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Oceans Of The Solar System -

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The oceans define the Earth.

In fact, without the oceans,
there would be no life.

We once thought they were unique
to our planet.

But we were wrong.

We've recently discovered oceans
all over our solar system

and they're very similar to our own.

Imagine this at the bottom
of Enceladus's ocean.

Now scientists are going
on an epic journey

that never seemed possible.
in search of new life in places

Life has got this amazing ability

to, you know,
just keep surprising us.

I want to get the data back
from a probe

and be able to say "It's life, Jim.
But not as we know it."

NASA are even planning to dive

of a strange distant ocean
to the depths

with a remarkable submarine.

That first picture...
Are you kidding?

That first picture

on another planet

The hunt for oceans in space
marks the dawn of a new era

in the search for alien life.

Nearly two centuries ago,

Charles Darwin set out on a journey
across the world's oceans

to uncover the secrets of life.

What he came to understand

was that the answer
to the mystery of where we came from

lay beneath the hull of his ship,
the Beagle.

As he filled his notebooks

with beautiful sketches of the birds
and animals he came across,

he began to formulate an idea

that life might have actually started
in water.

Darwin's important

for the whole story
of the evolution of life

and natural selection,

where we all came from,

how life ultimately
started as well.

A lot of that goes back to Darwin.

He had ideas,
not very well publicised ideas,

not in the Origin of Species,

but on how life started
in a small warm pond.

So Darwin had put his finger
on the importance of water

in the origin and evolution of life
very early on.

Water is so essential

that it's dictated
where scientists look

in the search for life
in our solar system.

Life needs water.
You look at all life forms on Earth.

The one requirement
they all have in common is water.

An ocean may be a good place
to incubate life

and, not surprisingly, an ocean

The search for solar oceans
started close to home.

We have been sending ever more

to the red planet for decades

and we now know more about it
than we ever did.

Unfortunately all the scientific
evidence gathered so far

points to Mars being dry, cold
and seemingly lifeless.

But has it always been?

It's a question
that's intrigued scientists

and astronomers
like Geronimo Villanueva

for years.

Ironically, the search for evidence
of an ancient Martian ocean

is being conducted from one
of the driest places on Earth,

the Atacama Desert, in Chile.

There is a strong relationship
between Mars and Atacama

because Mars is a very dry place

places on the planet.
and Atacama is one of the driest

Actually the relative humidity
measured by Curiosity Rover on Mars

is practically the same as we are
right now here on this desert.

Fittingly, it's that lack of water

that makes the Atacama
the perfect place

to build one of the biggest
telescopes in the world

because water in the atmosphere here

would drastically limit
the telescope's ability

to find water anywhere else.

Water and many other things
like organics

are what we're looking for.

So we come to a place which is
devoid of those things like a desert

to avoid contamination
from those things

when we observe

So when you come to a place
like this,

you're trying to look through
the water in our own atmosphere.

What's immediately obvious to anyone
with even an ordinary telescope

is that there is water on Mars.

But today,
it's frozen solid at the Poles.

Yet the Martian landscape
looks strangely

as though it was carved and shaped by
liquid water.

Planets show all this morphology,

driven by water,
a huge amount of water...

So the estimates

vary a lot because we didn't know.

We see all this carving,
all these big valleys...

And so how much water was there
was a big question.

was pretty much impossible
Answering that question

until scientists got lucky in 1984,

in another desert, this time
in the coldest place on Earth,


Here they found
a remarkable meteorite.

Analysis confirmed
it was Martian in origin

and that they had discovered the key

that would unlock the mystery
of Mars's watery past.

So once you identify when
in the history of our solar system,

where it came, you say "This rock is
dated there and comes from Mars.

So you have a good reference point
in time and in place of that rock.

Careful analysis revealed

that this meteorite was four
and a half billion years old.

The meteorite also carried crucial
chemical information,

an isotopic signature fixed
by the amount of water on Mars

four and a half billion years ago.

On its own,
this signature was worthless.

But by measuring the amount of water
on Mars today,

then comparing the signatures
of recent rocks

against the ancient meteorite,

all would be revealed.

And that's where the huge telescope
comes in.

