Excluding the Earth, Jupiter’s moon Europa is believed to be the place most likely to be capable of hosting life in our solar system.
It’s already strongly believed to have sea salt, ice and a subsurface ocean with a rocky floor, and now NASA has began preparations to send a spacecraft to gather even more information on the icy space object that could one day prove to be a valuable resource to human beings.
The project has passed its first major review and has moved into the development faze.
Robert Pappalardo, project scientist on the Europa Mission, gave a statement in a video release saying that everywhere scientists find water on planer earth, they also find life. This causes him to wonder out loud whether or nor Europa has the right mix of ingredients to support life.
The scientist previously wrote a post for the Huffington Post talking about the mission and saying that “Finding life elsewhere would end our cosmic isolation”. He theorizes that if space scientists can find life somewhere else in our own solar system, this would most likely mean that life is common all throughout the rest of the universe as well.
Europa was first discovered way back in the late 1610 by Galileo, and in the late 1990s the Galileo Mission to Jupiter was the first to finally offer researchers proof that Europa has an underground ocean. If this will be confirmed once the spacecraft lands on the moon’s surface, the ocean is believed to have more than twice the amount of water found on planet Earth.
Claudia Alexander, mission project manager for the Galileo spacecraft, gave a statement of her own, rhetorically asking: “Is that an environment that is habitable for any sort of life form?”. She answers that researchers have to go back in order to answer that question.
Pappalardo explained however that NASA’s spacecraft will not be orbiting Europa directly, but Jupiter instead. This is due to the overwhelming amounts of radiation that Jupiter sends towards Europa, which would cause any spacecraft to quickly “cook”. A spacecraft can only safely make close flybys of Europa every two (2) weeks.
The spacecraft is set to launch sometime in the 2020s, and is expected to make 45 flybys of Europa the very least. During these close flybys, the instruments onboard the spacecraft will wake up in order to collect data on the icy moon.
The most important ones are the cameras and spectrometers that will take high-resolution images of the surface, as well as determine the moon’s composition, a radar that penetrates ice and can determine its thickness, and a magnetometer that will assess the strength and the direction of the magnetic field.
Image Source: vox.com