Lander Project: Life on Jupiter’s Europa Moon
Water is life, and scientific research has long proven this fact. Water is the most important substance that living things need in order to survive. So far, scientists have been excited to find the possibility of life on some of the planetary moons. They have used the fact that evidence of the existence of life-supporting elements such as water and oxygen to other parts of the solar system has been presented through previous research to end up with this possibility.
There could be alien life on Jupiter as shown by promising discoveries so far. The problem is that few missions have been to Jupiter and her moons and this has left many gaps and unanswered questions. The quest to deepen this research and feed the curiosity of many has been growing daily. There is a need to plan on how to prove this possibility. This paper will specifically research on the possibility of life on and below the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. An unmanned lander will be used for this important exploration and must be competent and efficient for the successful operation of the project.
Scientific Aims and Strategy
Over time, one of the purposes of trying to discover life on other planets has been to find out if human beings can have an alternative place to live. There has been fear that resources on earth are dwindling and may be unable to continue supporting living things. This has led to major efforts on trying to find evidence of existing life or the possibility of such existence in other areas in the solar system. Several trips have been made to the Earth’s moon to survey these chances. Some scientific researchers have been bold enough to extend their research to the other known planets.
There has been major progress towards this and so far there is hope for positive results. One major discovery is that life could exist on Jupiter’s moons. The fact that anything can live on this part of the solar system is very exciting. Even though few trips have been made to Jupiter and her surroundings, a mission with the sole purpose of discovering the secrets of this intriguing planet will be a much welcome venture in the history of science.
Europa has particularly been of great interest to many astronauts and plans have been made to make these discoveries. Research done so far has found that the physical and environmental conditions can support life. It has been found that there is both water and heat. Water is a major supporter of life. Heat in Europa helps to make the water usable by melting the ice.
Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and has a total of 67 known moons. Four of these are the largest and are known as the Galilean satellites (Zimmermann, 2012). They are Ganymede, Io, Callisto and Europa. Simon Marius named the moons but their collective name was given after Galileo Galilei, an Italian Astronomer, who was the first to document his discovery of them (NASA, 2014).
Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, 2000)
Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, 2014)
The sixth moon from the planet Jupiter is Europa. It has a diameter of 1.951 miles and orbits around the sun at 416,880 miles (Young, 2005, p.22). Europa has been found to be the most likely moon to support life. This is because it has a lot of water. In fact, it is believed that it has an icy crust and the surface is smooth. Most of this ice is made up of water. Scientists believe that there is an existing liquid ocean beneath the icy surface. The water seems to come from below then freeze on the surface.
Challenges of getting to Jupiter have been the distance and the temperature. Jupiter is far away from Earth with a total distance of 365 million miles at the time when the two planets are closest and when they are farthest from each other, the distance is 601 million miles (Redd, 2012). The distance changes because both planets, like the rest of the planets, orbit around the sun. These are quite unfavorable distances to travel for any astronaut in any spacecraft designed so far. The world of science has continued to research and discover better ways of dealing with this challenge.
Further, Jupiter is a very cold planet. It has already been mentioned that its surface is mostly ice. However, cracks have been discovered on this surface through which water jets out. This means that there is unfrozen water below. Some scientists have brought out the idea that the force of gravity from Jupiter may be the cause of this heat the melts the ice underneath. Another possibility is that there are volcanic activities beneath Europa’s surface and the heat generated melts this ice. As the water gets heated up, it melts the ice above it and then cracks the surface in an effort to gush out through the crust (Sparrow, 2009).
Another good quality of the lander will be the ability to relay back information to the Earth with the help of satellite technology. This lander must be fitted with the necessary tools and equipment to enable astronauts, engineers and other stakeholders monitoring it from Earth to follow it through its entire journey. Audio-visual equipment such as lights, cameras and microphones will be included for better data collection, analysis and presentation.