It's so powerful
it can detect water molecules

on the surface of the planet.

You can actually see the molecules
in every other...

above a volcano in Mars,
above a valley...

You can actually map those molecules
from here.

It's really astonishing.

Armed with a precise measurement of
the amount of water on Mars today,

Geronimo was able to make
an astonishing calculation.

We extrapolated back in time

and we inferred that there was
almost seven times more water

than there is right now.

What happened, Mars,
topographically speaking,

has very low plains in the north

and a very high altitude place
on the south.

So if you throw water,

it will tend to flow
into the lower topography

which is going to be
the northern plains.

So one of the things we did is...
We had this volume of water.

What do we do with this? One trick

and let's see where it falls.

And they just did like...
follow the rivers and everything.

And it formed an ocean on
the northern plains of the planet.

Four and a half billion years ago,

the Martian ocean covered 19 per cent
of the planet

and was as deep as the Mediterranean.

In fact, NASA's planetary models
reveal a Mars at its warmest

complete with an Earth-like

If you were in an alien spacecraft
randomly coming to Earth,

the chances are better than even

that you're going to land up
in water so bring a boat.

And it's the same on early Mars.

And that's a fundamental point,
that Mars was a water world.

It would have been better to
characterise it as a water world

whereas now of course,
it's a desert world.

But it's that water world
that's interesting.

That's the world
that may have had life

and that we want to investigate.

It may have been cold.

Mars is much further away
from the sun than the Earth,

but four and a half
billion years ago,

life on Mars would have been
technically possible.

This is the time when Mars
was the most habitable.

actually planet Earth and Mars
were similar in some aspects.

It had a thicker atmosphere.
Maybe there was a big ocean there.

So habitability of the two planets
were similar.

And interestingly, the time
that we think this ocean was there

was a time that life started
in our planet.

So if the conditions were favourable
for life here, to start life,

what could be the conditions
on the planet Mars?

Sadly, however habitable
that early ocean was,

it didn't last.

Scientists think
that the early Martian atmosphere

was vulnerable to solar radiation

and over the course of one and a half
billion years,

it evaporated away, leaving
just 13 per cent frozen at the poles.

But if Martian life was
theoretically possible in that ocean

millions of years ago,

is it possible that anything
could have survived until now?

I think the possibility of finding
life on Mars now traces directly

to the possibility
of finding liquid water on Mars

And finding water
has been a large part

of the Curiosity Rover's mission.

Curiosity has been
trundling around Mars since 2012

and the images it's been
sending back have been stunning.

Sequences like this blue sunset

are starting to change
our understanding of the planet.

But it's the pictures

of a region called the Newton Crater

that are helping to shed new light

on the amount of liquid water
left on Mars.

This is a time lapse sequence
showing streaks on the crater wall

apparently growing
and getting darker.

Scientists think
that they might be caused by water.

They're small amounts of water.

Compared to an ocean on Earth
or even an ocean on early Mars,

they're insignificant.

But as an indicator of Mars
still being active

and still having liquid phases

and maybe a hint of bigger
and better things elsewhere,

then I think it's very important.

What appears to be happening

is that the moisture in the soil
is evaporating

during the relative warmth of the day

and condensing back at night
when it's colder.

So Mars still has a heartbeat.
It's a faint one.

If we measure its heartbeat
in terms of the presence of water,

at one time, it was huge.

It was an ocean.

Now there's just
a faint glimmer of it.

The problem is
that these small amounts of water

are exceptionally salty.

The Curiosity Rover has identified
in the Martian soil

a salt called calcium perchlorate.

It's this salt
that absorbs the Martian dew

as it condenses
onto the cold surface each day.

The salt also lowers
the water's freezing point,

keeping it a liquid
even at sub-zero temperatures.

But it also makes

so concentrated they would be toxic
to conventional life forms.

So could they support life on Mars?

There may be clues
in the saltiest parts of the Earth,

like the Bonneville Salt Flats
in Utah.

It's famous for land-speed records

but it's fascinating
for astrobiologists

because the salty surface here not
only mimics that found on Mars,

it contains life.

Even though this looks dead,

we could probably take
some of these crystals right here

and get bacteria to grow.

