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A Search for Signs of Life and Habitability on EuropaEuropa is a key target in the search for life beyond the Earth because of consistent evidence that below the icy surface there is liquid water. Future missions to Europa could confirm the presence and nature of the ocean and determine the thickness of the ice layer. Confirming the presence of an ocean and determining the habitability of Europa are key astrobiology science objectives. Nevertheless, the highest priority objective for astrobiology will be a search for life. How could a search for life be accomplished on a near-term mission given the thick ice cover? One answer may lie in the surface materials. If Europa has an ocean, and if that ocean contains life, and if water from the ocean is carried up to the surface, then signs of life may be contained in organic material on the surface. Organics that derive from biological processes (dead organisms) are distinct from organics derived from non-biological processes in several aspects. First, biology is selective and specific in its use of molecules. For example, Earth life uses 20 left-handed amino acids. Second, biology can leave characteristic isotopic patterns. Third, biology often produces large complex molecules in high concentrations, for example lipids. Organic material that has been on the surface of Europa for long periods of time would be reprocessed by the strong radiation field probably erasing any signature of biological origin. Evidence of life in the ocean may be found on the surface of Europa if regions of the surface contained relatively recent material carried up from the ocean through cracks in the icy lithosphere. But organic material that has been on the surface of Europa for long periods of time would be reprocessed by the strong radiation field probably erasing any signature of biological origin. Thus, the detailed analysis required may not be possible via remote sensing but direct sampling of the material below the radiation processed upper meter is probably required.
Document ID
20030107735
Document Type
Conference Paper
Authors
Fonda, Mark (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
McKay, Christoper P. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Eicken, H. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Neuer, S. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Sogin, M. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Waite, H. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Warmflash, D. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2003
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Meeting Information
AGU Fall 2003 Meeting(San Francisco, CA)
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 624-06-96
Distribution Limits
Public
Copyright
Other