NASA planning for possible landings on Europa

Credit: NASA/Ted Stryk

All these worlds are yours except Europa
Attempt no landing there
Use them together use them in peace 

Despite that famous cryptic warning in the film 2010: The Year We Make ContactNASA is planning for a possible attempted landing on Jupiter’s moon Europa. This is a mission that many people have been hoping for, since Europa is believed to have a liquid water ocean beneath the icy surface (as well as lakes within the surface crust itself), making it a prime location in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system. Two landers are being proposed which would launch in 2020 and land about six years later…

See Universe Today for the full article.

The ‘Great Lakes’ of Europa

Cutaway illustration showing a lake in the crust beneath the chaos terrain on the surface and above the ocean below. Credit: Britney Schmidt/Dead Pixel VFX/Univ. of Texas at Austin

Jupiter’s moon Europa has long been known as an ocean world, where evidence has continued to indicate that there is a global ocean of liquid water deep below the surface shell of ice. The environment is thought to be similar to ice-covered seas and oceans at the poles on Earth. But now there is also new evidence for lakes on Europa, which are inside the ice crust itself, between the surface and the ocean below. The lakes are thought to be about equal in volume to the Great Lakes in North America.

The data actually comes from a previous mission to Jupiter, Galileo, which provided scientists with decades worth of information to analyze about Jupiter and its moons.

With a deep ocean, Europa has become a prime candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system. The question of habitability though, depends to some degree on how thick the ice shell is. If too thick, it would be difficult for organic nutrients and energy to be transferred between the surface and the ocean below. If thinner though, then it would be much easier, making life more plausible. The answer now seems to be a sort of compromise; the ice shell is thick in most places, but in some areas, known as “chaos terrain,” it is thinner, where it overlies the lakes.

According to Britney Schmidt, lead author of the paper and postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Geophysics, University of Texas at Austin, “One opinion in the scientific community has been if the ice shell is thick, that’s bad for biology. That might mean the surface isn’t communicating with the underlying ocean. Now, we see evidence that it’s a thick ice shell that can mix vigorously and new evidence for giant shallow lakes. That could make Europa and its ocean more habitable.”

More information is here, here and here.

A Tale of Three Moons: Is There Life in the Outer Solar System?

Until fairly recently, the search for life elsewhere in the solar system has focused primarily on Mars, as it is the most Earth-like of all the other planets in the solar system. The possibility of finding any kind of life farther out in the outer solar system was considered very unlikely at best; too cold, too little sunlight, no solid surfaces on the gas giants and no atmospheres to speak of on any of the moons apart from Titan…

See Universe Today for the full article.

(Note: this and future articles written for Universe Today are exclusive, therefore only a summary is posted here, which will link to the full article on UT).

Ocean world

Another great image on the Astronomy Picture of the Day web site, this one of Jupiter’s moon Europa, taken by the previous Galileo spacecraft mission. Evidence has continued to accumulate that under its relatively thin surface ice shell, there is a global ocean of liquid water, making Europa a prime target of proposed future missions to search for evidence of possible life…

Credit: Galileo Project, JPL, NASA; reprocessed by Ted Stryk

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