The Search for Life in the Solar System

Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, came to Georgia Tech last week to discuss current work and planned research, emphasizing the importance of future exploration of Europa. 

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“We’re finding new and exciting places where life might exist,” Green told the audience. “Searching for life is going to take all our efforts – from biology to chemistry to planetary science and everything in between. And I’m proud to say that Georgia Tech is doing fabulously in this area, and I hope it continues.” – Jim Green

It was a week that came with a lot of exciting news on Europa- NASA announced that the planned multiple flyby mission for the early 2020’s has advanced into the design phase, and the Europa Lander Science Definition Team released their feasibility report on the design of a related landed mission.

Dr. Schmidt is involved in both efforts-

That Georgia Tech-NASA connection has yielded findings like the much-heralded 2015 discovery of flowing water on Mars. The most recent example, however, is the Feb. 8 release of a NASA-commissioned science definition team study co-authored by Britney Schmidt, a planetary scientist in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Schmidt, who spends time in Antarctica studying how organisms survive in frozen or near-freezing worlds, is part of a team proposing a 2021 mission to Europa. A lander would set down on the moon’s icy crust and take samples from above and below the surface that might bear proof of current or past organic activity.

“If you get past the surface, Europa looks a lot like Earth,” Schmidt said. “It’s water, it’s interacting with rock, it has a lot of the same chemistry, a lot of the same temperatures. We’re very biased because we stand on rocks, but if you go to the Antarctic where we work, some things there would not be surprised or not be sad if they were living on Europa.”

Stay tuned as we prepare for another field expedition- this fall we’re heading back to Antarctica to robotically explore beneath the Ross Ice Shelf in our continued efforts to better understand ice-ocean processes on Earth and other ocean worlds.

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