Is Jupiter's moon Europa habitable? NASA advances plan to find out.

  
Via:  tig  •  4 weeks ago  •  33 comments

Is Jupiter's moon Europa habitable? NASA advances plan to find out.
The space agency is moving ahead with its long-anticipated Europa Clipper mission.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


By   David Freeman

Could life exist on Jupiter's moon Europa?

NASA just moved a step closer to answering that longstanding question. The space agency announced Monday that it would   move forward with its long-anticipated Europa Clipper mission , which aims to place a robotic spacecraft in orbit around an icy moon that's considered   one of the most likeliest places in our solar system to find alien life .

"We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the science mission directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in a statement.

Plans call for the van-sized spacecraft at the heart of the $4.25 billion mission to be designed, built and tested primarily at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The craft is expected to be ready for launch as early as 2023; it will be propelled into space from Cape Canaveral, possibly by   NASA's giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket . The journey to Europa will take about three years — possibly longer if another rocket is used.


Europa, which was discovered by Galileo in 1610, is about 1,940 miles in diameter — or roughly   90 percent of the size of Earth's natural satellite . It circles Jupiter at a distance of about 417,000 miles above the surface of the gas giant, which circles the sun at a distance of about 500 million miles.

A vast   ocean believed to exist under Europa's cracked, icy crust   and the   recent discovery of sodium chloride   (table salt) on its surface suggests that the subsurface ocean may be more like Earth's salty oceans than scientists had realized. Scientists think Europa's ocean may be home to microbial life.

The Europa Clipper spacecraft will be equipped with nine scientific instruments, including cameras, chemical and magnetic sensors and ice-penetrating radar. The spacecraft will use   these instruments   in an attempt to confirm the existence of the subsurface ocean and determine whether it might be habitable.

"What we want to understand is whether Europa has the potential for life," said project scientist Robert Pappalardo.

In addition to water,   life as we know it   requires carbon, nitrogen and other molecules as well as a source of energy. "Life is like a little battery, and we need to understand if the plus and minus of the battery are there," Pappalardo said. "We're pretty sure the stuff on the surface can serve as fuel for life if it can get into the ocean."

If the data it collects indicates that Europa is habitable, Pappalardo said, the Europa Clipper mission might be followed by a mission to land a spacecraft on the surface. A lander might be able to confirm the existence of life on Europa — though, given the time needed to design and build a lander and get it to the distant moon, the answer might not come until the 2040s.

Pappalardo said more than a thousand people have been working to develop the Europa Clipper mission, whose origins can be traced to the late 1990s. With so many people having worked for so long just to reach this point, he called NASA's decision to move forward a "big deal."

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TᵢG
1  seeder  TᵢG    4 weeks ago

A decent chance to find exolife within our solar system.

If we do find exolife somewhere, what does that mean?

 
 
 
WallyW
1.1  WallyW  replied to  TᵢG @1    4 weeks ago

My opinion is......

if a planet lies within the "Goldilocks" zone of a star similar to our Sun, and has oceans of water.....

life is likely.

It probably will have started like this.  http://www.fossilmuseum.net/Tree_of_Life/Stromatolites.htm

The question is....if Europa has a water ocean, how warm is it at the bottom? Enough to produce hydrothermal venting?  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrothermal_vent

 
 
 
MrFrost
1.1.1  MrFrost  replied to  WallyW @1.1    4 weeks ago
The question is....if Europa has a water ocean, how warm is it at the bottom? Enough to produce hydrothermal venting? 

The pull of Jupiter's gravity would generate a respectable amount of geothermal heat especially since Europa's orbit isn't a perfect circle. 

 
 
 
MrFrost
1.2  MrFrost  replied to  TᵢG @1    4 weeks ago
If we do find exolife somewhere, what does that mean?

Off the top of my head? It would mean that the universe is almost certainly teaming with life. Earth, (duh), Mars most likely supported some form of life in the past and if Europe is found to have life...that would be three planets in ONE solar system that support(ed) life. 

 
 
 
Gordy327
1.3  Gordy327  replied to  TᵢG @1    4 weeks ago

If life is found, it'll be one of the most significant discoveries in scientific history. Very exciting too.

 
 
 
Bob Nelson
1.3.1  Bob Nelson  replied to  Gordy327 @1.3    4 weeks ago

Yup

 
 
 
dave-2693993
2  dave-2693993    4 weeks ago

Fascinating. Just fascinating.

I have followed this off and on again for years.

Looks like we might get an orbiter soon.

Will there be a monolith? LOL.

Seriously, if life is found there, a realm of all kind of thoughts, speculation and even science fiction all become a possibility, all at once.

Just fascinating.

 
 
 
TTGA
2.1  TTGA  replied to  dave-2693993 @2    4 weeks ago
Seriously, if life is found there, a realm of all kind of thoughts, speculation and even science fiction all become a possibility, all at once.

Not as unlikely as you might think Dave.  Here's a part of a letter from the late Science Fiction author, Robert Heinlein, written to his agent in 1946 and printed in his posthumously published book Grumbles From the Grave.

I am quite used to being considered too spectacular.  My own brother, a Colonel of Engineers, thought my pre-war stories about the atomic bomb and atomic weapons to be sheer moonshine; he has since flown over Hiroshima and changed his mind.

He also said at one time and, I believe, correctly, that the wilder a prediction about the future is, the more likely it is to come true.

 
 
 
Ed-NavDoc
3  Ed-NavDoc    4 weeks ago

Every time I hear or read about Europa, I hear Richard Strauss's "Sprach Zarathrustra" in my mind.

