If aliens exist, this moon is where we'll probably find them.

NASA is making plans to send a probe to Europa — one of Jupiter's more than 60 moons — and you wanna know why we should all be excited about this?

Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech.


There's a chance (probably a good one) they're gonna find aliens there.

He's not mad, he's just excited about so much science happening. GIF from "Star Wars: A New Hope."

Here's the thing — while Europa's surface might look like a big, dusty rock, it's actually ice. And below that ice might be a gigantic ocean.

Seriously, Europa's ocean is huge. Even though Earth is more than four times larger in diameter than Europa, it is estimated that Europa has more than twice as much ocean water.

Image from Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

That's important because liquid water and life are totally in love with each other. In fact, just about every place on Earth where we've found liquid water, we've found life.

Image from Bruno de Giutsi/Wikimedia Commons.

High in the atmosphere? Check. Buried under miles of rock? Is there water? Then there's life! There's even bacteria inside nuclear waste disposal dumps!

Life, uh, finds a way. Image from Michael Daly/Uniformed Services University/Wikimedia Commons.

So, if there is liquid water under Europa's icy surface, it is extremely likely that there are signs of life below.

Image from Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

OK, yes, we know, we know — if the entire moon is covered in ice, then how is that alien life getting energy? Doesn't it need sunlight?

Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech.

And that's very astute of you to wonder — but here's your answer: On Earth, deep-sea vents are capable of powering entire alien ecosystems.

Yes, Europa's icy surface probably means the oceans are completely dark, and yes, most food chains on Earth are based around the sun, but let us introduce you to our little friend: the hydrothermal vent.

Image from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On Earth, these vents exist deep under the ocean where sunlight never penetrates. Instead the life around them gets its energy from the superheated water and chemicals that erupt up from vents.

Europa is constantly being squeezed by Jupiter's gravity like an giant stress ball, which means it probably has an active, molten core just like Earth's.

An artist's impression of Europa's surface, with Jupiter visible in the background. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

A molten core means vents, and vents may mean life. In fact, there's even a theory that suggests life on Earth first developed around similar vents on Earth!

To find out if there is life under Europa's icy surface, scientists are sending a probe into orbit around Jupiter that will also make close passes by Europa.

The surface of Europa. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute.

This will give the probe a chance to examine the moon, using tools like radar and spectrometers to learn more about its geology, it's stress-ball relationship with Jupiter, and what kinds of processes might be going on under the ice.

But that's not even the coolest thing about the probe — the coolest thing is the taste test the probe will conduct on one of its trips past Europa.

Images from the Hubble Telescope hint that giant plumes of water sometimes blast out of Europa's ocean like geysers, shooting some of its ocean water high into space.

Artist's depiction. Image from NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI/Wikimedia Commons.

The scientists are planning to add a bunch of robot tongues — essentially — to the front of their spacecraft and send it diving through the spray from these geysers to "taste" all that water and see what kinds of chemicals or possible lifeforms it can detect.

If there are aliens to be found, it's likely we'd find some trace of them on Europa. Meaning this mission could be the single biggest scientific discovery ever.

OK, so if they do find aliens, they're probably not going to look as pretty as Spock...

GIF from "Star Trek."

...or as be as suave as Chewie.


GIF from "Star Wars: A New Hope."

In fact, they'll probably look more like bacteria or algae. But alien algae would be totally cool too – because anything we find down there that's alive would totally revolutionize our concept of life in the universe. If life is so common that it could arise twice around a single star, then imagine what an entire galaxy's worth of planets and moons and stars could look like.

And even if they don't find any aliens, this mission is still worth celebrating because it's an awesome chance for us to explore our solar system and learn more about the universe we live in.

Watch NASA's animation about their mission to Europa below. And get excited! This could be the first step to finding aliens — real aliens — in our lifetime.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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