One of the eternal questions of human existence is whether or not we’re alone in the universe. In the immortal words of Arthur C. Clarke, we’re either alone in the universe or we’re not – both possibilities are equally terrifying.
But still, this hasn’t stopped civilisations throughout human history from looking up to the skies and pondering their place in the cosmos, and our civilisation is no different.
Never before have we had the technological abilities to gaze so deep into the furthest depths of the infinite, but we are yet to find anything concrete which suggests extra-terrestrial neighbours.
But maybe, just maybe, we’re getting closer to that moment. Today, (May 13), could well be a significant day in human history in the search for life outside of our planet, as NASA is due to host a live announcement about the potential for life on Europa – one of Jupiter’s moons.
A statement from NASA regarding the announcement reads:
NASA will host a Science Chat at 1 p.m. EDT Monday, May 14, to discuss the latest analysis of Jupiter’s moon Europa and its status as one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for life…
Europa has long been a high priority for exploration because beneath its icy crust lies a salty, liquid water ocean. NASA’s Europa Clipper, targeted to launch in 2022, will be equipped with the instruments necessary to determine whether Europa possesses the ingredients necessary to support life as we know it.
A couple of years ago, NASA confirmed the presence of water vapour plumes emanating from the surface of Europa, which seemingly confirmed the existence of the massive ocean under a huge layer of ice.
As @NASAJuno orbits Jupiter, new discoveries about the giant planet continue to be made. Let's check in on some of the new science seen from Jupiter. Watch: https://t.co/tUiOYC8iNO pic.twitter.com/ekV2RWohbA
— NASA (@NASA) May 12, 2018
Nasa’s Lorenz Roth was reported at the time as saying:
This means that future investigations can directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa’s potentially habitable environment without drilling through layers of ice…and that is tremendously exciting.
It’s exciting because, as anyone with even a passing interest in life outside of Earth will know, water is one of the only major components thought to be required for carbon-based life to exist.
Of course, our knowledge of life could be painfully limited to the experiences of what we know from life on Earth, but until we learn more, that is the prevailing theory.
Tune in Monday for the latest analysis of #Europa and its status as one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for life.
@NASA will host a Science Chat at 10am PT (1pm ET) on May 14. Tag questions #askNASA. https://t.co/vQb72cjP25 pic.twitter.com/LvNmmY80a4
— NASA Europa Clipper (@EuropaClipper) May 11, 2018
Life outside of Earth could actually even be thought of as a pure numbers game. Put it this way, there are billions upon billions of galaxies in the known universe, with billions upon billions of stars in each.
Is it not incredibly big-headed of us to assume the Sun is the only one of those stars to have an orbiting planet containing life?
In the words of the late, great Stephen Hawking:
The idea that we are alone in the universe seems to me completely implausible and arrogant, considering the number of planets and stars that we know exist, it’s extremely unlikely that we are the only form of evolved life.
But after the announcement today, we may well be one step closer to learning whether this pale blue dot is alone in this vast and uncaring cosmos.
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