Decades ago, science fiction offered a hypothetical scenario: What if alien life were thriving in an ocean beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa? Recent observations of Europa from Earth-based telescopes, and reanalysis of spacecraft data, have increased the confidence for Europa’s ocean.
NASA, together with other space agencies, is looking for a way to explore Europa and hopefully identify the presence of life after solving technological challenges like landing on a chaotic and cryogenic surface, drilling into its crust and analyzing samples directly. If there is an ocean of liquid water beneath the relatively thin ice shell of Europa, is life there as well?
The possible detection of a thin plume of water in 2019 being ejected from Europa’s surface has re-energized the community, which is now looking for a new way to answer these questions. Could a spacecraft travel through this plume, sample and analyze it, and confirm the existence of life in this ocean? What kind of biomarkers should we look for? What would they tell us about this extraterrestrial life?
To answer these questions, we asked two scientists to join us for this virtual SETI Talks.
- Dr. Jill Mikucki, professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, is a microbiologist and Antarctic researcher who studies ecosystems under the ice. With her research in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, she has demonstrated that microbes can grow below ice in the absence of sunlight, a process that could potentially take place on Europa.
- Dr. Cynthia Phillips is a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Additionally, she serves as project staff scientist for the Europa Clipper Mission, a NASA mission to be launched in the 2020s that will conduct a detailed survey of Europa, look for ingredients for life on the crust and search for locations of warmer ice and perhaps recent eruptions of water. She is also working on mission concepts that would study Europa from the surface and eventually explore its subsurface ocean.
These two scientists will discuss how their research combined could result in one of the most exciting discoveries in planetary science: The discovery of life elsewhere in our solar system.
Once again, we are planning to hold this month’s SETI Talks online. Registration is required in order to receive the link and password; however, capacity is limited. Access will be on a first come first serve basis. Once the virtual room reaches capacity, we will not be able to accommodate more people. We apologize for this inconvenience, but have experienced large numbers of registrations for people who are unable to participate at the last minute, leaving others unable to register. As always, SETI Talks will be recorded and available to everyone after it takes place.
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