In addition, environmental conservation is an important part of this mission. It must therefore be put into consideration that any component of the lander is environmentally friendly. A challenge may arise due to the fact that there is minimal information on Europa’s environmental conditions. A good way to approach this would be to base the choice of materials on their eco-friendliness on Earth. If it is safe on Earth then it is safe on Europa. This condition will be among others such as durability, availability and cost.
- Durable materials should be able to survive the long journey to Jupiter, live on Europa for the set time and come back to earth intact.
- Materials should also be readily available for the engineers to construct the lander. This will ensure that the design and construction is completed in good time without having to stall because of lack of materials.
- Cost of materials should be considered so that the budget of the whole project is maintained. Therefore, the astronauts and engineers will only use affordable lander construction materials in their activity.
Once the lander has collected, stored and analyzed samples and other soft data, it will come back to Earth. It is therefore important that a lot of preparation is done before sending the lander on this mission to ensure that it is very ready and capable to survive in the mostly unknown conditions in Europa. A specific time frame will be designed and all activities must be fitted within this time frame so that resources are sustainably utilized.
Since the lander is unmanned, the human resources will be used at the design, construction and monitoring workshops and laboratories. Resources that would have been used in making the lander human-friendly while on its mission will be directed to other relevant sections of the mission. Once the lander arrives back, only specially-trained personnel will be allowed to handle it to avoid interference with the data.
Objectives of the mission
A successful mission to Europa will have fulfilled several goals. These goals will help to determine whether Europa can support life of any form. They are as follows:
Examining the moon’s surface and determining the material content of the ice believed to cover it. The research will need to determine whether the icy surface is made up of elements that can support life as known by science.
Determining the existence of a liquid under-surface and its composition. It is believed that a liquid underground exists and traces of this have been seen on the surface through cracks in the ice.
Discovering the other forms and activities both above and below the moon’s surface. Besides the underground volcanic activity that may exist, there will be a search for more activities and land and life forms on and beneath the moon’s surface.
Sampling and Analysis Techniques
The collection and analysis of data will be guided by the goals of the mission. The purpose of this mission is to collect as much information as possible so that it is relayed and/or analyzed in its most original form in order to ensure accuracy of the results and conclusions to be made.
The icy surface
The Liquid Underground
Another examination must be done below the ice to discover the intriguing underneath of Europa. The goal is to find out how and why the liquid believed to be there exists and why it mostly remains there. The lander will go to Europa fitted with more equipment that is able to go under water and explore the ocean. Special equipment will ensure that the lander continues to collect the much required information from this environment. For example, some containers that will collect and store enough liquid so that the lander can analyze the sample while still performing its functions externally. The liquid samples will be analyzed for the purpose of finding out the possibility of living things surviving in and on its elements.
Other forms and activities
Another important activity that will be done by this mission will be the exploration of the entire moon’s extent, both above and below and including its atmosphere, with the purpose of discovering any other structures, life and activities. This will lead to finding out whether, for example, beneath the icy surface there are indeed volcanoes that heat up the ice leading to the formation of the liquid. It will also help to find out whether there are life forms such as fish and vegetation like in the Earth’s oceans. The surface will be explored to enable the discovery of land forms such mountains, valleys and craters and whether they are home to any living things too. The atmosphere will be tested for whatever it may hold. For example, bacteria and insects may be floating around. The best way to sample for this goal would be through taking photographs, videos, recording sound and collecting relevant material from the environment.
Ultimately, an interaction among all the components of Europa that will be discovered will be established so that it can be shown whether they would depend on each other to support life on this moon. It will also be a gateway to exploring the interaction between Europa and the other moons as well as Jupiter itself.
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Sparrow, G. (2009). Destination Jupiter. New York: Rosen Publishing Group.
Young, A. (2005). Jupiter. New York: Rosen Publishing Group.
Zimmermann, K. A. (2012). Jupiter’s Moons: Facts About the Largest Jovian Moons. [Online] Available from: http://www.space.com/16452-jupiters-moons.html. [Accessed: 22nd May 2014].