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NASA in planning stages of Europa mission

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is currently in the planning phase of sending its first exploratory missions to Europa, one of the far moons of Jupiter, whose chemical composition makes it a likely candidate to contain extraterrestrial life.


Europa is about one fourth the size of our planet, but could likely contain twice as much liquid water beneath its ice encrusted surface, according to the scientists at NASA. With enough liquid water below the surface – and also the possibility that thermal vents exist on the seafloor, allowing for an exchange of heat and nutrients, it could be likely that biological processes are taking place on the planet, a possibility that has had many scientists lobbying for such a mission.

Recent discoveries on the moon of Europa have the space agency even more intrigued, since blasts of water vapor geysers were sighted emerging from the northern hemisphere of the moon, which caused the agency to earmark their funds with the 2016 federal budget. The concept vehicle for this mission is the Europa Clipper, which would cost $2.1 billion to build and launch. Clipper would probe the moon up close for a three and a half year period, during its orbit of the planet Jupiter. The Clipper will feature a number of cameras and sensors which would aid analyze the water on Europa, both at and beneath the surface, in addition to how deep the water reaches and how much salt the waters contain, as well as which kind. The icy crust which covers the moon would also be mapped by the Europa Clipper, which would be an important first step before planning further missions to Europa.

Already, there is a great deal of renewed interest in the possibility of life in other places of the universe, particularly on Europa. Last week, NASA’s Ames Research Center held a workshop that convened both astrobiologists and planetary scientists who discussed the best means of detecting signs of life on Europa, particularly any chemical byproducts that lifeforms might release into the water.


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