Long before robotic landers are able to drill through Europa’s icy crust, seeking signs of life in an underlying ocean, scientists must be content with evidence that may be hidden in the ice near the surface. In future missions to Europa, scientists will look for remnants of oceanic life that could have made their way to the surface, courtesy of geological activity in the crust. “What would terrestrial life look like,” asks planetary scientist Kevin Hand, “if it were exposed to the surface of Europa?” To create an analogue for detecting indigenous life on Europa, he simulates the surface environment of Europa in an experimental chamber at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, then introduces Earthly microbes.
Exploring the deep-sea hydrothermal vents of the Pacific Ocean, Hand is alert to clues that may help understand whether Europa could foster life. As a featured scientist in the 2005 IMAX film Aliens of the Deep, Hand also demonstrates his vocation as an educator, explaining how we might learn lessons about the habitability of other worlds by taking a closer look at our own.
- SETI Institute Explorer, Special Edition 2005