New Europa Mission May Dig Beneath Icy Moon's Surface

NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR

Scientists in Europe are discussing the possibility of sending a mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa in the near future, one of the most promising locations for alien life in the Solar System.

As reported by BBC News, scientists met at the Observatoire de Paris this week to discuss a number of proposals. These include plans to hitch a ride on NASA’s Europa Multiply-Flyby Mission (EM-FM) in 2022, or launch a standalone mission. Discussions will also focus on whether the mission will simply observe Europa from afar, or perform the more sought-after goal of landing on – and breaking through – the surface.

It should be noted these are very preliminary discussions at the moment. “Whatever option is chosen, it will first have to win the support of the European Space Agency [ESA],” Jonathan Amos wrote for BBC News.

But the clamor for a Europa mission is intensifying. We are fairly sure it has an underwater ocean, one that may have the necessary conditions for life to exist – including heat, caused by the tidal push and pull of Jupiter.

NASA already has its sights set on Europa with the EM-FM project, although they have not yet decided if it will include a lander or not. But one British-led design for a penetrator could be an option, which would involve firing a projectile into the surface of Europa at high speed to dig beneath the surface, or at least expose material underground.

Other proposals discussed by the European scientists include a small satellite to hitch a ride with the NASA probe, or instruments either on the spacecraft or the proposed NASA “soft lander,” which would gently touch down on the surface of Europa and perform science there, similar to how Philae studied Comet 67P-Churyumov/Gerasimenko.

Whatever does materialize next decade, it’s clear that many in the science community feel the time to explore Europa is now, and we have the necessary technology to do so. In our quest to find out if we are alone in the universe, this icy moon just a few years’ travel away may hold the answer. Now we just have to go there.

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