In September of last year, the Hubble Space telescope observed what is believed to be plumes of water erupting from the surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. The surface of Europa is covered in a layer of ice of unknown thickness, and it is widely believed that there could be vast oceans of liquid water underneath that ice layer. These plumes support this theory, and more importantly, support the possibility of heat convection through these oceans.
That heat convection would create a very active 3-Dimensional current system in the moon’s oceans. That 3-D current could be the key to Europe supporting an ecosystem, and our first example of alien life. The possibility of alien life is, of course, exciting to many around the world, and as of 2016 there are preliminary plans to land on the surface of Europa. The opportunity to land on and study the moon provides an incredible opportunity to see the first ecosystem observed off of our own planet, but also poses unique challenges. If there is an ecosystem on Europa great care must be taken to ensure it is not disturbed by any organisms that could possible get there from Earth. (Certain organisms may be able to survive in the vacuum of space, like the tardigrade, or water-bear)