Where this is water there is life. At least that’s what most in the scientist community believe. Without it, life as we know it is simply not possible. Because of this necessary condition it has been thought (except for the occasional science fiction film) that life in our solar system was limited to our blue planet. That is because only Earth resides in what is known as the Goldilocks zone. This is where our planet orbits the sun. If you are on a planet that is orbiting just inside this zone (Venus) or just outside the zone (Mars) you are out of luck.
However and this is where science gets really cool. There is at least the possibility of some sort of life to exist on Europa which is one of Jupiter’s moons. But how is this even possible.
Although Europa is far too cold for surface water, there is strong evidence of a liquid ocean locked beneath the moon’s icy surface. And where there is water as I said at the start of this article there may be life.
NASA earlier this month actually put out a call for proposals for help in getting to, and exploring Europa.
“This solicitation will select instruments which may provide a big leap in our search to answer the question: are we alone in the universe?” NASA associate administrator for science John Grunsfeld said in a press release.
A review panel will mull the proposals, which are due Oct. 17, and in April 2015 select about 20 for preliminary studies.
Ultimately, about eight instruments would be chosen to fly on a satellite that would either put itself into orbit around Europa or make multiple flybys. The mission, which NASA hopes to do for less than $1 billion plus the cost of a rocket ride, would launch sometime in the 2020s.
Top science objectives for the mission are to:
- Characterize the extent of the ocean and its relation to the deeper interior;
- Characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water, including their heterogeneity, and the nature of surface-ice-ocean exchange;
- Determine global surface, compositions and chemistry, especially as related to habitability;
- Understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity, identify and characterize candidate sites for future detailed exploration; and
- Understand Europa’s space environment and interaction with the magnetosphere.
Europa has become one the most intriguing places in our solar system for man reasons but of course the discovery of ice and more then likely a deep ocean (under the ice) has the science community very excited.
Is Life Really Possible on Europa?
Astronomers have known for some time that Jupiter’s moon Europa is icy, and now scientists are trying to understand just what form that ice takes by using some of the coldest places on Earth as analogues. Huge ice spikes, known as penitentes, found on Earth could form on Europa, they said.
“It’s a pretty obscure geological feature on the Earth,” Dan Hobley, an astronomer at the University of Virginia, toldafter he presented his findings at the 44th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.
The 3.3 to 16.4 foot (1 to 5 meter) spikes of ice only grow in certain parts of the Andes mountains on Earth, but those areas of the world serve as good proxies for what Europa’s geology might be like, Hobley said.
It takes a very specific set of circumstances for penitentes to form, Hobley said. The angle of the sun has to hit the ice in just the right way to keep the spikes of ice standing on end and buried deep into the ground. The blades grow in very dry conditions and can thrive in dirt-filled or clean circumstances.
As far as scientists can tell right now, all of those environments exist along Europa’s equator, Hobley said.
Also Professor Stephen Hawking has said that most alien life is likely to consist of small animals or microbes in planets, stars or floating in space.
But in one scene, shoals of fluorescent animals are depicted living under thick ice on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, while flying yellow predators prey on two-legged herbivores in another (pictured above).
All of this is very exciting and with any luck we will be exploring Eurpoa in the coming decades. If life is found there, of any kind our view of humanity will more then likely experience an evolutionary change.