NASA is planning a trip to Europa. Some may wonder if Europa is Europe or soccer fans may believe scientists and researchers are going to the Europa league, however neither are correct in the space industry. Europa is the largest of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter. NASA is one step closer to sending a probe to Europa, in which they believe they may have found oceans and life under an icy crust surface.
On Wednesday, June 17, the space agency announced the concept of the probe mission completing its first review, and is now moving on to the development phase (formulation phase). Associate Administrator Science Directorate of NASA’s mission in Washington, John Grunsfeld told NPR, ” the space agency is taking a thrilling step to mission from concept, which allows them to find signs of life outside of Earth. Europa observations have provided researchers and scientists with alluring clues over the past couple of decades, and seeking answers to the most profound question that have been asked by humanity for many years.”
Europa’s life and ocean may have been found by NASA, but it is going to take them a couple of years before they get accurate results. Europa is almost as big as the size of planet Earth, and scientists believe it is the best place to look for life than any other place in our galaxy. Although the Jupiter moon is icy, it grabbed scientists attention in 2012, when the Hubble Space Telescope captured images of a water vapor formulated from water plumes erupting on the surface.
The Jupiter moons are also known as the planet’s natural satellites, and they got their name Galilean moons because they were very large and Galileo Galilei was able to see them in 1610 circa, through one of the first telescopes of the world. The other three Galilean moons are Io, Ganymede, and Callisto.
Before the Hubble obtained the imagery of Europa’s icy surface, the space agency had a spacecraft named Galileo, and it traveled to Jupiter in 1995. The spacecraft found that the moon had salty oceans beneath its crust, and NASA hypothesized that the oceans on the moon were twice as large as the oceans on Earth.
NASA’s probe mission will help researchers determine whether or not Europa has the ingredients for life to survive on the moon. Barry Goldstein, manager of Europa Project in Pasadena, California, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told CNN, ” now that they are in the formulation phase the mission has matured, and the new requirements are scientists must ask the correct science questions, and the new mission must be designed correctly to answer the questions.”
Thirty million dollars has been included in the space agencies 2016 budget to plan the mission. According to Goldstein lots of work still needs to be done before hardware and software is clear for development. If everything gets finalized the space agency plans to begin the trip to Europa during the 2020’s, although it takes a couple of years to get to Jupiter, the probe will orbit the planet every two weeks to capture many close up flybys of Europa. The space agency goal is to capture at least 45 flybys, and with each pass the spacecraft will be designed to collect information of Europa’s surface, and use various tools to obtain a deeper look of the surface. NASA announced in May 2015 they have already chosen nine instruments including magnetometers, ice penetrating radars, and camera’s for the mission.
As NASA continues to plan its trip to Europa, only time will tell whether or not the space agency has found life and oceans on the moon. Although Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system its largest moon is the closest science has ever come to finding possible life beyond Earth.
By Krystle Mitchell
Space.com: NASA’s Europa mission approved for next development phase
CNN: Mysterious moon may have secret ocean and life
NPR: Europa Spacecraft goes into development stage
Photo By Aubrey Gemignani Courtesy of NASA HQ Photo’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Photo By ESA, and E. Karkoschka, NASA (University of Arizona) Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons license