Could life exist on far-flung Quaoar?

11 October 2002

Is it possible that tiny Quaoar could harbour life? This asteroid-like body of rock and ice, recently discovered orbiting the sun beyond Pluto, probably has a temperature of just -250 degrees Celsius.

To put this into perspective, the lowest temperature here on Earth was recorded in Antarctica in 1983, where a reading of -89.2 degrees Celsius was made.

So if life has ever existed on Quaoar, it would surely be snap frozen by now.

Life on Earth is largely based on carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. These basic building blocks for life are fairly ubiquitous throughout the universe, so if life has cropped up anywhere else, it's reasonable to expect it to be made up of these things.

If it's intelligent life we're looking for, we will certainly have to look outside of our humble solar system though. The current consensus about the possibility of life existing elsewhere in our solar system is that it would be microbial at best - long gone are theories that Little Green Men might occupy a ecological niche on a neighbouring planet.

But first things first: before astrobiologists can get a feel for how common intelligent life might be in the cosmos, they need to know how many other planets and solar systems are out there. For instance, if it turns out that there aren't many at all, there would be little hope of finding many interstellar pen-friends. Hence, the exciting search for new planets.

There is already one concrete and indisputable example of life in the universe, and that is life on Earth. So the logical place to look for other life is on planets that are similar to Earth. How common are Earth-like planets then?

Topic contact: Last updated: October 4, 2013