I know it seems ridiculous

but, you know, as a microbiologist,

one of the things
that we've come to appreciate is,

if there's any liquid water present,

you're typically going to find life.

So life has got this amazing ability

to, you know,

Unfortunately, Mars is way colder

The average temperature
of minus 50 degrees Celsius

is a huge challenge

for anything living

And it's partly to do
with the angle of its axis.

Earth spins on an axis of 23 degrees

which should make
the planet unstable.

But it isn't.

Earth's axis is stabilised
by the moon,

sort of like an outrigger,

a gravitational outrigger
that keeps the Earth stable.

Mars doesn't have a large moon
and so...

And it's also closer to Jupiter.

As a result,
its axis wobbles significantly,

much much more than Earth's,

more than double
the wobble of Earth's.

Mars's tilt wobbles
by as much as ten degrees,

causing huge climate change,

similar but more extreme
than the Earth's Ice Ages.

At the peaks of that cycle,

the surface of Mars is briefly
warm enough to support life.

But to survive one hundred thousand
years of cold between these peaks

would demand a strategy
of extreme hibernation.

But for micro-organisms,

this strategy
of living when it's warm

and then sleeping
when it's freezing cold

Those organisms
can be frozen and thawed

without any damage at all.

Every once in a while,
when the tilt is right,

you get a few thousand years of time
to have a go at it,

and then you go back
to deep-freeze sleep.

That all sounds fine in theory

possibly hibernate
but could any living thing

for up to a hundred thousand years?

The answer lies in the salt.

The salt crystals form in cubes.

And as they form,

you'll have pockets of liquid
that become entrapped

as the solid salt is forming.

And the micro-organisms
that are present

become trapped
in those fluid inclusions,

those little pockets of fluid.

How long then
could a single bacteria survive

trapped in a salt crystal?

Melanie took a crystal
dated at 97,000 years old

and drilled into its core.

She extracted the fluid,

placed it in a nutrient-rich dish

and walked away.

When she came back a week later,

something astonishing had happened.

97,000 year old bacteria

were flourishing in the dish.

It was pretty amazing...

you know... to be able to have
such strong evidence.

I mean...
taking that fluid inclusion up

and using it to inoculate a media,

you know,

that's pretty,
pretty powerful stuff.

But how could something survive
for nearly 100,000 years,

trapped in a salt crystal?

Only the basic metabolisms

would be still functional.

So these organisms are probably
just expending enough energy

to keep maybe their DNA repaired.

And that's probably about it.

So right here on earth,

these bacteria have developed
a hibernation strategy

extreme enough to cope with
the length of the Martian ice age.

But even at its warmest,

Mars is much, much colder
than the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Extreme endurance alone
wouldn't be enough.

So is there any life form capable of
hibernating through extreme cold?

This doesn't look a very likely
place to answer that question.

But biologists Carl Johansson
and Byron Adams

aren't here to drink in

the obvious beauty
of the Bridal Veil Falls in Utah.

What we want to try and target
is that base

where the upper falls
is kind of falling down.

Right below the main part
of the fall,

you can see all the moss beds.
It's pretty good stuff.

You get in there.
That's nice and slick.

All right. Let's go.

They're looking for a creature
with an unusual ability,

one that might prove crucial
in the search for alien life.


it loves water
and there's plenty of that here.

Now this looks good. Here's a good
way around this way, I think.

It's a good spot.

Watch your step, man.
It's slippery, bro.

This looks really good here, man.


This creature is so small

that it's almost impossible to see
with the naked eye.

Being small
doesn't mean it's insignificant.

It just means they have to collect
lots of very damp moss

to make sure they wrangle one.

Bag them and tag them.

Got her.

I'm taking it right here, bro.

It's like raining on me.
I know it.

That's why I wasn't there.

It's only when they get back to
their lab at Brigham Young University

that they can see what they've got.

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So you remember the samples that we
just collected up at the waterfall?

We brought them back to the lab here

and we put them in some dishes.

I'm picking the animals
out of those dishes

and putting them onto a slide.

And then I'm going to hand
this slide to Carl

so that he can put it
under the microscope.

Then we'll be able
to get a better look at them.

