Photos
Article

Most of what scientists know of Jupiter's moon Europa they have gleaned from a dozen or so close flybys from NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1979 and NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the mid-to-late 1990s. Even in these fleeting, paparazzi-like encounters, scientists have seen a fractured, ice-covered world with tantalizing signs of a liquid water ocean under its surface. Such an environment could potentially be a hospitable home for microbial life. But what if we got to land on Europa's surface and conduct something along the lines of a more in-depth interview? What would scientists ask? A new study in the journal Astrobiology authored by a NASA-appointed science definition team lays out their consensus on the most important questions to address.

 

"If one day humans send a robotic lander to the surface of Europa, we need to know what to look for and what tools it should carry," said Robert Pappalardo, the study's lead author, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "There is still a lot of preparation that is needed before we could land on Europa, but studies like these will help us focus on the technologies required to get us there, and on the data needed to help us scout out possible landing locations. Europa is the most likely place in our solar system beyond Earth to have life today, and a landed mission would be the best way to search for signs of life."

 

The paper was authored by scientists from a number of other NASA centers and universities, including the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.; University of Colorado, Boulder; University of Texas, Austin; and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The team found the most important questions clustered around composition: what makes up the reddish "freckles" and reddish cracks that stain the icy surface? What kind of chemistry is occurring there? Are there organic molecules, which are among the building blocks of life?

 

Additional priorities involved improving our images of Europa - getting a look around at features on a human scale to provide context for the compositional measurements. Also among the top priorities were questions related to geological activity and the presence of liquid water: how active is the surface? How much rumbling is there from the periodic gravitational squeezes from its planetary host, the giant planet Jupiter? What do these detections tell us about the characteristics of liquid water below the icy surface?

 

"Landing on the surface of Europa would be a key step in the astrobiological investigation of that world," said Chris McKay, a senior editor of the journal Astrobiology, who is based at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "This paper outlines the science that could be done on such a lander. The hope would be that surface materials, possibly near the linear crack features, include biomarkers carried up from the ocean."

 

This work was conducted with Europa study funds from NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

 

Jia-Rui C. Cook 818-354-0850

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

jccook@jpl.nasa.gov

Other Popular Articles
 
Comments
Order by: 
Per page: 
 
  • There are no comments yet
The Social Network Buzz - Comment using your Facebook, AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo! account
Info
Administrator
The Black Vault Owner/Operator
08.07.2013 (358 days ago)
898 Views
0 Subscribers
All News by Administrator
Share This Article
Rate
7 votes
Related News
A newly discovered planet in a binary star system located 3,000 light-years from Earth
Main Space
27 days ago · From Administrator
Researchers have discovered a fossilized space rock that stands out against anything seen before.
Main Space
29 days ago · From Administrator
Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini mission have firm evidence the ocean inside Saturn's largest moon, Titan, might be as salty as the Earth's Dead Sea.
Main Space
29 days ago · From Administrator
Humans doing difficult, repetitive tasks or those who need assistance with movement may soon get a helping hand
Main Space
35 days ago · From Administrator
A unidentified and mysterious piece of land has appeared out of nowhere in radar images of Saturn's giant moon, Titan, which is now being dubbed the 'magic island' .
Main Space
37 days ago · From Administrator
If We Landed on Europa, What Would We Want to Know?