Before the age of planetary exploration opened in the late twentieth century, few scientists would have believed that life could have flourished on a world so fan from the Sun. Yet for half a billion years, the hidden seas of Europa had been at least as prolific as those of Earth. Before the ignition of Jupiter, a crust of ice had protected those oceans from the vacuum above. In most places the ice was kilometres thick, but there were lines of weakness where it had cracked open and torn apart. Then there had been a brief battle between two implacably hostile elements, which came into direct contact on no other world in the Solar System. The war between Sea and Space always ended in the same stalemate; the exposed water simultaneously boiled and froze, repairing the armour of ice. The seas of Europa would have frozen completely solid long ago, without the influence of nearby Jupiter. Its gravity continually kneaded the core of this little world; the forces that convulsed Io were also working here, though with much less ferocity. The tug of war between planet and satellite caused continual submarine earthquakes, and avalanches which swept with amazing speed across the abyssal plains. Scattered across those plains were countless oases, each extending for a few hundred metres around a cornucopia of mineral brines gushing from theinterior. Depositing their chemicals in a tangled mass of pipes and chimneys, they sometimes created natural parodies of ruined castles or Gothic cathedrals, from which black, scalding liquids pulsed in a slow rhythm, as if driven by the
beating of some mighty heart. And, like blood, they were the authentic sign of life itself.
The boiling fluids drove back the deadly cold leaking down from above, and formed islands of warmth on the seabed. Equally important, they brought from Europa's interior all the chemicals of life. Here, in an environment which would otherwise be totally hostile, were abundant energy and food. Such geothermal vents had been discovered in Earth's oceans, in the same decade that had given mankind its first glimpse of the Galilean satellites. In the tropical zones close to the vents flourished myriads of delicate, spidery creatures that were the analogues of plants, though almost all were capable of movement. Crawling among these were bizarre slugs and worms, some feeding on the 'plants', others obtaining their food directly from the mineral-laden waters around them, At greater distances from the source of heat - the submarine fire around which all these creatures warmed themselves - were sturdier, more robust organisms, not unlike crabs or spiders. Armies of biologists could have spent lifetimes studying a single small oasis. Unlike the Palaeozoic terrestrial seas, Europa's hidden ocean was not a stable environment, so evolution had progressed swiftly here, producing multitudes of fantastic forms. And they were all under indefinite
stay of execution; sooner or later, each fountain of life would weaken and die, as the forces that powered it moved their focus elsewhere. The abyss was littered with the evidence of such tragedies - cemeteries holding skeletons and mineral-encrusted remains where entire chapters had been deleted from the book of life. There were huge shells, looking like trumpets larger than a man. There were clams of many shapes - bivalves, and even trivalves. And there were spiral stone patterns, many metres across, which seemed an exact analogy of the beautiful ammonites that disappeared so mysteriously from Earth's oceans at the end of the Cretaceous period.
In many places, fires burned in the abyss, as rivers of incandescent lava flowed for scores of kilometres along sunken valleys. The pressure at this depth was so great that the water in contact with the red-hot magma could not flash into steam, and the two liquids co-existed in an uneasy truce. Here, on another world and with alien actors, something like the story of Egypt had been played long before the coming of man. As the Nile had brought life to a narrow ribbon of desert, so these rivers of warmth had vivified the Europan deep. Along their banks, in bands seldom more than a kilometre wide, species after species had evolved and flourished and passed away. And some had left monuments behind, in the shape of rocks piled on top of each other, or curious patterns of trenches engraved in the seabed. Along the narrow bands of fertility in the deserts of the deep, whole cultures and primitive civilizations had risen and fallen. And the rest of their world had never known, for all these oases of warmth were as isolated from one another as the planets themselves. The creatures who basked in the glow of the lava river, and fed around the hot vents, could not cross the hostile wilderness between their lonely islands. If they had ever produced historians and philosophers, each culture would have been convinced that it was alone in the Universe. And each was doomed. Not only were its energy sources sporadic and constantly shifting, but the tidal forces that drove them were steadily weakening. Even if they developed true intelligence, the Europans must perish with the final freezing of their world. They were trapped between fire and ice - until Lucifer exploded in their sky, and opened up their universe. And a vast rectangular shape, as black as night, materialized near the coast of a new-born continent.
Page 58; 2061: Odyssey Three; Arthur C.Clark
Nu hebben we alleen nog een zwarte monolith nodig die bestaat uit miljarden kleine nanobots en Jupiter doet ontploffen en veranderen in een tweede zon!
[Reactie gewijzigd door Kain_niaK op 8 augustus 2013 21:38]