It is a refreshing fact that the prospects for human survival are substantially higher if we live on two worlds, instead of just Earth. The moon, say, or Mars… every extraterrestrial body poses unique technical challenges to colonization. Yet nearly all are at least potentially habitable – in theory. Our survival prospects climb higher for three worlds, higher still for four. The more worlds we colonize, the more likely a colony on at least one of them will still exist at any given future moment. It’s like flipping quarters: the more you flip, the greater the chance at least one will come up heads.
Last time: Half a Planet is Better Than None: Ceres. This time: Even More Exotic Colonization Options
More exotic colonization options. If Ceres is not exotic enough, let’s consider a few even more distant options. Colonizing the gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune would make colonizing a giant balloon 30 miles above the surface of Venus seem like a piece of cake. These planets are cold, get little sunlight useful for growing food and providing power, have poisonous atmospheres, and don’t have a definite surface to build (or even float) on, because the atmosphere just gets denser and denser (but at least warmer and warmer) as you go down. “Never say never” perhaps, but those places have got to be near the end of most people’s colonization lists. On the other hand, gas giants are not without temptation: some scientists speculate that far enough down, large diamond bergs drift in liquid carbon, which might tempt some to try to fish them out. A typical iceberg on Earth might easily weigh a couple hundred thousand tons; a diamond berg that heavy would weigh 907 billion carats and change (over 180 million carats of “change,” if you want to be nit-picky about it). That’s a big diamond, and expensive too. It would make a mighty fine cocktail ring, don’t you think? Of course the cocktail party would have to be in a reeeeal big hall!
Setting aside the more daring, diamond-struck adventurers, a more likely bet for colonization would be certain moons of these planets. Our solar system has no Pandora, as popularized by the movie Avatar but first described in the Strugatsky brothers’ 1960’s Russian sci-fi series Noon Universe. But Saturn’s moon Titan has rivers, lakes and rain. True, they are mostly of liquid methane, but hey, at least the ground is mostly water ice. Jupiter’s Europa has lots of ice too, with liquid water underneath, but also lots of radiation at the surface. Indeed, considerable water ice is available on many of the moons of the gas giant planets. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune collectively have no less than 14 moons with diameters of over 500 miles — and a lot of smaller moons as well. Of course some of these moons are more forbidding than others.
Talk about forbidding, it’s a cold day in hell on Io, a moon of Jupiter. Io is considered the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Rather than mere ordinary liquid rock, however, what issues forth from Io’s volcanoes has a high sulfur content. Sulfur is the modern name for what used to be called “brimstone,” so Io is hellish indeed. There are even thought to be fuming lakes of the stuff on Io. Yet most of the sulfur (er, brimstone) covered surface is frigidly cold.
At least the intense radiation bathing the surface interacts with Jupiter’s magnetic field to produce huge amounts of high-tension electricity…just waiting to be tapped by its future diabolical, energy-hungry, and doubtless space heater-carrying inhabitants. But who would want to inhabit such a place? Maybe no one. In fact, Io might be the perfect place for punishment — a genuine living hell! A hellish prison from which no one could escape, since prisoners would not be issued space ships. Io puts ordinary supermax prisons to shame. This one is more of a superdupermax. Meanwhile Jupiter hangs in the sky, an enormous, glowing, many-featured orb. It should make quite a beautiful sight (viewed through the required heavy-duty radiation shielding, of course!).
Next time: Pluto and Eris