So when we look at the slide
Byron brought us

and we start looking through,

we can see some movement right here
of an animal.

Tardigrade means this Latin name

Tardi means slow

and grade
refers to foot.

You can start to see

he's got long thin filaments
coming off his body

and some actual... what almost look
like horns, coming off his head

that he uses in feeding.

Tardigrades are aquatic

so you'd expect them to die
if they weren't in water.

But they have a very special ability.

As that sample jar
starts to dry out,

as that specimen starts to dry out,

what's cool about these guys

is they can survive
that extreme desiccation,

drying down to like
a crispy little booger.

It's called a tun.

They roll up into a special
tight ball essentially.

They're like a roly-poly bug almost.

And then go through a series
of radical chemical changes

in the cells in their bodies
to deal with this loss of water.

It looks like it's dead

but when they add water,
it springs back to life.

It's not really dead because
when we add more water to them,

when environmental conditions
are good again,

they can come right back alive.

It's very energetically costly

They can't go back and forth
and back and forth

but they can survive
some really extreme conditions.

And what happens is,

as their environment
starts to dry out,

they actively pump all the water

out of their bodies
and out of the cells.

The genes that are being expressed
for normal cellular processes

shut down

and they completely change the way
they express their DNA.

They've got one operating system,

the genes that operate to put them
into and maintain them in a tun.

Then they switch operating systems

when they're carrying out
life's activities,

when they're eating,
moving around and mating

and all those kinds of things.

It's almost like

But drying out and thriving
in a temperate lab

is completely different

from surviving
on the chilly surface of Mars.

The coldest place on Earth that's in

is the Antarctic.

Tardigrades have been found here

but can they be reanimated?

I've got some animals
that have been frozen here

since the last field season
in Antarctica.

So we extracted them from soils
in Antarctica,

shipped them back here
frozen solid...

They've been frozen solid here at
at least minus 60

since 2012.

This is the sample
we pulled out of that freezer.

And it's thawed out now.

What I'm going to do now is
I'm going to have a look at it.


Holy moley!

It's mind blowing, dude.

It's basically the same community

that I saw when I collected them
in Antarctica.

We put them in a tube, froze them,

Four or five years later,
we want to study them, right?

Pulled them out, thawed them out.

And now what I'm seeing now
looks almost exactly

like what I saw when I was looking
at them like fresh in Antarctica.

There's a few of them
that didn't survive the trip, right?

But for the most part,

double blind,
if you were to show me this


I would struggle
to tell the difference

between the sample
that I got live down there

versus one
that's been in the freezer

for four, five... who knows
how long, how many years.

As well as surviving extreme cold,

tardigrades have another trick
up their sleeve.

In 2007, the European Space Agency

sent a sample of tardigrades up to
the International Space Station

for an astonishing experiment.

They took them into space
and put them on a satellite,

opened up the door,
sent them outside,

exposed them to extreme
temperatures, vacuum, hot, cold...

Huge radiation.

When they brought them back
to Earth,

they did what you're seeing here.

They dumped some water on them to
see if they actually reanimated.

What happened?

They take the water up, man,

and they start, right...
they swap out the molecules

and like a machine, man.

You add the water to it.
They take them up.

The cells start to do their thing

It always blows my...

Look... I'm an old fat dude

and I've looked at these
a hundred times,

thousands of times, millions maybe.

You're not that old.

And when I actually look at them
under the microscope,

every single time,
I'm like "That's cool, man."

So the remarkable tardigrade
can survive the extremes of space

and the killing cold of Antarctica,

conditions similar
to modern day Mars.

And of course, life can also survive
for tens of thousands of years

locked away in a salt crystal.

So there could possibly
be life on Mars.

It used to have an ocean

and there might still be traces
of that ocean left today.

But what about the rest
of our solar system?

From the early 1960s,

have been sending probes out

into the furthest reaches
of our solar system,

looking in part for liquid water.

But everything appeared

Most of our solar system
was colder than anywhere on earth,

even the icy wastes
of the high Atacama desert.

But in these remote mountains,

scientists have uncovered
tantalising clues

that could help answer the question

"Are Earth's rich and flourishing
oceans unique or ubiquitous?"

