Earlier this week, NASA revealed its latest space plan. And this will largely evolve around Europa. The reason? One of Jupiter’s largest moons may be holding life forms, even if they are only rudimentary.
Europa is a Galilean moon orbiting Jupiter. The smallest of the respective four, it is nonetheless larger than most such space bodies. More exactly, it the sixth largest moon known in the Solar System.
Over these past years, researchers have been gathering data on Europa. And they seem to point towards a common fact. The moon may be housing a salty ocean. This latter could be located under Europa’s icy crust. Jupiter’s satellite is composed mostly of silicate rock. And it is also covered by a water-ice crust.
The fact that it may house an underwater ocean is not new. But the theory that it may be holding life forms is. Scientists are increasingly more convinced that the satellite may be holding traces of rudimentary life forms.
They are basing these theories on recent research models. These show that Europa may be capable of producing hydrogen and oxygen. As it is, this would mean that the moon could have the needed energy in order to support life.
This prompted NASA scientists towards the next logical step. They are planning on sending a lander to the satellite. This may happen sometimes in an upcoming mission. And it may help they establish if their theories are founded. Or not.
A recently released report offers further details on the plan. This was released by the Science Definition Team of the mission. And they explain what pointed them in this direction. Also, it explains the lander’s role.
According to the report, Europa may hold important clues. It may reveal traces of extraterrestrial life forms. This may help accomplish one of science’s longest and most avid dreams. That of revealing if we are, or not, alone in the Universe.
Reportedly, the Europa proposal was first drafted back in June. But NASA authorities explained the following. A study first needs to look at the mission’s feasibility and scientific value.
The submitted report lays out the potential mission layout. It could be initiated sometime in the 2020’s. At the time, NASA could launch a Carrier Relay Orbiter and a lander. These would arrive at Europe about 5 years later.
As the satellite has no appreciable atmosphere, the lander cannot be parachuted. Instead, it could be “placed” on the moon. A “sky crane” could use retro rockets to help it settle on Europa’s surface.
Following the landing, the spacecraft would have a 20-days mission. During the period, it would be searching for traces of life. It would do so collecting samples. These would be extracted from about 10 centimeters bellow the ice cap. This latter is believed to be around 10 to 15 miles thick. But NASA can’t send a drill to Europa.
The such collected samples could be enough. They should be able to help establish if Europa is indeed housing life forms. Europa’s environment was built by a freezing spread over thousands of years. The overlaying ice could, as such, hold many clues. It could reveal cellular life, inorganic materials, or organic carbon.
Even if this mission part fails, the lander will still have two other purposes. It will help establish Europa’s habitability. And also study its surface. This would help determine future robotic exploration conditions.
An official decision on the matter has yet to be released. But a mission to Europa could help offer the data that science has been looking for these last few decades.
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