Science | February 22, 2017 5:00 am

NASA Thinks Jupiter Moon Europa Could Support Alien Life

The icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter's cloud tops (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)
The icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter's cloud tops (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)
The icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter's cloud tops (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)
The icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter’s cloud tops (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

 

NASA is considering a lander mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, where it would search for alien life.

The lander would use three different instrument suites, including an “organic compositional analyzer,” a microscope system, and a “vibrational spectrometer,” to search for alien life on Europa. A secondary, but still important, goal of the mission would be determining if Europa’s vast, frozen ocean is habitable.

This lander mission would be attached to an already-scheduled flyby mission to Europa planned for the 2020s, in which a solar-powered craft will orbit Europa to determine habitability. The lander component was ordered by Congress in 2015, and NASA is still deciding how to make it work.

This colorized image of Jupiter's moon Europa is a product of clear-filter grayscale data from one orbit of NASA's Galileo spacecraft, combined with lower-resolution color data taken on a different orbit. The blue-white terrains indicate relatively pure water ice, whereas the reddish areas contain water ice mixed with hydrated salts, potentially magnesium sulfate or sulfuric acid (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)
This colorized image of Jupiter’s moon Europa is a product of clear-filter grayscale data from one orbit of NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, combined with lower-resolution color data taken on a different orbit. The blue-white terrains indicate relatively pure water ice, whereas the reddish areas contain water ice mixed with hydrated salts, potentially magnesium sulfate or sulfuric acid (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

 

But why is there so much interest in Europa to begin with? According to astrobiologists, it’s one of our solar system’s best bets for alien life. That ocean mentioned earlier is likely in contact with the moon’s rocky mantle, causing the sort of strange chemical reactions that ultimately create sentient life.

That said, adding a lander component to a scheduled mission gives rise to many logistical complications, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. The Science Definition Team has compiled a paper with their findings and recommendations related to the mission, and NASA will host town hall meetings in March and April 2017 to get feedback about it.

Click here to read the SDT’s paper.

RealClearLife Staff