NASA Mission To Search For Life On Europa

Where there is water, there is Life

Many scientists believe that Europa, an icy moon orbiting Jupiter, may have just the right ingredients for life.

In 2012, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted what appeared to be giant plumes of water erupting from the surface of Europa. Although those those plumes have not been seen since, they open the possibility that Europa may offer the best chance we have to discover life outside of Earth.

As Robert Pappalardo said in a video released by the space agency,

We know that on Earth, everywhere that there's water, we find life. So could Europa have the ingredients to support life?

NASA is getting ready to send a spacecraft to find out if there actually could be life on Europa..

This last June, the potential mission passed its first major review. It is now headed toward a phase of development called formulation. And, if everything goes according to plan, the spacecraft will launch in the 2020's for a journey that will take several years.

Once it arrives, the spacecraft will orbit Jupiter rather than the moon itself. The radiation from Jupiter is too intense for the spacecraft to orbit Europa directly. As Pappalardo, the Europa Mission project scientist, added,

Any mission that goes in the vicinity of Europa is cooked pretty quickly.

To prevent that from happening, the spacecraft will orbit Jupiter, make close flybys of Europa, then quickly leave that radioactive hot zone. It would repeat the process about every two weeks as it searches for lifeon Europa.

NASA said the mission plans will allow for at least 45 flybys of Europa -- at times getting within 16 miles of its surface. During each pass, the instruments on board the craft will wake up to take photographs and other readings.

According to NASA:

The selected payload includes cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images of Europa's surface and determine its composition. An ice penetrating radar will determine the thickness of the moon's icy shell and search for subsurface lakes similar to those beneath Antarctica's ice sheet. The mission will also carry a magnetometer to measure the strength and direction of the moon's magnetic field, which will allow scientists to determine the depth and salinity of its ocean.

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a news release,

Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions.

Watch this video to explore more of Nasa's plans for this tantalizing mission and be sure to share you thoughts and comments.

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