In a recent article on the website called UFO Sightings Daily, NASA’s Curiosity Rover images were pondered over and declared that a giant alien scorpion is in the picture. There are many such ‘expertise’ articles on various website that purports to show that extraterrestrial life has been found in Mars (some of the Mars pictures are interpreted as ‘alien outposts or huts’). Humans’ obsession to find life on Mars may not windup for the next few decades. Mars has permafrost and billion-year old river-beds, although it doesn’t have the most significant ingredient for supporting life – water. However, NASA scientists seem to have placed their bets to find evidence of life in a planet, outside Earth, and that too within our solar system.
The US Space Agency isn’t of course thinking about Mars, when it says ‘alien life’. It has set its target on a moon that is believed to hold 3 billion cubic kilometers of water beneath its frozen crust. The moon swirls around our solar system’s massive planet, Jupiter, and goes by the name ‘Europa’. Jupiter’s moons were said to be observed by Galileo in the 17th century but our intrigue on ‘Europa’ started when Voyager 2 flew past the moon in 1979. The first images of Europa showed a world that is white as a glacier, patterned by puzzling brown streaks and withheld no big craters, like in Mars. Scientists of those times were enamored by these images since no craters is said to indicate that Europa has a fast-changing surface which can quickly erase the scars of asteroid impacts.
No craters also mean that some unrecognized energy source is driving such changing activities. Later, the 1995 Galileo mission found evidence of water on Europa and scientists believe that the moon’s icy exterior contains a single, massive ocean that holds twice as much water as held by Earth’s oceans. The ocean is kept liquid by Europa’s gravitational interactions with Jupiter and Jupiter’s other moons. The warm, vast ocean beneath the ice pack is also believed to have experience a force that creates tidal swells 1,000 times stronger than those caused by Earth’s moon. As per the conventional thinking, Europa, the wettest world on our solar system, must possess some life forms (at least microscopic).
Life, of course thrives on food and energy. Europa’s oceans are found out to be nourished by volcanic vents (like Earth’s ridges in Mid-Atlantic Ocean) and moisten of organic chemicals. NASA’s interest in Europa has rose to high levels as Hubble telescope was able to capture images of water vapor plumes arising from Europa’s icy surface. NASA has eventually come to a unanimous decision to begin the development of a probe to visit Europa, may be in a decade. The potential budget for this humongous mission may cost around $1.3 -2 billion. The scientists have already nine potential instruments that might perfectly collect data on Europa, but still this probe mission is might be the most challenging project NASA has ever undertook.
The first major hurdle might be the distance between Earth and Europa, which is around 600 million miles and might take at least a six year journey. The average estimated thickness of ice in Europa’s surface is 10 miles, which is said to be four times as thick as the glaciers enshrouding Antarctica. The most difficult of all the major hurdles would be Europa’s really high radiation environment (500 rem of radiation per day). Nevertheless, researchers and scientists are incessantly arguing that its worth to try. If life form is found beneath this icy world, it might even change our perspective on alien life and point to whole class of life thriving planets that’s scattered across the universe, or may be within our solar system.