Is Europa Habitable?
Europa, the ice-covered moon of the planet Jupiter, may be able to support life. NASA has commissioned a team of expert scientists to consider the science goals for a landed spacecraft mission to the surface of Europa, and to investigate the composition and geology of its icy shell and the potential for life within its interior ocean.
The NASA-appointed Science Definition Team outlines the main priorities of a future lander mission to Europa to study its potential habitability in an article in Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available free on the Astrobiology website.
The article “Science Potential from a Europa Lander ” presents the three main objectives of a future mission designed to land a robotic spacecraft on the surface of Europa and to investigate its potential to support life. NASA's Science Definition Team has clearly identified three main priorities: investigate the composition and chemistry of Europa's ocean; characterize the thickness, uniformity, and dynamics of its icy shell; and study the moon's human-scale surface geology. In addition, the NASA-appointed team describes the types of studies and payload of instruments recommended to achieve these objectives.
“Landing on Europa and touching its surface is a visionary goal of planetary science,” says Robert Pappalardo, PhD of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “This is a difficult technical challenge that is probably many years away. Understanding the key scientific questions to be addressed by a future Europa lander helps us to focus on the technologies required to get us there, and on the necessary data that might be attained by a precursor mission that could scout out landing sites. Europa is the most likely place in our solar system beyond Earth to have life today, and a landed mission would be the best way to search for signs of life.”
Landing on the surface of Europa is a key step in the astrobiological investigation of that world,” says Christopher McKay, PhD, Senior Editor of Astrobiology and a scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. “The paper by Pappalardo et al. outlines the science that could be done by such a lander. The hope would be that surface materials, possibly near the linear crack features, include biomarkers carried up from the ocean.”
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