- You have lots of places in space nearby to visit. Earth has a moon. Beyond that, there’s nothing for millions and millions of miles. But if you are on a gas giant’s moon, there’s a good chance you’ve got other moons that are pretty nearby. This means you get multiple Apollo program-style missions to your nearest neighbors (plural). This might be incredibly beneficial, as these moons might provide stepping stones to the other planets in your solar system (assuming you have some).
- You have a harder time communicating with your satellites. Gas giants are noisy places – they make a lot of radio waves. Communicating with our satellites is pretty easy because nothing nearby makes much radio noise. But with a gas giant on your doorstep, the story might be different.
- You can probably see rings, and they tell you a lot about the universe that we didn’t learn until quite late (like how orbits work).
- You don’t have seasons, and your day and night are really weird. Being tidally locked means you probably have little to no axial tilt. This means no standard seasons. You also have “days” that are dominated by revolution, not rotation. The planet-facing side of your moon has a “day” that lasts several days, and a night that lasts several nights. But during your day, you have a huge planet in your sky that regularly eclipses you. During your night, you have a huge planet in your sky that is really really bright. The planet is always there, stuck in more or less the same spot in your sky. So your nights can be quite a lot brighter, and your days can be essentially dark. On the side facing away from the planet, you never see the planet and you have no eclipses. You have a day that lasts several days and a night that lasts several nights.
- The poles are amazing. On your north and south pole, you can see the sun year-round (near the horizon) and your planet (near the horizon). The sun moves through the sky but the planet does not.
So many people believe that we can communicate with an alien life form we encounter…Hmm. Consider a life form that evolved on a gas giants moon. What are we going to have in common? What commonality would we have so we can understand each other? The answer is that we are going to have very little if anything at all in common. Without a galactic equivalent of a Rosetta stone both sides of the conversation would be deaf and dumb. Without commonality meaningful communication is impossible.
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