red spot eyes the planets orbiting four moons
Humans have looked to the heavens since time began - to explore,
meditate, and in the never-ending quest for answers to why
there is life, the universe and, well, everything.
The Italian astronomer Galileo built a telescope and observed
the largest planet in the solar system as England unified
with Scotland, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament, and
Galileo also looked upon four satellites orbiting the mighty
ball of gases and named them after the lovers of Jupiter (otherwise
known as the Greek god Zeus): Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
A few centuries later and humankind finally developed the
technology to get more up-close and personal with the fifth
planet from the sun. Most notably, the great swirling red
spot was identified as huge, raging storm.
But the moons could prove to be of more interest in our search
for alien life. Europa, orbiting second-nearest to Jupiter,
is encased in a smooth sheet of ice pock-marked with giant
shifting icebergs and strange red streaks.
Scientists have shown that beneath the ice there is water,
a vast ocean that could be up to 200km deep (Earth deepest
ocean trench reaches a paltry 2km). They believe that both
the ice and water could and does support life, probably primitive
bacterial cells, but life nonetheless.
The possibility that natural ecosystems have developed in
the most harsh and inhospitable corners of space is truly
amazing. Humans might comprise the most complex and organised
life but the potential of simpler life-forms should not be
dismissed - they could bring unimaginable benefits to Earth
and its population of people, animals and plants.
Gathering the evidence of life "out there", however,
will be harder than applying the universal laws of physics
and biology to our inter-planetary neighbours. At a time when
NASA's shuttle era comes to a close and manned missions to
the moon have been cut, it seems that we are no nearer to
exploring our own backyard of a universe than Galileo was
400 years' ago.