Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Europa Ventures becomes first private enterprise to send a manned mission into deep space

Europa One Spacecraft Launches TodayDr. Samantha Unger led a press conference today announcing the successful launch of the Europa One spacecraft.  The booster rocket launched the command module and crew into orbit where it will dock with the orbiter already in space.  The orbiter module was assembled in stages in Earth's orbit over a period of 18 months. The booster rockets on the orbiter will propel the crew to Jupiter's icy moon Europa, a 20 month journey.  The mission has been in the works for over three years and will ultimately cost an estimated $3.7 billion dollars said Dr. Unger.  

At the press conference Dr. Unger said, 
Dr. Samantha Unger - Europa Report"For decades, scientists have theorized the existence of liquid water oceans on Jupiter's moon, Europa. We've recently discovered new, captivating evidence that these sub-surface oceans do exist and could support life.  We've sent six astronauts from space programs throughout the world on a three year journey to Europa to explore its oceans and confirm these findings. We're proud to be at the forefront of the effort to prove the existence of extra-terrestrial life within our solar system, within our lifetimes.This really is a new first step for mankind."

Sharlto Copley
I would hope we keep looking for the answers to those really tough questions.  Who are we?  Where did we come from?  And… are we alone? -- James Corrigan, Engineer
Why go to Europa?
In the deepest parts of the Earth’s oceans, miles below sea level where sun light has no hope of ever reaching, there is life!  How can life exist without the energy of the Sun?  Hydrothermal Vents!  Cracks in the Earth’s crust near tectonic plates suck in ocean water that in turn super heats the water, jettisoning it back out into the near freezing ocean water.  The superheated water may form features such as black smokers that are formed from minerals dissolved in the vent fluid.  The areas around hydrothermal vents are biologically very productive and often host complex communities of life, fueled by the chemicals dissolved in the vent fluids.  Bacteria form the base of the food chain supporting diverse organisms such as giant tube worms, shrimp, clams, and limpets. 

What does this have to do with Europa?  Active hydrothermal vents are believed to exist in vast oceans under the frozen surface.  The constant gravitational force exerted on Europa from Jupiter is believed to create heat energy from the tidal flexing.  Scientists believe that Europa is volcanically active and thus have the same ingredients for sub ocean life: volcanic heat and water. 

Europa Ventures LLC is the world's private enterprise leader in aerospace and exploration.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Life on Europa 2011

