- Can we Colonize this Moon? Europa: The Future of Space Exploration.
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Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moon is considered to be one of the rare celestial bodies that has potential to be colonized by mankind. This moon could prove to be very meaningful in the continuation human species, so how exactly would the colonization of it look?
As human life is evolving on Earth, it is important to understand that large changes are constantly taking place, for the better and for the worse. For instance, overpopulation has undeniably taken over the world by storm, as resources are decreasing, access to water is shortening, higher rates of pollution are taking place, an excessive amount of waste is being created, etc. For these reasons, it is vital to colonize other “new” celestial bodies in our solar system in order to thrive as a human population and continue life without the destruction of natural resources, and the planet itself. To venture in deep-space exploration, it is key to have a hold of the chemical composure of this moon, position and structure of the celestial body, radiation quantities, and potential of natural processes. With this understanding is introduced a new side to colonizing Europa; technology. New and emerging technologies make it possible for human space-exploration to reach new heights. Throughout this article, four types of technology will be introduced and explained. The uses of such technology within the fields of ecology, chemistry, electricity and astronomy, are to aid with the mission that humanity will one day, hopefully begin. Mission Europa.
Europa, discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei is one of Jupiter’s moons and is found to be a potentially habitable celestial body. Europa completes a full orbit around Jupiter in 3.5 days. Scientists are certain that under the icy surface of Europa lies a large body of saltwater that contains almost twice the amount of saltwater on Earth. In 2018, scientists were able to study data from Galileo Galilei and evidence proves that Europa may be ejecting plumes of water vapor into space. This moon does not have any seasons and stays in a relatively cold climate throughout the year.
One of the largest factors that proves Europa’s capability for humans to thrive upon it is the large amount of saltwater (Figure 1). This is known as a subglacial water ocean and demonstrates that human life could be sustained on or beneath the icy surface. Although Europa is far in proximity from a heat source, it is still able to create relative amounts of heat for itself through the process of tidal flexes. The tidal flexes may also be interacting with the rocks on the seafloor of Europa which can create chemical reactions, further allowing energy to be constructed.
It will take about 6 years to reach Europa. Generally, when scientists fly spacecrafts over the orbit of Jupiter they tend to use very strong, atomic systems to power the spacecraft. A common and very effective type of atomic system used is called the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG). This system uses radioactive material such as plutonium to generate heat as they decay into non-radioactive material. That same heat is transferred into the usage of electricity with arrangements of thermocouples. Thermocouples are a smaller system part of the RTG that consists of two wires and create voltage based on the proportion of heat. This atomic system would be ideal to lead this spacecraft as it is strong and can take us far distances, further the cool climate of Europa will not interfere with thermocouples.
Photosynthesis is a key ecological process naturally occuring on Earth and essential to replicate on newly colonized space-bodies. Artificial photosynthesis will allow for plants to sustain themselves and produce both oxygen and glucose, which will help with the colonization of humans on Europa. This artificially produced energy conversion system must be able to harvest sunlight and split water molecules; this will take place in nano-structures, essentially representing the system of a leaf. Using giant parabolic mirrors, sunlight can be concentrated onto two chambers of the nano-structure, separated by a barrier of cerium oxide. The energy from the heat/light source will then heat the cerium oxide up to 1500 degrees Celsius, therefore releasing an oxygen atom into one of the chambers and releasing it into the atmosphere. The cerium then becomes oxidized and therefore continues the change of creatine increasing more oxygen, and creating energy.
A recent report by Nature Communication outlined, their researchers highlighted how to conduct a photoelectrochemical experiment, and is continuing research based on what the experiment concluded. If plants are able to colonize themselves on Europa, energy will be created for all levels of the food chain, and we may be able to create ecosystems similar to the ones on Earth. NASA is undergoing a series of processes to develop its current advanced plant habitat which is based on the structure of a machine. This advanced system includes LED lighting, water system, fertilizer, nutrients, etc. The key to understanding and developing this system is “What is the relationship between microgravity and plant lignin content?”; answering this question will relate back to Earth and overall speed up the growth of plants in space.