And the Voyager probe
launched by NASA in 1977

pointed the way.

In 1980,

it photographed a small moon
of Saturn called Enceladus.

It's tiny,
about the same size as the UK,

and at first it looked insignificant.

is this bizarre little moon

that the Voyager spacecraft
took a few snapshots of.

The surface could be seen
to be cratered in the north,

a lot of craters on its icy surface.

Now, to a planetary scientist and
astronomer, that means old ice.

But in the south,

and in particular
down near the South Pole,

what was seen was a fresh
ice surface, very few craters...

If the ice was fresh,
then where had it come from?

Scientists had to wait for years
before they got an answer.

And it was provided
by the Cassini probe

which span past Enceladus in 2005.

shocked scientists.
And what Cassini saw

Plumes of water vapour

pouring out from the surface
of the little moon's South Pole.

So when Cassini returned
these images of the plumes,

the community just went nuts.

This was astounding
to see these jets of water

out of this bizarre little moon.

Enceladus is just 500 kilometres
in diameter.

That's about the width
of the United Kingdom.

And to see these jets erupting
was phenomenal.

As Cassini got closer to Enceladus,

it revealed the plumes were spewing
not just from one crack

but from four huge fractures
in the ice.

Each of them was about
130 kilometres long,

two kilometres wide

and about 500 metres deep

with water vapour
pouring out of them.

That amount of water
could only mean one thing.

Enceladus had to have a liquid ocean
beneath its frozen surface.

But this dark subterranean ocean

would be lacking in one thing
that's crucial for life on Earth.

Life as we know it
needs not only liquid water,

it also requires the elemental
building blocks for life...

the carbon,
the hydrogen, the oxygen...

a smattering of the elements
across the periodic table.

And life requires
some form of energy.

On Earth,

the energy for life comes primarily
from the sun.

It's captured through the remarkable
process of photosynthesis

thanks to plant life like
this very primitive aquatic algae.

This stuff doesn't look like much.

People try and avoid it
when they go into the sea.

But it's changed the world.

This is photosynthesis in action.

The cells that made this up

arose around about two billion
years ago or thereabouts

and they cracked the trick of using
the energy of the sun

They're still about the major
supplier of oxygen on the planet.

These things produce more oxygen
than the rain forests.

It's remarkable.

It looks like slime.

But without this,
there wouldn't be any animals.

There wouldn't be any complex life
on this planet.

This makes the world.

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In the darkness
of Enceladus's hidden oceans,

there could be no photosynthesis
to capture the sun's energy.

Yet the possibility
of finding life there

isn't entirely hopeless.

This is El Tatio.

It's a massive geyser field.

It sits 4,300 metres above sea level

high in the Atacama desert.

And it's a riot
of hydrothermal activity.

And there's something bubbling
up here

that makes the prospect of life
on the distant moon of Enceladus

just a little more feasible.

But the clue is what we find
here on Earth.

If we look alongside of this geyser,

we see these geyser pearls.

This is silica, SiO2,

that has sintered
out of this geyser water.

And the cosmic dust analyser
on the Cassini spacecraft

has captured grains like this,

except much much smaller.

And the fact that those grains are
found in the plume of Enceladus

leads us back
to the water-rock interaction

where that silica
in the plumes of Enceladus

could only be there

if the ocean of Enceladus is cycling

with an active rocky,
potentially hot, sea floor.

might look like this
The bottom of Enceladus's ocean

but it's cut off from the life-giving
properties of the sun

by kilometres of ice.

So does that make finding life

In the deepest abyss
of our own oceans,

every bit as dark as those
on Enceladus,

life was thought to be impossible

until a remarkable discovery
just a few decades ago

changed all that.

And so in the late 1970s,
spring of 1977,

explorers went down
to hydrothermal vents

along the East Pacific rise.

Originally, they thought that
they might find some hot springs

at the bottom of the ocean.

They did not necessarily expect to
find a tremendous amount of biology.

But lo and behold,
the hydrothermal vents,

despite being at incredible depths,
incredible pressures,

and cut off from the energy
of our parent star,

lo and behold, life was thriving.

