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Here is why everyone's so excited about a NASA Clipper mission to Europa

NASA wants to visit Jupiter's mysterious and quite extraordinary moon Europa. I think it’s exciting. Why? In a word: Water. As this imagining (below) illustrates, the icy moon may appear small next to our own planet Earth, but it has 2- to 3-times as much water as we have here on our own Planet Earth. That "little" moon contains quite the store of water — and because of this water, researchers think, a major chance of harboring life is present o Europa. I've already explained this visualization before, but I thought it is fine to bring it to your consideration again, as NASA's recent announcement, and for those folks who might have missed it the first time. Michael Shara, supervisor in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, who on one occasion had this to tell us about a mission to Europa:

Illustration by Kevin Hand of JPL/Caltech, Jack Cook from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Howard Perlman of USGS; Spotted on NASA APOD

“If we can figure out a way of putting a probe through [Europa's] ice — and the ice may be hundreds of yards thick, it could be very difficult to do this — but if we could put a probe down that could melt its way through the ice, and then send out little submarines, who knows what we could find down there. It would be fascinating to go look. I think we have no choice but to go look. We must do it.”

And Shara's not the only person thrilled about a mission to Europa. Adam Steltzner, who directed the group of engineers that landed NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars in August 2012, has spoken responsively about his wish to head up a alike robotic mission to Europa.

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