Author : Patricia Stewart, featured writer

The USS Jovian Explorer skimmed above the turbulent cloud tops of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. The large clamshell doors on its underbelly slowly opened and locked into position. Moments later, the restraining clamps released the Simon, a two-man research “submersible.” The nearly spherical vessel plummeted downward and disappeared into the yellow-orange mist. After safety deploying her charge, the mother ship activated her antigrav engines and lifted into a higher orbit to temporarily escape Jupiter’s lethal radiation belt.

When the submersible descended to 60,000 km above Jupiter’s core, the pilot, Jonah Grumby activated the antigrav thrusters and gradually slowed their decent, eventually leveling off at 50,000 km. Although the craft had the ability to maneuver, they elected to ride the winds to reduce buffeting. “OK, Hector, you can begin collecting data.”

“Roger that. Wow, this atmosphere is pretty soupy. Besides hydrogen and helium, sensors show: methane, ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide, condensed water vapor, and a bunch of other hydrocarbons. I’m also picking up the larger molecules too. At least ten amino acids: arginine, glycine, lysine, valine… Well, this is interesting. There are polypeptides, and some pretty complex proteins too. Hey, I think we have all of the ingredients for life here. Let’s drop down another 10,000 klicks. If the atmosphere thickens much more it might behave like a liquid. Maybe we can find some single celled organisms.

“Z minus 10,000 it is. In fact, let’s have a look outside.” As the ship descended, he opened the iris covering the one-meter in diameter observation port, and activated the floodlights. It looked like an upward flowing snowstorm. When they leveled off, the streaking “snowflakes” resolved into small randomly moving specks. Under the magnifying effect of the observation port, however, the “snowflakes” appeared to be little jellyfish-like creatures with four flapping wings. As they prepared to collect specimens to take back to the mother ship, a “flying fish” about the size of a large dog flew past the observation port. It had a huge gaping mouth almost as large as its body. “I guess it’s a filter feeder,” Hector suggested. “I don’t see any eyes. I wonder how it knows where it’s going?”

“It probably doesn’t need eyes. There’s no natural light this deep. I’m going to go further down. Their food chain must be based on Chemosynthesis. Jupiter produces three times more energy than it receives from the sun. There must be something akin to hydrothermal vents, or maybe an entire hydrothermal ocean that’s driving the whole ecosystem.” At 28,000 km, they plunged into a liquid ocean. The ship rocked and creaked, but the force field maintained the hull’s integrity. A three meter long streamlined creature, about half the size of the Simon, approached the submersible. It also had a large mouth, including an impressive arsenal of teeth. “Well, well, I guess this menacing looking fella must be the top of the food chain.”

As they watched the hypnotic movements of the new creature as it investigated the submersible’s lights, a distant shadow began to grow larger, and larger, and larger. By the time it reached the illumination field, all that was visible were two rows of teeth, as one row passed above, and the other below, the Simon. “No, Jonah,” said Hector, “I believe this guy is the top of the food chain.”

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