Could a Buried Ocean on Jupiter's Moon Point to Life Beyond Earth?




  • In Politics
  • 2019-12-02 09:59:43Z
  • By The Daily Beast
Could a Buried Ocean on Jupiter\
Could a Buried Ocean on Jupiter\'s Moon Point to Life Beyond Earth?  

There's water on Europa, one of 79 moons orbiting Jupiter, NASA just confirmed. And where there's water, there could be life, according to the space agency.

The discovery, which NASA scientists announced in a November paper in the journal Nature, is the latest in a series of findings that point to some form of life possibly sharing the cosmos with Earth's own beings.

Scientists are increasingly convinced that our planet's microbes, plants, insects, fish, birds, lizards and apes aren't the only living things in the universe.

But we won't know for sure unless we investigate every potential sign of life. And that's where NASA, Congress, and the Trump administration keep dropping the ball. It could be more than a decade before NASA launches a mission to travel the roughly 400 million miles to Europa and sample its water.

Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered Europa, by way of telescope, way back in 1610. A series of probes began visiting the moon starting in the 1970s. NASA's Galileo probe orbited Jupiter between 1995 and 2003 and repeatedly scanned Europa with its sensors. In the 2000s scientists began pointing the Hubble space telescope at the smooth, brown-white moon.

That's when they first saw signs of "plumes"-watery geysers periodically jetting up from Europa's icy crust. NASA revealed the plumes in 2013. Three years later, agency scientists began a yearlong survey of Europa using a telescope at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

On April 26, 2016, they observed around 2,000 tons of water vapor in the sky over Europa. That's not really a lot of H2O by galactic standards. Europa's plumes could be "rare localized events," the scientists conceded. But they still might point to life on the frigid moon.

All the probes and scans since the 1970s "have amassed enough additional information about Europa to make it a high-priority target of investigation in NASA's search for life," the space agency stated on Nov. 18.

"What makes this moon so alluring is the possibility that it may possess all of the ingredients necessary for life," NASA continued. "Scientists have evidence that one of these ingredients, liquid water, is present under the icy surface and may sometimes erupt into space in huge geysers."

The problem is, the only mission to Europa that NASA is working on doesn't include the best equipment for investigating the possibility of life. "If your job is to look for life beyond Earth, if your quest is to show that there's life on worlds other than our own, this Europan spritz is a magnificent opportunity," Seth Shostak, an astronomer with the California-based SETI Institute, told The Daily Beast. The SETI Institute searches for extraterrestrial life, primarily by listening for alien radio broadcasts.

"All that may be required to find aliens-albeit, microscopic ones-is to launch a spacecraft towards Jupiter, swing around Europa and robotically grab some of the water vapor the moon shoots your way," Shostak added.

"By either bringing that frozen water back to Earth, or simply examining it with an on-board microscope, we might find some life within-just as we could find bacteria by carefully looking at the water droplets from a sneeze. It may be the quickest way to show that life is everywhere."

But NASA's only new Europa probe, Clipper, is set to launch in 2025 without any ability to scoop up Europa's water. For that, it would need a robotic lander that could actually descend to the moon's surface, bottle up some samples then boost back into orbit. Without a lander, the $4-billion Clipper is limited to conducting remote scans.

There once was a plan to outfit Clipper with a lander. But it was risky. "It is most challenging at Europa due to the temporal nature of the plumes and the high-radiation environment under which the samples have to be collected and the instruments have to gain information," Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astronomer at Technical University Berlin, told The Daily Beast.

The lander scheme had just one champion in Congress, Houston-area Republican representative John Culberson. "He was somewhat single-handedly setting the congressional budget to have a Europa lander," Matthew Siegler, an astronomer with the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, told The Daily Beast.

But Culberson, an 18-year veteran of the House of Representatives, lost his re-election bid in 2018. Funding for the lander dwindled in the 2019 budget. "The money clearly is not going to be there," Siegler said. Spokespersons for the House science committee didn't respond to The Daily Beast's requests for comment.

It's unlikely NASA will make a hard push for more money for Clipper. "You could place the blame of that on the moon, where the current administration is advocating money be spent," Siegler noted, referring to Earth's own moon. The Trump administration is desperate to land astronauts on Earth's moon by 2024, the final full year of a possible second term for Trump.