And so it may be
that those kinds of ecosystems,

the kind of geology and chemistry
that underlies those ecosystems,

could also power life
within these ocean moons.

This huge abundance of life
was surviving and thriving

despite being totally cut off
from life-giving sunlight.

it was powered
by an entirely separate chemistry.

Here we're bringing together the
keystones for life as we know it,

the keystones for habitability.

We've got the water,
we've got the elements

and we've got a lot of energy.

And the evidence for that
can be found

throughout this seemingly
inhospitable environment.

At the most basic level,

biology is a layer on geology.

Biology is harnessing
some of the stored chemical energy

that exists in chemically-rich
waters interacting with rocks.

And right here
we've got a beautiful example

of exactly that kind of biology
being a layer on geology.

Everything that you see here,
the red that you see,

those are microbes utilising the
rich chemistry of the geyser water.

The presence
of these extreme life forms

thriving in almost alien chemistries

raises real hope for scientists,

not just in the search for life

but in answering one of biology's
most fundamental questions.

Is there a second independent
origin of life elsewhere

within our own solar system?

And if there is,

then that tells us that life arises
wherever the conditions are right

and we live
in a biological universe.

If we don't find life
within these worlds,

then that may be an indication
that the origin of life is hard

and that life is quite rare
within our solar system and beyond.

Both outcomes are equally profound.

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Our solar system may be
largely cold and inhospitable.

But against all expectations,

we're now discovering it's also wet.

But is there only one way
to cook up life?

Could you make it from a different
set of ingredients?

Science fiction writers

But in the cold
hard world of science,

we only have proof of life
as we know it.

But if an ocean really is critical,

does it have to be an ocean of water?

That's question
that drives NASA's Chris McKay.

What I'm really interested
in finding

is what I call
a second genesis of life,

organisms that are clearly not
related to any life on Earth.

All life on Earth is related
to itself, forms a single tree.

You can call that Life 1.

What I'm looking for is Life 2,

something that's not related.

It doesn't have to be
profoundly different

but it has to be different enough

that we can say
with very high confidence

that they are not related to us.

We do not have a common ancestor.

Where such a life form
could feasibly emerge

was anyone's guess

until in 2005,

the world's attention
turned to Titan,

the biggest of the moons
which orbit around Saturn.

At that time, all we knew of it

was that it looked gassy,
orange and lifeless.

We knew that Titan was a fuzz ball
from telescopes.

Before a spacecraft
ever went to Titan,

just looking at Titan
with a telescope,

we could tell
it had a thick atmosphere.

We didn't know the composition
of the atmosphere or its temperature

but we knew
it had a thick atmosphere.

the Cassini-Huygens probe

span by revealing a surface
that was unexpectedly Earth-like.

It was dotted with huge lakes

bearing an uncanny
geographical similarity

to the Great Lakes of North America.

From a physical point of view,

the presence of liquid creates
all these other similarities.

And so we realised that...
liquid on Earth, liquid on Titan...

We expect a lot of commonality
and we see it.

So visually when we look
at these images of the lakes,

we see reflections
of what we see in aeroplanes

when we look down
as we fly over the Great Lakes.

There was one crucial difference

These weren't lakes of water.

They were lakes of methane.

And at minus 180 degrees Celsius,

they're too cold for any life form
with an Earth-like chemistry.

I would contend

that we don't understand the role
of temperature directly in life.

Now, on Earth, of course,

we're used to living

at high temperature.

We're in the fast lane.

We metabolise very rapidly because
we're living at high temperature.

While on Titan,

the liquid there is cold.

If there's life there,
it's obviously in the slow lane.

It's metabolising very slowly.
But so what? What's the rush?

There's not an absolute tempo
that life must keep to.

But is that possible?

Can you have life using methane
rather than water?

With this in mind,

scientists at the picturesque
and very watery

Cornell University in New York

are trying to establish
whether methane-based life

is even theoretically possible.

They took the chemical ingredients
that exist on Titan

and mixed them up.

Not in a test tube,
but inside a computer.

The computer built
a three-dimensional membrane,

the outside wall of a cell.

Except this alien membrane
functions in methane, not water.

It's not life yet.
It's just a house.

