NASA Scientists Say Alien Life Can Exist On Europa And We Only Have To Scratch The Surface To Find It
According to a new study published in Nature Astronomy, researchers believe that the signs of alien life we have been looking for are just inches below the frozen surface of Jupiter's smallest moon: Europa.
And it won't take much to reach them.
The key to this discovery, according to a team led by NASA scientist Tom Nordheim, is in understanding how radiation levels on Europa change or destroy materials.
Using data from previous Galileo flybys coupled with electron measurements from NASA's Voyager 1, Nordheim and his team found that radiation is more intense at the moon's equator.
The researchers tested how radiation mutates certain amino acids in order to get a better idea of just how deep they'd have to drill to reach biosignatures that are uncompromised by, say, rogue gamma waves.
The resulting models show that, at certain latitudes, radiation penetrates Europa's surface to depths between 4 to 8 inches… But in other areas of the moon, the radiation goes down less than half an inch below the surface.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
"This is the first prediction of radiation levels at each point on Europa's surface and is important information for future Europa missions," said study co-author Chris Paranicas.
His colleague Kevin Hand further explained that, "the radiation that bombards Europa's surface leaves a fingerprint...If we know what that fingerprint looks like, we can better understand the nature of any organics and possible biosignatures that might be detected with future missions, be they spacecraft that fly by or land on Europa."
There is also sufficient evidence to suggest that an ocean lies hidden beneath the surface, which is probably a better place to find early signs of life than anywhere else on Europa.
A map of these radiation levels could help scientists and researchers plan future flight paths and landing locations, for when the day comes that we finally break through the icy crust to plumb the secrets of life in Europa's oceans.