Many point to the ecosystems at the Galapagos black smokers as proof that life is possible in underground oceans, say, hidden under the kilometers of glaciers on the surface of Europa ("Hydro-sub-glacean life"). The tidal forces created by the gravity of Jupiter can power a lot of black smokers.
The upper kilometers of the liquid oceans freeze, forming a glacier layer which prevents the oceans from boiling away into the vacuum of space. Because such ice worlds tend to have little or no atmosphere.
Most humans would agree that a planet where you have to live underwater under kilometers of ice in mindless darkness would qualify as a "miserable hell-hole".
Interesting implication: if ice-world ocean life is possible , this means is that such life will be far more common in the galaxy than terrestrial life. After all, there are several such moons in our solar system, and only one Terra (Europa, Enceladus, Ganymede and Titan). If there are four such moons, then throughout the universe iceball life will outnumber liquid water life four to one, on average.
From a human standpoint, it is a good thing that it is about tens times as hard to make a conquering starfleet by using aquatic technology compared to using conventional tech. Otherwise ice-world life would rule the entire universe by sheer numbers alone.
However, if the aliens like to live on the same kinds of planets that Terrans do, the way to bet is that eventually there will be war. Eventually Terrans or the aliens (or both) will become anxious about the rapidly decreasing amount of unoccupied real estate, and then the shooting starts. Some say the basic cause of war boils down to "Two Monkeys And One Banana". Well, the biggest banana of them all is Living Space.
A wild card to prevent war is if one or both species like living in mobile asteroid habitats (Macrolife). Since there are a virtually unlimited supply of unique fixer-upper asteroids suitable to to be converted into living space, this might delay the advent of a shooting war.
Alternatively, if a species is a primitive civilization with the misfortune to live in an Elder God Galaxy, it has to keep a real low profile in order to survive. Starting a shooting war will attract Elder God attention, and the species will rapidly be eradicated by the Elder God equivalent of pest exterminators.
As a side note, one can use the time between apes and angels for the "average lifespan of a technological civilization". Insert this into the Drake equation along with a few other guesses and you can calculate the average distance between alien civilization homeworlds. (and of course the distance between Terra and the closest aliens).
I say "homeworlds" because they might have colonized nearby stars to form an empire. In this case the homeworld will probably be in the center of the empire's sphere of influence. Therefore the closest aliens will be the average distance between minus the radius of their empire. Go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "HOMEWORLD".
If you already have an idea of how close you want civilizations to be spaced, you work the Drake equation backwards. Keep altering the values until you get the spacing you want. But now you have to live with the consequences of those various values, and their implications.
Gas giant planets are very unattractive places for humans to colonize. Blasted things do not have a real surface, the atmosphere just gradually thickens into a slush, which gradually thickens into metallic hydrogen or something.
Somewhat arbitrarily the "surface" of a gas giant (zero point for altitudes) is set when the pressure reaches 1 bar (average sea-level pressure on Terra). The vague "top" of Jupiter's atmosphere is roughly 5,000 kilometers above the surface. The "cloud-top" level of Jupiter's atmosphere is where the pressure is about 0.1 bar (50 km above surface). Confusingly astronomers decided the base of the atmosphere (base of the troposphere) is not at the "surface", it is below that where the pressure reaches 10 bar (90 km below surface). The atmosphere starts turning into a slushy gas at about 13 bar (95 km below surface). And it turns into a slushy liquid at about 5,000 bar (at 1,000 km below surface, and 1,700° C).
But long before you get to the slushly liquid state the pressure will grow high enough to make your spacecraft implode and the temperature will melt the ship. Presumably any native life form on such a planet will either perpetually float in the upper atmosphere, or be very crush-proof heat-resistant slush swimmers.
Atmosphere fades into
|+1,000||1 nbar||Bottom: exosphere|
|+320||1 μbar||Bottom: thermosphere|
Top: troposphere (tropopause)
"cloud top" (start of haze layer)
|+46?||Top: Sinker zone|
|0.6||145||Top: Ammonia cirrus cloud level|
|0.9||150||Bottom: Ammonia cirrus cloud level|
|0||1.0||165||-108°||Datum (ave. Terran sea-level)|
Top: Ammonia-sulfur cloud level
3He scoop mining level
|2.0||200||-73°||Bottom: Ammonia-sulfur cloud level|
|3.0||Top: Water clouds level|
|7.0||Bottom: Water cloud level|
Center of sinker zone
Floater feeding zone?
|-95?||12.9||Top: Hydrogen becomes slushy gas|
|-185?||250?||500?||230°?||Bottom: Sinker zone|
Top: Organisms incinerated
Top: Hydrogen becomes slushy fluid
Pressure of Mariana Trench
|2,000,000||10,000||9,700°||Top: Metallic hydrogen|
Values with question marks were calculated with linear interpolation.
Carl Sagan and E. E. Salpeter postulated floating organisms could exist in the temperate regions of Jupiter's atmosphere in a 1975 paper. An entire ecosystem, with aerial plankton grazed on by sky whales, who were preyed on in turn by flying sharks. This was later featured in Sagan's documentary series Cosmos.
