Published: 2015-05-27 17:42:00
Updated: 2015-05-27 17:44:42
Posted May 27, 2015
By Tony Rice
Raleigh, N.C. — NASA/JPL announced on Tuesday the selection of nine science instruments for an upcoming mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. While this might appear as a run-of-the-mill NASA press conference, we may look back on this day as the beginning of a very big scientific milestone.
Europa is about a quarter of the size of Earth, but studies by the Galileo mission between 1995 and 2003 revealed that beneath its icy surface, there’s strong evidence of a global ocean with twice as much water as Earth’s. If the salt water, rocky sea floor, and chemistry provided by tidal heating are found to work the way scientists think, Europa may be the best place beyond Earth to look for life.
This isn’t just a search for past environments conducive to life, such as the Mars rover Curiosity quickly found on the Red Planet. Scientists think that Europa may harbor our first discovery of present day life beyond our home planet.
“This is a giant step in our search for oases that could support life in our own celestial backyard,” said Curt Niebur, Europa program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C.
The yet-to-be-named mission to Europa is planned for launch sometime in the mid-2020s. After a journey that could take 8 years, it will spend 3 years making long swooping passes over Europa and Jupiter. The nine instruments selected for the mission are:
These instruments are from the principal investigators and their teams at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., The University of Texas, Arizona State University and The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.
“Europa has tantalized us with its enigmatic icy surface and evidence of a vast ocean, following the amazing data from 11 flybys of the Galileo spacecraft over a decade ago and recent Hubble observations suggesting plumes of water shooting out from the moon," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington D.C.. “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.”