Where is the best place to find life beyond Earth? We often look to Mars as the most promising site in our solar system, but recent scientific missions have revealed that some of the most habitable real estate may actually lie farther out. Beneath the frozen crusts of several of the small, ice-covered moons of Jupiter and Saturn lurk vast oceans that may have been in existence for as long as Earth, and together may contain more than fifty times its total volume of liquid water. Could there be organisms living in their depths? Alien Oceans reveals the science behind the thrilling quest to find out.
Kevin Peter Hand is one of today's leading NASA scientists whose pioneering research has taken him on expeditions around the world. In this captivating account of scientific exploration, he brings together insights from planetary science, biology, and the adventures of scientists like himself to explain how we know that oceans exist within moons of the outer solar system, like Europa, Titan, and Enceladus. He shows how the exploration of Earth's ocean is informing our understanding of the potential habitability of these icy moons, and draws lessons from what we have learned about the origins of life on our own planet to consider how life could arise on these distant worlds.
Alien Oceans describes what lies ahead in our search for life in our solar system and beyond, setting the stage for the transformative discoveries that may await us.
Kevin Peter Hand is a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he has served as deputy chief scientist for solar system exploration and is currently leading an effort to land a spacecraft on the surface of Europa. He has helped lead expeditions to the glaciers of Kilimanjaro, the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, and the sea ice of the North Pole. He lives in Los Angeles.
"If you enjoy imagining a mission in which humans launch a rocket that contains a spacecraft that releases a lander that launches a space boat – or even a space submarine – Hand's book will help you grasp the full picture."
– Philip Ewing, NPR's best books of 2020
"A NASA scientist looks to the water-rich moons of Jupiter and Saturn, such as Europa, Titan, and Enceladus, as promising sites for the search for life beyond the Earth."
– Publishers Weekly
"[Alien Oceans] describes why studying Earth's own ocean is a crucial chapter in the quest to explore the shores of extraterrestrial seas."
– Nadia Drake, National Geographic
"Alien Oceans offers a historical look – as well as a peek into the future – at one of the most exciting aspects of space exploration. With the technology at hand, we could determine whether there's life beyond Earth."
– Sid Perkins, Science News
"A book that is likely to prove one of the year's most enthralling first-person accounts of a life in science."
– Simon Ings, New Scientist
"Alien Oceans successfully straddles a fine line between accessibility and scientific thoroughness. Hand's book is as fascinating as it is optimistic."
– Tobias Mutter, Shelf Awareness
"What is so captivating about this book is that it isn't just a solid survey of what we've learned in recent decades about the icy moons, but that the narrative is told by an active researcher deeply embedded in these endeavours. Through Hand's eyes we meet many of the key personalities involved and feel the sting of disappointment at cancelled funding or a malfunctioning probe, as well as the soaring excitement of a new discovery."
– Lewis Dartnell, BBC Sky at Night Magazine
"The author discusses how we look for and study alien oceans and what the future holds for this increasingly popular field of research. This is a book well suited to the general public, with very accessible prose, and science interspersed with personal anecdotes and witty analogies."
– Nature Astronomy
"To paraphrase Hamlet, there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt in our philosophy. Hand calls on us to probe the depths of alien oceans to discover them. I agree."
– Robert Zubrin, National Review
"This is a fun, pretty cool book to read [...] Hand's enthusiasm is clear to see, and he has written an accessible book that takes the general reader along with him to illustrate what we already know about Io, Callisto, Titan, Ganymede and Europa too."
– Simon Cocking, Irish Tech News
"This book would make anyone excited about space. The research presented is thorough and the pictures included are amazing. Hand dives into every aspect of life imaginable."
– Rachel Dehning, Manhattan Book Review
"A thoughtful and thought-provoking treatise on the many facets that are being pursued in our quest to discover new worlds and search for life beyond our atmosphere."
– Milbry C. Polk, The Explorers Journal
"Alien Oceans represents an excellent introduction to the search for life in a newly defined zone of possibility. It is a good rendering of how scientific research in extreme environments is carried out, including examples of things that can go badly wrong, and comes across to the reader as the work of someone with a real enthusiasm for his subject. I very much hope that Hand will be our guide on future journeys."
– John Gilbey, Chemistry World
"It's a tale full of scientific twists, and Hand proves an exemplary guide: never going quite where you expect him to go and confidently leading you to ideas that are, as you'd hope, not at all obvious."
– Corey S. Powell, American Scientist
"Kevin Peter Hand has delivered a beautiful portrayal of the science behind our search for life in alien oceans, and the connection to our precious ocean here on Earth. A must-read for all who gaze at the stars above and ponder the abyss below."
– James Cameron
"In this delightful book, Kevin Peter Hand takes readers from the depths of Earth's oceans to those of the outer solar system, describing encounters with magical, alien-like creatures at the bottom of the Atlantic and offering informed speculations about what life could be like in the subsurface oceans of faraway moons. Recounting the story of how we discovered these alien oceans, he gives us a peek at the lives and personalities of some of the scientists who pieced together all the clues. His explanations are full of engaging analogies that will help general readers understand the science needed to think rigorously about life as we know it – and as we do not yet know it."
– Jill Tarter, SETI Institute
"Kevin Peter Hand is an explorer – an explorer of the arctic, of Earth's deep oceans, and of outer space. Now he longs to explore the vast oceans beneath the ice of moons of Jupiter and Saturn. In his book Alien Oceans, he straps you in and takes you along for the ride."
– Christopher F. Chyba, Princeton University
"Hand provides general readers with the tools for understanding the search for life on ocean worlds beyond Earth. His conclusion is clear: go explore these exciting worlds, for they may hold the secrets to the preponderance or scarcity of life in the universe and the origins of life on our own planet."
– J. Hunter Waite, coeditor of Enceladus and the Icy Moons of Saturn
"Hand humanizes the science behind the search for life on icy worlds in our solar system and beyond."
– Gordon Southam, University of Queensland