Published: 2:38 PM 11/6/2014
... the solar system's best bet to host alien life
By Nola Taylor Redd | SPACE.com
Some members of Congress want NASA to explore Jupiter's icy moon Europa, perhaps the solar system's best bet to host alien life.
Reddish bands on Europa indicate regions of ice mixed with hydrated salts, while the blue-white terrain is relatively pure water-ice.
Scientists who want to explore Jupiter's ocean-harboring moon Europa have some allies in high places.
Several influential congresspeople are among those calling for a mission to Europa, which is regarded by many scientists as the best place to search for life beyond Earth.
"We don't need to wait to go find life in another solar system," Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, said in July. "It's right here in our own backyard."
Culberson spoke at "The Lure of Europa," a public meeting organized in Washington, D.C., by nonprofit group The Planetary Society.
His words came just one day after NASA scientist Kevin Hand stated at a public NASA forum that he thought humans would find life in the universe in the next two decades, and on the same day that NASA released its call for scientific instruments for a planned Europa mission.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House of Representatives' Science, Space and Technology Committee, kicked things off at "The Lure of Europa" by wishing the world could see how excited attendees were about the Jupiter moon. Some members of the audience remained standing, while others sat on the floor.
"There is a general apparent interest in the subject of space in the American people," Smith said.
He went on to discuss the special interest people have in exoplanets, particularly Earth-like planets, with an even keener emphasis on finding Earth-like planets that might have indications of life.
"Just the mere idea of the forms of those lives is enough to keep us exploring for several years," Smith said.
Culberson called the future discovery of extraterrestrial life "the defining moment in our lifetime." "It will define our civilization," he said.
Europa is a particularly good place to hunt for potential alien life, Culberson added. Scientists think that, beneath its icy crust, Europa contains three to four times more water than Earth does, and that its seafloor may be heated by geologic activity.
Radiation from Jupiter helps produce some of the chemicals required for life on the moon's surface.
Recently, scientists discovered geysers in Europa's southern hemisphere — a finding that could potentially allow for the exploration of the underground ocean without the need to pierce the icy crust.