Since the last year a team of NASA researchers is planning to send a robotic inquiry team to Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter, which is almost 390 million miles away from us. On February 7th, that team conveyed their first explanation to NASA about the future mission and recommended that they will drill the subterranean ocean in order to find life as scientist are highly confident of existence of life under that icy surface. The team is ready to launch as soon as 2031. Let’s not confuse this mission with NASA’s Europa flyby mission, which is scheduled to happen in the early 2020s.
The flyby will be proved very helpful for their later plan as they will use cameras on landers to study the surface and the lander will later take the samples. In the late 1990s when NASA’s Galileo mission explored Jupiter and its moons, it gave us a proof about the subterranean ocean. But there were no samples taken and it is considered that the ocean is buried under the ice of about 27 kilometers. The important thing about the ocean is it does only comprises of the liquid water but salts as well about 62 miles beneath.
The team of NASA is currently working with the engineers to design a probe that can be able to drill about 4 inches so that the samples of the surface can be collected easily. If this plan worked, next time the lander could even be capable to drill further, may be to the subterranean ocean.
Astronomer and SDT member Jonathan Lunines said:
“I think it’s a great design. I was uncertain that we could in fact design a payload with a reasonable high-tech maturity and relative ease. Thanks to the engineers, a very useful solution was found and the freight we put together is not excessively ruthless. At the end, I became much more of a supporter that this is a mission that can be completed in a time frame I’d be interested, in the next 20 years or so.”
The further details about the drill that It will comprises of the cameras at its surface like geophone so that it become easy to understand the chemistry of Europa’s surface.
Lunine explains some more things about the mission and his ideas about it that “The vital thing to recall is that this is planned to be a ‘bug hunt,’ this is intended to land in a place where based on the Europa flyby mission, there would be securities from the ocean, organic materials, that sort of thing,” Lunine said. “So the intent is to use gadgets that can sense the signs of life on those samples.” The team is specifically attentive in finding bio signs—that suggest past or present life.
There are the few reasons that why scientist are so much interested to find life on Europa.
“Europa tentatively is a great place to go,” Lunine said. “It has a very large number of rocks, it is very hot, and so at the base of the oceans there are certainly hydrothermal systems. Everything we know about it makes this a good [place] to look for life.”
Doug Vakoch, president of METI International, who focuses on looking for radio signals from more advanced alien life, agrees that Europa is a great place to explore but scientist might not get satisfied until they get the samples of ocean directly.
“To have the finest chance of finding life on Europa, we’d love to be capable to drill beneath the icy layer,” Vakoch said “That won’t happen with the first lander that NASA is now discussing, which would dig down only four inches.”
“The importance of this mission will be to search for indication of life on Europa,” he said. “But even if that main goal isn’t achieved, we will acquire a great deal about the potential habitability of this icy moon, which will be vital for future.”
To get any chance of finding life at Europa we have to drill down under the icy surface.
Both Vakoch and Lunine explained the resemblances between Europa and Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. Enceladus also has a subterranean ocean beneath its crust, but unlike the Jovian moon, its South Pole features geysers that continually discharge ocean water out into space.
There are reports that NASA is considering a mission to search for life on Enceladus, in 2025. With all these improvisations it is more likely to find life outside earth soon.
“Where do we have a better chance of finding life—Europa or Enceladus?” Vakoch said. “At this point, it’s a risk. Both deserve consideration, and I’d hate to have to choose one of them. If we really want to appreciate the prospects for life arising in subsurface oceans, some day we need to go to both.”