Europa

What’s cooler than a vacation to Europe? A probe sent to Europa, one of Jupiter’s 60+ moons, and possibly a celestial body in our solar system that could harbor life.

Scientists have for years wondered about the strange, complex surface textures of this moon.

Slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and probably has an iron core. It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is composed of ice and is one of the smoothest in the Solar System. This surface is striated by cracks and streaks, while craters are relatively infrequent. The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably serve as an abode for extraterrestrial life.This hypothesis proposes that heat energy from tidal flexing causes the ocean to remain liquid and drives geological activity similar to plate tectonics.

Just in the last few months, have determined that, indeed, the surface is made up of ice that shows relatively recent activity from underneath.  The idea from many in the space community is to send an advanced probe to this moon, and either drill or melt through the 3-kilometer-thick surface to the water oceans below.

The task is going to be monumental to complete, and in the age of budget-slashing, NASA may not get the funding it needs to get this off the drawing board. Who knows what a probe would discover, if it could ever complete its mission. We do know that strange, primitive life exists at the bottom of our own oceans, where no sunlight ever reaches.  Thermal vents near the earth’s mantle pump out heat that make this life possible.

In 2006, Robert T. Pappalardo, an assistant professor in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder said,

We’ve spent quite a bit of time and effort trying to understand if Mars was once a habitable environment. Europa today, probably, is a habitable environment. We need to confirm this … but Europa, potentially, has all the ingredients for life … and not just four billion years ago … but today.

We can be sure that if a scientific probe beamed back images of strange alien life swimming under the icy shell of Europa, our existence would never be the same. Let’s go!

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