Cool Destination for Life?

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Cool Destination for Life?
12.13.07
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Narrator:
In a solar system full of amazing planets and moons, Jupiter's moon, Europa, stands out. Sandwiched between its icy skin and mantle, there's an ocean, twice the volume of all of Earth's oceans.

Bob Pappalardo, Senior Research Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Everywhere on Earth, where there's water, there's life. The search for life in our solar system is essentially the search for liquid water. The biggest deal about Europa, is that it may be the most promising place off of the Earth for life in our solar system.

Narrator:
The Galileo spacecraft returned images of Europa that revealed a strange variety of icy structures. Some created by blobs of warmer ice that rise through colder ice. Europa generates heat inside. How? It flexes as it's tugged by Jupiter's gravity.

Bob Pappalardo, Research Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Just like the Earth's oceans have tides because they're pulled by the moon's gravity , Europa should have a tide because it's pulled by Jupiter's gravity. And Europa as it orbits, gets a little closer and a little farther from Jupiter. So when it's closer to Jupiter, it'll be stretched out more. When it's farther from Jupiter, it will contract more. It's kind of like bending a paperclip. If you bend a paperclip back and forth, that generates just a little bit of heat. You can touch it to your lip. You can feel that paperclip is heated up. So in a similar way this flexing of Europa, as its orbits around Jupiter, is generating heat and keeping that ocean going.

Narrator:
It may even be hot enough to heat mantle and that encounters water, perhaps creating black smokers, like we see on Earth's ocean floor. An environment in which primitive organisms might be able to survive.

Bob Pappalardo, Research Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
I would certainly say that Europa has the most potential within our solar system for life outside the Earth. Other icy satellites are candidates. Mars is a candidate too and you might get a different opinion from different scientists. But based on what I understand about the icy satellites, Europa seems very promising for microbial life today.

Narrator:
New research is bringing scientists closer to understanding Europa. Inside this tiny lab at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, scientists are creating a database, to try to answer big questions about Europa and other icy moons.

Bob Pappalardo, Research Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Well, the purpose of this lab is to perform experiments that are relevant to Europa and to other icy satellites, to understand things like how much heating is there when the ice is squeezed and flexed. Or if there is a flow of slushy icy stuff that comes out on to the surface of Europa or Titan or Enceladus at Saturn. What are the characteristics of ices when they're slushy like that and might erupt onto the surface. We don't know if life is really unique to our Earth, very rare in the cosmo, or is it common in the cosmos. If we went some place like Europa and found evidence for life today in another ocean, it would say that maybe wherever there's an ocean or a warm salty ocean there's life.

Narrator:
And that could mean that life may be abundant throughout the universe.

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