The moon mission involves several new spacecraft and could end up costing $30 billion. NASA's entire annual budget has been around $20 billion in recent years. A NASA spokesperson didn't respond to a request for comment.

It's possible that, once the Trump-inspired moon mania fades, NASA could mount a fresh mission to Europa-one with a water-collecting lander. Siegler guessed that could happen around 2035, at the soonest.

Of course, by the 2030s, an additional Europa mission might be competing with manned missions to Mars. It might also run afoul of a possible mission to Enceladus, a moon of Saturn that also appears to be capable of supporting life.

"It's worth noting that Europa is, in some sense, in competition with Enceladus, which also has geysers from an underground ocean," Shostak said. "Maybe even more than Europa."

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!

Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Pro Poker Player Was Bound, Sexually Assaulted,
Pro Poker Player Was Bound, Sexually Assaulted, 'Lit on Fire' After Motel Meeting

Susie Zhao, the professional poker player whose charred remains were found in a remote Michigan park in July, was allegedly bound with zip ties and sexually assaulted before she was "lit on fire until she died" after meeting with a convicted sex offender, according to new court documents. Zhao, 33, was last seen around 5:30 p.m. on July 12 by her mother, the White Lake Township Police Department previously told The Daily Beast. The next day, her "badly burned" body was discovered at around 8:05 a.m. in a parking lot near the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, about an hour outside of Detroit. Last week, Jeffrey Bernard Morris, 60, was charged from his hospital bed with first-degree...

These Florida Counties Are Feeling the Heat From DeSantis to Reopen Schools
These Florida Counties Are Feeling the Heat From DeSantis to Reopen Schools

On Tuesday morning, school board members in Hendry County, Florida, logged onto their computers for a virtual "emergency" session about the upcoming school year. For some teachers watching, the meeting amounted to a disturbing surprise. The week prior, the county school board had approved a plan that would require students learn virtually until the county's coronavirus case positivity rate dropped below 10 percent for at least 10 consecutive days. Hendry County, an area 65 miles east of Fort Myers with a population of 42,000, currently has one of the highest infection rates (4.2 percent) in all of southwestern Florida. Multiple teachers in the county told The Daily Beast they'd viewed the...

Belarus Opposition Leader Flees the Country After Days of Bloody Protests
Belarus Opposition Leader Flees the Country After Days of Bloody Protests

MOSCOW-A day after declaring victory in a presidential election in Belarus, leading opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled the country for Lithuania and released two video messages to her supporters under apparent duress. On Monday, the 37-year-old Tikhonovskaya-who had refused to concede victory to President Alexander Lukashenko in what critics called a rigged election in his favor-disappeared for several hours inside the building of the official central election commission, where she filmed the videos calling for protesters to stop contesting the results. She said she was a "weak woman," and hinted at an ultimatum, adding, "Many will judge me now and some will hate me-God...

'I Have 12 Masks': Teacher Stuck Between Rogue Guv and Biker Shitshow

R.I.P.Ms. Hansen.1997-2020.Masks Save Lives.The words appeared on a tombstone-shaped sign 23-year-old rookie special education teacher Lizzie Hansen carried at a demonstration last month, urging her South Dakota school board to mandate masks when the school year begins.The board did go from terming masks "recommended" to deeming them "expected." But it stopped short of what all the authoritative science says it should do."It's not a requirement," Hansen noted in an interview.To make it worse, Hansen recently began spotting bikers rumbling through her part of eastern South Dakota on their way to the once legendary, and now notorious, annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis. A quarter-million...

Is In-Person Voting Really Unsafe?
Is In-Person Voting Really Unsafe?

The fear in Wisconsin was clear. The coronavirus pandemic was still relatively new in early April as the Wisconsin governor's late attempt to delay the fast-approaching primary election was thwarted by a GOP court challenge. And even with a crucial state supreme court seat on the line, along with the presidential primary, some Democrats worried that asking people to head to the polls on election day could be a major health risk.  Four months later, as other states have also taken a similar blended election approach with an emphasis on mail-in voting along with in-person options, those concerns may have not been as far-reaching as some had first feared. But as the country hurtles towards...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Politics