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Europa in Our Backyard: Robots, Radar and the Search for Life Beyond Earth

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Samuel Scripps Auditorium

Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science Society and the Environment

8610 Kennel Way

La Jolla, CA 92037

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Europa in Our Backyard:

Robots, Radar and the Search for Life Beyond Earth

Dr. Britney Schmidt

Georgia Tech


Of all the possible extraterrestrial habitats in our solar system Jupiter’s moon Europa is perhaps the most enticing. Fueled by Jupiter’s immense gravitational tides and covered by an icy outer shell, Europa acquires enough energy to maintain a liquid ocean. Combined with intense surface radiation, this geothermal energy could fuel an active ecosystem that is not dissimilar from the microbial ecosystems observed below thick ice cover on Earth. Europa’s icy plate tectonics, and evidence for shallow water within the ice, implies that rapid ice shell recycling could create a conveyor belt between the ice and ocean, allowing the ocean – including biological material – to one day be sampled by spacecraft.

Beneath ice shelves on Earth, processes such as ice formation, melt, and circulation mediate the ice as an important element of the climate system. Similar dynamic processes are evident on Europa through the intense fracturing of the ice shell. Cutoff from sunlight the biological communities below Earth’s ice shelves may be the best analogs for a putative Europan ecosystem. Thus exploring the environment below Earth’s ice shelves can form the foundation of our understanding of other ocean worlds, however, observations are difficult given the harsh environment and thickness of the ice. New technological advances are required to explore these and other challenging environments on Earth, and ultimately the oceans below other ice covered worlds. Using a combination of remote sensing and under ice AUV/ROVs, we are working to improve climate and planetary science, and develop techniques for exploring Europa.

In this public lecture Dr. Britney Schmidt, a planetary scientist from Georgia Institute of Technology, will guide us on an exploration of environments on Europa and their analogs here on Earth. She will take us along on two future NASA missions to Europa; the Europa Clipper Mission in 2021 and a Europa Lander mission that is in early planning stages. As a veteran of several expeditions to the Ross and McMurdo Ice Shelves in Antarctica she’ll describe the work that we’re doing in our own cosmic background to better understand Europa – an ice covered world not so unlike our own.

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Samuel Scripps Auditorium

Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science Society and the Environment

8610 Kennel Way

La Jolla, CA 92037

View Map

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