Jupiter’s ice-covered moon, Europa, has been the focus of many scientists since the first high-resolution image revealed its icy surface. After 36 years, the mission to discover what is underneath the ice is finally underway. -Courtesy Photo
Ever since the first high-resolution images of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, emerged in 1979, many scientists have dreamed of going to the icy moon to find it teeming with life.
That is because Europa is a giant snowball of a moon, completely covered on the surface by a layer of ice, and shows a multitude of signs that it may be hiding an entire ocean of liquid water in its core. Now, NASA plans to take its first step toward exploring this frozen satellite close-up, to find out if there is something swimming under the ice.
The proposed mission is called Europa Clipper, and the concept is that an orbital spacecraft will launch for Jupiter and conduct a thorough surveillance of the frozen moon, using a fully loaded set of instruments, including an infrared spectrometer, to find out what it is completely made of on the surface, radar to reveal what lies underneath its icy crust and a topographic camera so the scientists can see the moon’s surface with greater detail.
According to NASA, the spacecraft will have to be highly radiation-tolerant and will most likely need to be solar-powered due to Jupiter’s intense radiation and magnetosphere. It will perform 45 flybys of Europa, and get as close as 16 miles from the moon’s surface.
Many notable scientists, including cosmologist Stephen Hawking and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, are firm believers in the notion that Europa may be hiding an ocean of life.
Hawking explains in his television series “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking,” that Europa is constantly being molded by the gravitational forces of the planet Jupiter and its other surrounding moons, which creates heat inside Europa’s core, causing the water underneath to melt and sometimes erupt on the surface, much like the liquid magma deep inside the core of Earth.
“If so, their could be aliens living here, creatures that have evolved to exploit this dark and ancient underworld,” Tyson said on StarTalk Radio. “I’m a life-fan for Europa because its been liquid water for billions of years, and any place on Earth we find liquid water, we find life, even the dead sea.”
According to Tyson, the next step is landing a craft onto Europa’s surface that can melt through the layer of ice so that we can have camera footage of what is beneath it.
The discovery of life on Europa would be one of the greatest scientific finds mankind has ever uncovered. Not only would it finally give an answer to whether or not mankind is alone in the universe, but it would also skyrocket the number of places in the universe that science knows life can exist.
It will not be too much longer before we pierce through the icy veil of this Jovian moon, and take a look at what is lurking in the deep.