Although the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system has focused on Mars for many years (and it still might be found there), increasing attention is now being paid to Jupiter’s moon Europa. That’s because the scientific consensus now is that Europa almost certainly boasts an ocean, hidden beneath a shell of ice.
Life on Earth originated in the ocean. Could life have similarly arisen in Europa’s ocean?
We’ll have to go there to find out. Both NASA and the European Space Agency are actively studying launching a mission to Europa within the next decade, but even before that happens, technologies that could help us explore beneath the ice shell are being tested here on Earth. (Via Universe Today.)
This week–February 11 to 15–researchers are testing the NASA-funded ENDURANCE (Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic Antarctic Explorer), a robotic probe designed to swim on its own under ice, creating 3D maps of the underwater environment, collecting data on environmental conditions, and taking samples of microbial life. The testing is taking place in Lake Mendota on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison; later this year, the probe will be shipped to Antarctica for tests in permanently frozen Lake Bonney.
Manwhile, a team of U.S., Russian and Asutrian scientists are already heading to Australia to look for life in another Antarctic lake, Lake Untersee. Always covered in ice, Lake Untersee has a pH level closer to that of bleach than regular lake water. It’s also the planet’s single largest natural source of methane. All of these things mean conditions there may well resemble conditions in Europa’s ocean and other locations in the outer solar system.
One question: is life found on Europa European, or Europaen? Copy editors want to know!
(Image: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.)
[tags]solar system, NASA, space exploration, extraterrestrial life, Europa[/tags]