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Airdate: Dec 18, 2002
Scientist: Lynn Rothschild

Astrobiology: Europa

Astrobiology: Europa
One of Jupiter's moons may have a liquid ocean, and NASA hopes to send "hydrobots" there to explore for life.


In the early 1600's, Galileo discovered Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter. Recent findings indicate that there may be liquid water on this icy moon, and that has scientists excited. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

"The reason I like Europa and am fascinated by the whole idea of going there is that there may be a liquid ocean."

Lynn Rothschild is an astrobiologist with NASA, a scientist who studies life in the universe.

"As someone who comes from a marine biology background, as soon as I hear water, I've got my bags packed and I'm ready to go. Once there's liquid water and organic compounds and a source of energy and enough time, one can't help but think that there's always a possibility of life."

Scientists don't know yet whether Europa has organic compounds, but it does have an intriguing form of energy.

"The reason Europa has been so startling is that up until very recently scientists assumed that the only source of energy for life to arise would be Sun. Either our sun or another sun. What they hadn't counted on is that there are other forms of energy that can be used and in the case of Europa, the form of energy that's used to keep the water liquid, and presumably would be used if life arose there, is called tidal flexing. It has to do with the fact that Europa is being tugged back and forth by Jupiter and the other moons, and this is creating forms of energy that are used to help melt the water on Europa."

NASA scientists say that if they detect a liquid ocean under the surface ice of Europa, they may one day send "hydrobots" -- remote-controlled submarines that could melt through the ice and explore the undersea realm. A NASA mission to explore Europa may take place within the next ten years.

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