 
 
 
Gordy327
3.1  Gordy327  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @3    4 weeks ago

I have an urge to watch 2001 & 2010.

 
 
 
Bob Nelson
3.1.1  Bob Nelson  replied to  Gordy327 @3.1    4 weeks ago

Watching 2001 is always a good option.

 
 
 
Ed-NavDoc
3.1.2  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Gordy327 @3.1    4 weeks ago

I always thought Roy Scheider was great in 2010! One of his better movies after Jaws 1 & 2.

 
 
 
Gordy327
3.1.3  Gordy327  replied to  Bob Nelson @3.1.1    4 weeks ago

Agreed. 2010 was also underrated. 

 
 
 
Gordy327
3.1.4  Gordy327  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @3.1.2    4 weeks ago

2010 was a fitting sequel to 2001, and captured the same spirit. 

 
 
 
MrFrost
3.1.5  MrFrost  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @3.1.2    4 weeks ago

Roy Scheider was good in everything. But I agree, 2010 was a fantastic movie. 

 
 
 
Ed-NavDoc
3.1.6  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  MrFrost @3.1.5    4 weeks ago

I really enjoyed him in SeaQuest DSV, but it was the studio and producers that really flopped on that that.

 
 
 
MrFrost
3.1.7  MrFrost  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @3.1.6    4 weeks ago
I really enjoyed him in SeaQuest DSV

Loved that show, used to be on Netflix but they yanked it. Maybe google play? 

 
 
 
Bob Nelson
4  Bob Nelson    4 weeks ago

Cool.

Thanks.

 
 
 
MrFrost
5  MrFrost    4 weeks ago

Only problem I see is getting through the ice to explore the ocean below. The average temp on Europa is -260 F. Two options:

1) Melt a hole through the ice, but the problem is that at -260 F, the water will turn back into ice almost immediately. If they send an autonomous probe, that won't be a problem but if it's tethered? No way it's going to happen. 

2) Drill through the ice. Ice that is that cold is almost literally concrete. Drilling would almost certainly require a crew to operate the drill. 

Neither of these plans is really viable anyway. The ice on Europa is 10-15 miles thick, drilling or melting to the sea below seems unlikely, but I am sure NASA has a plan.

All I can say is if we send humans there? Better pack your mittens. 

 
 
 
Ed-NavDoc
5.1  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  MrFrost @5    4 weeks ago

Drill with lasers perhaps?

 
 
 
MrFrost
5.1.1  MrFrost  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @5.1    4 weeks ago

Drill with lasers perhaps?

Had not thought of that one. Thanks Ed..

I guess if the laser was hot enough, it would vaporize the water and leave a tube to the ocean... Who knows, I guess that's why NASA hires the smart people. LOL 

 
 
 
flameaway
6  flameaway    4 weeks ago

If Europa is habitable and people go there, it won't be habitable for long.

 
 
 
MrFrost
6.1  MrFrost  replied to  flameaway @6    4 weeks ago

If Europa is habitable and people go there, it won't be habitable for long.

Habitable? I doubt it, way too cold. -260 F....things no matter how well designed tend to stop working at temps that low. Gas, oil, lubricant...all turn to rock at that temp, and too far away for any appreciable solar energy. 

But I get your point, and I don't disagree. 

 
 
 
Freefaller
7  Freefaller    4 weeks ago

It's a very exciting mission, I look forward to seeing results (lol only 7 years (maybe longer) to go)

 
 
 
Freedom Warrior
8  Freedom Warrior    4 weeks ago

Okay so some time in the distant future there will be colonies of human life on Europa.  Good luck with that.

 
 
 
TᵢG
8.1  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Freedom Warrior @8    4 weeks ago

Outside of scientific explorers, I doubt Europa would be considered a viable habitat for human life.

What is interesting about Europa (and indeed anywhere outside of Earth) is the potential for extant exolife and what we could learn from that.   We could discover such life well before we have the means to send a single human being there.

 
 
 
Bob Nelson
8.1.1  Bob Nelson  replied to  TᵢG @8.1    4 weeks ago

Who knows what's been going on there for the past few billion years. Liquid water raises questions...

 
 
 
TᵢG
8.1.2  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Bob Nelson @8.1.1    4 weeks ago

Always.   Where there is liquid water there could be life as we know it.    If we find unicellular organisms (or beyond) I would expect that would greatly accelerate our understanding of how life formed.   

 
 
 
Gordy327
8.1.3  Gordy327  replied to  TᵢG @8.1    4 weeks ago

Clearly you have never watched Cowboy Bebop. Lol

 
 
 
Freedom Warrior
8.1.4  Freedom Warrior  replied to  TᵢG @8.1    4 weeks ago

 I’ll wait for the movie to come out 

 
 
 
TᵢG
8.1.5  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Gordy327 @8.1.3    4 weeks ago

I am afraid I missed that series.  

 
 
 
Gordy327
8.1.6  Gordy327  replied to  TᵢG @8.1.5    4 weeks ago

It's an awesome anime from the 90s. Earth is largely devastated and humanity has colonized the other planets and moons. Europa was terraformed.

 
 
 
SteevieGee
9  SteevieGee    4 weeks ago

Europa is one of the most fascinating places in the system.  I predict that they will find huge kingdoms of sea monkeys there.  These are highly intelligent sea monkeys who invaded earth aeons ago but the colonists here found religion and rejected science causing such damage to their society on earth that their only purpose here now is flamingo food and kid's aquariums.

 
 
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