As I commented in a previous blog post, one of the most fascinating questions that a person studying the solar system can ask is whether life exists outside of our Earthly home. Within this question lay an abundance of philosophical arguments, all counteracting one another and seeking to define the ‘correct’ answer to this question. Are we self-centered enough to believe that we are the only unique life-carrying planet in the universe? Is that not what makes us special and defines our existence These questions, along with a host of other, could all be answered through the possibility of future exploration of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.
Europa offers a compelling case study to scientists of all sorts – biologists, astronomers, etc.—due to its composition and location. Europa is thought to have more liquid water than that in all of Earth’s oceans trapped beneath a thick and icy crust. Under this crust and in these oceans, some scientists have hypothesized that life could develop in a manner similar to that of Earth. While it would require a space probe landing on the surface of Europa and then undertaking a drilling project to even “scratch the surface” of these hypotheses, this project could quite literally change our understanding of the entire universe. However, as a result of not only the ice but Europa’s location around Jupiter renders photosynthesis (one of the key ingredients — nay the key ingredient — to life on Earth) nearly impossible. This point begs the question: are there other forms through which life can be created by a volcanic seafloor’s heat like on Europa or is photosynthesis and the Earth’s marvelous story of life the end all be all? Stay tuned!