NASA will search for life support on Jupiter's moon

For the mission planned for 2020s, NASA has selected nine out of 22 celestial tools to look for life support on Jupiter's moon - Europa. The mission is estimated to cost $30 mn.
AFP | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON MAY 27, 2015 10:20 AM IST

NASA selected a trove of instruments to send to Jupiter's ice-covered moon Europa sometime in 2020s, in order to look for evidence of whether the orb could support life, on Tuesday.

The nine gadgets, from cameras to radars to magnetic field gauges, will check for any ocean beneath Europa's glacial surface, as scientists have long suspected. NASA said Europa, which is about the size of Earth's moon, could have twice the amount of water as our own planet. To ascertain the possibilty, scientists will send the nine devices to Europa sometime in 2020s.

"We're excited about the potential of this new mission and these instruments to unravel the mysteries of Europa in our quest to find evidence of life beyond Earth," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

The fact-finding trip would entail sending a spacecraft to the Jupiter's moon, which would orbit Europa, getting as close as 16 miles from its icy surface at times. The instruments will inspect elements like salt water, rocky sea floor, energy and chemistry created by tidal heating to verify life support on Europa.

"Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet," NASA said. The mission to Europa could be worth $30 mn, which the space agency has already requested in its 2016 budget.

Among the instruments in the celestial treasure chest are cameras and spectrometers to photograph the moon. Another device named magnetometer will measure the strength and direction of Europa's magnetic field, while penetrating radars will search for subsurface lakes, much like the ones beneath Antarctica on Earth. Other instruments will search for recent eruptions of warm water and tiny particles.

The mission will also look for water plumes from a subsurface ocean, which will help scientists understand Europa's chemical makeup- a key to unlock whether its environment could support life.

According to NASA scientist Curt Niebur, choosing the devices for Europa was "a giant step in the search for oases that could support life in our own celestial backyard" on one of Jupiter's largest moons. The nine instruments were selected out of 33 proposed devices from NASA researchers last year.

Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. It has four big moons- Ganymede, Io, Europa and Callisto, visible using binoculars on a clear night.

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