NASA Confirms Construction of Europa Exploration Spacecraft
The spacecraft is being sent to test for life in Europa's ocean
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has officially confirmed that an unmanned research mission will test the life hypothesis which could exist in Europa’s subsurface ocean, NASA reported.
Europa Clipper Mission stepped closer to the in-depth exploration of Europa, using orbital spacecraft.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena launched construction of the spacecraft. According to the BBC, the spacecraft will carry nine science instruments to produce high-resolution images of the moon’s surface, to measure the strength and direction of its magnetic field (providing clues to the ocean’s depth and salinity) and to determine the thickness of the icy crust above the ocean. The mission will likely be able to test the theory about the ascending of Europa’s ocean.
Europa is one of Jupiter’s four largest moons. Along with Io, Ganymede, and Callisto, it was discovered at the beginning of the 17th century by Galileo Galilei.
In the early 1980s, science-fiction writer Arthur Clarke suggested that under the thick crust that covers Europa there may be a subsurface ocean inhabited by extraterrestrial life forms. Since research shuttles entered the orbit of Jupiter, Clarke’s hypothesis about the existence of the ocean under the ice has been confirmed. In a recent study, NASA claims that the composition of the water may resemble that of the earth, contains salt, and the assumption of conditions that can support the existence of life forms has been boosted with new arguments.
According to the BBC, Europa is considered a prime target in the search for life beyond Earth, due to Jupiter’s gravitational activity which heats the ocean beneath Europa’s icy crust. Heating also may be driven by volcanic vents on the seafloor, which could support a wide array of life forms.
“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,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“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,” the NASA press release reported.
NASA intends to complete the Europa Clipper spacecraft in 2023. However, the agency says that a launch could happen before 2025.