WATCH THIS: HYDROTHERMAL VENTS

As we look toward moons like Titan for our next deep space mission, I ask the question again: Why not Europa? Of all of the planetary bodies in our solar system, it is the most likely place to look for life. So why are we not heading there?

It is thought that if life is there, it will have thrived from the gravitational tidal flexing that the moon experiences when it orbits around Jupiter, which we think warms the liquid water beneath the surface. We also suspect that something very much like the hydrothermal vents we have on Earth.

It is very likely that should we find hydrothermal vents similar to those we have on Earth, we will find life thriving around it.

From science.nasa.gov:

Hydrothermal vents form along mid-ocean ridges, in places where the sea floor moves apart very slowly (6 to 18 cm per year) as magma wells up from below. (This is the engine that drives Earth’s tectonic plates apart, moving continents and causing volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.)

When cold ocean water seeps through cracks in the sea floor to hot spots below, hydrothermal vents belch a mineral-rich broth of scalding water. Sometimes, in very hot vents, the emerging fluid turns black — creating a “black smoker” — because dissolved sulfides of metals (iron, copper, and several heavy metals) instantaneously precipitate out of solution when they mix with the cold surrounding seawater.

Unlike plants that rely on sunlight, bacteria living in and around the dark vents extract their energy from hydrogen sulfide (HS) and other molecules that billow out of the seafloor. Just like plants, the bacteria use their energy to build sugars out of carbon dioxide and water. Sugars then provide fuel and raw material for the rest of the microbe’s activities.

(Go HERE to read the full article)

Hydrothermal Vents:

From James Cameron’s ‘Aliens of the Deep’:

THE ROCK FERRY

A few days ago, NASA announced that it was looking into the possibility of using asteroids to ferry astronauts to and fro Earth on a future mission to the red planet. The initial idea was to piggy back on an asteroid passing Earth on its way to Mars, using the mass of the asteroid to absorb the cosmic radiation that would otherwise pose a significant risk to the astronauts:

Cosmic rays can damage DNA, increasing the risks of cancer and cataracts for space travelers. Current research suggests that the amount of radiation that would bombard an astronaut during a thousand-day, round-trip Mars mission increases his or her risk of cancer by 1 to 19 percent.

So the idea would not only save on fuel, on maneuvering propellant, and the overall cost of the mission, it would also prove itself to be a far safer way of travelling to our sister planet.

The only trouble is that the viable asteroids passing Earth on their way to Mars are few and far between and do not have a regular orbit going from one planet to the other.

So now the new thinking is that we should try to divert the course of an asteroid passing Earth and aim it at Mars a bit like changing the direction of a train by switching the tracks, steering it in a different direction.

The options available for changing the course of an asteroid are varied and hypothetical; they range from using explosives to tethers to correct the course of a 10 or 20 metre lump of rock travelling at unbelievable speeds. No easy task, for sure.

We have shown with the Hayabusa mission that we can land on an asteroid with relative ease. Now we need to be able to change its trajectory and remain on the surface of one for an entire year. But surely this is a natural leap from landing an unmanned probe to landing a crew on one. We could take enough fuel to Mars in large tanks for the coast home, or send another asteroid the way of Mars for the astronauts to hook up with them for the return journey; in that eventuality we could instead take along the materials necessary to establish a tentative base on the planets surface.

It’s an ingenious idea. And we could possibly use it to travel further outward.
As I have previously stated (HERE) I personally believe that our real chance of finding life within our solar system lies beneath the icy surface of Europa. But the Jovian moons are a long way away, and the effects that cosmic radiation would have on a human crew making the journey would surely be detrimental if not fatal. But if we can ride using an asteroid, at incredible speed, and with the risk of radiation exposure taken away… then why not?

I have no doubt we could get to Mars and land on it, and establish some form of colony. But to what end? Mars is a lifeless, barren world. From what we can tell, if there was any life on it, then it has been gone for a very long time. Perhaps there was never life there. But there is a strong possibility of life beneath Europa’s surface.
That is where we should head.
Test the asteroid-piggy-back idea out first, boost the public’s interest in space by making the ‘giant leap’ to a new world, but then we should turn our attention outward to Jupiter and to the ocean beneath Europa…

Click HERE to learn more.

HOPE FOR LIFE ON EUROPA

Wired is running an article detailing the 5 planets/moons in our solar system most likely to harbour alien life forms. That doesn’t mean they’re predicting ET’s home planet (we know where that is!) but they are saying which planetoids are most likely to contain things like microbes or even plankton like creatures.

Personally I have always believed that the most likely place to find life in our galaxy is Europa. I don’t think we’re going to find anything on Mars that equates to more than a few dry old fossils. Whether they’ll be fossils of large creatures or fossils of very small organisms is anyones guess. I just don’t think there’s anything there anymore – that it is truly a dead planet.

I do think there is a very strong possibility of life locked beneath the ice of Europa however. It has long been thought that Europa hides an ocean beneath an icy crust, though we still await confirmation as to just how thick the ice is. When we know that, we can send a probe or a manned mission to drill down through the ice and try to access the ocean beneath.

How would life exist in a freezing cold ocean that lies below a crust of ice? Well, we do know that the pull of Jupiter’s gravity is constantly flexing Europa as it orbits, meaning that vital heat is generated in the movement of the crust. Jupiter is also suspected of creating tidal energy on Europa.

From the wiki for Europa:

In late 2008, it was suggested Jupiter may keep Europa’s oceans warm by generating large planetary tidal waves on the moon because of its small but non-zero obliquity. This previously unconsidered kind of tidal force generates so-called Rossby waves that travel quite slowly, at just a few kilometers per day, but can generate significant kinetic energy.

Europa could also have volcanic activity providing heat, energy and nutrients to the water. In our own oceans we have found visual evidence of life thriving around thermal vents, at depths we thought life would never exist at.

It has also been theorised that the ice covering Europa could act as an oxidizer to the ocean beneath. The fact of the matter is, these hostile environments are only hostile until you begin to consider the multitude of ways in which life could find a stronghold on them. The prospect of them being liveable habitats is unbelievable until conventional thinking is side-stepped to consider much more remote possibilities. It is a truly alien idea to us humans that life could exist without air, and with sunlight… and yet as we have seen in our ocean… this does happen. Life happens in these environs.

Life will always finds a way to overcome obstacles and survive, and if we think beyond the boundaries of our own planet, and the limitations of our world, then life could take any form and survive… and even thrive in conditions we would consider toxic and hostile.

There are arguments for all of the worlds listed in the Wired piece, and they’re all fair arguments. My bet is on Europa though. And if there is life there, you can also bet that it will be far more alien and unreal to us than anything we could have imagined.

You can read the article at Wired HERE

And you can read the wiki for Europa, HERE