Scientists may soon have the ability to detect whether alien life exists on Jupiter's moon

Scientists may soon have the ability to detect whether alien life exists on Jupiter's moon
11 April 2024 J.W.H

Lucinda King: Europa is certainly one of the most important of the greater than 90 moons orbiting the planet Jupiter. It can be probably the greatest places to search for alien life.

Observations to date, often called the “oceanic world” by scientists, strongly suggest that beneath Europa's icy crust there could also be a liquid ocean of salty water containing twice as much water because the oceans on Earth.

Now NASA's Europa Clipper – the most important spacecraft ever developed by the US space agency for a planetary mission – could have the tools to detect it.

As the Clipper spacecraft undergoes final tests and preparations before launch in October 2024, scientists using certainly one of the nine instruments on board have made an exciting discovery.

In addition to determining whether life might exist on Europa, the instrument should have the ability to directly detect alien life itself, if it exists there.

The three key ingredients of life are energy, liquid water, and chemicals. The space probe will provide more details about these components on Europa and, due to this fact, about its potential to support life.

Europa draws its energy from the intense tidal forces brought on by Jupiter's gravity, which push and pull the Moon's material, generating heat inside it. It is that this process that supports the speculation of the existence of a liquid water ocean beneath the surface.

Europa's extraterrestrial ocean may contain the chemical elements needed for all times. These include chemical elements corresponding to carbon, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. However, the mission team may even search for carbon-containing organic compounds that make up lots of the more complex chemicals needed in biology.

Detecting the signatures of those chemicals is a key goal of the Europa Clipper mission. If such evidence might be found, it will mean that Europa might be the subsequent place within the solar system where life could exist.

An unexpected find

The Suda instrument (surface dust mass analyzer), operated by the University of Colorado at Boulder, is certainly one of nine instruments on Europa Clipper. It will collect tiny grains of ice and dirt from the world above the surface because the spacecraft passes by the Moon. The important goal is to find out the composition of this material and, through trajectory evaluation, determine where it comes from on Europa's surface.

Scientists consider that some icy material could have come from eruptions or plumes on Europa's surface. These plumes can transport water from the ocean below into space, so analyzing the composition of this material will give indication of whether the ocean is habitable.

The Suda instrument may even have the ability to find out whether the fabric comes from Europa itself or from one other nearby solar system object, corresponding to one other moon of Jupiter.

Speaking ahead of the most recent discoveries, Murthy Gudipati, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “We are not a mission to find life. The goal of Europa Clipper is to understand Europa's ocean and the habitability of the Moon.”

However, recent research published in Science Advances shows that Clipper may be a life-finding mission after all. A group of scientists (from the University of Washington, the Free University of Berlin and the Open University in the UK) tested a shock-ionizing mass spectrometer, the same type of instrument as Suda, in the laboratory under simulated conditions similar to those expected during the European Parliament mission.

The scientists also placed material from bacterial cells in tiny ice crystals fired at the equipment. They found that even if the ice grain contained only 1% of the total cell material, the presence of bacterial material could still be detected. They also found that different operating modes of the instrument perform better in detecting different organic compounds such as fatty acids and amino acids.

Fabian Klenner, one of the researchers, told New Scientist: “If life forms on Europa follow the identical principle of getting membranes and DNA fabricated from amino acids… then detecting these chemicals there can be quite a challenge.”

The Souda science team will use these findings to analyze data from Europe as soon as it arrives. They have some time to prepare everything: the spacecraft will reach Europe at least before 2030.

This would be a fantastic enough result if Clipper could demonstrate that Europa has the ingredients necessary for life, and it would undoubtedly lead to much research and speculation, as well as possible preparations for another mission to detect potential life. If Clipper manages to do all this while also collecting direct material on extraterrestrial life, it would be a groundbreaking scientific discovery.

So far, no concrete evidence of life beyond Earth has been found, although there are indications that suitable conditions exist on some other bodies in the solar system. Life on Europa would be the first extraterrestrial creature ever definitively discovered.

While this life is unlikely to merge with us any time soon, it would answer the burning question of whether biology can exist anywhere beyond Earth.

Proving that Europe supports or has supported life will enable scientists to develop and test theories about how this biology originated. This, in turn, may provide knowledge about the origins of life on our planet.

Lucinda King, Space Project Manager and Mission Project Manager, University of Portsmouth

This article has been republished from Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read original article.

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  • J.W.H

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    John Williams is a Reincarnationist paranormal Intuitive freelance writer...he is living proof of reincarnation existence, through his personal exploration, he has confirmed its authenticity through visits to the very lands where these events transpired.

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