|We won't be finding him on Europa|
Earlier this month, NASA announced that the Obama administration had proposed a $500 million increase for the space agency’s 2016 fiscal year. In total, the $18.5 billion budget aims to cover costs related to a variety of endeavors, such as continued Mars exploration and maintenance to the International Space Station. In early 2015, congress granted NASA $100 million to design a trip to Europa, Jupiter’s ice-covered moon that is an exciting prospect for extraterrestrial life. President Obama’s proposed budget will tack on $30 million to the project, giving NASA the go-ahead to begin development on the planned 2022 mission.
|Europa in all its glory|
If life exists in the deep oceans of Europa, it would most likely resemble small, microbial organisms found living near deep-ocean hydrothermal vents. These organisms rely not on photosynthesis, but instead on chemosynthesis – which involves the conversion of carbon molecules into organic matter through the oxidation of inorganic compounds. Through chemosynthesis, life can prosper without sunlight as long as there is an energy gradient capable of synthesizing organic reactions.
|General mechanism of chemosynthesis|
As our hunger for knowledge expands to the depths of our solar system, the search for alien life -- though different from science fiction portrayals – is as realistic as ever thanks to the newest NASA funding round. A mission to Europa could get us one step closer to recognizing biomarkers that suggest we are not alone in this universe. It is reassuring to recognize that our government is willing to allocate resources to the Europa space mission, and hopefully the exploration will grant us a better understanding of our solar system and of life itself.
|Artist's rendition of Europa's icy surface|
Posted by Michael Salhany (3C)