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NASA Confirms Europa Mission
Fans of space exploration were excited by NASA’s announcement last week of plans to send a probe to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. And just why is that so exciting?
“It is the best bet for finding life other than on Earth in our solar system,” said PacSci Planetarian Dakota Spear. She points out that Europa is thought to have a huge ocean beneath a thick layer of ice. “And it would be larger than the Earth’s ocean so we expect it has twice the amount of water as is on Earth.” And where there’s water, there could be life.
Another thing Europa is thought to have: hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. We have some of those off the coast of Washington state. The University of Washington and others have been studying those for years because scientists believe that is where life may have begun on this planet.
Given the size and composition of Jupiter, actually landing on Europa now doesn’t make sense. Too much radiation for one thing. So, they’re really not looking specifically for life on this mission, just signs that the basic building blocks are there. They may also scout out possible landing sites for future missions.
Sci-Fi Come To Life
Fans of the classic sci-fi movies and books based on Arthur C. Clark’s Space Odyssey series are well aware of Jupiter’s moons. They figured prominently in the series, especially Europa. The largest of the Jovian moons have been the subject of much debate and study and speculation since Galileo discovered Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto many years ago. Dakota’s hoping this mission sheds more light on those fascinating heavenly bodies.
“So, hopefully they’ll get some great images and data on those moons as well which are also some of the most exciting moons in our solar system.”
In this PacSci Podcast, Dakota explains more about Europa and this mission. We also have some resources below. It may be ten years before we get data back from way out there, so you have time to learn more and get ready for another chapter in humankind’s exploration of our part of the galaxy.