I just finished watching a video with Bill Nye, who says he wouldn’t be surprised if they found life on Europa in the next 20-30 years:
And the reason we talk about Europa so often and so much in my little space community is because it has twice as much seawater as the Earth. And for years people who looked at Europa did not think it was good or well advised to plan a mission there because of the great expense. You would have to have a lander and then you’d have to have some kind of amazing drill to drill through, pick a number, 20 or 50 km of ice to get to this seawater. And so the surface of Europa is frozen. It’s a crust of ice, water ice, but below it is liquid water and it’s kept liquid by the gravitational or what we call tidal action of Europa’s orbit with this massive Jupiter.
Astrobiologists have thought deeply about what it takes to be a living thing. You’ve got to have a membrane or a wall, something that separates you from what’s not you and you’d probably have to have a liquid, a solvent. And the best solvent anybody can come up with is water.
While I hope he’s right, I’m a little more skeptical about finding life on Europa. Maybe I’m just being cynical. I think it’s possible, and I think it’s worth the money to explore the possibility, but I wonder if it will just be a disappointment in terms of finding life.
Here’s a little more from Bill in a National Geographic article about the same topic:
Many of us think of alien life the way it’s depicted in science fiction—creatures that look quite a bit like humans in makeup and that all speak English with a non-American accent. These made-up aliens hail from distant star systems. But there’s a place right here in our own solar system that may be teeming with life. It’s Europa, a moon of Jupiter, one of the four that you can see with an inexpensive telescope, just as Galileo Galilei did.
One example of someone disagreeing with Bill:
On Earth, Hand says the basis of our food chain is driven by photosynthesis. But Europa’s ice shell is going to make photosynthesis out of the question. So Hand says “chemosynthesis,” energy derived from the interaction of Europa’s rocky seafloor and its ocean, may fill an entirely viable niche in an ocean beneath an ice shell.
One thing I will say is that I think it’s possible to find life and not even recognize it as life. We’re looking for the same kind of life we have here on Earth, but who knows how life might have (or have not) evolved on a place like Europa, with it’s 20+ mile of ice?
Either way, I think this is exciting news. Like Bill says in the video, if life is found, it will be the work of many different people, instead of just one or two individuals. Agencies are working together around the world.
Cue the Star Trek theme song.
Now tell me what you think.