Looking for life in the icy crust of Europa
Raj, Chinmayee Govinda
Stockton, Amanda M.
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Jupiter’s icy moon Europa is of great scientific interest due to its potential for harboring extraterrestrial life. Rather than directly looking for microbial life using optical microscopes and limiting ourselves to life as we know it on Earth, looking for chemical biosignatures is a more holistic approach to search for life. Biosignatures are chemical marks left behind by life systems indicating their presence. For instance, all life on Earth has amino acids as its building blocks and as genetic information storage packets. Similarly, life on Earth seems to be favored by only one type of salts – chloride. Finding biogenic amino acids and chloride salts in the right levels on Europa could be encouraging. To detect amino acids and salts on Europa, we are developing an in-situ sampler, the Icy Moon Penetrator Organic Analyzer (IMPOA), a coke can-sized device. IMPOA is currently capable of sustaining 55,000 G impact force, penetrates deep into the ice crust, collects samples, and analyzes them. IMPOA uses an optical set up to detect the fluorescence of laser-activated amino acids and an embedded contactless electrochemical conductivity sensor for salt detection.