Is there life on Europa? The world may get an answer to that question now that NASA has announced that they will be going on a mission to Jupiter’s moon to search for water and life. Robert Pappalardo, Europa mission project scientist, commented about this future mission.
“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. We know that on Earth, everywhere that there’s water we find life. So could Europa have the ingredients to support life?”
The Galileo spacecraft that made multiple passes by Jupiter 10 years ago has led scientists to believe that water exists underneath the thick ice of Europa. Some scientists estimate that Europa has double the amount of water on it than Earth does. If NASA confirms water exists on Europa, then life on Europa could also be confirmed.
Galileo Mission Project Manager, Claudia Alexander, explains how evidence gathered from the Galileo spacecraft have made scientists believe that life on Europa is not out of the question.
“We might be actually looking at a body that is presently alive, presently active and presently undergoing its geology. There is too much evidence right now lying around on the surface – the red stuff – that suggests that something is going on there. Is that an environment that is habitable for any sort of life form. By golly we really have got to go back and figure that out.”
Two years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope was able to capture compelling evidence of water on Europa. The telescope took a picture of a plume of water being ejected 120 miles into space from the surface of Europa. The Hubble Space Telescope has been focused on Europa multiple times since the water plume was seen. Unfortunately, scientists have not been able to capture another plume of water from Europa.
NASA plans to launch a satellite to Europa sometime in the 2020s. NASA has already allocated $30 million in their 2016 budget for this project.
When the satellite is launched, it will be doing 45 fly-bys of Europa every two weeks. The satellite will have cutting-edge scientific tools that will be used to gather data from the icy moon. Alexander talks about the instruments on the satellite.
“We’ll have enough instrumentation to really pinpoint exactly how the mechanisms would work for replenishing the nutrients in a subsurface ocean.”
Does life on Europa exist? Will we finally be able to find out if we are alone in the universe?
[Image via Geology.com]