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posted by martyb on Tuesday July 24 2018, @06:07AM   Printer-friendly
from the how'd-they-get-there? dept.

Europa Lander May Not Have to Dig Deep to Find Signs of Life

If signs of life exist on Jupiter's icy moon Europa, they might not be as hard to find as scientists had thought, a new study reports. [...] NASA aims to hunt for such samples in the not-too-distant future. The agency is developing a flyby mission called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the early 2020s. Clipper will study Europa up close during dozens of flybys, some of which might be able to zoom through the moon's suspected water-vapor plumes. And NASA is also working on a possible post-Clipper lander mission that would search for evidence of life at or near the Europan surface.

It's unclear, however, just how deep a Europa lander would need to dig to have a chance of finding anything. That's because Europa orbits within Jupiter's radiation belts and is bombarded by fast-moving charged particles, which can turn amino acids and other possible biosignatures into mush.

That's where the new study comes in. NASA scientist Tom Nordheim and his colleagues modeled Europa's radiation environment in detail, laying out just how bad things get from place to place. They then combined these results with data from laboratory experiments documenting how quickly various radiation doses carve up amino acids (a stand-in here for complex biomolecules in general).

The researchers found significant variation, with some Europan locales (equatorial regions) getting about 10 times the radiation pounding of others (middle and high latitudes). At the most benign spots, the team determined, a lander would likely have to dig just 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) or so into the ice to find recognizable amino acids. In the high-blast zones, the target depth would be on the order of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm). (This is not to imply that potential Europan organisms would still be alive at such depths, however; doses there are high enough to cook even the hardiest Earth microbes, study team members said.)

Also at Motherboard and Gizmodo.

Preservation of potential biosignatures in the shallow subsurface of Europa (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0499-8) (DX)

Biosignature hide and seek (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0542-9) (DX)

Related: Science Instruments Selected for NASA's Europa Mission
NASA Releases Europa Lander Study 2016 Report
Could a Dedicated Mission to Enceladus Detect Microbial Life There?
Plate Tectonics on Europa and Subsurface Oceans in the Outer Solar System
Europa Landers Could be in Danger of Sinking Into a Porous Surface
NASA Finds Evidence of Water Plume on Europa
Complex Organic Molecules Found on Enceladus


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @07:03AM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @07:03AM (#711618)

    Does anyone else think it is a bit spooky that Arthur C. Clarke wrote about life existing on Europa, years ago ?

    I've suspected Clarke was either a time traveler or an extraterrestrial, for years. Of course the preceding sounds absurd,
    but then sending voice signals down a cable which carries pulses of light would have sounded absurd too, a short time ago.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @07:45AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @07:45AM (#711624)

      He saw clearly, as though through the eyes of a child.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @08:26AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @08:26AM (#711631)

      uhm... it's the one place in the solar system (other than Earth) where we know liquid water is likely to exist (and it was the most likely place he knew of as well). there's nothing spooky about his use of Europa.

    • (Score: 2) by srobert on Tuesday July 24 2018, @08:19PM

      by srobert (4803) on Tuesday July 24 2018, @08:19PM (#711884)

      It was the first thing I thought of. Sometimes I think certain science fiction authors like Arthur C. Clarke, or Jules Verne, knew things that they should not have known.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 25 2018, @05:32PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 25 2018, @05:32PM (#712500)

      No, guys. ACC knew of the ocean underneath Europan ice in the 1980s when he wrote 2010 because there had been a paper in 1980 or even earlier that speculated about it. I have the scanned jpegs of the paper lost among various files, but that was it.

  • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Tuesday July 24 2018, @09:33AM (3 children)

    by FatPhil (863) <reversethis-{if.fdsa} {ta} {tnelyos-cp}> on Tuesday July 24 2018, @09:33AM (#711647) Homepage
    If "fast-moving charged particles, which can turn amino acids and other possible biosignatures into mush.", then the chances are they'll be finding signs of death rather than "signs of life", and Ochkam dictates that we shouldn't presume they were ever anything alive.

    Some amino acids are terribly simple compounds, to presume the existence of anything beyond what you actually do find would be very bad science indeed, IMHO.
    --
    Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people; the smallest discuss themselves
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @02:40PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @02:40PM (#711733)

      This is a computer model for estimating the degradation of organic substances by radiation. The quoted text says the modeled amino acids are "a stand-in here for complex biomolecules in general." The choice of what to model doesn't determine a choice of what to analyze for in the physical world.

      • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Tuesday July 24 2018, @11:13PM (1 child)

        by FatPhil (863) <reversethis-{if.fdsa} {ta} {tnelyos-cp}> on Tuesday July 24 2018, @11:13PM (#712014) Homepage
        But no matter how accurate my models for how water breaks down calcium carbide into acetylene, and how ozone and a spark breaks down acetylene into CO2, no amount of detection of CO2 will let me infer that there used to be calcium carbide. "A is, amongst other things, the output of B" simply does not imply that detection of A implies B.
        --
        Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people; the smallest discuss themselves
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 25 2018, @04:24PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 25 2018, @04:24PM (#712453)

          You missed the point: this is just a computer model. Nobody's saying that amino acids were detected on Europa. Nor are they proposing to look for amino acids on Europa. And furthermore, no one's saying that the presence of amino acids implies the presence of life. Whoosh!

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Alfred on Tuesday July 24 2018, @01:06PM (5 children)

    by Alfred (4006) on Tuesday July 24 2018, @01:06PM (#711689) Journal
    What can they learn here that I haven't already learned from documentary "europa report"

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2051879/ [imdb.com]
    • (Score: 3, Funny) by takyon on Tuesday July 24 2018, @01:12PM (3 children)

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Tuesday July 24 2018, @01:12PM (#711694) Journal

      We can't learn much of anything until we drill inside the ocean and find all the alien fish.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by PartTimeZombie on Tuesday July 24 2018, @10:27PM (2 children)

        by PartTimeZombie (4827) on Tuesday July 24 2018, @10:27PM (#711991)

        I realise you jest, but I wonder what the odds would be of finding some tasty alien fish (analogues) in the Europan ocean?

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday July 24 2018, @11:57PM (1 child)

          by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Tuesday July 24 2018, @11:57PM (#712040) Journal

          There's no way to know the odds. I suspect that there is not a lot of middle ground; either life is ubiquitous where water and organic molecules are, or it isn't.

          Maybe in the deep future we'll have done surveys in most of the subsurface oceans in the solar system [wikipedia.org], and we can come up with odds based on the amount of gravitational/tidal heating, composition, and other factors. And then apply that to directly imaged icy exoplanets and exomoons.

          --
          [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
          • (Score: 2) by PartTimeZombie on Wednesday July 25 2018, @12:36AM

            by PartTimeZombie (4827) on Wednesday July 25 2018, @12:36AM (#712059)

            You're right of course.

            When I was 8 or so and started reading SF I rather assumed that we would have made contact with aliens of some sort by 2018.

            It just seemed to be so far in the future, and we already got to the Moon, so Mars and all the rest wouldn't be out of our reach, surely?

            If we (as a species) had the will, I think we could have already send a probe towards Alpha Proxima, not to mention properly exploring the other planets and moons we actually have access to.

              Never mind. A grumpy old Zombie can still dream.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @03:05PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24 2018, @03:05PM (#711742)

      This is a simulation.

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