Article on Europa water discoveries linked here.
New evidence has come to light that the vast, ice-encrusted oceans of Europa may be harboring Earth-like life that lives on the oxygen-rich waters. Time to plan your extraterrestrial fishing trip? Maybe. Apparently, the oceans of Europa are fed with more than 100 times more oxygen than previous models suggested.
This may be one of the coolest things ever. I was reading the National Geographic article on this last nightand was really amazed. Life on a gas giant’s satellite using hydrothermal energy and tidal energy would greatly expand the habitable zone to include exo-solar planets that actually have been found (potentially) — so far, I believe no exo-solar planet with a standard (non-eccentric) orbit has been found that could support conventionally conceived life. The ability to have life on a moon like the Jovian ones greatly pushes out the cold side of habitable zones. So perhaps there is an Endor or Hoth out there somewhere.
But what piqued my interest the most was the question of how one goes about exploring a world with 100 mile-deep oceans. How do you develop a craft that you can launch and send on a three year voyage and then plop into an ocean. The corrosive powers of H2O would almost certainly require a probe of greater than normal sturdiness and hulls… thereby making the probe more difficult to send. And, since Europa is certainly like Waterworld, you also have to consider defensive measures against the animal-life you’re likely to encounter there.
However they do it, I do hope we get started on a mission to some of the Jovian moons soon. Europa, Io and Ganymede are all intriguing for their own reasons. Particularly the volcanism of Io, the waters of Europa, the pure mass of Ganymede (which is the next largest object after Mercury), and Callisto provides some interest in that it is a Jovian moon which is relatively unaffected by tidal energy and heat (thus providing a contrast to the other three).