Universe Today recently examined the potential for sending humans to the planet Venus despite its extremely harsh surface conditions. But while a human mission to the clouds of Venus could be feasible given the environmental conditions are much more Earth-like, a human mission to the second planet from the Sun could be (at minimum) decades away. With NASA sending humans back to the Moon in the next few years, and hopefully to Mars, what if we could send humans to another planetary body worth exploring, though it could have its own harsh environmental conditions, as well? What about Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa? It has a massive interior liquid ocean that could harbor life, and NASA is currently scheduled to launch its Europa Clipper spacecraft to this small moon in October 2024, arriving at Jupiter in April 2030. Therefore, given the exploration potential, should we send humans to Europa?Continue reading “Should We Send Humans to Europa?”
In 2024, NASA will launch the Europa Clipper, the long-awaited orbiter mission that will fly to Jupiter (arriving in 2030) to explore its icy moon Europa. Through a series of flybys, the Clipper will survey Europa’s surface and plume activity in the hopes of spotting organic molecules and other potential indications of life (“biosignatures”). If all goes well, NASA plans to send a follow-up mission to land on the surface and examine Europa’s icy sheet and plumes more closely. This proposed mission is aptly named the Europa Lander.
While no date has been set, and the mission is still in the research phase, some significant steps have been taken to get the Europa Lander to the development phase. This past August, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California tested a prototype of this proposed landing system in a simulated environment. This system combines hardware used by previous NASA lander missions and some new elements that will enable a mission to Europa. It also could be adapted to facilitate missions to more “Ocean Worlds” and other celestial bodies in our Solar System.Continue reading “NASA Tests a Prototype Europa Lander”
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) recently launched Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission and NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission could allow scientists to image landslides on the icy moons of Europa and Ganymede due to potential moonquakes on these small worlds. This comes after a recent study examined fault scarps on Europa and Ganymede orbiting Jupiter and Enceladus and Dione orbiting Saturn with the goal of drawing a connection between tectonic activity (quakes) and observed mass wasting (landslides) on these surfaces. The researchers “consider whether such smooth material can be generated by mass wasting triggered from local seismic shaking”, according to the study.Continue reading “We Could Soon See Landslides on Europa and Ganymede”
Jupiter’s moon, Europa, contains a large ocean of salty water beneath its icy shell, some of which makes it to the surface from time to time, and this vast ocean could host life, as well. Europa was most recently observed by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, but current examinations of the moon’s internal ocean are limited to computer models and simulations produced here on Earth, as no mission is actively exploring this tiny moon orbiting Jupiter. Other than the internal water occasionally breaching the icy shell and making it to the surface, what other effects could the internal ocean have on the icy shell that encloses it?Continue reading “Europa’s Ice Rotates at a Different Speed From its Interior. Now We May Know Why”
Jupiter’s second Galilean moon, Europa, is one of the most fascinating planetary objects in our Solar System with its massive subsurface ocean that’s hypothesized to contain almost three times the volume of water as the entire Earth, which opens the possibility for life to potentially exist on this small moon. But while Europa’s interior ocean could potentially be habitable for life, its unique surface features equally draw intrigue from scientists, specifically the large red streaks that crisscross its cracked surface.Continue reading “Europa Could be Covered in Salty Ice”
Jupiter is the most-visited planet in the Solar System, thanks largely to NASA. It all started with Pioneer 10 and 11, followed by Voyager 1 and 2. Those were all flyby missions, and it wasn’t until 1996 that the Galileo spacecraft became the first to orbit the gas giant and even send a probe into its atmosphere. Then in 2016, the Juno spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter and is still there today.
All of these missions were focused on Jupiter, but along the way, they gave us tantalizing hints of the icy moon Europa. The most impactful thing we’ve learned is that Europa, though frozen on the surface, holds an ocean under all that ice. And that warm, salty ocean might contain more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.
Might it hold life?Continue reading “Comet Impacts Could Have Brought the Raw Ingredients for Life to Europa’s Ocean”
One of the most exciting aspects of space exploration today is how the field of astrobiology – the search for life in our Universe – has become so prominent. In the coming years, many robotic and even crewed missions will be bound for Mars that will aid in the ongoing search for life there. Beyond Mars, missions are planned for the outer Solar System that will explore satellites and bodies with icy exteriors and interior oceans – otherwise known as “Ocean Worlds.” These include the Jovian satellites Europa and Ganymede and Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus.
Similar to how missions to Mars have analyzed soil and rock samples for evidence of past life, the proposed missions will analyze liquid samples for the chemical signatures that we associate with life and biological processes (aka. “biosignatures”). To aid in this search, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have designed the Ocean Worlds Life Surveyor (OWLS), a suite of eight scientific instruments designed to sniff out biosignatures. In the coming decades, this suite could be used by robotic probes bound for “Ocean Worlds” all across the Solar System to search for signs of life.Continue reading “NASA has Built a Collection of Instruments That Will Search for Life Inside Europa and Enceladus”
Over the course of a brief two-hour opportunity, NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured a rare close look at Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter that’s thought to harbor a hidden ocean — and perhaps an extraterrestrial strain of marine life.
Juno has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, but this week brought the best opportunity to look at Europa, which is the prime target for investigation by NASA’s Europa Clipper probe in the 2030s. On Sept. 29, the orbiter buzzed over the moon’s surface at a velocity in excess of 52,000 mph (23.6 km per second), and at an altitude of 352 kilometers (219 miles).
That’s as close as any spacecraft has come to Europa since the Galileo orbiter’s 218-mile flyby in 2000.Continue reading “Mysterious Europa Gets an Extreme Closeup From NASA’s Juno Probe”
For decades, evidence has been mounting that beneath the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa, a vast ocean exists that could possibly host microbial life. As scientists prepare to send the Europa Clipper mission to orbit the Jupiter system, they are trying to learn more about the subsurface ocean and the ice that encompasses the moon.
One way to study Europa is to look at similar environments here on Earth. Scientists say that conditions found under Earth’s Antarctic ice shelf provides an analog to Europa’s subsurface ocean and can help them determine how the moon’s ice shell accretes and grows.
A new study published in the journal Astrobiology looked at a unique phenomenon in the Antarctic ocean called underwater snow. This is where ice floats upwards onto the bottom of the ice shelf and attaches in fluffy-looking mounds. This helps to replenish the ice shelf. The study infers that the same phenomenon is likely true for Jupiter’s moon, and may play a role in building and replenishing its exterior ice shell.Continue reading “This is What a Robotic Explorer Might See When it Reaches Europa’s Oceans”