Could a liquid water ocean beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa have the ingredients to support life? Smithsonian scientists are among those helping NASA find out.
Beyond Earth, Jupiter’s moon Europa is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for signs of present-day life, and a new NASA mission to explore this potential is moving forward.
The space agency recently announced that it has selected nine science instruments for a mission to Europa, scheduled to launch in the next decade, to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.The instruments will scan Europa for environments that could sustain life. NASA’s earlier Gallileo mission yielded strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath a frozen crust of unknown thickness. If proven to exist, this global ocean could have more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet.
Bruce Campbell, chair of the Center for Earth and Planetary Study at the National Air and Space Museum, is a member of the University of Texas-based team that developed one of the instruments for the mission, REASON (Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface). REASON will probe kilometers deep into Europa’s ice shelf to detect pockets of water within the ice that could serve as a passageway for sulfuric compounds, one of life’s chemical building blocks, on the moon’s surface to the liquid ocean below the ice — an environment where life could potentially develop.
“My role in the development of REASON builds on work I currently do as a science team member for the SHARAD radar instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter,” Campbell says. “This includes working on how the surface roughness affects detection of subsurface features, and understanding the right kinds of radar processing to apply for various geologic studies.”
Read more about the REASON project here >>
Could a liquid water ocean beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa have the ingredients to support life?
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Posted: 23 June 2015