NASA Scientists Currently Devising Ways to Search for Alien Life on Europa

Friday, 20 February 2015 - 11:23AM
Space
Astrobiology
Europa
Friday, 20 February 2015 - 11:23AM
NASA Scientists Currently Devising Ways to Search for Alien Life on Europa

With NASA's game-changing announcement that they will send a probe to search for alien life on Europa, NASA's scientists are currently hard at work devising a strategy to search for life on Jupiter's icy moon in the most effective way possible.

 

"This is our chance," NASA science chief John Grunsfeld said to Space.com of searching for alien life on Europa. "I just hope we don't miss this opportunity for lack of ideas."

 

So far, the mission is officially a flyby, with NASA's clipper set to enter Jupiter's orbit and make 45 flybys of Europa over three-and-a-half years. It is expected to not only study the nature and composition of the moon, but also to investigate the subsurface ocean under Europa's icy shell, which NASA has already predicted contains alien life forms. But NASA scientists are attempting to think outside the box, as there may be other avenues towards finding alien life.

 

"I don't want to be sitting in my rocking chair 20 years from now and think, 'We should have done something,'" said Grunsfeld.

 

In addition to studying the subsurface ocean, the researchers are also mulling over a means of studying the observed plume of water vapor venting from Europa. We're not entirely sure that it's there, or that the probe will be able to find it if it is, as the evidence shows that it may only appear sporadically. But if the probe is able to find it, it could collect some material from the plume and examine it for signs of life, including certain amino acids that serve as the building blocks of life.

 

"If you get 20 amino acids, all with the same chirality, that would be, I think, compelling," said NASA's Chris McKay. Chirality refers to the "handedness" of amino acids, in which amino acids that serve as the building blocks of life on Earth are "left-handed," and all others are "right-handed." If "left-handed" amino acids are found, then that would be a strong indicator that Europa is, in fact, host to alien life forms.

Science
NASA
Space
Astrobiology
Europa

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