The soundtrack rumbles, the surface of Jupiter's ice-covered moon Europa quakes, and moonwalking astronauts quiver fearfully in the epic trailer of Europa Report. At first glance, the new feature film appears to be yet another dramatic, theatrical Hollywood-ization of human spaceflight, but the creators of the movie were intent on turning science fiction into science faction.
Two members of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Kevin Hand and Steven Vance, actually joined the Europa Report's cast and crew at a Comic-Con panel to verify that the science in the film was as close to the real thing as possible. Europa is, in fact, the most plausible place within our solar system that could harbor the answer to one of humanity's greatest questions: are we alone?
Why is this ice-covered moon orbiting Jupiter's giant gaseous mass suspected of supporting extraterrestrial life? The NASA JPL scientists on the panel presented just a few of the most compelling reasons:
- Beneath the moon's ice crust is an ocean. On Earth, where there is water, there is usually life.
- Plenty of Earthbound creatures, like giant tube worms, can live deep below the surface where there's no light. The same kind of life-form may exist in the deep underground ocean of Europa.
- The ocean on Europa is about twice as voluminous as all of the Earth's oceans combined. That's a large swath of biological opportunity waiting to happen.
- The moon flexes in shape because of Jupiter's gravitational pull, which generates the heat that keeps Europa's ocean water, instead of ice.
Kevin and Steven served as consultants on the film and contributed to its scientific authenticity. We can't wait to see the film — and not just for its dedication to physics, cosmology, and rocket science accuracy. Bear McCreary, who created the iconic sounds of Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and many geeky shows, crafted a beautiful score for the film that bounces between deep dubstep-like synthesizers and sweet melodies. Bear claims it's "one of the prettiest melodies I've ever made."
Director Sebastian Cordero filmed Europa Report as a documentary, which only adds to the true-to-life nature of the film. He also used imagery from NASA probes to create computer-generated images of Jupiter and Europa's surface. At the Comic-Con panel, we saw a clip from the film of the spacecraft landing on the ice moon's surface. It was a particularly striking image, commented moderator Phil Plait (aka @BadAstronomer), since the scene parallels the Apollo moon landing, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week. The film is certainly an interesting look at what is possible for the next generation of human spaceflight.
An article in the New Republic claims that the arts give us science fiction and we are better for it. That couldn't ring truer with Europa Report, a Hollywood portrayal of a possibly very real future scenario, which could inspire young scientists to explore the questions posed by the film and give jaded taxpaying grown-ups a convincing reason to continue supporting space agencies.
The film hits theaters on Aug. 2, and is available on iTunes now.
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