Europa, one of Jupiter’s many moons, has recently been in the spotlight after scientists found that the icy moon may have not only a world-spanning ocean beneath the ice-covered surface, but also lakes as well.
The moon is back in the spotlight again today as NASA announced they’re cooking up a possible mission to send two landers to Europa by around 2020, with both arriving to the icy moon some six years later, Space.com reports.
Europa has long been considered one of the prime candidates for harboring alien lifeforms in our solar system, and the proposed mission sets out to determine whether or not life actually can exist on the moon.
“Europa, I think, is the premier place to go for extant life,” said JPL’s Kevin Hand. “Europa really does give us this opportunity to look for living life in the ocean that is there today, and has been there for much of the history of the solar system.”
The mission, if given the green light, won’t be an easy task for NASA. Jupiter is constantly bombarding its surrounding moons with massive amounts of radiation, which would be harmful to the landers. To compensate, NASA will have to keep the lander’s time on the moon brief; about seven days, Hand says.
The goal of this mission, Hand explains, isn’t to find alien life but to determine whether the essential building blocks for life exist on the surface. During the landers’ brief stay, each 700-pound robot would use mass spectrometer to detect various organic chemicals, and seismometers and cameras would be used to shed light on Europa’s geology.
Hand stresses that the mission is still in its conceptual stages. “This was an engineering proof of concept,” Hand said of the study. “We were just trying to see, ‘Could this be done?’”