Europa and Potential New Habitat for Life

Discussion in 'Science and Nature' started by MelT, Nov 17, 2011.

  1. Evidence for 'Great Lake' On Europa and Potential New Habitat for Life

    \t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\tScienceDaily (Nov. 16, 2011) — In a significant finding in the search for life beyond Earth, scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere have discovered what appears to be a body of liquid water the volume of the North American Great Lakes locked inside the icy shell of Jupiter's moon Europa.

    The water could represent a potential habitat for life, and many more such lakes might exist throughout the shallow regions of Europa's shell, lead author Britney Schmidt, a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics, writes in the journal Nature.

    Further increasing the potential for life, the newly discovered lake is covered by floating ice shelves that seem to be collapsing, providing a mechanism for transferring nutrients and energy between the surface and a vast ocean already inferred to exist below the thick ice shell.

    "One opinion in the scientific community has been, 'If the ice shell is thick, that's bad for biology -- that it might mean the surface isn't communicating with the underlying ocean,'" said Schmidt. "Now we see evidence that even though the ice shell is thick, it can mix vigorously. That could make Europa and its ocean more habitable."
    The scientists focused on Galileo spacecraft images of two roughly circular, bumpy features on Europa's surface called chaos terrains. Based on similar processes seen here on Earth -- on ice shelves and under glaciers overlaying volcanoes -- the researchers developed a four-step model to explain how the features form on Europa. It resolves several conflicting observations, some of which seemed to suggest that the ice shell is thick and others that it is thin.

    "I read the paper and immediately thought, yes, that's it, that makes sense," said Robert Pappalardo, senior research scientist at NASA's Planetary Science Section who did not participate in the study. "It's the only convincing model that fits the full range of observations. To me, that says yes, that's the right answer."

    The scientists have good reason to believe their model is correct, based on observations of Europa from the Galileo spacecraft and of Earth. Still, because the inferred lakes are several kilometers below the surface, the only true confirmation of their presence would come from a future spacecraft mission designed to probe the ice shell. Such a mission was rated as the second-highest priority flagship mission by the National Research Council's recent Planetary Science Decadal Survey and is currently being studied by NASA. On Earth, radar instruments are used to image similar features within the ice, and are among the instruments being considered for a future Europa mission.

    "This new understanding of processes on Europa would not have been possible without the foundation of the last 20 years of observations over Earth's ice sheets and floating ice shelves," said Don Blankenship, a co-author and senior research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics, where he leads airborne radar studies of Earth's ice sheets.

    Schmidt and Blankenship's co-authors are Wes Patterson, planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and Paul Schenk, planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

    The research was funded by the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences, the Vetlesen Foundation and NASA.
    The paper appears as an advance online publication of the journal Nature on Nov. 16.
  2. I saw this earlier on, so amazing, it surely must made Europa the highest priority apart from Mars, do you know anything about any plans afoot for a surface mission?

    I hope we do find life in our solar system and prove it's abundance throughout the universe. Be such an incredible moment for humanity...
  3. I've got to be honest, I'd be a little underwhelmed. I've always accepted that life is spread throughout the universe.

    Whether or not the following will happen, I don't know, but here's an interesting link about NASA's plans for a manned mission:

    Space Agencies Set Roadmap for Manned Mars Mission | NASA, ESA & Space Agencies | Manned Exploration of Mars, Asteroids & the Moon |

  4. You and me might be a little underwhelmed because we're just going to be vindicated, but the vast majority of people don't think of life being very probable elsewhere and to prove alien life would bring about such a paradigm shift and really put us (especially the religious) in our place and tell us that our planet isn't an oddity.

    I definitely think we should revisit the moon, can't believe the Americans managed it 40 years ago now and no-one has been back since. Moon bases then Mars by 2030 would be ideal for me.
  5. Well, I'm not so sure that it would affect everyone, just the spiritual. Whilst people like us revel in new discoveries, I think a lot of things just don't touch a good proportion of the general public. Depending on the type of life we found and whether or not it was headed earth-ward of course.:) I think a headline like 'Bacterial life found on Mars!!' here in the UK wouldn't create much of a stir. They'd be no more challenged by finding basic life-forms on other planets than Santa being proven real....:)

  6. MelT always brings me my dose of space news

    I want to go to Europa in some ice drilling vessel craft and explore its mighty under sea hahahahahh

    I bet its an amazing world under there, life or not
  7. One day, on winning the lottery, I shall happily supply the tickets for us all to go...can you imagine what could be down there?:)


  8. You know, and I know exactly whats down there.....



    LOL sorry, i just had to, that guy makes me giggle every time i see him

    But i can tell you this... ill bring the weed if you supply the tickets, and we shall melt some of that surface ice and fill a fuckin space bong with it
  9. Pack sweaters, that shit is cold. :wave:

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