Words by: Jonathon Davidson
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Europa is kind of like the lovable black sheep of the solar system. It’s weird, defies common understanding and nobody really knows what its deal is. First discovered in 1610, and then only hypothesised about until 1973 when the Pioneer 10 probe from Earth finally got that far, Europa has long been a source of discussion, dispute, commentary and even inspiration – 2010: A Space Odyssey, the sequel to classic mindbender 2001: A Space Odyssey, features Europa as the one other planet in our solar system harbouring intelligent life.
Actually, in that movie – set in 2010 – the concluding scenes see an aggressive energy beam shot from the black depths of Europa’s oceans. The cause of current and renewed speculation surrounding Europa occured in 2012, when it was observed that unfathomably huge plumes (think geysers) of liquid water were erupting from Europa and shooting out beyond its atmosphere.
If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, you’re probably a crusty old dean.
Yesterday, NASA science chief John Grunsfeld has referred to upcoming satellite missions to Jupiter’s Moon Europa as “our chance” to investigate whether or not alien life does, could have or can exist on the frozen but water-rich planet, Mike Wall of space.com reported.
For quite some time now, experts have claimed that evidence suggests there is a liquid ocean similar to our own trapped underneath a top layer of icy crust. And, with better technologies, we are finding more evidence to suggest that this same mysterious body of water could indeed support life.
The 2012 discovery of liquid water jets have given chance for a probe to literally swoop in and collect a sample of Europa’s ocean, like a cheeky seagull nicking some of your chips.
Although, don’t hold your breath – the Jovian-System bound probes won’t get there until the 2030s, and by then we’re meant to be too busy dealing with sentient artificial intelligence.
Grunsfeld’s comments prompted an article that received attention on popular Facebook page I Fucking Love Science.
NASA are awaiting approval from Congress on $18.5 billion in funding for the Europa mission, which is predicted to go through after the White House recently allocated $30 million for the mission to Europa and other missions surveying Jupiter currently undergoing development.