Saturday, February 11, 2017

NASA wants to send a life-detecting lander to Europa

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Scientists believe that Europa’s icy crust is hiding a global saltwater ocean. They also believe that ocean is in contact with a rocky, silicate seafloor, which is a necessary source of elements and energy needed to give rise to and sustain life. The only other ocean in contact with a seafloor outside our planet is Saturn’s moon Enceladus, making Europa an ideal world to explore if we want to find extraterrestrial life forms.


Next in the lander’s goal list is assessing whether Europa is habitable by examining its non-ice materials. Finally, it has to characterize the properties of its surface and subsurface materials for future explorations. It’ll be a long time before this lander takes off, though — it was designed to follow the Europa Multiple Flyby Mission that’s scheduled to launch in the 2020s. If it does push through, it’ll be the first mission since the 1970s’ Martian Viking program that’s specifically conceptualized to look for life.

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