I am Bill Nye The Science Guy and CEO of The Planetary Society, I'm here with NASA's Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan and JPL's Europa Study Scientist Robert Pappalardo to talk about Europa—the moon of Jupiter with more liquid water than all the Earth...
[Edit]: Oh how we wish we could stay and answer all of your questions. We had a lot of fun, but we all need to head off to talk about Europa later this afternoon on Capitol Hill (no livestream, unfortunately, but The Planetary Society will post a video).
Make sure to follow us on Twitter: @NASA, @EllenStofan, @TheScienceGuy, @exploreplanets, @CaseyDreier, & @NASAJPL if you have any additional Europa questions for Robert Pappalardo.
And go Europa!
Proof pic: https://twitter.com/NASA/status/489063896775667713
Hey there, Reddit. We’re here to answer anything about Europa—the moon of Jupiter that probably has more liquid water than all the Earth’s oceans combined.
Europa also seems likely to have heat energy and nutrients. Combine those all together and you’re looking at a place that could be habitable for life at this very moment. It’s like having our own little goldilocks-zone exoplanet in our cosmic backyard.
- Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and CEO of The Planetary Society
- Dr. Ellen Stofan, NASA’s Chief Scientist
- Dr. Robert Pappalardo, Europa Study Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- Casey Dreier, Director of Advocacy for The Planetary Society
Why are we doing this? Fundamentally we all love Europa and the mysteries associated with it. What, if anything, can be found in the great oceans of Europa? How could NASA look for life? What would it mean to discover life or even to discover that there is no life there? These are compelling questions, and we’re talking about them today in a special event in D.C. We had such a strong response, we decided to talk about it on Reddit, too.
Some good Europa resources:
National Geographic’s cover story on Europa, Life Beyond Earth
A cliffs notes version of why Europa is so intriguing, with lots of great animations, also from NatGeo
How big is Europa? Here is a comparison of surface areas of bodies in the solar system from Randall Monroe at xkcd
Here’s once concept of how NASA could begin to explore Europa, called the Clipper.
And a newly-released picture of the strange, fractured surface of Europa
YES!! We have a plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030's- and with work- we can make it happen. --Ellen
And of course, robotic spacecraft are going there now! :-) -Robert P.
Mr. Nye, did you ever see the Epic Rap Battle of History that portrayed you? Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yis7GzlXNM
Love it. That's Weird Al himself Newtonising... and they're imitating me. I mean that's as immitationally flattering as it gets. I admit though, I'm not sure why I would be battling Isaac Newton rather than sitting down to share an apple and some peanut butter. BN
I recently read a National Geographic article talking about the Drake equation, and the plausibility of finding habitable planets. How close do you think we are to doing this? Will it happen in our lifetime?
With the James Webb Space Telescope, we will look at the atmospheres of planets around other stars- taking a big leap towards finding habitable planets! JWST launches in 2018- so stay tuned! -- Ellen
Who would win in a fist fight between you and Neil Degrasse Tyson?
Neil would crush me. But based on our day of bike riding, I'm pretty sure I can outrun him. Phew... BN
Mr. Nye, Dr. Stofan, and Dr. Pappalardo Thank you all so much! I'm Matt Heer, a high school science teacher of 11 years and you've all done so much for me in my career. I truly appreciate and am grateful for all you have done in your career Mr. Nye; Exciting young people about science and your current battle fighting publicly for scientific truth. (I'd love to get a picture with you if you are ever in Wisconsin for my classroom!)
Dr. Stofan and Dr. Pappalardo, I have been involved in the (NASA HUNCH)[www.nasahunch.com) program for the past 3 years and that program has re-vitalized my love of science and research and getting students an exciting and meaningful experience. Thank you for your life's work of bettering human understanding at and fighting for tax dollars well spent. Keep it up! You all are American hero's too!
My question for you all is this: If you could address high school students (teachers or parents too for that matter!) of America right now, what words of wisdom / advice / or challenges do you have for them? Thank you all again for your time and keep on rocking!
