NASA planning mission to Europa: Jupiter’s potentially life-hosting moon

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NASA recently released a promotional video explaining their mission to Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon Europa. ¬†Experts say a robotic mission to Europa could be the most likely to locate extraterrestrial life. “Looking to the future, we’re planning a mission to explore Jupiter’s fascinating moon Europa,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said at an event announcing the new budget on Monday.

A color view of the surface of Europa
A color view of the surface of Europa

Europa is appealing to astronomers and astrobiologists due to the oceans hidden beneath its icy surface. Though the moon is far away from the warmth of the sun, the tidal forces exerted by Jupiter cause friction that warms Europa’s innards and keeps its oceans melted and moving. Researchers believe there are likely hydrothermal vents on Europa’s ocean floor, and that the moon’s icy crust features plate tectonic-like behavior. While Jupiter’s moons are subjected to an overload of radiation, scientists say the Europa’s thick surface of ice likely protects the water below (and any potential biosphere) from the ill effects. In fact, the radiation may be responsible for reacting with the icy crust to form nutrients that make life possible.

 

Europa beneath the surface:  its hidden ocean bubbling up to the surface and spewing into space.
Europa beneath the surface: its hidden ocean bubbling up to the surface and spewing into space.

While fans of a Europa mission are no doubt hoping for a plan to plunge into the moon’s oceans, the latest plans involve a flyby mission using a probe concept called the Europa Clipper. The flyby would include several low-flying orbits — a chance for the Clipper to observe the moon’s icy surface and gather data on the oceans below. “The way we framed the Europa mission science objectives is not to specifically look for life, but to understand habitability; the ingredients for life,” Hand said.

 

See the full video below:

 

Read more at: NASA Mission To Europa