NASA gets a step closer to looking for life on Jupiter moon Europa

NASA has more details on its planned mission to the Jupiter moon suspected to be the best other place for life to survive in the solar system.

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Eric Mack
2 min read

Plumes of water shooting into space, pictured in an artist's concept drawing, seem worth a flyby. NASA

NASA has made clear its intentions to get a closer look at Jupiter's fascinating moon Europa in the coming decade, and on Wednesday the space agency shared more details about how it plans to explore the Jovian satellite with its red-striped icy shell and hidden liquid ocean beneath.

"Europa is the most likely place to find life in our solar system today, because we think there's a liquid water ocean beneath its surface, and we know that on Earth, everywhere that there's water, we find life," Robert Pappalardo, a project scientist for NASA's Europa mission, said in the video below.

On Wednesday, NASA announced that its mission concept to send a spacecraft to survey Europa and assess its habitability passed its first major internal review and is moving into a development phase called formulation.

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"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," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a release.

The Galileo mission of the 1990s was the first to collect strong evidence that salt water warmed by tidal heating and a rocky sea floor could provide the necessary building blocks for life to survive on Europa, inspiring one of the more realistic sci-fi movies in recent memory, " Europa Report."

Unlike the manned mission to Europa portrayed in the movie, NASA first plans to send an unmanned probe to orbit Jupiter in the 2020s, arriving several years later and making 45 flybys of Europa to study the surface and interior composition of the tantalizing moon.

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Pappalardo explains that the mission plan to orbit Jupiter and pass by Europa every few weeks rather than orbit the moon itself was chosen because of the high doses of radiation Europa receives from the huge planet, which could adversely affect a spacecraft.

The mission could also be able to get samples from water and/or gas plumes that may be shooting out into space from the surface of Europa.

If evidence of life is found in the plumes or within Europa, the implications could be nothing short of existential.

"If there is life in Europa, it almost certainly was completely independent from the origin of life on Earth," Pappalardo explained. "That would mean the origin of life must be pretty easy throughout the galaxy and beyond."

If this is the first you've heard of the Europa mission, check out the video below and have some gloves handy to pick your mind up off the floor after it gets totally blown.