PS Would any of you be interested in skyping with my school & community some time in the future?
Great to read from you! The key to teaching anything (I think) is to let your passion show. Let em' see you love them and that you care how well they do along with the joy of science.
For a pic, check out my new site (your home page) billnye.com
My brief advice is to follow your dreams and desires. Along the way, I was told that there are very few jobs studying the planets at NASA. But if you are dedicated and persistent, one of those could be yours. Who would have thought I would be leading the effort to study the science for a mission to Europa? -Robert P.
This is beautiful. This is exactly what I'd love to do! Planetary research is becoming more and more desirable, I suppose!
Do you have any specific tips?
Tip: Pay attention in your science and math classes! :-) -RP
Hi Bill. What unanswered question are you desperate to get an answer for?
BN: Was there, or better yet, is there life on other worlds? That's why I took this job as CEO of the Planetary Society. Mars may still harbor something alive today, and who knows what's in the sea of Europa!
What can I personally do to support the space program?
A big one is calling up your congressional representatives and telling them that you support NASA and its projects. They need to know that their constituents support this stuff. Beyond that, staying informed about issues in space policy helps you communicate important issues to your friends. I do a lot of that for The Planetary Society at http://planetary.org/get-involved/be-a-space-advocate
Are you going to start up a new science show any time soon?
BN here: Oh, we are working hard on that. Sorting several offers. Meanwhile, my book Undeniable, The Science of Creation comes out in November. Buy a carton or two ;-)
Thank you all so much for doing this AMA! Bill, I'm a huge fan! I always used to watch your show when I was younger and you inspired me to go into a STEM field (Materials Engineering). These questions are for all of you or whomever wants to answer:
How likely is it that we will be able to travel to Europa? How far in the future can we expect this to happen?
What do you think is the most interesting thing about science/what never fails to blow your mind?
And lastly, If you could change one thing about how the sciences are taught to American children, what would it be?
Thanks again for coming to answer all these questions :)
The most astonishing thing about science is that it is a process that lets us humble humans know so much (or what seems like so much) about the universe. We are part of the cosmos, yet we can understand it. Amazing. For science education: I say we need to emphasize and fund in elementary schools. That's not where we should cut back. People get their lifelong passion of science before they're ten years old. And, that lead to discovery and innovation. BN
We're in an interesting position in our civilization where, technologically, there is nothing stopping us from exploring most of the solar system robotically. The big limiting factor is funding.
But NASA is exploring some really exciting concepts right now, including a mission called the Clipper that would orbit Jupiter and fly by the moon something like 45 times to perform initial reconnaissance. Most mission concepts could get there by the early to mid-2020s.
If you're talking about humans, a la Europa Report that's a lot different. The big factor there is radiation protection for astronauts, which is a problem pretty much any time you leave low-Earth orbit. --Casey
What are your thoughts on the movie Europa Report?
It was fun! It stretched the science a bit, but that's okay for the movies. It raised awareness of Europa, its science, and the drive to explore it! -Robert P.
Thank you very much for doing this AMA.
Have you ever seen the movie 2010 (the squeal to 2001 a space odyssey)? At the end a stern message is given to attempt no landing on Europa.
ALL THESE WORLDS
ARE YOURS EXCEPT
USE THEM TOGETHER
USE THEM IN PEACE
Back in 1995 there was a scientific conference on the possibility of an ocean beneath Europa's ice shell. Arthur C. Clark tied in via a video connection from his home in Sri Lanka, which was a big feat for the day. He gave us express verbal permission to send a lander to Europa! :-) -Robert P.
What do you imagine to be the most exciting implication of finding another habitable world in our own solar system?
It would tell us that life could be very common throughout the Universe. And we would be able to examine another life chemistry: would it be the same or different from that on Earth? These would be huge advances scientifically and to humanity as a whole! -Robert P.
