Much of the human race has decamped to a distant colony, leaving behind an uninhabitable Earth, in IO, Netflix's modest follow-up to its post-apocalyptic thriller, Bird Box. Directed by Jonathan Halpert, it's an ambitious film that doesn't quite work, with glacial pacing, little dramatic tension, and a rather flat tone. But it still has some lovely moments and a thought-provoking premise. It made us wonder how much of the film is based in real science, and we turned to Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist and planetary scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for answers.
Hand is an ideal person to comment on the film's science. His research interests include studying the ocean worlds of the outer solar system, most notably Jupiter's moon Europa, considered to be one promising site for extraterrestrial life. He's attempted to recreate the conditions on Europa in the laboratory—what he dubs "Europa in a can"—to see if any telltale forms of life might form. (It hasn't so far, but who knows when a breakthrough might occur?) And Hand is part of NASA/JPL's Europa Clipper mission to send a robotic spacecraft to perform repeated close flybys of the distant moon. He even consulted on the 2013 sci-fi "found footage" film, Europa Report, which dramatized a fictional crewed mission to Jupiter's moon.
(Spoilers below for IO.)