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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Welcome to Europa

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, March 6, 2014/Categories: natural history, space science, adventure

One of the most existential questions posed by us humans is: 'are we alone'? Anyone who has ever looked up at the night sky has pondered this. The classic Hollywood SciFi movie, 2001, A Space Odyssey, explored the idea and Carl Sagan, the great science enthusiast and planetary researcher, narrated an entire television series based on the question. We still don't have an answer but one might be available sooner than you think.

While Mars robots and strange meteorites are providing tantalizing clues on the possibility of past life there, a new NASA probe is being planned to explore Europa, Jupiter's icy moon, that may finally answer the question.


Europa Global Ice Cracks  (credit: JPL)

Europa is completely encased in an icy shell criss-crossed by giant cracks produced by the tidal forces of Jupiter as the moon circles the planet in an elliptical orbit. The Galileo probe photographed the cracks and provide limited radar information that indicated a global ocean under the ice. The ocean could be miles, perhaps hundreds of miles, deep. Galileo explored the Jovian system---actually a mini-solar system of multiple moons---producing possible models of Europa's interior. More recently geysers have been seen to be erupting from some of the cracks as well.

 
Europa Interior Models (credit: Galileo, JPL)         Europa Geysers concept (credit: NASA)

The new Europa probe would determine much more about the moon and if small landing robots were included on the orbiter, they could sample the materials exuded from the cracks to determine any biological origins. That would be very exciting as the little film, Europa Report, envisioned with some startling conclusions.

Welcome to Europa!

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