It is of course still rather early to say which of 2016’s more regrettable trends will carry over into the 2017 and which will simply be allowed to die, but a physicist from the Imperial College London is doing his part to make sure we all stay hyped about the idea that aliens are waiting for us just around the corner. Simon Foster believes that the moons Europa and Enceladus, which respectively orbit Jupiter and Saturn, will soon yield signs of alien life. “[T]here is a breakthrough just around the corner,” he sagely told the Daily Mail. Let us now discuss why, while Mr. Foster is not exactly wrong to direct his energies and hype up the prospect of life on Europa and Enceladus, he is still basically wrong.

The reason Foster is optimistic enough to claim that we’re really truly about to find aliens is because of the work currently being undertaken by the Cassini probe, which is studying Saturn and its moons — including Enceladus. Yes, Cassini could indeed find signs of microbial life, but the odds are not great. It has to do with the logistics of Cassini itself relative to Europa and Enceladus.

The two moons have a better potential for hosting life than other worlds because they both possess subsurface liquid oceans. But that means they need a probe to be able to actually dig below the surface. Cassini, tasked with flying through and investigating the Saturnian system, already completed its last flyby of Enceladus a year ago. Still, Cassini will be active until September 2017, which Foster and the Daily Mail believe will lead to a startling discovery.

Foster also says that the attention to Mars should arguably be redirected to other ocean worlds. That’s fine; NASA is hyped about them too! There’s nothing wrong with concentrating the search for alien life around distant icy moons — they’re arguably our most promising lead. Their ice means they might have subsurface liquid oceans, which in turn means they might be able to sustain life, though you don’t need me or the Daily Mail or anyone else to tell you what a long shot this all still is. Europa and Enceladus have both proved to be intriguing in their own ways, and certainly more promising than other moons in that there’s not not the possibility of life, but to state that we’re guaranteed some discovery of microbial life in the next calendar year, or whatever “just around the corner” means, is a bit much.


At any rate, after making these points Foster proceeds to tell the Daily Mail that Trump might actually be good for science and alien-hunting because it will simply be the practical investment to make, so you’d be forgiven for not getting quite as hyped about this latest round of aliens-or-maybe-not-but-definitely-stay-tuned.

“I think when he gets in he will be different,” said Foster. “Because from a business point of view, he is going to look at things like hurricanes and how they’ll affect America, so you are going to get more intense and frequent and people are losing their homes and businesses are being ruined by this, he is a businessman and that will cost you tax I think he will take a more pragmatic view on this.”


Photos via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI