Over the course of a brief two-hour opportunity, NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured a rare close look at Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter that’s thought to harbor a hidden ocean — and perhaps an extraterrestrial strain of marine life.
Instead of cave dwellers gathered around a campfire, roasting mastodon meat, imagine an octopus tribe floating around a hydrothermal vent at the seafloor, boiling lobsters.
That’s the scenario sketched out by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist at Germany’s Technical Institute Berlin who’s also an adjunct professor at Arizona State University and Washington State University.
A closer look at magnetic and plasma wave readings from NASA’s now-defunct Galileo spacecraft firms up the evidence for claims that plumes of water periodically spray out from the surface of Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter. Such claims have sparked speculation that life forms might live in an ocean beneath the ice, and that traces of such life could be detected by a future mission.
It’s not aliens. And it’s not exactly surprising, despite NASA’s advance billing. But new evidence of water plumes emanating from Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter, have added to the excitement over a proposed mission that could sample the water for signs of life.
The evidence comes in the form of splotchy ultraviolet images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, operating at the limits of its sensitivity. Scientists say the images appear to show intermittent emissions of water vapor near Europa’s south pole.
“If plumes exist, this is an exciting finding,” William Sparks, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, told reporters today during a teleconference.
The money set aside for developing a new crew vehicle and heavy-lift rocket for deep-space exploration would be reduced by hundreds of millions of dollars, virtually guaranteeing a tussle with Congress.
Despite the reductions, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the agency’s vision for space exploration and technology is undimmed.
“The state of our NASA is as strong as it’s ever been – and when I say ‘our,’ I really mean it,” Bolden told a gathering of agency employees at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. He used that “strong” assessment as a frequent refrain for the last “State of NASA” address of the Obama administration.