A recent report from NASA showed how Jupiter’s moon Europa is one of the most likely places to have a harbor for life in outer space.

The space agency is thinking about conducting a special mission to Europa as it hopes to find signs of life. According to the official NASA report, this space object might hold the clues to the most standing goal of the agency. In the same publication, they explain how the mission is oriented especially toward the exhaustive search for life in the Jupiter’s moon, as they have high hopes of achieving that goal.

Jupiter's Europa
Remastered image of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Image Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ SETI Institute.

The scientific community has agreed through time that Europa is one of the space objects that is more likely to harbor life as it has a subsurface liquid ocean below its icy crust. This saline sea is considered to be in contact with the moon’s surface which is rock-full. Because of this, it’s thought to have the right conditions that would permit microbial existence.

NASA’s Planetary Science Division was in charge of publishing the report, which outlined that the search for life becomes a priority in this case. The agency is aware of all the engineering developing that must be made to succeed in the mission, as the same report states that after looking for life signals, the mission will assess the moon’s possible habitability and analyze its surface and subsurface.

If the mission is ultimately performed, it will be the first NASA launch oriented to the search of extraterrestrial life since 1970, when the agency conducted the Vikings Mars mission.

How the mission will be conducted 

According to NASA, since June of last year, they have been working on all the preparations concerning the launch of this mission. During the official press release, the agency explained that a task of these characteristics must be studied extensively to determine its actual value and feasibility.

The initial proposal contained in the report consists on the launching of a Carrier Relay Orbiter and lander in the mid-2020’s, as it would arrive at Europa about five years later. This moon does not have any atmosphere, so the deployment method would be the use of a “sky crane,” which consists on retro rockets that allow the spacecraft’s gentle landing on the surface.

A close-up photo of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Image credit: NASA/

After the deployment, the next 20 days will be oriented to the exhaustive search of life in Europa. Recent studies have shown how the ice cap covering the moon is about 10 to 15 miles thick, and NASA has prepared for that. They are not considering to send any drilling tool to obtain the evidence, as the lander would be able to recollect the samples from 10 centimeters above the surface.

According to the agency, that body of samples would be enough to determine the existence of life in the moon. Back in 2013, a group of scientists found bacteria samples in Antarctica’s Lake Vostok. This area is composed of liquid water trapped beneath miles of ice as the investigators liken that lake to what Europa’s environment could be.

The authors of the report said that because of all the years that the surface has faced those cold temperatures, “cellular life, organic carbon, and inorganic materials can become entrained in overlying ice.”

That represents a good omen for the finding of life and the particular chemical signs present in Europa, assuming, of course, that there is life in it.

“If life is present in Europa’s ice at a level comparable to one of the most extreme and desolate of environments on Earth (Lake Vostok ice), then this mission could detect life in Europa’s icy surface,” authors of the NASA report stated when explaining the mission.

What would represent the succeeding of the mission?

According to the report, there is not any single measurement that can assure the existence of life in Europa. Therefore, there is needed a body of “evidence, from different instruments, on a set of samples examined across a variety of spatial scales,” to be able to sustain a conclusion.

Researchers have stated that the evidence of any extraterrestrial life would be in microbial form. They hope to determine whether the samples they gather have an internal or an external origin. If its external (exogenous material brought by micrometeorites, etc.), they also would study how Europa’s environment process that according to the registered radiation levels.

A photo from NASA’s JPL showing Auroras on Jupiter. Image credit: NASA.

“These measurements range from detecting and characterizing organic compounds, to looking for cell-like structures, to determining if the samples originate from within Europa’s ocean or other liquid water environments. The organic chemical analyses are specifically targeted to reveal the broadest possible range of signatures produced by life, including analysis of molecular type, abundance, and chirality,” the report showed.

The report concluded that if there is no evidence of life in Europa after all the exhaustive research, they still would have gathered a body of fundamental scientific information and results regarding the moon’s habitability.

Source: Yahoo News