But the very first thing
that you have to do

is you have
to have somewhere to shelter.

And a membrane is a way of keeping
the outside to the outside.

A small step
but this was ground-breaking science.

For the first time,
it opened up the possibility

that there could be
a second tree of life.

We tend to think
that life would look like us.

You just have to look at
the Star Trek movies.

All the aliens look like insects
and things that we already know.

But why not be something
completely different,

but something perfectly suited to
the conditions that are on Titan?

But if this extraordinary
computer model is right,

how would we know?

At the moment, we can't physically
search for life on Titan.

But that doesn't mean there wouldn't
be other tell-tale signs

that we can detect.

If we look at carbon dioxide just
out in the field, down the road,

during winter, it rises

And that's because plants take it up
to make leaves.

They pull in the carbon dioxide.
It drops. They make leaves.

In the fall, those leaves fall,

The carbon dioxide comes back up.

So there's a seasonal phase
in carbon dioxide

that's directly due to biological
activity at the surface

consuming and then releasing
that carbon dioxide.

We're pretty sure
there's no vegetation on Titan.

But what could be the equivalent of
the fluctuations of carbon dioxide

that would indicate that something
was alive on the distant moon?

And the answer, we think,
is hydrogen.

Organisms on Titan
would derive their energy

by reacting hydrogen with various
other organic compounds.

So if there was life on Titan,

that life should represent

And that loss of hydrogen
at the surface

would have an effect
on the hydrogen distribution.

So we've said that the way to detect
life on Titan

is to look at the distribution
of hydrogen.

If there's no life, the distribution
will just be flat, uninteresting.

But if there is life
and the life is growing vigorously,

it will eat out the lower part

There will be a depletion
in hydrogen near the surface.

In 2005,

astronomers finally had an
opportunity to test this hypothesis

when the Cassini spacecraft
sent down a probe called Huygens

to land on Titan.

The pictures the probe sent back

there were no obvious signs of life.

But Huygens was doing more
than taking images of Titan.

It was making detailed measurements

As it turned out,

the most important were the readings
it took of hydrogen levels

as it floated down from space
to the surface.

As the probe landed, scientists
noticed something remarkable.

The hydrogen levels dropped abruptly.

When I heard about this result,

for a couple of minutes,
I was ecstatic,

thinking "Oh my god.
This is just textbook science."

Prediction, confirmation
and a Nobel Prize comes next, right?

But reality set in soon after
as I looked at the paper in detail

and considered how easy it is
to jump to the answer you want.

It's really a question of excluding
other possibilities.

On its own, Huygens' sensational
measurement was inconclusive.

What they needed was verification.

so NASA put together a team
of their best and brightest engineers

to design a spacecraft
capable of exploring

the unique and technically
challenging oceans

of this liquid world.

And, after a number of false starts
and dead ends,

they came up with this...

a submarine.

I was reading Twenty Thousand
Leagues Under the Sea

and I thought "Titan has

"What's underneath there?"

If we don't look there,

we really haven't seen
what's going on in Titan.

So we came up with a really long,
long submarine.

As you see from terrestrial

they're usually about ten to one

length to the diameter.

And the reason for this is
it really reduces your drag.

We are obviously
a little power-limited.

We have a lot of communications
to do.

We have four thrusters in the back
which use electrical energy

so we went with
a very long submarine.

If you can get
below the surface of the sea

and get down to the bottom
in certain areas

and actually touch the silt
that's on the bottom and sample it,

and learn what that's made of,

it'll tell you so much about
the environment that you're in.

But if you have a boat
that just drives on the surface,

figuring out how to get a probe
all the way down to the bottom,

get that sample all the way back up
to the surface and sample it,

really becomes
an intractable problem.

There's so many things
that can go wrong doing that.

Instead, we said if we can
encapsulate everything together

in a submarine,

then we could go right down

and come all the way back
to the surface.

So the submarine
allows us to explore

the atmosphere,

to sound with a sonar to the bottom,

to see what the contours
of the bottom look like

then to go down
and actually touch the silt

that's been settling there for
thousands and thousands of years.

But sailing a large one-ton sub

around Titan's super-cold
methane-rich seas

isn't without its problems.

