Europa: Suitable for Alien Life

By Zach Williams

For years, all of humankind has looked skyward towards the next frontier: space. For the most part, life would be terrible in space! Other galactic bodies such as: planets, moons, and asteroids rarely have habitable environments for life. Scientists have been finding some locations, other than Earth, that may be suitable to sustain life. These places have similar conditions that can be found on Earth such as temperature, water, sunlight, and oxygen. These conditions are known to be necessary for life to thrive.

Europa is a moon that was first discovered 400 years ago by Galileo Galilei. It is a moon that orbits Jupiter, which is the fifth planet from the Sun. Jupiter is more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined! Today, Europa is a useful location used in understanding the habitability of icy worlds. Europa is believed to be have internal salt-water oceans that may be within the spectrum of habitability. Evidence of these near surface bodies of water have been discovered by missions including: Galileo, Cassini, New Horizons, Juno and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

However, the surface of Europa is too cold for water to stay in its liquid form. However, the center of the planet is very warm and can melt the ice above, thus creating a subsurface ocean that covers the entire moon. This warm water then seeps up, heated from the planet’s mantle below, and breaks the surface ice into a jumble of large icebergs. The icebergs then flip, float and freeze in place. This is why the surface of Europa appears chaotic, with icebergs, cracks, and gigantic ice formations roughing over the would-be smooth surface of Europa.

Meanwhile back on Earth, Antarctica has over a hundred subsurface lakes much like Europa. One of these lakes, Lake Vostok, may be a possible home for exotic life on Earth and provides a location on Earth to do background research on these environments prior to scientists launching experiments over 600,000 kilometers through space. To prevent drilling fluid from reaching the lake water, scientists plug the bottom of the borehole with a fluid known as Freon, which does not react with water and does not affect the water samples. Pressure is released in the lake and then the lake water flows up the borehole, then freezing and forming an icy plug, protecting the water samples. The Freon is forced back up the drill as a way to protect the samples. If scientists were to find an abundant amount of life in Lake Vostok, they can form a realistic prediction that life will be present on Europa.      

Figure one shows different forms of life that the drill found in the ice above the lake. This shows that there is a very good chance that there may be life in the lake. For example, scientists have found evidence of life such as bacteria and marine diatom, a group of algae, and one of the most common types of phytoplankton. Figure one also shows the three different layers that the drill passes through as it bores towards the bottom of the lake.

Figure 1

Source: http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~mstuding/new_vostok_cartoon_high.jpg                                             click for larger image

All of this science leads to one pretty exciting idea. Life on other planets! This could mean that we have neighbors waiting for us to pick them up on our next rover mission. This is a very complex experiment, but astrobiology is based on experiments and knowledge we gain here on Earth in order to accurately guess what the chances are that life is out there.

Questions:

1. What layer of the ice did scientists find evidence of life: the ice sheet, the accreted ice, or the lake?

2. How do scientists insure that the drilling equipment would not contaminate the samples they take from Lake Vostok?

3. Based on figure one, what evidence of life has been found besides evidence of marine life and of bacteria?

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “Europa: Suitable for Alien Life

  1. Nice job Zach! very good research! I like have you talked about some plants and compared them to Earth. i have a Question you talked about “Europa is believed to be have internal salt-water oceans” can some ocean amianls on Earth live in or on Europa? Hope we find some Aliens Soon!

    • The possibilities are endless, we can find anything because it is such new territory and we have no idea what we could find. I’m excited to see whats possible up there too!

  2. Well thats very interesting! I wonder when the next rover will depart towards Europa and what they will find next. 🙂

  3. This article was very intristing. Very eye opening that there is a strong possibility of life on other planets 😀

    – Eric H.

  4. This is great work, and I love your writing style which is key with what would be usually unfamiliar information for our youth. You wrap the past with the present to produce a great piece for our future. Amazing job my Flight Commander (:

  5. Wow, I enjoyed reading your article!I did not imagine that life would exist in another planet. Thanks for this informational article, remember that AFAHS supports you guys!!!

  6. this is cool zach. if it turns out to be true that Europa has life this would mean that we can find life in other places in the universe. its a really good idea to try to conduct expreiments here on earth before wasting millions of dollars on something that might not even work. Good Work!

    P.S. i want my game back!

  7. Wow, who would have ever thought to have another planet exist, and maybe be suitable for mankind! This is amazing!

  8. I think being able to live on another planet could be the biggest and most prestigous discovery mankind has ever did!

  9. So if there is small bacteria and plankton in Europa is it possible to live there or is it only sustainable for smaller organisms?? And is there any way to change Europa’s climate to make it livable by Humans??

    • There is no way to tell until we get there, but the possibilities are endless! WE could find anything from bacteria, to weird versions or whales or fish. We could change the climate using bio-domes or making a gigantic fire lol.

  10. amazing post! life on another planet would be an amazing discovery, besides aliens. hope they do find something there so we all come make it our next home.:)

    ps. kevin wants his game

  11. Excellent! i Learned a lot. it is very interesting to know that there could be other planets for life. Maybe one day we could all go & visit those planets 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s