Next stop, Europa? NASA researchers develop life-detecting process for water worlds

Applying techniques that have been available since the 1980’s, NASA researchers have come up with a novel and highly-scaleable new way to search for life on worlds with a lot of water. The process is known as capillary electrophoresis, and its primary purpose is to separate organic chemicals in the same way that a centrifuge might. By separating biologically-relevant amino acids from other naturally occurring organic chemicals, this process provides a very quick and easily-automated process to search for life in water. That means a water rover could easily search where humans cannot.

Great. But is there a water world anywhere nearby for which we can use this test? Why, yes! Europa is one of the 36 or so moons of Jupiter and has long-since been suspected of possibly harboring life. The planet is covered in a vast ocean, frozen at the surface. But that ice on the surface is rippled with cracks that scientists suspect may be from submerged volcanic activity.

Water. Heat. Active geology. These are all ingredients to life here on Earth. Might Europa include even more ingredients we don’t yet see?

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