NASA has the technology

to replicate conditions
on the freezing moon.

And this is it.

Inside this huge tank,

scientists can safely and accurately
mix up

the highly volatile cocktail
of chemicals

that make up the atmosphere
of the huge moon.

As we design and build the craft,

we can basically use this facility

to test problems or issues
that come up for the submarine.

So we can use this facility to
basically create the seas of Titan,

the coldness of Titan,
the pressures of Titan.

They have discovered
that one of the biggest problems

of Titan's methane seas

is that they're rich in nitrogen

and that could make it very difficult
to sail the sub around.

There could be so much nitrogen
dissolved in the sea

that, when the propellers
turn on our jets,

it might just make bubbles
and not push against the liquid.

So we're doing analysis now

and hope to do some testing
in the near future

that shows us what happens
if you spin a propeller

in liquid methane and liquid ethane

with lots of nitrogen dissolved
in it...

And can you get any thrust out
or not?

This is a really important question
to answer.

There's other ways to propel
the submarine if that doesn't work.

But the design we came up with
helps us get to that simple place

in terms of space operations.

The sub will be packed
full of scientific instruments

and bristling with cameras.

the scientists feel
But there's one thing

will make the mission
more than anything else.

That first picture, are you kidding?

That first picture from a submarine,
from anybody's submarine,

on the surface of a sea on another
planet in our solar system,

changes the world.

That's something that none of us
have ever seen before.

That is true discovery.

That is why we do any of this.
And that will be awesome.

That first picture alone would make
this entire mission worth it.

No scientist is saying
that the cameras of the Titan sub

will definitely ping back
pictures of living organisms.

But they believe sending a sub
to this strange moon

gives them the best chance
of finding a new form of life.

I grew up when Star Trek
was just coming out.

But the key moment

was when I realised that the job

but Spock's job.

He's the one with the tricorder.
He's the one that's detecting life.

And my favourite saying is "It's
life, Jim, but not as we know it".

I want to be able to say that.

I want to get data back
from a probe,

Titan, Mars, Enceladus, wherever,

and be able to say "It's life, Jim,
but not as we know it".

Is it possible
that we could see stuff

that hints really strongly at life?

It's possible.

We might see things
that look like lichens or algae

growing on the rocks on the shore.

We might see massive stuff on
the surface but we have no idea.

We used to think
that the rest of our solar system

was frozen and dead.

But we now know that there are
oceans of water and liquid

in places we never thought possible.

the New Horizon mission to Pluto

ticked off
the last of the great worlds

But we're only at the beginning
of the quest

to find the holy grail
of space science...


We're through
with the age of discovery.

We've discovered all the planets.

We've got a rough map of them all

and a rough understanding
of how they work.

The next question,

the question that I think should
motivate and guide planetary science

for the next twenty years,

is "Is there any life
in these various and diverse oceans?

Nearly two centuries ago,

Charles Darwin set out on a voyage
of discovery that changed the world.

Perhaps NASA's Titan submarine

will be a modern counterpart
of Darwin's ship, the Beagle,

and in the search
for a new form of life,

will boldly go
where no one has gone before.

Captions © SBS Australia 2016

Hold tight. Yeeeee! Whoo-hoo!

Hold on!

NARRATOR: Fishermen
are a breed apart.

It is very much a Marmite job.

All hail the hake!

I do question my sanity sometimes.

Every trip is a gamble.

You just have to go with your gut
instinct and your experience.

Come up!

Get it right and the crew
can come home with thousands.


Get it wrong
and they can catch nothing...

My worst has been £2.50.

I just want to be there
to support him. they battle against the odds
and the elements.

Things could turn quite nasty
very quickly.

It's the most dangerous job
in Britain, he says.

Now there's a demand
for a new generation

who are tough enough
to endure the call to sea.

I don't know anything about fish.
They swim.

It can definitely break people

I've never, ever succeeded
at anything, you know?

I ain't backing down on it.

Bye-bye, Daddy.
Bye, Daddy.

You learn who you are quite quickly
in this sort of job.

Us fishermen,
you are the last of the hunters.

NARRATOR: It's mid-February
and Brixham scalloper the Van Dijck