Over the past few months, there has been much talk about humanity's next big adventure: Mars. So, just how plausible is a human colony on the red planet? Considering all the varibles such as the atmosphere, supplies needed, geology, geography, etc., will humans one day successfully populate the martian land?
edit Just saw this AMA is focused on Europa. In that case, if there is any life on Europa, how evolved do you think it will be? In other words, do you believe Europa's vast oceans probably only contain bacteria-like organisms, or could they house large animals similar to fish?
Mars is hard to land on and even harder to live on. I say, if you want to live on Mars, try Antarctica for a few years, and to make it realistic, bring your own air.
Don't know what Europan life would be like; that's why we want to send a mission. How cool would it be to find something living way out there!
By the way, we love that pic! --Casey
What do you think would be the public reaction if life was found on Europa?
We are searching for life on Mars and hopefully soon on Europa- we are following the liquid water, which scientists think is critical for life. I think the public would be in awe over the ability to answer the question- are we alone, how similar is life on other worlds to life here on Earth, and how can we use that information to better understand ourselves! --- Ellen
What caused Europa to form with so much water? Was it brought upon by another body or are these questions yet to be answered?
There was lots of water vapor in the solar system as it was forming. In the outer solar system, it was cold enough that lots of ice condensed (while in the inner solar system, it was too warm for that too happen). Thus, the moons of the outer planets were built from rock, metal, and ice, so they still contain much ice today. At Europa, tidal heating can melt some of this H2O to form a global subsurface ocean. -Robert P.
Has there been any advancements on protecting humans from radiation damage outside earth's protection?
At NASA, we are working hard on this issue- because it is critical to our ability to get astronauts to Mars in the 2030's. The Mars Curiosity Rover has an instrument that characterized the radiation environment between Earth and Mars and on the surface, giving us specific numbers to work with. -- Ellen
Reading the title, I'm just curious; is the water on Europa fresh or salty, like our oceans?
We don't know -- it could be anywhere in between! There must be some salt, based on magnetometry results from the Galileo spacecraft. But how salty that ocean is can be tested with a follow up mission. -Robert P.
Do you have more faith in Europa sustaining life than Mars?
Of course, faith is not what matters here -- it is the science and insights that come from exploring these worlds. Both show strong promise for being habitable environments: Mars near the surface in the past and underground perhaps today, and Europa today. Both need to be explored to find out if they have evidence of life of past or present life. -Robert P.
Hi! I'm an aspiring female Astrobiologist, and besides asking if I can study Europa with ya'll, I'd like to ask...
Bill Nye, what advice could you give me if I want to become a science educator like you? My dream is to have a TV show talking about the wonders of the universe and inspiring people, just as you have to me.
Thanks for doing this AMA! Ya'll are inspiring and amazing!
Figured I should edit in, I've made a YouTube Channel, there's just nothing on it yet! (I want to make sure the videos I make are actually good!) But I think I'm feeling inspired to make a video very soon... Either about Europa or Kepler 186f. :)
Another edit: OMG BILL NYE ANSWERED THIS. Ya'll can definitely expect a video very, very soon :D Thanks every one for your kind words of support!!
For any educator, I feel we have to learn to build and perform the demonstrations so they work in class as well as the night before. Then, I recommend you spend time on stage as a performer. Try stand-up or plays. If you can sing, belt out a few songs. Teaching is, in my opinion, a performing art. Carry on! BN
I grew up in the Bible Belt and it took my college education and that brilliant debate with Ken Ham to open my eyes to how wrong everything I had been taught as a kid was, so thank you for that.
My question is simple, how can I take steps to excite those around me in the deep south with these fascinating projects and studies of Europa and the possibilities of life?
I would hope that images of Europa from the Galileo spacecraft (e.g. http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia18413 ) would excite people. In my experience and belief, there is no conflict between religion and the search for life elsewhere. Carl Sagan has some great essays along these lines, and popular books by Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory make this point. -Robert P.
Hey Bill Nye, Ellen Stofan and Robert Pappalardo! Thank you for stopping by Reddit and giving us this opportunity
What's something you can tell us that will shock most of us about Europa?
What is one big mystery of Europa?
Do you think that Nicolas Cage may hold the answers to unlocking this mystery?
