Orbiting our solar system's gas giant, Jupiter's moon Europa is a staggering 623 million kilometres away from earth - but could something live there?
Monica Grady CBE (who is a professor of Planetary and Space Science at the Open University, and author of several books on meteorites as well as astro-biology) has made some astounding claims that life on Europa may exist.
When speaking at Liverpool University graduation ceremony she said, "When it comes to the prospects of life beyond Earth, it’s almost a racing certainty that there’s life beneath the ice on Europa."
Is there life in space?
Professor Grady said, "Whether we will ever be able to contact extraterrestrial life is anyone’s guess, purely because the distances are just too huge. And as for so-called alien ‘signals’ received from space, there’s been nothing real or credible, I’m afraid."
She claims also that life on Mars is particularly slim, commenting, "If there is something on Mars, it's likely to be very small—bacteria."
But she claims that creatures with octopus-like intelligence may live, or have lived, beneath the ice on Europa.
After the Hubble Telescope discovered salt on the surface of Europa last June, NASA announced plans to search for traces of life on the frozen moon.
According to NASA, the 'Europa Clipper' mission will launch in 2023, hurtle towards Europa, and "conduct an in-depth exploration" to "investigate whether the icy moon could harbour conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology."
Like our moon, Europa has no atmosphere and is heavily bombarded by radiation - technically nothing can exist on its surface.
The ice provides a shield from radiation and since water is the first sign that life may exist it gives a clear indication that Europa is a prime target for research. The salty oceans beneath the icy surface could be a breeding ground for life.
What are scientists looking for?
The researchers will be mainly looking for fossils, which puts a dampener on the idea that life is currently living on Europa.
But, scientists like Professor Grady claim there could be genuine life on the moon still living today.
"Our solar system is not a particularly special planetary system, as far as we know, and we still haven’t explored all the stars in the galaxy, but I think it’s highly likely there will be life elsewhere—and I think it’s highly likely they’ll be made of the same elements," said Grady.
"Humans evolved from little furry mammals that got the opportunity to evolve because the dinosaurs were killed by an asteroid impact."
So perhaps the chances of anything coming from Mars is still a million-to-one, but what about Europa? We may have the answer in just a few years time.