Attempt no landings there

“All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landings there.”

That’s the prophetic warning delivered to humanity in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010. Luckily for us, in the real world, there is no overarching intelligence shepherding the development of fledgling life, so we can, and should, be attempting landings there. Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) is a fascinating place, and one of the few candidates for harboring life in our solar system.

Europa has a strangely alien surface consisting of sheets of ice potentially miles thick that are criss-crossed with fracture patterns. The surface re-paves itself over relatively short timescales due to all of the ice moving around. But thanks to that wonderful property of water, that it is less dense in its frozen state, we believe there to be a large sub-surface ocean beneath Europa’s surface. Many scientists think this ocean is our best hope for finding life in the solar system.

Luckily, some scientists aren’t just dreaming about it, they’re working on doing something about it. Scientists at UC Berkeley say we could send an unmanned mission to Europa within fifteen years. One of the most popular plans involves a submersible that could melt its way through the thick layer of ice and explore the oceans. However we do end up going there, however, we need to keep the spirit behind the “Attempt no landings there” maxim intact. In 2010, we were instructed not to land on Europa to prevent contaminating it with Earth life. That instruction is still just as important as ever, fiction or not.

5 Responses to “Attempt no landings there”

  1. Darmok Says:

    After Titan, I think Europa is one of the coolest and most enigmatic moons in the solar system.

  2. KTHX Says:

    The thing is, anything we send to Europa might still be contaminated with microbes and what not that might be able to survive in a vacuum. Recently, scientists have discovered bacteria that thrives specifically on radiation, of all things. Radiation is supposed to break down DNA, but apparently, this bacterium likes it. Who knows, maybe bacteria or viruses might be inadvertantly carried on the space probe?

  3. Cyde Weys Says:

    By radiation do you mean electromagnetic radiation? If so, I can think of all sorts of life that thrive on it. They’re called plants. If you’re talking about radioactivity, well, I’d really like to see a cite on that. It’s true, radioactive decay gives off a lot of energy, but trying to harness it is very dangerous.

    As for sterilizing a space probe — it’s hard but not impossible. NASA has been working on it for years.

  4. Darmok Says:

    Perhaps KTHX is referring to Deinococcus radiodurans—though while it is resistant to radiation, it does not specifically utilize it as far as I know.

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