Thank you all for giving us this chance on behalf of this AMA I'd like to commend you the contributions you've made to science and wish the best of luck on your current and future projects
The radiation environment at Europa would provide a dose lethal to humans in about 15 minutes. -Robert P.
I understand why you might hope that Mr. Cage could help us out, but he is playing a character named Ben Gates. Gates: That's the guy you need, but I don't think he's available, as he is fictional and all. BN
Do you fear at all for the future of space agencies? When I look at the comparison between funding of the military and NASA, it's worrying.
I am actually really optimistic! We have a lot of support- like from everyone here today :)), and we use lots of paths- increasing our use of technology to bring up capabilities and decrease costs, more partnering with the commercial sector and our international partners-- so we are getting more creative and leveraging every opportunity. And when you look at all the compelling science there dis to do- how can you not be optimistic! --Ellen
David Grinspoon's book: Lonely Planets. -Robert P.
Mr. Nye, what do you think of the state of journalism and media in regards to climate science? What were your worst and best interviews?
We're near the tipping point. Most people will stop denying it soon. Then, we have to find ways to make up and be friendly. Man oh man, it's going to be a near run thing, though. Humans will live through the big changes in the next century, but it's not clear how many and how well. Phew. BN
When does NASA plan to explore Europa?
We are studying a new mission to Europa-- in fact- a NASA announcement of opportunity to work on instruments for the next Europa mission came out today! --Ellen
In what ways could the ice on Europa be penetrated if astronauts were to visit, and would there be any potential dangers posed by the ice?
One idea suggested is a melting probe that could go down through the ice. It would likely have to be heated by a nuclear power source. But such exploration is difficult and a long way off. Fortunately Europa appears to bring its innards up to the surface, so we can explore what is below by examining the surface, and perhaps plumes (if they are confirmed). -Robert P.
Hi, this is a question for Ellen. If NASA had 100% of the US's current national budget, what would you want to do with that money?
NASA has a very strong budget to explore our solar system and the universe, utilize the ISS and develop the capabilities to prepare to send humans beyond low Earth orbit, and do research in aeronautics to make air travel safer and more efficient. So if we had more money- I would keep doing what we are doing- just more of it :-) ---Ellen
How do yall feel about privatization of Space flight, namely SpaceX?
It's important to remember that SpaceX has previously and continues to receive a significant amount of funding from NASA to develop its vehicles. The biggest difference is in the contracting types: fixed cost vs. cost-plus, in which the government is responsible for delays and cost overruns. NASA essentially buys a delivery service from SpaceX, though they provided many hundreds of millions of dollars to help them develop the tech.
This isn't to diminish the success of SpaceX: they've created a vertically integrated rocket company that does business in a very different way than classical contractors like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.
But increased privatization is probably one of the most exciting and positive developments in space in recent years. If a real market can form, you open up a wide variety of possibilities that don't really fall into the realm of government-funded exploration, like tourism and asteroid mining.
How concerned are you all about spreading the Earth's microorganisms around the place? And do you think any could reasonably survive in a foreign planet, potentially creating more life over the next few billion years?
All the space agencies of the world take planetary protection very seriously- making sure we don't spread Earth microorganisms or bring anything back. We want to make sure when we find life on Mars or Europa, that we did not bring it with us. So we spend a lot of time and effort sterilizing spacecraft that approach the potentially habitable worlds in our solar system, like Mars and Europa. --Ellen
Do you plan on doing something like The Science Guy - science videos for a wide audience?
And what's your favorite part of the Bill Nye the Science Guy intro song/video?
EDIT: What is something breakthrough you would like happening in the near future?
EDIT2: I guess my first question has been answered already here.
The breakthrough we need is a better battery, a better system to store energy, electricticy especially. Such a development would, dare I say it, change the world!
Bill, what is the best general life advice you would give to someone?
