Google
 

Aardvark Daily

New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 23rd year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

Content copyright © 1995 - 2017 to Bruce Simpson (aka Aardvark), the logo was kindly created for Aardvark Daily by the folks at aardvark.co.uk



Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

Mars or Europa?

7 March 2013

Mankind has spent a lot of time sending spacecraft to orbit, land on and roam about the surface of -- Mars.

As a result of all this activity, we've learned an awful lot about the red planet but ask anyone involved and they'll surely tell you that they have barely scratched the surface (so to speak).

There are now privately funded proposals to send a couple of folk on a "flyby" of Mars, in anticipation of a future manned landing -- but is this the most sensible "next step" in our exploration of the solar system?

The reason I ask is because, despite a few false alarms, the prospects of actually finding any life on Mars remains fairly remote. We're also unlikely to find anything we can use here on Earth -- the transport costs making even massive deposits of gold or platinum uneconomic to recover.

Europa however, is a different story.

For some time, scientists have believed that Jupiter's largest moon is perhaps the most viable habitat for life beyond the confines of planet earth.

A vast subterranean ocean might well be a perfect environment for simple, and more complex forms of life to appear, evolve and thrive -- just as it has on the seas of Earth.

Although sheathed in a layer of thick ice, the depths (up to 10KM) of Europa's ocean might also be warmed by a number of mechanisms, although direct sunlight is not expected to be one of them.

Preliminary plans for probes to Europa have already been discussed by NASA and these, it is anticipated, would carve a path through the ice sheet before entering the watery world beneath.

So, given that any trip to Europa or Mars will be powered largely by gravitational slingshot effects, the costs involved ought not be too different -- despite the vastly greater distance of the Jovian moon. With this in mind, which would be the more valuable trip?

Does it make sense to risk human life in a trip that will likely do little more than prove that humans can survive more than a year in the void of interplanetary space when, for the same money, we may well be able to find the first traces of life elsewhere in the solar system?

My money would be on the trip to Europa -- although I can see that perhaps not everyone would be comfortable with such a mission.

Would discovering life, even simple single-celled creatures, on another celestial body be too frightening for some to contemplate? Might it shake the foundations of some religions in a way that could significantly weaken some of those pseudo-political organisations?

Or would it reinvigorate the whole space program in a way that hasn't been seen since the 1960's and man's attempts to plant a foot on the moon?

I'm picking it would be the latter and like to think that the discovery of life on Europa might act as a unifying force -- bringing all the world together, once we realise that, for all our differences, we are united as the people of Earth -- in a universe filled with a potentially limitless number of other peoples on countless other planets or moons.

Mars or Europa? Where do you think we ought to spend the money looking for life?

Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

Have your say on this...

PERMALINK to this column

Oh, and don't forget today's sci/tech news headlines


Rank This Aardvark Page

 

Change Font

Sci-Tech headlines

 


Features:

Beware The Alternative Energy Scammers

The Great "Run Your Car On Water" Scam

 

The Missile Man The Missile Man book

Recent Columns

Even CPUs need software updates
The modern, ultra-fast, ultra-complex, highly integrated, all-singing, all-dancing CPUs we have in modern desktop, laptop and server-style computers are a far cry from the humble 8008 that started the whole microcomputer revolution...

Wineing about bandwidth
I spied something rather geeky but, to a geek like me, very interesting this morning...

Bone-headed politicians
As I mentioned in yesterday's column, I headed off to the South Waikato District Council's meeting and had my five-minutes to address the members...

The battle, part 1
Today I head off to a meeting of the local (South Waikato) District Council with cameras in hand and a few challenging questions...

How war would affect key technologies
Tensions are brewing around the world in a way that could soon lead to a major conflict involving a large theatre of war...

Data heists, the new bank robbery
There was a time when, if you wanted quick money, you just robbed a bank...

$300 for a lifetime supply of video and movies?
Last week I predicted that we may have reached "peak piracy" and over the past few days it's starting to look as if I was right on the money...

The future looks sunny for solar
Solar energy is a no-brainer...

The end of the free ride?
For as long as we've had the ability to reproduce copyrighted material there has been piracy...

The unexpected future
The Wednesday edition of Aardvark tends to be published a little later than those editions published on other days of the week...

What ever happened to VR?
Virtual Reality was going to be "the next bit thing" if you listened to key players in the industry and many commentators just a year or two ago...