The Seas of Europa

From Garuda’s Zoologica Astronomicon

The Seas of EUROPA

As I was wheeling past Jupiter, I saw a white ball made of smooth ice – radiant with reflected light – rolling in a lazy orbit.

This is Europa, Jupiter’s sixth closest moon. In another life I lived in hermit state on its frozen skin.

As I waded closer, I saw a winter surface torn up with dark streaks of salt, icy spikes and crystalline ridges.

The atmosphere of Europa is thin and unbreatheable. These sterile fields of snow were my home for a long age. Jupiter hung in the sky, shiny and striped and enormous – I toasted to him many times in drunken loneliness, but he was unmoved. I hailed him as the true Sun of this world. While meditating on an ice dome once, I asked him if he loved me. He gave answer.

Underneath this frozen surface is a great and turbulent ocean. Jupiter strokes the core of Europa, gravitationally massages it, and makes a loving heat that keeps the subsurface water liquid.

Now, I will speak of the things in that inner sea, which no human has yet seen.

I did not see Europa’s watery innards in the old life, though I dreamt of it often.

Now I am spiritual, inhuman, and unweighed by matter

So I slip down through the miles of ice, deeper and deeper, unimpeded by what is solid. Until I am through the ice and sinking down in the ocean below. No light ventures here and photosynthesis is impossible. Life hums along in pitch-blackness. The water is carbon-poor and very cold.

Life has arisen and gone extinct here three times in four billion years. The ocean is in contact with the rocky interior of the moon. Hydrothermal vents spray life-supporting materials into the ocean – carbon dioxide, iron and a mix of sulfides.

Once these substances are depleted, the ocean ecosystem will collapse and all life will be extinguished for a long epoch. The vents will eventually restock the oceans with nutrients. Life shall reconquer these oceans, and eat itself once again into extinction. Four more cycles are remaining, before the thermal springs finally dry up and Europa is left permanently lifeless.

I sink down to the sea bottom. With my feet I feel strange bulbous creatures – no bigger than a fist – stuck to the rocks. Each has a long and flexible tentacle, studded with rows of little flapping mouths. The bulbous things come in many shapes and sizes – and are distributed across the whole extent of Europa’s ocean floor – some have two tentacles, some are nearly microscopic, others are covered in venomous thorns or calcium plates.

It has taken three hundred million years to evolve this diversity. It will be utterly annhilated in a future age.

The multi-headed worms slithering slowly over my feet are the predators of this place. They attach their heads to the bulbous lifeforms, penetrate the skin with their needle-like tongues and slowly digest their prey from the inside-out.

In the waters above, there are floating creatures, tossed around by currents. Their bodies contain gas-sacs, which they empty out or fill with methane gas to adjust their depth. They are incapable of propelling themselves. When they find a region rich in nutrients, they expel the air from their gas sacs and sink to the ocean bottom, where they fix themselves and begin a life of sedentary filter feeding.

The upper waters are mostly a desert. Not enough nutrients are brought here by upwelling currents to support life on a permanent basis.

Sentience will never evolve here. Life will never grow more complex than a sponge on this world. I celebrate it. I celebrate the filter-feeding things, the wormy things, the mindless things, the colorless things, the eyeless things. My heart rejoices for all the worlds that are cold and filled with quiet and sluggish creatures. And for this sea, which was never touched by sunlight, in all its history.

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