More evidence that Europa’s ocean is similar to Earth’s

Artist's illustration of how water from Europa's underground ocean can reach the surface. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Artist’s illustration of how water from Europa’s underground ocean can reach the surface.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

As one of the few places in the solar system other than Earth known to have an ocean, Europa has become one of the most fascinating worlds that we know of. This moon of Jupiter is small, but enticing – beneath its frozen surface of ice is a global ocean of water, making it a primary focus of study, especially in terms of the search for life elsewhere.

Read MoreMore evidence that Europa’s ocean is similar to Earth’s

New ‘Clipper’ mission proposed to study Europa’s ocean

Jupiter’s moon Europa, an ice-covered waterworld. Could life exist there?
Credit: NASA / JPL / Ted Stryk.

Jupiter’s moon Europa is often referred to as a “waterworld,” and for good reason: a global ocean almost definitely exists below its outer icy crust, making it a primary focus of interest in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system. So far, most of the information we have about this fascinating moon has come from flybys of the Galileo and Voyager spacecraft; these missions have been invaluable, of course, although limited. If we want to learn more about what is going on below in the Europan ocean, it will require new spacecraft with the necessary instruments to carry out long-term studies. Budgets are tight for an orbiter or lander, but a newly proposed “clipper” mission may just fit the bill.

Read MoreNew ‘Clipper’ mission proposed to study Europa’s ocean

Microbial life found thriving under Antarctic lake ice: an analogue for Europa?

The ice-covered surface of Lake Vida in Antarctica; in the deep, dark water below, an amazing microbial exosystem thrives. Credit: Bernd Wagner / University of Cologne, Germany

A new discovery here on Earth may have implications for the search for life elsewhere, in particular icy waterworlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Read MoreMicrobial life found thriving under Antarctic lake ice: an analogue for Europa?

Waterworlds: the search for life in the outer solar system

It is thought that one or more of the icy moons of the outer solar system could support life.
Credit: NASA Planetary Photojournal

(My first article for AmericaSpace, republished here.)

Until relatively recently, it was thought that the best, or perhaps only, place to look for life elsewhere in the solar system was Mars. The other inner planets were much too hot while the outer gas and ice giants were far too cold – the chances of any kind of life being found, even microbes, was considered extremely unlikely at best.

Read MoreWaterworlds: the search for life in the outer solar system