As astronauts begin to colonize Europa they will need ways to produce their resources that can last for longer periods of time. Exoelectrogens are a type of bacteria that can produce usable electricity through small antennas connected to their bodies. Usage of exoelectrogens on space can produce electricity and possibly supply electricity for water treatment facilities, power plants, factories, etc (Figure 2). A team at the University of Southern California is currently aiming to grow such bacteria on just an electrode, as this type of bacteria only needs electrons to survive. Exoelectrogens are found on the seafloor, and for the past few years, scientists did not know the reasons for electric currents showing on the seafloor, up until this type of bacteria was found.
Cable bacteria create energy and respirate through the process of creating an electric current; they can connect to one another which makes the current even stronger and able to power large types of series and parallel circuits. Relatively, a recent study found that the currents that the bacteria carry are comparable to the current density in copper wiring. For instance, in wastewater system management these fuel cells use microorganisms to consume organic waste in water, and also harvest electricity at the same time to produce power and help the treatment system itself.
Electrolysis of water is essential to create breathable oxygen on Europa, for humans to survive. Currently, Europa’s atmosphere is composed solely of oxygen, however, the oxygen is too thin to breathe. Therefore, through the process of electrolysis, breathable oxygen and usable hydrogen can be made over time in order to aid in human development upon Europa. The International Space System (ISS) already has developed machinery such as this, (Figure 3) however it must be modified to create balance in Europa, as the machine requires constant refueling shipments. In Scientist Yousef Naimi’s research, it is outlined that the United Nations (UN)’s the seventh goal is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all, as a part of their Sustainable Development Program, which has the potential to be implemented into Europa’s mission.
On this moon, under the large sheets of ice, there are oceans; using the water in the ocean, it is possible to create both hydrogen and oxygen, which are both essential for human survival. Electrolysis of water is the general process in which water (H2O) is split into oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2). As astronauts venture forth on this mission to Europa, they will need to make use of the resources there, in this situation it is H2O.
Europa faces deadly radiation from Jupiter often, which will be very harmful to the population of Europa. Development of a strong artificial magnetic shield on this moon to protect Europa from Jupiter’s deadly radiation. The sun emits solar flares, which cause bursts of radiation to move towards our planet. The magnetic shield protects us from x-ray and gamma radiation, as the force of molten iron spinning creates this shield (Figure 4). However, the south and north parts of the Earth are not protected, therefore, the radiation gets concentrated and this creates auroras, once mixed with nitrogen, oxygen, etc. Creating something similar to Europa will help protect its citizens from the same kind of radiation.
Currently, NASA has proposed this idea, and the potential of creating an artificial magnetic field is being researched. The research is being done to form the magnetic field on Mars, which in theory will be able to restore the atmosphere, make it safer for humans to arrive on the planet, and further restore lost oceans. As shown in figure 4, a strong shield is needed to save humanity from dangerous radiation upon Europa, and a similar shield can be made. According to NASA Planetary Science Division director Jim Green, a powerful pair of equal or oppositely charged magnetic poles can potentially deflect solar winds. The Planetary Science Division worked with scientists from the Research Center, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and several universities in order to test simulations of this scenario. After these simulations, the tests concluded that there is a possibility to create such a scenario and it may be needed in the next few decades.
Humans still have a lot to learn prior to colonizing Europa. We are yet to explore the geology, potential prior organisms, etc that are on the planet. The exploration with Mission Europa will help us analyze what is to be done prior to the stage of colonization. As of now, Europa is a potentially habitable celestial body and holds the potential to carry human life onwards from 2040. This article determined that there are new and innovative ways to develop humanity on Europa, and such endeavors are still under the process of investigation. In order to sustain life, there are many factors, for instance, food chains, gas cycles, a variety of gasses, organisms, usable water, space, etc. Therefore, more studies and research must be done to determine the sustainability and capability of the expansion of such factors. In all, this mission of colonizing Europa may now, seem like a dream, but will one day help us succeed in moving towards a better, safer future. As of now, we must begin to make progress towards that goal.
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- Date of publication:
- Tue, 05/04/2021 - 15:05
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