Europa is the icy moon of Jupiter and has been considered as a candidate for harboring life outside of Earth in our solar system for quite some time. It has a deep ocean and heat that is caused by tidal forces thus implying that it might have the right conditions for tiny living organisms. NASA has announced that its Europa Clipper mission that will be searching for the possibility of life on Europa has been given the go-ahead.
NASA announced in a statement that the mission will have an estimated cost of $2 billion and has been cleared to go into the spacecraft construction phase. NASA has further clarified that it is ‘targeting to have the Europa Clipper spacecraft complete and ready for launch as early as 2023. The agency baseline commitment, however, supports a launch readiness date by 2025.’
Europa might possess the ideal conditions that are required for the sustenance of life. Underneath the icy surface, Europa has an ocean that is about 200 kilometers deep. Furthermore, tidal interactions between the moon and Jupiter gives birth to heat conditions that can keep the moon’s ocean in a liquid state. Scientists have also theorized that these heat conditions might be sufficient to create volcanic events on the ocean bed – similar vents on Earth are filled with living organisms.
Galileo mission of NASA provided evidence that suggests that water plumes – bringing water to the moon’s surface – might make it easier for the analysis of Europa’s ocean to be carried out without having to drill under the surface of it. A problem that this mission will have to tackle is that of the intense radiation that is emitted by Jupiter and will end up frying the electronics of the spacecraft. In order to reduce the radiation, the Clipper will make a number of close flybys of the moon. The other option was for the spacecraft to orbit Europa, but it would have had the spacecraft exposed to the radiation.
Thomas Zurbuchen is the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, and said, ‘We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world. We are building upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere.’