Two things: - Every person is responsible for his or her own actions. - Work to leave the world better than you found it... BN
Perhaps tonight -- thank you! -RP
Hey guys! Thank you for inspiring me to go into STEM first of all, and second, what do you think our course of action would be should we discover life on Europa? Also how would we get there/ get beneath the planets icy crust? Would you expect these organisms to be produce energy through chemosynthesis like those near hydrothermal vents here in our corner of the solar system?
Oh my friend, glad you're into Sci, Eng, Tech, and Math. The big news is that we do not have to drill through the ice on Europa to sample its seawater. We can fly a spacecraft through the geyser plumes! It will make the cost of the mission wonderfully affordable. That's why the Planetary Society joined with NASA in Washington today. BN
I'm curious to why we haven't sent any probes to Europa? Sure mars is cool but a habitable moon is cooler.
NASA's Voyager and Galileo spacecrafts have studied the Jupiter system, and Europa was a big focus of the Galileo mission. We have been studying a Europa mission, but it is a challenge due to the high radiation environment. But we are close- and just today released a NASA announcement of opportunity to start work on instruments for the next Europa mission. We are also working with the European Space AGency on their next mission to the Jupiter system, called JuICE! --Ellen
Love ya', Bill, but when will someone update Disney World's World of Energy ride with you and Ellen? :-)
Write to 'em. It was big fun... People like it perhaps because its air conditioned;-) BN
To what extent is the plutonium shortage halting a Europa trip?
NASA currently states that sufficient plutonium is expected to be available by the middle of the coming decade. But in any case, the Europa mission study team at JPL is carefully investigating whether a solar powered mission is feasible. We should know by late this summer. -Robert P.
Hey bill and friends, do you believe deep down that there is life living currently on Europa? If so how developed would you think it might be (as in bacteria vs. something fish-like)? Also how long down the road do you think it is to have a definitive answer as to whether or not there is anything alive there?
Personally, I don't know -- that's why we have to explore: to find out! But if there is any chance that there may be life there--and there is--it is so important to find out that we should do so. If it is there, it would likely be single-cell organisms. Larger critters require more chemical energy than Europa may be able to provide. -Robert P.
Does NASA have a protocol they can discuss for if somehow they found "intelligent" life (whether it be in the oceans of Europa somehow, beyond life as we know it, or elsewhere)?
Every time NASA finds something cool or interesting- we let the public know right away, and this would be no different. We make sure our science findings are sound, and then we bring the public right in with us to share the excitement! --Ellen
Do you think we will see a mission to explore the (possible) subsurface ocean of Europe in your lifetime? thank you!
NASA has expressed its desire to explore Europa--in fact, just this morning NASA released a call for instrument proposals for such a mission! The mission would be an orbiting or multiple flyby mission, as a first step toward exploring this world in detail. -Robert P.
What do you think about BBC banning Creationists from debating the global climate crisis on air?
It's not really a ban (I don't believe) so much as a no longer bothering with, to bend a phrase. The evidence is overwhelming. I've been to the UK, and people want to get to work addressing the problem rather than argue about it. BN
What makes Europa so special?
We think water is critical to the evolution of life-- so we are exploring Mars, which in its past had water on the surface. We know Europa has an ocean under its icy crust, and that there are likely volcanic vents at the floor of its ocean. So after Mars, Europa is the next logical place to look! (after that Enecladus, maybe Titan….) ---Ellen
How does the exploration of Europa rank with the colonization of Mars?
We are exploring Mars because it had water in the past on its surface-- so it is pretty straightforward to look for evidence of past habitable environments on its surface. And it is the best place to send humans to explore. Europa is a bit harder of place to explore because of the tough radiation environment-- but we are working on it! --Ellen
Since climate change is an emergency situation, should we divert funding from expensive NASA projects to sustainable energy research and energy storage? If not, why not?
At NASA, we have over 17 satellites in orbit around Earth, making measurements to try to understand how and why the planet is changing. Our research into our changing climate is a critical part of what we do. --Ellen
Do you think that life could exist on Europa?
Please see previous answer to similar questions here. :-) -RP
Will we go to another planet in my lifetime? (I'm 24)
Please say yes.
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