As of Feb. 2, a budget proposal was introduced that has given NASA the green-light from the White House to proceed with a mission to visit the icy moon Europa.
The smallest of Jupiter’s four Galilean satellites, Europa, along with Io, Ganymede and Callisto, were discovered by the legendary astronomer Galileo Galilei on Jan. 8, 1610. It’s the only other celestial body in the solar system, aside from Earth, with the potential to contain both water and the likelihood to harbor extraterrestrial life of some kind.
This moon is rather strange as many of the traits it exhibits are very earth-like in nature. NASA has hypothesized that Europa contains water, with oceans twice as large and 10 times deeper than Earth’s. Europa may also have an active tectonic plate system, similar to Earth’s. This tiny planet is extremely abundant with earth-like features, including ice, craters and water plumes. Europa oozes life, yet it’s still so far away from us.
This hypothetical trip to Europa would be made using an orbital spacecraft referred to as the “Europa Clipper,” as a proposed mission by NASA. This device would be utilized to make several fly-bys around the tiny moon, collecting data for a final landing in which scientists would drive drones into the icy depths of Europa in hopes that organic matter and potential life would be discovered. The trip in question will not take place until the 2020s.
A mission of this scale is paramount for humanity’s future. Imagine the possibilities. Our realities are defined by the human condition. Humans influence each other constantly, as we continue through life. We work ourselves up the ladder as to facilitate personal gain in the “rat-race,” without actually living our lives. We’re so busy and so occupied by our personal, earthly concerns that we forget to enjoy ourselves while we’re alive.
Now, what if it were discovered that there were other life-forms out there? How would we begin to see ourselves in the grand scheme of things? How would it affect us as a species? To know that there may potentially be other sentient, living, breathing beings beyond our planet is a mind-boggling sentiment, especially given the scale of it all. To look up at the sky and think we are truly alone is a ridiculous notion, albeit subjective. Europa can potentially be the answer to that question, as life, microbial, sentient, or otherwise, is just out there waiting to be discovered. This mission makes it all the more important that we can get there and figure out once and for all.
The universe is large; infinitely large, and unfathomably massive in all of it’s never-ending glory. Is it really any surprise to anyone that we have yet to find other life forms?
In an ever-expanding universe, our sphere of influence has really only been regulated to Earth. Although humanity has graced our moon with its presence, as we eventually may do with other planets and celestial bodies in the solar system, I must ask you, is there truly any point to these endeavors? Would all the work involved in colonizing other worlds not be in vain if, by some measure, we discovered that we were truly alone in the universe? This is arguably the most depressing possibility of all.
Centuries upon centuries of work have brought us to this point, as we inch closer to solving the question that has evaded us for so long: “Are we really alone?” It’s possible that humanity’s search may potentially come to a satisfying conclusion within our lifetimes with this mission to Europa.