This Is How NASA Plans to Find Alien Life on Europa

Friday, 27 October 2017 - 11:54AM
Space
Europa
Alien Life
Yes
Friday, 27 October 2017 - 11:54AM
This Is How NASA Plans to Find Alien Life on Europa
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
If we're ever going to discover alien life, this might be how we find it. 

After years of speculation and painstaking research, NASA scientists finally believe that they have everything prepared and ready to begin a thorough search of a faraway moon for signs of life.

The moon in question, Europa, orbits around the gaseous planet of Jupiter.

Thanks to Europa's Earth-like climate and atmosphere, scientists have long believed that the moon could well support life, but until recently, there was no map of the moon thorough enough to enable a detailed, comprehensive investigation into all of Europa's various nooks and crannies.

Much like Earth, Europa plays host to large salty oceans full of oxygen and various minerals that would be of a huge benefit to animal and plant life.

These are the same conditions that first saw life start on Earth, so it's theorized that Jupiter's moon may contain aliens in some form, buried deep under a large icy crust that's formed around the entire planet (but which is periodically punctuated by large geysers of bubbling water).

This crust is a problem, not just for the challenge of contacting intelligent alien life (as one scientist theorized recently), but also because it makes actually exploring Europa far more difficult.

Nevertheless, NASA is preparing for the first step of its plan to seek out life on Jupiter's moon; a mission that could end up costing as much as $4 billion.

Named the Europa Clipper mission, the plan involves a solar-powered robot skimming the surface of the planet, taking as many photos as possible in order to build a far more detailed, comprehensive map of the environment, which scientists can study to gain a better understanding of the planet.

This new map will build upon the existing map that's only just been completed by research teams after decades of work.

Manually stitching together a series of photographs of the planet's surface from several different probes, the teams that created the current map had to contend with differing lighting challenges that significantly slowed down progress.

According to UCLA graduate student Erin Leonard, while the current map covers the entire planet, it's far from perfect:

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"Sometimes the light is coming from directly overhead, essentially noon, while other [times] it is lower on the horizon, late afternoon. This can make the shadows and the color of the surface vary from image to image. It can be like trying to map the US where in only a few images you could see something the size of the White House, while in most other images you could discern only cities such as New York City or San Francisco."
Closing quote


The Europa Clipper mission will improve upon the current map by getting a much clearer look at Europa, which may or may not turn up signs of life.

Depending on the results, NASA is also anticipating another $4 billion study to launch somewhere after 2030 that will involve sending an autonomous robot to the surface of the planet in order to get a far more up-close look at things.

With any luck, one of these studies will turn up evidence of alien life, even if it's buried miles underneath the planet's icy surface in the cool salty ocean that surrounds the planet.

We're hardly expecting to bump into E.T. on Europa, but if we're very, very lucky, we might at the very least find something wriggly and squishy that proves that humans aren't entirely alone in the universe.
Science
NASA
Space
Europa
Alien Life
NASA's Plans for Finding Alien Life on Europa
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Yes