The question of whether or not life exists outside of Earth is an ever-growing curiosity. For years, scientists have been in constant search of Earth-like planets, in hopes of locating the ideal atmospheric conditions for the foundation of life. Specifically, within the last 20 years, Europa – Jupiter’s enigmatic moon – has largely come into focus. Astrobiologists are now claiming to have some sort of an idea of the type of organisms potentially living there.
In a statement to Business Insider, Steve Vance, a member of the Europa mission science team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, discussed his thoughts on the type of life he originally expected to find on the moon, “[My modest thought]…involved the kinds of things that we see at heads of thermal vents [on Earth], mainly microorganisms.”
But Europa is an exceptional case – a subject that has long fascinated scientists like Vance. The interest began in the 1990s, when NASA’s spacecraft, Galileo, flew by the moon, in order to take various photos of its surface. Upon closer examination of the images, the blocks on the exterior seemed to show evidence of movement – suggesting the presence of water somewhere beneath the ground; not just a small pool either, but a deep and vast liquid ocean.
In 2013, the Hubble Space Telescope also witnessed a plume of water vapor near the moon’s South Pole – most likely stemming from beneath the icy surface. This incidence, according to scientists, supports the claim that life does indeed exist on Europa: if water can escape the ocean, the essential ingredients of life – gases like oxygen and carbon – can most likely enter it.
If so, given the large area of the moon, Europa’s ocean could potentially be three times larger than all of Earth’s oceans combined, and 10 times deeper than “Earth’s deepest oceanic point.” Of course, these numbers are only educated estimates, since not much research has been collected on Europa. In the near future, however, that can all change. Just earlier this week, Charles Bolden, NASA administrator, announced that the space agency will be looking into future projects that will seek to send a probe to the moon for further study.
In the meantime, astrobiologists believe that Earth’s oceans provide a good glimpse into the organisms one can expect to find on Europa – life like shrimp, that somehow manage to survive in some of the coldest and darkest conditions down under.