Imagine intelligent aliens on water worlds

Undersea exploration
A future mission to Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter, could send a probe through the ice to explore what’s thought to be an ocean beneath. (NASA / JPL Illustration)

Instead of cave dwellers gathered around a campfire, roasting mastodon meat, imagine an octopus tribe floating around a hydrothermal vent at the seafloor, boiling lobsters.

That’s the scenario sketched out by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist at Germany’s Technical Institute Berlin who’s also an adjunct professor at Arizona State University and Washington State University.

In an essay published today on Smithsonian Air and Space magazine’s website, Schulze-Makuch notes that a fair number of potentially habitable planets could have surfaces completely covered by oceans. Could life arise on such planets? And if so, how technologically advanced could such species become?

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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