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Some researchers have proposed a nuclear-powered drill that could melt its way down to an area shielded from the damaging radiation above the ice. The good news from this is that a lander in the least-radiated locations would only have to dig about 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) into the ice to find viable amino acids. The harshest radiation zones appear as oval-shaped regions, connected at the narrow ends, that cover more than half of Europa. Order now to get your Black Holes Collection from Space & Beyond Box! Perhaps the best way to capture conclusive evidence of life on Europa is to take a photo. Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and These chemical bits and pieces can then reform to create new compounds that could also be useful to microbial life. Other instruments will look for thermal signatures on the surface to detect new bursts, while ice-penetrating radar will measure the thickness of the icy shell. Scientists are working on ways to achieve this, but in the near future, they’ll only be able to take measurements remotely. The presence of magnesium compounds on the surface of Europa suggests that water from the subsurface ocean reaches the surface through springs or vents. Water found in habitable super-Earth's atmosphere for first time. The moon’s subzero temperatures prohibit surface oceans like ours, but scientists in the 1970s discovered an icy shell covering Europa. New research now shows scientists where to look for such organics. While interested in all aspects of space exploration, his primary passion is planetary science. Although no hard evidence yet exists, some scientists suspect that Europa’s tidal heating creates volcanoes and hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, just as tectonic activity does on Earth. But now new research shows that a future lander might only have to “scratch the surface” to access any organic molecules deposited from the ocean below, in areas where there is less radiation exposure. New research provides insights on what might be the best – and easiest – way to search. Source: Preservation of potential biosignatures in the shallow subsurface of Europa. Jupiter’s moon Europa is a promising place to search for evidence of alien life. The presence of magnesium compounds on the surface of Europa suggests that water from the subsurface ocean reaches the surface through springs or vents. But looking for evidence isn’t easy; the ocean lies beneath a fairly thick crust of ice, making it difficult to access. Jupiter’s moon Europa is a promising place to search for evidence of alien life. Above the surface, intense radiation from Jupiter also helps break down molecules. Warm water rising toward the base of the icy shell could cause cracks and other features, such as diapirs, while large chunks of the surface — ice rafts — may detach and float to new locations. The heat and activity in the interior would drive chemical reactions and bring up new material into the ocean. Giant geysers occasionally blast water vapor 125 miles (200 kilometers) above the surface — the equivalent of about 20 stacked Mount Everests. Artist’s concept of the Europa Clipper mission at Europa. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech. Although Europa is just one-quarter the diameter of our planet, it harbors a subsurface ocean twice the volume of the oceans on Earth. “But if we find that life did arise, that frankly makes the universe all the more special.” 0 In 2015, the blog was renamed as Planetaria. That would require drilling through many meters or even several kilometers of ice, depending on the location. If Europa’s interior is highly active, there could be a large exchange of material, which would provide a steady flow of nutrients and even the chemical building blocks for life. Most life on Earth derives its energy from the Sun. At closest approach, Europa Clipper will speed by just 3 miles (5 km) above the surface, low enough to fly through geyser bursts. Mission concepts for the lander to follow Europa Clipper are also being devised, using data from Clipper to select a landing spot. This friction is enough to heat up the moon’s solid interior in a process known as tidal heating. The smashed-up blocks of terrain are a compelling sign that the moon once had a liquid ocean. Enter the Space & Beyond Box Photo Contest! “If life didn’t arise [on Europa], that makes life on Earth all the more special,” Niebur says. Now, NASA is getting ready to send a spacecraft there to find out more. NASA's Europa Clipper will find out if Jupiter's icy moon is habitable. Open fissures on the surface might allow these compounds to eventually circulate below. On Earth, life flourishes in the warm water around undersea vents. Since material from the subsurface ocean is thought to be able to come up to the surface through cracks or weaker areas of ice, it should be possible to sample it right on the surface without needing to drill. “Biologists still struggle to put a definition on what is alive and what is not alive,” says Curt Niebur, a scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “It’s hard enough [searching for life] on Earth, so doing that halfway across the solar system with a robotic spacecraft is even more difficult, more complicated, and more challenging.”. View our Privacy Policy. Data from the Hubble Space Telescope in 2013 showing the location of a water vapor plume. Studies of the surface ice show it is largely water ice with a smattering of related compounds like hydrogen peroxide, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. November 10th 20 __Dan Robitzski__ Filed Under: Hard Science. A concept for a Europa lander samples the moon’s surface in this artist’s rendering, which also shows a plume erupting in the background and the gas giant Jupiter hanging in the sky. Europa’s icy crust contains a wealth of interesting topography that hints at the moon’s geologic past. Jupiter's moon Europa is a promising place to search for evidence of alien life. Europa Clipper’s mission team is examining possible orbit paths, and proposed routes pass over many regions of Europa that experience lower levels of radiation. Voyager 1 and 2 took the first close-up images of Europa when they flew through the Jupiter system in 1979. That data was then combined with other data from laboratory experiments documenting how quickly various radiation doses destroy amino acids. Image via NASA. Drilling through the thick ice crust on top of it for a sample would be difficult though. When we examine materials that have come up from the subsurface, what are we looking at? Life on Europa Might be Easy to Find. That would be a huge advantage, and it would be possible to send a lander to a location where there is a relatively fresh deposit not yet completely degraded by radiation. Both missions should be able to bring us closer to knowing if any kind of life exists in Europa’s dark ocean. However, such images generate a lot of data, and the proposed lander’s power supply and communications bandwidth for sending information back to Earth is limited. Is it better to use a telescope or binoculars to observe space? On Earth, microbes can live near deep-sea vents where warm, chemical-rich material bubbles up. While the shell’s thickness is uncertain — best estimates range up to dozens of miles — scientists are certain that a liquid ocean circulates beneath. Plants use the Sun’s energy directly, while we — and other animals — use the products they create. Join Us in Tucson for Our Annual Public Star Party! However, Europa’s harsh conditions likely relegate life below the surface, where the distant Sun doesn’t shine. It is almost certain now that plumes of water vapor can erupt from the surface, originating from the ocean below, where they could be sampled and analyzed by a flyby or orbiting probe. “There’s not much data you can send back from the mission, so we’re going to need a computer algorithm to say, ‘This picture is actually interesting and we’ll send it back to Earth,’” Nadeau says. Missions will likely be able provide proof of habitability, but not signs of on. Various radiation doses destroy amino acids would still be recognizable tantalizing possibility of alien life of radiation the... Instruments vying for those necessities, Nadeau is trying to understand what they might be released through hydrothermal on! Surface of Europa Survive on a planet Orbiting a Black Hole renamed as Planetaria heat source:.! 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