At a recent Geological Society of America meeting in Colorado, several papers were presented on new research and technologies that might enhance our understanding of Europa. One of these papers outlined a method to “listen” to the moon’s internal structure by landing an instrument package that contains a geophone on Europa’s surface. This device would allow scientist to hear cracks and quakes inside the moon as it was stressed in its orbit around Jupiter. For more on this release, visit GSA's news release page
Another paper given by a research team at the University of Colorado presents the idea that potential life from Europa’s watery depths (scientists suspect an ocean about 13 miles below the surface) could be lifted to the surface by various transport mechanisms. Robert Pappalardo, a planetary scientist leading the team, explains that material from the subsurface could be lifted up like a giant planetary lava lamp. Thus, allowing surficial study of potential subsurface life. More on this research is available at Science Daily
One of the greatest challenges for indisputably verifying that life is thriving in Europa’s subsurface ocean is to understand how exactly researchers could penetrate through the extensive exterior shell. Indeed, neither method discussed above would require drilling through the miles of icy crust (a daunting technological challenge). Both of the ideas were originally presented to and discussed by the NAI Europa Focus Group, which represents the science community in thinking about Europa science and mission issues.
This research follows a recent House Appropriations Sub-Committee meeting that recommended a NASA budgetary increase to (re)-support an orbiting Europa mission (JPL Press Release)—this mission recently had been cancelled due to funding problems. Although direct access to Europa’s ocean still may be decades away, innovative research and funding potentials may help scientists answer questions about life within Europa in the nearer term.