Here’s why, although most of you probably already knew.
It’s something that excited me ever since I first found out about it and began revolving it through my brains. Despite chances rising for life on Mars, Europa remains a more mysterious and potentially fruitful location. An icy Jovian moon, Europa is believed to possess a sub-surface ocean beneath a crust of ice, kept warm and fluid by tidal heat.
So . . . complete darkness, high pressure, possibly considerable heat, potential toxicity. It doesn’t sound altogether promising.
Except life fluorishes on Earth in environments at least as harsh and alien as those existing in the chilly reaches of space. Where? Oh god, where? Are we safe? Where do these barren tracts lie?
Mainly, in the sea. The deepest part of our ocean is nearly 11,000 metres, and life exists at the bottom of it. Life exists around deep sea vents, in extremes of pressure, heat and toxicity that would do credit to the kind of planet hitherto only seen in 70s adventure shows. This life has no need of light, favours heat and pressure with a jaunty smirk, and eats chemicals. In short, it’s just . . . different.
Why is this significant? Well, we no longer have to find soft, human-friendly worlds in order to hunt for extraterrestial life. If life can exist under nearly 7 miles of water, or not only survive but thrive on hot, chemical-rich environments, the vista of possibility is far wider. All we need is a place with chemicals and water and heat that’s had some time to stew, and even in our own solar system there’s more than a few possibilities: Mars, Europa, Titan, Enceladus, even Ceres.
Unless something unexpected happens, probes will reach Europa within my lifetime; although actually getting under the surface will be a bit tricksy.
NOTE: None of this is new information and I’m not trying to sound smart by going on about it.