Jupiter’s moon Europa: Lake theory boosts hopes for life

Of all the geological mysteries of the solar system — and they are legion — perhaps none hold as much intrigue as huge piles of jumbled-up icebergs strewn across the cracked and mottled surface of Europa, Jupiter’s ice-locked moon.
A new theory explains these vast “chaos terrains” as the tips of subsurface lakes that well up and warm the surface. The existence of such lakes would thrill scientists seeking life beyond Earth, a group long drawn to Europa.
“Europa has the best chance of having life there today,” said Britney Schmidt, who studies the moon at the University of Texas at Austin and led the new study appearing in the journal Nature.
Such lakes could provide a habitat for life or act as channels for organic compounds on Europa’s surface to be drawn into the moon’s far deeper ocean, said Don Blankenship, a geophysicist and Europa specialist also at the University of Texas.
In the 1990s, NASA’s Galileo probe found strong evidence of a deep, briny ocean covering the entire moon far beneath the icy surface. The discovery of the moon-girdling ocean immediately prompted speculation that such an environment could foster life. But to do so, scientists said, organic compounds from Europa’s surface would need to find their way through the ice.
Subsurface lakes — and the process that creates them — would provide just such channels.
“If Europa is habitable, we need to get material from the surface down into the deep interior, down into the ocean,” Schmidt said.
Beyond raising hopes for one day finding life on Europa, the theory neatly explains the chaos terrains that litter half of the moon’s surface.
“If you didn’t know you were looking at Europa, you would think you were looking at icebergs calving off Greenland or the Antarctic ice sheets,” said Kevin Hand, who studies Europa atNASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was not involved in the work. “These iceberg-riddled features have presented quite a conundrum.”
Dr. Britney Schmidt
To solve the mystery, Schmidt and Blankenship point to the way glacier-covered volcanoes behave in Iceland.
Deep warmth from these volcanoes melts the glaciers from below. A lens of water forms under the icy surface and moves upward. Eventually, the warm water breaks through. A flood gushes.
The surface of Europa is too cold for any liquid water. But as warm water seeps up, heated from the planet’s mantle below, it would break the surface ice into a jumble of miles-long icebergs. The icebergs then flip, float and freeze in place.
“It’s a vigorous process,” Schmidt said. “Material is getting thrown around. Icebergs are flipping over. Brines are going up and coming back down.”
Blankenship used a kitchen analogy. “It’s like a Cuisinart operating at the surface,” he said.
Schmidt arrived at the theory after she traveled to Antarctica, which hosts a hundred or more subsurface lakes. One, Lake Vostok, holds intrigue as a possible home for exotic life on Earth. A Russian team has repeatedly tried to drill through three miles of ice to reach the lake for study.
If such subsurface lakes exist on Europa, they would hold more water than all five Great Lakes, Schmidt said.
“I think they present a compelling story,” Hand said of the research group. “Unfortunately, we have very limited data from Europa.”
Schmidt acknowledges that the idea is still a theory.
But there is a way to test it: Fly another probe to Europa and peer beneath its surface with powerful radar.
Blankenship has spent more than a decade helping NASA plan such a mission. So far, funding has not arrived.
“I’m 57 now,” he said. “I’d love to see the subsurface of Europa before I die.”
Hand, also involved in planning a Europa mission but decades younger, offered the same message.
“It’s time to go back,” he said.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Is There Life on Europa?

Life on Europa
Life on Europa?
Europa. Credit: NASA
Jupiter’s moon Europa is one of the most intriguing places in the solar system – with a global ocean of water thought to exist beneath its ice crust, speculation has grown that it may harbour life of some kind.
Studies have shown the water is likely quite similar to ocean water on Earth, with abundant oxygen available. If there are heat sources like hydrothermal vents, as on Earth, and chemical nutrients, the Europan ocean would seem an ideal place to search for life of some kind. Even with no sunlight due to the perpetual ice cover, life could still thrive; various organisms and marine life have been found here on Earth, in similar environments below the ice of Antarctica for example.
A new study is putting a damper on those hopes however. It contends that the water on Europa may be too acidic to support life, at least more complex forms.
According to the report, oxygen in Europa’s crust, formed by bombardment from cosmic radiation, reacts with sulphur and other material coming from rocks at the bottom of the ocean, creating sulfuric acid. The scientists involved used the same computer models used to predict the chemistry of groundwater or the chemistry of water at phosphate mines here on Earth.
As explained by Assistant Professor of Geology Matthew Pasek at the University of South Florida, “When the two meet, they generate acid – sulfuric acid in this case. That would produce water with a pH of about 2.6, about the same as your average soft drink. Just as soft drinks are bad for your teeth as they are quite acidic, fish, corals, whales, or other large animals would find it difficult to live within the ocean of Europa.”
If true, it would make the environment more challenging for life to have started or evolved beyond simple microorganisms. Does it mean life would be impossible there? No, as there are microbes on Earth which do just fine in similar and even more extreme conditions, like the acid mines of Rio Tinto. The microbes actually use the iron and sulfide as energy sources. There is also the fascinating ecosystem, in dark subterranean caves in Mexico, where a wide variety of life forms, including small fish, also thrive in highly acidic conditions.
We will probably have to wait for a return mission to Europa before the life question can be addressed more directly. Until then, the debate will certainly continue.
The paper is available here.
This article was first published on Examiner.com.