NASA’s Next Probe Should Visit Europa

Europa. Image credit: NASA/JPLArizona State University professor Ronald Greeley thinks that NASA’s next flagship mission to the outer planets should be sent to Europa, to help determine if the Jovian moon is a good place to search for life. Greeley presented his rationale at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

According to Greeley, Europa has all the basic ingredients for life: a source of energy, organic chemistry, and hopefully… liquid water. When NASA’s Galileo spacecraft visited Europa, it discovered that the moon’s surface seems to be covered in a thick layer of ice. Scientists were intrigued at the possibility that under all that ice there’s an ocean of liquid water. And where there’s water, there could be life.

As Europa orbits Jupiter, it experiences tides. An ocean underneath the ice will rise and fall each day, and a spacecraft in orbit equipped with a high-precision altimeter should be able to measure these tides. If it’s ice all the way down, the ice should only flex a little bit, but if the ice shell is thin, the ice could rise and fall more than 40 metres (130 feet) each day.

A new mission to Europa should be able to give scientists an answer, and help them determine if the ice shell is thin enough to allow a probe to drill through the ice and search for life in the ocean.

Original Source: ASU News Release