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Habitat-OASIS – Habitability of Oceans and Aqueous Systems on Icy Satellites

Habitat-OASIS addresses the question of habitability of the outer solar system by looking at spacecraft data and preparing for future space missions using novel approaches. The classical view held that for a planet or moon to be habitable requires liquid water at or near its surface. This view has been challenged by the discovery of numerous subsurface oceans below the icy crusts of moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn. The amount of water detected there is several times higher than on Earth and it is kept liquid primarily by tidal heating rather than solar heating. In particular, the cryo-volcanic moons Enceladus and Europa, orbiting Saturn and Jupiter respectively, are considered to have the largest astrobiological potential. On these two moons, the ocean floor is in contact with a rocky core and there are indications for hydrothermal activity - hot water flowing out from the rocky sea floor into the ocean. On Earth, these kinds of hydrothermal vents are places where life developed independently of sunlight.

On Enceladus (and probably also on Europa), active plumes expel ice grains carrying matter previously dissolved and suspended in the subsurface oceans, allowing their geochemistry to be investigated and constrained. The mass spectrometers aboard the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn until September 2017, analyzed this material and have already delivered spectacular science results. Project 1 of this proposal is a refined data analysis of the Enceladus plume material using novel techniques and is the first ever opportunity to explore in detail a potential ocean habitat outside Earth. Newly developed laser-assisted dispersion experiments are used to acquire mass spectra of a wide variety of analogue materials, enabling the identification and quantification of inorganic, organic and possibly biogenic compounds embedded in the ice grains. Geochemical aqueous alteration experiments and numerical modelling help to further constrain the habitability of Enceladus and extrapolate the results to other ocean moons. Project 2 will leverage the laboratory capabilities from Project 1 to create a comprehensive library of mass spectra in preparation for the upcoming missions visiting Jupiter’s icy moons: ESA’s JUICE Mission and NASA’s Europa Clipper Mission. Having analogue measurements available early in the missions will be critical for exploiting their full potential.

The different aspects of Habitat-OASIS:

ERC Press Media
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Southwest Research Institute

ERC-funded Publications

  • Soderlund, K. M. et al. (2020), Ice-Ocean Exchange Processes in the Jovian and Saturnian Satellites, Space Sci Rev 216, 80 (2020), doi: 10.1007/s11214-020-00706-6. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Dachwald, B. et al. (2020), Key Technologies and Instrumentation for Subsurface Exploration of Ocean Worlds, Space Sci Rev (2020) 216:83, doi: 10.1007/s11214-020-00707-5. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Klenner, F. et al. (2020), Discriminating Abiotic and Biotic Fingerprints of Amino Acids and Fatty Acids in Ice Grains Relevant to Ocean Worlds, Astrobiology 20 (10), 1168-1184. doi:10.1089/ast.2019.2188. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Klenner, F. et al. (2020), Analog Experiments for the Identification of Trace Biosignatures in Ice Grains from Extraterrestrial Ocean Worlds, Astrobiology 20 (2), doi:10.1089/ast.2019.2065. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Taubner, R.-S. et al. (2020), Experimental and Simulation Efforts in the Astrobiological Exploration of Exooceans, Space Sci Rev, 216(1), 1531, doi:10.1007/s11214-020-0635-5. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Sterken, V.J. et al. (2019), Interstellar Dust in the Solar System, Space Sci Rev, Vol. 215, Issue 7, 1797, doi:10.1007/s11214-019-0607-9.
  • Klenner, F. et al. (2019), Analogue Spectra for Impact Ionization Mass Spectra of Water Ice Grains Obtained at Different Impact Speeds in Space, Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom, Vol. 33, Issue 22, pp. 1751–1760, doi:10.1002/rcm.8518. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Khawaja, N. et al. (2019), Low-mass nitrogen-, oxygen-bearing, and aromatic compounds in Enceladean ice grains, MNRAS, Vol. 489, Issue 4, pp. 5231–5243, doi:10.1093/mnras/stz2280. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Burrati, B. J. et al. (2019), Close Cassini Flybys of Saturn's ring moons Pan, Daphins, Atlas, Pandora, and Epimetheus, Science, Vol. 364, Issue 6445, doi:10.1126/science.aat2349. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Postberg, F. et al. (2018a), Macromolecular Organic Compounds from the Depths of Enceladus, Nature, Vol. 558, pp. 564-568. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Postberg, F. et al. (2018b), Plume and Surface Composition of Enceladus, In: Enceladus and the Icy Moons of Saturn, University of Arizona Press, pp. 129-162. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Glein, C.R., Postberg, F., and Vance, S. (2018), The Geochemistry of Enceladus: Composition and Controls, In: Enceladus and the Icy Moons of Saturn, University of Arizona Press, pp. 39-56. DOWNLOAD PDF
  • Hsu, H.-W. et al. (2018), In situ collection of dust grains falling from Saturn’s rings into its atmosphere, Science, Vol. 362, 6410. DOWNLOAD PDF


 • Project ID: 724908
 • Funded by the European Union
 • European Research Council (ERC)
   ERC-2016-COG Consolidator Grant
 • Term: Feb 01, 2017 - Jan 31, 2022