Beneath the icy shell of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moon, lies a liquid ocean 100km deep. It could be our best chance of finding alien life in the solar system.
Now NASA has unveiled plans to send a probe to the ocean world, beginning the search with a pathfinder mission.
It would have three aims: looking for evidence of life, assessing the moon’s habitability and characterising its surface and subsurface for future reference.
It’s likely the lander would only last a few weeks before being frazzled by Jupiter’s radiation, but it’s hoped that would be enough time to relay data to help NASA decide whether to launch more extensive missions in the future.
The search won’t begin until at least 2031, but the agency has already drawn up a concept for the lander. It would be equipped with a sampling arm to examine the surface and what lies just beneath it, as well as a high-gain antenna and stereo cameras.
The author’s of NASA’s study explain: “This mission would significantly advance our understanding of Europa as an ocean world, even in the absence of any definitive signs of life, and would provide the foundation for the future robotic exploration of Europa. [...]
“Europa may hold the clues to one of NASA’s long standing goals – to determine whether or not we are alone in the universe. The highest-level science goal of the mission presented here is to search for evidence of life on Europa.”
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Astronaut Bruce McCandless II photographed at his maximum distance (320 ft) from the Space Shuttle Challenger during the first untethered EVA, made possible by his nitrogen jet propelled backpack (Manned Manuevering Unit or MMU) in 1984.
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Two technicians inside a Space Shuttle external tank, circa 1985.
An astronaut's bootprint leaves a mark on the lunar surface July 20, 1969 on the moon. The 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission is celebrated July 20, 1999.
Astronaut Charles Moss Duke, Jr. leaves a photograph of his family on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, 23rd April 1972.