Space life sciences

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 32–44 | Cite as

The prospect of life on Jupiter

  • Cyril Ponnamperuma
  • Peter Molton


Recent research into the possibility of there being life in the Solar System other than on the Earth has suggested that Jupiter may be a good candidate. The reactions within its atmosphere, both photolytic and electrical, lead to the formation of many nitrile and amino compounds. We have simulated electrical discharges in the Jovian atmosphere, using anhydrous methane-ammonia mixtures, and shown the formation of simple aliphatic nitriles, amino-nitriles, and their oligomers. Including hydrogen sulfide in the gas mixture, it appears that sulfur-containing amino-nitriles are not formed, since the hydrolysate of the products did not contain the corresponding amino-acids. There is a strong analogy between these reactions and the classical spark reactions simulating the primitive Earth's atmosphere. We are attempting a closer simulation of Jupiter's atmosphere by using appropriate temperature and pressure conditions. It seems that prebiotic synthesis on Jupiter may have reached an advanced state.

As an alternative approach we have tested the survival ability of common terrestrial microorganisms in aqueous media at 102 atmospheres pressure and at 20°C. in a simulated Jovian atmosphere.E. coli, S. marcescens, A. aerogenes andB. subtilis will all tolerate 24 h. under these conditions with conditions with little death.

The ability of terrestrial organisms to survive Jovian atmospheric conditions, coupled with the likelihood of advanced prebiotic synthesis, suggests that a parallel evolution of life may have occurred on Jupiter and Earth, and that the two forms need not be so different as has been supposed.


Hydrogen Sulfide Hydrogen Cyanide Terrestrial Organism Aerobacter Aerogenes Jovian Atmosphere 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cyril Ponnamperuma
    • 1
  • Peter Molton
    • 2
  1. 1.Dept. of Chemistry, Laboratory of Chemical EvolutionUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkU.S.A.
  2. 2.Exobiology DivisionNASA Ames Research CenterMoffett FieldU.S.A.

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