In Sagan and Salpeter's paper, "sinkers" were aerial plants that were born in the upper troposphere and gradually fell to their death in the inferno of Jupiter's lower atmosphere. Along the way they grew by photosynthesis using blue light and abundant atmospheric methane, water, and ammonia. They also reproduced by emitting tiny spores, stimulated by moving from region of depleted resources into a region of abundant nutrients. The spores were carried up to the upper troposphere by atmospheric turbulence, where the cycle of life starts anew. The paper calculates that a sinker has a size of about 30μM (about the size of a small terrestrial protozoa) and will take about two months to fall from the birth altitude to the incineration altitude. Later Sagan upped the size estimate to up to the size of a toy balloon.
Alternatively sinkers can grow by becoming a colony creature. The component creatures reproduce and the colony grows. When it sinks too close to incineration depth, the colony disperses into individuals. These are small enough to rise to safe altitudes by atmospheric turbulence. Paper estimates a colony can contain about 10,000 if colony and individuals do not exceed max size.
"Floaters" are herbivores. They feed on the sinkers, and use the extra metabolic energy to maintain float bladders. This allows them to avoid falling to a fiery death. One way to float is to pump their bladder such that it contains close to pure hydrogen, instead of the hydrogen-helium mixture composing the Jovian atmosphere. The other is to use metabolic energy to heat the atmosphere inside the bladder (since hot hydrogen-helium is lighter than cool hydrogen-helium). Heating will require a larger bladder than pumping helium. The paper calculates that it is possible to have floaters with sizes measured in kilometers.
And where you find herbivores you generally also find carnivores preying upon them. The "hunters" kill and eat floaters, using the more concentrated food energy to allow stalking and chasing. Hunters are also after their prey's store of purified hydrogen inside their float bladders.
There is a second class of (thermoresistant) floaters called "scavengers", living just above the hot zone and eating the steady fall of incinerated sinkers, or the incinerated bodies of dead floaters and hunters.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke expanded upon this theme in "A Meeting With Medusa" and in 2010: Odyssey Two. These stories featured creatures that were sort of a cross between a titanic jellyfish and a zeppelin. A similar ecosystem is in Ben Bova's novel Jupiter. There are also "sky whales" appearing in Dr. Robert Forward's Saturn Rukh.
As a rule, intelligent species that inhabit terrestrial planets (such as our species) do not have much interaction with intelligent aliens who live on gas giants. In the general this is because we and they have little or no common frames of reference which makes communication difficult. In the specific it is because we and they do not covet each other's real estate so there is no reason to go to war. In Poul Anderson's galactic novels, the human galactic empire and several gasworlder empires interpenetrated each other and ignored each other.
There are exceptions, such as Kevin J. Anderson's Saga of Seven Suns series. In the first novel, the human empires are unaware of the existence of the Gasworlders ("Hydrogues"). This proves to be unfortunate. The humans figure it is acceptable to test a device which converts planets into blazing suns on a gas giant since everybody knows there is no intelligent life there. When a Hydrogue planet is converted into a blazing sun along with all the Hydrogue inhabitants, the remaining Hydrogues in the Hydrogue Empire become very very angry. The humans are flabbergasted when every gas gas giant in their entire empire suddenly erupts with Hydrogue battle fleets. Hilarity ensues as the diamond-armored Hydrogue dreadnoughts start kicking the living snot out of the human planets.
Another exception is described by Hal Clement here, where humans and jovians interact exactly like they were engaged in a war, but they are not. Humans are scoop-mining Jupiter's atmosphere, and the Jovians become furious at hypersonic scoopships obliterating their orchards, gardens, and flocks; not to mention Jovian citizens. So the Jovians start attacking the human scoopships. Humans will retaliate, and the net result will be very hard to distinguish from actual warfare.
Alternatively, the Jovians might see the scoopships as valuable concentration of metals, and start harvesting the scoopships. In that case the Jovians might limit the number of scoopships they grab, or the humans might get fed up and stop sending them.
Phil Masters, in his article for the game Traveller about his gas giant dwelling Jgd-Ll-Jagd aliens, had this to say: The chief point to note in such systems is that fuel-skimming a Jgd world is extremely unwise; shock waves from the pass will cause severe damage to the beings and their environment, and their response is certain to involve high-energy weapons fire. For this reason, Jgd systems are well-marked with navigational beacons. (Traveller tramp merchant ships routinely skim gas giants for free fuel)
But the unanswered question is how do intelligent gas giant aliens develop science and technology? There is no access to metals, there is no access to fire, heck, there is no access to solid ground to store your stuff. Science fiction authors usually postulate that the gas giant aliens were given (or sold) high technology by some star-faring race that evolved on a terrestrial planet, or the gas giant dwellers can created artifacts by using organic technology with built-in floatation bubbles.
From Starcom: The U.S. Space Force, episode #1 "Nantucket Sleighride"