Europa's Radiation Makes This Moon a Contender for Extraterrestrial Life

by Hannah Margaret Allen

Nuclear physicist Taylor Wilson has a gut feeling scientists are nearing the discovery of aliens. Where will this happen? In this week’s episode of I Need My Space, Wilson places his bet on Europa, one of Jupiter’s 69 moons, as the location we’ll have our first encounter with simple extraterrestrial life.

When asked about finding life — even the simplest form of life — beyond our planet, Wilson tells I Need My Space co-host Steve Ward that “it’d be crazy to think we’re alone.” He’s so confident, in fact, he’s got a playlist queued up for “the second Genesis” — the day the signatures of life are conclusively discovered.

Europa experiences a constant bombardment of radiation from Jupiter’s magnetic field, which is created by a form of hydrogen called metallic hydrogen. This steady stream of intense radiation could possibly have “the energy and balance life needs,” says Wilson, who also happens to be the youngest person ever to produce nuclear fusion at age 14. Wilson, now 24, is a correspondent for VICE on HBO, and will host a segment of that weekly series on Friday about searching for life beyond Earth, called “Are We Alone?

Back on Europa, black smokers found far beneath its thick ice — much like the deep-sea hydrothermal vents on Earth’s seafloor — might create the necessary life-inducing conditions. This explains why Wilson would, in a perfect world, land a probe on the frozen ocean, melt through the cold crust, and explore the mysteries under the ice.

Listen to episode nine, “Are Aliens Farting on Mars?,” on Apple Podcasts now.

The possibilities of exploring and sampling the chilling Europa might not be so far off as we enter a new era of space exploration where a spacecraft can be the size of a matchbook and expensive missions are paid for in partnership with private companies.

While we wait for that day to come, I’ll start building my playlist for the day scientists discover extraterrestrial life, and you better believe (the) Drake (equation) will be on there. I Need My Space is a weekly Inverse original podcast, with new episodes every Tuesday.*