The Moon & the Solar System, Page 4

Our Future in Space: The Moon & the Solar System

Alfred McEwen

I’d really like to get back to Io. Io was my first love. It’s a tough sell because there are very dim prospects for finding life as we know it on Io. It’s dry, it’s sulfurous—hell, basically. It’s not a nice, warm, cozy place for life as we know it. But it’s spectacular with all the active volcanism. The time hasn’t been right to send a dedicated mission to Io, but maybe that time will come.

Don McCarthy

You would’ve thought that we’d learn everything about the planets by now. But it keeps getting more and more surprising. I am amazed by the activity on Saturn’s moons, the geysers from Enceladus. To be honest, I’m convinced it has to happen on Pluto now. Pluto’s atmosphere has waves in it. Something has to cause the waves. There has to be activity of some kind on the surface of Pluto. It’s too small a place to see it directly, so you’ve got to probably wait until 2015 when the spacecraft goes by. But they should see geysers or some sort of activity on Pluto.

The solar system just keeps surprising, whether it’s individual objects or how they interact with each other. To me that’s one of the most beautiful parts of it, to see the orbital relationships. The solar system has a lot to tell us yet, about individual objects and their general patterns. Then to relate that to other solar systems that are being discovered is pretty amazing. 

I think NASA’s about to have another press release that says there’s another planetary system somewhat like ours that’s being discovered. Those are rare. There are very few systems that are like our own. It’s kind of funny because people argue that planets formed from a common process that occurs naturally by the formation of stars. That does seem to be true, but we can’t reproduce the exact details of our own solar system. All these planets are different; where they are, how they’re situated. The Earth may actually still yet be fairly unique.

That could be wrong, because we don’t have the technology to see Earth-like planets yet. But where we are in our orbit, how long we’ve survived, and with the Moon that we have, it seems at the moment to still be very special and unusual.