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Friday, December 28, 2012

Freaky Friday

Scientists' quest for life on other planets centers around the existence of water because it's widely accepted that life cannot exist without it. Consider the fact that the earth's population is growing astronomically. And thanks in large part to breakthroughs in medical technology, humans are living longer. Combined, this means it is only a matter of time before we will outgrow this planet.

Barring a major catastrophy that destroys life on our planet (and if you're reading this, it means we survived December 21, 2012) the quest for another life-sustaining planet will take on even more significance in future generations.

So scientists and astrophysicists are understandably very interested in Europa, one of Jupiter's moons and our best chance at finding another place in our solar system capable of sustaining life. At first glance, it may seem inhospitable to life. But a closer look reveals the possible existence of water - possibly 60 miles deep - just under the surface.

Consider our own oceans and the vast number of creatures and life forms inhabiting them from the surface to their deepest points and you know the discovery of water on Europa could lead to a great deal of excitement.

Unlike the earth, which rotates as it circles the sun, Europa remains locked with only one side facing Jupiter at all times. This could mean that one side is ice under the surface while the other side is liquid. Its atmosphere consists of molecular oxygen and it contains iron in its crust.

The next mission is set to launch in 2022. Called JUICE, or Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, it will be launched by the European Space Agency. It is expected to reach Europa in 2030.

Perhaps what it finds will be the stuff once associated with science fiction...