Bill Nye: We May Discover Life on Europa

Television Host and Science Educator

Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.

In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.

While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”

Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.

Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.

 

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Bill Nye: What we at the Planetary Society do is do our best to advance space science and exploration. We strongly believe that the search for life is worthy because it would change the world. So, the two logical places to look in the solar system are Mars and this moon of Jupiter called Europa. And if you've never seen Europa I encourage you to go out there and take a look. You need a telescope or binoculars and look at Jupiter. Jupiter is a very bright object. Go to Planetary.org we'll show you where it is. And you can see they look like pinpricks of light, the same pinpricks of light that Galileo himself observed when he took what was nominally a military instrument, a telescope for looking at the other team, your enemy on the other hilltop, and pointed it at the sky. Not only did he point it at the sky, he pointed it at the sky at night. And so he found Jupiter and he found these four moons, which we nowadays call the Galilean moons after him. But meanwhile dozens of other moons have been found, dozens.

And the reason we talk about Europa so often and so much in my little space community is because it has twice as much seawater as the Earth. And for years people who looked at Europa did not think it was good or well advised to plan a mission there because of the great expense. You would have to have a lander and then you'd have to have some kind of amazing drill to drill through, pick a number, 20 or 50 km of ice to get to this seawater. And so the surface of Europa is frozen. It's a crust of ice, water ice, but below it is liquid water and it's kept liquid by the gravitational or what we call tidal action of Europa's orbit with this massive Jupiter. Europa's orbital period is 85 hours. And I got to tell you imagine the moon going around the earth every two days, every three days. Instead of a month you'd have a three-day period. It would be really short, a short month. And so this keeps - like squeezing a rubber ball it keeps Europa warm so there’s seawater.

So, it's people who have looked at what it takes to be a living thing, which nowadays these people nowadays call themselves, we like to call ourselves, itself astrobiology. Astrobiologists have thought deeply about what it takes to be a living thing. You've got to have a membrane or a wall, something that separates you from what's not you and you'd probably have to have a liquid, a solvent. And the best solvent anybody can come up with is water. so with the gravitational action and the frozen icy crust, Europa shoots geysers of water out into space all the time. So now it would be possible, instead of landing there and building some exotic drill and declaring the whole mission way too expensive to ever do, you would build a much more modest spacecraft that would have to go the extraordinary distance out to Jupiter and get an orbit out there around Europa, but, you would have it fly through the geysers, actually the orbit would be around Jupiter, have it fly through the geysers, and like looking at bugs on the windshield. I mean it would be extraordinary if there are living things there.

It would be a great, it would be a worthy thing. We may discover life. Now, John Culberson, Congressman from Texas, from West Houston, believes he's sure of it. There's got to be life on Europa because it has all these wonderful literally elements of life. The chemicals that make up life are mixed in the seawater. This has been determined using magnetometers and spectrometers on the Galileo Spacecraft, which has been in orbit out there for a long time. Europa has seawater, squirting it into space. You can send a relatively inexpensive mission. And that's a relatively inexpensive is $2 billion. But $2 billion spread over ten years is barely the cup of coffee per taxpayer once. And that pays for the whole mission over ten years. And my feeling is people buy a lot more than one cup of coffee every ten years.

So that's why somebody in authority, somebody with reasonable insight at NASA said we'll find life in the next 20 years. I would say the next 30, but 20 is great. Let's say if we could launch, we could get in the orbit of Jupiter and Europa by 2022, you'd get results back by 2025 and then things don't happen as fast as you think they would so add ten years. Yeah, so 20 years. Twenty years from 2014, that's possible.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton


×