The idea that aliens exist goes back thousands of years, possibly even into prehistory. We have descriptions such of UFOs recorded throughout history, carved on rocks, described in writings, and captured in paintings. Ancient folklore has tales about people from the stars, of gods and goddesses who appeared as great spirits.
Fast-forward to today. Countless conspiracy theories claim alien life exists, but nobody has been able to actually prove it. Even SETI has failed so far.
How can we be so certain of alien life, yet fail to prove it? That really depends on what we think we’re looking for. What if we’re shooting way too high, looking for advanced, complex life forms that simply do not exist?
The logical answer is to shoot a little lower and try for something less spectacular, such as microbial life. NASA intends to do just that with a mission to the Jupiter’s moon Europa. The space agency believes that the possibility of life on Europa is strong enough to warrant a launching a probe to find out.
The Mission to Europa
The report put together by NASA’s Planetary Science Division, outlines the mission’s priorities as well as the required engineering. The report also outlines additional research to assess the Europa’s habitability along with collection of data concerning the surface and subsurface of the moon. If approved, the Europa Lander mission would be the first primarily dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial life since the Viking Mars spacecraft in the 1970s.
What Kind of Life Are We Talking About Here?
The Europa Lander mission will initially search for biochemical indications of life, namely carbon containing compounds that are critical when searching for biosignatures. If such evidence is found, then the mission will turn to searching for microbial life forms.
Where will the Europa Lander Look?
The mission will look in three particular environments when searching for life:
- Deep polar oceans removed from sunlight
- Cold, deep brines
- Subglacial water environments
They will look for life on the seafloor and where ice and water meet. The probe will also look for hydrothermal activity, since it powers life here on Earth.
When will the mission launch?
A flyby mission is currently being planned by NASA, with an expected launch in the early 2020s. There are two meetings in the works to discuss the Europa Lander report. The eetings are scheduled to take place on March 19th and April 23rd of this year. When the mission actually takes place will depend on the outcomes of these two meetings.
It’s an ambitious mission with a lot of hope riding on it. Finding life on Europa would make a new kind of history–one that begins with the discovery of life outside of our own planet. We may even find that Europa is suitable for human settlement, and begin work on finding ways to make it happen. At that point, we would be the aliens visiting another world, instead of looking for them in ours.